- Financial Records. Most of these were scanned and then shredded. Items to consider:
- Tax returns and support (W-2s, 1099s, etc). These should be kept forever in the US, but there's no rule they can't be scanned. Make sure to keep a backup.
- Bank and credit card statements. These should be kept for 7 years. Old paper statements were scanned, most of my current statements are set up to be "paperless" anyway and I just save them directly from the bank.
- Pay stubs. No need to keep more than a year, I scanned and kept all of them just for historical interest.
- Receipts. Unless they were related to something medical, those 20 year old receipts were discarded. I do have a small accordion file to keep recent receipts for items that might need to be returned, but this is purged regularly.
- Insurance policies and estate plan. This is currently my one exception, besides temporary recent receipts, to my paperless policy. I have a 3 ring "legacy binder" based on an excellent article from Dave Ramsey for my next of kin in case the inevitable happens sooner than expected. I keep it in paper form so it's easy for someone else to find and use if needed. This may eventually change as more people in my life embrace the cloud.
- School stuff and articles. I kept a few sentimental items in books, but most of this category was scanned and shredded. Bonus, I was able to easily share the high school newspapers on my class reunion Facebook page via DropBox. Being able to share them someday was most likely my youthful motivation for keeping them in the first place. Win.
- Warranties and manuals. These were just trashed. Yay internet, all that sort of info can be found online these days.
- Recipes. I input all these into an app called Pepperplate, but there are other apps to consider. The fantastic thing about this being done is now my recipes are with me wherever I go, most effectively, at the grocery store. They're also tons easier to instantly share.
- School notes. Most of these were trashed since I could barely read/remember who they were from. However I put the ones from my childhood BFF into a book that will someday go to her kids.
- Greeting Cards. The longest part of this subcategory was collecting and consolidating the cards from their various storage locations. Once I finally had them all on the table, I sorted them by giver, and then discarded ones from people I will likely never interact with again (i.e., the childhood orthodontist). The others I hole-punched and made into little books using binder rings, to be returned to the giver or child/grandchild of the giver someday. For now, since they bring me joy, they live on the shelf next to photo albums to be flipped through at leisure.
- Ticket stubs. I had various collections of these from every movie, concert, event, etc. I've ever gone to, dating at least as far back as high school. I discarded large items like old playbills, but took an idea from Pinterest and put all of my ticket stubs into a large mason jar that now lives with the photo albums. It brinks me joy to see and think of all those life experiences and makes a great conversation piece.
If there is one word people consistently use to describe me it's "organized." So when my lovely sister Carolyn mentioned a library book with a 300+ person waiting list called The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo, I was intrigued. I wondered what would make a book on "tidying" so popular, and also whether there was anything more I could learn on the subject. Turns out, the answer to the second question was a lot. Organized is not the same as tidy. In many ways I was just as much a hoarder as the next American influenced, however indirectly and going back multiple generations, by the Great Depression. The only difference between me and the hoarders who get on TV shows was my gratuitous belongings were sorted, labeled, and stuffed somewhat neatly and out of sight in a drawer, box, shed, attic or closet. This post outlines my journey to a more clutter-free life. To paraphrase an idea gleaned from an interview with Tom Chi (Google): If you decide to form a new habit, rather than just using limited willpower to battle the deeply entrenched neurons relating to your old habit; help the new habit along by finding a way to also move time, space, or matter to support it. Marie's tidying method, the KonMari method, is a perfect way to move matter in a way that supports a new habit of thought. So what new habits of thought could truly tidying your space support? Well, how about thoughts of love, joy, purpose, abundance, authenticity, inner peace, intuition, courage, generosity and clarity to name a few. The only other technique I know of to improve these things is meditation. I titled this post The Art of Discarding because that's how I would rename Marie's book to target a more empirical American audience. Many of us would like to have less clutter, but don't know where to start. The mere idea can throw us into paralyzing overwhelm. The KonMari method is simple, inspiring, step by step, and deals with not only the physical sources of clutter, but the mental and emotional as well. The mental/emotional aspect is what makes de-cluttering more of an art. It may seem like a lot of work initially, but the payoff is once you dig in and get it done, you will never regress to clutter and chaos again. It is a one-time only project and well worth the effort, because many of her students also find the lessons carry over into other areas of their life as well. I found that once I got some momentum going, it was also, dare I say it, sort of fun. The system can be distilled into two basic steps. Tackle one category of belongings at a time, and physically touch and consider (i.e., be present with) each item as you work through a given category and ask yourself the question; "Does it bring me joy?" The categories move from easiest to hardest to build both momentum and allow practice with the method. The tidying project is intended to be completed all at once, but as I never have a full day home to myself I compromised by moving though at least one category every night until it was complete. The point is to just get it done once and for all and not procrastinate and painfully drag it on. Other de-cluttering advice I had previously followed was to look around a room and ask if I loved the stuff in it. If yes keep it, if no let it go. This fell short of the KonMari method for two reasons. First, this didn't require that I physically pull out and touch all items of a given category, even if that category was Room A, so clutter got missed. Either because it stayed hidden and forgotten in a closet, or because it just blended in as part the room and was overlooked. Second, though there were things that I didn't love, I knew I had to keep them for some other utilitarian reason. I needed a better question. Day 1: Clothes Clothes are the first and easiest category because most of us are used to replacing them on a fairly regular basis so there's not a lot of emotional turmoil and uncertainty in discarding. I dutifully collected every article of clothing I owned from closets, drawers, laundry etc., until I had a somewhat daunting mountain on the bed. I first picked up a pair of socks and immediately knew why the best question had to be, "Does it bring me joy?" If I had asked, "Do I love the socks?" the answer would have been "No, they're just socks." There's still uncertainty as to whether or not to keep them. However, when I asked, "Do they bring me joy?" the answer in this case was a resounding "YES!" This particular pair was one of my favorite pairs of wool hiking socks to take on adventures. The keep pile had begun. I moved through my mountain rather quickly and easily, and when it was finished I surveyed the massive