How I look back from my trip 5 months later


Posted: Sat, Feb 9, 2019, 16:15

I always wanted to make a trip report and post it here, but I didn't, because I failed. When I was back, I thought it was a lost holiday. I didn't want to keep the memories and I never made a photo book. But now I look at it different. So here is my story. It's a long one, so if you're not interested, don't read it.

I'm 25 years old and live in Belgium. English is not my mother language, so excuse my for bad English or writing mistakes.
I walked the GR20 in september 2018, because in June there is a possibility of snow on the highest points, july and august are really crowded, but the guide did not seem to mention anything wrong with september (In reality september is the month with the most chance of thunderstorms)

I decided about a year ago that I was going to do a trekking on my own in Corsica. I had red about the GR20 after looking for long distance trails in Europe. I chose the GR20, because it could be done in only 2 weeks. Most other treks require months. I only can take 2 weeks of at work.
When I was reading, I found out there is a north and a south and after buying a guide book, I had decided to walk the 'easy' south. I planned very well. I still don't think I had too much gear with me. My pack weighed 12 kg, tent included. Even if my planning was excellent, my training was not. Three weeks before I left, I went running every day, so I would not get out of breath too much. And I now it helped. I never got out of breath on the path. There was another thing that made me fail, a thing I didn't count in, but I'll tell you later.

The day I left I felt confident. The pack did not weigh as much as I tought. I felt ready and was exited. This was my very first holiday on my own. My parents and grandparents thought I was crazy. A girl alone in the woods. About every week my grandparents asked if I was alone. every time I said, no, I won't be alone. The path is full with other people. Thousand of people do it every year. The only difference is that there all strangers to me. I didn't know anybody there. But I would never be alone!

I arrived in Ajaccio. For the Main City in Corsica the airport was really small. After taking a bus to the centre, I looked for the tourist office. But It wasn't at the adress that I looked up. Also Google maps send me to the same place as where it should have been. But I didn't really needed the tourist office. I only wanted to know if I really had to walk 45 minutes to the closest camping. So after walking through the streets of Ajaccio, I walked back to the bus station, where the train station was, looked at the train hours, if they where the same as on my planning and then I walked to the camping. I put up my tent and left the camping to find something to eat. I was afraid I had to go al the way back to the city to find something, but about 15 minutes from the camping (in the neighbourhood of the supermarket) I found a pizzeria. I ordered a pizza ans a drink and felt uncomfortable for the first time. Eating on your own is no fun. After dinner I went back to the camping, took a shower and looked at my guide book again. I wrote about my day on the back of the papers where my planning was up and read in my book until it was dark. I slept really good that first night. I was up at dawn, because I had an early train and the trains only go once or twice a day, so I couldn't miss it. I arrived early (the camping is higher than the train station, so it's only 30 minutes down instead of 45 minutes up). I drank some orange juice at a terrace and waited. At the train station, I bought my ticket and on the train I ate my breakfast (and charged my phone). The views from the train are very beautiful. I didn't want to read in my book, because I was afraid it was going to end before I started the trip. I didn't take a big heavy book for the weight, but no book at all was no option for me. At arrival in Vizzavona, it wasn't hard to find the camping spot, it's aside the train rails. My first thought it was going to be a bad night with al the trains passing at night, but there are maybe 4 trains a day, and none of them at night! After I instlled myself I looked around in the village, but there is litterly not more then what trekkers need. So I walked to some waterfalls I read about in the guide. I expected a big waterfall, but there was not much water at all. I followed the crowd of people, hoping that maybe the 'real' waterfull was further along, but it wasn't. I rested up on a rock in the sun, with my feet in the icecold water and left 15 minutes later. On my way back I stopped at a bar for tourist to eat lunch (where I had to wait a really long time, before I got something). I returned back and started a second walk. It was mentioned in my guide book of the gr20, but I couldn't find anything online about it. Near the train tracks however, there is a shed (tourist office of Vizzavona?), that was closed, but on the window I did find the information for this walk. But I was the only one doing this and why? Because the caves you're supposed to see drawings of people living there tenthousand years ago, are just caves with nothing to see. But is was quiet there! I was wondering what I was going to do for the rest of the day. I walked back to the camping and red in my book until it was 6 and the earliest hour to go eat something. I walked in the hotel de Vizzavona (and felt seriously underdressed) to eat. Again I felt very lonely and I barely ate something. To me it was a waste of money for the amount I ate, but I was going to start this trip tomorrow, so I couldn't skip a meal. After dinner, I waited in line to take a shower. I took a shower in the dark, because the light constantly fel out (because everyone was charging there phone at 1 or 2 electricity points) and there was no warm water anymore (So take a shower before dinner if you are there).

