People come into our lives daily. People leave daily. We hold on to some, we let go of some. Sometimes we do not even notice people came and left. Sometimes we do not notice we’ve been in and out or still in other’s lives. It’s like the people in the background of pictures we take who do not know they have become part of an immortalized digital moment. But for those that we do notice, what do we do about them? How do we treat them? How do we come in? How do we leave? How do we make them feel? The answers to these questions are the fundamentals of the most basic human interactions.
Some of you/us are the cathedrals we long to step into and be left in awe at the design and level of detail and precision that went into building them up. But then we look deeper, below the floor of this marvelous building and there’s the crypt, the sarcophagus of the dead. The things we have buried, some ashamed to go back to, some excited to visit again and again. For they represent a story of growth, of strife, of pain when times may have been very different yet simpler. But it’s led us here, and others too, so we can tell our story.
We let you come in and leave as you please, but we make sure we’ve left a long standing impression on your senses.
Some of us are the landscapes, the mountains, the forests, the rivers and oceans. Too big to be understood, too rough to be controlled. We stand there in awe and we will always invite you in, there’s room for everyone. What we offer you is a place of peace and calm, a place to let your thoughts run, a place to dump all your baggage, we’ve been collecting them for billions of years, what’s a few more? We give you the space to figure yourself out, to pump out the stress, a place to run, to camp, an escape from your busy lives. To see new things, experience nature in all it’s colors and for you to realize you too are part of it. But we have a breaking point too, one which even us do not know when it’s around the corner. We explode sometimes, in a terrible and ghastly accident, we move, we bleed lava, we cry tornadoes, we detroy and we renew the process and we start all over again. We are inseprable and we will be here when you need us.
Some of us are the transports. We take you from one place to the next. We spice things up. We introduce other people to you. Some as challenges, some as lovers, some as companions for the duration of the trip, some just for that brief moments. We show you places but only briefly, because we are only meant to get you to a particular spot. Once there we bid you farewell, the rest of the journey is yours to complete. We’ve played our part. If you are ready to walk this path again, you definitely can come back.
Then there’s some of us who are there today and when you return we’ve moved on to someplace else – like art. We take ourselves wherever we are appreciated the most. We will stay as long as we feel needed or wanted, but will pack up and go when it’s time for us to.
Our lives revolve around people. How we treat them really does matter. We really are tourists in each other’s lives. Let us treat each other with love and respect, and then maybe we can collectively change the world.
2017! What year you have been, I can’t even write about it constructively because the information download was just too immense and I am still struggling to process it all. It was an awesome year and one which lasted 12 months but I lived through it like it had been 5 years. It was by no means slow, it was very fast, but the amount of things I had to learn in this short time would have otherwise taken about 5 years for me to finally get them. It was another year filled with travel, a one which most of the destinations didn’t matter but the journey to them was key. Like when I was heading to the Everest base camp, reaching there became more and more unimportant as I got closer to reaching it. What was key was me enjoying every other moment on the trek there, meeting awesome people and observing everything around me and taking it all in. A year where I got to process a lot of emotions I had kept in me for so many years, a year during which I purged myself and became this version of myself. It wasn’t easy, removing certain habits or “truths” instilled by me/family/friends/environment was very difficult. I was clinging to many things thinking they were important for me and they only stalled my growth, I managed to get rid of some of them and still working on others. It’s been a year of too much information download, it scares me when I think of all of what I have learnt. A year what I learnt what it really means to be there for another person, a year where I was yet again shown unconditional love and support from the people near and far away from me. A year where my consciousness was dialled up by 10000%!! Life has not been the same since then. It changed me, in a good way. A year in which I think I finally got to understand what my purpose as a human here on earth is and how to go about it. A year where protecting my energy became a primary priority. A year where I learnt not to be a people pleaser but to focus on myself first. A year where I learnt how important it is to keep your word. A year where I learnt to see things just as the way they are and not complicate them further. A year of warmth, love and acceptance, a year of abundance. I also learnt again what gratitude is and how to practice it again, a year where my soul journeyed into other planes and showed me what passion is, what love is, what life is, what purpose is, what friendship means, what support means, what empathy means, what compassion means. A year where many existential questions were answered. A year I learnt not to resist life, to just be, to acknowledge my feelings, to really live! I get goosebumps reminiscing all of these things but I know I haven’t figured anything out yet- it was just the beginning. So thanks 2017 for the accelerated growth and all the lessons, you’ve been really good to me and I truly appreciate that. Now on to 2018 to continue the magic!
A good traveller has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving. – Lao Tzu
I read the quote above somewhere just around the time I was making final preparations for my trek to the Everest Base Camp a few weeks ago. I resonated well with me as I have always wanted to take this trip but just didn’t find the right time or space to have it. I was either tied up at work, off season, not enough preparations or something just being out of place. This time however, the mountains had called and I answered. Everything had just managed to be perfectly aligned and I could finally make this trip. I made the necessary preparations and bookings, got my gear and took off for Nepal. I was nervous, yet excited. I asked myself if I was going to be able to do this successfully without any major side effects. I was terrified of Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) but most of all, my heart was already on the mountains. I couldn’t wait to get there, to listen to my thoughts, to see the wonders of nature, to set my eyes on the highest point on earth My experience was threefold. Humanity! Nature! Eternity!
