For our fourth day along the Amalfi and Sorrento coasts we'd planned an early morning boat ride to the island of Capri, but as it turned out, I couldn't sleep! After many long hours of tossing and turning uncomfortably in the darkened apartment, I finally gave up the ghost and came out to the kitchen for breakfast at dawn.
"I'm really sorry honey," I told Señor Aventura later in a hushed voice, since the children were still asleep. "I've slept only two hours... at most. I think Capri needs to wait for another day. I just don't have it in me to take the kids all the way out there on a crowded ferry boat."
"No problem at all," he nodded, making his morning coffee. "We have plenty of time left to see the island. Why don't I go for a bike ride now before the kids get up, and then we can plan a more restful adventure somewhere closer... less of a trek?"
I put my head into my hands and closed my eyes for a moment. "Thanks, that sounds perfect. Have a fun bike ride!"
Exhausted but still too keyed up to sleep, I read quietly in my JoJo Moyes book until the kids woke up and then helped them to make breakfast and get ready.
By the time my husband returned from three hours of hard exercise, the rest of us were prepared and had a plan.
"Why don't we check out that other local beach Gioia recommended today? She said it would work well for kayaking. The kids would love to take the boat out. How does that sound?"
"Please, Dad?" the boys begged. "We really want to KAYAK!"
"Sure, great," Señor Aventura agreed. "Kayaking sounds fun. Should we bring lunch?"
While he grabbed a quick breakfast the children and I packed up the car for the beach. We were all pretty excited about our new inflatable kayak from Decathlon. It was the kind you can inflate by yourself on the beach using a plastic pump, and we'd driven all the way from Barcelona to southern Italy with the boat rolled up tightly in the back of our beloved Volkswagen, Chico Suave.
This would be the first time we'd ever used it.
"I call the first kayak ride!" announced Soccer Dude.
"Wait, so do I!" exclaimed The Scientist.
"Why do THEY always get to go first?" grumped Little Angel. "I want to go in the kayak with you, mama! Or with Daddy!"
"Everybody will get a turn in the kayak," I promised. "For now, let's stay focused and get the car packed so it will be ready as soon as Daddy wants to go."
Marina di Puolo is located a short drive from Sant'Agata Sui Due Golfi, just seventeen minutes away by car. We were so wrapped up in noticing the local hotels, restaurants and views of the Bay of Naples that we barely noticed time passing. Before we knew it, Señor Aventura was pulling off the road and turning right into a big shady parking lot.
"Olio di Oliva - 20Euro" read the sign, and then, "PARKING".
This parking lot seemed actually to be part of an adapted olive grove... the cars were parked side by side on hard packed earth beneath many wide branched olive trees. Together the tree branches created a thick cover of shade, which was very nice since the temperature outside already felt extremely warm.
Large tin canisters filled with olive oil, no doubt made from olives in this same grove, were for sale in the same office where we paid for parking. "We're in Italy!" I thought with a smile, grinning over that unlikely sales pairing.
"Ready?" Señor Aventura asked, as he pulled on his backpack. "Which boy wants to help me with the kayak, and which one will carry the oars?"
"I'm walking with Mom!" announced Little Angel.
"That means you get to help me bring our beach bags and water."
Together we headed down the hill along a narrow road, occasionally pulling off to the side when a motorcycle or car buzzed by. We followed signs posted directing us to the marina.
Marina di Puolo is a small fishing village that sprang up within the estate of an ancient Roman villa that once covered the entire area from Sorrento all the way to Massa Lubrense. Puolo is still a very tiny town today, with only a few hundred actual residents, but despite how small it is there are several restaurants and bars there that cater to locals and tourists alike.
This is truly a 'locals only' kind of place... we didn't hear a single British, American or northern European accent around us. Its wide, pleasant shore was full of Italians... families, older people, couples, and young children playing. They seemed to be having a great time under the sun, sitting in their beach chairs under colorful umbrellas and enjoying that sunny Mediterranean bay.
After depositing my tired body on a long blue beach chair under a matching umbrella, I set up my book, a bottle of water and some fresh fruit close at hand. Looking out at the bay I saw a glimpse of mighty Vesuvius towering against the horizon, hugged by clouds. The infamous volcano seemed mild mannered enough today... no eruption likely!
Relaxing in the sun listening to laughter and conversation bubbling up around us, I felt a surge of contentment.
Little Angel began to explore the rocks and water next to my chair for sea creatures, while the boys helped their Dad inflate the kayak. What a kayak! They grew more and more excited as it began to fill with air.
"Look Mom!" Soccer Dude shouted. "Isn't it AWESOME?"
"Wow!" I replied. "It's even bigger than I expected!"
The Scientist and Soccer Dude looked so happy and joyful as they prepared to go on their first Italian kayak ride with their dad. Since they were headed into deeper water they cheerfully donned their brightly colored orange life jackets and helped push the boat into the Mediterranean.
Seagulls chirped cheerfully in the background and even from the shore I could hear my boys laughing, already having a great time.
"It's FLOATING!" they cheered.
"I want to go!!!" whined Little Angel. "I want to go too, Mommy! It's not fair!"
"Don't worry," I assured her. "As soon as they get back, your dad will take you out in the kayak too... just you and him."
"Really?" her eyes illuminated with instant joy. "Just Dad and me? Without my brothers? Yay!!!!!!!!"
Cheerfully she turned back to collecting shells and interesting shaped rocks for the sand castle she had begun to build.
Little Angel and I waited happily while our favorite guys were out in the water exploring the coast of Massa Lubrense.
While they were gone, we looked up to see a group gathering on the beach. They seemed to be standing above something in a semi-circle, and looking down at it. For a moment my heart caught, as I wondered if something had happened to a child or a swimmer.
