Sunday, December 30, 2007
Well Shasta, we came back to you. Safe and sound. Did you expect us? Oh, I see. You were along with us the whole time. Was it just to keep us safe? Or did you need the healing, the power, the experience of the other mountains too? Maybe so. Those peaks have given Rod and I a gift to hold onto, and they have given it to you too. Were we just a vehicle for you to ride to see your family? Were we an adventure you couldn't resist? Regardless, now I understand that you have made the same journey as we have, and you are stronger for it. I can feel it. And now you are a companion. You feel like an old friend. Coming back here really does feel like the closing of a circle. Well, it is. One full circle around Sun, one full circle around Earth. One full circle of seasons and stars. it is so safe and comfortable being back here with you.
Rod and I skinned up from Bunny Flat, stopped on the same ridge as last year and bowed to you. Then up to Horse Camp where we set up our tent (a much faster and more streamlined process than last time!), and enjoyed a full moon over your bright snowy edges. Wind howling. We melted snow, made dinner, then sat giggling and grinning stupidly at each other. We did it! It's done. We have circumnavigated the world climbing sacred mountains -an intentional yearlong meditation. A meditation on mountains, cultures, ourselves, our relationship, our fears, limitations, gifts, humor, impatience, misconceptions, and insights. A meditation on the sacred and the power of mountains in our lives and dreams. And we're back! It worked! Back at home, ease of old friends.
We popped open a bottle of nice Champagne (yup, carried the glass bottle and all -what's an extra few pounds on a night like this?). We popped it open and took swigs strait as we completely lost control. We were full volume. Swaying and hooting and howling at the moon. Our ruckus echoing off the ridges. Full moon, a splash for you Shasta, and tears. Celebration! We did it! We did it! We did it!
And yes Shasta, my old friend, remember back? You were the first big mountain I ever climbed. I was 18 years old. You pushed me, and tossed me, and worked my overconfident ass, and it did change my life. All I wanted to do after that was climb mountains... backpacking being just a skill needed to approach, rock climbing a skill to reach the peak, skiing a skill to better come down. We began this expedition with a bow to you, asking for your protection and blessing. You not only gave us that, you further decided to accompany us. And now we're back. Right here. The circumnavigation complete. We have visited, communicated with, paid our respect to, received teachings from, been thrown our by, and been given the gift of summiting a globe of mountains, all Apus really. Mountains held in sacred esteem by the peoples who know them. And we are now three bodies carrying the sacred light of these monuments to peace, love, and power from all around the world.
Saturday, December 15, 2007
We are heading back home to the good ol’ U. S. of A.!!
We flew from Bangkok to Tokyo, then directly Tokyo to Kona, Hawaii, arriving the morning of the same day we left! Back in the USA… I can read all the signs, I can talk to everyone, they all understand everything I say!
Alarmingly, when I am carrying my bag into the hotel lobby to check in, an unknown man sees me coming, backs up, opens and holds the door for me! Twilight zone! Where are we?!! Then, strolling around our hotel that afternoon is a strange feeling of sponging up another new place, new culture, and yet the mild ease of belonging somehow. My first impressions are that the people are a bit rednecky, the streets are a little overly clean and ordered, and every stranger is totally familiar.
We stay in Kona that night, then get some breakfast at Lava Java and go food shopping at the natural food store. I can read all the labels. The brands are familiar. Once we have gathered what we need for a few days in the backcountry, we drive south to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. After so many months in Asia, where driving is it’s own distinctive endeavor, the order and almost fanatical rule following on US roads is somewhat shocking. The patience when someone slows down, the staying inside the lines, the lack of honking, the courtesy... It’s disconcerting.
We can't find any fuel for our stove in Kona, so our first enterprise is to visit the ranger station, get our permit, and see if/where we can get fuel. Of course it is raining. It is raining, and it is the front of a large storm that will last through the days we are here. We ask for a permit to hike from the Mauna Loa Strip Road trailhead to the summit of Mauna Loa (13,501ft, 4115m) and reserve bed space in the Pu'u 'Ula'ula (Red Hill) cabin and Mauna Loa summit cabin along the way. The rangers look at us with bewildered eyes.