There’s something about small cities which you really can’t describe. It’s the little things you don’t see but feel, the noises you hear, the harmony in chaos and the most of all the acceptance of every type of human as just barely a human and nothing else. There’s a certain lingering smell in the air which you don’t care about because you are very much focused on the energy and vibes you are getting from the people passing by. It’s warm, it’s nice and there are people from every walk of life here living in perfect harmony. You have the corporate type and the progressive type all in one place chatting away on a common topic with hearty laughs. There were those dressed as Pirates and Rastafarians, the hippies and spiritual gurus, talking to the young backpacking students about life from experience yet did so in a way as not to impose any views of one group to another. Organic conversations which started with one thing, took a totally different direction and grew into an uncontrollable discussions about love and passion then finally settled into everyone just looking into the distance imagining what could be, how beautiful and much happier the world could be if all what we had just discussed could actually be transformed into action. The daydreaming will last only for a few seconds until one person breaks the silence by affirming with a confident proclamation that yes, we are indeed living life the way we want- mostly! It was nothing like I had ever experienced before. I had a conversation with a girl who was tattooed all over right up to her face. In the past she was the type whom once I saw, will cross to the other side of the road. But here it felt like a level playing field and I was drawn to her and wanted to hear her story. She loved psytrance, travelling and many other things like me or any other person. She was by far one of the most intelligent persons I had met as I assessed while talking to her. I told her in a different place and setting I probably would have run away from her and she laughed saying she would understand why. I loved this, I had built a bridge, one which I intend will stay standing with everyone who looked like her. That’s what being open is like for me, breaking down those protective walls we build just because people look, talk and act differently from us. There were many such encounters and the best one was with a pirate. I assumed he was Rastafarian because of the music he was listening to and the way he wore his hair. He was from Colombia and when I wrongly assumed he was Rastafarian because I wanted to ask him questions about it, he laughed and said no he wasn’t- he was a pirate! An artistic one at that too. He had his art shop in Brussels where he made and sold his craft, he enjoyed traveling as much as any one of us and loved the Rastafarian way of life but it was too hard for him to abide to the rules of a true Rastafarian but found out he could become a pirate by borrowing what he loved from there and incorporating into his new found life of a pirate where he was fully accepted. He spoke a lot about things being organic, how life shouldn’t be a specific set of goals and events but more about finding peace and love in whatever you do. He had found his peace. He sure did clarify he wasn’t the type of pirate who stole ships and terrorized the seas. He was the type that waded through life like an open sea going wherever the current pushed him. He lived a life of accepting the circumstances and working with them. This had always worked for him. This was life in the city Kathmandu. Up in the mountains it was another story.
My first encounter with the mountain people was a few months ago when I was trekking in the Ladahk, India. The experience was so rich and fulfilling and contributed to me taking this trip as well. I met my Sherpa a few minutes after taking the daring flight from Kathmandu to Lukla. A delightful guy who accompanied me and helped carry my backpack for most of the trek. He was from Lukla and had his family there with him. We had some tea as he talked me through the route we were going to be taking and what to expect. I think I was very lucky for two reasons- having him as a guide and not have to go in a group. This meant we could be very flexible with the trekking and could do as we pleased to gain more time if we wanted to. We got up right after the tea and started our trek to the next village.
Over the following days right up to reaching the base camp I learnt or confirmed what I already knew about life on the mountains. It was a simple and effective life. They didn’t waste things. Everything served a purpose. The yaks helped carry food and other things to the villages at high altitudes. They provided milk for cheese to the people. Their faeces was in turn used as fuel for cooking and keeping the house warm at night when temperatures went down to a minus. They were never killed up here and when they died of old age, their skin was then used to make blankets and clothes to keep the people warm. The people themselves were very lovely. Namaste is the general greeting word here with your hands together up close to the center of your chest. They greeted you with a warm smile all the time and you could tell it came from the heart. The children were happy seeing climbers and trekkers going past their homes and stuck out their arms for hi fives. It was interesting seeing them sometimes work in their farms or leading the animals back into the small enclosures made for them. I noticed nothing was random about the way they did things here. It was a well thought out process which wasn’t only done because it had to be done, but because it was useful. There was also an element of grace with which everything was done here. Living gracefully and purposefully was a way of life up here. There was meaning to everything. I can’t describe it all but sometimes you get to a place and words can’t describe what you see, you just feel it and you know what is going on. As we got higher the settlements became more and more scarce or sparsely populated but nothing about the people changed. They lived a happy life up here free from all types of pollution, wastefulness or competition. It was a simple life of meaning. It was quiet, it was peaceful, it was natural.
I live in the desert so escaping to somewhere green is sometimes a must to refresh my senses of other sights and sounds of nature. Nepal had everything I needed. I only recently started trekking and mostly around places without a lot of vegetation. In Nepal however it was twofold; below and above the tree line. Below the tree line you would breathe in freshly made oxygen from the trees. You could hear the birds chirping away in the trees. I occasionally sighted really massive birds which I had never seen before which left me in awe. There was, almost constantly, the sound of a river flowing down in the valley, together with the wind blowing through keeping me refreshed throughout the climb or descent. The sounds of the yaks and donkeys coming through with supplies and hearing their bells getting louder and louder as they grew closer. This usually meant you had to be ready to give way when they got very close and also a time for you to take a water break which was always much needed. During this time all you had to do was raise your head high up in any direction and be marvelled by the sights of the mountains. What I noticed was that the tracks were natural tracks, they hadn’t cut through land or trees to make the path shorter or simpler for us. Everything was naturally forming, or as some will say – organic. I also got to see the rhododendron which is the national flower or Nepal in full bloom in several places. As we climbed higher the trees disappeared slowly and we were soon left only with the sounds of the flowing rivers and the winds blowing though.
The trees going away gave birth to the sight of the real mountains. If anything had been obscured earlier, it all came into full view now. I am lucky to have experienced some of the most stunning views on the planet and none really can compare with the others- But what I saw here was way more astonishing than what I had ever imagined.
