Lake Swim!

July 5 is my 2-year anniversary with Switzerland. In that time, I have fallen in love with the country. I have not swum in one of its many picturesque, teal mountain lakes.

Until yesterday.

My original plan after my 32 km day was to wake up early, run, and do another hike that would get me back to Basel around 6pm. But having glimpsed the two cool, gemlike lakes from way above on a hot summer day, I decided I needed to swim in one.

Between sips of Chardonnay last night, I Googled paddleboard rentals along Lake Brienz and found a place in Bönigen that rents boards at affordable rates. (Some other places offered, but prices were more expensive.) SUP Fit & Fun also provided a WhatsApp number and email address to contact about rentals, so I sent an email around 8pm on Wednesday evening. Not an hour later, I received a reply – sure, I could rent a board. Would 9:30am work?

So I set off, found parking easily on the street (2,50 CHF for 3 hours), and headed to the camp where I was pointed in the direction of the lake.

There, I was met by Nicole (my toqaya, or someone who shares my name, in Tagalog), who had prepared a board for me along with a dry bag where I could store things I might want to bring out. (You can thank her for the photos!)

“Can I swim in the lake?” I asked her, just to be sure.

“Of course,” she said. “And it’s warm! Usually the lakes are cold, because the water comes down from the mountains. But it’s hot out. You have to be lucky to find weather like this, only a few weeks a year. You’re very lucky!”

I forked over 40 CHF (20, I think, for 1 hour, 40 for 2-3), dropped my bag in a lockable trunk, stuffed a few items in my dry bag, and I was off.

Nothing relaxes me the way water does. Alone on the beach in Sandy Hook at 6am, just me and the sunrise and the surf; floating down the Rhine clinging to a Wickelfisch as the sun sinks below the skyline; bobbing on a paddleboard in the Shrewsbury River, a White Claw perched on the front of my board; or here, on the beautiful cloudy-aquamarine water of Lake Brienz that was too blue to be true.

The fact that it is a mountain lake fed by mountain streams is clear: sticks, stumps, tree debris, and giant beetles the size of my fist drifted past me as I paddled across the lake to the other side, where white rocky cliffs and verdant pines gave off an otherworldly feel, like I’d paddled from the 21st century into the Jurassic era.

The water was blissfully cool. As I baked in the sun, paddling up a sweat, I decided to find some sort of shoreline and jump in for a swim.

The lake is huge, and I only explored about a third of it, but that third’s shorelines were all rocky. Slabs of rock extended out into the lake, or if you were lucky, you might find pebbly shores that slowly deposited you into the water.

I managed to prop the front of the board up against a rock and I tumbled off and into the water. It was gloriously cold, but not freezing. I prayed that no Godzilla-sized beetles would drift by and lodge themselves in my hair.

I paddled, floated, swam, observed. I could see the high mountaintops I’d stood on yesterday and looked down on where I was now. A paddle steamer came through the lock that links Thun to Brienz, sending rolling waves in its wake that crashed like a little tide against the shore and rocked me on my board.

In the sky, six bright paragliders combed slow spirals through the air, little crescents of red and yellow against a cloudless blue sky.

On the shore, a wooden boathouse became visible and a child called out, “Hallo!” He was bobbing on a canoe. He was also naked. His father waved from shore, also naked. I continued onward.

I would have stayed longer if I’d been able to figure out how to extend my parking from the app on my phone, which was not working. Instead, I paddled slowly back towards the ramp and jumped off the board to swim it back to shore, because I never feel like I get enough time to swim. I love swimming.

But all was not lost. I met Rebecca and her bridal party, along with J’s cousin Sarah, by the Rhine later for drinks, and we jumped in for a short swim just a few buvettes downriver.

I miss the ocean, and I really feel like saltwater has a magical healing power, but Switzerland’s rivers and lakes are a divine substitute. I may have lived here for two years already, but I have still not grown tired of repeating my favorite phrase whenever Switzerland shows off some new and wonderful secret: “I live here now.”

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