The next day I thought I was up early, but I wasn't. A lot of people must have left in the dark. But I didn't want to walk in the dark and arrive early in the afternoon to be bored on the next camp site. I wanted to see something when I walked! I bought a bread and a sausicce for lunch and left. The first kilometer was the same as the way so the waterfall. The second was probably the hardest (loose rocks uphill) and from the on, the walk itself wasn't difficult at al. The difficult part for me was the backpack and how slow I walked. The guide said that after 3 hours I reached the highest point of today and that was where I was going to take a first break and eat breakfast. In reality I had to stop much earlier and probably took a break every half our. Not because I was out of breath, but because of the backpack. Eventually I reached the highest point after maybe 4 hours. When I had left the trees behind me, I lost my way, because there was no longer just 1 path. There were several paths and some of them made my sheep or goats, so I had to wait until somebody past me and then I followed that person. But when I was standing on that mountain I was already proud of myself. I didn't stay too long, becaue it was cold there and I could see clouds bumping up the hill and go over it. It was beautiful to see, but about half an our later, I found out that the noise was not the clouds bumping the hill, but it was thunder. It came closer and closer. At 1 point there was fog everywhere and I couldn't see 5 meters before me. And then the rain started. Luckily it was only downhill now, so I could walk faster, but not much people where behind me anymore and I felt alone with the thunder right next to me. The panic started only when I sam trees that had burned before and lightning hitting the ground right in front of me. I'm normally not scared of a thunderstorm, but now I was. I reached a shed. The guide book said that it was only 1 hour to the end point of my day, but at that point the rain was only getting worse and a man saw me and welcomed me in his shed. He lived there during the summer. I am not good in French and they speak a dialact of it in Corsica, so I couldn't understand what he was saying. I felt uncomfortable and wanted to leave, but he didn't let me. He said it was dangerous and that I had to wait until it stopped raining. But I was more afraid of him or having to spend the night with him or having to walk in the dark, so when I heard the rained getting less intense, I left, even when the men said I should come back inside. The rain almost immediatly began to get harder again, but I didn't care anymore. I was more afraid with that man then on my own. It took me longer than an hour to reach E Capanelle. But I was so glad I reached it. It was getting dark already. And I was probably the last one to arrive. But I really didn't want to sleep in my tent tonight. I asked (in my best french) if there was a bed available and there was 1 more available. I took it, even though I had to share a room with 11 other strangers. I also ordered a meal. I had to ask for the way to the shed and when I got there, I found out that it was only a little better than a tent, but it had a rood, so I and my stuff were going to stay dry. The only bed left was the top of a bunk bed and there were no ladders. Somebody helped me to get up there. It was litterly 6 bunk bed next to each other. If you roll at night, you could end up hugging a stranger in the morning ;)
At the dinner table I got paired up with 2 friends who also started in Vizzavona. They were from the states, so I was glad I could speak English with them. I felt a little better because of them and they gave me the strength to go on. They had a plan where they would go on a Mare a Mare trip that crossed the GR20 in a few days. That way it was shorter and you ended up closer to Ajaccio. Then I would not have to take a really long bus ride. And at my tempo I would have to end the trip earlier to get my plane back home. When I came back in the dormitory everybody was asleep already and I had to make it into the bunk bed on my own. It was a struggle more difficult then walking al day!
The next morning I had no idea where the next stage started, so I packed my stuff and looked my new route up in my guide book until the others left and I knew where to go. The first kilometer it goes up over rocks and a small person like me had trouble finding where I could place my feet. For the first time I was really glad I had walking sticks! I didn't want to take them for the weight, but was very glad I did and the weight was no problem, because I was always holding them! Because of the rain everything was slippery. The first checkpoint of the day was only a half an our and mostly downhill. This stage was supposed to be an easy one, but going downhill is much more dangerous than going up, so it took me much longer to reack that checkpoint at the bridge. It took me an hour and a half. Two times more then a regular person. It was there on that bridge that I knew I was going to quit. Tomorrow was a much harder and longer stage. If I would need two times more time to reach something, I would start during the dark and arrive during the dark and it was aready hard enough to find the waymarks now. There was no way I was going to do this. The rest of the day was not that hard anymore, it was even beautiful and I saw pigs, goats and salamanders, but my mood was down. The only thing I could thing of was: how much further is it to the next checkpoint? At least it didn't start