Monday, November 4, 2013

Day 67


My host gave me a ride down to the port. This time in his car.

The next big port was Amalfi, about 17 nautical miles. The Blue Grotto was 1.7 nautical miles in the opposite direction. To paddle there would add three miles onto an already long day. After the previous days trauma, I decided to skip it.

On the ride down my host asked me if I was going to the Blue Grotto.

“Is it really nice?” I asked him.

“Yes, it's really nice.”

“Well, I guess I'll go then.”

He told me that only paying customers were allowed in on the designated row boats. If I went on my own, I'd have to be out before opening time at 8:45 to avoid trouble, and if anyone asked, I didn't hear it from him.

On the pier a couple of fisherman, a dockworker, and a policeman gathered to watch me prepare my food for the day and pack my things into my hatches. One man asked me, “Are you going to the Blue Grotto?”

“If I were, I wouldn't admit it with a policeman right here.” I told him. “I understand you need a ticket.”

The policeman fished through his pockets and handed me a ticket.

I was pleased to accept it.

I paddled west along the northern coast of Capri. I had a tail wind which would mean trouble later. Schools of fish leaped out of the water at every turn as I passed beneath towering cliffs, between rock formations that crept out from the island.

An old fisherman's motorboat cut in front of me. He was trailing a long line that I accidentally picked up with my paddle. Not wanting to get hooked, I stopped to let him get far ahead.

The cliffs were populated by strange stone shapes and holes. In one place it looked as though a gaping mutated mouth with teeth was drooling.

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Then I arrived at the entrance to the Blue Grotto. It was smaller than I realized. I watched the waves pass into the cave, sometimes almost completely covering the entrance. If I got caught by a wave like that while entering I would be mushed against the top of the opening.

A chain ran through from the cliff face outside. I switched to my storm paddle, both because I could use it one handed while the other held the chain and it wouldn't hit the ceiling above me.

I watched the waves until I felt I could time the lulls, and then pulled myself in along the chain, using my paddle to keep the boat pointed in the right direction while I dropped my head down near my back deck.

Warm air blasted over me from the cave as I slid in without getting mushed.

My eyes adjusted to the darkness. The water glowed blue. The ceiling rose overhead and the cavern was a good deal larger than the opening suggested. Warm air soothed me and I watched small fish swim in the glowing blue water that lit the cavern. A shrine had been carved in the wall at the far end where the light was weaker.

It was worth the three miles.

I said a prayer for the welfare of the traveler, recorded it on video in the hopes that it would go viral on Youtube increasing the chance god would find it, and then left the cave, hitting my head mildly on the way out.

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I paddled east, staying close to the island to avoid a headwind. I passed between some tall boulders and the island.

A man from a fishing boat called out to me. He was one of the fellows who had watched me pack my boat earlier. I waved back to him.

Schools  of fish leaped out of the water.

Then I left the shelter of the island. Crossing to the mainland, I fought against the wind. Either it was stronger than what had been forecast or I had lost a lot of my gusto since the last time I dealt with a headwind, but the waves were taller than I was and rushing into my bow as I struggled to make the crossing quickly. I shot over them and then crashed down into the lull before the next wave would launch me up again.

I turned around to see Carpi behind me. The rock spires on the southern side looked even more exotic than what I had paddled past earlier, and I hope one day I'll come back to properly explore them. I lost my balance for a second while thinking about it as another wave tossed me up and dropped me down. Not so gracefully, I recovered.

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When I reached land I found a flat spot in the shelter of some cliffs and stopped to rest. There was a blow hole there, that is, a hole in the cliff that water washed into and out of. Sometimes, an enormous amount of water would blast out of the hole in an explosive display of pressure released. I tried to record it on my camera. Just after my camera's battery went dead, there was another blast.

For the next few hours I paddled between islands and the mainland against a headwind. I was tired and making slow progress. I stopped to investigate a sea cave, but once back out on the water my spirits dropped.

I asked some scuba divers how much farther the Amalfi, my destination. They were diving next to a row boat under an island with a single house at the top of a cliff.

They looked shock that I was going that far. It's all the way around the bend. It's at least 20, 25 kilometers.

I continued on, further disheartened. Then the headwind slowed and I picked up speed and spirits. Then it stopped all together. The water turned glassy, and while I my body ached, I began to smile and paddle at a good pace.

