One of our dreams has been to hike the Cinque Terre in Italy. Gregg visited this cluster of five small towns, 30 years ago. He and I visited the region with my parents 10 years ago, but we by-passed the Cinque Terre because of time and over-crowding concerns. You see, these five little villages (Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore) which are mostly fishing villages, with vineyards and olive groves among them, are so beautiful that they have attracted large crowds of tourists. I don't like large crowds of anything, and neither does my dad. We passed by at that time, but Gregg & I always wanted to go back, and hike
the trail that winds its way through all five of the towns, each with its distinct personality.
The opportunity to do so, with David, arose this summer.
We read the guidebook section about the area carefully, and planned our route in reverse order of the recommendations - for good reasons. The guidebook recommends starting with the easier portion of the hike, and ending with the hardest. That is counter-intuitive, to us; we felt we should do the most difficult part when we were fresh, and the sun was low in the sky. We also saw that in moving in that direction (from north to south along the coast of the Ligurian Sea), we would enjoy more shade...and it was very, VERY hot and humid.
So we set out from our hotel in Levanto, took the train to Monterosso al Mare, and began our hike; it was a challenging beginning. Up and down many steep steps, perched on the edge of cliffs, most of the way with nothing but scrub, olive trees or vineyards and the deep blue sea below us, we sweated and enjoyed the effort. When we got too hot, we hiked down to the beach and went for a dip in the sea.
As we reached each village, we would take a rest, get a snack or a beverage and admire the unique character it possessed. We were (unfortunately) in the midst of a great number of other people, all hiking the same narrow trails. There were many times when we had to step off of the trail to allow people to go by us in the opposite direction. There wasn't as much peace as I would have liked, but nothing could ruin the experience; it was even more beautiful than I had imagined it would be, and was well worth all of the work it had taken to get there.
In many places along the trail, I was surrounded by butterflies, of many types and colors, such as I had never seen before. I felt that Katie was making her "presence" known.
During the preparations for this trip, I had been in touch with the writer of this blog:
http://compelledtotruenorth.blogspot.com/, Chris, who is the mother of the beautiful woman on its masthead, Sarah. Sarah had also had a lifelong dream of visiting the Cinque Terre, and she realized her dream by traveling there with her husband. Tragically, in the beautiful town of Manarola, Sarah was overtaken by a rogue wave, and killed on the very spot where the blog photo was taken. The story as her mother told it entered my heart in a deep way.
I wanted to do something for Chris.
Chris sent me information about the spot on the path where there is a memorial plaque for Sarah. She gave me the name of a woman who has helped the family. I had this information with me as we hiked.
We found the spot where the accident happened, but somehow, failed to find the plaque. But I did find the wonderful woman, Paula, who has been such a light for Sarah's family. We stopped at the Tourist Infocenter at the last town, and they called Paula at her home. She came in a matter of minutes, down to the center of Riomaggiore, to meet us, to tell us of Sarah and her effect upon the small cluster of towns. We talked about how I had come to know of Chris and Sarah; about Katie, about families, and we cried. It was a deeply moving and amazing time of connection, mourning, boundless love and honoring two beautiful daughters, who had both died too young.
Thank you, Chris, for sharing your story, and Sarah's, on your blog. Thank you, Paula, for a meeting I will never forget. Thank you, Katie and Sarah, for inspiring your mothers.
And thank You, God, for allowing us to experience this dream, and to share it with our beloved son, David.