Trek Feet

Sometimes we
wander off.

Here is our letter home.

December 16, 2011 1:48 pm

Every evening when the border between Pakistan and India closes down, throngs of patriots gather at the edge of their respective countries for an elaborate, pomp and machismo filled ceremony. The chanting, frothy, delighted crowd was a site to behold. Kids climbing over each other, scampering up buildings and evading policemen just to get a glimpse. How can anyone rally this much national pride and antagonism every night? It was fantastic! I only wish I’d had a vuvuzela. And  maybe that we hadn’t lost the cab driver who brought us out to this middle-of-nowhere sunset showdown.

November 18, 2011 5:00 pm

Of the things we carried home with us from India,  wrapped in Hindi newsprint in a cheap blue nylon bag we bought in  McCleod Ganj, one of these handmade puppets from Rajasthan is my very  favorite.
The man who makes them owns a concrete shop in Udaipur, stuffed with  half formed bodies and antique fabric swatches, tiny heads with  unpainted crowns or one side of a coal black mustache. It was sort of  magical to watch him come to life when we huddled in and started asking  questions. He was just so Gepetto, you know? Just so hungry for someone  to appreciate this little world he had carved.
He set aside our purchase and beckoned us back into the stuffy  entrails of his stockroom, flipped on the lights and unveiled hundreds  and hundreds of the dolls. A frozen troop of sizes and shapes and every  one distinctly individual from the next.
While my dad waited out front, sweating on the stoop next to a cow  and a boy with a great sales mouth, the shopkeeper made one of the  puppets dance for us - swooping and demurring, throwing back her head  and so delicately tipping and spinning across the floor. Swaying as he  swayed her to music in his head. You could have stayed a long long time,  entranced and clapping for more.

Of the things we carried home with us from India, wrapped in Hindi newsprint in a cheap blue nylon bag we bought in McCleod Ganj, one of these handmade puppets from Rajasthan is my very favorite.

The man who makes them owns a concrete shop in Udaipur, stuffed with half formed bodies and antique fabric swatches, tiny heads with unpainted crowns or one side of a coal black mustache. It was sort of magical to watch him come to life when we huddled in and started asking questions. He was just so Gepetto, you know? Just so hungry for someone to appreciate this little world he had carved.

He set aside our purchase and beckoned us back into the stuffy entrails of his stockroom, flipped on the lights and unveiled hundreds and hundreds of the dolls. A frozen troop of sizes and shapes and every one distinctly individual from the next.

While my dad waited out front, sweating on the stoop next to a cow and a boy with a great sales mouth, the shopkeeper made one of the puppets dance for us - swooping and demurring, throwing back her head and so delicately tipping and spinning across the floor. Swaying as he swayed her to music in his head. You could have stayed a long long time, entranced and clapping for more.

October 18, 2011 4:47 pm
It feels like I’ve been home forever. Which is  fairly ridiculous, given that over the past four months my “home” has  been stacked up and drifted two thousand miles west like a continent.   But the thing is, a mega grocery mart in California is a mega grocery  mart in Minnesota. Traffic and English and ease and the relatively  familiar are the same here as they are there as they would be anywhere  in these 50 states, more or less. By which I mean that my feet remain  restless, my heart is ready for something truly different.
When my father turned 60 this spring, I said: Let’s do something big. And, where in the world do you want to go? Northern India, he said and so I’ll fly to meet him and my brother in  Delhi and seven or eight days later, just about the time we have moved  through Rajasthan and also from delighting in each other to murdering  each other, C. will join us as a very welcomed distraction for the next  two weeks north by northeast. And maybe a little south? It’s hard to  say. There are few plans and four sets of vibrant, detailed day dreams  and I cannot wait to see where the compromises will take us.
So in a few days, I’ll zip up my backpack and do that bend and swing -   that favorite hoisting up and over, after which everything you need   (more than you need, really) is carried on your back. Under your own   steam power. And there are no laptops or telephones, little vanity and   few tethers home.
It’s hard not to grin while I write this and so I’ve stopped trying. I  never feel completely at home here, you know? I think these feet were  legitimately built to wander. It’s been 18 months since the last big  trip to Colombia and that probably doesn’t seem like very long, but it’s  a bit like holding my breath. Out there - anywhere - is the big exhale.  Better, even, the big inhale. Out there, I feel my best self rise back  up. Calm back down. I find myself again and my place - in a far backseat  to the other 6,999,999,999 people in the world and what they’ve carried  and what their parents carried and the thousands of glorious years of  battles and faith and ruin and heritage and culinary ingenuity and  victory and pilgrimage and uprising that nip me down to only this:  Insignificance and Blessing. How lucky we are that the world is this big, that we might never reach it all.  I  can hardly sleep at night thinking of the colors and the pace, the  spice and the noise, learning the melody of a city I don’t understand.  Watching a thousand miles of your countryside roll by like ribbons, like  filmstrips. Catch me up, I’ll yell! Just praying the world will comply,  just waiting to be overwhelmed. And I’ll memorize everything I can so  that one day, when we are very much back home. Weighed down by the  glories and the weariness of this domestic life, I can pull that packet  out and wrap myself in its colors like peace.