Mountains are just something I am drawn to every now and then they set my soul on fire and I run to them. It’s hard to describe a mountain. You really can’t compare it’s size to anything, you can’t describe it’s beauty but you can stand there and be amazed at how perfect it looks with all it’s imperfections. It’s rough edges, slippery slopes, deadly curves and it’s intimidating size. They were everywhere in sight. Some of them had names because they each had a story to tell, they meant something to the people of the country. Like the Ama Dablam for example. Ama Dablam translates to mother’s necklace, named so because the mountain side descend sharply a few hundred meters then spread out at the sides like a cloak covering and protecting the other mountains besides it, and the people from the freezing winds from the other higher mountains, mimicking the action of a mother protecting her child between her arms. This mountain was almost always in sight every day and by far the best mountain I have seen till date. I felt really connected to it for some reason and looking up at it every time during the trek filled my heart and soul with warmth and lots of smiles. Up here too was mostly silent, you would occasionally hear the sounds of of glaciers breaking away and tumbling down the sides of the mountains with a thundering sound which will make you wonder if you were safe! But I had an excellent guide who could read the mountains and always led me along the right path. Trekking above the tree line was hard. The higher we went the less oxygen we had and the tougher it became. But all you had to do was listen to yourself and go at your pace, not rushing to get the next village. I was certain each day I woke up I was going to make it to the next stop and that no matter how tough it was I just had to stick to one step at a time. Like I said before, it was hard, one of the toughest things I have had to endure both mentally and physically but something just kept me going every day with a very simple plan- one step at a time! It was much like life, difficult paths, steep and tough climbs but you always had to choice to focus on something better- the mountain views, there were never going to move no matter how much your cursed them or hated them for making life so difficult. But they will offer you the most spectacular views you may have ever seen. I made the reference to everyday life because sometimes we go through life cursing every damn day for arriving, hating what is served to us, wishing it was different whereas we could decide to take what we consider as bad and work with it to improve our lives. The things we call or refer to as obstacles are actually there to teach us, to make us grow. And most of all, we don’t have to go through life carry excess baggage, pack light, take only what you need or necessary. This too is sometimes hard as we really don’t know when we need what and don’t want to be left wanting. But again, I have learnt when you really need something it comes along in various forms. Trekking through nature makes you see things from a different perspective, it’s why the sherpas have survived for generations with so little (according to outsiders). They only take what they need, not what they want. I left a lot of baggage up there, not physical items, but stuff I been carrying in my head and heart and I felt very light and each time I reached the top of a mountain or pass, I opened my arms wide and shouted everything I no longer needed out of my system!
Have you ever felt out of place? I am sure we all have in some way. What we then do is try to make ourselves fit in that environment because we need some form of acceptance to continue to thrive here. Nepal however gave off a different kind of energy. I didn’t feel or see the need to be accepted, I just had to be me and let the cosmic do the rest. I came here with a goal and it was one which I knew didn’t depend on me. I needed help in all forms, spiritual, physical and mental. That was the package and I was just one of the blocks to make it complete. I had chosen a route which was going to test me physically and mentally. I woke up every morning with excitement, even when it meant I had to wake up as early as 4am and trek in the dark. Sleeping at night wasn’t easy as well. I could on a good day sleep for 5 hours maximum. The rest of the time I would lay awake with my thoughts or having really vivid dreams. If and when I did manage to sleep, I made sure my head rested on the same spot on my pillow as anywhere else on the pillow was frozen. If I moved one centimetre in either side, I would hit a frozen side which would keep me awake. But it was fun, pain was part of the process.
I remember the morning I woke up at 3:30am to climb Gokyo Ri which stands at 5350m just to watch the sun rise over Mt Everest. It took me 4 hours to make a vertical ascent of 600m to the top. It was painful and tough and I asked myself several times why I was doing this. The crazy thing though is that when you finally get to the top all of that pain fades away as you watch the sun just coming over the highest point on earth. Going down took another 3 hours and on the same day trekked to another village 2 hours away over a glacier to then wake up the next morning and climb up another peak Cho La Pass at 5450 to go across yet another glacier . No matter how painful it was during the trek or climb up these peaks the day always ended well. The feeling of reaching the top, which is one of the goals for the day, is not something I can describe or put into words. I will get there and just shout and pray and laugh and feel light. The pain always vanished when you got to the top, it made it worthwhile. The views too were spectacular and the images and experience is one I will carry with me forever.
I reached Gorak Shep with a massive headache from exhaustion. Climbing Gokyo Ri and Cho La pass merely a day before and then heading to Gorak Shep for the finale had taken a toll on my body and whatever energy reserves I had. But i was determined to reach the Everest Base camp that same day. I know I was pushing myself, but I was doing so within what I considered a healthy limit. I had told my guide if he noticed any signs of things going south with me he should turn me around immediately. Altitude sickness is tricky, but you have to observe and know what to look for as signs. I was confident I wasn’t sick so I had the green light to go.
