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Tuesday, 1 September 2020

The Path of the Gods












This weekend, with the forecast of strong scirocco winds and very high temperatures, arsonists hit the Amalfi Coast once again, timing their attack with the onset of dusk to  prevent any possibility of a rapid intervention by air. 

The effect was devastating, the flames quickly climbing the hillside between Positano and Praiano, going perilously near to the hamlet of Nocelle, the Convent of San Domenico and the houses at Colle Serra before racing over the Path of the Gods towards Paipo. It was only thanks to the usual group of volunteers, working throughout the night and beyond, that the damage wasn't even worse. At long last during Sunday morning two helicopters and a Canadair plane arrived to quench the flames.

The terrain has been stripped bare and so of course rocks and burnt vegetation are coming down. The road between Positano and Praiano has been closed since Sunday late afternoon to all but emergency traffic, causing havoc to people trying to go home at the end of the weekend or their summer holidays.  

The Path of the Gods is also off limits whilst the damage is assessed and it is made secure. Fabio Fusco's amazing photographs tell it all (many thanks Fabio!).

2020 was already going down in history as a year to be forgotten. We really didn't need this as well. 

Friday, 8 May 2020

REFLECTIONS ON THE PRESENT TIMES

I don't think that anyone could have imagined the events of the past few months and the impact that it has had on all our lives.
Living in Italy, we have had to respect one of the longest and strictest lockdowns in the world and for someone who is happiest outside and walking the trails, this for me was extremely hard.
Considered a person at risk I started isolating at home at the very beginning of March and for weeks  my nighttime 50 metre walk to the rubbish bins was my only excursion and the high point of my day. My family  even banned me from  going to do my shopping.
Fortunately I have a large terrace overlooking the sea, so it could have been much worse. I cannot imagine what it must be like for anyone with no outside space. 
I was lucky in that I was still working, so the days passed fairly quickly, and then when my hours were reduced, I started doing things that I had been putting off for years: sorting out drawers and paperwork (25 years of salary slips for example), cleaning the tops of cupboards, spending a lot of time tending the plants on my terrace and doing quite a lot of chilling out. I resuscitated a book of enigmatic crossword puzzles and read novels that had lain dormant on shelves for decades.
Only too aware that I could quickly become seriously unfit, I started skipping (don't laugh!), doing short bouts of stepping and making sure that I hit my daily target of 5,000 steps even if it meant walking up and down the apartment corridor. I found that by staying at home I actually moved more than when I went into work (in spite of the walk from the car park to the office) and even lost a little weight.
My car's battery went flat. So a few weeks ago, I had it recharged and started taking it out for a weekly drive, strictly on my own and armed with my mask and documents, taking a circular route of roughly 6 kilometres. The first time I did this I couldn't believe my eyes. I had left the countryside in its relatively drab winter attire and now found it clad in a riot of colours.The trees were in blossom, the roadsides were a botanist's dream and it was all so, so green. It was overwhelmingly beautiful.
On 27th April we were at last allowed out for physical exercise, for limited hours (6.30 to 8.30 and 19.00 to 22.00), strictly alone and with our masks. It was like being let out of jail. That morning I was out of the house at 6.35 and over the following days created various circuits more or less within the allowed distance from my home. I missed just one morning (it was raining) and would go both morning and evening whenever I could.  I counted myself very lucky to live in such a lovely part of the world where even a walk along a road  could provide such an abundance of flowers and so many amazing views.
4th May marked another step (literally) towards some form of normality. We were now allowed out for physical exercise at any time of the day and could go further afield. This is when the advantage of working reduced hours hit home: I could take myself off for lengthy afternoon walks on a weekday, something that would have been impossible normally. So since then this is what I have been doing. 
I was keen to check out the wild orchids, so my first walk was the Giro di Santa Croce, up behind Termini, where I knew I would be sure to find them. I was pretty gutted to see that the butterfly orchids had already disappeared  and that the orchis italica (naked men orchids) were over their best. They must have been spectacular a week earlier because there were vast colonies of them fading along the hillside. I was however compensated by myriads of tongue orchids,  less "showy" than the others, but incredibly delicate. I also found some bee orchids.
Since then I have also walked up the CAI300 trail from Nerano to Monte San Costanzo, yesterday along the Sirenuse Trail and today to Recommone. Apart from some pretty high grass in places, the trails are remarkably clear in spite of their lack of use over the past few months. The flowers continue to amaze. 
In conclusion, a few observations of this period:
- bird song. I have never heard so many birds singing away. Is this because there is less traffic noise, or are there actually more around than before?
-  traffic noise (including marine traffic and those awful power boats that roar up and down the sea in the summer) - none for weeks, road traffic is unfortunately now on the increase .
-  it is perfectly feasible to shop  once a week. It just takes organisation and a weekly menu planned before the shop. I still don't go.
-  a return to the land. Terraces that had been abandoned for years have been tilled and sown and are already bearing the fruits of labour: peas, fennel, lettuces, broad beans, artichokes and all manner of greens, all ready for consumption, rows of tomato plants, peppers and  zucchini just planted in preparation for the summer. Is this because a lot of people now have more time on their hands and it gets them out of the house (we were allowed to work the land before we were let out for physical exercise) or is it an underlying concern of what the future holds? Probably a combination of both. It is however good to see.
- masks: they are nasty but necessary. They are hot, they are smelly (keep away from the garlic) and they make your glasses steam up. However they have become the new norm and it is actually pretty disconcerting to see anyone without one.
We are now waiting in trepidation for the next 10 days to pass, praying that the situation continues to improve and that we won't be locked away again. That would be pretty hard to digest.

