I’ve been thinking about my travel fails and awkward moments a lot recently. I briefly mentioned this one in a previous post and, because it was so ridiculous, felt that it deserved its own section. So, here I am, eating a red bell pepper and taking myself back to the time I got stuck up Mt Vesuvius.
It’s Thursday 2nd August, 2018 and I’m nearing the end of my three and a half month trip around Europe. I’d always been interested in Pompeii and decided to stay there for a few days with a friend I’d made along the way.
Obviously, you can’t visit Pompeii and not take a trip to Mt Vesuvius, the only active volcano on mainland Europe. Though most famous for the catastrophic 79 A.D. eruption and destruction of Pompeii, the volcano near the Bay of Naples has erupted more than 50 times.
Pompeii was completely destroyed, buried under ash and pumice
We caught a bus at 10:30am from our hostel in Pompeii that took us to Mount Vesuvius, taking around 50 minutes. You’re dropped off in a car park which marks the start of the 20-30 minute hike up and around the volcano. A fairly long drive for such a short attraction, right? Worth it, though.
Until you see this kind of natural wonder up close, it’s difficult to grasp the sheer size of it. Standing over 4,000 ft high, it’s a sight to behold; towering over the cities below like an indomitable beast.
We took our time exploring, taking in the history beneath our feet and marvelling at how something so beautiful can cause such unpredictable and indescribable damage.
Like a bad omen, the skies transform into inky swirls of cloud and the air turns thick with the signs of an oncoming storm. Thunder grumbles in the distance and we decide, huh, maybe now might be a good time to head back.
Making our way back down towards the awaiting buses, faint lightning flashes ahead of us. I’m half expecting the volcano to erupt, and I’m dramatically reeling through a slideshow of things I wish I’d seen, done or said and praying I don’t die then and there.
So there we’re sitting, waiting for our transport home with the sky growing murky with each passing minute. A bus pulls up in front of us; we stand, grab our bags, make a move and, lo and behold, it drives off. Without us. Awesome.
The trail around Vesuvius
Looking around, we see a guy behind a fruit stand openly laughing at us, before kindly mentioning that the next bus down isn’t for another two hours. I vividly remember staring him down, eye twitching, hands spasming, waiting for him to come out with a grand guffaw to let us know he’s joking.
Suffice to say, he wasn’t joking.
Now, let’s rewind and remind ourselves of how long it took to get there in the first place. 50 minutes, for those of you who don’t quite recall. Almost an hour of empty, winding roads with no humans in sight.
We had two options; sit around in the brewing storm to wait for the next bus, hoping this guy is right and that there is another one coming. Or, we could start walking down, with the hope of coming across a coach on their way back.
Not one to sit tight, we chose the latter; to start our hike back down to civilisation from 4,000 feet above ground.
We’re positive, happy little explorers for the first hour; singing songs and sharing stories, laughing at our predicament and convincing ourselves that we’ll have to come across someone, somewhere.
Fast forward another hour (that’s two, for those of you not counting), and we’ve passed the hottest time of the day, hitting around 40 degrees. We’re sweating, exhausted, and I feel like I’m nomming on sand, I’m that thirsty. Our hope of being picked up along the way has dwindled to mere dust and we’ve hit the realisation that we won’t reach ground level for another three hours. That’s five hours walking in total.
The view from the top; kinda high, eh?
We pass a clearing overlooking the surrounding cities and notice just how high up we still are; buildings are tiny dots on the horizon and I’m sure we’re in an airplane’s flight path. I’m convinced at this point that crawling will be easier, and maybe any cars passing will take pity on the poor stragglers at the side of the road. Probably not, though, because I’m sure we’d look like zombies arising from the ground.
At this point, I’m so desperate to find a toilet that I’m about to give up all modesty and go in the middle of the road. A short while later, we come across a bizarrely placed, derelict looking restaurant. Not expecting it to be open and functioning, I waddle over to try and find anything resembling a toilet, and instead come across actual, real life humans. Hallelujah!
Although I manage to keep my modesty in tact, we’re no closer to the light at the end of the tunnel, with no one being of any help, so we decide to take a different approach. We’re two and a half hours in and have been passed by roughly three cars in total, so with a renewed energy and pep in our step, we continue on our journey with thumbs up and arms out in the road.
15 minutes later with no luck, a deflated mood and a realisation that we’ve somehow taken a wrong turn; our saviour arrives in the form of a lovely elderly lady. Tootling along in a tin can with her two grandsons, she pulls up beside us and offers us a ride. At least, we assume that’s what she’s offering – there’s a serious lack of Italian in my vocabulary.
We bundle into the car, make fantastic hand gestures which I can only hope translated to something along the lines of, ‘thank you so much‘ and ‘please take us to solid ground‘ and ‘I’m sorry we smell so bad‘.
Looking across the opening of Vesuvius – spot the tiny people in the background for scale
We’re dropped off at the bottom of the volcano some time later, finding ourselves in a gritty, deserted town with 10% battery, no signal and no idea in the slightest where we are. After thanking Italian Gramma profusely and waving goodbye, we’re left alone once again.
Now, I very rarely feel unsafe when travelling with someone else, but this little run down town of nothingness gave me the creeps. The feeling of eyes watching your every move and an eerie stillness settling over the low fog was enough to make me pick up my pace.
After walking in what we hoped was the right direction to civilisation, we started seeing signs of life; cars on the side of the road, birds twittering and distant humming. Bearing in mind we had no map, phone or sense of direction, I couldn’t even begin to tell you how we ended up at a train station.
We spoke to the man behind the counter and bought ourselves two tickets on the next train to Pompeii, which thankfully was arriving within the next ten minutes. Finally, we find ourselves back in Pompeii, in our hostel, covered in grime and sweat and wondering how on earth we made it back in one piece.
What should have been a mere 40/50 minute bus ride home turned into a whopping five hour adventure, turning a 3 hour trip into a full day, and my most ridiculous travel experience to date.
If this doesn’t look like the sketchiest train station you’re ever seen, I’m not sure what will
So, there we have it. The infamous story of how I had to hitchhike down Mount Vesuvius. Moral of the story: don’t miss your bus home!
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