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The GR20 in Corsica - July 2008

Day 13 - Monday 14th July
Refuge d'Asinau to Refuge d'I Paliri (via Alpine variant)
(8.5 miles/13.5 kilometers)

I woke at 5.11am, after a long sleep during which I'd woken intermittently. It was incredibly windy--I think that's why I'd woken during the night, worried about whether or not the pegs would hold in the dry ground. I'd been planning to take the high level Alpine Variant route to Bavella, partly because it sounded lovely in the book and also because the nice French bloke I'd had dinner with at Refuge d'Usciolu had recommended it very highly. Now I wasn't sure it would be safe, though, so I decided to pack up quickly and make my way to the kitchen at the Refuge, to consider the matter further over a drink.

By 6.10am I was in the little kitchen, having eaten a delicious breakfast of my two remaining Nutellas and a cup of Cappuccino made with one of the sachets I'd bought in Vizzavona. Once again I'd been unable to see any small communal pots, but there was a large one sitting on the stove with some water, and so I'd heated the water up and made myself a drink. Later I saw one of the other walkers packing the pot away into her rucksack, and cringed with embarrassment! (If I'd realised the pot belonged to somebody else I'd naturally have asked before using it.) Anyway, it was worth the embarrassment because the drink was lovely :)

After eating I gazed out of the window and thought again about my route. An elderly Frenchman approached and started a conversation. Once I'd explained that I was English he spoke more slowly, and it turned out that he was asking which route I was going to take. When I told him I was unsure he said that I should take the low route because of the wind, indicating that the high route would be dangerous. I filed the advice away, but decided to wait until I reached the point on the path where it would be necessary to make a decision before finally making a choice.

My little torch battery had begun to fail the night before, and so before leaving I swapped in a new one. I was very impressed with the little Petzl E+Lite. I'd done it some damage by accidentally dangling it from the rucksack and dragging it across stony ground on the morning when I'd left Haut Asco. I think a piece of dust or a small piece of grit must have lodged behind the little lever with which one regulates the settings, making it almost impossible to turn, but thankfully the dust/grit had fallen out after several days' further use, and now the torch was perfect again.

I was anxious to make a quick getaway after my early start, but I had a little difficulty locating the path. Eventually a woman pointed it out for me. For anyone else similarly confused, go out of the kitchen, turn right and cross the veranda and from there the path drops down to the left.

It was 7.30am when I left, and I'd started out in just my fleece as extra protection against the wind. It was genuinely cold, though, despite my fairly rapid progress, and so after about 15 minutes I stopped and put on my waterproof smock and my little gloves. I'd almost not bothered to take gloves with me, but I was very glad indeed of them as I shouldered my pack and pressed on again.

I soon reached signs pointing to the Refuge d' I Paliri and Quenza, a local village...

...and after that I came to a bouldery section of path.

I then entered a wood, where the walking was lovely. The wind was exhilarating, and I strode along having a tremendous time. After a while I stopped for a ciggy break...

...and it seemed like a good chance to play with the camera. I was now on my last two batteries, and hoping that I'd be able to buy some at Bavella later in the day.

The path continued through the wood...

...and I kept a careful eye open for the point at which I'd be faced with the choice of climbing to the Alpine route or continuing through the trees. I'd decided by then that I was going to take the higher route, but part of me regretted the loss of the lower one because Paddy explains in his guidebook that there are many flowers in the beech wood not encountered elsewhere on the walk.

I began to wonder whether I'd actually missed the sign but at about 8.10am it eventually appeared...

...and I embarked upon a steep and sustained haul up through the forest towards a rocky gap at the top.

The climb started steep and grew steeper, but the wind kept me comfortable and so I didn't mind at all. I'd left the red and white marks of the GR20 behind and was now following a mixture of yellow flashes and little cairns. It wasn't difficult to find the way, though, and eventually I emerged from the trees...

...to be confronted by huge and enormously impressive rock walls and towers.

Immense walls of rock on emerging from the woods at the top of the hill

There were amazing views on top in all directions, but it was actually quite difficult to get a decent picture because the wind was so extremely powerful that on a regular basis it almost blew me over. That was exhilarating, if a little exhausting, but I'd like to go back up there on a less windy day in order to enjoy the path at its best. Still, I tried.

