Dawn is breaking over the mountains. Bird calls and noises from the village echo off the hills. The breeze is gentle, though it carries a slight chill, which I’m trying to appreciate because it’s going to be hot later today and I’m going to be tired and grouchy as jet lag starts trying to pull me into its swamp. I could kill for a cup of coffee right now. But it’s 4 am and breakfast isn’t until 7. I’m happy for now for the peace and the solitude.
The sun rises suddenly and chases away the chill like a dog chasing a cat. It takes the stage and dominates the day. I will finish the day so grimy and hot that, on returning to my room, I walk straight into the shower in my clothes to wash it all away.
We explored Cinque Terre, five villages of Liguria, nestled in the hills above the Mediterranean Sea. Its history is ancient. It was a region of farmers who lived high in the hills, afraid to descend to the shore because of the threat of pirates. To be taken by pirates meant to become a slave, either to be sold or to row the pirate ships.These five little towns have nearly 5000 miles of walls, as much as the Great Wall of China. They were built in the early 12th century, terracing the slopes and making them home to vineyards and olive groves. It was not until the 13th century when Genoa united the region and provided defense that the some villagers descended to the sea and became fishermen and salt collectors.
Each village is nestled around a cove and is anchored by a clock tower. On one hilltop stands the ancient watchtower and on another the cemetery, ghosts protecting the villages on both flanks.
I myself am haunted by the cemetery, the crooked crosses, the cubicles waiting to be filled, and especially the faces of the people interred. I wonder about their stories, one face filled with pain, the other with joy, and the others maybe frozen with a too-stern life.
What was it like here then? When the villages were small and isolated? And what would they think of the absurdity of the crush of people now crowding their village square; they who most likely never ventured further than their own nestling hills?
But then all the dark, deep thoughts evaporate as I walk back into the baking sun and gaze into water so clear you see the bottom, the surface reflecting the sky and the sea floor.