“Half the fun of the travel is the aesthetic of lostness.” – Ray Bradbury
Part of my rationale for using Sorrento as my home was its easy access to the wonders of the Amalfi Coast. Tiny seaside towns – Amalfi, Ravello, Positano and others – cling to the sides of mountains and get rave reviews for their picturesque beauty. I’d also read of the “Walk of the Gods” in the hills above the Coast and was definitely intrigued.
Of course, being a Sunday, everyone else was headed for the Coast, too, and the queue for the hourly bus was long. I was glad I’d brought a book as I waited 90 minutes before I could finally squeeze onto a bus. The views from the drive along the winding, steep coastal road – replete with frightening hairpin turns and excited honking as buses negotiate who gets to pass where two won’t fit – were inspiring, and I wish my camera did a better job through the glass. Every turn brought a better view than the previous one.
I got off in Positano and looked for the bus to Nocelle that would take me up the mountain to begin my walk. I heard Australian accents and found a lovely family headed exactly where I was. We waited together, and they told me Nocelle was cute and tiny, with one very good restaurant. They had been years before, but were headed back, this time with their young children (ages 4ish and 7ish). We ended up having lunch together at Santa Croce, with an incredible view of the coast. Lunch was delicious and leisurely. I had ravioli stuffed with eggplant and smoked provolone, and we shared some antipasti. By the time we parted ways – me for my walk down the mountain, them for some lower-key exploring – it was nearly 2:30.
My book gave a couple of options for hiking down to Positano. One involved about 1700 stairs and was rated as beautiful but relatively simple. The other, also rated “easy,” went through the small town of Monte Pertuso, past “il buca” in the side of the mountain, and said it was a bit more rustic but would only take about 1:45. I decided to do the latter and set off. I’d still have plenty of time to have a celebratory glass of wine in Positano and explore a bit.
The first part of the trip, from Nocelle to Monte Pertuso, was fantastically lovely and scenic, along a relatively well-marked path and road. Everything was so green, contrasting with the bright aqua waters far below. I passed vineyards bursting with deep purple grapes and plenty of small terraces with various crops. It was so very quiet, and the only sounds were crowing roosters and some strange bells. I eventually realized the bells were tied around the necks of mountain goats off in the distance.
Monte Pertuso was indeed tiny, and once I looked at the church and the main square, I was eager to continue on towards Positano.
Then things got interesting.
My book said to go about 800 yards to a small stream. I have a terrible sense of distance when there are no man-made constructs (intersections, etc) to guide me. But I walked a long time, on a “path” that seemed less and less so. There were no signs, just gently worn ground that seemed to indicate use as a trail of sorts. Recent heavy rains had created some mud with a couple of footprints, which were reassuring.
Finally I reached the “stream.” It was really more of a small waterfall. I couldn’t figure out how to cross it without plummeting to something bad. I tried to grab onto rocks wedged in the side of the hill, but the recent rains had loosened them. Each time I tried to get my footing, the rocks would shift beneath my feet. I considered turning around, but that would have meant 45 minutes back to Monte Pertuso. I was this far – surely once I got through the waterfall, Positano wouldn’t be that far. Right?
I sat down for a few minutes, sipped some water, collected my thoughts, and assessed the situation. No, I wasn’t turning back. Instead, I stretched my leg farther than I thought I could until my foot was able to plant on a large, sturdy tree branch, then swung my other leg down, while using my day bag and water bottle sling as counterweights. (Did I mention I was in a dress?) Vindicated, with minimal splashing, I forded the stream/waterfall and continued on.
The book had warned that things got “quite rocky” after the stream, and indeed, there were some nearly vertical climbs of broken, uneven rocks. But I just kept going, even when the path was barely 12″ wide, with no rails or things to protect me from plummeting to my demise. It was so very isolated, with no real signs of civilization except the road far, far below. And the rains made things slippery and uneven in parts, especially around some very tight, mountain-hugging curves.
(I kept thinking that this may be one of the stupidest things I have done. TS Elliot’s “Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock” kept echoing in my head – “And in short, I was afraid.” But every time I’d turn a corner, I’d be greeted by an even more incredible view of the coast increasingly far below.)
Finally, I hit the high point of my walk – literally – and marveled at the valley below me. I took a few pictures, with a death grip on the camera, including this one of me as I hoped I wouldn’t step back and fall off the little ledge. It was very exhilarating. Notice how teeny-tiny the cars are. The white dots in the water are boats. Off in the far distance, you can see the Isle of Capri. I stood for several minutes, in awe (and relief).
Soon afterwards, I finally hit the long-promised “steps,” and, for the first time in hours, a sign of human civilization. Of course, this sign was not comforting.
I scurried down the broken, uneven steps as fast as I could muster, aware that the Sunday evening buses out of Positano are few and far between, and will not stop if overcrowded. I reached the Bar Internazionale bus stop nearly 3.5 hours after I left Nocelle. I was just a few minutes from the next bus. As much as I wanted to continue down into Positano proper, I was more concerned about making it back to Sorrento. And indeed, the first dangerously-crowded bus flew past without stopping. I consulted the timetable and found another one 30 minutes later, then just one more after that. I talked to some Italian girls headed back to Naples, and they started negotiating with a cab driver. If the next bus wouldn’t take us, we would split a 70 Euro cab ride back to Sorrento. (My day pass for the bus had been 7 Euro.)
The next bus was still awfully crowded, but the Italian girls pleaded with the driver, and he let us squeeze on as standees, which was interesting after hours of hiking hills. The hills and curves of the road were not easy for standing passengers.
Back in Sorrento, I grabbed some life-affirming gelato before finding dinner. And wine. Wine was definitely called for and went very well with the delicious and varied seafood risotto. Despite my aching legs, I strolled a bit longer after dinner, enjoying the passeggiata crowds, sampling limoncello and people watching. Then I went back to my hotel and read on the balcony, stopping to think about the day. I’ll never forget it.