Archive | December, 2013

himalayan entry 2: “i’m too sweaty to be respected”

29 Dec

Hey! Here’s a great idea! Let’s go from Europe where we lived and breathed carbs and wine and then ascend 1300 meters our first day of trekking. It won’t be a thang.

1300 meters didn’t register in my mind when I heard it, even on the morning of. I was too consumed by how amazing my breakfast was. I was ignorant to the fact that something so amazing with sizzling potatoes and perfectly scrambled eggs could come from a run down shack on the side of a cliff. Heaven!

This is us eating our weight in carbs 2.5 weeks before our trek.

This is us eating our weight in carbs 2.5 weeks before our trek.

7:30am and we walk out the door. What a strange feeling, just walking out the door into the woods, sure that you want to do this, but beyond that, unsure of what comes.

We walked along the gravel road that veered off to the left, down into the green. At the turn off there was a man with a toothless smile, “Yak milk?” I looked at his Yak. “Aw, no dhanybhad (thank you)!” This man, with his toothless grin and muddy yak, set the mood for the day. It was going to be a great day with much to see and it was our second hardest day as well in terms of meters ascended. Did I mention that it was stupid hot?

When we started, we were both decked out in our full gear. I had my tights, ankle length skirt over top, Morano wool t-shit, running jacket, down-filled vest, grey sweater, rain jacket, hat, mitts and boots. Ten minutes into the trek I had stripped to my tights, the skirt and the the t-shirt. Why was I wearing an ankle length skirt? After doing the research, Lucas learned that women are more likely to be respected and accepted into homes and interactions with other women when they are dressed appropriately which, for the Nepalese, means a long skirt. I wore this particular skirt as I didn’t feel great about the other one we had picked up in Kathmandu. I caught the man who sold it to us touching himself after “helping” me with it. I found it odd that he was helping me in the first place and I was fully dressed with Lucas standing in near proximity. Bad omen. Bad vibes. I gave it away. Everything is an um, an experience… right?

The trek started out in beautiful, shady, forest but as we trekked upwards, it become dry and hot. As the hours passed I concentrated on the path and the ground right in front of me. I could barley look up to enjoy it unless we came to a stop or drank some water. It was incredibly steep and no matter how slow I walked, I was still panting, still feeling the lactic acid in my legs build up. At one point I was sure it would have been a good idea to stop and take a nap, I would have been ok with that. I didn’t care that it was in the middle of the forest, on a hill, in the sun.

Five hours into it we were at our first tea house. How excited I was! I made it to my first official “stop.” Lucas and I probably did a high five because we are nerds and said something nerdy to each other like, “who made it to the first stop? WE DID!” I remember it so vividly: it came out of nowhere, a log cabin with some picnic tables in front of it. Smoke was coming out of a chimney and the sky was so blue and so beautiful. We ordered garlic soup because it is supposed to help with altitude sickness and fried rice because it was fast to prepare. We wanted to get going as soon as we could breath easy once again.
First stop: garlic soup and fired rice lunch. Oh, and some classical music.

As I sat there, sterilizing the water, a group of 18 Parisians all sat down at a picnic table that had a lace tablecloth on it. Then I noticed that they had their own cooks and servers. They weren’t eating at the tea house, they were just using their facilities. As I walked around the property I saw  their own personal cooks and chefs behind the tea house quickly working away to get their cheese, peeled fruit, main course and fresh water on the table. I thought, oh, fair enough, these guys are older and they probably get one real holiday a year like the rest of us so good for them. And then the classical music started to blare.  Are. You. Kidding. Me? Did you really have the porter bring up a stereo so you could blast classical music while you ate your perfect, pristine lunch… on a mountain? Paaw-leease.

Lucas and I ate, sterilized some more water and started off again. Apparently the  second leg of this day’s journey was supposed to be “incredibly steep.” I kept asking Lucas who defined “steep” because I was pretty sure the first part of the day was incredibly steep as well.