discard pile. This is where the connection begins to build with positive habits of thought. It takes intuition to discern the yes or no response. In a nutshell, yes is light and expansive, no is heavy, constricting, or even wishy-washy. It takes authenticity to be willing to listen to the yes or no and not dismiss it because of what someone else might think. It takes courage to face past mistakes in clothing purchases, and generosity to donate them where they may do the most good. On looking at the keep pile, I could see more clarity and purpose in my life choices physically represented in the clothes that brought me joy, both in terms of career direction as well as leisure. I could see where the gaps were in how I needed to better care for myself and my own needs where joyful clothes in that area were sparse or worn out. Once I put only things that brought joy back in the closet, the energy that came back when I opened the door was (and still is) fantastic. Actually, now I usually just leave the door open. I had a brief experience working in big box clothing retail store and shudder at the memory of the go-back rack in the busy fitting room. It's so lovely not to have that nightmare staring back at me from my own closet, and to instead look at something that more resembles a high end clothing boutique. Another bonus is it is now super easy now to pack for my frequent travel. The bags of discarded clothes (and extra hangers) to donate was like a huge weight being lifted out of my life. This energy built a ton of momentum to push me happily into the next category. I looked forward to Day 2. Day 2: Books Don't forget the cookbooks stashed in the kitchen when collecting and consolidating this category. The book category is where people often uncover their life purpose once they survey the books that remain. I did not have any revelations in this area, but was able to merrily discard a piece of furniture that never fit well in my current house, but I had been keeping anyway as a place to store books. I also combined this category with CDs and DVDs since most of my collection had long since been sold as technology shifted to streaming and was already sparse. Besides being a few grocery bags full of books lighter, my reward was a more open living room without unwanted and now unnecessary furniture. Embrace the Kindle app and additional momentum and bring on Day 3. Day 3: Kitchen The next category in the book is technically paper, but as it was personally my second hardest category, I saved it for second to last in following the spirit of the process. I had previously de-cluttered my kitchen by banning all unnecessary plastic. I was on a mission at the time to be more healthy and more authentic and to me plastic was neither of those things. So out went a trunk load of cups, mixing bowls, cheap storage containers, utensils, etc. to be donated. I replaced anything that was necessary with glass and bamboo items, just as inexpensive but so much more attractive, by shopping at places like Ross, and slowly building up a collection of glass Pyrex storage containers as they went on sale. Even so, by using the KonMari method and actually touching every kitchen item I owned, I was able to discard two more bags and also rediscovered items that brought me joy, in the form of delicious meals, that had been hiding in a kitchen cabinet. Day 4: Komono (Doodads) My other lovely sister Cindy and I got a good laugh when I told her I culled a mountain of towels and blankets out of my hall closet. She remembered, but I had forgotten that I was repeating our mother's pattern of keeping so many old blankets that it was nearly impossible to pry one in and out of the closet. Our childhood blanket closet, once the blankets were pried out, was big enough for a 7 year old kid to stand in and pretend they were on a rocket to the moon. How many blankets does one really need? Best donate the rest so one of your human brothers or sisters might be able to keep themselves, a child, or a pet, warm. As a bonus, this year once the weather turned cold, it was a pleasure, whereas it used to be a total pain, to locate and remove the blankets I actually use from the closet. Tip: Do not sort and discard art/office supplies by dumping your collection on your newly shampooed carpet or you will be sorry. The other stash of household items worth mentioning is cleaning supplies, paint, and household chemicals. These tend to hide under the sink or in a garage because if you don't end up using them and are also conscious of the effects on the environment so won't throw them away (thank you), they pile up. I hunted these items down, found paint I had been carrying with me for 19 years, and took a box to the local hazmat station. Day 5: Papers Discard all papers. Wait, what? The rule was simple enough to understand, but the mere suggestion cued the proverbial screeching record in my head. I make my living as an accountant which means I have "historian" as part of my personality. Papers were definitely my biggest hoard and I was as apprehensive at getting rid of them as the lawyers in Marie's book. You want the warranty and manual to every device I've ever owned? Check. Paystubs from every job I've ever had? Check. Bank and credit card statements going back 7 years? Check. Every rock chart and field show I ever played in college? Check. Every school newspaper from high school? Check. File folder overflowing with recipes? Check. Every greeting card I've ever received in my life, even if from my childhood orthodontist? Check. Every note I'd ever been passed in Jr. High, still in its fancy fold? Check. Report cards? Check. Receipts from 20 years ago? Check. The list went on. My first impulse was to rebel against the advice in this category, but as I had momentum built already, I remembered again that I work as an accountant. In a 21st century office. At work my authentic self actually loathes and despises all paper. I'm able to get away with this attitude because we have access to top-of-the line scanning equipment and PDF software and I am a "paperless office" champion where I work. Why not bring this authentic self home with me as well? I really do hate paper!!!! It's heavy, slow, messy, and vulnerable to fire. What I am attached to is the information on it. So I'm modifying this rule to say, do everything you can to go paperless. Understandably not everyone has easy access to fast scanners and expensive PDF software, but do what you can. Most people don't have an aversion to simply tossing old pay stubs like I do, but we all should keep things like tax returns. Scan them if possible. I'd love to say that this category took one night, but as it was my biggest hoard, it took days, even weeks, because I kept stumbling across new hiding places. I would bring a mountain of paper to the office and scan for hours after hours, sometimes staying in until midnight.
How do I manage a more than full-time career, my own home and garden that I adore, a delicious long distance relationship involving weekly travel, hobbies such as blog writing and photography, participating in Rotary, and still make time to plan and take international adventures? In short, constant implementation of new practical and simple systems for managing the day-to-day mundane tasks we all need to do to survive and thrive in this day and age. Everyone's to do list is different. In my opinion the systems I plan to discuss in this topic can benefit anyone active in today's busy world, no matter what it is that keeps you busy. Many involve an investment of time in the beginning to get them set up, but the time saved in return is well worth the effort. Welcome, and I hope the posts that follow help you simplify your life so you can have more precious time for the things you are most passionate about.
