29/9: Day Eleven
Bastia to St Florent via Cap Corse
I hardly slept….I was so keen to pick up my little car and hit the road! I specifically asked for a ‘petite’ automatic…..figured changing which side of the road I drive on was challenge enough, and I’ve read that some roads over here are notoriously narrow-best to play it safe.
“At this point I would like to point out that 100’s of my photo’s were accidentally deleted!!! A lot of my journey will, therefore, not be supported by any of the billions of images I captured!”
First things first though….breakfast overlooking the water. I ordered crepes with my coffee but the waiter informed me they only had croissants….he had already started my coffee so I settled for croissants and took a seat- the view was splendid. I was a little disappointed when my croissant arrived dry, with no spreads or anything to make him special. It was a minor detail, however, and could not dampen my spirits. I drank my coffee and headed toward Avis to collect my little beast….I was expecting a little Mr Bean special! When I spoke to the lady at Avis after providing all my necessary paperwork, I thought I’d double check, “It is automatic isn’t it?”
F*#k!!! I asked if there were any auto’s available and she kindly checked and informed me there weren’t. I told her I would ask around first because I had definitely stipulated that I wanted a small auto.
The other car rental places proved fruitless so I wandered back to Avis.
Tail between my legs back to Avis and the lady there has pulled some strings! An auto has been made available! It has not yet been cleaned but I assure her that is completely fine. I embrace her-maybe a little too emphatically because she is initially a little taken aback! Keys in hand I jump in and start with what was to be my silent chant every time I started the car…..”right hand side, right hand side, right hand side.”
I head back to my hotel, check out, grab my bags and head North. Let’s get this party started!!!!
I have no idea what today has in store except I want to complete the trek to find my “A Sellula” sign and finish up in Saint Florent for the night. My accommodation is booked for tonight as I planned a 4×4 tour which was to include a boat ride, hike and 4×4 trip. I had been really looking forward to it. It has only been in the last few days that this excursion has had to be canned….not happy but not dwelling on it…..just have to come up with a plan B.
It is while I’m driving that I start to consider the pro’s and con’s of choices made during the planning process. The open roads are not too bad, the smaller towns however, have narrow roads and are fraught with potential hazards. I drive through them literally holding my breath waiting for someone to come around a bend and swipe me. Each town is a relief to pass through unscathed and it is then I realise I am missing the beauty of the island I came to see. To drive or not to drive? Pros and cons. Auto or smaller car? Pros and cons. Travelling solo? Pros and cons. This whole trip will be fraught with learning curves I’m sure. Just need to make sure I enjoy the journey and don’t focus on the lessons. The list in my head was endless so I stopped analysing and gave everything up to the Universe.
When you pull up and someone is balancing on a rock, in a yoga position, overlooking The Mediterranean Sea, you really step back and take it all in. When that same person pulls out a violin and starts gently playing sounds that replicate those of the small birds nearby? Incredible.
After this, I stopped at each opportunity to admire the scenery. This place really is pretty. Even in the areas that had recently been ravaged by fire, there was a proud beauty. The sweeping landscape, though charred, still had the ability to hold it’s audience captive. I got out when I came across the distinctive separation between burnt remnants and the colours that held a promise of what was to come.
I had read up a lot about driving in Corsica so knew there would be moments that would take me out of my comfort zone. I wasn’t, however prepared to be driving with my heart pounding in my throat.
Time spent this morning sorting out the car meant I was way behind schedule to do what I had originally planned. I decided to cut across Cap Corse rather than follow the road all the way around the top. I was conscious of the need to allow time near Nonza to hike and find my sign.
My first of many wrong turns, came quite early on my detour. There were parts of the road that were barely wide enough for one vehicle let alone two! Regardless of this minor detail, as some kind of warped local humour they have painted lines down the centre of the road to indicate that it was two way traffic!!!!! The locals might have found this funny, but I was not laughing!
At one point I got out and stepped it out…..luckily the part of the road I measured was roughly 3m, a little wider than some parts I had already encountered. It is in this part of the road I met another vehicle-clearly also a tourist because they looked as keen to pass by me as I did them. The benefit they held over me was that the sheer drop down the side of the mountain was on my side! Every now and then the edge of the road widened a little. It quickly became apparent that it is at these points you attempt to pass each other!
My phone had no reception, the GPS in the car was really not of much help and THIS is when I remember I was supposed to buy a roadmap in Bastia. I managed to find myself in some situations that required a 25point turn in order to avoid sliding down the mountain. Wrong turns in this neck of the woods are a nightmare! If I said driving these narrow inland roads made me shit myself, it would be an understatement! My head pounded so heavily I expected to burst a blood vessel. The aircon was on high yet I sweated profusely. I felt physically ill and was constantly on the verge of tears. I knew there was no turning back so I prayed at each bend that the road would widen. Ok, so maybe the next bend? The next? Nope? It has to widen soon surely? I clung to this hope like a lifeline-elusive dreams that kept me forging forward and fighting tears. As a Traffic Controller with experience in road safety and construction, I was a little taken aback, to say the least, when I came across a piece of road that had seemingly ‘fallen’ down the side of the mountain. It’s all good though….there were barriers put in place to protect motorists and notify them of the hazard…….a couple of rocks, strategically placed at the edge of the damaged , or missing, road. Surprisingly I laughed this off, but what I thought may have been my undoing, was coming across a makeshift bridge (where the road had obviously collapsed). The bridge was constructed of steel (scaffolding came to mind) and wooden planks. There are signs at each side written in French with some simple pictures. I am presuming, given the couple of French words I do know and the fact I use pictorial language at work, that this bridge will accommodate only one vehicle at a time! There is a valley below-I don’t even want to guess how many 100’s of metres the drop is. If I thought my heart was racing before, it is now in overdrive! I slowly drive across the bridge and try not to pay attention to the sounds of the planks rattling below me……I’m sure this structure has passed stringent construction and OHS requirements! Once again, I pray. This trip really has been a tale of Eating, Loving and Praying.
