Unexpected friends

When we planned our trek in Nepal we thought we would encounter interesting local people and fellow travelers but we didn’t bank on making some new, lasting friendships. Travel is full of surprises and the world is full of interesting people.

Walking through the Kathmandu domestic airport we see a cluster of travelers. Adults and children with smiles and banter in American accents. We look, look away and look back in amazement as one of the party bears an astonishing resemblance to our daughter Miya. Tall, lean, with blonde short hair and dark rimmed glasses, Ellie is Miya’s doppelganger. Our families look at each other and smile as they also notice the resemblance.

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Beautiful Sarah approaches and introduces herself. Sarah is warm and friendly, from the Pacific North West of the USA and travelling with her family and another, also from the same region. Ellie is her friend’s daughter. They are trekking together and flying to Lukla as we are.

We are called for our separate flights and with cotton wool in our ears to drown out the engine noise we fly up the valleys and catch our first glimpse of the Himalaya. The flight is smoother than we prepared ourselves for and the landing is swift and slightly hair raising.

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To our delight we happen upon the Americans not long after we leave Lukla for our first days trek to Phakding. Two families, 8 in total, including the kids Grace, Ellie, Sage and Sam. What a treat to find interesting people with kids the SAME AGE AS OURS!

If you are considering trekking with your kids in Nepal I highly recommend running into another family. The walk seems easier when your children have friends to talk with, particularly new  friends with exotic accents. Toby and Sam played American football and soccer in the small paddock outside the Phakding teahouse where we spent our first night of the trek. We watched poor Sam, the youngest of the group, succumb to jetlag during dinner in the communal dining room that night.  Miya and her new friends Ellie and Sage chatted about anything and everything. We talked and shared stories and were amazed to hear that the older girls had to bring SCHOOLWORK along with them from home. As if they were not learning bucketloads while travelling!

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Over our few days trekking together we found so much common ground. The kids all named every stray Nepali dog they met, and there were quite a few. They almost skipped up the arduous stone steps leading to Namche as they nattered with their new friends. They could tell all the family stories that we had heard a thousand times and they could find hilarity in the difference pronunciations of words in Australian and American English.

During the evenings we drank many cups of milk tea, played ukulele, explored our commonalities and differences.

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As for me I found a wonderful friend in Sarah. We discussed wine and the world and kids and gardening and how beautiful the mountains are.

In Namche the kids decided to shop for Christmas gifts for their new friends as we were trekking in December and all of them would be away from a traditional “home” Christmas. Namche is the perfect town for kids to shop. The smaller the kid the bigger the discount and as long as they stay out of the way of Zopkios and Yaks there was very little trouble to get into. They honed their bartering skills and delighted in choosing the perfect gift for each of their friends.

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We said multiple goodbyes as we left the lodge in Namche, as we sat together for morning tea, then finally as we turned left for Gokyo and they walked on to Tengboche monastery.  Our two kids started fighting about ten minutes after staying goodbye to our new friends.

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Technology is wonderful. We have kept in touch, particularly Miya and her sweet friend Sage. I hope we will all see each other again. Friends in different parts of the world open our eyes. And I’m all for having my eyes opened. x

Speed Dating

PREFACE: I wrote this several months ago… I missed the last lot of parent teacher interviews completely. Just dropped the ball due to … life… This blog post harks back to more mindful and organised times. Enjoy.

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I’ve just been speed dating. That’s what I call the highly organised event that is High School parent teacher interviews. In my efforts to be more present and mindful in my day to day I have enjoyed the act of observing without judgement. Nights like these give me ample opportunity. I see the body language of teenagers who have been dragged to attend the interview, with a parent on each side and a teacher across the table. Some appear engaged and enthused about the process …quite possibly the same emotions they exhibit in class each day. Others looked like they would rather be anywhere else than in that chair at that time. Walking in to the hall I saw a boy, tall like a man but in the school uniform, stop dead at the door and lean against the wall. “Come on” the older male with him said. “Nope” the boy replied. Easy enough for me to breeze past with both kids at home with their Dad. Solo mission for me tonight.

