Family trek to Rowaling: a significant endeavour

The full picture and significance our recent 14 day trek in the Rowaling valley defies description (and my current timeline to put ‘pen to paper’ and the limited capacity/failure of the internet to upload the pics!).

For the adults and children involved the journey was an adventure – a little different to a holiday!

The trek had challenge, joy and admiration for the efforts of our children. It was hot (on occasion) and cold (at altitude). We walked hard – so hard some days – and we sat still for lengthy ‘rest’ days. We played with some school kids on way, and noticed the large absence of the younger generations of mountain folk as many head for work in Kathmandu. The Himalaya were our constant companions, as was the rushing gurgling glacier-fed rivers. Jungle with rhododendron, magnolia, daphne; high alpine meadows and rock cliffs were a part of the picture. So was the traditional life, villages and guest houses of the local Sherpa and Tamang peoples.

The Buddhist gompas (monastery), Mani walls and chortens gave explicit notice of the sacred importance of this landscape. A visit to Guru Rinpoche Cave set high up the mountain overlooking the valley and Himalaya was a highlight of effort and connection. Attending a local monthly festival (5+ hours of chanting, clanging symbols, Tibetan horns bellowing) at the new monastery in Beding was another immersion in authentic spiritual life.

We trekked in Rowaling in 2015 – prior to the earthquake. It was a delight and devastation to visit again. Day 1 we walked the 700mt altitude gain to Simigaun (steep!) (context: this was after the 10hr jeep drive there, beginning at 5pm – walking into the dark, some group members vomiting). It was a delight to be welcomed midway by our friend Thurbu Sherpa, hot tea, smiles and welcome kata giving us energy to continue. It was devastation to discover our favourite monastery at Simigaun was a pile of rubble and many houses were slowly being rebuilt.

The combination of a family trek and an opportunity for the men-folk to follow a long held dream to go mountaineering was ambitiously achieved. At the high village of Na Pete and Dave fare-welled us mothers and children and headed higher higher higher.

Each morning sparkled sunshine and every afternoon chilled with snow. All our winter warm clothes were needed as we sat in the comfort and freeze of our unheated guesthouse. Water was carted from communal tap several hundred meters away and our host Nima Phuti managed miracles in food preparation over a single smokey fire. Ah the realities of a simple life. And to think this is the comfortable option – Dave and Pete had even more simplicity and sensational experiences to tend with.

As is often the way with significant journeys (of various kinds) the learning, laughing, crying, effort and release, taught us many life lessons and will stay with us all.

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Now for Nepal

It is great to be back at home in Nepal.

It has been a welcome return – even to the noise, smog and busy busy of Kathmandu! We love the local life, soaking up the special sacred places, visiting our Nepali friends. Sharing all this with our dear Australian friends ‘the Christisons’ has added depth and joy to the experience. A full calendar schedule is keeping our visiting brief and us a little tired, but I am loving seeing us nepaligilsons – particularly Wirra and Inanay – back in this context.

Trekking next!

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Zen in the art of motorcycle and jungle journeys.

Taking the title from Robert Pirsig’s 1974 philosophical non fiction book ‘Zen in the art of motorcycle maintenance’. A special book – it tells the story of the author and son’s motorcycle touring journey through back-country roads of north west USA. The descriptions of the direct relationship between self and landscape that can come on motorcycle journeys is clear in my mind. The philosophical would perhaps need another re-reading to glean more lessons and learning. Anyway, I digress….

We are now in the jungle at Khao Sok National Park. Being a outdoor kind of family we have had two epic days of different varieties. Armed with 2 packets of oreos (yep chocolate biscuits = the entire scope of our trip planning…and you thought we were experienced outdoor folk!) both days were long, with lots of water and minimal food and highlighted what legends our two children really are!

Epic No.1: Walkabout in the jungle. Looking at the available walking trails and judging the heat of the day we knew a early start would be in our favour. 7am saw us heading off up the trail. Giggles and shrieks from the children joined the morning calls of jungle life as the  debris of breakfasting monkeys rained down upon us. Fantastic fun and greatly enjoyed.

Shortly after we took off on a overgrown trail and wound our way to the river. Luckily we were in quiet mode because a family of otters were having a morning frolic.  Splash and play were interrupted by a magnificent eagle landing in a nearby tree and alarming the otters.It was superb – just like being in the David Attenborough wildlife documentaries that we love so much.