This is just one piece of a larger system used by Vedic Astrologers to determine compatibility between partners. I refer to the Ganas frequently because they're so useful in communication, i.e., understanding where people are coming from. My moon is in Mula, which makes me Rakshasa Gana. The technique used to determine the affinity of two people’s temperaments is known as Gana Kuta. Gana means race and determines a person’s temperament based on the symbolism of three mythological races:
And so I, too, prepare to go, though I try hard to remain. That part of me that is bothered by the unopened letters in my rucksack, that longs to see my children, to drink wine, make love, be clean and comfortable again--that part of me is already facing south, over the mountains. This makes me sad, and so I stare about me, trying to etch into this journal the sense of Shey that is so precious, aware that all such effort is in vain; the beauty of this place must be cheerfully abandoned, like the wild rocks in the bright water of its streams. Frustration at the paltriness of words drives me to write, but there is more of Shey in a single sheep hair, in one withered sprig of everlasting, than in all these notes; to strive for permanence in what I think I have perceived is to miss the point. Peter Matthiessen, The Snow LeopardThat morning none of us were motivated enough to walk to the Organic Cafe. "Do you mind?" asked Ele. "No, no! I only suggested it so you would have someone to go with. There is plenty of hippie food back home," I said. We enjoyed the hotel buffet instead. I still had extra rupees to spend and planned on some last-minute shopping to pick up a few more gifts. Amanda and Ele offered to go with me. I found a pair of the downy slippers I envied back in Dingboche (and promptly used two weeks later on Mt. Shasta). We were talked into a shop by a scarf that had been calling my name every time I passed it on the street the past couple days. It turned out that Ele loved scarves so we were given the royal treatment by the shopkeeper once inside. Next stop was a textile shop to pick up more yak wool blankets for family. As I browsed, the shopkeeper prattled on in English, trying to be friendly and conversational. However, the clock was ticking. The longer I stayed the more distracted I became, as if California was already sucking my consciousness in that direction. He mistook my distraction for misunderstanding and told me his English must be bad. "No, no! It's great," I assured him. "My mind is just somewhere else." The hotel and inevitable trip home loomed ever closer. We passed DK on the street happily chatting away with a couple other guys. "You've been replaced," he told us when we met back in the lobby. Those guys were on the Annapurna trek that would start the next day. "Hello, goodbye. The story of my life," he said. The story of all our lives, I thought. If I didn't know he was miles away in Lukla, I may have suspected he overheard my conversation with Dovile on her last night. This wasn't the first time he would say something I had been thinking... or was it the other way around?
And still not one word had been spoken; only later did we discover that all thoughts, laughter, and emotions had been not similar but just the same, one mind, one Mind. - Mattheissen (43)"Not always a bad thing," he continued. Not always indeed. It didn't feel that way now, though. The cab arrived on time at 10:30. DK tied a scarf around my neck that I would refuse to take off until I got home. It felt like a lifeline to Nepal. We hugged, he kissed my cheek and said "Keep in touch, okay?" "Will do. Thank you for the awesome time." Somehow those words felt inadequate. That was a great game. (Hook, 1991). Breathing got more difficult. I instinctively stepped outside as if more hot, humid air would help then turned around and said "Girls!" giving Amanda and Ele hugs. "Maybe someday I'll get to visit you in Queenstown," I told them. "Or we'll come to Calfornia," they said. "Yeah, come visit me!" This was a great idea. "You'll even have your own room!" I got into the cab and pushed aside a growing feeling of unfairness. These three people were now some of my favorite people on earth and I felt like I was just getting to know them. I wanted more time. "Every person with whom you interact is a part of the person you are becoming." - Abraham This is good news. I'd been so inspired by the three of them it's good to think that even if we never see each other again, they will always be part of who I become. Amanda inspired me for her ability to create a new life in a new country. Ele and her dad inspired me to work on a naturopath certification. DK inspired me to just be my whole authentic self. I would begin to write, study astronomy/astrology, begin my naturopath certification and play music again when I returned. The cab began to move forward and I looked out the back window to wave goodbye. First at Ele who looked contagiously tearful, then at DK. We locked eyes briefly, then I couldn't stand it anymore so I turned around and fiddled with my seat belt. I really didn't want to leave, yet was still so in love with life I didn't cry. Everything would be alright. How could it not be? Love was in control. I've heard it said that all the wisdom of the ages can be summed up in the following tune:
Row, row, row your boat Gently down the stream, Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily Life is but a dreamThe past three weeks were a beautiful, perfect dream. The cab and I floated to the airport, flowing merrily along with the traffic, dust and chaos, completely at peace with it all. When we arrived I let the men carry my bags and absentmindedly passed out my remaining rupees for tips. Sleeping on the planes and in Changi was easy. I drifted to the rental car center in SFO and somehow remembered how to drive. Once at the empty house that I used to call home, I retrieved the key my sister was kind enough to hide for me and stepped into a shower fit for a goddess. How wondrous this, how mysterious! - Layman P'ang Chu-Shih I tried to make sense of the reverse culture shock. What was I doing here? In California, all my material needs were satisfied in complete abundance. Yet I wondered if here I'd ever be able to feel the sense of warmth and community I did in Nepal. Somehow there must be a way to unite the two. What would it take? I looked forward to finding out...
