Good question. Long enough for my eyes to feel pretty dry from lack of blinking and for my lungs to feel tight from holding my breath. But long enough too to spot the shimmering brown and blue bird I had come here for. It has just ventured out from the tall reeds and is keeping watch from the rock in the water.
© Thomas Alberer
The kingfisher is a species found in many countries. While the turquoise back and red-brown belly of each sub-species shimmer more or less vibrantly from continent to continent – the coloring is always distinctive. This bird has fascinated me ever since I sought it out for the first time in South Africa and deliberately observed it. You could say that it was my door to the bird world of South Africa. One perfect example is sitting in front of me right now. But this time I’m not in South Africa. I’m taking a lunch break... at Lake Chiemsee. This is the largest lake in Bavaria and it’s just half an hour from my doorstep. Biologists and ornithologists have identified over 300 bird species here. Around half of these are indigenous species, such as cormorants, swans, hawks – and the kingfisher. The other half are visitors. On one of my lunch breaks, one particularly exotic visitor made itself at home in the reeds beside the kingfisher: a pink flamingo.
Yes, you read correctly.
© Thomas Alberer
There is a chance to spot this flamingo once a year, wading through the shallow water on its long legs against a scenic alpine backdrop. It is somewhere between legend and reality – so many people struggle to believe in it as they look out over the lake in their Bavarian homeland. Even I could hardly believe my eyes. I had only ever seen flamingos once before: on the wild Atlantic coast of Namibia. But if we consider the flight routes of many migratory birds, it all makes sense: for example, the Spotted Redshank breeds mainly in the tundra of Scandinavia and Russia. It spends the summer at Lake Chiemsee. And makes its way to southern Africa for winter. The reverse conclusion is both simple and fascinating: here at the shores of the Bavarian Lake Chiemsee, against a background of Alpine peaks, I can observe the same bird that I can then see a few months later in Africa.
If I’m struck by wanderlust, I make more trips to Lake Chiemsee. And from there over half the world. It’s all about the moment and not about crossing national borders. The American writer Henry David Thoreau expressed this perfectly:
The world doesn’t suddenly start turning when we go on vacation. And it doesn’t start when we cross a national border. It starts right outside our front door.
I must admit: it took a while for me to grasp this. Almost ten years to be precise. And I had traveled through 35 countries before this realization struck me – on a mountain peak in my home region: we don’t need to travel to distant places to discover new things.
It was one of those fall days when at some point someone decided that fall deserved to be celebrated in golden hues. The leaves were resplendent in every shade on the spectrum from light yellow to deep red. Meadows and trees were covered by a thin veil of frost that shimmered in the sunrise. And while the sight of the glowing Lake Chiemsee was enough to bring my entire body out in goosebumps, an image of a hike in the Drakensberg mountains in South Africa came to mind.
The atmosphere was exactly the same.
The only difference being that then I was looking down on the vast plains of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa. And not over Lake Chiemsee in Bavaria.
But I now know: this feeling has nothing to do with South Africa. Or with Lake Chiemsee. And although it’s a special thrill when we realize that we’re actually there, in Africa – it’s a special feeling too to experience exceptional moments without having to travel to distant lands. Moments that can happen over and over again. Without spending days traveling or having to painstakingly calculate what to do for the remaining days of vacation.
This realization has in no way changed my love of travel. But I suffer less from wanderlust now that I no longer solely seek my happiness in faraway places. The most beautiful moments, those experiences that stay with us for a lifetime, happen unexpectedly and everywhere. Right outside my front door.
And yours too.
Franziska Consolati (née Bär) is an author and adventurer. She had barely reached adulthood when she embarked on one of her first trips with Bedouins through the Sahara. Somewhere between the desert dunes, she lost her heart to our planet. Since then, she has traveled over half the world, immersed herself in foreign cultures, and explored wild nature beyond beaten paths. Each step has heightened her realization of the urgent need to take action to protect our Earth. Franziska worked for an environmental organization for four years before becoming a freelance author: focusing on both travel and environmental protection.