Running out on the Hill………..Himalayan Dispatch

So what’s this Everest Base camp trek about then? Pilgrimage or punishment, depending on your point of view on the day.  Oh, and being a medical research guinea pig.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions. “Gym” had previously been a dirty word in my house. (Remind me again why I signed up for this?)

However, you know you don’t need the psychiatric referral when…… The Everest marathon runners bound past you on the trail. The marathon is 42km – Everest Base camp to Namche Bazaar, over some interesting terrain.

So what does lack of oxygen really feel like? A bit like you’re drunk.  A legal high (if you will).

You know you’re at 4,200m when……….. You go to change your socks, and put your boots back on, without actually changing one of them.

Wasn’t it bone numbingly cold? Only really at Base Camp at night. Tents perched on top of the glacier, and you get some good close-up’s of ice crystals in your tent.

And don’t folk get sick? (Remind us again why anyone in their right mind would do this?) Acute Mountain Sickness is one of life’s last great mysteries – you can’t tell who’s going to suffer.  Getting sick (as I did) may have helped the research.

Wouldn’t want to have a fear of heights either then? Getting over suspension bridges, was, for me, Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway, and A Course in Miracles (in action!).

The word of the day was? Bistaari – meaning slowly. (Too right!)
And what does the M in Group M stand for? Marvellous Mates, Mountain (sickness), and plain ‘ole Mad.

A very big thank you to Group M, and my friends at home. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without you all.

Written 17/06/07

Running out of….time and money…..final dispatch

Thought she had all the time in the world? Not when you’ve got to get to the church on time to be bridesmaid for your best mate.

 

So, the inheritance is spent, and the tan faded? I’ve gone (to the dogs), in Walthamstow. Living there, that is.

 

Quick recap please. (It can’t possibly be over, over!) The travel CV looks something like this:

Intrepid heroine moments:
Sailing high seas; crossing deserts and mountains; braving three cyclones, 45oC heat, rapids, jungles, earthquakes, giant red centipedes and wetas; missing planes; running for trains.

Medical expertise:
Been: seasick, sunburnt, bitten, bruised; had stomach bugs, heat exhaustion and bad back. (And that’s just the standard issue traveller stuff!)

Been a good Catholic girl:
Said my prayers in:  mosques, Jain, Sikh and Hindu temples; doing my Buddhist prayer wheels; Tibetan astrology; and receiving various blessings (and boy, did I need ’em!).

Getting there on anything that moves:
Planes, boats, trains, sleeper trains, buses, motorbikes, scooters, tuk-tuks, rickshaws, songthaews, bamboo raft, kayak, and the occasional elephant and camel.

Game enough to try:
Local beer and whiskey; kava; lassi; bush beer; bird’s nest and white fungus drink. (All in the name of science, you understand).

Gone native in;
Salwar kameez (India); krama (Cambodian headscarf); cheong-sam (Vietnam); pareu (Cook Islands); and daily fresh frangipani behind my ear (which I really miss).

Collapsed with exhaustion (from the above) in:
Old maharajah’s palaces, tents, hostels, fleapit guesthouses; on village hut floors, boats, beaches and trains; in 5 star hotels (despite thinking they’d ask me to leave at any moment).

Ooer. I’m dizzy just reading it. It has been an amazing journey.

Wot? No life lessons then? Erm. Yes. Those too. For me particularly: impermanence, the connectedness of all of us, letting go, and the importance of those you love. (Oh, and chopstick skills).

Aaww. A massive thank you to everyone for all your support, and taking the time to read my ramblings.

Written 07/08/05

Running out on Asia…………dispatch # 10

Asia? Wouldn’t it have been more sensible to stop there first time around the world? Bad planning, and a touch of fear.

And the new route? Vietnam, through Cambodia to Thailand.

Isn’t she tired? Homesick? Sounds dreadfully trite, but I might even be beginning to learn something.

She must be missing home-cooked food by now? The availability of snake, dog, frog, rat, scorpion and cricket as delicacies is enough to turn anyone vegetarian.

Being vegetarian isn’t all it’s cracked up to be either. In South East Asia, vegetarianism means tofu, morning, noon and night. If I never see another piece again, it’ll be too soon.

There must be something else to do besides eat? Lots of war relics and sites. Apparently, when a visiting American general saw the Cu Chi tunnels (used by the Vietcong), outside Saigon, he understood why they lost. Also, trying to sort out the various influences left over from the days of the IndoChinese empire.

Isn’t that all a bit dangerous? Only if you stray from the marked paths.

