October 5, 2012
The Journey is the Destination
The Changing Path
It came up so fast – tomorrow I board a Thai Airways flight to Bangkok, then on to Kathmandu to begin the adventure! Thing is, it’s not the adventure I’ve been sharing with you for the last several months. At all. I stopped sharing because, quite frankly, I had no idea what to say. I’m still coming to terms with my feelings about how this trip has evolved, and I swing from hating every second and wanting to cancel it to knowing that once I get there, it will be overwhelmingly, jaw-dropping amazing and I will forget that it’s not the trip I planned.
Expectations are dangerous. And painful. They truly are the cause of our suffering. I expected to go to Everest. I expected to see Nepal, Bhutan, and maybe even Tibet with a friend. I expected to be perfectly healthy and in great shape by now.
Expectations suck. They can be shattered.
Here are the highlights, the pieces I can put together and make some sort of sense of at this point.
I wanted to go to Everest Base Camp. I’ve always wanted to go. Wade Davis, my first inspiration to become an ethnographer, recently wrote a book about Everest. Talking with him about his experiences at a lecture at the Bowers Museum back in March just sparked the fire. I was going to do it!
I psyched myself up for it, told all my friends and family, and even blogged about it. I trained hard – but wait. Something was wrong. I was getting short of breath, light-headed, and even passing out on training hikes that were a bit challenging, but should have been easy for me. They weren’t easy. I thought my asthma was acting up again. So I went to my primary care doctor, who sent me on to a cardiologist.
The good news is, I don’t have asthma! The bad? Asthma was a misdiagnosis from way back when. What I do have is two different congenital heart defects. They’re minor, but for some reason that we still don’t understand I also have mild pulmonary hypertension which is causing my symptoms and is likely related. My western doctors have been great at doing tests, and more tests, and more tests, and fine-tuning the diagnosis. We are still in that process, and I still need more tests when I get home. However, they have done NOTHING to address the shortness of breath and dizziness while exercising. Zero.
I did find a wonderful acupuncturist and specialist in Chinese Medicine, Michael Vercos at Pacific Bay Integrative Health Center in Santa Monica. Between the herbs and the acupuncture, my cardio world has changed. I never realized how it really felt to run – I never knew I shouldn’t be gasping for air, feeling faint, and getting a migraine a few hours later like clockwork. With his treatment, I am improving. However, I am still far from normal.
Because of this, I know I will be slower than the rest of the group at high altitude – and maybe even at lower altitude. I thought it was best to be honest with the trekking company, and perhaps hire an extra porter/guide to stay with me if I ended up being too slow, so I didn’t hold up the group. Nobody wants to be That Person, but since I knew there was a chance, I thought I’d be prepared.
Big mistake. Huge. Ethics suck.
Although they were very polite about it, the trekking agency made it clear that they really didn’t want me on the Everest Base Camp trek. They gave me the choice, but the tone was clear – if I chose to go, they would consider me a liability from Second One. I felt like I wasn’t wanted. I was devastated. I don’t feel like it would have been fun to go where I’m not wanted, and where everyone immediately considers me a pain in the ass. Hiring an extra porter wasn’t an option they really wanted to offer. Instead, they offered to switch me to another trek – Annapurna Sanctuary – which is lower altitude, and well within an altitude I have successfully tackled before. I switched. I want to hike with people who want me hiking with them. So. Annapurna Sanctuary, it is.
Another issue with the switch is that it’s a shorter trek. This has pros and cons. The main pro is that China is not issuing Tibet Permits in October. The shorter trek leaves me a potential window if they begin issuing them again in November, so it’s possible I can still make that work. We’ll see. The cons are numerous, from the disappointment to having to pay for an extra week’s lodging in Kathmandu at the end, which was still cheaper than changing my flight date. In the end, what should have been the less expensive trek ended up costing me more. I’m hoping to make good use of that time though, trying to get a Tibet Permit, or perhaps traveling to the south, or even just to Bhaktapur or some such place. I’ll make the best of it. But dealing with logistical changes and even a slightly different gear list has left me scrambling and stressed out rather than truly excited.
The Solo Travel
Then there was another change in plans. Although she didn’t plan to trek with me, a friend was supposed to join me for the first part of my trip. We were going to travel to Nepal together, then on to either Tibet or Bhutan, then I would return for the trek. A few weeks ago, she learned she was unable to go and she had to cancel. So here I am, traveling solo yet again. Now, for the record, I’m used to traveling alone. I enjoy it to an extent, and there are definite benefits. But this time, I was looking forward to company for at least part of the trip. I was still able to go to Bhutan, but as most of you reading this are probably aware, single supplements are the solo traveler’s punishment. For what, I’m not sure. For being too much of a loser to have a travel partner? Whatever. What it means is that Bhutan cost me twice as much as it would have in a group of two. Not a surprise, just yet another disappointment.
I was excited again when it seemed I might be able to connect with another friend who is traveling solo in Asia right now, but it turned out she’s arriving in Kathmandu the day after I leave for Bhutan, and she’ll be moving on before I return. I won’t see her either.
So. Solo it is. Story of my life.
At this point, with the flight tomorrow morning, I’m trying to get back in the game and remind myself that this is the beauty of travel. It always changes. The path you take is never the path you expected to take, and those detours are what make the memories. Like taking the Lares Trail when the Inca Trail permits were sold out, and meeting only locals along the way – no other trekking groups for days! Instead, we met farmers and herders who shared their lives, stories, and homes with us. Or driving from Victoria Falls back to Bulawayo in Zimbabwe, and running into a random guesthouse on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere, where we ate the best french fries in the world as a local reggae band started an impromptu party that mesmerized us into dancing for hours. Or taking a standard wine tasting tour in Stellenbosch, South Africa that unexpectedly ended with Mark Bilton of Bilton Wines inviting all of us back to his home for a tasting in his private cellar. Fabulous wines, by the way! Get your hands on them if you can!
It’s the moments you DON’T plan that are the best moments. The real moments. Life.
I’m off to live mine. xoxo