Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Travelin' Buds, Part II

For 107 days, from July through October, Dave and I were never more than 10 meters apart.* In October, our traveling band grew, first including Jay, and later Charlie, Mike, and Chris. Another 33 days of sharing everything--from a room to details on bowel movements to decisions on where to go and what to eat.

That's a lot of together time, especially if you're an introvert.

Surprisingly, constant companionship hasn't driven me insane, nor has it ended my relationship with Dave. Travel has brought us closer; we know each other at a deeper level, and we're better buddies because of it.

Traveling with Jay was easy. A group of three is a manageable size, and Jay handled his first experience traveling in the developing world freakishly well, like he has been living in India for a decade.

Traveling with Charlie, Mike, and Chris was different. Five borders on a big group: to keep together in a crowd, to get a meal in a restaurant in under two hours, to make decisions. Mike and Chris often were unwell, too, so they weren't having a very good time. :-( As their “hosts,” Dave and I felt responsible, though there's not much we can do about a country's pollution, cultural differences, or diseases.  In the end, though, I had a good time with them, and I hope they can look back on their trip with amusing, maybe even fond, memories.

So what have we been doing for the past few weeks?
  • Hanging out in Kathmandu, visited Patan and its Durbar Square
  • Walked a few days of the Helambu trek to the north of Kathmandu (pictures here)
  • Did a half-day jeep safari in Chitwan National Park, searching for rhinos and tigers and sloth bears, oh my! (pictures here)
  • Chilled out in Pokhara and celebrated Mikey's birthday
sunrise in chitwan national park...  ooooo, jungle!
Davo and I are still in Pokhara; we'll be here about a week total until our flight from Kathmandu to Istanbul on 12/6.  We're using this time to learn about both Turkey and Israel and to put some thought into how we want to end this trip.  After 33 days of sharing his attention, it's so nice to have Dave to myself.  Other than relaxation, we have absolutely nothing planned for this week.  It's GREAT!

*Ok, that's an exaggeration, we were apart for 24 hours when he climbed Gunung Agung on Bali and I stayed in Ubud...

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A Pilgrim on Thanksgiving

The historical Buddha was a man. Not a god or a demi-god, not created from the Holy Spirit—he was simply a human. On Thanksgiving Day, I became a pilgrim myself and visited Lumbini, the place of the Buddha's normal, messy, human birth.

hi, buddha
Lumbini isn't exactly Nepal's prime tourist attraction. Inside the Sacred Garden, the Maya Devi temple (named for Buddha's mother) encloses a stone, put into place a few millenia ago, which marks the spot where the Buddha was born. Just outside the temple, there is a sandstone pillar erected by the Emperor Akosha around 250 B.C. The brick-lined pond where Maya bathed before the birth is just around the corner. The Maya Devi temple is surrounded by sal trees covered in prayer flags on a grassy lawn.

maya devi temple, the pool, and akosha's pillar on the left
North of the Sacred Garden are monasteries and temples from every Buddhist country and several that are not (France, Germany). I stayed overnight in the Korean Monastery, which provides room and board for pilgrims and travelers for a nominal donation. The Korean Temple itself and the evening service held there were beautiful.

inside of the korean temple...  very beautiful
And that's about it. There's not much to see. Lumbini Bazar, the tiny village outside the park, has one street. Many of the temples and monasteries within the park are still under construction. If you're not Buddhist, there's not much of a reason to come here.

The local bus from Lumbini to Pokhara, where I met up with the guys, took 11 hours to cover 180 km, as it stopped every few hundred meters to pick up or drop off someone. Unfortunately, it didn't stop for bathroom or food breaks. The two women in the seats in front of me alternated vomiting out the window, so I sat on the roof of the bus for a while. When I went back inside the bus, a chicken shat on my foot. I'm not complaining, though—this was not the worst Nepali bus ride I've endured.

the bus from hell.  i recommend the roof rack seats.
The bus ride gave me plenty of time to think about pilgrims and pilgrimage. The obvious connection was between Pilgrim/ Thanksgiving and pilgrim/ Lumbini. But the first definition given by Merriam-Webster online is actually “one who journeys in foreign lands: wayfarer.” Under the usual religious devotee definition, the online Free Dictionary's defines pilgrim as “one who embarks on a quest for something conceived of as sacred.” By these definitions, I've been a pilgrim since February.

The end of the journey—the end of the quest, if you will—is nearly here. Lately, I've been reflecting on this trip, whether I've found something sacred, whether I've found anything at all, what happens once I reach the destination. I've determined...

I don't know!  I don't know what I'm doing in 2011.  I have no job, no home, nearly no possessions, not many ambitions.  I'm feeling, though, that the pilgrimage won't be complete when I land in New York City around the New Year.  Maybe, if I'm lucky, the pilgrimage will never be complete.

And that might be my deep thought of the week.

P.S.  Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Travelin' Buds, and a Third Trek

The last week has been all about friendship.

I met Nirit, an Israeli my age, while waiting for the flight out of the mountains.  Like me, she was also waiting for the flight; like Dave, her boyfriend was completing the trek.  We ended up sharing a room in Pokhara for a week while we waited for our sweeties to return from their trekking adventures.  I really enjoyed her companionship and her perspective.  Nirit is the first random stranger I've met on this adventure who I would visit in her home country.

