The Gotthard is my bi***.
I left around 9 am from Andermatt, and it took me around an hour and ten minutes to peak the Gotthard, the highest point on my route. It actually wasn't that bad except for one false peak ("I'm almost there!") that ended up continuing upwards for a few more kilometers once I got to it. At the top the weather started to shift, and I knew that I had to get down to Airolo before the predicted enormous storm would hit (around noon). I met a man at the top named Andreas who had walked to the Gotthard from Basel over nine days, and we sat down in the little cafeteria there for a drink and some conversation. From there, it was a race to get to Airolo before the weather got worse. A thick fog had come in, and the air was incredibly wet. I couldn't see more than 20 meters in front of me through the fog, and the wet ground didn't make the downwards travel on a narrow mountain trail any easier. I have to define my method of travel this day as a mixture of running, hiking, sliding and falling.
I got into Airolo right as it started pouring down. It definitely poured...all day and all night. I was soaking wet, and there was absolutely nothing to do in Airolo on a rainy day. I spent some time in the tourism office looking over brochures, and took a nap in the train station waiting room. I ate some pasta for lunch and some pizza for dinner, and was pretty excited to start speaking Italian (the pass is the dividing line between the German and Italian speaking language zones in Switzerland). There was no laundromat in the town, so I didn't do the laundry that I really needed to do (my clothes were beyond the level that hand washing could restore). The day was spent waiting for something to happen...but nothing really happened except for more rain and thunder.
Around 9 I wandered into the bar in town hoping to find someone who might be able to help me out. I ordered a Gottardo beer and drank it very very slowly, waiting for the chance to break into the conversation. The problem with Airolo is that everyone seemed to know everyone, and the entire bar was involved in fast Italian conversation. It is pretty hard to find a good point to break in when everyone is speaking quickly in a language that is not your first. I finished my beer (after an hour I think...) and ordered an iced tea. After I had finished it, I ended up catching the bartender and a few minutes later I was speaking to a few other people in the bar...including one guy who kept testing my (not very good) abilities in languages by switching between English, French, German and Italian every few sentences. At the end of the night, when almost all hope was lost (nobody could put me up), a young man named Nauel brought me over to speak to the woman who ran the hotel next door, who he knew. After some talking, it turned out that there was an empty room that someone had just left, and they gave me some fresh sheets and said goodnight. I took a shower and spent some time looking at maps for the next day. I fell asleep warm and comfortable as the lightning and rain crashed down outside.
19 July 2009