The next morning I met the girls downstairs for breakfast. I was a little tired, but still felt good. "I might still be a little drunk," I admitted to a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed Amanda. Amanda told me about a book of Everest stories where people experienced the supernatural in the extreme conditions. Now THERE'S an Everest book that would be fun to read. I asked her if she was familiar with Graham Hancock. She wasn't so I suggested his books on the supernatural and the pyramids. We watched the dozens of resident sparrows hop in and out of all the planters. It seemed that every plant in the yard was in a pot. Good thing for the monsoons because otherwise they would be a lot of work to water. Three men worked at hanging bright new prayer flags from the balconies to the stupa in the center of the garden in honor of Buddha. In the lobby we met our guide for Durbar Square, who was smartly dressed and possibly the most considerate person I'd ever met. After three weeks of trekking through the Himalayas and wandering the streets of Kathmandu we were quite impressed that a person would tell us to "watch your step" whenever we encountered a mere turd in the street. We followed him through the city on what was already a very warm morning. Hangover symptoms began to kick in as the temperature rose. Ele looked like she was feeling it too. What time did we get in last night? 3 am? Amanda, who got sleep, was chipper as ever. "Cheater!" I teased her. We walked through a farmers' market. Our guide said this was the primary place where everybody in the entire city would come to get food. "We have markets that are closer to home," he explained, "but they don't always carry the variety that this one does." Before long we were out of the Thamel District "tourist tunnel" and into the real Kathmandu. Cows wandered the street, masses of tangled wire dangled from ancient buildings, people tried to sell whatever they could from blankets spread on the street for maybe a few rupees a day. Cars and motorcycles squeezed by, horns blaring. Once at Durbar Square we waited outside a chain barrier while our guide took care of the entry fee. The first monument we saw remained my favorite, for the childlike imaginative quality it possessed. It was a small, ancient shrine partially consumed by the roots of an ancient tree. I tried to imagine how the valley might have looked when the structure was first built. Even today it was still being used, as devotees kneeled in front, busily preparing colorful food offerings. There were so many temples and monuments, both Hindu and Buddhist, that it was almost overwhelming. I alternated between utter fascination and despair at the way they were, or more accurately were not, being preserved. Our guide knew all of them and talked about them in detail. In front of one he told us how the Kama Sutra evolved to coax the otherwise shy populace into having more kids. Government and religion were one and those in control believed that a greater population meant a stronger country. Erotic images found their way into the temple as a sacred act of creation. We walked into another temple with a wall of photos showing the most recent monarchs. We'd heard the story of the end of the monarchy in bits and pieces since our first tour of the Monkey Temple. In here we were able to put faces to the tragedy. Our guide told the story again, and emphasized that we cannot really know for certain what actually happened, because nearly everyone was killed and conspiracy theories abound. In short, one of the princes was in love with a woman, and became very angry when his parents the king and queen forbade him to pursue her for political reasons. One night he had been drinking heavily and got in an argument with his father. He stormed away from where the entire royal family was having dinner and returned with a gun (or guns), massacred his entire family, and eventually shot himself. Ten people were killed, four injured. A surviving uncle ascended the throne, until the monarchy was dissolved in favor of a republic in 2008. Nepal had been without a stable government since then. Another highlight of our tour was a stop to see the princess Kumari, considered to be a living goddess. She appeared briefly in a window just after we arrived, only to be whisked away by her attendants. Our guide told us this was probably because someone tried to take a picture, which was not permitted. We walked up and down Freak Street, once a hippie hot spot, now the same as any other street. Amanda with all her extra energy went to explore more temples. Ele and I took a potty break and waited for her in the shade of a building, trying not to melt. Some men walked up and wanted to talk. All we wanted to do was sleep. They tried to tell us there was a party going on at the Monkey Temple. (Been there, done that.) Fortunately Amanda returned shortly and we were on our way without having to fend off any more unwanted chit-chat. Once back at the hotel, we ordered lunch. Soup and salad was about all I'd be able to handle in the heat, so I asked for a Greek salad and some hot and sour soup. Normally two of my favorite things. The salad was divine, the hot and sour soup was so spicy I coughed and my eyes watered when I tried to eat it. I'm a person who will put a slice of jalapeno on every nacho chip I eat and think nothing of it. That soup was HOT (piro). DK sat down with us for a minute looking like I felt. He suggested we might have time to do a cooking class later. At the moment all I wanted to do was sleep, but said a cooking class would be worth staying awake for. He left to go back to bed. "Ugh, I'm so jealous," I said as he walked off. Finishing the soup was starting to feel like work. We finished our food, made plans to meet up later, and I went upstairs and collapsed on top of my bed (it was still effing hot in that room) for a blissful 3 hour nap. Later I met the girls for dinner. (The cooking class was not to be, but later I found this blog post from another trekker who had managed to fit one in.) We walked through the streets of Kathmandu and tried to remember how to make decisions on our own. We chose a restaurant with a New Orleans theme for dinner, mostly because it was the first place we found. I looked at the menu and ordered a small salad, a vegetable dish and a Bloody Mary. "This is a small?" I said incredulously when the food arrived. What, am I back in the States already? Both dishes were enormous. I knew immediately I wouldn't be able to finish it but vowed to do my best. I nearly choked when I tried the drink. It was just Tabasco and ice. What was with all the extra spice today? A sparkling clean baby-faced kid showed up and sat down. "Who are you?" I asked. "I'm still trying to figure that out," DK said. Touché. "Hmm, yeah I vaguely remember you as the guy we started the tour with." "Hey, Tiff, do you know anything about cameras?" he said, changing the subject. DK pulled out an actual SLR. "Not really." Why, do I sound like I do? (Clueless, 1995) Ele did, and immediately they began playing around with it, resulting in some really cool photos. "Hey, share those, will you?" I said. Before heading back to Phat Kath for dessert, DK took a sip of my mostly untouched Bloody Mary and made a face that plainly said "Oh hell no." Yep, exactly what I thought when I tried to drink it. Downstairs below the Phat Kath was a menu for crepes. I ordered an ice cream crepe, picturing a crepe with a nice cold scoop of ice cream on top. We went upstairs and sat in the cozy little nest under the live grapefruit tree. The crepes arrived and the ice cream turned out to be wrapped inside, completely warm and melted. Oh well, it still tasted good. DK challenged me to a game