Adventure Sports

This year's popular posts

I'm very happy to report Nomadderwhere has come a long way since this time last year, when I moved from a simple blogspot to a bonafide domain of my own. Since that time I've changed my writing style and topics, grown a readership of surprisingly many (thanks to you), won the most amazing internship known to man, and turned this online outlet for my travel thoughts and work into something that may one day sustain me. For those of you just stopping by for the first time, this is probably the best post at which to start. According to my stats and Google analytics, these are the top posts for Nomadderwhere.

The Makings of a Travel Video

The Makings of a Travel Video

...I didn’t study telecommunications or video art in college, nor did I have a good operating system while making my application video last year. If you’re new at this, like I was, don’t worry because if you have a computer, some travel footage and a passion to produce, you can make some mean videos...Bottom line is to be aware of the story you are crafting and make sure it gives people a reason to watch beyond 10 seconds and a reason to stick around until the end. The music helps me monumentally with this step of the process.

Ten Great Ideas for Chicago

Ten Great Ideas for Chicago

...I received word from two different people that Cafe Ba-Ba-Reebas! in Lincoln Park had the greatest and most authentic tapas in the city. Since my cousin is a budding foodie and my other friend lived in Spain and learned to cook there, I took their advice as fast as I took down my sangria. Rioja short ribs with manchego mashed potatoes, house meat plate with serrano, salchichon, chorizo, chicken & artichoke paella, crispy spicy potatoes with sun-dried tomato alioli, and warm potato & onion omelette - everything tasted so flavorful, even my friends who had been here before were amazed and raving. The thrill of good food doesn’t get old...

My Friend, Evan Witty

My Friend, Evan Witty

...But he found more appeal in living with 100+ kids in a country he had no ties to. He wanted to move people and make physical and emotional necessities available to anyone. With that desire and an experience such as the one he had at Palm Tree, his life work was destined to be hugely impacting and awe-inspiring, and I'm so sorry we don't get to witness his next steps.But he passed with people who loved him and he loved in return, in his sleep on the beach in Cambodia...

Things I Didn't Know Before Coming to Greece

Things I Didn't Know Before Coming to Greece

...The Greek and Italian languages are nothing alike There’s no avoiding cigarette smoke in Greece…It’s everywhere In Greece, the party starts well after midnight and can continue into brunch time The water really is that blue...

Sometimes On the Road...You Miss Out

Sometimes On the Road...You Miss Out

...For some reason unknown to me and my surrounding web, I've decided it's okay to miss the things that matter most in order to blaze literal and personal trails towards anything from failure to success. This travel path can sound illogical and like a waste, but when I realize the passions I've acquired and the maturity I've obtained, I fear where I would be without all those 50+ flights to global destinations and potential moments of learning...

What is Nomadderwhere?

What is Nomadderwhere?

...Nomadderwhere is a philosophy: it doesn't matter where you are, it matters that you're always learning and flexing with your surroundings, whether you're traveling or stationary. To capture this idea is to capture the art of travel, to know the importance of movement and to become self-aware...because you are the only constant in your world...

Street Smarts: Transport Scams

Street Smarts: Transport Scams

...“So I know we agreed on 40 rupees to the Siliguri bus station, but I know you’re going to forget this deal, even though I wrote the fare down on my hand. I’m really hoping you’re an honest and swell guy who claims he has change when he really does.” With this sort of dialogue, it’s all about tone and appearance. Speak kindly and smile the entire time. It doesn’t work any other way. And a word from experience: the more you make them laugh, the better the fare becomes...

The Irony of my Lifestyle

The Irony of my Lifestyle

...Since I returned from a round-the-world trip on August 17th, I’ve done very little besides sit in front of screens – computer, TV, what-have-you. I seldom leave home or drive my car unless it’s purely necessary. Rarely do I step outside if not to summon my cat in at twilight, and the most exercise I get comes from group fitness classes at the gym down the street. I spent one weekend in northern Indiana with my best friends eating guacamole and floating on one long raft around Lake Tippicanoe, but that certainly can’t be all the excitement I can handle over a two month period. Why do I not carpe the diem when I’m not traveling?...

Reviewing Jon Krakauer's Into the Wild

Reviewing Jon Krakauer's Into the Wild

...What was certainly magnified by Krakauer's text was the reality that we humans harbor primordial desires, and it's on a sliding scale how much we allow these feelings to be heard and acted upon. It is my belief that travelers, adventurers, nomads and those hopeful to detach from the man-made structure of modern civilization are more responsive to those "calls of the wild." Unconventional living forces a constant reevaluation of one's life [and one's mortality], and when we are closer in mindset to our own expiration, it seems we connect closer to the motivations of our primitive ancestors...

Cruises, Destination, and the Authentic

Cruises, Destination, and the Authentic

...Within the open ocean is a sea of 60-40 couples, incredibly perky cougars on the prowl, families with seven year-old twins and recent divorcees taking back their lives, not to mention a slew of Rascals scooting about. Of course, every cruise liner caters to a different demographic, which accounts for the vast differences among the commercial cruising fleets, but what they all share is the sense of ease that, in the mind of a “bare-bones” traveler, strips the so-called adventure down to physical displacement and cognitive retirement, which is in many cases the whole point...

Interview a Traveler: The Ski-Crazy Humanitarian

Interview a Traveler: The Ski-Crazy Humanitarian

...I work in an environment where people are stuck in one mindset. The monotony of everyday life can suck you in and but also give you the comfort of stability. I want to stimulate my mind and mix things up. My entire senior year of college I saved for my trip to Europe, and everyday I think back to the crazy things I did and the knowledge that I gathered and feel proud. Being young and having a flexible (and seasonal) job is a plus. So spending my money on travel is why it’s there...

The Birth of The Nakavika Project, Part 1

The Birth of The Nakavika Project, Part 1

...L: “I found an amazing flight deal I want to look further into. If the price is right, would you consider dropping the road trip idea and heading to Fiji to live in a village? We could do our own thing there, use our skills to start some effort from scratch, and I know we’re already invited and welcome to be there. I talked to them a week ago.” G: “Wow, Linz, you’re turnin’ the tables on me! This could be such a huge opportunity. Let me think it over…(30 minutes later)...I am completely, 100% behind this idea...

Plummeting Towards Earth

Plummeting Towards Earth

...We landed perfectly, a few steps to a complete standing stop, and I yelled my amazement to all the men at the bottom who hear these exclamations every day. And that was it. I jumped out of a plane. Nuts. Simply nuts...

Journeys of a Lifetime in February

Welcome back to my new monthly series on Nomadderwhere, one which highlights the incredible trips one could take in that current month - thanks to a vibrant book called Journeys of a Lifetime by National Geographic. Each month I pick a couple adventures from each section in the book in order to provide you inspiration for 365 days from now. Read the brief description to whet your appetite, and click on the trip name for further information (links provided by National Geographic...of course you could be a gritty backpacker and make it on your own).