Saturday, 11 January 2020

THE SORRY STORY OF JERANTO AND THE PADLOCKED GATE

Just before Christmas, 29th December to be precise, I decided to walk down to Jeranto from Nerano since it was some time since I had been there.
All was well until I tried to access the area of the ex quarry. Here I found the gate locked  by a large padlock and with the notice you can see in the photo: "closed for safety reasons".
I peered through the bars of the gate and all looked pretty normal to me. Admittedly we had had a spate of dreadful weather with gale-force winds and torrential rain, but I couldn't see any evidence of damage from where I was. Rather annoyed that access was being denied, I squeezed through the railings to the side of the gate and proceeded along the path. Although there were indeed a couple of fallen branches further in, there was nothing else that I could see to warrant the closure.
Maybe I am a little suspicious by nature, but it all seemed rather strange, so in the end I posted the photo with the simple question WHY on my SorrentoAmalfiWalkWithUs Facebook page, little imagining the reaction it would get:
2652 views (which might not seem many, but on average I get around 150 to 200 for a "normal" post), 8 shares (from other hiking groups and hikers) and 12 comments. The shares generated yet more shares and more comments.
This was 3rd January. The following morning the FAI (who are responsible for the maintenance and management of this area) put their own post up on their Facebook page, evidently in reply to the general indignation caused by mine, stating that the TEMPORARY closure was necessary due to the complexity of the damage both to the trees and to the buildings caused by the bad weather in mid December. Evidently other people were just as sceptical as myself and also went down to take a look, confirming that apart from a couple of branches that could (and should) already have been removed, there was nothing untoward.
Requests to the FAI to produce photos of the damage were consistently ignored which of course just fuelled more and more disquiet about the possible reasons behind the closure.
For anyone who is unfamiliar with the FAI, its Wikipedia  definiton is as follows: the Fondo Ambiente Italian is an Italian non-profit foundation, founded in 1975 with the aim of acting for the protection, safeguard and enhancement of the Italian artistic and natural heritage through the restoration and opening to the public of historical, artistic or naturalistic assets received by donation, inheritance or loan. 
The FAI received this area in donation in 1987 and in 2002 an official agreement was signed between the FAI and the Comune of Massa Lubrense. This agreement states as follows:
- article 1:  FAI undertakes not to prevent the free public use of the paths and areas identified
- article 2:  the routes and areas will be frequented by the public at their own risk... with the FAI having the only task of reporting any dangers to the users with specific reference to the type of danger... and with the exclusion of  signs limiting the free use of the routes and areas covered by this agreement.
- article 3: the parties agree that the access and free use of the routes and areas must not be prevented or reduced. The FAI is required to eliminate the closures and check that no impediment to access and free use is put in place by personnel of the organization or by third parties. In the presence of such impediments the Municipality is required to remove them without notice, providing for the recovery of the expenses incurred to the detriment of the FAI.
In other words, the closure of the gate was in complete violation of the above agreement, whatever the motives, and the fact that the local authorities had not been informed of the situation in the 2 weeks following the storms, certainly still makes one wonder if there was actually more to it than meets the eye. 
It took a lot of pressure on the local authorities before they finally sent someone down to verify the situation. As a result the FAI has been given 10 days to take the necessary actions and re-open the gate. Reading between the lines, the damage was not nearly as complex as they were making out, so hopefully the deadline will be respected and everything back to normal before we know it.
We shall see.

