Tag Archives: Morocco

Where’d All the Good People Go?

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…to Cinque Terre, apparently.

5T: Good days made even better!

Almost a year ago, when this trip was just a twinkle in our eye, my good friend Jamie Pierce told me about this magical heavenly place he had hiked called Cinque Terre. Jamie is not one to go off on long soliloquies too often, so the way he raved about this particular Italian destination made us seriously consider it.

The train spat us out in a sleepy, palm tree lined town called La Spezia. Rome, in all its eternal glory, is also an eternal throng of people and vehicles all trying to squeeze through impossibly narrow alleyways and navigate chaotic roundabouts. Quiet, tiny La Spezia, with the smell of the sea so close once again, was a welcome change.

‘Cinque Terre’ refers to five towns on the Mediterranean coast, each separated by a small mountain and connected by winding trails. The entire place is a national park, and has become something of a pilgrimage for those who appreciate natural beauty.

We set out early the next morning to find the trail. Classically, the goal is to reach all five towns in one day, but we had decided not to rush it and just see how far we could get.** This was a particularly good approach when, an hour in, we had still not found the beginning of the trail. Our instructions told us to climb some stairs by a church, then turn left at the castle (oh, Europe). Church, check. Stairs, check. Castle…none in sight. How do you hide a castle? (We rapidly learned not to trust the Italian sense of direction.)

Instead, we found some new friends who became an inseparable part of our Cinque Terre experience. Sarah and Alicia had recently finished a two-year term with the Peace Corps in Senegal, and were now looking for the same imaginary castle. We decided to stick together, and ended up doing so for the whole day, and the next one as well. Along the way we picked up Stacy, who was traveling Europe between teaching English in France and studying the history of women’s rights in Morocco. Definitely some of the most interesting and inspiring people to spend a couple of days with!

And this is what we saw:

Town #1 – Riomaggiore.
Riomaggiore

We quickly realised that “trail” was a loose term that could involve ridiculously steep dirt paths up a mountain, vineyards, or crumbling stone steps:
Steep steps!!

Vineyard paths

They're a lot steeper than they look!!

Town #2 – Manarola.
Manarola

Necessary swimming break in Manarola!
Freezing cold beautiful Med!

Directions to the trail continued to arrive in the most surprising forms:
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Stretching break between Towns #2 & 3:
Stretch those quads, ladies!!

Town #3 – Corniglia.
Mountainbound Corniglia

Sometimes, it’s just as important to know where you’re not:
Dorothy, I think we're not in Vernazza anymore...

Town #4 – Vernazza.
The fortress of Vernazza

Supper & swimming break in Vernazza:
Vernazza supper & swimming

Necessary refreshment break* between Towns #4 & 5:
Limonata fresca!!
*We were making our way down the trail through a vineyard, when a burst of radio music and cries of “Limonata fresca!” stopped us. The owner of the vineyard had set up a little hut on the side of the mountain, from which he hawked his wine and freshly squeezed lemonade from the surrounding lemon trees. A gregariously rakish old man, he had not only heard of Manitoba, he knew about Morden’s Corn & Apple and used MB flour in his pizza. “Normal Italian flour, it makes dough like old woman’s skin. Tough! Special Manitoba flour, it makes like young woman’s skin!” I will not try to describe his accompanying hands gestures here, but ask me next time you see me 😛

A truly Italian experience to hike down a mountain drinking from a bottle of wine!
Towards Monterosso (credit to Stacy for the photo)

Town #5** – Monterosso al Mare.
A beautiful end to a beautiful day
**We hadn’t planned to do all five towns in one day, but we had just enough time to make it to Town #5 and be rewarded with a sunset that felt like a worthy prize for our accomplishment.

…………………………………………………….
We had only 20 minutes to catch the last shuttle of the night, but we were starving and stopped at a pizzeria to see if it was possible for a pizza to be ready. “20 minutes?” mused the owner. “Si, e possible!” (As the bemused chef behind him shook his head and mouthed, No, it isn’t!) With enough encouragement (read: getting slapped on the head by the owner), the pizza prevailed and we made our shuttle!
Pizza never tastes as good as after 10 hours of hiking!

The joy of small towns: running into our new friends at the beach the next day. More supper, swimming, and sunsets!
Rock art and calamari cones

To Sarah, Alicia, and Stacy: Thank you for making a beautiful place an even more beautiful experience! This world is so small, we know we will run into you again one day. And remember: Festival du Voyageur is in February, and then you’ll definitely still have time to make it to Mendoza for Vendimia! 😛 Arrivederci, amici…

Granja #6: A lesson in optimism

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In its write-up, our sixth farm described itself as a perfumery, something different and interesting. In their email correspondence with us, the hosts seemed overjoyed at the idea of our stay with them.

Within our first day or two with them, we discovered that neither of these were so.

It was a generally uncomfortable experience, which is all I’ll say for now so as not to dwell on negatives. The positives were (a) that Sara and I spent two full days picking walnuts, and invented our own cosechador de nueces out of a plastic jar, some wire, and a piece of bamboo, and (b) met some of the kindest, most interesting fellow WWOOFers thus far. Between a French couple that had met in Morocco while she was studying journalism and he was studying oceanography, and an impressively dreadlocked Czech/Irish couple who had got jobs as shouting soldiers in the filming of King Arthur thanks to their general unkept look, we always had plenty to talk about.

The most striking thing about these travelers, though, was their ability to stay positive even at this particular farm, where relations with hosts were awkward if not sometimes downright tense.

Sara and I have sadly observed that the one thing that seems guaranteed to bring people together, regardless of nationality or experience, is complaining. Despite the beauty and crazy adventures that are constantly surrounding us here in South America, it’s often hard to relate to anyone without finding something to whine about. And now, when finally there were things we could’ve easily let annoy us, we found ourselves with people that seemed determined to genuinely get to know each other and show love to our hosts even if it was not always reciprocated. It was definitely both a breath of fresh air and a challenge to both of us.

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Cosechador de nueces, design copyright Pedro Wieja 2011
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Welcome to Hotel Massacre*…
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Hike up Loma Bola
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For Scott Donnelly: Fine dining in La Paz – The tale of a tenacious journey.
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* In case you’re concerned: “Hotel Massacre” was the affectionate moniker given by the WWOOFers to the absolutely terrifying, bat-infested crumbling building where we were told to keep our stuff and in which we were welcome to sleep as well (no one ever seemed to take this offer up…)