Trekking in Italy
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.