Okay, you finish university this summer and you’re still unsure about what to do with your life. You pick up the rule-book of our capitalist society and flick to the chapter after university. ‘Chapter Five: Post-Degree Life’ – “You must now apply for a job in a business and field that you can see yourself working in for the rest of your career, nine hours a day, five days a week, year after year.” You read on with trepidation: “you must do this so that you can get a deposit on a house, get a brand new car, a new wardrobe, get those items advertised to you on the TV, and you must get all of this before your peers do”.
All those possessions you could have – the security; the comfort; the routine. If everyone chases these things instantly then surely you have to as well? Surely it’s the only way, right? Well, twenty-one years into my life and in my last year of university, I can safely say that I don’t own a lot of the aforementioned stuff, but the experiences I do have are something infinitely more valuable to my life. Yes, in the past I have threw out the car money so I could stay in Africa one summer working as a journalist and hanging out with a bunch of rastafarians; I threw out the deposit money so I could fly to Australia/Thailand and parachute, sail, cage-dive and party my way around the coast with a bunch of strangers; I threw out the wardrobe money so I could cycle my way through European countries, seeing the sights, raising money for charity and sampling the beers along the way.
The best thing about these possessions is that – unlike the stuff in the capitalist rulebook that I’m meant to obtain – these are things that aren’t mass-manufactured and can’t be lost with bankruptcy, divorce or some gambling addiction. They are locked up within myself, where they can never be compromised. So you have to ask yourself: which possessions are more valuable to you as a person currently in your life? Experiences or ‘stuff’?
In case you can’t work out with side I’m leaning to, it’s most definitely the experience side for me. We live on a crazy, convoluted, messed-up planet and only tread its vibrant soil but once; why would you want to spend it all in one routine, one job, one culture, one house, chasing all the items your neighbours have? Why would you not take this moment in time where the right combination of technology, political stability and infrastructure has allowed us to travel to multiple far-off places for the first time? Stories are created. Strangers become friends. Insights are gained. Experiences become possessions.
Perhaps this phenomenon can be further highlighted by looking at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs – a model that defined the common order people chase their human needs. Although just a theory on a theory, it’s a good way to reflect some possible ideas.
As you can see, ‘security of body, of employment, of resources, of the family, of the health, of property‘ are some of the basic needs near the bottom of the pyramid that can be possessed in conjunction with work, mortgages, savings and material goods. But what about the self-actualisation and esteem qualities of ‘morality, lack of prejudice, acceptance of facts, respect of others, confidence, self-esteem, spontaneity‘ and those near the top of the pyramid? Will you grow those from material goods? Will you develop those immediately getting stuck doing something you have no interest in for forty-five years?
It is obviously dependant on you, your own personal interests, your relationships and what you seek to get out of, contribute and achieve from working in your particular field; however it’s more than likely for a lot of people – still unsure of what career (if any) will fulfil them – that those things can currently grow from the amazing opportunity of travel where you can gain perspective, learn first-hand about the world and experience other cultures, ideas and peoples – rather than sit at at the same desk every day in a job you’re not interested just to mindlessly chase the word ‘successful’. Just remember that the term ‘successful’, used in the context of the working world, is one constructed by a capitalist ideology – the parameters of which are measured by money and market share: things that were again constructed by other people that aren’t you. Don’t be instantly pressured into something you don’t want to do by such a debatable, problematic and relative term.
So go and travel. Go and travel if you still don’t know what to do with your life. Especially if you haven’t been before. Ignore your tutors who want you to constantly chase ‘success’; ignore mum and dad who want to see you ‘grow up’; ignore the TV that tells you to work to buy the latest car. Respond. Respond against a system that can hinder you. Go and catch a plane to an exotic country; go and hike through the expansive wilderness; go experience other cultures; go and party to the early morning on a beach with a bunch of strangers; go and spend your days gazing out at sea and your nights looking up at the stars.
If you don’t have the money then work for a bit, or combine the two and work while you’re away – working visas and teaching schemes are common in many countries and are a part of such experiences. Don’t worry about falling behind – you can still have all those other items and fulfil those other important needs later on in life; just take the lack of responsibility, proliferation of good health and the complete freedom and liberation that this age brings to head off with a flimsy backpack and see our bewildering world. There’s a good chance you will discover what you want to do with your life whilst out there travelling. And if you end up in a mundane job working for the human necessities of family, security and home, at least you took your chance to possess enriching experiences on top of those when you had the chance.
Just remember that after the rule-book is read, the adverts consumed, the paycheck cashed, the garage occupied and the wardrobe full – travel, like education, is one of the few things you buy that makes you richer.
Okay, so you’ve got it all planned. You’ve dropped a pin on a map of the world, found your far-off destination, researched all the crazy things you want to do and are itching to throw your clothes and camera into a bag and jump into the glistening, pure pool of adventure travel. A sense of excitement warms your soul and you begin to float towards the heavens – but suddenly the quantum reality of the universe pulls you back down and reminds you to check your bank account. You view your account balance: $32.04. Enough to get you to the next town maybe, but not to the corners of the earth. You realise you’re gonna have to save up to afford this next adventure.
This is such a battle global backpackers go through time and time again. If you were lucky enough in the game of life to be spawned in a first-world country then even working for the minimal wage will be enough to get you out in the world to travel; in fact, there are many people out there who travel with little to no money – but that’s another story. With a sense of grit, determination, patience and by just being sensible with money, it’s possible to save enough to go anywhere you want. Here are some things to think about as you save for your next backpacking trip.
Do I really need it, or do I just want it?
A few minutes walking around any city centre will see your eyes swamped by a starry universe of advertisements for clothes, products, gadgets and expensive cuisine. It may have just been payday and you’re itching to shower yourself in such luxuries, but it’s useful to step back and think whether any of that stuff is of any use to you as you save up for your travelling adventure. In fact it is during backpacking trips that many people come back to basics and realise the small amount of things that you need to get through the day. These are: food, water, oxygen and shelter (sometimes even this is a luxury on the road). Put simply, these are the fundamental things you need in order to survive – cutting out the luxuries or other things we’re led to believe are ‘necessities’ will see you saving hundreds of pounds/euros/dollars/pesos each month. How much you are willing to embrace ‘the simple life’ will reflect how much you begin to save. So skip lunch at Nandos and grab a potato salad from the nearest supermarket. Find extra ways to make money
Seven times in the past I have took a dive into the unknown of pharmaceutical testing and donated my body to medicinal research. Essentially I became a human guinea-pig where my time and body were used to test new medicines. While this sounds scary and crazy to anyone I mention it to, the reality is that it is very safe, ethically approved and thousands of these studies are conducted every year in most developed countries. Such ventures allowed me to save additional hundreds of pounds for a backpacking trip in South America, a long-distance bike ride in Central Europe and ongoing travels (including a cage-dive with great-whites!) within Australia whilst I was there. This is just one example of another way to gain income besides work, but if that’s not for you – look elsewhere. Get a weekend job; sell your unused possessions; go into a casino and prepare to win millions (I take no responsibility for the consequences of this one).
