Give Thanks

In honor of Thanksgiving, I thought I would share something I learned while over in Nepal a few weeks ago.

If you’ve never been to a 3rd world country, you might not have seen the true heartbreak of poverty. I know before my first trip to Africa with World Vision, I was living in what I call the US bubble. I know there are varying degrees of poverty whereever you go but I had never seen it. Sure, I’d seen destruction and poverty on the news but never witnessed it myself.

It’s shocking when you first see it. Babies wailing b/c they are starving, Kids with no shoes, Mom’s begging for $$ for formula on the streets so they can feed there children. Shocking. And very uncomfortable. At least for me.

But in the midst of all the uncomfortable pain, there is a phenomena i’ve witnessed each and every time. Hope. And Thanks.

Here are some pictures of the children of Nepal.

This little girl we met in a small mountain town. Beta, my new friend from IceLand had wittingly brought balloons to hand out. Not sure this angle shows it, but she is grinning from ear to ear. She must have played with this balloon for 30 minutes.

I just kept thinking “How amazing is it that a balloon, a BALLOON, is making this little girls day?”

Her entire family came over and thanked us repeatedly for our generous gift. Frankly, it was embarrassing to know such a little gift caused such great joy.  

Here are some kids we met along the hiking path. I think all these kids were living in a one room hut we passed and working the fields.

Annie brought stickers. HOLY COW. She might as well have brought gold. Stickers are a VERY BIG HIT with these NEpalese children. Specifically the Jasmine stickers. IT was funny to see them request and point for specific stickers. I mean they don’t have TV, how do they know Jasmine? Anyway, another example of a very small gesture meaning the world to these kids.

Here’s a little girl we met on the streets of Kathmandu. All she wanted was for us to take her picture and then show her. And then take it again and show her again. She followed us for about 5 blocks and I just took her picture again and again.

One of the most shocking realizations i had in Africa was that most of these kids have never seen what they look like. There are no mirrors for them. It made me want to cry.

While you are reading this you may be shocked, you may be sad. I know initially, i felt a wide array of emotions. But this blog is supposed to be a story of hope. Of joy. Because, I got to tell you, i have thought more than once that these people know true joy. True happiness. They have nothing yet they are some of the most humble, appreciative people you have ever met.

I don’t have kids, but i have a niece and nephew and I often wonder if a balloon and some stickers would make them happy on Christmas or their birthdays. Some how I doubt it. But i will tell you something that makes them happy every time. Spending time with me. I’m not saying that b/c it’s me, i’m saying that b/c in general i think the best gift you can give anyone is your time and attention.

Isn’t that what makes Thanksgiving the best holiday. The gift of  time. Time with family. Time with friends. Time to give thanks for what we all have. Which let’s face it, we all have something to be thankful for. That’s one thing I learned in Nepal. Give thanks for the small things.

I know that some of you may not have family to be with on Thanksgiving. I’m hopeful you all have a place to go. If not, know this. I’m thankful for you. Whoever you are. Because, you are here on this earth for a reason.

Happy Thanksgiving. What are you thankful for today?

Real Beauty

This is one of my favorite pictures from the Himalayas and Nepal

Its my favorite b/c those are mountains, not clouds behind the school.

Yes, I said school. That broke down building in brown is where the people that live in the mountain send their children to school. If you think the outside is bad you should see the classrooms inside. My teacher friends would be shocked. Well, anyone would be shocked. Some kids walk 3-4 hours up or down 3,000 feet a day. 

Yet, the backdrop of this substandard education facility is insanely beautiful and this picture does not do it justice.

First, my lens is cracked. It was that way the entire trip (i dropped my camera on the way THERE – UGH). At first this ticked me off and it still does mainly b/c it’s a costly dumb mistake I’ve got to fix. But, the reality is that no picture can really capture the real beauty of the Himalayas. So, i’ve kind of grown to like the crack b/c it reminds me that there is beauty in the flaws of life.

Why?

I think “real beauty” is impossible to capture. It’s intrinsic. It’s something you can see but it’s hard to explain. Words and photos won’t hold a candle to it. It’s almost always something you have to see for yourself.

And what I think is beautiful may not be the same for you.  Real beauty is changing according to the person that lays eyes on it.

Do you agree? How do you define real beauty?

Elephants

So, here’s something you probably didn’t know about Elephants.

THEY ARE HAIRY.

SERIOUSLY.

I guess I’ve never really been so close to an elephant before but they have alot of hair and it’s kind of gross.

