It started with a Groupon.
Well, not entirely. My fascination with the Himalayan region began back in 1998 when my Dad took me to the Seattle IMAX theatre to see the Everest documentary lead by Ed Viesturs and the IMAX team. The documentary depicted the successful summit as well as emotional losses of a Seattle based climbing team who were able to make it to the top of Mount Everest in the wake of the 1996 tragedy which had taken the lives of multiple, close climbing buddies of Ed Viesturs. Being able to experience the beautiful cinematography on such a grand scale was inspiring and left me yearning for a high altitude mountain adventure of my own.
Quickly fast forward eighteen years or so – Dam, the most adventurous spirit I know, and I had fallen in love, traveled around the United States for a few years and found ourselves back in Seattle where we had developed quite the mundane lifestyle. Convinced (mostly myself and Dam just appeasing my new found “aspirations”) that we were “adults” now and needed to obtain the typical nine-to-five, Monday-thru-Friday career, we immersed ourselves into the “American Dream” only to sacrifice what our dream truly was: live simply and travel.
As you can imagine, it became very boring, very quickly. Wake up. Go to work. Sit at a computer all day. Being in Seattle, maybe see the sun during the winter months, if you’re lucky. Commute home in rush hour traffic. Eat the same leftovers for dinner as the night prior since you had meal prepped for the week on Sunday. Finally, you stare at each other for a few hours before going to bed, only to wake up and do it all over again tomorrow.
I was living for the weekend and Dam was losing that playful glimmer in his eyes.
We knew what we needed and that was an adventure in a far away place.
Many New Year’s resolutions of world exploration came and went, yet somehow the finances never proved to work in our favor. Until 2014.
One night, after a few vodka sodas… okay, maybe more than a few… we decided to make a list of all the places we wished we could travel to so we could start putting plans in motion and also send our aspirations out into the universe. At the top of our list: Nepal.
Slightly hungover and with tired, puffy eyes, I made my way into work and opened my email to start the day. At the very top was a Groupon Getaways email, which I always enjoyed reading first thing in the morning. To my surprise and absolute excitement, this week’s featured getaway was a 17 day trek in Nepal to Mount Everest Base Camp, or in simpler terms, a huge sign.
Immediately, I called Dam with excitedly clammy hands and squeaked out the message. The sign that the universe had listened and we had the opportunity of answering. Of course, his equally excited response being “book it!”, and so we did.
Wanting to ensure that the trek would not seem as arduous, we began conditioning and training our bodies with uphill climbs and cardio for the next 7 months.
The mountains became our solace and the stair-master: our enemy.
I longed for the blissful days of not having to feel my lower half as shuffling with sore muscles around the office had become tiresome.
April 11, 2015 came quickly and because we knew the anticipation for day of travel would be brutal, we had booked the first flight out of Seattle. Arriving at our first layover destination, Vancouver, Canada, we had ample time to kill. Distracted by a tiny notebook sized numbers game I had picked up at the airport gift shop and Dam, beginning his first sequence in #handstandsindifferentlands, we nearly missed our flight headed for our second layover, Guangzhou, China. Fortunately for us, they called our names about 20 times before the light bulb flickered and we realized we were about to lose our seat.
We booked it to the gate, me: dripping sweat and anxious and Dam: relaxed with that adventurous twinkle in his eye.
After 36 hours of travel time, we exhaustively reached our destination at approximately 10:00 PM Nepali time. Landing this late was great as we had a better shot at sleeping through the entire night and adjusting quicker to the local time.
After a few hours of sleep, we received a slightly unpleasant wake up call, around 4:30 AM from our soon to be dear friend, Mr. Rooster. He must have decided it was time for his hens and the rest of the world to be awake, even though it was still dark outside. Dam and I played a quick round of cards to try and tire ourselves again, which surprisingly worked, and we were able to nod off until the beginning of breakfast.
Feeling refreshed and recharged, we made our way downstairs to find the most enticing breakfast spread we had ever seen. The buffet included everything from stir-fried potatoes with onions and peppers, chapati (Nepali naan), muffins, fruit, thick cuts of bacon/pork roast and even a chef attendant making omelettes (which were by far the best we’ve ever had).
As we gorged on non-airplane food, we chatted with two other trekkers, one from Canada and the other from The United States, and decided the four of us would embark on our own walking adventure of Thamel, the “tourist district” of Kathmandu.
The first impression Dam and I had of Nepal was the kindness of their people and how incredibly “zen” their animals were. Though Kathmandu is a bustling city full of “beep-beeps” from motor bikes and tiny cars, the rich feeling of “calm” encompassed us.
Smiling was our language and the Nepalese so beautifully reciprocated.
Decked out head to toe in trekking attire, I seemed to blend in with the other transplants walking around the city in search of last minute gear. Dam, on the other hand, standing easily a foot or more above the locals, stood out with his long flowing locks, bushy beard and beef-eater tribal tattoo. Every local man gravitated towards him, complimenting him on his style, his hair, but mostly, that tribal tattoo he had gotten right as he turned eighteen. They were enamored by the intricate boldness of the design and soon became the conversation starter of many newly found friends in Thamel.
Bicky, a local student enjoying his day off from school, approached Dam and I and struck up conversation about the tribal tattoo. After a little small talk, he noticed that we were from America and hoped he could join our walk through Thamel so he could practice his English. We eagerly agreed although our new tourist buddies were a bit reserved and not as enthusiastic at the time.
As we continued walking through Thamel, heading to the outskirts of the district and into the heart of Kathmandu, we each took turns sharing our story with Bicky and he with us. He told us about his family, the culture of the Nepali people as well as the differences and similarities between Buddhism and Hinduism. He lead us through markets and alleyways and showcased many of the various Buddhist stupas and Hindu temples scattered throughout the city: sharing the detailed history of each site.
We were completely enamored and fascinated by his personal journey and the love as well as pride that he out-poured for his culture.
We learned that he was studying to become a master of mandala art: a spiritual and ritual symbol of the universe created by the Buddhist monks. These intricate paintings are incredibly consuming and take months to complete as the artist uses a single yak hair to perfect the fine details of each piece. Bicky lead us to his school where he showed us some of his pieces of art as well as art that had been completed by the masters themselves. The detail and complexities were stunning and we were left speechless.
At the end of our tour around Kathmandu with Bicky, we really wanted to thank him in a special way since he has devoted so much of his time to familiarize us with his home. We asked what we could do and he very humbly declined. We were able to at least purchase a few groceries for his family as a gesture of gratitude but it was clear to us that our newly established friendship was enough.
As we met up with our team for the first time later that night, we noticed that the group consisted of people from all walks of life. Some had climbing experience, some seemed vastly under-prepared as their duffel bags consisted of high-heeled wedges, makeup and had little to no physical training in preparation for the trek. There were middle aged men, twenty-to-thirty-somethings and even a woman celebrating her 70th birthday. Even though everyone majorly different, we all shared the same enthusiasm for the adventure that we will be entering together for the next three weeks.
To me, the mixture of people seemed like an older, more “mature” casting for a MTV The Real World: Himalayas season.
But, instead of seven strangers, we had fifteen, and instead of living in a house together, we would share multiple guest houses, refrain from showering (most of us anyways) and embark on a physical journey that some may classify as the hardest and most physically and mentally demanding activity that they have ever attempted to complete.
I was too excited to sleep that night, so I gazed upon the moonlit curtains in our room, listening to the distant calls of our dear friend, Mr. Rooster as I awaited our 4:30 AM wake-up call: ready to set out on this journey of a lifetime.