Across Water

Cruising to Antarctica: Start at the end of the world (Ushuaia at the tip of South America) and float toward the chilly marine life and frozen antiquity of Antarctica. You'd only do this once in your life, unless your a scientist, a mountaineer or crazy. Make that one trip count.

Pirogues and Pinasses on the Niger River: You're going to feel timeless and relaxed while floating on this great waterway of Africa. Mali makes for great camping, and the fare you catch from the river will make for excellent campfire dinners as well.

By Road

From Lisbon to Porto: Salt pans, flatlands, pine forests, wooded hills, vine-clad valleys - get a load of Portugal's western coast! Get in that car and go.

The Garden Route: South Africa's tip is not only an optical masterpiece with plenty of indigineous wild and plant life, but it's incredibly accessible for backpackers via city hostels and the Baz Bus for transport in between. Along this route are adventure activities ranging from the world's most beautiful sky dive drop zone to great white shark diving.

By Rail

Eastern & Oriental Express: Singapore to Bangkok...in style. Restaurant cars with high quality food and piano bars for sipping cocktails with a panoramic view - this could be an excellent way to see Southeast Asia's peninsula, maybe not my way. Sometimes the luxury is a nice break from the overhaul.

Darjeeling Toy Train: Locals in Darjeeling joke there's no other town in the world where a train passenger can step out of the car, take a leak and hop back in without breaking a slight jog. Locals also kid there's no other town in the world where the train gets caught in traffic jams. Darjeeling's toy train is scrawny for India's standards, but it offers views of the 3rd tallest mountain, Kanchenjunga.

On Foot

The Torres Del Paine: It's no secret I'm pining for a trip to South America's tip, to see Patagonia and Ushuaia in person. The Torres Del Paine National Park does nothing to hinder this desire. Nature trumps man once again. My hiking boots are ready.

Hill Villages of Chiang Mai: A trip up to the Thai mountain villages near Chiang Mai sounds fantastic to me, especially arriving at the end of the rainy season in February. If you're considering a trip, I'd be sure to do my research on tours vs. independent and the status of tourism's effect on the area. Anyone have experience with this region?

In Search of Culture

Maya Temples: Travel to Cancun for another reason this winter and begin a trip across Mexico, Belize and Guatemala to see the ancient remains of the Mayan jungle cities. I'd advise you to prepare by marrying the stairmaster in anticipation of the steep temple steps.

Musical Journey to Central Europe: Start in Czech Republic, mosey across Austria and end your musical quest in Hungary after becoming one with the natural and cultural inspirations of your favorite classical composers. Taking this trip is sure to give me flashbacks from my years at the piano bench, wishing the Mozart melodies in my books would be replaced by snazzy pop tunes. Thankfully, this never occurred.

In Gourmet Heaven

Cajun Cooking in Louisiana: February and Louisiana. There's only one thing I could be referring to…cajun food in Acadiana! Maybe after you unravel all the beads from your neck and find your shoes from the night before, head out of New Orleans for some real cajun food where the Nova Scotians originally settled and prepared their wicked meals.

Central Otago Wine Trail: Wine pilgrims, flock to the South Island of New Zealand for a Pinot Noir that gets international applause. And you'll surely hear your claps reverberate off the rugged, mountainous terrain that will surround your sampling session. I hope you don't choose to pair the wine with a nearby bungee jump, as the Kawarau Bridge sits tantalizingly close to all the grape festivities.

Into the Action

Tiger Safari: Ranthambore is a compact reserve in eastern Rajasthan - the perfect place to spot the 20-odd Bengal tigers terrorizing the wee other wildlife. Visiting in February beats the hot weather but comes just close enough to summer and its great conditions for seeing stripes.

Skiing Mont Blanc's Vallee Blanche: Sky down the highest Alp and the greatest run on the planet. Oui au…need I say more? I probably do…it's in France.

Up and Away

Skimming Ancient Australian Rain Forest: The rain in February awakens the ancient rain forest between Kuranda and Cairns near Australia's "Alfalfa" tip. Take the skyrail above the canopy for excellent views of the massive pythons and other wildlife dangling in the trees.

Nile Balloons: Early pre-dawn start, chilly desert morning, expansive views from a balloon in the sky, champagne breakfast - floating away from Luxor along the Nile does not seem like a shabby way to start your day in Egypt. Just think you could see more ancient temples and tombs before 9am than most people do their whole lives!

In Their Footsteps

Ansel Adams' Yosemite: Ansel Adams' parents gave him his first camera upon reaching Yosemite as a 14 year-old school boy. Visitors these days can visit the Ansel Adams Gallery and attend workshops on composing show-stopping photographs inspired by Adams' decades of work at this national park. Enjoy the snowy trails!

Jesus in the Holy Land: Visit a land where many religions converge, creating legendary landmarks of biblical proportions all over the country of Israel. Avoid the intense heat of the summer months by visiting in February, before the Easter crowd of pilgrims appears.

How's that brain? Spinning with innumerable desires to traverse continents and climates? Pull out a pen and prioritize your life by putting one or more of these trips at the top of the list. And by planning a year in advance, you'll be quite able to save, prepare, and anticipate the rigors of your adventure in every way. Check back in March for the Journeys of a Lifetime you could partake in next year!

Where are you inspired to travel to next year? Leave a comment and be my new friend.

Journeys of a Lifetime in December

Welcome back to my new monthly series on Nomadderwhere, one which highlights the incredible trips one could take in that current month - thanks to a vibrant book called Journeys of a Lifetime by National Geographic. Each month I pick a couple adventures from each section in the book in order to provide you inspiration for 365 days from now. Read the brief description to whet your appetite, and click on the trip name for further information (links provided by National Geographic...of course you could be a gritty backpacker and make it on your own).

Across Water

Airboat in the Everglades: Get deep into the mangrove forests of Florida's backcountry where alligators seemingly get bigger as you go deeper; you may even catch the rare Florida panther if there's a blue moon out.

Lake Nicaragua: A freshwater lake surrounded by lush forest and volcanoes? Crocodile-like reptiles submerged below the jungle canals? Swordfish sport fishing in a mystic lagoon? Am I dreaming?

By Road

The Grand Trunk Road: Peshawar to Kolkata: a road some call "the great river of life." It's a highway beaded with historical and memorable cities that combine to make an incredible, South Asian road trip.

The Pan American Highway: It's pavement that spans continents, but taking a ride in Tierra del Fuego and reach the end of the world: Ushuaia. You'll see grazing grasslands and ominous, omni-present mountains. Pretty great, huh?

By Rail

El Chepe: Ride the rails through an unspoiled landscape four times larger than the Grand Canyon. Indigenous Indians of central Mexico line the way, giving you access to a brilliant Latino culture.

The TranzAlpine: Cross Arthur's Pass and witness a blizzard outside your train window on this mountainous journey through the Southern Alps of New Zealand. Sounds like it gets wild.

On Foot

The Headhunters' Trail: Stay in a longhouse with Iban villages. Wade through the tea-colored waters while admiring the limestone spires. Hope you still have your head upon the trip's completion.

