Sailing in the Mediterranean – Corsica and Sardinia Stone Figures

What do you see?

The following photos of stone figures were collected while we sailed and explored the coastlines of Corsica and Sardinia and drove through the interior of Corsica.  The mountains are ever-present and magnificent.  Along the coast, and for a surprising distance inland, salt from the Mediterranean has contributed to a unique kind of stone erosion that creates endless variations in shape.  The air carries with it salt that deposits itself on the rock surfaces.  The salt forms crystals in fissures within the rock that expand and, over centuries, carve out portions of the rock.  Some of the stone figures I have photographed were created in this manner.  Others, via various ways stones form and erode.
Take a look at some of the more fanciful ones I have photographed and let me know what you see.

Sailing around Corsica – Pianottoli-Caldarello and the Figari Airport


As we approached the Pianotolli-Caldarello marina, we needed to dodge dozens of wind surfers and kite boarders that were zigging and zagging across the marina entrance.

We were too busy keeping out of
the way of the wind surfers and
kite boarders to take a photo of the
whole crazy scene but this wind surfer
off the port side almost ran into us.
Pianotolli-Caldera marina Captainarie office

Just beyond the gauntlet we were met by a young woman who provided detailed directions as to how we would be docking.  Subsequently, she was very helpful, particularly when translation from English to Corsican French and vice versa was needed.

The Pianottoli-Caldarello marina is a relatively small marina with few amenities.  Water and electricity are provided.  Showers are available, but require some kind of key that we were not given.  A shuttle is available to take you to town for provisioning, laundry, or any other of your particular needs.  The shuttle costs 2.5 euros and runs every hour.

Our plan was to leave Ice Floe at the marina while we spent the next day and a half seeing what we could of the interior of Corsica.  We were informed at check-in that the only way to get to the airport was by taxi and we were provided with a list of 8 phone numbers for local taxis.  It was around 15 km (~9 miles) from the marina to the airport terminal, even though you could almost see the end of the runway from the marina.

That evening I made several calls to the taxi services and left messages.  The following morning, after calling all the numbers, some more than once, we reached 2 live.  One gentleman indicated it would not be possible and one woman indicated that we should call the airport taxi – she said the local cabbies, as a courtesy, defer to them for rides to the airport.  I called the airport taxi line and left several messages with increasing urgency.  None of my messages were ever returned.  On top of everything, my cell phone signal was not very good and some conversations were cut off and calls dropped.

I spoke to an individual in the Captainarie office and asked for assistance but she indicated she could not help me and was decidedly not friendly.  This was the first instance in the many months we have spent in France that I was treated rudely and to say I was getting discouraged does not begin to cover it.  We decided we would take the shuttle that was on its way to town as we expected we would have better reception and luck from there.

Well… we did not.  If we were fortunate to connect with a live person, the moment they learned we needed to be picked up from Pianottoli-Caldarello, the answer was “It is not possible”.  Following one conversation it became clear that the cab driver could / would pick us up from the Figari Spar Supermarché, but could / would not pick us up from the Pianottoli-Caldarello Spar Supermarché.

George consulted two map apps to see how far it was from the Pianottoli-Caldarello Spar Supermarché to the Figari Spar Supermarché and said there was one route that was 2.1 miles and another that was considerably longer.  The difference was the short route showed a small road that the other didn’t.  It was in the 90s, but we had full hot cups of tea so we set off on foot.

These occasions, when we have the chance to see more of a country than the coast, are often a great opportunity to broaden our knowledge of a region.  This walk was no exception.  Our first discovery was a Cork Oak tree.  Of course, George immediately recognized it and knew quite a bit about cork  (doesn’t everyone?).  Well now I do, too.  First of all, all cork comes from these trees.  Corsica has many, many orchards of Cork Oak trees, as well as Cork Oaks in forests and in people’s yards.  On this walk, and our subsequent drive through Corsica, we never saw a large Cork Oak that had not had its bark harvested.  The cork bark protects the tree in fires.

