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Corsica: West Coast
The road is fantastic – both in terms of views and the surface. There are steep uphill sections, wide and smooth downhill rides, sharp curves requiring the utmost attention, and sometimes the road becomes very narrow, squeezing between the rocks. Watching a bus pass a car in such a tight corner makes my hair stand on ends. The road that constantly runs along the edge of a precipice ensures a breathtaking view of the Girolata Gulf. I feel overpowered. Not in the physical sense (though I hope to see Porto behind each road bend that we pass), but I literally can't get enough air in my lungs to keep sighing in wonder. We take a short photo break. The setting sun gives the surrounding rocks a warm orange and red cast, with occasional long, grey shadows. We cycle a bit farther, one more curve, and... there it is! A charming bay with turquoise-blue water, picturesque houses near a small harbour, and the Porto river separating the harbour from the beach. A 16-century watchtower situated on a rock at the mouth of the river secures the peace of this place. It is quite late, so we head straight for the campsite, planning to get a good night's sleep. Before that we want to wash our clothes, so that they get dry next day, when we relax off the bikes. There are many nature reserves and bays in the area that should be easily accessible by a hired boat. Igor rated the campsite number 1, compared with all campsites he had seen before. It is accessed by a winding asphalt road, with numerous adjacent terraces hidden among trees – an ideal place for a tent or a caravan. Some of those quiet, intimate "bays" feature sturdy rock-carved furniture – massive stones which make perfect tables or seats. Near the campsite exit you may get dizzy with an abundance of oleanders blooming in all possible shades of red and yellow. Finally, just a few steps away there are some bars and a supermarket open until the small hours.

Finally we got enough sleep – in our quiet spot. We did not even have to zip the tent to protect our privacy. The place was nicely shaded, so we avoided the usual morning heat and stuffiness inside the tent. I decided to wash our clothes while Igor started to prepare flippers, because "you never know when you may have an opportunity to swim". We enjoyed breakfast sitting comfortably on the rock furniture. I might even call this "all-inclusive" accommodation!
During a 2 km walk to the harbour we had a chance to learn more about the town. It seemed like a typical holiday resort, but its houses, streets, restaurants and hotels were well suited to the place, creating its overall charm. Most of the route to the harbour was surrounded by 100-year old eucalyptus trees. I have no idea why the guidebook described that place as "lacking character and ambience". We liked it anyway. Near the harbour we found a few tourist offices offering various boat excursions. Since we intended to devote the whole day to "non-cycling", we went the whole hog, betting on an office called Via Mare and their cruise called "Tour Complet du Golfe" for EUR 45 per person. This package was a quarter cheaper than trips to Capo Rosso, Calanche, Gorolata and Scandola booked seperately.
After no more than an hour we knew exactly why the Gulf of Porto had been designated as a Unesco World Heritage Site. We saw Capo Rosso and the Turghju tower on top of the cape. Later, as we sailed towards the harbour, the cruise along the shore gave us goosebumps. We admired the famous Calanche from the sea. Incredible rock formations: strange red and orange granite statues, narrow coves overlooked by very steep cliffs. The bright sunshine combined with turquoise-blue crystal-clear water comprised an unreal landscape. In the harbour the boat left tourists who had paid for a single cruise – now another group joined us for a trip to Scandola and the Girolata Gulf. Luckily, I had spare batteries at hand, so I could keep the camera on all the time. The landscape changed like a kaleidoscope: the Scandola reserve – a safe home for numerous bird species – prides itself on unique caves, crevices, rock spires reaching to the sky, as well as red cliffs. We sailed past rocks immersed in unbelievably clear water, into tight bays, under rock arches, eventually mooring in the Gulf of Girolata. Guarded by a Genoese fort, this lovely nook has a few houses made of red stone, several restaurants, and a number of boats swaying at the quay.
We decided that a day like that had to conclude with a special meal. We threw our stuff inside the tent, and went out to look for some Corsican specialties. In addition to delicious wine, we savoured mussels in Roquefort sauce, and mixed grilled platter with salad. Yum!

