Monthly Archives: October 2013

I am not any good at surfing…

But I still had fun! Which is difficult for me when I am not any good at something. I like being good at things. I know my friends and family will have a really hard time believing that (hah.hah.), but it’s true! My self competitiveness is one of my biggest strengths as well as one of my biggest faults. It drives me to work hard and get better but it also drives me down internally. Being good at things is my own form of self validation. I always wanted to be a fast swimmer, a great friend, a strong athlete, a successful student, an incredible nurse, a stylish chick, an entertaining host, etc. It doesn’t matter how significant or insignificant, I want to be good at everything. But alas, I am not and I often struggle to feel confident among my shortcomings. It is in fact, normal, to not be good at everything. Now when I really think about it I realize I would like myself less if I was good at everything. That would be no fun at all and I probably wouldn’t be that enjoyable of a person to be around. Who likes perfect people? No one. It’s just been a silly measure of self-confidence for me that it is in fact a big waste of time! So, surfing in Sri Lanka has been a lesson for me in this: feeling successful among my shortcomings.

Every time I stand up on my surfboard, I fall down. Whether it’s a half second later or just before I reach the beach, I eventually fall down. I catch waves every now and again, but they are not graceful nor particularly pretty to watch. In my own way, I am successful. I am not the dutch girls who are ripping waves with the boys all day long. Looking so much cooler than I could ever be and definitely the most badass chicks on the beach. I am not the Sri Lankan beach bums who can stand up on their surfboards with their eyes closed. I am not the quick learning “are you sure you haven’t done this before?” beginner I was hoping to be. Although on my first day I did fool people into thinking I had. Beginners luck. It’s been downhill every day since. But it is okay. I am surfing in Sri Lanka. I am teaching myself how to do something I’ve never done before. I am smiling. I am making new friends. I am learning to enjoy something I am not good at. I am admiring the surfers around me. I have found a new sport that is fun and I can do all over the world. People are laughing at me but I am laughing at me too. I think I have been successful at surfing.

This is a measure of success on which I am judging myself for the first time, and I hope I can use it in future failures. Just like on my surfboard, I will always fall down. Whether it’s a big fall or just losing my balance a little bit, it’s still gonna happen. I am not perfect at anything, nor do I have to be. When I fall in the future, I will make a conscious effort to find the success in the shortcoming. Because it’s there somewhere, and we all deserve not to be so harsh on ourselves. I will also avoid holding others to my previously abused standard of success. If I’m not perfect, why do they have to be? They’re probably better than me at surfing, anyway. I will appreciate the successes of others as a measure of their attitude and effort. Not on whether or not they fall off their surfboard. Even the best surfers fall off, they wouldn’t be trying very hard if they didn’t.

This week of falling off my surfboard in Sri Lanka has been perfect. I have had only good days in this country, not of course, without a few bad moments. But Sri Lanka has been a success! I feel better about myself everyday and for reasons I never would have imagined. Traveling teaches you things you can’t learn in your own environment. I am so lucky to be having all these experiences, even the bad ones. (Like yesterday when my surfboard leash broke TWICE, and i was told to pay 6,000 rupees for a faulty product. An exercise in deep breathing.) I have just a few days left in this beautiful country and I am soaking it all in. Nothing went according to plan in Sri Lanka (like- I was supposed to embrace solitude, why am I having dinner with friends every night? I meant to go to Kandy and explore Sri Lankan culture, but my toes are still firmly in the sand. I was gonna go to surf camp, until I decided to become my own teacher) but it has been fantastic nonetheless. More to come on my Sri Lankan life in tomorrow’s post. Then… it’s on to Thailand!

I hope you all have time to laugh at your shortcomings today and think about finding somewhere to plan your next adventure. I’m going to go get back on my surfboard! See you later!