We wound our way up the river jungle path, with swims breaking up the heat of the day. We had the jungle largely to ourselves for the morning. The kids paused, intensely observing lizards, geckos, birds, spiders. Again, they seemed to merge into the environment at times. The tour groups increased in the afternoon. Although, in general, the crowds took a quick glance, clicked a photo and moved on. We felt empathy for the hot and puffing faces of our fellow tourists and we were all grateful for our early morning efforts.

2 pkts of oreos and lots of water later, we guessed it might be 1pm or so. A quick check of the clock revealed the actual time to be 3:30pm and saw us still walking strongly to the park exit. No implosions – not even from Dave who struggled with the food quantity and selection the most of all!

 

Epic No. 2: Motorcycle adventure. From one fun adventure to another – albeit a slightly different mode of transport. We love hiring motorcycles – so much freedom, exploration and so cheap.

Leaving around 9am: again with a pkt of choc biscuits as our contribution to food planning; and envisaging easy access to food stalls en-route we let loose on the highway and secondary roads and explored the broader area. Travelling over 100km in our little ‘put put’ motorbikes, it proved to be a long day.

We were glad for morning ‘wins’: discovering and exploring a great cave at the end of a winding bush track and discovering the best coffee in Thailand. We were grateful for late afternoon enjoyment, beautiful landscapes and fresh breeze in the hair. However, the hot middle of the day saw us a little strung out.

 

To begin with, I had my anxious mind and wobbly body to settle. I had to put to the side the images of Wirra’s bare legs zooming along so very close to the bitchumun. Inanay’s wriggling seemed to cause massive swaying and potential swerving on the bike. As my mind skipped ahead to disaster scenarios the wobbles increased.

Breath. Deeply. Breath.

Some of The Natural Space to Be experiences of 2016 saw our group pondering and integrating meditative movement practices into their day to day – horse riding, walking the dog, pushing a baby’s pram. Bringing a gentle strength of posture through energetic awareness of the breath and subtle movements of the body. I took these practices to the motorbike.

Breath in. Stable energy from the sit bones, up the spine. Breath out. Settling energy radiating through the arms and body. Much of the realities stayed the same. But the comfort increased. The mind games lessened. The wobbles decreased and stability and increased safety on the bike ensued. And I enjoyed it a whole lot more too! Zen in the art of motorcycle journeying.

Strung out? The heat of the middle of the day approached and we still had a way to go to our destination. A lake which we were sure would give us a much anticipated swimming respite. The distance ended up being longer than ideal. Hot dehydrated bodies arrived to the sight of stop signs everywhere. No access to the beautiful blue waters in our view. All signs pointed to the tourist boats that transported to overnight accommodation further up the lake. Our timelines didn’t extend that far. No sneak down access points. We went round and round and checked! A drink and ice-cream sufficed for nourishment – the pre-cooked chicken sweltering on the shop bench gave us pause.

In the mid-afternoon we gave up our search for a swim point and turned for the long homeward journey. A tropical thunderstorms cooled us off and gave us our swim. But in turn it slowed us down just when we were thinking we should probably speed up. We gave up this type of thinking as the rain came down harder, we zoomed to shelter with the locals.

And then, as can be the way with storms, the clouds cleared. The freshness of the surrounds enlivened us. Settling in the knowledge that our trusty motorbikes would get us there eventually  (and we did have headlights) we whooped off into the late afternoon evening enjoying the soft light, a settled energy and refreshed smiles.

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Next stop, Ko Surin National Park

We went from the fun and zoom of motorbikes and busy-ish tropical island resort destination life to the quieter, contained and spectacular experiences of Ko Surin National Park. A offshore tropical island, it was set aside as a National Park in the early 1980’s.

The water colour changed from river estuary influenced brown-ish, to aqua beautiful blue.

Development changed from every other beach being built upon and occupied, to us humans beings restricted to 2 specific beach camp sites. Onto the island access and exploration is limited to the same 2 beach zones and one nature trail. The rest is left for the turtles, monkeys and wildlife.

The forest surrounding us shifted from being patchy and impacted to the full and rich textures of uninterrupted jungle green growth. Simple living and as you may guess, we loved it. It was special to see the impact of humans beings contained, and see those very same human beings loving it.

It was tents and foam mat accommodation for all {a couple of bungalows available if you wish}. A visit to a nearby sea gypsy community was a special day full of story, authentic seafood fare and even a boat left high and dry by the tide to extend the stay as we awaited high tide in the evening.

The kids almost merged with nature on occasion as they explored the beach and underwater world. They enjoyed the rope swing, visit to the Sea Gypsy village, playing with hermit crabs on the beach, swimming with baby sharks in the mangroves and of course the snorkelling.

