Archive | January, 2014

himalayan entry number 5: we can’t stop, we won’t stop. oh wait, our jeep just stopped. never mind, as you were…

21 Jan

“Earth and skies, woods and fields, lakes and rivers, the mountains and the sea, are all excellent schoolmasters and teach some of us more than we could ever learn from books.” -Lubbock

I won’t write any more of the days in the mountains or coming back out. One of the gifts that travel has given me are memories that can’t be described to anyone else. Memories and feelings that are mine and mine alone to keep until the day I die. It is a bit torturous because all I want to do is share them with everyone I know and love but I can’t. Every single person who travels – and I mean really travels – will receive these gifts on their own time and they will hold them so tightly that they will always have them because no one, not even time, can take them away.

The day we got to Seribu Bensi, the last village on our trek before driving back to Kathmandu, was a day with many emotions. We had made family up there, in those crazy, glorious mountains and I already missed them. As Lucas and I approached the last bridge that we had to cross into the village, we hugged and held hands and hobbled across because we were so sore from the day’s work. We stayed in the village that night using the time to arrange a Jeep back to Kathmandu. What a hellish nightmare; because of the strike (remember we came into the mountains during a holiday and now we were leaving during elections strike… I know, I know… we are excellent at planning), everything was closed, no busses in or out and that meant all of the Jeeps and trucks were taken up. Except one and we got it, thanks to Lucas.

The next morning all vehicles leaving the village had to create a caravan with the police. Because of the elections that were proceeding, there had been some bombings of cars and busses in the previous week or so by extremists. Before our trek we kept in the loop by finding English newspapers and talking to our host. There were also political gatherings, parties, marches and so on throughout the country that we got to witness as we traveled. We were actually really surprised at the amount of involvement, advocacy and passion everyone had and wish that Canadians took such an interest in politics (extremists actions aside, obviously). Of course, this is Nepal’s second election and so perhaps Canadians just take it for granted.

I don’t have to go into detail about the road that we had to drive out on. If you’ve read the first entry you know it was intense but if you haven’t, you can find it under “nepal” in the categories on the right. It was just as bad as it was coming into the mountains but this time we were sharing the Jeep with four Spanish people.

The day was long. Having to stop and create a caravan with the police left us in a village on the side of a mountain for a couple of hours. We made some friends, ate some food but there was a question of our impending departure when we finally left about two hours later and were happy to do so: we had a long drive ahead of us and wanted to get started. You can image how excited we were when, as we were coming onto our fifth hour of driving, the Jeep stopped out of nowhere. It stopped in the middle of an inclined cliff road, on a mountain, at dusk around a bend where the massive dump trucks and busses coming down the hill around the corner couldn’t see us.

The Jeep stopped and everyone fell silent for a moment. The driver pumped his peddles and black smoke started coming out of the front of the Jeep. Then the Jeep started going backwards very slowly. As calmly but seriously as I could I said, “break.” It was all I could muster up. Well, that and the smile I was giving to everyone. The seven of us got out and all I could think of was that my mom told me to never get out of the car if it’s broken down, there is a higher chance of getting hit by another car. Did I mention the trucks coming around the bend?  I had to chuckle to myself and then my chuckle turned into a full blown laugh. You see, here we were, on the side of a mountain highway with a local driver who couldn’t be more that 25, four Spanish people who were driving me a bit crazy (they were lovely but they were all over the place), night time nearing, in Nepal. I laughed to myself as I took my camera out to take pictures of this glorious moment.

These are the moments that school can not give you. These are moments that a job can not provide you. These moments teach you something about the world, about others and about yourself. You see how you process things, how you react, how you carry yourself. These learning moments, the ones that come when you are not looking, are part of the memories and moments I speak of when I say that traveling gives you gifts that not even time can take away from you and that you tend not to even unwrap right away.

As time passed and Lucas and the driver tried to fix the Jeep, myself and the Spanish people felt helpful by slowing the oncoming trucks down by standing on this “highway” and waving our arms at them. Yes, that must have been very helpful, indeed.

I looked over and I saw Lucas and the driver hunched over the engine. They were communicating through hand signals and simple English words. More black smoke. Pump, pump, pump. More black smoke.

Ah! Wait! There’s another Jeep coming up the hill! We pull the guy over and make a deal with him: 4000NR and we are good to go… wait a minute, Lucas starts yelling at us to get into the Jeep, they have fixed it! We had already paid the guy we started the journey with so this is convenient, we’ll go with our broken little Jeep. We thank the second Jeep and we climb in as fast as we could at Lucas’ direction.

The seven of us get in. The pumping starts again. We start rolling backwards. I yell, “Break!” We all get out.