We had a great night's sleep, so obviously our plans to get up early have fallen through. We left the camping at 10:15 am, facing a strenuous 10 km uphill section outside of Porto. It was very exhausting. Losing my breath, I had to make short breaks. Two hours later we could admire Calanche from above. Red, orange and grey granite peaks and precipices made the most spectacular view in Corsica. We might say that the road was carved in rock. Every now and then we passed soaring rock columns, frequently with rock "windows" or extraordinary natural sculptures. There was also the famous heart-shaped rock hole.
After descending to Piana – beautifully situated in a bay – we climbed to the Bocca a Lavu mountain pass. The route to Cargese was sinuous, leading alternately up and down. The town is set on a rocky cliff in the Sagone Bay, attributing its unique charm to sapphire water, sandy beach glistening in the sun, and red cliffs. What is interesting, Cargese was founded in the 18th century by the Greeks who found refuge on the island in times of Turkish persecution. Even today you can attend a mass in a historic orthodox church. Cargese's denominational situation has always bewildered visitors: opposite the orthodox church there is a Roman Catholic temple – both of them are "serviced" by the same priest.
The scenic D81 road from Cargese ran along the seashore tempting us with small, wild beaches covered with dazzling sand, stretching as far as the town of Tiuccia. What a seductive view! Although we planned to reach Ajaccio that day, I came to the conclusion that after each expedition we wish we had spent more time swimming and sunbathing. I thought that since it was 4 pm already, we did not have to go all the way to Ajaccio and set up the tent at dusk. Instead, we could save ourselves a 20 km ride and enjoy the perfect water. Campsites situated in La Liscia Bay were crowded with cars, boats, surfboards... But suddenly we noticed a road sign leading to "Camping la Marie". We gladly took the right turn, hoping to find ourselves at the seashore as soon as possible. And so we did. The campsite was fine (although probably the most expensive in Corsica), with superb bathrooms, situated just a few steps away from the beach. We quickly pitched the tent, washed some clothes, ate and rushed to the sea. At 5 pm the sandy beach was almost empty. Igor swam, while I sought the last sunrays of the evening, catching up on writing. The water looked so great that I finally succumbed. After two hours, we went back to the tent for a quick snack, and then came back to the beach with a camera in order to admire the sunset.

We struggle with a very steep section today – covering 8 km took us an hour and 20 minutes. Finally we reach the San Bastiano pass – the only one so far with a bar. I really need a drink, and maybe a snack? Even though I am not hungry yet, I know it is noon, and when the siesta starts we won't find food anywhere until the evening. Igor orders pizza and I go for a salad. I notice that Igor tells some guy in French: "No, I don't speak French", but his face really says "I don't feel like talking at all". Another question is in Polish: "So maybe you speak Polish?", which really surprises Igor. This is how we meet Tomek – our compatriot who has lived in Calvi for 20 years. We are told that he served in the French Foreign Legion for 17 years, and now he is a thirty-something-years-old retiree. As we are going in the same direction, we decide to cycle together for a while. The day is really challenging. There are many uphill stretches, and the heat is particularly acute in places lacking any shade or wind. Some road sections are so steep that we can hardly walk the recumbent bicycles. On one occasion Tomek helps me walk the bike. A bit farther he cycles down and comes back to us only to announce that the downhill section is very near. Either he is so polite, or I really look as if I was dying (at the end of the day I decided that the former was true). The day is notable for conversations with our new travel companion. Tomek tell us unbelievable stories about his passion – extreme sports – in such an interesting and non-pushy manner that we could listen to him forever.
Fitness-wise, it's definitely not my best day. I have neither energy nor will to cycle. I would probably convince Igor to make a break, but I feel ashamed to give up in front of Tomek. I keep pedalling, pondering on the chemical composition of my body. Starting from the top: instead of my head, I have gallons of sweat under my hat, thin streams of liquid trickling straight to my eyes and mouth. I do have a body, but with no heart or lungs, because I spat them out during one of earlier uphill climbs. Instead of my legs, I have containers full of lactic acid that drips to my shoes. Inside the shoes, in turn, there are no feet, but colonies of mad ants. Fortunately, I don't have to share my feelings with the guys – we pull over quite often to drink coffee, eat pancakes, and chat, chat, chat... After a few such talks we feel as if we had know each other for years. We are quite jealous when Tomek tells us about all the places he has seen, the things he has done, the extreme sports he has practised (e.g. parachuting). We discover a bond that links the three of us. The healthy jealousy evoked by those stories is soon replaced by meditation and deep reflection, especially when Tomek says: "I have experienced so many dark moments in my life that now I just want to see bright ones". Is it destiny that helped us meet? We believe so, because the day before our meeting was the first time that Tomek had ever set off for a cycling expedition. In return for all the emotions and excitement that he gave us, we give him some tips and remarks about cycling equipment and bicycle travels in general.
We decide to skip Ajaccio. In Mezzavia we go under an impressive aqueduct. The road to Porticcio is one of those sections that don't impress, but you simply have to cover them. Farther the road leads along wonderful beaches and quiet nooks with moored yachts and boats. We cycle along the edge of the Chiavari Forest. From the narrow road we can enjoy a nice panoramic view of Ajaccio. Outside of Coti-Chiavari the road changes its number to D155. Originally we planned to get to Priopriano before dusk, and stay there for two nights. However, with so many longish breaks today, we are forced to put on head torches. At 10 pm Tomek suggests a dinner break. After all, we don't need to hurry, because no campsite will be open at this hour. Besides, what matters to us is moments like this one, rather than just impressive average speed and distance covered. Thus we spend another hour, absorbing the good vibes emanating from our new friend. In Abbartello we set up the tent on the very seashore. It is an amazing experience to swim at night along an empty beach, next to the main town street, hiding between rocks that serve as a shower stall. Lying in our tent we meditate on this long and exciting day.