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Greatness in the grotto


We had no idea what to expect as we trotted across the hot sand of the harbour of Palinuro, a small town south of Naples on the naturally beautiful and unspoilt Cilento Coast.  Across the bay we could see the Cape of Palinuro stretching out into a balmy blue sea lapping against its rugged edges.  Our boatman, who spoke no English at all, managed to divide us into two groups of ten and sent the second group to his colleague’s boat nearby.  My group clambered into a small, open, motorised wooden boat and we chugged off across the the clear salty water, all we knew was that we were goint to visit the grottoes of Palinuro – and the only way to do this was by boat.

Initially we headed straight out to sea towards the end of the cape.  On the way we passed a large rocky island which our boatman managed to convey to us was colled “The Rabbit”.  Mmmm with a stretch of the imagination one could just visualise a hunched up rabbit.  Soon after that we entered our first grotto, gliding slowly through the low narrow entrance.  This was called the Grotto of Blood and our boatman used his powerful beam to pick out the garish red stains on the wall s that were reminiscent of dripping blood, an image reflected in the bright red vegetation just below the surface of the crystal clear water.  A ‘crocodile’ lazing in the shallows was also picked up in the torchlight.  My companions gasped in wonder, I relaxed as I realised none of them suffered from either sea sickness or claustrophobia!

The Cape of Palinuro

As we were about to round the cape our boatman indicated that we needed to have our cameras ready and kept pointing up to the top of the sheer rocky cliffs.  Was it going to be animal, vegetable or mineral this amazing sight we were about to witness?  There was some excited chatter which the boatman frowned on so anxious was he to get the right moment – he kept acting camera at the ready, finger poised to click the shutter.  Suddenly there it was, a huge round hole in the cliffs and through the hole we could see what looked like a lighthouse – there was just a fleeting second to capture this image before the ‘lighthouse’ disappeared.

Was that the climax of our trip, and so soon?  We lapsed into silence which lasted until we were inside the next grotto.  This was more difficult to navigate as the natural entrance had low hanging rocks and the boat had to twist and turn so soon quietness was penetrated by shouts of ‘mind your head!’.  Once inside this grotto we were unsure what we were looking for apart from the incredible landscape of stalagtites and stalagmites.  Our boaman then switched off his light and leant over the side of the boat to throw handfuls of water up into the air.  The drops of water sparkled like slivers of silver in the dim light, a phenomena that has earnt this cave the name, the Silver Grotto.

Back out into the open sea and a bit further along we go through another low entrance, our boatman points ahead of us, and we all gaze expectantly in that direction.  Suddenly three carved monks loom up through the gloom, eerily realistic: we are now in the Monks’ Grotto.

After coming out of this grotto our boat turns for home and we strip off and lay back for a spot of sunbathing thinking all the excitement is over.  As we near the harbour we notice some small boats gathered around a cave entrance that we have not investigated so far.  We assume they are divers as the area is very popular for this activity so we are surprised to find ouselves taking our place in the ‘queue’.  After a short while it is our turn. 

Grotta Azzura

Entering the Azure Grotto when the sun is high in the sky is a truly amazing experience because, once through the low narrow entrance one is suddenly surrounded by the most spectactulaar blue light that is reflected up through the water.   We are stunned by this spectacle, so unexpecteded and so memorable.

Finally we find ourselves back on shore and bidding farewell to our boatmen who have charged a very modest amount for this thrilling and enthralling experience.

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