Can’t imagine the Health and Safety implications. Cambodia was worse. The Tonle Sap lake ferry has no safety railing, and crocodiles in the lake (I found this last bit out later). Plus no lifejacket demo on the flight between Siem Reap, and Bangkok. (Does that mean they don’t have any?)

And it was all worth it for? Angkor Wat – a temple complex of some 300 temples and ruins outside Siem Reap. Including Ta Phrom – the jungle temple, which has 300 year old trees growing in, around and out of the temple ruins. The conservationists are having a right headache in deciding what to preserve.

No need to read War and Peace. It’s all there in front of you. Monks, landmines, pagodas, temples, the Killing Fields.

Thailand must have been positively sane in comparison. It is, as they say in Asia, “Same, same, but different”.  Bangkok is like London and New York combined – on speed. One night may well be enough.

Sounds like a right headache. Until you go bamboo rafting up North, near Chiang Mai. Silence, save for the bamboo creaking, and the gentle dull clang of bells signalling elephants nearby.

Best bits? Being in Phnom Penh for New Year 30 (30 being a leftover from Pol Pot’s Year Zero social policy). Waterbombs are the order of the day. The Cambodian response is laughter, and the tourists, anywhere from game to annoyance to confusion. Sunrise over Angkor Wat.

Does that mean it’s over, and we’ll have to deal with her in person again? The King of Cambodia is looking for a wife. Should I apply?

Written 07/08/05

Running out on Western civilisation….Again….dispatch # 9

The US was great. After no TV and mobile for nearly two months. I can see why people regularly lose their heads there. I couldn’t wait to get out.
What? They let her in? I thought they were fussy these days? They let me in alright. Not before I had a quiet rabble-rouse in the queue for fingerprinting and mugshot, though. Treated us like criminals, they did.
And the good bits? Seeing a lady dressed head to toe in the American flag, including her luggage, made me laugh (and shake my head in disbelief!). And Guy Davies, an old school blues musician, live, was amazing.
Didn’t we see her in London there? A bad hallucination perhaps? No hallucination.  Was en route to India again. My planning skills need a little work.
Why on earth? (We knew she really was an old hippie at heart!) India really seems full of possibility. Despite the incongruity of it’s filthy streets, and how fastidious people are about their own personal hygiene.
And what route this time? I followed in some of Michael Palin’s Himalaya footsteps (by chance), through Kalka and the hill stations of Shimla and Dharamsala.
Tsk, tsk. She’s at it again. Hobnobbing with celebs (yawn). I didn’t actually meet Michael (more’s the pity). But I did see the Dalai Lama on my 30th birthday, in Dharamsala.
So much for being a good Catholic girl then? I went for a spin on the prayer wheels at the Buddhist temple most days. When in Rome…..
Nothing like a bit of multiculturalism eh? We were in Amritsar for the Hindu festival of Holi. The locals celebrate by throwing coloured powder at each other (and at as many unsuspecting tourists as possible).
Nothing better to do with their time? Well, there’s always the closing of the border between India and Pakistan . A very ceremonial spectacle (taken very seriously by the border guards involved), a bit like being at a football match.
Sound like it’s all go, then? I do miss the peace of Dharamsala; sitting on the balcony in my favourite cafe, listening to the Dalai Lama chant prayers in the temple below.
That’s it. We’ve lost her for sure now (hooray!!!)

Written 24/06/05

Runnning out on the South Pacific (blub!)….dispatch # 8

The silence has been deafening. (Thank God). Sorry gang. Not lost in the jungle, just yet.
So. How was the inaugural sea-leg testing experiment? I had about 3 hours in 3 days where I didn’t feel sick.
Less exaggeration please. She coped like a trooper, surely? Everyone, experienced or not, was sick. It was really rough. Wish I could say I trooped better.
Bailed out then, did she? (You just can’t get the troopers these days!) Had to anyway. Cyclone Nancy was on the way in.
Cyclones. Rough boat journeys. Thought this was a tropical paradise? I went from cyclone virgin to veteran, courtesy of 3 cyclones in 2 weeks.
She’s always on about the weather. Really! You do expect the sun to split the stones, not hurl them at you.
Tell the truth. It’s been an awful hardship, really. Brilliant sunsets, fresh coconut, duty-free. In February.
Stop. Stop now. I can’t stand it anymore. I’ve nearly forgotten how to text, and barely seen TV in 2 months.
What did people do before mobiles and TV? In the Cooks, people go to the airport to see friends off, meet other friends, even do business. And for jetblast. Listen to CNN (Coconut Network News), also known as the coconut wireless. Oh, and drink tumumu (Cook islands bush-beer).
Even on the other side of the world, in the middle of the ocean, you can’t go anywhere. (Serendipidity really). Ran into Mary (Irish friend I’d already run into in New Zealand), and her mate Hilary. Again on Rarotonga. Totally unplanned.
What about this fella her Dad stayed with in the Cooks in 1956? Found his son. It took four weeks, what with telephones down, and business premises damaged.  They treated me like their own daughter.
Getting in with the locals, eh? (Knew she didn’t really want to leave) I was still packing half an hour before going to the airport, and was the last to get on the plane. In floods.
So. It isn’t a case of if she goes back to the Cooks. It’s when. Even the bus driver was treating me like a local.
And a final note on flower wearing protocol. Left ear means you are single. Right ear means you are spoken for. Both ears, means you are confused!
Written 05/05/05

