Last week, I traveled to the Amalfi Coast of Italy. Simply beautiful. It is the most stunning stretch of coastline I have ever seen. I had a list of things I wanted to do whilst I was there and the last thing on my list was to walk the Path of the Gods.
This path links the hilltop town of Bomerano with Nocelle and it gives you a bird’s eye view of the incredible scenery that is the Amalfi Coast.
As it was the second to last day of my holidays, I wasn’t sure if I really wanted to walk the path because I was quite tired. I was in a beautiful hotel in Praiano and I spoke with the concierge who told me it was an easy walk and as such, I could go after breakfast. All I needed to do was to climb up some stairs from the hotel to the main road, and then climb up some other stairs to join the path from Bomerano and finish the walk. All these she said with a smile and told me I should be done in less than 2 hours.
By this time I was feeling very confident so, I put on my trainers, strapped on my camera, got half a bottle of water and a scarf. I said bye to my husband who was planning to have a day by the pool and set out.
Now, I must say even though I go to the gym quite regularly, I do not do any cardio workouts and I’m not the fittest of people. The first sign if I was to be honest that would portend the sign of things to come was when I had started to pant after climbing up over a hundred stairs just to reach the main road. But I waved it off and stupidly thought the climb to reach the path couldn’t be much worse. Boy was I wrong.
I climbed and climbed and climbed. I looked down and couldn’t see where I was coming from; I looked up and couldn’t see where I was going to. By this time I was sure my heart was going to jump out of my chest; that was how hard my heart was beating. I met an old man and his dog descending the stairs like they did it everyday and I thought to myself I could not give up. I think I was climbing these hewn stone stairs perhaps 20 stairs at a time and I would then sit down to rest. It was very hot too. At some point, I had to check my phone to see if I could get a signal just in case I couldn’t go on because I was sure I was about to die. But I kept on.
I couldn’t even bring out my camera to take pictures as I was saving all my energy to take sips of water and continue climbing. So exhausted was I that I couldn’t even force a reaction when I saw a snake on the path. I was only too glad to pause, catch my breath and let it slide past. On I went and saw several crosses lining the climb. At the back of my mind, I was simultaneously cursing the concierge as well as wondering what kind of ornate cross would grace the place where I took my last breath. (Yes, I can be quite dramatic.)
I had long stopped counting the steps after I got to a thousand and so I was relieved to see a building just ahead of me. I thought, finally it was my time to join the path but alas, I had gotten to a small monastery called Santa Domenico. A gentleman came out as I approached and said ‘turn right under the arch’. The arch was the boundary fence of Santa Domenico. He spoke little English and I, no Italian so I couldn’t ask how much longer I had to go.
So, I duly turned right and then I couldn’t see any more steps nor could I see a marked path. I started talking and tried to follow the useless map I had in my hands. I tried to make out my own path and slid rapidly down the slope whilst gripping some bushes before I could fall into the gorges below. Now I was scared. All I knew was I still had to climb up because I had suffered too much to come back down. Foolish, I know.
I walked about 10 minutes of unmarked path and then I looked up and saw some hikers about 30 meters above me. I wanted to shout and ask how they got there but I knew they couldn’t see or wouldn’t hear me. About this time my phone rang and it was my husband asking me how it was going. On one hand, I wanted to shout and rail at him for interrupting my climb and on the other hand, I was determined to put up a front and say I was ok. The story would be left for later.
When I spoke to him, he said I sounded like I was out of breath and I told him I was doing better than when I started. A big fat lie but I didn’t want him to worry.
After about 2 hours in my fancy running shoes I finally joined the path. I almost screamed for joy. As I leaned on a boulder, I chatted with an American couple coming from where I was going to and they told me it was another hour and I half or so before I got to Nocelle. I was too tired to cry.
I started to walk, climb, descend, climb, on and on. Then I told myself it was time to enjoy the Path of the Gods. In my tiredness and fatigue, I could see the majestic beauty of that stretch and why people came day after day, year in year out walking the path. I honestly have never seen anything like it.
I made it to Nocelle almost 4 hours after I set out in Praiano. Dead on my feet. My fellow hikers/trekkers asked if I was going to walk onwards to Positano, another half an hour along (steps all the way) and I just smiled, bought myself a lemon slushie and asked where I could get a taxi to get me as soon as possible to my hotel.
Would I walk the path again? Perhaps, but never this route I took. I would take a bus or something to Bomerano and start from there. I would also get proper hiking boots, more water, start out earlier in the morning and pack a light lunch. I would also tell the hotel to explain exactly what lies ahead of a would-be pilgrim.
I only learnt after I came back to myself that the initial climb from Praiano was about 600 meters up to reach the Path. I also learnt that I could push my body far more than I ever imagined. Even whilst I was planning my funeral as I climbed, I didn’t want to give up and my body held. My calves hurt a bit that night but by the next morning I was ok.
For me, the triumph wasn’t walking the path but getting to the path. That’s how life turns out most times. The story is never about getting to where we want to be but about how we got there. Enjoy the ride/walk/hike friends, it is always worth it.