Image

Beach bumming in Sri Lanka

Where do I begin to describe Sri Lanka! After an airline experience that went from bad to worse to damn near deadly (emotionally), I was exhausted and ‘over it’ when I arrived in Colombo before the sun last Saturday morning. I spent my first night in Negembo, only thanks to it’s proximity to the airport and my lack of motivation to travel further. Negembo is a busy, bustling fishing town with a strong Christian influence thanks to Portuguese rule several decades (centuries?) ago. It was a good first stop, but I didn’t need more than 24 hours. A quick tour of the smelly but very fascinating fish market and a wander around town and I was ready to move on. My next stop was Colombo, just an hour or so by bus. On arriving in Colombo I then paid 4x my bus fare to take a taxi to my hotel. Hmmm. Colombo is a bigger, more developed city that I had imagined. There is a solid infrastructure and many modern luxuries. Much different than Nepal.  The roads were paved, businesses were bigger, people had more money, etc. Honestly, though I probably could have done without a stop in Colombo. It was especially difficult as a single white female.  I was endlessly the target of schemers and salesmen and tuktuk drivers. As well as endured frequent unsolicited and quite obnoxious comments from both young and old Sri Lankan men who were missing their manners. Anyway, on day 3 I caught a train to the coastal town of Hikkaduwa.

My 130 rupees ($1) ticket did not buy me a seat on the train, just the opportunity to fight for a place to breathe. I had heard the train could take anywhere from 2-6 hours and given my cramped 6 inches of standing space between an overweight German man and a Sri Lankan family of 5, I was desperately hoping for the former. Fortunately we pulled into my stop just a short hour and forty five minutes later, which was a really good thing because I was afraid my knees would be permenantly locked if I didn’t stretch them soon. I arrived at my adorable little seaside hotel, where my cheapo room was in the midst of a pre-season renovation. Well lucky for me, they had plenty of ‘King rooms’ with balconies available. Score! I did some exploring and called it an early night. The next morning I got up for Yoga, with Lindon, Hikkaduwa’s famed ‘rubber man’. He is a happy, eccentric, yogic expat that has been living in Sri Lanka for 15 years. He taught a really grueling but energizing ashtanga style class. It was exactly the kind of grounding experience I was looking for after having a rocky start to my Sri Lankan adventure.

After class, I met Casey (Australian native who has spent the last decade of his life running back and forth across the world between the sand and the snow) and Helena (Norwegian in the midst of a quarter life crisis who has just sold out her share of a restaurant to globe trot for the next year). They are both on their own in Sri Lanka and I instantly loved them. We went for a coffee and then connected with some dutch girls to go for a surf. Even though I was very honest about lack of experience, I was still invited along with this much more seasoned crew. People are so nice! We caught a tuktuk to Galle, where the waves were rumored to be a little more mellow and more manageable than in Hikkwaduwa. I liked the sound of this. We spent about 2 hours on our boards (or under, across, over, and everywhere else in my case). It was more work and more fun than I ever imagined! What have I been missing my whole life! On the way home we stopped at a Dutch fort and took the scenic route to explore some less touristy areas of the coast. It was a perfect day. I was so exhausted I could barely think, but so blissfully happy.

Yesterday was more yoga. The waves were rough though so much to my disappointment Helena and I spent the day just hanging on the beach. It was so hard to sit and watch the waves when you just want to be in them! Finally around 4:30, I had had enough of sitting around and waiting so I confidently approached some beach boys for a board rental. At first I think I had them convinced I could handle it, but after being unable to tell them my board size (what?) I had blown it. They took one look at the water and back at me and suggested I sit back down for the evening. Oh well it was worth a try! This morning, yoga again! Such a good start to the day. After breakfast, the dutch girls were going to explore some Sri Lankan culture and Helena was joining them.  It sounded nice I thought, but what I really want is the waves! I asked Casey to check out the beach for me and see if he felt like I could live through the morning. In the end, he and I decided to go back to Galle. It might have had something to do with him not wanting to feel responsible for me in the monsoon that is Hikkaduwa. Either way, I’m happy. When we get to Galle my body hurts before I even get on the board. Uh oh. This day is not as much fun as my first and again I spent more time underwater than over it. But I do manage to catch a few waves that are bigger than last time, so all in all it’s a success. And I still have all my teeth and haven’t given myself a black eye.