The Levadas of Madeira: The levadas of Portugal are a network of watercourses that hydrate the paradiasical sugarcane fields. Apparently, moseying along these canals is a camera-friendly activity.

In Search of Culture

Colonial Virginia: Even if reenactments and period acting isn't to your fancy, Christmas just may be, and Williamsburg does this holiday justice.

Ancient Egypt: Show up for the peak Nile cruising season and enjoy the history museums to make sure your time in this ancient landscape is epic.

In Gourmet Heaven

Blue Mountain Coffee: It's the best coffee in the world. It's the best time to visit Jamaica. Those are two good reasons.

Vietnamese Cuisine: Imagine a leaf of cilantro floating on a sea of seasoned broth, handmade noodles sitting below the surface like a hundred Loch Ness monsters. Are you hungry for some pho yet?

Into the Action

Surfing in Hawai'i: You're going to need a wetsuit in that chilly water, but you're also going to catch some towering waves at hot spots like Waimea beach or the Banzai pipeline on O'ahu island.

Friesland's Eleven Cities' Tour: 16,000 ice skaters jump at the proclamation of the Elfstedentocht race, which only happens on the rare occasion in Holland when the ice is 5.9 cm thick. Await the call of the race anxiously and follow the races route along the footpath beside the frozen river.

Up and Away

Skyriding over St. Lucia: This Caribbean island will make you see colors. Real colors. Absolutely vibrant hues popping through the tropical air. Zipline around the canopies of the forest, and then save some time for some fresh product at a cocoa estate.

Angkor by Helicopter: Seeing the world's largest religious monument in a way that few experience, an enlightened view from above. See what can be done with incredible planning, gray stone and a herd of trained elephants for heavy lifting.

In Their Footsteps

Hemingway in Cuba: The Malecon was Hemingway's first view of Havana after sailing from America. Go and be moved by the same places this famous writer and Nobel Laureate frequented during his time on this vivacious island.

Alex Haley's Roots: See what Alex Haley found when visiting Gambia, a main topic of his Pulitzer winning book Roots. It would involve a boat ride and a village chief...and surely an incredible cultural quest.

How's that brain? Spinning with innumerable desires to traverse continents and climates? Pull out a pen and prioritize your life by putting one or more of these trips at the top of the list. And by planning a year in advance, you'll be quite able to save, prepare, and anticipate the rigors of your adventure in every way. Check back in January for the Journeys of a Lifetime you could partake in next year!

Where are you inspired to travel to next year? Leave a comment and be my new friend.

Video of the Week: World Traveler Intern Highlights

One of my least favorite questions to answer is "What was your favorite part?" Slimming down a trip into the best moments leaves out all the thrills in between and the trip's entirety as a journey, which amplifies the highlights even more. The experience of the World Traveler Internship had an obvious highlight for me: the job itself. Going back to my room at night to write a blog or make a video was fulfilling and affirmed my desire to be a travel writer.

Oh, but if I must tell you what was fun, here are some highlights from Australia, East Africa, India, South Africa, and Fiji.

Journeys of a Lifetime in October

journeys

I welcome you to a new monthly series on Nomadderwhere, one which highlights the incredible trips one could take in that current month - thanks to a vibrant book called Journeys of a Lifetime by National Geographic. Every month I will pick out a couple adventures from each section in the book in order to provide you inspiration for 365 days from now. Read the brief description to whet your appetite, and click on the trip name for further information (links provided by National Geographic...of course you could be a gritty backpacker and make it on your own).

Across Water

Yangtze River Trip to the The Three Gorges: A trip in early fall through some incredible, mountanous landscapes could coincide with October 3rd and the Chinese Harvest Moon Festival.

The Mangoky River: Madagascar's baobabs and the "slowly-slowly" mentality of the land give me two reasons to desire floating in an inflatable raft across the tip of the big island. October is the last month of reasonable weather before the ghastly heat sets in.

By Road

The Fall in Vermont: Does my longing to going on a fall foliage drive make me an old lady? Either way, I don't care if it means I get to log miles around a beautiful chunk of America and potentially camp out in the cool nights between drives.

The Dolomites: Northeastern Italy gets great weather and less tourists than usual in October, which is perfect if one desires to see sky-splintering peaks, Alpine pastures, and still speak l'Italiano all the live-long day.

By Rail

The Reunification Express: After reading Catfish and Mandala, making the 1,000 mile jaunt across Vietnam seems like a trip worthy of filling numerous journals and marking off loads of "once-in-a-lifetime" experiences from the list. This train would make this trip possible, that is if you're not a crazy/cool cyclist relying on your two wheels.

Trans-Siberian Railroad: Fall colors, warm days, and cool nights - that's quite a list of benefits for traveling from Moscow to Beijing in October via a world famous train ride. The trip takes one week

On Foot

Greenwich Village: True, this area can be enjoyed any time of year, but the crispy atmosphere of fall makes pleasant a couple days of perusing galleries, visiting Edward Hopper's house, and eating at former speakeasies, like Chumley's. Maybe you'll get inspired to "keep moving" while taking in Figaro Cafe, a hang-out of the "beat generation".

The Inca Trail: Dry weather meets the hearty soul that wants to trek through the thin air of the Andes in October. Machu Picchu, Huayna Picchu, and loads of misty sights are calling you...

In Search of Culture

Treasures of Jordan: October is just as great a time as any to hire a car in Amman and hit up some ancient relics of the past in the Middle East. Fancy yourself an Indiana Jones as you bound around the ruddy sandstone of the Treasury of Petra.

India's Golden Triangle: I can attest to the fact that going on this trip in the heat of summer is just plain mean to your boiling spirits, but alas, the relief that comes in October! Agra's Taj Mahal at sunrise, Jaipur's Amber Fort and Rajasthani culture, and Delhi's urban jungle are real experiences to be photographed, reflected upon, and absorbed into the mind forever. Read my blogs from the Golden Triangle here.

In Gourmet Heaven

Bourbon Trail: Another prime opportunity to see good fall color while sipping some classic American spirits. Even though we Hoosiers are supposed to make fun of Kentucky, I've always been a fan of the horse farms and Appalacian foothill country, and I'd imagine pumping some whiskey into the equation wouldn't hurt it!

Central Valley Wine: Go from fall to spring, harvest to planting season, with a trip to Chile for some grape guzzling. The Andes are supposedly visible from every vineyard in this region, which has a unique climate sure to cause some exciting fermentation to occur. Go skiing, walk along the beach, and then go find some good wine in the hills.

Into the Action

Polar Bears in Canada: October marks the start of a great bear-watching season annually, and Churchill is known for their outsized bears. Not as elusive as the tiger, but apparently just as easily camouflaged into their surroundings; a couple days looking for polar bears sound like thrilling days well spent.

Sea Kayaking off Baja: I know I'm going to be taking full advantage of being around Baja in October by partaking in a gorgeous and exciting activity: sea kayaking. Rocky cliffs edging an ample marine world in the blue Pacific waters; it's the stuff of dreams. Check back for upcoming blogs on this very activity.

