Strengthened by Appenzell’s focaccia and maybe a little too much gelato, we hopped onto the train for a five-mile trip to the end of the line, literally, at Ebenalp, a mountain so high that it has two valleys, one at the bottom and the second about halfway up the 5,380-foot gondola ride, so that just when you think the ride is over and you can breathe again you crest a ridge and see there is more to come.
The Swiss are a sturdy lot, and they know that a mere gondola ride where life hangs suspended in mid-air by a series of thick steel cables cannot possibly inspire a suitable level of terror, and so they packed the gondola so tight that I dreaded my body’s cells might try to jump ship in a last-ditch bid to get off the overcrowded gondola, which might only lead to DNA-blending with the other passengers through the inevitable osmosis that would occur from cell-leaping.
If that last paragraph makes no sense, blame the gondola ride.
The whistle sounded and as if on cue, another 12 people jumped onto the gondola, squeezing us in such that I could no longer fully inflate my lungs. I wish I was joking about this.
I felt some degree of comfort in knowing that should we plunge to the ground, my fall would be broken by about 4,000 lbs. of mountain-hiking Swiss – who were very bony, but who also carried massive backpacks. I don’t know what was in the packs, but I hoped they were soft. There was no guarantee of it. The Swiss are so vigorous and such enthusiastic mountaineers that they probably carry about 200 lbs. of stones in their packs to ratchet up the agony of the hike, which would heighten their level of enjoyment.
I worried about the possibility of stones, but there was nothing I could do about this, and so it was into these packs I put my trust.
But I get ahead of myself. Our intention was to take the ride to the top of Ebenalp, then hike down the mountain, which was billed as a 60-90 minute journey. Knowing my propensity for stumbling, I calculated a 20-minute tumble downhill, so I dressed appropriately and left the hiking boots at home in favor of some very nice sandals.
My first hint that this was a mistake came when we got off the train where we immediately saw people huddled over the creek (straight and orderly, as are all Swiss creeks), washing their hiking boots. So, I should have brought my boots, which happened to be in Canada.
And then I noticed the temperature. Ebenalp is in an alpine region, of course, and it was very cold.
The cold would ordinarily have been disastrous, however, I am in the grips of an unrelenting menopausal fever, so while others walked around bundled in layers of Goretex, I embraced the mountain chill in light cotton attire.
Nevertheless, I was worried about the trail mud ruining my nice sandals. I pointed out my footwear to the non-English-speaking desk agent and he cast a gaze of respect in my direction. As a Swiss, he had to admire my apparent attempt to make my mountain trek more rigorous than even the other Swiss milling about the gondola launch, although he must have wondered where I put my knapsack of small boulders.
My willingness to invite hypothermia signaled that I might possibly have some Swiss blood, although that is unlikely although there is a good chance I am related to the French who roguishly invaded Switzerland again and again over the past 1,000 years. Haha! Those French. Invading Switzerland when they should have been watching out for Germany.
And so we cancelled the hike, which made me very happy because now I would have no reason to ride that gondola. I was wrong about that. Dave pointed out the main point of the trip was to see Ebenalp’s mountain-top cave church, hermit’s cottage and sip on some beer at the Ebenalp guest house from where we could see Bodensee (also known as Lake Constance).
So up the gondola we went, with it swinging more than I would have liked, but there was nothing I could do about it but pray that God did not want to play a big joke on me, who has a fear of heights, by making a 5,000-foot plummet part of my exit from earth. I would have arrived at the pearly gates in a very ticked-off mood.
Tomorrow: Cliff-gripping trails, caves, weddings and the worst soup ever.