Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Cinque Terre Friends

(Almost all of these pictures in this post were taken by Nick Calhoun. He's hilarious and a great photographer.  You can check out more of his pictures and travel stories at http://www.boobaggins.com)

Cinque Terre and I didn’t get started on the best foot.  When I first got to Riomaggiore, I walked along the one street in the town from the train station to my hostel.  There was a note on the door that said, “We’ll be back later.  Call this number to check in.”  Not the most welcoming site for someone who doesn’t have a phone that works in Italy.  I waited around for a few minutes and was greeted by a, “Hello my friend” and got checked in.  The “hostel” was more of a, “we have a tiny apartment, how about you and nine people you don’t know share it for a few days.”  There were two bunks in the dining room and three bunks in the bedroom.  I tossed my bag down and headed to the beach which wasn’t far.

Cooking in the hostel - I'm doing the best supervising job I can
(Nick Calhoun photo)
I don’t think people who live near the Redneck Riviera realized how spoiled they are.  The gulf coast has really, really nice beaches.  Many beaches around the world do not have white sand or even sand at all or water that is calm enough to swim in.  Or maybe it has all these things, but is freezing cold.  This beach consisted mainly of small boulders which people were laying out on.  I walked around a trail along the coastal rock face and found an area that resembled the beaches I grew up around only in the way people were treating it.  It was a large flat area where many people had towels and blankets spread out and some were playing in the water near the shore.  There were still rocks everywhere though.

With a little teamwork, we were able to cook a meal for fifteen people
I headed back to the hostel and met two girls from Australia.  They were going for food so I joined.  One of them was originally from Chile and as we talked about our travels I brought up that I was kind of disappointed that I might not make it to Spain on this trip because Spanish was the foreign language I knew the most of.  They both got quite excited at this point and I was gently shoved into trying out my Spanish on the Chilean native.  I think the conversation ended with them wondering if I knew more than ten words in any other European language because it seemed I barely knew that many in Spanish.  The other Aussi had been staying in Riomaggiore for six days and had decided just the other day that she wanted to move there for a month or so.  I pondered concerns in my mind about how easy this would be able to do in such a small town, but over the next few days she did indeed find an apartment.

Me and a PhD student from Ireland (Nick Calhoun photo)
We went back to the hostel where I met three more Australian girls.  They were still in college and as often occurs in new hostel friendships, the subject of careers came up.  I told them about what I had been doing and they immediately got quite excited as happens occasionally.  Usually people hype up what I did in their minds, but this time things got completely out of control.  They asked if I would go into space one day.  The rocket scientist astronaut in training.  Sure why not.  Kidding – I explained and we had a good laugh about it.
I spent the evening talking with an Irish PhD candidate about our countries various problems.  Sounds like they really have us beat on debt problems.

Eating in a stairway that lead to the marina (Nick Calhoun photo)
The next day I went on the hike between the five cities which you can see pictures of in my last post.  I was sitting on a bench at the last city and waiting for a pizzeria to open when a group of people from the hostel stopped by and said they were heading back to Riomaggiore, the city we were staying.  I decided to join them.  During their day’s adventures they had befriended a couple of New Orleans natives, one of which went to LSU.  The LSU grad had had quite the adventure so far.  In fact my knowledge of his trip is actually a story in itself.  I’ll try to summarize: It started with running with the bulls in Pamplona.  I’ve met many people on my trip that have run with the bulls but this is the only guy I knew who did it twice.  Running with the bulls isn’t anywhere close to a typical staged tourist activity.  People die doing it often – including one this year who was gouged in the neck.  So anyway, he did that twice and once he got run over in the arena and had a huge gash on his leg to prove it.  His other adventures included skydiving in Switzerland and at some point he lost his bag in Paris.  More on him later.

My scout knife being put to good use
(Nick Calhoun photo)
The group headed back to the hostel and decided to all pitch in for a pasta meal.  Luckily we had at least one person who knew what they were doing in the kitchen which came in handy because we were preparing a meal for fifteen people.  There was a small army of people chopping up onions and tomatoes and garlic.  It looked like they were all having so much fun, so I did my best to stay out of the way and sample some wine.  The pasta came out really well and we ate in the small stairwell that lead to the marina.  Later on I tried to figure out what it was about that environment and that group of people that allowed us to mesh so well.  No luck so far.

A couple nights before someone dumped a bucket of water down on hostelers who were talking in that stairway late at night so we decided to move to the marina.  That night the sea was as wild as it would be the whole trip.  Water that had been calm before was now smashing into rocks and sending splashes fifty feet high.  It was scary to watch.  If anyone fell in it would surely be a life threatening situation.  Luckily no one did.  I went to bed around midnight.  Apparently early the next morning at around 5am, the other two guys from Louisiana took the train to get back to their hostel a couple towns over and left their backpack with one of their wallets and passports on the train.  The sky diving bull runner jumped on the train as it was leaving and tried to open the door.  He probably would have held until the next stop except he saw a tunnel coming and was sure he’d hit something in the dark.  They never found the bag, but they were still pretty upbeat about things later that day despite spending five hours trying to track the bag down to no avail.

Taking a break after a long day of sitting on the beach - traveling is hard work
(Nick Calhoun photo)
On my last day in Riomaggiore, me and a couple guys and girls decided to spend the day on a couple of beaches.  The two girls were from Seattle and had just arrived the previous evening.  We headed over to Vernazza.  The small beach there was protected by this wall that doubled as a walkway that arched around and formed a little cove in front of the town.  Me and one of the guys (the lead chef of the previous evening) jumped off the end of the walkway while the girls and other guy sat against this rock wall that faced away from the sea.  I noticed that the waves crashing into the rock wall kept splashing higher and higher.  I didn’t think that much of it until a monster wave crashed over the wall and washed away bags and people into the bay.  I rushed over because I was sure my bag with all my valuables was going to end up in the water and sink.  Luckily, it had been against the wall and only got a little wet.  The girls and everyone was fine – no injuries.

Relaxing before dinner
After this, our group decided to head over to the last beach.  We took the train over and set up a couple blankets on the beach.  Me and chef hopped in the sea and swam around a bit.  It was very salty and easy to tread water.  The only problem was that the waves broke right where the water was around three to four feet deep and the sea floor was made of fist sized rocks.  I wanted to body surf, but I also wanted to not get thrown into rocks.

Dinner on the coast with new friends. 
Showing the middle finger is an expression of love in Cinque Terre. 
Well, maybe not. (Nick Calhoun photo)
We laid out for a while and eventually the two girls from Seattle left and somewhere along the way we picked up two girls from Canada.  I talked with the Canadian whose family was from India.  For cultural diversity analysis purposes only, we spent some time trying to find topless sunbathers.  There were a few.  One guy even tried to hit on a couple who my Canadian friend speculated might have been lesbians.  I’m not so sure.  Anyway, we decided to get some grocery store wine and then go to a restaurant.  The food was quite nice and the other Canadian girl ended up buy dinner for everyone.  At this point I might as well call it the Cinque Terre magic.  My stay here was the most fun I’ve had on my trip and it was really all about the people I met.  Tis’ why we hostel.  Well, that and being poor, but sometimes being traveling on a budget makes for a hell of a lot more fun.



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