Cinque Terre, A Pictorial

I would like to dedicate this next episode to Andrea, Barbara, Bettina, Abbie, and every one of our Tribe who has seen the colored-up filter-enhanced impossibly beautiful images of Cinque Terre on jigsaw puzzles and travel brochures and thought to herself, “Self, a place can’t really look like that and be real.”

You and your selves are wrong.

The five little villages of Cinque Terre, in the province of La Spezia, the region of Liguia, are connected by a local train, a local water bus, and a narrow hiking trail (each require a purchased ticket). They perch along the cliffs like tiny jewels. Throw on your sturdy shoes and grab a water bottle, because we are going exploring.

“New” Monterroso “Old” Monterroso

Monterosso al Mare, where we stayed, has an original section and a newer section, connected by a little tunnel. These are the views from that middle spot, looking both ways. The beach is what draws people to Monterosso, but it has a sculpture at the far west (under scaffolding during our visit) and a tiny castle to the east if you want to “see a thing”. You can walk the whole length in twenty minutes or so, which we will do, because this is the morning we are hiking the tiny, famously outrageous trail to the next town over: Vernazza.

So it begins… Along the cliffs, heading south in the morning mist. And straight up, stairs, ramps, boulders…just UP forever. But you are rewarded by beautiful surprises, ocean views, flowers, vineyards… Until you finally (an hour and a half later, ahem) find Vernazza.

Vernazza is a lovely hamlet, if you are a giraffe. I love Italy’s use of space. Vernazza has the only natural port of the Cinque Terres and was buried in a mudslide in 2011. 

Welcome to Vernazza. From the cliffs. And the train is a blip on their radar. Remember fountains? Who needs a water bottle?

We took the train for the rest of our adventures. (Whew!) When it stopped in Corniglia, the next town south, we discovered what makes this place extra-special:

Read it and weep. Looking back. Do not attempt this in the heat.

Once you reach the top, you must still climb through Corniglia and around the little chapel of St Catarina to the cliff for the view.

Could not decide who this is…but he guards the place. Corniglia is in the middle: two towns on either side…waaaay over there. Looking inland.

We treated ourselves to a fruit smoothie and headed back to the train. Our next stop was Manarola. This is the one featured on jigsaw puzzles, colorful homes perched at the water’s edge.

Main Street, Manarola. You share with the boats. You can walk left to the boat dock… Or you can walk right to get that village view. But what is THIS? You can swim here, too…

We hadn’t thought to bring our suits, but it’s just as well, we had one more village to find. Riomaggiore is the fifth stop and if you have any steps left in you, climb left and follow the path…

The little marina. Keep walking, the water color gets crazy beautiful. And here is the hidden end of the path. Just wow. You can go inland, but it’s also uphill!

To end this day just right, we took the train back to our hotel, got fancy and returned for the spectacular finale:

This one’s for you, ladies!

Vernazza at sunset is not to be missed. Everything changes color with the sky: you, the town, the water, the air. My friends, you must sit here some day.

Golden sunset from Vernazza.

Maui, Hawaii

I suppose life is not all rainbows and butterflies, but sitting on Black Rock Beach, I can tell you: God was on to something when he invented them.

In a year that has been nothing but constant upheaval, adaptation, and reinvention, Maui was a resting place that spoke all things healing to my heart.

Maui floats in the Pacific, along with her sisters, presenting sights of such breathtaking beauty that it is easy to forget you are sitting on a volcano.

My family explored Maui a couple of years ago. We drove to the top of Haleakala in the dark and waited at the crater’s edge as a rising sun tipped over thick cloud layers in a light show that will never be matched by man. Hawaiian singers greeted the sight while tourists shivered in their hoodies.

Although we don’t have a bumpersticker to prove it, we drove the road to Hana, curving along steep cliff tops with a sparkling ocean on our left and innumerable waterfalls on our right, and shave ice at the end.

We saw sugar cane plantations and coconut palms and pristine stretches of white coral sand.

We learned lei-making and hula-dancing.

We snorkeled off of Molokini with giant turtles.

This month we returned, just the Hubby and I. I was unexpectedly in a pivot, swinging between two jobs, (which is a story for another day) and the island called me in a voice unfamiliar but decisive.

Who goes to Maui for four days?

It depends what you are looking for.

Go to Maui in the spring if you want to see Maui.

Go to Maui in the fall if you want Maui to see you.

Humpback whales love to play, just like tourists, along the shores of tropical paradise. On our last trip, I sat on the sand watching the masters of the ocean frolic in the shallows. It was fascinating. I am quite terrified of water, particularly deep ocean. Whales made it look entirely safe, joyful, and as effortless as breathing.

Which they did, in great steaming spouts.

On the day we took the snorkel boat out to Molokini, we slowly passed within five feet of a mama whale and her calf. We were still in the harbor. I sat on the boat mesmerized as the mama whale and I stared at each other. Perhaps you’ve looked an elephant in the eye at the zoo? That intelligent creature knows the score: he is in captivity and you are not. He looks you in the eye and he knows you know, too.

It will not be a long conversation.

The mama whale and I both knew the score that morning: she was in her freedom and I, as a captive on the boat, was at her mercy.  We both had our offspring cavorting around us, oblivious to the pendulous moment. In her eye was mild curiosity. She was waiting to see whether these creatures were going to respect her. And I knew that she had seen deep darkness and blinding whiteness and bubbling roots of islands and travelled thousands of miles with the fanning of her tail.

November is too early for whales.

But something bigger called me back and I think it’s what the whales know and I keep forgetting.

It is in the nature of life to shift and crack open and spew lava and upheave tectonic plates. We are meant to grow and stretch and come apart and reshape, and most of it is done below the surface without observation. 

But if, in a remote place, from the struggle of core things that insist upon reaching for the sun, an island is birthed, the intelligent ones of the deep bear witness to it. And remember.

When it comes to rest, it becomes coral reefs for butterflyfish and graced by rainbows.

Sometimes, it’s a double or even triple rainbow!

Sunrise from the plane was almost the same as Haleakala. I hummed a little “Over the Rainbow” by Iz. It’s all the Hawaiian I know…

The view from our balcony wasn’t too shabby either. Where to start?

View to the west. Apparently, the bigger the name, the tinier the island.

Full moon beach strolls followed by midnight hot tub? Pick me…

Well, good morning tea, you taste fabulous in the sea breeze. Just sayin.