The underwater world is why most visit Ko Surin. It was magnificent, amazing and beautiful. Interestingly though, the restrictions on human impact, which had made such a significant difference on the ground, were less impressive below the water. Loading and departing ramps over once beautiful, now dead, coral. And it seemed that broader factors were at play – coral bleaching and over fishing. Floating silently over white grey dead coral and hearing stories of fish of days gone by – the words and terms bandied about became a felt and experienced reality. Saddening in the midst of beauty.

Ko Phayam motorcycle diary

There are no cars on Ko Phayam, something the local people are keen on keeping – recognising it adds a certain charm to tropical island life. Even as it gets busier and more populated as a island, new ‘roads’ are build miniature style – perfect for motorbikes. A highlight for us was hiring little motorcycles (150 Bhat [about $4] per 24hours) and zooming through the jungle and around the bush tracks linking one beach to the next.

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This body needs yoga

My body is stiff and sore. Probably the result of long periods sitting in air plane, bus and train. Typically the children have climbed aboard too – reclining or climbing on top of me for comfort. This brings my movement to a complete halt, for hours at a time. A sore and sorry lower back, stiff aching muscles and swollen joints are my current companion. It feels like toxicity in the body has reached a tipping point. I have been popping the ‘vitamin I’ (as Dave refers to the magic of Ibuprofen anti-inflammatory), drinking some water and wallowing in it for a few days.

Today the wallowing is to cease. A re-realisation: of course! that this body needs yoga asana (the physical postures and practices that often get seen as the whole of yoga). My sore body is insistently prompting me to reinvigorate a regular yoga asana practice.  I just have to hear the message and act.

Yoga practice, in its many forms, has been a good companion for a decade or so. It informs what I do, think, respond and feel. In terms of yoga asana, I come and go with various focus of practice, duration, frequency etc. And lately it has been few and far between. During travels thus far, I have meditated, loved my ‘outdoor fitness’ and jogged most days (which for me has great benefits, see here). But yoga asana to balance and sustain? nope.

Periodically I set out on a 40 day practice. Inspired by Kara Leah Grant’s 40 days of Yoga you elect a dedicated practice each day for 40 days.  Today feels like the day to begin. I have the perfect tropical island setting, a sore body to prompt action and a knowing that this is a right path.

It’s helpful to ponder the intention. So I do this. Leaping out for me right now is practice to support a open and flexible body (my type of flexible!). And of course this flows through to the mind and attitude.

Timing: 20mins in the morning , 20mins in the afternoon. A timer is going to be helpful here.

Including: Pranayama (breathing practice) and stretches of the back, hips, legs, neck & shoulders. And a short relaxation at the end.

Procrastination is always there. Even on this tropical island, with ‘all the time in the world’ setting, there is always other things to be done, commitments to keep. And of course, the self created mind game of distraction and. Lucky I am somewhat familiar with that voice and mind game!

Postcript: four or so days later. Back to day 1 (the concept being if you miss a day – its back to day 1). This I greet with the gentleness and smile that it needs. My body feels better already. Yesterday we moved house. From one tropical island accommodation to another. So between the bags to pack, the motorbike taxi to catch, the kids to care for…what was set to the side? the morning yoga practice. So a emphasis on first things first – morning yoga is a steady nourishing discipline and it can come first.

 

 

Message in a bottle

In our ‘not at home, home schooling’ we have had many interesting, unique and relevant learning opportunities.

Here is one of today’s activity – we thought you may like to read it and it tells one of the stories from our time on the island of Ko Phayam, Thailand.

There is plenty of rubbish about our beach. Plastic bottles, polystyrene and more plastic,  and a good amount of cute little brown glass bottles (cheap accessible spirits we think). As we walked along the beach this morning Inanay and I were inspired for her creative writing activity to collect a bottle, write a message to put in the bottle, and then release it back to the sea. The imagination was captured with all of the interesting places it may end up….

Inanay wrote her message:

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Inanay coiled  up the paper: 2,3, 4 times to get the right shape to fit in the bottle.

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Inanay excitedly screwed up the lid tight and imagined what kind of places in the world the bottle might end up. A discussion of world wide ocean currents took our imaginations and possibilities far and wide.

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Inanay and Kate took to the open water to give the bottle the best chance of negotiating the myriad of islands and make it out to adventures on the open sea. Yippee!

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We- well me (Kate) – felt a little guilty at adding the rubbish back to the sea. But there was rich conversations and lots of learning to be had, and a quick walk along the high tide mark gave us plenty of rubbish to re-route to the recycling.

