Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Day 60: CouchSurfing the Calanque

Traveling for two months has changed me more than I dare to describe; a full sensory experience nourishing every part of my body. As the initial bedazzlement of Europe wears off, I have to push myself to see new and exciting things. Hiking the Calanques in Marseille is an experience that I will remember forever.

My time in Marseille had been plagued by overcast skies so I wasn't optimistic about exploring the Calanque. A couple people responded to the event I set up on CouchSurfing. A local who couldn't come recommended his favorite trail, the meeting time was set, and the CS Calanque trip was GO!

The morning of I was happily surprised by blue skies. I was so late getting to the bus stop that I thought I would miss the group. Fortunately everyone else was also late and we hopped on bus 21 to Luminy, Calanque bound!

Before Natasha asked me if I had been to the Calanque, I hadn't heard of them before. I soon learned that the Calanques are a series of inlet cliffs that were cut into the limestone by glaciers. They are home to some of the most unique rock structures I have seen. The combination of magnificent cliffs with the blue Mediterranean is astounding. Along the French Riviera, especially near Marseille, is one of the only places in the world where they exist.

That morning four intrepid adventurers set out to explore the Calanques. There were two dudes who were my age, enrolled in the Erasmus program, getting their masters in photonics. There was also a friendly woman from Normandy.

The trail leading to the sea side... Mmm fresh air!

We got off the bus and headed towards the Calanque. There was about a 30 minute walk to get to the seaside where the Calanques could be experienced in their full majesty. The sun was warm and bright. The wind was blowing so hard that it was unnerving while standing on the edge of a cliff.

Vacy on the left and Ivan on the right.
A quaint harbor nestled in between the cliffs.
The Calanque was unlike any landscape I've seen before.

Trekking through valleys with mountains towering above and the rolling Mediterranean below was exhilarating. Lots of other people were out enjoying the day also. We were glad to have people around to take pictures of us.

The intrepid adventurers!
A great big mountain of solid rock.

Hiking was easy going – at first. I walked slowly because I was so busy taking pictures and trying to absorb the environment. It's not easy to hike and look around at the same time! The paths were well made and mostly had a rock base. I was happy to put my boots to the test. Both my boots and I were tested!
There's the trail, can't you see it?
Lots of beautiful plants. Rosemary was growing all over.
We would be doing some of this later.
Headed towards the big rock in the distance.

After hiking for about an hour the trail we were on took a steep turn up one of the cliffs. The base of the cliff was full of broken pieces of white rock. Climbing was difficult because of the extreme incline and the loose rock. Catherine decided that it was too steep for her so she hunkered down and read a book while the three of us scaled the mountain. The intrepid adventurers forged on!

This hill was the most difficult climb.
Catherine waiting patiently with her book.

Once we got to the top, I was behind Ivan and his friend when I heard him laugh and exclaim "Ohhhh, I'm going there!" He clambered over the hill he was on and disappeared over the edge. Terribly curious, I ran up to where he was standing to see him making his way up this treacherous spire that stood proudly apart from the cliff. Of course I followed. Climbing down from where we were was scary enough but finding solid footholds on crumbling limestone with a 200m drop on both sides is exciting. Remember the wind? Standing on top was a moment I'll never forget (and I'm sure my parents won't either).

At the top of the hill...
Ivan on top of his favorite rock.
Exhilarating to say the least!

We continued on towards a huge rock formation. On the horizon. It had been teasing us ever since we entered the park. "Come on, climb me!" When we got there we looked and looked but we couldn't find a route to the top. Ivan and I climbed two places where that looked like they might lead to the top. I rarely do any rock climbing so this was pretty scary, but we made it to the top of a piece of rock next to the larger rock. It looked like it was possible to get to the top, but not without risking serious injury. Neither of us were prepared to bust our brains so we called it and headed down. When we got down we met a group that told us there used to be a chain up there where you could pull yourself on top. Without the chain? No thanks.

We continued towards the big rock.
When we got there we couldn't find a way up.
So we climbed this wall...
But were too scared to go any higher.
What an outstanding day!

We reunited with Catherine feeling slightly guilty. I hope her book blew her mind, because the Calanques blew mine. Going home on the bus we all whined about how sore we were. Getting back to Natasha's apartment and eating borscht was all I wanted to do. What an amazing day.

Au revoir!

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