Running out on dry land……………..dispatch # 7

Where is she now then? The Cook islands.
Never heard of ’em. (Anything to do with Captain Cook of the Bounty? Named for him; northeast of New Zealand, in the South Pacific ocean. Special because my parents met on the boat going there in 1956.
You know you’re in the middle of nowhere when……………… (On arrival), international phonelines, ATM’s and the internet are down; no international roaming on the mobile; and the only place on the island that sells Cook Islands SIM cards, is out of stock.
Back to the old-fashioned methods of the drum and pigeon post then? Thankfully, it was a temporary glitch. The satellite that points at the Cooks had stopped pointing there. (The drums are actually still used in emergencies though)
Crossing the international dateline (on the way here from Fiji), is groundhog day all right. You get two consecutive days of the same date.
And as if crossing the dateline wasn’t enough. The heat and insects are enough to drive anyone troppo.
She’s making new friends already. Itchy and Scratchy.
Occasionally, it is like going a couple of rounds on “Survivor”. (Vanuatu’s not that far away really). All the islands; camping; limited electricity supply, Nearly everything you consume has to be shipped from the main island or mainland.
The bus is a big event on Rarotonga. It’s the only thing that runs on time, and there’s only one per hour.
Going to church on Sunday in the Cooks really IS a religious experience. Pacific island voices, singing traditional hymns, in Cook Islands Maori – simply amazing.
Given the heat, insect, and money situations, that water’s looking very appealing indeed. (And she is in the islands after all). Am bailing out onto a marine research boat for a little while, called, incidentally, the Bounty Bay.
National Geographic, here I come. Hmmm.
Written 09/02/05

Running out of New Zealand………dispatch # 6

Not in Asia then? Thankfully. A very big thanks to all for concerns expressed.   [Note 13/03/09.  The tsumami in Asia had just happened as I wrote this email]
That was a long time down under in New Zealand. Seeing family, plus attending a lady’s 50th wedding anniversary party. Dad was at her wedding in 1954, while on his travels.
Plus pushing her boundaries, trying new things. Sailing a Laser 2 (Olympic class boat). Tried out a seabiscuit (inflatable tube pulled along by a speedboat). And kneeboarding.
They do say God loves a trier. Have to say I won’t be trying the kneeboarding again. I’d probably need surgery afterwards.
And now? Still down under? Have been happily marooned (mostly) on outer islands in Fiji, including one called Robinson Crusoe. The resident cat there is called Friday.
So it’s all blue seas, sky and friendly locals?(sounds like her last package holiday)
Not when one of the islands you get stranded on overnight means sleeping in a (full) 30 – bed dorm, uncertain shower water supply, with beer cheaper than water, and unhelpful staff.
There must be some good stuff. Sitting in a hammock, sand between your toes, South Pacific ocean lapping on the shore, sky full of stars through the palms. Sleeping on the beach under the stars. Seeing a baby reef shark for the first time, out snorkelling. Well now, let me see……….
She’s definitely on Fiji time then. Am having difficulty knowing what day it is, let alone write this.
The sunshine must be a welcome change from bad weather in New Zealand. Sure is, despite the odd cyclone passing through (the Pacific, not specifically Fiji). We get the windy bits from that.
What is kava really like? (And has she been downing truckloads?) Not like orange juice anyway, like you’re told. It looks like muddy water. Feels like local anaesthetic in your mouth, nice and chilled out. Not so much buzz. (And no, not loads)
This is all totally legal? Sure is. If you wish to visit a village, it’s proper protocol to bring some for the village chief. There is also a ceremony for drinking it called sevusevu.
Unlike the bootleg beer then? Store in Nadi stop selling beer at 1pm on Saturdays. Unless you know the right people.
She must be using something else for sustenance. Fresh coconut, and nearly ripe mango in a sweet/salt liquid, are amazing. And raw Emperor fish. As I discovered after watching one of the local lads eat this same one I caught, raw, sitting in the ocean.
Polynesian dance lessons might be pushing the boundaries alright. Sure did. It’s nowhere near as easy as it looks. But I gave it a go anyway.
What does FIJI stand for? Fun In Jungle Island.
Written 21/01/05