Get rid of your car
Yes, that shiny metallic stallion that gets you around town may be your immediate ticket to freedom, but in the long run of saving up for an adventure it can be anything but that. Cars, while great to get around, are ultimately a massive consumer of your finances that can see thousands being spent on fuel, insurance, tax and repairs. If you have legs and have a job that is accessible by bicycle or public transport (your ego may have to take a hit), then sell the car, store the money from it and start counting the hundreds you will no doubt save each month. Hey, if you even live in a hitch-hiker friendly country maybe even try hitching around – it is a genuine mode of travel that will be extremely useful to you on your travels.
Stop drinking and smoking
If you’re really passionate about strapping on that backpack and going on a grand adventure then your hedonistic vices may have to be suppressed for a while. Oh the humanity – the reality sinks in and one hears the groans for miles as the thoughts of giving up those weekend sessions or fag breaks for the near future ring cold and clear. The simple fact is that nights out, drinking and smoking see massive amounts of disposable income being spent in the matter of a view hours in a bar or club – all for you to be left with a hangover and a need to spend even more money on fast food hangover cures the day after. Give it up. Your body and wallet will thank you for it I assure you. And if you thinking this is rich advice, know that this is coming from a very keen drinker numerously accused of being an alcoholic who is currently two months sober on the road to adventure – my longest period sober in the last six years!
The list could really go on longer when focusing on the cultural, consumerist spending habits of people in modern day society, but it really is as simple as looking at where your money is going and taking control of your finances and life. We live in a world of distractions, advertisements and temptations where you will be shown hundreds of ways to spend your money every day. But ultimately it’s you who is in control of your spending habits and if you’re serious about getting out there in the world of adventure, then it is up to you to look at how your money could be saved.
With a little first-world austerity, and some simple temporary lifestyle changes, you’ll be surprised at how quick those travel tokens rack up in your bank account.
Rebellion: an angst-ridden word that brings about images of uprisings, stoic defiances and Bastille-esque overthrows.
In fact defined as “the action or process of resisting authority, control, or convention”, said action or process can be realised in workers’ strikes, protests, political movements or even in fashion and subculture – groups such as Punks, Hipsters or Bikers going against societal expectations in the way they act and the way they style themselves. But when one looks at these things holistically, we can so often witness a way everything spirals around and each one is ultimately fallible to the system. Worker’s strikes can only last for a set period of time before their livelihood collapses; protests can spiral out of control with protesters getting arrested by authority and their voice ignored; subculture styles are capitalised on by advertising and marketing companies reciprocating the trends back to them in order to profit off their rebellion. Through the resistance of it all, so often it ends with ‘the man’ getting his way. However, there is another act of rebellion that has the capability to evade such capture and compromise – a ‘movement’ and lifestyle that resists conventions, control and authority to a much larger degree than any of the aforementioned examples.
Travel. Backpacking. Wandering. The act or process of venturing to new places, new people, new horizons and new worlds. Packing your few possessions into a flimsy backpack and leaving your home, system and conventions behind; setting your eyes to the horizon and relentlessly aspiring to wander to the next place and the next experience. In the act of adventure travel, one becomes distanced from the overarching prism of society where the mechanisms of control and convention may dictate the way for a period of time, but never for the duration. When one uses all their money to voyage to a new place and not on things that tie them to a single society, how can specific conventions, control and authority be a part of that person’s life? When one systematically moves from society to society throughout the years, how can one individual society’s rules and views be implemented onto that person in any effective way? The answer is that they can’t. Societies and political structures rely on people’s lives being static and still in one place, and if one becomes nomadic in nature and lives a life of physical movement, then the mechanisms of an individual society lose their influence drastically. To travel is to rebel. No monthly mortgage payments; no permanent job and pension scheme; no expenditure being used on consuming advertised or marketed products; no singular exposure to bias, samey media conveying everything one way. A single society’s foundations of control, authority and convention lose their zest when a person exists on a global scale. Yes, travellers adhere to laws and conventions when they are in a specific country, but when that stay is never set or fixed, any long-term hold over that traveller becomes marginal – all they need is a few hundred dollars and then all of it is left behind again. French philosopher Albert Camus said that “The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion” and perhaps travellers/backpackers are the ultimate embodiment of this. A life of movement and adventure is not compatible with the system – after all if everyone were to live a nomadic existence then the conventions, control and authority of single societies would be completely disrupted. The system would buckle, be forced to change to be reborn. And as far as rebellion goes, it can so often consist of violence, intent to destroy and something that eludes a sense of danger – however in travel we see a form of rebellion that is arguably entirely ‘pure’ and harmless. Most travellers’ (the good ones) aims and ambitions are to explore, to enrich, to learn, to anew and to experience; many work jobs locals don’t want to do on working holiday visas in countries and many teach languages and spend money they gained from first world countries in third world countries – a direct transfer of money from the rich to the poor empirically bridging the international poverty gap. To associate this kind of rebellion with anything as negative as violence or a clashing of two sides is just not correct; if anything it resembles more of a peaceful protest. A pure rebellion. An act where the world and its people become enriched, thoughtful, less materialistic, less judgemental and close-minded.
So angry with the system or disillusioned with the lack of options your society gives you? Sick of working a soul-less job for a faceless corporation whose only aim is to line the pockets of their bureaucrat bosses and investors? Don’t destroy, don’t protest, don’t get angry, don’t strike. Travel. Move, explore and experience other societies; engage in other ways of thinking and new philosophies; tread new grounds and gain new perspectives in a true peaceful protest. Reply. Respond. Rebel. Perhaps in a world of chaos, scandals and corruption, it’s the last escape from the corrupted system that rebellious, free-spirited souls truly have.
So you want to go on an epic trekking adventure in South America or travel around the beaches and temples of Asia. Maybe you even want to go volunteer in some tiny vague African country that your mom has never heard of. Either way, fears and concerns from friends, relatives and your own mind begin to nip away at your conscience. Somebody points out a recent tabloid news story about a backpacker dying in a jungle in Columbia and you begin to worry about being kidnapped, killed or mugged the second you get out of the airport. But all these concerns and worries just? Are you right to worry? Should you really risk your life on the quest to adventure?
I think the first thing to acknowledge when discussing an issue like this is to recognise that such concerns and worries are perfectly natural and reflect thousands of years of human evolution that has allowed us to divide and multiply to the billions. It is the notions of treading water carefully, staying away from the edge and being primitive mammals looking for security and shelter that makes us the successful, flourishing species we are today. While it is natural for our consciousness to be cautious and tentative when going to unknown territory, I would argue that this side of us is stretched and abused by the culture and media in which we all live in today.
