02 Sep Corsica – Bandit Counrty
‘Les Courses comme Les Anglais’, the elderly of the two gentlemen gave one of those Gallic shrugs while souring his mouth in mock ignorance. I’d met these two French gentlemen in the campsite at Menton. They’d just finished the GR52 and had asked me where I’d been and where I was going. They had no English but I had enough le stylo de ma tante est sur la table de mon oncle to get by in French on easy topics like hiking or ordering beer. When I revealed I was off to Corsica to do the GR20 their response was to lump the Corsicans in with the English – rebels, Brexiteers and bandits!
Mind you, I almost didn’t make it over here. The train ride from Menton to Nice followed by a mild 20 minute tab to the port went very smoothly. The Corsican Ferries boat had just come in and the e-ticket on the phone plus my passport got me through security and baggage screening. But, it was my Nike running shorts that nearly did for me. Those of us who were foot passengers were corralled into a side tent while a young plump Corsica Ferries woman re-checked our tickets and gave us our boarding passes. Except not me.
‘You cannot like that go on board,’ she said.
‘Ave you any shorts you can put on?’ She said, pointing at the longer shorts others were wearing.
‘No.’ I lied, ‘These are shorts.’ I pulled up my T shirt to give her a proper eye full of a normal pair of running shorts. Everyone else was a bit puzzled too. Maybe she was some kind of style Nazi who thought I was showing too much leg.
So, I just played the dumb Brit, ‘No. This is all I’ve got.’ Like, are you seriously not going to let me on your manky ferry because my shorts aren’t good enough for you?
Instead I gave her a quick uppercut to jaw, verbally mind you, ‘Sorry, are we in France or is this Saudi Arabia?’
‘Here is your boarding pass, sir!’
When I got on board most of the passengers were virtually stripped naked and sunbathing on the upper decks.
Apart from the Corsica Ferries style fascist, it was a great crossing. What a way to travel to Corsica. You can fly from Nice to Calvi in 40 minutes or enjoy a smooth six hour cruise over to Île Rousse for €31. We left at 08.45 and docked at 14.45.
The first thing that grabs you about the north Corsican coast is that it’s all about tourism, with prices to rival the Côte d’Azure. I mooched about Île Rousse for a couple of hours waiting for the 17.45 train to Calvi.
What a surprise and entertainment that was – a narrow gauge railway with a kind of two-carriage Toy Town train – no seats, just standing room only – chugs along the north coast several times a day between Île Rousse and Calvi for €6, comparing very favourably to the €60 taxi fare for 22kms. The track cuts through the mountains that drop to the sea and then hugs the perimeter of Calvi bay, periodically stopping to drop off or pick up beachgoers. Of course, when the train is static it’s oven-like, murderously hot and airless. When it starts moving the through flow of air puts everyone in a better mood – a kind of thermal sweet and sour experience. I was glad I was wearing my indecent Nike running shorts.
Presently we passed Camp Raffalli, the home of the fabled 2ème Regiment Etranger de Parachutistes, 2eREP, or French Foreign Legion Paras. Although they had a pretty glorious if on occasion mutinous history in Indochina and Algeria, they shot to fame in the public imagination in May 1978 when they and their Belgian counterparts mounted an audacious airborne operation into Kolwezi in southern Zaire to prevent their nationals being massacred.
This was an impressive example of force projection and came in the nick of time for the Parachute Regiment in Britain, where its army, ever resentful of elites in that boringly socialist and parochial sort of way, was looking at ways to get rid of the Paras on the grounds that military parachuting had supposedly had its day. The 2eREP action at Kolwezi helped to reverse that thinking – begrudgingly. In fact, the French more than any other nation have not been shy of regularly using their Paras as a force de frappe in taking on Islamic terrorists across the Sahel region. Good for them!
I have particularly fond memories of 2eREP at Sarajevo airport and the PTT building during the long hot summer siege of 1993. 2eREP were the resident UN battalion tasked with securing Sarajevo airport for the airlift of aid into the city. They did a great job and I made some close friends among the English-speaking contingent. Those friendships have endured. There’s something about a siege.
The strange thing about Camp Raffalli was that the last time I’d been into the place was as a security contractor working on CBS’s The Amazing Race. That was back in 2005, Season 7, I think. So, my job was to ensure that our crazy contestants didn’t run around all over the parade square like Halal chickens looking for the clue box that would take them to the next task. God knows why 2eREP even allowed the show onto the camp, but it did. The parade square is, I was informed, sacred ground with dead Legionnaires buried underneath.
I’ve forgotten the exact details of that part of the show because I was too traumatised from my crash course in Ajaccio bay in Jules Verne 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea deep sea diving. I’d been required to check out the safety in that show’s ‘fast forward’ (whichever contestants successfully complete the ‘fast forward’ task go straight to the finish). On this occasion they had to get dressed up in old fashioned deep sea diving gear complete with massive lead boots, weights and brass helmet and then lower themselves to the seabed in search of a lobster pot containing the clue that would enable them to the finish early.