Up and Away

Flying High in Paradise: Take a heli for a spin (don't worry, you're not driving) around the volcanic islands of Hawai'i, where you'll be dumbfounded by how green and undulating the converging ridges appear. Great weather and better prices will please you in October. I've experienced this flight and loved it.

Fly the Coral Route: Tahiti, Rarotonga, Samoa, Fiji, Auckland, Dreamland - it sounds like purging your wallet for an aerial island-hopping experience in the South Pacific couldn't disappoint if it tried. And with October providing some drier conditions, you'll be able to see the blue silk in 360 degrees around you.

In Their Footsteps

On The Road after Kerouac: Though my opinion on Kerouac's instant classic novel is still unformed, I can't deny the pulsing urge inside me to hop in a car and take I-80 as far as it will take me. Maybe that makes his work a success in that it instills the desire to move for the sake of moving. From New York to San Francisco, such a road trip would be quite a thrill to take while reading the novel and hitting up Denver and Chicago along the way, not to mention the great weather October would bring across the entire stretch.

The Silk Road: Avoid the extreme weather conditions by traveling in October through western China to Turkey and some of the world's oldest inhabited cities. The spanning cultures are sensory-linked with landscapes that could slap a yak with amazement.

How's that brain? Spinning with innumerable desires to traverse continents and climates? Pull out a pen and prioritize your life by putting one or more of these trips at the top of the list. And by planning a year in advance, you'll be quite able to save, prepare, and anticipate the rigors of your adventure in every way. Check back in November for the Journeys of a Lifetime you could partake in next year!

As this is a new series, I'd love to hear your feedback on the effectiveness of this concept. Leave a comment and be my new friend.

South Africa made easy with the Garden Route

Keeps getting prettier along the way

Africa is like a really big trail map. Cairo to Cape Town. Malaga to Douala. Nairobi to Victoria Falls. Tour companies and travelers alike have realized that those who make it to Africa are there to spend some time and see a good lot of incredible sights. You won't meet many people who travel to Africa and hop around by air to all the different destinations. Everyone overlands. And everyone takes the same paths, whether in an overland vehicle, a fully-loaded Jeep with their families, or a cramped and ancient public bus. They do this because there aren't many distinct "sites" in Africa. Africa is the sight to behold in itself. See the land in between and connect destinations with the open road. Follow along these well-known paths, and you'll often see the same travelers at the same junctions/watering holes on the way. People swap stories and can relate to each other because they all know Ma who works at Snake Park in Arusha and that one fantastic beach bar in Nungwi, Zanzibar where the local boys practice their dance moves. Following these trails creates a community of vagabonds that all move by different means but all move to the same places.

In South Africa, the trail to follow is the Garden Route.

Starting (or ending) in Cape Town, one can experience the endless activities of this harbor city and move on via Baz Bus to a plethora of towns along the southern coast. Whether you want to hit up the winelands in Stellenbosch, the whale watching and cage diving near Hermanus, the beautiful landscapes of Mossel Bay, or the adventure sports of Plettenberg Bay, there are tens of stops to choose from and so many travelers to tell you good advice for your route.

The views are pretty much stunning everywhere, and we were there in the wintertime, when the sun was always at about half-mast and the wind was gentle and cool. Perfect. It can only get better from an already sky-high standard of vacation. And one of the best parts of the Garden Route, especially during that time of year, is the laid-back atmosphere that encourages relaxation and taking your merry time to blaze the trail.

Africa seems like a tough place to begin thinking about visiting, but after a quick glance on the internet, anyone will find a slew of routes and easy ways to digest the birth continent of mankind. And with a name like the "Garden Route", you know you're not going to be disappointed on your tour of South Africa.

Plummeting towards Earth: Day 51

The Moment of DIsbelief

Adrenalin junkies. Sometimes it seems like its a requirement to be heavily inked, fully pierced, leather-skinned, and a big fan of phrases like "that was so sick", "unreal, man", and "aw, dude, I've heard about that jump --it looks so ill!" These guys and gals flock to freefalls, half pipes, and semi-dangerous situations around the world, looking to cause that big release by pursuing adventure, sometimes at a lofty price. I never thought I would be one of these people, but then again, I never tumbled out of a plane voluntarily...until now. It seems a little daring or presumptuous to try describing a feeling that can only really be experienced to be known, but my awesome job is to tell you what there is in the world to do. Well, alright then. I'll give it a go.

You go up in a plane. You don't land with the plane. You sit backwards without a seatbelt on a tiny aircraft (where the pilot also wears a parachute), and as the altimeter reaches 10,000 feet, you open the latch to send the door flying upward. Then you throw your knees over onto the wheel step, rock backwards, and tumble towards Earth. All of these things sound very wrong, no? They are. We, as humans, were not made to do these things. If we were, we would have evolved wings or really big nostrils to float us down to land. But that's the whole thrill. Sky diving is doing what you're not supposed to do. Plummeting towards Earth is a bad idea, one that can result in a massive boo-boo, and you should totally do it.

For some odd reason, I wasn't all that worried about this, the biggest freefall of my life. Carly Mills, of STA Travel (as well as our hilarious travel partner this week), was petrified, and I think being around someone who was more nervous than I made my worries seem pretty easy to handle. I don't think I gave much thought to the image of the open air under me, and that certainly helped. I knew I'd be safely brought down to South Africa by my tandem partner, Donovan from Skydive Plett, who had jumped over 6,600 times before. Whoa, boy, that's over 55 hours of airtime.

And not only was this my first time flying through the skies, but we were jumping at one of the top two highest ranked drop zones in the World (along with Cape Town). The scenery was teal, mountainous, and capable of making your heart fly higher than it already does after a 35 second free fall. We were supposed to look for whales up there while parachuting to safety, but I was too engaged in my own disbelief of what just happened.

We landed perfectly, a few steps to a complete standing stop, and I yelled my amazement to all the men at the bottom who hear these exclamations every day. And that was it. I jumped out of a plane. Nuts. Simply nuts.

I'm hooked. I'm going again soon. Darn this new expensive hobby! A big thanks to Skydive Plett!

No Tour in SA? Gasp!

Have you been keeping up with our WTI journey? Yes or No. If the answer is yes, you've aced today's coolness test. It's based on hundreds of factors developed by brilliant scientists in order to accurately determine someone's personal awesomeness level. If you answered no, you can't possibly have less internet access than we have, so there's no excuse. Catch up now!...then come back and finish this blog :)

The reason I ask this hard-hitting inquiry is that if your answer was yes, then you know we've been boarding tour bus after tour bus thus far with strangers-turned-friends around the world. You'd also know that Chris and I weren't really tour people to begin with but have had experiences thus far that would need "best time ever", "once in a lifetime", "hooray for life" phrases attached to them.

But with South Africa came a whole new experience...an unplanned one! Though we had our hostels and Baz Bus reservations all set, we had open-ended days in spectacular cities along the southernmost coast of Africa in need of filling. So when STA Travel's marketing manager, Carly, joined us in Johannesburg for a lil' SA getaway, we started rambling off all the things that had to get done.

