I wrote recently about my constantly changing plans for staying in the Cinque Terre. I had booked my plans to have me traveling from Barcelona through the south of France and eventually arriving in the Cinque Terre, but got a tip that there was an amazing place to stay in the Cinque Terre away from all the crowds. Knowing a good vacation from my vacation would be in order, I decided to restructure my trip to fly into Pisa and then make the short trip to the Cinque Terre. As for the place I was staying, it is officially the only room you can rent in the Cinque Terre National Park. Located high in the hills (foreshadowing) between the towns of Corniglia and Vernazza, the view is incredible. I could have stayed in the cities with all the other tourists, but if you want to get out and enjoy the peace and quiet away from the crowds, this might be your only option. I took the train to Corniglia and I had an option of a 5 Euro ride to the room, but decided to just hike it with my backpack and that my friends was the biggest mistake I made on my European trip.
It’s time to set the scene here. The temperatures were reaching 95 Fahrenheit (35 Celsius), I had a backpack weighing in the mid 20s and I was hiking a much steeper hike than I realized. I had heard that the Cinque Terre hike could be a bit challenging, but in some combination of defiance and misplaced bravado, I figured this hike would be no big deal. After leaving the train station, I began hiking stair after stair going up the hill into Corniglia. This was a very good hint at what was to come. Here are some notes on the hike from the train station up to the town of Corniglia:
- The walk is a series of switchbacks climbing up the hill. Each switchback when combined with 95 degree heat and a backpack weighing in the mid 20s is designed to drain a significant amount of life from anybody who walks it.
- A woman a couple switchbacks behind me passed out from the heat.
- A dog doing the walk with its owner essentially gave the owner the middle finger and just gave up and rested.
- This stubborn American despite getting close to passing out made it through each agonizing step to the top with my calves burning like never before.
At this point, the logical thing definitely would have been to call a taxi. I was still a good way from my room, but if you haven’t figured out already, I’m a bit persistent so instead of getting a taxi, I decided to walk the rest of the way to my room. Some people I spoke to assured me that the walk would not be near as bad the rest of the way. Honestly, did it have to be to be a bad idea? Still not sure what I was thinking.
But I soldiered on. The walk seemed a lot longer than the mile or so I was quoted. My legs felt so heavy that I could barely lift them up the stairs. The steady climbs were no big deal, but those stairs…they were the killer. I had sweat pouring over me and finally saw a nice clearing and collapsed. About this time, a chipper American guy came by with a tour group and asked where I was heading. I pulled together the little remaining strength I had to tell him I was heading to a place called Heart of the Cinque Terre. He pointed up the hill and told me, “That’s where you’re going. You’re almost there.” I was not almost there. It still looked a long way off and it was definitely still up a long ways. This is where I started seriously questioning whether I could make it. I’ve dealt with heat before. I’ve dealt with steep hikes before. I’ve never dealt with them together to this degree. I decided to take a little time to gather myself in the few bits of shade I could find before working my way on.
The last stretch began with a woman passing out in the tour group in front of me (That’s two if you’re counting at home). After helping with her and being reassured they were getting help, I kept going, each agonizing step up until the heavens opened up to the wonderful place I’d call home for the next couple nights. I’ll write more about that in my next post as it doesn’t deserve to be grouped in with my stubborn stupidity.
As for how the hike affected the rest of the trip, I hiked down into Vernazza the next day and planned to stay in the Cinque Terre for five nights total. Unfortunately, I had completely fried my calves. Each step, I thought of the old Looney Tunes bit with Wile E Coyote where he takes earthquake pills and he trembles uncontrollably. That’s what was going on in my calves. Each step would cause a tremor through my legs and after a while I realized my plan of hiking for most of my time in the Cinque Terre was not going to happen. I stayed the 2 nights I reserved in the Heart of the Cinque Terre and decided to cancel the second place I was staying in Vernazza to do 3 days in Florence (best consolation prize ever). So, that’s how I ruined my big hiking trip to the Cinque Terre, but I will return in my next post to tell you what an amazing place a sane person will find at Heart of the Cinque Terre.