Bede the Kayak King!
There is always colour and light.
Black to begin with. Or the various shades of night anyway, call it what colour you will. White the colour of the sheets I now lazily wrestle free from on my bed. A shade dark also my mood, our Australian co-lodger Tim having serenaded us with his nasal sonnets once more through the early hours. The bell, as enthusiastically as ever, tolls the hour of morning.
The sky is a pale baby-blue, it’s own azure eyes not yet fully open, embracing the new day. Keeping to the water sports theme Bede and I are hiring kayaks from the diving gang this morning to paddle up the Cinque Terre coastline to see its beauty from quite a different angle.
Bright moulded yellow plastic the kayaks, like over-size hollowed out bananas. Red watertight stuff-sacks sit on their prows within them our possessions. The mottled brown and gray shingle stones scrape as we settle into our boats and are pushed into the clear, cool, almost here colourless water. Shade still falls on Riomaggiore harbour so the water is gun-metal gray transparent. Invisible liquid. We glide; we float; we fly free of the harbour and into the open sea, the squawks of American paddlers behind us.
Stevie the Kayak Calamity.
Deepest, most calming ultra-marine blue all around us. Riomaggiore now receding behind us. We stare back at its coastal rock formations. Becalmed volcanic shades of earthy brown and grey strata and basalt rock cut downwards energetically into the still waters of the lips of the Mediterannean.
Paddling closer to shore one can observe this (for now) gentle, eternal union of the elements. Earth and water and air. The waters rejoice and turn a myriad different lighter pigments of turquoise, topaz, azure blue and subtler colours still as they embrace the earth and land under the now nearer scrutiny of the sun. The sunlight takes this opportunity to cast a million finely wrought, flickering golden bracelets of white-gold light upon the surface of the submerged rocks. These infinite ephemeral treasures wink up at the observer from beneath the waves. You wish to dive in, beneath the waves, clutch at them and drape them around your neck.
Except there are no waves today. The ocean again is a still, flat sheet of aquamarine blue that runs, taught as a drum skin, undisturbed as it stretches to every horizon point observable to Bede and I as we paddle along, seemingly the Sea’s sole guests today.
Bede’s a regular kayaker back ‘home’ in Seattle whereas I have only ever splashed around amateurishly a couple of times. My technique is somewhat lacking. My kayak courses frustratingly from left to right against my will but Bede is patient and imparts a few useful tips to me.
Gold, red & blue with a hint of green.
The pastel tones of Manarola and her houses hove into view quite quickly. Soft squares and rectangles of pink and yellow, orange, green and blue curiously harmonious in their multi-coloured joy as they nestle into the greens and browns of the hills upon which these villages perch. I’m getting a little better at kayaking. Our blades cut gently; rhythmically into the water, pulling back through the blue. Bright red, molten in the morning sun, plunged into the water they turn magenta kissing blue.
Up out of the water again and forward and back in. Shards of silver drip in a glistening arc from the bright crimson paddle blades tumbling back into the ocean. We are sifting diamonds momentarily from the deeps, sweeping them into the crystallising light of the sun before losing them once again, cascading back into the depths.
A pebbled beach where we pull up to rest both ways (between Manarola and Corniglia I think?)
We stop on a stoney beach. Gray pebbles and rocks. Rough under foot and not so appealing to the eye, yet here many people are tempted down from above to sunbathe on this little cobbled-feeling patch of Ligurian coast. Bodies turning varying shades of amber, bronze and bright pink upon this slate-grey hot plate. Their colours made a little stranger still by the slightly rose-pink tint imparted to them by my shades.
We kayak further.
Quite a distance. It’s so beautiful out here. So calming to the mind. So hot too! Paddle paddle paddle and rest. We have all the time in the world. All this water is ours today it seems. If you tire just stop, lean back and drift. Stare out to sea or look up at the rolling, fabulous ring-cut terraced hills of the Cinque Terre vineyards. Paddle, paddle some more. We nearly make it all the way to Vernazza but distance is deceptive when you’re a little kayak cutting softly through such a grand expanse of blue. We set target points on the landscape. One after another. But sometimes they seem to float further away rather than roll towards you.
Sit back, relax and enjoy those views! Kayaking is a cheap, knockout way to view the whole majesty of the Ligurian coastline (5 Euros an hour)
Bede wants to get moving out of town to Milan later today so time and physical will are our only limitations. We do an about turn just shy of Vernazza and head back. Remember of course that every stroke and paddle forward means another on the way back.