This is exactly the kind of zen I needed after seven crazy weeks in Nepal. Life is good.

Fish for sale in Negembo!
Fish for sale in Negembo!
A woman chops fish at the market
A woman chops fish at the market
My Sri Lankan train experience, captured perfectly by this woman's face
My Sri Lankan train experience, captured perfectly by this woman’s face
Beach bum bliss :)
Beach bum bliss 🙂

 

My last tales of Nepal!

Greetings, from Sri Lanka ! I am currently in the capitol city of Colombo, biding my time at a taphouse before my train leaves for the south. I know, a taphouse, how western of me.. but I did pass on the TGI Fridays so at least give me credit for that. I want to share a few more Nepali experiences before delving into the bustling, surprisingly modernized culture that exists in Sri Lanka.

So, after returning from my trek and mostly ridding the sweaty smell of success from myself, I spent a few days in Pokhara before going back to the village. These days in Pokhara consisted of mostly eating and drinking as well as a somewhat exuberant amount of relaxation. Seriously tough times. But hey, after enduring 9 days of trekking I allowed myself to embrace it. I shared these days with my trekking team, as well as a British friend Rachel (also a volunteer), and a new Swedish friend Emil. Emil had just arrived in Nepal from India, with the scam story of all scam stories. Between that, and my recent Jet Airways experience, I have no intention of ever traveling to India alone.

The highlight of these days was most definitely our encounter with a new friend. On our first night back from trekking, despite suffering from a high level of exhaustion, Jamie, Chanelle, Emil, and I decided to celebrate with some drinks at Busy Bee. Busy Bee is THE bar of pokhara, Live music, large crowds, strong drinks, and lots of fun. This particular night, Jamie decided to go after the gin with an appetite I didn’t know she had. I guess it was time for her to make up an entire month of sobriety in Jopati (her small Kathmandu neighborhood where it is not possible for women to drink). Anyway, let’s just say I would party with this girl any day. Well, one encounter leads to another and we suddenly find Jamie introducing us to her new Nepali friend Pradeep. Pradeep is a middle aged man, out celebrating a successful work week with his colleagues. This guy was happy, friendly, fun, and genuine. He was immediately our friend and we joined him for another round of drinks. Pradeep tells us that he is the general manager at the Fishtail Lodge in Pokhara, the city’s most luxurious and historic accommodation. As the night is winding down, he insists that we join him at his hotel tomorrow for a cocktail hour. The next night, after much debate if we should go or not, we do indeed show up. Only 2 hours late. At first it appears that we have missed Pradeep, so we settle in at the bar prepared to indulge on one of Pokhara’s pricier cocktails. Moments later, Pradeep shows up and we are instantly VIP guests. Wow. What is happening?? Well we have a few cocktails and share good conversation with Pradeep and his right hand man. During the conversation it is revealed that the lodge is in fact owned by the Nepali royal family and is now in a trust. About ten years ago, almost the entire Nepali Royal family was massacred by a loony nephew. Hearing this, I was fascinated by the history of the Royal family and began asking several curious questions. Pradeep changed subjects and it appeared this was not something he enjoyed talking about. After drinks, we were taken on a tour of the grounds by the two men. We even saw the rooms where Prince Charles and several Kings have stayed!

