Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Day 6: Totally busted!

September 16: During the night, we saw a blizzard of shooting stars. I counted, on average, about 1 per minute--which is actually an enormous number of shooting stars. I was surprised by this because I didn't know about any meteor showers that were expected. What meteor shower happens in the middle of September? Most of them weren't very bright--in a small city, we wouldn't have seen most of them at all. Out in the wilderness here well away from city lights, the skies were unusually clear of light pollution.

When the sun finally rose, Karolina and I woke up to a cloudy but otherwise nice morning. The strong winds the evening before had died down and temperatures were warmer. I was almost getting used to mornings being warmer than the evenings here, as foreign of a concept that is for me. I pulled out my month charts from the September issue of Astronomy magazine I carried to find out what meteor shower it was that we saw, but it listed nothing special in September. We saw an unknown meteor shower! I guess.... Is that even possible? I couldn't imagine that Astronomy magazine wouldn't list a meteor shower that produced one meteor per minute. I've never seen so many shooting stars in such a brief time span, and it didn't even have a name?

We could tell this was the water source for the Tighjettu refuge. The grate filtered out large things like leaves and twigs, and the hose followed the trail (more-or-less) all the rest of the way to the refuge.
Early in the morning, I got a bit ahead of Karolina on the trail, when I met two hikers coming from the other direction who seemed stunned to see me, thinking we had come from Haut Asco already. Ha! As if. We chatted for a couple of minutes and I pointed to Karolina behind me--a small dot moving against the background--saying that I was hiking with her. And just for kicks, I told them, "She's from Poland. When you pass her, you should tell her 'Good Morning!' in Polish. It'll knock her socks off!" =) So I told them how to say 'Dzień dobry!" and they practiced it a few times before continuing on.

Later, when I Karolina caught up with me again, she told me that she was quite surprised when they greeted her with 'Dzień dobry!', but that it didn't take her long to figure out I was behind it. =) As it turns out, the couple was from the Netherlands--a fact I had failed to figure out during our brief conversation. Living in the Netherlands herself now, Karolina would have certainly understood a bit of Dutch as well. She could have had a Dutch "good morning" too! I'd have suggested one of them say it in Polish and the other in Dutch if I had realized that. (Off the top of my head, I didn't remember how to say 'good morning' in Dutch, but I wouldn't have had to since they would have known it!)

Karolina and I reached the Tighjettu refugio about an hour after we started in the morning. The refuge was slightly off the trail, maybe a five minute walk up the main GR 20 route that had been closed, so we decided to skip it completely. There was nothing we needed anyhow, having just filled up with water at a nearby creek where the shelter gets its water. And finally, we were back on trails for which we had maps and guidebooks to describe everything we would expect to come across. No more hiking blind anymore!

At the junction for the refuge, I realized I had lost my water bottle. I had it when I filled up with water--which couldn't have been more than 10 minutes earlier--but it was gone now. Must have fallen out of the mesh pocket of my pack. Knowing it couldn't be far behind me, I decided to go back and look for it and told Karolina to go on without me. Her knees were still hurting her and we both knew I'd be able to catch up again. I found my water bottle five minutes back, turned around, and continued the correct way on the trail.

The day's hiking, for the most part, was exceptionally easy compared what had come before. The trail was relatively flat, wide and dirt along the valley bottoms and the sides of ridges. It was a positive joy to walk on! There was a short but steep scramble early in the afternoon to the pass at Bocca di Foggiale, but that was the only hard part I felt worthy of writing in my journal.

Near the end of the day, the trail descended into a valley surrounded with tall, steep mountains on both sides causing the sun to set early and I started worrying about the lack of places to camp. Once again, we found ourselves solidly between refuges as sunset approached. Looking at our maps, the flat area in the valley bottom looked like our best shot at finding somewhere to camp, but when we arrived, the area was bleak. There were cleared out areas where it was clear that people had camped before, but they were covered with large quantities of cow poop. Trying to find a place to camp where the cattle hadn't already made themselves comfortable was... problematic.

There was one area, directly next to a stream that formed wonderful-looking swimming holes that was clear of cow poop, but it was on top of solid rock. Not exactly the most comfortable sleeping surface. I'd have much preferred dirt under me--especially since I didn't have a pad to cushion myself. I could make it work if I had to, but it wasn't ideal.

Karolina's knees were still hurting, so I volunteered to go a bit further down the trail and look for something better and come back to report. Karolina could rest in the meantime.

I pushed on ahead, maybe about 10 minutes, but found nothing better. I stopped when I reached a bridge crossing the creek because the terrain beyond that looked steeper and even more rugged and I didn't expect to find anything there either. I turned back and returned to the creekside clearing.

Karolina was up to her knees in the water, soaking her feet and knees in the cold water. She told me that originally she was going to take a dip and swim in the water and had even undressed to just her panties, but when she stepped into the water, it was too cold and quickly put all her clothes back on. "You weren't fast enough," she told me. "You missed it! Your one opportunity, and you missed it!"

*shaking head* Of course, for all know, she could just be making that up just to tease me. That's what I keep telling myself, at least. =)

Karolina wasn't sold about the campsite's location, despite my negative report about the section immediately ahead on the trail. I think she was willing to live with the hard, rock surface if it meant she could have her own private swimming hole, but the water was too cold so that benefit wasn't enough to sway her.

We did have hopes that there might be a place to camp not super far ahead. According to our guidebook, there was some sort of structure not far up ahead which Karolina interpreted as some sort of abandoned ruins like we had passed not long ago. Presumably, there would be some flat ground nearby if someone had built structures once upon a time. I hadn't hiked out that far--it was a bit beyond the rugged terrain where I turned around--but Karolina wanted to give that a try. If we found something before then, great. If not.... surely we'd find somewhere to camp near the ruins.

