Backpacking is different from vacationing for a number of reasons. One of its key differing elements is the general exertion of energy. Whereas vacation is seen as a time to relax, backpacking dictates lots of movement. Some backpackers spend a significant amount of time planning their route prior to departing for their trip, which is what I did. Others decide in real time the next town, city, or country they want to go to and where they’re going to sleep. It’s really exciting being in a new place every few days, but it can also be exhausting. That’s why I was happy I booked a 4-day tour of the Amalfi Coast, which was geared towards young backpackers, for the end of my time in Italy. Those four days felt heavenly, one for the pristine sights, and two for getting a break from planning transportation, food, and lodging for myself.
On the first day of the tour everyone arrived at the meeting point and became acquainted with our bus driver, tour guide, and one another. It was less than a dozen of us and we were all between 19 and 23, tour guide included! Everyone was traveling either solo or with just one other person and we were all from England, the US, or Australia. Before making it to the Amalfi coast, our tour guide pointed out our first stop, Pompeii.
Pompeii is known for being a town frozen in time. In 79 AD Mount Vesuvius erupted and covered the town in ash. For centuries this ash preserved parts of the town until it was later re-discovered and excavated. Some of the forms preserved by the ash include a crouching man, a pregnant woman, and a dog. A tour guide within Pompeii showed us the remains of buildings left standing after the eruption and walked us through what life in the town was like.
After the tour of Pompeii we boarded the bus once again where most of us fell asleep! We woke up at our campsite and split into groups of three so that we could settle into our cabins. Collectively we were pleased with the accommodations, including the shared bathrooms just a short walk further down into the campsite.
Later we set out for the center of town as a group and learned that the area beyond the campsite was made for cars, not people. We had to proceed in single file alongside vehicles zipping around windy roads. This however, allowed us to reach a view point where we took in a taste of what the Amalfi Coast was going to offer us.
Once at the town’s center our guide led the group on a walking tour where we sampled gelato, chocolates, and traditional limoncello (a popular Italian lemon liqueur). Then we enjoyed dinner as a group and began socializing back at the campsite, learning about the travels we had all taken and exchanging anecdotes about our home countries.
When we woke the next day, we had no clue of what lay ahead. We were supposed to take a boat to Capri Island, but the town’s public boat drivers were on strike. Fortunately, the tour company pulled a couple of strings and secured a boat driver who would take us. When we first boarded, we were told to take off our shoes to preserve the boat’s good condition and white cushions neatly spread all about its center.
What started out as a calm and scenic ride quickly took a crazed turn. The boat accelerated abruptly and bags shifted with the speed. Our bodies began to bounce hard into the boat with each wave hit. I saw tresses of hair fly haphazardly from scalps. Salt water repeatedly doused everyone seated on the left side of the boat. I quickly slung my backpack on and clung to a railing trying to pin my body down and stay calm. After too many moments of thinking I was going to fly over the railing and plummet into the beautifully blue waters, I pleaded aloud for the driver to slow down. That’s when I noticed that it wasn’t the waves that were wild that day. Our boat driver was apparently a man who craved adventure. It finally occurred to me that he was doing all of this for fun and some members of the group in particular loved it.
The driver took his hands from the wheels and stretched them out against the wind, proclaiming “I’m Superman!” Another backpacker crawled to the front of the boat to re-enact the famous Titanic scene and outstretched his arms as well. My adrenaline skyrocketed. I savored the moments when the boat was pulled to a stop and regained myself while we viewed a naturally formed cave or archway. It felt like a long ride to Capri but once on land again my nerves began to settle.
After a day spent lying on the beach eating gelato and pizza under the sun, we returned to the boat. Seeing how significantly our energy levels had decreased by the end of the day, our boat driver seemed to be taking it easy on us. Until he didn’t. I’d sat on the left-hand side of the boat this time since someone had the theory that it would now be the right-hand side that would get pummeled with water. The theory was flawed. Water slapped onto me, leaving what tasted like fistfuls of salt in my mouth and salt residue on my skin. Since I’d survived this earlier, I once again clung to the railing for all I had, but enjoyed the water adventure much more than before. Back at the campsite shampoo separated salt from my hair and it stung my eyes on its way down to the drain. A good scrubbing ensured that all of the salt was lifted from my skin and once I was in new clothes, I felt myself to be the essence of clean. We then had another night out on the town and ate dinner as a group.
It wasn’t until the next day, when we took the town’s public boat to Amalfi and Positano, that I truly appreciated the prior day’s boat ride, despite its wild nature. The town boat seemed extremely slow, taking well over an hour to dock at our destination. Somehow the pace allowed me time to actually feel sea sick, which doesn’t normally happen (but I’d loaded up on sweet candy while trying to kill time and that’s likely what actually did me in). Luckily, the slower pace offered even more time to appreciate all of the beauty of the coast.
On one island I visited a church. Italian churches are known for their request of conservative dress, but on this day I hadn’t anticipated to be at one. A fellow traveler loaned me a scarf to cover my shoulders so that I would be allowed entry. The public was being allowed in, but I soon
noticed that a real live wedding was simultaneously taking place! It occurred to me that half of those inside weren’t tourists, but there specifically to attend the wedding so I departed in respect, waited to return the scarf, and set out solo to explore the rest of the island.
Our guide had told us about a hill that visitors could climb for good views of the island and when I found myself at its entrance I figured I’d start up the steps. My complaints about climbing stairs in Rome had nothing on this experience. The thing is this path was winding, so I could never see how far there was until the path actually ended and I kept anticipating that the summit was just ahead. The gorgeous views also beckoned me to continue on.
When I realized that the only people I saw coming down at this point were in hiking boots, I began to second guess moving forward. I was in a dress and sandals. Very soon after noticing this, the path of stone steps stopped and became an upward path of dirt. There was no longer a railing between me and the edge of the hill; it was just a drop off into a dense clutter of trees below. This was becoming dangerous and I knew for sure it was no longer worth it. I turned around, and was faced with upward’s opposite: downward. It was hard getting my sandals to fix into the dirt. I tried taking them off, but the vines and twigs hurt the soles of my feet and lizards scurried away from my steps, startling me a little bit each time. I put back on my shoes and slowly, slowly made my way down, digging my feet against any structure that was for sure secured into the earth. It was a sigh of relief to finally make it back to stone stairs, one-by-one leading me to the ground level of the island. It was yet another unintended adventure and I took it easy for the rest of the day!
At night our dinner consisted of pizza followed by pizza! The appetizer was Sorrento’s traditional style of pizza. It was by far my favorite meal of the trip, specifically because of the cheese made from water buffalo milk! Large delicious chunks of cheese released oozing flavor and were paired with a flat crust and prosciutto that practically melted in your mouth. I savored this course and then gobbled pieces of each of the three pizza pies that were served as a second course. I can barely remember what was on them 🙂 Dinner was followed by karaoke, which was followed by chit chatting back at the campsite before bed.
We set out early the next day and those who could made sure to sleep on our way to Naples. There everyone split ways, eating, sightseeing, and shopping to their heart’s content. Back on the bus people either ate pizza bought in Naples or drifted off into sleep from pizza that had already been consumed.
It’s interesting the amount of things you can learn about strangers on a three-day, four-night camping and sightseeing trip. The goodbyes were heartfelt. Thank goodness for the Amalfi Coast!