Last month one the Frisian bastards of the Frisia Coast Trail -and author of this blog post- hiked the Grande Randonnée 20 in Corsica. Or GR-vingt, as the French say. The GR20 is Europe’s toughest long-distance hiking trail, and one of the most deadliest...as it turned out. This particular Frisian bastard wanted to experience the similarities of hiking trails that cover ‘territory’ of Europe’s autochthonous minorities. In this case comparing the GR20 on Corsica territory with that of the Frisia Coast Trail in (former) Frisia territories. And like hiking the Frisia Coast Trail, the GR20 too guides you through the core of the region's culture. Hiking ánd climbing Europe's toughest and deadliest trail was taken for granted, in a naive way.
Whereas the last violent confrontation about identity and equal rights of the Frisians in the Netherlands already dates back to the early '50s of the twentieth century, with the incident that became know as Kneppelfreed 'Baton-Friday' (read our blog post Leeuwarden 2018: European Capital of Exiled Governments on this matter), official cessation of the armed struggle in Corsica against 'the Continent' was announced only as recent as 2014.
Trail-wise the differences couldn’t be bigger. The Frisia Coast Trail covers ca. 1,600 kilometers through successively Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and Denmark, with a total ascent of only ca. 300 meters and descent of ca. 300 meters. The GR20 covers only ca. 190 kilometers cutting through nearly the whole island from the north-west to the south-east, 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. And it consists of rock, rock and rock, mostly grey and red granite. And you'd better not roll.The Frisia Coast Trail is as flat as a damask tablecloth. And soft and green. It consists of a combination of smelly clay, sand, mud, seawater and lots of spilled milk and cow dung. The only rock you’ll find is imported basalt to strengthen the bases of dykes, and of course with the exception of the red, rocky island of Heligoland.
The GR20 starts at the charming village Calenzana with from the start four horrible tough stages. The word 'path' or 'trail' should be taken with a bag of salt in general when you talk about the GR20 trail, since most of it is loose or solid rock you stumble and trip along. And 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. What else? 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 said: “Death is never far away.” So solo-hiking with a twist. Progressing just seven kilometers after nine hours of sweating on the trail. Wondering if it's all worth it?
At the end of stage 6 of the GR20 you reach hut or refuge 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 the refuges display many flags. And they do not solely display the white Corsican flag with its -interestingly- black Moor’s head.
The same decapitated Moor's head by the way you'll find on the coat of arms of the Roorda family in province Friesland in the Netherlands as a reminder of their ancestors’ 'achievements' during the Crusades in the Middle Ages (read our blog post Foreign Terrorist Fighters from the Wadden Sea). Maybe this Moor's head is a topic for the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.
Anyway, back to the flag-thing. No, besides the Corsican flag you'll see many more colors. Flags of among others Catalonia, Basque Country, Tibet, the IRA, Wales, Brittany, Occitania and of Cuba with sometimes the image of Che Guevara are displayed as well. Occasionally with El Comandante's famous words "Hasta la Victoria Siempre". You understand the statement they are trying to make. And 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 author. Again a testimony of their active loyalty to the Corsican Cause.
flags found at refuges of the GR20 in Corsica
So, it’s clear. During the GR20 you’re hiking hardcore Corsica in several respects. Fortunately, this Frisian 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 proud refuges the owner made the author throw his head backwards and open his mouth. After which the owner poured mirte (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 region Ostfriesland (East Frisia, Germany), landkreis Nordfriesland (North Frisia, Germany), province Friesland (Mid Frisia, the Netherlands), the rock-island Heligoland in the German Bight or the newly fabricated and for some obscure reason Scandinavian-inspired inter-Frisia flag for that matter. No, nothing. Even worse. Les frisons as such were a totally unknown people to them. Mostly their reaction was when you asked them if they kenw about the Frisian people, they didn't 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 replied with a simple but meaningful:
“so many peoples are stuck in countries”
Indeed, Frisian public relations is terribly poor. The author should have known that. 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. No, not even during the year 2018 when the Mid-Frisian capitol Leeuwarden is the European Capital of Culture. Good luck boys with your iepen mienskip 'open community', the theme of the European Capitol of Culture in 2018. 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's one small consolation. Despite all this you'll probably still find a flag of Frisia sooner on the entire island than the drapeau bleu-blanc-rouge.