of backgammon. I'd never played and my brain was moving way to slow to count the little triangles on the board fast enough to make it interesting. I enlisted the help of the girls to help me count, and also to include them in our activity. Poor DK had lost all patience by the time I lost spectacularly. Apparently I wasn't the great and worthy opponent (Hook, 1991) he'd been hoping for. "You should try it again when you're not so tired," he said. Yeah, I'll get right on that. I was still on vacation and anything involving counting wasn't exactly high on my list of priorities. The moon rose and Amanda made a comment about it. "Super moon tonight," I said. There would be multiple this year, and having a nearly full super moon on Buddha's birthday made it seem that much more special. The conversation turned to dating. Ele and Amanda seemed to think that it was hard to meet men in New Zealand. I couldn't argue, since the only Kiwi male I met in my two weeks there was our guide Ben. At the time Ben told me all the Kiwis were in Canada. I didn't meet any in Canada either, it took a trip to Nepal to meet one more. They're about as elusive as their namesake birds. The girls said that in New Zealand people don't really "date" or have dating sites like we do in the states. "Maybe you should start one," I said. "The list of couples I know who met online grows by the day." "Yeah, I see a lot of them too," said DK, meaning guests on his trips. We joked that in Nepal the site would be called "Many Shoes" instead of "Plenty of Fish." "I don't know that you really need it," I said. "All my past relationships started organically. The last one I met in a dog park and I didn't even have a dog. You just never know." "True," said Amanda. "You could end up talking to your future husband on a bus." "I met a girl on a bus once," said DK, and he told his story of a "chance" meeting with a Polish babe that ended up hot and heavy. "It was awesome!" he finished with a laugh that was dangerously close to a giggle. "You're the guy on the bus!!" quipped Amanda. Awesome, couldn't have said it better myself. Not long after she turned in for the night early. DK told a story of a fun party that got started in a bathroom when the weather got bad wherever they were. "What's the weirdest place you've ever partied?" he asked. I didn't answer but thought back... boats, busses, houses, apartments, bars, pubs, clubs, offices, streets, lakes, rivers, beaches, deserts, mountains, football fields, Disneyland, a set in Hollywood... Lukla... frankly, it would be hard to top Kathmandu and the Monkey Temple on Buddha's birthday. "What time do you leave tomorrow?" asked Ele. "10:30," I said. "I scheduled you a cab," said DK. I looked at him with so much affection in that moment. What a considerate thing to do. The man had done so many kind little things for us that he didn't have to do on this trip. I had "find a way to the airport" on my mental "to do" list for the next morning and was so relieved to be able to check it off the night before. "Thank you," I said, putting as much appreciation into the words and I could. Ele looked pouty. "Let's not think about that right now. It's still fun time," I insisted. So we just enjoyed each others' company until the Phat Kath closed. On the way home we passed a place called the Organic Cafe and DK suggested we try it. "Good luck getting Amanda to go with you there," I told Ele. Amanda was a meat and potatoes kind of gal. "I'll go with you for breakfast tomorrow morning if you'd like." We decided to see how we felt the next day. The gate to the hotel was closed and locked this time, but an employee hurried over to let us in. We said goodnight and I walked back upstairs on my last night in Nepal.
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. We 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." 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. RumiDay 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. 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. 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
The next morning down in the common room at breakfast, Bibak was nowhere to be found. Dovile, lively as ever, told us they emptied the bar of all available beverages the night before. She reminded me of Marion from Raiders of the Lost Ark, except she drank the poor fellow under the dance floor instead of the table. Bibak appeared a while later, exhibiting a strange combination of hungover and flustered for having overslept. The weather had not improved, and was not likely to do so for a while. We needed to make it back to Kathmandu since all but three of us had flights the next morning. After some phone exchanges, DK told us that Mike, Sara, Me, Dovile, Kevin and Stacy would follow the porters to Surke to take another helicopter. The trekking season was ending, so from Surke the boys would leave us and our heavy bags to continue down the hill to their home village. DK, Ele, Amanda and Bibak would take a later flight and likely meet us that afternoon. The news of having to take a helicopter was a little disappointing this time because we would have no death-defying stories of the Lukla airport to tell when we got home. Just foggy pictures of "this is the runway we might have taken." To me it was another good excuse to come back someday. Since this was the last we'd see of the boys, they each tied prayer scarves around our necks. We then hugged them goodbye, telling them "thank you" and "dhanyabad" again for all their hard work and kindness. Stacy expressed best what we all were feeling as tears streamed freely down her face. Life soon provided some comic relief. We decided to take a group photo with the scarves. Someone handed a digital camera to a man who had clearly never seen one before. He looked at the the camera screen in amazement, pointing it every which way but at us. We laughed. He stuck his finger in front of the lens. We laughed more. The poor man seemed embarrassed by then, and someone tried to help him. Eventually we just passed the camera to someone else. Next thing we knew we were jogging to keep up as the porters began their flight down the hill. I think we all had a strange feeling as we waved and watched Bibak, DK, Ele and Amanda disappear behind the stone wall of the lodge, but there was no time to process it. It was all we could do to keep up. It was a misty, slippery hike back down to Surke, much the same as it had been on the way up. The difference was, this time we really flew. At one point I was caught on a narrow descent behind some slower trekkers. When it flattened out I overtook them and literally sprinted until I was in view of the frontrunners again, determined not to get lost a second time. Down in Surke, the porters dropped our big, heavy bags for the last time, bid us a final farewell, and without further ado, continued their trek home. Soon after, an enormous Russian helicopter flew overhead and then circled around to land, its rotors whipping a white ribbon of fog in a circle overhead. We had a guide with us from the same company as Sudip and Bibak, who was helping to look after us temporarily until our flight arrived. We asked apprehensively if this was it. Thankfully, it wasn't. The giant helicopter was sturdy enough to haul loads of sheet metal (to be carried up on porters' backs the rest of the way) but it looked ancient. We met up with our scrawny little puppy friend from day three, still looking hungry as ever. It was lunch time by now and after our morning trot down the mountain I was hungry too. I fished one of my organic raw food bars from my daypack and shared it with him, taking care to leave out any chocolate bits. I asked if anyone else wanted any, and got enough yeses to warrant digging