Finding the high trail...

Trip Start Oct 04, 2005
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Friday, July 7, 2006

Everyone loves Cinque Terra. Whenever they hear its named mentioned, they gasp, put their hands to their chest and say, "Oooohhhhhhhh! I LOVED Cinque Terra! Wasn't it just sooooo beautiful?!" They love the quaintness and the colors and the lack of any cars. They love how these five little towns cling to the side of cliffs, surrounded by terraced vineyards, and linked only by train and ferry. For so many it's this little wonderland, a throwback to a simpler way of life. It's one of those places that people go to for their honeymoon.

I did not love Cinque Terra. I feel almost guilty saying this and a little scared. I half expect the cute honeymooners and the busloads of teenage tour groups to plummel me over the head with their beach mats and waterbottles. Rick Steves, European guru and Cinque Terra champion, might even show up and add a few hits with his aerodynamic lightweight super special walking stick (for sale, only $100!). But I have to be honest. I must let the truth be known. There is one person out here that doesn't think Cinque Terra was all that great. The towns are cute and the colors are amazing and I love that there are no cars. But it all felt a little like Disneyland to me. Many of the quaint little houses have been rented out to tourists for the summer,the 'authentic' shops are selling things for three times their worth, and the car-less cobblestone roads are crammed with American tour groups complete with parents screaming at their kids. It may feel like a throwback to 'simpler' times to those fresh from the States or one of the cities on the Eurotrip trail, but after spending time in Asia where people are living the 'simple' life without the help of the tourist trade, I couldn't help but gag on the supposed purity of it all. As I wandered through the quaintess, I kept thinking how wonderful it all must have been five years ago, before Rick Steves 'discovered' it and served it on a platter to the masses salivating at the thought of a new 'authentic' place to add to their busabout tour (and, oh my God, there are even beaches!).

So there I was, a jaded pessimist surrounded by squealling American tourists. I had explored two of the five towns and was disillusioned, disappointed, and just plain tired of it all. I hadn't even done the famous hike between the towns yet because I didn't have anyone to go with and it too seemed like a tourist trap. And then Jake arrived. An American straight from hiking in the Alps, it was his first time on an extended trip abroad and he couldn't stand crowds either. He immediately became my hiking buddy, and we celebrated our new partnership with a cheese, chocolate, and wine drunk out of teacups picnic. Jake had read about a hiking trail that went up into the hills surrounding Cinque Terra, so we decided to go that route instead of the wussy touristy way. So, the next morning we got up early, bought some amazing fresh bread from the just open shop, got some fruit, and with cheese already in hand headed out. What happened next was very similar to that lovely hike that I did with the Swedish guys in Vietnam. Picture Jake, who I late found out is a major athelete and really into hiking, easily making his way up an incredibly steep incline. Then look about ten feet back and there I am, sweat dripping everywhere, redfaced, and gasping for breathe as I try to keep up. But like in Vietnam, I did make it and I was, once again, told I was doing just great and what I trouper I was. I'm beginning to think that these words of encouragement may have just been ways to keep me going up the mountain.... But despite the pain of the climb, it was all worth it. Looking down on the towns of Cinque Terra, far from the tourists and giftshops, I suddenly saw their quaintness, was finally able to enjoy their unique beauty. Standing amongst the famous terraces, surrounded by grapevines, and sharing a path with local field workers, I was able to feel and understand the life of a place that went deeper than what was written in the guide book. As I walked along the narrow path, exchanging stories with Jake, and just taking it all in, a weight was lifted from my shoulders. My grumpy, jaded attitude was being chipped away. I was enjoying myself. I was happy and not confused. Nothing was complicated about that walk in the hills. No life-changing decisions, no mind games, no worries - just one foot in front of the other...
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