A local bus slowed to a halt. At this point it is hectic; no one seemed ready to commit to leaving or staying and the four Spanish people were looking at Lucas and I for direction: I get why they were looking at Lucas, he hooked everyone up with the Jeep. He planned the whole thing and made it happen. If you know him, you know what I’m talking about, he just makes shit happen. Lucas and I looked at each other and I see his “I’m done with this shit” face and he climbed onto the top of the Jeep and started handing me everyone’s bags and I stared shelling them out to everyone else like an elf on Christmas morning. We ran to the bus and climbed on. Yes, a very local bus with local people, indeed. I looked around and smiled. Nothing. I say “Hello,” probably a little too loudly and scurry to the back of the bus out of habit.

We make it to Kathmandu just as it starts to get dark outside and I sigh a very large sigh of relief. I mean, I go to sigh but because of the gas and pollution, I just end up coughing, but it’s a cough of relief and that’s what mattered for that day.

himalayan entry 4: the only thing that can be measured is the mountain

21 Jan

Never measure the height of the mountain until you have reached the top. Then you will see how low it was. -Hammarskjold

Day six was the day. It was the day we were going to scale to 4998 meters.

We woke up at 5:15am and got dressed to meet a couple that we were going to trek the mountain with. We met them a couple of days prior on the path and saw them again when we arrived in Kyanjin Gompa. They were hesitant to trek this one particular mountain but we talked them into it, reassuring them that we would do it together and they decided to come with us.

It took us nine hours, round trip. When we started, it was still dark but soon enough the sun had peeked over a mountain and the warmth of it was starting to lick our cold little noses. At such a high altitude, the sun and the wind threaten to do damage; the sun with its ability to burn your skin and the dry wind making your throat soar and your lungs weak. We dressed well for it; lots of sunscreen with layers upon layers to help protect us from the cold wind.

We were about two hours in when we saw three people coming up the mountain behind us. Two of them were on foot and one of them sat on a pony, (to say “rode” a pony would be giving them too much credit.) I was confused for a moment at this sight because ponies are usually used on the mountain with tourists when the tourist is sick from altitude but this person was ascending so they couldn’t have been sick.

As they came closer we saw that it was two local men and a tourist. As they came even closer we saw that the pony kept stopping and its chest was heaving at an alarming rate. Every time it stopped, one of the men would hit the pony with a stick. The four of us sat there watching this as we nibbled on our snacks, taking a short break. Once they were close enough, some people in our group had a verbal exchange with the locals. The locals yelled back, “Stop yelling, [the tourist] pay, we take them.”  As we continued our hike we discussed this as a group and here is the stance that I took: In many places around the world, the income of the people rely on tourist dollars. When tourists come, the locals need to meet the tourists wants and demands. The locals are doing what they need to do to make a living and so it’s the tourists that need to make a change in what they deem appropriate when visiting these places. The problem is the kind of tourist that pays to have a pony to ride on up a mountain, or an elephant ride, or a lion hunting excursion. Tourists need to be educated in how to travel. We can shape the rights and wrongs, we just need to educate ourselves.

Off topic but important.  Further into our trek, we sat and took another short break and while we did, we heard a rumbling that shook through the mountains and our bodies. Looking from the side of the mountain we were on to a mountain across from us, we saw an avalanche! The word “numinous” came to mind. I just read somewhere that it means to describe an experience that makes you fearful but fascinated, awed yet attracted. Mother Nature is the original powerhouse and when she wants to do something, there is no stopping her. We all sat there with our mouths open in silence. I looked behind me to scan the mountain we were on. It looked as though we were safe but I became even more hyper aware of my very vulnerable position on this mountain.

There were two different points on the mountain where I thought I would have Lucas go on and I would wait for him but I kept arguing with myself to keep going. I wanted to get up there, I wanted that success. There is nothing about me or my life that says “quitter” or “half-ass.” The conversations I had in my head were humorous though; it was a constant back and forth of worry and encouragement between me and myself, especially when I looked up and the tip of the mountain still looked so damn far away. In fact, Lucas was sharing our story with someone and to his enjoyment, he shared that I was talking to myself during the icy, more dangerous part of the trek, (I also talk to myself when I ski, whaddya know!) I kept saying “This is a dumb idea, this is unsafe and we shouldn’t be here. What am I doing here? This doesn’t feel safe.” Of course I followed up with “I am my mother’s daughter and I totally got this. I am going to get my ass up there and at the end of the day, enjoy a hot lemon tea. People go through much more than this just to go to school. I could be sitting at a desk at work right now.”  Then, after a while, my positive voice got tired of my my negative voice and was all like, Pshhhaaa….. Stay out of my business negative voice, I am doing this whether you like it or not so screw you and leave me…wait, I have to reapply sunscreen….“Babe, can you pass me the sunscreen? Ah, thanks!”… alone. I need to concentrate on not passing out up here.  Plus, I had a butterfly to leave up at the top for mom and I needed to get it up there.

