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The GR20 in Corsica - July 2008

Day 14 - Tuesday 15th July
Refuge d'I Paliri to Conca
(9 miles/15.5 kilometers)

I woke at 5.40am, which felt late although it really wasn't. The ground had been flat but still, my sleep had been a little uncomfortable, despite my good mattress. I realised I'd soon be sleeping in my own bed again, and began to look forward to it.

Keen to get going and down to Conca, I jumped out of the tent to a beautiful morning. I nipped across to the loos for a wash and brush up and took my Platy, hoping to fill it up and make an early getaway. Only then did I realise, when somebody pointed it out to me, that the spring was the one I'd seen some 5 minutes or so back down the path the evening before, and so I set off to find it. Doh...

By 0658 I was packed and ready to go. I followed the path back round to the point at which the route continued, and took a last, quiet look back over the campsite. I'd heard a few others leaving earlier, but many people were still getting their things together and it felt good to be stealing a bit of a march on the day.

It was already pretty warm, and the mixture of pretty yellow flowers and sunshine just a little further down the path made me smile. I was quite relaxed about the fact that my walk was now ending, because I felt sure I'd be back again fairly soon.

Sunshine and flowers

For the first time on the walk I'd put away my books and this time I was listening to music. I know that some people dislike music while walking, but I find that it has the power to enhance almost every situation for me, and this one was no exception.

It seemed likely from the book that almost all of the walk was going to consist of a fairly steady descent, but I was surprised over the course of the next couple of hours by just how much ascending I seemed to be doing, bearing in mind that I was now walking off the hill! That suited me fine, though: the whole experience was exhilarating.

I passed a very impressive rocky spike, which I think from the book must have been the Punta di l'Anima Damnata...

Punta di l'Anima Damnata?

...and continued for a while on easy paths fringed with bushes of pretty little yellow flowers.

There were lots of very impressive rocky outcrops, some of them appearing almost sculpted, and it was a relief finally to be able to take pictures without having to battle with the camera batteries on a regular basis.

Bouldery path

This one looked almost like a skull to me as I approached it. In fact, it still does!

Strange shapes in the rocks

At one stage the path passed through a particularly arid and rocky place. The markings were not as frequent or obvious as they'd been earlier in the walk, and on a number of occasions I was unsure about which way to go, and had to search around for the little red and white marks. There were cairns, though, and they were helpful.

Around about that point I noticed what seemed to be a hole in a rock face to my left, and I think it must have been the Punta Tafunata d'I Paliri that Paddy Dillon describes in his book as an eye, watching out for walkers' progress. Rather stupidly I took a picture into the sun, though, and so it's very blurred. Still, I saw it and so here it is, for posterity :)

Punta Tafunata d'I Paliri?

The rockiness continued for a while, and as I was proceeding along a narrow, dusty path I suddenly saw a snake dash off the path in front of me and disappear into the bushes on the left. I'm quite fond of snakes, but it moved so quickly, and gave me such a shock, that I think I jumped several feet into the air! I'm not sure which of us was more surprised.

Afte that the path re-entered a little wood.

There were more of the absolutely lovely little yellow flowers--they really do look just like little faces smiling up from the bushes--and I finally--HURRAH!--manged to get a clear flower photograph :)

Cistus (or Rock Rose)

I descended towards a series of rocky slabs...

...and now the sea began to look very close indeed behind them.

As I walked I noticed hundreds of tiny leaf-cutter ants carrying small yellow loads across the ground. I'd seen them before, but I stopped to take a closer look today. I think they must have been carrying little pieces of yellow flower petal. I tried several times to get a photograph but the ants were too small and the photos were all a complete blur. Next time, though, with my new Canon Eos, I hope to be able to get decent pictures of wee creatures like that :)

At the site of what I think must have been the ruined Bergeries de Cappeddu...

Ruined Bergeries de Cappeddu

...I saw a large piece of most unattractive rubbish...

...and as I read the sign on the side it struck me that the Corsican sense of humour can sometimes be fairly subtle :)

The sea views became ever more tantalising...

...but there were still a few rocky outcrops, and at one stage I passed an amazing fan produced by some sort of bush, silhouetted against a small rock face. It reminded me very much of the Gorgonian sponges I saw when I was diving in Belize in 1990.

Gorgonian-like fan of some description

The walk then continued through woods for a while, passing at one point along the top of some kind of wall.

There were large pine cones on the ground...

...and small sprays of pretty flowers amongst the rocks.

Pretty flowers in the woods

Shortly after that I emerged from the trees, and with a bit of a shock I had my first view of Conca below me. The sight brought a lump to my throat, because after all it had been quite a tough walk and now it was almost over. I stood for a minute or so to take in the sight, and then I continued.


