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Thirteen Days of Hiking on Corsica -- Col de Bavella to the Paliri Hut

Today we're on the trail from Col de Bavella to the Paliri Hut. Do you like narrow serpentine roads graced with sheer drop-offs, crumbly guardrails, and pigs running wild? Well, half-wild and not exactly running. They seem bored by the constant stream of cars. Col de Bavella is a popular starting point for lots of hikes. You'll never walk alone here.

Ignatius the Cartographer's Accountant loves serpentine roads. He thinks his modest station wagon is a Porsche as he cuts and hugs curves and I spew my breakfast out the window. On Corsica you'll be cutting and hugging a lot of curves; and as long as you're the driver, you'll be fine. But if you're not the driver and don't deal well with serpentine roads, here's a tip: Pretend you are driving with an imaginary steering wheel. You may feel a bit stupid at first, but keep doing it. You'll be surprised how easily you can trick your body into thinking it's driving the car.

The hike to the Paliri Hut starts from the parking lot behind the Auberge below the Bavella pass, so you'll need to walk back down the mountain a couple of hundred meters after you park--that is, if you find a parking space. During high season, the free parking lots fill up quickly. Then the €4 parking lot fills up. Then the parking spaces along the road. Then the patches of dust along the road that may or may not be parking spaces. There are cars everywhere, and people park adventurously. I'm sure there are a few cars at the bottom of these sheer drop-offs. My tip: Why the hell did you think Corsica in August was a good idea? Go to Corsica in May or late September. Avoid all these people and cars. The pigs are perennial.

Village of Bavella below the passThis trail, wide and flat, wanders gently into the forest, enticing unfit walkers, unmotivated children, grandmothers in flip-flops. Even as the path waxes rocky and drops a few dozen meters onto the GR20, some walkers might still think Hmmm, that was a bit of a challenge, but I'm sure the trail flattens out again. These flip-flops made mostly of sequins are fine, and I'm sure I'm unsteady only because of the two glasses of wine I had at the Auberge. The trail does not flatten out again. Those flip-flops are not the right footwear. The wine? Who am I to judge?

Depending on your condition, walking to the Paliri Hut will take you between one and two hours up and down rocks (an altitude difference of 600 meters). My tip: If you're not used to crawling up, over and down rocky trails, make sure you have trekking poles for balance and stability when you're walking down steep rocks. As rocky and steep as this trail is, though, it's not really dangerous. There are only a couple of places where you are precariously close to a sheer drop-off. You're more likely to be killed in your station-wagon Porsche, dodging a pig or a goat on the road.

Now if you're like me--meaning that you tend toward total ignorance when it comes to abbreviations like the GR20--you wrinkled your forehead when I mentioned it above. What is the GR20? The GR stands for Grande Randonnée (French), Grote Routepaden or Lange-afstand-wandelpaden (Dutch), Grande Rota (Portuguese) or Gran Recorrido (Spanish) and indicates a network of footpaths in Europe. They are easily recognizable by their red-and-white-striped markers. The GR20 refers to a 160-180k (opinions vary) network of trails on Corsica from Conca in the south to Calenzana in the north. If you hike the GR20 all at once, it usually takes two weeks. If you do this, you'll have to stay in a refuge or gîtes d'Etape or pitch a tent close to one. Camping elsewhere is forbidden (but we saw people doing it).

Fun Corsica Fact: François D’Haene set the fastest known time for completing the GR20 in June 2016. He did it in 31 hours. My take-away? I think François must be one of those people who think the GR20 is closer to 160k than 180k.

I must be off,


Christopher Allen is the managing editor at SmokeLong Quarterly. His debut flash fiction collection is Other Household Toxins. Allen's fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in [PANK], Indiana Review, Juked, FRiGG, The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts and others. Read his book reviews in Necessary Fiction, The Lit Pub, Fiction Southeast and others. In 2017 Allen was both a finalist (as translator) and semifinalist for The Best Small Fictions. He lives somewhere in Europe--for now.

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