Corsica's Mare a Mare Sud: Travels With Uncle Berny

After visiting Uncle Berny’s ancestral home in Cap Corse (Corsica’s Cap Corse: Travels With Uncle Berny) we drove south along the eastern Corsican coast on our way to meet Berny’s friend Gael and his friends. Our plan was to meet Gael somewhere near the midpoint of Corsica’s Mare a Mare Sud (“southern sea to sea”) trek and hike with him for a few days. The drive down was punctuated frequently by Berny’s heavily-accented renditions of old Sinatra and Beatles tunes. On the way to Bastia, it was “Strangerz in zee night, what were zee chan-zes, eet turn out zo right, for strangzers in zee night. Dooby-dooby-doo…”

Every time Berny sang, my son would follow, slowly perfecting the thick Marseilles accent, until we all started cracking up. Past Aleria it was time for some Beatles: “I’d like to bee, unzer zee sea, in ze octopuzzes garden in zee rain.” We continued to roll along the Corsican coast, a coast that has brought the destiny of this island dubbed “La Montagne en Mer” (Mountain in the Sea). The ancient Greeks were here, in fact many believe the waters near the southern port town of Bonifacio are the setting for Homer’s Odyssey. In the middle ages it was the seafaring peoples from the Italian peninsula (first Pisa, then Genoa) that occupied Corsica. After a brief 13 years of independence from 1755 to 1768, the French have pretty much ruled the island, having acquired it 1768 from the Genoans.

We turned inland and the rugged mountains inspired a new tune. “Baby you can drive my car, Yez I’m going to bee a ztar, and baby I love you.” More giggles as we climbed up and over the craggy Col de Bavella, a dramatic mountain pass in the Alta Rocca region of southern Corsica. Near there, we passed the treacherous GR20, one of Europe’s toughest hikes, a 168 km ramble atop the mountainous spine of Corsica. By evening we arrived at our Gîtes d'Etape in Serra di Scodamene and had dinner with Gael, his wife and another couple. Gîtes d'Etapes are mountain refuges that offer dorm beds, communal showers, dinner and breakfast for between 35 to 45 Euros. Once we arrived, we chatted with Gael and friends and had a delicious dinner of vegetable soup, salad, beef stew, red wine and some custard for dessert. We stayed in three different gîtes while in Corsica and the food was uniformly good, the premises spotless and each one offered to pack us a bag lunch for an additional cost.

The next morning we started hiking through pine and chestnut trees with the only sounds being birds chirping and Bernard: “I’d like to bee, unzer zee sea, in ze octopuzzes garden in zee rain.” And rain it did. Much of the day, it drizzled on our way to Sainte Lucie de Tallano, one of Corsica’s oldest hill towns. The trail was rocky and littered with furry chestnut husks discarded by squirrels. Taking into account an hour to eat our lunch, we hiked for about six hours and our legs were sore when we arrived in Sainte Lucie. We took much-needed showers and had another delicious meal that night.

The next morning Berny rose from his bunk and said “Oh putain de con.” This particular combination of French swear words is extremely vulgar but coming from Berny, everyone in our group found it funny, including my son, who began perfecting his French accent. During and after the three days of hiking, every time Berny got up from a bed or chair, he frequently said the “p” word, as if to swear at his aching joints. While alone with Berny, I politely asked him to cut back on the “p” word around my son; less profanity and swearing and more Beatles and Sinatra.

The next day Gael and his friends moved on and we took a different route back to Serra di Scodamene, a route that covered 18 kilometers. We were mistakenly told it was a two hour hike; it took us over five hours, with the last hour a steep uphill. Berny kept us in good spirits by singing on that last stretch: “I’d like to bee, unzer zee sea, in ze octopuzzes garden in zee rain.”

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