I carried on down, and more quickly than I'd expected I came upon a sign as I reached a bend in the path. It seemed that the walk was suddenly almost finished...

...and just a few yards later, I think, I stepped out of the woods and onto a road. I know the route didn't finish formally until I'd got down into the village, about 10 minutes later, but for me it felt over right there.

Return to civilisation

There was then a pleasant stroll downhill towards the main part of the village. I passed some attractive old buildings, where an elderly man seated on a step watched, bemused, as I walked past.

There was a lovely vegetable garden next door to it, and I stopped to take a picture.

I didn't see it at the time, but in the picture above I've just noticed a clay bread oven in the corner. Sigh... I'm definitely living in the wrong place!

Clay oven in the garden

A cat also watched as I passed by. He consented to be rubbed, but he didn't look terribly happy about it.

As I strolled down the road I passed a site where a bit of building was going on. A fragment of the music written by Gabriel Yared for the film Cold Mountain was playing on my MP3 player, and everything felt perfect. An elderly man emerged from the site and began to walk slowly up the hill towards me. As we passed I smiled, and he said, "GR20?" (or "Jairvan", which is how it sounds in French). I said, "Oui!" and then he smiled too, and we both carried on. It was a sweet moment that brought a second little lump to my throat :)

As I rounded a corner the road became a little smarter, and I passed a sign formally announcing that I'd arrived in Conca...

...and less than a minute later I arrived at the Bar du GR20, took off my rucksack and the walk was finally finished.

All that was needed to celebrate the finish was an appropriate drink, and so I went in and ordered a pastis. It was 11.40am, and I think I was the first that morning to arrive.

Le End et Le Reward!

It wasn't long before I began to think about where I was going to stay. I'd read that there was a Gite, but I'd also read about a small hotel, and I toyed with the idea of rewarding myself with a bit of luxury. I therefore asked at the bar where the hotel was. Initially the proprietor didn't understand my question, and so I produced Paddy's guide. It was clear that he'd not seen the picture of his bar in the little guidebook, and he was so delighted with it that he took the book out onto the veranda and showed it to a group of his friends, who were sitting around in the sun enjoying coffee and chat and a bit of relaxation. They were also charmed, and for several minutes the little book was passed from hand to hand to a buzz of excited chatter.

After that the proprietor and his friends gave me directions to the hotel but unfortunately I didn't understand them. Drat... How complicated can 'right' and 'left' be, I wondered? So the proprietor got on the phone, rang his wife and then told me she'd be over in a few minutes to translate. I returned to my pastis, and when a mobile rang suddenly at the other table I heard one of the blokes answer the call with, "Do you speak English?", and we all laughed.

As I sat at the table other walkers began to arrive: first a group of people I hadn't seen before, and then an elderly couple I'd noticed a couple of times over the last couple of days, and had last seen in the woods earlier that morning, soaking their feet in a forest pool as they savoured the last hours of their walk. A lone walker then arrived, and I recognised the tall man who'd arrived at the Bergeries de l'Onda from Milan late in the evening as I was having dinner with Veronique and Ursula. As he took off his pack I raised my glass to congratulate him, and a few minutes later he came over for a brief chat. I asked whether he'd mind taking a picture of me at the table, and he didn't mind at all.

Idiotic grin at the Bar du GR20 in Conca

Shortly after that the proprietor's wife arrived, and gave me instructions to the hotel. The instruction I hadn't understood earlier had been "over the bridge", and it turned out that at the other end of the village was a bridge, and over the bridge and up the hill was the small hotel. I decided to go and take a look at it, and so, reluctantly, I got my things together and prepared to move off. First I nipped in to the loo, though, and since there was a mirror I naturally couldn't pass over the opportunity to try another interesting mirror-pic experiment. (Over the years I've learned that the trick is to turn the flash off, btw...)

Interesting mirror-pic experiment

It took a little longer than I'd expected to get to the bridge, and then to find the hotel. It isn't far, but I reckon it probably takes about 10 minutes from the bar. I hadn't realised Conca was as large as that. Anyway, the way to get there is to turn left out of the bar and walk straight along the road and, a few minutes later, across the bridge where the road swings to the right. Go left after that--I think that by that stage there are signs--and eventually the little hotel appears on the right hand side. It's small, and it looks more like a private house than a hotel, which is nice.

Hôtel San Pasquale in Conca

I didn't get any response to my knock on the door, and so I hovered around outside for a couple of minutes hoping to spot somebody in the garden. I didn't, though, and so eventually I tried the door. It was open, and so I went in and called. A very friendly woman appeared almost immediately, confirmed that I could stay and led me to a small but clean, bright and comfortable room with a shower. It was 70 Euros for single occupancy, but I reckoned I deserved it by that stage.

