Monday, December 31, 2012

Day 7

Happy New Year!!!!! I cannot believe 2012 is at its end, but new beginnings are soon to come!!! My resolution for this year was to be strong and have courage, and I am so happy and thankful to say I am feeling stronger and more courageous than ever! (I had to get a vaccination today for Thailand and I took it as a final test of my new bravery). And while I'm here I want to say hi to my friends and family who are the absolute best in the universe- thank you for loving me in my lowest of lows and highest of highs this year!
Anyway, cheers to 2013!! May the new year be full of joy, adventure, harmony, passion, health, and love!

"You finally fell in love," said Salo.
"Only an Earthling year ago," said Constant. "It took us that long to realize that a purpose of human life, no matter who is controlling it, is to love whoever is around to be loved."
Kurt Vonnegut in The Sirens of Titan (I just finished this insane and beautiful book).

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Day 6

Shalom friends and family from Kibbutz Lotan!! Here I am in the desert of Israel and I still can't believe it, how did I get so lucky! On Christmas day I got back on a plane, only 2 weeks after I had gotten home from Nepal, and I flew across the world to Israel. I'll admit I was a little nervous, I was leaving behind the people I had been longing to see for so many months, and I had certainly never been on a 15 hour flight by myself before. (Luckily my nerves soothed as I ate greasy airport pizza). It all turned out to be good and enjoyable - I slept, I ate, the usual - and finally landing in Israel was insane. One of my closest friends who I've grown up with made Aliyah to Israel this year and just became a soldier. He was given to day off to meet me and help get around Tel Aviv (Hi Elan! I hope you're reading this!) He ran up to me in the airport in his uniform and all and it was the most surreal and happy moment. (Elan I am so proud of you and more grateful for your friendship than you could know!) But truly, I am so thankful he was there to help because the next morning I had to catch a bus toward Eilat at 6:30 AM and I guarantee I never would have made it if he has not been there. When j got on the bus the tickets were sold out (naturally) so the driver said I would have to stand. I figured standing for 5 hours on a bus would not be so bad, what's 5 hours in the span of your entire life anyway? And hey it all worked out because someone didn't show up and I got to sit! And now, once again, here I am in the middle of a mystifying desert, surrounded by mountains, just feet away from the Jordan border.
Man oh man is the kibbutz groovy. I'm living in a mud dome and spend my days wandering the date plantations and watching the goats and cows. We learned how to make adobe mud bricks and today we began building a mud bench with trash-stuffed tires as the foundation. We've also been working in the garden and with the compost (today I learned how to clean a composting toilet!) I planted a little experiment of sunflower and red corn seeds to learn about germination and I've been trying to pick up some Hebrew (most people here are Israeli). The only words I've learned so far are "mangold" (chard), "balagan" (crazy mess), and "botz" (mud). Aside from the language barrier, I love the kibbutz. Of course everything is still new and weird and awkward but the desert sunset makes it all worth it. I know I'm right where I'm supposed to be! (And to my community, as always, when you are thinking of me, I'm thinking of you too).

Thursday, December 20, 2012

NuGo Celebrity!!!

I am extremely loyal to my favorite protein bars, Nugo Organics vegan double dark chocolate, so of course I brought a pack of them to Nepal with me. I managed to save a few for our final trek through the Himalayas and I took a photo of the wrapper with the mountains in the background thinking, "hey I'm going to send this in and be a NuGo celebrity!" Lo and behold, my five minutes of protein bar fame have arrived.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Langtang trek photos

view into Tibet from the summit of Tsergo Ri

Phurba eating potatoes that we cooked in a yak dung fire

Day 88

" I must reveal to you that I am not one of the divine who march into the desert and return gravid with wisdom. I've traveled many cookfires and spread angel bait round every sleeping place. But more often that the getting of wisdom, I've gotten episodes of giardiasis, e. coli, and amebic dysentary. Ai! Such is the fate of a middle class mystic with delicate intestines."  - Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes

