Conversations with Strangers: Kelsey from Colorado

Kelsey and I met while watching the sunset over Annapurna in Nadapani. I had seen her around over the last few days, and could just tell she was a warm and inviting person, so striking up a chat with her was effortless.

About her: I learned that Kelsey and her fiancé, Matt, are from Colorado and both quit their jobs to travel for six months. Before the trip she was working at the suicide prevention hotline, which absolutely blew me away, but made sense because I could tell she had a great phone voice.

Biggest takeaway from her job:

Her biggest takeaway was quite simple: People are resilient. She had heard all sorts of stories about people’s traumas and hardships, but what inspired her the most was that these people were still fighting for their lives and still finding the courage to pick up the phone and call for help.

She also mentioned the importance of listening and validating, and I couldn’t agree more. Sometimes all people need to hear is, “it’s okay, I hear you.”

What she’s looking for:

Self contentment. Kelsey was open about how she felt like she was in survival mode at her job, burning out with life, and not taking care of herself. Part of the purpose of this trip was to reconnect with herself, her needs, and her goals.

Kelsey reflected how a lot of us are feeling. What really stuck with me though was how she not only talked about what she wants to get from her travels, but how she wants to bring back those learnings back home with her.

It’s easy to think about how you want to grow as a person while you travel, but it’s harder to think about how that growth extends past the trip itself. I’m certainly not perfect at it.

I believe everything happens for a reason, and chatting with Kelsey that evening felt serendipitous in a way. Earlier in the day, while I was cursing my way up from Ghorepani, I kept telling myself, “I am resilient.” It struck me when she used that same word, and I couldn’t help but smile at how right she was.

People are resilient.

Kelsey and Matt, I wish you safe travels!

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Day 4: Nadapani to Sinuwa

I bid adieu to my French friends, laced up my boots and headed towards Sinuwa with Gambu. By now, I felt used to the Nepali flat (constantly going either uphill or downhill) and was starting to feel stronger. I even started to appreciate how the steep inclines would naturally stretch my calves out while I walked, which felt more efficient than stretching after.

We made it to Chhromrong for lunch, and I was on my way to pee in a hole in the ground (Nepali version of a toilet) when a tall, tan and handsome stranger appeared on the trail.

Naturally, I gave him a wave and he wandered on over to have a chat.

His name was Harrison and he was a Canadian who left everything behind to travel. He had just come off the Annapurna Circuit, and was now trekking the Annapurna Sanctuary as well. I was of course intrigued, but his next stop was going to be Dovan- two hours past where I was headed for the evening.

I politely excused myself with the classiest thing I could say to a good-looking man, “I have to go pee in a hole now- catch you later,” and let Harrison go on his merry way.

We were headed in the same direction, so unsurprisingly I caught up with him shortly after, and we matched pace.

Gambu asked Harrison where his end point would be today, and he responded, “Sinuwa,” instead of Dovan. Earlier he had joked about staying there if it involved a candlelit dhal bat dinner with me, and now I rolled my eyes at his “coincidental” change of plans.

So, we ended up walking to Sinuwa together and talking the entire way. (Okay, Harrison talked while I huffed and puffed my way uphill.) He towered over me, so his steps were equal to two of mine, but I appreciated his slower pace on my behalf. Every once in a while, I noticed that my pack would feel a little lighter, and realized that Harrison would gently push my pack up so that it would be easier on me- it was quite sweet.

Once we made it to the village, we decided to split a room, for financial reasons and warmth, of course.

We spent the afternoon together, and I learned he was a former football player, turned vegetarian, meditating Zen Buddhist. Very type B, to my very type A.

It was refreshing to talk to someone who was so different than I was. He was insightful and introspective, on a mission to better know himself. Whereas, I know myself quite well and tend to stay away from deep conversations. I realized that his calm was contagious and I found myself sharing a lot of the thoughts I had been having about my life, that I was to hesitant to even admit to myself.

He later asked me what my spirit animal was. Harrison was a wolf- prideful and independent, but happy to also be part of the pack.

I am a mantis shrimp.

I am small, but strong and fierce, and I see the world in more colors than most people do.

We were clearly in opposite exhibits of this zoo, but somehow it worked.

The rest of the evening was lovely, dhal bat dinner and a cozy night in. The next morning he headed off to Annapurna Basecamp- a nine hour trek, so I gifted him the rest of my Quest Bars and wished him well.

Day 3: Ghorepani to Nadapani

I write in my journal every day, and Gambu, my guide, always asks “what are you writing about?”

Every day I give him the same answer, “I’m finding different ways to say: everything is beautiful and everything hurts.”

This morning was particularly hard.