Extensively rocky views in all directions

At one stage I leaned my whole body into a rock to try to get some support while taking a photograph, but the wind was so strong that it still managed to shake me as I was doing it.

As I was making my way along I met three young French men walking in the other direction. They stopped, and one said it looked as though I was cold. I realised then that I was still wearing my waterproof and fleece and gloves, whereas people travelling in the other direction were in T shirts, so I explained that I'd just not yet bothered to stop and take them off. Discovering I wasn't French, the French blokes switched seamlessly to excellent English. They said I'd meet an English woman a little further along the path, and asked me to tell her that they were all okay. Apparently they'd all camped together the night before at (I think) Refuge d'I Paliri. They said she was a bit nervous, and I could see they were really good fun.

Anyway, we said goodbye and bonne journée, and I staggered along, trying hard to keep to my feet. Soon I caught up with an Australian couple who'd stopped to change a camera battery. I'd heard them speaking at the Refuge the night before, and so I stopped to say hello. They too were doing the GR20, and they'd started at Calenzana on almost the same day as me. They'd taken a day out (or maybe a couple) to see Corte, though, and it turned out that quite a lot of other people had done the same thing. I was rather sorry not to have met up with them earlier, as although I'd had great fun it would have been good to have known other people earlier on the walk who were planning to do the whole thing.

I went on after 5 minutes or so, and not long after that the Australian couple passed me, moving pretty quickly. I knew from the guidebook that there was a little chain on one of the rocks, and as I rounded a bend I noticed it in the distance. I'd been told it was a very easy scramble, and so I was rather looking forward to it.

The little chain on the Alpine Variant: a bit of perspective

There was a bit of a queue at the bottom as people were descending from the top, and so I stopped to put away my poles and to take off my extra layers. Then I watched a few people come down.

People descending on the little chain

As I was waiting I looked back towards the place from which I'd come. It had been quite a rugged, steep descent, but not long enough to be anything other than fun.

Eventually it was my turn up the little chain. Coincidentally, the last person down before I set off up happened to be the young English woman that the 3 young French blokes had mentioned earlier on. We had a quick word, and then we both went on. The chained bit of rock was indeed as easy as I'd been led to expect. The rock was grippy, and the chain probably isn't really needed in anything other than wet conditions. Still, it was nice to be able to hang onto it as I made my way up the steepest part of the rock.

After that I continued along another rocky, rugged path. Route-finding seemed pretty straightforward, but at one stage I missed a marker and took the wrong path. I realised there was something up when I found myself struggling down a couple of very steep bits, overgrown with bushy foliage, and when soon afterwards I reached a point at which I appeared to be descending a cliff I decided I'd better go back up and check before going any further. I struggled back up the difficult bit and soon spotted my mistake--I'd missed a turn to the right over a boulder--and I'm very glad I noticed the error before stranding myself where nobody was likely to find me!

It was all pretty plain sailing down to the village of Bavella after that. I passed some impressive rocks...

...and stopped to take a picture of one of several little growths I'd seen springing up from what appeared to be pieces of dead log. I'm not sure whether they sprang from the logs themselves or whether they were a different sort of plant simply using the log as a base, but they were very attractive, and reminded me of bonsai.

The walk down to the village ended with yet another steep and apparently endless steep descent. It was particularly frustrating because I'd been able to see the village almost as soon as I'd first emerged from the woods onto the ridge much earlier in the day, and now I'd been able to see the road below me for what felt like at least an hour. It didn't seem to be getting any closer, but quite suddenly I found myself down on almost level ground, spotted a very welcome red and white GR20 marker and realised that I'd rejoined the path that I'd have travelled along had I continued in the beech and pine wood earlier in the morning.

Very soon after that--1pm, to be precise--I emerged onto the road itself, and was immediately surrounded by a mass of cars and day trippers. It was quite a culture shock, because even Vizzavona had been a very sleepy, tiny village in comparison with what I was seeing now. I was happy to see it, though, and my thoughts turned immediately to lunch, and hot goats cheese salads.

Right next to the road were a large cross and a statue dedicated to Our Lady of Neiges, and I suppose they must be what had attracted the hoardes of visitors.