From Gorak Shep to Everest Base camp was a 2 or 3 hour walk depending on your speed. I was taking it easy and the camp grew closer and closer with each step. That’s all I had to do, one step at a time and I was going to get there. It was a fairly levelled walk and trail. I had this plan on my mind to reach the base camp and do a dance around the mark where it says Everest Base Camp. I could see it from a distance and was already filled with emotions. It was just a few dozen meters ahead. As a drew closer the emotions heightened. I took out my phone and gave it to my guide to record me as I was going to dance there. 10 meters away and I felt like I was not on this earth anymore, I reached the spot. But instead of breaking down into a weird dance, my knees gave up and collapsed from under me, they fell to the ground. My upper body leaned itself forward, my head was bowing! I was right there on top of the pile of stones, weak and happy. I had reached the placed I had only dreamed of reaching and without warning I was bowing down to it in prayer. Everything was automatic from then onward, I was filled with emotions of love and peace. I said a prayer for the world, I screamed at the top of my lungs, I had been victorious, my headache had vanished completely as the hormones had taken over my being. I lay there just marvelling at what I had done, I was there for about half an hour, but it felt like eternity. I was floating on the clouds, nothing else mattered, I was dreaming yet awake. I was brought back to my senses by the sounds of falling ice from the Khumbu Icefall- an avalanche! I turned and looked around and notices it was close to the camp and wished there was no one crossing at that time. The base camp was still being set up, preparations for the climbing season were ongoing and tents were being propped up everywhere. Temperatures were now dropping rapidly, we had to go back. The next day I was going to go up Kallapatthar.
Mt Everest! I see you!
This is me after hiking up Kala Patthar, the closest you can get to Mt. Everest without going across the base camps! At an altitude of about 5545m you get less than 50% of breathable oxygen, your body is tormented as it finds the energy from all other storage sources you may have and nearly shuts down your body. This is where mental toughness takes over. Each step you take draws out what you think is the last bit of energy you may have and you push a little further and further and further till you reach the top. I’m not forgetting that up to this point you must have also gradually let your body become used to the low oxygen levels at this altitude but bit this was hard. But once you reach the top and see this wonder, everything fades away, the pain, the suffering, the doubts all go away and a chemical reaction takes place in your brain, endorphins and serotonin are released and all you have left is the feeling of flying without wings yet you are still on earth and for those few moments, nothing else matters. You have become king of your world and the feeling is everlasting…but the mountain reminds you of it’s presence and greatness and snaps you out of your trance and you start feeling you feet on the ground, the blood pumping in your veins right up to your head and the terrible wind chill of minus 14 degrees as it was on this day. You are left with one thing to do, bow to the mountain and descend, for it is not your place, it is home to the gods and you are but human.
This seriously was a big risk! We had conveniently picked a long weekend so that we could minimize using more leave days than we had to. We had booked our tickets way in advance and my visa took a total of three months to be ready, it the longest I’ve ever had to wait for a visa. But it was understandable, they were are war, their president had strapped himself in a fighter jet was leading airstrikes against the crazy terrorist group of Iraq and Syria. Their country was in a heightened state of alert and risky according to the popular international news circles. The media were scaring the crap out of those who were not in the country. I thought there was a chance of us being kidnapped. Vika’s parents were obviously freaking out, our friend Natasha who came with us had her mom on the phone all the time to make sure she was ok. Well for me, I was going to tell my parents I was there only when I had gotten there. I had emailed them a copy of my life insurance the night before anyways 🙂 We had everything booked and it was too late to turn back now. One thing we were sure of was that we were going to be in awe of everything we were going to see.
Landed safely, I had the usual hiccups with immigration, I’m usually the first Cameroonian some immigration officers have seen or heard of. This usually requires additional checks for me, two or more officers need to confirm my passport and visa are valid and whatever other checks they had to do. Something which deeply troubles Vika but something I have made my peace with and educate every eager person about me and where I come from. Passport stamped, got through and our driver was there waiting for us with a sign across the rail. So I’m rushing towards him and then I see another sign which read “Mahalos” and hear a familiar voice calling from that direction. I can’t believe it, I know that sign and that voice, I look again and it’s my best friend waiting for us. I immediately became ecstatic and jumped over the rails and we start hugging and almost throw ourselves on the floor. I hadn’t seen him in about 7 months and had no clue he was coming. I had asked if he could but he was all the way in china and couldn’t make it yet there he was. Vika had secretly arranged with him to join us on the trip and surprise the rest of us at the airport. This is a guy I had met in India over 4 years ago and we shared some of the best experiences in my life together. One of the most chilled people I know and one who wouldn’t stop at anything to get what he wants. Just a year earlier I was transiting through Istanbul and had a 12 hour layover. He’s Turkish and set out to meet me at the airport as I was not allowed to leave. He managed to get to the airport without his passport and talked his was through all the checkpoints to meet me in the transit area under supervision! It was mind blowing how he achieved that but such is his determination. We have since grown into best buddies and still going crazy 6 years on. I’m still in my ecstatic state as we drive through the city to our hotel and just noticed it was a bit freezing. It was chilly but ok. We dropped our bags, prepped ourselves for adventure while the driver returned to the airport to pick up two more of our friends who were arriving. It was a happy reunion. We forgot the risk we had taken to get here and just chatted away. All six of us coming from different countries had met in India a few years back and developed this strong bond which is still going on till today. When we meet its talking, cracking jokes and dancing away into the night. We are like dolls with switches, we get into play mode, dancing mode, deep talking mode, rest mode, all the friend modes you can think of.
