(Story by GBR-N WTR (OR-2) Lauren Grant, JFC Naples Travel Office)
Amalfi, ITALY - A dull and overcast morning greeted the group of 50 NATO personnel as they left JFC for the Amalfi coast to embark on the famous Path of The Gods. After the initial organization and bustle to settle in on the coaches to Bomerano, they speculated that perhaps the weather would improve. Those of them originally from the frozen North of Europe insisted that cooler was better if they were to hike over rough ground. The Southern European contingent was not convinced.
However as they made their way to the starting point the sun did begin to break through now and again, and spirits rose. After a short stop in the picturesque town center of San Lazzaro, and under the watchful eye of Adjutant Jerome Aragon, the organizer and default guide, they began their ascent around 10am. The Path of the Gods, or "Sentiero degli Dei” in Italian is one of the most well-known and beautiful nature trails in Italy, steeped in history and myth.
Ancient Neapolitans named the path after the route taken by the mighty Gods of Olympus, when they descended to earth to aid Ulysses in resisting the nefarious attentions of the sirens awaiting him in the Island of Lil Galli. A twisting trail of sheer drops and wooded groves, it was an ethereal and humbling landscape traversed by their international group. Some had walked this stunning trail before but for most of them, it was their first experience of this part of Italy. The trail was relatively quiet at this point in the year, with only a few other hikers, and no sight of the donkeys and mules used ascend and descend in the heights of summer. Given the rough ground, loose rocks, and narrow trail they face regularly, the hikers had a newfound respect for these fleet footed Animal helpers.
Around one of the first major bends, they could view a few small houses cut directly in the cliff face, making them ponder the challenges of daily life in such an inaccessible but idyllic location. With the group composed almost every NATO nationality and ranks spanning from OR-2 to OF-3 they made good time along the trail, with plenty of pauses for the obligatory selfies. Although they came from different backgrounds and nations, it was cheerful to see us them come together and face the challenge with high spirits and morale. The mix made for some great stories and a feeling of unity together as one team. After around an hour of hiking they set sight on the "best placed café in Italy” and paused for a short respite and refreshments (it would have been rude not to) then continued onwards to the last leg of the trail.
They soon arrived at Nocella and faced the daunting prospect of getting from the top of these beautiful but sheer cliffs down to the calm and inviting cove of Positano hundreds of feet below. This feat was accomplished by descending the 700 steps that were the only way down. The descent was challenging and it caused a few aches and pains in the legs, but the prospect of pizza and refreshments at the bottom kept them going.
The last 100 feet of the trail took them through the quaint and quirky shops and restaurants of Positano and past the imposing ‘Parrocchia di Santa Maria Delle Grazie’. Finally, with legs like jelly they reached the sea. They regrouped and recuperated in a pizzeria on the coast with a view of the beach. They had walked about twelve kilometers took around two and a half hours. As such, everyone had earned his or her pizza and drink of choice.
As an establishment, they do not get many chances to spend time outside of the daily working routine with the range of nationalities and ranks that were present. Some had hoped when they joined the OR association last month, that it may open up opportunities for these type of interactions, and they were not disappointed. With rank all but forgotten, they grew to know one another on a level playing field, making new friends and strengthening existing relationships.
The different ages, backgrounds, life experiences, and viewpoints made for a stronger cohesive team that embraced the challenges with enthusiasm and determination. Their hope is that in the months to come many more of the personnel here at JFC can experience these types of opportunities.