Hiking in Corsica and Sardina

My mother’s late husband, Vernon, had two sons from a prior marriage. One is rough and tumble character, likely to be gambling in a Trainspotting-esque watering hole somewhere in Great Britain at this very moment. The other (the responsible one) dated a succession of German girls while living in Scotland, and figured he might as well move to Germany. A few girlfriends later he found his wife (German, of course), and they are happily married with a child and live in (of course) Germany. Sometimes he does something foolish, like extend an invitation to me after inviting my mother to spend a week with him and his family in Corsica (that’s in France, for the non-geography buffs out there). I took him up on his offer, and flew to Corsica late July (thank god for airmiles).

Corsica, the birthplace of Napolean, was also the birthplace of family feuds, which could last 3-4 generations. It’s calmed down a lot, and in the summer you can’t find many actual Corsican’s, but my interest was the mountains. I figured that if you want to see an island, you walk across it, and walk it I did.

I flew into Corsica, arriving in the morning to a stifling hot day. Rather than wait 3 hours for the bus, I asked the nice lady at the tourist office if I could walk into town. In between puffs on her cigarette, she suggested I would die from heat stroke if I tried this (yes, I really am in France). Not getting any more information, I waited for the bus, and eventually caught it. After a second long bus ride, I had made it halfway to my destination for the night, and buses were stopped until the morning. So I hitched, getting rides from 3 or 4 different people, before arriving at a small fishing village, and the start of the Mar y Monti (Sea and Mountain) hiking trail. Cozying up with a group of cute French girls, I joined them for dinner and drinks at a Corsican restaurant, though sadly bade them goodbye in the morning, as we were hiking opposite directions. I took off, through blistering heat, with over a gallon of water in my backpack, up dusty trails winding up the side of the mountains. Corsica is the most mountainous island in the Med, and I felt like I was heading straight up.

The first day of hiking brought me through a mountain pass, down a ridgeline, and back down to sea level to reach the little town of Girolata, a stunningly beautiful fishing village accessible by foot or boat. There were a few cobbled lanes in the town, but no cars. The bay unfurled around rocky outcroppings, sailboats lapped water at their moorings, and restaurants grilled fish brought in that day. I’ve been to few places more breathtaking.

The dinner was fish and local Corsican soup. I slept at the restaurant/youth hostel/campground, under a fig tree that softly dropped figs on me while I slept. The next morning I ordered a croissant and coffee for breakfast, the latter of which came in a cup the size of a rain-barrel. The view was even more stunning at dawn, as the soft morning light turned to hard shadows when the sun crested the surrounding woodlands. I threw on my pack and bid adieu, missing it already.

The walk that day led by wooded springs of fresh water, hidden coves where sailboats had moored like vagabonds in search of Eden, and a bar where I relaxed in the shade drinking a Panache. It’s half beer, half sparkling lemonade, and is the greatest thing in the world when you are hot from hiking. My mouth waters just writing this.

Corsica has a timeless feel, not just because of the countless cemeteries
I would walk by over the course of my hiking but because traffic gives way to the peripatetic cow (it had better). I continued on, and the days began to merge into a continuum of hiking, sleeping, and eating. I crossed a 15th century Genovese bridge, hung out with French hikers, met and ate dinner with a fellow Barcelonian, and threw pine cones at cows when they refused to move from narrow paths.

The weather was always hot, but it often rained. Death comes suddenly in Corsica—the number one cause when hiking is lighting. Many days the ski would open up, and a deluge of biblical proportions would let forth. I briefly hid under an overpass with a French family for the worst of one storm, but fearing I would be stuck hiking in the dark if I delayed longer, I braved through anyway. I felt mostly safe in the trees, even as thunder boomed around me only half a second after the intense flash of the lighting, but whenever I crossed a clearing in the forest, and could not depend on trees to catch the brunt of the lighting, I ran—as my life depended on it.