The shot to the left is a view from the top of an elephant. Can you see all that hair? I think this guy forgot to comb it this morning.

Now, that we’ve gotten that out of the way.

Um, I’m riding an elephant. How cool is that?

The Indian Elephants in Chitwin National Park were some of the coolest animals I’ve ever gotten to watch (let alone ride).

Here’s them getting there bath. You absolutely have to watch this video…

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QLmjXSoJVz4

And here’s some more shots.

3 stages of Elephants bath (above) and my elephant crush (below)

I miss those elephants. If you think your life is tough, go ride an elephant I promise it will change your perspective.


The Cultural Programme – Chitwin Park

It’s wrong really that I’m about to post this. But, I feel strongly that the whole purpose of a blog is to share experiences, both good and bad. I had to suffer and so shall you.

Here’s how this went down. We were in Chitwin National Park. Nepal. It’s like being in a jungle safari. The place we were staying in was nice but there wasn’t a ton to do. Specifically at night. I mean it’s not like we were going to walk beyond the gates where we could get attacked by an animal or fall in a pothole.

After 9 days trekking, we were tired anyway. After our full day of programming & dinner I looked on the agenda and it said Cultural program. (Side Bar: I’d seen alot of cultural programs so far this trip. They normally included dancing and then you were expected to tip).

I said to my friend, “I think I’ll pass on the cultural programme”

This did not go over well. Mainly b/c passing on the cultural programme meant going back to our room and climbing into our mosquito net beds. See Exhibit A to the left. The picture alone makes me laugh. Laugh alot.

So, really we had no good options. Night activity choice A: Culture Programme. Night Activity Choice B: Sit under mosquito net in room.

I still probably would have picked the net but like a good friend I sucked it up and went into town to the theatre. It was a 5 min jeep ride and I gotta tell you the place was packed. I was starting to think this whole cultural programme might be kind of a big deal. At least in Nepal. It was an official stage and everything. I started to get a little excited for the show to come.

And then it started. First guy out (the emcee) kind of sounded like the teacher from peanuts (wah wah wah wah wah). Who knows what he said but I think it was “Welcome”.

Now keep in mind, this was a 90 min program. Fortunately, for you, i was not able to get 90 minutes of video on my iphone. My point? I suffered ALOT more than you are about to. ALOT more.

Next up, the dancing. In the beginning I was into it. See video below.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ffU-C8g9_aE

Not bad. Then, more dancing. Keep in mind I’m only showing you about 3 minutes of this. Trust me, after 25 min of the same basic dancing it gets old. But still, second segment was tolerable.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GUX7gGeAO04

There are really no words to introduce the 3rd segment. You really just have to watch for yourself. Again, i cut this down to a few minutes (rather than 20+)

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zTrjhDuH1Nc

What the?

Seriously, what the?

As you can tell from the crowd reaction people actually liked it. But seriously, that is a peacock. A large lifesize peacock that danced. Or tried to dance. It danced badly. A peacock I watched for almost 20 minutes.

Unfortunately, I will never get those minutes of my life back.

Now, unfortunately the 4th segment I no longer have. This is a real shame. I’m sad. But I was crocodile hunting and needed to clear out space quickly just in case I saw something good and in turn I accidently deleted the 4th segment. I’m totally bummed b/c in the 4th segment we finally saw….

Wait for it….

Women. WOO HOO! Finally, women. Women dancing. Beautiful women dancing in long flowing skirts.

It wasn’t until we were leaving that I was informed they weren’t actually women. Just men dressed in drag. Apparently I would not win in a game of “Guess that Cross Dresser”.  When I asked why no women dance I was told b/c they had to be at home working the farms and tending the animals.

Side Bar #2 (I could go off right now but let’s just put it at this: I would not agree to be a women in Nepal. They are given all the manual labor and don’t get to do anything fun).

Anyway, this stupidcultural programme I had to suffer through ended with a guy dancing with fire.

Now, that was cool. Unfortunately, unlike the other segments that lasted FOREVER, the fire guy was in and out in less than 1 minutes.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8sI-wW34P3U

Sucks. Only 1 minute of fire dancing. The only good part of the whole performance and they cut it to a minute. Maybe the fire marshall shut him down. Who knows?

So there you go.

At least I feel better now that I know others have now wasted their lives as well. PS – did you notice how on the wall behind them it’s like they ran out of space when they got to the Programme part?

P

AnnaPurna – Your Questions Answered

Many of you are curious. I love that. I’ve gotten alot of questions that I will try to answer now.

