The Mountain Goat

November 8, 2010

This was an astounding day!  I learned Melinda has been covering up part of her heritage.  There is no doubt about it now – she is definitely part mountain goat!  She is also my hero!!  Today she actually climbed a mountain, and a big one too.  I managed to get up about three-quarters of the way, maybe a little bit more, but she made it to the tippity top.  Now I promise you, this was not only a tall and steep mountain, it wasn’t like walking up on a primrose path.  The way up was steep, and there was a path, sorta’.  It was roughly carved out of rocks, and some of it was worn down by people’s feet.  The brush had been slightly cleared away from the sides.  Actually, the more I think about it, steep isn’t quite enough.  When the path was made, rather than wind up the mountain, whoever made it decided the shortest way to the top was straight up.

We left Porto Vecchio early in the AM and made our way north, where we had come from the day before, to visit the Bronze Age Casteddu d’Araggiu. The guide books described this as a castle and a Neolithic village next to each other, perhaps existing at the same time.

On the way out of Porto Vecchio I spotted a Leonidas store, the fabulous Belgian chocolatier.  Somehow the car just turned itself into a parking in front of the store.  Odd how French cars can do that.  A box of goodies to go and a hot chocolate later we were back on the road.
The turn-off from the main wasn’t far outside of Porto Vecchio and signs pointed to the Neolithic site and castle.  It was off an empty road, everything around was closed and we parked the car where indicated.  We didn’t see anything that looked like a site until we asked a guy with a shovel and he pointed behind him.  There was an arrow pointing to “site” and a dirt path.  We expected to walk a little ways and took the path as it wound through someone’s back yard and onto another path that was a bit muddy after the rain but not too bad as the soil was very sandy.

Up it went.   Us too.  We walked it for about fifteen minutes and it seemed to go straight up.  This was not easy going, over rocks, hanging onto bushes or shrubs we could grab as we steadily climbed.  Along both sides of the path was a stone wall.  It was a very primitive road, obviously built long before the Romans got there.  After about forty-five minutes of straight up we stopped to catch our breath.  And we looked down.  Whew!  We had gone a long way up.  We could see the sea that was about fifteen miles away.  We could make out traffic on the road below but we couldn’t hear it.  And we thought it was going to be a short walk to a pile of rocks in a field!

We kept going and got to a flat part that was easy going for a change.  At that point I was sure the castle and village must be right around the corner.  What was around was a higher peak set back a bit.  You couldn’t see it on the way up.  Merde!  Looking up I saw rocks piled up on the top of this second peak.  It was steeper and harder going.  We had to hold on to anything at the sides.  Our lovely and comforting stone wall that I had been clinging to on the way up didn’t go to the second part.

Sitting for a minute and looking down, we saw the ocean clearly spread out in front of us, but the cars below had turned into ants and we could no longer make out people,  cattle or sheep in the fields.  That was when the wind picked up. It came in gusts and then stopped.  I was done in.  Everything hurt and I felt like I couldn’t drag this ancient body up one more rock.  But damn, Melinda took off like a gazelle and said she was going to see what it was like further on and I should wait for her.  I sat on a rock and thought of mountain climbing at my age!  I never wanted to mountain climb at any age and here I was.  Damn again!

I looked around at the rocks, a pink and grey granite, the soil was still sandy.  The rocks were cut in jagged straight patterns, some flat and rectangular like stairs, others haphazard and facing every which direction.  Other rocks were rounded and soft looking and I could imagine centuries filled with feet climbing over them.

Corsica was attacked by every seafaring nation cruising the Mediterranean the last four thousand years.  Each one came to the beautiful beaches, protected harbors, and decided it was a great place to drop anchor and see how good the pickin’s were.  The result was the Corsicans cannily taking to the high ground.  If someone was intent enough on raping and pillaging, they had to work for it.  And find the booty to boot.  It would not have been easy finding this castle.  And I could imagine the guys at the top giving the finger while pitching rocks down on the hapless invaders struggling up the hill and cursing every step.  Sort of like I was.

