chapter 13 Hitchhiking the Austrian Alps

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view from the cabin

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Nauders

It was the middle of summer, time for holidays, I was traveling with a friend who spontaneously joined me. He had never seen the alps, nor any mountains nor snow before, this made me enjoy it from a different view. He was from Uruguay, and just for fun we tried hitchhiking with an Uruguay-sign, people somehow didn´t find it as funny as we did. We were traveling to a hitchhiker-gathering. The german hitchhikers association “dtsg” rented a cabin in the austrian Alps close to the village of Nauders really close to the italian border, up on 1900m and invited everyone.  It was on of the pre-gatherings, the main european Hitchgathering took place some weeks later in Qeparo, SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESAlbania.  We started our trip from southern Germany and had a long day with lots of interesting conversations. One of the drivers who took us up the mountains was a seemingly hundred year old man talking about the long way he used to walk as a child to school during world war II. We made it to Nauders, Austria by ten o ´clock on the evening, after having passed through lots of rain and traffic jams in the mountains. Our last driver was a very likeable italian girl wearing an elegant black dress – it was saturday evening- driving a big Mercedes. She was happy to practise her spanish skills with us and felt sorry having to leave us in the rain, it was already getting dark. From where she dropped us we climbed uphill one hour to the hut.  Although it was summer, on this altitude it was pretty cold. We were expected with a nice warm supper by nine fellow hitchhikers. We were happy to sleep warm and dry. The next morning someone suggested to hitchhike to the Stilfserjoch (passo di stelvia) Nationalpark in Italy, because he had heard it was very beautiful. We split in teams of two and decided to have some fun and make a race. It was still cold and rainy. On the way we crossed the Reschenpass, where there´s an artificial lake with a church tower sticking out. This lake is famous for its steeple of a submerged 14th-century church; when the water freezes, it can be reached on foot. It took us quite some time to reach the Stilfers-pass, it was already afternoon when we climbed it in a car.SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES The panoramic road leading to the Pass in the Ortles mountain group is the highest pass road in Italy (2757m), as well as one of the most spectacular roads in the world. The winding road up counts 48 bends. People go there to have fun driving their cars or bikes. Why it´s such fun to drive too fast, I don´t know. Our driver was a mountain rescuer, he told us that early that morning he had tried to rescue some hikers, one of them, a woSAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESman of 30 could only be found dead. Telling this story he drove really fast, while smoking and drinking Coca Cola. When we told him we were scared of this road and his style of driving he accelerated even more. At the end we arrived alive and well, but the car had scratched the wall and our faces were pale. We won the race.

Breathtaking view, vertigo, snow in the middle of July! We waited for everyone else,  since no one arrived and our feet got cold, we went to drink a coffee instead. From the hut (rifugio Garibaldi, 2845m) we spotted a huge bird of prey. Asking about it we were told its a “gipeto” in italian. Later we looked it up, the dictionary translates it to “bearded vulture”. It was the first time I sSAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESaw one, it´s very beautiful. After some time we found ourselves in the middle of a cloud that turned from white to dark grey and decided it was time to start hitchhiking home. Walking from the hut to the road we met our friends who had just arrived, another team had given up earlier. A big van took all the six of us down the hill. There we separated, some went eating, others hitching. Walking through the village suddenly a car stopped and pulled over, a woman turned down the window and shouted, “hey guys!” It was the driver who had brought us to Nauders the day before. “So, we meet again! the world is so small! what are you doing here in the village?” She drove us to a good hitching spot at the exit of the village and wished us a nice eveniSAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESng. The spot was good, but somehow cars wouldn´t stop, we stood there about an hour when she turned up again, coming back from some meeting. So funny we met again as she actually was living in Innsbruck and just was visiting her parents´ house. We chatted a little anSAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESd off she went, opposite direction. Five minutes later she returned “you are still there! Come on in, we go now to have dinner at my parents´”. They were living in Lasa, which is the village of white marble, she explained us. We had never heard of it. It´s referred  also as the white gold from Venosta valley and known all over the world for its extreme pureness. It is used for building churches and temples and therefore shipped around the world. The small village itself is white. It was also used to build the new subway station Ground Zero in New York City. Her parents were the owners of large areas of apple orchards. They invited us for a delicious dinner cooked with fresh vegetables from their fields. The parents were excited to host hitchhikers from three different countries. They made us eat a lot and afterwards drink fruit liquor, which “all the workers from eastern europe leave behind when the season is over” and if that wasn´t enough her mother went for chocolate ice cream. Then we had to watch a football world cup match (they SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESdidn´t accept that we don´t like the sport). Her mom googled Uruguay. At ten our friend drove us back all the way to Nauders in thSAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESe Mercedes. On the way we learned more about South Tyrol. The region – Tyrol is the northernmost province of Italy -turned out to be quite interesting. Most cars we hitched had an italian license plate, so I always asked them in italian if they spoke english or german and all of them spoke perfect german and seemed to be a little offended by my question.

“You know we were a present from Hitler to Mussolini, we were forced to be italian”, she explained, “In 1922, when the fascists took the power in Italy, they tried to exterminate all austrian-german culture in the region. Speaking german was forbidden, schools and other public institutions had to change completely, they even changed german names in italian ones.  In may 1939 Hitler and Mussolini constituted the pact of steel where they determined the border between the countries. The german speaking population was asked to emigrate to germany or stay and accept conditions of italianization. 86% of them went, and the ones that stayed tried grimly to preserve their traditions and language”, all of which gives at least some explanation for the weird understanding of patriotism, autonomy and “national” folk-identity present there these days.

One more time we found that hitchhiking is such a nice way to meet locals and many times incentives your interest in history.

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