Great White Shark Cage Diving Hiking Table Mountain Stellenbosch Winelands Adventure Sports Long Street and the Waterfront

...and a healthy slew of others. With only one or two days in Cape Town to do it up right, we talked to fellow travelers (lots of the volunteers from i-to-i) and travel agents to find out the scoop, which was that adventure sports could wait until the Garden Route. What's unique to this area? The best ways to spend a few days in CT? Hiking tall, flat mountains and savoring fine wines, of course. And so we did, making sure to sample some staple and some understated restaurants around. We actually extended our time in Cape Town in order to allow for more enjoyment of this city that is idolized by her visitors and especially her residents.

What's great about the Garden Route are the landscapes, the relaxed wintertime environment, and the heaps of activities available. I see Cape Town as one of those cities that makes everything in it better because it's existing and happening in that city. Just like New York, Chicago, Florence, Paris, London, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Sydney...these places live. And when something happens there, regardless of how fun or cool it actually was, it's immediately on a higher level, solely based on the real estate mantra of location [cubed]! Therefore, we had to see the nightlife, had to shop, had to go wine tasting, had to walk up big slopes, had to take tons of pictures and wander around...not because these are things we never get to do, but because they are occurring in this booming and blooming city.

And that's how we decided on our itinerary for South Africa. Hike. Drink Wine. Shark Dive. Bungy. Sky Dive. Whale watch. View animals. And the trip was perfect...

Trek to the Tropical Tundra: Day 162

Trekking guide and cook

Trekking guide and cook

No blood was shed. The curfew worked. We strapped the chickens on board and waded in fresh puddles to the jeep. Over my dynamite Kashmiri bread breakfast earlier, I felt the boat sway and new voices bounce off the water. Mohamed crawled out of the flashy water taxi, the Parisian movie director a new arrival and "victim" of the Delhi boys' persuasive tongues, and packed in for the six day trek upon landing. There was a sweeping majority of Muslim men on this mountain adventure, and I guess it says scores about their abilities to welcome and comfort me that I didn't realize I was going alone into the mountain range that borders Pakistan with six men of Allah. Fayaz always kept me in the loop and half-amused/half-annoyed me with his insistence on yelling into the cell phone. Mountain coverage is just fine. Riyaz, the well-groomed cook with a powerful face, docile and steady, seemingly unfazed by high altitudes or the two vertical mile starter trek, which could be attributed to his many years of experience…or the ten daily hashish cigarettes he rolled like a well-practiced Rasta.

The three pony men, or gypsies, were 20 something mountain men named Niyaz, Riyaz, and Umar, and I think it was their interest in my uncustomary Western female ways, in conjunction with my dependence on their optimism and humor (which usually ridiculed Fayaz' uptight guiding techniques), that made us unspoken, uncommunicative friends. These simple men appeared a little rough, evidence of their lives of living just sustainably enough in the hills of India: making their own bread, using their cows and chickens for their kitchen basics, knowing nothing but cold and substandard comfort.

Throughout the trek, Mohamed and I had to insist with red face and exhausted lung that the gypsies take a comfortable seat, use blankets and dry ground to avoid freezing mountain temperatures, eat along with us, relax after the emotional exhaust of killing a chicken…the list obviously goes on forever, because Kashmiri gypsies know no end to the hassle and necessary work involved in their lives. Understandably, the 20 year-old had the makings of crow's feet and a grumble of a 30 year smoker. It's hard to accept that these overworked men and women live very far past the age of 60, but two of the men (brothers) claimed their father was 92 and still kickin'…and smokin'.

Anyway, the trek all began with a night in Naranaj, but to those of you who learn nothing from that name, I'll paint a wordy little picture. The town appeared clinging to a single highway that cut into the lower hills of the mountains. The further we swerved around the blind, unprotected, crumbling bends, the deeper we seemed to set into a valley that resonated with running river water. The walls of this, nature's gutter (only in the functional sense), were tilted beyond 45 degrees, and the effect of turning towards the towering angle causes one to lose hold of depth and reality.

Trekking in the Himalayas

Trekking in the Himalayas

As the ponies were packed up on the periphery of the town, Mohamed surprised me with an intimate sweet talking session directed towards a dog that wandered near us. Strangled slightly by a rough rope, strips of old rice bags, and a wire suspended from the makeshift collar that poked the pup from underneath, the dog charmed us if not for his sweet nature than just the fact that an Indian dog wasn't mangy and evil. She clung to our sides and claimed guard dog duties by her sustained presence; she nearly tripped me by weaving in between my legs in order to stay close.

Past the community's permanent stronghold popped up a string of tent clumps along the river, where we saw the final gypsy grazing camps before they all retreated from the impending cold. We tracked the river's stream for a half hour and sent the encouraging clicks and hoots for the ponies' progress reverberating off the valley's bowl-like acoustics. We unstrapped the loads and claimed some river bank space for our tents to rise and ponies to mow, cuing the skies to sprinkle and spit during Camp 1 high tea. Boulders thrice as wide as my grandest hug guarded our settlement from the mountain run-off but, more importantly, set up an elaborate jungle gym for our young spirits and desires to toy with danger. From these perches, Fayaz, Mohamed, and I sent our hungry eyes and a baited line into the river pools and caught two rainbow trout to fry up in the kitchen tent.

We chomped on hot food that night, long after the sun abandoned the valley, and employed our hands to rip into the meal like only gypsies and their imitators know how. And with after dinner chais and a casual question about favorite movies, Mohamed caught a fire in his eyes, and I watched as his passion for the "talkies" lit up the air of a still night in the wilderness.

In the seclusion of my own tent with a "winter husband" hot water bottle cradled in my feet, I went to bed certain of a pleasant sleep, feeling the mass of our watch dog pressed inches from my head outside the tent. Even through ear plugs, I heard the midnight growls and even thumps of a brawl occurring on the ground where my bodyguard formerly snuggled. I think there were times that night we all reclined simultaneously wide eyed and white-knuckled.

Because of repeated delaying factors thus far, we were a bit behind schedule on our trek to the skies. Fayaz remedied the dilemma by pushing the day one hike to encompass the entirety of the trek's hurdles into seven burning hours. The burning refers not to the sun but everything else: our legs, lungs, blisters, joints, the wind and snow on our skin, and then the unsettling chill of feeling our sweaty clothes freeze the back during a water break. There's no way I would have tackled this experienced unsupervised, but I certainly prefer to set my own pace that involves frequent stops to worship the peaks that come out of hiding with every vertical step. I also set no records for high altitude hiking, so I tried to grin and bear all the moments when the men ran in front of me then stopped to wait and watch my steady struggle. Anytime I pulled the Nikon from around my shoulder to click a mountain goat's billowing hair or fresh snow on a Himalaya, I couldn't tell whether the fellas were stretching their shins or tapping their toes. We flew through clouds of pine scents and past paths that gripped the hillside in fear, trickling with mountain sweat. All I wanted to do was let the jaw-dropping sights be feet-stopping and enjoy the views I paid for. The pony men began to sympathize with me and muttered breaths to Fayaz's lunacy. I refused to let such a thing annoy me and listened only to the waterfalls as applause in my ears.

