Where does one start on a story like this? I could write a book. Okay, maybe a journal…… done! Personally, it feels like this trek wasn’t supposed to happen for me. There were so many odds stacked against me from the beginning – financial, timing and health – each trying their hardest to stick out their foot and trip me to the ground. Unbelievably, and this shocks me still whenever I recollect it, I managed to hurdle these obstacles somehow to get to Nepal…. and beyond, to where I am now. Some say it’s destiny, my trekking team would tell you it’s the universe that wanted me to go, others might say divine intervention. I can’t explain it. I was going to say friendship – but I only barely knew one of the other team members. So how could friendship be so extended from strangers? Who knows, but I credit the rest of the team – my friends – for extending their hands and helping me up.
I’ll try to be brief on the storyline, and heavy on the pictures (being a visual artist and what-not).
THE WHY AND HOW I GOT TO NEPAL
Back in October of 2011, I was attending an Artists for Conservation festival at Grouse Mountain in Vancouver, BC. The musician hired to play at the event I thought was doing a damn good job faced with a string of unhappy people after one of the cable cars carrying people back down the mountain became out of service. He also performed at the artist’s supper, and gave a little talk to go with his music. I admired him for being able to be so relaxed, talk and play his music at this public venue. We chatted it up on the cable car back down the mountain. I remember parting with…. “Well, have a good life!”. Michael Averill was his name if I recall correctly.
In late November, I get an email I first assumed was spam. A couple lines of “Hi. I saw your art at the AFC Festival. I like the jaguar painting. Would you be interested in joining a team to go to Nepal?” Of course, with my mouse-sized memory, I can’t remember the exact words. Yes, I could go back over my emails, but it’s not in front of me right now (I’m writing this section at the airport), and the exact wording isn’t important. Anyways, I’m thought “Yeah right”. But curiosity got the best of me like an Egyptian Pharaoh on a pyramid scheme (I only say this because I like Egyptians!). So I replied to the email. It was legit. And oh yah, the expedition will be in April, and oh yah, the trek package is five grand, and oh yah, the flight’s likely to be over two grand. Can you go? Introduce Chantal Schauch.
Write off! Ignore! Laugh! Think! Dream! Dammit! Alright, could I do this? Was this possible? Not likely – so I’ll go for it. I made a very lame attempt at coming up with a marketing strategy. I would try to seek out investors, and in return, they would receive a painting of the size they invested. Let me clarify, the idea was good (…of course! It was my idea!), my attempt was lame (…of course! It was my attempt!).
Then December rolled in. I got a cold. It was a rugged! I couldn’t stay focused at work. I had a co-worker secretly keeping a tally of the number of coughs per hour I made. Of course he brought it to my attention in the middle of the day. Man this was bad. After a week and a half of only getting worse, it was time to doctor up. “Huh. Pneumonia heh?” Figures. Whatevs. Take the pills and ride it out. December was a write-off.
January 2012. I can’t go. No way could I continue recovering from my “cold”, continue my day job and market myself to seek investors. Introduce Mike Schauch. Both Mike and Chantal are co-founders of “Climb for Change”. Nepal was to be an expedition that they were going to have team members create video documentary, photography, music and art. They worked hard at getting me on board. In particular, their willingness to waive the downpayment due by February which I knew I didn’t have. I hate when people bend the rules for you – because then you’re more obligate to play. Oh yah – “And you already know the musician that’s also going on the expedition…. Michael Averill..”. Wow. I know that guy! I will refer to him as Averill from now on, to avoid the Mike/Michael confusion. And the photographer? Eric Saczuk. Wow! I don’t know that guy! Nevertheless, in the telephone conference calls prior to the trip, I could tell I already knew him.
