07 September 2007

Follow me... to Snowdon!

If you haven’t heard from me in a long time then it is because I have stormed the summit of Snowdon, the highest mountain of England and Wales (1085m), one of the few things those two countries have in common.

The Welsh are credited with about the same reputation as Burgenlaender in Austria. I asked Steve, one of the English guys with us, what the most offensive thing was you could say to a Welsh(wo)man. In Scotland, they take off your head when you claim that Scotland is part of England. If you want to get into similar trouble in Wales, the quickest way would be to call them “sheepshaggers” (there are LOADS of them, even on the mountain ridge when you ask yourself – sweating profusely and feeling all the muscles in your body – how the HELL it got there.

I have to say that my first trip to Wales proved to be a very beautiful and rewarding experience. It is just so completely REMOTE. No big cities, loads of lovely green scenery and bilingual population (Welsh is their first language and English their second).

We were a group of nine people who covered London – Wales in seven hours in two cars and who met on the facebook group City Trekkers, founded by City University alumni Samir, our mountain guide, everyone more or less fit (the spectrum encompassed people who hadn’t done any sport in a year – namely, me! – regular gym goers, a guy who did Mount Kenya and a guy who did the Himalayas).

The way up started off smoothly but became quite steep soon enough. The fact that the path consisted mainly of big chinks of big stones in all shapes and sizes (similar to Mauthausen), was what made it difficult. No way to find your own rhythm, also quite inconvenient for a short-legged person like me. But the motto was to have fun and do it in your own pace. Samir kept saying, “It is a mental problem”.

It also doesn’t help to hike in scrubs covered by waterproof trousers which are small-sized… Honestly, sometimes I was thinking, “You go ahead” and at some point I was panting and had to stop every ten seconds. Luckily, two gentlemen offered to be my sherpas, one packed my jacket, the other my rucksack!

Otherwise, I would have not made it to the top or it would have taken two more hours.
The summit itself was brimming with peacefulness and quietness (only disturbed by the loud clanking of the construction site on the peak). Apart from that, the view was beautiful, just a sea of clouds below.

After our well-earned R&R = rest & recreation (B&B had their Indian food, I my omnipresent cereals which were only topped by Khilian’s – I want to write this in capital letters – TEA WITH MILK *lol* *shaking head* sth which I was absolutely stunned to see), we attempted an adventurous alternative descent route via the ridge which developed from light climbing to ever steeper and steeper scrambles with less and less between you and the abyss. The ridge has quite a reputation…

If my mother had seen me up there, she would have had a heart attack! But it was great: Just you, your mind and the mountain. After the hard work, we relaxed with some low-level walking on the following day. Just some exploration walks around the area. Kinda reminded me of my childhood (my parents and I went to the alps a lot when I was little)…

We stone-hopped on the stream and I of course managed a huge gap between two stones (took me ten minutes to decide I wanted to do it) only to fall up to the waist into the water after encouraged by some applause.

Some Sikh fellows camping nearby filmed the whole spectacle (probably the closest they get to entertainment). They later offered me a towel and their tent to change into Clare’s dry spare clothes. Nice but a bit pervy…

After lunch in the “Alpine Tea Shop” (really recommendable, very lovingly decorated and great selection of teas and food) near Betwys-y-Coed’s “Central Station”, learning about the tradition of lovespoons, looking into the souvenir arts and crafts shop (where they interestingly sell wooden figurines of Maasai people) and riding an iron cock, we find ourselves exploring some disused mines, dancing 70s-style Bollywood with the dancing queen Baila (what a fitting name) and Clare. Of course, that is on video!

On the way home: A beautiful green landscape and free train ride to Colwyn Bay (north coast of Wales). For some reasons, in the UK, there are huge emergency instruction stickers everywhere in the train designating the emergency exits (= the doors), pretty much like those cards on the plane.

From Colwyn Bay, we caught the coach back to London via Liverpool, a city I have never been to before and which does not look worth the visit. Our first driver was a butch of a woman who snatched a gentleman’s suitcase and threw it into the suitcase compartment like nothing. She also bitched around to find out if people brought hot food (sin #1) onto her coach.

Change of drivers, in Sheffield. Loud commotion outside the bus. Turns out, driver #1 was having a choleric fit Wedl-style with driver #2 who did not understand why he could not eat his KFC chicken inside. Before we left the station, driver #2 announced in the middle of the bus, “My team won. England won against India” – Surprised faces. “I am English” he added smilingly and with an air of amusement: He is very dark-skinned, has a full white beard and a Sikh turban on his head. “India is my ex-country”. Funny somehow, but cool!

Sometime later, a really dysfunctional family got onto the bus, grandmother, mother and three children to behave and sit down. I was reading “Watching the English” by Kate Fox when they got in and the section where it says that in the UK, people will avoid direct confrontation at all costs. Sure enough, 20 minutes later, coach moving but children and mother arguing where to sit. The bus driver goes: “Would everyone please make themselves comfortable on the coach” Just hilarious.