As we were leaving, a group of young porters were sitting on the ground and I noticed their faces changed when they say me. I just thought I looked funny with hiking boots, a skirt, drenched in sweat so I thought nothing of it. A while later, while in the sun I looked down and realized that my black, Morano wool shirt is completely see through. They boys? Yes, they saw my braw, it’s shape and colour. If this were to have happened at home, I would have just changed my shirt and made a joke… no big deal but it’s extremely inappropriate to show such things in the Nepalese tradition. I looked at Lucas who was laughing and he made a comment about “wearing the appropriate dress” and “putting something else on, even though it’s hot… being respected.” I looked at him and said  “I’m too sweaty to be respected.” And that was that.

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We went on and hours passed. The terrain became even more dry and dusty but we had set a good pace – consistent, practised – that I didn’t feel like I was going to die anymore. And then it happened… we saw the sign “Sing Ghompa, 3300m.” Lucas said “I think this is it.” I stopped and replied, “Can you be sure of that before I get excited, please?” It was and it was beautiful!

It seemed to have came out of nowhere.  Sing Ghompa was made up of five families, all with guest houses. One family had some ponies, all of them had chickens and gardens. It was magical being up here and I felt like I had been transported to another world. The light was different, the air was different. As I hung our laundry up, I was hanging it beside a cloud. Everything was tinted in a pink shade because of the sun. It was remarkable.

I walked out of the families home which is also where they serve the food and turned to my left. Two young boys bareback on their ponies came racing up the stone pathway and up stone steps. I was in heaven and if I wasn’t, I sure as hell was close enough at 3300m.

What left the biggest impact on me were the stars. I have never seen stars look so large and so bright. Venus looked unreal because of its size and brightness and you could see the faint strip of the milky way. I would love to write “and you could breath fresh mountain air into your lungs” but you couldn’t. At that altitude I could feel my heart beat off rhythm here and there. It was a bit scary but expected.

The days were long but felt short. The nights felt even shorter. It was the beginning of something I would have never dreamed of.

the writing isn’t on the wall… it’s in the yak shit

29 Dec

Sometimes, no matter what you believe in, whether it’s God or coincidences, or nothing at all, strange things can happen. Strange things happen to me all of the time and I love it.

Lucas and I started our trek in the Himalayan Mountains on an incredibly hot day, ascending 1300m to 3300m by the end of the day. I knew it was going to be difficult. I knew it would push me. I knew, in all of that silence and space, I would think of her.

What I didn’t know is that she would show up. In the form of a tree.

Mom’s favourite tree in the world was the one that sits in her front yard. It blooms every year for a limited time but when it does, it’s rich in pink, soft, exquisite blooms that fall to the ground and leaves bright colour scattered everywhere like an artist gone mad.

We were slowly ascending up a hill (no shit, it’s a mountain), and we turned on a switch back. Lucas saw it first and then I saw it. In the entirety of a forest, dressed in deep greens, ferns, and oak trees, there stood one single tree with pink blooms hugging every inch of branch. It was the only tree without green. The only tree that stood out, dressed in bright pink. The only tree that had well over 100 chick-a-dee like birds in it.

It sang! Oh, did this tree sing, with the lungs of these birds. The vision! The sound! It could not have been more perfectly planned than if it was put there by mom, herself. It had Deborah written all over it and it was like she was there to see me off on my first day.

Naturally, I climbed to the tree’s roots and put some of mom right there under her tree.

It was the only pink tree, in the entire forest and jungle that we came across on our ten day trek. It was the only tree with as many singing birds in it. It was her tree.

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Like the tree, she came around in her own way (or is it my way of having her around?) on our second day of trekking. We had just crossed paths with a wild pony and was happily continuing on in the forest. The forest itself was magical in every sense of the word. You could feel every atom in your body tingle with how magic it was. Disney didn’t have shit on it.

Through the forest and out into an open field. The scenery hit me. I felt my body become rigid and I could only think of her and how she deserved this view, this experience. I was stricken with such sorrow in that moment, feeling angry and sad that she would never see what I could see, that I could never share this with her, that I could never bring her to this spot. I was filled with sorrow and stood heartbroken. 