We set out to explore the city, our driver was excellent. We told him we wanted our trip to be remembered as the least touristy one in terms of food and wanted to eat local food at the best places in the city of Amman. He took us to one of the oldest known restaurants in the city called Hashim. The humus and falafel here are legendary. The restaurant wasn’t hidden but you could tell it was really old, broken tables and chairs, reconstructed walls et all. Our driver Marwan helped us place the order as non of us spoke Arabic. We pleaded with him not to order too much as we wanted to have lunch at another place. He placed the order and within minutes the food started arriving in trays hot from the oven. We started eating and about three minutes later, more food arrived. We just kept on eating, and more kept on coming, humus, bread, falafel, tea, repeat! That’s all they had and that’s all we ate satisfactorily. We weren’t sure how we were going to have lunch at lunch time because we had greedily packed our stomach with all the food we could eat at Hashim. We visited the main touristic sites in the city, starting with the remains of the Roman theatre at the centre which left us in awe. It was massive and I still ponder how the people who addressed the crowds here did with no microphones or public announcement systems. I believe it was a job you had to be born to do and that is why most of the people who did were really great orators and had such a huge influence with the people of their time. We walked around it for a bit, turned down offers from people trying to get us to pay them to tell us more about the place. Soon after, we got into play mode, we decided to go to the very top of the theatre. This, however was not an easy feat, the steps were very steep but it was fun going up and when we finally did, cameras and phones came out, we took a bunch of funny pictures for a bit and then turned around to see the view from the top and it was truly amazing. Everyone sat in their own space, recovering and at the same time observing the theatre from above, picturing how it would have looked like if we were watching one of the romans addressing the Jordanian people. It still baffles me though how they accomplished it. After a while we begun our descent which was another funny task, the guys macho spirits came alive and it was a fairly easy task but then we had to slow down to help the ladies get down too.
Our next stop was the Citadel. I enjoyed the short drive up there and engaged in conversation with Marwan. I asked him how the city had changed since the start of the nearby war. He told us they are a peaceful country and have accepted millions of refugees, it has changed the dynamics of the city but they were happy to help. He spoke of how everyone was free to practice their religion and how great Jordanian people were. I asked him about his family and he told us he had two beautiful daughters who meant the world to him. you can tell how much people love someone or something when they talk about them. His face lit up as he spoke about his girls, you could literally see him looking at them by the way he spoke. You could see and hear the memories running through his words and the brimming smile on his face. He looked like a very loving and engaging father who would do anything for his daughters. They brought him life and joy. He told me that was his life’s purpose and I believed him. Who wouldn’t be proud to have two amazing girls?
We reached the citadel and it was going to be hike around as well. We got our tickets and walked in. It was also in ruins but had guide posts from which we could read about the place or area we were in. A gentleman walked up to us, introduced himself and told us he could guide us along and tell us more about the citadel. We were going to say no at first till he told us this was the job he was doing was for a good cause. We signed up with him and he gave a brilliant tour of the citadel. The number of times it had been destroyed and rebuilt, the legend of Hercules and remains from broken statues to back up the claim he actually existed which was quite intriguing. The tour lasted about two hours of which we saw so many broken stones, bones, mummies, burial pods and chambers. We finished at a place which was one of the highest points of the city and had a beautiful view of part of Amman. It was built on small hills and the houses looked like they were stacked on each other in a nice way. We were hungry again and put Marwan up to the task of finding another local place for us to feast at which he gladly did. Natasha, the foodie of our group had being talking non-stop about the mansaf. She had done so much research on it and just couldn’t stop asking when we were going to have it. It is the national dish of Jordan which comprises of lamb cooked in a sauce of fermented dried yogurt served with rice and bread. Marwan found a place for us and we all ordered mansaf. What we didn’t know was that the portions were massive!! When the first two plates arrived we knew we were in trouble. Vika doesn’t tolerate me not finishing my food, if you ordered it, you ate it and you finish it. That was her rule about food. I’ve gotten into trouble so many times for not cleaning out my plate. We had to cancel two of the six plates we had ordered. The mansaf truly did live up to the taste Natasha had been telling us about. It wasn’t similar to anything I had had before and came with its mouth senses explosions which I did like. So there we were again and had managed to get induce ourselves into yet another food coma on the first day of the trip. We waited it out and then headed back to our hotel to rest a little and prepare for a night out in the city.
Marwan came by and we drove to the city centre and just walked around for a while, checking out stuff and chatting amongst ourselves and cracking jokes and poking one another. I spotted a small target practice shop and decided we try to shoot some rounds. So there was this one time in Singapore where Vika and I were watching a movie and they kept on referring to an AK and she asked me what it was. I paused the movie and went into teacher mode to give her what was my understanding of the AK-47. I graciously told her how it was the best thing that had probably come out of her country Russia according to some and went to explain more. It was the kind of explanation you finish and expect a clap or some kind of approval of your brilliance. She just looked at me and I was baffled as asked why she was not impressed, to which she replied “I know how to dismantle, assemble, load and fire rounds with an AK-47!” Which froze me for a couple of seconds as I hadn’t seen that coming. So here were were, and I wanted to see what she was all about with guns. I thought it was something I would easily get, but I fired the first couple of rounds at the targets and missed them all! Then she comes around and schools me on my posture, how to aim and how to fire, the method of release, how to breathe, all of that. She knew what she was doing! I followed her instructions and hit some targets while she observed calmly from behind. I finished and she gave me the thumps up with a cheeky smile as if to say “now you know”. We finally got around to finding a place to have dinner, we were still full from the afternoon so we decided to eat really light. we walked into a restaurant-bar and put two tabled together. It was only after we had sat down that we noticed there were only men in here. Not a single lady in sight, which immediately made the girls feel uncomfortable. Marwan explained to us that Jordanian women hardly ever go out at night except on very rare occasions. We pressed him to know if it was some sort of pressure from the men not to allow women to go out or it was just something they had in their culture. He tried to explained and I immediately realised I was judging their culture from my own cultural standpoint which was very wrong of me. We killed the conversation, had our food hastily and left to rest to be up early for a drive down to the river Jordan, wadi Mujib and the dead sea.
