Saturday, February 11, 2017

Following the Flow and Letting Go on the Path of Gods

When Luca, one of the hostel staff answered my "Can you go hiking on the mountains" with "You mean, the volcano Mount Vesuvius?" (whoops), I followed up with: 

"Well, are there any cool parks in Napoli?"

Laughter followed.

Turns out, Napoli is Italy's most densely populated major city (Wikipedia). There's a reason why I wasn't spotting any green from the 360-degrees lookout point that afternoon.

Then he asked if I liked hiking and that sort of thing. Yes, yes I do.

He proceeded to tell me about the nearby Amalfi Coast, which is where one could go hiking on the famous "Path of the Gods" (Italian: Sentiero degli Dei).


It was the first I'd ever heard of the walk, but I was sold! After several grey days with scattered drizzles, Tuesday was going to be gorgeously sunny. And although it would be my last full day in Napoli, I decided to do the hike then.

Here are the directions I was going from: Go to the train station. Take the train to Sorrento (same train I'd taken to Pompeii, but all the way to the final stop). Then take a bus to Amalfi. From there, take another bus to Bomerano, where the 4-hour hike begins. Sabrina (another staff member) then printed this PDF for me, which was super helpful once I was in Bomerano.

Normally I like to know a bit more. Questions that popped up in my head were not limited to: Where is the bus in relation to the Sorrento train station? How often do the buses leave? How much do they cost? How long is the ride? Where does the bus drop you off in Bomerano? How do I get from the end of the hike back to Sorrento? What time does the last train leave? What time is the last bus? Etc. Etc.

But the day ended up being an exercise in going with the flow and accepting what is, as I'm continually reminded by my Daily Calm meditations. I trusted that I would figure everything out.

After packing up a salad lunch + banana, I left the hostel on Tuesday around 8:30 and took the metro to the train station. The next train left at 9:11, and it took just over an hour to get to the end of the line: Sorrento. On the train I realized I was a lot more tired than I'd though.

Just outside of the train station exit, I saw a bus ticket info shop and went inside. I said my destination, "Bomerano," and the older main gave the same answer as my hostel staff: You take the bus to Amalfi, then you take another bus to Bomerano.

Okay.

He was selling 8-euro day bus passes, which let you take an unlimited number of rides on these southern regional buses all day. Except I only needed to take three bus rides, and I was pretty sure it would be cheaper to just buy three single passes. (I mean, my hour-long train ride was only three euros and some-odd cents; metro tickets are one euro...)

When I asked how much a single trip costs, the man said—I kid you not—"I don't know."

Bullshit. Are you kidding me? You work in the BUS TICKET OFFICE selling BUS TICKETS all day, and you don't know how much a single ride costs?!

While that monologue quickly passed through my mind, I handed over eight euros and bought the day pass, a bit anxious that it was already 10:15 and I wasn't close to being on the trail yet.

He pointed out where the bus was, and I found it and got on. 

We left around 10:30 and didn't get to Amalfi until noon. What that last sentence leaves out are all of the winding, semi-circles our bus made continuously during that hour and a half, how I had to keep my eyes closed—missing the beautiful costal scenery—in attempt to not puke on the bus, and how all of the other passengers swarmed like crows to the coast-side windows, blindly snapping picture after picture after picture.


But I'd made it to Amalfi. Now what? There were many bus drivers standing and talking together near a row of parked buses. I asked one, "Bomerano?" and he walked a few yards forward to talk to my former bus driver through the window. Oh, he's probably asking him about where to catch that bus or something. Except then the guy never came back.

Shooot.

So I waited a minute and then tried another driver. "Bomerano?"

"Twelve thirty" was the reply.

All right. So I didn't know which bus or where exactly it was leaving from, but I'd been told that 12:30 was the time to be present. A half hour. I walked up a dock and sat for a little bit, trying to calm down my stomach. I was so dreading another bus ride through these cliffs, and kind of really wanted to just nap in the sun.

Around 12:20 I went back over where all the bus drivers were hanging out. A bit later, a bus came with the town "Agerola" written across the screen on front. Thanks to my map from the hostel, I knew that the bus to Bomerano went in the direction of Agerola. So I got on the bus, and double checked with that driver by once again asking my question of the day: "Bomerano?"

"Si," he replied.

"Grazie."

Another woman asked about Bomerano when she got on the bus, so my plan was to follow her—and bank on the fact that the bus driver would tell us when to get off, since two people had already asked about it.

He did. "Bomerano" he said, about a half hour later.

I got off the bus and started walking down the road. A little ways down I saw an Italian woman and asked her for the Bomerano Piazza (square), where it begins. She pointed me in the right direction and I understood from her sign-of-the-cross gesture and repetition of "cro-chay" (croce) that it was near the cross we could see poking up from somewhere in the center. "Grazie."

I found the start just fine, and I was off.


Yes! A thousand times yes!


As I started the walk—and throughout the whole afternoon—I was filled with such joy. This was perfect. How wonderful to breathe this fresh air, to look out onto such pristine views, and to walk alongside plants and rocks.


Here's what most of the markers looked like, with numbers to help with location in case of an emergency.



Here's a sign that was up not far from the start:






Where's the path? (Below) Do you see it?


