Beginnigs and Endings

First of all, let me apologize for not posting sooner. I meant to post much earlier, but it has been a busy time filled to the brim with life. The past months have felt like a relentless onslaught of both small and big events linked immediately after each other forming a chain of experience that feels like a roaring river dragging me along mercilessly with little time to catch my breath. And I mean that in the best way possible; meeting new and unique people, exchanging and discussing ideas about life, being surprised by landscape and inhabitants, living, eating and sleeping in many different kind of environments and all the while constantly moving from place to place. Quite addicting, I have to admit. It’s challenging to balance all of this with reflecting, note taking, and actually taking the time to write down a coherent and (hopefully) engaging story. But at last, here we are, aren’t we?

Let me start at the beginning. Or you know what, let me start even before that. For all beginnings are endings, or so they say at least. So, let me start at the end. The end of one life. A comfortable, leisurely and predictable life which I enjoyed and yet knew it was time for it to come to an end. Leaving that life was surprisingly difficult. Saying goodbye to my family was especially hard. I suppose that could be considered normal given the circumstances (me leaving for an indefinite amount of time), and yet I still don’t quite understand why it was this difficult for me. The whole process of saying goodbye to everyone eventually became a bit much. Despite all the good wishes I received, it sometimes felt tiring to hear yet more voiced concern or fear. In a lot of the conversations about my journey there came a point where I was told about some form of danger that was awaiting me or that I should be careful about this or that. And while one has to see the positive side of this; people were simply looking out for me, one also has to see the other side, which I don’t think many people saw; my side. I couldn’t help but to feel a little alone at times. It felt as if all the concern came from a place of fear that wasn’t mine. I knew what I was getting myself into, I’m not naive. I had my own fears to deal with. To add some other personal baggage on top of my own wasn’t helpful or constructive, it felt ignorant to my situation. In addition, I got the impression that a lot of this fear wasn’t based on anything real. As far as I know, nobody that warned me actually went hitchhiking, actually went wild camping, actually went to Africa. Why then is there such a consensus that these things are inherently dangerous? Danger is real. Fear can be a valid and important feeling. But I decided not to let my experiences in life be limited by them. I want to take a peek behind the curtain and see for myself. And share it with you.

The last few days before my departure dragged on with me not being excited at all to leave. The roller coaster of emotion I experienced in the preceding month was gone. No more hopes, desires, fears or doubts. No more excitement, nervousness or apprehension. I felt as if I was in a vacuum. Already gone from one life but not yet in the next. The last few things on my to do list only got done at a reluctant and lethargic pace. Finally choosing an insurance, finishing the first blog post and packing all felt like obstacles. Eventually I got to the point where all the goodbyes were said, all the loose ends tied up. I lay down on the couch and did one last thing, I sent out the link to my blog to you. Words don’t do justice, but the feedback and support I received truly meant (and still means) so much to me and made leaving much easier.

Ok now, let’s get to the fun part. I got up pretty late on Wednesday, ate breakfast, put the last few things in my backpack and simply walked out the door. It was a weird feeling, closing the door handle on my way out. Knowing I won’t be coming back anytime soon. Not knowing what will happen next. The feeling stuck with me as I walked to my hitchhiking spot. Stepping out of a comfort zone is always daunting, leaving the safety and comfort your childhood home especially so.

I didn’t have to wait too long for my first ride. Roman, a 30-something computer scientist picked me up and drove me to St. Gallen on his way to work. I was a bit nervous, which I uncharacteristically channeled into small talk. I told him about my big plans; he didn’t seem all that impressed. I passed it up to a dull personality. Who, after all, has ever seen a charismatic computer scientist? No matter, I’ll always fondly remember you, Roman.

He dropped me off and I chose a hitchhiking spot to get back on the highway to Zürich. After two hours of waiting in the cold (by that point I had every layer of clothing on that I had with me) I realized it might not be the best spot. People did stop from time to time, they just weren’t going in the right direction. That has been my experience ever since: You’ll always find people willing to pick you up (willing to help, that is), it’s just a question of whether they are going in the right direction or not.

Intermission: Time for a little anecdote. Everyone loves anecdotes. My first time hitchhiking ever. Going from Romanshorn to Arbon. Just missing the train. Thinking to myself: “This is the perfect time to try out hitchhiking, see if it works or not”. Walking to a suitable spot. Not having the courage to actually stand there with my thumb in the air looking helpless and embarrassed. Pushing myself to do it. Not believing it when a car actually stopped. Getting out halfway to my destination (Thomas had to go to work in St. Gallen). Trying my luck again, and then, by pure chance, being picked up by my brother. We had a good laugh.