It feels like I’ve been home forever. Which is fairly ridiculous, given that over the past four months my “home” has been stacked up and drifted two thousand miles west like a continent.  But the thing is, a mega grocery mart in California is a mega grocery mart in Minnesota. Traffic and English and ease and the relatively familiar are the same here as they are there as they would be anywhere in these 50 states, more or less. By which I mean that my feet remain restless, my heart is ready for something truly different.

When my father turned 60 this spring, I said: Let’s do something big. And, where in the world do you want to go? Northern India, he said and so I’ll fly to meet him and my brother in Delhi and seven or eight days later, just about the time we have moved through Rajasthan and also from delighting in each other to murdering each other, C. will join us as a very welcomed distraction for the next two weeks north by northeast. And maybe a little south? It’s hard to say. There are few plans and four sets of vibrant, detailed day dreams and I cannot wait to see where the compromises will take us.

So in a few days, I’ll zip up my backpack and do that bend and swing - that favorite hoisting up and over, after which everything you need (more than you need, really) is carried on your back. Under your own steam power. And there are no laptops or telephones, little vanity and few tethers home.

It’s hard not to grin while I write this and so I’ve stopped trying. I never feel completely at home here, you know? I think these feet were legitimately built to wander. It’s been 18 months since the last big trip to Colombia and that probably doesn’t seem like very long, but it’s a bit like holding my breath. Out there - anywhere - is the big exhale. Better, even, the big inhale. Out there, I feel my best self rise back up. Calm back down. I find myself again and my place - in a far backseat to the other 6,999,999,999 people in the world and what they’ve carried and what their parents carried and the thousands of glorious years of battles and faith and ruin and heritage and culinary ingenuity and victory and pilgrimage and uprising that nip me down to only this: Insignificance and Blessing.

How lucky we are that the world is this big, that we might never reach it all. 

I can hardly sleep at night thinking of the colors and the pace, the spice and the noise, learning the melody of a city I don’t understand. Watching a thousand miles of your countryside roll by like ribbons, like filmstrips. Catch me up, I’ll yell! Just praying the world will comply, just waiting to be overwhelmed. And I’ll memorize everything I can so that one day, when we are very much back home. Weighed down by the glories and the weariness of this domestic life, I can pull that packet out and wrap myself in its colors like peace.

July 14, 2009 7:25 pm 7:15 pm
At this altitude, you don´t sleep well….even though you´ll lie in your top bunk, in the log and clay bunkhouse and try, not really minding. Your head will ache and every step at incline feels like a life challenge.
But: You will wake up to fresh mango and local coffee, homemade granola and eggs from the chickens that roam 10 meters up the hill. Your first view will be of a snowcapped active volcano, impossibly grand and close.
At night, when the hacienda is lit by candles and wood stove, you will wander outside, away from the laughing group still around the kitchen table. The wind has died down and the stars shake out like a rug, spread across this infinite sky that arches from one peak to another, that watches over a million miles of hard ranched plains.  You want so badly to capture it and send this urban legend of a night sky to everyone back home.
Despite how much harder it is to do everything here, you will hike slowly up to the volcanic glacier and watch — feel! — the clouds drift in around you. You will clamber up through farmland and thickets with four dogs as company to find a modest waterfall, hidden from the world.  You will fall down and laugh in the thick sweet clumps of grass after every next impossibility is somehow achieved.
The bus rides will be brutal, if we’re being honest.  Hot, nauseating, packed past capacity and - for you - windowless.  Two Ecuadorian farmers will sit on your arm rest and lean against you for four hours as you try not to vomit and make a list of things for which you have to be grateful:  Not having to shave your legs, trading in underwire for sports bras, the fact that you didn’t feel the need to shower today, the glory of this place, the bag of fried bananas in your bag, time to read, the destination that awaits you half a day up into the mountains.
When you arrive, town will surprise you. Tiny, dusty and the sole source of commerce seems to be the fried pork stand outside the church and a woman who sells you a popcicle and toilet paper.
There is no bus to your next home so you and your pack set out to walk. One foot comes slowly and deliberately after the other at this height. You think this is probably an apt metaphor for life and stop to press the Eucalyptus leaves to your nose.  Eventually, you will arrive.