Rise and shine, it’s time to drive to river Jordan. Marwan arrived on time, we loaded ourselves up in the car, stopped by a small coffee shop and grabbed quick breakfast and jumped back into the car. Marwan warned us not to be sticking our heads and arms out of the car in order to take pictures in certain places. We noticed there were lots of army personnel as we drove out of the city and a few checkpoints. The drive itself was a very calm one until one of us decided to take a picture of something and we got stopped at the next checkpoint. We had been spotted! Marwan explained we were tourist and may have mistakenly taken the photograph, we had to surrender the camera for the officer to inspect and he handed it back to us. My crazy friend Cet decided it would be a good time to have the police officer take a picture of his own with us. He’s always doing crazy stuff like that and…the officer did agree so he got his other colleague to take photos of us all with him. We ended up talking for about 10 minutes with the officer and answered questions about where we were from and asked him about his. Out of nowhere we had dissolved what was a tense situation into one of exchange of names, laughs and pictures. He bid us farewell and wished us well on our adventures.
First stop of the day was the river Jordan and the religious sights which came with it. As we drove on we saw something small crossing the road and observed it carefully to notice it was a turtle. Marwan’s face lit up, he told us the night before one of his daughters was asking if she could have one and here it was trying to cross the road. He picked it up and kept it safely in the back of the car in a box with some grass for it to eat while we drove on. We got to the river jordan checkpoint, got our tickets and went it. The river runs between the borders of Jordan, Israel and Palestine and is the lowest lying river in the world at -400m below sea level.
Marwan showed us what is believed to have been the exact place where the prophet Elijah ascended into heaven in a chariot of fire. My mom would have loved this! what for me is just a trip or holiday would have been a pilgrimage for her. I was about see a lot of the things and places referenced in the Bible and pillars for Christianity. We came by the river, we had been warned not to try to cross it as there were snipers in the bushes on the other side of the river bank. That sunk in deep and we stayed way clear of the border.
We saw the place believed to be the baptism place of Jesus. There were many other people here all travelling as pilgrims to the holy land. The place was filled with so much detail about Christianity and Judaism. There was however a place where we could dip into the river if we wanted to. On the other side of it was Isreal and had it’s own pilgrims who had made the trip from that side of the border. A guy was preaching and others were singing, it felt like an outdoor church. We soaked our feet in the water for a while and observed more of the area. We shifted from pilgrim mode into sniper spotting mode soon after. We were intent on finding at least one sniper. our search was futile was we headed back to the car. It had nonetheless been a great visit, I took a lot of video logs for my mom. She was going to love them.
We the headed to the dead sea and we were all very excited. We had heard of the amazing once in a lifetime experience of floating in the dead sea and were eager to try it. The water is so salty nothing can live in it and which contributed to making anything dropped into it to float right back to the top. We got there, changed and ran into the sea right up to about knee-length deep then dropped! As soon as you dropped you floated right back to the surface and that too effortlessly. It was mind-blowing! So we began floating, we had magazines packed just for this, we were going to be floating unaided on water and reading magazines and news papers.
It was so much fun and we played for about an hour in the sea , we were like kids on a playground. We had dead sea mud on ourselves as we had been told it was good for the skin because of the presence of an overland of minerals in the mud. We believed it. One thing to note though- DO NOT SHAVE before getting there, give yourself at least two days prior to arriving at the dead sea without a shave. The stinging pain as the water got in your skin cracks is one you will never forget! Some of us learnt this the hard way. Be warned. We forgot about the pain anyways and focused on floating after a while. This was a serious high on the trip and one which I don’t think I can ever forget. We showered down, had some shisha and left for wadi mujib.
Unfortunately the entrance to the canyon had been closed off for renovation and preservation work. We were sad as we had seen really amazing pictures of the canyon and really wanted to hike through it. We later on realised we wouldn’t have had enough time and made our peace with it. We drove back to Amman, the following day was going to be the last sight seeing trip to Petra then a drive to wadi rum in the desert where nothing went as planned but everything left in complete awe as we experienced bedouin life! (watch out for part 2!)
The first time I ever left Cameroon was to travel to India and since then I have been hooked. In four years I have made at least 5 trips back here. There’s always something new calling me back to India. This time it was the mountains of Leh Ladakh. This time it was a journey to challenge myself to see how well I was going to do in the wild and survive freezing nights in a tent and trek for a couple of days from an altitude range from 3500m to about 5600m. I was scared, yet excited and that’s how I was sure I needed to do this.
Leh Ladakh is a highly disputed region in the Kashmir mountains on the Himalayan range. You’ve got Pakistan on one side, Tibet on the other side and India in the middle. Somehow, all three countries have found a way for each other to keep a piece of their side so that the people of Ladakh can live peacefully. This however is not as simple as it sounds as I noticed a very heavy military presence in the regions.
Leh, the capital of the region sits at a base altitude of about 3500m and is a very colourful town. As soon as you touch down you can feel the presence of the mountains. They are peaceful yet intimidating and have claimed the lives of hundreds of people who have not heeded to the advice of the locals. So the first thing you want to do is check yourself. Many people come to Leh for various reasons. For most Indians it is the ultimate road trip,mostly by motorbike which starts from New Delhi, through the lovely provinces of Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh stopping by the ever green and chilled out Manali, the spiritual Dharamshala then a steep climb all the way to Leh. A trip which sees them cover at least 1300km by land in one of the worlds most dangerous routes. Going through glacier passes depending on the season and sometimes having to wait in line for hours for repair or recovery of vehicles which have given up to the mountains. I decided to skip all of this and took a 1hr 30min flight.
