Pretend those maps line up…
I woke up bright and early in Marseille, and the eastern sky was barely starting to glow when I was out the door for my adventure in the Calanques.
A calanque is a small Mediterranean inlet, quite common along the south coast of France. They’re basically tiny fjords, and I do indeed pine for them. Stretching along the 25 or so km of coastline between Marseille and Cassis is the Parc national des Calanques, a rocky, mountainous park that I love with my whole entire heart.
I didn’t get off to the best start. The park begins on the outskirts of the city, and I think I took the wrong bus because I was still very much inside Marseille when it dropped me off and I started walking. It took maybe two hours just to reach the edge of the park and the beginning of the GR98, which would take me all the way to Cassis.
Things got steep and scenic immediately.
I wasn’t operating at full capacity, still shaking off a tiny bit of the fatigue I’d felt after Lamanon, and it didn’t help that I was laden with 2 days’ worth of food in addition to all my usual kit. I was glad, though, that I’d decided to do the walk in 2 days rather than 1, because it would give me time to 1) linger over pretty views, 2) catch my breath as needed, and 3) not carelessly throw myself from a clifftop because damn that path is narrow in places.
And exposed. No shade to be found anywhere, I tell you. It was the 6th of December, for crying out loud, and it was HOT! My thermometer topped 30°c by about noon. Honestly, I hadn’t seen this coming. I hadn’t even brought a hat. And here I was, not even lunchtime yet, with a rosy red nose and a scalp hot enough to fry an egg. I wrapped my scarf (which I’d brought for warmth) around my head and carried on.
Not too much of note happened for most of the day. The views were unreal; with every hill I crested, I would stop dead in my tracks and reach for my good ol’ cameraphone. That golden Provence sun shone cheerily-but-relentlessly, and the blue of the sea & sky pierced straight to my soul. I mean, look at those pictures above. Those are taken with a cell phone camera. They’re not even good. And yet look at that blue!!
My destination for this day was a suburb of Marseille called Luminy, which is really just a university campus nestled in the middle of the Calanques. Though I wasn’t covering much distance as the crow flies, you can see what sort of terrain I was dealing with. I was dead tired by the time the sun started to get low in the sky and I veered up toward Luminy.
I’d been so good, all day, at not getting lost. There were all kinds of forks in the path, but I kept one eye on my map, another on the path markers, and a third on the scenery, and made it about 99% of the way to Luminy before making a proper idiot of myself.
I’d followed a road that a passing cyclist had recommended, and found myself at the top of a hill looking down on the Luminy campus. The shadows were getting long and the sunlight was getting orange, and I was anxious to get down to civilisation. The road, I could see, wound lazily down to the campus. But I was tired and hungry and impatient.
I took a look at Google Maps, and it indicated that there was a path (not present on my official map) that led straight down the hill. I looked around and found a faint trail through the dense, chest-high bushes. Okay, this must be it. I struck off down the path and everything went great for about 20 metres. The bushes became denser, though, and the trail fainter, and I decided to abort and take the road after all. I turned around to head back up the hill, but my path had disappeared. I pushed through the bushes a little ways in the direction I thought it must be, but no trail appeared. I shifted over to an area that seemed less dense. Still no trail. The sun was setting. I had no choice but to put my arms up in front of me and push with all my might through thick, wild bush, all the way back up to the road.
20 minutes later, I burst back into open space, completely exhausted, covered in stratches.
Wild-eyed and bleeding, I found my AirBnB, which was in a student dorm. The arrangement was wonderfully bizarre. The living area, kitchen, and bathroom were all shared between some indeterminate number of students, which I was prepared for. But it turned out that my host was just renting out his own bedroom to me, which I hadn’t realised. He had made a nest for himself underneath a desk in the living area and spent the entire evening curled up under there, directly outside my door, while I occupied his room. I tried to make conversation with his roommates while I ate my supper, but they weren’t the most forthcoming. I suspect that they found the whole situation as baffling as I did.
No amount of awkwardness, nor even a crowd of architecture students loudly collaborating on a project less than 10 feet away from me, could keep me from an amazing sleep, though. I had earned that night’s rest, and couldn’t wait to see what the next day would bring.