“They are close enough to kiss” said the Cackler in wonder. The two bus drivers were enjoying a chat through open windows as they manoeuvred their buses past each other on the road to Positano. Inside our bus, those of us on the driver’s side willed him to make it without dent or scratch. Those seated on the side of the bus overlooking the coastal cliffs simply shut their eyes and prayed for survival. In the aisle, people enduring standing room only were glad the pace had slowed a little, allowing them to relax their white-knuckle hold on the headrests of others. Just as they dared to flex their aching hips, knees and ankles, the bus lurched forward once more. Everyone, seated and otherwise, assumed the brace position.
The Amalfi coast is world famous both for its stunning views and perilous road. I hitched from Sorrento to Amalfi when I was 17 and have had to live an exemplary life since, so hard did I pray for my life that day. When the Cackler first suggested a trip to Calabria I was very firm: neither of us would drive.
A 24 hour bus pass allowing unlimited travel up and down the coast costs only 6 Euros 80 cents per person, or about $10. The Cackler and I were feeling very smug to have found this great deal. Most of our hotel mates were paying 80 euros for a tour package, and some had splashed out more than 300 euros for the privilege of completing the terror drive by taxi. It is not known how many of the people who start out on the public bus come home by ambulance, but presumably the bus company relies on the emergency services to relieve them of some troublesome overages. Certainly Sita do not plan to bring home the same number of passengers as they set out with each day. There was a scrum in Amalfi as we all fought for seats in the 7 pm service back to Sorrento.
The sun, it appears, has addled my brain. The bargain bus deposited us at the top of a steep hill that leads down to the many ceramics shops,gelato stands, and coffee shops of Positano. I set out staunchly as the Cackler paused to consider how I would manage the return journey to the top of the hill. “Don’t worry,” I told her “I’ll get a boy to take me on the back of his Vesta.” The Cackler laughed so hard she nearly sprang a leak. “Vesta is a packet curry” she snorted. “You mean a Vespa” I did. This slip of the tongue afforded the Cackler much amusement all day. “Lovely Vista” she said, looking out at the boats beyond the beach “or would you rather have a Vesta?”
Positano is the Italian Portstewart, having lots of ice cream coloured houses fronting the beach. The strand at Portstewart is better as there are only pebbles to lie on in Positano, but Positano may have the edge when it comes to sunshine, sparkling wine,grilled artichokes, seafood risotto, hazelnut ice cream and the like.
The boy on the Vespa failed to materialize. I don’t understand it. There always seemed to be one to hand when I was 17. I would have taken a ride on the back of a Vindaloo to avoid walking back up that hill but luckily there was a local bus brave enough to tackle the narrow streets and vertiginous heights and so we made it up to the main road in time to catch the 2pm bus for Amalfi. We got the front seat on the coastal side for this Helter skelter journey. Our lives flashed before us several times.
The sun was low in the sky by the time we reached Amalfi. “Just in time for Vespers” said the Cackler ” or can I interest you in a Chow Mein?”
The cathedral, a mix of Moorish black and white, gold tempura (is this one of Vesta’s new Japanese line? No, it’s a kind of ancient paint) and a big bronze door, towers above the tiny streets of the medieval town, rebuilt since the original slipped into the sea after an earthquake in 1343. Unfortunately, the Cathedral is accessible only if visitors can scale a lot of stairs. “You go,” I said to the Cackler who is as nimble as a mountain goat “Oh no, I couldn’t possibly leave you ” she replied, flopping into a chair outside a cafe in the Piazza Duomo.
We ordered drinks “Vino or Vesta?” The Cackler wanted to know “Birra or Biriyani?” She cracks herself up.
Time for the bus to Ravello, suave and distinguished in the early evening sun. Again, we failed to get past the greened bronze door of this cathedral but opted for another drink and another cafe in another square. “Verdigris or Pinot Gris?” The joke was wearing thin. I glowered at the Cackler. “I’m only Rogan Joshing you” she said.