It all begun with a dream: To unwrap the world, one destination at a time.
After months of meticulous planning, trying out different options, having doors slammed in our face, negative feedback that this was a wild dream, going back to the drawing board several times and finally setting a date Mountain Slayers Kenya made it to the Swiss Alps in August 2018! But not before we had our day at the Embassy which made me realise that the reason many people do not bother to travel is because we are made to feel like second rate citizens begging for a chance to leave our country. We all got our travel documents in order thankfully, then the countdown begun, and before we knew it, it was July 31st and we were at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport- finally the dream was coming true.
Ten Mountain Slayers believed in the dream, signed up and were on our way to the inaugural overseas hiking expedition. Switzerland was no longer a dream but a reality. Here is our story.
After an 8 hour journey aboard Kenya Airways, we landed in Amsterdam with one hour to catch our connecting flight to Zurich, call me a greenhorn, I was bright eyed and mouth hanging somewhere halfway between my tummy and my knees. It was my first time to travel to Europe and I was taking in all the sights and scents with all my five senses, yes, ALL MY FIVE SENSES. We were processed through immigration in Amsterdam quite smoothly (except for my spray can of Deep Freeze that was confiscated) and hoped onto our KLM flight to Zurich. I was surprised to note that the air stewards were quite mature in age unlike the ladies who are the norm on Kenya Airways and other local flights. But I must admit that these mature ladies seemed to appreciate their jobs much more and offered service with a smile and were all eager to offer any assistance.
The first indicator that I might not have understood what summer is was when we landed in Zurich and we were hit by a wave of heat and bright sunlight despite the fact that it was 6:30pm. We quickly located the train station and jumped onto the train that would drop us off at Zurich Central Station (ZCS) from where we would find our accommodation for the night. I cannot even begin to talk about the efficient transport system that they have, the only problem that I had was the fact that everything is automated, I am used to talking to a human being and not a machine, so I was that person who would look for a uniformed officer to ask for directions.
Our hotel for the first night was 5 minutes walk from ZCS, we were too wound up to sleep early or maybe it was because the sun did not go down until 10:00pm. Eventually we settled in for the night and planned to meet at ZCS at 9:00am to begin our journey to Lauterbrunnen. I have seen pictures of Switzerland many times before, but those pictures and movies did not prepare me for the actual thing. To say that Switzerland is beautiful would be an injustice. I will just say that the Swiss are blessed to have sensory gourmet on a daily basis.
We travelled a distance of about 100km to Lauterbrunnen which is South-West from Zurich. When we stepped out of the train station, we knew that we had picked the right country for the inaugural Mountain Slayers- Kenya overseas hike. We could not stop gaping and staring at the rolling hills around us. Some were capped in snow and others had a brilliant green on them. If I thought that the excitement was high, we were now almost giddy with joy. We had a quick lunch and shopped for a few supplies before we jumped onto a bus that would take us to the little town of Stechelberg from where we would begin our hike. We made our way to the inn for the night, Alpenhof Inn, which was run by a sweet couple- Marc and Diane. But I think I am getting ahead of myself, now note that we are deep in Switzerland, and here we were ten black people carrying huge hiking bags and carrying on in joyous banter as we made our way along. To say that the locals were surprised and shocked to see us would be to put it mildly. I remember we walked into this little diner for a meal and the patrons sat with their mouths wide open. I kid you not. They were mesmerized by us. I could tell it was not from a negative place, but simply curious as to how and who these dark skinned individuals were and what language they were speaking in. One of the attendants asked us where we were from and whether we were talking to each other in our native language. Well, clearly we do not speak the Queen’s English but something that I learnt is referred to ‘Kenglish’ or ‘Kenyanesse’
We were lucky to land in Switzerland the eve of their National Day so our stay in Stechelberg, this little village town in Stechelberg was quite festive. The Swiss are known for their Cheese and Chocolate so it was not a surprise that the cowbell ringer is a revered man in this town. The climax of the celebrations was when the cowbell ringer and his assistant led the town members in a march around the town, marching in time to the cowbell gong that they were clanging as they made their way. After the parade, we were treated to fireworks which had been rigged from one of the hills closest to the town. We were warmly welcomed to partake in the traditional brew and hot cross buns after the cowbell ringers had returned. We were so engrossed in the celebrations, and the long days were confusing that we almost forgot that we had come to hike.
After a restful night at Alpenhof Inn, where we had to feed coins into a machine to dispense hot water for showering, we were treated to a hearty breakfast before we set off for our hike. We took a cable car from Stechelberg to Murren and then began a trek that would take us almost 9 hours to complete. The weather was favourable, the trails well marked plus an added bonus of having water points along the way, including a mountain inn where we had our lunch before proceeding to Sefinenfurgge pass. I must let you know that we were starting from a level of about 250M and ascended up to about 1500M above sea level.
