Corsica: Zonza and the Central Mountains
29.06.2009
We wake up at 5:20 am and 40 minutes later we are on our bicycles. After an hour we reach S. T. di Gallura. This time we choose a cruise with Saremar (slightly cheaper). Corsica welcomes us at 9 am sharp. Sitting on a low wall in the harbour we eat breakfast: a baguette, 3 types of pate, and puff pastries with chocolate.
The outgoing N198 road from Bonifacio is one of the main arteries of the island, so I will refrain from describing the 30 km stretch that followed. Around 5 km ahead of Porto-Veccio the road leads through a cork oak forest – the biggest one in Corsica. The worst part of this section is cycling through Porto-Vecchio itself. Admittedly, the view of the lagoon and the harbour – as seen from the bridge – is very nice, but the city is the third biggest in Corsica: a popular resort attracting crowds of tourists. Cycling through its main streets is far from pleasant. Finally, having crossed a few roundabouts, we reach the road leading uphill to the village of Zonza. We start the climb at 1:50 pm. Just after a few curves we find ourselves in a totally different world – a little wild, but amazing in terms of the nature and the views. From an altitude of 600 m, the view of Porto-Vecchio is unbelievable. You can easily spot all the peninsulas and bays with bright beaches, at times covered by forests. The turquoise water keeps luring us again...
At the end of the uphill stretch there is the village of L'Ospedale with quite steep streets and enormous holes in asphalt (or something that once was asphalt). No problem – we walk the bikes and look around. A few houses built of stone, scattered on the hillsides, surrounded with fences and big hydrangea bushes with such incredible shades of blue as was the seawater in the Orosei Gulf. The village features an old, tiny church, two bars/restaurants, and that' s it. We stop by one of those, and sipping ice-cold drinks on its terrace, we admire the view – this time from an altitude of 1000 m above mean sea level.
Outside of the village the road is almost flat. We go past a lake near a dam, which serves as a main water reservoir for Porto-Vecchio, at the same time diversifying the austere landscape that mostly comprises rocky hills and giant spruces.
When we reach the next pass – Bocca d'Illarata – I am truly satisfied with myself. I expected blood, sweat and tears today, but in fact I feel brand new. As the sun is beautifully sinking behind the horizon, we take some photos and movie clips. We absorb the majesty of the practically virgin spruce forest with an abundance of ferns, mosses and relentlessly singing birds. Every now and then you can spot vertical rock spires soaring to the sky from among trees.
It is 8:30 pm, so we decide to spend the night at a municipal campsite 3 km ahead of Zonza. The silence around us is almost overwhelming! The campsite is rather modest, which may explain the scarce number of tents. We sleep under giant old pines covered with lichens resembling decorative frills on the trunks, branches and pinecones. Somewhere in the distance between the trees there is a small bridge over a tranquil river. The image is complemented by an intense, fresh smell of genuine forest. I have never been in such a place before – now I can imagine how Alice might have felt in the Wonderland.
Our schedule for tomorrow includes canyoning, so we need to wash our clothes and towels to let them dry during the day. The division of work is standard: I do the washing while Igor prepares food. It's already dark when all the preparations come to an end. We leave the water supply and cycling shoes in the vestibule to have enough space and comfort inside the tent for a nice dinner.
Suddenly we notice a shadow of some animal's muzzle on our tent. Igor thinks it is a dog. We can hear energetic sniffing and a moment later a fox's head appears in the vestibule. As soon as its nose detects my shoes, the fox flees as fast as a rocket.

30.06.2009
We overslept for canyoning, as the night was surprisingly relaxing. Anyway, when we call the organisers at 8:30 am, we are told that the group leaves at 9:30. There is no way we will make it. Igor isn't happy, because it means another day off the bike, but I like the idea of taking a longer break, especially in such a beautiful place. As there is no shop at the campsite, we hop on the bikes and go to Zonza for shopping. We eat breakfast sitting at the parking site next to the store, and a few minutes later – in "civilised" conditions – we order tiramisu and delicious coffee for dessert at a nearby cafe. We sit and watch the surroundings. It is hard to believe that this calm spot situated among chestnuts and pine trees is a popular holiday resort, packed with tourists in the high season. Having satisfied our hunger, we go to "Corsica Madness" to book a place for the next day's canyoning trip. Igor is intent on trying it, especially that Corsica is one of Europe's best canyoning destinations.