Clear, still blue as far as the eyes could see. Wonderful!
It’s ok. No rush. Take your time. Stop. Drift. Listen to the silence. No waves break against our bows. Crane your neck backward. The sky so blue above and tiny off-white clouds dance imperceptibly for you. Stare here. Stare there. Crack a joke.
Ignore the dull fatigue - not yet pain - nestling in between your shoulder blades. Happy but waning. Relax. The oceans and the skies are our friends today. You think you can’t cut through this saphire skin upon the ocean but take your hand. Flatten your palm and let it rest upon the surface. The gentlest smallest touch imaginable upon something so vast, and so deep. So warm. You press your fingers through the surface. It is so warm. It is all so still and calm. Close your eyes. Keep your palm pressed against the invisible flow of the ocean. Listen. Feel. You are touched by colour and depth and warmth. If you concentrate I think maybe, down here, just beneath the surface on a day like today you could probably feel the pulse, a pulse, the heartbeat of the world.
Such subtle reverberations travel further through water after all.
Ginger & Blue : Diggin' the hair man! ;)
How far now to Riomaggiore? Pick up your sticks and watch your blade, first number one, then number two as it dips back through the slumbering waters as you go. Cutting through liquid silk. Delicate blades; magenta kissing blue.
Fatigue. Fire and gold beat down from the sun. Sweat, some indefinable colour coursing salty down my face. But we make it back just fine. A good four hours plus on the blue, blue waters. Pink our cheeks, flushed with the effort. Red my ears and nose for their lack of sun cream.
My olive green shirt is patterned its entire length with small, swirling white crystalline tide marks from where the perpetual splashes of sea water have almost instantly dried to salt upon the fabric in the sun. My shirt and shorts both feel like they’re stiffened to cardboard.
Afternoon now. I say my farewells to my good friend Bede. It has been good to have some adventures; to share the sights, the colour and light of Cinque Terre with a pal. But my time here is not over yet.
Back from water and returned to land I wish to walk higher, through the hill-paths of the Parco Nazionale delle Cinque Terre. First one more walk along Via dell’Amore. The views as enchanting as before but it now being a weekend this brief stretch of the walk is now utterly choked to discomfort with tourist guided groups.
So many of them it defies comprehension. There must be 150 here comprising a collective calling themselves ‘Happy Tours’ alone. Each swarm member proudly displaying their individual name stickers on their breasts. Do you guys reeeeally need someone to show you how to enjoy a coastal walk? I bustle through to Manarola trying not to let them dent my calm too much.
'Peace' truly to be found in the Cinque Terre hills.
It is from Manarola that I shall ascend into the hills, gladly away from this sweaty, chattering melée of Happy Tours humanity. “Ya know, this is like soooo much more my favourite than like the Graaand Canyon!” Really pal? Hmmm? I’ll reserve judgment myself.
Fear not, in Cinque Terre it seems there is always escape.
Release. Merge back silently into the beautiful surroundings. Become one with the colour and the light. Bright. Silent. Bright. Up into the hills. Climbing. Route 02. Climbing still. Then start on Route 6. Climbing further towards the sun. It’s not easy this first leg up and out from Manarola. Trust me on this, but also on the reassurance that no matter how hard and tiring you find the initial craggy rock-hewn stairway all the way up (it really ain’t easy for the already tired of body) your soul is gonna be paid back many times over for the initial effort… so please, keep climbing on into the sun.
Small old church in Manarola as you ascend through the village on to the trail to Corniglia.
Up here in the Cinque Terre hills is a true moment of bliss for me.
Then. Now. In my life. Harbouring almost zero spiritual inclinations within me this walk up into and over the hills, this stroll along the dusty pathways that cut along the lines of the hills towards the ripening ochre sun as is it drifts inexorably towards sunset is a genuine… what do they call ‘em?… transcendental moment for me. Near spiritual. An epiphany of calm and contentment if nothing else. This must be what a journey; what this journey is all about. (Who knows?) You have transported yourself far away from everything that is familiar to you. You are transported. Another place. A new place. A new peace.
A close up to try and give you an idea of the 'tracks' that the farmers get up & down these hills on.
The hilly path places you, a tiny speck of humanity up here, entirely alone in the early evening light right into the heart of the vineyard terraces that cut and pattern almost every inch of this verdant green precipitous hill collection that form the Cinque Terre National Park.
