Cinque Terre Trails Part 2: Corniglia to Monterosso

I woke up feeling utterly wiped out. My swollen and sore calves felt like they had extra weights attached to them. But when I saw a patch of blue sky, I decided to make my way north from Corniglia, along the trail to the village of Vernazza. The hike along the coastal Cinque Terre “blue” trail is advertised as strenuous and dangerous, as it winds high up along the cliff faces. Any threat of rain will close the trail.

A morning thunderstorm out over the Ligurian Sea, off the Cinque Terre coast.

When the church bells in Corniglia chimed at 9 am, I found myself the only person embarking on the trail, past the still-empty checkpoint where rangers will look at your trail pass and make sure you have decent shoes. There were still puddles from the rain the night before, but the dry earth on the trail drank that water up quickly so I didn’t have to pass too many muddy spots. I had heard that there can be a conga line of people along this trail by midday, so it was sweet to have it all to myself. There was a thunderstorm out over the ocean and I wondered briefly if I was doing something dumb, but the forecast had shown everything shifting southward, so I decided to chance it and make a dash to the next village.

Continue reading

Cinque Terre Trails Part 1: Corniglia to Riomaggiore

I came to Cinque Terre to hike. I expected late September to be warm but not hot on the Ligurian coast. I had not anticipated things to be unstable, with a front coming in that promised some steady rain, or at least some good thunderstorms. Normally, I’d be excited by a some storm activity, but I really wanted to hike. It’s actually illegal to hike the Cinque Terre trails in the rain. The trails close at the checkpoints that sit on the edge of each village. So, on my first morning in Corniglia, I was up early, hoping to get on the trail and beat the incoming storm to the neighboring town of Manarola. Based on local radar and satellite images, I figured I had a couple hours. I decided to make a run for it – as much as you can ‘run’ up a steep, rocky trail that takes you up nearly 1000 feet.

Looking northward along the Cinque Terre coastline on a cloudy day in late September.
Continue reading

Captivated by Corniglia, Cinque Terre

In the northeastern corner of the Italian peninsula, the train moves through long, dark tunnels beneath the cliffs that rise straight out of the Ligurian Sea. But I kept my eye on the dark window, because I knew that I would get a glimpse of the ocean soon. And when I did, I was nearly blinded by the green sea sparkling in late afternoon light. I had arrived at one of the coastal towns of Cinque Terre.

Continue reading

Finding Florence without the FOMO

Why not Milan? Or Rome? Or Naples?

I didn’t want to be in a big chaotic city. I wanted a place where I could walk everywhere, a place well contained in a small area with no need to flit around on a subway or bus to get to where I want to go. I’m not a big city person, after all.

So, in my jet lagged, sleep-deprived state, I found myself walking through the streets of Florence at sunset, carrying the two small backpacks that made up the full extent of my luggage.

And I was not disappointed.

My first view of the Arno River after 24 hours of traveling from Denver.
Continue reading

Sono sola

It can be dangerous to travel. A strong reflecting light is cast back on “real life”, sometimes a disquieting experience. Sometimes you go to the far interior and who knows what you might find there? — Frances Mayes, Bella Tuscany

Just to keep you headed in the right direction. The Via Francigena is very clearly marked.

I had it in my mind that I needed to go on a pilgrimage. I needed to walk. Somewhere else. For many days.

If we drop the religious definitions of pilgrim, we can define a pilgrim as ‘one who walks in foreign lands’. I believe there is also some deep personal motivation involved in a decision to walk in foreign lands. Maybe there’s the desire for novelty and adventure. A yearning to see beautiful places, and really take the time to absorb them in a way that you can’t when you’re on the two-week-21-city Euro-tour. Maybe there is also a desire to step out of your life, and out of time. Even if just for a short while.

Continue reading

The Happiness Equation at Valle Escondido

It is June in Santa Elena, Costa Rica, and we are in our hotel room at Valle Escondido (‘Hidden Valley’). The rain pours in sheets off of the tin metal roof, and I find myself wondering: just how much water can the sky hold? Funny enough, I know the answer to that. In numerical climate models, we can calculate something called precipitable water. This is a measure of how much water we would have pooling at our feet if the sky opened up and dropped everything at once. In the Tropics it’s somewhere around 6-10 centimeters. In the firehose of water pounding the pavement outside the window, I believe that’s an accurate estimate.

The entrance to Valle Escondido Preserve and hotel.
Continue reading

Skimming the Surface of the South Pacific

Imagine a place where your vision is filled by all the shades of blue at once. A place where bright white foam rolls on the distant horizon, cumulus clouds tinged in gray roll beneath the cirrus that streak across a royal blue sky, above an ocean that shimmers in shades of turquoise as you trace a line from the far horizon to your feet. If you soften your eyes just a bit, you can almost see the curvature of the Earth. This is how I will remember the South Pacific Ocean.

Continue reading

She would have been 80 today

Eight years ago:

I bobbed up and down on the paddle board, alone, far enough from the beach that I could see mountains, engulfed in layers of grey cloud. I was far enough out that it would be an exhausting swim to shore. I rocked to the rhythm of the swells and soaked in the Hawaiian sun. And then I felt it: that little notion of settling into something slow and sweet, of being held and nurtured. It’s a little whisper in the waves, a voice coming through my bones, smiling and also telling me to move closer to shore.

Mom, is that you?

Continue reading

A Model for the Future at Rancho Margot

Chest-high pink and red stalks of ginger dot the landscape like tiki torches. They brighten the forest as distant thunder echoes through the valley. Hummingbirds dart between the trees and I’m amazed I don’t get impaled by one of them. This is Rancho Margot, just shy of the eastern side of the Continental Divide in the Cordillera Talamanca, in central Costa Rica. We are only a mile or so from the nearest village, a few miles from one of Costa Rica’s most famous volcanoes, Arenal, and about 20 miles (or a 40 minute drive) from the lively restaurants, resort hot springs, and trinket shops of the bustling tourist outpost of La Fortuna. But it feels as though we are on another planet.

Empire torch ginger at Rancho Margot can grow up to five feet high. The colors you see here are actually waxy leaves that resemble a pinecone just before the tiny flowers emerge from between the leaves.
Continue reading

Feeling a bit lighter in the cloud forest cathedral

Where do you find awe when you need it?

It’s the peak of the first real summer travel season in three years, and nearly every other person I know is visiting Italy, posting photos of cappuccinos, cobblestone streets, and cathedrals. My own first summer travel photos are a bit cloudier. A bit more green. They show the sun filtering through a canopy of leaves and curtains of moss and vine. I wanted to visit a cathedral of another sort for my still-in-the-thick-of-COVID pandemic reintroduction to international travel.

Walking under the mist-shrouded canopy of Monteverde Reserve cloud forest.
Continue reading