Such culture and media allows us to see a story about one backpacker being killed somewhere plastered over newspaper pages while not paying attention to the fact that hundreds of thousands of backpackers travel without any issues and that – shock, horror – people get killed or murdered in their own country every month of every year. It is not putting things into perspective and becoming too invested in the media that lead to the illogical fears that plague many when it comes to adventure and travel. Believe it or not, we actually live in the most peaceful time in human history with there being less wars, political stability, genocides and murders than ever before overall across the world. We also live in the information era where we have unprecedented access to research facts, statistics and info to help us make decisions and be informed about the ‘unknown territory’ than ever before.
The world really is setup well for you to have an amazing adventure – but of course it helps us to be mindful towards certain issues of security before taking flight into the unknown.
Deciding which country/city/area you are travelling to
When I decided to go backpack around South America after I finished University, the arguments with the parents began straight away. They worried I was going to get murdered or kidnapped by a drug cartel and be mailed back pieces of me unless they paid some Colombian drug lord a six-figure ransom. Of course having travelled before and vastly researched the countries in which I intended to tread foot, I was pretty confident that their concerns were a bit overblown and built on stereotypes and media rather than experience and research. A simple visit to your own country’s government website will see the foreign travel section provide you with up-to-date information and advice about the relative dangers and political stability in specific countries. Please note even these are only useful to an extent – further research on backpacker forums and blogs will be thoroughly more useful to you as a guide to what level of safety you can expect. I would just like to add in five months in South America I had no issue at all with crime or danger besides hear a few stories from others about pick-pocketed phones and stolen valuables. This brings us nicely onto the next point…
Common Sense as the Best Safety Mechanism
Now if you want to be one of those backpackers who travels around without the ability to apply common sense in looking after yourself and belongings, then I would say fears of being a victim of crime in undeveloped foreign countries from yourself, friends and relatives are understandable. Those aforementioned backpackers I heard of who had their phones stolen were travelling on overnight buses sat next to strangers; they fell asleep with their iPhone in their outer pocket and found it missing when they awoke the next morning. Now while this could feasibly happen at home in your own country, the fact that you will be visibly foreign and western in many undeveloped countries popular for backpacking will make you a bigger target. This is a reality but does it need to be a major fear? My opinion is absolutely not. Just applying simple common sense about how you carry your valuables, how much you carry, where you store your belongings and which behaviour you chose to exhibit in a seemingly sketchy place will dictate the level of safety available to yourself. With a bit of common sense, this can be a vastly improved level against crime and danger.
Physical Injury or Sickness Another fear that many people worry about is becoming sick or lying in a foreign hospital with a broken leg surrounded by people who don’t speak your language with friends and family a long way away. What could be worse than suffering from malaria, lying in an unclean hospital bed while a person next to you screams from a broken leg? This is a true situation for one person I met on a trip in Ghana a few years ago. Having used the best malaria tablets and only being bitten a handful of times, he managed to contract malaria whereas somehow me – with my 76 bites and cheap malaria tablets – somehow didn’t. I guess this goes to show that if something bad is going to happen, it is going to happen. However if injury or sickness is a big enough worry to put you off travelling or backpacking, I would implore you again to research the area you’re going, put it into perspective (that friend was one out of maybe fifty volunteers I knew that contracted Malaria during a summer in Ghana), and minimise the risks again by research and common sense. Find out the relative health dangers, get injections, exercise caution when doing adventurous sports, don’t drive a scooter in Thailand when you’re wasted at 3am, always make sure your bungee jump or shark cage-dive is with a certified and reputable company, and of course – have travel insurance; just in case you do break that leg, you know.
What Your Biggest Fear Should Really Be
People could spend all day talking about the relative dangers of visiting each and every country and doing each specific activity or whatever it is people do in the world of adventure travel. The great reality is that the concerns from home when you go off to travel the world by yourself are completely misinformed and from an area of thinking that is crippled by stereotypes, mass media and a lack of real-world experience. When I hear the extent of people’s concerns about travelling to some areas, I can’t help but feel grateful I have learnt to have logical, analytical thought that allows me to assess and judge the relative dangers and risks involved in the pursuit of my dreams and adventures. I will always exercise caution and research when going to unknown territory and encourage everyone else to do so.
However I implore anyone who is willing to let fears and concerns prevent them from chasing their dreams of adventure, to look in the mirror and think again. Are your concerns relevant? Are they real? Are they logical? In my humble opinion it is letting illogical and unreasonable fears control your life which should be the greatest fear of all; imagine ending up on your deathbed having not travelled and lived your adventures all because you let a singular news story or relative’s uninformed opinion lead you astray. This is the greatest fear for myself I can tell you that. So just remember, exercise a degree of caution and common sense, do your research, get insurance, be brave and remember the positives that await and the possible dangers of staying at home, getting old whilst not chasing your dreams when you had the chance…
“Nature loves courage. You make the commitment and nature will respond to that commitment by removing impossible obstacles. Dream the impossible dream and the world will not grind you under, it will lift you up. This is the trick. This is what all these teachers and philosophers who really counted, who really touched the alchemical gold, this is what they understood. This is the shamanic dance in the waterfall. This is how magic is done. By hurling yourself into the abyss and discovering it’s a feather bed.” – Terence Mckenna
The bags were unpacked and the house was silent. The rain continuously tapped against the windows as the greenery of England’s spring lay soaked and drenched in the May showers outside. A slight break in cloud and I went for a familiar walk around the local park – a place I had no doubt completed hundreds, possibly thousands, of identical laps around whilst out jogging and walking. I was back home following a ten-week spell abroad trekking through the mountains of the Himalayas in Nepal and then briefly getting some sun and party in Cambodia. Originally I had planned to return to Blighty a couple of weeks later than planned, but a tiredness of conventional South-East Asian backpacking (heat, stomach problems, getting drunk every day) had led me to wrap up the trip slightly prematurely and conserve the money for something else. Something else still within the realm of adventure of course; I was still hungry to keep exploring and challenging myself upon the platform of planet earth. I loaded Google Maps just to remind myself of the territories of the world that lingered close to U.K shores. Portugal? Greece? Hungary? Everything seemed a bit ‘safe’ and nothing really tempted and got the blood pumping as it should when you’re young and attempting to live life to the full. Then it struck me. I wanted to explore a place like I had in Nepal or New Zealand where striking natural beauty, unique landscapes and adrenaline-filled adventure lingered at every corner. I wanted to explore the tops of mountains and not the bottom of beer bottles. I wanted to go to Iceland.
In what was probably one of the more spontaneous decisions of my life, I hedonistically booked the flight and began researching and preparing for my first venture into Scandinavian lands. From what I had seen from nature documentaries and imagined from the otherworldly, ethereal music of Icelandic artists Sigur Ros and Bjork, I was going to go and see a magical, mystical land of volcanoes, glaciers, wholesome people and alien landscapes that sat isolated from the rest of the world. My mind was open; my bags packed once more. Let the next adventure begin.