They call their boss over. “Nobody is up there.” They all stare at us. Then, fairly, start questioning us, trying to assess our experience. “Have you ever climbed a mountain before?”
I have trouble arriving at an answer for this. Should I start listing? I don’t know how to begin. Rod jumps in just naming mountain ranges where we have climbed, “The Sierra, the Cascades, the Andes, the Alps, the Caucus…”,
I start to feel weird, “… and others.”
The boss ranger says, “Well, no real mountaineer would go up there in a storm. I mean, it’s snowing up there!”
Maybe there something here we don’t know about? I thought Mauna Loa it is a fairly simple low angle walk on a marked trail over lava to the summit; no steeps, no glaciers, nothing treacherous. So we start asking the questions…
“Why, is there avalanche danger?” No.
“Chance of ice falls?” No.
“Danger of falling a distance on slick ice?”
“No, but the wind is so strong, it might blow you into the crater!”.
Whatever, just give us the permits, if it looks to treacherous, we’ll just turn around and come back. Really, the one thing to be concerned about, which the rangers didn’t emphasize, is visibility. If the snow storm reduces visibility enough, seeing the trail might be difficult, and since it is a broad lava field, it will be easy to get lost.
The ranger station doesn’t have any fuel we can use with our stove, so we head to the Ace Hardware store in the small town of Volcano. They don’t have any either. Rod figures out a way to rig a way our stove can work on the type of fuel bottles available. So maybe we’ll be OK. We probably have enough food that does not require cooking to make it through the climb anyway. It is cold and rainy, harsh reality after so many weeks in Thailand. Isn’t supposed to be warm in Hawaii?
We find a great B&B in Volcano. It is a big yellow old style Hawaiian ranch house, with some surrounding buildings. We get a room, (a room with showers and clean sheets (yippee!)) and a cat that keeps sneaking in and demanding pets. We unpack and pack up for our early start tomorrow morning, then head into the restaurant for dinner.
Wow! It is Christmas season! We have not encountered any Christmas stuff yet, and frankly, forgot that it is so soon. In the restaurant there is a large decorated Christmas tree. As we are eating, Christmas carolers come in and sing. With the cold rain outside, the burning fire against the wall, the carolers and decorations, it really begins to sink in that we are warmly coming home.
The next morning, at 6:30, we load our backpacks into the car (we decide to take a rope with us in case the visibility gets really bad), and drive up to the trail head (6,662ft). We almost run over an endangered Nene (Hawaiian goose). With our rain gear on, we start up the trail, the wind blowing hard. We find that it is hard to identify the trail because it is all just one field of grey rock. In fact, it would be impossible to find it if the tall cairns were not in place.
In Hawaiian, Mauna Loa means “Long Mountain”, and boy is that ever true! This volcano is a “shield volcano”, or basaltic volcano. Unlike the Cascade volcanoes (andesitic volcanoes) shield volcanoes are rarely explosive and mostly just oose. Basalt is a type of lava that is very fluid when erupted. Therefore these volcanoes are not steep (you can’t pile up a fluid that easily runs downhill), and are shaped just like a shield laid on the ground. Rod says the he will never climb a shield volcano again. It is the longest, boringest, walk; it feels like we are walking almost on flat ground (and we have to get up to 13,501ft, so you do the math). Then to add to it, we are walking on rugged lava rock the whole way, getting rained and sleeted on, and often find earth cracks, or break through thin crusts, or have to climb over lava tubes. It is slow going, to say the least.
In the afternoon, we arrive at the Red Hill cabin (10,035ft). It is hard to believe that this is only 7.5 miles from the trailhead. It is surprisingly cold up here, the humidity and elevation are not a good combo. We shiver our way through dinner (the rigged stove is working), drink a lot of hot tea, and climb into our chilly sleeping bags. I sleep in all the clothes I brought.
