The air flavored my lips with the slightest hint of the sea as I watched the violence below. It had been building, I noticed, each of the three times I looked at Manarola Bay throughout the day. But the chaotic fervor was exponentially greater tonight. Gone was the calm swimming area of tourism photos and in its place a frothy, churning cove of confusion. Lighting scattered along the cliff face illuminated things just enough to see breaking whitecaps tumble-down and join this fight, the battle between sea and cliff. Folks living in the Cinque Terre (the Five Lands or Five Villages) have witnessed this same struggle yearly – for centuries.
Being here near the end of November, the middle of rainy season, brings less tourists, especially on days like this. I suppose that’s why, just after dusk, I’m sitting alone on the farthest out point in town, a concrete square nearly 25 feet above the sea. That’s why I’m sitting alone soaking up sea spray riding the wind after each misty explosion as natural stone and manmade barrier absorb Mother Nature’s force. And that’s why I’m sitting alone in below 40 degree, 25 MPH windy weather. But, enamored by the sounds and sights surrounding me, I can’t leave.
As a Midwestern raised landlubber, whose vacations seemed to always take me to the mountains and deserts of Colorado, Arizona, and Utah, I first visited the sea in my early 30’s. That first trip to the water, and the few since, were during nice spring and summer weather, so this night was my first real experience seeing big water come alive during a storm. The next day the surge continued, and the day after that; the waves crashed and the bay boiled like it had that first night. It was mesmerizing.
Rain and wind kept me in or near my hostel in Manarola for most of the week I stayed in the Cinque Terre, and the closed trails through the National Park kept my journeys to the four other villages at the mercy of a train schedule. That said, I made my way back to the same concrete vista many times over the next 36 hours. Then this storm, lingering as the last tempest of Cyclone Cleopatra (that had devastated Sardinia with flooding a few days earlier), slowly started to fade and finally died out.
In the end I saw everything I came to see, save for some a few views from high on the ridge, and I’m happy it rained like it was coming from a million huge shower heads. It kept me tied down to Manarola and I got to know all the back alleys, all the paths to the hilltops above, and all the little shops and restaurants along Strada Provincielle delle Cinque Terre, Manarola’s only street.
I spent time in each village in the Cinque Terre but as it turns out, Manarola is my favorite. Neither smallest nor largest Manarola is less commercial than Monterosso and – seemingly – less touristy than Vernazza. It is separated from the rail line by a walking tunnel, like Riamaggiore, but, to me it is more interesting, and from the terraced grapevine fields nearby the views of Manarola are spectacular, even from as far away as Corniglia.
Sometime I’ll visit this area again. Probably during better weather, probably in the summer months, but I can scarcely believe the summer beauty will trump the sense of awe I had that first night looking at the bay.
About the Author: Jacob Curtiss is a traveler and travel writer. He has recently finished a nearly year long backpacking trip through Europe. You can see more of Jacob’s work on his blog or on the Unmapped Travels Facebook page.
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