Pulpit Rock

Over 20 miles of hiking, 100 miles of buses, 4 ferries, 2 rides from strangers, and a bazillion energy bars later, we’re here: 

We left Bergen with all the belief in the world that we could walk the 16 miles to Osøyro. 8 miles later we were on a bus happily riding to the city. 

Osøyro was quiet. We got off the bus and wandered around looking for affordable food. We ended up halfing a veggie pizza and chilling for a while, regaining energy and messaging our families. By the time we left it was almost 10 pm and still quite bright outside. 

We found a sign for a walking path and followed it. The path arced between small farms and beautiful farmhouses. We followed it around a lake and up into the hills until we found a spot high above the town, perfect for setting up the tent. 

In the morning the entire city was hidden by morning sunlight-washed fog. The fog rose and fell every few minutes like a wave, and we watched it for a while. We had no SD card for Anna’s camera, our phones were dead ~ we simply witnessed it. 

We packed up and walked back into the city. Everywhere was closed but two gas stations (it was a Sunday) so we got coffee at the second and let our phones charge. We chatted with a man there, and he offered to drive us to the ferry ~ we were aiming for the south, somewhere ~ so we took him up on it. He drove us through the mountains to a 12th century monastery, where we wandered a bit, then to the ferry and dropped us off with well wishes. 


We walked, then bussed, then walked to Stavanger. It is a larger city and we found restaurants and boats and cool homes. We found a guy with an SD card and traded him $12, a coke, and chocolate for it. We wandered. We met a man who offered us a ride to Pulpit Rock if we went with him and his wife on the ferry to Tau then a bus to their home city. We did this, having to run to the ferry but pause every few feet to look at tee sunset 

The man and his wife were beyond kind. He brought us into the mountains near Pulpit Rock and dropped us off, telling us we could camp in the woods then set off in the morning for the hike. 

We got coffee at a cafe in a hotel near the hike, then set off. It was only a few hours, and endlessly lovely. 

Norwegian Progressive New Age Rock?

Over the past 24 (ish) hours I have traveled from Orlando, Florida, to Bergen, Norway. It has been an fascinating and exquisitely exhausting experience.  During the flight I sat next to woman from Boulder, Colorado, and I felt like the universe was on my side ~ then Norwegian Airlines kindly informed me that they’d lost my baggage somewhere between Orlando and Oslo, and I almost missed my connection to Bergen while trying to file a claim. This is the balance of traveling ~ it’s a lesson in living in the moment.

When I landed in Bergen I quickly found Anna, who was waiting by baggage claim. We finished filing my claim for my lost trekking bag and asked the woman helping us where we should sleep ~ we had planned to camp but my tent was somewhere in the world other than Bergen, so we needed advice. She didn’t really know, so we asked the service desk. They didn’t really know but they told us how to get to the city center, so we bought our tickets for the train and made our way to the station.

At the station, we met Oystein, a man who was eager to help us figure out where the heck we were supposed to go. As we chatted, we described our situation. He invited us to come to his home, even calling his parents to ask if we could stay with them. Although this sounded like a wonderful option, we were set on exploring the city on our own a bit, and weren’t sure about possible parallels with the movie Taken. So we declined but thanked him profusely, and got his email in case we decided to go visit and meet his many sheep he described.

We got off at the last stop and began to walk around the city. The first thing that struck me was the openness of the sky, with clouds arching high and bright toward the horizon. We were in a narrow valley with mountains rising around us. There were so many flowers, their smell spilling into the paths and roadways.

We really wanted coffee ~ well I wanted coffee and we needed wifi to figure out where we would sleep ~ so we searched for a cafe. We couldn’t find a typical coffeeshop so after a while we walked into an eclectic-looking bar. There we met a young woman who exuded positive energy ~ after ordering coffees and asking for the wifi password (which we struggled with for a while until we realized the password wasn’t correct and asked again), the woman invited us to sleep in her attic. Again, I was blown away by the genuine hospitality given to a complete stranger. She told us that, if we couldn’t find somewhere, we could return to the bar before 1 am (when she got off) and go with her to her home. We thanked her, and decided to try to find the one hostel in the city before taking her up on her offer.

