Weirdly, I quite like walking uphill. There is no denying that age, expanding girth and lack of fitness make this more of a challenge than for the younger, thinner and fitter, but as my friend, The Big Cheese, would say, “none of us are getting any younger or any thinner”.
Downhill walking has had its day. After the rib cracking incident I’m for the climb up and working up a good sweat. There is no better place on earth to do that than The Cinque Terra (Five Villages) on the north west Italian coast. If you can do it in thirty degrees of heat, surrounded by hoards of tourists running past you like goats, you could grab yourself a little bit of heaven.
As leg stretches go, it can be a challenge because the unmatched beauty of the coastal path is well and truly matched by the gradient of the ascent itself, of which there is a lot, not to mention the precarious nature of the ground under foot, which I can’t help but mention. This is not a stroll for the half hearted walker but the determined hiker.
With only my cane and friend Max shouting warnings about death and destruction, the long drop and some nasty looking barbed wire, off we set, reaching the first village by lunch time. We even met another blind hiker who was better equipped than me.
As the afternoon progressed we met lots of people coming the other way who had a rather better view of our graceful progress than those behind us. “My, you’re brave,” people said to Max. What about me? I’m the one exercising blind trust here.
“Oh boy,” said a pesky American. “That’s quite a responsibility you’ve taken on there.” I can’t repeat what I thought.
“OMG. I feel sorry for you.” Max bared her teeth.
In a bid for solitude we veered off the coastal path and hiked in the National Park where we met a couple of walkers and a lot of lizards. The great thing about lizards, unlike people, is that they get out of the way and say nothing.
It was only a half hour stroll to the village, a quick train journey and a swim. We were on safe ground for a good lunch with lashings of wine. How wrong can a guide book be? Very wrong. We were two of only seven other people who didn’t know about the vertical descent, or who had possibly read the same guide book we had.
An easy half hour stroll turned into a two-and-a-half hour step by step narrated guide down one of the most treacherous paths I have ever walked. Ropes and crampons would not have been out of place. We sobered up fast. “Move and you’re toast,” said Max.
“Do you need medevac?” asked another hiker.
“We need a drink,” said Max.
“You need water?”
‘Not that kind of a drink,” said Max.
It never occurred to me that this was anything other than a straightforward exercise in logistics. I had an expert guide and was still flush from lunch. My trusty cane substituted for the hiking poles I couldn’t be bothered to pack. Much like everything else in life, it all confirmed that ascendancy is always better than descent. If you have to descend, make sure you drink enough to do it with grace or a general sense of no self awareness.
We took all this exercise and dicing with a sheer drop, as a licence to indulge in Italian food and just a sip of wine. We might have been said to have eaten like Lords. We ate more like maiales (pigs), or was it that we ate a maiale. Whatever it was, we showed absolutely no restraint and enjoyed every second of it.
Here’s what my long suffering companion had to say on the subject:
Notes from a guider:
I mostly see Anna in her natural habitat where, unless told, one would hardly notice her visual impairment. Foreign fields, or in this case challenging cliff top hikes, certainly presented another dynamic to a friendship. This holiday needed me to be more aware of my physical surroundings and so it enhanced my Italian experience enormously.
Here’s what I learned about guiding
- There is more to a view than looking forward.
- Talking incessantly for hours at a time is useful and I can achieve this when sober.
- Beer tastes nicer when you have spent hours walking in the heat.
- Too much Italian wine make you talk incessantly for two hours and be of no use at all.
I’m not one for rambling on about rewarding pursuits and do gooding. So I won’t. We all guide our friends on their way forward, as they do for us. It enhances friendships and could bring new ones. Try it.