A shower was what I wanted more than anything else, and so I stripped off my dirty things and prepared to get properly clean for the first time since Vizzavona. My feet were disgustingly grimy...

Eep... grimy feet...

...but I was pleased to see that I'd developed a bit of a tan :)

The shower was quite fantastic, and I stood around in it for about 10 minutes, trying hard to remove the worst of the ingrained dust. After that I felt sleepy--I'd had 2 glasses of pastis, and nothing to eat all day--and so I lay down on the bed for a bit of a nap. When I woke up I dressed and made my way back to the village, because I realised that I had no idea how I was going to get to Calvi the following day.

On the way out I asked the owner whether she knew the times of the buses. She wasn't sure but she made a phone call and was told that the bus for Calvi (via Bastia) would leave from the centre of the village at 8.30am. I wasn't quite convinced, though, and I was anxious to make sure that I didn't miss my flight, and so I decided to make further enquiries of the other walkers.

When I got back to the bar most of the French walkers had finished, and I joined them at a table. We sat around for about an hour as they chatted excitedly, and I took a number of group photos for people with their various cameras. There was a butchers' shop right next to the bar, and as we were drinking the butcher arrived (for the afternoon shift, presumably) and began to carve up a whole lamb not more than about 10 feet away. He was very skilful, and it was disturbingly interesting to watch him at work.

It turned out that none of them were planning to stay in Conca overnight, which worried me a bit, since I wondered whether perhaps I should have arranged to go straight on to Porto Vecchio. It was too late to change things then, though, since I'd already booked into the hotel, and so I tried not to worry about buses and applied myself instead to my glass of Coke. Denis was hungry and he ordered a sandwich, and when it arrived it looked so delectable that I ordered one too. I realised I was starving, and rarely has a saucisson, lettuce and cornichon sandwich been devoured with more enthusiasm!

Eventually the French walkers began to get their bits and pieces together and move off. I hugged everyone, and watched rather sadly as they drifted away together along the road that (as I later learned) led down to the Gite. Then I had a beer, and after that I decided to take a closer look at the village.

I went the wrong way initially, and at one stage I found myself staring into a garden at a woman sunbathing naked on a sunbed. She wasn't best pleased, and I heard her muttering something behind me as I made my way back up to the road I'd begun on.

After that I set off down the little road that the French had taken, and it led me down towards a most impressive looking church.

On the way I passed a small shop selling various food-related supplies, and went in for a quick look. There was a woman sitting on a chair in the sun just outside the door, and she didn't seem keen to allow me to browse, and so I only stayed a few moments and then moved on. I eventually spotted a bus stop on the right, next to the cemetery, and went over to see whether there were any timetables. There weren't, though, and so I walked over to take a closer look at some of the family tombs lining the road. They were very interesting, and many of them were decorated with colourful plaster flowers.

As I walked a little further I noticed what I realised must be the Gite on the left, just a little further down. It looked quite sophisticated, with tennis courts and presumably a range of other facilities, and I realised that it would have been a good place to stay. I didn't go in, though, and instead began to make my way back up in the direction of the bar. I took a few more photos as I went.

Lovely ivy-clad building

View down the road in the direction of the Gite

When I reached the bar I turned right and began to walk towards the hotel, and luckily I then spotted some sort of shop on the right. I'm not sure exactly what kind of shop it was, but it had an interesting selection of books about Corsica for sale in small glass cabinets, and--helpfully--a number of bus and train timetables on the wall.

The woman in charge came over to ask whether she could help me, and I asked whether she knew how I could get to Calvi the following day. One of the two people she'd been chatting with spoke good English, and 5 minutes later I'd been provided with careful instructions and a hand-written note of the times. It turned out that there would be a minibus from the Gite to a bus stop at Ste Lucie de Porto Vecchio at about 8am, and that I could get a bus from there to Bastia and then either a bus or a train to Calvi. The people in the shop explained that I must go and book my ticket for the minibus immediately, as it might not be possible to get a place in the morning. I therefore thanked them and set off back to the Gite.

As I arrived there I ran into the bloke from Milan, who turned out to be staying there. He said that he'd walked up to my hotel to try to find me, as everyone else had left, and he showed me to the reception area where I'd be able to book a ticket. It was closed until 6pm, though, and so we walked back to the bar (they must have thought I was some sort of alcoholic up there!) to pass an hour over a drink.

On the way we stopped at the little restaurant (it's on the main road, between the bar and the hotel) because I needed to find somewhere for dinner. John (as the bloke turned out to be called) helped me to establish that they'd be open for dinner later that evening, and it was arranged that I would return at 8pm.

