May 24, 2013: Active Day 19, Buddha’s Birthday

Breakfast at Thamel Eco.  Photo credit: Michael Allen

Breakfast at Thamel Eco.
Photo credit: Michael Allen

Day 19 was the last official day of the Active tour. All the guests except me, Ele and Amanda were scheduled to fly out. I had opted way back in the planning stages to stay an extra couple of days because the later flight saved a considerable amount of money. It turned out to be an extremely auspicious decision. Dovile had the earliest flight out that morning. I woke up early with her and we went downstairs for breakfast and more girl talk with Stacy about (what else?) boys. DK, Ele, and Amanda still hadn't made it back from Lukla and had to tell her goodbye over the phone. It was a disappointing turn of events, but she handled it in stride. After all, her next stop was Dubai and the beach; not a bad consolation prize. When he was presenting our certificates in Lukla, DK referred to Dovile as his ray of sunshine, or something to that affect. Indeed she had been for all of us. When her cab whisked her away, our world got a little dimmer. I tagged along with Stacy and Kevin while they did their last-minute shopping. First they bargained for pants, next we stopped in a shop where Stacy hunted for the perfect bracelet. I wasn't in the market for jewelry but kept coming back to a key chain with a lotus carving. I asked if they had any of the same symbols on a necklace, and they pointed me towards some in different colors. I asked again if they had any in the same color as the key chain. The shopkeeper then pulled out a bag with the designs. I chose the one I liked and he designed a necklace for me right there, making it that much more special. Up the street we were drawn in to a shop because of its huge chunks of pink salt out front. I'm in hippie heaven!" I exclaimed excitedly when we walked in.
I'm accidently photobombing this one. Photo credit: Kevin Cordova

I'm accidently photobombing this one.
Photo credit: Kevin Cordova

There was tea, pink salt, and spices abound. We bought some for friends and family and continued on, eventually ending up in a souvenir shop selling typical tourist trinkets like magnets and postcards. Kevin and I both had our eye on a collection of magnets that looked more substantial than most. He said he was out of rupees so I told him to just add it to mine. "Are you sure?" "Dude, you're my EBC brother now, I think I can manage a $2 magnet!" From day one, Kevin was keeping our spirits light with his wit and humor. We owed much of the laughter on the trail to him. Stacy was the warmhearted sort who fostered homeless dogs back home and helped keep us connected like a family. Like Dovile, they had to settle for a phone farewell. DK and the girls had finally escaped the fog in Lukla and were on their way back, just not quite soon enough. Their cabs probably crossed paths going to and from the airport.
Thamel District

Thamel District

It was down to me, Mike and Sara. I also followed them along for their pre-flight shopping. Their list, rather than Buddha masks, singing bowls, or yak wool blankets, consisted of items like water sanitation tablets. The two lucky ducks weren't going home, instead they were continuing on their world tour and needed to travel light. When it was time to meet in the lobby for their cab, we all hugged them goodbye. Mike had been so friendly with everybody with his ability to talk about nearly any subject. He followed none of my rules for staying healthy (eating fried snickers bars for dessert... whaaat?) and was the strongest guest on the trip, impervious even to kerosene fumes. Mike could light up a room with his laugh, Sara with her smile. "Brother from another mother!" DK said to Mike when we gathered in the lobby to send them off. He got that right. All of us were now EBC brothers and sisters and I loved them like family. Somehow Mike ended up in charge of collecting the trip leaders' thank you card and tips and handed them over. I don't know how much they each ended up with, but whatever it was it wasn't enough. The more I think about it, the more I believe that there's no job on earth more important. The three of them took our world-weary souls and over the course of three short weeks filled us with so much love and light that when I got home and looked at my thinner, healthier body I wondered how my overflowing heart could still fit inside. To me, that's priceless. The HimalayanWe waved at Mike and Sara through the back window of the cab as they idled down the alley and then turned on the street. A tearful Ele said she was glad she didn't end up going through this in person multiple times. Hmmm, maybe that was why I suddenly felt so drained. All the goodbyes happened so fast and at the moment I was feeling quite lost and alone with half of my family missing. I sat on one of the seats in the lobby and stared at the local newspaper "The Himalayan" without really reading it. Someone suggested the remaining four of us go to dinner and I enthusiastically agreed before heading back up to the room. Amanda stopped by later and we enjoyed some more girl talk. She told me to meet them upstairs when it was time to leave for dinner. When the time came, I walked up and DK was already in there with his guitar. "He came to wake us up," said Ele. I grinned. "That's a nice wake up call."
♫ The one scarlet with the flowers in his hair ♫