We wake up early to a freezing cabin and freezing rain splattering the windows. After breakfast and lots of hot tea, we bundle up and continue up the endless lava field. By mid morning we have reached the snow level. By lunch time, we are trudging through a blizzard, thanking each tall cairn marking our way. We finally reach the trail junction on the low rim of the large summit crater, 9.5 miles from the Red Hill cabin.
From this point it is 2.6 miles to the actual mountain summit on the right (but only about 600ft higher elevation), and 2.1 miles to the Mauna Loa Summit Cabin on the left (200ft elevation gain). We set out for the summit, dreading the reality of 2.6 there, 2.6 back, and then 2.1 to dinner. We walk for about one hour, and reach a point practically level with the farther away summit, but on the rim overlooking the crater. We stop here.
The summit of Mauna Loa is where the goddess Pele found refuge. Hawaiian legends say that volcano goddess Pele was driven from her home by her angry older sister, Na-maka-o-kaha'i because Pele had seduced her husband. Every time Pele would thrust her digging stick into the earth to dig a pit for a new home, Na-maka-o-kaha'i, goddess of water and the sea, would flood the pits. Pele eventually landed on the Big Island, where she made Mauna Loa her new home. Mauna Loa was so tall that even Pele's sister could not send the ocean's waves high enough to drown Pele's fires. So Pele established her home on its slopes.
We pay our respects to Pele, then turn around and head back to the trail junction. From there we suffer our way along the last 2.1 miles to the Summit cabin (13,250ft). I swear, these were the longest two miles of my life! 2.1 has just got to be a miscalculation. Rod and I stumble into the cabin as the sun is setting. In a blank stupor, we heat up some water for tea and get dinner started. After eating a bit we feel better and start to plan out our descent. Could we do it in one day? If we can, then we can eat all our food now, and wouldn’t that be nice! Yeah, lets walk all the 19+ miles down to the car tomorrow. That sounds sensible. Proof that altitude affects judgment?
The next morning, we wake before dawn, in order to make it to the car before dark. When I walk out to the water tank, I find that the tap has frozen solid. We use the water in our bottles (we filled everything up last night) for breakfast, put on our down and gore-tex and head out with headlamps lighting our way. The sunrise over the snowy slopes and ocean is gorgeous. We even get a great view of Mauna Kea before the days worth of blizzard hits us. We try to make good time down through the blizzard, it wouldn’t be possible with out those great tall cairns. Our clothes were covered with a layer of ice… We are in Hawaii, right?!
We struggle to get to the Red Hill cabin for lunch. We are hungry and out of water. The cabin is so warm and nice compared to what we have been walking through all day. We make and drink endless cups of tea, eat a casual lunch, and just lounge around for too long a time. Continuing the walk to the car does not sound fun, but we don’t have dinner for tonight, so we better be on our way. Whose crazy idea was this; doing it all in one day?!
Our knees and feet are killing us, the elevation markers seem dreadfully far apart, we groan with each big step down. As the sun begins to set, finding the trail becomes more difficult. Things become tense as we try, unsuccessfully, to beat the spinning of Earth to our car. With headlamps out, we eventually make it. Wordlessly, we throw our packs in the trunk, peel off our boots and socks, preferring thong shoes, and collapse into the car. We drive back to the yellow B&B. When we get out of the car, neither of us can walk, our legs have just seized up completely. We gimp into our room, then make it just in time for the last dinner seating.