It must be noted, when the author hiked the Cape Wrath Trail in the outer north-west of Scotland May last year, the Scots knew who the Frisians were and even that the Frisian language was closely related to English. Even as far north as the Orkney islands they knew (read here the blog post of the author with a comparison between the Scots and the Frisians). Yes, a taste in a way of brotherhood being both North Sea minorities, with the English' poking nose in between.
flags of the different Frisian regions in Germany and the Netherlands
But, one hazardous encounter took place.
When arriving in the morning at the refuge at Bocco di Verdi, the Frisian bastard was in need of food supplies for the coming 24 hours. It's 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 smoking a cigarette. This refuge too is draped with many of the flags mentioned earlier. Just in front of the author a hiking couple from the so-called Île-de-France ordered two sandwiches to take away. They paid and the kitchen staff started preparing the sandwiches. After the couple had been served the Frisian bastard asked for two sandwiches as well. “No,” was the answer of the gardier. Let's name the gardier Ocatarinetabellatchitchix. "The Kitchen is 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, by the way. “Okay,” said the author, “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. It was obvious. The Frisian bastard and author of this blog post was being discriminated in a blatant manner. Honor and respect, traditionally held so highly at this rock island, were affected. And a bastard from Frisia, the region that had been Europe's longest existing formal feud-society and where inflicted honor should be compensated through vendetta too. What would be next? Paris held its breath. Would the ceasefire of 2014 hold? (read our blog post You killed a man? That'll be 1 weregeld, please to learn how vendetta, bloodshed and honor was regulated in medieval Frisia)
So, in the heartland of Corsica, beneath the proud flags of Corsica, Catalonia, Occitania, Cuba etc, the Île-de-France guests were being served by the Corsican staff and the Frisian bastard was not. No solidarity. Minorities and minority people are trained to be overly hypersensitive to the slightest unequal treatment. 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 tota Frisia for the Corsican Cause.
But, o irony, it were the two Île-de-France hikers who solved the tensed situation. They felt so ashamed they offered one of their sandwiches to the author. That way choosing sides and saving honor. No bigger dishonor could happen to the gardier. Of course, the Frisian bastard declined the bread, expressing many thanks to 'the Continent'. The gift had been given by them already. An older French couple having a drink at the refuge started a discussion with Ocatarinetabellatchitchix but it all had no effect. Although the peace wasn't broken and Paris could breathe and the two old men at the fire place could smoke again, it all was rather awkward to say the least.
With two cans of ravioli he was allowed to purchase, the Frisian bastard left the refuge to walk into an increasingly foul and stormy weather, and 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 doesn't matter. That’s manageable and recognizable for the freezing Frisians. Besides, the smelly cheese and wild-pork sausages were excellent too. The siestas haven't been 'tasted' by the Frisian bastard. Hiking the GR20 gives you no opportunity to enjoy the famous long Corsican siestas. Adding everything up, the unequal and unfair treatment at the refuge at Bocco di Verdi (also Relais San Petru) is considered to be an unfortunate incident and it shall have no consequences for the Frisian position concerning the Corsican Cause. And no feud will be started. Yet...
But what are we talking,
when nobody at Corsica
knows you exist at all?
NB: Interested in the Frisian bastard's GR20 hike, click via Google here or via Facebook here. If you consider to hike the GR20, be prepared!
NB: If you want to know why the authors of the Frisia Coast Trail call themselves ‘bastards’, check out this blog post.
Suggestions for further reading:
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)