When G asked me to go hiking with his friends to Mount Garzirola, I nodded without thinking. “There are mountains in Vietnam, too”, I said. But really, this one was no joke!

Garzirola is a mountain of the Lugano Prealps on the Swiss-Italian border, two hours away from Milan by car. Our group have 18 people in total. According to the plan, we would walk up and down steep rocky trails around Mount Garzirola, from the 1080m height to the summit and back on another (much further) route. It’d take 5-6 hours for two ways.

The first walking trail was from Cavargna, the highest commune of Como province, to Puntino del Cristo. It had a zigzagging steep slope and even got rockier as we went uphill. Noticing that I was left far behind, G stopped to check up on me and gave me one of his walking poles. Two other trekkers decided to stay behind the line and walked with me. “Don’t worry. Just walk slowly. This is not a race”…

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Things got better as we walked onto flatter and softer grounds covered with pastures of grass. I looked up and found myself astounded by the stunning view of immense gold fields against the backdrop of dazzling blue Mediterranean sky. Then I heard something like tribal music coming from afar. A gentle breeze blew across my face. I stopped for a while just to enjoy Mother Nature’s reward.

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The cheerful ‘tribal music’, shall we say, got louder as we moved forward. There were tiny brown dots at the front but I was not quite sure what they were. How funny they gradually ‘grew’ bigger into brown and thin cows, and the tribal music I heard turned out the sound of their bell tinkles. “Switzerland is just on the other side”, G said. Later I found out that cowbell is actually a Swiss trademark — during the summer their farmers send cows to the Alps for a ‘retreat’, and hang bells around their necks to locate the herd more easily in the alpine meadows.

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From there to the summit we needed to walk for another two hours. My lower legs started aching but the rhythmic beat of cowbells clanging and spectacular view of alpine pastures gave me tremendous joy and power to walk on. I reached the peak of Mount Garzirola around 2pm, a bit late compared with most of my companions. But it did not matter. I made it to the top! Everyone hugged and congratulated me, saying I was probably the first Vietnamese conquering this mountain. We talked, we laughed, we shared our lunch and took pictures together. What a memory!

Standing on the mountain summit after almost three hours of hiking constantly, I was over the moon. But that feeling only stayed for a few minutes. Better than ever I understand the outcome is not as fun and interesting as the journey itself. I would miss the alpine cows with bells lazily grazing in boundless fields, rolling mountain ranges under puffy clouds and lovely friends who stopped every now and then just to ask me “tutte bene?” (is everything ok?). My first trekking experience in European wonderland also had its ugliness like pain and sweating, and I would miss every rock that challenged me along the way…

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