You learn a lot about yourself while hiking nine miles across the hills surrounding Cinque Terre.
Cinque Terre, or “Five Lands”, is a city in Italy that is composed of five towns or districts. We stayed in Riomaggiore, the fishing district. The town was beautiful! I’ve never seen a town quite like it. The buildings are all on different levels on the side of the hill, painted in bright colors. The cobblestone streets were alive with joyful people greeting each other in Italian. The ocean in the distance was sparkling in the sunlight. We had so much fun exploring the city before going to dinner and going to bed the first night.
Our only full day in Cinque Terre was a hiking day. We had two major hikes – one to climb the huge hill right next to Riomaggiore to reach the church on top, and one to hike along the hillsides to some of the other cities. I love nature, but I haven’t done a significant amount of hiking in my life. My brothers have been far more exposed to it due to Boy Scouts, but I didn’t get a ton of those experiences as a kid. Riomaggiore sure changed that.
The first hike was beautiful! Because it led up to a church, there were stations of the cross set up along the path. I spent a lot of time in the back of the group, pausing at each station to reflect and look around. Along the hike, we could see the terracing all across the hillsides. Every now and then, a view of the water would peek out behind the trees. When we finally arrived at the church, I became speechless. We were able to see all five towns of Cinque Terre built into the harbors, with the sea to the left and endless hills and farms to the right. Looking out across the sea, I couldn’t pinpoint the place on the horizon where the sea stopped and the sky began.
We then came back down and began the second hike, which was much more difficult. We had to climb hundreds of steps to get to the top of a nearby hill where the second city is located. Exhausted, sweaty, and in pain, we hiked the whole way to the top before getting lunch. Everyone was so wiped out by the end of the hike that lunch was extremely quiet compared to normal. After lunch, we climbed and hiked along a path that gave us a stunning view of the ocean to our left. We walked along the path past dozens of vineyards into a forested area and eventually hiked down to one of the further away towns of Cinque Terre.
I was frustrated with myself for the majority of the hike because I was feeling grumpy and lonely. I was having a hard time keeping conversations going with other people. I kept asking myself why I was feeling down when I had these wonderful views all around me and when I had incredible company. I spent some time reflecting and realized that I was having a difficult time engaging with other people because my body was telling me that it needed to recharge. I am naturally an introvert, so I recharge when I am alone. However, being an introvert makes it more difficult for me to initiate conversations with people I don’t know very well. That was one of my personal goals for CR – to practice engaging in conversation with other people and to step out of my comfort zone. I realized while on the hike that I have been pushing myself out of my comfort zone to the point of exhaustion. I can’t become discouraged with myself if one conversation doesn’t go well or doesn’t last a long time; it is perfectly natural. I have been beating myself up about spending time alone when I could be talking to people and getting to know them better, but that is how my body naturally recharges. Of course I felt exhausted and grumpy; I was refusing to let myself take a break! I was pushing myself too hard to become something I’m not – an extrovert. I realized that it is perfectly okay to be introverted, as long as I don’t allow it to inhibit my interactions with others. Once I discovered this, I was content to be alone in my thoughts for a while.
Later that night, everything turned around. We had a wonderful seafood and pasta dinner, ate gelato by the harbor, and had wonderful conversation. It was a reminder for me that it is okay to sit back and recharge. Conversation can’t be forced, and sometimes my instinct when I am trying to push myself out of my comfort zone is to force conversation even when my body is exhausted. I can’t help being an introvert. I can, however, spend more time reflecting and determining when I need to take a step back to give myself a mental rest and when I need to engage with others and establish and strengthen new relationships.