Pony trek

Pony trek

I liked walking with the ponies and letting them set a pace through the muddy paths. Sometimes their hooves would misjudge a stone or pile of sludge, and a ponyman shot forward to help heave the scrambling horse from tumbling downhill. One of these times, I was stuck between a struggling pony and gravity's arm. It's funny; after this big journey and all its thrilling moments, I now know I react to the instant of possible death with a blank mind and eyes the size of swimming goggles. So much for that last second survival and rescue instinct.

The entire day was a crawl through diverse terrain and gradually worsening climates. The first scene was a steady, uphill zig-zag covering a hilly face slanted at 45 degrees to the horizon. The breeze was harmonious with the warmth of the tropical sun through the canopy. Our lunch break arrived upon reaching an idyllic, tree-lined plain, large enough for pony rebellions and wide-stretching views of new snow and secluded, unmatched power. We ate previously cooked rice curry after devouring apples the size of cherry tomatoes. Pulling them out of Mohamed's backpack with chilled fingers, one went rogue and rolled down to the bottom of the clearing. Their tastes met a tired body's hunger with a natural invigoration that sent me chasing the doomed fruit to its resting place upon pony crap. I wiped it with my sweat-drenched scarf and ate it, core and all.

Fayaz' pupils were clock faces, and he refused our requests to relax and lick our yellowed fingers. The ponies and dependant humans wound around the mountain on a path that ran, thankfully, more horizontally and squeezed into the rock's armpits. From afar I'm sure the route looked like a heart monitor pulse. The air acquired a nip and force as ominous as distant thunders.

And then the constant tree covering dwindled to patches in the distance leaving green hills, the rocky earth breaking through the carpet like stars on an undisturbed night, and old gypsy settlements from the long past summer months. A fog so arresting transformed the scene into a twilight zone or a movie set for some haunted troll colony. Minute beads of snow began to slowly coat the world.

Just like the Milky Way's streak across the black dome, the land was striped with boulder gardens that crumbled down from the peaks unseen. While the ponies panted with light feet and angered whinnies and the gypsies bounded weightlessly across the rocky streams in penny loafers, I traversed the ankle graveyards with such steady footing, I could have been stepping around spitting snakes and sleeping babies. I saw the moss and the light dew and ruled out the possibility of playful bounding with images in my head of broken feet and being flung over a gypsy's shoulder down the two miles I had just climbed skywards. The mountain started whimpering from somewhere.

We had reached Tronakun and the tree line that introduces the arctic world above. Behind a gray cloud to the left was a peak, Haimuk Mountain, and an illusion of closeness and smallness that only came about because I really knew it was the biggest thing I'd ever seen so nearby. But then I turned to my right and saw the hills curve downward out of sight. A kilometer away into the air between vertical lands blew a thick snowstorm that stopped me as would an oncoming stampede or tsunami. It was stunning. Neighbor mountains pushed through the white enough for me to see the company I was surrounded by, the most beautiful and ferocious beasts. The men were already cresting the hill in front of me and insisted I not stop moving or I'd get stuck in a cold trap. Things, people, and sights can move you to cry, but this non-replicable display, this one time vista stopped my heart. I shifted my weight, wrapped my snow-crusted scarf around my entire head, and shook in disbelief of what I was now forced to abandon for the rest of the walk to the camp site.

My pants were wet, my SLR frozen and flapping at my back, and each step brought me closer to the men and a possible hip dislocation. I didn't realize it during the trek there, but our stopping point for the night was directly behind the hidden Haimuk Mountain we'd seen across the plain earlier. The thin path's hurdles grew subsequently more monstrous until I found myself balancing on the rim of an Earth bowl against sideways snow. Water gurgled in the pit below, hundreds of meters down its untouched slopes. I froze up there at 16,000 feet high in the snowy Gandarbal range, wearing only a long sleeved tee, my fleece, jeans, and a Kashmiri scarf.

Riyaz, the "ever-enlightened" cook, lingered from the group to give me a trekking companion and someone to follow without contemplating each step, path, or rocky outcropping. My body began to conserve its energies to keep me warm and coherent instead of soaking in the scenery. When I lifted my head after crossing a fallen tree bridge and another rock playground, I saw the trek was finished. We were at the edge of a small lake that kissed the feet of Haimuk. She stood over us like a 20,000 ft tall shrine or monument to the Earth's accomplishments in beauty. I let out a gasp of awe before I was crippled by weak hips, unmovable fingers, and an inability to do anything besides layer on clothes until I ran out. The process took a half hour to become impermeable, and for the only time on this trek, I had no problem that the men didn't let me help with establishing our home base.

One tent erected in the expansive valley, and the ponies ran to the nearest nibbles of frozen greens. We were a speck amidst the white blanket that swept over us. Looking past Umar in the tent flap opening, it looked like a plain backdrop for a GAP commercial. Unable and unwelcome to assist in any way, I sat watching Mohamed fade from cold and angry to relieved and chatty as his fingers regained nerve cooperation.

We both were wearing wet clothes under thick coats that didn't make us any warmer, so I suggested using the tent as a changing room and having the others evacuate while one person gets dry, warm, and situated. I ended up being the only one willing to expose bare skin to bitter cold in an attempt to get warmer, but when non of the men waiting outside told the approaching Umar about my costume change, a very shocked, shy, and embarrassed Muslim man dove away from my sight with his freshly killed chicken dangling limp in his bloody hand.

The first time I left our mountain shelter was to achieve primal relief behind a distant rock closer to the water's edge. The storm and all adjacent clouds had long passed and left a spotless sky made even more clear by the paper thin air. I had asked about possible wildlife in the area, which were improbable presences, but I kept my African tradition of drumming my hands on my thighs to scare away any animals I could sneak up on in attempt to relieve myself.

Instead, what shook me to honest fear and submission was Haimuk, hovering over me like a half pipe wave about to crest over my head. The same way I used to think ghosts chased me up the stairs or stained-glass faces in my old house haunted me in my nightly pursuits, I was sure the looming mountain would tremble, lean towards me, and terrorize just because it would be too easy. I never took my eyes off her. The lake was her mirror. The moon illuminated her deadly outline. And this was where I took my pre-bedtime pit stop…a loo with a view.

It's proved true in every occurrence of this journey that when my body needs a night of dreamless, morgue-like slumber, I cannot manage more than an hour before lying awake, eyes wide shut. I was packed in next to my frozen backpack and Mohamed's shifting frame. Umar's body, curled desperately onto the last few inches of tarp and blankets, made it impossible to fully extend my legs without using him as an ottoman. So I rolled onto my stomach and lifted everything below the knee into the air. A light breeze outside covered the utter darkness of sound, and opening my eyelids made no difference in what I could see. I had packed myself in so tightly for slumber that every shift and reposition made me feel like I was in a Chinese finger trap. My sore hips ached as they pressed into the frozen, divot-riddled ground. Starting from 4,000 ft and scaling the 12,000 ft to base camp had no effect on my breathing or dizziness, but while buried in blankets and trying to stay warm, I had breathing fits where I couldn’t get enough oxygen and lifted my head, panting like I just swam across the lake outside. And to make matters more agitating, my sleeping pill didn't let me snooze but just kept me fully aware of how tired I really was. As it frequently plays out, I realized I was finally asleep when the rest of the men stirred awake for the second day on the mountain.