I see parents juggling children too young to be left at home, bags full of snacks and books and games. I politely refuse the lovely year six boys who are doing the rounds of the crowd with a platter of cake stall goods to sell. I have already purchased a gluten free brownie and spent hours last night putting together Mug cake mix in nicely labelled jars. By 10.30pm I was thinking I should have just handed over $50 and been done with it. Did we have cake stalls at high school parent teacher nights when I was at school? I don’t quite remember but I doubt we did.

I have a giggle to myself at the commonality between this years maths teacher and last years,  with shared body language and expressions. .Not surprising that they both had the same things to say about my humanities loving daughter. I nod my head. Yes I will have her try harder and pay more attention to algebra.

Again I am amazed by the vitality and strength of Mrs N ..who says she will move heaven and earth to get through to my son, and I believe her.

A bell rings every ten minutes to signal the end of a round of interviews and the beginning of the next one. Parents stand on the thresh-hold clutching maps which show the location of each teacher in the college hall. The bell rings and it’s a very ordered and polite push forward to the desks while those who have finished attempt to swim against the stream and find their way out of the hall. The patience and darting eyes of the  teachers when they have the parent who “stays too late” while the next parent is waiting for their turn. I watch them politely trying to wrap up conversations that probably could and should keep going if time would allow.

I see the nervous energy of a parent new to the format, accustomed to the informal nature of primary school meetings. This year has meant a new, hands off approach where she is not quite sure how her son spends his days.

As for me, new mindful me. I try not to take comments about my children too much to heart. I appreciate that they are growing, evolving people with strengths and weaknesses like all of us. I remember that their worth is not in their grades. I am heartened to hear a science teacher proclaim that positive social interactions are just as important for 13 year olds as anything else at school and I am thankful that my daughter has a wonderful, supportive and quirky group of friends. I am encouraged by the Maths teacher who is willing to employ any method necessary for my son to show what he knows and understands. I am thankful for a school ( known for it’s academic achievements) that really is interested in nurturing the whole student.

My kids are healthy, interesting, curious, mouthy, crazy, frustrating and flawed. I’m hanging on as they hurtle towards adulthood.

 

She wasn’t sure she could but then she did.

See those boots? Those boots took me all the way to the summit of Gokyo Ri at 5360 metres above sea level. That’s seriously high. Not mountaineer serious but it will do me nicely. That’s you’d better take the altitude sickness medication high. That’s one foot in front of the other will get you there high.

P1000454See that tiny tiny village below? That’s Gokyo village. When I took this photo our kids were down there free ranging ..with 200 Nepali Rupees each to spend at the bakery. Four glorious hours with no parental supervision … just our brilliant porter Lukpa keeping an eye from a distance to make sure they didn’t get into serious trouble.

When we hiked into Gokyo (you can see the track beside the lake in the photo) I looked up and up at the path that zigzigged it’s way to the summit of Gokyo Ri which stands 500 metres above the village. I was so relieved to be approaching our destination after a long day trekking (and listening to kids complain about the trekking) but I was also dealing with the rising panic at the thought of climbing Gokyo Ri the next morning with Rob and our guide Utra. It just looked so bloody hard! Harder than anything I had tackled so far this trek. The anxiety started to rise as I went through all the possible reasons why I shouldn’t bother with this extra high point in our trek.

I knew though that it was in me to attempt it. I had proven to myself and to others around me that I’m actually pretty good at keeping on. My trekking style isn’t fast or flashy and , yes I am the turtle and not the hare but I get there. And being a parent crazy enough to take a 10 and 12 year old trekking I get there with the two of them running interference in the form of whinging, fighting, stopping right in front of me when I’m concentrating so hard on where I’m putting my feet….

