Thursday, September 01, 2005

State of Emergency

(Ed note: this entry and title were taken from our journal, written at the time of the events. Now, after a few days of being stunned and sickened and heartbroken by the images and stories coming out of New Orleans, our experiences seem trivial and it seems inappropriate to be writing about floods and disasters in such a glib way. We thought about taking this entry off, but decided that this blog is intended to be a record of our experiences during this year and Central Switzerland's floods and our being stranded by them are a definite part of that. Our hearts go out to the citizens of New Orleans and their friends and families and we just hope that the government and the country can try and make up to them in the coming months for the ways they were ignored and (in many ways) betrayed during the past few days)

When Brian and I started planning this trip, he probably mentioned to many of you that he thought to truly experience an 'around the world' trip, he was hoping to be in the middle of at least one coup d'etat or national emergency (he had visions of being air lifted off an embassy). Not surprisingly, I was somewhat less excited about the prospect, but didn't really give it high odds of occuring. And even if I had thought it likely, I would never, ever, in a million years have expected it to happen in Switzerland. I mean, this is Switzerland: land of the decimal point and the accurate watches.

But a national emergency is actually what we found ourselves in last week.

We had just finished writing a quick entry for the blog complaining about the rain and how it had kept us from enjoying the views we were hoping to see. Though we alluded to it earlier, we really had no idea of the devastation the rain was creating farther down the valley. Though it rained a lot, it didn't seem like it had rained THAT much, but it turns out that it was not only that it was both hard enough and constant enough, but also that it was warm enough that instead of landing as snow for a good portion, it rained all the way up the mountains. That meant that it all ran back down the mountains (new waterfalls were popping up everywhere on the cliff walls and little streams were flowing across roads) and into just one river (or rather in each valley on either side of the Jungfrau) and both those rivers (which overflowed their banks and did damage as they made their ways down the valleys) flowed into Interlaken. 36 hours after we had gone through it, people were paddling canoes across the rails at the Interlaken Ost train station.

I'm not sure how much made CNN (probably not much), but central Switzerland sufferred terrible damage: more than $100 million swiss francs worth and many many people lost their homes (we later saw all sorts of pictures of freeways looking like lakes and buildings being swept away and people wading through waist-high water in the capital). All sorts of army reserves and national guard type folks were called out to try and help fight the water and repair the damage. And it wasn't just Switzerland. It sounded like Bulgaria and Romania actually suffered the worst damage, with Bavaria (part of Germany) and part of Austria also being hit. Major big deal.

Not long after we posted that Rain, Rain Go Away post we lost power. Petra (our kick-ass inn-keeper/bartender/den-mother) came in to tell us about what was happening and let us know that we were all struck up there in Gimmelwald indefinitely. The roads and hiking trails down off the mountain were washed out and the power outage meant that the gondola (the way most of us got up there) wasn't working. (And even if we could have gotten down to the valley, we wouldn't have been able to get anywhere). That caused some panic among some of the backpackers who had flights in the next couple of days out of Amsterdam, Paris, London, etc. and especially with one fellow who was on a leave from the air force and was worried about being declared AWOL.

The surreal part is that even though we were in some ways at the epicenter of it, or at least at the point causing a lot of the trouble, it was (almost literally) like water off a duck's back. That is, the rain came down, and it ran past us down the mountain and then it was gone. And by Monday night/Tuesday morning it wasn't even raining any more (And by Wednesday it was BEAUTIFUL!). So we felt like we should somehow be helping or doing something, but everything was fine where we were (and we couldn't get out of there) basically we just hiked and guiltily enjoyed our vacation.

We were even in the one place in Gimmelwald with a (professional-grade, fantastic to cook on) gas range, so we had no problems making food. In the evenings, we would sit around by candlelight, enjoying yummy communal food and listening to some of the more musically inclined and talented fellow strandees entertain us with jam sessions on the guitar, piano and bongo. We enjoyed the beer, got to know each other, and played cards by candle light. Really, if anything it enhanced the experience.

As we sit here and write this from Paris one week later, we are overwhelmed by the images from New Orleans, Biloxi and the rest of the area Katrina devastated. We once again feel grateful and fortunate to have ridden out our floods on high ground and hope that all of you back home and your friends and family are on high ground as well.


Will try and post more soon. We have more to tell about Gimmelwald, the Mountain Hostel, the magnificent seven, Chamonix and Mont Blanc, and the TGV. Leaving Paris for Cork in Ireland tomorrow. 11 days in Ireland then back to Paris and environs for a week before Mom arrives to travel with us for a while.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

personally I didn't find any of your comment glib... or inappropriate.

regardless, we all are happy to hear that you surived floods of your own.