The older woman with silver cropped hair’s shoes click-clack on the concrete pier as she heads from the water towards the innards of Vernazza. She looks regal, clad in slacks and a blazer.
Then, her shoulders lurch forward. Her hand comes up to her mouth as her cheeks puff out. The tanned skin of her face goes from a rich brown to a pale shade of green.
She’s going to be sick, thanks to opting to traverse Cinque Terre by water ferry.
I look at my mom, whose eyes dart from the woman to the ferry, docked a few feet from her, bobbing up and down on the sea ferociously.
The woman continues walking, waiting to be sick until she exits the crowd which has encroached in her space as everyone swarms toward the docked boat.
Thin swirls of gray clouds ensconce the lush, green hills surrounding the tiny Cinque Terre town. Rain gently plops down onto us, a few sprinkles but enough to wreak havoc on the ferries coming into the port, thanks to the turbulent water of the Ligurian Sea.
We stand, looking nervously at the ferry we are taking today to Porto Venere. Our grand plans of hiking the infamous paths in the region canceled due to the inclement weather, rendering the steep paths through lush vineyards and history treacherous due to slick stone stairs and mud.
The ramp, which rests on two wheels on the dock, rolls in … and then rolls out, teetering mere inches from the sea. It juts up, sometimes to nearly a 45-degree angle, before leveling out a bit once the choppy waves retreat back out into the vast sea with a mighty thwack.
Those disembarking from the ferry maintain white-knuckled grips as they rush down the tiny exit to solid ground, thankful to be off of the roller coaster ride they didn’t expect.
“Nope, forget it, I’m not doing this,” I tell my mom, turning back towards the tiny cafes lining the beach, imaging myself hurtling into the waves which launch the boat up and down.
I approach the woman in charge of the tickets, an older Italian lady with eggplant-colored hair and thin lips slathered in red lipstick.
“Nevermind,” I say, “we don’t want the tickets.”
She rattles off Italian, which I can only imagine translates to “It’s ok, no problem.”
Silly American tourists think this isn’t safe. Of course it is.
I pull my mom away from the crowd of tourists and towards the terra-cotta archway into the main square.
“Forget it,” I tell her again. “I’m not getting on that boat. It looks too dangerous.”
The boat continues to surge forward, up and down, as people emerge looking green.
“Is ok,” the woman reassures us.
“Porto Venere,” the crew calls as those waiting to board queue.
The line of people seem oblivious to the clearly treacherous boating conditions they are about to enter.
We stand there while an inner debate rages in my mind. Do we get on the boat and risk it? Do I trust myself enough not to be the one person in Cinque Terre to fall off the walkway and into the swirling abyss of sea below?
“OK, you know what, let’s just do it,” I announce, sucking in my breath and letting out a deep sigh. “Might as well.”
The tickets cost 27 euros each for round trip transportation down the coast about an hour to the port city of Porto Venere — enough for me to not want to lose the money and give it a go.
The two of us walk back towards the boat. I grip the handles and walk quickly up to the vessel.
Here, the rocking isn’t as bad. And, if the ramp did go straight up, I don’t notice it.
As we pull out of the dock, the churning stops and the sea becomes more calm. I stand at the window, looking out onto land as Vernazza unfolds before my eyes. It’s different from the hike we took earlier. An entirely different perspective on this gorgeous Italian village.
The colorful homes pop against the gray backdrop as we move farther from shore and into the sea. For an hour, I stand transfixed as we motor down the seaside and the towns of Cinque Terre unveil themselves.
Fear from earlier has completely washed away, although the gray still hovers above us, threatening to unleash more rain and cause the waters to revolt.
We approach Porto Venere before I realize it, I’m so mesmerized by the countryside I spy from the window, which I haven’t moved from since we began the trip.
There, in front of me, a fort emerges and slowly, the seaside town comes into view, layers of colors stacked upon each other as the town moves up the hill.
This time when we leave the boat, the water is calm. Still. And, so am I.
About the Cinque Terre water ferry:
The Cinque Terre water ferry runs April through October. The ferry stops at every town in Cinque Terre, other than Corniglia (there is no water access for this town) and includes stops at Levanto, Porto Venere, as well as connections to Deiva Marina, Moneglia, Portofino and Palmaria.