Your feet kick up fine, fawn and light-rust coloured flecks of earth and dust. Tiny spores of umber and clay float into the airs that blow ever so gently around the curvaceous lines of these earthy, fertile landmasses. Hypnotic patterns are carved into the hills and on to your eyes by the way that the Ligurian farmers have ingeniously carved their terraced vineyards into the land available to them. Concentric rings of infinite shades of green. A giant net with which to catch the day long harvest of gold cast forth by the Mediterannean sun. Green and gold. Emerald and ochre yellow. The two colours vie with each other on the surface of every spidery, wreathing plant and vine you come across. Cool and rusted metal; mechanical greys occasionally cut through Nature’s pallet. A small pylon. A piece of farm machinery abandoned to the elements. The dark metal snakes of the small funicular runners the farmers use to travel up and down their vertiginous lands.
Looking down on Manarola from on high... VERY HIGH!
I stop and admire the view once more. Deep long breaths. Inhale the scenery. The view. Exhale. Inhale again. The heart beats at first swift. Then slow. Warm. A heady rhythm of contentment. Beats within you. (If you placed your palm flat upon your chest now, pressed gently and dipped beneath the surface, warm; if you concentrate would you feel again the pulse, a pulse, the heartbeat of the world?). There is colour and there is light. Swirling, mixing within you. And there is happiness. A feeling for all these colours plays upon the senses as you realise they have been doing throughout this balmy day. The colours swarm around you.
Within you. One after the other. The spectrum expanding. The colours of the sun that have tattooed your skin the whole day long. Blue sky now is closer to you than when you gazed into its well from the ocean’s surface this morning. Resting upon the skin of this fair planet. The deeper, more distant blue sheet of water now stretches, an even larger canvas than before spread below you.
Green, gold and blue. Colour and light poetry walking alone through the Cinque Terre vineyards.
Blue waters wash within me too. Tiny flecks of blue. Mild regret. That up here amidst all this beauty I do not have any family here to share the moment with me, to look down from above at the infinite joyful play, the compositions of colour and light displayed. Colour where the water meets the land, as they take each other hand in hand.
Colour as the shaded lower reaches of the hills expand within your field of vision climbing towards you, beyond and onwards to the sun. Colour in every band of green circles that sweep around these hills bedecked in vines. Here I am, the camera ascends to the sky and are they here looking down? Above me? Within me? Behind my eyes as I stare at the little cream clouds that are gathering for the evening’s sunset. There is white. The presence of all colour. Of light. The whole spectrum of light, of life, brought together to make white. The colour of a new blank canvas. Blank. New. Ready to be filled with all the colours you can imagine and lay your hands on. Your canvas. Created by the light of former loved ones who’s colours combine within in you.
Bleeding in to you. Through you. White. Blank. New. But what do you think you will do with such a pallet at your disposal.
The astonishing beauty of the Cinque Terre hills and vineyards (olive and lemon-tree groves a plenty too!)
I suddenly realise my thoughts (as with this journal entry) have floated far, far too incomprehensibly above the ground. Time to come back down. My feet back on the dusty vineyard paths. Keep them steady for there are some steep falls here on this walk. The path has completely given way at one small point and I must clamber, clinging to silver metal wire and green vine to get across safely. Deep vermillion green, and emeralds bloom in the valley slopes below and throughout as my path now falls down into the wooded lower slopes that snake down towards Corniglia.
Patches of faintest yellow light fall through leaves of multitudinous greens to hit the forest floor. This has been a fairly long walk. The best part of 2 hours from the one village to the next. I think I will stop here now and reward my efforts with a pleasant meal I spotted on offer here two days ago.
Rewarding my efforts with a yummy 'plato fredo' of meats, marianated vegetables and cheeses.
Down the many steps that lead to the train station and the coast in Corniglia to await a train home to Riomaggiore. The sun has dipped far in the time it took to relax into my cold meat and cheese platter and beer. Most things of man and nature are blackened silhouettes against the sky now. The sky itself smoulders a final symphony of darker tones for the pleasure of my eyes. A sunset of bruised-purples and plum-mauve tones commingling with rich peachy-oranges and struggling strains of deep rose-pink. The Mediterannean’s waters in the distance now a deep, darkened still, still payne's gray.
The sun’s late evening scarlet disc throws final ribbons upon its surface, turning tarnished burgundy or magenta kissing blue.
Just beautiful. 'nuff said.
Black to end with. Or the various shades of night anyway, call it what colour you will.
There is always colour and light.
Once you make it through the night.