raining so early! Maybe it was going to be dry, but about an hour before I reached Col de Verde, the rain started again and was accompagnied by the thunder and the lightning again. I changed in my wet clothes from yesterday, so I would have at least 1 dry outfit and didn't have to walk in my pyjama's tomorrow! I changed in the middle of the path, but there was no one around anymore. When I reached Bocca di Verde the sun was out again, so I decided to sleep in my tent tonight (there was not really another option even when I wanted to have a roof, because it was fully booked). Yesterday it had rained the whole afternoon, now it was only a half hour, so I thought that was it for today! Boy, was I wrong. When I had put up my tent, the rain started again. It didn't go over this time, so I ran through the rain to the showers. I didn't have the possibility to shower yesterday, so I really needed it know. It was cold and there was also wind and the waiting line was long. But the shower was warm. I took my guide book, planning and book to read inside the bar and waited there untill dinner was ready. I was sitting between a group of french people, so I couldn't understand anything and so dinner took al really long time. After it, the only thing I wanted to do was sleep. But it got wet inside my tent. I scooped everything to the dry side and put my only towel on the wet side. I put everything in my packpack, put the raincover over it again and then crowled in my sleeping bag. It was the first night I was really cold.
The next morning it was still raining, so I had to pack my bag in the rain. I had to put my wet tent in my backpack. And I left, not on the GR20, but on the road. I had seen in my guide and on my map that the road passing here leaded to a village where I could take a bus. My phone calculated that it was 18 km. So I had al day to reach that and tomorrow I was out of here, back to the sunny city! On my way several people stopped and asked if I wanted a ride, but I said no. What was I going to do all day if I took a ride? Eventually I reached the village after only a few hours ! This must be a record. I had walked about half the distance yesterday in double the time! I ate lunch (same bread and sausicce that I brought from Vizzavona) at the church and then I looked up where I could sleep here. I asked where the bus would stop tomorrow and then I left to the camping. I was the only one there, or so it seemed. I put up my tent in the sunshine to dry (it rained again later of course) and cleaned up my backpack and tent. Where did al the sand come from? Then I red in my book. I had lost my diary somewhere, so I didn't write it anymore and the guide book was useless since I quit the path. At 6 I went back to the village to find something to eat. I felt lonely again and I barely ate and I decided that from now on I would only eat something when I was hungry. I looked up on my phone if I could take a plane earlier, but I couldn't. By now the battery of my phone was almost empty, so I needed to charge it. I charged it while I took a shower, but I was afraid of leaving my phone there for the night. If someone stole it, I lost my connection with home. I couldn't risk it. I was able to charge my phone in Ajaccio again. The next mornig I had to get up even earlier, because the bus was coming. The day before I wanted to walk further to the next village and take a bus there, but now I was glas I didn't, because I was the first to get up the bus, but by the time we arrived at that village there was no place left anymore! The ride was horrible and I felt sick by the time we where in Ajaccio, but it was warm there! I decided to look for the tourist information again and this time, I found a paper on the window that the tourist information center was moved. I found it this time! I collected some flyers, found out I missed a lot of Ajaccio the first day and bought a ticket for a tourist train. Normally I would do it, but I was stuck here, so I had to make the best of it! I relaxed again on that train. I saw the beautiful city and I knew I was going to be okay. When the train was back, I killed 2 hours of time! I bought a post card and a stamp so I could let a friend know how I was doing. I ate lunch (bread from Vizzavona) at the beach, walked to the Ferris Wheel and bought a ticket for it. I had never been on a Ferris Wheel in my life and now I wanted to do it! After that I walked through the city again and began to walk uphill to the camping site. I didn't found a post office or mailbox to send my card, so I wrote it at the camping after I unpacked and I gave it to the lady at the reception. She said she was going to give it with the mail the next day, but the card didn't arrive until more then a month after I came back home! I washed everything that I could wash and hang it up to dry. Then I went to the supermarket and bought a 'just add water' meal and some Pringels. Back at the camping, I took some warm water that is normally used for doing dishes and added that to my food. I ate it and at the mean time, I used the last of my phone's battery to look up what I could do here, since there was no earlier plane home. I wanted to go around the island with a boat, but the boats only went to the coast of France or Italy, so no option to do that. In my guide book there where some other villages on the map, so I looked up what to do there and they looked just fine. After finding out that I could my a train ticket and drive around all week with that ticket, I had made up my mind. I was going to be a tourist !