Sounds a simple health and safety gig to check out, right? A producer called Barry Hennessey was running the ‘fast forward’. We agreed we’d both get the gear on – which involved being dressed by the company hiring out the gear in the sweltering heat in mid-summer. No joke in lead boots, thick rubber and that massive brass helmet. This was not for claustrophobics! That’s Barry on the left and me on the right in the pic below.
The oxygen was supplied by two blokes on the rig literally manually pumping bellows – great 🙁
To prevent the suit overfilling with air and blowing up like a Michelin man you had to continually depress a valve in the helmet with your head to vent oxygen. This is pretty critical because if you forget to do it the suit blows up and the helmet’s valve becomes out of reach of your head as you disappear into the suit. The twats on the bellows don’t know what’s going on so the first they see of the problem is when you break surface like a killer whale. To make matters even worse the gear was all Russian circa 1965 and the fuckers operating the bellows were smoking. So I got gassed as well. Barry, I might add, never made it into the water. For him it was all too claustrophobic. But, despite the impediments I managed to retrieve the clue. So, the fast forward was doable, but with some alterations – like bollocking the prats smoking at the bellows. So, yeah, that’s how I became a deep sea diver in Corsica!
And here I am again, 14 years on with fond memories of 2eREP at Sarajevo over a quarter of a century ago and less fond memories of deep sea diving in Ajaccio bay. But, as I look at the mountains – a really jagged skyline in the dawn light – I’m really excited about starting the GR20 on Wednesday 4th. After doing the GTA in 18 days and watching my feet and ankles blow up like…like an out of control deep sea diver, I’d indicated that I’d be happy to ‘mooch’ around Corsica for a few weeks, doing the GR20 in as long as 21 days.
But, I wasn’t being entirely honest with myself or you, the reader. It’s not in my DNA to mooch around aimlessly. I’ve worked with Dr. Carol Pearson’s archetypes since 2006. In fact, I’m a qualified coach in the system so know it rather well. I won’t bore you with the theory, but we’re all born with these archetypal patterns within us. They’re like apps. We trigger them to perform useful functions, and they mature as we experience life. Think of them as software programmes loaded onto your human operating system.
Of the twelve master archetypes, one will be your core archetype, and four others will be your supporting cast. The core archetype determines why you do what you do in life and the supporting cast of four define how you do it – your style, if you like.
My core archetype is The Warrior. Small wonder then that I joined the Parachute Regiment and actually enjoyed my 10 year legal war with the British MOD and government. The Warrior likes a good fight and is typically on a mission, usually for the benefit of others. The Warrior in us is how we achieve our results in life. It’s not just about fighting and winning (a quite low expression of the archetype) but it’s about goal-setting and goal-getting, grit, determination, results and mastery.
When I got to Calvi last Friday, saw the mountains and spurred on by the fact that the GR20 is reputed to be Europe’s hardest long distance trail, I thought I can’t just go up there and bumble around for three weeks, aimlessly. That’s just really offensive to The Warrior archetype. There has to be a goal, a mission, Ninja’s to race, and preferably some dragons to slay along the way. So, fuck the ‘mooching around’. There is a mission. In the absence of Ninjas to chase me down, I’ll kind of stick to the guidelines and do this thing in 14 days, shit or bust, and finish on a really appropriate day – 17th September, Arnhem Day. Exactly 75 years to the day since the British 1st Airborne Division jumped into Arnhem and the history books. A good day to finish, I’d say.
When you join the Parachute Regiment you’re almost forced to learn by heart Field Marshal Montgomery’s lurid and evocative description of the British Airborne. Famously, it begins with, ‘What manner of men are these that wear the maroon beret?…and ends with, ‘they are in fact – men apart – every man an emperor.’
But, that is not the end of the Montgomery quote. People in the Parachute Regiment get fixated by the ‘every man an emperor’ bit, which I’ve always found somewhat lurid and contrived. There is in fact a whole final paragraph to Monty’s quote that many in the Parachute Regiment won’t even be aware of, which actually not only sums up the very essence of the Regiment but also answers Monty’s own question, ‘What manner of men are these who wear the maroon beret?…’
‘…Of all the factors which make for success in battle, the spirit of the warrior is the most decisive. That spirit will be found in full measure in the men who wear the maroon beret.’
It’s GR20, D-2. The sun’s up over Calvi bay. It’s not even 9am and it’s already hot. This heat will be a significant factor on this gig. I’ve watched the pattern over the last few days. The heat builds up during the day and releases mid-afternoon in quite savage thunder and lightening storms in the mountains. And then they dissipate quickly.
I’m just about done with ‘saturation’ – resting, eating, hydrating, packing, culling gear of non-essentials, again. Carbo-loading has been an essential task that I’ve applied myself to with real warrior dedication – beer. There’re loads of carbs in beer, right? Ideal.
So, tomorrow, D-1, I’ll move out of my assembly area here in Calvi and up to the forming up place in the village of Calenzana and then I’ll cross the start line at some stage early morning on D-Day, Wednesday 4th of September.
Thereafter, it’s a case of ‘Na powes!’ as we say in Cornish.
NB, I’ll have the LiveTrack satellite thingy enabled to chirp every 30mins so you’re welcome to sit back, glass in hand, and cheer me on from your armchair either on the home page of this site or on https://eur-share.inreach.garmin.com/TatianasGambol