“The more people you travel with, the fewer people you meet.”
That brilliant adage can be accredited to Gavin (or Kevin…) whom we met while white water rafting in Interlaken today. It was a rainy and gloomy day in Switzerland today, and surprisingly perfect weather to go in the river, since we were already wet. With that, the day did not go to waste.
Dad and Molly began their day with a hike, which I had intended to go on. But at 7 am, my body had other plans. I arose later, and walked out onto the patio to see the clouds settled among the mountains, and got ready to go rafting in my swimsuit and sunglasses. By the time we had been picked up in front of Hotel Bären, Reuben the Kiwi made it clear to me that this wouldn’t be like other rafting trips I had been on before. When we arrived at the company, we met the 30 other rafters we would be journeying with: Girl Scouts. Yes, we went white water rafting with Girl Scouts. I couldn’t think of a greater paradox if I tried. They all spoke English, but it was cool that they were all drawn together from Australia, New Zealand, and England to do a tour of Europe. The only other American was a young man from Michigan: Gavin/Kevin.
The extreme sports company was run by Kiwis, and their humor (and delightful accents) made stripping down out of comfort and into wetsuits tolerable. There was nothing not hideous about wearing wetsuits, life jackets, water shoes, and helmets while trying to balance on the side of a raft. But we managed to focus on the fun and fear Grade 4 rapids presented, versus our aesthetic appeal… or lackthereof.
The rapids were amazing, and I took a helmet to the face a couple of times, but it was exhilarating to paddle and swim in the frigid water in the middle of a storm. Our guide, Tim (or Tazzie) was as serious as a heart attack about our diving out of the raft for practice, much to our dismay. We were all shocked at how quickly Rachel was able to get back into the boat. Only later we learned that she had held on to the OS (“outside”, or “oh shit”) ropes the entire time. Meanwhile, I got to know a few of the girl scouts on our raft for a bit too: one from England, two from Australia. It made me wish I had stayed with Girl Scouts years ago… just kidding. Troop moms prove to be awful internationally.
When we were spit out at the end of the river, we got out of the raft and swam in the stunning blue Lake Brienz. The water was noticeable warmer, which is probably why the ducks and swans enjoyed it so much. Afterwards, we took the bus back to the base, stripped out of wetsuits and covered ourselves with what little we had brought to warm ourselves in the storm. That’s when we met Gavin/Kevin, the CPA from Michigan who had only nice things to say about where he came from, and the tour of Europe he was taking alone, using the saved up vacation time he had. A lot would think about traveling alone as a lonely experience. But he looked at it differently: an opportunity to meet new people, travel between hostels cheaply, and do what you’d like at your leisure. The entire time Gavin/Kevin told us about his experiences in Corsica, Germany, etc, I kept thinking to myself “I’m going to do this, and travel as much as I can.” This is where Gavin/Kevin’s one piece of advice came into play.
I thought back to my trip to the South Pacific. At 16, I was so uncomfortable traveling alone. I floated in a pack of about 8 kids who became my life line in Sydney, Auckland, and Waikiki– predominately the bigger cities. This was partly due to my nerves of being “an outsider” and partly due to our rigid instructions to stick to timetables and together. In Germany, my fears waned, and I met a lot of new great people because of it. But there is a lot of truth in what the young American told us today. Traveling alone or in smaller groups allows you room to meet new people, and broaden your horizons. Yes, even if, those horizons are only expanded so far as to include 30 Girl Scouts.
When we came back, we did the typical trek up four flights of stairs, fought the heavy door of our family corridor, walked up more stairs to our rooms, and collapsed. Quickly though, our subconscious minds grew paranoid about the grunginess of the lake and overused wetsuits. We had to cave: the dingy hobbit shower had to be used. Blech, that’s all I’ll say.
After a quick nap, we set out for a “vacation from our vacation.” We went to eat at an Irish pub: the menu was in English, the timing of the meal was American, and our waiter spoke flawless English. SCORE! We ordered burgers, fries, and salads, and it was a pick-me-up sort of meal that topped off a day of English, but also let us relax before we begin our drive to Montreaux tomorrow.