So there I sat on the side of mountain thinking about ancient history.  Then I started to worry.  Melinda had been gone a long time…at least a half-hour, maybe more.  The mountain is silent other than the wind.  The wind made itself known with its sibilant threat quite a time before it curls itself around the peaks to arrive with fury.  It was getting hard to stand.  So I sat.  Maybe I’ll go a little higher, I thought.  We weren’t dressed for this adventure.  I was wearing those backless trainer clogs, no socks.  My handbag was slung over my chest and I had on a raincoat and a hat.  It had been cold so I also had a huge red scarf, wanting to be French and in style, you know.  The raincoat was like wearing a plastic bag.  When I took it off, it was soaked on the inside.  I folded it up and did the same with my handbag, putting both items in my large scarf, which I wrapped like a bandeau around one shoulder and under the other.  It left my hands free and kept the stuff from banging into me when I tried to climb.  I went up again, and up, and up.  It still looked a long way to the top.  I sat and looked down.  I couldn’t see the cows in the field anymore and the cars were gone too.  The ocean was even bigger than before.  Turning around, I went back up, hoping to catch Melinda on the way down.  She had been gone a long time.  Then I faced it.  Straight up.  I would have to use both hands and feet to try and scale this one.   Nuhunh.  I plopped down on another rock.  It started to rain.  How the hell was I going to get down in the rain?  I took my raincoat out and covered myself with it, crouching on a rock under a bit of scrub tree.  The rain stopped.  I looked at the wall of rock.  No way.

Very slowly I turned and started to make my way down.  After about fifteen minutes of very slow going I heard Melinda.  I could forget about all the emergency plans I had been making about getting the police or mountain dogs to go up and bring her back down.  I would have heard her if she fell, wouldn’t I?  I wasn’t sure, the wind drowned out all sound.

I waited on the flat part of the path, about half-way.  Finally she showed up.  She was wearing a silk sweater over a lace short sleeved top.  We both did have jeans on, and she had a raincoat and her handbag as well.  She had on a pair of Clark’s flat pumps.  We decided the next time we’d try mountain climbing we’d be more prepared, or maybe we’d find someone to carry us up?

When we finally got to the bottom and were on the road to the parking where our car was, I turned to her and said, maybe next time we’ll take the escalator they’ve installed on the other side of the mountain.  The look I got was not pretty.

But damn, she climbed an honest to goodness  mountain all by herself, and it wasn’t easy, but she got to the top!  I’m truly impressed.  It was time for a reward of some of those Leonidas chocolates.  They were well earned.

After tooling around looking for another megalith, we decided to head to Sartene.  This is where we will be going to see the menhir alignment, more than two hundred stone figures standing guard over the island for the last four thousand years.  There are several areas of them, and megaliths in the area.

Needless to say, we were starving so along the way I spotted a café/bar that was open.  Getting inside I knew we were in the wrong place.  There were two guys talking at a table in front and another two inside in a tiny room that was more like a hallway.  There was a woman bartender and I asked if they still had food to serve.  She went into the back to check and I nudged Melinda to look at the pictures on the wall.  There was a Che Guavara poster, a picture of a Corsican woman holding a loaf of bread in her hand as she incited a crowd of men to revolt, and the piece de resistance was a framed photo of a French police car and two French policemen with a young man in handcuffs standing by the car as he was being questioned. Hmmmm?

The woman came back, there was no food and I was happy to get out of there.  It looked to me like we could have ended up in the middle of a Corsican revolutionary shoot-out.  And everyone around is armed.  It’s hunting season and as we drive by there are cars parked at the side of the road with guys walking around with rifles and dogs.  We had seen the same thing the day before and I remembered it while on the mountain.  I had been thinking of going potty while waiting and decided to not bend over and give any of those hunters a large target to aim for!

The lady at the bar directed us to another place down the road that was opened and on arrival we asked if they had food. All that was left was lasagna and salad.  A cold beer with and it was a wonderful lunch.  Especially since it was homemade and a huge slab.  By then we were starving!

And  now we are in Sartene.  According to the guide books it’s the most Corsican of the villages and was called the Devil Village by everyone who came here for centuries.  It’s the home of the Corsican vendetta and was the last place known to have suffered from one.  There were times when vendettas were responsible for the deaths of over 900 people in a single year when entire population of the island was only 100,000 people.

There is nothing cheerful here in Sartene.  The houses don’t gracefully hang off the mountain in this perched village, they clutch at the rocks as if chained to them in a dungeon.  There are shutters, but not the lovely blues of the north.  These are drab and grey.  The houses are tall and imposing looking, but everything is unornamented and  looks scary.  Maybe it’s the fact that it’s foggy and about to rain, but Sartene seems to be living up to its reputation.

After stopping at the Tourist Office, I was advised that there were only two hotels open at this time of year.  We had passed one and it was closed so, duh!  We are now at the only game in town, and happy!  We have a nice big room that looks out over the mountains from a corner French door.  We are really high up and the view is spectacular, or at least it will be if the sun comes out.  Our hosts and greeters at the hotel are two charming gentlemen, one is a beige monster who I think is a mastiff, the other an overgrown black lab.  They gave us a sniff and a nod, then went back to their job of snoozing in front of the door.  This way everyone who enters has to walk over them.  Good going guys!  Keep us safe and don’t let the devils get us!

We have a clean room, a big bathroom, internet and a bar downstairs.  What more can you ask?

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