Just arrived in the village of La Fouly in Switzerland. Of all the places I’ve passed through until now it is the most quintessentially “Swiss alpine”. Sweeping green hillsides ringing with cowbells, chalets standing on stilts, stupendous peaks rising in the background, it is what I’ve always imagined the Alps to be like. They’re much more varied of course, but I guess most people travel with some predetermined image in their heads of what they expect to see. Much of that has been permanently damaged, and I will never quite see these places the same way again.
I was supposed to walk until Champex today, but when I arrived here and found that there were still four hours to go, I decided to call it a day. It’s a nice enough little place, perfect for holiday travelers, and would be great if I had a lot more money and someone to share a room with! I heartily recommend it to anyone who wants a quiet place to hole up for a few days and go for great walks.
I’m loving the mountains, but I’m getting a little tired of the constant, just hand’s-breadth away, stand-offishness of the bigger mountains on this walk. The Tour de Mont Blanc is like a stroll through an enormous art gallery, the path skirting the grandness of the mountains, but never quite touching them, with the walker leaning in from along the edges, making out the gigantic forms, but never feeling their solidity underfoot. It is so different from the walks in the Alps in Japan, where you always get right into the grit of the climbs and feel the vastness of the mountains underneath you. Of course, these mountains are colder and higher and so you don’t have the same freedom as a casual walker to simply go up to the high ridges without specialized knowldege.
Entering Italy was an experience in high blood sugars as every meal seems to come with two courses and then a before dessert morsel, followed by a dessert. Last night in the mountain refuge that I stayed out I discovered the Italians at their most cheerful sitting around eating, drinking, and talking. Out on the trails, however, I found them unusually reticent, especially the men, very rarely looking directly at you and saying hello. Forget the smiles. So different from the French who readily sang out their greetings and often stopped to engage me in little chats about where I came from and where I was going. This was completely unexpected. I’d always heard of Italians being so open and friendly, and the French closed-mouthed. Maybe the Italians were all still recovering from the festivities of the night before.
Had an absolutely horrific night at the hotel in Courmayeur the second day. A contingent of Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) walkers had overtaken the little room I was in. An elderly woman slept in the bed next to mine and once the lights went out she proceeded to snore like a locomotive. After several hours of lying awake, unable to sleep and hearing others in the room shifting as they also attempted to sleep, I finally took it upon myself to nudge the woman’s bed each time she began her aria in an attempt to curb the noise. After the third nudge she sat up and snarled something at me in Italian. When I answered in English she returned, “Two people can’t sleep. Do you have a problem with that?” I told her that, much as I didn’t want to wake her, her snoring was so loud that it was impossible to sleep. She didn’t apologize or even acknowledge that perhaps she was making everyone else unhappy, but instead called to her sleeping husband and asked to exchange beds with him. That solved nothing, of course, and when her snoring started up again, I got so miffed that I packed up my backpack and headed out to the front of the hotel to sleep on the lawn chairs there. It was freezing but I got a rather good doze in while gazing up at the stars.
Last night was my first night sleeping in the tent. The refuge I was hoping to stay at, Rifugio Elena, told me that there were no places left and the only place available was the open field out back. It was a ruinous place where every other step had you stepping into cow patties and it smelled like a dirty barn, and the wind coming off the col above was glacial, but inside the tent it was warm enough. I slept very well.
Tomorrow I’m off north across the northern portion of the Tour. Four more nights to go.