A purifying simplicity

If I’m not currently travelling (and right now I’m not!), once in a while I tend to take a trip down memory lane ;). Sadly, details blur as the years go by, but the time stamp on this photo tells me I was here a bit over 3 years ago.

3 years ago.

I had reached Annapurna Base Camp the day earlier just after sunrise, and was currently on my 8th day of trekking, now making my way back to civilization after spending an afternoon at a local hot spring. There’s a purifying simplicity and an invisible beauty about going on a multi-day trek, with just a limited amount of possessions stuffed into a rucksack on your back, moving forward ever so gradually, one step at a time, with nature all around you and inviting you to just love where you are in the world and in life at that very moment.

I’ve been yearning for this for the past few weeks, and it hasn’t been a fleeting sentiment that just comes and goes. We tend to become too consumed in the material world, and often make life needlessly more complicated, especially living in a big city. But those material possessions don’t leave you fulfilled, at least not for me, anyway. It’s so rewarding on all levels to simplify things. I’ll be back in Nepal next month and hope to do another trek for a couple weeks or so. I’m looking forward to being in a different environment, to absorb the simplicity of just walking, to gain a renewed and clearer perspective on life.

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A look back to the Himalayas – Trek to ABC, Nepal

Travelling and trekking have kinda become my thing the last couple years. It’s a great feeling to have an almost endless array of stories, many of which are simply inconceivable to the imagination, to tell friends and family at various occasions.

Still, it’s hard to believe that I’ve actually lived some of these experiences – how what was once just a vague, perhaps outlandish idea in my head somehow manages to simply become reality, sometimes through determination, sometimes through sheer chance.

I remember reading guidebooks of Nepal at a public library in Toronto in the autumn of 2013, researching a bit about treks. A few months later, a year ago today, in fact, I found myself in this video, at Deurali on day 6 of my trek to ABC, Annapurna Base Camp, in Nepal. It was already a wonderful feeling to just see the Himalayas all around, and to think how far my body, mind, and spirit had taken me. In many ways, it’s still so surreal…

I hope to see more of the Himalayas when I visit India next month, and will definitely keep you all posted!

Christmas post

IMG_4498 - posted in Christmas msg

Somewhere among these terraces lives a 58 year old man (possibly 59 now) whom I met back in March on the last day of my 9-day trek to Poon Hill and Annapurna Base Camp. While I was trekking back to lower ground, he stopped me outside his modest home at the edge of a cliff with a view of immeasurable beauty, eager to make conversation and learn a bit about me and what had brought me to Nepal, to ask if I had any cigarettes or candy to share with him.

Though it didn’t come wrapped in shiny paper, meeting him and sharing his company was a gift, one of countless gifts I’ve received this past year. Despite the fatigue in my muscles, the hunger in my stomach, the solitude in my heart, the fact that I was sleeping in a different bed almost every night warmed by a sleeping bag I had only rented, the unsettling reality that I had a little less money with each passing day… Amidst so much uncertainty and perceived dysfunction, I felt immense peace, joy, and love at the time.

I struggle to find this peace at times, especially being back in Canada where the world seems to spin so much faster and I sometimes feel like I’m being left behind with the much quicker pace of life. We struggle so often to find something so right or ideal that we often fail to recognize what we do have. This Christmas, I am grateful for what I do have – the presence, health, and support of my family being the greatest gift after an exceptionally difficult month.

I recall the peace I experienced that day and wish this peace for all of you. I’m thankful for the interactions I’ve had with you, no matter how much time or distance has separated us. I am grateful to you, as I am grateful to that 58 year old man, for being part of my life in one way or another, and contributing to the wrinkles on my face from smiling so often.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays 🙂

Tribute to my trekking boots, tribute to Nepal

Three nights ago, walking down the streets of Thamel in Kathmandu, I made one of the most difficult decisions I’ve had to make during my travels. After much deliberation, I decided to leave behind my trekking boots in Nepal. It’s something that I didn’t do lightly – these shoes had tremendous practical value for me as a hiker, and even more sentimental value – they’d taken me 800 km across Spain; I’d climbed 4 volcanoes in Nicaragua with them; I’d gone hiking in the Alps, the Caucasus, and the Himalayas with them sheltering my feet and guiding me through shaky and solid ground. I’d climbed more mountains than I can count with these buddies. But after almost a year of wearing them so often, the traction had really faded, they were no longer really waterproof, and they just looked really beat up. On a couple other practical notes, they would have taken a lot of space in my backpack and I wasn’t intent on wearing them through humid Southeast Asia in the months ahead every time I’d be moving from place to place. And so I left them at the hostel. Incidentally, I met a Thai girl during my last days in Kathmandu who intended on trekking to Annapurna Base Camp and needed a pair of boots, and (strangely enough) mine looked like a good fit for her. So it looks like my boots will continue to go hiking in Nepal 🙂

I feel like these boots were, and still are, a part of me and that they belong on my feet, or at least in my backpack, and that I left a piece of myself behind in Nepal (and you don’t have to tell me how silly that sounds – I know). At the same time, perhaps there’s a nice symbolism behind it. I’m sacrificing a part of myself as a traveller and a trekker. It’s like I’m paying homage or tribute to Nepal by leaving something so important to me behind, and it’s like a part of me is still in Nepal. I think it’s a nice sentiment because I really didn’t want to leave last night on the flight for Hong Kong, and right now I wish I was back in crazy Kathmandu, relaxing Pokhara, or hiking in the Annapurna Conservation Area. For reasons that I can’t fully explain in this post, Nepal has given me so much love, peace, strength, courage, determination, friendship, warmth, generosity, hospitality…the list goes on.