Even still, my day job had taken me into the boreal forest where I was spending time at a remote camp, winter tracking wildlife for the purposes of science. February was upon us. Averill must have read my thoughts, because out of the blue, I got a phone message from him, saying if there’s anything he could do to help me go with the team… financial.. whatever…. he would try to help me out. This, from a guy who himself was trying to raise funds to get over there, was willing to offer me help. I immediately thought to myself “If I don’t put a one hundred and ten percent effort into getting on the team right now… I don’t know what! What? I don’t know!”
Upon my return from fieldwork in February, I formulated an investor sequester poster at my place of work and hung them up in the kitchens on all the flo0rs of the building. The response was overwhelming. In a combination of people knowing me, the goal of my request and the love of adventure, enough people invested to get me on my way…with additional people still willing to help. I could not have done this without their support. Crazy. This was real. This was happening.
I’d never been overseas before. Calgary to Vancouver. Vancouver to Hong Kong. Met up with Averill at the airport – then Mike and Chantal – for the first time. Hong Kong to Kathmandu, Nepal. The trip from Hong Kong to Kathmandu was fairly equivalent to flying across Canada. Huge ground covered. Middle of the night landing in Kathmandu. Let the gong show begin.
If you ever fly into another country for a trek with arrangements to get picked up at the airport, make sure the company you’re trekking with has a sign with your name on it. Everyone wants to give you a ride to wherever they don’t know you’re going to. Not knowing what to expect, the ride to the hotel down suspect dark alleys and crumbling buildings makes you wonder if you have any kind of control over the next 15 minutes of your future. Nevertheless…. we arrived.
For Pete’s sake get some pictures in already!
Getting our bearings, meeting the trekking team leads and exploring were the first items on the agenda. It was great to spend the first few days in Kathmandu. I’m not a city person, and yet I was truly excited to walk around in the overly bustling streets. There is an overwhelming amount of new sensory experiences. As an artist, the amount of color was amazing. Items on display in the street, clothing, painted doorways – all call your eye to look at them. Throughout the journey, one of the team’s favorite quotes was “Did that just happen?”
Examples include cars pushing through clogged streets within an inch of other vehicles and pedestrians, cars pushing through crowds, cows laying int he middle of streets, motorbikes with 3, 4….. people on them. People were carrying any item you can think of on their back with just a single band slung around their foreheads for support.
Many people wear masks due to the air pollution (which wasn’t too thick at this time of year either). Young men will brazenly hold hands in public, which is a sign of good friendship (BFF!), but you’d be hard pressed to see a guy and girl holding hands (you touch my daughter.. you die!). Wow, look at that – two cops in camouflage clothing and riot gear are holding hands. Huh. The novelty wears off shortly, and you become more interested in the pigeon in the market stall filling its face straight from the sacks of grain with no reprimand.
On another note, this was the first time I saw truly poor people, shanty shacks, and unbelievably polluted water. This is one of my sore spots. There must be so many sick people due to the water quality.
The waters of Pashupatinath Hindu Temple
GET TREKKING ALREADY!
I’ll tell the rest of the story in pictures.
The team and the guides headed out into the mountains by bus to Bhulbule. The countryside is almost completely terraced with crop fields, sometimes all the way to the top of high mountains. Judging by some of the remaining trees, the place must have been a beautifully lush forest at some point in time. The atmosphere was thick with smoke from the burning of slash to accommodate more farming.
Soon the countryside begins to become more rugged and less impacted by human development. Now on foot, waterfalls such as this one were a common sight. This is along the Annapurna Trail (east end).
The porter (on the left) looked like he was about 12 years old, and he was carrying my 40 pound backpack amongst other gear. These guys kick ass and take names with time to write a sonnet or two at our destination before we even know how far we’re going that day! I can’t say enough about how amazing our trekking team was. They definitely perform their jobs well…. and put the rest of us North American slackers to shame. Tough as nails they are – each an athlete. Come to think of it, I cannot recall seeing one overweight person in Nepal. At all.
More of the beautiful mountainside villages. This is still fairly low in the valley, and the spring planting is just underway