Now, the point- While Pradeep is busy sharing his love for the property with my friends, the right hand man fills me in on a little secret. “You know, Pradeep is royalty, right?” Um, no, of course I don’t know this. SERIOUSLY?!! “His Uncle was the last King of Nepal and his Father was a military commander” UM ROYALTY?!! Are you kidding?!!! Why did I wear my flip flops and yesterday’s t-shirt for this encounter? Wow. Anyway, I could tell Pradeep had not wanted to disclose this information during our cocktail conversations so I kept my mouth shut for the remainder of the tour. After Pradeep’s driver returned us to our lowly guesthouse (Pradeep did offer a free night stay for us, I felt unworthy), I immediately blurted out this information to my friends. Wow, we had just enjoyed cocktails with one of the few remaining members of the Royal family of Nepal. After an immediate google search, we discovered he was a member of the Rana dynasty. This was the last family in power before a democracy was established. So surreal. Anyways, Pradeep (or more commonly known Tiger, as he blushingly admitted to us) invited us back for lunch and cocktails by the pool the next day. He was far too kind and hospitable to us grungy backpackers. Anyway, we enjoyed a few days of fun with Tiger and his colleagues. I was even invited to meet him at Annapurna, Kathmandu’s luxury hotel, for a farewell cocktail. A pretty remarkable experience, Tiger still isn’t even aware that we know his secret. What a humble guy. I hope I will cross paths with this generous man again someday!

Okay, lastly, I spent four days back at my village home. Honestly, after week one did you ever imagine that I would willingly return to this place?? I know, crazy, but I had really missed it. I returned for the Dasai festival. Nepal’s biggest holiday. Children and government employees are given 15 days off during this time and much of the country is closed during celebrations. There are several festivities, but specifically I went for the goat sacrifice and Tikka. On the 12th day a goat is sacrificed to the Gods by each family. Although I did not get to witness the beheading, I did get to experience various body parts in my food for the next several days. I think I accurately identified- tongue, vertebrae, liver, and fatty tissue. I was not successful in eating all parts, but I did try. The next day we celebrated ‘Tikka’. A tikka is the red dot commonly worn by married women on their forehead. On this day, everybody gets tikkas. The tikkas (consisting of dry rice, dyed red) are ceremoniously placed on children’s foreheads by the elder family members. They are also given a type of blessing with good wishes for the future. Delicious sweets and a small sum of money are also provided. After celebrating within your immediate family, the Hindu version of ‘trick or treating’ begins. Family members, young and old, travel eagerly around the village visiting the homes of their friends and family. At each house they are blessed with more tikkas (I never knew so much rice could fit on one person’s face), about 20 rupees (more or less, depending on your relationship to the family), and usually a snack of sweet bread. At the end of the day the children return and anxiously count their earnings from the day. They also have a forehead covered completely by rice. Such a fun day to get to be a part of! The next day I said goodbye to Auma and Baba, as well as the rest of my village friends, so sad!! I will miss them, but I have promised to be back one day.

Well, thats all for Nepal. I am in love with this country and everyday I am gone I miss it more! I highly suggest you all take advantage of any opportunity you have to visit this beautiful place. See you tomorrow, from the beach!

Getting my tikka from Baba!
Getting my tikka from Baba!
The tikka ceremony and offerings
The tikka ceremony and offerings
Babu, with a forehead full of rice!
Babu, with a forehead full of rice!

 

Asis, proudly displaying his day's earnings!
Asis, proudly displaying his day’s earnings!
An unfortunately blurring photo, but this is me with my village family just before I left!  The smallest boy is the grandson and the 2 other boys are the neighbors I spent a lot of time with
An unfortunately blurring photo, but this is me with my village family just before I left! The smallest boy is the grandson and the 2 other boys are the neighbors I spent a lot of time with

 

Until we meet again, Nepal

The end of my journey in Nepal. What a bittersweet day! Bitter, because- I have said goodbye to a new family, I have left friends from all over the world, and I have had to leave a country from which I still want more. Sweet, because- it was a success in every sense of the word, I will take many memories/moments/lessons with me, I am a better person for having been, and I am on to new adventures. If I could capture my experience in just a few words it would be- Challenging, inspiring, hilarious, and humbling. But because it has been far too long since my last post, I will gift you with more than just a few words today. Since we last spoke….

