Hiking to Heaven, Pt. 2

As my words trailed off in Part 1 of this story, Harman and I were left to enjoy our gelato in the harbor for quite some time as we found ourselves floating hazily into the afternoon. The sun was still high and there was still plenty of life swarming around us, mostly American and Asian. Almost everyone was sunbathing to some degree. I looked around and was certain that nobody knew what the word worry meant. Or at least they had playfully decided to forget as soon as they put their sunglasses on.

But as I mentioned previously, a group of fellow travelers had loosely invited us to watch the sunset in the south at the Bay of Poets in Portovenere later that evening, so we messaged them to establish some sort of schedule for the rest of the day. They were still unsure of a time, but Harman and I decided that we should probably continue onto Monterroso al Mare, only this time by train. Within minutes of arriving it was easy to see that this was the premier beach destination amongst the five villages. A shoreline filled with umbrellas and chairs, all whimsically decorated with green and orange stripes that stand out against the blue of the Ligurian Sea. In the middle of the shoreline erupts a massive rocky outcrop that stands as a one-of-a-kind jumping-off point. There are ‘No Climbing’ and ‘No Diving’ signs drilled into the side, all of which are all clearly visible even from beyond the sand. But that does little to dissuade a group of teenagers from scaling the top or a model from posing for pictures along the base of it. Again, what was this worry people speak of? 


Following the shore for a bit, we eventually reached old-town where we could fulfill our  ‘postcard from every location’ quota. We found a little place that had been converted into a tourist shop from an old slaughterhouse, which – while ominous and creepy – was oddly charming in a ‘giant rusty hook hanging from the ceiling that used to hold the drying halves of dead cattle’ sort of way. The village is also, among other things, known for its lemon trees, which are practically everywhere. The soap that is made from the fruit is also intoxicating, even though I’m not usually a fan of citrus scents when it comes to body wash. But I bought some anyway because they were molded into the shape of adorable miniature lemons. Whoops.

After this, we continued to just roam around for a bit, up and down the cobblestone streets and alleys that run like veins throughout all five villages. At one point Harman and I passed three elderly women that lived in the area, who were sitting on a bench in the middle of what sounded like a heated conversation. (Although most Italians speak with a constant sense of urgency, myself included, so I’m sure everything was fine.) I wanted desperately to take their photo – which was perfectly staged to be a black & white image – but just felt too intimidated by the whole situation. We were mindlessly parading through their backyard and home. Tourists holding cameras in their faces surely wasn’t out of the ordinary to them, but I figured it might be better to just keep that one with me and let their story wander off in mystery.


But as so much of life is simply being at the right place at the right time, I was lucky enough to pass a small girl who ran out the front door of her family’s home, perhaps escaping her mother’s grasp, as she turned and stuck her tongue out at me from the alley steps. What it would be like to grow up here, I thought. I wondered if she would ever hope to leave as she grew up. I also happened to look up at the exact right time to spot an elderly woman sweeping her balcony a few stories above, just finishing the day’s chores. Because her home was part of one of the most congested tourist destinations in the world, I wondered if she was ever bothered by it. Then I thought about all that her life had seen – what changed with the seasons and what always seemed to remain the same. Then she finished up, moved the mat back in front of her door, and went inside.

It’s easy to get caught up in lives you’ve never lived, places you’ve never been, and people you’ve hardly known. The incessant ‘what ifs’ that play over and over again in your mind like a record without any B-sides. It all brings with it an overwhelming sense of melancholy. It’s all relative, of course, and perspective is one of those things that simply can’t be taught; It must be lived to be understood. But I struggled to understand it then just as I have most of my life.


Before traveling to Europe with Harman, I was a trade worker in Seattle at the Green Tortoise Hostel. Those six weeks were some of my happiest, during which I met some of the most impactful souls of my adult life. You learn the lesson of letting go very quickly when traveling, especially when it comes to the people you meet along the way. But we must also learn the lesson of letting go when it comes to those parts of ourselves that we do not wish to carry with us any longer. After all, it’s best to not take too much baggage on your journey. Like I’ve said before, when you leave behind everything you ever thought you wanted, you come to find everything you never knew you needed.

What would find me if I dropped everything and spent my energy in Cinque Terre or La Spezia for awhile? I was in Italy. What more did I need? This was another instance in which I came to regret buying my return flight before I had even landed in the first place. So many of us are simply passing through life at any given moment, myself included, which is a feeling that found me frequently as a first-time solo traveler this year. Each of us is gifted the opportunity to see all that the world has to offer, but we never open our eyes. Our ears are open to all the sounds of life, but we rarely hear a thing. How many of us are nothing more than tourists in our own stories?


Now, this is all been said before, by countless people before me and in many different (and possibly better) ways. Recently, I stumbled upon a quote from Herman Hesse discussing the difference between knowledge and wisdom. “Knowledge can be communicated, but not wisdom. One can find it, live it, do wonders through it, but one cannot communicate and teach it.” Maybe it just takes realizing all of this for oneself, at one’s own pace, in one’s own words, for some of these universal human truths to finally make sense. 

But perhaps I’m getting away from myself. Our day was quickly fading away, we still had two villages to see, and Harman and I were both getting hungry. The setting sun wouldn’t wait for us. And while the train would be arriving soon, there would be too many tourists and not enough seats. So we put the souvenir lemon soap, refrigerator magnets, and postcards in our backpacks, and got on our way. We would find Manarola next and, after that, a little bit of heaven in Riomaggiore would find us, itself.

Published by Dan Rosen

Documentary Photographer | Lover or Moleskine notebooks and Pilot G2 pens | Avid (and honest) Google Maps food critic

2 thoughts on “Hiking to Heaven, Pt. 2

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