"So I guess Corsica," I say, "is far more town than gown."
No one in the car knows what I mean, and the new Pink song has just come on anyway--the sixteenth pop song, so we're almost there. As Corte appears perched on its hill in the distance, the more talkative of our hitchhikers leans forward and points to the mountain behind the town.
"See you ze ziggy zaggy the mounTAIN upwards?" Or something like that. There is indeed a bit of a ziggy zaggy formed from darker vegetation on the zigs, lighter vegetation on the zags. "This is the way to L'Arche," he says like this L'Arche business is heaven.
"Oh! Larch, yes!" I say. No idea. I just want to walk up a steep mountain and burn 2000 calories. The zigzag looks a bit boring to be honest, but I'm easy. And--I've forgotten to say--it's hotter than hell outside.
We let the two sweet souls out at a petrol station so that they can get their next ride to the north. Then we turn around and Ignatius the Cartographer's Accountant parks on the side of the road.
"What's going on?"
"We're not hiking up that mountain," says Iggy.
"Huh? What the problem? Is it the ziggies or the zaggies?"
"Tell me about it."
The mountain is kind of barren, OK there's not one tree, and it's sweltering. Iggy wants to walk in the shade. I can't blame him, but I'm also not one to miss an opportunity to ridicule.
It's almost 11:00 and we haven't even started our hike. It was supposed to be an arduous five-hour hike up a steep mountain. Now I think Iggy is thinking about going shopping in Corte and getting drunk on fruity drinks in a café.
"I want mounTAIN," I say.
In the end, a compromise is struck. We ditch the hike in the sweltering sun in favor of a path closer to the Tavignano river, with shade, cows, and the irritating jabber of children splashing around in the river. Then we immediately get lost because we miss the turn that would take us a few dozen meters higher to the actual trail. Why? Because we're following the cows. Tip number one for the Tavignano Valley: Don't follow the cows. They are not going where you're going.
Tip number two: Bring twice as much water as you think you'll need. Corsican hiking trails are not like the trails of Germany, Austria and South Tyrol. Usually, there aren't well-maintained restaurants at the top just dying to sell you water and wine. You're more likely to find a haggard hiker with his head in a creek, drinking like a cow. It's a rugged place.
Pack that water, though, and come to this beautiful place. The farther you walk up the mountain, the fewer people you'll see. Most tourists stay in the valleys and bathe in the pools there. If you walk a few hours up the mountain, you'll have a better chance at being sort of alone with nature. You'll need to be fairly fit with the right shoes, but it's all doable. A good sense of orientation also helps.
"Where the hell are we?" I ask when the path narrows to a 10-centimeter thread covered in cow poo.
"We need to be up there." Iggy points to what looks like a level place about 100 meters up the mountain. Twenty minutes later, we're on the real path thanks to cows who've blazed a trail to it (so I guess some cows do actually want to go where you're going).
In the end, this trail is of medium difficulty with a bit of crawling over steep rocks. Mostly, though, it's a gentle path. The reward is a crystal clear pool at the end. You can't miss it. When you see the footbridge across the Tavignano, you'll know you can soon take your shoes off and cool your feet in the water. We lie on a broad, flat stone in the middle of the pool and fall asleep without a thought in the world for the two-hour hike back to our car.
Stay tuned for more Corsican hikes. Also, the winners' of the I Must Be Off! Travel Writing Competition will soon be published here at I Must Be Off!
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.