Of ALL the photo’s I lost…..a photo of this bridge is one of the ones I miss the most…….It’s one of those ‘Gotta see it to believe it’ kinda moments!
With the small villages dotted along the way, comes a modicum of respite. A chance to slow the heart. The locals are so laid back I often wondered if they were awake. Roadworks being carried out in small towns meant their equipment (usually a wheelbarrow), would need to be parked on the road. An Aussie tourist interrupting their routine was certainly not a priority. I waited on numerous occasions for locals to move either themselves or their tools so I may continue my journey. They were not rude or INDIGNANT, just unperturbed and in no way aware of the sense of urgency that came with the passerby’s. You quickly find yourself smiling and accepting this for what it is. Their way of life simple and it would appear, stress free. It puts a lot of things in perspective when you see people just plodding about their business, not allowing minor inconveniences to become more than what they are…. a minuscule bump in the scheme of life. They could care less that I had a vision of photographing my sign to complete a loop in my head, they could care less that I wasn’t 100% sure of where I was or what lay ahead. They had a job to do-fill the hole in the road….today, or tomorrow, or even next week-it mattered not. So, with a smile and a wave, they would move themselves and their stuff and swig at the contents of whatever drink was contained within the brown paper bag, as they allowed me to pass. It’s impossible not to smile back and offer a “Merci” as you pass by, hoping you didn’t have to perform another 25point turn and pass back through. At some points in the mountains, consideration had been given to tourists and an area was cleared so you could pull off to the side of the ‘road’. I made the most of these and took many photos…..as well as use it as an opportunity to calm my nerves and breathe. The views are incredible. From a height you can see tiny villages scattered along the mountainside as well as the winding road that snaked its way through them. Something to look forward to!
The sun is by now on a downhill slide and considering I am not 100% sure about where my sign is, I am thinking this box may remain unticked. Thanks to Jon Ingall, an amazing photographer and the man who snapped the shot that inspired me to draw, I had a rough idea about where the sign was. The GPS route he sent to me, however, would not open and although I had studied the photos long and hard, I knew there was a chance I could get lost without a GPS or any real idea about what I was doing. Nobody knew where I was or what my plans were (myself included!), so reluctantly I decided against trying to find “A Sellula”. I would either have to try again another trip or paint something else and give myself a whole new mission. Like the roadworkers I had encountered throughout my day…Ke Sera, Sera.
I continued on to Saint Florent and found my hotel relatively easily. I booked in and decided to walk the short distance to town. I wandered around amongst the bustle of people and admired the beautiful simplicity. Everyone caught up in their own little world of eating, laughing and drinking. The weather was beautiful, as was the backdrop. I finally settled at a table and ordered a snack and wine. I joined others to watch locals playing bocce, a regular occurrence it would seem.
Before heading back to the hotel I took a stroll out along the Marina, where there were an abundance of yachts moored. A local pizza in hand, I made my way back up the hill toward the hotel. I ate my pizza, with a beer to wash it down, whilst watching the sunset, overlooking the pool and the town below.
Still no idea what I would do tomorrow, given my plans had been shelved, I made my way up to bed.
Even a visit to the loo brings new queries. I thought I’d read up enough about French customs/routines to get me by, but now I was confused. Do they use toilet paper over here? I searched around again. Definitely none here and no toilet paper holder either. Maybe a bidet of sorts? No sign of anything that you could wash with. There are hand towels on the bathroom bench beside me……surely not!!! I do the drip dry and decide to ask someone at some point. I start to worry then, that I may need to do a number 2 during the night and be faced with the same dilemma. I really do need an answer beforehand. Today of all days…..when I have spent 90% of the day shitting myself, I NEED loo paper to see me through the night!
Worried I might appear critical of their customs I pose the question in my head several times before I approach the receptionist and have a go out loud.
“Um….do you use toilet paper?”
“Pardon?!”yep, not how I planned it in my head. She looks both indignant and confused so I try to explain.
“It’s ok if you don’t, that’s fine, I’m unaware of the way things work over here, I’ve never really travelled much…..” Every time my mouth opened, more shit would roll out and the crease of the lady’s frown deepened. Could do with that paper right now!!!!
“There’s no toilet paper in my room and I’m not sure what to use,”
Finally, a light bulb behind her eyes and a smile….”Oh, sorry. Yes, we definitely use toilet paper but my colleague obviously forget to replace yours. I’ll get you some.”
Another day filled with challenges. I was stuffed.
Here’s to tomorrow …..
….love you 40-leven!