We hopped in Patrick’s car and drove out of the city, onto the highway, through tunnels (in which I jumped at one point as a terrifying Swiss biker gang drove by and screamed at the car in jovial cheer. I thought we were going to be surrounded and butchered) and straight into the Alps. The Swiss Alps are everything you would imagine them to be. I love the spotted tiny communities that span all the way to the smallest clustered peak. The Swiss Chalets are also enjoyable, slanted roofs with planters full of geraniums. On the drive to Interlaken we passed by the towns of Emmentaler and Gruyere (I rolled down the window and yes, I can confirm the air smells of cheese). Once we got right into the Alps, I became used to the constant winding roads (trying to keep my lunch in my stomach) and that’s when it became apparent that everything smells like cow manure. Patrick explained that all of the cows are in the high Alps grazing and the farmers collect their “business” and bring it back down to the valley as fertilizer and aromatic natural potpourri I presume. The vistas are stunning as you drive up the mountains and get a view over the valleys, lakes and small communities that dot the countryside. Arriving in Interlaken we drove around the city and stopped at a nice little spot by the lake where you can look up into the sky and see tons of little bodies flying in the air with their paragliding gear.
At noon we arrived at the base camp for the largest extreme sports company in the city. They do rafting, caving, paragliding, bungee jumping and sky diving. We opted for a white water rafting adventure today (possible error in judgment). We had a little safety demo and were then stripped and given two piece wet suits and booties and ushered into a brightly coloured bus. As I sat on the bus for the 20 minutes north to Grindelwald I already felt uncomfortable, I felt a mysterious chafing (and later found out I was allergic to the fabric, breaking out all over my arms into beautiful little red rashes). I peered over the road to the left where everyone in the bus “oohed and ahhhd” at the raging river. First glance I thought “shit”, the river is really shallow. I have rafted in Costa Rica and Banff where the rivers are gushing aisles of raging water. The guide told us the average depth on this river is less than one meter (eek this is not deep). They explained how when falling out of the boat you should never stand up as your feet will get caught in boulders and your legs will get ripped off (or the current will push you over and drown you). The cruncher was when we were told the water temperature is 1 degree Celsius. I whimpered and lost my ability to breath for about 3 seconds. The entire raft crew is from Australia. My captains name was Johnny (who was somewhat of a drill Sergeant scary man, when he said paddle, BOY did I paddle). He has been rafting for 10 years; every year he spends 4 months in Interlaken, 3 months in Auz and 3 months in New Zealand doing the river rafting jobs. The other two months he takes off and goes surfing in Fiji with friends. What a hard life he has, he told me he makes a lot of money, where was my guidance counselor?
There are two rivers which flow off the mountain glacier; the grey and white Lutschinen. They are named the grey and white because, you guessed it, they are grey and white. The first river we popped into was the grey one. Staring into the raging water I felt like death was looking me directly in the face. A dark grey frothing foam of incredibly cold pain. As you all know I never whine, and I love cold, unbearable temperatures. Our group was multicultural; one Swiss, two from Essex, a couple from Holland and three from Korea. As we pulled our boat off the trailer down the rocky shore I could tell this was going to be an interesting trip. One minute after the boat left the shore we rammed right down a huge rapid which submerged the entire boat in ice water. All I could do was form an O with my mouth and my entire body went frozen. Typically I would whimper and then run home but today instead I was whacked on my helmet by the Nazi captain sitting behind me who screamed “FORWARD”. I tried to come out of shock as quickly as possible, I could barely hold my paddle let alone row at this point.
Then the rain started, jugs full of pouring rain. The petite little girl from England sat across from me and we looked at each other in horror for most of the trip down river. The rafting experience was more like a “I don’t want to die” feeling. My goal was to stay in the boat at all costs as I didn’t want to lose my legs or get hypothermia from the freezing froth bellow. At one point I lost all feeling in my feet, then the searing pain coursed through my legs and I sat staring at my two lower appendages, contemplating the cost benefit ratio of having them amputated (these thoughts were during a small wee break when we weren’t being screamed at to jump down, jump left, paddle right or paddle harder). The trip was a workout, dangerous, which explains why we had to constantly be jumping into the bottom of the boat, avoiding death can be exhausting. We saw a big sign ahead and Johnny told us that if we go past that sign we will surely die as it is the international sign for DANGER AHEAD. The rapids down that way basically kill you. We had to haul the boat out of the water (I was in shock when I was told I had to “jump in”) and back into the bus as we drove to the white river which flows directly into beautiful lake Thunersee. I was under the impression that the next river leading to the lake would be a more gentle picturesque ride, how wrong was I. We pull our boat back off the trailer and Johnny slowly informs us that “this here mates, is the worst part, it’s a lot harder than the easy spot we just came out of.”