Cork tree – note the bark, which is cork, is stripped from the trunk
of the tree up to the first limbs
Cork Oaks are cultivated in Spain, Portugal, Algeria, France, Italy, and Tunisia.  The trees can live to over 200 years.  The first harvest of cork is typically when a tree is 25 years old and then every decade, or so, afterward.  The cork bark regrows.  All cork harvesting is done by hand.
The best cork is used to make wine stoppers.  A high quality cork wine stopper is made from a single plug cut from the outer to inner portion of the bark.  Some cork stoppers are made of cork pieces glued together with a “food-quality” polyurethane – often a slice of cork “veneer”  is glued to the end that comes in contact with the wine.  Many other cork products are also made from pieces of cork or ground cork.  George found a really interesting article on cork if you have interest to learn more.
Another observation is that the roads had quite a lot of litter strewn about.  In particular, cigarette butts and cartons.  It is so dry and hot in this region from May through September it is a wonder that it has not all burned to the ground.  None-the-less, there was a bright side to this discovery.  I have wanted to fill you in on the types of health warnings found on French cigarettes for some time.  When Margaret and Burt were visiting, I took Margaret into a Tabac shop to show her the cigarette packs.  I snapped a quick picture before a store employee stepped into view.  I tried to explain my interest by stammering “cigarette packages in the US don’t look anything like this.”  He responded dryly “You are in France.”  With that we took our leave.Smoking continues to be a prevalent habit in France, but it puts the US Surgeon General’s Warning that “cigarettes can be hazardous to your health” to shame.  Check out the health risks graphically displayed on cigarette packs in France below.

These are the entire front cover of each cigarette pack.  There are no other graphics – no advertisements – no logos.
There are lots more variations, but these are a good representation.

Back to our hike

The map app directions were simple to follow and matched road signs that were pointing us in the direction of the airport.  At around the 2 mile mark, our map app guide told us to turn right.  The problem was there was no road.  As we continued to walk, she said the now infamous “You have arrived at your destination”.  We knew we were close to the airport as we could see planes taking off and landing.  George was certain he could see the airport terminal right about where we thought it would be if the road shown on the map app existed.  Hmmmm
You have arrived at your destination
Both George and I saw portions of a dirt road out in a field and began to wonder if this road once connected to the one we were on.  In the absence of this road, we were looking as another ~4 miles to get to the terminal and we were already hot, sweaty, and very late for picking up the car.  We decided to go with our hunch and bushwhack through a field to this dirt road.
It is too late to say “to make a long story short”, so I will just continue to ramble on.  We bushwhacked through many subsequent fields – at times along dirt roads – more often on cow paths.  We climbed over 4 barbed wire fences and circumvented a wide swampy ditch (bright side is we saw froggies).  The sole of one of my shoes came loose – flapping from my toes to the heel (thank goodness for George and duck tape).  We were filthy from sweat and dust and seriously concerned about dehydration.  George contemplated turning back but I would not even consider the idea.
George forging ahead to scope out where we are
This cow did not make it to the airport
Not every barbed wire fence came with a
broken ladder.
Swampy ditch with hundreds of frogs
We got to see this really cool bug.  I was less excited when I found one on my shoulder.  It is as big as it looks.
Trees never give up and we didn’t either
Finally, about 4 hours after we started, we got to the Figari Spar Supermarché.  We each drank a quart of water – ate a croissant, a peach, and a plum (first food of the day) and sat on a bench for about a half hour.  I then called a taxi to take us to the airport – I connected with one of the taxi drivers I had spoken with in the morning who had said “It is not possible” and he came and picked us up.
Spar Supermarché – Figari
On the way to the airport the cabbie confessed that he recognized my voice (most likely my French) from a request for a ride earlier in the day.  We let him know we had walked and I like to think he felt a little bit bad.  He let us know that none of the cabbies want to go out to Pianottoli-Caldarello and that we should not expect it to be easy to get a ride back when we returned the car.
When we did return the car, several cabbies turned us down – had it not been that someone else was having the same trouble, and a cabbie agreed to take us all for double pay, we might still be there!!!
Marilla and Mitch will fly into the Figari airport in September.  It is a good thing they pack light.  Dad will draw them a map to save time in the event they can’t get a cab.

Sailing Around Corsica – Anchoring between Ajaccio and Pianottoli-Caldarello

Ajaccio to Pianottoli-Caldarello

We left Ajaccio with full tanks of diesel and water, all our laundry done, and food to last for quite a while.  We were headed to a marina in Pianottoli-Caldarello because it is close to the Figari airport and we were renting a car at the airport to spend a couple of days exploring the interior of Corsica.
We decided to anchor out each evening for this trip.  Between our solar panels and water conservation measures, we have become increasingly independent of the need to stay in marinas.  We had been enjoying a run of moderate winds that were ideal for sailing and we were enjoying these opportunities to “live off the grid”.Sailing by day and anchoring each evening is not as easy as it may sound.  The biggest barriers, as long as the sun shines, are the need for favorable winds and safe anchorages.  There is also the necessity to conserve water, store waste, plan and prepare meals – if this sounds like too much of a hassle, it may get old.  But consider, being surrounded by near silence, other than that from the wind and waves – the sense, however brief, of independence, self-sufficiency – the need for limited resources – the indulgence of relaxation and the slow pace of moving through landscapes of extraordinary beauty.  Top that off with sharing it with my life partner (who, by the way, is doing all the heavy lifting) – never gets old.