When they say summer, you best believe that it is hot. This was Mountain Slayers- Kenya first self-guided tour with no porters and the experience was amazing! I now believe that Kenyan hikers carry too many things because they know that they have the luxury of giving their stuff to the porters to carry. Well, I must commend my team, they all carried their bags with no complaints (even if they were tired, complaining would not have helped because there was no assistance to be offered)
We kept at a steady pace, manoeuvring over streams, passing by cows in the meadows (I finally understood this phrase from the movie ‘Sound of Music’- ‘The hills are alive, with the sound of music’ the cowbells make the most melodious sound) leaving the meadows, getting onto the scree and eventually the peak. We had to scramble up the last section, but thankfully we found ropes fastened into the side of the mountain to pull ourselves up. We made it to the summit and were relieved that we had made it without any incident. This joy was short lived. We glanced down the other side of the mountain where we were treated to steep stairs that descended into clouds of fog and mist. We descended into the valley and crossed some more streams and focused on making our way to Griesalp where we would spend the night. Now, we had thought that Stechelberg was a village town, nothing prepared us for Griesalp. This place was even further in, and their shock at seeing a troop of black folk was even more pronounced. I remember one small boy who came out with his binoculars to stare at me; I was less than 5 feet away from him. As we walked through the town, the place came to a standstill. The people stopped and unashamedly starred at us. There were some calves frolicking in a pen right before us. These calves were playing with some European hikers who were passing close by, but when we approached, they took off, the calves, not the hikers.
I thank God for the long days that we had, the natural light made it easier to keep on walking way even when we knew it was late. We were grateful to eventually get to Naturfreundehaus, which was manned by an interesting fellow called Heinz. The next day we had one more summit to slay. Out of the ten hikers who had started this journey, only five were committed to the second summit. We set off to conquer Hortuli, which was another 1,000 metre ascent and just as steep descent. We were rewarded with crossing right by the breathtaking Oeschinensee. Such aqua blue water, I have never seen before. If I thought the previous day was long, I was in for an even longer day. To understand just how intense our hikes were, let me share this. The first time we mentioned our destination to fellow hikers, the reaction we got was, ‘Oh my God!’ We were getting to Kandersteg at 8:30pm. The rest of the team that had opted not to hike were waiting for us and wondering what happened. We were out on the hills, enjoying ourselves, getting rained on, and taking pictures, getting chased by cows and soaking in all the glorious beauty around us.
When we arrived at Kandersteg, we were treated to the loveliest of inns, and well worth the struggle. Our hiking trip came to an end at Bernerhof Inn. We celebrated a birthday, toasted the persistent, resilient fabulous five hikers who hankered down and slayed the two peaks of the Swiss Alps.
The next day we transferred back to Zurich where we spent the night before starting off for the Euro Tour that took us to Germany, Czech, Slovakia, Hungary, Austria and Lichtenstein. Eastern Europe is filled with such rich history. We did so much in such a short span of time that my head is still spinning from everything that I saw. We passed by the Rhine falls in Germany where we were taken through the history of the Cuckoo clock and learnt about how Eiswein is made visited. We then moved on to Frankfurt for the night. The next day we made our way to Prague (pronounced Praha) where we visited the St. Vitus Cathedral and visited the Schonbrunn Palace. Hungary was our next stop. We sailed the Danube River and grabbed a meal at a little café run by the famed Chef Jamie Oliver. That same evening we were treated to a traditional Hungarian dinner. I cannot begin to go into detail about how exquisite this experience was you had to be there. Vienna, the home of Mozart, was our next stop. We went to Musikverein where we had a delightful musical evening watching the Vienna Orchestra. Our second last day took us back to Germany, Munich, where we stopped at the factory of the famous Octoberfest, where we indulged in original ale, straight from the factory pitchers. I know understand why Octoberfest is such a huge deal. After a whirlwind tour, we made our way back to Switzerland where we made a visit up Mount Titlis. A tour to Switzerland would be incomplete without the famous cheese fondue. As you can tell, we soaked in as much as we could given the short amount of time that we had. Space cannot allow me to get into more detail here. This is simply a condensed version of our experience.
To the fabulous group of Mountain Slayers-Kenya who were on this trip, I take my hat off to you. I salute you for believing in the dream. This is just the beginning.
If you want to be a part of this amazing group of hikers, email us on email@example.com for more information.