It took us a while to find the hostel because Google Maps doesn’t work as well without wifi or data. Our little blue dot often went in the opposite direction that we were actually walking, and we finally gave up on it. It took us multiple walks around the same area to find the hostel, and when we did, we couldn’t find the main door. We were surprised when a man popped out of the side of the house and invited us in. We got the last 2 available beds, and settled down to figure out how I would get my trekking bag.

After an hour or so of chasing after my bag, we decided to go walk around. It was already 9 pm and quite bright outside still ~ we walked around a lovely park outside of our hostel and into the adjacent neighborhood. As the sky darkened very slowly we were drawn to a cave-like opening and the sounds of bass and electric guitar. “Should we do it?” We hesitantly walked toward the opening, and finally got the guts to walk inside the dark and grungy corridor. Candles lit the pathway. We found two young women sitting at a small table. They asked to see our IDs, which we handed over along with a small cover charge, and allowed us into the cave. It was an underground concert hall. We found ourselves amidst the cacophony of  a rock concert, with lights shooting and darting piercingly throughout the room. Mostly men filled the space, and moved only slightly to the music. The sound was totally overwhelming. At first it hurt, the music drilling into my ears, and then I found myself being absorbed. Fog rose from a machine on the stage and slowly filled the room. It felt like the world was on fire.

A fire alarm blasted, somehow even louder than the music. Young men and women wearing yellow vests herded us out into the street. The fog machine had set off the fire alarm, one young woman told us. We laughed as we waited outside, and soon were ushered back inside. We spent another few songs, this time wordless, absorbed in the music, then left in response to stomachs unused to the time of day being one for sleep, not food.

We wandered the city ~ at 11 pm there was still plenty of light to navigate by ~ finally making our way home around midnight. There we sat in the hostel’s kitchen chatting with other residents until just a few minutes ago, when I began this blog post.

It has been a journey completely counter to my plans, of course, as it must always be.

10 days in Ecuador

My first impression of Ecuador was the greenness of everything. Green was like a liquid filling the world, I breathed green, I smelled and tasted it. The animals living in the forest lived it and moved through its depths, full of vibrancy.

I only spent 10 days total in the country. The first few days my group traveled into the cloud forest, high in the Andes. dscn1067

The first few days were spent hiking, identifying different birds and talking to the local guides about conservation.

dscn1072

Conservation, according to Richard (the owner of the lodge we stayed at), is improving in the cloud forest of Ecuador. In the past, the government supported clear-cutting the forest to make space for cash crops or cattle farming. Now, people are using tourism as a route to protect the forest ~ buy some land, build a lodge, and invite tourists. The land, meanwhile, is allowed to remain for the most part in its natural state.

dscn1132dscn1093

We spent a fair amount of time around the hummingbird feeders, where dozens of the tiny birds buzzed and fluttered constantly. They’d alight on your hand if you held out a red cup of sugar-water ~ red, because they are attracted to that color. This explains the rouge of flowers pollinated by hummingbirds.

We drove back to Quito then flew to Coca, a town created directly because of the oil industry in Ecuador. From Coca we took a small motorized canoe to the Manatee, the boat we’d spend the next few days on. We were now in the Amazon basin, on the Napo river. The temperature was hot and the air humid, and the world opened up to the bluest sky.

dscn1172

We left the Manatee each day on the canoes, spending hours upon hours exploring the edges of the river, winding through the rainforest. We met a few of the local Kichwa people, who are now heavily involved in tourism and often find jobs with oil industry in the Amazon basin.

One of our guides, Raul, explained the situation with local indigenous groups. Most are “uncontacted,” he said. These groups are protected by the government and are to remain uncontacted and given enough land for this to be possible. Thus oil companies are barred from encroaching on these lands, although from what I understood the oil companies themselves are responsible for determining which lands these are. The Kichwa people were uncontacted before oil industry entered Ecuador ~ many of their communities on the banks of the river were formed in order to work in the industry. Raul explained that the oil companies are often the source of income for Kichwa people ~ it is that, or tourism ~ but this income would’ve been unnecessary except for the original contact by the oil companies.

There is so much more I would like to experience, to ask and to learn, to understand Ecuador. This is just a small window of insight, but if anything it has given me a basic understanding of the competing goals of capitalism and conservationism. Also, it has simply given me an opportunity to see a lovely part of the earth.

