Ponza + Palmarola
As I was at the airport waiting to meet my friend in Rome, she sent me a text saying she booked us an apartment in Ponza for a long weekend.. We had barely heard anything about the island, but since she had been living in the city for a few months a local or two had mentioned it in passing, and we figured we would check it out. Our quick research on the Internet showed a small, bright seaside port with shops and restaurants and a natural pool that we would definitely be visiting.
With each pit stop we had a miniature adventure.
We left Rome by train to Anzio, where we walked to catch the first ferry out to Ponza. Once docked, we grabbed a snack at a small stand and window-shopped until we could catch a ride to our side of the island. On the drive over we were mesmerized by the views, the ocean on all sides of us. We were finally let off at the bottom of a set of of stairs four floors high. Our tiny apartment was built on the side of a mountain, overlooking a small inlet with the natural pool, and across the way was a rugged island. We watched the sunset that first night with a glass of wine and made the decision to take a day trip out to visit Palmarola.
After investigating the natural pool, we researched Palmarola excursions and decided to wake up early the next morning to get to the port for a guided tour. Since we were running late that morning, we decided to call a cab, only to then have to call another and another and another, with still no answer. We were all packed up and ready for our adventure, but we didn’t have a way to get to the main port where the tour would leave. We rushed down the steep steps to wait for the bus, but of course it never came. Since our goal of reaching the island that day was slowly slipping away, we began to reschedule our plans around espresso and another trip to the beach.
Feeling disappointed, we were making our way to a coffee shop when an old beat-up white van pulled up. Inside was an Italian man in his 70s, and he asked if we wanted to go to Palmarola for the day as he was leading a tour on his boat. My friend and I looked at each other with hope, then fear, then curiosity. In our hearts we wanted to go, but we also wanted to be safe. As we sat there and tried to make a decision, the man kindly said, “I have to pick up a few more people, but I’ll be back here in five minutes if you want to go.”
While our thoughts initially raced to the potential of being kidnapped and murdered, we quickly remembered that he had a large family and a friendly dachshund puppy with him. We made the decision to do it and waited for the man in the white van to reappear. When he picked us up, he took us to a boat that looked like it had weathered a few storms. Her name was Beluga. Saying, Ciao! to the family with the pup, we made our way to the top deck of the small boat.
As we pulled out of the dock and started our approach to the island, I felt free and mischievous, like I had just duped the universe. There we were, two American girls on a boat with Italians in the middle of the Tyrrhenian sea going to visit a small island.
That afternoon we rode around the full island, stopping at coves and smaller inlets to drop the anchor and swim. We snorkeled and watched massive schools of fish maneuver effortlessly in the water. The captain of the boat, who was also the driver of the van, would playfully call for us to jump in the water by yelling “Ragazze Americane!”
With each pit stop we had a miniature adventure. One time, the captain snapped on his snorkel and clicked on his flashlight, and we followed him into a half submerged grotto. We were instructed to swim only using our arms and to keep our feet from touching the floor. The waves slapped up against the walls and our voices echoed. It was terrifying and exhilarating at the same time. Once through, the group swam back to the boat, loaded up, and we were off to the next spot.
We anchored for about an hour at a sandy beach with a restaurant and plenty of open space to sunbathe and swim. While swimming, we saw the captain grab a mesh bag and his snorkel and dive in. Periodically we would see his snorkel spray a mixture of water and air as he surfaced, only to then see his feet splash as he went back under. His behavior was curious, but as the boat pulled away to the next destination, we were left wondering what he’d been up to.
At our next stop, the captain parked the Beluga next to massive caves that seemed to be over 100 feet tall. We could hear the water sloshing in them like thunder. As we enjoyed this stop, the captain went missing and eventually popped up from below deck. He had a large pot of freshly made seafood pasta and served us lunch. Noticing that his mesh bag was now empty; we realized were eating his bounty from his fishing stop earlier in the day. Lunch was served with white and red wine along with a lemon pound cake and espresso.
Once we reached the last stop, the captain kicked everyone off the boat, even the pup, and directed us to swim through a huge grotto. My friend and I thought, “Well this is it, this is where we get dropped off in the Tyrrhenian Sea and not picked up again.” We nervously chuckled and began to swim. Once inside the grotto, we found it lit up to the most beautiful bright blue I’ve ever seen, brighter than the water. With each ripple the colors danced on the ceiling; it was magical. We savored this space a little longer than the others, and when we emerged on the other side of the grotto to find that the captain wasn’t there, we thought our worst fears were confirmed. But less than five minutes later he returned, the Beluga jumping waves, and the friendly captain ready to take us on again.
When traveling, there are so many times that adventure can present itself, but we are too busy with schedules and hesitation to see it. We are taught to fear that chance because something might go wrong. The one thing big thing I learned on that trip was to take that chance, let the day unfold, and really enjoy and revel in the ever-evolving story. If we had not been open to those possibilities, we would have missed what was one of the most unique experiences of my life. That day on the Beluga will forever be one of my most special travel stories and a reminder to say yes to the chance and say no to the fear.