Following a three hour flight North, I touched down in Keflavik airport and made my way to the capital Reykjavik. After walking around the rustic capital, getting some food and checking into a hostel for the first night, my first thoughts circled around disbelief and confusion about how ridiculously expensive everything was. Sure I had heard this land of vikings was pricey to the visitor, but come on – $50 for a hostel bed; $25 for a meal; $6 for a small bus journey; $3 for a bottle of water!? I soon realised I was going to have to undertake this journey a bit more ‘hardcore’ than usual and live as bare as I could. Luckily I had my tent, sleeping bag, hiking boots, a penny-pinching attitude and good health all in tow. I spent the rest of the day climbing a small mountain (Mt. Esja) that overlooks Reykjavik then hit the road outta the city the next day. Wilderness: here I come.
Your choices when travelling around Iceland as a tourist were generally either you A) rent out a car at an expensive, but affordable price; B) get shafted paying for the local buses where journeys of one hour need four separate tickets; or C) get extremely shafted by paying the almost laughable costs of tour agencies and companies who would transport you around the island for the mere cost of your life savings and probably a kidney too. As a poor backpacker without a driving license the choice only seemed to lie in option D) – walk along the side of the main road casually and stick your thumb out. That I did as I headed East along the south coast. Although I had hitch-hiked numerous times before, you can’t help but feel a little weird the first time you stick your
thumb out and stand awkwardly on the side of the tarmac. Luckily the journey started with a direct hit when two Canadian girls I had met the day before on the mountain instantly recognised me and pulled over to pick me up. Less than ten cars passing and already a ride. A good start. We chit-chatted and eventually headed to Seljafossland – a large and beautiful waterfall that rained down over the top of a large green cliff. A path circled around the back of it so you could observe the spectacle of the universe from every angle whilst getting drenched inside out. I scrambled up the hills around it to get the view from over the top too, and I have to admit that in the heat of the sun, among the green grass, blue skies and the music of Sigur Ros sailing into my ears, I was in a place of sheer joy and happiness – the kind of pleasure you feel as a kid on the first day of freedom outside on the summer break. Iceland was already as beautiful as I hoped it would be.
The next ride I teamed up with a Russian backpacker and we soon got picked up by an American couple heading East along the coast. A British guy, a Russian and an American couple in a rented car in Iceland – it almost sounds the start of some joke but such is the randomness of life of when you’re out exploring the world with no strings attached. Heading to the next giant waterfall Skogafoss, we conversed and shared stories and insights about life. The Russian jumped out to climb a volcano en route and I carried on to explore the beauty of this magical island with the Americans. The sheer randomness of hitch-hiking was a welcome reprieve to the organised, rigid travelling of minibuses and coaches in Asia; the total feeling of unpredictability you feel when you stick your thumb out at the side of the road and await for a stranger to come out of nowhere is a feeling that is exhilarating and in some way addictive. If I felt awkward on the first ride, I was now excited when I hit the road again and got picked up instantaneously by an elderly Austrian couple who were heading to the far east of the country to undertake a three-month boat ride around the island. Whatever floats your
boat as they say, I was rather jealous and slightly inspired – this wasn’t the first time in their life they had escaped society to undertake an adventure on the ocean. I loved the openness and open-mindedness of the elderly couple – an age group in my country so known for their rigid following of right-wing culture and fear of the ‘other’. Of course you always try to be entertaining and give something back; relying on free rides you always made sure you tried to offer something – whether in the form of petrol money, good conversation or offerings of snacks. Despite the age and language difference, conversation flowed nicely and they soon dropped me at Vik – a charming, small coastal town that was famous for adorning a beautiful black sand beach and interesting rock formations out beyond the cliffs. I made way to the top of the cliffs and explored the beautiful coast and farmland around the town.
Up In The Hills
Although the weather had been great and pleasant since I first arrived, the inevitable rain I was worried about soon stormed in from the upper Atlantic. The green glass and blue skies suddenly lost the summery shine to the greyness and I spent an awful night sheltering in my tent as it got battered by 90km winds and horizontal rain. Eventually I gave up on sleep, got out in the perpetual daylight and packed up my tent to head inside the camping ground kitchen. The next day didn’t improve, forcing me to spend the entire day indoors waiting out the storm. Damn. My mood was defeated but finally the weather improved and I decided to give up on trying to reach the glacier lagoon which was currently being battered by another storm and instead head back west to Skogar – where there was an enticing 26km trek through the hills that passed between two active volcanoes. I hitched a ride from a friendly French couple and headed back in that direction with two American guys on their first trip outta the states. Before exploring an eerie plane wreck on a black beach and one of the island’s largest glaciers, I jumped out by the waterfall, said au revoir to the Frenchies and started making my way up the steep green hills, following the river and its many waterfalls upstream as I trekked deeper inland with my bulky backpack.
The shore soon disappeared from sight and I became increasingly engulfed in the mysterious and fascinating alien landscape of this land of ice, rock, wind and fire. From what started as a walk along green grass and an array of glorious waterfalls, I was soon up in the arid land of snow, red volcanic rock and absolute, sheer beautiful isolation. I was totally alone, climbing up from hills of snow, marvelling at the clear blue skies and enormous dome-shapes of the volcanoes beside me. What stood to my left was a volcano that erupted in 2010, causing new land masses to form and creating an ash cloud so big that it grounded many flights further south in Europe. I felt alive. On edge. It was probably dangerous for me to even be doing this trek alone as it was still slightly off-season, the huts were closed and nobody even knew I was here. But I loved that; the feeling of total isolation, journeying through breathtaking scenery, battling through the ankle deep snow as I headed over a kilometre upwards. Toward the top a beautiful, crystal blue pool of icy water reflected the sun into my eyes. The silence was sharp; the air cold. Beyond that I started to to descend into a distorted wonderland of newly-formed cliffs, boulders and jagged rock formations sporadically sprinkled with pockets of gleaming white snow. Even a rainbow stood shining in the valley as I breathed in the perfectly fresh air and trekked further into the idyllic surroundings.
Eventually I realised it was 10.30pm (hard to spot in a land of constant daylight) and pitched up my tent in a completely isolated spot, miles and miles from the nearest soul and overlooking a glorious view of the natural wonderland of Iceland. It was a moment of ethereal beauty; never before had I just headed into the wilderness with a tent and camped up for free with a world class view and perfect silence. Free, yes! The idea of not having to pay somebody else to sleep on planet earth was liberating. I almost felt like the animal I am; the animal we all are and all were before we burdened ourselves with the concept of Money and bureaucracy. I was beginning to understand where the beautiful music of Sigur Ros came from; where the laid-back relaxed culture came from; and the fact that the country was not afraid to jail their corrupt elite bankers following the financial recession. Life is much more simple when it’s deeply rooted in the natural world – with much more connection to the physical reality of the universe and less connection to ideology of all kinds possible. A healthy dose of nature for everybody would truly make this world a less shitty place. But hey, for now I’ll enjoy the midnight sunset to myself.