When I arrived in Amalfi, two hours later than I had hoped, it was with a grin on my face. An effort had been made to hook me up with some hospitality, and I didn't know if the effort had been successful so I kept my eyes open as I pulled into the port.

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Amalfi is an ancient town built on the side of a mountain. The roads are narrow and the sidewalks are mostly stairs and well above them. The lowest level is a touristy area around the port. And from in front of a restaurant, people were calling me.

I was pleased to be expected and paddled over towards them. Only they weren’t expecting me, an older fellow had dropped his hat in the water and now it sat at the bottom of the clear blue sea. Could I use my paddle to get it for him?

I tried, unsuccessfully. I tried capsizing to see if I could reach the hat with my hands while I was underwater. At least six feet down if not more, it was too deep.

“I'll make a deal with you.” I called up to the crowd on the restaurants porch. “If I get your hat, will you let me keep my boat here for a couple of nights?”

“Yah, it's not a problem.” They checked with the restaurants owner.

I got out of my boat and swam to the bottom, rescuing the hat, to great applause.

For the sabbath, I set up camp on the beach in the spot I was promised.

The thick lush forest, towering mountains, and mind boggling cliffs around Amalfi are amongst the most beautiful natural wonders I've seen in my life. I spent Saturday exploring the trails around the city. Streams rush everywhere. There's a cliff that’s hundreds of feet high, covered with moss and a waterfall.

An ice cold stream rushes through a ravine while water pores  down the moss on the cliff face sides.  Trees far overhead shade the tranquil shrine.

I started exploring by myself and found some wild goats, but not long after I arrived at a dead end and was ready to give up. Some Italians passed me and one of them spoke some English. Sure, I could join them.

They got to the same dead end, but a quick cell phone call told us we were on the wrong side of the valley. We went back into the town and entered the mountains from a different direction, passing a donkey climbing stairs on the way.

Then, deep in the woods, we met up with a middle aged Australian couple that had a map, so I switched to hike with them. The Italians I hiked with were smoking cigarettes and complaining about the stairs. These Australians were climbing with vim and with vigor and flip flops, and why not, Pam is an ultra marathon runner.

As we hiked through the clouds I questioned her tirelessly. She was the first such woman of legend that I had met. The sort of person who could run 100 miles in a single outing, very nearly a god.

“What do you eat?” “How do train?” “Explain, elaborate, what do you think about this and that and the other?” She was patient, and helpful. Her advice was good, and I was happy. I went into the woods, and found everything I was looking for, and then some.

Miles paddled: 22.5

Total since Naples: 39.5

Current location:  40.632036,14.598007


  1. Dov, middleaged australian male here (michael) - nice to see we got a mention, was a great walk, thanks for your company. And you know, someting crazier than Pam wearing flip flops ( we aussies know them as thongs), we met this guy walking the mountain trails in bare feet! May your god be with you.

  2. man, that Blue Grotto looks, literally, breathtaking. glad you feel it was worth the journey.

    i've got a friend who's an ultramarathon runner. in her 20s, she was a booze-swilling, cigarette smoking, weed puffing metal head. and then she had kids and got a law degree. she did her first ultra-marathon about two years ago, and at the 98th mile, tore her Achilles' tendon, which meant it was impossible to continue. she told her two daughters - both 15 and younger - that it was her one and only try, because she was going to go back to being a mom, feeling like she neglected them while training.

    they told her they wouldn't let her quit, because after all, she hadn't achieved her goal yet.

  3. I wasn't sure if I was allowed to call you middle age, but then I decided, you have grown kids. That's got be worth something in recognizing your stage of life.

    It was a real pleasure to be able to hike with you, thanks so much for letting me tag along!

    I'm glad you checked out the blog and I hope you like it. Enjoy the rest of your travels!

  4. Well yeah, we do have grown kids and yeah we are middle aged, but you dont have to remind us, and the rest of the world ( or at least the rest of your readers). Ha! May you have the wind at your back......

  5. Thank you. I'm having trouble with being 30, but then I think, wow, when I was twenty I wished I'd be having this much fun at 30. I suspect you guys can say the same and I certainly hope that when I have grown kids I'll be rocking life the way you guys seem to be.