Day 18: St. Dalmas to Utelle
After a sleepless night (curse you festival!) we found that our clothes hadn’t really dried either. It wasn’t just the rain; they were engrained with three weeks’ worth of sweat. Or, as we so eloquently put it: “saturated with the essence of eeeeergh…” We even developed a new punctuation mark for this, the “accent yuch!” which looks like a tilde ~ but tilted 90 degrees so it’s vertical. It needs to be put over ever “e” in the word “eeeeergh” and is used to indicate stinkiness and disgust in general.
When we left St Dalmas early in the morning the festival music (like weird 19th century military drum music) started up behind us again. It’s also possible to take the GR52 from St Dalmas; this is a more mountainous hike to the Mediterranean, which it reaches at Menton. But Nice was our goal so we headed south on the GR5.
We had an easy climb up to Col de Deux Caïres through the forest. Our clothes dried out in the heat but were soon soaked with fresh sweat. On the col the festival music was finally cut off, to our great relief. There is an excellent ridgewalk here, which is very different from our standard ridgewalks because most of the time we were hiking through dense forest of old trees. Around this time we also caught our first glimpse of the sea!
We reached a road at some old huts were we stopped for lunch and refilled our watersacks. The sun was merciless and we needed far more water than up in the Vanoise. Since we would be hiking on the road again, we also decided to switch to sandals. About ten minutes later we suffered our first severe case of gear failure when one of my sandals fell off. The little metal thingy that holds the different straps together had broken. I made a new one out of dental floss reinforced with Leukoplast (1.5 years later and it still holds).
The second part of the hike is unexpectedly awesome. Both of us had initially expected the GR5 to cross vast stretches of dreary flat suburbia during the last few days, but this was nothing like that. Instead we hiked along dry, rocky hilltops. There was thyme and lavender everywhere plus countless lizards. We finally reached Utelle in the early evening. The village is perched on a hilltop (protection against raiders, or possibly very stinky hikers). We asked some friendly locals the way to the gîte, and they told us we had to go to the mairie (town hall) to pick up the key and pointed us in the right direction. Or so we thought. Soon we saw a sign “Mairie” pointing right but as we headed there some other locals came after us because we had to go left. Turns out we had to find the maire (the mayor) who was sitting outside a café playing cards. She showed us to the gîte and the bakery where we could get breakfast in the morning, then said she’d notify the waiter of the local restaurant we were hungry (Utelle gîte does not do food) and went back to her card game.