Friday, 3 January 2020

WINTER DAMAGE TO THE TRAILS ALONG THE AMALFI COAST

Following the unprecedented period of bad weather we had in December with its high winds and days on end of torrential rain, which caused numerous rockfalls and landslides along the Amalfi Coast roads, we were expecting damage to our trails and now the first reports are coming in.
So far one of the worst affected seems to be the Valley delle Ferriere and the Valley of the Mills.
Luigi Esposito, well known professional hiking guide, has sent a series of photos which show the affected areas and which have been published by Giovanni Visetti in a recent blog.
The first two photos show a landslide along the path leading from Pogerola to the Valle delle Ferriere shortly before the first stream.  As you can see, this has, significantly narrowed the path making passage tricky and potentially impossible should more earth come down.
Further along, at Fic' 'A Noce, there has been another bigger landslide bringing down large trees and earth mixed with pumice stone. Here  it is still possible to pass without great difficulty.
The large landslide that has hit Pontone prevents the connection between Punta d'Aglio and Pontone, so to reach the Upper Ferriera it is necessary to deviate through the wood of San Marciano. Luigi refers to a landslide that has made impractical the CAI 323 path which leads from the center of Pontone  to the upper path of the Valle delle Ferriere CAI 357, intercepting it near Punta d'Aglio.
The interruption is right at the entrance to the village therefore those who come for example from Fic' 'A Noce and want to reach Pontone can only walk the first part of CAI 323 but then have to deviate through the  San Marciano wood - black dotted path on map below - going to the 323a at altitude 308m, the highest point of the Ferriera.)
To continue.. the wooden bridge between the Ferriera and the hydroelectric power station has collapsed and there is another large landslide near the second paper mill (going down) plus sporadic rock falls here and there as you descend towards Amalfi.
These are just the first reports coming in. There will doubtless be more as hikers gradually return to the trails. Hopefully, by the time spring arrives, the situation will improve and enable you and ourselves to continue hiking without unpleasant surprises along the way.

Monday, 26 August 2019

TREKKIDEA ... Amalfi - Sorrento (and maybe Capri) April 2020

In one of his latest Blogs, Giovanni Visetti outlines his plans for a 7 day trek to be held in April 2020.
The probable start date would be either Friday 17th or Saturday 18th and each day's hike would cover approximately 20km. 
As highlighted in the map below (a rough sketch, just to give everyone an idea), the trek commences with three circuits (or almost) from Agerola, the fourth day is the crossing from the Amalfi Coast to the Sorrento Peninsula, and over the last 3 days there will definitely be hikes to Punta Campanella, San Costanzo and Jeranto, as well as a circuit from Sant 'Agata including the  Sirenuse Trail. If the weather permits, the last day would be  on the island of Capri. The order of the excursions in the above two  areas will be decided virtually  last minute, based on the weather conditions; the only "obligatory" excursion is the Agerola (Bomerano) - Colli San Pietro, on the fourth day.

Here is a summary of the itineraries, although these may change slightly:
Day 1-3: 3 loops from Agerola, dates to choose based on weather conditions
A: Agerola - Amalfi or Pogerola: ... Acquolella, Fica Noce, Pontone, RNO, Ferriera - Pogerola via Amalfi or Tavernate (18-20km, possible dinner + private transfer upon return)
B: tunnel - Mustaculo viewpoint - S. Maria Monti - Monte Carro - Cervigliano north - Acqua Fredda - Palommelle - Crocella - Capo Muro - Tre Calli - Bomerano (possible Catiello ascent) (18-20km)
B1: (shorter, but more challenging than B) - ascent to Crocella - CAI 329e Catiello north - Catiello peak - Capo Muro - Tre Calli - Bomerano
C: tour Faito: Macello (2km from Bomerano), Crocella, Palmentiello, Castellone, Cerasuolo, Molare, Conocchia, forest, Casino di Paipo, Bomerano (20-22km)
Day 4:
D: Bomerano - Path of the Gods - Nocelle - Forestale - S. M. Castello -  Monte Comune - M. Vico Alvano - Colli San Pietro (19km, choice between Nocelle and Capodacqua via Montepertuso and Dragone)
Day 5-6:
E: Sant'Agata - Termini - Campanella - San Costanzo - Nerano - Jeranto - Penna - Nerano (return by SITA bus) (18-20km)
F: Sirenuse from Sant’Agata + countryside hike (18-20km)
Day 7 (possible extra):
G: tour of the island of Capri including Guardia, Migliera, Cocuzzo, Solaro, Anginola, Scala Fenicia, Arco Naturale, ... (20-22km)



