Friday, June 3, 2016

Day 16: The End of the GR 20!

September 26: Karolina and I woke up bright and early to a beautiful morning for today, after over two continuous weeks of camping, we would be finishing the trail and heading into town! As great as the trail was, we were both a little excited to be finishing it. =)

It was a beautiful sunrise!

The trail was fairly easy the whole day, mostly consisting of a slow and steady descent to lower and lower elevations as we neared the Mediterranean coast. Karolina had run out of snacks and positively blazed down the trail--so much so that I often had times keeping up with her. She was in her element and a woman on a mission!

As the elevation dropped and temperatures warmed considerably, we started seeing notable changes in the vegetation and even insects along the trail. Although the trail was wonderfully nice and flat for walking, rough terrain poked through the vegetation that reminded me of pictures I'd of southwest Asia. Or perhaps an alien planet. Or a time when dinosaurs ruled the earth. It was a magical sight!

The biggest problem for Karolina were the introduction of wasps. It seemed like each time we took a break, a wasp or two would hover around her and sniff around. They left me alone, but seemed fascinated with Karolina. Perhaps they'd never smelled a Polish person before. =) But Karolina was paranoid about one of them stinging her after a bad allergic reaction from a sting during childhood. She took off her shoes during her rests and would swat the shoe around trying to hit the wasps. It wasn't a particularly effective fly swatter, but she did nail one of them eventually. *nodding*

And then Karolina saw a cactus--a genuine, honest-to-goodness cactus!--and her head promptly exploded. Okay, maybe not literally, but this was very exciting for her as she reminded me that in Poland and the Netherlands, there were no cactus. She'd seen some before during her Camino hike years earlier, but cactus were still a strange and bizarre novelty for her and she was quite excited about seeing them, having to have her photo taken with them.

I had my own case of giddiness when near the end of the trail, we crossed paths with the first cork tree I'd ever seen. I'm not sure I'd have noticed it if Karolina hadn't pointed it out to me--from a distance, it looked like just another tree, but close up, the bark was entirely make of cork. I knew cork came from trees, but it was still bizarre for me to see. I touched it, and it felt spongy-ish like cork. I knocked on it a bit, and it was the softest bark I'd ever felt on a tree. It didn't seem real. I had no idea cork trees even grew in Corsica!

And perhaps a half hour later, we were at the end of the trail in Conca! We found a plaque marking the end of the trail on the side of the building, so this made it official. We were done! We'd arrived by noon--which was actually quite remarkably since we had covered a whopping 14 kilometers. By noon! Usually it took us until the end of the day to cover that much mileage.

A bit further into town, we stopped at a small restaurant where we made reservations for the next shuttle to Porto-Vecchio at 2:00, which gave us over an hour or lounge around and rest. That drained our little amount of cash by 8 euros each.

At the expected time, we piled into a mini-van with several other hikers getting off the trail which then deposited us in Porto-Vecchio. This town was big enough that it probably had an ATM--which I was desperately on the lookout for. I still had 20 euros in my pocket--Karolina had been picking up my tab--but I was already in debt to her by more than that amount. As far as I was concerned, my personal finances were actually in the negative at this point. I needed an ATM to pay back Karolina and fund the rest of this trip!

But we didn't have time for an ATM stop because precisely where the shuttle dropped us off we saw a bus with the word "Ajaccio" written on it--our ultimate destination. If that bus was going to Ajaccio, we wanted to be on it! We didn't know anything about how often the bus to Ajaccio ran, where the stop was located in town, or pretty much anything. It was mostly a fortuitous accident that we wound up at this bus just as it was ready to head to Ajaccio! Actually, it probably wasn't an accident. I suspect the shuttle was timed with the buses leaving Porto-Vecchio. Anyhow, we wanted to be on the first bus out of here, and if it was just about to leave town, we didn't have time to look around for an ATM or anything else for that matter.

Karolina talked to the driver in French, learning that it was indeed heading directly to Ajaccio and it would cost another 20 euros each to get us there. Karolina paid the fair, and we got on the bus. We had no idea how long the bus ride would be. Corsica isn't a big island, but it also didn't have major interstate highways with long, straight freeways either.

Karolina asked where on the bus I wanted to sit, and I answered her anywhere on the left side of the bus. Which she thought was an unusual request. Why the left side? What was wrong with the right side? I knew the bus would largely be following the coast to Ajaccio, and I wanted views of the Mediterranean Sea which I would would be off to the right.

The bus made several stops along the way, with the expected scenic views of the Mediterranean Sea off on our side of the bus most of the time. The most exciting part of the ride was one town when the bus couldn't get through a narrow street because a small car was parked a bit too far away from the curb, blocking the bus. Eventually the matter was solved when several good Samaritans walking along the sidewalks collectively picked up the back end of the car and moved it closer to the curb, then moved to the front of the car and repeated the process. I'd have thought something like this would happen in some third-world Central American country--not in France! But it was strangely fun to watch in any case. =)

Three hours later, we arrived in Ajaccio--the capital of Corsica and the birthplace of Napoleon Bonaparte which is their biggest claim to fame. When we arrived, it was dusk and although it wasn't dark--yet--it was heading in that direction quickly. We still had no lodging, little cash, and we didn't even have a map for the city which would have been useful seeing as neither of us had ever been there before.

