This little article is taken off a little page of a dear little friend’s little travel diary. May his curious little foot find a little peace. Amen. He has been based in Switzerland for the past couple of years, and is finally coming back home. We are merry. His prejudices, clearly displayed in his writing, I cannot share. His generalizations I shall not be a part of, save as a mere publisher on this instrument. To see more of his madness in pics, one could, if one was so inclined, follow him on Instagram and Twirra @ndle_nkosi.
With my departure from Switzerland drawing close, my flatmates decided to organise a farewell get-together/weekend. And what better place than in the famed Alps? While we tried to get all flatmates past and present together (our flat had a pretty high turnover, with 7 people in the space of a year), in the end only three of us could make it. We started planning this trip in January. Being Swiss, my flatmates were keen to discuss and decide on every single detail way ahead of time. Meanwhile, I was frustrating their anal retentive efforts through my habit of muting all Whatsapp Groups. Furthermore, I was not keen on spending a weekend in a freezing mountain cabin with no running water or central heating! Eventually, however, I convinced them to do a day trip – perfect!
The idea was to travel to Leukerbad – a small village in the Valais region – and hike (the Swiss would say walk because they all have the stamina of mountain goats) for a while before heading back to the thermal baths at the Walliser Alpentherme. The day before we left, one of my flatmates pulled out of the trip on the grounds that she had to work the following day. Interestingly, she is the one who had proposed this entire affair and kept pushing us to make a decision quickly. A few weeks before that, I remember saying to my other flatmate that when she gets all excited about plans, more often than not they go awry, and usually at her responsibility. Nevertheless, we ploughed on and invited another friend to join us.
That same night, I invited some South African friends for dinner. What was supposed to be a quick dinner and drinks before heading into the city for the Winter Carnival (Fasnacht) ended up being a raucous drinking fest. We eventually left at midnight – mostly because the last trams were running – and went dancing in the city. What possessed me to do this knowing I had a whole day’s activities planned for the Saturday beats me. In any event, we had a good night out and stumbled home at 3 o’clock. I had to set 4 alarms for 7 o’clock to make sure I would wake up in time to catch the train to our rendezvous. I was never ready for the hangover that assailed me when I came to! It took all of my will to get out of bed and shower before running to the train station. 45 minutes later, I was at the meeting point and my travel companions were nowhere to be seen. I cursed under my breath when they told me they were running late. Then I bought a coffee … and a little extra … hair of the dog as it were. Unfortunately, one cannot purchase painkillers at random convenience stores in Switzerland, so I had to deal with the pounding headache in a rather unconventional manner.
In due course, the other two showed up and we drove up to Leukerbad. We got there around midday and decided to walk around the village and the surrounding woods. It was snowing pretty heavily and snow was piled up everywhere. It was interesting to note that the gelateria in the village was open despite there being so much snow! While walking on one of the paths, we came across barriers with large warning signs about possible avalanches. Paying no heed to them, we jumped over a few and kept walking. In my head I was thinking, “If I die here, people will probably ask: why did he go through that way knowing full well that there were avalanche warnings?”. But, I made peace with this via the dolus eventualis of Pistorius fame.
Upon our return from the walk, we made a beeline for the baths. Prior to the trip, I complained bitterly to my flatmate about how I didn’t see the possibility of spending three hours immersed in a hot pool seeing as ten minutes in the shower have me gasping for breath. It did not help matters when we found out that the minimum booking time was 5 hours. I almost died at that counter! However, when my enquiry as to whether or not there was a bar inside was answered in the affirmative, I thanked my lucky stars and entered.
We had been told that there were saunas, cold pools, an indoor pool and one outside. To be honest, I was not particularly excited about the whole affair. In any case, back home talk of hot springs normally conjures up images of mermaids and other mythical creatures. However, this is what I found upon entering…
No words could describe the surprise I felt at the beauty that arrested us! Absolutely magnificent! Steps led directly from the main building into the pool, which was fairly big and had jets mounted in different spots for a Jacuzzi-type experience when not swimming. The clincher was the snow all around the pool and the cliff face as well as the mountain view.
I immediately turned to my flatmate and apologised for being dismissive and uncooperative in the lead-up to this trip.
Later that day, it started snowing again while we were in the pool. To experience the snow, fog and thermal baths while overlooking the mountains the way we did… NgesiNdebele bathi ukutshelwa yikuncitshwa (In Ndebele they say being told a story is being denied the experience). I will not bore you with details of the saunas, steam baths, ice water pools and ice bucket challenge, or even how I eventually spent 5 hours in there and could barely account for the time. Suffice it to say this:
The splendour of Leukerbad, quite literally, easily became my best experience of living in Switzerland!