I have completed the Annapurna Base Camp Trek! It took nine days total, even with an extremely grueling detour to the top of poon hill that may or may not have been worth it (Jury’s still out). We started our trek on Tuesday October 1st, late in the afternoon due to an illness delay (Jamie had a pretty severe case of the sniffles). Our international trekking team included- Lauren (USA), Jamie (New Zealand), Chanelle (Australia), and myself. Day 1 was cloudy and we began by ascending at least 7685 stairs. We only walked for about three hours on this day, but based on how we behaved when we arrived at our first lodge you would have thought we had been walking for a week. In other words, we consumed our body weight in food and I think the kitchen was genuinely concerned they were going to run out of pringles. Once we made it to the top of ABC, there may actually have been a national shortage.

Okay enough about pringles and I also changed my mind about recapping each day, because I’m already bored writing about it so I can’t imagine how you feel. Lets try again. We decided to do our trek without a guide and without any porters. We were one of the few groups along the trek that had made this ambitious decision. Generally, a guide is hired to help you navigate the mountains, keep you safe, encourage and maintain group morality, etc. A porter serves the purpose of carrying all of your crap up the mountain. Porters have been the subject of much controversy in Nepal, although I think the feeling is generally improving. While guides have (or should have) significant knowledge about the the Nepali mountain ranges and generally a lifetime of experience trekking; porters are often very low class citizens willing to do just about anything to feed their family, including dragging upwards of 60 lbs to the top of some of the world’s highest mountain ranges in unreliable clothing and broken flip-flops. Many times, the porters have never hiked this mountain, are malnourished, and are not in any type of outstanding physical fitness. Nepal guidebooks warn travelers of porter abuse and report horrific tales of porters being left behind to fend for themselves in bad weather conditions because they are too sick or injured to go on. On the contrary, without foreign clients accepting the services offered, there would be no source of income for hundreds or thousands of Nepali families. To ensure safe and appropriate care of porters, the general rule is that you are expected to treat your porter like an employee- providing safe working conditions and fair wages. Although ultimately I was glad I chose not to have a porter, I did see examples of both good and bad porter hires. I saw a large Finish group invite their porters into the dining hall (generally, porters are not allowed into the dining until all the foreigners have finished their meals and left) to buy them tea and teach them their favorite dice game. I also saw a porter limping with a bamboo cane, his flip flops taped together, carrying two client’s loads on his head while they ran ahead with nothing but the weight of their camera’s on their backs. My overall impression is that there is still much progress to be made in the respect and care of porters. As for guides, we had a good map and in the few instances where we had to guess (do we go under the fallen telephone pole or down the waterfall/steps?) we got lucky. The only times that a guide would really have come in handy was when we got into the villages. We frequently followed the well marked signs (Next village this way…) because well, who wouldn’t. The signs did indeed take you to the next village, but not before taking you on a sometimes strenuous uphill detour to the guest house of a clever owner. I imagine the guides were intelligent enough to avoid these sneaky traps.

So, on the way to ABC we traveled up and down mountains for four days. There are small villages about 2 hours apart from each other where you can find a guest house for $1 a night. Sounds good until you pay $8 for your dinner. Ouch. Food prices understandably increased the higher you go due to the fact that man power is the only way to transport food beyond the road from which we started at on day 1. Porters are responsible for this as well. We even saw a porter carrying what appeared to be a bed on his head. It was easy to pay the higher prices when you saw these guys running up and down the mountains with everything from new pots and pans to toilet paper and bottles of whiskey. We made it to Base Camp on the morning of day 5. We woke up early to see the sun shining for the first time in a few days so we decided to stay in bed and head up to our “summit” a little later. Unfortunately, the weather did not cooperate and by the time we made it to the top we were in a complete whiteout. This was unsurprising, as the previous three days had given us spectacularly terrible weather. We stayed an extra night at the top and the next morning woke up early enough to steal a few brief moments from the sun to take some photos. The day after we left the top, the sky decided to open up magnificently blue for the remainder of our descent. Oh well.

