Nepal, a Reflection.
Before I went myself, I believed that trekking in Nepal would be a dangerous solo undertaking. I imagined logistics to be difficult, conditions to be sketchy, and resources to be unreliable. There were a lot of unknowns, which ramped up my anxiety. This was my first foray where cultural and language barriers were real concerns. I ultimately found the experience to be reasonably challenging but not prohibitive.
Sagarmatha is accessible nearly in the way that national parks in the States are accessible, which is pretty much blowing my mind. Seems that almost anyone could come trek at the top of the world if they have the time and money, not unlike how climbing Everest herself isn't so much technical as it is time-consuming and expensive. There is plenty of support for both; one need only make the investment that's appropriate for them. Sagarmatha is crazy with its guides and porters, coffee and beer, cake and soda, WiFi and solar power, nearly any amenity you could want - for a price. I was expecting, indeed looking forward to, a much more rustic and quaint experience despite the thousands of other trekkers. This just felt too easy. It was like hiking Mt. Whitney. Sure it's the highest peak in the Lower 48, but the standard route is a walk-up, a gimme. I don't say all of that to say that I was disappointed. I mean, it was the freakin' Himalaya. I'm just surprised, and yeah, ok maybe just a little disappointed. But I would've come anyways, because - like the national parks back home - there is a reason they're so popular. And I'd rather see these incredible places amidst an overwhelming crowd and fanfare than not see them at all.
The mountains themselves easily live up to the hype, but the experience of trekking in Nepal has been diluted, watered down by commercialism and foreign influence - at least from my perspective. Of course that's my privilege talking. Or is it my backpacking elitism? Easy for me to condemn amenities which I don't require and for which I am unwilling to pay. Now. All of that said, the lodges were quite nice, and I don't hate having my own room for 500 NR/night. And remember, I paid this much for a bunk in a tiny room with three other guys back in Kathmandu. I am in no way complaining, but rather offering an honest perspective of a long distance hiker who values challenges and solitude. One of my new friends, Sylvi from Belgium, put it quite well. The "villages" where we stay on the EBC and the Three Passes aren't authentic villages. They're capitalistic enterprises that have sprung up - or perhaps morphed - to fill a niche for foreign trekkers. Staying in these places is not a cultural experience like the one I got on the approach from Phaplu or on my side trip up the Bhote Koshi. Those few experiences felt far more authentic than the experience I had on the trek itself.
I spent about 80% of my time in the high country being cold, often times feeling chilled to the bone. So often that's the deal on mountaineering and thru hiking adventures. They're amazing, and typically you'll spend most of your time uncomfortable: too hot, too cold, too wet, too dry. Really makes the perfectly comfortable moments so sweet. And funny how looking back on the experience, the adventure stands out while the discomfort seems to just evaporate from memory. I like that. Endure the discomfort in the moment, but I get to do so with the knowledge that it'll pass and ultimately fade. The flip side is that conveniently forgetting the discomfort means that I'm ready for the next adventure even before I've finished editing/posting photos from the last. I think life is like that when we really love it. There are always challenges, but those difficulties pass and fade when we're where we want to be and when we're with the people we want to be with.
I realized as I boarded the second leg of my return flight in Kunming that some of my biggest struggles with the Asian-Indian culture are the lack of personal space, the endless hassling/soliciting (especially vendors and taxis), and the ambiguity/fluidity of seemingly everything. I was aware of the latter two before I arrived - and able to manage my stress around those things because of my awareness that they're triggers - but the biggest stressor for me is the previously unrealized former. People are constantly jockeying for position and sometimes will outright cut me in line. And even when they don't actively try to nudge me out of their way, they're way inside my personal bubble, often times when it's not even necessary. And it feels manipulative because they're so passive about it - baby steps, no eye contact, etc. I've naturally assimilated well as a matter of self-preservation, but I notice that I feel rude because this way of being feels disrespectful and is counter to my cultural values. On the flip side, I'm nobody's door mat. I'm an assertive advocate for myself and others, so I found myself trapped between these two values. And within the Asian-Indian cultural context, those values felt mutually exclusive to me. Although I understand intellectually that acting in this way isn't disrespectful here, it took me until my return trip to realize that the emotion that was eating away at me was resentment. I didn't like feeling like a jerk, because I don't believe I am, so feeling that way challenged my identity. And feeling forced into that role out of self-preservation in a foreign land made it easy to blame cultural norms and ultimately to feel powerlessness which led to resentment. I couldn't figure out why I've felt so annoyed and impatient as often as I have over the last month. I'm normally not so quick or frequent to those emotions. It finally clicked, and I felt a physical release of tension throughout my body when it did. I felt at peace, finally. And while I desperately wish I'd had this revelation earlier in my trip, I'm so grateful that I had it at all. It came to me at one of my very last opportunities.
It's been months now since I returned from three weeks in the Himalaya high country of Nepal. It was an unbelievable experience. And yet, I found it to be unfulfilling. It was gorgeous and amazing, yes. I don't regret the trip. But looking back, I realize that every adventure I've been on in recent years has left me feeling less and less satisfied. I'm longing for someone with whom to share my life. Finding my soulmate only highlighted the discontent that's been welling up inside me the last few years. We've since broken up, and I'm second-guessing everything I thought I knew about myself and about love. My grandmother recently said to me: "There aren't enough days in the life, nevermind hours in the day." She's right, of course.
Mallory and I broke up because we wanted different things, then I realized that I want exactly what she wants, and I want it with her. I made a fool out of myself trying to get her back. Certainly I've made some ugly mistakes these last few months, but I'm only human, same as anyone else. And it's natural to fight for the things we care about. Better to have been a fool for love than a coward for self-preservation, I hope. Anyways, none of it mattered. She was already gone, seeing someone else. She wouldn't even talk to me. They say when you love someone that you have to let them go. It's a visceral pain like I've never felt before; it's a longing that radiates every minute throughout my body. I can't sleep, can't eat. It's a cliche. I just love her. And because I love her so deeply, I'm letting her go. I'm grateful for our time together, for the ways she challenged me and helped me grow, and for the love I felt in our relationship. I didn't know that I could love like that, and I hope one day to be loved like that in return. Goodbye, my sweet love. May you allow yourself to feel and love deeply, to dare greatly, and in so doing may you find your heart's deepest desires.