We made our plan and went to bed in our cosy sleeping bags. I slept fitfully, as most do at altitude, with crazy dreams thanks to the anxiety about the morning and also the altitude tablets. I got up in the morning, dressed and ate breakfast and then I climbed Gokyo Ri. One step at a time. It was bloody hard work and we passed others who struggled with the altitude and had to descend. We kept on. We watched a helicopter fly up the valley below us and we fed a tiny bird cashew crumbs at the summit. We took in the incredible expanse of the Everest region ..including Everest herself. We took photos and sat in the beautiful sunshine and then descended 500 metres to see what the kids were up to in the village.

 

Bloody hell people! That’s Mount Everest in the background! I’m a 46 year old mum from Brisbane and I’m a friggin superstar! Who knew?IMG_4376

If you are thinking of trekking in Nepal ..and you should be, do consider the Gokyo trek as opposed to the more populated Everest Base camp trek. It’s bloody amazing. The BBC have summed it up quite nicely here and if you follow my blog I’m sure I’ll mention it again. xx

Be content

I’ve just begun listening to the Slow Your Home podcast series by Brooke McLarey. I think Brooke  started this podcast in 2015 and I’m up to episode 7. I’ve got a long way to go and a lot to learn. I was particularly inspired this morning by her chat with Cybele Masterman who writes Blah Blah Magazine. Among other things they talked about purposeful living and the desire to be content ..over the desire to be happy, and finding the moments of joy in each day. I think for me being content means taking the time to appreciate where I am and what I’m doing at any given moment. So much of life since my children were born has been spent in a bit of a blur. I have a tendency to hurtle from one activity to the next. My pride in my ability to multitask can often mean that I don’t give any one thing my full attention.

My goal is to be present. When I’m talking to a family member, when I’m working at a task. That’s going to take some (a lot) of self control but I’m hoping that with practice it will become part of me.

We spent almost a month travelling and trekking in the Gokyo Valley in the Everest region of Nepal in December 2016 and it was a wonderful reminder of what it means to be in the moment. With few distractions the act of trekking was purposeful and meaningful. My purpose for each day was to get to the destination, and enjoy the challenge, the company and the environment around me. It narrowed down my priorities. It was less important to check my hair in a mirror and more important to make sure we had filtered enough water for the day. I kept a journal which I plan to share here at some point. One day towards the end of the trek I wrote a list of things I had learnt. All were insights were gained through experience and reflection during the long walking days where I had the luxury of time to notice.

Things I have learnt

  • Hiking poles are invaluable. You need two and you need to have them at the correct height.
  • Take the Diamox (altitude medication)
  • Squat toilets are actually pretty good and very efficient
  • Nepalis work hard. The people of the Khumbu are kind and strong..and they like a laugh
  • You don’t need as much toilet paper as you think
  • You don’t need to look in the mirror every day. You really don’t.
  • Taking the no-shampoo challenge is easy while trekking
  • There is no limit to the amount of tea you can drink in a day
  • You can climb any hill one step at a timeP1000498
  • Stopping for a slow food lunch is good for the body and the soul
  • I am stronger in body and spirit than I first believed.
  • My kids are incredibly resilient -there have been a few “Are we scarring them for life?” moments
  • You can measure how cold the night was by the thickness and quantity of the ice in the “flush bucket” next to the toilet.
  • Squat toilets lined with yak dung smell pretty good
  • 10 year old boys get the baby discount when shopping
  • Don’t count on being able to clean your face for days on end.

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All photo credits to Rob, Miya and Toby Saunders. I was too busy putting one foot in front of the other to take photos. That’s on my list for the next trek!

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The Start

46 is turning out to be a pretty spectacular age for me. Some new challenges, a fair bit of navel gazing and some new experiences are shaping me into a bit of a different being. I’m liking it so I thought I’d document it. Not a whingy blog ..though god knows there is a place for whinging. Generally my place at about 8.30pm. I’m hoping this will be a place for anecdotes about my boundary pushing, the goals I set for myself and bits and pieces of the special in the everyday.

Today for example. A visitor at our house for the first time got to help herd our neighbours escapee llama back home. Blog

I get to live somewhere pretty special, and it’s often when i see it through the eyes of a visitor that I really appreciate it.