November 19, 2001 – Positano by Derek White

After our rained out day in Rome and a long night of interrupted sleep we woke up and decided we needed to go to Positano and just chill. We already get our fill of big city life, what we really needed was to detox in some small coastal town. We had breakfast (read “cappuccino and croissant”) in the sun in Campo D’Fioro, then got our bags and wandered through the streets of Rome. Came across the Pantheon, which we had managed to miss somehow the day before. Unbelievable. I love the proportional shape of it, the color combinations of the marble work and the hole in the ceiling. It really feels like a Roman temple gone church in the center of Rome. And it was empty. Then we passed Trevi fountain again, threw another coin, so this one was the wish. Then got a train to Napoli at the termini Roma. Spectacular scenery from the train. Things got sketchy in Naples. There was lots of police in the train station there. After asking around, we managed to cram on a “train” which was really a subway, to Sorrento. Passed Vesuvius and Pompeii on the way. We just missed the bus in Sorrento, so we had to wait for an hour and a half. Had pizza and beer while watching cheesey Italian videos, then got on this crazy bus down the windy and dark roads. Could make out the faint outline of the ocean below, enough to know that was it was a sheer drop-off. The road was only wide enough for the bus, he would just lean on the horn with every hairpin corner. God help anyone that was coming in the other direction.

The bus dumped us off in Positano, by this time it was dark and we could see the stars. There’s one winding (vehicle) road that cuts through town, which hugs a steep hillside. The only way to get around is to walk up and down the steep alleys. We went down through the jagged and jaded alleys trying to make sense of a two dimensional map on a three dimensional landscape. In the dark. Empty alleys leading every which way. A maze of dwellings. Finally we found a guy who pointed us to an elevator that was in another abandoned hotel. Took the rickety elevator down through the rocks four stories or so, and then through another maze of alleys and tunnels littered with abandoned beach cots and paraphernalia leftover from the summer until we got to another elevator that took us even further down through the cliffs. Our destination was Hotel Pupetto, which was the only hotel on the water, on the more isolated part of town. Luckily it isn’t the season, so we didn’t have to worry about having a reservation or anything. Matter of fact, we were probably the only people staying there. We had a room right over the beach. We could hear the waves rolling in and out while we slept, and could see the moon on the sea.

For dinner, we traversed along this path above the sea into the main part of town. There we had linguine alla vongole and wine and watched the antics of these wild cats. The water is warm, but probably only in relation to the air, which is rather chilly. Kind of cool to first see Positano at night.

November 20

Woke up leisurely and had breakfast out on the patio in the sun overlooking the Mediterranean. The first we’d seen of Positano by daylight. Beautiful aqua and blue waters, smooth stone beaches. White-washed houses embedded into the steep limestone cliffs, mixed with cypress and bougainvillea. In the distant Almafi, which like Positano also reaches down steep cliffs to the water like a giant amphitheatre of dwellings with the sea as their objective. Or like flowstone in a cave. We strolled on the beach and then discovered that within the smooth stones were pieces of tile and glass. Positano is famous for it’s tile and ceramic work. The sea was littered with colorful bits of tile that had been pounded and smoothed by the waves on the rocks. We collected bits of colorful tile and glass until the pockets in my cargo shorts were stuffed to the brim. Walked through some natural arches to another small beach collecting more bits of evidence.

After that we set out up the hill. Our intention was to walk to Nocelle but everybody was discouraging us, saying it was too far and they didn’t how we could get there. Even the tourist office was telling us to take the bus, like only crazy idiots would walk, it just wasn’t an option. But the bus wasn’t coming for a while and it didn’t go all the way to Nocelle anyway. So we just started weaving in and out of the steep staircases leading up, hitting a few dead ends and having to backtrack. We walked right by people’s home that were along the walks. Obviously great views. Would be weird to live right here and take all this for granted.

Just when we thought the staircase trail would peter out and dead into a wall of limestone, the trail cut up out of Positano and wound up the cliffs. Then we emerged into these terraced olive groves and through periodic farms. We hardly saw any people. Guess most people take the bus or ride mopeds these days. We emerged into Monte Pertuso after 45 minutes or so of intense stairmaster climbing. Weren’t sweating too much as it was cold and windy. Monte Pertuso has a simple church with a flat soccer field. Great views of Positano below. More vertical limestone cliffs form the backdrop, one with a huge hole in it. Signs led to a climbing area but we didn’t see anybody climbing. Just dogs and donkeys, no people in the streets, very quiet.

We asked this shy Italian girl sitting on a moped where the road to Nocelle was and she directed us to the traverse road that went along this steep, dizzy ravine. It was forming a wind tunnel and wind was pouring up from the sea. We walked along the road until we got to some young bucks that were loading sand into burlap sacks and loading them onto donkeys. It was the end of the road where the mopeds and small Italian cars parked. We headed up into the tiny village of Nocelle, a trip back in time. No roads, just old Terra Cotta homes and farms, cobblestone alleys, crusty old farmers with sweaters smeared with sheep milk. The streets were empty and Jess was running low on carbo reserves. Luckily we found this little Tratorria that was open. There was no one in there and it felt like we were breaking in to somebody’s home, but I could hear people chattering through a distance hallway. We called out and finally this guy and his son came out and dished us up some amazing Gnocchi and pasta. They lit the fire in the pizza oven til it was toasty and warm in the place and the view we had was unbelievable, perched out on a cliff hanging thousands of feet over the Mediterranean. You couldn’t ask for anything better, except we felt a bit rushed because the sun was starting to set and we didn’t know how to get back. When we paid our bill he gave us complimentary Limoncello shots that warmed our bellies even more. Limoncello is a lemon liquor which is traditional to the Almafi coast. Good stuff.

We asked the way down, and it was a lot faster, past the cave (which was an alcove-shrine with a spring dripping down the mossy interior, decorated with religious icons of course) and tiny church, then down a switch back trail through a steep forest of trees. All this as the sun was setting with brilliant views. We came out on the “highway” a bit south of Positano. We continued along the road, past ceramic shops and then into Positano where there were a lot of other shops that Jess was loving. Then found this pizza joint down in the ravine above a stream, more great food and wine, for about half the price of New York.

On the way home we watched the fisherman bringing in their catch. They were pulling huge amounts of large sardine-looking fish out of these nets that they were pulling out of their boats. Cats came around to investigate. Restaurant owners came around to purchase straight from the source. They piled the fish in heaps on the mossy stone dock by the moonlight.

So this is where Uylesses couldn’t resist himself and felt inclined to have his men tie himself to the mast? The sirens were in these hills. The waves haven’t stopped coming since then.

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