By the time the sun had exposed her entire plump shape over the eastern mountain range and created a blinding landscape, the other two gypsies, Riyaz and Niyaz, returned with the ponies from Tronakun, where they had descended the night before in search of grass and warmth for their most prized living possessions.

Fishing at high altitude

Fishing at high altitude

Cold gypsy Kashmiri bread and cups of tea later, Fayaz sent us up the nearby ridge in search of Gandarbal lake number two, a more glorious sight and prime location for fishing. My hips wanted to refuse the twenty minute trek, but two of the gypsies promised me a memorable and pleasant time, our friendships having blossomed through shared high altitude agony. And it was a tremendous sight. The water's surface resembled more a clean glass window than a rippled lake appearance. I could count the pebbles on the shallow bed and see the details in their ridges.

Fayaz caught good sized trouts with ease and a top notch French-made fishing rod. Meanwhile, the mountain men waded knee deep into the glacial runoff and grabbed the fish in their leathery hands. On the spot, the men cracked the fish' jaws and gutted their bellies to throw into a bloody plastic bag, not before squirting orange fish eggs from the ladies into the crystal waters. Some didn't die until the process had long since commenced. With those same hands, they pulled out two glasses and a Thermos of chai for Mohamed and I, as if our breakfast a half hour before had already vaporized in our stomachs.

Clicking some pics and moving back down to our lake, Fayaz passed the line to me and let me cast the hook into the dark, cold waters at the foot of Haimuk peak. I wrangled nothing, but when he pulled out a flailing trout a minute later, I slowly wrapped my fingers around the slippery muscle for the first time in fifteen years. Until it left my hands, I smiled and exclaimed the trademark sound of Lucille Ball: UUUUEEEEWWWWWWW!

We were lucky to make it to the Gandarbal lakes when we did; many other trekking groups refused the risk and only day-tripped it to the exhausting height. Fearing our luck would soon run dry, Fayaz sent us back down the mountain, the day after we climbed its entire elevation. Not wanting me to fall behind and do my own thing again, Fayaz strapped me up to an annoyed pony and led me out of the valley. It was at this point that I decided to stop fighting the "special" treatment and demeaning demands to drop my dignity for the sake of sanity. They pushed me to accept the role of a helpless lady from the trek's conception, and I took that part when I understood it wasn't an option so much as an insistence. So, I rode a pony off the mountain.

Harmukh Mountain

Harmukh Mountain

From my perch, I could fully appreciate the reality of the mountain's appearances. At some point in time, the Earth's crust collided and froze at the climax of the action, creating a militant formation of protected terrain. Each ridge stood like a soldier, standing there to make it harder on human kind to reach its deepest and most remote Shangri-Las. Writers and travelers wish to be lodged in these unimaginable crevices between rocky waves, but the fact is only a few have the ability to reach them and, because of this, their virginal value remains a bit longer until time finds a way to rape them of such virtue.

My pony's hesitant tap dance across the frequent rocky streams made me nervous and imagine our shared deaths in various scenarios. Barrel rolls down the hillsides, laterally and head first, smashing bones against boulders, my all-too colorful imagination powered on.

The end of this much shorter trek brought us to what can only perfectly represent a grassy knoll. All three tents rose in the rain, and I ran to grab our ground blankets to keep them dry under a staggering tent. The boys rummaged for firewood and ended up building a fire dome made of wet bark that sent opaque clouds of smoke into the pine trees. I was in need of a cold weather exorcism and stuck my feet in the fire's blue belly, while sitting on my winter husband water bottle.

I found myself later in the kitchen tent reading my book "Three Cups of Tea" while Riyaz cooked up a fishy, chickeny, veggie-filled storm. The hero of my real life tale was working to erect school buildings in the Karakorum villages directly north of us. On this trip, I've often wondered how local people truly reflect on efforts made by foreigners of a charitable manner. Some have said its funny (though also greatly appreciated) that people spend their time and money on service projects, while others are unwelcoming to those insistent on pressing religious superiority. I decided to do further research and explain my book to the cook.

After a labored translation, he told me he found acts like that of Greg Mortenson and his schools among the top most laudable efforts one could perform in needing societies. I briefly considered whether it was my turn to follow suit for the village of Naranaj, since some boys like Niyaz fail to receive even the simplest of educations. Foreign aid, done the right way for the most honorable reasons, is truly appreciated. However, it has never been my life's intention to search for suffering people who need me because I am an angel of peace in this troubled world. Nay; I instead am open to a mission I feel will become apparent when the right year, month, and minute allow its approach. I stored that thought in the vault and resolved to stay always aware for my cause, whenever it decided to turn up and provide a purpose in my life.

Up on those mountains, I had a mess of ideas in my confused mind. Dreams of mariachi bands, the Kashmiri blue steel eyes, my future home and meaning, all inspired by the magic around me. I envisioned camping through the summer months and building my own furniture, producing artistic wares and earning only enough to support the most basic of needs, batheing and washing in bins of rain water, while also allowing myself freedom from anger at my own culture and self-righteous mind. And I wrote all these thoughts down with the expectation of laughing at myself down the road. But I was confused and growing, and this time around I'm not prepared to ridicule my bouts of idealism. I wanted to descend the mountain ready to compromise, tolerate, and approach the interpretation of my desires with Van Gogh-like self-wisdom. After five and a half months abroad, I was becoming ready to return home and follow my own clock, hoping America would give me the unpressured freedom to do so.

The next afternoon, Fayaz sent us down the mountain once more, this time because of insufficient water supplies. Half way down the backtrack, we blazed a new trail, a pin ball course on dead pine needles. I relished the opportunity they gave me to use my own legs and started running down the trail. They were impressed (finally) and especially because all their bad knees kept them at turtle speed. When the ground cover changed to a thick inch of needles laying on top of ankle-rolling pine cones, I lagged to the back once more after some falls on the derierre put some fear in my legs. The land tilted so far, my feet reached a full point in order to keep my body perpendicular to the horizon. My toes smashed into the tips of my shoes, and with the soft muddy ground making things not-so-easy, I moved like I had a baby on my back. Fayaz, probably feeling guilty for sending us off the mountain two nights early tromped ten paces ahead of me and stopped rhythmically to wait, which adequately mocked my progress. I got angry…and this is what I wrote at the bottom of the mountain:

"My inner monologue cursed in all the chameleon-life contexts possible throughout today's trek. Yesterday, I made quite an effort to hold onto that chemical imbalance that made me raving mad when I should only be humored…or at the worst, perturbed. Today, I took the last Kingfisher (purchased completely by me) and ran to the rapids for this purge and beer binge. This trek can be applauded for many things, but I will now vent those which most aggrivate me…things so colossal to my list of needs that no Haimuk Mountain can soften the unintentional blows.

