Walking on the roof of the world and finishing with the best islands on earth
01.07.2013 - 30.09.2013
The Contents Highlights:
1. Nepal: a play-by-play of trekking to Annapurna Base Camp
2. Japan: playing in the user-friendly city of Tokyo and getting west for real culture
3. Hawaii: a beautiful wedding on the best island in good old U.S. of A.
4. Reflections: feeling good being home and looking back on the trip
1. Nepal: a play-by-play of trekking Nepal’s Annapurna Range (sorry for not taking the liberty of summing it up into one paragraph but every day was incredible in it’s own right)…
• Day 1) We’re finally doing what we came to Nepal to do, trekking awesome mountains! Pete and I spent our first two days in Nepal arranging everything to trek to Everest Base Camp, like we had planned all along but that 12-day route required a flight into one of the world’s highest runways at Lukla Airport. The timing of us being here during the monsoon season made it difficult to get a break in the cloudy weather at Lukla’s altitude so we decided rather than wait another day for the chance of a flight going through, let’s put our remaining 12 days toward Nepal’s second best trekking circuit because we knew it was a sure bet. The Annapurna Range makes up Nepal’s middle section of the Himalayas and is a step down in elevation from the Everest Base Camp hike (something I’m sure mom is happy about). Yesterday, we were happy to arrive in Nepal’s second largest city Pokhara after spending two and half days figuring things out in noisy Katmandu. We continued by car another hour and half this morning to the trailhead at a small “bus stop” village. Thank god for our guide, Dipak because the beginning of the “trail” was more like a connection of roads and footpaths through small villages—we would have been totally lost.
The Nepalese charm began when dropping into the monsoon soaked valley of green rice fields stepping quickly away from a raging river with teahouses proudly streaming prayer flags. Today was the easy “warm-up” only going 4hrs and ascending just 1,500ft to our first teahouse/guesthouse in the mountain village of Tirkhedbunga. We enjoyed a delicious authentic dinner and had time to delve into our books before it got too dark. As I’m writing this before falling asleep for our big hiking day tomorrow, I can’t help but feel how happy and blessed I am to be able to be doing one of my dreams!
• Day 2) We had an early start for the tough Day 2 because we wanted to beat the heat by getting up to higher elevations before the 100% humidity worsened with an overhead sun. Luckily there wasn’t much break in the clouds and a constant drizzle kept us from overheating as we climbed thousands of stone steps that looked like they had been placed hundreds of years ago. Although the monsoon weather made today’s hike easier for warm-bodied Pete and I, it also robbed us of views of the snow-capped Himalayas. I’m a bit afraid being here in the middle of the monsoon season will leave us wondering of the amazing mountain views we could have seen in April or October but this is when our visit timed out during the trip. The nice thing about this season is the insane amount of people NOT here trekking. On our six-hour hike today we only saw one other group so it is very easy letting myself get lost in a hiking solitude of peace. It made the experience of climbing into lush jungle, over waterfalls and up into clouds all that much more enchanting. Overall we ascended 4,070ft today and it was pretty challenging but for our Nepalese Guide, Deepak it was a cakewalk. We joked that he invented the step and he amazed us that he would have to hike stone steps like we were on an hour and half up to school and an hour and half back every day (well almost everyday—in Nepal the kids go to school 6 days a week). No wonder he didn’t even break a sweat all day.
• Day 3) My brother woke me up very early this morning because the view out our room window showed a small break in the overcast skies to give a glimpse of Mt. Dhaulagiri—one of the 14 peaks in the world over 8,000 meters (26,240ft). It was a great way to start the day but the clouds we’re still socked in on our side of the valley so the typical hike up to the lookout point on Poon Hill was aborted. This was a special place for Pete because a little more than four years ago he was on the shorter trek by himself because I insisted he finish out the trip for us when I was home recovering from my accident that cost me my leg. He said when he made it to the top of Poon Hill, when the clouds broke for him that it was something spiritual. I’m so happy that he and I get to relive that original trip together because Nepal was the one that hurt the most missing out on. This time around we’ll even go a step further to Annapurna Base Camp! Other than the trails being muddy, today’s hike wasn’t too difficult and we saw one of the largest waterfalls of the area in full force. We made it to another small village called Tadapani in the afternoon. The shorter day gave us time to dry up around the wood-furnace with ginger tea and get lost in our books.
