More than 12 years ago my wife and I visited Switzerland. As with all of her trips – not that there have been many – Katrina prepared this one with great precision. You might feel that travelling with someone who prepares her trips in detail may not be fun to travel with – as in too rigid. Happily, despite knowing where we’ll be at any given time and when, Katrina is also flexible enough. Change the circumstance and you can change the plans – up to a point.
Part of this trip, of course, included hiking, and before the trip we bought a book “Hiking in Switzerland” which included accurate stage-by-stage descriptions of a great number of hikes, in a country where, if you throw a stone in any given direction, chances are you’ll find a hiking trail in the spot where it lands.
But, where in Switzerland to go? I had already been there — three times in fact — as an aspiring Transcendental Meditation teacher in the 1970’s. One very memorable place, among other towns and cantons, was the village of Arosa in the breathtakingly beautiful area in the eastern part of the country. Here many people still speak Romansh, an ancient language which, protected by the towering Alps, evolved from the Latin spoken by the Roman soldiers who stayed behind once the empire broke apart. In Arosa, if ever you should be lucky enough to go there, you will find a lively magical feeling still present that reminds you of childhood and the fairy tales you grew up with. The very air is still, and distant buildings are seen through the prism of the energy emanating from the surrounding white-peaked mountains guarding the village. It’s not hard to come up with the words “magical” and “spiritual” while walking around the town. Often, you are at a loss for words altogether.
In deciding where to go, we looked around the map of Switzerland and, for reasons that I can’t remember, we chose Ticino, the Italian-speaking canton of Switzerland bordering Italy. Perhaps we liked the sounds of the names of their towns and villages, and we ultimately reserved a room in a cheap hotel in the tiny village of Faido, and looked forward to a brief bus ride the following day from the hotel to a short gondola ride up the side of a mountain and the eight-hour hike ahead of us.
I remember getting off the train in Faido and looking around at the neat gardens and quaint homes on the way to the hotel. Little did I know then that the residents of Faido had a thing for the American Western and that in fact we had arrived in time for their annual Rodeo Festival. People walked around in wide-brimmed cowboy hats and cowboy boots and we’d go, “What the…?” But they looked as if they were enjoying themselves immensely. Not that we could go up to them and chat, considering that they all spoke a Swiss version of Italian.
The following day we were off early for our hike. Did I mention that the hiking book put the hike in at eight hours? I don’t know if we dawdled too long at lunch (I don’t think we did) but it took Katrina and me over 11 hours to finish that baby. It was a gorgeous hike, of course, a hike that does injustice to the word “gorgeous”. At one point I had to stop (I did this many times) and counted 11 waterfalls tumbling over distant cliffs. We covered a wide range of ecosystems, from alpine meadows to pure alpine rock face to deep and lush forest. We crossed a herd of cattle blocking our path; it was a bit scary walking past these large, curiously unafraid, animals, but they seemed devoid of malice. They stared at us but fortunately let us pass. (We were so tired at that point near the end of the hike, I don’t know what we would have done had they blocked our way.)
When our hike was finally over, we tramped into the hotel just in time for a spaghetti dinner. After dinner, we fell unconscious onto our lumpy bed and were basically burned out for further hikes. We did attempt them, two large ones, but the battery packs in our bodies were barely pulsing with energy after that first never-ending hike.
Switzerland is definitely on the list of countries that we’d like to visit again; it’s even ahead of other strong contenders that we’ve never been to but know to be very beautiful. Where we’ll go exactly we don’t know; we could close our eyes and place our finger down on the map and see where it lands, or go back to Faido. Maybe I could do the next “hike” on the back of a horse and go “Yeee-haa”, you never know.