About an hour and a half later we made it to the very top of the mountain. It was the last hour and a half that I was most nervous. We didn’t have spikes on our shoes, only poles, and it was icy. The path was icy enough to walk on but on either side of it my walking poles would stick three feet into the snow and if we weren’t careful, we could get stuck in the snow. There were holes in the ice and boulders to climb. There was blowing wind and blinding sun. There were snow leopard prints and we kept slipping and falling. We did it though.

Once up there we ate the lunch that Chime and Sumzu, our hosts, packed us; yak cheese, two boiled eggs, bread and peanut butter. It was a bit of a party because we felt so good that we made it and so there was a lot of hugging and smiling. While the others talked amongst themselves, Lucas and I went over and I hung the butterfly on the banner of the prayer flags for mom.

And down we went. Three and a half hours later, we were in the village again on our way to the shower and then off to eat some momos and dal-bhat.

We reached 4,998m that day but we all felt so much higher.

himalayan entry 3: i meant to take a hot shower but i got into a hot mess instead

21 Jan

Day five of trekking had me in some kind of hot mess.

Day five brought us to Kyanjin Gompa. This was the end of our trek into the mountains where we would stay and do day treks for a couple of days before hiking out. The previous five days allowed me to trek in the lush jungles and forests, in the fields, and on mountain cliffs. I had monkeys jump in the trees above me, I saw birds that are endangered and I saw wild horses. I loved every single second of the adventure I was on.

I started to allow myself to relax as I knew we were going to be resting in Kyanjin Gompa and I started feeling a bit emotionally tired. Trekking is incredible and the absolute experience of a life time but it’s also incredibly arduous and challenging. One must be emotionally and mentally prepared.

I was prepared, in every way. Until I got into the shower.

As we walked through the village, a woman with two young children came up to us. She was wearing a blue apron over her ankle length dress. “You need place to stay?” She held out her hand with a card in it and it read Snow Leopard. That’s the one we wanted! You see, as you climb you cross paths with others who are in different stages of their trek than you are. If someone offers a suggestions on a good place to stay, you usually take it – they know what they’re talking about and what you will need.

Her two children danced around us until the older one grabbed Lucas’ hand and then grabbed my hand. Out of habit I said, “Let’s lift!” and so Lucas and I followed the mama back to her place swinging her child to and fro, giggling and smiling.

She brought us back to her home and introduced us to her husband. He came out, walking slightly forward as if we had a light magnetic pull on him and said “Hello. Wel come.” His smile was huge, happy, radiating warmth and kindness. Radiating pride and hard work.

Just a side note: I wrote “wel come” in such a way because that’s how they spell it, but even more noted, that’s how they pronounce it. I thought it was really cute, the way they would pronounce each syllable, with a brief pause in between. I just loved it. 

We were happy to see clean beds and bedding and proceeded to unpacked our things. What I was really excited about was the fact that they had hot water so I was going to take a shower and absolutely enjoy the shit out of it. The shower was located in a different room and because of the way the structures are built in the mountains, there was about six inches of open space between the roof and the wall so all of the cold air came in. No big deal in a hot shower, right? Right.

I turned on the shower and out came hot water, running through my fingers, dancing in my palms.  At this point Lucas had taken my change of clothes and brought them to the dining room to warm them up by the fire. He was coming back in a couple of minutes with them so I could throw them on right away as it’s really, very cold at night.

Ok, my shins are wet, my arms are wet and I’m about to step under the water, excited and giddy, that I get to feel clean. Here I go, come to mama…

And then the hot water pressure ceased to exist.

It was at this moment that my hot shower turned into a hot mess. I started to cry but not one of those “sniffle, sniffle, pass me a kleenex, aren’t I cute?” cries. It was one of those pathetic silent cries with a super ugly crying face. Get this… I’m naked in the shower, crouched over, half wet, half dry, ugly crying, on a mountain with Yaks outside with window.

Oh, roller coaster of emotions, how I have missed you! Where have you been? GET OUT OF MY SHOWER! I started really crying at this point when Lucas arrived back outside the door with warm clothes. He started knocking on the door asking me to unlock it and when I got to it he rushed in asking me, “What’s wrong?! What’s the matter?! Talk to me!” Uh, hello, can you not see that I am PMSing and I’ve been on a mountain for five days and the hot water has dwindled down and took my dreams of a hot shower with it? No? I managed to get out, “I’m just having a moment.”  He wrapped me in a towel and I got dressed. Uh, best man ever, yes?

Looking back, even later that night, we agreed that this scene was straight out of a comedy and I was the naked, shivering, crying comedian. Oh, Lordy!