The field was on an incline and at the bottom of a small hill I saw a rock and I pictured her sitting there, looking out towards the mountain edges. I pictured her there with her big, lopsided pointy tail, smiling. The grief started in my stomach and spread itself outward, touching every part of my body. I couldn’t hold it any longer and started to cry.

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Now she can enjoy this view from her mossy rock.

I took the tiny container I carry her in out of my bag, held her in my hands and sobbed audibly on the top of this mountain. I held her tight as I marched down to the rocks I pictured her sitting on. I found some soft moss to sprinkle her on and and as I did, the familiar, crushing panic that wells up inside of me when I let the grief come too close, washed over me like a wave. I pictured her sitting there again and my cry become louder.

I slowly got up, closed the container and started walking back to my bag. I reached my bag, put her away and began to catch up with Lucas who was waiting for me just ahead. I was sobbing, and looking pathetic when, in true Deborah fashion, I slipped in a pile of wet mud and Yak shit and fell over right on my ass.

I howled! Here I am, bawling my eyes out, with a snotty, messy nose, on a Himalayan mountain, spreading my mom on moss, just covered in shit and mud. It was hysterical. What bellowed out of me was the hardest laugh I think I have ever had. What a pathetic sight I must have been to Lucas, to anyone who could have seen it. I sat there for a minute, trying to catch my breath from laughing with such fervour, thinking of how utterly silly this looked. I walked away laughing, just waiting for the shit and mud to dry so I could shake it off of my entire right side.

I am more like her than I every thought and if there’s such a thing as “watching over,” then we must have shared this joke. Perfection.

pre-planning: there’s a madness to our method

29 Dec

How the hell do you plan a world trip? Slowly, that’s how. We read blogs, books, spoke with people, asked questions, pulled our hair out, drank wine, went back to the drawing table… for three years.

I will get the big and simple things out of the way. First, the home we own will be taken over by Lucas’ parents. They are happy, retired people who not only love to ski (this place is perfect for them) but who must love us big time. Our cousins who are also our neighbours say they are trading up… ahem?

As for my career, I will have just completed an extended maternity leave as the Director of Operations for a large and absolutely amazing non-profit in Calgary. My last day is June 13 – and what a day it will be.

Lucas did make it to Driller so that is settled. He has never really made a goal with a timeline and didn’t meet it so I’m not surprised. Good looking and motivated? Yes m’am!

We have created many different routs. This was our very first list.

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It changed…

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and changed…

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and then it started growing.

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We are still completely in the process of this and we realized that we will be for the duration of our traveling. I mean, we will have some sort of skeleton of where we are going based on a couple of things: music festivals, my research in education (hello, Reggio Emilia!), Oktober fest and monsoon season in India.

For now we are happy with knowing that we start in Ponta Delgada in August.

The planning never really ends. But neither does the excitement and dream.

himalayan entry 1: barfing ladies, sniffing creams and talking to mom

29 Dec
Two little bags and some gear the night before we set out on foot for 10 days. It was so cold but I was happy to have a toilet that I didn't have to squat over. It's the little things in life.

Two little bags and some gear the night before we set out on foot for 10 days. It was so cold but I was happy to have a toilet that I didn’t have to squat over. It’s the little things in life.

Growing up I would never have imagined myself hiking the Himalayan Mountains. In fact, when I speak of it, I feel as though I am speaking of someone else. Someone else has hiked them. Someone else has accomplished this.

But here I am with a yellow journal full of my scribbles of the daily events Lucas and I experienced on the trip, the moments of sheer frustration, acceptance, thankfulness, humbling and the imprint  it has left on both of our lives.

I couldn’t have written about this any sooner than I am, right now. I had to process it, allowing time to slowly massage the impact and meaning of what was experience  into my mind.

I will look back on this blog one day when I’m old and frail and read it with a happy yearning  of the days gone by.