• Day 4) A little later start this morning as it was a relatively shorter hike of 5hrs. The rain still hadn’t stopped and it made us realize that Nepal’s monsoons really aren’t messing around. The other nice little bonus that comes with all the rain is leaches. If you stop walking for even a couple of minutes you are bound to have one crawling up your shoe in search for an artery to bite into. At first they freak you out but then get use to them like mosquitos, they’re not dangerous unless you consider bleeding a bit after they’re done feeding on you dangerous.
We did get a bit of a break from the rain in the afternoon that teased some amazing views of the green mid-mountains. Hoping tomorrow clears the other side of the valley so we can get another glimpse or two of the white-capped monsters. We crossed over some very cool suspension bridges today that reminded us of the bridges we helped build in Rwanda. What an amazing trip this has been and what an awesome way to wind it down!
• Day 5) We awoke from our cute little guesthouse in Chomrong with good views of the green-walled valley we would later hike through. Since Chomrong is the main village on the way back down, we were thankful to leave some stuff that cut 2-3kilos off our heavy 13kilo backpacks. It made a huge difference with the steep down and ups we had on our 6.5hr hike today and it will help for the difficult final ascent. It was a long one today but we had good breaks at small teahouses, villages and family farms. It was great seeing these humble Nepalese families of 5+ be so welcoming to travelers, always greeting with a friendly “Namaste” and showing a happy smile. They all seem to work so well together, making the best use of their steep and soil-rich land of a few acres.
They let their animals (i.e. chickens, goats, buffaloes, cats, and dogs) roam around freely making for a fun experience sharing the trail. It was one of the wetter days with heavier rain in the afternoon so I was happy to have my first warm shower when getting to our guesthouse in the tiny town of Himalaya. The evening concluded with a few other trekkers and their guides having great conversations around a large table heated underneath by a kerosene lantern. Praying for clearer weather tomorrow for Annapurna Base Camp!
• Day 6) God answered my prayers! The day started out cloudy and rainy as all the others but as we ascended further out of the jungle it started to clear. The rain stopped and the dense clouds dissipated to show the most amazing glacier carved valley invested with 500ft+ waterfalls. The hike took us along the centered raging river and over the many rivers that fed it more runoff. We had to climb 3,970ft today to reach Annapurna Base Camp and it wasn’t till the final 1,000ft that we all started feeling a bit funny from altitude. I would compare it to being laughy drunk.
It was absolutely incredible when we finally reached Base Camp because it magically became the clearest we have experienced in the last 10 days being in Nepal and it just happen so we could be in awe of the place we anticipated and worked so hard to get to. Everywhere you looked from the Base Camp of 13,500ft you saw mountains anywhere from 18,000ft to 26,500ft (Annapurna I). We sat on a rock just being amazed for a good hour before checking into the one open guesthouse a couple hundred meters further. I couldn’t have asked for a better final day getting to our goal- simply incredible!
• Day 7) It’s worth spending the night at Base Camp and fighting off the effects of altitude because you have more chances to see the magical bowl of frosty peaks as they light from first day break. Our guide waked us up at 5am so we could see clear views of the unreal Himalayas towering over us. After the morning spectacle we started our 4-day descent. Even though we were backtracking down the same trail, it was much different especially having sections of sunlight glisten the freshly soaked valley. We gained ground with gravity on our side and were able to make it two villages past the one we stayed at on the way up. We settled in at the Bamboo Village Guest House and fell asleep almost immediately after—it was an exhausting two days of going up and down a total of 9,300ft of elevation change.
• Day 8) Today was a lot of steep downhill and it did a number on my prosthetic as it isn’t designed for uneven constant downhill travel. We took some good rests and were rewarded with a soak in some natural hotsprings at the end of the day’s trek. The food at the teahouses was also a treat—it seems that the food gets better the closer to civilization you get here. Its nice knowing things should start flattening out for the final days of the trek.