Conditions and recommendations are as per previous editions:
- participation is completely free; costs and reservations for transport, board and lodging and any other expenses are yours to cover and arrange;
- it is of fundamental importance to be absolutely independent and self-sufficient ... no type of guide or assistance is provided;
- those who want to take part must be able to walk at least 20km a day with over 1,000m of elevation gain;
- the paths have varied and often rugged surfaces, some steep climbs and descents, many steps and short exposed sections and some are classified as difficult or EE.
To the above recommendations, courtesy of Giovanni, I would add another: punctuality. It is no good turning up even 1 minute late at the departure point. Nobody will be there.
This is the plan at the moment, although there may be changes if natural events or fires, (hopefully not), affect the proposed routes. In case of unfavourable weather conditions, excursions may be shortened, varied or even canceled altogether.
I personally have participated in several of Giovanni's treks in years gone by, not necessarily doing all 7 days, but choosing the itineraries most suited to my level of fitness or preferences (I am not keen on steep loose-stoned descents...). I can highly recommend them, however do not underestimate the level of fitness required. The pace can be pretty brisk at times for the average walker and it really is essential to be completely self-sufficient.

nb all but last photo, courtesy of Giovanni Visetti

Monday, 17 June 2019

Massa Lubrense - the state of trails

I hate having to be negative, however unfortunately, and  not for the first time,  I have to have a  rant about the state of the trails in  Massa Lubrense.  I do so this time on the back of a blog recently published by Giovanni Visetti, ironically (or rather sarcastically) entitled "The perfect maintenance of the hiking trails of Massa Lubrense".
Whilst I can just about accept a certain lack of maintenance over the winter months when there are not so many hikers out and about, and rain and high winds can cause situations to change  from one moment to the next, I really do not feel that there is any excuse at all for the present state of affairs, evident to all, and this at the very height of the hiking season.
The photos that probably best illustrate this sorry situation (just 2 of many possible examples) are these:
- the first is the gazebo at the foot of the steps leading up to Monte San Costanzo which is a path trodden by many, locals and tourists alike. This blew over in gales 7 months ago. Yes, 7 months ago! To leave the gazebo lying there for so long is frankly just shoddy, independently from being an eyesore
- the second is again on the path towards San Costanzo, but there are many other places where  fallen trunks litter the paths , hampering or entirely blocking transit.

We were told that tens of thousands of euros  had been assigned to the maintenance of the trails and the improvement of the signage, in recognition of the growing importance of trekking here.
What they forgot to say was that this included the roadsides which apparently  is where most of the money has been spent, and ridiculous amounts of it too and with pretty scarse results.
We have even been told (in spite of the evidence) that the paths are clear and perfectly viable. I would invite some of these people to put on their trainers and come along to see for themselves.
Since Giovanni published his Blog, the "scandal" of the paths has hit the local press also reaching  the ears of the local "Opposition"  who, in true opposition style, have jumped on the bandwagon to express their disdain and ask a few pertinent questions.
It will be interesting to see if this jogs the local Authorities into action, or whether it will end up once again being left until some exasperated group of volunteers does the job for them.
That is all well and good (and maybe that is what they are hoping for), but you have to wonder whether it might be time that they start practicing a little more of what they preach. 
Oh, and whilst we are at it, how come the much publicised new Tourist Office in the centre of Sant'Agata, opened less than 2 weeks ago with great municipal trumpet sounding, has already closed its doors? Rumour has it that they hadn't realised that it would be a little too hot in there under the summer sun, so are now having to find a way to ventilate it! I give up..

Wednesday, 6 March 2019

The Path of the Gods and sensible hiking.