Back to Reykjavik
Unlike my other adventures, this one was certainly less open in terms of longevity and flexibility so I decided to head back towards the direction of Reykjavik where I would leave in a few days. I spent the next day descending into the bucolic valley and exploring the now alpine-like surroundings before heading back towards the coast while following a mountain dirt road. The road was a testing route with constant river crossings resulting in cold feet and wet trousers up to the knees. The wind was also picking up through the valley making it more of a trudge than a trek. Luckily hitch-hiking was back on the cards and I managed to catch a ride from a Colombian family on holiday – a man, his kids and their grandparents. Although the man spoke perfect English having lived in the states for some time, the rest of the family conversed in Spanish prompting me to test my awful Espanol for a whole twenty minutes. Again, the randomness of hitching cast a smile on my face. In what other scenario do you end up in such situations from nowhere? Eventually they dropped me off on the main road where I grabbed another ride off a French adrenaline junky who proceeded to tell me about his insanely adventurous life of backpacking, skydiving, skiing and surfing around the world. What an inspiration he was – over forty years old and still going strong, staying true to himself and keeping his adventurous soul in tact. His next adventure was a trip to Madagascar. He dropped me off in a place called Selfoss where I decided to go on an eating spree having been living off cheap, rationed food for the last couple of days. I pitched my tent again for the night before researching and finding my next destination the following day: a hot-spring valley with a warm river you could bathe in – the perfect place after trekking and constantly being on your feet for the last few days.
I arrived in the town of Hveragerdi the next day which was a town basically built around a plethora of hot springs. The centre of the town had a geothermal park, a restaurant that used geothermal heat to cook food and random manholes everywhere letting out steam from the volcanic land below. It was extremely interesting to see and I headed outta town into the neighbouring valley to explore the natural wonders that lay hidden in it. Yet again following some more walking through hills and rolling landscapes, I arrived at the hot river and took a good hour to enjoy the feeling of bathing in natural warm waters. The day was chilly and cloudy, but submerged in the water I was almost drifting off into sleep. Nice and relaxing for a while but eventually I jumped out into the cold Iceland wind and decided to hitch-hike back to the capital city for my last couple of days in the capital city.
I finished my last couple of days exploring Reykjavik and around, including a great hike around one of the country’s biggest waterfalls where I met an Icelandic teacher and her two interns – a German and American girl. We ended up having a great full day together crossing rivers, climbing up hills, sharing snacks and jumping in the freezing ocean at the end of the eventful and fulfilling day. I guess following my lack of satisfaction in Cambodia on the last adventure this was more of the sort of thing I was looking for: individual, unpredictable adventure with beautiful nature and time to reflect on the wonder of existence on this green and blue rock that spins a thousand miles an hour as it rotates around a ball of fire in an infinite universe. The world and its people certainly behold many wonders – whether in the form of the kindness of strangers and randomness of events, or just the sheer beauty of the world we live in. Iceland was a perfect example: waterfalls, mountains, volcanoes, hot springs, dramatic cliffs, glaciers and the accessibility to hitch-hike and meet friendly people. Oh not to mention the rare Arctic fox me and the French couple spotted that one day! I was content for now as I headed back to the U.K to undertake an eight-day medical research trial to stock up the travel tokens again. Nothing comes for free hey, except if you head off into the wilderness with a tent. Thanks for everything Iceland, or as they say in Icelandic: ‘Takk!’
“Stuff your eyes with wonder. Live as if you’d drop dead in ten seconds. See the world. It’s more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories” – Ray Bradbury
The bags were packed, the hiking boots ditched and the remnants of my Nepali money depleted slowly down to a few mere scraps – capable nothing more than purchasing some last snacks and the meagre taxi fare to the capital’s airport. The horizon lingered once again. Following seven weeks of travelling in Nepal it was time to hit the road to the East; this meant a one-way ticket to the heat of Bangkok and a goodbye to my recent comrade of adventure-travel Bryan. Me and the flying Dutchman from Rotterdam had now spent almost two months together in close companionship as we trudged up 5000m hiking trails and collectively threw our insides up into smelly toilets. The struggles had been real – the kinship of two like-minded dreamers bonded in a chaotic mix of mighty mountains, smelly socks, draining bus rides, humorous insights and cultural exploring. I often imagined myself to always travel as a solo wanderer under the romantic pretense of being some lone wolf or extradited renegade; but having spent some time travelling together with another fellow wanderer, I could feel the strange sensation in my stomach as we parted ways. It had been nice to share the experience for once with someone so similar in mindset, humour and style. Sure, there are negotiations and democratic decisions to be made during this kind of travel that may feel limiting in freedom to the solo traveller, but conversely there are plenty of experience-enhancing positives too – especially when sharing the journey with a person on the same frequency as you. “Happiness is only real when shared” – not a phrase I’ve always agreed with, but definitely something that I thought of when standing under the immense enormity of Mount Everest with my travelling companion – both in awe of the world-class views and perfect silence we were gifted with following our two week pilgrimage through the mountains. However, despite such sentiment, the road is long and both of us still are fiercely independent at our cores – and no doubt we were both ready to head out alone into the wilderness of solo travel once more. Hunt the horizon; kick the tarmac. Safe travels brother.
Despite my scheduled flight to Thailand via Delhi, my destination was in actual fact Cambodia – it just so happened that is was considerably cheaper to fly to Bangkok and take an eight hour bus across the border to Siem Reap: a Cambodian top destination due to the proximity of the mysterious, ancient and beautiful Angkor Wat temple. It was the sort of place you imagined from an Indiana Jones movie, or more aptly Tomb Raider with the first movie actually having been filmed there. You know the sort of thing – old, weathered ancient ruins with tree roots snaking through them; lizards scuttering around into cracks and holes; a general feeling of being attacked by some ancient, tribal guy with a spear. I had wanted to visit for a few years so as I headed off at 4.30am in the dark on a bicycle with three guys I had just met, I could feel the rush of blood in my veins. Perhaps this was due to excitement, or the four Pro-Plus caffeine tablets I had just taken to combat the lack of sleep from the first few nights; either way, I was ready for a day of adventure.
The reason we were heading off so early was to get to the main temple Angkor
Wat for the sunrise so we could watch the sun come up over the temple whilst reflecting symmetrically upon the water. It would make a good view and introduction to the temple ruins, and of course provide us with a perfect opportunity for the superficial photos taken probably a million times already.
Unfortunately – after battling through puddles and darkness while taking a 4km detour to get the $37 day ticket – we arrived just after the sunrise; something that didn’t matter too much anyway due to the overcast weather. Still, we now had all day to explore the myriad temples of this fascinating and mysterious place. We crossed the moat of water to the main temple and began to explore. It was instantly easy to see why this place had the reputation of ‘king of all temples’ or religious sites; the architecture, design and general atmosphere of the atavistic buildings danced and dazzled with style. Monolithic towers and spear-like pillars rose high from the centre as they lay surrounded with a labyrinth and maze of columns, rooms, squares and hidden areas that you could spend hours exploring. The temple itself was built by the Khmer King Suryavarman II in the early 12th century in Angkor, the capital of the ancient Khmer Empire, as his state temple and eventual mausoleum. Breaking from the Shaiva tradition of previous kings, Angkor Wat was instead dedicated to the Hindi god Vishnu. And at almost one thousand years old, you really felt transported back to another era of human civilisation while exploring the temple ruins.
