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Roaring Girl
The adventures of the yacht Roaring Girl wandering the seas.
Gardening in the street

The potted gardens of Castelsardo's high town are striking in their variety and luxuriance. No need for guerilla gardeninghere!

Places and people
Modernisation of traditional craft

In the streets of the old town, amidst the cafes and souvenir shops , women are still weaving. Many are sticking to the older forms, which presumably sell well, but some are experimenting with other colours and shapes. We were very interested in the similarities and differences with the flax weaving practised across the Pacific. This tradition is alive and well in Aotearoa/New Zealand. When we were there in 2008, Pip's mother took us to the museum in Petone which had a special exhibition on about the work. Also, Lou, in Christchurch has done quite a lot of weaving, and some of her little baskets are on Roaring Girl today.
One of the major differences is that, here in the Med, it never seems to have become usual to use woven fibres for clothes, unlike the many skirts, hats and cloaks of the south.

Places and people
Weaving natural fibres

Castelsardo is a major centre of the ancient Mediterranean art of weaving vegetable fibres to make important utensils. Historically they used a very wide range of materials, such as myrtle twigs, reeds, and palm fibres. The castle houses a small museum of the craft, which includes this wonderful boat. These fassois were used by the lake fishermen of Oristiano, who quanted them with long reed poles, and laid woven basket nets to trap their prey.

Places and people
The bell tower and castle

One of our reasons for visiting the town was to see its spectacular castle. Originally built in 1102 by the Genoese, the mediaeval town was called Castelgenovese. When the Aragonese got possession, they called it Castelaragonese. It was not until 1769 when the Kingdom of Savoy got control, that they felt secure enough to give it its present name.
The bell tower, originally the lighthouse, has this wonderful polychrome dome, unique in Sardinia.

Places and people
White donkeys

Asinara has been isolated for a very long time so despite its proximity to Sardinia and Corsica it has various unique flora and fauna. Of these by far the biggest are the albino donkeys.
Now, when you see the tourist photos these are white, fluffy and cute. In real life, they are grey, grubby and bored rigid with being cooed at by tourists in a wide range of European languages. They can probably determine the make of your camera by the shutter click alone. This donkey graciously allowed herself to be petted, but the curled lip and cross ears showed her preference for an undisturbed siesta.
The unique sound of Asinara, amidst the ubiquitous cicadas and screaming gulls, is braying donkeys, calling to each other across the gently rolling scrub at dawn and dusk.

Places and people
To Asinara

There is a small island on the north western tip of Sardinia which has been closed to visitors for many, many years. Reading about in the pilot and guide books made it sound forbidding and forbidden, not somewhere to catch our attention.
Then, in England in late May, Sarah picked up June's Yachting Monthly, and it contained an article which hymned Asinara as a virgin paradise, with luxuriant sealife, very few visitors and beautiful seas. So we went to have a look.
The biggest bay on Asinara is called Cala Della Realle, and this was the centre of officialdom when the island was a prison. Like other Italian islands, such as Capraiait was a penal colony for 100 years, including WW1 Austro-Hungarian prisoners (whose chapel still stands), the Ethiopian royal family during Mussolini's adventurism in Africa, and then senior Mafia cons. The most senior royal was Haile Selassie's daughter, Princess Romanework, who sadly died in 1941, before her country's liberation. Only in 1997 was Asinara re-opened, the convicts sent elsewhere and the whole island declared a reserve. Its marine fringe is particularly important, having seen so little activity to damage the seabed or pollute the water.

Places and people
Monsieur Lion

Roccapino is particularly known for its lion, this enormous outcrop of granite weathered into the shape of a recumbent kingly beast. Sarah was clear that from many angles, it more closely resembles a frog. Pip could see the lion all along, and maintained proper respect.

Places and people
The natural sounds of Corsica

As anywhere in the Mediterranean the sounds of cicadas are everywhere. Inland, the wealth of Corsica's birdlife is evident. But the most distinct sound right now is made by the frogs. Their croaking and quacking is astonishingly loud, like a flock of ghost ducks on any patch of swampy land. They shut up if you come close, but glare up at you without bothering to hide, resuming their noisy conversation as soon as you walk away.

Places and people
8000 years

The main reason for stopping at Porto Pollo was access to the extraordinary site at Filitosa. You can take a taxi there and back (30EU) easily, as (surprise!) there is no transport. Porto Pollo itself is quite sweet, though almost 100% a tourist resort. It has a spectacular beach. The village is thought to be named after the Corsican Porto Priddu, or 'ruined town' as it has been destroyed so many times in the centuries of war that have overcome the island.
Filitosa is a site that was first inhabited about 6500 years ago, by Neolithic villagers who lived in caves and rock shelters, and ate what they could pick, fish or hunt. Their remains, in pottery, spear heads and the foundations of some of their shelters are still there. It is the megalithic era about 3500 years before Christ, and the Bronze age around 1800 BC, however, that have made Filitosa famous.
In the late Neolithic, the inhabitants of the village, which stands on a granite outcrop above a well-stocked river which irrigates good farmland, began making menhirs. These started as simple upright slabs of stone, with little adornment, hewn from the abundant surrounding rocks. But in the Bronze Age, Corsica, almost uniquely, started turning its menhirs into anthropomorphic carvings. The statues gained faces, helmets, shapes and arms. They bear swords and daggers, drape cloaks from their shoulders, have definable and distinct expressions. These things are big: see the picture of one with Pip in the album. Made by chipping granite with stone.
After some 500 or 600 years, the statue-menhirs were torn down, and used in the building of torri, or towers. These round structures, which give the Toreen people their name, were probably used for some religious cult, but it's not known what. There are three of them at Filitosa, and it was in their walls that the wealth of statue menhirs were discovered - in the 1950's. They had lain undisturbed for over 3000 years.
The statue-menhirs are as inexplicable as the great stone carvings of Rapa Nui (Easter Island). Here is a poor culture: despite the local wealth of resources, Corsica has always been made poorer by its insularity. It has primitive technology, but has learnt about stone. The people trade, certainly as far as Sardinia, as obsidian (unavailable on Corsica) has been used on this site for 1000 years. Accustomed to weave and spin, effective farmers, but with no metals, they start to make these sophisticated and demanding items. Nobody really knows why.
One of the theories is that they were representations of the invading Toreens, distinguished by their helmets and metal weapons. By making these statues and placing them around the village, they appropriate their strength. Then, when the invasion was complete, the Toreens took them down and de-powered them by using them for building material. One of the problems with this story is that so little is known about the Toreens anyway. Where did they come from? And why? One story is that they were driven west by Ramses III of Egypt. But no-one is sure.
It seems a lot of work, to make images of people you've killed, though we recalled the theory of cannibals that eating your enemy gives you their strength. Perhaps they worshipped these helmeted newcomers. Or intermarried with the. We just don't know.
We are left with these mysterious faces, staring from the rocks after thousands of years first of glorification, then ritual destruction followed by oblivion and neglect. They scowl out at us, urgent in their unknown story, still potent and moving, witnessing the passing of time.

