Switzerland is, as every child knows, full of mountains. Mountains usually also mean mountain passes and valleys, some of which can be pretty narrow. The Via Mala (literally the “bad” or “evil” path) is definitely one of the latter, and was thus a major obstacle on the way to the Splügen and San Bernardino Pass already in the time of the Roman Empire, and possibly even before that, as bronze age petroglyphs seem to prove. The 2 ½ hour hike along the Hinterrhein from Thusis to the narrowest part of the Via Mala is thus pretty impressive, as it often leads you only a meter away from a sheer, 100m drop down to the river.
Castles at the end of the world
The hike two medieval fortresses or castles, Burg Ehrenfels and Burg Hohen Rätien. Apparently, the deep valleys and high mountains were by themselves not inhospitable enough for enemies. The Castle Hohen Rätien is probably one of the most difficult to take fortress in Switzerland.
You’ll easily discover why: Just when you are about to caper and frolic on the sunny grass patch surrounding the tower, you’ll discover that two steps to the right the world ends. Only to restart again, 200 meters below. So you might want to go slow on the capering.
The entrance to the well-preserved castle with the stunning view on the valley of the Rhine is regulated by rather unorthodox economic principles: in the wall at the entrance, you’ll find a small slit in which you are supposed to insert the entrance fee. Nobody is there to check if you actually comply.
It may sound strange, but it does actually work. Having watched me follow the instructions, Changjiang decided to check up on the Swiss and observe the next hikers. Hiding behind a bush, we saw them get out their wallets and throw in some coins. Certain laws of economics apparently do not apply in the Swiss Alps. They do apply, however, in any restaurant you might encounter during your hike. Oh yes, they do.
Another Swiss peculiarity, as I realized on the way, is our fondness of bridges – we even build plenty of rope bridges on hiking trails. And suddenly I understood another oddity in our development aid. It is clear why Switzerland would try to teach everyone and their cat how to breed cows and make cheese – even if everyone and their cat are actually lactose-intolerant, like the people in Mozambique. It dawned on me that I had found the reason why we also build rope bridges in any mountainous region and even advertise it as peace-building activity. Apparently we can’t look at a steep ravine without considering how to construct a path across it.
After our decent into the depths of the Via Mala gorge, we still had more than an hour to kill until the bus would arrive. We thus decided to follow the river until the next bus stop, where I stumbled on to something peculiar.
Those who know me also know my uncanny ability to discover strange puzzles and wonder about small details. So here’s one:
If seven busses drive from San Bernardino to Thusis, but only six from Thusis to San Bernardino every day, what happens to the seventh bus? Is there an assembly plant in San Bernardino that produces a bus a day? Rather unlikely, as San Bernardino is a small village just South of the pass by the same name.
It appears as if there’s only one logical solution: There must be a stable wormhole between Thusis and San Bernardino which is big enough for one bus to pass through.
I sincerely intended to double-check my theory by asking the bus driver, but unfortunately, he didn’t understand German, and my Italian is not really up to the task of explaining advanced theories of physics. But I am convinced he would have confirmed my hypothesis.
Do It Yourself
Here’s the map. From the train station in Thusis head towards the river and cross it a bit downstreams (753572, 174259) to get to Sils. Start your ascent below (754192, 174029) Burg Ehrenfels and continue to Burg Hohen Rätien (753522, 173159). Follow the Rhine southwards until you reach Via Mala (and then, time permitting, Rania – 753804, 168467)