After a couple of hours and some breakfast beside the temple, the four of us jumped on the bicycles again and headed off further into the lush jungle area that housed the various temples and ruins of the Khmer Empire. People had told me how vast the complex of temples was, and it’s fair to say my expectations were met as we spent long amounts of time and sweat peddling from one site to another. Each location revealed more and more captivating ruins and beautiful, ancient architecture. From big, individual temples to small, separate ruins scattered sporadically in the jungle – there was plenty to see and get lost in. All were unique and interesting in their own way and style, but the highlight for me had to be the Ta Prohm temple that lay deep in the jungle amid the clutches of nature. The old, weathered temple lay hidden among the trees whereby the large, snake-like roots of the jungle had wriggled and wrapped around the tattered ruins which consequently showcased a truly awe-inspiring spectacle of nature taking back and consuming man-made construction. It was beautiful, evocative and fascinating to observe and explore such a mix of ancient cultural human structures amid wild nature – a true coming together of two worlds. Although I was recommended to stay a few days, I felt that one long and sweaty day of exploring the temples was sufficient and was ready to move on to the next destination.
The Horrors of Genocide
Following the temple exploration and a couple nights of partying in Siem Reap, I left my new friends and headed solo again to the capital of Phonm Penh – a pleasant but rather bland place as far as Asian cosmopolitan cities go. The primary reason backpackers frequented the capital however was to learn more about the Cambodian genocide of the 1970s while visiting the notorious ‘Killing Fields’ and ‘S21 Prison’ – two places of sobering sadness that showcased the true depraved depths humans can sink to on the pursuit of political or dogmatic ideology. Having visited slave castles in Ghana and Auschwitz in Poland before, I knew the gravity of going to places of systematic murder and unspeakable cruelties; it was never a normal visit, and parts of it almost feel wrong to go and glare around as a privileged tourist, but ultimately it’s profoundly necessary as a human-being to learn more about history and the atrocities committed by regimes so that you yourself can recognise the story of a country while educating yourself against the tyranny of certain ideologies and fascist movements in the hope such acts can never be repeated.
We arrived first at the killing fields just outside of the city to take the audio tour around the seemingly peaceful grounds. Entering the gates the first sight that awaits you is of a path of lined trees, a distant white stupor and the peaceful sound of birds tweeting amongst the trees waving gently amongst the breezing wind. Such a bucolic sight only hides the traumatic history of the fields that were one of many used by Pol Pot’s fascist communist regime the Khmer Rouge to brutally murder their fellow citizens in whatever way possible. After spreading and taking control of the country in in 1975, the guerilla party would continually use places like this to ‘cleanse’ the population of intellectuals, city dwellers, capitalists, ‘traitors’ and anybody who didn’t fit into the agrarian ideal of Pol Pot’s new society. Those who didn’t die of disease and malnutrition after being exiled from the cities, would be taken to places like the killing fields to be hacked, stabbed and beaten to death with blunt instruments and even pieces of tree bark – the party displaying their sickening nonchalance in the systematic killing of their own people and species. Mass graves were sporadically located around the fields where bodies would be thrown into pits after being killed, or sometimes buried alive. Rather disturbingly, one tree adorned a sign saying ‘the killing tree’ – informing visitors that it was used to beat and kill small children against. Even the stupor stood tall showcasing the countless bones and skulls of victims.
A walk around the place as well as the equally sickening S21 Prison is truly shocking and leaves one in disbelief about how other human beings could be so blind, brainwashed and hateful to commit such heinous crimes against humanity. For a long time I have had my own indifference with ideology and ‘belief’, and have been trying to figure out my own rules of thinking to keep me free of repressive and immoral dogma. For me the visit helped me realise I can’t transfer any serious loyalty to any static belief of any kind; in the words of one of my favourite philosophers Terence Mckenna: “My technique is don’t believe anything. If you believe in something, you are automatically precluded from believing its opposite”. Apply logic and a constant state of questioning/reasoning through pure, personal direct experience and then maybe we could move beyond such immaturity and evil and not leave our minds open to being brainwashed against universal right and wrong by an external power. But then again, all is takes is a small few to manipulate a vulnerable few through ideology, lies, exploitation of ego, lack of education and then (no matter how educated you are) you are being herded like a sheep to the slaughter – exactly what the Khmer Rouge did as their young, naive soldiers were recruited, used and exploited by an older, scheming individual who told them their existence was of greater value than somebody else. The classic ego deception. Will our species ever have peace? Or are we forever doomed by ego, belief and desire? I guess there is no easy answer, although I had to appreciate the era of peacetime in the western world I had grew up in. Technology and the internet certainly gives people the opportunity to become more informed and less vulnerable to ideology and propaganda in these instances, although the advancement of these things also herald new threats and issues. As always, there are no easy answers to the insanity of humanity.
Following the visit to Phnom Penh, I was due to head south to the coast of Cambodia to enjoy some ‘holiday time’ – you know the sort of thing: beach, sun, beers and being lazy. It had been over one year since I had been to the coast and was looking forward to spending some days by the beach. I took a bus to Sihanoukville and then a ferry to the island of Koh Rong Samleon which was supposed to be a beautiful, tropical island that was not too crowded or busy. Arriving onto shore I have to say it looked exactly that; the island centre adorned a wealth of greenery enlightened by the Asian sun as the pure white beaches serenaded the coastline. The water itself had the classic, crystal clarity of South-East Asia; it was even nice to see that the island itself, unlike many in SEA, had little infrastructure and development upon it – even no internet at the hostel I was staying at (meaning backpackers had to actually interact and socialise a bit more than usual). The place I was staying at was a party hostel and it immediately lived up to its rep with an arrival area where there were around one hundred travellers partying every day. The days were spent lounging around either by the beach, on the hammock, at the bar or playing volleyball before a big party every evening that always led back down to the beach after midnight to chill out and observe the luminous plankton that shone in neon blue underneath the water when disturbed. I was having fun of course, but ultimately I felt a thought that I had gradually began to feel as I made from transition of travelling in Nepal to Cambodia. I had begun to felt a bit unfilled and that ‘something was missing’.