Places and people
Public transport in Corsica

As you might have gathered, we've been a bit exasperated by the difficulty of independent travel in Corsica for people without a car. Given the number of people moving about, hiking and so on, it's very hard work.
It has been made much worse by the partial closure of the railway system. This futuristic machine, lolling in a siding in Ajaccio, is the reason. According to our chatty informant, in the queue for this morning's ride, the Chemin de Fer de Corse (CFC) bought this machine last year. It doesn't really fit the rails. Worse still, in using it they seriously damaged the track. We didn't really get how, but it seemed to have to do with the clearance of the carriage underneath.
So they are doing all this work on the track, with the consequent service upheavals, in order to make it possible to run the old rolling stock. The new one apparently will require two years work, and cost a mint, so nobody knows if it will happen!
The interim timetable expires next week, on 3 July, but we haven't seen the new one. Here's hoping it's a significant improvement on the current arrangements. Then the transport planners of Corsica could focus on integrating buses and trains and providing information (any info would be an improvement) on the bus network around the island!
In the meantime, the services are patchy and complicated, and correspondingly underused. And this lovely train sits there. We're slightly surprised that the relevant officials' heads aren't spiked on the front as trophies for the travelling public to admire.

Places and people
Turtles galore

On Tuesday we had a quiet day looking around Ajaccio, buying nice charcuterie in the daily market and enjoying the sunshine. We didn't do any of the historical sites in the town: after Rome, plus all the museum visiting of last summer, we're enjoying the hikes and natural sights of the islands this year!
We did, though, want to see the turtle sanctuary some 17km inland from Ajaccio, known as A Cupulatta. We enquired at all the relevant places to be told that you can't get there by public transport. But the Rough Guide says take the train and walk, we said. Well, yes, people said, but it's quite a walk. 20 minutes, says the Rough Guide. We can do that. So we got the train (actually the replacement bus) to Carbuccia. The bus actually drops you on the main N193, so it's only about 5 minutes further to the sanctuary; from the station, it would be another 15 minutes. Let's be clear though: you can get to the sanctuary pretty easily by public transport. Getting back is quite another matter. The timetable may improve once the train is running again, but there are no stopping buses along this busy road (except on Tuesdays), so we had to wait four hours for the bus coming back from Corte to pick us up.
But we enjoyed the visit nonetheless. A Cupulatta has definite elements of the zoo, but is heavily committed to protecting and breeding endangered species. It is the biggest enterprise of its kind in Europe, and has a huge number of animals. We have made a photo albumof some of our many pictures, including one of the super-cute kittens, which are part of the campaign to keep mice under control.
Part of the time, we just wandered around going hey dude. If you don't know the reason, enjoy Finding Nemoall over again. But of course that's not the only story here.
There is something very sad about the giant turtles, their heads, some 1.5m above the ground, watching patiently from their small enclosures. It is not only the pathos of big animals denied their natural roaming space. These are an order of reptiles a quarter of a billion years old, pre-dating the dinosaurs, of enormous complexity and variety. Did you ever hear of the (extremely ugly) alligator tortoise, which uses a special pink tool in its mouth to lure fish to their death?
But the humanoid upstarts, just a few thousand years old, and most dangerous in the last 500, has brought whole species to extinction. With the smaller tortoises and terrapins (many of which are in fact endangered), there are many to be seen, and they take little notice of the spectators, even the spectacular leopard tortoises or the starry-shelled turtles with their startling displays. The giants from Aldebra (in the Seychelles) and the Galapagos look back into your eyes, know that they are watched, and exude an imposing, elephantine air of wisdom.

Places and people

The headland of Parata is marked by another tower; this one says it is one of 90 on the island. We feel like we've seen more than that already and we've only cruised about one-third of the coastline! It is easy to take the No. 5 bus from Place de Gaulle and get off at the end of the line to climb up to the tower and clamber around the headland. Poor Lucy drank half a bottle of water when she got to the top, and we were all glad of a drink in the café afterwards.
In settled weather, there's a glorious anchorage underneath this point, with clear water down to sand. It is, however, very open to the south.
The album for this post has a few more pictures of the archipelago. Note that the pass is right under the tower, inside the Ile de Porri, no between the first two islands out. Amazing alliums grow here and there are some wonderful rock striations too, caused by the interfolding of the two different, non-mixing magmas. The darker grey is diorite, while the white is a form of granite.

Places and people

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Who: Pip Harris and Sarah Tanburn
Port: Ipswich
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