"Kayaking in the Mediterranean" Riomaggiore Travelogue by cpiers47
Riomaggiore Travel Guide: 291 reviews and 941 photos
Eight of us had taken a long weekend at the sea and were staying in the coastal town of Riomaggiore. Picture multicolored houses lining the only street as it descends to the Mediterranean. Picture hiking trails in the hills, overlooking the water, connecting 5 small towns: Le Cinque Terre.
On Saturday, four of us decided to go kayaking in the sea. It was a windy day and the ancient, wizened man who rented the kayaks warned us about the weather, telling us to stay close to the shore. We planned to be out for two hours and were, but not the way we planned. Sam decided to come along and as we helped to launch his kayak, he informed us in his almost-falsetto, "I've never done this before!" I should have known then, I should have pulled him and his neon green kayak back out of the water and told him to have a nice afternoon.
Twenty minutes out, the waves were already picking up but the day was beautiful and the sun on the water was brilliant. Our kayaks cut through the waves and we paddled, laughing, in boats that were bright orange, pink and green. Eric, who was visiting from Holland for the week, was helping Sam through his first kayaking experience and we were going slower than we might have otherwise to allow for that. Suddenly, we heard Sam's voice - the highest pitch imaginable this time "Guys! I flipped!" He immediately made the mistake of trying to pull himself back in. Instead of succeeding, he filled the kayak completely with water. Shortly after, he realized that his sunglasses had fallen off and were making their way to the bottom of the Mediterranean. That was more traumatic for him than anything else and we had to stop him from diving down to find them. Eric took charge, telling us to get the Sam and the kayak into shore and so the water could be emptied and launched again from there. Ah, if only there was a shore. Instead, the only place to land resembled a rocky obstacle course and to our wide eyes, the waves seemed to increase in size by the second. Even before Sam dumped himself into the sea, the waves had been almost 6 feet high. When I was in the trough of one wave, the person in the trough next to me was completely hidden from sight.
Sam began swimming to shore and when he became hysterical, I pulled him in behind my kayak. The other boys, Brian, Brandon, and Eric worked to push and pull the empty kayak in as well. It rode low in the water and each wave pushed it down a bit farther.
Paddling, pushing, pulling, and swimming, we made it to a rock that was close to shore. It was big - larger than the kayak - and flat and seemed like a good launching spot. The rest of the shore was blocked by similar rocks and this seemed like the best option. Sam climbed onto the rock, and his bare feet were immediately sliced by the mussels that covered its surface. Brian brought the empty kayak near the rock and Sam attempted to pull it up with him. It became clear immediately that this wasn't going to work, so, Brian climbed out of his kayak, and the two began pulling and tugging the kayak onto the rock.
It should have been easy from this point. They should have been able to pull the kayak up, dump out the water, launch Sam off the rock and then we'd all paddle on, laughing to ourselves about the sunglasses. But, it wasn't easy.
The swamped kayak was too heavy to be easily pulled up and soon I saw that they weren't making headway at all. It was all they could do to keep hold of it against the waves that threatened again and again to pull it out of their grasps. Meanwhile their feet were scraped and cut and their hands rubbed raw from the rough plastic.
I was holding on to Brian's empty kayak and couldn't help much. In fact, it was all I could do to make sure that I wasn't smashed against the rock myself. Each time I came close to it, water poured into my kayak and I was worried that I'd get swamped as well. I pushed off from the rock and attempted to stay close but, since I couldn't paddle and hold onto the kayak at the same time, I was swept out to sea. Brian and Sam and the rock got smaller and smaller until I could barely tell what was happening. I managed to find another rock to get smashed up against and Brandon came out to "rescue" me.
All this time, Eric was working his way onto the rocky shore to beach his kayak and swim out to the rock. He's an experienced kayaker but the waves were too much and flipped him as he tried to land. He ended up swimming out to rescue his paddle and sandal before they were swept out to sea as well. Eric then swam to the rock and the three began pulling in earnest.