The first thing you want to do when you get to Leh is acclimatise. This is the simple process of letting your body get in tune with the altitude change. You may be a very fit person but might still require a couple of days to acclimatise properly. All you have to do is sit and not move around a lot for about 24-48 hours (varies per individual). You will feel your body change, you will feel drowsy, loss of appetite, breathing becomes even more difficult as the air is very thin with less oxygen. Take a rest, eat and take in enough fluids to keep your body going. If you must move, then visit the monasteries and markets around. My headaches lasted for about a day and I felt I was good to go the next morning. I planned my trek with the help of a local tour company I had found (there are any of them) and the next morning I was up at 5am to start my adventure.
I was introduced to my guide, Tundup. He was going to try to keep me alive. We had a porter and a cook with us as well as 3 horses to help carry our supplies. This was already interesting. Tundup and I spoke for a couple of minutes, he made sure I was healthy and told me to always listen to him, to let him know how I as feeling and to ask him stop if I didn’t feel good.
We took off shortly and left the porter, the cook and the horses behind. He said not to worry as they were going to catch up quickly. We opened conversations. I had come here to learn, I had come here to educate myself through listening and first hand experience. I asked about the laws of the land, how different things are now that the region is open to many tourists and how it has affected the locals. What was the buddhist way of life and how can I translate that to my own life. In pure buddhist fashion, the answers were simple yet thought provoking. Most of them went around the wheel of life, karma, and greed. Greed is what corrupts the human mind more than anything else. They were peaceful and self sufficient before many people started arriving and found a way to monetise the region. He spoke of how it has helped them greatly but also of how so many values have been lost because of greed. It was becoming increasingly difficult to live normally as everyone was focused on making money. But there were a few who were not to affected by the negatives; the small villages on the way during our trek. I came by a village or settlement which was self sufficient. They had everything they needed, they had their cattle for food and their waste as fuel during the winter months. They grew their own food, barley, wheat and even had their own mills being run by man made irrigation systems. The irrigation system had channels through which water could be diverted to help run the mill. There wasn’t a single shop in sight, not even a small store where you could buy anything. Money hd no value in this village and I loved that about it. I had been looking forward to getting there thinking I was going to be able to find a shop or store and buy some bathing soap…nope…there wasn’t even a proper bathroom. So being in the wild we had to do things in the way of the wild. I had to shower from a small waterfall. I was excited about this but had completely forgotten that this water were all run offs from melting glaciers…I jumped in, my lungs froze and and jumped right back out, gave out a loud hearty laugh and went right back in. I was loving it, it was was freezing but I was enjoying it. Come to think of me back in the city who wouldn’t have a cold shower and I am here having a freezing one and enjoying it. These are the things I miss and that is why I travel this way. This was just one of the many things I loved about this trek.
They say if you want to find yourself you need to take long walks by yourself. Well, this was it for me, trekking and camping in the wild. I trekked each day for about 5- 6 hours and I spent about a quarter of the time listening and asking questions to my well informed guide. The other quarter of the time I will be focused on where to put my foot next and the last half of the time in utter silence, listening to my thoughts and memories. Memories of my childhood kept on going through my mind which came as no surprise as I was here to appreciate my life more, hence, it covered everything I had experienced or grown up around since birth. The more these memories ran through my mind, the more I appreciated my life and you can’t help buy feel gratitude. Gratitude is what creates abundance in my life. Focusing on hat I have and being thankful for it rather than what I do not have and being sad about it makes all the difference. I have ups and downs like everyone else but I started focusing on the things that were going right and was very happy for them. That was the shift, that made the difference. It is difficult to stay in this frame of mind all the time but if you try you will get there and you will see how much of a difference it makes, how liberating it is and how much simpler your life could be if you focused on the present things which were going on in your life at this moment. My time on the mountains were filled with these flashes of how awesome my life had been up till this point and with each flash came a wave of happiness, a wave of joy and a huge smile on my face, you know, the type that warms your heart. I shared some of these with Tundup and he loved hearing them.
I had listened to a TED talk which was about travel and how to make your travel experience one you would never forget. Travellers are always focused on taking pictures and asking questions to the locals, more interested in knowing about the locals than letting the locals know about them. The advice was to take time to make the locals learn something about you, something which corporate media would never show, something which is unique to you and your people wherever you come from. It was simple, all you had to do was ask the local to ask you anything about yourself, anything at all. Beside being a tourist, you were the ambassador of your country. This was a learning exercise for both parties. For me it was how to present my culture and country to a stranger, for the listener it is an opportunity to confirm or get rid of his prejudices about someone. Tundup was quick to fire, no one had ever asked him this before. He asked about famine and war, about kids dying from hunger and poverty, about the type of clothes we wore, did we live on trees etc? They were very funny but I realised this is what movies portrayed about Africa. That was the information he was being fed. We laughed together as I debunked each of these preconceptions he had. I told him how we grew up in a community style kind of way, where everyone looked out for the other, we had big houses and enough food to feed a lot of people daily, we played in fields and climbed on trees to harvest fresh fruit, we did go hunting and fishing sometimes and we went to school as well. It was a perfect mix. I was very happy telling him about how I grew up, being able to do all these things. Yes some places were dangerous but it was overall fun and I’ll do it again in a heartbeat. He asked about what kind of music I listened to and was shocked I wasn’t a big fan of hip hop. I told him why and how I found more meaning in deep house music but still danced to hip hop when the chance presented itself. I had my phone with me and had some podcasts downloaded and saved so I played him one of my favourite 1hr podcast by Sam Feldt (podcast title; Nazomeren). I love this podcast series because it always started with a very positive message then the music drifted in slowly. We took a break from trekking and sat down under the shade of a rock to listen to it. He loved it, he loved he message at the start of the podcast and we went into another conversation about it. I loved that Tundup wasn’t just a guide, I loved how we could both teach each other about two completely different world and yet find common ground in the simplest things.
