Aqueducts, Grottos, and Cliff Diving
Today was unreal. The morning went by pretty quickly: I ventured out on my own for the first time to the bar around the corner from my apartment for a cappuccino and a pasticciotto (a small pastry). I then walked to the panetteria (bread shop) to buy my daily roll of bread, and came back to the apartment before anyone else had awoken.
At 3:00 p.m., I and the rest of the students in my study-abroad program boarded a lovely air-conditioned bus for the hour-long ride to Santa Maria di Leuca, a gorgeous little town on the very tip of Italy’s “heel.” The houses in the town were all white and crowded around a harbor full of brightly painted yachts and fishing boats. When we got off the bus, I first noticed two giant sets of stairs leading up a hill and to a lookout point over the bay. What looked like a dried-out waterfall stood between the two sets of stairs; our program director, Nella, told us that this was a Roman aqueduct that the town still opens once a year to release a flood of water down into the harbor.
We practically ran up the stairs…until we got to the third flight, at which point we slowed to a sweaty trudge, taking lots of breaks for pictures. When we reached the top, we saw a breathtaking view. Even at 4:30 in the afternoon, the sun was high in the sky, and the breeze was strong at the top of the hill. We made friends with even befriended some Italians while taking pictures. Among the most useful Italian phrases, and puoi fare un foto di noi (can you take a picture of us?) is definitely one of them!
When we got back down the many flights of stairs, our teacher, Paolo, was waiting to whisk us off to a lovely little boat in the harbor. Sitting on wooden benches, and we looked out over the waves as the stereo system played American music reminiscent of our middle school days. We passed many other crowded boats whose passengers waved and cheered from across the water as we sailed by. I’m hoping that they’re all normally friendly to fellow seafarers, and weren’t just taking pity on us obvious tourists.
Rounding the edge of the harbor, we saw a breathtaking view of the grottos and cliffs along the coastline. The water was electric blue and clear straight down to the bottom. We anchored the boat just offshore and jumped right in! The water felt like a very salty swimming pool, and was surprisingly easy to swim in— the salt made us float like buoys. We propelled ourselves toward the face of the cliff and then straight through its grottos, which were cool and blue, with vaulted white ceilings covered in salt deposits. The floors were made of soft stone smoothed by the waves and covered in carpets of purple-and-red spongy algae. It will be one of the great disappointments of my life that I couldn’t take picture of the inside of the grottos, since swimming through them was one of the most incredible experiences I’ve ever had. Thankfully, I have 20 friends who were there with me shared the experience with me, otherwise I might think that it was all a dream.
When we had had our fill of the grottos (as if that were possible)—and after those Disney-inclined girls had sung a few choruses of “Part of Your World”—we raised the anchor and sailed back out into open water in search of cliffs to climb. Miles, one of the only two boys in the program, is a rock-climber, and he found a spot for us to clamber up the 20-30 foot crags. A few of us, after seeing him jump fearlessly off the cliffs, hurried to climb up after him; Paolo led the way and helped us find footholds. I cut up my feet a little on the sharp rocks, but boy, was it worth it. Standing on the cliff’s edge, alone, looking down into the crystal-clear waters in which bobbing faces yelled encouragement was a perfect moment—and the stomach-plunging drop right after was even better!
We swam back to the boat to enjoy fuzzy towels, white wine, and rosemary cookies while watching the sun set over the water. When we returned to shore, the bar right across the street from the marina had attracted a huge crowd with live music. We stopped and after a moment realized that the singer was our teacher, Francesca! She was performed incredibly, and we watched her while sitting amongst the crowd of locals, sipping iced almond espresso, and listening to Italian jazz.
It was about as close to a perfect day as it could get.