Corsica is a beautiful, pastoral island where agricultural practices are done the old-timey way and the countryside is protected by a vast regional park. People and nature seem to be living in harmony and are very welcoming and helpful to a humble bike traveller/backpacker like myself. My quest to bike it's epic mountain roads and tick it's birds began in London...
I reluctantly said goodbye to Ramata as I was quite enjoying a hefty episode of Attenborough. However, my night had just begun. I took the last train to Tottenham Hale and from there bought a ticket to Stansted which ended up being a waste since nobody was checking at that hour (an interesting hack for the future). You may notice that I allude to breaking of the law. Well, rest assured, I paid the full 15 quid, but you've got to consider these things when living in London! Otherwise it just isn't doable. After a short but agreeable sleep behind that little café thing (you might know the spot), I rose to catch my 6:30 am flight to Marseille to meet an old friend.
"I got you a present but I forgot to bring it" I said. Aziza didn't seem to care. Anyway, we were both pretty tired from life so we went to the beach, jumped off a cliff and swam deep into the clear coldness of the Mediterranean. We talked of life, mainly our never-ending quest for happiness. Saying goodbye after an all-too-brief visit, I headed to Toulon which turned out to be way less straightforward than I'd planned.
I got off the train and walked around to find a hotel. I asked locals where to find one and it seemed like the going rate was about 50 euros. They were all booked up. Getting toward 11 pm I was desperate. The only room in town was the Best Western at 114 euros. Flip! The receptionist at the Ibis called me a cab to take me to Seyne-sur-mer where there was a room for 40 euros but the cab was 30. I couldn't even get a ride with anyone since they were all leaving Corsica, so I paid another 30 to get to the ferry. The least I could do was snag a baguette from the delivery batch lying beside the entrance. I was already set back 100 euros. Gone are the days of real traveling when you could just turn up to a place and ask people where to stay. Now, it's like travelling means you need to go on this hotels.com nonsense like weeks in advance just to not get [too] ripped off. And stuff wasn't so expensive always. Travelling is now the cool way to live your life as glorified by facebook and the secret is out for pretty much all these places. If you know a cool part of the globe that hasn't become a racket, please do not share it on Facebook because you're helping perpetuate this ridiculous madness across the internet until there isn't a corner of the planet that hasn't been selfied.
Getting to the bike place I realize it's closed but after 10 minutes of standing there and thinking of what to do, the guy came from the back room and opened the shop. Cool. Off I went on an extremely heavily-laden bike but free nonetheless. It turned out to be one of the most demanding physical feats of my life doing 255 km or so up and down mountains.
If the climb was anything more than a slight grade then I'd have to walk the bike. Therefore, it was slow going most of the way. And it was bloody hot! Luckily there were some river access points where I once jumped straight into the frigid mountain brook, and some public roadside fountains fed by mountain springs. Each time I'd walk my bike up a brutally long stretch, it would be like hell. But each time I got to cruise down a stretch of downhill, it was the best feeling in the world. I was almost at the famous Col de Sorba which is the best spot for Corsican Nuthatch. I climbed up a steep wooded slope hoping for a flat spot to hide my bike/tent but all I ended up finding was scratched legs from the aborted attempt. Better to continue up the road more. It was one last horrible climb toward the epic switchbacks of the Col. The fact that around each bend was better nuthatch habitat provided enough morale boost. Finally around 7pm I pulled over to a small gravel lot which overlooked an epic valley and right in this old growth pine forest. I had just enough energy to bird for half an hour and spotted 2 Corsican Finches from the camp - another morale boost. I'd forgotten about the effect of travelling solo in the wilderness - especially with challenges. In my tent, I felt a sense of lonesomeness wondering what I was doing there. I could be chillin' at home watching Attenborough with Ramata eating pasta in that new chair I got which is super comfortable and a beer in my hand. I tried ringing her and surprisingly, I had reception and the sound of her voice was sweeter than a cool mountain stream to my ears. Refreshed, I fell into a deep sleep to the music of Scops Owls all around.
I awoke to singing birds which included Spotted Flycatchers, Blue Tits and Corsican Finches. I biked a couple of hours up that mountain through the gorgeous pine forest. The Nuthatch clearly wasn't gonna give itself up easily. I regretted bringing my sniper on this trip as it was quite heavy. Just as I was starting to think I might be here for a long time, I spotted a small, distinctly wedge-shaped butt sticking out from behind a branch. Corsican Nuthatch! The bird turned, revealing its upturned bill and drab coloration. I could have easily missed it. A bit further down, I stopped to investigate a Dartford-like warbler I'd heard on the way up. This required a sketchy climb up a steep roadside slope. Leaving the bike behind, skirting around the bird so it wasn't in the sun, the light revealed it to be a stunning Marmora's Warbler. 3/5 target birds met! Only left were Moltoni's and Lammergeier. I packed up and carried on toward Corte. En route, there were 2 Red-backed Shrikes in perfect light. Lifer #4! A bit further, I heard a song a bit like the Marmora's but possibly different. The darn thing was so shy that after 30 minutes of chasing it around I gave up! Then out of nowhere I heard a roar as 2 Eurofighters flew through the canyon almost at eye-level before arcing through the pass upside-down! Pilot would have been a cool job choice. I continued and heard another warble and this time managed a 10-second view revealing a pale bird with a light salmon wash and thin moustache - Moltoni's Warbler! 4/5 targets secured in one morning!
|Corsican Nuthatch, female|
I ended the day lying next to a beautiful mountain stream looking forward to biking up the road with no gear to look for a Lammergeier. And I sipped the best damn ice cold Coca Cola I've ever had.
The bike to Bergerie de Grotelle was epic but there was no Lammergeier. I could have hiked up to "the lakes" but I felt I needed to press on as I had many km to do by nightfall. So I cruised down that amazing road, packed up camp and biked toward the mountain village of Lozzi where I was to camp at L'Arimone, picking up Italian Sparrow and Corn Buntings along the way.
|Tyrrhenian Wall Lizard|
|There are a lot of cows in Corsica!|
|Can you find the Treecreeper?|
|Valée de la Restonica|
|My only shorts got caught on the bike seat but luckily I borrowed a handy sewing kit from some Germans in a camper van.|
|Heading up to Monte Cintu|
Higher up, a Golden Eagle flushed from the ground. Closer investigation revealed an eviscerated baby Mouflon. Up on a high cliff, the mom was peering morbidly down at her devoured baby. A little spooked, I carried on but the cairn-marked route, getting ever steeper and seemingly endless, started skirting a cliffside and became quite perilous. It got so ridiculous I knew I had gone astray so I turned around and regained the proper route. Crest after endless crest, it was one of the toughest hikes of my life. Eventually the snow-capped summit came into view and I broke into an ecstatic run. Alpine Choughs greeted me at the top, hoping for any morsel.
|Mouflon lamb fallen prey to a Golden Eagle|
|View from summit at 2,706m|