my remaining stash out of our porter bag (which would have to be forcefully closed again). After moving up and down the mountain on the poor man's back these few weeks, they would finally be eaten. Better late than never. Eventually a perky little red helicopter landed close to the edge, keeping a respectful distance from the big one, which was still being unloaded. Our pilot told us it was just a baby, only three months old. We squeezed in and began the flight home, feeling increasing pressure from the heat and humidity the closer to the city we got. We landed on the familiar landing pad in Kathmandu, joking with the pilot that he was supposed to take us to Bali instead. "I'll take you anywhere if the price is right," he said. The look on his face told me he was playing along, but also completely meant what he said. We drove around to the front of the airport. I don't remember what vehicle we took, but it seemed bigger than the tiny old pickup we squeezed in on the way up. Sudip and his Aussie girlfriend Natalie were waiting, and walked with us to the van. "I've heard nothing but good things," I told her. "You all look tired," she said to us. Truth. Even more true would be tired, dirty, half-wild and completely happy. There was a lot of traffic in the city and the ride back was long, dusty and hot. By the time we reached our home in Thamel, we were very glad to be rid of the van and get settled back in to our rooms, which looked fit for royalty. Imagine the hot water lasting as long as you needed it to in the shower! What luxury! Mike and Sara had a room across from Dovile and I. The four of us decided to go into town and find an ATM. It had recently rained just enough to get the streets wet, and my $3 green plastic flip-flops were flipping mud/poo/spit up the back of my leg. We stopped back at the hotel and I changed into some trail runners. This was a mistake. When we went back out, the monsoon hit. The soft shell rain jacket I bought specifically for this trip because it had a hood finally got some use and held up nicely. However, the shoes filled up with water in seconds and wouldn't dry for days. We looked at jewelry, where Sara and I both bought an infinity symbol. One jewelry shop had a mirrored disco dog, and Dovile took a picture for Kevin and Stacy. We paused to look at some of those knit socks I still had to have. A shopkeeper materialized and told us to follow him up a dark, narrow stairwell for more choices. "I don't want to follow him up there!" said Sara with trepidation. "I do!" I said and went up after him. It would be an adventure, I wanted those darn socks, and by this time I had zero fear of the locals, convinced they were some of the kindest people on earth. Upstairs in a den full of textiles, I found my socks and a yak wool blanket. Sara bought something too and we negotiated together. Neither of us had much change, just the 1,000 rupee notes from the ATM, and when we pooled it I ended up coming out ahead and told her I'd pay her back but never did (dhanyabad, sister). Mike and Sara took the textile stuff and waded back to the hotel. Dovile and I continued in the pouring rain. The nice thing about a monsoon storm is it clears out an otherwise typically dusty and crowded street. We walked from shop to shop in peace, apologizing profusely for tracking buckets of water in wherever we stopped. Eventually we made it back to the shop where Dovile promised to return for the Buddha mask a lifetime ago. "Do you remember me?" she asked the shopkeeper and proceeded to banter with him and talk him down on the price. I bought a lotus flower and just paid what he asked. It was reasonable. We headed back to meet the crew for dinner. Unfortunately, DK, Bibak, Ele and Amanda would not be returning that day. We met Sudip and Natalie and waded through the flooded streets for our final celebration dinner. I looked at the menu. Sweet, they have pizzas. I was craving cheese. "Should I get the 8" or 12"?" I wondered out loud. "Get the 12", we'll help you eat it if it's too much." said K-Fed or Mike. Maybe both. I ordered the 12" pizza and a Bloody Mary. My eyes widened and jaw dropped when the pizza that arrived looked more like 18". "I should know better by now than to order something in inches in a country that uses metric," I joked. "You better help me eat this." Rather than the usual t-shirts, this restaurant was wallpapered in giant paper "Yeti" feet. Our table got one to share. Everyone just stared at the blank canvas at first, and I got the ball rolling by drawing in the Active Himalayas logo. Then we passed it around and everyone added something. Stacy lettered in HimaYAYA and drew a stick figure DK with his green backpack, and finger pointing up saying "It's all downhill from here!" Dovile wrote all of our nicknames on the toes. Sudip supplied the time and date of our "summit." The others added a few inside jokes like "Don't worry about flushing the toilet, we're on holiday!" The foot provided a little bit of closure on our goodbye dinner, though we were missing our brothers and sisters who were spending their third night in Lukla. Sudip told us that Nepal stood for "Never Ending Peace and Love." A perfect description. He then couldn't resist a jibe at their neighbor saying India stood for "I'll Never Do It Again." We laughed. After dinner, the rain had let up somewhat but the streets were still flooded. The water (though not so much the air) was also getting cold. We opted out of trying to find a nightspot in those conditions and just sat outside in the Thamel Eco courtyard and drank beer. One by one everyone went to bed until it was just Dovile and I talking about, work, life and of course boys. Dovile was 10 years younger. At 25 she'd had her share of love drama, yet had a more grown up view of her sexuality than most women her age. When I turned 25 I lost a fiancé, watched a younger sister marry the man of her dreams, and lost a grandpa all in the span of two weeks. My luck in love didn't improve much in the decade to follow. I told her when my last relationship ended I was so burned out I lost interest in playing the game altogether, deciding to do what I wanted, when I wanted for a while. She then asked the hard question I'd been avoiding asking myself. "How long has it been?" Dammit, now I had to think about it. I looked up and thought back. "Lets see, around October 2010. Wow, 2 1/2 years. A bit scary how fast time flies. The thing is, my life has been, dare I say it, more interesting single. In the past 2 1/2 years I've been to New Zealand, Canada, bought a house, and now am here in Nepal." We changed the subject to work. Both of us had jobs that required a lot of extra hours and felt that life would pass us by if we kept it up. We both agreed that DK led an authentic, mostly ideal life. She said I could be a guide. "I don't know if I'm tough enough to be a guide! The boys had to carry my pack to base camp." I said with a grin. "I don't know that I need to do what DK does, but it would be nice to do whatever it is that I authentically do." "He's got an awesome life where he gets to travel, live simply, and meet all kinds of people, which sounds great, but then who are you close to?" I continued and immediately felt convicted. Who was I close to anyway? All of my old friends were all married with kids or otherwise partnered up, and lived in different cities and countries. True I had my own house now, but I lived alone with only a flock of hummingbirds for pets. Why not do a job that I loved doing even if it meant leaving the country? The men at the hotel told us that they were closing down the bar. It was getting very late. We took the hint and when our beers were finished, walked upstairs to continue the girl talk in our room.