• Day 9) It was our first day to sleep in because it was only a 4 hour hike downhill so we took advantage and got going around 9:30am. Although it was probably one of our easiest days of hiking, both Pete and I’s legs are shot and even gradual downhill is getting to be a struggle. It was a very enjoyable hike following the river and going through friendly villages and farms. At one I even had a crowd watching me adjust my prosthetic leg. Our guide translated their curiosity. I couldn’t help but think walking through these villages today how peaceful these Nepalese farmer’s lives are: working on the beautiful land, greeting/hosting the occasional travel but I’m surprised that most Nepalese believe a better life awaits them in America or Europe according to what our Guide explained to us. He says that many people/families apply for visas every year hoping they’ll be the lucky ones to start new lives in the Western world. I feel a bit ignorant only seeing the surface of their daily lives but I feel that Westerners have a lot to learn from their culture and even some aspects that are probably desired. To live simply live off this beautiful land appears so peaceful away from the complexities and negative consequences of materialism. Each of the families we saw today seem so rich in bondage because of the land and place that ties them together—I feel this is something that is hard to find in today’s Western world.
• Day 10) Our last guesthouse sat in the middle of an intricate set of rice patties and close to the river that we had been following almost the entire decent. We had an early breakfast and continued along the easy-going trail to a recently built road that made the finish to our trek a relaxing walk through small villages and large rice patty farms. The only obstacle was a huge rockslide that covered the entire road and made for a fun climb over. We made it down to Pokhara later that afternoon, plenty of time to have a celebratory drink and dinner with our awesome guide!
2. It was a rough two days of flights, sleeping in airports and redeyes to get to Tokyo. We were more than happy to meet our friend Kacy and her mom at the “capsule” hostel we booked for the weekend in Tokyo. Real estate is scarce in Japan (especially Tokyo) so it makes accommodation very expensive and space efficiently compact. The 8-person dormitory Pete and I slept in crammed these futuristic capsules next to and on top of each other. It definitely was a different experience crawling into your own spaceship-looking box at night- set with a pullback curtain, shelf, light and personal TV. The area we stayed in Tokyo was called the Asakusa District and is famous for the Senso-ji Temple.
To get to it you have to swim your way through the tourist infested Hozomon Gate and one of the oldest markets in Japan, spanning 250 meters to the entrance of the temple. It is a pilgrimage site because it holds the statue of the Buddist Goddess of Mercy. We had a great day wondering Tokyo’s more central districts starting with a water-taxi ride to the port that is known for the world’s busiest fish market. Every morning huge tuna are auctioned off for anywhere upward of a $1 million dollars. To see it you have to get there incredibly early, we just wanted to go there for an awesome sushi lunch and see the aftermath of the morning hustle. Although I can honestly say it was the best sushi of my life, it was also the most expensive sushi I’ve ever had ($100 for 2 people).
After filling up on tuna and unknown sashimi we made our way to the central business district to get a look at the Central Palace. We found an elevated look over the walls from the 27th floor of the neighboring mall/office building. Then we headed down to the subway to discover the elaborate underground world of Tokyo. You could find everything from a bakery or bar to a jewelry or grocery store in the channels leading to and from the stations. Tokyo has the most extensive and elaborate subway system I’ve ever seen but also one of the most convenient and easy to use. It seemed like everyone and their mom uses it though because during rush hour the Shibuya Station was far crazier than Grand Central Station at peak time. We allotted a few days to get the real Japanese culture in the old capital of Kyoto. Even though it was an expensive way to get there from Tokyo, we couldn’t resist riding the “bullet train” because magnets send it speeding west around 200mph. It only took us 2.5hrs to get there versus the miserable 8.5hr overnight bus ride back. Kyoto was simply amazing. A very peaceful culture where people were nicer than the big city and everyone just seemed content with whatever they were carefully doing. It was so much fun biking trough all the quiet narrow streets finding our way to one amazing temple or shine after another.