So that was our plan. Karolina put her shoes back on and we continued hiking.

Auberge U Vallone

The terrain did turn rugged, although the trail itself was still surprisingly well-graded and easy to travel. I was growing more concerned about the diminishing daylight. I needed light to take photos, and it was rapidly disappearing now.

Eventually we spotted a small clearing, lined with rock walls next to a cliff on the other side of the creek. And from our vantage point, we couldn't see any animal dung in it either. We might have a winner here! The creek was rather fast moving and deep at parts, though, and from the trail we couldn't tell how easy it would be to cross. I went down to scout it out and boulders were conveniently placed to make an easy jump across. We have a campsite! Near a water source as well! Sweet!

We set up camp in the small clearing and I started cooking dinner. We couldn't have been there for more than about 15 minutes, though, when I saw an older gentleman with a large cowboy mustache on a horse leading two other horses weighted down with boxes of supplies. He looked like he could have rode out of a western, and a sense of dread immediately hit me. This guy was "official." He was probably resupplying the last refuge we had passed. And we were totally camped illegally between refuges and in perfect view of him. Crap.

"We might be busted," I told Karolina. Just keep following the trail, I was thinking. We're not doing anything, just keep going....

The guy on the horse went off trail, down towards the creek and out of our immediate view. Karolina was sure he was coming after us. "He left the trail!"

But there was another bridge across the creek, barely outside of view. We hadn't reached it yet and hadn't gotten a good look at it, but maybe the bridge wasn't suitable for horses. Maybe he went off trail to cross the creek somewhere else. For about 20 seconds, we saw no sign of the man or the horses and I started thinking maybe we were safe.

And then he rode his horse into view and directly in front of us. $#!*!!!! What the hell was he doing out here resupplying refuges so late in the day for anyhow?!

He said something, but I didn't understand a word of it. I don't speak French, after all. "Do you speak any English?" I asked. "No English! Corsican!" he told me.

Corsican? Not French, but Corsican? Hmm.... I didn't like that. I'm sure he did speak French, but him identifying with Corsican more than French made me think that he was very protective of the island's culture and heritage. And maybe our illegal campsite wasn't just a matter of "breaking the law" for him, but a personal insult to his heritage as well. Why couldn't he have just said he spoke French? He had to know that absolutely nobody outside of Corsica speaks Corsican and French is the de-facto language for foreigners. Not that I spoke any....

Karolina, at first, said nothing--even though she did know French. She seemed fond of the idea of pretending not to know French at all. When it doubt, plead ignorance! We didn't know French, and we didn't know it was illegal to camp here. =)

The man said something else I didn't understand, and I told him, in English, I couldn't understand him, and he talked some more. Eventually Karolina decided it was better to stop pretending she didn't know French and talked a little to him. I hoped she was pretending her French was worse than it really was. It might look suspicious if she didn't know French, then suddenly comes out speaking it really well.

They said a few things back and forth, and I understood absolutely none of it. Then Karolina turns to me and says he says we need to camp at a refuge, and that there was one not far up the trail. The next refuge, though, was far too far for us to get to tonight. But that if we paid 10 euros each, we could stay where we were.

"Just 10 euros?!" I exclaimed. It normally costs 7 euros to camp legally at a refuge. "You mean we'd essentially be paying a 3 euro fine? Hell, yeah!" =)

The man on the horse obviously understood me when I said "10 euros" because he pointed at me and said "ten" then pointed at Karolina and said "ten" again. Yes, got it. Ten euros each.

We gladly paid the euros, and the man on the horse turned around and left us. I told Karolina, "Now.... did we actually a fine, or a bribe?"

Karolina thought about it for a second. "I'm not sure."

The man never gave us a receipt for anything so it's not like we had any evidence that we paid him any money. "We might have been extorted! I'd think this was a third-world country rather than France!"

But, at least for the time being, we were off the hook.

And I told Karolina, for 10 euros, I'd prefer to camp away from the crowded refuges every night! It's totally worth the extra three euros to avoid the crowds of people. If we knew for certain that we could just pay 10 euros every night and camp anywhere we wanted to, we'd do it in a heartbeat.

Karolina agreed, and reminded me that we now had a really good story to tell. "Yes, yes we do." =)

We also set a new best for distance covered in a single day on the GR 20: 12.5 kilometers (almost 8 miles)--nearly double what we had been doing most days.  =)

Karolina soaks her feet in a pool of water during a break in the middle of the day.

This was the one, steep and rocky section of the day approaching the pass at Bocca di Foggiale. But even by previous day's standards, it wasn't bad--no chains needed!

Refuge de Ciottulu di I Mori--which is the refuge I think the cowboy was resupplying.
Karolina order the biggest lunch I ever saw at the Refuge de Ciottulu di I Mori. I didn't get a photo of it, though. Sorry! I didn't think she'd be able to eat it all, but my goodness, she might be little, but she's got a big stomach!

View from the patio of the refuge, looking down the valley where the trail would lead us. I was sure we'd find somewhere down there to camp. It doesn't look especially rugged or steep, does it?
We can't see as far back as Calvi anymore, but the Mediterranean Sea is always visible somewhere as long as it's clear enough! Now our best views of the Mediterranean are along the west coast of Corsica.

Karolina testing out another pool of water. She wanted to swim in this one and "claims" she even stripped down to do so, but the water was too cold and she put all of her clothes back on before I got back from my scouting trip. Sure.....

Our campsite under the edge of a small cliff, where Karolina and I were totally busted for camping illegally!

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