Slummy suburbs, nonnas hanging out washing strewn between shabby buildings above vespas weaving through crowds of people shouting at each other, arms waving. I was looking forward to finding the best Napoli pizza, a quest that sparked great arguments, I assumed, though I couldn’t understand the words, it guessed it to be the conflict amongst the locals.
Ten pm and a rail delay means I had just arrived in at the central train station, Napoli Centrali. The city now had a cavernous threat about it. I somehow felt excited though, as if sometimes through a frightening experience that travelling provides perspective.
Knowing little but following idioms around the city like aeroporto and estacion de tren. I hadn’t the foresight or the inclination really to arrive with accommodation pre-planned and on the advice of a fellow backpacker who did, I wound up on a linea taking me well out of the city. I found a seat across from two Spanish girls who after trying out my newly acquired Spanish phrases informed me they were also heading out to the hostel.
Off the train we head up the platform, I turn and notice another backpacker behind us. He looked Spanish so I call to him “hola hombre, ostel?”
“Si” he said
“Ven con migo” and he caught up. My event Spanish was working well, if only I could find someone to wipe a table I could use all my words.
This was the first time I laid eyes on Ivan Villanueva. He was tall, slender, dark skin with piercing deep brown eyes and a confident friendly smile. I liked him immediately.
The four of us headed up the hill in the dark, not knowing if the reference in the girls’ dated lonely planet was already redundant. We get to the afterhours counter of the hostel, the man there informing us that there were only two single beds left but given the time of night he was ok if the two couples didn’t mind sharing a single bed.
There we were, four strangers, stranded. I think for the briefest of moments everyone thought about how that might work but it was quickly dismissed. “Well Ivan I guess the only gentlemanly thing to do is let the girls have the beds and we will go and find another hostel.” Ivan agreed and to the gratuous thanks of the girls we walked back out into the warm night air.
It began to seem to me there was a fine line between ignorance and being sufficiently prepared for a city like Naples.
Back in the city and under the guidance of Ivans lonely planet we walked until we arrived at the santa maria plaza.
“Hey Ivan, what does you book there say about this plaza?”
“It say don’t be here after midnight”
“Hey Ivan, what time is it?”
He looked back at me and then around, scanning the same predatory eyes of some locals across the street. “Its after midnight…. We should go”
We walk, quickly up the street, not in any particular direction, just to be away from where we were, but unfortunately the trouble was following us. I turned to see two of the men trailing.
Around the next corner we darted and then hastily up the street but there they were, a block behind us.
“Ivan” I said “I need to know something”
“If those guys catch up to us are you fighting or running?”
“What do you want to do?” he replied
“I have a bad knee, I can’t run very fast”
“Ok, then we fight” He kept walking, he seemed quietly confident whilst I was hoping to god it didn’t come to that. But the thugs behind us were gaining; we were walking as fast as we could without breaking into a trot under the weight of our backpacks. They were not even half a block away when I called out to Ivan ahead of me. We had been fleeing in circles, my knee was aching and soon we would be too tired to fight off these guys. “Ivan I’m stopping.”
He stopped, turned at me and looked back to see our predators closing. He looks down at his lonely planet again and his eyes light up “pick your bag up Robo, come, ostel!” I grab my bag and we quickly jog across the street, the thugs less than 50 meters behind us. Within half a block we were up a conspicuous stairwell and to the door of a bed and breakfast called Seven Small Rooms to safety.