The cinque terre townchain is a fairly isolated part of the Italian Riviera; Riomaggiore was our much needed vacation spot. The train took us through a tunnel with sparse windows, giving us split-second teases of what was to come. Upon exiting the train I ran to one of the railings and gawked at the dreamlike seascape below - Rocks the size of cars were heaped against the cliff, turquise waves broke and ran over them before being sucked back. We took the tunnel into town, missing the "Americans out" tag above our heads. At the end of the tunnel waited the one road in Rio, which steeply ascended to Edi's Apartments. We were shown our room, surrendered our passports, given a key, etc. We settled in and decided to see the town. Some argument ensued and Andreea decided to take a walk; when asked if she had the key she responded "No" and closed the door. We were locked out, and of course it was my duty to resolve this. After twenty minutes I had found a working payphone and called Edi's wife who promised to be at the apartment in fifteen minutes. An hour later I picked up the key in Edi's office. Unlocked the apartment, returned the key, took a shower and headed down. Things between Andreea and I had settled, we had a few drinks and talked to locals and other travelers until midnight when the bar closed. Painfully, I realized that the key was gone - again. There was only one thing to do, call Edi and get him back down. But Edi was one step ahead. As a precautionary measure he had taken down the Emergency number - it was pure luck that I had taken a business card when we first saw the apartment. His wife picked up the phone:

"Uhmm. Our KEY is in the APARTMENT"
"No speak Engles."
"Key-in-apartment. Firme. Locked."
"something numero?"
"You hava key!"

So much for that. I made up my mind to see what Andreea had arranged at the bar, only to see her talking to a bunch of people. I kick the office door for luck and walked back to the bar. Me: "So what's up? Mr. Edi won't come down." Andreea (pointing at 20-something guy): "That's Edi's son, he looked in the office but couldn't find the key." - "Let me try something." Determined, I strive up the stairs and jam my driver's license into the door where the bolt should be - to no avail, it gets stuck in the jam. I mess with it some more until I hear Italo-english from the bottom of the stairs. It was Andreea and a self-proclaimed carpenter from New York. He played with the lock and told us a lot about the number of chambers, drop pins, etc; yet he was only able to assure us of the integrity of the door. At this point in the game we were forced to either sleep on the hallway or call again and face inevitable wrath. I opted for the second. From the bar downstairs I called Edi's very irritated wife and after some heated debate, begging and cursing she mumbled "OK." Nothing left to do but hang out in the closing bar. Twenty minutes later, I saw a shadow move through the darkness, accompanied by stomping and heaving sounds. It was Edi. He bowed up, waved his hand in my face (isignating insanity) and complimented me in colorful Italian. The only English I caught was "do not call me this late" and "are you stupid?" Regardless, we had our key for the night.

There is a road that connects the five towns, a hiking path which is nothing short of legendary. Starting in Riomaggiore, we took the romantic road to the next town, where the actual hike started. The romantic road is an even walk between green cliffs and emerald waters, part of which is covered by a graffitied tunnel. The vista is breathtaking, the walk effortless and the distance short. Starting from the next town, the walk was equally level with one exception - the following city was on a hill and accessible only by stairs. Lots of stairs. Up-turn-Up-turn-Up-turn until you don't think or feel - finding yourself in a walking trance. From the peak we descended into a village and towards the next part of the hike. A lot more people were going the easy way, the one opposite to ours, downhill. Sissies. Soon we were drenched by the noon sun, our shirts were sweaty rags, I had taken mine off and basked marinated in UV-blocker. Three hours after we started we arrived in the second to last village, mere shadows of who started. The last leg was the hardest and would take two hours - if we were to go downhill, which we weren't. Disillusioned, we sat down and drank about a gallon of water each. Were we to quit now, four-fifths of the way there? Hell no.

The last path was narrow, often it was impossible to walk any way but sideways, holding on to the wall. The scenery changed from lush forestry, lemon trees and wild kittens playing with their mother to barren rocky hillsides; cactii marking the fertile spots. Everything was uphill, with loose rocks as support save for the last half hour, which is almost vertical with little to no foothold. At last we had made it. We were nasty-wet and ready to drop but overjoyed at our accomplishment. "Don't even try going the opposite way," said the guidebook. Fuck the guidebook.

Seafood in Riomaggiore is tremendous. Everything is zero-day fresh, the restaurants know how to work their fish and the fishing-town ambience is felt throughout. Both service and setting are informal - one sees a lot of people writing postcards while waiting on their order. To eat dinner by the bay reservations are required (we never got that organized and always ate in town. After a while they get stingy with the bread and oil, but ask for real food and they will gladly refill both. The Dive shop offers canoes and gear, and after "planning" on going for half a week, we finally set out and reserved the double canoe for friday. The following day at nine we set out with our 'boat', paddles and snorkling gear to conquer the 1/7th seas. Once in the water, we were confronted by the harsh reality of the open sea. From above, the sea appears tranquil as an infant, tumbling here and there - but from within we could (and did) feel every movement of the decent surf. We had to fight just not to get washed up on the rocks or capsize, and our strokes weren't sycronized. Paddles collided, Andreea got splashed, Phil was hit - and our arms were wearing out. But, soon we had crossed the outer wing of Riomaggiore and were presented with a quaint little rock beach between the cliffs. We rode our boat to shore, dried out, spread out the seran and tanned, trying to minimize the thought of return. When we found ourselves roasting, we readily jumped into the cold water with our gear. The ocean-bottom was covered/composed of round, pebble type rocks varying in size from 20" to twenty feet. Between them were swarms of tropical fish, going with and against the current, rarely blending with the environment.
The return trip was enjoyable. I sat in the back and left the stearing to Andreea, paddling to my fullest extent instead. On our right the cliff opened and closed, and the surf had died down a bit. Worn by the sun and rowing, we returned the boat and went home for a nap.

Life in Riomaggiore is terribly laid back. After two days, we lost track of how much time was spent in the trip. Entire days were spent lounging at the pebble beach, hearing the trains pass in the distance, swimming out and listening to the locals play their guitars. With the right mindset, this is one of the most beautiful towns I have ever seen. Go there.