Nepal and India: Lessons

Today is not my last day in Nepal but it feels like it.

I’m traveling for a few days then returning, to finally make the long flight back to the States on Friday. But almost everyone else is leaving today. Bittersweet is the only possible word to define this time of life.

Last night we had dinner ~ all SIT students, staff and teachers sitting around a low table, talking deep into the night. We watched traditional Nepali dance and listened to musicians play large drums and sing melodies reminiscent of Nepal’s past. When we had to say goodbye to the teachers and staff ~ people I have become incredibly close to, beyond what I could have expected ~ it was deeply moving. These are relationships built with the understanding that they may be temporary and fleeting, yet built strongly all the same. What trust that is. I hope beyond hope to see these people again.

Since I am leaving Nepal for another country, I want to write down the lessons this place has taught me before I move on.

I noticed early in my time in Nepal that I experienced more eye contact with other people. This made me uncomfortable, at first ~ why was everyone looking at me? I realized part of it had to be my obvious foreign-ness. The awkwardness I felt due to being new to the country slowly melted into appreciation. When I walk to the stupa in the morningtime I feel at peace with eyes, with saying “Tashi delek” and “Namaste.” I became comfortable with people in a way I’ve never felt before. Eye contact became normal for me. I began to fold my hands together and bow back when older Tibetan people did so to me. The smiles I witnessed were so genuine. I eventually realized that the underlying difference behind this interaction, person to person, is the lack of cellphones.

Devotion. I grew up in the Bible Belt (northwest Florida) and became disenchanted with religion because of specific experiences. I have learned to redefine the concept though, and I have the deepest respect for it. First in Pharping, when my group watched and Hindu festival and then when Tenchoe, one of our Tibetan language teachers and an incredible friend, showed us how to perform a prostration (folded hands to forehead, chin and chest, then bowing to the ground). In Boudha I have had the greatest honor of seeing people walk, every day, around the stupa. This is korra, or circumambulation. People performing korra often hum mantras (om mani pemme hum) and spin prayer wheels for the benefit of all sentient beings. As people enter or exit the stupa area, often their hands reach their forehead and their eyes close in solemn recognition of the stupa, which has religious items in its apex and enormous Buddha eyes painted on each side. Each and every day, people gather around the stupa and walk, circling to the peaceful sound of pigeons cooing and the chatter of hundreds of humans in one place.

Promises have specific importance here. “Be careful to keep your promises,” we were all warned in introductions to living in Nepal and India. Perhaps it is different back home and perhaps it is just an excuse, but I have truly learned the seriousness of keeping my word. Why use language to convey something untrue ~ to make promises which are impossible to keep? There is a beauty in respecting other humans so very much as to be honest.

The complexity and reality of religions which are often romanticized on my side of the world:I realized quickly upon arriving in Nepal that there is a LOT about Buddhism that I don’t understand. There are deities that I didn’t study when I took a (wonderful) course in Buddhist Philosophy, and the two (philosophy and religion) simply cannot be separated in context. The newer generation of Buddhists is concentrating less and less on ritual (according to Reuben’s incredibly detailed research) yet it is an essential part of Buddhist practice here in Nepal and India. The philosophy is the other part, a fundamental part, but truly the two are too deeply intertwined to separate.

Language is of utmost importance. It is fundamental to sharing worlds. The frustration of being unable to describe something or understand something is almost painful. I have learned only a small amount of Tibetan language yet the words I have learned have been useful in beginning conversations. When I can share or understand even a little, I’ve received only glowing smiles and approval. Also, almost everyone I’ve met here speaks at least three languages fluently and I feel deeply ashamed that I only speak one. It is almost a duty, I feel, to make the effort to communicate instead of expecting the effort to come from others. This is a common experience for English speakers, I think, because it is easier for us to get by with only our original language. But in doing so, we miss something. Perhaps not everyone feels this way ~ I don’t really know how to explain it ~ but I think it is some kind of truth.

The gravity of refugees. Young children who identify as Tibetan, whose families are Tibetan, but who has no idea what the landscape of Tibet looks like. Traditions that are being held onto so tightly by the last generation, but are in danger of being lost with the transition to the next. A language which is changing, will inevitably change, as new foreign words are introduced and the language is impacted by everywhere Tibetans live in diaspora. A religion, so defined by a place and a culture, with everything at stake. People who have no access to a passport, who have family across the border but have no chance of seeing them again. But so, so, SO much hope.