1. Why did I decide to do this?

The short answer is b/c of my Aunt Connie. She’s been talking about it since she hiked Everest 5 years ago and since I look to her for what are the “must see/do in travel” this was the top of her list. Plus, let’s face it she’s getting old (If i die, please alert the authorities that Connie killed me for saying the “O” word) and there’s an age limit on this trek.

2. Where do you sleep/shower/toilet, etc?

See Exhibit A. Connie is modeling a typical “tea house” which is found along the way. Some are nice (like this one), some not-so-much. But, overall, they are all way better than a tent which is what i’ve used in the past.

Of course, you probably don’t want to run a black light anywhere near those sheets. I used a sleep sheet (liner from sleeping bag) and put a jacket over the pillow cases.

All that being said, no real complaints on the sleeping arrangements. They are definitely “basic” lodging but trust me it could be worse.

For instance, it could be like the bathrooms. On a good day, we got a “western toilet”. Please note the only thing western about it was it’s not technically a hole in the floor.

Please also note there is no seat cover and no way to flush. I’ll leave the rest to your imaginations. Here’s the non-Western toilet. Lets just say I was one with nature whenever I could be.

Even looking back at this is making me ill. I need another shower. Speaking of shower, it wouldn’t be right if I didn’t show you the lovely shower facilities on the trek. Take a close look at this picture and tell me if you don’t want to just strip right down and get naked 🙂

And this was one of the better ones. Oh yeah, the best part is you only got hot water if you were one of the first ones there (we never were b/c we were doing a 12 day hike in 9 days) or if you could jimmy rig it by standing on one foot and putting your left arm at a 45 degree angle while singing in Nepalese (or something like that).

3. What do you eat?

Well, i became the 1st Carbatarian on this trek. Not sure if that’s a word or not. If not, I’d like credit please. If you know me at all, you know i’m a picky eater to start with. When travelling abroad I’m a VERY picky eater. For the last 10 days, i’ve eaten the following:

* rice, noodles

* soup (lots and lots of soup)

* omelettes

*Peanut M&Ms (a little sugar in the bloodstream after a 8+ hour hiking day is a very good thing)

I also tried something called a Mo Mo (which is like a veggie potsticker) and ate a lot of Tibetan bread in the morning (our version of a sopapilla)

Plus, I drank alot of tea & coffee and rediscovered a little beverage called Fanta which was most excellent.

What I did NOT eat was a wide variety of “Strange Special Items” like the ones listed on the menu below.

Um, gross.

4. Did you carry your own stuff?

Negative ghost rider. I carried a small backpack that held about 2 liters of water and a pouch for things I’d need during the day. Here are the heroes that carried our bags.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aIFv8XIn3bo

Our porters were studs. And they were just little guys. Here’s a photo end of trek of me & Annie looking like Amazon women next to them.

5. How long was the actual hike?

Hard to say b/c the distance is crazy. For instance you may start at 4,000 feet & end at 4,500 feet one day but in between you’ve climbed up to 8,000 feet, back down to 6,000 up to 7,500 and then back down again. Our best estimate is we hiked about 70+ miles total in 9 days (really 8 full days and 2 half days) and went anywhere from 3,000 feet – 7,000 feet of climbing in any given day. Our typical hiking day was around 7 hours.

6. What do you do when you are not hiking?

Great question. I thought I would be bored. I brought at least 5 books. None of which I have opened. At night you are exhausted. You eat and then you sleep. I plan on expanding on this in a seperate blog but I was dumbfounded by how little i thought about. It was like my brain could think about nothing except “where is my next step” and is it uphill. It was really eye-opening about cultures where basic human needs are not being met. Will expand on concept later.

7. Would you do it again?

Absolutely! I’d like to do the circuit which is 21 days but that’s not gonna happen with my current job any time soon. It’s just hard to find the time but I will be back.

Thanks everyone for taking an interest. The Himalayas are breathtaking and the Nepalese people are some of the kindest people I have ever met. Highly recommend getting there sometime in your life.

If you have any further questions, let me know.

Anna Purna – The Daily Video Recap

Warning: You will probably find this blog boring. At the very least, I know you will find my voice annoying. On play back, I know I did. But, at the time of filming it was just good clean fun.

So, this blog is not really for anyone other than my Mom. Because she will want to see 2 of her favorite people (her sister, My Aunt Connie & me) on our journey through Nepal and a video blog is the best way to do that.