The Morning we Left to Trek 

As we came down we found a candle lit at the bottom of the stairs. It was on a tray with bright flowers and a cup with some coins in it. The soft glow of the candle and the colour of the flowers were a contrast to the rest of the room which was concrete, cold and dark. Serita waited for us at the bottom of the stairs and told us that the candle was lit to ensure us a safe journey. She then took a red mixture and marked our foreheads with it. After that, we each received a flower. My flower was put into my pony tail because I am a woman and Lucas’ was put on top of his head because he is a man, as the Nepalese tradition goes. We were then given three coins each to put into the bowl of coins as an offering to the Goddess Lakshmi. I wanted to show Serita how much this meant to me and in true Canadian form, Lucas and I hugged her. This might not seem like a big deal to any one of my North American peeps but in the Nepalese tradition, hugging isn’t a usual form of affection that you observe. This thoughtfulness and effort to see us off meant something to me. I felt like a hug was a way to share Canadian affection and because we had created a relationship with Serita, it was welcomed with open arms… literally.

Getting to Dunche, where our trek was to begin, was an experience within itself. Actually, getting anywhere on public transportation in Kathmandu is an experience, but we did it everyday so we were going to do it again. We got on a bus and proceeded to a part of town that we hadn’t been to before. Amongst the yelling, the snot rockets, the dust, the gas, we found the second bus that we were to take. We were told to sit at the back of the bus. I was used to this as it wasn’t the first time this was requested of non-locals and I was perfectly fine with it but the seats in Nepal are made for the Nepalese people, who are generally much, much smaller that people in North America. Lucas had one hell of a time getting comfy.

This bus dropped us off on small road with two little shops in the middle of nowhere.

The "bus stop."

The “bus stop.”

I took my bag off and sat on a piece of concrete and watched a chicken walk back and forth at this so called “bus stop.” An hour and a half had passed by in the hot sun and that’s the only thing that had passed…there wasn’t a bus in sight. This is when I started to contemplated what we were doing. It’s always in these moments, sitting at the side of a road,  that one has these contemplative thoughts. I looked to my left and there was a five year old with her baby brother, making him cry, almost dropping him, picking him back up again… I had to turn away, my stomach couldn’t bear it! I turned to my left. The chicken. Ok, time to let Lucas teach me a card game while we wait for this bus.

As we played the card game, about 15 men gathered around us, (where they come from, I have no idea). Playing cards is popular there amongst men and you only have to walk around a couple of blocks to see it.  As I went to pull a card out of my hand, a man made a noise by drawing a quick breath and bent over to point to the card he thought I should pull out and present to Lucas. I followed his lead and he was right. The men totally enjoyed watching us play the game. For myself, it was an odd experience. Generally speaking, women don’t  gather around other women to watch them do things, whereas men tend to (think of arcades, chess, cards,etc.). Also, I have been travelling in countries where women have little to no rights so men paying attention to anything I was doing, be it with Lucas, was odd as well. Either way, I think it’s so crazy that things like this, like cards, can surpass language barriers and make people connect. I know for a fact that our card game made an instant connection with the locals because after the card game ended they told us that there was no bus that day; it was a holiday and the only option was the van that was sitting by the side of the road.

I looked at the van. Hey! Not to shabby for Nepal! I was actually excited! We were going to get to Dunche in this sweet little van and it’s smooth sailing form here. I got in like a puppy going to the beach.

Ok, the van holds eight people. Eleven got in. Wait, wait a minute, three just climbed to the roof. That’s ok, people do it all of the time here. I was just holding onto the back of a rickshaw the other day, no biggie. Let’s go!

Oh, what’s that? You’re not going to Dunche? Where are we going then? Ok, then we can get to Dunche? How far is it from here to there? Ok, that’s not too bad I guess. Let’s go!

