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« We’re All Backpackers in One Way or Another | Main | Genoa, The Gateway to the Mediterranean »

Vernazza’s Festa di Pirati

“I’ve taken a new Italian lover!” was one of the first things Kim said to me after I settled in next to her on the train from Genoa to Cinque Terre. “His name is ‘Cousin Bob.’”

As you can imagine, this statement momentarily caused me great consternation as I paused to question everything I had ever known about Kim, her past, and her family. It was quickly clarified, however, that “Cousin Bob” was actually the cousin of the bride at a wedding she attended the weekend prior. It did not stop us from exploring the topic further as we discussed the pros and cons of dating your cousin;


  • You never have to worry about who’s side of the family you will be spending your holidays with
  • You already know the family and will likely be accepted by 87.4% of the them (sure there are exceptions to the rules and yes there is going to be some sibling and relative rivalries but...)
  • You already know the in-laws and thus you already know what you are getting yourself into.


  • Most likely learning disabilities and birth defects.

It was only a few days later that Kim actually found out “Cousin Bob” was not Italian but Iranian,and his name incidentally was not Bob, but Boback- but I mean come on - Italian, Iranian...who can tell the difference these days as international love lines become blurred?

Ten minutes prior to meeting up with Kim as I stood on the platform waiting for her train to arrive,I had a feeling one of us had bad information and that one of us was on the wrong train. Kim was coming from Turino, Italy, where she was workingand we were to meet on a trainin Genoa, however, the time for the train she gave me did not match up with the train I was instructed to take. I ran across the street with my bags to an Internet cafe and quickly scribed a message to her which she never actually received. As it turns out, as I entered the train wondering, ‘If I were Kim, which car would I be on?” I looked to the left and lo and behold, up popped her head from behind a seat.

We spent the next two hours catching up since we had not seen each other since the morning after the National show when she drove meto the airport at 6:00am after I pulled an all-nighter. As we chatted, the train chugged along the tracks that were built into the cliffs and below us stretching to the horizon were the crystalline waters of the Mediterranean. Talking, talking, talking we carried on, so much in fact that we sailed right past our stop, disembarking two stops too late in the town of Riomaggiore (truth be known, I did stick my head out the door at the right stop and saw ‘Uscita’ and only later did I realize it meant ‘exit’ as opposed to a town me might be rolling through). The mishap was fortuitous in the fact that we met Daniel, an Italian bartender who had an air of Jeff Spiclolli about him, but Italian of course. Daniel told us about the Festa di Pirati, or Festival of the Pirates, occurring on Saturday night. “Yessa, Johnny Depp and all...”What that actually meant and the evening entailed we did not yet know. There were rumors of pirates coming from the sea, a DJ, and lots and lots of drinking. All the above did in fact prove to be true.

When we finally arrived, we were instructed to find the Internet cafe in the center of Vernazza, and from there we were to ask for our landlady, who would be renting us an apartment in her house. The cozy apartment consisted of two bedrooms, a small kitchen, a bathroom with a shower, and a refrigerator. When the woman and her Italian translator finally leftus on our own inthe apartment, Kim and I were dancing with elation.

Kim’s suitcase weighed about as much as her Mini-Cooper and when I saw some of the things she brought along it made sense. One of these things included iPod speakers. Brilliant. While she was on the phone talking with work, I went to plug the speakers in andthe moment I plugged it in I heard a pop -andin that moment all the lights in the apartment went black and the outlet gave off the smell of an electrical fire. I blew the fuse and fried the iPod adapter as I forget to plug the European voltage adapter in. Rookie move. Kim and I grabbed a big lunch and when we came back to the room. Since she was still jet-lagged, she took a nap andI set off into town to check things out.

Vernazza is one of, if not the smallest coastal villages of Cinque Terre in the La Spezia province of the Liguria region. Cinque Terre literally means five territories. Its population only consists of 500 people yet it thrives on the business of tourism and the only way to access these towns is to hike in, take the train, or take a boat. Its layout is quite simple; there is one winding street that makes its way through the town and ends up in a square which is protected by a rocky harbor. On the other side of the rocks, the Mediterranean sometimes laps against the rocks and at other times violently pounds the shore. Behind the town, terraced vineyards rise straight up from sea level giving way torocky, jagged,cliffs and summits.

As was similar to hiking through France, there are red and white dashed markers on rocks and poles to guide you on your hike from town to town, so I followed the trail behind the town south and found a nice little restaurant overlooking the town which washalf the price of what they were in town. On my way back down, the streets were clogged with an old-fashion Italian wedding procession and a very attractive wedding party. Tourists and the wedding party mixed together in the streets as friends gathered to hug, kiss, congratulate, and snap pictures of the bride and groom. At one point the couple disappeared and reappeared in a third story window that was garnished with sunflowers. I thought they would be throwing the bouquet down as is common in our American wedding tradition and the person who received it would be the next to get married. Instead, basket after basket of candy was thrown by the fistful into the streets. I thought maybe they would throw five or sobaskets but they must have thrown twenty plus baskets of hard candies and chocolates into the streets. Handful after handful they came from above like German bombs raining down on the streets of London. It didn’t take long before hearty Italian grandmothers were pushing me out of the way and diving on their hands and knees for the great candy grab of 07′.

Kim and I had a nice dinner that night above the town and afterwards we grabbed a bottle of wine and went to the town square to watch the merriment of the wedding party. Their dinner lasted hours and their singing went on for hours after that. In the meantime, Kim and I met two couples; Josh and Kristen from Washington, D.C. and Mary and Ryan from San Francisco. We drank bottle after bottle of wine and moved out onto the pier as the party began to splinter into individual conversation. From there, we joined the wedding party at a bar in town and danced until almost four in the morning. Kim and I ended the evening with one more visit to the edge of town where the rocks met the sea, and we watched as the full moon danced on the water, creating a shimmering carpet of moonlight that stretched on into infinity.