All of a sudden it feels like springtime. The sun has come out, temperatures are rising and  Sorrento is slowly emerging from hibernation ready for the new season and its accompanying invasion of tourists.
Over the past couple of years, anyone who lives here will have noticed the sharp increase in visitors. The reasons are manifold, not the least the impact of low cost airlines, Airbnb and relatively cheap alcohol. The fact that we  have Pompeii, Herculaneum, Vesuvius, Capri and the Amalfi Coast on our doorstep no doubt helps!
There are also far more "hikers" walking our paths. 
I say "hikers" because unfortunately  the vast majority are not true hikers at all, but one-off walkers and all here for the same reason: The Path of the Gods.  Second of Trip Advisor's Top Attractions of the Amalfi Coast, it has become  The  Thing To Do.
If you have a look at Trip Advisor and Viator there are numerous guided  tours on sale covering a range of prices and services. what is disconcerting is that many of them do not think to warn potential customers of the nature of this trail and the need for appropriate footwear and a strong head for heights, often rating the walk as easy to moderate.To do Viator justice, in its covering description of the walk, they do mention both the sheer drops and the need for appropriate walking shoes, but the people actually offering these tours generally miss this out. In fact on Viator, of all the tours on sale, just one contained this information. Trip Advisor fared a little better. Strangely enough they all had "Entry/Admission" to the Path as included.. nice one considering that it is free!
A couple of weeks ago we decided to go there for our Sunday hike, thinking that, being February and pretty cold,  we might be lucky and have it to ourselves.  We didn't, although  in all honesty I can't say that it was crowded. There were however far more people than I had expected, the majority  evidently not regular walkers . A lot of photographs were being taken, including selfies, and that is fine and perfectly acceptable, however apart from blocking the path  until they were satisfied with the shot, they would then amble along at snail's pace, a bit like Sunday drivers! I dread to think what it will be like in a few weeks' time and over the coming months. If the Amalfi Coast has problems with traffic congestion, The Path is no better.
More worrying was the fact that many were  wearing shoes  more suited to city pavements than a rough hiking trail. 
And this brings me on to the second point of this blog. Two days ago the local press reported  two separate emergencies on our trails. The first regarded a couple who had got lost up in the hills behind Agerola. The second referred to a minor injury along the Path of the Gods. Not wanting to be pessimistic,  I am sure that there will be many more this summer, the majority of which will be due to the incompetency of the individual "hiker" who ventures forth unprepared and poorly equipped. After all, if the very people selling hikes omit basic and essential information, what hope have we? 
Accidents can happen, especially on the kind of terrain that we have here. However wearing ballerina shoes or flip-flops is  tempting fate, as is staring into the screen of a phone as you are  walking along the trail or stepping to the  edge of a precipice to get a better shot. If you are venturing into unknown territory, take a map, let people know where you are going,
or even better hire one of our excellent local guides, rather than tempting fate and ending up on the front page of Positano News!


Monday, 13 August 2018

THE REOPENING OF THE PATH OF THE GODS


Today the Path of the Gods was officially re-opened following its "closure" by the local authorities last November when part of it collapsed after heavy rain. 
I say "closure" for two reasons:

- firstly, it was never ever really closed. There was never a proper barrier to prevent people passing and even the official notices were affixed as discreetly as possible, almost as an apology.There was no control. The distinct impression was that "yes, it is risky, however we have done our bit by putting up a little notice and a bit of red tape, so if you do have an accident, you only have yourself to blame, and you won't get a cent from us".
- secondly, although tour companies and truly professional guides  respected the ban, adapting other itineraries which enabled their customers to enjoy the beauties of the path without taking unnecessary risks, there were still thousands (yes, thousands) of walkers who ventured along the forbidden stretch, some probably out of ignorance, others accompanied by unscrupulous, money-driven "guides", or alone, probably convinced that everyone was making a big fuss about nothing and proud of making it to the other side unscathed.
So all is back to normal now, although I do find it rather odd that there is no mention at all of the second landslip, near to Cisternuolo, which I  considered equally as dangerous if not more so than the first, but which, if I am not mistaken, never had an official ban slapped on it. At the time, a little by-pass had been created round it. Maybe that has developed into a secure stretch of path and I am worrying about nothing, but..
What I would like to reiterate, and here I go back to one of my early blogs  "The Path of the Gods - suitable for everyone?", is that this path is definitely NOT for everyone. It is not flat, it is not well surfaced and there is very little shade.

It is rocky, there is a lot of loose stone that makes it easy to lose your footing, the bigger flatter rocks have become so worn and shiny that they are equally as slippery dry as wet, there are rough, broken, unstable and crumbling steps, steep ones too; some parts of the path are very narrow (so single file only which can be frustrating when it is crowded and you have snail-pacers in front of you), other parts have sheer drops to one side, so beware  sufferers of vertigo. It is hot in summer, very hot. 
Please do not think that it is a piece of cake. It isn't. Make sure you have proper footwear - trekking boots or trainers with an excellent grip. Leave your sandals and flip-flops for the beach. Take a walking pole if your balance is not spot on. It will be a great help along the rougher parts. Wear a hat. Put on your sunscreen. And take water, lots of water, since there are pretty long stretches where you will find none at all. Best of all, hire a guide. There are some excellent ones out there and not only will you have the security of a professional looking after you, but you will also learn so much more. 

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