So, here goes. If you are not my Mom, you are welcome to read at your own risk. Just warning you, it’s about 30 min of video total. And as my friend Annie said “I think I’m funnier than I am”.

Day One: 7 hour car drive from Kathmandu to Nyapul where we start hiking. The car trip alone was not without it’s challenges. First, we got a flat tire. Then, the car ride itself was just brutal. Took us 7 hours to go about 170 miles b/c of the roads (or lack thereof). But, we finally made it. Here’s a pic of our Happy Hiking Group

And off we went. Well, off we went for about 20 min until we hit our first snag. Goats. Lots and lots of goats. If you have 5 min; watch this

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sI2pu3u1AXc

If you don’t have 5 minutes, watch this version

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tKl7aQeUHp4

Either way, these little buggers took up alot of the path and caused us some early delays. We are in Nepal in the middle of their yearly festival so all these goats are going to slaughter. Pokhara is the home of the largest animal sacrifice on the planet each year (over 40k goats slaughtered) and we were passing hoards of them on their death march. Yes, i know. Disgusting. You can google it for more info.

Now, for the climb. I already mentioned that Ram is a liar and really so is Connie. She said this was a “weenie hike”. Guess what? NOT a weenie hike. Due to the flat tire and all the goats, we ended up our hike Day One in the complete dark. The good news is all our headlights were in our luggage which was with the porters. Oh wait. That’s not good news. Not good news at all. Did i mention it was raining that Day? Yep, good times. 3 hours and 1,500 feet up later we made it to Tikhedhungga. All of us were ready for bed.

Day 2: Climbed 5,000 feet up to Ghorepani. It was a very hard day (since I’m writing this after the fact, i can now say it was the HARDEST day)

Here’s a video of the steps we climbed. Trust me, it’s impossible to capture the true pain of the steps in this video.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d1oFWgR4Z68

Imagine hopping on a stairmaster for give or take 6-8 hours. A day. For 9 days in a row. Yep, that felt good. Anyway, we made it. It was almost dark and overcast when we got there but Ram told us we could catch our first glimpse of Anna Purna in the morning from Poon Hill. Only problem with the plan was we had to wake up at 5am and climb up 1,000 feet in the pitch black of night. But, of course, we like a challenge so we did it. Here’s me at the top.

And here’s the video from the top.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BwvXLFK-_Zo

Unfortunately, after Poon Hill we still had a full day of hiking ahead of us over to Chuile for the night. We were all exhausted. Stayed at a great mountain lodge high in the hills. However, we were too tired to properly enjoy it.

Day 4: Can. Not. Walk. Well. See video

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h2y-8wL6L_4

Hike from Chuile to Sinewa. Highlight of today was finding internet in Chommrong. And got to see alot of local children and give stickers/balloons, etc (will be doing seperate blog post on this later). Amazingly, hikes are getting better as we go. Except for all the steps, those still suck.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P7LqPWMgyXo

Day 5: Sinewa to Deurali (lunch in Dobhan – great spot). It is MUCH colder here. Be prepared. This is the day I start getting a bad attitude. I’m cold. I’m tired. And I’ve been eating rice for 5 days.

Day 6: Destination: Anna Purna Base Camp. I’m no longer physically in the videos b/c it’s been 4 days since I showered but enjoy the narration and of course, the views. That’s right and i bet you were all thinking wow, she looks horrible. Well, guess what it only got worse from here.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Za58yFiDpRk

And finally, WE MADE IT. Yeah, for us! And it is truly gorgeous.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X8ez24f4C0E

And very, very stinking COLD. Went to bed at 6pm b/c there’s not alot going on and it’s freezing. Spent most of the night praying i wouldn’t have to pee and leave my sleeping bag til the sun came back. Next morning, woke up early to see the sun rise on the mountains.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DRs2k5ZsHns

Day 7: As soon as we made that video, we were outta there. Unfortunately, what goes up must come down. So, down we went. 8 hours DOWN hill. And to think, I was complaining about the UP. Down brings on a whole new level of discomfort. My. knees. HURT. My knees hurt. Can someone give me an amen? The only good thing about going down is unlike going up I can actually breathe.

Day 8: Favorite day so far. For 1, it was an easy day walking wise. For 2, we got to go through some serious local towns. Amazing how these people live. There are no roads accessible by anything other than foot or animal.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rJT25Gbr1n4

Day 9: Final Flipping Day. WOO HOO! Annie gives the final recap (with a little help from Connie & me).