Cross and statue next to the D268 above Bavella

The statue reminded me of another that I'd seen on a hilltop not far from Gavarnie 2 years earlier.

Statue to Notre Dame des Neiges, near Bavella

I didn't linger, though, and after taking a picture I made my way down the hill into the village. It was still extremely windy, and as I made my way down the hill strong gusts created wild dust storms which caused groups of day trippers to scatter like... well, cockroaches exposed to sudden light, really :)

Down in the village I made my way to a shop where I hoped to buy batteries, and chatted briefly with the two Australians sitting outside. They were waiting for paninis, which was probably a very good idea. I had my mind set on lettuce and goat's cheese, though, and so I went into the shop to stock up with supplies, intending then to find a place where I could have lunch.

In the shop I bought a number of things for consumption at the Refuge d'I Paliri later that night. I think the stage may finish formally in Bavella, but the young English woman I'd met at the chain had recommended the Refuge over the village as a place to stay, and it was still very early, so I'd decided to press on up after lunch. For 11.40 Euros I bought:
  • 4 batteries for my camera (hurrah!)
  • 2 nice crispy baguettes
  • 1 can of Pietra beer, and
  • 1 can of mackerel (recommended by the Australians)
I then made my way over to the restaurant across the road, and I was about to take a look at the menu when the nice French bloke I'd met at the Cirque/had seen again on each of the 2 previous nights (I wish I could remember his name!) called over to me and invited me to eat with him and his friends. It turned out that they, too, were going up to the Refuge after lunch, and so I happily dumped my rucksack with the others and sat down in the sun.

Restaurant where I had lunch in Bavella

The place where we were sitting was slightly lower than the road, and therefore sheltered from some of the wind. It was very sunny, and for the first time that day I was able to sit back and bask in the fantastic Corsican heat :) As we waited for the others to arrive I replaced my camera batteries, and the new ones seemed to work perfectly. Thank goodness! Never again will I forget to make proper provision for camera batteries before embarking on a long walk...

Eventually the others arrived. At that stage there were just 4 of us, and sadly I can't remember the names of any of the 3 people I sat with. It seemed that I'd managed to miss most of them all the way through the walk in the same way that I'd missed the Australians, though, as they had also started at Calenzana and taken a day or two out in Corte. When the waiter arrived he took orders for drinks, and the French, who all ordered fruit juice, were amused to find that it was the English woman who chose to drink pastis before lunch :)

Being a bit of a piglet (in every sense of the word) I love looking at menus, and it took me a while to choose. I was devastated a little sorry to find that they didn't actually do a goat's cheese salad at that restaurant, as I'd been fantasizing about it since Vizzavona. Still, I chose another one, and then we all settled back to wait for the food. We all chose a salad, but the bloke I'd met before (I'm going to call him Denis, as it's taking me far too long to continually write "the bloke I first met at the Cirque de la Solitude and then at les Refuges d'Usciolu and Asinau") was very hungry and ordered the entrôcote steak as well.

The food finally came, and it was good. My salad came with lettuce, tomatoes, egg, ham and cheese. I'm not quite sure what sort of ham it was, because it was in little chunks and it seemed to have been air cured in some way. Actually, it seemed almost raw (I'm sure it was supposed to be), and I found that a little difficult since I don't eat that sort of thing at home, even if it's free-range. I'd have preferred a bunch of lettuce and a piece of goat's cheese, but it was still pretty good. Denis's steak then arrived, and we all drooled so pathetically at the sight of his chips that he offered us some. Yum :)

As we were eating 3 other walkers arrived: a man and wife with their little daughter. I couldn't help a small start of embarrassment when they first sat down because I immediately recognised the woman whose pot I'd used to make my drink that morning, but unfortunately I didn't have the French to bring it up and make a joke, as I would have done over here. They were very friendly, though, and they were celebrating because they weren't planning to walk any further and so they'd finished.

Their little girl can't have been more than about 9 years old--give or take a year or so--and I was very impressed that she'd been able to do the walk, even if they'd only done part of it. In fact, I'd seen her packing up a mattress (or some other item that required significant compression) at the Refuge that morning, and I'd noticed how much care she'd taken to get the job done tidily and the item back into its stuffsack before offering it to her mother for inclusion in the big rucksack.