As we went on our way, the driver of the van picked up every single person what was walking along the road. I understand why he did this; they don’t have a body governing transportation in Nepal like the TTC in Toronto, or the Metro in Montreal. If someone owns  any sort of vehicle they can pick people up and charge them appropriately. The more people they pick up, the more money they make. But let me remind you, this van holds eight people. At one point, I was squished between a woman and he toddler and Lucas, who was squished against the window. I looked around and there were 16 people inside this van, and 19 people on top. The sweat, the smell and the sounds. The Nepalese people don’t mind it if you squish them, sit on them, shove them over a bit to make room for yourself. That is how it is done in Nepal so they don’t mind doing it to you. The sliding van door did not shut; people just stepped up and held on and the longer this went on for, the harder I prayed that they would get off. You see, it became clear that most of the people were sitting on the left side of the van which is the same side the mountain cliff was on.

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It’s how things run in Nepal.

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That’s no Saint Nick on the roof.

 

I was nervous. I was nervous that I wouldn’t be able to keep my calm as the van stopped for each person and my breathing space became smaller and smaller. I was nervous that I would have to leave the van, putting Lucas and I on the side of the road without a drive. I was nervous that this wouldn’t end well.

And then a woman started puking.

I don’t mean puking in the way we Canadians do it. We get all sweaty and shaky, making noises, full of embarrassment. I mean this woman just sat there like nothing was wrong, calmly puking out the door. I had a vision of the scene from Stand By Me, where a barf-o-rama party starts all because one person did it first. I looked at Lucas and as calmly as possible I asked him to please hand me my blue pouch. I quickly and quietly took out a small bottle that I had put some lotion in. This lotion is Johnson and Johnson baby lotion and it came from the home of my Montreal family. They say olfactory sense is the most powerful sense to bring back memories. Well, I took that bottle and I shoved it so far up my nose… and I closed my eyes. I thought of Montreal and being with the family there. The sunny days, the kids, the kitchen, the food and laughter around the dinner table. It brought me right back to them. Lucas asked what I was doing and I’m not sure what I said made any sense because I was trying to make sure that I wouldn’t puke on him. I was too busy putting myself back to a place that was wonderful and safe.

It was a mess but we finally got to where we needed to catch our last ride to Dunche. It was an amazing, crazy, beautiful mess that stretched me farther than I thought I could go… and I wasn’t even on a mountain yet.

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The “good part” of the road. Treacherous.

To no surprise at all, once in the small community, we were told by locals that there weren’t any buses going to Dunche that day because of the holiday. We almost stayed the night in this community but Lucas and his wonderful, extroverted mind, flagged down a man driving a Jeep and asked him to drive us to Dunche for a price. And thank god it was a Jeep because I can tell you, the drive to Dunche is the scariest drive anyone could ever take in their lives. And I’ve driven in Italy.

The following is an excerpt taken from the Lonely Planet Travel Guide for Nepal. I read this before I left on this trip to Dunche so you can image what I was feeling:

“Road travel in Nepal poses a significant risk of accident. It’s uncommon to drive for more than an hour on any stretch of road without passing the burnt out shell of a public bus crushed like tin foil into the canyon below. You are 30 times more likely to die in a road accident in Nepal than in most developed countries.”

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Lucas took this from the car. We can’t see over the edge because of the clouds. Oh, that and the terror. Terror makes it hard to see things.

The rest is a bit of a blur for me and it’s probably better that it stays that way. I do know I was terrified but that it looked like there was some equanimity going on. The cliff roads we were driving on where exactly that: cliffs. The Jeep wouldn’t have rolled down the mountain side, it wouldn’t have hit trees and bushes while tumbling over itself. It would have dropped and kept going kilometre after kilometre until it hit the solid ground.  I thought of every single person in my life whom I love because I was not sure we would make it and instead of praying to God, I had a little chit chat with mom. I didn’t look at the road, there was no need, I could feel the Jeep’s tires move over the rocks and waterfalls, slowly inching it’s way and then speeding up again. I could feel every bump and every sway back and forth. What made me secretly lose it was Lucas. I felt him become scared and he is never scared. I felt him grip my knee and hold his breath. I felt his body temperature rise and I felt him stiffen. When he is scared, I know it’s scary.

Once we got to Dunche, and settled in, he showed my a video of the drive. He explained to me that at one point, as three wheels were on the “road,” one wheel was over the cliff. He didn’t have to tell me. I could feel it.