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The International Writers Magazine: Swiss Alps

Beyond the beauty of the Swiss Alps
Donna B. Cueto
My brief escapade in the country known for its Alps and plateau was a mere side trip from my one month vacation in Germany last August.


I had a chance to watch a Filipino movie that was shot in Bohol, an island that lies southeast from Cebu island and is right in the Central Visayas region of the Philippine archipelago. Bohol is known for its tropical beauty and beaches with white sands. I was surprised with the good cinematography of the director. The film looked as if it was shot abroad. The view of the pineapple plantation draped in the green lush of the mountains of Bohol while lead actors had a fun ride around on horses sent me to a surreal feeling. It all reminded me of the beautiful scenery I saw in Switzerland.

I have an Aunt who has been married to a German and they unconditionally and diligently ushered me around Germany and even to some of its neighbouring countries including Switzerland. Upon hearing of a possibility to visit it by car, I was tremendously excited. As expected, everything went smoothly as we explored the Swiss lands.

Our destination was Chur, a small town in the southern part of Switzerland. It was a long haul of 7 hours by car from Mainz Germany.  Chur, known as the oldest town in Switzerland is located at a highly strategic location, at a height of 1,949 ft (594 m) above sea level. It was a nice place where the roads from several major Alpine transit routes come together and pass together down the Rhine river towards various destinations in Switzerland and Germany.  With a history of settlement way back 5,000 years ago, Chur has evolved into a modern, bustling town with a wealth of architecture. The train station was just a stone throw away from shopping botiques, restaurants, and The Three Kings Hotel where we checked in. On the first day, I was able to explore the town through its small alleys leading to a small Catholic church.

Chur Further down the alleyways were little shops selling Swiss biscuits and pastries and souvenirs. I had a chance to take a picture of the overlooking view of Chur from a strategic high place I spotted a few meters away from our hotel. Our first day was spent exploring the feel of Chur, its people, and its culture. It was enchanting in its simple way. With a population of a little over 30 thousand only, the place was surprisingly not crowded. 

At around 6 in the evening, shops started to close to end the day but before we miss everything we had in our plans, we didn’t forget to buy a train ticket that will take us to the Swiss Alps the following day. We were booked in the Glacier Express train on the first class seats. That meant nicer view of the Alps. Just as I hopped on the Glacier Express, excitement didn’t leave me easily.

When the train started to move, I settled on my seat beside the window and get ready with my camera. A few minutes into our journey, the scenery was like a real postcard view. During summer, the mountainous region of Switzerland is superbly green unlike during winter where everything is snow-covered. The pine trees were all blooming green.

Coming from a tropical country where I am used to seeing coconut trees, I was impressed by the pine trees that all looked perfect for a Christmas tree at home. After a few hours, we passed by a place known as Disentis. According to the audio guide, Disentis was the largest Roman-speaking community in Switzerland. I feasted my eyes on the monasteries and churches that obviously dominated the place aside from the small community of houses in the middle of green field where a few patches of flowering gardens were in full view as well as barns and cows. Everybody in the express train was enjoying the tour so far.

We had a co-passenger on the train who was a native of Switzerland. She pointed to us her house up in the higher section of the Alpine while we were traveling. She said everything is white during winter and since her house is in the elevated grounds, cars were never a commodity. Cable cars become a mode of transportation and their sturdy skis. Suddenly the train stopped and we heard the machinist’s voice on the speaker. He said we were about to enter Oberalppass, the highest point of the journey with a height of 2,033 meters above sea-level. The train had to switch to cog wheels to endure this height.  As the train ascended, the view became much nicer. From a distance, a few colorful parachutes were seen in the bluish skies. Below was a hilly terrain with a good view of the narrow road as cars passed by.  The fog enveloped suddenly the view from outside. We passed by a lake with natural steam coming from the water surface making it looked magical.   

Brig After 5 long hours of pure bliss of sight-seeing by the window, the Glacier express dropped us off to Brig Switzerland, another nice small town which is also normally home to skiing activities during winter. Brig offered fantastic hiking trails into the great Aletsch glacier, a UNESCO World Heritage Site but since it was summer when I was there, we met a lot of tourists who were mostly paragliding enthusiasts.

The Alpine was installed with cable cars, an easy mode of transportation for this kind of terrain. I even tried riding on it. I felt again the nervous tickle I had the first time I rode a cable car in Hongkong. But the sight was altogether new and breathtaking that I thought of Benguet Province in the Philippines.  Benguet is also a mountainous place. I just thought of how easy life would be in this place had there been cable cars available for people. Benguet has always been my favorite place bacause of Mount Pulag, the second tallest mountain in the Philippines.  I still remember the long hours we had to endure to be able to reach a village of Naswak in Benguet. I went there on a coverage to interview kids who walk 3 to 5 hours just to get to their school which is on top of a mountain. I remember we had to brave the terrain, the erratic weather, and the “limatik” or small leeches hiding on bushes’ leaves along our trails preying on our fresh blood. I was always lamenting and whispering“ so near yet so far” whenever I would see the school building from a distance and every time I asked our guide how far were we from that school, he would tell us another 3 hours by foot. That was not particularly encouraging for us who were walking 6 hours already at that time, too exhausted and starving for real food. As I looked at the mountain of Brig, how I loved to see these cable cars working in Benguet Philippines because everything will become easier; for kids to go to their school on top of the mountains, for the locals to deliver their goods to the town and to send sick or needy people immediately to the foot of the mountain. In this age and time, transportation should never be a problem anymore but in the Philippines, there are still a lot of places inaccessible because of the lack of proper mode of transportation. 

The previous government of President Gloria Arroyo promised the Filipinos with her Stronger Republic Project in her entire tenure. A promise for a better infrastructure, farm to market roads, fly-overs, bridges, improvement of  railway system from south to north of Manila. These are but tangible proofs of a country that is moving forward but her presidency left us with unfinished businesses. The North Railway project was shelved off shortly after it started.  I thought about how they did this kind of railway in the mountain of Switzerland. If other countries can do it then why can’t we in the Philippines? 

Right after the Brig drop off and a few hours of sight-seeing, we headed back to the train station and waited for the next train that will take as back to Chur. The temperature was dropping to a chill that afternoon and the train was late already. The officer from the station apologized. He said trains were delayed because of the fog. A few minutes later, we saw the train from a distance honking, obviously getting our attention and seemingly transcending its apology to its already freezing passengers. Everybody hurriedly stepped in the train as it pulled to a stop. I looked for my seat beside the window. The fog was almost obscuring the view from outside but I didn’t intend to sleep in the entire journey back to Chur.  

Looking back at the Swiss Alps from afar as I got off the Glacier Express, the experience was indeed once in a lifetime. Beyond all the scenic views I saw, I had two great wishes. Firstly, to see one fine day that cable cars are also operating on areas in the Philippines where they are very much needed. Secondly, that railway system leading to provinces in the country from south to north will be speedily improved so that better infrastructure and improved transport facilities are not confined in Manila only. If theses wishes were way too much, then I am really dreaming big but if they happen here in the Philippines under our new president, then I will be the happiest Filipino citizen on earth.

© Donna B. Cueto Jan 2011

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