Monterosso al Mare. I am ready for my second try of the hike between three villages of le Cinque Terre. It’s a fine day for a hike, not too hot, and we’re getting an early start. We will stop in Vernazza for some pizza and then finish in Corniglia, where the basil gelato is once again calling my name.
I hand the man at the trailhead a ten-euro note and he looks past the money to my feet, which are outfitted in my black Birkenstock slides.
“Oh no, signora. This is not recommended. This is very dangerous.”
I smile, sheepish. “Thank you, I understand. I’ve already done the hike; I understand the risk… I think I would like to try anyway.”
The man narrows his eyes, and for a second I think he’s actually going to make me turn back.
Trying for respectful, yet determined, I offer my best charming smile. There is a silence.
The man waves his hands at my foolishness. “I understand this for you, you are young, no problem,” he shakes his head. “But I tell you this: very dangerous. Not recommended!” He hands me my ticket.
With this “beware the Ides of March” word of encouragement, I start hiking.
In all fairness, I did not expect to be hiking today. In the latest incarnation of my usual plan not to plan, I am in the shuttle down to Riomaggiore with a vague vision of cannoli dancing in my head, when I find a group of guys to go hiking with.
I had met Martin the night before while I was camped out in my office for the week (the computer near the front doors of the hostel), working on a blog post. He sat down beside me: “Hi, what are you doing?”
The first thing I notice is his impressive beard and an accent I’m not sure about. He’s Austrian. Later, he pops back around with a handful of peanuts for me. “Brain food.”
He tells me about his plan to go hiking the next morning with a group of Welsh guys. “Oh cool, hope it’s nice weather,” I say, or something like it, having no clue I will be making the trek with them.
The next morning, we all happen to be taking the same shuttle. “Will you be hiking with us, then?” One of them asks me. I say no, automatically. “I’m not really dressed for it, anyway.” But as we get to talking, I find I do want to go. The sky is so gray and I have nothing better to do. Sandals be damned, I’m doing it.
We get coffee and cornetti al cioccalato before taking the train from Riomaggiore all the way down to the last village, Monterosso, where we’ll start our hike. On the train platform, the conversation turns to food.
“I love a great stack of American pancakes,” says Jimmy. “Smothered in maple syrup. Absolutely de-” I think he’s going to say delicious, but debaucherous is the word he chooses to describe his favorite breakfast.
That is when I know for certain this is going to be a fun day. If I survive it.
Thirty seconds into the morning’s activity, I think that my red-painted toenails look absolutely frivolous, and I have a vision of falling to my death, or even just spraining my ankle, while French and Italian families look on, shaking their heads and thinking, she had that coming.
And I do. Hiking in Cinque Terre isn’t complicated; there are just a few rules:
Don’t wear sandals.
I feel a sudden kinship with the Chinese grandma who is making the hike in dainty ballet flats and a sun hat. The man at the trailhead warned her as well, and she just grinned at him, uncomprehending. It is her and I against the world, respectfully disregarding the naysayers. An Iggy Azalea song flashes through my head: I just can’t worry ’bout no haters, gotta stay on my grind…
Unfortunately, my ally gives up the grind fifteen minutes into it, turning back with her daughter holding her arm.
I forge on ahead.
I don’t like the looks of the heavy clouds, which start spitting rain at us and make the trail woefully slippery. I also don’t like the way these sandals threaten to slip off my feet at any moment.
I admit it. I was wrong. And my punishment is having someone scold me every ten minutes for my impractical choice. The fun part: I hear disapproving and incredulous muttering in at least four languages.