At the bar John bought me a pastis, and we chatted away about all sorts of things. He'd travelled extensively and spoke excellent English, as well as some French, German and Spanish (and, naturally enough, Italian). We passed an easy hour in the sunshine, and then we walked back down to the Gite so that I could enquire about the bus. When we got there reception was open, but the man I approached said I couldn't buy a ticket for the bus because I wasn't staying at the Gite. Uh-oh... There was also a young woman working in the reception area, though, and John suggested that I should ask her too. I did, and she was happy to reserve a place for me. Phew! On my way back out I noticed quite an extensive menu for dinner at the Gite that evening. It included hot goat's cheese salad, and I immediately began to hope it would be available at the restaurant.

John and I parted at that stage, and I walked back up to the hotel to pass the time before dinner. I hoped to be able to sit in the garden with my book and a drink.

On the way up the road I noticed a stack of what looked like tree bark by the side of the road. I later learned that it was cork, and that people collect and then sell it to wine producers, who use it for their bottles.

Stack of cork

I also stopped to take a photograph of what looked like a fairly ancient building. I love to look at old buildings and reflect upon how different life must have been--externally, at least--for the people around when they were first in daily use.

I particularly love the door, with its patina of age, and delicate shade of pastel blue.

Beautiful old door

When I got back to my room it occurred to me to double-check the time of my flight out of Calvi. It was now Tuesday and I was due to fly home on Thursday, but I'd been warned in advance by the guidebooks to allow a whole day to get back to Calvi from Conca. I'd been working on the assumption that my flight was early in the morning, but when I checked it turned out to be at 5pm on Thursday afternoon. It occurred to me at that stage that I probably did have time to visit Annie, Freddy and Jacques in Bastia after all, and so I settled down in the garden with (yet another) pastis to think about it.

They'd been very welcoming, and I knew I'd like to see them again. When we'd parted a week or so earlier they'd told me to get off the bus just outside Bastia--they'd even written down exactly what I needed to say to the bus driver, to make sure that I got off at the right place--and they'd offered to collect me from there and then show me around. I wasn't sure how easy it would be to communicate on the phone, but eventually I decided to give it a try. The woman who owned the hotel lent me her phone, and 5 minutes later I'd spoken to Annie and arranged to be met by Freddy from the bus the following morning :)

Not long after that I got my things together and walked down to the restaurant for dinner. On the way I noticed a large and interesting looking beetle lying on the road. The poor thing seemed to be injured, and it was struggling to get back to its feet. I took a picture and then moved it to the grass at the side of the road.


Down at the restaurant the menu looked good, although, tragically, it didn't contain any hot goat's cheese salad.

The restaurant in Conca

The restaurant was quiet, and the only other people present were a group of blokes at the next table playing cards. I decided to go for the Menu du Jour (22 Euros) in the hope of sampling some genuine Corsican cooking, and in the end I had:
  • salad (although I could have had charcuterie instead)
  • canelloni with cheese
  • aubergines stuffed with something delicious, and
  • cheese.
With it I had half a bottle of wine (7.50 Euros) and afterwards a coffee and then a liquor. I think it was myrtle, but in any event it was certainly local, and delicious.

Dinner -- the aftermath

As I ate I thought about what little bits and pieces I might take home for family and friends, and then I read a bit more of my (apparently everlasting) book.

Gazing down into Conca from the restaurant, after dinner

Eventually it was time to go, and so I paid the bill and made my way back up the road to the hotel. It was a balmy evening, and I was still listening to music on my MP3 player.

Back at my room I felt surprisingly energetic, and spent some happy time bopping away to the music on my little player. At one stage I had the drunken inspired idea of recording the moment with my camera, and so here, in the interests of transparency, and in the spirit of 'dance like nobody's watching', is the moment, reproduced for your amusement and mine :)

Le Conca Bop!

I've had to restore the music retrospectively, although I do know from various embarrassing humming noises (now carefully muted) that this is the tune I was listening to, so please excuse any slight lack of synchronicity. Naturally it was all entirely symmetrical and perfectly co-ordinated at the time :)

Even after that I wasn't tired enough to go to bed, and so I went outside to sit on the step for an hour or so and bombard some of my friends with the dreaded drunken text messages. It was just lovely out there, and if it hadn't been for the fact that I realised I had to sleep at some stage I'd happily have stayed outside all night.

Blissful, balmy evening enhanced by nicotine, alcohol & 80s music fix

All good things come to an end, though, and so eventually I returned to my room, switched off the music, lay down on the bed and fell instantly into a semi-inebriated stupor deeply restorative sleep.

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