Free

There’s a trail that winds along the rocky cliffs and through the vertical mountain vineyards of western Italy.  The footpath runs for eight miles through five distinctly charming villages built literally into the rock.  Each town, seemingly taken from a post card, is perched slightly above the sparkling Ligurian Sea.  The path offers spectacular views of the seaside cliffs tumbling into the ocean and the brightly painted orange, yellow and blue houses of the five towns, so named Cinque Terre.  I was on the trek from Corniglia to Vernazza when I crossed an old wooden sign that read FREE BEACH.  (Finally, something I didn’t have to pay for.)  I followed the sign down a steep embankment to a thick yellow cable knotted around the base of a tree.  Clearly the idea was to face uphill while holding the cable and lower one’s self down the cliff.  I complied and once on flat ground, I switchbacked towards the ocean, though no view of a beach was visible.  For nearly half an hour I rounded dusty bends in the trail and slid over rocks, all the while straining to unsuccessfully catch a glimpse of the shore.  As I exited the brush alongside the trail that nearly reached my shoulders, a young eastern European boy passed me sporting a pair of short, pink trunks.  Over the bank I could barely see the gentle waves breaking and lapping against the shore, yet the trail had ended.  To my right I noticed an abandoned train tunnel.  I followed the boy into the dark tunnel and over scraps of railroad ties and lost sandals to a light shining at the end of the tunnel.  I ducked through the crumbled doorway and finally gazed upon the sprawl of pebbly beach I’d been searching for.  The boy, who’d jogged several yards ahead of me, stepped out of his pink shorts and joined a spread of lounging sunbathers each as free as the moment they’d been born.

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