A powerful experience in the ethos and importance of REDUCE, reuse, recycle. Please people, we have just gotta reduce the packaging.

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Goodbye Munich. Hello Bangkok!

We say farewell to Munich. After 2 months, many experiences and lovely catch up with friends and family we are on to the next stage of our journey – Thailand for 3 weeks. Farewell snow and skiing, hello warmth, humidity, beaches and snorkelling. Ah the contrasts and joys of the world.

We have arrived in Bangkok.

Air flight and time in transit take its toll on the body – we are not the first to discover this. The children vomiting as we started our descent into Bangkok just added another consideration to the list (from a tummy bug that was doing the rounds in Munich & we suspected was on way). Hopefully this is our homage to the gastro bug for the next six weeks and we will sail through Thailand and Nepal.

So far we have slept – a lot! Mostly at the wrong times – as our body clock’s begin to re-calibrate from Europe to Asia. The kids have seen midnight on the clock for the last 3 nights – we are hoping that today’s enforced early morning rise and big day out and about seeing some of the sights of Bangkok might help shift our habits.

Even in our current hazy state – we do love our experiences of Bangkok. We are staying ‘Riverside’, and ours is a fairly privileged existence for sure. We gaze on at the hustle and bustle of the boats, water-taxis, barges, fishing folk.

We love weaving our way down the back streets, across canals and soaking up the local sights and sounds.

In our weakened and restful state a Thai massage was called for. Off a small side street, smiling Thai faces hastily accommodated all four of us in their little massage space, a fourth person called in to complete the masseuse entourage. The kids love massage, having had occasional treatments from our good friend Sammy Rumblelow ‘Nature’s Touch’ so we were all able to settle in for the treat.

With a bit of rest and nurture we now head towards the beach. Goodbye skiing – hello underwater world…

 

The waiting place

THE WAITING PLACE  by Dr. Seuss
Waiting for a train to go or a bus to come,
or a plane to go or the mail to come,
or the rain to go or the phone to ring,
or the snow to snow or waiting around for a Yes or No
or waiting for their hair to grow.

Everyone is just waiting…

In this holidaying life, and life in general, we have many visits to the ‘waiting place‘. I was inspired to put ‘pen to paper’ and write this as we are actually waiting for the snow to snow. We are in our ski gear awaiting a forecast drop in temperature that will turn the sleeting rain to snow for our final day of skiing. Dave is reading out loud to the children, creating the opportunity for me to type this quick sharing.

We have become much more skilled and settled with waiting places – this is a great learning for life. Maintaining a positive outlook, curiosity, diversity and settledness when nothing is happening, no thing to distract and engage. When we are just waiting…

The children learn a lot in these waiting places. As do us adults. Each day ‘just waiting’ ‘just being’ is something that we explicitly practice. On our train trips, we read, do our studies and then simply looking out the window and doing nothing but observing the scenery becomes our focus for a while. It doesn’t come easy on some occasions but overall we benefit from the experience.

We are often waiting for the train to come or go: usually this is in the company of our two kids, and requires active engagement in their energy and activity. But the other day I had the opportunity to sit quietly with our luggage for an hour or so, just me – surrounded by the concrete of the underground train network and the company of the many people passing by. I decided to meditate – open eye mediation; partly to not call too much attention to myself – partly to continue a conscious curiosity towards the comings and goings around me.

I grounded through the sit bones and settled in – our big backpack makes for a great meditation cushion! I found a neon light arrow sign across in the distance. Upwards pointing arrow for uplifting. This became a refocus and anchor for my mediation. A place to return to when distraction played its usual games. At a nearby Bakerei, the kneading cycle of bread machine provided a steady beat for my ears to tune to. A calming, felt sense of my breath coming and going from the body completed the combination. Peace, observation and stillness followed. What a great way to use a ‘waiting place’.

“Wie gehts, gut?” (“how are you? good?”) cuts across this space. Slightly startled, I look up at the Polizei towering over me in their formal uniform. My still and lengthy presence in the midst of the hustle and bustle of the train station had obviously attracted their attention and concern. “Gut, danke” and a smile was my convincing reply.

After my snap-awake conversation with the Polizei I stayed seated, but shift my mediation style. I allowed curiosity to guide my open eye meditation. The sounds of conversation and footsteps – previously unheard –  were the soundtrack. The interest of people’s features, the possibilities of their stories. Oh the places you can go! in meditation.

P.S. The weather has cooled – snow is now falling. Activity calls. Our final day skiing in the Alps awaits…