Me neither. I have no idea where or how, but for a chunk I got separated from the path and was off-roading it up in some steep cliffs. I'd hold onto plants for my dear life as I went up, convinced the path must be up higher.

Luckily, my instinct was right.






First failed attempt at a timed selfie:













This is where I stopped to eat my lunch sometime after 2.



And once I made it to Nocelle, I started taking these stairs down towards Positano. And down, and down. Stairway after stairway after stairway after stairway.

And then there'd be another stairway.


My legs nearly started shaking, like when I climbed up and down all those stairs while hiking at Seoraksan National Park in Korea.

Here's someone's yard/garden I passed on the way down.

This bright blue gate just beyond some orange leaves caught my eye.


At last, I reached the bottom!


Now, how to get back? There was a small sign for a SITA bus stop—the company that I'd taken there—just at the bottom of the stairs. But could I really hop on the bus here, or was there a main stop in the town of Positano which I should be going to? It was quarter to four.

At 3:50, I decided to abandon the bus stop sign at the side of this narrow road and started walking along the curvy road (no sidewalks) towards town, to find something more official-looking. I passed one more lone bus stop sign along the way, but it was on the opposite side of the road.

And then I heard it. Here came and went a SITA bus with "Sorrento" displayed clearly at the front. Right. Past. Me.

I started running after it, but it was no use. Not even two minutes of walking later, I reached another bus stop sign, this time with a several people waiting on the opposite side, and one on my side of the road.

Here I sat.


A few minutes later, at about 4:05, two English-speaking tourists sat beside me. I overheard their conversation, saying that the bus was supposed to be here at 4:10, with the next one at 5:10. Daaang. I totally just missed the 4 o'clock bus, which must have been running a bit early. Now I'd sit here for an hour?

Why didn't I just wait at that first bus stop for ten minutes longer? Why did I have to walk?

I was so exhausted, and was a little worried about the train from Sorrento to Napoli—I didn't know how late it ran. And now I had to live with the fact that I could have been sitting on a bus, passing out at that very moment, on my way back to Sorrento.

But no, I was here.

I quickly caught myself and changed my thinking. I now had the opportunity to sit in peace and watch the traffic of this tiny town in the cliffs. Nowhere to be but here. The bus will come when it comes. Until then, I am here.

An old man drove up and parked that red car (above) on the side of the road, where there was no shoulder for parking. He took out an empty plastic jug, returning to the car a few minutes later with a full jug—which he poured into the car.

Following his lead, more cars parked behind him, greatly shrinking the width of the street. "School bus" vans came and dropped kids off. When buses or cars were stopped in their lane to pick up/drop off someone, cars behind them simply went around. That means they were driving in the lane for oncoming traffic. Sometimes two cars would start going down the single lane from opposite directions towards each other, until they saw one another. Then one would have to reverse to let the other through. It seemed a bit chaotic, but it worked. The people knew how to maneuver these roads.

I saw three Koreans that I recognized from my hostel and we waved hello. They were waiting for the same bus, but a few yards down the road.

Around 4:50 a SITA bus came. Destination: Sorrento. Hurray!

Although the ride was about a half hour shorter than my first (as I was coming from Positano to Sorrento, and not all the way from Amalfi), I felt much more nauseous on this ride.

I closed my eyes and breathed deeply. But at one point I could feel it in my gut, wanting to come up. It was now more probable that it'd come up than not. I did a quick "where could I puke" check in my mind, already sad at the thought of hurling into my nice backpack. Just breathe, just breathe.

Suddenly the violent curves stopped, and we were back to normal city driving. We weren't at the destination yet, but we were in part of Sorrento and it felt like a regular bus ride. My guts stayed in.

Although the bus did not drop us off at the train station in Sorrento, it was a few minutes' walk away and I found it easily. The train left around 6, getting into Napoli after 7. Then I took the metro a few stops to our hostel.

As I got out of the metro, I saw those three Koreans again. We walked back to the hostel together, talking about our day and our trips—even though I was so tired. Tuesday and Thursdays are free dinner nights at this hostel, so we sat together in the kitchen waiting for the pasta to be ready.

When it came out that I had lived in Korea, we talked a bit about Korean food. And then the guy asked me: Do you like Korean ramyeon (ramen)?

Yes...

I'm going to give you some, he replied.

Those three friends had brought 20 (twenty!) bowls of ramen with them for the trip, and had only eaten three so far. He ran down to their room and came back with a bowl of ramen and chopsticks.

"Gamsahamnida" (thank you) I told him with a small head bow.

The next day I awoke with a sore throat and took my train to Rome. When I got checked in at my hostel—which was in a different building from the main office—there was only a fridge, electric kettle, and sink (in a closet) in my floor's common room. I was extra thankful for that bowl of ramen, as I had everything I needed to enjoy a hot soup—which my oncoming cold needed.

Had I caught that four o'clock bus the previous day, I likely would not have been enjoying this ramyeon right now.

Not only did I get to experience a fantastic hike on a stunning coast, but that day served as a simple reminder to be in the present and let go of things I cannot control—such as a missed bus. The present is the only space we can change, and all of present's happenings are incredibly fluid and ever interconnected.

A Korean girl walks in and we say hello.

"Where did you get that?" she asks, eyeing up my ramyeon.

"Some Korean friends gave it to me from my hostel," I replied—full of gratitude.
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