It is so pleasant to be exhausted and eating good food and drinking good wine with a fire and a Christmas tree and Christmas music. Our time in Hawaii is the perfect buffer between all the places we have been, and coming back to California... just loosely easing us in. Thanks to Pele for a safe journey on her mountain,
Thursday, November 22, 2007
Ahh, another regular day in Phi Phi (pronounced Pee Pee, and so therefore unfortunately the town Phuket is similarly said). Today, after breakfast, we will do some yoga and read on the porch until about 10:30. Earlier in the morning the Tower is in the sunshine. We try climbing in the sun, but it is so hot and humid, that we are literally dripping with sweat instantly, and our sweaty hands can't hold onto the slippery limestone. After 10:30 the rock is in the shade, and the heat and sweat are manageable. It took us about a week to discover how to manage the mosquitoes however. Finally we found that burning a mosquito incense, available in town, kept the pests in check.
Like I said, the climbing here is good fun. There are many routes that are good warm ups and great to build confidence on lead. We amuse ourselves with everything from simple satisfying leads to thrilling frightening leads to "no way will I lead that, maybe we can top rope it" climbs. And plenty to fill each day without getting bored. We will climb until about 2:30, then back to the bungalow for swimming and reading until evening.
Last night, on the way to the village, we passed through a big gathering of people watching something going on in the harbor, most of the village was there. A barge with a crane had been called to rescue a sinking ship. It was all kinds of chaos with men on the barge and ship yelling at each other, and swimming to put slings around the ship, and maneuvering a flat boat with a water pump, and the crane trying not to break the ship in half. In the time i was watching, the ship was sinking about one foot every 15 min. It was very exciting. When we came back after dinner they had it back afloat... it all worked out somehow.
On days we are not climbing (come on, we can't climb everyday, gotta rest too :) we have a few enjoyable reserve activities. A favorite is to head to the book store in the village. They serve great coffee, and we sit and read and pet the sweetest yellow lab who is always hanging out on the sun deck. She mostly sleeps, but sometimes she excitedly jumps up and soon we hear the bicycle coming... her owner calls her, and off she runs to the beach for a swim, which is her favorite thing.
A walk through town and up over to the other side of island is always an adventure. The path starts with the tsunami trail; which is both a planned escape-to-high-ground route should another tsunami hit, and a memorial to the devastation of the 2004 tsunami that hit much of Thailand. From the top of the island, we see the ruins of buildings and the broken vegetation of areas not yet cleaned up. One man we spoke with, who was here for the tsunami, said he was asleep in his room on the 2nd floor when it happened. With all the noise, he woke up and looked downstairs to see his house and the whole ground under churning water. He was fine, his house stayed standing, but most of the village was completely destroyed, and he lost many friends. It is amazing though how the people here bounce back, rebuild, and maintain such a cheerful attitude. After admiring the views from the top of the island, we walk down the steep slippery path through the noisy jungle and onto the beaches on the other side. One of these has some beautiful bungalows and a tasty restaurant. We stay for dinner, but then have the scary walk back through the jungle at night; homicidal psycho jungle roots grabbing our feet.
On calm afternoons, when the sea is flat, we hire a flatboat to take us out to one of the small rock islands surrounding Phi Phi. In the shallow bay on the south side of the rock, is the Best Snorkeling Ever! Wow! I am truly amazed by the abundant life, the staggering diversity, the electric colors, and the warm crystal clear water. And we are the only people as far as we can see. We snorkel and swim around, we dive off the bow, we stop to snack on bananas and grilled squid with chili sauce, we snorkel some more... then the sun gets low and it's time to head back. Watching the sunset over the strange jungle topped rock formations, tired and relaxed from swimming, while bouncing along the waves may be my fondest memory of all our time here.
Now it is just a few more days of this paradise. From here, we fly back to the U.S., to climb Mauna Loa, Hawaii, and then back to California. The trip is coming to an end, our circumnavigation is almost complete. Ahh, but it will be so hard to leave here! In fact, Rod just suggested that we don't. We could just stay awhile. It is certainly hard to leave Phi Phi, I hope to get back here someday... and the adventure continues on.