The next morning I was up and in the center of the town writing by 11 (writing the previous chapter) as Kim slept in until noon. By 1pm we were on the trail south to visit several of the towns along the way. It was a grueling but rewarding hike as the trail rose high above the Mediterranean, hugging cliffs and every once in a while revealing a hidden beach below. Kim and I stopped at one such spot and climbed down to the beach below. We swam like children enjoying the freedom of summer vacation and laid about the rocks like sunbathing-seals. We also had an impromptu photo shoot.In the late afternoon after getting a pizza in the town of Corniglia, we jumped on a boat in Mararola back to Vernazza. We showered, grabbed some dinner on the main square, and awaited the landing of the pirates.

Shortly after about 10:20pm, as the last hints of daylight were exiting the western sky, a cannon went off and loud speakers began blaring dramatic Italian music. Around the corner ten plus landing boats came to shorefilled with many variations of Captain Jack Sparrows. Now Daniel’s comment about JohnnyDepp made sense. They heldtorches and stormed the shore and atone point a pirate made his way to the clock tower to deliver a dramatic speech in Italian, which Kim kindly translate for us (despite that fact that she doesn’t speak Italian). When they landed, a Drum Major lead with his whistle and hand signals a drum line of twenty plus percussion players. Up through the streets they marched and back down again, ending in the square where they rocked out for maybe two hours as hoards of people danced in tribal and rhythmic movements. The drums were raising everyone’s energy and when the DJ finally started to play, the place was in a mad frenzy. Italian men ran about dancing with women and trying to kiss every one they possibly could. One man grabbed my drink, threw some pills in his mouth, took a swig, and handed it back to me.Kim and I danced with no inhibitions and not soon after our new friends Ryan and Mary were letting loose as well.

Around four in the morning, after we lost Ryan and Mary, Kim and I found in the center of town a small walkway that hugged the water and we curiously followed it, at one point, schooching along on our asses because there was not enough head clearance and wenarrowly avoided falling into the water. When we made our way through this arched walkway, it opened up on the other side to the Mediterranean with sheer cliffs coming down behind us. It was the setting for an hour or more of some very intense conversations about our past, what we want from our lives, and our families. Being that it would have been my Father’s 84th birthday the previous day, he was weighing heavily on my mind and for the first time in a long time I lost it as I did those first few days after he died. It is hard to explain the experience of loosing one of your parents. You can talk about it in many different lights and angles, but when it comes down to it, it isactually something that must be lived and experienced to fully comprehend.The loss of your parents, or anyone you love in lifeis a wound that I don’t think ever fully heals.Beneath the surface, therewill always be scar tissue to mark thelife-altering event. But thisin fact is not necessarilya bad thing. In many ways I find it comforting to still be able to cry so passionately over the loss. For me it is a reminder of how close the connection can still be. It is also a way to still feel him as closely as I possibly can in this temporal reality,an existence in which we arelimited by the constraints and physicsof time and space.

When that part of the evening was over, Kim and I met a few Kiwis (New Zealanders) and a few Irish lads. We chatted with them for a while and headed back to our room but upon arriving there, I realized I wasn’t ready to go to bed. Kim fell asleep and I went out to chat with Lindsay and Michael, two 21-year-old Irish friends traveling together through Italy on their way to Rome the following day. Michael eventually passed out on the concrete and Lindsay and I chatted on and on, past the departure of their train at 5:50am. I invited them back to our place to crash on the floor and they got a good solid two hours before they left at 8:20am. Out of gratitude, Lindsey drew me a picture of what she imagined Seattle might look like and Michael gave me a lighter “especially designed for a bong,” as he explained inthe wonderfulIrish accent.

The next morning, being the early-bird I am, I awoke at 1:30pm and we were on the trail north towards Monterrosa al Marean hour later. The hike from Vernazza climbed straight up and it was excruciating. Because Kim did not want to carry a large bottle of water, she talked me out of the purchase and we both grabbed a small bottle of water for the grueling hike. An hour-and-a-half later when we reached the town, I was feeling faint and my leg was uncontrollably shaking. I was not only hung over, but incredibly dehydrated. As it turned out, the town was too much of a cheesy European resort so after re-hydrating and then topping off the re-hydration with a glass of white wine, we jumped on the boat back to Vernazza. As luck would have it, the water at the landing in Vernazza was so rough we had to go two towns down and take the train back up. I was looking forward to just getting home and was crushed by the prospect of not being able to disembark, however,Kim put a positive spin on it and said, “I can think of worse things to do than be on a boat in the Mediterranean.” We had another beer back in Manarola and just made the train back to Venrazza. As it turned out, back in Vernazza near the landing, there was a large pool of blood on the rocks and someone told us they had been pulling out people from the surf all day long as the angry sea hurled people like match sticksagainst the rocks.

Kim and I had a great dinner that night with a waiter who hated us. At one point we asked him what it was we were eating because we liked it so much and he said, “I don’t know,” and walked off. Not too much later I spilled an entire glass of red wine in my lap which was quite a buzz kill but soda water solved that problem. Kim bought a liter at dinner and poured it all over my lap. It was not the most comfortable dinner I have ever had.

After dinner we met up with Ryan and Mary for a nightcap at the Blue Marlin, promised to meet up in Seattle or San Francisco for our own pirate party, said our goodbyes, and headed off to bed for our final night’s sleep in the magical, coastal town of Vernazza.

August 2, 2007
Amsterdam, Netherlands

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