Anyway, back to me standing in the cold. A few 6th or 7th graders were walking past me on the opposite side of the road. The following exchange took place:
“Hey bro, da git puess”, one of them yelled.
Slightly irritated, I answered: “Nei gits nöd”.
“Wa?”, he couldn’t hear me.
“NEI GITS NÖD, AUTOSTOPPE ISCH LEGAL I DE SCHWIZ”, I shouted back, my irritation rising.
I got back a smug: “Bus neh isch au legal”. The logic of it escapes me, but we were all 13 once.
“Chostet aber öppis”, I was starting to question why I even bothered to justify myself.
“Wo gosch ane?”, a girl with a rather shrill voice asked.
After a second, my reply: “Afrika!”
That made them laugh. It made me laugh, too. Absurd, if you think about it.

After they had passed, I decided this was the last straw. I certainly wasn’t getting to Africa anytime soon by waiting here. I put on my backpack and started walking to the next highway entry. Thanks to I found myself in a much better spot with rising morale. Soon a married couple, both in their early 60s, stopped, and I was delighted to hear that they are willing to take me to Zürich. Although it did seem to me that she wasn’t too thrilled about me being in the car and that it was he who wanted to pick me up. As I later learned through our conversation, which was exclusively held with him (she didn’t say a single word for hours), he used to hitchhike a lot back in the day and that’s why he now always picks up a fellow hitchhiker. You take and you give.

I also learned that they are not really going to Zürich, but rather to Vevey, which is a three-hour drive away at the other end of Switzerland. They were going to a buddhist monastery for the night and I could stay there as well if I wanted to. I didn’t hesitate and said yes. We quickly stopped in Zürich to load up a bicycle in the car which was already way too cramped. Let me tell you, there were some curious things rolling around in there. Among them, there was the biggest zucchini I have ever seen. That thing was huge. The world is full of surprises. After a few tries we eventually managed to fit everything including me in the car and were on our way.

As usual, there was traffic around Zürich. I looked at the people stuck in their cars looking miserable, just trying to get from point A to point B, many of them probably doing it all over the next day. And the one after that, and the one after that. Until it’s finally weekend. And then Monday comes around and the whole thing starts anew. A routine can be a great thing, if you enjoy it. If you don’t, it’s rather depressing. At least to me.

We got to the monastery after much dry talk about buddhism. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. After having dropped my backpack in the dorm, I joined them for dinner in the dining hall. There were bald shaven monks and nuns in orange robes and people in normal clothing. About 20 in total. Westerners and Tibetans alike. It had a commune-like feeling to it which I liked, and yet something difficult to describe made me feel just a tiny bit heavy. I talked little and mostly observed with fascination the all-too-human interactions between the curiously mismatched characters, who, despite their contrasts, seemed to share a unifying quality or trait that flowed through the room like a barely perceptible undercurrent.

I got talking a little to the daughter of the couple that drove me there. She was 26 and had been a nun for quite some time. She invited me to come and see their morning prayer, which I thankfully accepted. Once dinner was over, I went to bed. Just one day had passed, yet a completely new life had begun.

Thank you sincerely for reading, I hope you enjoyed it. Let me know what you thought of it. Sorry for the complete lack of pictures, the SD card in my camera corrupted after the first week and I lost the pictures I took during that time.

Valentin Raphael

2,984 thoughts on “Beginnigs and Endings”

  1. reading the blog feels like a ticket into your world of feelings and thoughts – thank you very much for that – what an honour.
    I really enjoy reading your blog and it’s nice because you can feel that you are doing well and that you are exactly where you want to be!
    (not related to an area) 🙂

  2. Thank you valentin for this beautiful well written (ongoing) story! Already looking forward to your coming posts.

    You’re really giving me a vivid glimpse into an adventurous life and journey which is intriguing. You’re also making me think and reflect upon myself and my life which Im thankful for.

    Btw loved that little exchange you had with these students haha 😄

    Keep it up my friend 🙂

  3. muchas gracias valentino.
    once again I found myself lost in your story, the carefully written sentences and your outstanding vocabulary. Can’t really believe that you just wrote about the first two days. While reading, almost, floating through these lines it feels like you’ve been travelling for ages. As the previous user “Bilal” mentioned: “you’re also making me thing and reflcet upon myself and my life”
    i really hope you continue with these kind of blogs and just ask for a little improvement regarding the frequency, you know 😉

    take care buddy and dont forget us!

  4. Yes, your story is engaging, indeed. It is so, because you not just let us know what is happening on your unhurried journey, but also let us be part of your reflecting thoughts on what is happening. In this way we can see what it does whithin you, at least a bit. If you ask me, I’d say you should let us know more of it. 🙂
    Have a good time and rhich experiences.

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