Kathmandu street scene

Kathmandu street scene

Nepal left such a wonderful impression on me. In fact, of all the places I’ve been on my travels, I can say that Nepal is the place I’ve been touched the most. I don’t even know where to begin and don’t think I can adequately describe the simultaneous joy that fills my heart when I recall all my experiences the past month, and the melancholy I feel because I’m no longer there. After visiting Sri Lanka, I told other travellers that I felt like royalty, being the object of so much attention and stares, and the recipient of so much generosity and hospitality. In Nepal, I blended in so much that Nepalis often thought I was a fellow countryman, but I received just as much hospitality and affection. People treated me as a friend and even like family. Despite the blackouts, frequent lack of water (hot and cold), the crippling traffic, the bumpy bus rides, the suffocating smog of the cities, the blowing dust…I often felt truly at home.

Machhapuchchhre‎, Annapurna Conservation Area

Machhapuchchhre‎, Annapurna Conservation Area

Just a few examples from yesterday alone: I was passing by a shop that I’d bought a jacket from earlier in the week, and waved at the shopkeepers. They returned the greeting and invited me to take a break and chat for awhile, and we talked for what might have been close to half an hour about life in Canada, life in Nepal, and the different people we’ve come in contact with. There was no pressure to buy anything else from their shop and they were quite impressed when I listed the countries I’d been to the last six years! Later on, I met up with some friends I’d met at the hostel and their Nepali friends, and we walked to Basantapur to watch the festivities of Ram Navami. They were so welcoming and hospitable, recounting some of the history of the exquisite temples that formed part of the Durbar Square complex. They were interested in my travels as well and wanted to know what I liked about Nepal the most. And when I was back at the hostel, ready to go the airport, the staff asked me if I had a taxi yet and when I said that I didn’t, fetched a taxi from the main street to the front door of the hostel, and negotiated a fair price. These are reasons reflective of why since my first day in Nepal, I knew that I’d make a return visit. That sentiment is even more true today. I’m so grateful that I made plans to come to this amazing country renowned worldwide for the Himalayas but for me, is distinguished by the unmatched warmth of its people.

So there’s my tribute to Nepal. And now, I’d like to take this time to pay tribute to these awesome pair of shoes. With fondness, I remember the mountains I’ve ascended, the trails I’ve gotten lost in, the cities I’ve navigated, and all the animal excrements that I’ve stepped on in them – be it from cows, horses, chickens, dogs, sheep, goats, yaks…With a sad resignation, I let go…

trekking boots - goodbye :(

trekking boots – goodbye 😦

The most important thing I’ve learned

As a traveller, the most significant thing I get annoyed at is seeing how many tourists behave with an air of superiority and treat locals condescendingly and with disdain. Perhaps they think that because they come from somewhere more “advanced,” more “developed,” or more “modern,” they have the right to look down on people from other cultures which are, in their eyes, less advanced, less developed, and less modern. I’ve seen people flaunt how much money they have and think that their monetary wealth should command them better treatment. It’s very off-putting to witness this.

Similarly, I find it baffling when tourists just want to get to a famous site or partake in the “must-do” thing without regard for interacting with the local population. Why travel such a long way and not take any interest in the people of the country you’re visiting?

You know, we’re over 7 billion people living in this world and sharing its beauty, and we tend to focus on our differences. Everything from religion, language, nationality, ethnicity, sex, sexual orientation, skin colour, facial structure, educational level, occupation, income level, ways of life, cultural practices, societal norms – the list goes on endlessly – all these have been used to create division and prevent meaningful relationships between us from being formed.

I’ve travelled to 42 countries the past few years, mostly on my own, and the most profound memories I have are the truly wonderful interactions I’ve had with people from all walks of life. The most important lesson I’ve learned is that when I look into the eyes of another human being, despite all the (perceived) factors that may create distance between us, there is a common, undeniable bond in our humanity – and that’s reason enough to treat the other person with dignity and respect. I keep in mind that I’m looking into a pair of eyes of a fellow human, whose heart beats with just as much strength and passion as mine, a fellow human being who also loves, hopes, dreams, fears, doubts, wonders…

I’ve been the recipient of dignity and respect countless instances in my travels. I’ve been afforded immense hospitality and generosity from people of all religions and skin colours, people who spoke languages I did not understand, people who wore designer clothes and people who wore rags, people with PhDs and people who have likely never set foot in a classroom, perfectly healthy people and people who have likely never received any health care, people who live in grand mansions and people who live in modest shacks.

I’ve spoken to a 91-year old woman in Nicaragua who lived on her own in a shack at the base of a volcano. I was offered multiple helpings of sliced fruit from an elderly woman on a train in Taiwan. I was given very exact directions to the airport by a nearly toothless man standing in front of the bus I’d be taking in Sri Lanka. I had a taxi driver in Georgia take me to a secluded monastery and proceeded to give me a full tour of the complex – in Russian! I was received with an encouraging welcome by a fellow hiker when I reached the top of one of the Alps in Austria after hiking up with a GI infection. I’ve been the object of many photographs taken in Armenia. I’ve been lost more times than I can count and have found my way, usually because a local took it upon himself or herself to help this foreigner out. Most recently, on my 9-day trek to the Annapurna Sanctuary, I was befriended by more than a handful of porters that took an interest in me when they saw I was trekking alone.

It’s astounding how much love and goodwill there is in our world when you take a chance and open up. Don’t let our perceived differences unknowingly create a self-imposed barrier and prevent you from interacting with some great people in this world. You might even end up counting some of these people as your friends.