Time in the Alps


Currently in Leiden, NL but haven’t written since Kim and I were in the Alps. So that is where I need to start. It has been a few months so I will try to recall our experiences as best I can.

We went to the Alps to volunteer at a hotel and adventure place named Karibuni. The owners Jess and Paul had volunteered in Africa and thus named their hotel for the Swahili word meaning, “All are welcome”. And we felt that way from the beginning.

Having arrived a little later than we had planned Kim and I were cycling quickly towards sundown and the cool of an Alpine evening. Not knowing exactly where the hotel was located had me scanning along the road for campsites or a place to wild camp, if we were lucky. And then, as we were pedaling along near Thones, FR,  a huge white van pulled into the a parking lot just ahead of us. And on the side of the door was a blue and yellow decal with KARIBUNI written in capital letters.

One of the chefs, a native Frenchman, named Eric had come to our rescue. He knew that we were to arrive that afternoon and as soon as it started to near sundown his partner, in life and in the kitchen, Jane sent him to scan the mountain passes for two crazy people approaching by bicycle.

Extremely grateful for being picked up, Kim and I had a nice conversation with Eric, not knowing what our work environment would be like but feeling great about whatever may come next. We arrived at Hotel les Arivis and were met by Jane, a hotel guest named Tim, two other Workawayers named Susan and Paul and lastly but certainly not least was the Alpine feast waiting for us on the table.

Jane had prepared for us a roasted duck dishes with a fresh cherry sauce and a medley  of steamed vegetables. It was delicious. Our taste buds had grown bored of the Nutella and jellies, the road side pastas and the occasional French cheese. I had to gulp down saliva to make room for the first bite. Amazing.  And not to be outdone, the main course was followed up by my favorite desert thus far, a homemade Lemon Posit garnished with little tart and sweet red berries that were collected from a nearby wild bush.

After stuffing our faces with a great dinner and nice conversation with our fellow volunteers and lone hotel guest Kim and I were shown to what would turn out to be our Alpine home for the next month and a half. Not having much while cycling in between places has made us really appreciate some of the little luxuries that life can give you. Having an in suite bathroom with shower was one of those things. I could have sworn that we had just died and woken up in the great beyond.
Guests came and went but we got to know the staff pretty well. We had really come to enjoy Jane and Eric’s company, gotten to understand how Paul and Jess ran their business and got along with the other volunteers and staff as much as we could. Susan and Paul were a little older than us but it was really nice talking to them about life in the UK and their travels throughout Europe after taking severance packages from their respective companies (both environmental agencies).The following days and weeks were spent  depressurizing from life on the road, exploring mountain paths, and building all manners of wooden artifacts. The first task was to build shelves and Kim and I killed it. By the time we were done the owner Paul had said that it was so nice an level he could store golf balls on it. And we continued rolling through the tasks from there.

Kim and I only had our bikes, so we got to know all of the other workers when they would offer to give us rides to whatever event was going on at the time. And in the Alps in summer time there was no shortage of things going on. On the first day we were treated to a parade in which all of the towns organizations had a theme as they marched through the streets.

The Saint-Jean-de-Sixt Fire Department which consisted of all men, ranging in age from 18 to 65, were dressed as cheerleaders. Every hundred meters or so they would perform a choreographed dance routine to show off their short skirts, tight blouses and huge balloons filling them. While performing one number, as the wigs were swings around a balloon popped out and the fireman had to chase it down the street. And then all of this ended up in the center of town where each organization got their turn in the spotlight, with a dedicated stage time. It was a fun and funny introduction to the festival life in the French Alps.

There was no shortage of festivals in the area. Kim and I hopped rides to a candle light night in La Clausaz, where live music echoed through streets lit by hundreds of individual candles and the occasional giant glowing floating bird. We also saw an amazing band from South America, complete with Mamba girls and Brazilian dance fighting guys. And there where fireworks nearly every weekend throughout the entire summer .

We had such an amazing time in the French Alps and met many wonderful people. Kim and I experienced beautiful nature and lovely interaction with the locals and other travellers. We will have to give a few  detailed accounts of people and places that we will take with us for the rest of our lives.

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