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Thursday, July 10, 2008

One might see postcards of Switzerland or movies but unless you have been here I doubt you really have a good idea of just how beautiful this place is. Every time I sit out on the chalet balcony and look out into the valley of 72 waterfalls I have to look twice and convince myself that I’m not in fact looking at a picture but that I’m looking at something real. There it sits in front of us in all its splendour. The valley walls reaching for the sky and behind those valley walls, further higher mountain peaks, one of them being the Eiger. A mountain that has claimed its fair share of brave souls. You can feel that this whole place has many romantic, tragic and joyous stories to tell. The history dates back so many years that one almost feels insignificant, a mere fleeting glimpse in time. Just the chalet we are staying in is 400 odd years old. There is so much tradition everywhere you look. Some of it makes you a little crazy like the bells on the church just outside our chalet. Sometimes it starts ringing and doesn’t stop for 15 minutes! Crap, that’s a long time to hear these bells going off. We have become used to the bells now and I guess the locals don’t even hear them anymore. Lynda threatened to cut them down in the beginning and I think she was serious. I’m not quite sure how to describe it but you feel at home here. The energies in this place are so positive and there is something about it that just makes us feel so connected. We haven’t felt this kind of peace in a long, long time. Our souls feel rested and it almost feels like we could simply live here. Ho boy, there goes the plan again.

Interesting fact in Switzerland is that every male over the age of 17 owns a gun. You do national service which is fairly short and when you finish they send you home with your rifle. Then every two weeks or so you have to go off and do target practice. So, if you ever have any ideas of invading Switzerland, think twice because you are going to be in for a big surprise. Funny enough, one of the target practice ranges, and there are many around, is situated just below one of our exit points. There is a timetable at the popular Horner Pub indicating when jumping is not permissible on that exit point. Break that rule and you could have a 7.62 round up your ass. One morning we jumped early before shooting practice begun and on the walk back to the chalet we had dozens of young men flying past on their bicycles or scooters with their rifles slung over their backs. If I didn’t know about this fact before that day I would have sworn that there was a planned revolution happening down the valley somewhere.

The region we are in is called Jungfrau and the valley our chalet is in is called Lauterbrunnen. As we look up the valley from the balcony the cliffs on either side of the valley have exit points. Some more technical than others in terms of not being entirely vertical which means one needs to either fly a wingsuit or be able to fly one’s body away from the wall in order to miss the ledges that come out. On the right there are two exits called the high nose and low nose. There is also a waterfall jump but the locals are not happy with us jumping that so we respect that and stay away from it. On the left there are a further two jumps, La Mousse and Yellow Ocean. Yellow Ocean is vertical and lends itself for jumps where one can do somersaults and Aerial tricks. La Mousse requires some body flying towards the bottom of the jump but it’s a fair bit higher than Yellow Ocean. Every jump is great in its own way. There are many more jumps around but these are the most popular because they require very little effort to get to. On the right side you catch a cable car and a train at the top, then a small walk to both the high and low nose. On the left you catch a train to the top and then a taxi ride which cuts out 20 to 30 minutes walk before you walk a short distance again to both Yellow Ocean and La Mousse. Taking this into consideration, jumping here is so easy and one can do quite a few in a day depending on how fit you feeling. Lynda and I do anything between 2 to 4 jumps in one day and we have been at it for almost two weeks. Today we are chilling as outside the rain gently falls and fills the 72 waterfalls to capacity. Outside our window just across the road runs a raging river that is fed from the glaciers just higher up on the mountains. The colour is a weird pale white almost as if it’s carrying the offish colour of the melting snow. The water is absolutely freezing in there. It flows strong with rapids everywhere and it doesn’t seem like it ever stops flowing so strongly.

The reason for us chilling today besides the rain is because we went into Interlaken, the next town close to Lauterbrunnen, to watch an extreme film festival last night. The valley has been abuzz with activity this week as the Extreme Games Week was taking place. Five teams, five extreme sports and 50,000 Franks up for grabs. Kayaking, Mountain Biking, Paragliding, BASE Jumping and Climbing. The teams had to put together a 5 minute video with all five sports in it as well as a short photography slide show. Then they would be judged on all sorts of categories. So while we were going about our business and running off to the various exit points to do our BASE Jumping we would run into filming teams and the sports people going about the business of putting these videos together. Unfortunately there was a fatal accident amongst the French team with a wingsuit BASE Jumper clipping the cliff while doing radical proximity flying and so the French team pulled out the competition. In respect the competition was also halted and it was decided that the prize money would be equally distributed amongst the five teams and no judging was going to be done. The festival continued however and the teams, except the French, continued filming and completed their films for the viewing on Saturday night. It was some awesome work and we were blown away by what these guys put together. The event was well attended. Some really big names in the extreme sports world were running around the area during the week. It’s so refreshing to see a community that embraces the world of extreme sports the way the Swiss do and specifically the Jungfrau region. The other day as we landed on the field next to the road after jumping, a cop car was stopped and they were watching us jump. They had big smiles as we landed next to them and they asked if there were more going off for them to watch. Why can’t it be like this all over?

