We interrupt the recounting of an epic journey to share a writing exercise I worked on recently. Studying the use of language and spunk in Nikki Giovanni’s epic poem “Ego Trippin‘”, we were asked to create our own version:
The Authentic Fire
Rumors of extinction abound
Whispers of a last dying race
I shun those hollow murmurings of a tired and jaded populace
The Movement is strong
We are here for the good story
The epic story that lasts
One heroic endeavor after another
A shining force of life
I saw all of the other colors
Brunette, black and blonde
And I shook my head and smiled
Reveling for hours at my incredible fortune
There is no greater happiness than the happiness that comes
From being a redhead
Others fuss and fight their nature while
I continue to find the blessings
There will be no extensions
There will be no self-hate or hasty dye jobs
There will be no Jose Eber Secret Hair
But there is a tenderness
Pains comes swiftly and crippling sometimes
For that there is scientific proof
Nonetheless, I am one fiery ball of reckoning
And I will be happy to show you proof
I fly high over the tedious and worn-out assumptions
Bucking stereotypes right and left
My temper flares no more than yours or theirs
My drapes and my curtains
Are none of your damn business
It began with curls and copper
And transcended categorization at every turn
It is spun gold from the land of Rumpelstiltskin
It flows with abandon like the mighty Nooksack
To force or tame it would be akin to slicing the horn off a unicorn
Do not tangle with the magic and the fantastic
I am the authentic, natural masterpiece
Earth, fire wind and water unravel through my glory
The past, present and future intertwine my raging locks
I mean … I … know the full meaning
Of this redheaded wonder
There is no stepchild to beat
I am not sure if I ever mentioned before that one of our main purposes for setting out on this trekking journey was to take in the awe-inspiring, life-affirming views that people experience while trekking through the Annapurnas. It makes sense. This is the Himalayan mountain region after all.
Incidentally, we had a bit of a hard time actually seeing the views of the mountains. It seems that this was another result of the intense drought that had cursed the nation of Nepal for the past eight months. The sky this time of year was much hazier than it normally is. Typically by now, the monsoon rains have set in so every late afternoon received a fresh shower to clear away the clouds and reveal the gleaming splendor of the mountains.
On the morning of the day we would hike up to see the view from Poon Hill, we were super energetic and hopeful that finally we would be able to feast our eyes on the sensational sunrise views that everybody raves about. Normally, the view we were trekking all this way to see looks something like this:
So we roused ourselves at about 5 a.m. and headed out into the darkness to make our way up to Poon Hill. This was a bit of a challenge since our bodies and our minds were still wanting to be nestled up in our tea house beds for another hour or so. But we made it to the top and were able to capture one shot of the sun rising over the mountain. And that was nice. It was.
And it was gratifying making it to the top of Poon Hill, especially so early in the morning. I would like to take this opportunity to point out that in many other places in the world, Poon Hill would be considered a mountain, but since it is up against the backdrop of peaks such as Macchapucchre (22955 feet) and Annapurna (26,545 feet). From the initial starting point of our trek in Naya Pul outside of Pokhara all the way up to Poon Hill involved an increase in elevation of 5480 feet. So we were impressed with our effort.
And when we got to the top, this is what was awaiting us:
Yes, it seems that the five days we chose for our trek through the Himalayas was one of the haziest five days in the history of forever. But there was some degree of magic in the view we did get to see from the top of Poon Hill in that it reminded me of those bizarre Magic Eye posters from the early 90s that have some sort of hidden image lurking in them if you relax your vision enough to see them.
Wait for it…..
Wait! Don’t give up! Scroll back up to it and try again. Maybe switch the angle of your computer screen a bit so that the glare does not block the view of our majestic mountain range.
Or perhaps you need to turn off that overhead light that is glaring down on your desk.
Keep trying! It really is there in the deep blue distance. Trust me.
Well, if you need to, you can always scroll all the way back up to the photo I selected from google images to demonstrate what the view is really supposed to look like.
Or you can take in the view of the mountain we finally got to see in the early morning on the last day of our trek.