I woke up on the first morning of the trek in an icy tent at the base of Langtang National Park, feeling more sick than I have this entire trip. I had been tossing and turning all night, nauseous with sharp stomach pains, and once I crawled out of the tent I could hardly stand up straight.  My tummy was so bloated that I looked three months pregnant, and any thought of food was repulsing. My dear giardia bacteria was back and stronger than ever. I cried not out of pain, but at the prospect of my fate on the trek. I struggled to walk, let alone carry a heavy pack into high altitudes. I was so angry at my body for feeling so weak at a time I so badly needed and wanted my strength, and at the beginning of a journey I had so long been looking forward to. I knew it was going to be an extremely difficult day. Once my tears dried I distributed some of my pack's weight to my friends, and set off for the trail at an infinitely slower pace than the rest of the group. It was frustrating but so is life. The most challenging part of that first day was that my mind was so preoccupied with the constant churning of my stomach that I couldn't appreciate my surroundings. The following few days I stayed slow, chewed a ton of pepto bismol, and kept a strict diet of plain rice. The morning I finally woke up with a non-bloated stomach was revolutionary and from then on I only began to feel stronger and stronger. The Himalayas didn't know what they had comin!
The first four days were long and full of high elevation gains. We criss-crossed and followed a glacial river (which we oftened bathed in even though the water felt like needles) and ascended the valley, passing the tree line. The environment became stark, the brown hills constrasted the bright blue, cloudless sky, when suddenly a big snow-capped mountain emerged at the end of the valley. We walked towards that first majestic peak, the trail lined with yaks, wild horses, and small tea houses run by the few Tamang people who live in the valley. As we went farther, more snowy Himalayan mountains came into view. We made it to Kyenjin Gompa, our first camp at around 13,000 ft, on Thanksgiving. We celebrated with meat from a baby yak that had died unexpectedly in a village we had passed (R.I.P. baby yak). It was delicious!! Our Sherpas surprised us to much joy and excitement with a beautiful, dutch oven-made apple pie, and after our feast I led everyone in going around and saying what we're thankful for. In that moment I was sending all of my love and bliss to my friends and family at home, but was feeling so unbelievably grateful to be in the middle of big white mountains under the brightly glowing stars of the universe. After spending one rest day at Kyenjin Gompa, a few of us set off to summit a near by peak, Tsergo Ri, which stands taller than any mountain in the lower 48 of the U.S. at 16,000 ft. The climb was close to five hours of slow, cold walking. The peak felt forever out of reach. The oxygen was noticeably getting thinner and thinner and our feet became slow and heavy. Each step required its own round of breath, a full inhale and exhale before I could move my next foot forward. The last stretch was over huge boulders, and the wind was so violent and my brain was so loopy from the altitude that I felt as though I was in danger of blowing over. I felt more and more nauseous and leaned against a huge rock to try and catch my breath in this seemingly no-oxygen zone. I thought I was on the verge of throwing up when I took a couple of steps up and all of a sudden revealed to me was a long range of huge snow covered mountains. It was the most unbelievable sight and I started crying at the insane otherwordly beauty. I somehow made it to the top and was again overwhelmed by pure bliss at the sight of those enormous peaks (but after a minute I had to stop crying my tears of happiness because it was just too hard to breathe). My brain spinning with endorphins, I was full of excitement. I made it to the top of a 16,000 ft mountain!!!! I am so strong!!! Even with giardia!! It was truly an awesome moment, in the sense of the word that it was actually "awe" inspiring. Our navigation Sherpa, Phurba Dorjee, led us in a puja to bless new prayer flags which we hung at the summit (Phurba grew up as a monk, educated in a monastery, so he often taught us puja's and prayers). It was an unbelievable experience. Reaching the summit of Tsergo Ri was the hardest I have ever physically pushed myself, but I am so thankful to my body and my mind for maintaining the strength and willpower and courage I needed to make it to the top! I feel ready to climb every mountain in the world!! Mt. Whitney here I come!! (haha) Anyway, we relaxed the next day (my leg muscles have never felt so incapable of walking) and the following day we left for high camp at Langshisa Karka, where the trail extends beyond any teahouses or occupied settlements. We set up our tents by a few abandoned yak herder huts (which we slept in the second night for warmth). It was unreal to be the only people in the vast valley, surrounded by dozens of roaming yaks and cradled by strong, cold winds. I never could have imagined in my life that I would experience such powerfully surreal beauty. At night we would hang out with the Sherpa staff, Phurba, Pemba, and Dendi, around a fire and teach them English tongue twisters, like "She sells sea shells by the sea shore," and obscure words like, "sludge," "treacherous," and "biodegradable." This was always a lot of fun, and they would constantly compete to see who could say "onomatopoeia" the fastest. However, the first night took an oddly haunting turn when one of our Thami porters began to feel really intense heart pains. A Tamang porter (who is also a shaman) explained that he had taken wood from beside a river which was meant as an offering to the water spirits, or nagas. He was possessed!! The shaman said the spirits were angry, and we ought to be weary when around the river. All night, the shaman performed puja's to protect us from the spirits, but we definitely began to feel a little spooked when we went to sleep (we started attributing our giardia and diahreeha to the spirits' discontent in our presence).
Nonetheless, high camp was beautiful, and I felt a twinge of sadness when we began the descent and I turned my back on that big snowy mountain we had followed for so long. Finally acclimated, my lungs felt strong and at ease as we headed back through the valley. We made it to our base at Syabru Besi on Saturday, a few days quicker than it had taken us to get up. Sunday morning we woke up at 5:30 am and packed up our tents for the last time in the dark. After breakfast we gathered our twenty porters and Sherpas to give them our infinite thanks. I feel so grateful to have had the opportunity and ability to communicate and get to know them. This was undoubtedly the most valuable portion of the trip to know Nepali. So many of them were around our age yet have led such drastically different lives trekking through the Himalayas. Two of our porters were 14-15 year old Tamang girls, one of whom is married. Despite their young, tiny bodies, they were strong enough to carry weight equal to the boys. I thought  they were really awesome and admired them a lot. Saying goodbye to all of our staff was hard and signified the end of our trek and my nearing departure from Nepal. And though the thought of leaving is hard to swallow, the Himalayas were the perfect note to end on.
Now we're back in Bhaktapur for the last few nights, and waking up in this familiar city where we began our trip three months ago feels odd and uncanny. Driving in the Kathmandu valley, I was surprised at how comfortable the surrounding chaos felt. It's wild that my time here is wrapping up so quickly, but I'm giving myself a lot of space and energy to reflect on all of the insane experiences that I've had in the last three months. I can't wait to share all of my joy and love with everyone at home in a few short days, but until then I'm going to enjoy every remaining moment I have in this insanely beautiful country!!!