Crossing the Boot

My week in Positano felt about as good as the month I'd planned to stay. By the end I was ready to move on, as was the hostel owner. My breakfast-making skills were crap. It was good to be on the road again, this time in a car heading south with two Dutch girls and a New Yorker.

Italy's wild, rugged south breezed by us in just a few hours. At a few points along the sole of the boot we paused to enjoy the scenery. At one stop, just outside a little ghost village somewhere in Puglia, an old whispy-haired WWII vet approached us resting on a bench. Hunched over his wooden cane and speaking to himself in some strange dialect, he was a man with much to say and no one to listen. Were he all there, he might have been disappointed that we could only offer smiles and nods in response to his ramblings. But he wasn't. Pretending to get about half of what he said, we understood a tenth of that: something about us being lost, a visit to the Netherlands and then Germans, in general, but mostly in 1972. He did point us a shortcut to the highway just before we took off for Brindisi.



Last summer I had a quick glimpse of Positano from the window of a bus. Winding along narrow roads etched into the cliff-sides, I remembered the clustered pastel villages stretched vertically between mountains and white beaches, crammed with little cars and people, steep alleys, crumbling churches and loads of bougainvillea. Luxury hotels were hidden along the cliffs, their tiny elevators whisking the mega-rich down a dozen stories into the rock to reach private, sandy coves. Although high above the village in a humble little hostel, this time around I stayed long enough to unpack my bag, lucky to have free room and board for a week. Between making the morning coffee and pancakes at 8am, staying up with the bar until 3am and working on a guide to Phnom Penh, I enjoyed my time: a day-trip to Pompeii, a boat ride along coast to empty beaches hemmed in with limestone cliffs and plenty nights spent on the hostel's balcony with a couple good waves of travelers.