Almost Famous There was no question as to what we wanted for dinner. More of that divine chicken and dal bhat. It was just as good the second time around. We put more music on. K-Fed pointed out a spiderish looking bug that would move in time to the music. We knew it wasn't a coincidence when the bug changed its rhythm to match the next song. Both of us tried to get a video, Kevin's turned out best: Meanwhile, Dovile tried to get the Indian family up to dance with her. Bibak was always a willing partner, and in her he had finally met his match. Dovile had even less inhibition than he did, sometimes he would just watch her in stunned silence, but usually they moved together well. Bibak wanted to include his pal DK, and pulled him up on the dance floor with them. DK continued his joke from Phakding and he brought his limp wrist up to his chest as if to say "me??" and then pranced out on the dance floor to join them for a bit. The rest of us tried to hang as long as we could, but ended up turning in early in favor of more sleep.Alcohol is on the short list of things besides planes and the sound of vomit that will interfere with my sleep. I slept maybe a couple of hours and then was wide awake at first light. Well, whatever light was able to penetrate the pea soup fog blanketing the town, anyway. No one else was up and it was past our call time, so I figured it was safe to assume our super-early flight had been cancelled. I went out in the hallway to the only power outlet I'd seen since Namche, plugged in my long dead phone and connected to the intermittent WiFi connection that was actually working at that hour. The others got up and passed me in the hallway yet still I sat on the stairs, deleting emails, while my phone charged. Over an hour later I joined everyone downstairs for a basic breakfast. We had ordered light the day before deliberately so they wouldn't have to fix anything elaborate at the early hour before our flight. We received the official word that our flight was cancelled. Good, I'd rather spend the extra day in the mountains than in Kathmandu anyway. A little while later we walked down the street to get more food. Ele, Amanda and I got some of the best hot chocolate on earth. There was VH1 on TV at this place and once again I was reminded of how out of touch I'd been with the mainstream. When we cashed out I was able to get more rupees, and paid the 10% fee. It was a much more subdued day. We barely saw Magic Mike who seemed content to read up in their room. In the common room I chatted with a British fellow who was up trekking on his own with a guide, asking him what he thought about the trails he took and whether he'd return. He seemed burned out on Nepal and wanted to see other countries. North and South America were both on his list. I on the other hand was already scheming to return, thinking I could spend a year traveling the tiny country and it still wouldn't be enough. Now that my phone was alive again, I went back upstairs, put my headphones in and settled in bed for a snooze. I woke up when DK came in to ask what I wanted for lunch and barely knew where I was when I opened my eyes. I fumbled around clumsily for my clock mumbling, "Mmmmmfff, how long was I out?" He told me the time and I abandoned my search for the clock. I half-consciously picked one of the food choices he named, and when he walked out, decided that had been sleeping long enough and got up. With my wits returning, I became conscious of the fact that I had been dancing around barefoot in a bar the night before. I decided to try for another shower. I stepped in and got the bottom half of me washed (the most important part) when the water quit. I don't mean the hot water quit, I mean water stopped coming out of the shower altogether. I didn't have enough ambition to try to find someone to fix it, and called it good enough. There was an Indian family downstairs, a man and his young daughter had just finished their Himalaya trek also. He seemed super proud of her, as well he should be. I asked where they were from and he said New York. I raised an eyebrow since his accent was somewhat heavy. He said he was originally from India. "Isn't it funny? The truth just sounds different." - Penny Lane,
In Monjo the sun was shining on the flower boxes as we gathered out front with a couple more of the world's cutest dogs. One of them had been sneaking in the common room that morning to beg for breakfast. "Fergie?!?" said Dovile hopefully. Nope, this doppelganger was a boy. I slathered on some of my expensive Namche sunscreen. I was wearing shorts on the mountain for the first time and didn't need to crisp the backs of my legs the way I did my forearms. It was supposed to be our last day of trekking and I figured it wouldn't hurt anything to buck tradition and expose a little knee. Besides, it was effing hot. On the way down we passed a woman washing her hair outside with a hose. I loved the organic simplicity of their lifestyle. We walked back down the trail to what must have been Phakding, since some people had left clean clothes there that were originally intended for Lukla. Dovile and I obviously left nothing as we had nothing the night we stayed. DK wanted to try a different place for tea, so while they sorted out the clothes issue, we continued to the new tea stop, used the toilet, and washed up. We sat on plastic tables out in the sun. The rest of the group joined us, and while we enjoyed some lemon tea a commotion started taking place around us. We learned that the previous owner had died. There was about to be a funeral ceremony for which a high lama was flying in by helicopter. We asked if we should leave and they said no, just please move the tables aside so the lama could get through. Oh the irony. The one day I decide to wear shorts and we're paid a surprise visit by a high lama. I made sure to sit in the back of the table. Despite the faux pas, it was a very cool "coincidence" and I was thrilled to be a witness. DK asked the new owner, the previous owner's grandson, a bit more about the funeral. He told us that the body, which to them was just a discarded vessel, was burned outside the village just after he passed. Today was a ceremony to send the soul on its way. The man was important enough to warrant a visit from this lama at death, but they did not know each other in life. In preparation for the lama, a woman placed a metal receptacle on a stone wall in front of the courtyard, piled on some green branches, and lit a smoky fire underneath. We heard rotor blades chopping the air nearby and soon the lama and his entourage appeared through the smoke and disappeared just as quickly into the building. We were left to our tea. A little boy came outside and began playing with the smoky branches. A preteen girl dressed all in black like an 80's rock star came out and scolded him. She could only be his big sister. I reckoned it was safe to move and as I shifted, accidentally kicked one of the world's cutest dogs who had curled up at my feet under the table. She looked up at me indignantly. "Whoops! Sorry baby!" I said as I reached down and petted her. Bibak had a phone call for DK. Rather than call him over, Bibak walked up, grabbed DK's hand and pulled him away from the group. DK let his other wrist go limp and pranced along behind, making us all laugh. Hand holding was perfectly normal in Nepal, where the men were more physically affectionate with each other than in the west. We'd often see porters who were just friends holding hands on the trail. This scene was a comical contrast of the differences in our two cultures. Someone from across the street came by with a big blue plastic pitcher of millet beer. They poured a cup and we all passed it around thinking they meant for us to try it. It was tasty, and we all expressed our approval. Big smiles all around, apparently the man had brewed it himself. He refilled the cup. Soon it became apparent that they meant for us to finish the entire pitcher. We took that as our cue to leave and after finishing the cup, bowed and waved our way back onto the trail before they could refill it again. We had lunch back at the