This is my last post under “Nepal: Tibetan and Himalayan Peoples.” It has been such a journey. I am humbled and in love and in peace.

Let’s take a walk

These mountains have become a home to me.

It always stuns me how a place becomes a home. It’s unexpected and sudden; one day it feels foreign, the next I realize I love the curve of the mountains, the way the morning sunlight filters through the pines. The people I’ve met and the places I go are equally what makes this home. It’s terribly ironic that realization often occurs right before I leave, but if that’s the way it is, so be it.

The other day Anna and I decided we’d walk to Dharamshala Animal Rescue which Google maps warned would take 2 hours but we disregarded.”We’re not your average walkers…” We walked almost directly down the mountain. “There’s no money anywhere,” a frustrated English guy muttered as we passed him in Lower Dharamshala. We weren’t looking for an ATM but so many people are ~ since the old currency has become illegal the banks and ATMs haven’t been able to compensate for the amount of people switching or taking out cash. We continued on our merry way, finding ourselves in a totally different world than atop the mountain in Mcleod Ganj. The streets were more dusty, the homes and shops more haphazard in an incredibly touching way, as if they felt more real somehow and there. We were outside of the bubble of Mcleod Ganj, which is one of my favorite places in the world yet it is touristy, with more guest houses than homes. At the bottom of the mountain we could see people going about their daily lives without the facade of tourism. I didn’t notice a single Inji (foreigner) walking the streets.

A couple of hours later and we still hadn’t reached DAR ~ we were becoming exhausted and were walking uphill again. A car passed, and I heard someone say something. Hopefully I said “yes,” and the car stopped. A middle-aged Indian couple peered out at us as we walked up. “Going up?” The man asked, kindly, and we explained where we were headed. The woman spoke in Hindi and, embarrassed, told her I can’t speak the language. We got into their car and began driving upwards.

We stopped at an enormous home a few minutes later, and the woman got out. “Come,” she told us, “You are our guests.” We tried to get into the gate but it was locked. The man explained that their son was getting married and this was the Minster’s house ~ they wanted to give him an invitation. We stood on tiptoe to look through the gate and saw that the house was under construction. “Black money,” the man told us, and shook his head. Black money is apparently one of the reasons the currency was changed, so that extremely rich people couldn’t continue to build up money which didn’t match their income. I don’t truly understand it, but that’s the gist.

We got back into the car and they drove us to DAR. When we got out we offered them a bag of cookies we’d picked up on the way (they were meant for my homestay sister but I’ll just get her more later) ~ the woman laughed and accepted them.

We walked the wrong way for about 15 minutes before asking directions. We were told that DAR was directly downhill from where we’d been dropped off. We laughed and headed back, finally making it to DAR.

Dogs were everywhere. Some without hair, some with casts, others with previously broken legs. The manager, Kamlesh, invited us in and answered our questions. They take in injured and sick dogs and help them become healthy again, often performing surgeries. One dog had just come out of surgery ~ she had bitten a firework meant as a pig trap. It was desperately sad.

The people we met at DAR were intensely motivated and involved. Kamlesh explained that DAR works with the local community to spay and neuter, and also to heal the animals. If there are people and places like this, it is truly a wonderful world.


 

Yesterday Anna and I hiked Triund again, this time with Louise, our friend from Denmark. It was lovely to hike it slower this time, spending long minutes staring out over the mountains. We went about a mile higher than we did last time, reaching Snow Line  ~ from there we could see the entire, endless expanse of the Himalayas.

I met a dog at Triund who led us up ~ we named him Manjushree because he seemed majestic and was incredibly intelligent. Each step of the way to Snow Line he led us, sometimes taking us off the path (our exhausted minds didn’t realize until we were too far off) but we ended up making it to Snow Line. I bought a pack of Parle-Gs (biscuits) at the small shack-cafe up there, and fed them to him one-by-one. It felt as if I was paying him for his service of leading us up. When we walked down, he followed us, sometimes dashing ahead and waiting. When we walked down from Triund he went his own way.


