Chasing a Goat Parade

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A surprisingly chilly night in Zermatt meant that I was able to break out my orange jacket for the first time since our free camp in the field of stinging nettle clear back in Tuscany.  As we milled about the campground last night, everybody was dressed in full winter gear – long pants and big, puffy coats.  Of course we were lightly dressed, with myself in shorts and a t-shirt.  We must have built up some tolerance for cold on the road.  Either way, we have learned that if you are worried about baking on your European vacation in July, just head for the hills and you can freeze all you like!

We woke up to completely clear skies, with the exception of a little ball of white clouds surrounding the Matterhorn.  Given the forecast of afternoon thunderstorms, we were up early and set off into town while we had good weather.

In an attempt too wait for the Matterhorn to clear, we went for a little walk up through town and into the hills behind Zermatt.  As we made our way through town, we noticed several people with brightly colored running shoes and numbers pinned to their shirts.  We eventually pieced together that today was the Zermatt marathon which was slated to start in the late morning after the air had warmed up a little bit.

While we were walking, we heard a sudden jingling of bells.  Looking down the hill, we noticed a pen of the infamous Zermatt goats with three of their caretakers.  The caretakers (goatherders?) were dressing up in traditional attire, and as we watched we eventually saw the goats being led out of the pen.  Thus commenced the twice-daily goat parade through Zermatt to take toe goats goats to  the hills to graze.

We ran down the trail in effort to beat the parade into the city.  We have heard a lot about these prized goats, and wanted a firsthand look at what all of the hype was about.  The goats moved fast, but we were faster and reached the church just in time for the herders to lead the goats through town.

We were the first people that the goats saw in town, and several made a strait beeline for us as we stood on the side of the road.  Surrounded by goats, we delightedly gave them a little bit of attention, and attempted to snap a few pictures.  Unfortunately, our camera settings were no good so they all came out blurry.  Bree caught the mistake after the goats went by, so we fixed the camera settings and chased the parade down the street, getting a few decent pictures of the soft, long-haired goats with disproportionately large horns as they frolicked in the streets.

After we had had our fun with the goats, the Matterhorn was not quite clear, but looking promising.  With hopes of a clear view, we headed up to the mountain via an underground funicular and cable car.  There, we took a little walk.

The walk, called the panoramaweg, offered two things: killer views of the mountains and good chances to spot wildlife.  What more can you ask for?  Bree and  I thus set off on the hike up the mountain with our wildlife-spotting eyes on.  I was determined to see at least a chamois or ibex, both which frequent this area.

The hike was above the treeline, and steep rocky slopes felt very much like a tundra.  The temperatures were still cold, but the uphill climbing necessitated the shedding of layers.  On our way back from to the lift from the one-way hike, I saw a large, deer-like mass hop across the trail.  After a quick lens swap to our telephoto, I took off down the trail in pursuit of the animal.  It wasn’t more than a few seconds later that Bree caught my attention, telling me to come up.  She had spotted an entire herd of chamois!  We watched the animals poke their heads curiously out from above the rocks above us, reminding me very much of my dog Joe when being coaxed to go downstairs.

While on our hike, we kept a close eye on the Matterhorn.  Bree described it best when she said that it was like a skewer poking straight through the clouds, keeping them from moving anywhere.  Anytime a cloud would drift by, it seemed that it would get stuck over the crooked peak.  We did get a glimpse of the peak, though.  It was only brief, but we did see it!

I don’t know how long we watched the chamois, but it must have been a while.  We eventually got moving again though, and made it back to the tram where we rode to Rothorn Peak.  There, the wind was stiff and strong and temperatures surprisingly low.  We somewhat uncomfortably enjoyed the views of the glaciers and rocky peaks that towered over the valley.  The promised afternoon storms were brewing and collecting, though, and we had to get back to camp, pack up, and ride down the canyon to the parking garage.  Not wanting to get totally drenched, we left the barren landscape and made our way back down the mountain.

Arriving back at camp, reception was still not open (apparently they are only open for 2  hours per day).  In hopes of receiving some good karma, we stuffed 22 Swiss Francs through their mail slot as we left the strange yet somehow charming little campground.  The ride down to car was quick and the traffic was remarkably light.  Most importantly, it was dry.  On the way down we spotted this helicopter, carrying a human from a long tether.

Packing the bikes back into the Panda’s tiny trunk went smoothly, and we were soon en route up the several switchbacks to Goppenstein, where we would take a car train through the mountain.  We bought our ticket, and then drove tentatively around to the train.  There were some metal plates that bridged the gap between the pavement and where the train car platforms stood linked.  We crossed the metal plates and drove along the length of the train, following closely behind the other cars who were doing the same.  We eventually stopped, put the car in park, and rolled down the windows.

The train started moving, which was a weird sensation.  Our speedometer said 0 as the wind started rushing through the windows, and I felt funny casually taking a drink of water and operating the camera while the car was in motion.  Before long we were in the dark tunnel, realizing how stupid it was to leave our windows down.  The fumes quickly became overpowering as the smell of diesel exhaust surrounded us.  In spite of the fumes, we had to laugh as the entire experience was remarkably similar to a haunted house amusement park ride.

With a burst of fresh air – a welcome relief to our lightheadedness and nausea – we exited the tunnel, where we followed the cars off the train and down the rainy canyon into Interlaken, which was surprisingly beautiful given our guide book’s distaste for the place. We paused to snap a few photos and get a bit of fresh air before heading up the canyon.

Bree: As we headed toward Lauterbrunnen, the rain hit hard and before long we could scarcely see the road due to the intense downpour.  This place seems to get more rain in a week than we do in an entire summer at home.

As we arrived at our intended campsite, the rain let up and we were greeted by a friendly Swiss woman who led us to our pitch.  We put up the tent in a crazy rush hoping to beat another bout of rain and then sat down to enjoy our dinner.  As the remaining clouds swirled around us, we marveled at the sheer cliffs and waterfalls that rose up from either side of the narrow valley, wildly impressed at the sheer beauty of the whole place encased in rain clouds.

Realizing that it was Saturday night and that seemingly every store on the continent would be closed in the morning, we set off for some groceries.  Although it was only 7:00 PM, everything in Lauterbrunnen was already closed, so we drove down to Interlaken in hopes of better luck. Every single large store was closed, but a tiny grocer attached to the train station provided us enough bread, cheese, meat, and lettuce to create some sandwiches for our intended mountain walk the next day. The weather forecast predicted clear skies in the morning, so we are hopeful that we’ll have beautiful clear views from the mountains tomorrow.

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