September 2018, one of the bastards hiked the Grande Randonnée 20 in Corsica. Or, as the French say, la GR-vingt. The GR20 is considered Europe’s toughest long-distance trail. And one of the most dangerous, as it turned out. The bastard wanted to experience the similarities of hiking trails that cover territories of Europe’s autochthonous minorities. In this case, comparing the GR20 on Corsica territory with that of the Frisia Coast Trail. And, like hiking the FCT, the GR20 too guides you through the core of the region’s culture. Hiking ánd climbing Europe’s toughest and deadliest trail was, in a naive way, taken for granted.
Whereas the most recent violent confrontation about identity and equal rights of the Frisians already dates back to the early ’50s of the twentieth century, with the incident that became know as Kneppelfreed ‘baton-friday’, official cessation of the armed struggle in Corsica against ‘the Continent’ was announced only as recent as 2014.
Trail-wise the differences could not be bigger. The FCT covers 2,305 kilometers through successively Flanders, the Netherlands, Germany and Denmark, with a total ascent of only ca. 300 meters and descent of ca. 300 meters. The GR20, however, covers only ca. 190 kilometers cutting through nearly the whole island from the northwest to the southeast, but with a total ascent of ca. 12.5 kilometers and descent of ca. 12.5 kilometers! The GR20 is a shark’s jaw with razor sharp and remorseless teeth. It consists of rock, rock, and rock too. Mostly grey and red granite. And you better not roll. The FCT, on the other hand, is as flat as a damask tablecloth. Soft and raygrass-green. It consists of a combination of smelly clay, sand, sticky mud, sea water, and lots of spilled milk and cow dung. The only rock you will find, is imported basalt from Norway to strengthen the base of dikes. Of course, with the exception of the North-Frisian red-rock island Heligoland, high at the North Sea.
The GR20 starts at the charming village Calenzana with instantly from the start four horrible tough stages. In general, the word ‘path’ or ‘trail’ should be taken with a bag of salt when you discuss the GR20. Most of it is loose or solid rock you stumble and trip along. This is particularly the case during the first nine stages. The same is true for the word ‘hiking’. This word suggests you advance by walking on feet mostly. “What else?” we hear you think. Well, not in the case of the GR20. Often mild advancement can only be made by using your hands as well. Rock scrambling, sometimes hanging on your fingers and feet above sheer heights. Or as a French hiker and rock climber on the trail said to the bastard, “death is never far away.” Hence, solo-hiking with a twist. Progressing just seven kilometers after nine hours of sweating on the trail. Wondering if it is all worth it?
colours and flags in the mountains of Corsica
At the end of stage 6 of the GR20 you reach the refuge at a spot called Manganu. This marks the beginning of the heartlands of Corsica. From here until the refuge at Bocco di Verdi at the end of stage 11, you will notice that the hut-owners of refuges display many flags. And, they do not solely display the white Corsican flag with its, interestingly, black Moor’s head.
Moor Heads – The same decapitated Moor’s head, by the way, you will find on the coat of arms of the Roorda family in province Friesland. As a reminder of their ancestors’ ‘achievements’ during the Crusades in the High Middle Ages. Read our post Terrorist Fighters from the Wadden Sea to learn more about the Frisians taking the Cross and fighting for the Pope in the Mediterranean. The flag of island Sardinia is top dog, with no less than four Moor heads.
This Moor-head thing was considered a topic of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, but it was afraid it would unleash separatist goups again. You do not want to mess with the Roorda family, and neither with the Corsicans and the Sardinians.
No, besides the Corsican flag you will see many more colours. Flags of among other Catalonia, Basque Country, Tibet, the IRA, Wales, Brittany, Occitania and of Cuba. Sometimes the image of Che Guevara displayed as well. Occasionally with El Comandante’s famous words “Hasta la Victoria Siempre“. You understand the statement they are trying to make there in the isolated mountains of Corsica. Even in the small village Conca in the very south of the island at the end of the final stage 16 of the GR20, tattoos and berets were proudly shown to the bastard. Again, a testimony of their still active loyalty to the Corsican Cause.
So, no way escaping it. Scrambling the GR20 you are passing through hardcore Corsica in several respects. Fortunately, the bastard quickly learned from a Corsican fellow-hiker on the trail a few basic Corsican words, like bonghjornu ‘good day’ and grazie ‘thanks’. During dinner in one of the refuges, the owner made the bastard throw his head backwards and open his mouth. After which the owner poured mirte, i.e. a local liquor, straight from the plastic bottle into his open mouth. Not an unacceptable costume, and all because of showing interest in the Corsican language and culture.
One thing became clear. Despite the wide array of flags of minority peoples, nowhere a flag of one of the Frisian regions, like the one of region Ostfriesland, Kreis Nordfriesland, province Friesland or island Heligoland. Not even the newly fabricated, and for some obscure reason Scandinavian-inspired, inter-Frisia flag for that matter. No, nothing relating to Frisians. Even worse. Les frisons (‘the Frisians’) as such, were a totally unknown people to them. Often, when you asked a Corsican if she or he knew of the Frisians, they responded with that they did not need a haircut. When explaining to a gardier of one of the refuges who the ‘frisons’ actually are and in which countries they live, he unambiguously replied:
So many peoples are stuck in countries. I’ll bring your order in a moment. Anything else?
