Cinque Terre “meaning the 5 lands,” consists of 5 picturesque villages that sit waterfront on the Italian Riviera. Riomaggiore is the southernmost of the 5 small towns, and where I have stayed on both of my visits. It was one of the go to “no one knows about” hot spot for young backpackers in the late 90’s, where most of us only discovered from word of mouth once we arrived in Europe from fellow travelers. The second being a little unknown island by many Americans at that time, in Spain via Barcelona named Ibiza. Which later became very recognizable.
***If you decide to go– Cinque Terre is still a backpackers destination- go ahead and make reservations even if it’s a hostel, the village is small and space is limited. If going by train, you will be traveling towards “La Spezia,” the nearest large city that will connect to Monterosso al Mare –The Largest Village–, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, or Riomaggiore of Cinque Terre.
The Actual Story
That One Time I Almost Died… in 1998
Backpacking my way through Europe for three summers during my college breaks, may have been one of the coolest things I have ever decided to do. Each trip was totally different. Especially the first! I went with one friend and she and I were so happy to get to Italy. We had traveled around for weeks in colder more northern countries in Europe, mostly visiting museums and having an occasional night out. A few weeks into our travels we arrived in Riomaggiore. Everyone we had met from Amsterdam to Munch were raving about this picturesque and on the cusp of becoming trendy, backpackers paradise.
We were so excited to finally see the sunshine that we decided to go swimming, which somehow turned into cliff diving. Mind you, we had just gotten off a long train ride from who knows where and could not find the beach but we could see the ocean. I really to this day have no idea how two southern California girls had the balls to just look at a few cliffs in a city they have never been to and think to themselves well there is one way we can get wet. So we jumped off.
Minutes later it dawned on me that I was going to have to find a way out of the ocean and climb up this cliff to get back to my stuff and our hostel. I looked over at my friend and could tell it had dawned at her right about the same time. Both of us strong swimmers, we treaded water about 15 feet away from each other for a little while until we decided the current was getting pretty strong and we should probably make our way in. We were both screwed. Me even more so. I picked a different part of the cliff to climb up then she did. By the time I had gotten to the face of the cliff that I had decided to go up, the current was so strong that it had a hold of me. Repeatedly throwing me up against the rocks and pushing me down under the water where I couldn’t breathe. Not only did I not know how I was going to climb back up this cliff in my bikini and bare feet, but now I was taken by the current.
At about the 5th or 6th time I smashed up against the side of this cliff face first and then drug under the water for what seemed like an eternity…I knew this was going to be the end of my life unless I used every piece of strength I had to pull myself up. I could not care how bad it hurt or how difficult it was, this was essential to my survival. I not only pulled myself up and got myself out of the water, I kept climbing until I was at the very top.
I was warmly welcomed by my friend who was a little banged up and got to the top before me and when we both looked down at my body I was bleeding from my chest to my feet. I still to this day feel like this experience was more like a dream when I look back at it…and not reality. In Italy, my friend and even some locals we met, would give me piggy back rides (walking for long periods of time was not enjoyable). I did not tell my parents until years later, and I never went to the doctor. I ended up in Greece towards the end of that trip and remembered thinking to myself, “it’s ok the ocean will heal me.” Maybe I was in denial. Maybe it was because I was young and dumb. Definitely maybe I felt like an A- hole because a group of Italian teenagers walked by me just minutes after my near death experience and called me “Virgin Meat.” In any case it wasn’t the last time I did something without thinking it properly through, but it was the last time I jumped off a cliff.