Wind Horse Lodge, home of little twinkle toes. I think she was there this time too, only a little more shy than before. The sun was out and we soaked it up on plastic chairs, enjoying conversations about the local sustainable lifestyle. DK asked the hostess where the food we were enjoying came from. She pointed to the garden behind the building. We talked about how it made so little sense for grocery stores to throw away food rather than donating it. How it costs so much to buy organic food at home. How we ought to be able to have reusable milk bottles like the old days. That was one I recently discovered I was able to do, thanks to Straus Family Creamery, makers of the best eggnog on earth. Once again I was so happy about the ease in which I was able to agree with my friends on these subjects. We were almost to Lukla when I realized I had to pee and had to pee NOW. Damn the millet beer. I desperately looked for a suitable rock or tree, and when I found one, true to form, it had already been well-used. The need was so urgent I wasn't watching my step. Shit! I stepped in shit. Someone had kicked a few leaves over their pile and I didn't see it. Eeeeeewwwww. I scraped off as much as I could as I walked and made a mental note to avoid touching the shoes or keeping them in the room later. At our home in Lukla there was again just one community shower. We elected to reverse the order we went in at the White Yak. Sweet, that meant I was going second. Magic Mike got to go first, which wasn't much of a reward, since he was the one who discovered the water was cold and had to wait while they fixed the heat. Ele, Amanda, Dovile and I settled in their room for some girl talk. Ele tried to compare herself to one of our beautiful mutual friends. I had to call her on it. "So are you!" I said, incredulous. "Weren't you the one who had some random dude tell you you had a great body in Rivendell?" "Yeah, but he was like 50," she countered. I laughed. Maybe the 50-year-old had just climbed one of those big-ass mountains and was feeling extra brave that day. The other dudes may not be saying it, but I'd be willing to bet they were thinking it. "Trust me, you have nothing to worry about." Since she works in recreation, she complained that the men she met seemed more interested in toys (like snowboards) than women. "You're just now figuring that out?" said DK. He had joined us a moment ago. We laughed. I didn't say it in the presence of a man, but the key really is to become one of the toys. Not in a bad way, but to really own that air of feminine mystery that keeps them interested in playing the game. Women and snowboards are not mutually exclusive. Dovile and I left to wander the streets of Lukla in a fruitless search for an ATM. We enlisted the help of Bibak, described by DK earlier as the "Don of Lukla" to help us. Bibak led us back up the street towards the infamous Lukla runway. We stopped at the boarded up Western Union Dovile and I had already passed earlier. He looked flabbergasted. That was the only place he knew. Dovile resigned herself to getting cash back at a local shop. The shopkeeper wanted to charge her a 10% transaction fee. Not only was she good at jingles, she was also good at negotiating and got him down to 8%. With fresh rupees burning a hole in her pocket, she bought the three of us a tall cans of expired San Miguel from a shop across the street to drink on the steps in front of our lodge. Soon we were joined by Ele, Mike and Sara. Back inside, DK told one of his favorite stories about Bibak's dancing. We'd been hearing bits and pieces of it the entire trip. "Imagine no inhibition! Some people upstairs were trying to sleep and I literally had to hold him down to try to keep him quiet!" DK put his hands on my shoulders and pushed down for added effect. Oooh, I can't wait. I thought. This is going to be awesome. We pooled our money for tips for the boys. I thought I had more rupees besides what I had set aside for them, but apparently spent them all in Namche. Dang it, I should have gotten more when Dovile did. DK came around and quietly told us what the amount came to, which was "really generous." Well, the boys earned it, and good on us for recognizing it. Dinner that night was the best dal bhat yet, also with some really, really, really good chicken. Dovile was able to get the chef to give her the recipe before we left:
Chop a chicken quarter into little pieces with bone in. Throw a handful of garlic on a hot pan, sear chicken, flip, lower heat when you have browned both sides add salt, pepper, chopped tomato and onion, and cook until done.The party was about to start. DK called us up one by one and gave us certificates and our park pass. When he got to me I was the one who was "camera-shy but not shy with the camera." "T-Pain!" Everyone else shouted. With the formalities finished, it was time to party. DK brought out a box of San Miguel and passed them around to the boys. Someone poured shots. Britney Spears t-shirts were all the rage amongst the porters, so I wasn't surprised when N Sync began blaring on the speakers. What did surprise me was when Mike, who once upon a time claimed to have no rhythm, jumped up and busted out the dance routine from their music video. It didn't take a hypnotist to turn him into Napoleon Dynamite, only alcohol. Two beers and maybe a shot at altitude were all it took to make the rest of us think this was a great idea. We all joined him and channeled our inner boy-band in a circle around the wood burning stove. It was time to consider the other guests and take this party elsewhere. Outside it was raining buckets. Not that we cared. The boys tried to teach us the native song they sang at base camp and we sang loudly in the street to the first bar which was... closed. DK was temporarily speechless because he knew the owner, but recovered quickly and led us on to a second. Once inside it was bare feet, dancing, and more pool. Stacy and Kevin played DJ. The bar had something tasty in a hookah and we all took a hit or two. I found myself dancing with an old local dude. When my body told me it was in my best interest to take a water break, he turned to Sara who looked both scared and grossed out. "Just roll with it!" I told her, though it would have been a prime opportunity to see if "the face" worked across cultures. Magic "no rhythm" Mike meanwhile had attracted the attention of a crazy trekker chick named Amber with his moves on the dance floor. I say crazy trekker chick tongue in cheek, she's probably at home saying the same thing about us. We'd both be right. The bartenders watched it all in utter amusement. It was late by the time the last of our party left for home. K-Fed and I closed out and walked back. It was still raining.
The next morning when Magic Mike and I tried stretching, I was dismayed to find I could barely move. There was no soreness, I had just lost all flexibility to the point where touching my toes became touching my knees. Weird, shouldn't all this exercise be making me more flexible? Ele taught me a trick where I was to try stretching, and then spin around a few times and try it again. I spun around obediently and when I bent down again, was able to reach my toes as well as I normally do, with my fingertips. (You'll never catch me with my palms on the ground unless it's after months of training.) "Wow, that's amazing, thanks!" Ele and Amanda realized that one of their rented down jackets was missing. Apparently it had come off the outside of their porter bag the day before. DK said it wouldn't be a problem, but he'd probably have to argue with the vendor over the cost of the replacement when we got back to Namche. Sudip would have been a big help with that. We walked up the nearby hillside passing more prayer stones on the way. It was foggy and I had a jacket on. "Hey T-Pain, are you sick?" asked K-Fed, wondering why I wasn't in my usual t-shirt. "No, I just don't do fog. Fog is cold," I replied. Dovile and Stacy put their own spin on Unforgiveable and Powerthirst, laughing all the way down. We passed the Syrangboche Airport, one of the world's highest, and began to descend down to Namche.