On the final weekend of my month long stay in Italy I decided to take off by myself to Cinque Terre. There I would explore the five towns of Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore along the coast of the Italian Riviera.
I signed up for the Florence For Fun program event, which offered a day trip that included a round-trip transport from Florence where I was staying, a Cinque Terre National Park entrance ticket, a short boat ride between the fourth and fifth town, and tour guides. The trip details also promised amazing views that we would get to see on hikes through the hilly landscape, the ability to stop and eat local produce, focaccia, seafood and their famous pesto, and to hang out in the beautiful beaches in Vernazza and Monterosso.
That morning of the day trip I dressed in my outdoor hiking gear with my bathing suit underneath. I had heard from other travelers that the hike in between the last two towns would be excruciating and that I would want to immediately jump into the ocean afterward.
The group of students studying abroad from all over the world piled themselves onto a bus with two Italian tour guides who spoke English and who picked up another bilingual local along the way. I sat next to an American female student who wore a sun hat and offered me sunscreen to use. We chatted nearly the whole way to our destination, except for the quick stop to use the restroom at an Italian rest station, until we were greeted with the most beautiful sights of the colorful buildings sitting in the hills above the sparkling blue sea.
When we arrived at the top of the hill in the first town our guides lead us on the first hike to the small beach in the second town. I jumped off a small rock into the incredibly salty ocean known for their anchovies, and tried not to open my mouth as I swam in the cool water. We all met up again to hike to the third town in the heat of the sun where I was reunited with the four girls from Florida that I met at the very beginning of the day trip.
We chatted about the final hike and how we should take off early before everyone else so that we could take our time and really explore. The offer to the students was that if you wanted to skip the final hike then you could take a boat over to the fifth town, and it seemed as though the five of us were the only people who wanted to take the option to hike. The whole group was instructed to jump on the next train to the fourth town, due to a small landslide from the rains that had occurred the day before.
The tour guides shouted at us, “count three or four stops stops and then quickly get off at this station before you get left behind.”
A lot of us were worried about getting lost. “If you do get lost,” they explained, “just meet us back at the top of the hill in the first town at this time so you can catch the bus back to Florence.” The tour guides had also given their phone number out to a bunch of students who didn’t have, or couldn’t use their phones.
When we all managed to reach the fourth town without getting lost, everyone sat down to eat at the local restaurants around town. I turned to the girls in the sunhat and to the other girls who I had met at the beginning of the trip to find a place to eat lunch. Two of the girls had looked at one of the menus of a near by restaurant and were alarmed by the prices.
“Nope, we’re not eating hear you guys,” they said.
I pointed to the restaurant menu next door, “How about this one.”
The prices were a little lower and the food being served to the patrons out on the patio looked pretty good.
“That’s still a little too expensive,” one of the girls said. “We’ll just somewhere else and meet you here.”
The girls took off for cheaper fare. While the girl in the sunhat turned to me and said, “I really want to try all what the town has to offer, and I don’t mind paying a little more.”
The girl in the sunhat took off to find more expensive seafood and left the three of us to eat the most amazing pesto pasta we have ever eaten. I spent the lunch hour chatting with the girls. I had found out that one of them was a vegetarian, just like myself, and we laughed about the odd things we had experienced or come to learn about life in traveling abroad.
Before the hour was up, the two girls who had went to find cheaper fare came back to see if we wanted to start our hike to the fifth town. We filled our water bottles in the old fountains near the restaurant and then asked one of the tour guides where the start of the trail was.
We started climbing the steep steps behind an old church that led up the mountain, and began to worry if we would really make it two to three hours to over rocky terrain. Sweat had poured down our backs and from our faces. It looked as if we had all just walked out from the ocean and tried to put our clothes on. We passed other hikers coming from the other direction, or from the direction that we were coming from. They were either ripping off their clothes or hiking in their bathing suits or underwear, and at that point nobody cared if anyone was hiking naked. It was too hot and we were all tired.
The path had led us over two mountains, streams, and thick brush, but the views were really worth all of the trouble. When we occasionally escaped the thick trees and brush to see the sparkling ocean beyond the edge of the cliff, it felt amazing to see how far we had hiked from on town to the next. And when we finally made it to the last town, after the rest of the group arrived by boat, we immediately took our hiking shoes off and jumped into the cool salty waves of the Italian ocean.