It’s very difficult to sleep in high altitude. Your body is tired, your head hurts, your breathing in slow gasps and the calm that often brings on slumber just won’t come. This is exactly what’s happening to us at 4130m, wrapped up in sleeping bags and down jackets, laying in a room with no heat and walls so thin we can hear our neighbours scrambling in search of their own peace. We are at Annapurna Basecamp, in the Himalayan region of Nepal, waiting for the show we walked 6 days to see – an amphitheatre of some of the tallest mountains in the world. Two full days of cloudy conditions had hidden them from view, leaving us trekkers very restless. But finally, nature obliged. Dawn is the magic hour and though mountains do not ring to signal their arrival, somehow the entire camp knew they were here. Our trek leader told us, on 8 hour long, uphill days: when you see the mountains, you’ll forget all the walking. Really, Tenzing? There’s been a lot of walking, not to mention other trekker travails such as headaches and constipation. Tenzing, as you might already have guessed by his name, is a Sherpa. Sherpa, as I learned on this trek, isn’t a job you do on the mountains, as in hauling stuff up and down the trails, it’s a people. Born and raised by this terrain, their bodies, inside and out, are built for high elevation. This is why Tanzing, buddha belly and worn out sneakers, can outpace our entire group including the very youngest and fittest. So, it is his words I hear immediately when I stumble out of my room and set my eyes on a ritual I have never witnessed before — mountains waking up.
The sun has yet to rise but they are visible in light of dusk, the way shadowy figures reveal shapes once your eyes get used to the dark. The shiver in my bones subsides and my headache clears, replaced by an exhilaration of finding myself surrounded by giant, jagged peaks. Being in the middle of it all can play tricks on your mind, the mountains feel close and attainable. At this distance, I can understand why adventurers decide to take on the challenge of climbing the world’s highest mountains. To look at them from basecamp, it seems possible. The only reminder of its dangers, a makeshift memorial full of names of those who tried but never made it. I stare at Annapurna I, the world’s tenth tallest mountain, for a long time. I can’t believe I’m face to face with such a force of nature. I feel like I’m on another planet.
For the next five months, I would have this feeling over and over again. Rowing down the Mekong River on a very slow boat. Or sitting still amongst the ruins of Angkor Wat. Or taking in the splurges of natural beauty that is New Zealand. I feel like I’m on another planet, I would repeat over and over again, shocked by the otherworldiness of these sights. But then I realized, I’m not on another planet .. I’m just on the part of the planet I never get the chance to explore. Like most people, my planet was a house in a city where I had a job. All very good things to have.
Except when it all becomes a wheel that continues to spin, no breaks in between. There’s just no way to see the world on two weeks vacation. By the time I was up and down the mountains of Nepal, fifteen days had gone by. It took two full days to travel down the Mekong River, the journey taking you through breathtaking scenery from the tip of Thailand to the heart of Laos. How could I possibly fit in this kind of travel on such short vacation time.
That’s how I finally convinced myself to get off the wheel. Just for a little while. Five months. Southeast Asia, Australia, New Zealand and Hawaii. This blog isn’t about how we did it, where we stayed, how much it cost and whether you should do it too. It’s just about what we saw and who met that made for a very convincing case to take a breather, see the world.