Back at the campsite, we only see 3 tents left. Igor goes for a walk and soon comes back rolling something in front of him. After a while we have a ready set of camping furniture next to our tent: a wooden table (a big cable spool) and plastic chairs, which may have been stable in the past, but now you need to sit on them leaning slightly forward. Otherwise they turn into rocking chairs that only rock backwards. "At least we have something to sit on", says Igor and he is right – this is better than sitting in the tent.
Summing up, we have furniture, our clothes are washed, our sleeping bags are getting aired too, the batteries are charging, so I start to prepare hard boiled eggs with ketchup. Igor is inspecting our bicycles. Somewhere in the distance clouds begin to form, but Igor says we should ignore them. I go back to listening how eggs are hopping in the mess tin, while Igor keeps playing with hex keys. As I peel the first hard-boiled egg, it starts to drizzle. I want to take the washing of the line, but my husband still claims that it's only a brief shower, so I should not bother. I always trust him without reservation, unless... I don't trust him ;-) I decide to take our t-shirts, shorts and towels off the line and throw them inside the tent. After all – this is the entire supply of our clean clothes. I peel another egg, while the falling drops are getting bigger and bigger. Finally Igor admits that it may not be just a light shower, and he orders evacuation (back to the tent). No sooner had we zipped the tent and made room for a meal than it started to pour for real! With genuine fear in my eyes I watch the wind try to take our tent away, and I listen to hailstones hitting the mess tins that we left outside. The containers bounce making such a noise that I imagine they get totally crushed. We pile all our belongings in the middle of the tent, because the heavy hailstones (some of them 2 cm in diameter!) start to throw earth inside the tent. The swift stream that formed under our tent carries away our flip flops. 15 minutes later the storm subsides and we can only hear raindrops falling off the branches. Igor puts on his jacket, the flip flops he managed to save with great dedication, and he goes outside. "Lucy", he says, Come out, you have to see it! Unbelievable! Come here!" Reluctantly, I put on my jacket and crawl out of the tent to see the "landscape of the battle". The sight is spectacular indeed: plenty of lichen-covered branches and giant pinecones have fallen to the ground, or actually to the hailstone carpet that now stretches all over the campsite. In contact with the cold hailstones, warm soil and hot air create a fairly-tale image: up to the height of 1.5 m the whole campsite is shrouded in fog. After a short while sunrays try to penetrate the treetops, making the landscape simply mystical. Our eyes and cameras satisfied with the unusual view, we have to get back to more mundane matters. Smiling like a 6-year-old brat, Igor starts to play in the mud. This "canal digging", as he calls it, is supposed to remove water from under our tent. After taking a few more snapshots, I tidy up the tent. The only thing Igor wishes he had is whiskey. There is an abundance of free ice within reach, and it seems quite useless. However, after a while Igor uses it to prepare a tourist version of ice tea.
In the evening we thanks Providence that we missed the canyoning trip.

01.07.2009
After getting a good night's sleep, we wake up at 7:30 am, quickly pack up and set off for Zonza. Before the trip to the river, we have to pick the right sizes of wetsuits and put our stuff (sandwiches, documents, a towel) into a waterproof container. Then we put the container, along with helmets, harnesses, and water bottles, into a special dry bag. The cars depart for Bavella at 9:30 am. There is quite a distance to Canyon de la Vacca. Thousands of thoughts are rushing through my head, and of course most of them are dark, or at least grey. I cannot swim, I have acrophobia and today is my birthday! Why the hell am I even doing this? Should I not spend this day in some spa? What if something goes wrong? What if I lag behind the group, or they are forced to turn back because of me, or… so many things may happen. My heart is beating like a drum. I squeeze Igor's hand and smile – I do not want to hurt him since this trip is supposed to be my birthday present. Yet I know that Igor knows that I know that he knows that... to put it simply, I would rather stay in the tent.
We reach the spot and park the cars at the edge of a forest. We begin a 30-minute downhill walk to the river. It is even better that it takes so long, I'm trying to calm my nerves and get my trembling knees under control. The small river looks decent, with many stones of various sizes scattered in the water. There are a few flat rocks on which we stop, trying to put on wetsuits and helmets. We look at the surrounding high rock faces – the view is beautiful although somewhat scary. Standing knee-deep in the water, we smile for a group photograph. Everyone is laughing, some people lose their balance on slippery stones and fall down. Why was I so nervous?! A small stroll in the river and everything will be OK!