Now I don’t ever want to be one of these pretentious backpackers who denounces the consumerist culture of collecting ‘things’ but then entertains the same philosophy by bragging about how well-travelled they are – these people are plentiful on the backpacker trail and are a constant bore. Travelling in South-East Asia can be amazing; it is a beautiful, eclectic place rich of culture, history and fun things to see and do. It is a great place to travel – especially with the strong infrastructure and cheap costs which makes a first trip abroad an ideal place. However, after getting sucked immediately back into the culture of constant partying, often empty conversations (the generic shallow ‘what’s your name – where you from’), relentless harassment of people who see you as a walking $ sign and samey itineraries, I felt like I would much rather be doing something else in the realm of adventure travel. It is very much a personal thing but after experiencing travel in a few different places, I began to feel a bit disenfranchised with the backpacker culture here. As I walked alone down the shore of the island on my second day on the island, I was certain something just wasn’t right and that this trip alone in Cambodia would be enough for now. I wanted something more than just general lounging around and drifting for humid months on end – something that the trekking in Nepal had fulfilled. My thoughts swam back to touring on a bicycle – something I have daydreamed about for a long time since my last trip a few years ago. So although this place is a great place to travel and I respect everyone who comes and experiences a South-East Asia trip, for me my eyes linger to the horizon once again. The sun sets and I finish another couple of days of partying and relaxing on this beautiful tropical island. I met many great people here, experienced an immensely friendly and happy people (especially considering the recent history of the country) and had fun times – but for me it was time to finish the drinks, dry off the sand and take a boat and bus back to mainland and the capital. Thanks Cambodia, but this holiday is over for now. Onto the next adventure.
“Life is not a journey to the grave to arrive safely and well-preserved in a box, but to skid broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used-up, totally worn-out and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a ride!” Hunter S Thompson
It had been almost a month since I arrived in Nepal when I arrived to the lakeside town of Pokhara, and – through the whirlwind of action-packed days, straining walks, changing environments and people – the time now felt stretched and elongated in my mind. Although it’s the cliché holiday phrase to exclaim how ‘the time flies by’ and ‘goes so quick’ when you’re outside of your typical everyday life, I have always personally found that the days, weeks and months spent in the realm of adventure and new environments feel much longer than the equivalent time within the ‘home’ environment. In the month previous to this trip I had done very little; the same old walks in the local countryside, the runs in the park, the work shifts five times per week and the odd social drink here and there; but as I arrived beaten, tired and wild-eyed in Pokhara setting my bags down at the homely Kiwi Guest House, I reflected on the last four weeks of sight-seeing, festival partying, new people, new foods, high mountain-top paths, constantly changing landscapes, dirty toilets, stomach problems and ominous plane rides. Really when you’re riding the wave of adventure and heading full thrust into the storm of what the world has to offer, more can happen in one month than an entire year living the settled life. That’s not to say it’s all amazing sunshine and rainbows of course – after a month of this I was ready to be lazy and retreat to the sedentary lifestyle for a few days as I lazed around regaining weight, using my laptop, napping and enjoying some beverages in the evening. Yeah, we all need our comfort sometimes – even you Bear Grylls.
After arriving it seemed Pokhara was the perfect place to recover and relax before me and Bryan began our second outing in the mountains of Nepal; it was hot, relaxed, full of conveniences and had the general homely feel of any place beside a big lake. It was also surrounded by more beautiful mountains – peaks of great beauty that me and Bryan intended to see up close. Yes, following the trek to Everest base camp we once again had our eyes set upon the mountains via the world famous ‘Annapurna Circuit’ trek – a circular path just outside of Pokhara that snaked its way through the diverse and beautiful landscape of the Annapurna conservation area which played host to the enormous Annapurna I, II, III and IV (the largest of these being Annapurna I which towered over 8000m and claimed around 30% of the lives of all who tried to summit her). The trek would be vastly different from the last one with the walk starting low and gradually climbing through changing scenery to reach a pass of 5414m above sea-level before heading back down again. This would make a nice change to the relentless up and down passes of the last trek. This was definitely most welcome; the few days back in Kathmandu before Pokhara had been tough – diarrhoea, vomiting, weight loss and a total lack of energy had been commonplace following food poisoning and general exhaustion at the end of the last trek. It seemed that it was only natural now for me and Bryan to roam the touristic streets of Lakeside Pokhara overindulging on Indian cuisine, Dairy Milk chocolate, sugary drinks, beer and even a cheeky little boat-ride out on the lake in the glorious warmth of low-land sun and air. Who could really blame us?
But c’est la vie; c’est la vie – soon the chilled life was coming to an end and it was time to head back into the wild. Fast-forward one day later and me and Bryan are clinging on to the back of a jeep surrounded by three extravagant, Danish potheads relentlessly smoking hash and blasting Euro-Trance as we roared along precarious cliff roads among the opening valleys of the Annapurna national park. ‘Here we go again’ I thought as I clung on the back rack of the jeep for dear life as the potent smell of “Nepal’s finest herb” filled my nostrils. “We are in Nepal in search of the finest herb my brotherss” they told us. The three young Danish adventurers – sporting Viking haircuts and Hawaiian shirts – regaled us with their finest tales of their drug-filled, Asian adventures while simultaneously smoking and rolling what must have been at least six joints over the seven-hour ride. These guys – alongside the alcoholic, Polish entrepreneur whom I had met at the hostel in Pokhara and who was spontaneously heading to Kazakhstan – were among the most interesting characters I had met on this trip so far. I liked them instantly. A bit wild, controversial and insane for some, but the world needs people like that; the world needs people like that to shake you out of the trance of everyday life and dispel the pool of archetypal characters that society and individual cultures produce. “You don’t mind if we smoke do you my Nepali brotherss?” they rhetorically asked as some random Nepali guys joined what was now eight of us squeezed into the back of this speeding jeep. I couldn’t help but laugh at the bizarre-ness and hilarity of the situation.
Finally – following much chaos, smoke of different varieties, engine problems and scary cliffs – we arrived at the starting point of our trek deep within the Annapurna conservation area. Unlike the last trek where we took the longest route, we had skipped a few days walking alongside the road to get better situated in the park. It instantly seemed worth it; the scenery got more and more striking the further we travelled with the jeep and we were now at 2700m – a good place to begin the gradual climb to 5400m. Walking
alongside me and Bryan were the three Danish Vikings and another Dutch guy Arthur. Between us there was a nice balance and atmosphere; we walked, chatted, had snack breaks and just generally took it easy and enjoyed ourselves – the Vikings of course searching for ‘Charash’ (hash) at every opportunity to increase their mere 50g supply. The first couple of the days of the trek were pleasantly green – we walked through nice alpine-like vegetation/woods, following the river further into the valley as the mountains increased in size around us. Soon we were walking alongside the dazzling Annapurna alps which rose to neck-aching heights. Enormous sections of snow sheets and glistening glacier faces shone in their perfect whiteness high atop the mountains creating a colourful contrast against the spring green trees and clear blue sky. April was one of the most popular months for trekking in Nepal and you could see why – relatively warm weather and clear skies before the wet season arrived in late May. We walked on and on in the sun – the views getting more dramatic by each hour.