 

triund-trash-cans-2
There are quite a few trash cans along the Triund trail, but they aren’t used most of the time. I found a lot of litter along the trail, and in interviews with locals I discovered that litter because of trekking is a big issue.
triund-waste-quote-1
This is a sign painted on the wall of a small shack-cafe halfway up Triund trail.
birds-memories-quote
Anna and I found this quote in a magazine we were reading in Green Cafe, waiting for dinner. I find it quite meaningful.

“Recycling makes me so happy”

dscn0652

She leapt into the garbage bin as we watched, and looked up when she heard us walk over. Her eyes were liquid and huge. She was thin and obviously had puppies somewhere. As we moved closer she began to shake as her tail wagged furiously. I reached in and scratched behind her ear. Anna tried to lure her out to give her some of the dog food Anna carries everywhere, but with no success.

As we walked away, a garbage truck whirled around the curve of the road. It stopped at the bin and a man hopped out, fastening a large chain to the bin. Our friend jumped out of the bin and we turned back, walking toward her.

Another dog trotted over and I bent to pet him. When I looked up, I saw the mother dog waiting excitedly as Anna poured food on the ground for her.

dscn0633

This is one of the garbage trucks. On Monday I went with the Green Workers to see how they collect garbage (for my research project) ~ this is the truck we used to store garbage until we brought it to the segregation center to sort out recyclables.

I’m going to change names, because I feel that perhaps I should. I didn’t ask their permission to blog about them.

I first met Jay around 7:40 am outside of the Clean Upper Dharamshala Programme’s Green Shop, where they sell recycled books and other awesome items. He motioned that I follow him, and I did. We walked from house to house, calling for dry waste and collecting it in large tarp bags. After our bags were full, we stopped and waited on a random staircase until Raj and Tashi showed up. I passed the time munching on crackers I’d brought for breakfast. I offered them to my companions, and Jay offered some to the monkeys lingering on the roof nearby.

After a while, we all stood up and resumed work. I walked with Jay to one older Tibetan woman’s home and when she walked out, she brought a box of pineapple juice. Laughing when she saw me, she went back inside and got another box for both Jay and me to have one.

We all met up again at the main road, next to the garbage truck. Jay motioned for me to get in, and it was at that moment that I realized how much I’d always wanted to ride in the back of a garbage truck full of trash. Actually. As we drove super-fast around hairpin turns and I perched precariously on the side of the truck’s bed, I felt that I’d found the purpose of life.

Anna and I have begun typing our ISPs (independent study projects) in the last few days, so we’ve spent an unnecessary (or oh so necessary) amount of time at cafes. We were sitting at Nick’s Italian Kitchen when one of us saw this scene outside.

An old street dog, sitting comfortably on the pathway. A young Tibetan girl walking up. Sitting down. And they coexist. She petted him and her friends mingled about, and Anna and I witnessed the moment. Street dogs are treated better here in Dharamsala than in most of India and Nepal, but it is still rare to see moments of love between our species. It’s unbelievably touching.

dscn0613

Mcleod Ganj is quite littered ~ for my research project, I’ve documented a ton of garbage tossed in the crevices of the city. Waste lines where city meets nature. Cows, dogs, water buffalo, cats, and monkeys can be found munching on garbage, and often water is cloudy with pollution.

Yet through my research, I’ve found that this isn’t the fault of anyone. It’s the product of ineffective infrastructure plus bad habits and a lack of education. And it’s changing.

This picture, which I took on an hour-long walk up the mountain from Lower Dharamsala to Mcleod Ganj, represents this in my mind: there is such intense beauty. Pollution is not the end.

More on that later, in my ISP.

dscn0563

In this photo, one of us has already been incredibly sick, another will be within 24 hours, and the third will be in 48. One will come out totally healthy.

The past week has been a humbling one. I’ve experienced what it’s like to be pretty sick in India, with amazing friends to feed me ORS (oral rehydration salts) and an ISP to research and write. It must’ve been something we ate at Triund because all of us hiked and three of us got sick.

It is an amazing world in which you can meet people and get sick and take pictures and laugh about it in the end. Anna and I met Conor and Matt on the nightbus from Delhi to Dharamsala. Mcleod Ganj is a small town, so we saw them often and soon planned the hike to Triund. The night before they had to leave, they stayed in our apartment ~ 5 people including Izac, all in one room with one bathroom and a lot of evil bacteria. The one who was sick spent much of the evening in the bathroom, and that night our toilet stopped flushing… things that only happen in India.

dscn0547

And a shoutout to this human who has been my adventure partner for the past few months.