I've mentioned that there were hiking trails along the sea but I've neglected to describe how these trails ran right above the shoreline in many places, providing great views of the sea to the horizon. For the two hours that we were fighting the waves for the kayak, these trails also provided anyone on the trail with a spectacular view of the action. By the time Eric made it out to the rock, we'd attracted a crowd of 50-100 people, all lined along the railing above, shouting encouragement in Italian and offering suggestions that we couldn't hear or understand.
With a few great pulls, Eric, Brian, and Sam were able to pull the kayak onto the rock - eliciting a cheer from the audience above - and empty the water. Brandon had succeeding in rescuing me and the empty kayak and we drifted a ways out, watching because we were unable to help and the drama seemed almost over. Despite the Dramamine pill that morning, my tendency to get seasick was proving a great nuisance and I turned as green as Sam's kayak.
That same kayak now empty, Sam climbed in, curled up into a ball and shaking badly. All he had to do was balance his weight as the kayak hit the water and he'd be safe. Brian and Eric launched him and TWICE he flipped immediately as soon as the kayak was in the water. Twice he surfaced, grabbed the kayak and was dragged onto the rock by the other two. When he flipped a third time, Brandon waved to me and I paddled the twenty minutes back to town to get help.
The man who'd rented us the kayaks would be considered elderly here. But, he was tanned and healthy and, more than anything else, angry! He gestured at me to follow and took off at a pace so fast that I could barely keep up. He lead me another to point in the harbor where a motor boat almost as old as he was was moored and the two of us climbed in. I sat in the bow as the boat crashed through waves and a few times titled dangerously to one side. When we rounded the bend, there was Sam, perched on the green kayak, both on top of the rock. One of the boys took a picture shortly before I arrived and in it, Sam is smiling. He stopped smiling as soon as I told him that the older man wanted him to jump into the boat. He'd tied the rope that I threw to him to the kayak and needed to jump quickly as we were constantly fighting waves that would smash the boat to the rock, then pull it away again. I reached to grab his arm as he jumped and as soon as he landed in the boat, Sam fainted.
The old man shouted above the waves to us as he turned the boat, "Va bene! Va bene!" It's okay! It's okay! Then he began yelling "Una grande aventura!" A big adventure! As soon as Sam had jumped in, the others had started for the marina. We passed them, the kayak submerged under a few feet of water, following us like a great, green fish.
Sam was still shaking when he left the boat and the rest of us pulled in all the kayaks, emptying the water and the "dry" bags that had done a fair job of protecting camera and even a phone. We did our best to clean the rocks and sand from the green kayak and returned to the office to pay for our 2-hour trip. I tipped our savior and he offered Sam limoncello, a strong lemon liqueur of which there was a case under the desk. Sam sipped it, shaking, then each of the boys took a quick shot. We stepped back out into the bright sunlight and looked at each other. Eric and Brian were bleeding, their hands and feet sliced from the mussels and the kayak. Sam had a long cut on his arm that was oozing blood as well. We were all white from the salt, red from the sun and our eyes were wide. As we walked back toward our rented apartments, we muttered something about showering and went our separate ways. We parted and someone commented quietly, "This will make a good story some day."
It was only an hour later when, armed with bread, cheese, and wine, Brandon, Brian, Eric and I headed up into the hills on the same trail we?d seen from the sea. There was an unspoken agreement that we?d had enough quality time with Sam but we were already starting to chuckle at the memory. We stopped where our audience had stood that afternoon and told the story to each other for the first time, laughing out loud. We laughed at Sam's faint, at how I'd yelled at Brandon when he came to rescue me, at the audience that had watched us.
After the sunset, we went back into town to a cafe where the locals gather. We bought gelato and told the story to our friends that had missed it, and laughed some more. One of the bartenders that we?d met before came out to tell us that the locals come into the bar around 7:30 every night. That night, the only thing they talked about were the kids in the sea. When Sam went to order his gelato, the man yelled, "You are the kayak man!" We were famous.
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