"I'm not an idiot, not helpless, not incompetent, not made of money, and not a child. I could go on, but I got enough boo-hoo exclamations in that sentence. And as I sit here ready to complain about the cost of this trek, the guide, all the lack of communication with decisions made, and the commands to speed up, slow down, wait, and "just sit there with your chai and biscuits," I know I truly reason all those factors to be worth a connection to Kashmiri culture and these mountains of nature. The other night's evening pee with the stars, the half moon, the reflecting, rippling lake, and the mountain's presence, which genuinely frightened me, was one I will try to paint with any medium necessary to recapture what a photo wouldn't or couldn't do.

"What is this insistence to possess the dignity of a Queen? Is it just because this was an exhibition of my paucity of cardio strength or because I am a Western woman being treated like a subservient child while on this soul-searching, life-defining discovery tour of my own genuine opinions and trajectory? I gotta go; it's high tea time in the wilderness…"

When it comes to these moments when emotions spoil the expected thrill and good time, it placates me to remember it's not a wasted time thanks to the opinion on travel I've formulated. My mind has cycles, and they don't stop for vacation. Unfortunately, this sometimes means I have sour memories of thrilling destinations. They are "nothing fights" that part with a smile. It's hindsight appreciation for having had the opportunity to be pissed in the Himalayas. "An adventure," after all, "is an experience of discomfort, recalled later in a moment of tranquility." The snowstorms, the freezing, the sleepless nights, the pony rides, boulder jumping, chicken slaughtering, fish gutting, intra-group disagreements, chapped lips, traversing of mountain passes, scrambles up and down steep trails, blisters, bruised toes, matted hair, and staring down the slope into a cloudy abyss…yes, it was my very own Kashmir mountain adventure.

Chickens at 17,000 feet

Chickens at 17,000 feet

The final two days, I read…constantly. I read sprawled on rocks surrounded by rushing water, read by torchlight with my feet squishing the hot water bottle, read curled in the kitchen tent watching Riyaz and Fayaz butcher a freshly killed hen, and the book ran out of pages even before finding society once more. As the Kashmiri men packed the ponies for the final trail blaze, Mohamed took a lounge on a massive boulder and stared at nothing but pure H2O flowing past him. I gave him his space and sat downstream under an oak tree, assuming his head was filled with relief and coulda, woulda, shouldas regarding his recently finished film.

I ripped apart every orange, crispy leaf that fell into my lap and covered my face from earth, wind, and fire with my scarf, singing to an audience of one. As my voice slowly deteriorates from wear, age, or lack of use every year, I occasionally test my former strength to see if I not only have the ability to push out good sound but also the creativity and genius to interpret my mind music audibly, following the greats I blare from my car stereo. I think the consensus in that valley was a negative to original music skill, and if I wasn't inspired in that oasis, it meant I just don't have it…or I have to put some all-consuming effort into it. I never let myself completely rule out an option for life on the big journey…so I kept professional musician on the table from that moment on.

I climbed onto my pony express for the last time, thoroughly bruising both thighs on the ascent, and arrived back into Naranaj atop the trusty steed that hated me. We passed the ancient ruins that marked our start and passed gypsy wives of 16 and 18 years old, all giggling at my interpretation of the hijab with my dirty scarf.

The red jeep that took us back to Srinagar pulled up after we collapsed on bags of tents, onions, and down jackets. The one chicken that survived the entire journey still flapped and jerked her neck around inside the wicker cage, watching us suspiciously for the approach and that knife that would signal her demise.

Once loaded, we followed the ribbon of highway back to roads clogged with flamboyant buses, rickshaws, impatient cars, and herds of goats on a death row walk to the big city. Our driver, a younger version of the chain-smoking, strong-eyed man behind the wheel last time, was nothing short of the craziest driver I've ever witnessed from the backseat. He was a bully on the road, overtaking cars even when smaller opponents were oncoming fast, and his handle on the dimensions of his vehicle were astounding. He cleared motorbikes and goats by centimeters at top speeds, leading me to believe he really didn't care what happened to his car or the unlucky matter that came in contact with it. Mohamed gripped the handle above the window like he was hanging above a cloudy abyss, and I sunk my fingers into the two front seats to steady myself so I wouldn’t dive bomb the boys sitting on either side of me. Fayaz, Riyaz, and Captain Insane-o chatted and smoked like they were at a tailgate, while Mohamed and I exchanged looks that said, "Someone 's gonna die on this drive home".

And once we thought we had seen the extent of his recklessness, we got to a city road and saw a woman, dressed in a lime green sari, crossing the street far ahead of our car's projected path. Mohamed and I both saw the woman in plenty of time to notice she was possibly in our way if the driver didn't slow down. I actually remember him speeding up. Our grips deepened to white-knuckle status, eyes widened to let our pupils swim in seas of trembling white, and two warning screams filled the backseat as we sent the woman running to the median. I kid you not and have no room to exaggerate this recollection. The woman was an inch from being struck by our car going 45mph. The driver had to swerve and blare the horn in order to not make contact with a woman so close that we could see up her flared nostrils. The driver laughed at his close call. This sent Mohamed into an awe-struck rage. I sat in shock with my hands over my mouth the rest of the way to the houseboat. We sent the driver foul looks and no gratitude as we slid out of the car, happy to be stationary, and ran to our rooms for the much-anticipated, fire-heated showers.

The trek was over, and we welcomed civilization like we'd never experienced it before. Chai? Send it my way! Clean clothes? I'll put on the fanciest ones I've got! Hot dinner and a Wesley Snipes movie? Who can I worship for this miracle? Throw that winter husband in my bed and let my toesies sizzle while I read my newest novel. A man that approached my water taxi a week before drifted by our balcony thrones at dusk, and we went into a shopping frenzy as another Mohamed presented his hand-painted paper mache wares.

Fayaz wandered into our boat and offered his cell phone for me to call my awaiting parents. I hadn't told them about my trip to Kashmir, for fear of raising their already boiling blood pressures, but I guess my lack of contact for nine days caused even more distress; Papa Bear was contemplating a flight to India to find me. I heard the organ from the sanctuary behind their relieved voices. While they were at Sunday church, I was watching house lights squiggle toward me on the lake's surface that Sunday night.

Mohamed wanted to share tea and chit-chat that evening, both of us finally comfortable enough to not worry about frostbite or the smell of rotting clothes to actually talk, but I wandered like a zombie to my room and apologized for answering the call of my comforter to join it in slumber. Before falling into my bed's embrace, I walked to the bathroom and thought back to the last bathroom journey in the woods. I hope it's normal to reminisce or even prefer the thrill of the life or death stroll to the facilities. I had it with every squat in the African continent, every adventure behind a big rock in Kashmir, and when it's no longer acceptable, I get a little nostalgic. Yes, my trek in the Himalayan mountains brought out the real lady in me, and I wait with bated breath for my next low encounter with a grassy knoll.

Thank you, Nature.