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Climatic contrasts

This morning we were looking at banana trees, palms, and agaves, among hundreds of other tropical plants.

This afternoon I'm in the alpine zone, well above the tree line, back in what's familiar about Switzerland. This is the ultimate in climatic contrasts, and each has its place. After paddling across Lago Maggiore with Larry Ware, who brought his boat all the way down from Leysin just to help me across this low point of Switzerland (200m), I dived into the lake to cool off. That dive lingered in my fantasies for a long time as I sweated up the steep hill in oppressively hot and humid conditions. But now I'm entering the summit cloud on Monte Gridone (2,188m) and the earlier heat is already an exotic memory. Where else can one find contrasts like this?

Larry and I interrupted this morning's paddle with a delightful visit to the botanical gardens of the Brissago Islands, where its director, Guido Maspoli, showed us around. He explained how in 1845 the baroness Antoine Fleming St. Leper bought the islands in order to build herself a botanical garden. Though not previously of a horticultural bent, she thought the very particular climate here would allow her to grow the impossible: tropical plants in Switzerland. It seems that this exact stretch of the coastline - just a few kilometers long - is free of the cold winds that plague nearby Locarno at times, and the chill of the Italian plains just to the south. Along with the moderating effect of the lake, the result is a tropical paradise. She brought in so many exotic plants that they set up a special post office just for her gardens. Now the park draws some 100,000 tourists a year. Guido thinks the fact that it's on an island adds to the attraction, which I won't dispute. But lovely and strange it certainly is.

This coastline will likely be the south shore of Switzerland's next national park, a major enterprise that's just getting started. I'll be walking through the probable future park during the next days and will come back to this topic several times.

For now I'd just like to thank Larry and Martine for bringing their boat down and joining my journey however briefly. And now the pack goes back on my back, as I still have many hours to hike - across the alpine ridge and down into the Centovalli, where the African continental plate slips under the European. It's said to be steep, so I'd better get going.

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