Our exodus from Rome was marked by some fearful Roman traffic; we crawled out of the city and finally reached the motorway. A quick detour while I attempted to find the Apple store that so eluded us in the city centre: Further research (that is, Apple’s website instead of Google Maps) had indicated that it was actually located outside the city, in a commercial district, surprisingly. But, we were thwarted again, there being nothing but dirty fields, skips, garages and car yards. Fine, Apple, have it your way!
We were destined for Pompeii, and the drive took us well past dusk — it was dark by the time we drove through the immense urban sprawl and found the caravan park that Jen and Annie had discovered for us, down a rather unlikely-seeming street in the back-waters of the town (Note: further movements around said town revealed that the entire suburban region would appear to be back-water. Eww!).
So, Timmy and I jumped out and scouted for a place to park amongst the trees, performed Nettle’s ablutions, and we settled in. Another enormous electrical storm during the night, which in my mostly-asleep state I worried might be Vesuvius. Was there an early warning system in place? Could we escape in Nettle?
The next morning — magma free — the team cooked up a feast of scrambled eggs, fried cherry tomatoes and mushrooms and coffee, and all fuelled up, we donned our wet weather gear and headed out to the ruins of ancient Pompeii, which happened to be right beside the caravan park. Not having personally done much reading about Pompeii in advance, I was surprised to find an entire city, not just a few ruins.
We found ourselves wandering down cobbled streets, now distorted and irregular, lined by residences with intricate tiled floors and faded frescoes on the walls. Vesuvius squatted in the background, a constant, gloating presence (okay, that was a little fanciful). Columns, pocked and free-standing, marked the locations where temples stood; unfortunately the informational booklet was not particularly forthcoming on how and why the locals worshipped, or many other details of the lives of the people that lived here. I just kept picturing that Doctor Who episode set here to fill in the gaps (I’m not proud).
Graffiti scratched into the wall of a temple carried the date 1808, which was an interesting — even the tourist graffiti is ancient. Plaster casts of bodies found at the site were displayed, strewn carelessly amongst dusty shelves of jars and other paraphernalia. These sent a shiver down my spine; the most disturbing being a dog, all twisted up like it was writhing in pain.
We returned to Nettle, to discover that we had been infested by the local ants, who were moving enthusiastically into a gap just beneath the windscreen. Spent some time mopping the buggers up, and wiping their trails off with soapy water, then discovered that the electricity wasn’t working, which made us a little skittish after some other Australians stopped by to say hi, and told us their fridge had stopped working on gas (which is quite a setback) — they had us pondering our reliance on our equipment! Anyway, after checking the pillar we were plugged into, checking with the neighbours and trying another pillar, we eventually discovered that the safety switch had been tripped (ants again?). That’s an easy fix, at least.
So, with our new insect companions we set off again the following day, for Sorrento on the Amalfi coast — an exciting prospect that had us anticipating days of lazing on the beach by turquoise water. The start of the drive there took us through some pretty nasty areas: Derelict buildings, pot-holed roads, rubbish and dirty water. Things picked up somewhat as we approached Sorrento, taking a road that ran high above the coast, with views over the water towards Vesuvius and the suburban sprawl climbing its sides, perhaps a little unwisely.
The roads got progressively narrower, until we were edging along past other cars, trucks and coaches going in the opposite direction — quite a tight squeeze in parts. We arrived intact though, at the caravan park just outside of Sorrento. We have a very pleasant view out of the front windows of Nettle, down over the bay, though the caravan park’s many olive trees.
We have a “beach”, where some rocks meet the sea, and Timmy and I took a quick dip before joining the others sitting on the rocks above with a bottle or two of wine.
For the following day, Jen and Annie had booked us passage over to the popular island of Capri, apparently the holiday-home of the rich and famous. We met the boat down on the ‘beach’ early in the morning, and were shuttled the short distance to the island, with one boat changeover along the way (where we all hopped over the side of the boat into the other one). Timmy, ever the people-magnet, made friends with a German passenger beside us.
Capri’s water was a stunning bright aqua, luminescent in the sunlight. We had a coffee at a nearby café with a very friendly and helpful waiter who gave us a map and suggested a path that led from the marina into the town along the coast. The track meandered along the shore for a short distance, then switchbacked up a steep slope bordered by cliffs, to the town.
The town of Capri was full of people and designer clothes shops. We grabbed a quick snack, shared some of it with a dog who decided to be our temporary friend, and wandered for a while. Tourist shops, cactuses and narrow laneways navigated by teensy little trucks. On our way back to the marina we stopped at a stall for lemon granitas, which were about the best thing we had ever tasted. I vaguely remember someone (perhaps my Spain-dwelling friend Hayden?) proclaiming the joys of granita, and now I can see why.
We had a brief swim at the packed beach by the marina, then it was time to get back on the boat. Some healthy competition for the seats at the back in the open, but we managed to claim some for Katherine and Annie, who didn’t quite have their sea-legs yet. Timmy, Jen and I made do with nearby seats inside until the boat’s captain, who had taken a liking to us, ushered us up the front onto the bow, against the cabin windows, along with a lone-travelling French tourist. Quite the upgrade. So, we had a very good view on the way back, although we got quite damp!
Day two in Sorrento — our last day with the trio! — we caught the bus along the Amalfi coast. I thought the roads were a little hairy in Sorrento — they are quite ridiculous further along the coast! We watched cars creeping past the bus with millimetres to spare on either side, tucking in their mirrors. The buses honk their horns (which make an amusing two-tone ‘doo-dee-doo-dee’ sound) around every corner to warn oncoming traffic, as they hurtle along with a sheer drop down to the sea on one side. Freakin’ insane.
Anyway, along with Andee, a friendly American living in Florence who we met on the bus, we hopped off the coach of consternation at Positano, a delightful town that clings to a rocky gorge, sloping down to a small black pebbly beach. It was very…vertical, and we certainly got our exercise wandering around the town, up and down steep but quite charming staircases.
We found a restaurant and had lunch there; Katherine ordered what sounded like a fairly innocuous lunch of fish, but which turned out to be a little challenging for we squeamish almost-vegetarians: Baby octopus, little whole fish, unshelled prawns. Some food-swapping and all was well; I surprised myself by giving the baby octopus a go. Euuarch.
We jumped back on the next bus that passed by, and continued along the coast towards Amalfi. It quickly grew dark and the nightly electrical storm began to flash and rumble out to sea. Very quickly, rain was streaming down the windows, and great rivers of water were running along the road, making everything dark black or glittering white in the lights. It was really quite a thing, watching impressive forked lightning over the ocean.
We stayed on the bus as it reached Amalfi and turned around for the trek back to Sorrento, and chatted with Andee until it was time to part ways — we got off together and walked back to our respective caravan parks.
We had a surprisingly good meal at the caravan park’s restaurant, and called it a night.
All too soon, our two weeks with Timmy, Jen and Annie were up. In this record, I haven’t managed to represent the experience of travelling with these three — the small moments are so hard to capture, but they are so vital! A better group of people to spend time with one would never find. Travelling together has been a real highlight of our trip so far, and we have enjoyed their company immeasurably.
Having become very close as a group, and used to each other’s company, it was quite a sad farewell — we will miss them sorely. So, we saw them off at the bus stop, a quite emotional affair, then headed back to Nettle. We are sad, but there’s also a sense of anticipation as we set about re-thinking our lifestyle for the second time. It’s slow travel time: Time to make this into a sustainable lifestyle.