Imagine going up a flight of stairs carrying a small child. You keep climbing flight after flight, and you think the end is up ahead, but you turn the corner and you just see more stairs. You do this a few hundred more times, all while taking in less oxygen as you climb higher.

I thought that part was tough, but I forgot about a nifty little law called gravity. What goes up, must come down. So, I spent the next two hours in a steep descent.

Going downhill sounds like a better time than climbing uphill, but it takes such a toll on my knees that I couldn’t wait to go uphill again.

Anyways, they say all is well that ends well right?

I got to my guest house early in the day, per usual. Gambu and I keep a quick pace and don’t really rest along the way, which gives me plenty of time to relax and enjoy the views.

I had been thinking about how this trek feels a lot less social than the last trek I have been on, the Camino De Santiago. I met so many incredible people from all over the world on that trek, some of whom feel like family to me now. I missed that kind of atmosphere.

Then I realized, maybe it wasn’t the trek. Maybe it was me. Maybe I was being less social than usual?

This was a brilliant realization because this was something I could fix!

I decided to be more open to having a chat with passersby, so when two beautiful Frenchmen, whom I had seen around on the trek, stopped to chat with me and asked me to join them for dinner I happily obliged.

They were Kevin and Remi, two friends who both worked in finance just enjoying a vacation together.

We spent hours sitting around the fire in the dining room of the lodge we were staying at. Remi taught me French, while Kevin poked fun at how few vacation days Americans get. Then our little ménage à trois did the most fun and exciting thing two Frenchmen and myself could do: we played Uno until we were politely asked to go to bed.

Like I said, all is well that ends well. A day that started out so rough, ended in the loveliest of ways.

Day 2: Ulleri to Ghorepani

I’m currently warming myself up in front of a single space heater (okay, it’s actually just metal barrel with a fire lit inside it) in the main room of a small lodge in Ghorepani, while John Mayer’s greatest hits play in the background.

My legs are tired from another uphill day, but it’s a good tired. I suppose it’s hard to be anything but divinely calm and happy when you’ve been surrounded by mountains all day.

I thought the views from my first day were impressive, but nothing prepared me for seeing Annapurna in all her glory- especially the view from Poon Hill.

I’ll spare you the description because my words can’t do it justice, and instead I’ll share what trekking in Nepal is like so far.

The Annapurna Sanctuary is a pretty popular trek, with trekkers visiting from all over the world. Most people hire either a guide or a porter to accompany them. I chose to hire only a guide, because I have too much pride to hire someone else to carry my pack. Plus, I have a personal rule for whenever I travel: I brought it, I carry it.

I’ll share more about my guide later, because he is wonderful and deserves more than just a few lines in this post.

Anyways, you might be wondering what bougie hotels I am staying in along the way. Well let’s just say things have gotten a lot more humble since my luxury apartment in Pokhara.

Everyone sleeps in guest houses, which are plentiful along the trail. I’m used to sleeping in simple and shared accommodations from staying in albergues while trekking in Spain- but these guest houses are a new level of basic.

For reference, I’ll describe the room I’m staying in tonight.

I have a small room with two twin beds. Why did I get two? Because it’s freezing at night (there’s no heat and the walls are thin), and I figured out that if you get a double room, you get TWO blankets!

This is what I call, “Strategerie.”

I also have the luxury of having a bathroom attached to my room. (Yesterday I shared a bathroom with an entire floor, hence the excitement.) I’m not sure that I would usually call an ice cold bathroom that has a metal sheet for a door and a window that can’t close a luxury, but the shower had warm water and that was all that mattered today.

All in all though, it’s not bad. Of course, it’s a gentle reminder to be grateful for everything I have back home, like heating and outlets, but I’m too in love with the Annapurna Sanctuary to mind.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to bed in the cocoon of blankets I have crafted for myself.

Day 1: Nayapul to Ulleri

Today was the first day of my trek. Today I also climbed the equivalent of 300 floors, carrying a 50 pound pack for five hours.

I’m always as honest as I can be on my blog, so I’m okay admitting that it was hard. So hard.

And better yet- everything I didn’t want to happen, happened.

I didn’t want to climb uphill for five hours while roasting in the sun.

I didn’t want to sweat through my shirt, pants, sports bra, underwear and even my socks.

I didn’t want to deal with communists in the gazebo on the first day of trekking, and I certainly didn’t want to have run to the toilet after everything I ate.

I didn’t want to ache in every muscle of my body, and most of all- I didn’t want to think for a moment that I couldn’t do this.

And you know what? All of that happened.

And you know what else? I was glad.

Because today was hard, but it was also glorious, beautiful, and rewarding.

I learned a long time ago that travel will never be perfect and all you can do is be kind to yourself, smile and keep going.

Plus if everything that I didn’t want to happen, happened on my first day, and I STILL felt like the happiest person in the world- then there truly isn’t anything I cannot handle and the rest should be a cake walk.