Runnning out on the South Island……..dispatch # 5

Tell the truth. She’s gone bush, and forgotten us already. Cheeky! Actually, got a bit homesick there last week – first dose.
So why’s it taken so long? Meeting lots of interesting people.
Pah! All those hippie/beatnik types no doubt. There is those, but a surprising number of people who also just handed their notice, and got on a plane.
Are all the tales about backpacker accomodation true then? At best, the hostel is lovely, and your roomates cool. At worst, there isn’t room to swing a cat, and you want to throttle your inconsiderate roomates.
And the worst thing about travelling alone? Not having your mate to nudge and say “Hey, that’s cool”, or to have a bloody good moan to.
Surely she’s tanned and thin as a rake by now? No and no (more’s the pity). Work in progress.
What about that sunkissed babe we were promised? I’ve had snow and cold, and am permanently hungry. However, I do have some blonde highlights.
But she must be doing something right. I got asked for ID in the supermarket buying beer last week. They ask for ID in New Zealand if you look under 25.
Quote of the day. M = EA. Mishap equals excellent adventure.
Latest intrepid heroine moments? Kayaking on Doubtful Sound. Staring down seals and clambering up cliffs (we didn’t check the tide tables properly) in Kaikoura. Chasing whales in rough weather.
Oh, and the earthquake. 7.2 on the Richter scale. Managed to miss that. On a bus at the time.
National Geographic won’t be head-hunting her just yet then? Damn!
And the obligatory skydive? Er, no. Anyone fancy jumping with me?? (Thought not)
Written 08/12/04

Running out on the wildlife……………dispatch # 4

A funny thing happened on the way to Diwali. I thought she was in New Zealand? I am. Just couldn’t resist the prospect of more pani puri, and chai.
What’s Diwali anyway? The Hindu New Year – a festival of light and new beginnings.
And this funny thing? Running into Mary Leonard in the town hall in Auckland. A girl I grew up with in Bantry.
So it’s not six degrees of separation then? Not even. Ran into another guy, friend of my cousin. I served him his beer in the Anchor in 1992.
So, is she ever going to get India out of her system? (Are you sure there isn’t some fella involved?) I will. Is just taking a while. There’s the whole Pacific ocean to come. And no, no Bollywood hunk.
Wasn’t she going to do some family research or something? Hold the drum roll please.  My Kiwi mother is of Irish – English extraction.
Aww. Nothing juicy then? No Polynesian princesses, unfortunately.  But there is a tale of a murder charge, and subsequent name change.
Now for the big one. Is she going to do a bungy jump? No way.  Not on your life (or mine).
Any earthquakes? Not yet. But I have climbed Maunghawhau (Mount Eden), a volcano.
Running out on the wildlife? A weeta (large, ugly grasshopper) in my room at 2.30am, nescessitating waking my cousin out of sheer fright, is pretty wild all right.
Written 07/11/04

Running out of chai……………dispatch # 3

So, it’s all over then? (Blub!) After all that; bitten, bruised, tired, I actually didn’t want to leave India.
Bit bereft without the group eh? Who would have thought it? But yes, missing them a bit.
High points of the Indian adventure? The people, masala chai, camel safari, being rescued from the storm in the desert, Jaisalmer, Pushkar, the lassi, Taj Mahal, Varanasi – the Hindu Mother Goddess ceremony (Ganga Aarti), pani puri (street food).
What’s this about lassi? Let’s just say it’s excellent.
Worst bits? First overnight sleeper train journey, not being able to stay clean all the time, having days that were both delightful and frustrating.  So more good than bad.
Lessons learned? (Don’t they just keep on biting you on the backside?)  Stay cool, keep it simple, have a little faith.
And how was Singapore? Terribly clean and functional, especially after India. But no soul. Unlike India.
Always take the weather with you? The bad weather followed us through after the storm, there were thunderstorms in Singapore, and now it’s raining in New Zealand……
Written 26/10/04