Swizterland is a bizarro Pleasantville world. Cars stop when you’re within 20 feet of a crosswalk in anticipation of your approach; cashiers smile and energetically say, “welcome to Switzerland!” in any language you throw out; each farm is immaculately groomed and accompanied by an adorable house straight out of Heidi; and, $12.50 for a liter of ice cream? No problem! Money grows on trees in the Alps!
Nowhere did we see the naïve bliss of the Swiss as we did when we went camping with the Scouts. We didn’t actually mean to surround ourselves with pre-teen boys and girls (in Europe, genders are mixed in the Scouts). We wanted to camp/hike and our hosts in Geneva suggested we try Kandersteg, a quintessentially quant Swiss town at the base of the Alps in the middle of the country. All the hotels were full during this peak vacation season so we called a camping site called KISC and reserved ourselves a tent. We had wanted to sleep outdoors at least once during our trip anyway!
Turns out “KISC” spelled out is the “Kandersteg International Scout Camp”. Within moments of our arrival we were surrounded by boys and girls with mid-calf high socks and bandanas around their necks. We were checked in by 20-something retired Scouts in pink t-shirts and were told that if we needed anything at all we could “ask a Pinkie!”
In fact, we did need help setting up a tent. It had been well over 15 years since our last Girl Scout outing and we were clueless about what to do with the stakes and mallet handed to us. Our Pinkie helper Vincent led us to our campsite. Along the way we passed full communities of happy campers laughing, playing volleyball and cooking on small fires next to their mini-house tents. We were excited to meet our resourceful neighbors but then Vince pointed to a lone spot across a pathway: “Aaand you’re right there”. We were isolated. Surely out of fear that our NY blood would contaminate the utopian society of the Scouts.
We set up the tent and read in the “International Friendship Room” in the Lodge until bedtime. We were buying time until we had to face the tent. When we called ahead, KISC said they had sleeping bags but, when we arrived, they were out. We said, “no big deal, it’s hot anyway.” By the time nightfall came it was around 35 degrees and we regretted our nonchalance. We piled on sweatshirts and bemoaned the fact that we completely failed at the Scouts main motive to always be prepared. We huddled together and wished we had boyfriends to cuddle with and at 5am we woke and headed to the Lodge to wait for breakfast.
At 7am the bright eyed Scouts piled into the mess hall. A leader greeted us next to the Cornflakes with a cheery, “How’d ya sleep ladies? The air is perfect out here, ya?”. We had to agree, the site was gorgeous but we needed some prep before we were ready for this Swiss life.