From Winter Wonderland to the Desert

The semester in Canada starts in January and finishes by the end of April. Therefore, my exchange semester in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, is already over. I finished all my assignments and packed my stuff. It was hard to say goodbye to all the people I met here, but at the same time I was very excited for what was to come! I flew to Denver in the US where I met my brother for an eight-week road trip on the Westcoast. 

Our trip started in Denver, Colorado. From there we drove to Utah, where we are visiting many National Parks like Arches, Canyonlands and Zion. We have now been on the road for exactly one week and have seen so much already. I enjoy it a lot but the transition from university life in the still cold north to camping in the hot desert has been overwhelming. 

We are traveling with a car and a tent. Usually, we drive to a national park, do a long hike to a pretty spot and then set up our tent for the night. Since we are on a low budget we try to find free, wild camping spots. Those usually do not have any facilities like flush toilets or showers. I wouldn’t mind that, but in one of our fist nights there was a big sandstorm and the sand entered everywhere. It somehow got in the tent, filled our sleeping bags, clothes and everything else. Ever since then I have had sand in my ears and hair and I feel like I constantly have sand between my teeth. During the day it also gets pretty hot and coming from a 7C° spring in Canada, the 35C° in Utah are a lot! I have the constant desire for a real running shower and not just a quick wash down at the creek. 

Talking to the locals, I found out that this is an everyday feeling for them. They say they do not even notice it anymore. Food just always has a nice crisp to it and they say they just blink more often. The temperatures right now are nice cool spring weather to them. They call it the “Howdy-Lifestyle:)”. That is a culture and lifestyle that I feel like I could not get used to, even over a longer stretch of time. The constant heat, sandstorms and desolate landscape are enjoyable for a couple days but not longer. At least for me. 

Experiencing this lifestyle for the past week has made me realize that I could probably not live anywhere on this planet. I always thought I was very adaptable and low maintenance and could therefore feel at home anywhere. I guess not. 

For the second time within the last few months, I have started to understand that cultures and lifestyles are closely connected to the environment and climatical circumstances. The climate defines how our days go: when we eat, when we start working or take breaks, when we wake up and go to bed, what we eat and how we eat it. Here people avoid the heat at noon and early afternoon and get most things done in the morning. Therefore, they get up earlier and then have a “siesta”. They eat a lot of beef or buffalo jerky because that does not go bad with the heat and is pretty much the only thing they can produce here. 

Once again, I realize how much I can expand my horizons and learn a lot while traveling and staying abroad. I am curious what I will discover in the next seven weeks of this trip and which cultures we will get to know. 

Our next destination is the Yellow Stone National Park. The climate will already be different there and we will certainly notice another big difference further north in British Columbia. 

Salome Fankhauser

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