Cinque Terre work horses of today and yesterday

Carrying loads on headThe Cinque Terre in the past was another world, a world of survival and subsistence where everything was done by hand and hard work. The day was organized around a farming program – vineyards, olive groves and vegetable patches supplying daily needs and firewood for heating. It was not unlike elsewhere in Italy, except for the steep rugged terrain, which made every day a strenuous one just to reach the family’s terraces. Carting grapesHard manual labour had created the terraces centuries ago with dry stone walls that if put together today would be twice the length of the Great Wall of China! Now that’s impressive!  And in fact  the reason the area is a World Heritage site under UNESCO.

The ‘work horses’ of yesterday were a very strong, resilient population handing down that tradition and their knowledge and skills from generation to generation.

At Manarola near the station and on the walkway down to the sea, old photos are displayed of the work horses of yesteryear who consistently maintained the cultivation until the late 70’s.

Today much of the terraced land is left untouched, abandoned and uncultivated with serious consequences which we all witnessed during the flood of 2011. As many of the dry stone walls collapsed, dirt and debris came down the valley blocking Vernazza under meters of mud.

Vernazza flood

Vernazza flood -Photo credit to Andrea Barietta

Now tourism has attracted so many of the locals into commercial enterprises leaving only the elderly to do what they can to maintain their land. It‘s an ongoing battle, and damn hard work with serious implications for the future of the territory. As land and housing is divided up in inheritance, some no longer know or care where their land is, let alone have any inclination to maintain it. After all it is no longer needed to provide the essentials of life when you can find all that in the local supermarket!

Today there are new work horses, an army of MINI everything to accommodate the lack of space for manoeuvre. Worksites look like Toyland with baby bulldozers and caterpillars to cart building materials, work implements and even the daily shopping to  areas which are accessible only via hundreds of steps and increasingly difficult to access. And while tourists explore the trails little do they realize that these trails were not built for them, but were the original mule trails taking locals to their land, and connecting each village. The monorail that winds it way through the vineyards today is a saving grace, instead of balancing baskets of grapes on heads or shoulders.

Helicopters have become the work mules, carting sacks of new stones to rebuild walls, new fencing and netting required against landslides and/or to keep out the wild boar, that do major damage in the area. In fact I had never seen so many helicopters in my life till I came to stay at the Cinque Terre!

Ape truck

Ape pick up truck

And then not to forget the faithful Ape pick up truck that is a constant workhorse all over Italy. Mini in size, economical to run, and seemingly indestructible. However it can only cart goods as far as the road will take it, while the rest of the trail up to the terraces needs strong arms and legs. I Electric truckhave seen one of the new Mega Electric trucks in the area, although the steep hills are a real test for it.

The ‘work horses’ of yesteryear are now just a memory, and only a few of the elderly resist, maintaining their land At work

as a hobby. There are various initiatives to help rebuild and restore the territory both volunteer and non and we continue to look for solutions to the problem.

So think about it when you are over to visit  in the Cinque Terre and enjoying the spectacular views along the trails, as while the new machinery has certainly made a big difference there is still a lot of hard manual labour going on.

And of course if you ever want to give us a hand on the Save Vernazza project just email: workwithus@savevernazza.com


 

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Summertime and the living is easy at the Cinque terre

Summeer Cinque TerreThe Summer has started with a vengeance, with over 35 degrees (95F) for the past couple of weeks and in the Cinque Terre tourists and locals can be seen wearing the absolute bare essentials on the trails, and in and around the villages. Or if Japanese are covered almost from head to foot with an umbrella to keep off the stinging rays of the sun.Japanese tourists

HikersMountains of gelatis and litres upon litres of water are being slurped down as people head for a shady spot or a refreshing dip in the sea. The water is  fantastic, and an essential revival from the draining heat and rather clammy conditions, if you can find a space to squeeze into. The Cinque Terre is not the Riviera with long open stretches of sandy beaches, more like a hide out for crabs clinging to rather uncomfortable rocks and sloping boat ‘Marina’s, or standing room only for the crazy kids who spend the day leaping from dizzying rock heights to the turquoise depths below.

ManarolaLocals Vernazza

 

Locals seem oblivious to the tourists and chat amongst themselves on the harbour, cooling down with an occasional squirt of the hose kindly provided by the Council.

 

Vernazza hats

 

 

 

 

 

It’s all rather noisy and very cosmopolitan as half the world is here and every lingo wafts above the turmoil and the long queues outside the gelati shops. We all have our favourite places and there is almost room for everyone to do their own thing. Besides we know it will quieten down at sunset when we are ready to enjoy an aperitif.

The renewed Piazza in Vernazza has been truly christened by the tourist crowds, and the local restaurants and bars are back in business under their colourful umbrellas.

Work is still going on along the coastal trail between Vernazza and Corniglia and it is officially closed, although many are walking the trail, at their own risk!Men at workTrail repair

 

 

 

 

We hope to see it open during July and particularly to save the café along the trail which only just reopened after being closed for about 5 years or more! Bar Gabbiano ( Seagull’s bar) is at the half way point just when legs are beginning to crumble, and you are wondering ” who made me does this!?” It is definitely worth stopping by, for the great view and juices on offer,  Seagull's Bar

Cinque Terre trail cafe

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unfortunately some tourist behaviour is considered inappropriate and downright crazy, like the two Australians waist deep in water at the Monterosso beach drinking from bottles of beer, which I don’t have a photo of. But I did capture the English girls who sat at my favourite beach Marina English touristsdowning 3 bottles of white wine under the midday sun with no lunch, and becoming increasingly louder and more dishevelled. And while no one said anything to them Italians would think there is a time and a place for drinking….while these tourists think they are in another time and another place and anything goes on holidays! C’est la vie!

Vernazza model

 

 

My day at the beach has finished and I am ready to hike back up to my hideaway village of San Bernardino, lured by the thought of a mint icy- pole from my fridge.

Stop press: the  Corniglia-Vernazza trail reopened today 15 July!

 


 

 

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