Right? Right.

Kathmandu: Mad Max, Smog, and Cremations

I spent my first day in Nepal sightseeing in Kathmandu. Upon landing, I was immediately greeted by Prem, a friend of my father’s (because everyone’s parents casually have pals all over the world, right?)

At first glance, Kathmandu seemed to have this dream-like haze about it, which I quickly realized was just smog.

I was fortunate enough to have Prem guiding me around the city, because I don’t think I could have managed any other mode of transportation without the stress level of Winona Ryder in every scene of Stranger Things.

The roads are packed with vehicles, motorbikes, pedestrians, and a few cows, homemade tractors and metal carts mixed in just to spice things up a bit. There really aren’t lanes, traffic lights, or pedestrian crosswalks, and respecting the direction of traffic feels optional.

It’s kind of like the movie Mad Max, but with more vehicles. I don’t really remember what that movie was about, but there were cars and danger in it, so this analogy still works.

After a long day of checking out Kathmandu’s hot spots, including the Boudhanath Stupa (one of the largest Stupas in the world and also the coolest one I’ve ever seen), Prem took me to Pashupatinath, a sacred Hindu temple.

On our way there, he casually remarked, “Hopefully we can see a cremation today,” and proceeded to inform me that it takes three hours to fully burn a body. But only one hour if you do it the electric way.”

I wasn’t sure how to appropriately respond to this new information, so I awkwardly let out an, “okay, great!” as if I had ever seen a body cremated before.

This was my first time in a primarily Hindu country, and I was eager to learn more about the religion. I got familiar with Buddhism while traveling through Southeast Asia last summer, but my experience with South Asia and it’s customs is still new.

We proceeded to the temple where a few cremations were already well under way, and stopped to watch as Hindu priests prepared another funeral pyre, decorated with bright orange flowers.

I don’t know how to describe what it’s like to watch women wailing while a body burned, but I suppose tragically beautiful would be a good start. It smelled like sandalwood mixed with a scent I didn’t recognize, which made me a bit uneasy.

Nonetheless, I stood there and watched, because I had never seen anything like it. I left the temple with the goal of better understanding Hinduism and putting more of South Asia on my busket list.

Overall, I found the city fascinating in its own chaotic way. Kind of like a friend’s messy room. To an outsider, its hard to make sense of or find anything, but once you get to know it better, it’s quite charming.

Nonetheless, I think one day in Kathmandu was plenty for me. My sinuses and lungs would certainly agree.

Destination: Nepal

Those of you who know me personally, (and I suppose those of you who know me impersonally but follow my blog or religiously watch my Instagram stories but never attempt contact otherwise), know that I am always either on a trip or planning my next adventure. Third option is neither, at which point I am dead inside.

Is that a little dramatic? Maybe.

Anyway, I’ll spare you all the theatrics- I’m going on an adventure. In November, I will be trekking the Annapurna Sanctuary in Nepal for two weeks.

I took the liberty of compiling a list of PAQs (Possibly Asked Questions). I had to make this acronym up, because FAQs would imply that these questions have been asked frequently. They have not.

“Why Nepal?”

Because I have never been there.

Originally, I was planning to trek the Torres del Paine circuit in Patagonia, but one Tuesday evening my father causally called me to say that I should do Nepal instead.

Naturally, I said, “Sure. Why not.”

“Who are you going with?”

Myself. I make great company.

Being a solo female traveller is one of the most exhilarating and empowering things you can do for yourself. Now, did I almost get locked in the cab of a dairy delivery truck hiking alone through the north of Spain (On Getting into Cars with Strangers), and did I have a homeless man protect me from getting robbed at a train station alone at night in Italy (When It’s Not All Fine and Dandy)? Yes, yes I did.

But was it worth it every time? Absolutely.

Okay we get it, Pauline, you’re going to some far away country. But what’s with this trail you’re hiking?

My love for trekking bloomed during my three weeks on the Camino de Santiago, hiking through Northern Spain at the age of 21. Being outdoors revitalizes me. Meeting people from all over the world refreshes me. Walking for miles alone with my own thoughts allows to me recharge and reflect. You should try it sometime.

The Annapurna circuit is regarded as one of the most incredible treks in the world, and I am thrilled to journey through it. I’ll walk about 100 miles total, and I’ll be climbing from tropical climates at 600 meters to arctic climates at a peak of 4,300 meters.

Although I do not know how I will pack for both tropics and the arctic into my beloved 45L Osprey, I do know two things to be true:

  1. My quads will be totally ripped
  2. I’m about to embark on an adventure of a lifetime.

 

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Since I don’t have a photo of me there yet, please enjoy my favorite shot of the original travel guru himself in Nepal.