You are warned: this post contains lots of words, but they’re rewarding words conveying lots of knowledge about one of the loveliest hikes in the world.
A short preface: the Amalfi Coast is expensive. So, when my dear sister said she wanted to hike il Sentiero degli Dei, I immediately started hunting for the cheapest means of staying there. I discovered a really highly rated hostel in Positano, which seemed to fit the bill. At this point, I have stayed in a lot of hostels and I’m over it. I’m willing to pay more for privacy and my own bathroom. BUT, in this instance, particularly since my sister had never stayed in a hostel before, I thought she should have that experience. So, we hopped on the train from Rome to Naples, got the Circumvesuviana, then the bus from Sorrento to Positano. When we arrived, it was beautiful and the hostel was really rather nice (I would in fact recommend it, so feel free to ask for details). It was full with young backpackers– I think my sister and I had nearly 10 years on everyone else there– but they were friendly enough and a couple other girls were also there to hike il Sentiero, so the omens seemed good.
The next morning, when we were set to go on the hike, I discovered vomit in one of the sinks of the communal bathroom. GROSS. That sort of thing is pretty typical for hostels, but it’s still foul. And the sight/smell of vomit makes me gag and nearly vomit myself. So, when we skipped down the road to catch the bus to Amalfi, in order to get the other bus to the start of the hike, I was a bit cranky and grossed out. A mood that was not improved when the bus did not arrive at its scheduled time (shock!) and we had to wait for over 25 minutes, ensuring that we would miss the next bus that we needed. Dammit Italy.
When the bus rolled in, it was quite full, which did not improve my mood, but we got to Amalfi quickly enough. In Amalfi I asked at the bus stop for the next bus we needed, and as expected, discovered that it had left 20 minutes ago and that the next one wasn’t leaving for TWO HOURS. Gah. Now for those of you paying attention, you’ll be cognizant that we were in southern Italy. In mid-June. Even if we had caught our planned bus we would have been hiking at mid-day. But now, with a two hour delay, it meant that we would START our hike at 1pm. The PERFECT bloody time to be out in the sun, in southern Italy, in mid-June. We debated for a bit the wisdom of this plan, but I knew how much my sister wanted to do the hike and I assumed that if we carried enough water it would be ok. So we bought snacks and more water (I think we were both carrying nearly four liters apiece) and spent the next few hours wandering around Amalfi (which I will write about briefly in the next post).
When we got our bus it took over an hour to get up to Agerola, the itty, bitty town where the hike actually starts. Important lesson for hikers of il Sentiero: if you don’t have a car, make sure you’re already staying in Amalfi, otherwise your reliance on public transit is going to screw you over. Regardless, the bus was packed with eager hikers, and even I was starting to get excited when we disembarked in the little town and followed the signs to the start of the hike. Finally, HOURS later, we were on our way!
It was gorgeous. We stopped to take so many photos, because the scenery was truly staggering. But the sun was relentless and the tree in the above photo was one of the few that we encountered on the entire hike. For hours we followed the path, which was reasonably well managed, but still featured more rocks than I would’ve liked as a completely unexperienced hiker. But it was good! We had snacks, I thought we had plenty of water, and we were extra-diligent about sunscreen to avoid becoming lobsters. 4+ hours later, we were tired but happy to reach the end, though the last bit of this is not for the faint of heart or weak of leg: to get down from Nocelle to the bus back to Positano you have to descend 1700 steps. 1700 STEPS. That is not an exaggeration, no hyperbole here. Just endless, endless, endless stairs. After the looong hike in the sun, the stairs did me in.
Thankfully there was finally shade, but it didn’t matter. I felt like shit and I had no choice but to keep going down the stairs. Once we reached the road to catch the bus, I told my sister that, I was as “done as a person can be and still be standing.” I felt dizzy, sick, headachy, woozy, and strangely cold and hot at the same time. When we climbed aboard the bus our dirty, sweaty, disgusting selves were in great contrast to all the (obviously) American tourists in their Amalfi vacation finest. But I didn’t care. I could barely stand. When we got back to the hostel, I laid down on my bed with the light off, cursing the lack of privacy and trying to alleviate the pounding in my head and the churning in my stomach. My skin felt like it was burning, but I was shivering at the same time. I popped a few painkillers and that was it, I was done in, I had to run to the bathroom and vomit up the painkillers and the liters and liters of water that were in my stomach. Heat exhaustion. My dear sister was very sweet, running to get lemon soda and crackers and I know she felt guilty about me getting sick. Shortly after vomiting I began to improve and by the next morning I was was weak, but better. I felt foolish– we should’ve waited to start the hike, because clearly the sun and the heat were too much for me, despite carrying a lot of water– though my sister insisted there was something impressive about hiking until you puke. And I couldn’t help but appreciate the irony of it all, considering how the day started.
It is a spectacular hike. Although it is certainly not “easy” as the internet seems to think it is. If you’re not a fit person, or a regular hiker, the Sentiero degli Dei probably isn’t for you. It’s also enough of a pain to get to that you really need to be committed to doing it. I’m glad we went, but I certainly did not feel like a God when I finished. I very distinctly felt my own mortal humanity.