We’ve been walking to Bhagsu a few times a week to try to switch our money out at the bank, and have visited this restaurant nearly every time. It has the BEST (and only) chickpea omelettes. The money thing has been a major issue for a lot of people in India ~ the government made all 500 and 1000 notes illegal (these are worth about $8 and $16 respectively) and the banks haven’t been at all prepared for the amount of people who needed to switch to the new bills.

It’s calmed down a lot though since the beginning hullabaloo.

 

Finally,dscn0555

Mountains, at last.

229 flights. Or so says Anna’s iphone’s health app.

My legs were nowhere near as prepared as they should’ve been to trek up Triund. It took us (me, Anna, and two friends we met on the nightbus from Delhi ~ Conor and Matt) 5 ish hours to make our way up the rocky path, through tightly-wooded forest and stomach-dropping cliffs to the saddle of the mountain. Once we reached it, I fell onto the grassy slope and breathed for a few minutes. In the sunlight it was warm, the kind of warm you want to drink in, the kind your skin relishes. In the shade, I could tell the night would be bitterly cold.

The guys already had a tent, so Anna and I had to go find one to rent. The first seller we asked wanted too much, so we found another. 600 Rupees for a tent which we soon found to be a piece of sh*t (hilariously) as one of the poles had no elastic binding it, and the other pole was broken and haphazardly taped together. It was snug, though, and we set up camp quickly.

The sun set earlier than usual because of a large cloudbank above the horizon. When its rays had melted into purples then dark blues, we made our way to one of the scrap metal-tarp shacks to seek out dinner. I ended up with a cup of tomato soup, Anna with mushroom, and we sipped our scalding dinner as the night’s chill deepened.

Going to sleep was a bit of a challenge ~ I was cold to the bone so had a billion layers on… plus adding a liner to my sleeping bag, I spent at least an hour baffled by all of the layers of cloth I was trying to sleep in. When I woke up in the morning, I had somehow pulled the top part of my sleeping bag closed and had burrowed effectively into my layers.

The sunrise reminded me of everything I adore about mountains. It slowly ascended, its sharp and yet soft rays leading it forward. Stray light dotted the mountainside, and the air became a lovely mix of nighttime giving way to day.

 


 

dscn0508This (above) is Anna and Nawang, a monk Anna met at Bogdo Cafe and I met the next day, at the same cafe, because he offered to teach us Tibetan. Our meeting ended up leading to korra around His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s temple. The korra path is pretty long, perhaps 45 minutes, and deeply green. I should explain korra: from what I understand, it’s walking around a spiritual place, with compassionate intent ~ often people say “manis” (Om mani pemme hum, which is a mantra for the wellbeing of all sentient beings) as they walk.

Nawang is a hoot. He is so patient in teaching Anna and me Tibetan, but often laughs at us (for some reason, who knows). Once I dropped a ring off the balcony of Bogdo Cafe and Nawang followed me down to the undergrowth below, using a shovel to pry away at the stinging nettle blocking the ground so I could find my ring. We had the whole cafe outside, surrounding the bushes, one guy helping to push back trees and everyone else watching and laughing.

dscn0485

Our apartment has pretty much become a home. The balcony is still my favorite place in Mcleod Ganj, a perfect spot to sit and drink homemade tea (Tulsi black tea + honey + a dash of rose tea), or to watch the sun set through the pines, or to watercolor. Also, the sun spends about 4 hours a day streaming through our plentiful windows.dscn0463

My independent research project has shifted, a bit. I’ve spent a good amount of time with the Clean Upper Dharamsala Programme, learning about their approach to waste management. Through them, I’ve begun to look at sustainable tourism. I went to the Environmental Development Desk at the CTA (Central Tibetan Administration) and learned about their approach to environmentalism.

Through my experiences so far, I’ve begun to realize that there are many different approaches to environmentalism here in Dharamsala. There are political influences as well, since the Indian government has began a “Smart City” project ~ which hasn’t really gone anywhere yet ~ and the Municipal Cooperation isn’t as reliable as it should be.

All of the questions are nearly overwhelming, but I think a picture is beginning to form.