Trekking in Italy

mailife - - Contents - By PRIYA DARSNI

The Amalfi Coast has al­ways been high on my bucket list. I had dreams of beau­ti­ful cliffs melt­ing into the ocean as I drove down wind­ing roads to a pris­tine beach com­plete with striped sun um­brel­las, cock­tails and kayaks. This gem of Italy is known for its ro­man­tic al­lure and Dolce clad so­cialites rub­bing shoul­ders, glasses of Prosecco in hand. With its warm sum­mer waves and some of the best restau­rants Italy has to of­fer, the coast is of­ten vis­ited for a re­lax­ing, lux­u­ri­ous, beach hol­i­day. One morn­ing while so­cial­is­ing with some lo­cals from Gen­ova, an­other Ital­ian coastal town, I learnt about the Path of Gods trek they made the day be­fore. They spoke of the rugged, un­tamed route with bright eyes that left no room for doubt. I hopped back to my room, pulled out my Nike’s and Lu­l­ule­mon’s from un­der a pile of beach kaf­tans and sun-hats, and told my travel com­pan­ions that were about to go on an off the beaten track ad­ven­ture. My new friends from Gen­ova had writ­ten down the bus num­ber which would take us to the stairs of San Do­minico Monastery, the trek start­ing point. It was a glo­ri­ous blue sky day and our bus nav­i­gated up wind­ing cliff­side roads. When the driver mo­tioned for us to get off for the monastery, we found our­selves in the mid­dle of a hill­side neigh­bour­hood with views of the ocean crash­ing against the cliff. Around the col­lec­tion of small, white-washed, stone houses lo­cals were tend­ing to herb gar­dens, hang­ing out laun­dry and play­ing foot­ball. The iconic pale yel­low clock tower of Posi­tano was vis­i­ble in the dis­tance, sur­rounded by a thick fringe of bright pur­ple bougainvil­lea. There was no monastery in sight. The beauty of our sur­round­ings kept at bay any panic about be­ing lost and we started to ask the lo­cals for di­rec­tions – re­peat­ing “Path of Gods” with hope­ful ex­pres­sions. We had no luck with the young­sters play­ing foot­ball or women tend­ing to house­hold du­ties. We de­cided it was time to go back to the ho­tel as there was no ob­vi­ous path out of this cir­cu­lar neigh­bour­hood ex­cept the one lead­ing back to the bus stop. At that point we heard an el­derly man say, “Path of Gods? Si, si!” Nic­colo looked to be well above re­tire­ment age and was car­ry­ing a plas­tic bag with tinned fish, milk and eggs. He pointed up to­wards a hill be­fore wav­ing us to fol­low him along a mostly invisible path. We were un­de­cided about whether to go with Nic­colo, who didn’t speak any English. But af­ter a quick con­fab we came to the con­clu­sion that with the three of us and only one old man we could safely fol­low him into the wilderness. He walked us up a hill, stop­ping ev­ery 10 min­utes to rest for ex­actly 30 sec­onds — like clock­work and very im­pres­sive for some­one his age. The climb was chal­leng­ing, with clay paved into makeshift stairs. We panted and counted 800 of these stairs be­fore Nic­colo pointed up the hill as the view cleared and said, “Path of Gods, San Do­minico”. We con­tin­ued to let Nic­colo lead the charge, grab­bing at branches and twigs for sup­port as we ne­go­ti­ated more nar­row, slanted and odd shaped stairs. We would later find out that to reach the monastery, 1900 of these stairs needed climb­ing. As the an­cient, white­washed monastery with its brass bell atop came into view we could ap­pre­ci­ate its mag­nif­i­cence. It had aged grace­fully. With roughly 200 stairs left to con­quer, Nic­colo added a shrill whis­tle to each of his rest stops. My friends be­gan to worry as we dis­cussed likely rea­sons for this whistling. Our work­ing the­o­ries sug­gested that (a) he was a God­fa­ther and was sig­nal­ing his gang so they could kid­nap us for ran­som; (b) he was friends with the birds and was check­ing with them for any dan­gers ahead; or (c) he was just crazy. Just then there was a re­ply to his whis­tle. It was a bark! We squinted to­wards where Nic­colo was point­ing and saw a lit­tle dog wag­ging its tail. When we fi­nally ar­rived we were greeted by Nic­colo’s brother who told us in flu­ent English that their fam­ily has been look­ing af­ter the monastery and it’s grounds for cen­turies. He said Nic­colo was care­taker of the gar­dens and had a pet dog that he whis­tled to ev­ery time he climbed up the stairs. He also told us that we had caught the wrong bus and were lucky that we ran into Nic­colo just when he was re­turn­ing to the monastery from his morn­ing visit to the vil­lage. Ex­plor­ing the his­toric monastery, we mar­velled at the sim­ple, se­cluded life of faith and com­mit­ment Nic­colo and his fam­ily lived. We fi­nally made our farewell and started on the Path of Gods trek. It is said to get its name from be­ing so beau­ti­ful that peo­ple feel as if they are walking on clouds in heaven. At its high­est point, we were in­deed walking above a thin layer of cloud. The low­est point is 600m above sea level and it took us seven hours to get down. To this day the trek is still the most spec­tac­u­lar show of na­ture I have seen. We smiled all the way back to the ho­tel, think­ing of our good for­tune to find Nic­colo that morn­ing. Without him we would never have experienced one of the best days of our lives.

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