Our first anchorage (Anse de Cacalu) was in a large protected cove overlooked by a well preserved watchtower.  There was no obvious trail to the watchtower, but George had seen several people hiking up along a saddle so we decided to try it ourselves (in truth, I went along with George’s plan just because).

A crab and a beautiful critter we have seen on rocks close to the surface – Anse de Cacalu
Anse de Cacalu, Corsica

We used the stand-up-paddle boards (SUPs) to get ashore near a spot where George saw people making the trek up.  We did not see a path or a way up other than a steep craggy rock scramble which led us, after much exertion, to a position where we could see the path – the only problem was we needed to bushwhack our way down the other side of the hill (mountain) to get to it.

All’s well that ends well.  Once on the path it was a strenuous climb to the top but required no more bouldering or bushwhacking.

Ancient watchtower overlooking Anse de Cacalu
Atop the watchtower

The amusing part of this adventure is that when George went to retrieve the paddle boards, he found them about 100 feet away from the path we should have taken.  The jury may be out as to whether George pushes me to keep me from getting too old, too soon, or if his plan is to do me in before I get too old.  In either event, we both lived to see another day.

We spent two days in this beautiful anchorage enjoying some nice snorkeling in the wonderful warm water (80 plus degrees) and some decadent lounging.  The evening before we headed out was the evening the earth eclipsed the full moon.  When this occurs it is referred to as a Blood Moon because the moon turns a deep reddish brown when some of the Earth’s atmosphere and light from the sun is bent around the Earth and illuminates the moon.  The reddish brown color is due to the way Earth’s atmosphere scatters different wavelengths of light.  While we were unable to get a good photograph, I borrowed the one below and can testify that it looked just like this photo.  We were in the right place, at the right time as this eclipse was not visible from North America.

Nice snorkeling spot below the watchtower
Anse de Ferry, Corsica

We sailed the following day to our next anchorage – Anse de Ferry and spent the night.

The following morning we continued on to Pianottoli-Caldarello.

Sailing around Corsica – Ajaccio

Ajaccio – Capital of Corsica

From Girolata we sailed to the Baie de Sagone, where we anchored for the night.  The following day we sailed to Ajaccio, the capital of Corsica and birthplace of Napoleon Bonaparte.Although Ajaccio is likely to have been established some time in the 2nd century AD, the majority of buildings present today were built after the end of World War II.  Notably, no Jewish person was either executed or deported from Corsica during the war and Ajaccio is distinguished in being the first French city to liberate itself from Germany.

Ajaccio’s large port dominated in this photo by a cruise ship that appears even larger.
The jetty has been fortified by large concrete jacks that nestle together
The marina jetty extends beyond the ancient wall that afforded protection to the Citadel.

Donkeys now inhabit what was once a large moat surrounding the city castle
On our first evening in Ajaccio we strolled the street along the harbor where many vendors display their offerings.  George went one way and I the another where a met a gentleman with a rabbit.  He did not speak English or French that I could understand.  Corsica has a language distinct from French that is widely spoken locally – it may have been Corsican.  In any event, he let me pet his rabbit, Giovanni, with the expectation that I would offer him some payment.  I explained beforehand that I did not have any money at all, but unfortunately, it is clear he did not understand why I was not paying him.  I was troubled by the encounter as he did seem somewhat desperate.
On the following day, as we were heading to the market for provisioning, I saw “the rabbit man” walking along with Giovanni.  I cheerfully greeted him and he, me with kisses on each cheek.  I was so happy to have the opportunity to conclude our transaction – I holding Giovanni for a photo with the gentleman and George paying him several euros.
Afterward, this gentleman tried several times to tell me something, but I could not understand.  He perked up and twisted off some greenery from the celery we just purchased and placed it in Giovanni’s carrier and we parted ways.  It was only after I viewed the photo that I felt I saw a profound sadness in this man’s expression and I wish I understood what he was trying to tell me.
Giovanni, a kindred spirit, and me
The docks in the marina were teaming with these tube worms.  We had never seen them before or since
On the approach to Ajaccio we passed by someone behind a parachute boat who photo-bombed my shot of a large cemetery right off the water (seen in closeup, below).
All the cemeteries we have seen in Corsica have housed the departed in above ground mausoleums similar to this one (likely a consequence of the fact that Corsica is a gigantic pile of enormous rocks).  Some have a combination of very old and seemingly recent structures.
Ajaccio, just left of the entrance to the harbor
A principle reason we took a berth in Ajaccio was to provision at their market which is held every day.  We were rewarded with a large market full of vegetables, fruits, baked goods, spices, cheeses, meats – everything we could have hoped for.