As Denis was finishing his steak I heard a cry of recognition and the others all called out to another walker, who'd appeared in the restaurant. It was Patrick--also French--and he came over to sit with us. He was a lovely, friendly bloke, and I felt an immediate sense of affinity with him when he produced a packet of Marlboro Reds and began to smoke a cigarette :)

The waiter returned to see whether we wanted anything more. I wasn't going to have pudding, but since it seemed that most of the others were having the tarte chatelaine (or chestnut flan) I decided at the last moment that I would. Chestnuts are very important in Corsica. The very delicious Pietra beer contains them, and they're included in all sorts of interesting foodstuffs I'd not had a chance to sample up in the Refuges.

I felt a bit guilty when the tarte arrived and it turned out that they didn't have enough to go round. Patrick insisted that I should have the last piece, however, and chose some sort of ice cream instead. I was glad I'd decided to have pudding, as it was truly excellent.

After all that the waiter returned again to see whether we wanted a liquor. I decided I should have one--just for the taste of the thing, of course--and that was excellent too. The bill for all of this was 28 Euros, which I thought was v. good indeed.

Eventually we all began to think about packing up and moving off. By 3.30pm we were ready, and I followed the others out onto the road since I wasn't sure what had happened to the little red and white markers. Most of us lingered to take photographs of the sea, now clearly on view...

View of the sea from Bavella

...but about 10 minutes later we were each established back on the path and making our way towards the Refuge.

I felt great after lunch--all that pastis and liquor must have done me good--and when I eventually arrived at a bit of a climb I was ready for it, and pressed on up feeling very little pain. It took me an hour to get to the Foce Finosa--Denis had passed me on the way, clearly racing, but the others were all somewhere behind--and then I dashed on downhill to the Refuge. I had to stop a couple of times for piccies...

A pool of some description

Another great view

And yet another great view...

Proof that the Corsican Yeti exists?

...and naturally there were lovely flowers...

Lovely flower

...but the path was relatively easy...

Easy path

...and it wasn't long before I arrived at the spring which heralded the imminence of my arrival at the Refuge.

Spring serving Refuge

Finally it was there, and only 90 minutes after leaving Bavella!

First sign of Refuge d'I Paliri

The setting was truly beautiful: probably the most beautiful of all the settings, if I'd been forced to choose.

Refuge d'I Paliri

Because for once I'd arrived before most of the other walkers I had a good chance to seek out the emplacement of my dreams. Initially I chose one with a fairly central location...

...but when I went for a walk without my pack I found another on the outskirts of the camping area, looking straight down the mountainside. That was such a beautiful spot that I went back for my things, and moved there instead.

Camping place, looking right down the mountainside

I soon put up the tent and unpacked my things. Half way through the planting of the tent I had to make an urgent loo dash--presumably as a result of something I'd eaten or drunk in Bavella--but I was soon back and finishing things off. The weather was completely calm--no wind at all--and sunny, and after I'd finished unpacking I took my book out and went to sit on the huge boulders in front of my tent, soaking up the sun and savouring the view.

View from my tent

There I contemplated my feet for a while...

...and then the view of distant mountains...

It now seemed that the last few days had simply rushed by, and it was very hard to believe that the following day would be the last of the walk. I was sure I'd be back, though, and eventually I settled down to savour my Pietra and read a bit more of my book.

Definition of backpacking bliss

Eventually as the sun dropped lower across the mountains I left my place on the rocks and returned to the tent.

I was tired, and decided to lie down for a while to finish the Kennedys. Despite my lunch I eventually grew a little peckish, and so got out my bread and saucisson and ate a bit.

I was very comfortable and relaxed, and at some stage I fell fast asleep. I didn't wake up until quite suddenly I heard a male voice at the door of the tent, and when I turned over I found the Guardian asking whether I'd paid. I'd completely forgotten to seek him out, and apologetically I dug around in my purse until I was able to find 4 Euros and pay for my bivvy.

I'd intended to go and eat with the others, as I was sure they'd be making the most of the last night, but I was so sleepy that when the Guardian left I lay down again and went back to sleep, and then I didn't wake up until 5.40am the following morning...

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