A few steps later my big smile disappears. Sliding down the first chute along huge fallen rocks and a jump into the water start a chain of events that do not really make me happy. I am trying to hold onto rocks every now and then, but they are slippery. All that time I was wondering why we needed harnesses. I get my answer when the instructor asks us to tie the rope, walk three metres along the rocky wall, and finally make a several metre jump into the water. There is a short distance to swim. Luckily, I am wearing wetsuit which prevents me from drowning. I look out for Igor and swim up to him. When the group gathers together, the instructor announces that unfortunately we have to give up the trip. We have heard thunders for some time now. The weather is changing and we can get caught by a storm in the canyon, which would be dangerous. Igor is looking very sad, but I do not feel the same way. To be honest, I have had enough and I am happy that things seem to be turning out that way. My inner peace is quickly disturbed as we encounter another group. Both tour guides decide that the groups should merge and since there is not much distance to cover – and this is the most interesting section of the route – we should continue the excursion. After a short while, we are standing above a waterfall. How can I make this 8 metre jump if the water below me is dark blue? I am trying to squat – the jump height is lower this way, but the instructor asks me to stand up and jump with my legs straight. I am squatting and getting up over and over again when I realize that I am slowing down the group. Almost everyone is down below, even a lady slightly younger than my mum has just jumped, and I am standing here panicking. I do not know how, but I jump. I am just praying to land in one piece. Needless to say, I swallow some water, so for a good few seconds I do not know where to swim. However, after I regain my vision, I notice that our group is here, Igor is here, our dry bag is here, and I am unscathed, so Providence must be watching over madmen. A few more water attractions like that, and I start running out of steam. I haven't realized that this sport requires so much physical skill, not to mention mental abilities. I do not know how long we stay in the river but we approach huge, flat rocks on our way. We are told to get out of water. I barely crawl out, since I somehow cannot feel my legs any more. I expect a meal break but this turns out to be the long-awaited end,! The sense of relief that I get is the best feeling today. Some uphill climbing is still ahead of us. It is not easy: I have stiff calves, I am wearing a soaking wetsuit, and the climb lasts over an hour. I am relieved to get in the car. We drive over Col de Bavella (1218 m). Just before the pass, in a pine wood, there are some small stone houses – former sheepfolds. Suddenly, the driver brakes hard as a herd of wild black pigs, grazing by the road, decides to move to the other side. The view from the pass is amazing, really indescribable. The majesty of so-called "Bavella needles” – jagged peaks that are jutting above black pines twisted by the wind – is enchanting. Those rocky walls look slightly different round every bend, and we as if we were watching some movie.
We arrive in Zonza somewhat chilled, so we quickly put on dry clothes and sit down in a nearby cafe for a big, tasty coffee. We do shopping in a small store and return to the camping site. For my birthday dinner, I serve boiled sausages, delicious camembert, and a watermelon with peaches for dessert. After dinner, we sip beer and share our impressions of the trip. It cost EUR 50 per person, and it is worth its price. My emotions have subsided and I start reflecting on the passing day. I spent the time surrounded by great people, among beautiful nature, swimming in a mountain river and sometimes even struggling for life in rushing water. I have overcome my fears and weaknesses, and I have neither embarrassed myself or Igor. Canyoning is one of those experiences that allow you to get to know yourself, and I definitely recommend trying it if you ever have such an opportunity. There are a few "buts", though. Descent to the river is very steep and exhausting, and so is the way back up. That means you have to be physically prepared. There are routes with different difficulty available – you have to ask about that before setting off. You cannot be afraid of water, and be ready to overcome your barriers.
We fall asleep immediately despite the exciting and eventful day. Tomorrow we will try to climb Col de Verde (1289 m). I wonder what our physical condition will be like tomorrow after today's effort.

2.07.2009
The next day is though indeed. We have to stay for another night at the camping site as my legs are dead. The night was rough: I cannot even pull up my sore legs, or turn to the side. Being in great pain, I go out of the tent and head towards bathroom, moving like a Frankenstein's monster.
