Blue Grotto or Bust

By Carolyn Zachary | May 16, 2017

Take a ferry to Capri, they said. See the Blue Grotto, they said. The devil is in the details, they didn’t say.

We are on a bucket-list trip to Italy. Mostly my husband’s bucket list. The deal was, we’d see Florence and Rome (his list; I’ve been there), but also Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast, which I’d never seen. As the tour planner and manager, I figured I was entitled to one new experience.

Exhausted from a whirlwind 2 ½ days in Tuscany, a high-speed train ride to Naples, two hours viewing the astonishing mozaics, bronzes, glassware and “Secret Room” erotica unearthed from Pompeii and Ercolano, then a local train south, we opted for a relaxing first day in Sorrento and a visit to the Isle of Capri.

It began innocently, with a walk from our B&B to the town center. But reaching Marina Piccolo posed a challenge. After gazing with dismay at the route far below us and inquiring at a tour stand, we understood we had two choices from that point: either walk a lengthy, circuitous route along the looping roadway to the bottom of the ravine — correction, chasm — that winds eventually to the shore of the Mediterranean where the ferry docks, or descend roughly six stories of switchback steps that snake down the vertical cliff, and then walk the last stretch of roadway.

Never mind my sciatica and arthritic knees; we chose the steps. And made it.

The ferry ride was uneventful; the view of the coast wonderful, with its sheer cliffs capped by small clusters of stucco buildings and rock walls descending straight into the sea.

“What are we going to do when we get there?” my husband inquired. Well, I said, all the books say the Blue Grotto is really the only thing worth seeing on Capri.

Having gotten a relaxingly late start to the island, we stepped off the ferry about 3:30 p.m. Immediately, in my face was a bearded young Italian man, saying urgently, “See the Blue Grotto! Last boat leaving now!”

How much, I asked. He named a price, and said we’d pay an equal amount at the Blue Grotto to go in. It seemed fair enough. The young man rushed me to a ticket window, ran my credit card, then ran us to the canopied sightseeing boat, which was, in truth, “leaving now!” What I later learned is this trip must be made at low tide, hence the haste.

No mention of the method of ingress into the Blue Grotto. Not having read enough, I imagined, perhaps, a glass-bottomed boat.

And so we arrived. First thing I noticed was there was no dock. As that fact slowly registered, I was vaguely aware of the boat captain shouting something about going from this boat to a little boat into the grotto.

Before I could process that, they took our money, gave us tickets, and then someone motioned to someone else across the choppy water.

That second someone rowed alongside in what probably was about a 10-foot dinghy; from its sheen, I’d say it was made of Fiberglas. Very cute. Very little.

Now, envision this. Without disclosing too much personal information, let me just say that most people the ages of my husband and me are retired. Young at heart we might be, but not in years. Also, although I am short and my husband about 6 inches taller, we weigh about the same and neither of us is thin. Agility and flexibility are things of the past.

“OK,” they called, “come ahead! You come first,” someone hollered to my husband, and he gamely approached the top of a short ladder down to where the dinghy was bobbing. “Step on the white!” they said as he descended, indicating a flat rim along the side of the little boat.

“OK, now sit down!” came the order. “Where?” asked my husband. “On the floor,” came the reply.

And so he did.

“OK, now make a V with your legs,” was the instruction, “a romantic position,” he clarified.

I was beginning to get a picture, but there was no time to complete it.

“OK, madam, now you!”

OMG, I thought, but down the ladder I went, stepped quickly onto the white sideboard, then down to the “floor.”

“Wait!” I was told. No problem popped into my mind as the man in the boat quickly unrolled paper towels along the “floor” to cover the wet black footprints and spare my white trousers.

“OK, now sit down,” he said. Whether it was adrenaline, or abject fear of embarrassment, or whatever, my legs and back cooperated with not a sciatic twinge, and down I went, legs into the designated V framed by my husband’s.

Well, then. We were ready. Our “captain” rowed to the grotto entrance, which appeared to be only about two feet above water level. I barely had time to think he must be kidding. “Hands inside the boat!” he yelled. “Heads down!” As we hastily lay back, he pushed the boat down and miraculously we were through.

The water in the sea cave was a glowing, brilliant azure. Beautiful. As he rowed, he explained that sunlight passes through an underwater cavity and creates the blue reflection. He gave us some history, going back to Roman times, with another rower sang a chorus of “O Sole Mio,” rowed us one more time around the cavern, ordered us flat again and rowed us out.

Only remaining challenge was maneuvering up from the floor of the bobbing little boat, climbing back up the ladder and into the larger craft. Me first. I actually made it up, managed to swing my leg up and over the side, and in I went. Spouse followed.

Safely back on land, we celebrated with a lovely dinner, complete with dessert and Capri limoncello. We’d survived! And we acknowledged that you don’t always know where, when or how you might encounter one of life’s great adventures.

Carolyn Zachary is The Republican Journal’s copy editor.

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