"What's going on over there, Mommy?" Little Angel asked.
"I'm not sure, I'm going to get a closer look. You stay here on the beach chair for a second."
"I hope everybody is okay!" she said, turning back to her sand castle.
I wandered a few feet closer, wanting to get a better glimpse without intruding. Suddenly I realized that the crowd of people were standing above a giant squid similar to one we'd seen just that morning at the neighborhood fish market in Sant'Agata.
"It's a squid!" I called back to Little Angel. "A really big one!"
"Oh no! Is it dead, Mommy?"
"I hope not, but I don't know."
Two men stood closest to the large squid, having what looked like a fervent discussion about it. One of them was older, perhaps in his seventies. He continued to point at the creature and shake his head. The other looked much younger, maybe in his twenties. He seemed to deep in conversation with his older companion.
The squid itself - a 'calamaro rosso' red in color and two or three feet long - was flopping around, trying to get itself back into the water. It squirted liquid (probably in a defensive posture) out of its body, and seemed to be flailing and losing strength.
Then suddenly, the younger man knelt down, gently took the squid in both of his hands and began to pull it very slowly (still submerged in the water) out to sea.
"I think maybe it was stuck on the sand," I called to my daughter. "Maybe it was having trouble breathing out of water or swimming. And now this man is helping it get back out to its home."
"Oh, I really hope the squid makes it home!"
"Me too." We watched together as he held the creature under water and walked it out beyond the break of the waves, and then finally let go as it began to swim off.
"Yay!" Little Angel cheered. "He made it, he's swimming!!"
Half of the beach at Puolo watched as the squid swam silently away, and then cheered and clapped the young man on the back as he returned to his female companion.
Settling back down at my beach chair, I felt relieved and happy that the squid had lived to see another day. "There are good people in this world," I thought, reflecting on that kind young man who had taken the time to free the cephalopod from a tragic fate suffocating in the sand.
A little while later Señor Aventura arrived back on the beach with the boys. They looked sweaty, disheveled and extremely happy!
"There is a huge tower out there!" Señor Aventura informed me when they returned. "It looks like some kind of military installation."
"That's really interesting," I agreed. "I'd love to see it, did you get a photo?"
"Mom, we had SO MUCH FUN!!!" my boys exclaimed. "We saw so many fish! Kayaking is AWESOME!"
"Fantastic! I'm so happy for you guys! Hey, I think I'll take a brief swim," I told my husband, "while you're here to watch our stuff and before you head out to sea again with Little Angel."
"Good idea. I'm hungry. I'll eat a little something before I take her out on the water."
I began to enter the water, which was warm enough to be comfortable. To my surprise, I saw that there were lots of bits of plastic trash floating all around me. Most of them were clear plastic, but one bit looked suspiciously like a Band-Aid.
"Ew!" I called. "There's a lot of stuff in this water!"
"Yeah," The Scientist agreed. "The water's kind of gross right here where it is shallow, but it got a lot cleaner the further we kayaked out there."
I swam around for fifteen or twenty minutes within the confines of the rocky shore break but couldn't shake the feeling that the water all around me was a little bit dirty.
"I think I'm done," I announced, heading back up the beach to dry off and settle again under my bright blue beach umbrella.
"Can we go out now?" Little Angel asked her dad. "In the kayak? Please, Daddy?"
"Sure, Little Angel," my husband smiled. "It's time for you to have a turn out there too."
The smile on her face could not have been wider or more eager. "Hurray!!! Where's my life jacket?!?!?!" She raced to find it, and to grab an oar.
Soon, she and her dad were safely seated in the inflatable kayak and headed out to sea.
Our boys began to clamber along the rocks protecting the little harbor from the rest of the Bay of Naples, hunting and searching for sea creatures like hermit crabs, mussels and more.
They basked in the hot sunshine and took dips into the bay, but mainly looked for animals and played along the shorebreak. Every so often they came back to get more fruit or sandwiches from me.
By four-thirty, Little Angel and her dad at last returned.
"Mommy! I LOVE KAYAKING!" she sang. "I love it so much!" She was still grinning from ear to ear. She began to skip and dance around, still holding her oar and wearing her life jacket.
"I think it's about time to head back," my husband said quietly. "They've had a great day, and we should leave now while it's still positive, before anybody gets too tired."
"Besides me, you mean," I laughed. "I agree, that sounds perfect." We began to deflate the inflatable kayak, deconstruct the oars, and repack the beach bags.
"What a great day!" Little Angel wrapped her tanned arms around my waist. "I'm ready to go home."
As it happened, two out of three of my kids left the beach at Puolo that day with cuts on their feet that later began to swell painfully and they both eventually needed mild topical antibiotics.
"If we ever go back to that beach," confided The Scientist, "I'm definitely wearing my beach shoes on the big rocks. They are sharp!"
"Good point," I agreed.
Overall we'd shared a relaxing and happy time together at Marina di Puolo. Even though the water wasn't the absolute cleanest, it was still a fun, safe place for the kids to play with a wide shore and plenty of sunshine. We'd enjoyed exploring the good restaurants and amenities nearby.
We also loved that Puolo is a locals only kind of place, and definitely appreciated that it had a real sand beach instead of just pebbles. I'd call it a fine, peaceful experience.
There is something truly special about visiting the kind of community where humans will take the time and trouble to help a suffering giant sea creature return alive to its watery home... I'll never forget everyone on that small southern Italian beach clapping and shaking hands with each other after its rescue. They were celebrating life, and also our undeniable connection with our brothers underwater.
Marina di Puolo has a good vibe and is worth visiting!
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