Last Saturday, Subodh and I embarked on a hike in Southern Italy called ‘Sentiero degli dei’ or more popularly known as the ‘Path of the Gods’. The trek takes you along the Amalfi coast in the Sorrentine peninsula. A legend which has its origins in Homer’s Odyssey, says that the Gods come down this pathway to reach the sea, to hear the Sirens seduce Ulysses with their singing. And if you want to see heaven, this panoramic route is the one to experience.
Most people begin this journey from Bomerano, a tiny village in Agerola, which is 630 metres above sea level. And then go downhill to Nocelle, a small hamlet of Positano, which is at a height of 440 metres above sea level. However since we were staying in Montepertuso in Positano on our vacation, we decided to do the reverse, and trekked from Nocelle to Bomerano- making the end of the trek uphill and most arduous.
We had been told by Marco, the guy who owned the AirBnB place where we had been staying, that the 7 km trek would take around 5 hours. However another local told us that we could return midway after reaching the highest point and it would take all of 3 hours. That sounded doable. Marco handed me a walking stick and I felt more confident walking with it.
We started early at 8.30 a.m. after a sumptuous breakfast. At Nocelle, we found the path marked clearly with red dots, but we had no clue of where it was taking us. In the beginning, we came across lots of locals in the houses around Nocelle and struck interesting conversations with them despite the language hurdles between us. A lot of cats crossed our paths, as every home seemed to have a furry pet here.
We felt upbeat as the landscape changed, and we got to view one of the most spectacular Mediterranean landscapes. The confluence of the mountains, sea and the sky is truly heavenly. Precipitous crags made for such a dramatic view. The strange rock formations, the vertical fall of the mountains, the picturesque towns almost carved into them and the cobalt blue sea were all so mesmerizing. Our path was strewn with wildflowers in yellow, white and purple. And instead of cats, we now met green lizards frequently.
The path went up and down. Sometimes it was a mountainous trail through shady trees. At others, the terrain had rocky uneven steps in the blazing sun. Trekkers of all ages began to cross our path with polite ‘buon giornos’ or ‘good luck’ waves to each other. We hadn’t taken a map along as the internet was non-existent on our phones, hoping to find some help on the way. Most trekkers were on the reverse route from Bomerano to Nocelle. Every time we met somebody coming from that direction, we tried to get an estimate of how far we were from the end point. But people’s judgments ranged from 1.5 hours to 4 hours for the same distance, confusing us completely. Everyone seemed to look fitter than me. I stopped frequently, as my knees felt wobbly and painful. We did not see many Indians among the trekkers, except a man from Mumbai, who looked at me and asked me if it was my first hike. He told me not to sit down, as it would make the journey more tough.
As the sun got out, my smile began to fade. I felt exhaustion seep in. Marco probably didn’t account for my eroded knees and an equally afflicted ankle, when he made that estimate of a five hour trek. Subodh heard one word repeatedly from me- ‘kheencho’. Initially it meant, click a picture of the spectacular view. But gradually the word meant: lend me a helping hand and pull me up the steep stairs! Though we had carried our water bottles, a litre was clearly not enough in the heat. A friendly trekker shared his whole bottle with us generously.
We had already hiked six backbreaking hours when we reached Colle Sera. That was the first place we spotted a water tap after so long. We drank our fill thirstily. But by then I felt like giving up. There was no point redoing the path and going back to Nocelle. The only option I had was going ahead to do the complete trek. The final lag of the trek, an hour from Bomerano was the worst. I found it very distressing to negotiate those steep uneven steps. Bending my knees was horribly painful. I broke down, hating myself for not being able to do this comfortably, when other people seemed to race past me.
There were two reasons why I could finally complete the trek. The first was the walking stick -which eased the pressure around my knees. The second and more important one was Subodh. He could have done this trek much faster without me. But he kept egging me to go on, when I felt so crestfallen. But for him, I would have reached the Gods sooner than complete this path! I managed to complete the trek in seven and a half hours- really slowly compared to my fellow trekkers. But the fact that I could complete it matters more to me. Thank you for the inspiration, Smita!
But for now, I want to find the moron who labelled the level of difficulty of this trek as ‘easy’. As an American lady told me at the beginning of the trek, it was eff-ing difficult! I’m not planning to venture in the vicinity of a mountain for the rest of my life. Sometimes you simply need to accept that your body is past its half life period!