15 May 2009

Corsica: Hiking the Mare a Mare Sud

Rather than posting one massive "Our Trip to Corsica" post, I think it might be a bit easier to split things up. First, you'll have a "Just the facts, ma'am" chronology of the hike which will then be followed by a chronology of our other travels. I'll finish off with our more subjective impressions. This (of course, given the title) is the chronology of the hike.

There are, of course, plenty of photos in the album, nearly all with captions that add some details to the story.

Travels - Corsica 2009

Saturday, May 2

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From there, we were supposed to take a bus to Propriano (see map below) but it came about 30 minutes late. The driver took it upon himself to make up time on the winding mountain roads, around blind corners, in the rain. I took the opportunity to remind Esther that tour bus travel is one of the most dangerous forms of travel. Amazingly, we arrived in Propriano on time. He made up 30 minutes of delay on an 80 minute trip. Suffice it to say that he was pushing it pretty hard.

In Propriano, we found a restaurant that was serving and had some salads and our first taste of Corsican beer.

From there, we hiked to our campsite, pitched the tent and went to sleep.

Sunday, May 3
Our first day hiking, and perhaps the hardest day of my life physically. We decided to hike all the way from Propriano (blue dot, below), bast the first stop at Burgo (yellow), all the way to Santa Lucia di Tallano (red).

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As you can see from the terrain, the hike to Burgo is relatively easy, just up a valley. It took us about 2.5 hours. The hike to Santa Lucia took another 6 and it was very mountainous, with some stretches of the trail at the limit of what you can go up using only your feet (not climbing with your hands). Fortunately, there were some beautiful sights along the way.

That night, we stayed in our first gîte d'étape, which is a sort of bunkhouse along the trail that, in addition to being a place to sleep and shower, also serves breakfast and dinner. It cost about 35€ per person, which made it a bit more expensive that we liked.

Here's our room:

And here's the exterior of the building:

In any case, I was very happy to be off my feet, it was a real mental struggle to make it up the last hill to the gîte.

Monday, May 4
This was a much shorter day, only hiking from Santa Lucia di Tallano (green) to Serra di Scopamène (red).

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The trail here, like most other areas was really beautiful:

Serra is a nice, but small (pop. 122) town. Here's the gîte:

We were also able to visit an old olive oil mill. Corsica is still known for its olive oil so it was interesting to see the old method of producing it.

Tuesday, May 5
This third day of hiking took us from Serra (green), north to Jallicu (yellow), through Quenza and into Levie (red).

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It was a longer day, and the only one in the rain. Also, it was the only time that I had to stop because of pain (A blister that I hadn't seen grew to enormous proportions and required treatment on the side of the trail. Thankfully our first aid kit had a needle...)

Spirits were high, despite the rain. It gave a nice atmosphere to some of the forests that we hiked through.

We arrived in Levie considering whether we wanted to continue further that day, or not. We couldn't make it to another gîte and camping along the side of the trail is forbidden (though easily done if you're discrete about it). We bought some sausage and cheese in preparation for the hike, but the continuing rain (and the smell of the soup from the gîte) convinced us to stay the night.

Shortly thereafter, the weather cleared and we enjoyed a sunny evening in Levie (pop. 1200).

We resolved, however, to make a big push the following day and make it all the way to Porto Vecchio, our destination.

Wednesday, May 6
Indeed, it was a big day. We started hiking in Levie (green) around 8:30am and didn't arrive at our campsite in Porto Vecchio (red) until 7:30pm.

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Not only was it long distance, but there was considerable elevation change as well. We started at 900m, went down to 200m, climbed to our peak at 1100m, and then walked down to 0m at the sea. Ouch.

We walked quickly in the morning to separate ourselves from a group that we'd been stuck with from the beginning. We arrived in Carbini (see photo) 45 minutes earlier than expected, taking abot 40% off of the posted time.

Shortly thereafter, we arrived at the Punta della Vacca Morta (Dead Cow Peak) and climbed to the top. The views were amazing.

We then began our descent, after taking water from the gîte in Cartalavonu, where other people normally stop.

We started hiking down rather slowly, until we realized we would need to pick up the pace. We hurried, but the flat part at the end, especially the last five miles on the road, really killed us. We arrived in the campsite totally exhausted. We didn't have the energy to go to a restaurant so we ate the ramen noodles that we had with us.

We hiked the trail in only four days, rather than the more normal five or six. It was more difficult on the first and last day, but it left us a lot more time to explore and I'm sure it was the right decision.

In the future, if I were hiking it again, I would resolve to stay in the gîtes along the way. That would absolve me of the need to carry a tent, stove, and sleeping bag, cutting the load in our packs by at least half. It's a bit expensive, but hugely convenient.

It's not exactly an easy trail, but full of wonderful sights and great little towns. I strongly recommend it to anyone looking to discover southern Corsica, off the beaten path.

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