♫ The one scarlet with the flowers in his hair ♫

We walked through the streets of Kathmandu and ended up at a familiar staircase. The Phat Kath; now infamous because of the hat DK sported on sunny days in the mountains. Once upstairs I stared at the chalkboard menu for a few minutes and was at a loss as to what to order. It all felt so foreign and complicated compared to the simplicity I was used to on the trail. So I asked a man who worked there what his favorite item was and ordered it. I couldn't pronounce it at the time and still couldn't tell you what it was. A huge delicious plate of something containing lots of everything, including the first meat I'd had in weeks. Next priority was a beverage. The tantalizing cocktail menu that was off-limits on our first visit a lifetime ago was now all mine for the choosing. It all looked good, and I opted for a Phat Kath just for the name. Moments later, I was surprised when not just one Phat Kath arrived, but two. It was happy hour. Excellent, what luck. Over the course of conversation we learned that tonight was Buddha's birthday and there would be a festival at the Monkey Temple. Whaaat?? We were so in. What could possibly be more awesome? Apparently my luck wasn't running out anytime soon. We finished our drinks and DK led us on to a second nightspot. We walked upstairs to another cool hangout that I remember as a blend of funky and sporty. My kind of place. We found a table by a window with a view of a flat in the building across the street. For some reason this made the Kathmandu seem more real to me and my gaze kept returning to the window, just so happy to be there. Ele and I sat on one side, DK and Amanda on the other. The cocktail menu was huge, and all of it looked appealing. How to choose? DK solved that problem when he said he wanted to order the first round and have us guess what it was. A game! Heck yeah, surprise us. The drink was green and dangerously sweet. Either Amanda or Ele correctly guessed what it was (I don't remember the name now) and we ended up getting a second round. It was harder to hear DK and Amanda so I spent most of that time bonding with my Kiwi sister. Something inspired a toast to "happy as!" and the three of us girls raised our glasses. Where was my Kiwi brother? Surely he needed to be in on this one. When he returned, we raised our glasses again. "Joust, to happy as!!" We were the luckiest people on earth that night. DK said something along the lines of it was our choices that created the luck. Ha, well then lucky us for being the sort of people who make good choices and for being born in places where more good choices are possible. DK and Amanda were talking about The Bhagavad Gita. He asked me if I'd read it. Of course I'd read it. What was blowing my mind as I nodded was that he had too. Seriously, where had these people been all my life? DK talked about a custom trip he wanted to organize in another part of Nepal. What he was describing sounded perfect. "Yes! Sign me up!" I said. I completely trusted his judgement by now, as he seemed to be a sort of magnet for all things awesome. Anything Nepal-related already sounded good, and his idea was unique enough to put it above the rest. We moved on to a third nightspot. This place was bright and spacious and featured some live music. Local boys played and sang in perfect English, you'd never know it was a second language to them. Ele and I looked the menu over and were won over by a drink featuring lots of coconut. DK sat down and immediately appeared to become one with the music. A guy came up to our table and asked for a light. Neither Ele or I had one. When the guy walked away, DK chastised us for missing an opportunity to invite him to join our party. "I'm trying to help you out," he said. I admit that I was completely oblivious to the fact that the guy's asking for a light was probably not the primary intention. Still, flirting with complete strangers on my second to last night in town wasn't high on my priority list. Yet. It was almost time to meet to go to the temple. We walked back along the way of the hotel where we said goodnight to Amanda, who wasn't super keen on Type III fun. From there it was back to Phat Kath. Ele put another drink in my hand. I smelled it and immediately my body told me I'd have to choose between that drink and the Monkey Temple. I chose the temple and held on to the drink without touching it. The place was hopping. We were introduced to a man who had just successfully summitted Everest. Mountaineering royalty!! We're not worthy!! How lucky were we to meet one of them! When Mike, Amanda and I talked psychology back in Rivendell I mentioned the Meyers-Briggs put me right on the cusp between introvert and extrovert. Alcohol definitely tips the balance in favor of the 'E'. Get a few drinks in me and I'll chirp away merrily at anybody about almost anything. I started jabbering excitedly at my new mountaineer friend and learned that he was from Canada and was a businessman. We had that in common so talked about it for a bit. I asked him about his future adventuring plans and he didn't seem too keen on tackling any mountains any time soon. Who could blame him, I had a hard enough time just keeping it together at the base camp. He mentioned he dedicated his climb to a worthy cause and I told him that was wonderful and threw an arm around him. This is something folks with my kind of heart line tend to do, though maybe not to people we just met. It might have been a bit much for the poor fellow but I was too drunk to care. He introduced me to his friend who also summitted, a doctor from down south in the US, maybe Louisiana. They gave me a hard time for not finishing the drink in my hand so I donated it to them. Soon the party moved downstairs to make the trek over to the temple. My new climber friends