At this altitude, you don´t sleep well….even though you´ll lie in your top bunk, in the log and clay bunkhouse and try, not really minding. Your head will ache and every step at incline feels like a life challenge.

But: You will wake up to fresh mango and local coffee, homemade granola and eggs from the chickens that roam 10 meters up the hill. Your first view will be of a snowcapped active volcano, impossibly grand and close.

At night, when the hacienda is lit by candles and wood stove, you will wander outside, away from the laughing group still around the kitchen table. The wind has died down and the stars shake out like a rug, spread across this infinite sky that arches from one peak to another, that watches over a million miles of hard ranched plains.  You want so badly to capture it and send this urban legend of a night sky to everyone back home.

Despite how much harder it is to do everything here, you will hike slowly up to the volcanic glacier and watch — feel! — the clouds drift in around you. You will clamber up through farmland and thickets with four dogs as company to find a modest waterfall, hidden from the world.  You will fall down and laugh in the thick sweet clumps of grass after every next impossibility is somehow achieved.

The bus rides will be brutal, if we’re being honest.  Hot, nauseating, packed past capacity and - for you - windowless.  Two Ecuadorian farmers will sit on your arm rest and lean against you for four hours as you try not to vomit and make a list of things for which you have to be grateful:  Not having to shave your legs, trading in underwire for sports bras, the fact that you didn’t feel the need to shower today, the glory of this place, the bag of fried bananas in your bag, time to read, the destination that awaits you half a day up into the mountains.

When you arrive, town will surprise you. Tiny, dusty and the sole source of commerce seems to be the fried pork stand outside the church and a woman who sells you a popcicle and toilet paper.

There is no bus to your next home so you and your pack set out to walk. One foot comes slowly and deliberately after the other at this height. You think this is probably an apt metaphor for life and stop to press the Eucalyptus leaves to your nose.  Eventually, you will arrive.

July 12, 2009 10:05 am
Well Ecuador, you are winning my heart in record time.
Have jammed in a ridiculous amount in my first couple of days. I´ve wandered the gorgeous Old Town, dodged kamikaze pigeons in the Grand Plaza, hiked atop a mountain overlooking Quito, visited the Equator (Which was so much more awesome than it sounds. I balanced a freaking egg on the head of a nail and earned a certificate. There is no piece of paper of which I am more proud!) and got talked into going out with hostal mates…a decision that somehow ended up with a group dance off and shared whiskey in an Ecuadorian club. 
Headed off this morning to the mountains, Cotopaxi National Park, and I´m more than ready for the slowed pace and peace.

Well Ecuador, you are winning my heart in record time.

Have jammed in a ridiculous amount in my first couple of days. I´ve wandered the gorgeous Old Town, dodged kamikaze pigeons in the Grand Plaza, hiked atop a mountain overlooking Quito, visited the Equator (Which was so much more awesome than it sounds. I balanced a freaking egg on the head of a nail and earned a certificate. There is no piece of paper of which I am more proud!) and got talked into going out with hostal mates…a decision that somehow ended up with a group dance off and shared whiskey in an Ecuadorian club. 

Headed off this morning to the mountains, Cotopaxi National Park, and I´m more than ready for the slowed pace and peace.

March 12, 2009 11:01 pm
11:00 pm
10:58 pm
December 3, 2008 8:21 pm

Rhymes with Toilet.

When I was heading over to cross the border from Thailand to Cambodia years ago, everyone I met told me: Just remember, Poipet rhymes with Toilet.

For good reason.  Last time, the streets of Poipet were crowded with renegade teenagers.  Sulky youth with beat-up cars, who spoke no English but would drive you into Cambodia for $30 and a possible mugging:  The local version of public transport.  I got sick in a shanty town, waited several stubborn hours at immigration refusing to pay a bribe and wandered through a town strewn with naked children, limbless Cambodians, sewage and casinos. 

Pleasant memories.

But as we’ve remarked over and over on this trip, a sweet, easy air of peace and good humor seems to be contagious now.  The foreboding we felt last time is entirely absent. So entirely, impossibly erased that I can’t shake the feeling it must be hiding…must still be here somewhere just beneath the smiles and calm, waiting like a rebellion.

We’re heading out for the border this morning; making the reverse commute back to Bangkok this time. And I feel certain - if this safety and happiness translates to Poipet, it really is a new era in Cambodia.

Here’s hoping…