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JgNWBBVWyeQ

Next year: Greece. No more 3rd World Countries.

I leave you with this final word with Ram, our tour guide. (And yes, I know he’s totally OVER me)

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BWGTGR1ZQLM

And a Big High 5 to all.

Mom, i hope you liked it 🙂

Ram & Connie

Its kinda hard to know where to start to begin to describe my journey to Nepal but these 2 are a good start. My Aunt Connie is the reason I went in the first place & Ram, our guide provided most of the much needed comedic relief during our climb.

Connie & I at start of trek

First, Meet Aunt Connie:

She’s my role model for many reasons. Mainly b/c she’s fun, she’s adventurous & she’s smart. Plus, she’s got a great outlook on life. If i can be half the business woman she was and half the traveler she’s become I will consider it a huge success.

She also knows no fear, travels the country and is the only family member that can consistently whip me at sudoku.

Did I mention she was the eldest on our trip yet she was by far the strongest hiker? I think she’s made of metal.

Her only downside is she consistently refused to get me a donkey to ride on this trip no matter how many times I asked her politely. Plus, I really consider her dangerous (as in she will take risks I won’t pretty much all the time – see A Day of Firsts)  You’ll see more of Connie in my Anna Purna – Daily Recap as she was also my partner in crime on the video blogs.

Now, onto Ram. Connie met Ram back in 2005 (yes, she actually did this and wanted to come back) when she did a different trek in Everest. He was her guide then and they bonded so hence he became our guide for the trek.

Meet Ram:

This was his look pretty much the entire trip. As a group, we were alot to handle I think. Here’s what you need to know about Ram. He is a liar. I have video proof. Connie nicknamed him Pinocchio. Here is a typical conversation I would have with him:

Me: Ram, is it flat the rest of the way?

Ram: Yes, it is flat.

(Start hiking. Turn the corner. Looking up at like a million steps)

Me: Ram, what are these steps? How is this flat?

Ram: Ah, it is mountain flat.

Here’s a video right after we went up steps where he said it was flat. As you can see, he’s non commital on pretty much everything

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dP9fyP3zr14

One of my favorite Ram sayings is “it is possible” which is translated “it MIGHT be possible somewhere on earth but here on this trek, for you, it is NOT possible”.

Hes also impossible to pin down on time. For instance, I would ask “How much longer Ram?” and he would say “Depends. For some, 20 min. For some, 20 hours”.

Thanks buddy. Way to narrow the gap.

I’ll leave you with one last Ram video so hopefully, you’ll get a good sense of what we were dealing with. Day 3 (after a Day 2 that was by far the hardest physically of the trek) we wake up at 5am in the pitch dark to climb 1,500 feet up Poon Hill for our supposed 1st look at Anna Purna. Ram said “only view of Anna Purna”.  It was breathtaking. Only problem was that when we climbed back down 2 hours later i soon realized I pretty much was seeing the same exact view right outside our bedroom window.

So, I interrogated Ram about it

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6wQiISRSm4Q

I’ll let you people be the judge. I think i rest my case.

Hike – Cliff Notes so Far

ok – Day 8

Heres what you need to know so far…

1. I have said the word “namaste” every day a minimum of 500 times. it’s what you say here. Apparently it means peace to you or something like that but i’m so tired i use it for everything. Someone says pass the salt, i say “namaste”. I don’t think I can remember English right now.

2. I have been a vegetarian for 9 days. B4 this trip i kinda thought I would die if i didn’t eat meat every 48 hours. Apparently, this is not  true.

3. Scratch #2. Annie just informed me that my favorite meal, noodles is made with chicken broth. Whatever. Namaste. Fine I’m a carbatarian. Yes, i made that up. But it means all i’ve eaten is noodles, rice, french fries, and peanut m&m’s.

4. Technically, i should be dead right now. No chance I can physically do this hike. 9 days climbing 6-7,000 feet each day, hiking 6-8 hours. IT’s a true testament of mind of matter.

5. My aunt Connie who is 66 is kicking everyones butt. She’s the oldest and is apparently part machine or something. Of course, i’m told daily it’s not a race & so i’m not counting but if i were I would come in 2nd every day but 1 day. This ticks me off.

6. I haven’t showered in 4 days. I smell. I smell bad. Trust me on this.

7. I drank Fanta orange soda for the first time in 20 years. Easily the best drink i’ve had.

8. Seriously, this is a trip of a lifetime. As soon as I can I will post photos, videos, blogs, etc. None of it will do the beauty of the Himalayas justice.