Thursday, November 15, 2007
On our way to Bali, in one series of flights, we discovered the polar opposites of airports: Worst airport ever - Delhi, India, and best airport visited - Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. We flew from Katmandu, on Cosmic Air (not recommended), to Delhi, where we had to stay in the transit area for 6 hours. There was a restaurant and a book shop, but no ATMs or money exchange in the area, and we were not allowed to go into the rest of the airport without a visa to India, everyone there was coming from another country (so didn’t have local currency)! And that cluster was just the tip of the dysfunctional iceberg. From there we flew overnight to Kuala Lumpur, and into the ultimate juxtaposition. A very well organized, beautiful, clean airport, many coffee shops, restaurants, and shops (several well placed ATMs), and with a nice hotel inside the terminal, so transiting travelers did not have to go through customs or anything. We got a room, slept until 1:00pm, and caught our flight into Denpasar, Bali, without leaving the airport.
OK, now in Bali:
From the Denpasar we get a taxi to the quiet beach town of Sanur. What a pleasure! Our hotel is beautiful; fresh flowers, clean white linen, geckos on the wall, the sweet fragrances of Plumeria and ocean, the staff is very friendly and welcoming. What a pleasant shock after our time in China, Tibet and Nepal! We get settled in and walk out into the humid heat looking for dinner.
Oh my, the Bali food! Raw chilies, shrimp paste, palm sugar and tamarind. Turmeric, ginger, roasted coconut, peanuts, musk limes. Anchovies, fresh sambal (spicy chopped chili in sweet soy sauce), goat meat and pounded fish. Yum!!! And some local arak (alcohol from fermented palm fruits) to top it all off! Yippee!
We decide to give ourselves a beach-lounging day before heading up to Mt. Agung. After a sweaty morning run, then a sweaty breakfast, we get into our bathing suits and plop our white asses under an umbrella on the beach. We spend the day reading, napping, having banana milks,
getting pedicures, swimming… basking, basically. It was excellent.
We do not head up into the interior of the island the next morning because our run and strenuous basking the day before have given rod a pulled calf muscle. We happily stay in Sanur at our great hotel and bask some more. In the afternoon, we take a boat out to the reef for some snorkeling. On the way home from dinner that night, we pass a temple with the strangest melodic jangly sounds of bells and drums bursting through its gates. We stop and listen to the traditional music played by an all women gamelan (orchestra of 35 to 40 musicians) sitting on the floor. It is an odd, clangy, mystic, and sometimes haunting sound.
The next morning, after breakfast, internet, and hair cuts for both of us (it was so hot, I cut most of my hair off), we rent a car to drive to Agung. It is a little heap of junk, but we think it will be OK… time will tell. Driving is scary! It is hard to explain the chaos of narrow roads, no agreed upon driving rules or etiquette, and getting used to being on the left side instead of the right. On top of that, so many things to look at! Wood workshops building furniture and doors, rock sculptures, temples everywhere. And every business, home, or building had a high place where offerings are made daily. Most people also put little palm woven bowls with rice and flowers and such, as offerings, on the doorstep or entry way. We drive to the town of Candidasa, and find a beautiful hotel to stay in. We play drums on our porch overlooking the sea while watching the sun set.
We spend the next morning swimming and drinking tea on the porch, then set out to see the Temple (Pura) Besakih on the South West side of Gunung Agung. This temple complex is Bali’s most important. It is really 23 separate but related temples, built at various times, but thought to have originated about 2000 years ago. Usually each temple is devoted to a specific God or group of Gods. Balinese religion is an interesting combination of Hinduism, Buddhism, Malay ancestor cults, and animistic and magical beliefs and practices. The island is the only remaining stronghold of Hinduism in the Indonesia archipelago (which is mostly Muslim). The crater edge of Agung’s summit looms over the complex when the clouds decide to reveal it, and many annual festivals are devoted to the Gods descending from the mountain. Gunung Agung is the abode of Batara Gunung Agung, also known as Mahadewa, the supreme manifestation of Shiva. We walk through the temples and are stunned by the unique rock work, strange lines of split gates, and grass roofed meru towers. The afternoon light fades as we decide to return to the car. As we walk down we turn, look up, and get a rare and lucky view of the mountain through the clouds.