Two days ago, we said goodbye to Jay, Dave's university friend who joined us for the Annapurna Circuit.  I hadn't met him until he showed up in Kathmandu, but I'd heard a lot about him from Dave and suspected we'd get along well.  Turns out, introduction from a mutual friend is a great way to meet new friends!  Jay has a snarky, witty sense of humor that kept me amused, even when I was sick.  He's super strong, a little crazy (perfect match for Davo), and an all-around decent guy.

The day Jay left Kathmandu, other friends arrived.  I heard the voice of my old roommate, Mikey, in the hallway.  I ran outside to give him a hug and found Chris, my other old roommate, coming up the stairs right next to him!  Those clowns had neglected to tell me that Chris was also coming along...  a total surprise.  Charlie, another acquaintance from Ithaca who is currently living in India, also joined us.

After Dave as my primary companion for the past 9 months--and only companion for the past 4--it's both exciting and strange to share experiences with others again!

Ok, so what else is new...  I spent a week in Pokhara, waiting for Dave and Jay to finish the trek.  Pokhara itself isn't that interesting.  Before and/or after their trek--because that's why people go to Pokhara--most tourists end up in Lakeside neighborhood, where there is plentiful accommodation, restaurants with menus in English, and souvenir shopping.  Other than eating, sleeping, and gift shopping...  uh...  there's a nice lake and a waterfall...  nothing new if you've lived in Ithaca for a decade.

Here are some photos from Pokhara:

And here are some photos from the three times I've passed through Kathmandu:

Aaand finally...  here are the pictures you really want to see:  the Annapurna Circuit.

Ok, upcoming plans:  we're leaving for our third (AND FINAL!) trek in the Helambu Valley tomorrow morning, 11/19.  We'll be back between 11/24 and 11/26.  No internet until then.  Onwards and upwards!

P.S.  I updated the "Greatest Hits" photo album...  check it out here!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Shiny New Things

Are you sick of reading words?  Yes, you are.  That's why you should subscribe to the photographs I post for this trip.  Come on, I went through aaaalll the trouble of setting the darn thing up...

So if you use an RSS reader, clicky the linky below!  And if you wouldn't mind, comment to let me know whether you can successfully add the feed, or whether I've got troubleshooting to do.  Thank you!

Annapurna Circuit: Learning When It's Time To Quit

Here's the summary of my attempt at the Annapurna Circuit:

Bad news...  another hellish bus ride...  Dave got sick...  I got even sicker...  we waited a day...  we walked a day...  Jay got sick...  we did a bunch of (frustrating) half days...  I was tired...  I was more tired...  I was really tired...  I got cranky (bless both J & D, those guys are so wonderful)...  I decided to stop walking.

What else?  No one in Nepal answers the damn telephone...  Davo walked six hours to help me get a plane flight out of the Circuit...  there were no seats available...  a non-English speaking man indicated that supposedly there's a flight in three days...  D continued hiking with J...  I hung out in a flea-sized village and did nothing...  I flew back to Pokhara.

Not exactly the epic, spectacular, ultimately successful Everest trek experience.  But with a few days rest in Pokhara, I see that it has been successful--just not in the way I hoped originally.

I am tough on myself.  Like, waaaay tough on myself.  And I'm really stubborn.  I hate quitting...  anything.  As a result, I've stuck with things (studies, relationships, hobbies, points-of-view, hiking boots, leftover pizza) way past their expiration date.  And when they finally do expire, I take it personally.

In the past few years, I've become more gentle with myself (see: Pema Chodron).  I've begun to see, intuitively, that all things do expire.  It's just the nature of things.  Rather than focus on the end, the destination--better to focus on the process, the journey.  Rather than create a world in my mind of unrealistic expectations and irrational attachments, to believe the stories that exist only in my head--better to sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride.

In this spirit, I will announce proudly:  this trek may be the first thing I've ever quit in my life.  And, amazingly, I'm ok with that.

annapurna sunset

Maybe travel does help one to grow up.  But...  still, I'm not giving up my beloved hiking boots.  :-P

the carnage...  my poor babies!

A few other photos:

the scenery went from this... this!

having jay with us was one of the highlights of the trek (and i'm not just saying that 'cause he might read this)

we demonstrate being sick, which we all were

happy halloween!

where is the factory that pumps out these adorable children?!
i better not catch baby fever...  lord knows i've been sick enough in this country

the hungde airport departure lounge...  not exactly jfk international

the flight path is between the mountains...  not over.
uh...  that's crazy.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

In Memory of Jon Traylen

When Dave and I were living in New Zealand, we worked at a permaculture and outdoor adventure project run by Jon Traylen.

I greatly appreciate the opportunities that Jon provided for Dave and I.  Our extended time in New Zealand was possible only because we worked with Jon.  Not only that, but Jon's vision of a self-sufficiency and sustainability has influenced our dreams about how we wish to live our lives.

Jon passed away unexpectedly on October 26, 2010.  He leaves behind his partner and two sweet doggles (and his mother, I think).  If you are reading this message and you can spare a moment, please send them healing thoughts/ energy/ prayers/ whatever you believe in.

If you haven't told your family and friends that you love them today, what are you waiting for?