Path to enlightenment

“Happiness only real when shared”
-- Christopher McCandless/Into The Wild

Tuesday morning saw us back at Piazza del Popolo early for our day-trip to Napoli a.k.a. Naples/Mt. Vesuvius/Pompeii.  There were few people in the wide-open square so I wandered toward the lion statues again.  The sun hit half of the pool of clear water wherein a single red rose floated.  It was a beautiful moment & I really regret not snapping a photograph!

The bus was sweltering, even in the morning and with the air conditioning on.  It also swayed more than anticipated.  I tried to sleep but just as I would doze off, the bus would lurch or hit a large bump.  After about two and a half hours through the countryside of Campania (the state) a.k.a. countryside we began the twisted ascent up the volcano.  For such a significant feature in Napoli, I was surprised the road was barely wide enough for two cars… and we were in a bus!  I felt queasy most of the ride up so when the bus finally pulled into the parking lot (which was not located at the summit of the mountain) I was grateful for the crisp air.

The group & I were a lot higher up and closer to the fluffy clouds, but I still could not see the rim of Mt. Vesuvius.  Before I embarked, I stopped to use the restroom – which cost me .50.  Until now I had never in my life paid to use a filthy port-o-potty.  Bladder empty, I was ready to conquer the mountain… or so I thought.  Mom & I set out in great spirits.  An old, Italian couple handed out tall walking sticks in exchange for a donation. Everyone here was out to make a euro.

The trail was extremely difficult to hike because it was comprised of loose pebbles.  It reminded me of trying to walk in sand.  Every time I took a step I would sink in/back a few inches, therefore I needed double the energy and muscle power to find my footing/push off for the next step.  Not to mention, we were climbing around 11:00 with no shade from the summer sun. 

The trail constantly zig-zagged along the mountainside.  At two and a half zigs, Mom & I rested – our hearts beat rapidly in protest.  We looked out over the paths below toward the parking lot to visually measure how far we had come… not very!  However, it was a placid scene: the green walls of Mt. Vesuvius in the distance, scant purple & yellow flowers dotted the hillside, and the clouds cast larger than life shadows since we were closer to them than at ground level.  Other than the breeze, there were no sounds.  Occasionally a few people would trek past up, but even then the only sounds we heard were the crunches of their feet displacing the stones.  Even rarer were voices… no one was talking.  It was a tough climb thus far!

Onward, Mom and I accomplished another two zigs but were fatiguing quicker.  Now I started to feel the tightness in my calves and sweat in my underarms.  Mom plopped onto a large rock that lined the trail.  I roused Mom to complete another zag, but as I lead the way the gap between us grew.  She told me to go on solo since our group had long passed us.  However, I kept setting small goals for us by saying “we’ll stop at this broken rock” or “we’ll go ‘til this bend”, but every time we rounded a zig, there was another zag waiting just as steep and unyielding as the last.  Mom sat again and – much to my verbal disproval – begged me to go on.  I whole-heartedly did not want to go on, but I could see she was exhausted and at her limits.  So, I obliged.

Now that I only had myself to worry about, I restarted the hike with more focus, similar to the time Mom bowed out of the Boolimba Bluff hike in Australia.  Another zig and zag up the mountain and I felt a bead of sweat plummet down my leg.  After a pause I continued, but this time used my hands to push off my knees.  My quadriceps and lungs started to burn.  This was the never-ending road!  I wanted to be hopeful & kept telling myself “you’re almost there” but at every turn the scenery looked identical: same upward slant, same menacing sun, same wooden fence.’s online description stated the trek was a “20 minute hike, 14 degree incline” and that “general fitness [was] required”…which was utter bullshit.  I had been on this trail for almost an hour now and at 27, considered myself healthy.  How was anyone other than a superhero supposed to climb this volcano?

Drenched in perspiration I finally passed different scenery: a post with refreshments and souvenirs.  I found a skinnier trail that lead off the main one behind the shed, so I walked down it about a city block’s length and saw The Bay Of Naples below.  What struck me was the fact that I was now on level – if not above – the clouds.  I sort of felt God-like because I started the journey as an ant below the clouds, but now I was looking down on the ants.  Meanwhile, lofty, foreboding clouds rolled in and the wind began to pick up speed.
As my spirits started to nosedive I reached the apex of Mt. Vesuvius!  I found a spot to myself, rested, and absorbed the view of the crater.  It was a bit unnerving to look into the mouth of an active volcano.  It was all ash, soil and rocks, but at any time could erupt with deadly lava.  It only took two minutes for my heart to be full.  No sooner had I sat and admired my milestone when I realized it was not enough.  It was not enough for me to have come so far.  My mother paid for this excursion, endured the sickening bus ride with me, and gave her all on the slopes too.  She had to see this! She was going to see the volcano’s crater if I had to carry her up that hillside.
Overcome with new motivation and a sense of urgency (since the hike took much longer than planned) I practically jogged the returning trail.  My mind kept repeating my simple truth: I would not let her be disappointed.  The ominous clouds blotted out the sun and the temperature noticeably dropped.  The wind began to howl and my wet clothes chilled me to the core.  I glanced over the wooden fence and realized Napoli was being swallowed by the fog. 

The dark gray clouds raced over the jagged rock edges and surrounded the rim.  I had to slow my pace to a speed-walk because it was beginning to look like dusk.  I could hardly see 20 feet in front of me!

I embarked down the steep path to find Mom.  As I passed the post again I saw her sitting amongst the tired, not-wanting-to-get-wet crowd at a picnic table.  She had made it much further than I expected!  I told her I made it to the rim.  She felt ill – with heatstroke symptoms – and needed to rest.  Oh no, she did not come this far to shy away from the volcano.  When I told her how close she was and that this time the volcano truly was around the next bend she decided stood up to continue.  I was so happy! 

I was beyond ecstatic that my mom could now merge her notion of Mt. Vesuvius with the reality of Mt. Vesuvius.  As we surveyed the rim, the sun triumphed and began breaking up the clouds.  This reaction made a cool event: the leftover clouds fell into the pit of the volcano very softly, almost like snow falling silently to the ground.

Complete and rejoined, the two of us descended Mt. Vesuvius as the sun returned.


  1. Nice vids and pics! I'm glad you and your mom conquered Mt. Vesuvius!! And that was AWESOME of you to go back for your mom! I would've done the same thing. Your mom is a trooper. :)
    Oh how I miss Italy. I've been to Firenze and Roma and loved it. Your videos brought back some good memories. I am definitely going back some day, that is a place where I could live.

  2. Thanks for sticking with me thus far JR... I will pass along your compliment to my mama. You/Nicole/I still need to rendezvous somewhere in the world =)


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