I took a short cut another rainy afternoon and found myself in no-man’s-land, skirting up and down slippery rock faces, trying to hang on to branches or roots as I skidded along. I knew that if I slipped, my body wouldn’t be found for years (my poor mother!). I found the rocky gorge beautiful, but was relieved when rock ledges gave way to pine forest. I waded through a stream so flooded it had overflown its banks twice over, and hoped my feet found firm surface as I stepped into the rushing water below the 20 foot waterfall. I made it that night to a fishing cabin/hotel, and picked at my feet until a thorn nearly a centimeter long popped out.

I arrived late that day in Corse, the old seat of power in bygone days, and home to the fading efforts of the violent insurgency that still wants Corsican independence. I wandered around town, eating ice cream and pastries, and probably a pizza or two. I hiked onwards the next morning, taking the wrong trail late in the day and doubling back to ask a French woman where the trail was. She didn’t know (it later turned out to be 100 feet from her house), but gave me tea, and told me I could sleep in her backyard if I wanted. I did, among the nettles, fruit trees and tomato plants, and ate breakfast there. She let me shower, though something was wrong with her house as I received a mild electric shock every time I touched the faucets or pipes. Figuring this was `normal’, I showered, contorting my body not to touch anything metal, when blistering pain like a thousand red needles raced down my side where the shower water was running. I screamed in pain and bolted from the shower. Afraid her houseguest was dead or being murdered she rushed downstairs as I hastily put on a towel, and asked her if it was normal for live current to be running through her plumbing system. She was a bit loopy, and a bit of a hippie, but eventually realized that the power company had dug a trench in the lane in front of her house the day before. She had felt mild electric shocks herself since then, but had figured it was simply magical. I thanked her and left shortly after without touching another metal thing in her house. I can’t imagine what being tortured with electricity is like, but I have an idea, and I don’t like it.

My journey was uneventful from there, and I passed only one couple on the trail for
next two days. I saw a few wild boar, and passed a few villages so small that the grocery store was a truck that drove there, honked loudly, and waited from people to purchase before driving away. I watched this mobile grocery store in action as I sat and watched from the stoop of an abandoned, half caved-in stone house, and ate my bread and cheese and relaxed.

Thanks to the occasional phone booth en-route, I had been able to stay in touch with Adam, who picked me up when I reached the other side of the island. He, Steffi, their son Justin, my mother and I spent a fun week going to the beach and exploring eastern Corsica, and eating a lot of food. In fact, they claimed I ate most of the food, and who was I to argue? Leaving the happy couple in peace, my mother returned to the States while I took the ferry to Sardinia, Italy, and spent a few days hitchhiking and then two more days wind-surfing in the famed Isola dei Gabbiani, where professionals (and total neophiles like myself) come to windsurf. I was pretty bad, and could only sail in one direction. I would walk the board back in waist deep water, and launch again, when I stepped on a piece of glass. Only it wasn’t glass, as the pain spread and intensified into a burning hot poker stabbed deep into my foot. Yelping in pain I hobbled to the beach, lay there bleeding slightly, before hopping to the windsurf rental stand. I asked them if I had stepped on a something deadly (the pain was still increasing). They smiled good naturedly, and said I wasn’t in danger, but had just stepped on a barbed fish which injected a mild poison into my foot. The pain would go away eventually, though I should put my foot in a bucket of boiling hot water to help. They stared at me, perhaps expecting me to go get a bucket of boiling hot water (honestly, who doesn’t bring that to the beach?), before I suggested they might have one, and they kindly brought one.

The full album of photos can be found here: http://picasaweb.google.com/stony.grunow/CorsicaSardinia.

3 thoughts on “Hiking in Corsica and Sardina”

  1. You don’t happen to know how to say “My hovercraft is full of eels” in Corsican, do you? If so, could you please tell me? I am searching for a project (and yes, I am serious).

    1. I have been to Corsica, but never asked them, sadly. There’s a translation of it into every language floating around the internet, including lesser known European languages like Catalan, but Corsican is sadly on the list (which is why you’re probably asking). I’d try contacting Corsican professors through LinkedIn, might work. Good luck

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