We stayed at the cutest Japanese style hostel where we slept on bamboo matts with futon mattresses and even were treated to a dinner party full of saki and Japanese pancakes filled with eel and veggies. For our last day, Pete and I did a day trip to the original capital Nara. It still remains the country’s spiritual capital, home to the Great Buddha and many other important temples. Wild deer greeted us on our way to the Tōdai-ji Temple that houses the Great Buddha.
Deer are sacred in the many gardens and forests surrounding Nara because they are believed to be carriers of sacred messages from Gods and Goddesses. Their centuries of peaceful coexistence have made them very social and friendly creatures. At the gate guarding the Tōdai-ji, are the massive wooden statues called the Niō guardians. They represent fear and desire and stand as a symbol for what needs to be left behind as you enter the sacred place of the Buddha.
As you approach the main hall (Daibutsu) you can’t help but respect it’s architectural marvel as the largest wooden building in the world. Contained within the high-vaulted structure is the Great Buddha: one of the largest bronze figures on earth and originally cast in 746. It’s over 50ft high and consists of 437 tons of bronze and 130kg of gold. Seeing this in was the perfect way to conclude peaceful and impressive Japan. Never have I experienced a culture so collectively intelligent, intricate and content with life.
3. Pete and I were so happy to see the sign “Welcome to the United States” when we walked through U.S. Customs at Honolulu International Airport. It had been almost 7 months since we’d been on U.S. soil and couldn’t be happier having a reunion with our girlfriends and all our good friends in Hawaii of all places! We had planned the trip to end at our very dear friend’s wedding on the North Shore of Hawaii. It was our first time being on these gorgeous islands and a bit overwhelming jumping right back into American culture being with all our crazy friends at a ridiculously fun wedding. We took a week after the wedding to recover and relax with the girls on Waikiki Beach. I don’t think I’ve ever been so excited to fly home after being in paradise.
4. I’ve been home a month now slowly adjusting back to life in Colorado. I think of the person I was before I left 8 months ago and the much happier person I am now. I know traveling doesn’t have the same effect on everyone but for me it was a time I could truly find myself appreciating the present moment and get back to enjoying the simple things in life (i.e. working with my hands, sipping on a café, or enjoying a conversation with a complete stranger). I was so caught up in the rush of the American lifestyle before I left that I had a hard time listening to my heart and giving it the healing it deserved. I realize I’m very fortunate because not many people can take off and travel the world for 7 months to get their mind and soul right again. But there are many Americans who have the means to do such a thing and instead replace a potential unforgettable experience with material possessions. Even though Americans are financially better positioned to travel than most citizens of the world, the majority are help back with the anxiety that they’ll “fall back” and be that much further from their American dream (i.e. solid career, house, car, kids, etc…). That anxiety crept up on me but I realize that life is short and long—we shouldn’t sacrifice our current, every-day happiness for the thought of a future reward of happiness. Not much has changed here in 8 months but a lot has changed in me. Every person I met along the way, unique culture experienced, and each diverse place has touched my heart in some special way. The world is so intricate and quickly evolving but the greatest lesson learned from being so many different places and seeing many different kinds of people are the values we all have in common as human beings: having a home (physically and/or in your heart) filled with loved ones who take care of you and you can take care of is the most important for genuine human nature and happiness. I was so very lucky to be experiencing this trip with my twin brother who brought a piece of that home with me everywhere we went but we both hit a point on the trip where being home with those loved ones seemed like the only thing we wanted and that no one place in the world could be more desirable to be than that! I don’t know if it’s more that simple realization or the collection of wonderful experiences abroad that has put me in such a good place here. I do know there is no place like Denver, Colorado and to me it is the best place on earth. There is so much to be done in the world but without your spirit and mind being in a solid comfortable place, your influence to do positive change will never reach its full potential. I can truly say I’m back to that healthy place and couldn’t be more excited to bring about my positive influence on the wonderful and challenging world around me!
Wishing All the Very Best to You and Yours,
“When an uncontrolled event happens to you and you’re faced with a decision to either react negatively or positively, knowing that either energy reciprocates on itself and that life is short, why wouldn’t you react positively?”
-Christopher Spelke ☺