During breakfast, we try to modify the route, but we still have to cycle over the pass. And because I cannot even pack up the tent today, a whole day of uphill cycling is out of the question. We spend all day reading the guidebook, catching up on writing, and napping. In between these activities, Igor forces me to stretch and rubs arnica ointment in my legs. Fortunately, it is a mowing day at the camping site, so my screams of pain drown in the noise of lawnmowers. Around 6 pm I start to feel better. We try to get on the bikes and cycle to Zonza in order to eat something, and do some shopping for tomorrow. It turns out that I am doing OK – different groups of muscles are involved in cycling and in walking. Things get worse when I have to get off the bike and walk it for a few metres to find a parking spot. We are running out of cash, so Igor cycles to the nearest ATM in San Gavino village, 5 km away. I realize that my bike mirror is gone. Unfortunately, we cannot find it anywhere. Oh, well. We withdraw some cash, do the shopping, and go back to the camping site.

3.07.2009
Obviously we stay in bed for another half an hour after the alarm clock goes off. Packing up goes smoothly, mostly because of our handy table. Igor is placing everything on it, and I do not have to bend or crouch, just putting stuff into the panniers. We pay for accommodation and before 9 am we are already back on the bikes. Just outside Zonza, we reach the D420 road and after 4 km we get a nice downhill run. We have to be careful while braking on bends because the asphalt is covered with sand, stones, pine cones and needles scattered by the storm. It is easy to go into a "textbook" skid.
We stop for a coffee in a stone built village of Serra di Scopamene – a place with a unique atmosphere, sort of sleepy and forgotten. Old photographs on the cafe walls show people who lived here in the past. An vintage radio, wall clocks, shepherds' tools – each and every thing sends shivers through my body. At "Caffe a Scopa" only a computer with Internet access attests to the inevitable passage of time.
And since time is moving so fast... we cycle past Aullene and climb Col de la Vaccia on the D69 road. I will never forget this pass: when I close my eyes I can not only sense the smell, but hear it as well. The whole pass is covered with blooming macchia – spiny, bushy shrubs, and the intense honey scent is simply mouth-watering. The buzz of thousands of working bees complements the whole scene. What an atmospheric moment!
In two hours' time, we are overtaken by only 5 cars and 3 motorcycles. We cycle in a peaceful and quiet area, through forests with numerous streams, and with wild pigs rummaging by the roadside. We get to Cozzano, where we do some shopping. It is almost 7 pm when we reach Col de Verde (1289 m). We spend the night in our tent, by the hostel (EUR 5.5 per person). Despite today's climbs and slightly sore legs, we do not feel tired. We fall asleep with an optimistic thought that tomorrow we start with a downhill ride.

4 July 2009
The morning is very cold, as usual in the mountains. We quickly put on trousers and jackets, then eat breakfast and drink coffee. Having taken a commemorative photo of a road sign with the name of the pass, we start riding downhill, cycling past Ghisoni with lightning speed. A bit further, we begin to climb Col de Sorba (1311 m). The uphill stretch is not that hard. A good road surface and clearly visible mountain peaks. But the view from the pass is our highest expectations. The downhill road to Vivario looks amazing! We feast our eyes on it for a few minutes. The surroundings are so beautiful that for the first time we hesitate about cycling further. I ride first. After a few bends I am done: tears are falling from my eyes and a scream of joy escapes my lips. The emotions are so powerful that I feel "inner trembling", wishing that our family and friends could also experience this feeling. After a few minutes, Igor catches up on me, looking moved as well. His front brake disc is red hot because this freak was riding downhill while pressing on the brakes and shooting a video clip at the same time. Watching the clip on YouTube later on, I am quivering, also being convinced that I have married a loony! We need to take a breather - there are so many positive emotions that for the first time I feel too exhausted to get on the bike. Now we cycle downhill at a slower pace, taking many photos. We are on N193, one of the main roads, but the traffic is surprisingly light. We cycle through Col de Belle Granaje (723 m), and enter the town of Corte at breakneck speed.
Just on the outskirts, there are Casino Supermarket and Cocci Market. We do shopping for the evening, but also have a light snack. From the parking site we can see the famous Eagle's Nest. Having taken a photo, we decide to continue cycling. It is doubtful that there is any view which can compete with our today's experience.