decided to join us for the walk over. I had no idea where the heck I was going, and depended on DK and Ele to lead us there. On the way she saw a statue and remembering what she saw locals do earlier, touched it where there was a deposit of colored powder, and then painted a dot on my forehead where the third eye would be. Perfect. The festival was like everything else I'd seen in Nepal. An eclectic mix of modern west and traditional east. Western tourists like ourselves joined the devoted Buddhists and circumvented the temple block in a clockwise direction. Occasionally I found myself side-stepping one of the devout when he stopped and dropped in the middle of traffic to worship face down on the ground. Wow, this was the real deal. It was so amazing to experience something like that in person, at the time there was no place else on earth I would rather have been. In keeping with tradition, some of the faithful were giving away food. As sentient beings, we were allowed to receive this gift and sat in plastic chairs under a canopy with other participants. I wondered if the food had previously been offered to and blessed by the monks. We only stayed long enough to taste a sample before giving up our seats so others could partake. Not long after, our climber friends decided to call it a night. I continued on with DK and Ele and attempted to communicate what I liked about them as Kiwis so much. It was hard to put into words. "You're so authentic!" I said. "So much about where I'm from is about being fake. Fake and pretentious and materialistic. I try to be my real self at home and after a while it gets lonely and so I have to be fake to fit in. It's not like that with you." "You're one of us now," said Ele. If I wasn't so happy I might have cried. What a wonderful thought. ("What you seek is seeking you."- Rumi) If only my flight home in two days was to New Zealand. "My Kiwi sister!" I said. I tried to tell DK how much all these experiences meant to me, how grateful I was he decided to share it all with us, and how much he inspired me over the past three weeks. Again, it was hard to put into words, but I felt like he got the gist. He talked a bit more about his experience with Nepal, especially how wonderful its people were. A compliment like that really means something coming from DK. Not only has he been all over the world himself, the world also comes to be with him on these trips. "Yes, it's one thing to read about it, it's quite another to experience it," I agreed. Again. I don't think we ever disagreed about anything. We stopped at a vendor displaying a table full of candles. In exchange for a few rupees, we could light a few candles, make a wish, and then blow them out. Much like a big birthday cake for Buddha. Ele lit an auspicious number and blew them out. DK asked if I'd like to make a wish. My mind went blank. Could it really be I was totally devoid of desire? I was completely fulfilled in the moment and looked forward to whatever would come next. Hmmm, how "enlightened" of me. Well, if that wholehearted acceptance of 'what is' was a taste of enlightenment, it may actually be the one true desire worth pursuing. "It's already coming true!" I said. Isn't happiness at the root of whatever it is we want? What if we're already happy, what is there to want then? The feeling of want was replaced with total gratitude. Looking back, I suppose I could have wished for more time, maybe a double-header of Everest and Annapurna. We walked up some of the temple steps and sat down, talking a little, mostly just content to be a part of that magical night. It began to sprinkle, and apprehensive of another deluge like the one on Thursday, we headed home after only one lap around the Temple. The devoted would be walking all night and all day to reach 108. Ele and I crossed the street. Where was DK? He eventually made his way over. "There's my Kiwi brother!" I chirped. On the way home as we walked down to the bridge across the river the conversation turned to birds. Ele said the word, and smiling I said, "I love how you guys say 'bird.'" "Bird." repeated DK in that lovely Kiwi accent. My imaginary bird soared lightly on the sound. "Say it again!" I laughed. Silence. "I didn't mean to embarrass you, I really do think it's cool." "How do you say it?" he asked. "Bird," I said, putting heavy emphasis on the 'R'. You could almost hear the imaginary bird thudding to the ground. They agreed our American pronunciation wasn't as fitting. "The aborigines named birds like the sounds they make." he said, and then told us their word for crow. It did sound a bit like a crow cawing. We three little birds continued to the hotel, and approached what appeared to be a locked gate. Uh, oh, were we locked out? Not tonight; DK was able to push it open and we went upstairs to our rooms. It was still hot and humid so I passed out on top the bed, only to wake up later in a pool of sweat. I spread a towel on the cool bathroom floor tiles and slept there a while, too drunk and happy to care. If this didn't end up the best night ever, it was definitely in the top ten. I leap across the mountaintops, madly singing the song of all songs ... Wine makes drunk the mind and body But it is love which thrills the soul When I approach you, I feel the mad pounding of love The singing wonder The joy which opens blossoms on the trees of the world. Come to me, and I shall dance with you In the temples, on the beaches, through the crowded streets Be you man or woman, plant or animal, slave or free I shall show you the brilliant crystal fires, shining within I shall show you the beauty deep within your soul I shall show the path beyond Heaven. Only dance, and your illusions will blow in the wind Dance, and make joyous the love around you Dance, and your veils which hide the Light Shall swirl in a heap at your feet. Rumi