All the way along our trek, the hillsides we scaled and the valleys we cut through were stunningly beautiful. The scenery along our route was nothing short of spectacular. We were able to climb deep into the middle of the Annapurna foothills and that was a wonderful and empowering feeling. Even though some days full of climbing were tougher than others, we did feel tough and strong and proud of our bodies at the end of each day.
Many of the trails we followed along led us right through the backyard or outer edges of the local people’s property. The houses were perched precariously on some nice tiered outcropping of land. Every yard we passed was full of bright red and pink flowers shouting out in forceful bloom.
And, of course, from time to time we saw some very cute children.
And some precious little old men hanging out in trees.
Everyone who lives and works up in this region of Nepal leads a life that revolves around finding ways to obtain the basic necessities for living. Plumbing and sewage systems are not terribly modern here. And that means that whatever people cannot grow in their gardens or buy from their neighbor’s gardens has to be hiked in on pack mule or on people’s backs. Most of the people who live in this area subsist on farming the land.
At one point, we stopped to chat with a farmer and pet his goats. Then we found that his neighbor had a cow who had just given birth about two hours earlier that same morning. We ooh-ed and aah-ed and snapped a handful of pictures and managed to take footage of the calf’s first steps as he went to suckle from his mama. It was pretty magical.
Of course, a substantial portion of our trek, especially during the final day of the trek, was spent climbing back down through the river valley. This descent was perhaps even harder on our bodies than the rigorous ascent since we felt it more in our joints than our muscles. But the hillsides in every direction were gorgeous so it was still a lovely journey.
Every afternoon or evening we would reach our stopping point for the night and stay at tea houses. These tea houses seemed quite similar to hostels most of the time. The rooms were pretty basic with just some beds and some bedding and perhaps the occasional middle-of-the-night rodent visitor. But after hours and hours of trekking, any bed would be welcomed into my life so we loved rolling up into the tea houses at the end of the day to shower and relax our weary muscles.
Some of the tea houses were set up like big ski lodges almost. The one we stayed at in Ghorepani on the night before heading up to Poon Hill pre-dawn the next day was lovely with a huge fireplace in the dining hall that had benches set up around it where one could hang the clothes they washed and warm up their toes.
The little town of Ghorepani also had a small museum of traditional artifacts of the people of this region. Unfortunately when we first stopped by the museum, the doors were locked so Noganrai went through the town asking around and finally was directed to this lovely woman who was in charge of the museum.
The museum doesn’t seem to get a lot of visitors these days so this it normally spends most of its days locked shut so this was a special treat for us. It was one small room full of dusky old items including old kitchen utensils, baskets, costumes, jewelry, pots and pans. On one shelf to the side sat these adorable hand-made flip-flops. The size of the coin I put next to them to show their proportion is around the size of a quarter.
One of our favorite evenings coming in from a full day of trekking to the tea house was when there was a cannonball table set up outside. Yes! Cannonball is a game that in the same family as checkers mixed with pool, perhaps. The nuns from Arya Tara had already showed me the ropes of how to play Cannonball since they have an old beat-up board in their library, but when we gathered around the Cannonball table with Surya, Noganrai and a few of the other porters, the competition got fierce.
Basically, you are assigned to either white or black and then you have to use a special clear chip (functions like the cue ball) to flick in one of your chips in one of the holes that are in each of the four corners. It takes a considerable amount of finesse and control to be a solid Cannonball player.
It turns out that bashful, unassuming Noganrai was a bit of a hustler. He claimed at first that he used to be pretty good back when he was younger. And then he proceeded to school everyone at the table. One by one he picked them off like it was nothing. Luckily, at one point I got to be on the same team as him, so I didn’t mind that he was a bit of a hustler in the end.
Unfortunately, I was not at all skilled at the game of Cannonball, and to be quite honest, my performance suggested that my aptitude for the game would probably not improve too much even after many hours spent practicing. Nonetheless, I had a blast playing this game and would love to own a Cannonball board some day.
One of our goals for our time in Nepal aside from our time volunteering at the monasteries was to explore some of the Himalayan mountain range. We didn’t have the funds or the gumption to tackle the Everest base camp trek (this time around), so we decided to head west to Pokhara. We had a couple of strong recommendations for guides so we signed up for a trek into the Annapurna mountain range.
