Day 1: Turn right, turn left
Crossing the piazza on my way out of Ravello, I saw a tow-haired boy sitting on a bench, devouring a large cornetto, the sugar-coated croissants commonly served for breakfast in Italy. I said buon giorno. He brushed crumbs off his mouth and looked at me with dark brown eyes, as lovely as the Amalfi Coast in their way.
At first, it was easy to follow the route description. I found the mule track that delves into the canyon behind Ravello and the woodland trail that crosses it. But then I got confused by such directions as these:
"From this point, you are aiming to reach the church up on your left, Santa Caterina, across the valley. Continue along the woodland trail that descends to a T-junction, and bear left here on a wider path heading toward a stream with a small concrete dam. Cross over the stream (usually dry), and continue along the paved path on the other side heading up toward the Santa Caterina church ."
I never found a paved path, though I made it across the ravine on trails blazed, I fancied, by wild boars. When I reached the church, I discovered it was dedicated to San Pietro, not Santa Caterina, which meant I was in the wrong village. A woman in the grocery store across the square, where I should have bought a sandwich, set me back on my way. But then I got lost again, rounding a headland in search of the path through the Valle delle Ferriere Nature Reserve.
This time, I met a Danish pianist who lived nearby. He puzzled over my route description, then told me to keep walking. He said he wished he could go with me because the pine groves along the way were lovely. But he had heard that a key bridge in the nature reserve had burned in a recent forest fire.
I ate what I had in my backpack as I paused among the aromatic pine trees, looking toward Capri and filling my water bottle from an antique-looking tap. After lunch, with many false starts and considerable backtracking, I found the overgrown, burned bridge but decided I'd be a fool to try to cross it.
So I relied on my own wits to get to Amalfi, now clearly visible below. I chose a route to the village of Pontone. There I had an espresso in a cafe and got directions, which took me down an endless flight of steps to the back side of Amalfi.
Thus, I limped, hungry and exhausted, into the capital of chic on the coast, as the sun fell into the sea at passeggiata time. The tight ravine that defines the terrain of town led me and the strolling crowds, like a funnel, to the waterfront, where I got a chocolate and coconut gelato and a bus ticket, as directed by my route description, to my evening stop in the mountaintop town of Bomerano.
Fortunately there was enough time before the bus left to visit the Amalfi Cathedral, with its checkerboard brick façade, steep steps and asymmetrical tower. The best thing about it is its 13th century Paradise Cloister, decorated in a southern Italian hash of Byzantine mosaics, Roman sarcophagi and twisting Arab columns.
I wished I could have spent the night in Amalfi, though, I gather, hotels there are très cher. Instead, Inntravel had booked a room for me that night at the modest, family-run Pensione Due Torri, a 45-minute bus ride into the mountains above the coast. The wait for dinner and bed was elongated but put me near the start of my next morning's foray on the Path of the Gods.
It also gave me a chance to ride along the inimitable Amalfi Coast road, built in 1852, with straight drops into the sea and no quarter given to the fainthearted. Every time the bus driver rounded a hairpin curve, he honked his clownish horn. Lights below flickered on, in the haphazard way of a bursting firecracker.
The driver let me and a large group of English hikers off in Bomerano, around the corner from the modern motel-like pensione, where I was immediately ensconced in front of the fireplace with a glass of red wine, next to the hotelier's elderly mama. My solo status set me apart from the jolly crew and won me assiduous attention at dinner, which started with a table full of cold antipasti, followed by fish pasta and fruit.
It was so cold that night that I slept under two woolen blankets in my neat second-floor double. I heard the Brits come in from a night on the town. Then I rolled over and, like an Amalfi path, petered out.
Day 2: Path not chosen
At breakfast the next morning — a buffet of fruit, cheese, yogurt, cereal and large cornettos — I eavesdropped on the English group debating whether to take the bus or walk on. It was pouring, and the uniformly gray sky offered no promise of sun. I could have caught a bus to Positano, my next stop, but that didn't sound like fun. So I set off with a lunch from the pensione kitchen, in a drizzle, down the road that led to the square, where there's a sign for the Path of the Gods.
I went astray, resulting in a detour into the Bomerano suburbs and a not-too-fruitful request for directions from a garbage collector. I'm still trying to figure out why I chose wrong whenever two paths diverged. I have a reliable sense of direction. Maybe it was the haphazardly pointing Italian signposts or my English directions, which were, at once, vague and detailed.
Lost again among vineyards about 30 minutes later, I found myself at a house on a mountaintop, where a man was working on the roof. I hailed him and asked for directions to the Path of the Gods, which brought him down the ladder.