Sea & Mountains: Adventures in Corsica on the Tra Mare e Monti Trail  21-30 October 2005
map caption To Galéria by an unexpected route. Then on into the mountains, and wild boar territory.
photo caption One hour out of Calvi, and dawn is coming fast. We're sailing south to Galéria aboard the Brazil, a 37' yacht. A line of huge wind turbines stands in silhouette on the clifftops above us.
photo caption Ed mans the tiller as our skipper, Jean-Michel keeps an eye out to port. Catherine, his wife, chats to us from the gangway as we huddle out of shot with our coffees, on the afterdeck.
photo caption Towering 7,500 feet above the headwaters of the river Fangu, the imposing peak of Mount Tafunatu is visible 15 miles to our southeast. As dawn breaks, the sun blazes through the "Eye of the Cyclops", a natural cavern in the mountain.
photo caption First mate Jonica enjoying the sunrise. The red inflatable seen to her left off the stern is used by Brazil's crew to get ashore in shallow waters.
photo caption Now that the sun is up, Ed can finally see where he's going! Galéria's only an hour away.
photo caption 1 of 4 This sequence shows our approach and arrival into Galéria. Here, I'm hanging onto the port jackline of Brazil as we pass the mouth of the river Fangu.
photo caption 2 of 4 Nearing Galéria. Our hike today will take us up into those mountains in the background.
photo caption 3 of 4 Entering the harbor. Catherine stands forward on the bow to keep a lookout for underwater obstacles.
photo caption 4 of 4 On the dock at Galéria, offloading bags from Brazil. We bid farewell to Jean-Michel and Catherine, then head for our hotel.
photo caption Irina spots an interesting mushroom on the trail.
photo caption The multi-colored fruits of the strawberry tree.
photo caption Everybody's happy to have made it to the summit. Just time for a late lunch before we head back to our hotel in Galéria.
photo caption "But there are wild boars down there!" Jonica and Ed discuss the perils of the path ahead.
Sunrise at sea, bound for Galéria. The walk begins!
Monday, October 24th  This morning we're supposed to catch a bus down to Galéria, a tiny fishing village 25 miles south of Calvi, where our walk starts.

Trouble is, the bus isn't running any more. I discovered this yesterday and mulled over alternative transport. Taxis were a possibility, but pricey ... then an inspiration: how about a boat?

Last night before dinner — while the others were snoozing at the Belvédère — Will and I moseyed down to the marina, looking to cut a deal. Out of dozens of yachts there, one caught our eye: a beautiful 37-footer named Brazil. After briefly consulting the barometer — and his wife — skipper Jean-Michel agreed to sail us to Galéria. But to catch the best weather, we'd have to leave early.

Cut to 6am on Monday. Backpacks full, our group of five slips out of the Hotel Belvédère and makes for the harborfront. Overhead, myriad stars stud a moonless predawn sky. The hazy swathe of the Milky Way is clearly visible, stretching from the ocean horizon in the north, away to the outline of the jagged peaks which ring the bay of Calvi in the south.

But for once none of us is photographing the scene — we're too busy tip-toeing along the floating wooden dock, amongst the sleeping sailboats. A lone light burns on Brazil's aft deck, where Jean-Michel and his wife Catherine greet us with coffee and breakfast.

An hour later we've cleared the lighthouse at Punta de la Revellata and are motoring south over calm seas. The sun is coming up behind the island, silhouetting the high peaks of interior Corsica. Ed's on the tiller. Suddenly, there's a bizarre sight. Like a scene out of Indiana Jones, a light glimmers inside one of the backlit mountains, waxing quickly to laser-beam intensity. For a mere instant, a shaft of sun picks out our yacht on the water.

Jean-Michel explains. On certain days, light from the rising sun strikes the face of distant Mount Tafunatu and passes through a natural cave beneath its summit. From the effect, it's obvious why this cave is known to islanders as the “Eye of the Cyclops”. We feel awed to have witnessed a spectacle of nature described by Homer nearly three thousand years ago in the pages of the Odyssey.

Galéria. We disembark, wave farewell to Catherine and Jean-Michel, and head for L'Auberge, the only hotel in town still open this late in the season. A long second breakfast on the patio here, then it's time to stock up on postcards and supplies at the village shop, and hit the path.

Today's circular route takes us up the densely forested valley of the Tavulaghiu river, then zig-zags for two steep miles up to the 2500-foot summit of Punta di a Literniccia.

It's one of those days when you can see forever. The sky is a crisp blue, and everyone is in high spirits after this morning's voyage. The air smells deliciously fresh, too: aromas of sage, rosemary, juniper, and myrtle waft by as we tramp along beneath the shade of the lush maquis, Corsica's signature undergrowth. And the strawberry trees add splashes of color to the surrounding greenery: their now-ripe fruits come in brilliant yellow, orange and scarlet hues.

After a tough three hour climb, we pick a spot beneath a chestnut tree for a picnic lunch. From our vantage point on the mountaintop, we have views over the sea and the Scandola Reserve, a rocky wonderland off limits to hikers, that's home to Corsica's largest osprey population.

As we head back to Galéria, clouds move in from nowhere, and it begins to get dark. Ed spots our first wild boar, darting into the underbrush nearby. Huge beasts the size of large dogs, one or two grunt intimidatingly at us from their lairs in the maquis. We break out the flashlights and hurry back over tricky terrain to the warmth of L'Auberge, and dinner.

We've walked 12 miles today, sailed 30, and have been up since 5am. Tomorrow, I promise everyone, we'll take it easy.