Shock across my face, my heart sank, bring it on. As I walked down the rocky slope and got my first glace of the river we were about to enter I literally felt like saying “is this a joke”. I felt it should have a “do not enter will die” sign right in front of the spot. I jumped into the boat and the next one hour was a constant jumping, tucking and hold on to dear life, cold adventure. After nearly falling out of the boat and wailing like a woman we came to a more peaceful stretch of the river where we were told we could go swimming. I laughed out loud and decided to use my “I don’t want to and you cant make me” card. I was the only one who didn’t jump in, and the only one who didn’t complain about how cold the swim was after. I was satisfied with my discernible decision making skills at this point. The river flows under many pedestrian bridges as you approach the lake and we decided to soak every passer by with ice cold water. I felt a bit of pity for them, then it passed into a warm (warm? ha) fuzzy feeling of satisfaction. The boat finally reaches the open turquoise lake and my jaw dropped (not from the cold this time) as we entered a fishbowl of mountains and beautiful everything. We paddled hard towards the shore and were told to jump out and swim to the bus. I looked at Johnny and his quick glance told me I didn’t have an option. I jumped and screamed under water, then used my mastered front crawl and arrived on shore in under one minute. I watched the rest of the rafts come in, little blue lipped American girls and shaking Koreans. Back on the bus we drove back to the site where we were instructed to peel off our “wet suits like condoms, inside out” and quickly dried off and put on normal, warm cloths. We chatted for a bit and had some excellent hard mountain cheese with bread, beer, coffee and slices of raspberry Cinnamon pie.
Our next stop was Frutigen, Patricks home town and a very cute village in the Alps. We stopped along the way so I could get some pictures with a few heaving dairy cows and took a couple of great pictures of the view (the area was cloudy today so the mountains were topped off with whipped cream clouds). Patrick was very thoughtful and took me to the country’s most famous restaurant! Landgasthof Ruedihus Kandersteg, an old farmhouse built in the 1700s, now transformed into a bed and breakfast and restaurant. The bottom floor is a dining room which caters solely to cheese courses, the top floor serves only meat dishes. I really enjoyed this food service dichotomy. Meat upstairs and cheese downstairs, excellent. The place is beautiful, full of Swiss clocks, antiques and pictures of the famous people who have visited (including Kofi Anan and Prince Charles). We sat downstairs and I ordered Cheese fondue with onions and bacon. Patrick had a plate of potato rosti with raclette cheese and bacon. We both shared an ice cold bottle of Swiss white wine. I literally almost burst. I have never felt this full in my life. The next day I experienced what the Swiss call a cheese hangover.
Our final stop, we drove to the Roman ruin castle atop the town’s highest peak and walked around the rubble. It started to rain, pitter patter, so we found the Nations Day celebration tent which wasn’t hard to find as all you have to do is follow your nose to the smell of sausage. We sat down inside the tent and ordered a beer as we knew we would be sitting for 3 hours. The first act was a traditional Swiss Quartet (one stand up bass and three guys playing the Swiss Orgal). It was really catchy at first, kinda like polka, but after an hour of it I think I was going to go insane. Patrick started laughing as he hates it, I assumed it was used as punishment for those convicts in prison with particularly seedy pasts. The second group was a blue uniformed marching band. The best part of the band was the little old man in the center who was in charge of swaying the regional flag to and fro. We joked that he had the hardest job and had to practice at least twice a day, more than any of the musicians. The last two acts were a real treat; a huge 30 person yodel fest (yodeler hee hoo) and an Alp Horn trio (the horns are HUGE and exactly like the ones in the Ricola commercials). The night finishes with a big firework show and the National Anthem (I hummed with respect and patriotic pride). We hopped into the car as the rain poured down, I opened my window so I could stick my hand out into the rain. We turned on the radio and listened to “It’s just a little crush”. As we left the Alp region back to the capital I looked out into the dark black night and could see what looked like little fire fly’s twinkling all over the hills. These were in fact the lights of the many families enjoying their Nations Day celebration inside their dry chalets. A very busy 13 hour day, I felt satisfied that I had seen the “real Switzerland” and dozed off to sleep.
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