Sunday, January 22, 2012

Lost on the Amalfi Coast

The bus was coming straight at me. Slowly, deliberately, right at my car. There was no place to go. No shoulder, no turnout, no options. My first thought was surrender. It would be a romantic death to perish in a convertible, on a sunny day, high on a cliff above the Amalfi Coastline of Italy. There were worse ways to go. The second thought was more rational.  "Just stop, he's done this before, the driver will figure it out."

Figure it out, he did. Carefully inching past my stopped vehicle, the bus driver gave me a cheerful wave as he cautiously maneuvered past, and it was clear this was normal. A twisting, narrow and dramatically beautiful path along the the Amalfi Coast between Salerno and Positano, it was amazing to see the dance of vehicles familiar with the road. With sometimes mere inches clearing each other in opposite directions, it was impossible to photograph most of the road. For this experience, a video camera attached to the dash would have made more sense.

Note to self.

Getting lost on a drive in a foreign country is exhilarating. For those of us who thrill at the idea of an undiscovered nook in some cranny of the world, getting lost just means joyfully off the grid. But being off the grid doesn't include driving one of the most highly acclaimed stretches of road in Italy - the guidebooks are full of photographs and vivid descriptions of this zig-zagging stretch.

So how did I end up here by accident?

Construction. This is where Garmin updates will not help you. When an anticipated exit off the autostrade is closed due to construction and your GPS begins the monotone mantra "recalculating," the adventure officially begins. After passing my desired exit, I kept driving. Unfortunately, a photographer behind the wheel is vulnerable to one thing more than any other - a beautiful shot. Navigating myself through the lens of camera, I simply followed the shot at every turn, which ultimately, mysteriously, got me here.

From a turn-out on the autostrade, to downtown Salerno, to the waterfront Embarcadero and now to this crazy 15-miles per hour cruise along the cliffs, my Canon's passion for the shot had superseded every U-turn demand from my Garmin - muted after the third wrong turn back toward Naples. Driving with a camera in my lap; waiting for the curves ahead to be revealed as empty, I'm passed by a Porsche. Passed.

Lucky for him the bus had already gone by. I marveled at his efforts to pass the car in front of me, and watched my rear view mirror. Normally there would be a dozen more behind him flying past me the same way, with no regard for blind turns or two lanes narrowing to one. In Italy the drivers are like a school of fish or flock of birds traveling together. There are no lines on the road, no signs, no rules. Even here where the tap of two vehicles could send one plunging down to the beach far below, the fast drivers travel together in a rhythm.

Passing small towns tucked into the hillside, the light is getting low. My GPS, set for Naples, continues to silently demand a U turn. My fuel is at less than a quarter tank, and I haven't seen a gas station since leaving Salerno an hour ago. Despite the seduction of golden light, running out of fuel on a road like this after dark might be too exciting. Pulled off in the hamlet of Maiori, I turn around and head back toward Salerno and an autostrade exit.

Arriving home I poured a glass of my favorite wine and Google-mapped my route. Only then did I realize that of course, at any point I could have looked at my iPhone to determine exactly where I was located along the coast, but it had simply never occurred to me. Hypnotized by the beauty, I'd relinquished technology to simply enjoy being lost on the Amalfi Coast.