The Annapurnas are a collection of peaks in the Himalayas that includes the 10th highest summit on earth, Annapurna I, at 8,091 meters. Overall there are 14 different peaks in the range that are more than 8,000 meters in height. The fatality rate for climbing the Annapurnas is pretty bleak, at 40% so we were content (and realistic in regard to our physical abilities and lack of appropriate gear) to choose a route that was a wee bit tamer than some of the longer, hardcore Annapurna treks that are available.
We were pressed for time between our commitment at the monastery and our foray into the world of Vipassana meditation that would come after our trek so we decided to tackle the Poon Hill/Ghorepani trek that would take us through the foothills of the Annapurnas over the course of five days. It would still hopefully give us access to some of the most spectacular views of the Himalayas so we were thrilled to be embarking on an adventure that would be physically challenging and wondrously gorgeous.
For our first day, we wound around and up and down and then up, up, up through a river valley to our first overnight stopping point of the trip. Along the way we saw several water buffalo.
This trek was a wonderful opportunity to explore a different area of Nepal and to see the way of life of the people who live in this region of the world. Once you climb deep up into the foothills and beyond, there are no major highways let alone roads that any motorized vehicles can surmount. Your only option is to haul anything you may want or need on a pack mule or on your back.
For our trek, we traveled in a group of five people consisting of Cousin Shannon, Cara, our friend from the volunteer program, Surya, our trekking guide, Noganrai, our porter and me. Surya, who’s name means sun in Sanskrit, definitely had a sunny personality. He laughed and joked and was incredibly eager to teach us a handful of different Nepali folk songs. Initially, we obliged, but eventually his bubbly energy grated on my nerves like fingernails to a chalkboard.
At some points during the trip, we would spend hours and hours and even entire days climbing up endlessly steep inclines, basically scaling an entire small mountain before lunch. As we would be huffing and puffing with sweat dripping off our brow in cascading rivulets, Surya would approach each one of us in turn and whisper, “Bisteri, bisteri, mati, mati (slow, slow, up, up).” Perhaps even the first time he whispered that phrase at me, I was unimpressed with his sentiments. And normally, any remotely sentient being would be able to interpret from my body language and piercing glare that I was not inclined to enjoy his condescending whispers of “encouragement”.
One piece of advice he gave us along the way that was helpful was to remind ourselves of the fable involving the tortoise and the hare. When climbing up those really steep inclines, it worked best for each of us to find our own steady and sure pace that we could sustain over a long period of time. We would still stop and take water and rest breaks here and there, but that helped to make even the most challenging climbs manageable.
Eventually, we came to the realization that Surya had the maturity of a 5-year-old and was impervious to any sort of non-verbal communication efforts. Incidentally, he had horrible listening skills when it came to having verbal conversations in English as well. His English ability was quite strong, but any time we would ask a question, he would cut us off and answer a different question and, similar to five year olds, not have an attention span sufficient enough for us to get our actual question answered.
I don’t want it to seem like I hate Surya (how can you hate a five-year-old?) but by then end of the trek, I was very content with us parting ways and never, ever having any kind of contact ever again. But aside from how impossibly annoying he was, he did manage to introduce us to this fantastic orange-colored berry that grows in the foothills of the Himalayas. Every time we were hiking along, he would spot them from the trail and we would climb up and harvest handful after handful of these delightfully sweet and juicy berries. Popping one into my mouth after several hours of uphill trekking transported me to a special berry-picking sanctuary inside my mind.
Our porter, Noganrai, on the other hand, was a wonderful, kind, soft-spoken gentle soul who was also very, very funny at times. For our entire five-day trek, he wore the same pair of jeans every day. I understand the need to pack light, but before we really climbed up higher to the point where the air became a lot cooler, it was very, very hot especially during the heat of the day. We would ask Noganrai why he didn’t opt to wear something lighter and more breathable like shorts. First he just smiled and shook his head. Eventually we got him to admit the real reason for not wanting to wear shorts.
“I have very skinny legs,” he said.
We burst out laughing. It had not occurred to us that Noganrai would be suffering through this excursion with sweat pouring off his face tucked inside a pair of heavy denim jeans due to vanity. That was preposterous! From that point on, it was decided that because of his commitment to vanity, he had earned the nickname “Chicken Legs”.