Pine cones in love! =)

But we did see a sign pointing to a tourist office, so we decided to follow that first. We weren't optimistic that it would actually be open--it was already a bit after 6:00 in the evening and in our experiences, those tourists offices often have very limited hours. Being open on a Saturday evening seemed like too much to hope for, but at the very least it'll let us walk around a bit and get an idea of what was located in the area. Maybe pass a hotel or two along the way.

Miraculously, the tourist office was actually open! We couldn't believe our luck! We got a map of the city, directions to an ATM machine and grocery store, and directions to the cheapest hotels--the Dolphin being our best bet.

First stop was to get a room where we could drop off all our of gear, so we walked down to the Dolphin and checked into a room. They took credit cards here and since I was already in debt to Karolina quite a bit, I picked up cost of the room to pay down my debt. It wouldn't be fully paid off--yet--but it was a start! =)

Then we took turns showering off 16 days of dirt and grime from ourselves. I let Karolina use the shower first and I tried to get onto the wi-fi connection with my smartphone to let Amanda and my mom know that I had finished the trail and was once again in civilization. It would be the first time either of them had heard from me since I left Milan over two weeks ago! I had a heck of a lot of email to catch up on, which I started going through on my smartphone until Karolina finished her shower at which point it was my turn to clean up.

My body was now clean, but we still had no clean clothes. Laundry was definitely on our to-do list, but for the meantime, I put on my camp clothes. They were dirty, but nowhere near as dirty as the clothes I'd been hiking in every day for two weeks.

It was now dark outside, but that didn't stop us from going out. We both wanted dinner (and none of the crap from our backpacks!), so we headed to a restaurant where I ordered the second best burger in Europe. I really wanted to a hamburger, and most of my experiences with hamburgers in Europe tend to be a huge disappointment, but I was going to give it another try and was remarkably surprised at how good it was. Very un-European-like (which is a compliment to the hamburger--not so much for Europe, I suppose). But still, there was that one hamburger I ate on the Camino in France that I'd still rank as better than this one. But still... it was good!

We also hit the ATM, where I picked up 200 euros. I didn't expect to need even half that amount--especially now that I was in civilization where I could just put charges on my credit card--but after running out of money on the trail, I didn't want to take anymore chances. Anyhow, it seems like I end up in Europe at least once every year or two. If I had extra at the end of the trip, I'd use it eventually!

We walked down to the waterfront after dinner, where I touched the Mediterranean Sea for the first time, and it touched me back. =) I also spotted a large rat or something that ran along the edge of the beech which freaked out Karolina. Giant, holy rats!

Late in the evening we finally headed back to the hotel where I surfed the web on my smartphone some more and called it a night. 

Rock art!

The Mediterranean Sea.... it's getting closer than ever! =) We could even see a large island to the south which we assumed was Sardegna (a part of Italy). Unfortunately, Sardegna doesn't really show up in my photos. It was a faint, hazy object with the naked eye, but invisible to my camera lens!

The end of the trail is near!
From a distance, this looks like any other ordinary tree... but up close...'s a cork tree! It looks like cork, it feels like cord, and it IS cork!
Happy cows go this way. =)

A happy Polish girl, excited to see a cactus. =)
Murals in a school yard in Conca.
The plaque officially marking the end of the GR 20. We're done!

This is the small restaurant where we waited for our shuttle to Porto-Vecchio.
This is my favorite position for relaxing. =)
Karolina relaxes by reading her guidebook.

Hello, world!

This is how Karolina looks when she tells me enough of that nonsense--it's time to get up to catch the shuttle! =)
Our chariot to Ajaccio!
I wanted to be on the left side of the bus so we'd have these great views of the Mediterranean through our window. =)
It also gave us a good view of these people picking up this car to move it in closer to the sidewalk so our bus could get through. Coolest method of parallel parking I've ever seen! =)

There's a video of it too! Well, we missed most of the moving of the back end of the vehicle by the time the video started....

Nearing the end of our bus ride at dusk....
Along the Mediterranean coastline in Ajaccio. Just watch out for the giant rats!


Karolina said...

After many rough kilometers and adventures you made it till the end - congratulations!
And speaking of hamburgers in Europe - I do know places where they serve some good stuff. Last night I went out for burgers with an American friend over here.

Jaxx said...

Another great trail tail



Mary said...

What an adventure! Thank you, Ryan! This really seemed more like mountain climbing than hiking a trail. I was shocked by all the chains and the massive rocks on this trail. The photos were outstanding.