Sea & Mountains: Adventures in Corsica on the Tra Mare e Monti Trail  21-30 October 2005
map caption The longest day of the hike. Today we have to cross two mountain ranges which lie between Curzu and Ota.
photo caption Early morning in Partinello. Looking west over the Golfe de Porto. You can see the red rocks of Scandola in the distance on the right.
photo caption A cemetery on the outskirts of Partinello.
photo caption A close-up view of the bark of the laricio pine.
photo caption And this is looking up. A hall of pines towers over the trail near Capu San Petru.
photo caption Prickly! Will gingerly shows off one of the thousands of chestnut pods which litter the path.
photo caption Descending Capu San Petru. The view across the Porto river valley.
photo caption Behind us, the south flank of Capu San Petru stands shrouded in mist.
photo caption A close-up of the cliff shown above. The rocks here have eroded into some fantastic shapes!
photo caption Rounding Capu d'Ota at dusk. The light is fading fast, but we still have an hour to go.
When the going gets tough ...
Wednesday, October 26th  If you'd asked me on Monday which of our group could hold their liquor best, I'd have guessed it would be Ed (he having grown up in Siberia, that icy land of vodka and hard drinking).

But unfortunately, to say that Dominic's acqua vita of the night before had disagreed with him is an understatement: he simply won't get out of bed! Jonica's feeling chipper, although a bit weary in the foot department.

We weigh this up and decide that today should be a rest day for anyone who wants a break. At breakfast I slip Dominic a few euros to drive Ed, Irina, and Jonica down to the beach at Porto for a day by the seaside.

Will and I then set off on the longest day of the walk. Two daunting mountain ranges stand between us and dinner in Ota, where we intend to rendezvous with the rest of the gang around seven this evening.

It's a glorious day as we leave the road at Partinello, the next village along from Curzu. We pass a cemetery surrounded by a pasture full of cattle, their cowbells chiming gently in the fresh early morning air (listen). The path follows rolling hills and descends a steep rocky route. As the day heats up, we spot lizards emerging from their hiding places to sun themselves on rock ledges.

Will and I stock up on lunch supplies at Serriera. It's siesta time when we reach the village, but the tiny general store is open. There's a ten-minute pause while the shopkeeper — a spry woman of 94 — painstakingly tallies up the cost of our salami, cheese, peanuts, etc.

Now it's goodbye to Serriera and its three mangy resident dogs. Some old gossiping men at a picnic bench give us a friendly salute as the two of us grit our teeth and head out to tackle the day's second, higher mountain range.

We must be getting used to the trail, because we make great time up to the summit of Capu San Petru – elevation 3200', and the highest point on our route. With the high ground comes new vegetation; we enter the zone of the laricio pine, elegant trees clad in a deeply indented bark of a rich burgundy hue. They tower 100-150 feet above the path, creating a cathedral-like effect.

Higher still are the sweet chestnut trees. Ripe chestnuts fall all around us, thumping to earth every few seconds. It sounds idyllic until you get hit by one; the avocado-sized pods which contain the nuts are festooned with needle-sharp spines.

Our descent into Ota takes longer than expected. The going is tough, involving much scrambling over large boulders and criss-crossing of minor ravines. As the sun slips toward the distant sea horizon, the light reflected from the red cliffs around us casts the entire mountain slope in an umber glow.

Soon we start to see creatures — weird creatures — looming at us out of a twisted, Gaudiesque rock face. Simultaneously, Will and I spot a man's profile etched into the cliff, then the next second that of a wild boar. Was this the curse of Dominic's moonshine back to revisit us? No, just a Rorschach test writ large: erosion has carved this mountainside into a crowded tableau of sedimentary figures.

It's now dark. Headlamps on. One last bend of the trail and the welcoming lights of Ota twinkle on the hillside below. We reunite with the well-rested trio of Jonica, Irina and Ed for a filling meal of zucchini and boar at Chez Félix, our hostel for the night.

Next day: the canyon path to Evisa.