A few days into the trek me, Bryan and Arthur split from the Danish guys to go on a detour to check out ‘Lake Tilicho’ – “the world’s highest lake” according to Nepali tourism, even though a quick Google search confirms there are dozens of higher lakes in the Himalayas and Andes. Nepali treks had a habit of dubious claims – most evident in the fact that we had seen two of the ‘world’s highest’ Irish pubs and about five of the ‘world’s highest’ bakeries. But still, a lake at 5000m high sitting under the north face of Annapurna I definitely seemed worth a two-day detour. We began hiking the path away from the main trek to head up to the lake. The trekking paths themselves had been relatively simple and safe so far in Nepal, but on the way to Tilicho we encountered thin paths alongside steep slopes of landslide-prone rock faces. We snaked our way along these ominous routes and gradually headed up to the lake. Small stones and rocks could always be seen falling at dangerous speeds down the slopes and crossing the trekking path; in one instance a rock had made its way with almost conscious precision toward the temple of my head as I hiked. It bounced a metre from my head and, luckily, I spotted
it at the very last second to deflect it with my hand. It was a close call no doubt – I couldn’t help but gaze down a few hundred metres below and imagine my unconscious body falling into valley after being hit by the rock. Oh well, adventure can be dangerous but avoiding adventure can be dangerous too I told myself. Anyway, eventually we made it up to the wintry wonderland and took in the almighty snowy scenery. The lake was, as expected, completely frozen and covered in snow, but it was still a beautiful sight to behold – especially as the world’s deadliest mountain Annapurna I smiled down upon us tiny humans.
Over the Pass and Through the Portal
Following the detour we headed back to the main track to make our way up to the 5400m pass. By this point we were well-acclimatised and in good shape. More so than the previous trek, I could really feel the extra strength and lung power as I hiked up steep climbs at 4000m+. You could see why people got addicted to this sort of thing – the feeling of sparring with nature as you used your strength and power to ascend through man-eating, mountainous environments. We pressed on, all in good health, and were soon positioned to make the journey over the ‘world’s biggest’ pass Thorung La (a quick Google search again finds this to be a contested claim but hey ho – it’s all semantics). We awoke early in the morning and battled our way through the busy path of trekkers; starting at the back of the crowd, we were soon near the front as we breathed deeper and deeper and climbed higher and higher. The air got thinner. The scenery became more alien-like. The sun rose higher illuminating the whiteness of the surrounding mountains. Eventually, fuelled by biscuits and hedonism, we made it to the top of the pass reaching 5414m above sea level – the peak of the Annapurna circuit. A feeling of accomplishment flowed all the way from my smelly boots and up to my mind as I considered it was quite literally downhill all the way back to Pokhara from here. The ascents while hiking in Nepal were over and it was time to relax a bit more and enjoy the ride down. Now at the front of the day’s crowd of trekkers, we began heading down the steep pass while enjoying the sprawling view of the Mustang valley that lay far below us.
Coming over the pass was obviously not your everyday experience, but as we descended into the Mustang valley, it really felt that me, Bryan and Arthur had travelled through some sort of portal in space and time. As we dropped down more and more, the landscape completely changed to something unlike anything I had seen so far in the country of Nepal. As we got down below 4000m we were met with brown arid, desert, Mars-like plains and valleys. Not only that but by the time we reached the first town we could also see a large change in the people and even the buildings. Lots of Indian-looking people rode donkeys up the road; people flew past on motorbikes along the dirt roads; large, developed hotels lined the desert streets. We then found out there were lots of Indian tourists in town because it was Nepali new year and the year was 2074. 2074!? Was this really the same country we were in at the start of the morning? Was this still Nepal? Even the same universe!? My head was spinning with the sheer randomness of the last seven hours. I drank some water, cleared my head and – now with a group of a few more Australian and English friends we had met coming down the pass – we headed into the centre of town to find the ‘Bob Marley Hotel’ – the seemingly apt place we had arranged to meet back up with the Danish Vikings. The day of course was about to get even stranger with these guys back on the scene.
As hoped, we found the three Danish Vikings still loitering in the hotel after they successfully made it over the pass the day previous to us. With some deserved beers, we all caught up and exchanged the stories of our trekking adventures since we had split a few days before. Equally remarkable and hilarious, we found out the Vikings had made it over the freezing mountain pass just in shorts and their Hawaiian shirts – of course smoking multiple joints along the way to fuel their colourful expedition through the Himalayas. I could only imagine what the ultra-serious, ‘professional’ trekkers thought of these guys. You know, the sort of people who had every piece of available equipment and gear known to man as they hiked along the flat ground using hiking poles, looking fierce and pretending they were climbing Everest or something. Unfortunately for the vikings their quest for the best hash in Nepal hadn’t been as successful as their walk; their 50 gram stash had now alarming depleted to just a dangerous 10 grams. Again, I couldn’t resist to laugh and smile at the scenario and the sheer hilarity of these three guys. We all played some pool, drank some beers and prepared to hike down the valley for a few more days (they of course would end up hitch-hiking in the back of some random jeep, passing us nonchalantly on the road as the tyres kicked up dust into our faces).
The End of the Road
The final days of hiking in Nepal brought us back into the familiar environment of green trees, traditional Nepali villages, rolling rivers and snow-topped mountains. The temperature increased as we sank back into the low-lying depths of the valleys with the now humid atmosphere finally allowing me to put away the winter gear and trek in just shorts and t-shirt. Eventually our group all went their separate ways and just me and Bryan were again left to walk the final parts of our trek through the Annapurna Circuit. Following the action-packed last week we had to make things a little more interesting for ourselves. This included me going a separate way from the path to avoid climbing a hill with a hangover and ending up crossing a river directly through the flowing water, attempting not to fall in and get my backpack drenched. Bryan, watching no doubt gleefully from above on the hill, observed me at first failing miserably before successfully marching through the moderately powerfully ten metre stream of water. This ended up being nothing compared to the half-destroyed suspension bridge we crossed above a thirty metre drop into a river below as we tried to cut a corner and save ourselves some time on the final day. It truly was a terrible idea and can only imagine how our
insurance companies would react after observing this lunacy. The bridge had been hit by a landslide and looked like an accident waiting to happen. Perhaps we did it for the cheap adrenaline thrill, or just a general story to tell. But the bridge felt sturdy enough to cross and the adrenaline thrill was certainly a lot cheaper than any bungee-jump or skydive.
One thing was for sure though, I felt alive. Not just in those moments but throughout the whole trek. And that’s the whole purpose of adventure when I stop and think about it. We all go through life; we all live and we all die. But a constant chase of safety and security can sedate our souls more and more. Adventure is like medicine; it can resuscitate us, revitalise us and bring us back to life; it is a portal – a gate through space and time to make your eyes a little wilder, your hair a little messier, your stomach a little more unstable, your mind a little crazier and your feet a little smellier. Not just this trek but also the Everest base camp trek had given me exactly what I wanted – memorable, diverse and action-packed days that I would be sure to remember into old age. As noted in the Hunter S Thompson quote at the start of this post, for me life is not a formality and some scripted journey from the maternity ward to the crematory; it is a crazy, shamanic dance in the waterfall – a wild ride through the universe to be filled with good friends, risky adventures, diverse landscapes and strange stories. This is what my time in Nepal had given me. It was over and I was now ready to throw away my trekking boots, head to southeast Asia and continue the adventure. It was time to keep exploring. Thanks for everything, Nepal.