YOUR HOLIDAY DISASTER

A six-hour airport delay? Heaven, compared to what happened next.
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The Independent Travel
IN 1994 we went to Corsica for the tenth time. It started well enough with just a few minor "disasters". These initial irritations included a delay at the coach station surrounded by winos who had evil intentions towards our luggage. That was followed by the realisation half-way to Gatwick that I had left my driving licence behind and would have to rely on a faxed photocopy. Next was the six-hour delay at Gatwick spent eating stale rolls and drinking expensive coffee amid the detritus of hundreds of other travellers.

Having arrived in Corsica, the hint that this holiday was not to be like any of the previous ones came on returning from a drive in the mountains. It was always hotter near the coast, but this time there was an oppressive heat. Even the locals were fanning themselves with papers as they strolled along remarking to friends how hot it was.

As the sun set it became even hotter. Looking back I feel

stupid not to have realised why. At the time I just felt a sense of unease and with rare male

intuition told my wife that we must pack an overnight bag

because something strange was happening.

In the middle of the night I was woken by my wife who told me she could smell burning. "It's only those youngsters in the flat below having a barbecue," I said. "At two in the morning?" she replied. I pulled open the blind. To my horror I saw a brilliant orange glow moving towards us. I realised that the heat earlier had been due to a forest fire in the next valley. This was now heading down to the coast.

Even though the fire was some way off I decided to take the bags we had packed and leave in the car. My main worry was how to wake the other residents. Would they regard me as being over-cautious as the fire was still some way off? Or would they panic and force me to have to fight people off who wanted to take our hire car? Fortunately, at that moment, the reps arrived. "Fire, fire, everyone to the beach," they cried. "What will we do when the fire reaches the trees by the beach?'' asked one. "We'll stand in the water," said the rep.

We spent two hours sitting in a deserted beach cafe in true British style talking about the weather and house prices while sirens blared and locals honked their horns as they escaped. Eventually it was decided that although it was not safe to return to our flats, we could go to a nearby hotel. It seemed surprising that a hotel in mid-season had so many empty rooms, until we saw them. Nevertheless it was a bed and as dawn rose we flopped gratefully on to it and fell asleep.

Almost immediately there was a loud "vrooooom". Through the open balcony door of the room I could see the propellers of an aircraft approaching. Les Canadairs, the planes that scoop up water from the sea and spray it on fires, had arrived. The closest route from the bay to the hillside was directly over the hotel. All hope of sleep was gone. The fire was eventually put out and the rest of the holiday passed without event. We haven't been back to Corsica. It's not the thought of being burnt alive that worries us, it's the prospect of another six hours at Gatwick.

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