We decide to drive to the town of Sideman to stay that night and arrange a guide to climb the mountain. It is now dark and we get lost on the wrong road. We attempt asking directions periodically, do a lot of U-turns, get cranky, but finally get onto a road that should take us into the town. The little heap of junk we rented is smoking. We follow the steep road down into a valley full of rice paddies, and then up the windy other side. Just when we see the soft lights of Sideman, the car dies. So here we are, on a steep windy road, in the middle of rice paddies, alone, in the dark with a smoking heap. Should we sleep here? How far is the town exactly? Can we fix the car and get there? Pretty soon a motorcyclist turns the corner and stops, and then his friend comes by and stops. One of the guys works at a hotel up the road and calls the owner to come and get us in his car. But before the owner can get there, we get the car started again, and drive it the short distance to the hotel, which turns out to be another great place. We have dinner served to us on our porch, and eat overlooking the river valley.
The next day we hang out at the hotel, do yoga, and arrange for a guide and driver to pick us up at 3 am the next morning (11/15/07). He is on time, and we drive an hour to another temple complex on the south side of Agung, Pura Sambu. There, we climb the steep stairs up to the first level of the temple, then around (clockwise) to the trail up the mountain in the back. The path up is slippery, with vines and roots winding through the slick earth. Our guide, a nice 34 year old father and high school student (very proud of going to school), stops two times to make offerings to the mountain. We emerge above tree line as the sun rises, and make it to the rocky, very windy summit (3142m) before the usual clouds form. We make offerings of bananas and arak by throwing them over the steep edge of the summit crater (during some festivals, they also throw goats and flowers in as offerings). It is beautiful up there, and surprisingly cold for being at latitude 8. We eat a snack and enjoy the cloudless view before heading back down. We visit the temple at the bottom, then drive back to the hotel, arriving after dark.
After one last breakfast overlooking the brilliant green valley, and getting a special morning view of the mountain, we get back into our car hoping to make it back to Sanur without breaking down. Of course we don’t. The first time the car dies, a policeman helps us push it off the road and get it started again, the second time we are fed up and walk to a roadside café to call the guy we rented from to bring us a new car. After much mixed English and Bahasa Balinese on both sides, we manage to borrow a cell phone and get a hold of another car. Back in Sanur that afternoon, free of car responsibilities, we swim and bask until sunset.
That night, our last night in Bali, we walk past the temple where we saw/heard the music before, and luck out again! This time there is a smaller orchestra, a gong kebyar, playing the strange music. We sit down on the edge of the raised floor to listen. After a song or two, a woman gets up and begins to dance. The dance is amazing; the woman has such precise control over everything from her finger tips to her neck to the arches of her feet. The next song, two more women get up and join her. What a treat to come across this! The best part is that this is a local, informal, gathering at the temple, not a show for tourists, they are just practicing and laughing, the whole family is there… we just luck out to be walking by.
For me, the meaningful part is to see the young girls, maybe 8 or 9 years old, watching the women dance and trying to emulate them, trying to remember all the moves in admiration. This is a culture that, despite the influence of extensive tourism, religious tension with its government, and exposure to modern global culture, holds its traditions and beliefs out in celebration. The young are eager to learn and be a part of their history and customs, enabling its enduring richness.
Bali is a true gem.
Sunday, November 4, 2007
We stopped in Kathmandu for a few days on our way from Tibet to Bali... didn't do much there except eat and sleep and eat and morning yoga and eat and shop and eat. After the basic and bland food of Tibet, and the MSG loaded food of China, the complex tastes and fresh ingredients of Nepali food were heavenly. Here are some photos of our daily walks through this incense smelling, crowded, eye catching, and very interesting town:
Men playing chess on the street.Stupas are everywhere, often squished between buildings. Kids use these areas as parks and play areas (even some cricket games).Pigeons rule the streets! It doesn't help that these ladies love to feed them!