Speaking of the Mountains- Hante Italy
Most people can agree that there is something magical about the mountains and the time we spend among them. But I often find it hard to explain why. Even now as I write this, I am not quite sure I will be able to express the thoughts or emotions that come from my experience, but here goes.
Upon arriving in Italy we hit the ground running. Okay, maybe it was more of a slow stroll, but nonetheless, despite the jetlag and 24 hours of traveling, our group set out among the busy and crowded streets of Rome to do the only thing we could. We spent hours wandering the streets and historic sites, taking in the Coliseum and Circus Maximus all while throngs of people chattered around us in an amazing array of languages. Traffic zoomed around and busses and Trolleys zipped along their lines and our group quickly got swept into the motions of this life. But among the motions, there were many moments of mimicry and confusion. Every one of us struggled at some point, whether it was with ordering a cup of water or figuring out how to flush the toilet. Even as an instructor, curve balls fly at you that you could have never predicted. Nothing dramatic or devastating, just interesting bumps along the path that are the nature of travel.
After an especially hot wait for a long lost Bus 81, and the ensuing cramped and sweaty ride through Rome, the group was more than pleased to find the trip North to Cinque Terre was along a quiet, un-crowded train. Strolling along the streets of Manarola just around 5PM proved to be a welcome departure from the bustle of Rome. But, not all was familiar once again. That evening was another flurry of activity to find dinner among the crowded streets as the entirety of the Cinque Terre Region flocked to the narrow alleys of Vernazza for the Festival of Santa Margarita. Again, just another challenge expertly navigated by the group, but one no one expected to find. After being rewarded with an amazing display of fireworks, the region continued to amaze with breathtaking scenery. The towns clutching to the steep hillsides, poised to fall into the ocean, while floods of people popped into the towns for “day-trips”. The trails connecting the town offered a welcome break while also packing in some breathtaking ascents of the terraced vineyards and farms (And when I say breathtaking, I mean physical demands of the hike as much as the beauty).
Despite its quaint seaside feel, even Cinque Terre proved to have its own quarks that never made it really feel like home. It wasn’t until arriving in Trento that I truly felt the change. Stepping out of the train station was a welcome surprise. There were mountains in every direction. For the first time I finally felt something familiar. And starting our Trek in the Dolomites only strengthened that feeling. From the first day in Pragser Wildsee, I could tell I felt “in my element”. The maps and terrain, though new in many ways, was also welcomingly familiar. The humility I felt among the stone giants, and the awe of seeing the sweeping landscapes were a language I was fluent in. Even arriving to the first Rifugio I felt this kindred connection with everyone we met. Here people were overjoyed with life, invigorated by the challenges of trekking everyday. I think it was when the group really started to connect on an unconscious level and when I believe we found our “flow”. Even when it rained for all of our 8 hour hike, and the wind blew, and everything felt wet and cold, it was still a welcomed experience – one I knew too well to truly distaste. It was just another side of the mountains that I had come to love. And through this familiarity and connection, every new experience felt like I was discovering new sides to an old friend. We watched clouds of rain engulf us. We ate lunch with all-too-friendly calf who would chew on any lose article of clothing or gear. We had joyfully fragmented conversations in half spoken-half signed languages. We ate our fill of dry cheese sandwiches and polenta many times over. We took wrong turns, and shortcuts that took longer, and spent hours laughing about the muddy slips and falls we all took.
These were not the mountains I called home, but they were filled with a spirit and energy I knew well. The experiences were both new and old, like de’ja vu. It was a place I was coming home too as much as I was visiting. And leaving was just as hard. Leaving the Dolomites was just as much a departure from “home” as it was the start of our trip’s departure. Even the group felt it. On our train ride home someone asked “Why can’t we just leave for home from Trek? Taking a train and going back to Rome feels like slowly pulling off the Band-Aid. It’s so hard to watch it all disappear in the distance after everything we’ve done up there”
Our last days in Rome we treasured our time together before finally splitting into our separate ways. But I could feel that just leaving the mountains, had already started our goodbye. Waking up each morning was just a bit harder and each step we took was another step away from the journey we shared; A language we spoke so fluently to ourselves and each other. A place I will call home even if I never return.