Indeed, Frisian public relations is poor. The bastard should have known. Barely able to penetrate into the history books of the countries they live in, let alone they could penetrate into the sharp granite mountains of Corsica. But it was much more worse. Fellow hikers originating from e.g. Brittany too, had no clue what-so-ever who the ‘frisons’ are. Maybe there is one small consolation. Despite all this, you will probably still find a flag of, let’s say, island Heligoland or Nordfriesland on the entire island of Corsica sooner than the drapeau bleu-blanc-rouge of La République.
It must be noted, when the bastard hiked the Cape Wrath Trail in the outer northwest of Scotland in May 2017, many Scots did know who the Frisians were, and even that the English language was most closest related to Frisian. As far north as Orkney they knew. Yes, a taste in a way of brotherhood being both North Sea minorities, with the English’ poking nose in between. Read our post “My God, the Germans bought all the bread!” cried Moira about hiking the Cape Wrath Trail in the Highlands of Scotland.
But, one hazardous encounter did take place during the GR20.
Refuge Bocco di Verdi
When arriving in the morning at the refuge at Bocco di Verdi, also called Relais San Petru, the bastard was in need of food supplies for the coming 24 hours. Bocco di Verdi is a cozy refuge with a big fireplace, in a valley connected to the world via a dirt road. In front of the fireplace sat two old Corsican men. Both survived all the vendettas, and both were smoking a cigarette. The ceiling of this refuge too was draped with many of the flags and colours mentioned earlier.
Just in front of the bastard, a hiking couple from the so-called Île-de-France (i.e. mainland France) ordered two sandwiches to take away. They paid and the kitchen staff started preparing the sandwiches. After the couple had been served, the bastard stepped forwar to the counter asked for two sandwiches as well. “Non,” was the answer of the gardier. Let’s name the gardier Ocatarinetabellatchitchix. “Kitchen closed,” Ocatarinetabellatchitchix said. Only from 12:00 hours would the kitchen be open. It was 11:15 hours. This was weird. And, the four people personnel had nothing to do, besides being exceptionally busy with their smartphones. “Okay,” said the bastard, “I dry up and warm at the fireplace and wait until 12:00 hours for two take-away sandwiches, please.” “No, not possible. Only for eating here, not for taking outside” replied Ocatarinetabellatchitchix.
For a moment, everything turned as silent as the opening scene of Ennio Morricone’s Once Upon a Time in the West. The only sound was the crackling of burning wood in the hearth. The two old men stopped smoking and their sigarettes turned into ash cones in their hands. It was obvious. The bastard was being discriminated in a blatant manner. Honor and respect, traditionally held so highly on this rock island, were affected. And, a bastard from Frisia. The region that had been Europe’s longest existing formal feud-society. Where inflicted honor should be compensated through vendetta too (read our post You killed a man? That’ll be 1 weregeld, please, to learn how vendetta was regulated in medieval Frisia). What would be next? Paris held its breath. Would their ceasefire of 2014 hold?
In the heartland of Corsica, beneath the proud flags of Corsica, Catalonia, Occitania, Cuba etc, it were the Île-de-France guests who were being served by the Corsican staff, and the Frisian was not. No solidarity. And minorities and minority people are trained to be overly hypersensitive to the slightest unequal treatment. Often followed by a pavlov response that the central government they resist should fix it. It was as if Ocatarinetabellatchitchix was mixing up the Corsican separation IFF slogan “I Francesi Fora” (‘the French Out’) with “I Frisiani Fora” (‘the Frisians Out’). This way jeopardizing the support from Frisia for the Corsican Cause for independence.
But, o irony. It were the two hikers from Île-de-France, the sworn enemy of Corsica, who solved the tensed situation. They felt so ashamed by their fellow ‘country’ man, that they offered one of their sandwiches to the bastard. That way publically choosing sides and saving the bastard’s honor. No bigger dishonor could happen to the gardier. Of course, the bastard declined the bread, expressing many thanks to ‘the Continent’ because the gift had been given by them already. An elderly French couple, who were having a drink at the refuge, promptly started a discussion with Ocatarinetabellatchitchix. Knowing it would have all had no effect anymore. Although the peace was not broken, Paris could breathe again and the two old men sitting at the fire place could resume smoking, the whole encounter was rather awkward, to say the least.
With two cans of ravioli which the bastard was allowed to purchase, he left the refuge to walk into an increasingly foul and stormy weather. To hike another two hours up the steep mountains to refuge Prati at 1820 meter altitude.
Considering all other encounters during the sixteen-day trek, the people in the mountains of Corsica were tremendously welcoming, although a bit sturdy. The latter does not matter. That is manageable and recognizable along the FCT too. Besides, the smelly cheese and wild-pork sausages were excellent. Siestas have not been ‘tasted’ by the bastard. Hiking the GR20 gives you no opportunity to enjoy the famous long Corsican midday break. Adding everything up, the unequal and unfair treatment at the refuge at Bocco di Verdi is considered to be an unfortunate incident. It shall have no consequences for the Frisian position concerning the Corsican Cause for independence. No feud will be started. Yet…
Note 2 – Read also our posts Presence of mind to ask the right question, also at the GR20, or “My God, the Germans bought all the bread!” cried Moira, hiking the Cape Wrath Trail in the northwest of Scotland, and Croeso i Gerddwyr, hiking the Pembrokeshire Coast Path in Wales.
- Abram. D., Corsica Trekking GR20, Trailblazer (2008)
- Dillon, P., Trekking. The GR20 Corsica. The High Level Route, Cicerone (2016)
- Fabrikant, M., Grande Randonnée, GR20, À traverse la Montagne corse. Parc naturel régional de Corse, TopoGuides (2016)
- Goscinny, R. & Uderzo A., Asterix in Corsica (1979)