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.

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6 Responses to “himalayan entry 1: barfing ladies, sniffing creams and talking to mom”

  1. ddcleveDebra December 29, 2013 at 4:26 am #

    The Road Not Taken

    Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
    And sorry I could not travel both
    And be one traveler, long I stood
    And looked down one as far as I could
    To where it bent in the undergrowth;

    Then took the other, as just as fair,
    And having perhaps the better claim
    Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
    Though as for that the passing there
    Had worn them really about the same,

    And both that morning equally lay
    In leaves no step had trodden black.
    Oh, I kept the first for another day!
    Yet knowing how way leads on to way
    I doubted if I should ever come back.

    I shall be telling this with a sigh
    Somewhere ages and ages hence:
    Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
    I took the one less traveled by,
    And that has made all the difference.
    Robert Frost
    Xoxoxo
    Debra

  2. Rmc December 29, 2013 at 4:43 am #

    Well done, well told, life being lived (on the edge) so to speak. Can’t wait to read your next blog. R

  3. Our Global Adventure December 29, 2013 at 11:25 am #

    You post is so descriptive, I think I just held my breath for five minutes straight reading it! Thanks for sharing your tale, it’s wonderful… but scary as hell!

    • lutanatravel December 29, 2013 at 11:55 am #

      Hello!
      Thank you so much. I find it daunting to try and put the experience into words but even if one person likes it, I think that’s great!

  4. Heather B January 21, 2014 at 3:47 pm #

    As I read of your incredible journey, I get whisked away into the journey with you. I imagine your surroundings, feel the warmth of the sun, imagine the steep roads, and mountains, and shiver when I lose hot water. I feel like i’m reading a fairy tale, and reality slips away from me. Then reality slowly comes back to me,and I realize…this is my family. She is on this journey. I couldn’t be more proud of you. I love you.

    • lutanatravel January 22, 2014 at 1:22 am #

      Heather, your words are so beautiful. That’s really special for me to know that. Thank you! Love you!

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