The bottom of the valley were we land is full of farm lands or paddocks and green fields. These are simply fields were the farmers grow the wild grasses that grow naturally here all summer long, occasionally mowing it all down and wrapping it up in large bails to store for the winter as feed for the cattle. That’s what goes on all summer long, grow, mow, bail, wrap, store. To us folks the green fields look like a bunch of wild grass and weeds growing all over the place but to the farmer this is his existence. Therefore they are a little sensitive about us landing all over their fields and walking their grass flat. The Swiss BASE Association has worked out an agreement with the local farmers were as a BASE jumper you buy a “landing card” and this money gets pooled and distributed amongst the farmers who’s land we keep landing on which is the land between the four exit points across the valley. We also respect the farmers by trying to land as close to a fence or road as possible and then getting off their grass as soon as we land. Everyone is happy and all continues smoothly just like Swiss precision. It’s not only us that land on the fields but also para-gliders, hang-gliders and even skydivers. This valley is one place where you can do every type of extreme sport you can think of. It’s a paradise for adventure seekers. The sports available in this area are BASE Jumping, Kayaking, River Rafting, Skydiving, Rock Climbing, Para-Gliding, Skiing, Snow Boarding, Canyoning and the list goes on and all of this within 5km depending on how radical you feel like getting. Bigger stuff might be a little further away.

Our Australian visa has not yet come thru as we expected. It was supposed to have come thru within the three months we were travelling around OZ but with the influx of people and immigration applications going on the OZ government is not able to process these in the specified time frame. The plan was to come to Europe for the Heli Boogie in Norway and then two weeks in Switzerland doing some more BASE and we hoped that within this time we would hear something. Well, we haven’t heard anything and so we decided simply to stay on in Switzerland instead of going back to OZ. The cost of living here is practically the same if not a little cheaper than staying in OZ so why not simply stay here and continue playing rather than going back to OZ and sitting around waiting for something to happen. I think we would simply get frustrated in OZ just waiting around for our visa. Besides the fact that when we get our visa we need to be outside OZ or leave OZ and have it realised at an Australian embassy in another country and then enter OZ on that visa. So we will hang around Switzerland and continue BASE jumping for another month while we wait for the visa. What can we say, it’s tough but we will try our best to stay amused :-). Lynda is 7 jumps away from her 100th BASE jump so we plan on giving it horns next week I’m sure. Hmm, 100th jump isn’t that supposed to be a nude jump….

Lynda is envied by many of the other BASE jumpers passing thru. She is doing wingsuit BASE which many of the BASE jumpers wish to do but have not had the nerve to try yet. Even more so the fact that she is wing suiting with less BASE jumps behind her than many of the BASE jumpers. She has racked up a fair amount of respect. The funny thing here is that she finds wing suiting far less intense and safer because of the fact that one gets far away from the mountain before opening, usually leaving one right on top of the grassy meadows with far less things to crash into if there are parachute opening complications like line twists or off headings. Now all Lynda dreams of is wing suiting, flying from the cliffs into the beautiful valley below just as the forest creature, the Sugar Glider, does when going from tree to tree. Self propelled body flight is a beautiful thing and it places man as close to nature as you can get. It is flying your body almost like a bird but not quite. The wingsuit Lynda is flying was my old wingsuit which I BASE jumped for many years. I never managed to get the kind of exits Lynda is doing. They are perfect. The biggest trick to wing suiting is the exit. If you pull it off right then you are flying very quickly and therefore are able to fly higher and longer, covering more distance. I think I’ve learnt a thing or two from Lynda and now my exits are looking a whole bunch better. Because of the vastly bigger suit I have I manage to cross the entire valley in flight. It’s a sensation I find difficult to fully describe. As I scream across the valley at over 160km/h I see the tourists below walking about standing and looking up wondering, is it a plane, is it a man…? I can only imagine what they are thinking. If either of us land next to anyone we are usually bombarded with questions usually along the lines of “what does it feel like?” to which I’ve narrowed my response down to “it’s like running naked over a U2 concert stage”. I’m not quite sure they get that either but it at least leaves them thinking for a while.

We have met up with many BASE jumpers here as they come and go and it’s always great to socialise and do a few jumps with new people. You can’t possibly spend time in this valley without meeting other BASE jumpers. The Horner Pub is the BASE jumpers meeting place. There are basically two places where the BASE jumpers usually board. One is where we are which is called “Chalet Im Rohr” and the other is the “Horner Hotel”. Both places cater and welcome BASE jumpers with open arms. They offer packing facilities for you to pack your parachute when you come back from a jump and both places love the BASE jumpers. The difference between where we are staying and the Horner is that we have kitchen facilities were we can cook our own meals and the Horner doesn’t. So we chose this place because of that. It’s such a nice place and it’s really cheap for the facilities you get. They have everything you can possibly want. Unfortunately when we arrived we could only book in for two nights short of our two week stay because the place was fully booked after that. We took it anyway. Then we decided we were simply going to stay on another month and so the hassle of trying to find accommodation in such a beautiful place right in the middle of the peak season was going to prove difficult. Lynda spoke to our really nice host Elsabeth, and asked her if there was any way in which she could perhaps help us. She showed Lynda the bookings and said it was impossible but then a light went on and she said she needed to have a chat to her husband about a plan. She came back to us telling us that we are very good people and she likes us very much so we can stay in their guest apartment. It turns out that they have a guest apartment for their friends and family that come over to visit and we are quite welcome to stay there if we don’t mind. Absolutely we don’t mind. She showed us the place and it’s even better than what we had with far more room and a private bathroom. Only problem she explains is that we have to enter and exit via the restaurant in order to get in and out. No problem for us. Elsabeth is really a sweetie and has looked after us so nicely. She checks on us every day to make sure we are good. She teaches us German while we teach her English. We also sometimes act as translators or tourist information for the guests.

Well, I guess that’s about all for now. We are simply chilling out and putting in a few BASE jumps a day. Today has been a lazy one and therefore I’ve had the time to blog to let you all know what we are up to. If you don’t hear from us too often then it’s simply because we are out jumping the valley broken. I think Lynda needs a bigger wingsuit already…..

Love and Peace
Eddy & Lynda