The nights were windy and freezing and I was on a mission to capture the milky way. This would have been easy if I had actually read on how to do it and not rely on meeting a photographer friend of mine who fell sick and couldn’t make the trip on time. So I’m out there at 11pm, a sky full of stars and I can’t set my dslr to the right shooting mode. So I keep ducking back into my tent, switch mode, come out, shoot…nothing happens. I did this for about an hour then finally gave up, took my sleeping bag and wrapped it around myself and just sat there and took it all in. It was an amazing sight, one which I had missed while failing woefully with my camera. The moon wasn’t in sight on this night and the magic known as the universe was in the full range of my eyes. It was truly a sight. I had never ever seen it a clearly as I had on this night, being at an altitude of about 4700m, no light pollution, no sound of cars or of people. On this night, it was just me, my tent and the rest of the world before my eyes. Whatever god you believe in or not, this was confirmation that there is something or someone out there bigger than the rest of us and watching over us and that we are just part of a very large and complex system we may never fully understand but that giving into it gives room for so much more. This was a bigger than life moment for me. My place in the universe was just a tiny spec of dust we have called Earth and we are on a mission to destroy it as if we could just up and go to another one. How sad! When I couldn’t bare the cold any longer I went into my tent and had a good nights sleep. I woke up the next morning, opened my tent and just gazed out into the ice capped mountains which were laid out in front of my eyes. I was consumed by my thoughts once again and only snapped out of them when Tundup came by to announce we had to start getting ready for the second part of the trek.
This was going to be the most difficult part of the trip. We were going to ascend up to about 5300m and the slopes we were trekking along were slippery and very steep. As mentioned before the air is really thin and gets thinner the higher you go and here every step has the be well calculated before taken. You could feel the lightenes sod the air in in your lungs and you would know better than to push yourself. I learnt later that at this altitude the caloric demand of your body is in the 6000-7000 range daily as opposed to 2500 when you are at your regular altitude. This was the most dangerous part of the trip and had to be executed properly. We will go up to the top of the passes and then descend into the valleys and up again and down again. This feat will continue till we reached our resting place for the day. I experienced first hand nature providing for us. The sun is very harsh here and whenever we felt like we had had too much a cloud appeared to cover us, when it was too hot a cold breeze was sent from the ice peaks to cool us down. The valleys were green and had springs flowing through them and we would fill out water bottles, dip our feet I the spring to cool off and wash our faces then start the dreadful climb up again. More reflections, more self assessment, more realization and more appreciation and gratitude. That was the practice on this trek and it truly felt awesome.
On arrival at the top of any pass my guide and I will cry out “Ki ki so so lha gyal lo” is the prayer a Tibetan will recite at the summit of a mountain pass. My guide told me it translates to “victory to the gods”. They believe that it is at these high mountain passes that the good gods fight with the evil gods and that the lung-tar (coloured paper printed with prayers) and prayer are an offering to the good gods. Offering these prayers at mountain passes is especially auspicious because it is believed that the high winds will be of benefit in carrying the prayers. It was also a huge sign of relief when we got to a pass, that meant the climbing had stopped and we were going down which was easier to do that climbing.
On this night though I managed the view the Milky Way and took an almost good picture of it finally. There was a big golden Buddha at this village and I went up to the monastery and spent some time there trying to listen to my thoughts. A local came and he and I engaged in conversations about Budhism and how the Buddha I was looking at was different. He had his hand touching the earth. This is because he had been asked to prove his enlightenment and his response was “only Mother Earth can know” and with that touched the earth. He then explained how we mustn’t always do things to get credit for or to be noticed but for the greater good. Only you and the earth you walk know and understand your struggle. I don’t know why these Buddhist always had very philosophical answers to me. They were simple answers by them but each of them was thought provoking. More self assessment and more realization and more changes to be made. I was loving this and was sad it was about to come to an end. I had learned so many things about myself in these mountains. I had had conversations with myself and found certain truths and had doubts about some. It was going to change my approach on life when I got back to the city. I was happier and wiser than when I arrived here. The rest of the trek was pretty much to same till I got to my pickup point where I said goodbye to the horses and the porters, jumped into the car and passed out. I woke up in the city of Leh and started looking for my late friend. She had after all felt better and made the trip. Found her and got on to telling her about my adventures in the wild and my massive fail with the camera. We made plans to visit one of the iconic lakes which was a 5 hour drive from the city and also to the highest motor able pass in the world at 5700m which was an adventure on it’s own because of the mad way our driver was driving. Let’s just say I appreciated driving slow in traffic after this ordeal. The last part of the trip was shopping for stones as my dear friend had just come out of surgery before I left and requested I bring back a rock for her. Seriously? A rock? So I decided to get one which was somewhat rare and she loved it. Flew back to Delhi and was obviously happy to get a fresh shower bath and regular food. Like I said before, the whole trip was about appreciation of the things I take for granted everyday and to learn as much as I could from the fellow Buddhist high up in the mountains.
Life is not complicated, we complicate life with worries and desires born from greed. I have always known there is a way to live a life filled with content and love and I will keep putting the pieces together and someday I will be free of worry and full of life and radiate that energy wherever I go. I survived the cold chilly nights and the altitude sickness that comes with the environment. The fear I had at the beginning had been conquered and the power of excitement and eagerness had triumphed. I had learnt new ways of life and my perspective on life has yet again definitely shifted to a better place. I “Kaizen-ed” up there.