Highlights and lowlights from a trip to ABC-

– You will meet AMAZING people. This was one of my favorite parts of trekking. We met people from all over the world every single day. So many cool stories and adventures. Specifically, we performed a very unofficial Nepali sun dance with aging American Marty, his taiwanese wife, and his adorable assistant guide “Eric” in the very middle of a trail through the himalayas. We helped a young Irish-Argentinian couple prepare for their ambitious ascent from base camp to the summit of Annapurna. We donated our spare beds to a middle aged Australian couple who met online three years previously and had just experienced some of the more difficult days of their relationship. Anyway, the list goes on. But it was so much fun to meet people and often see them again, all of us on the same journey.

– Lemon Ginger tea is a natural analgesic for sore muscles and cold bodies.

– There is no sense in being miserable about the weather. We had about the crappiest week of trekking in the history of Octobers I am pretty sure. But overall we had an incredible experience that I would do again in a heart beat. I can’t say the same for everyone else we met along the way. Specifically an older British couple who decided the country of Nepal had conspired against them to put a rain cloud over their trek and therefore hated anyone and everything that had to do with Nepal and/or trekking. We met quite a few people who’s everest treks had been cancelled due to terrible weather and they had therefore been re-routed across the country to ABC. Most of these people had traveled all the way from Europe just to reach Everest and despite the massive wrench in their plans were still some of most enthusiastic trekkers I met. A situation is certainly what you make of it.

– Chinese people visit ABC by the thousands. They also have the most stylish and technologically advanced gear on the entire mountain. Which unfortunately does not make up for the fact that they are also the least physically prepared tourists around.

– You will happily pay an exuberant amount of money for a bowl of ramen noodles at 4,100 meters. This will be the best bowl of ramen noodles you have ever had in your life.

– Beds are hard to come by during peak season at ABC. Even harder, when the everest treks are cancelled. I am grateful to have not spent a night on the kitchen floor like some Germans I know or been the Korean lady who showed up in the dark proclaiming desperately “PLEASE give me spot in dining room! I’m old lady!” only to be turned away.

– If you successfully arrive at the top of ABC, you will have completed more stairs than you have ever walked before in your entire life and your ass will look amazing. If you then proceed to Poon Hill, you will curse the inventor of stairs and not give a sh*t about your ass.

– Going down hurts more than hiking up. I think it’s a sign I’m getting old. I’m pretty sure if I had walked one more minute my joints would have actually popped and more than one of my bones would have broken in half.

– When you arrive back to civilization, you will not have any inkling as to how awful you and your belongings smell. Although you knew along the trek that your things we’re starting to stink pretty bad, you are surrounded by others in the same situation so it seems a little less insulting. You won’t realize the aggressiveness of your stench until a few days later when one of your honest friends finally mentions she can’t go in your hotel room.

-Trekking is one the the most personal journeys you can have. It is scary, challenging, amazing, gratifying, fun, awe-inducing, and overall incredible. I want to trek again and again. There are few times that I have really felt so connected to myself. You should all do it to.

Here I am again, being long winded. Growing up, I was always one of those students who threw a fit about word limits on my essays. I could not understand why someone would want me to stop at page 12. Do you believe it? The good news is you are not my professor so you can stop reading at anytime. Well, I will end there for today. Currently en route to Sri Lanka via India. That’s another story in itself that I could summarize with my complaint letter to priceline.com. Did you know if you have a connecting domestic flight in India, you are required to get a visa? Yeah, neither did I. So my original booking of Kathmandu–>Mumbai–>Chennai–>Sri Lanka was completely useless when I got to the ticket counter. So here I am $270 later, preparing for a 9 hour layover in Mumbai so I can get a direct flight to Sri Lanka and avoid my domestic layover. It’s not like I had any plans to leave the airport! Ugh. Fortunately a met a Canadian hippie named Tom who shared in my plight and overcame this problem of international law with me. Well, I will write again soon because I still want to tell you about the Dashain festival (I ate goat tongue, for breakfast) and my last few days in Nepal. I guess it’s a good thing I have 9 hours in Mumbai. Watch out, there are so many blog posts coming. If all goes well, Sri Lanka here I come!