I will keep it short from now on. I went to bastia the next day, then to Calvi, then Ile Rousse, Ponte Leccia and Corte. All of them where beautiful, except for Ponte Leccia. There is nothing to do out there, unless you have a car. The road to the camping site is dangerous on foot. Don't do it. In some villages I took the tourist train, in others I did everything on foor, but I didn't always had to carry my whole backpack. I could leave it behind at the camping site in the morning. If you want to know what to do or where to camp there, leave a reply and I will help you. If you want me to help you out with other questions, I will help.
I wanted to write my story here, so others would know the reality. I didn't finish the GR20, but it's not about finishing it. It's about doing it. Even when you are only there for 1 day and 1 night. It's the adventure. It's the memories. It's the first trip I did on my own and I came stronger out of it. Even when I failed, I enjoyed being on my own, doing things my way. My parents were angry when they found out I stopped eating proper meals after that day in the village where I took the bus. But I lost 5kg and now 5 months later, those 5 kg are still not back on. I found the strength of eating less and I'm only 2 kilo's away from heaving a healthy weight. Don't get me wrong, I was never really overweight, but I was reaching the maximum of a healthy BMI.

For those who are going to walk the GR20, good luck! For those who are going to quit the GR20, also good luck and don't blame yourself for quiting! A holiday is about making memories. But it's your job to make the memories good ones and to not let the bed ones ruin it!


Posted: Sun, Feb 10, 2019, 7:34

It sounds as if this was your first trip walking on a multi day route? I do also recall your earlier posts on here for information. I would say that to take on walking on any part of the GR20 without building up some experience of carrying a rucksack with all the kit is a big ask for anyone. If that is so then taking on the challenge of even the southern section on the GR20 is, for most of us, hard work.
However as you say you have had mostly a good experience and have probably seen more of the island in your wanderings than most of us with heads down fumbling our way from Calenzana down to Conca.
Maybe this is the beginning of desire to walk over multi day routes? There are so many GR's all over Europe for you to walk.
I live in Scotland and we had experience of walking and climbing there and further afield for many years before we went to Corsica so the challenge was within our fitness range.
Good luck for your adventures in the future.
perhaps you will find some images of the Southern GR20 within this blog.:-)

You have to keep clicking on More Posts to reach the Corsican walks.




Posted: Sun, Feb 10, 2019, 7:53

Hallo Anneke thanks for your thorough report. Wow. I'm sorry for your failed attempt, but you are not alone there. My very first attempt to the GR20 turned out to be everything I didn't want to. It was back in the pre-internet and pre-cell phone days. I went there alone with a HUGE backpack, unprepared and undocumented. From Vizzavona I took the wrong direction rightaway and ended up climbing Monte Oro with a 30 kg backpack. I survived that, came back to Vizzavona through the Cascades des Anglais changed my plans and did some tourists' tours.
What I'm trying to say is please don't give up. You have learned a lot from this experience and you can plan again a return and a new attempt. If you are determined enough you can do it. Only do it in July when the weather is more stable. Forget the "huge crowds" thing. I was there in July 2018, alone (not for choice) and it was a regular crowd. Which is also nice expecially if you travel on your own and wish some company. (This time I didn't shoot a video but took a lot of pictures. Here is the link to the gallery: ). I hope they will give you the strenght and determination to prepare for another attempt. There is a lot of information floating around on the Internet that will put you in the right perspective. Remember: the GR20 is not only a physical challenge; it's a mental one. If you have any questions, please ask.

Best luck for the next time



Posted: Sun, Feb 10, 2019, 15:06

Thank you for sharing your story Anneke. I can imagine doing the GR20, while raining a lot, will drain your stamina. I can only suggest to try it again, in juli, and maybe with a walking partner - for safety & fun.


Posted: Tue, Feb 12, 2019, 12:01

Maybe the GR20 wasn't the best choice for a first trek, but at least you survived and you can always make future plans taking into account what you learned. There are plenty more trails in the world. There are some things you need to remember. When it says it takes 4 hours to reach some place, and it takes you 5 hours, then what you do next time you read it takes 4 hours - just assume it will take 5 hours again. It works the other way. If someone does it in 3 hours it will probably take them 3 hours next time. Everyone walks at different speeds. I found the GR20 very hard the first time and easier the second time. I think the new high level route near Monte Cinto is now the hardest day of the whole trail.