I met Jo Jo at the top of a curvy canyon on a record-setting, hot morning in Corsica.
1,000 meters high up in a craggy basin surrounded by mountain peaks, I leaned my mountain bike against a large rock to rest. Something caught my eye across the road. A very old man, tanned and thin with a few tufts of white hair was watching me from a small hut tucked up in the brush and trees. I didn't expect him to approach me. Most Corsicans make their dislike of tourists quite obvious. Yet, the old man was curious and approached me with a friendly wave. “Bonjour Madame!” We exchanged pleasantries until, after just minutes, we had exhausted our knowledge of each others’ language.
In a smattering of broken German, English and French I found out his name is JoJo, 95 years old. He is the shepherd for all the sheep roaming that sprawling mountain basin. He was delighted to meet an American and insisted on refilling my water bottle. He gestured for me to follow him into the pasture between scrubby bushes and snarled trees where there was a well-beaten path. He took off with my water bottle at a surprisingly fast pace.
My L.A. girl instincts certainly should have warned me not to follow a strange man into the bush, but he was so charming and genuinely happy to see me, I couldn’t resist. We arrived at an old pump gurgling fresh, cold water and Jojo spoke volumes to me in French about it. He pointed towards the source, a beautiful waterfall spilling down the side of the far off cliffs, his eyes beaming with pride. I hardly understand a word but I nodded alot. I understood only that we were bonding. Jojo wanted to show me more.
We galloped at an impressive speed once again through trees and brush until we came to a wooden hut. Here, I was introduced to a kind old man with a large, bushy, white beard. He tried a few words of English to the pure laughter and amusement of Jojo and gave me an ice-cold Fanta. No charge for friends of Jojo.
The heat was starting to push down on us and I motioned that I had to get back down the canyon to my family. Jojo led the way but urged me to try a slice of his homemade sheep cheese before I left. On the front porch of his wooden hut enclosed by fly screens were 15 round wheels of cheese. He offered me one, lovingly wrapping it in paper and bidding me a friendly goodbye.
When I got back to the campground, my boys were just getting up for breakfast. I unwrapped my cheese while telling them all about the friendly shephard when I noticed 2 little white worms (maggots!) wiggling along the side of the cheese. I didn't want the worms to overshadow my special encounter with Jojo, so I turned around and quickly cut off the infected piece.
Even though the kids complained of the "dead goat smell" each time we opened the cooler, Jojos zesty cheese became a delicious addition to our crusty, french baguette every moring. Weeks later, I told my kids about the worms. But by then, the cheese was eaten and my encounter with Jojo was a delightful Corsican memory.
© Marie Motil 2020-02-03