Living like a local … kind of

I spent the past two weeks sleeping in $2-per-night mountain lodges, sleeping on hard beds, cocooned in a sleeping bag topped with a few old blankets for added warmth against freezing temperatures.

For the locals, my sleeping condition was considered luxury.

I spent the past two weeks squatting atop dirty hole-in-the-floor toilets whenever nature called, doing my best to conserve the limited amount of toilet paper and baby wipes shoved into my daypack.

For the locals, this style of bathroom break is normal.

I spent the past two weeks climbing up and down and up and down and up and down — thousands of feet at a time — to get from Point A to Point B.

For the locals, this is how they get around from village to village: on foot.

I spent the past two weeks dodging donkeys, yaks, cows and porters on narrow, rocky, sometimes frost-bitten trails, never hearing the sound of a car (only the occasional sound of a helicopter rescuing an injured trekker).

For the locals, this is considered “traffic.”

I spent the past two weeks living on tea, water, Dal Bhat (Nepalese dish), plain noodles and Snickers bars.

For the locals, this is cuisine.

I spent the past two weeks so far removed from the simple comforts of Chicago — or any American city, suburb or ghetto for that matter — that trekking life in the Himalayas temporarily became “normal” for me.

Key word: temporarily.

In the back of my mind, I knew it was all a short-term situation with which to endure, a novelty, an adventure, a brag-worthy thing to reference when later swapping travel stories with friends and family.

This was not my reality.  But it is a reality for so many in Nepal.

Could I survive the Nepalese mountain life? Absolutely not. I’m so much weaker than these people. I’ve been coddled, privileged, housed in heated/air-conditioned homes my entire life. Some of the Nepalese porters we met along the way earn US$4 per day to carry heavy loads from village to village. I learned that the Sherpas in the Everest region make 60 rupees (approximately 60 US cents) per kilogram of weight they can strap to their backs — hence the insanely large loads I often witnessed these men and women carrying. I saw a few men carrying more than 80 kilos of supplies, such as large sheets of glass, wooden planks and stacks of heavy boxes. Yet, these men and women often paused to say “Namaste” to me as they passed.

Humbling.  Completely humbling.

This is  a lifestyle and a pay scale so entirely different from the one I know. I often felt guilty invading this space, wrapped up in my fancy North Face gear and carrying my fancy SLR camera. My solace, however, was that I was bearing witness to it all — so that I could relay my observations to the western world. I could be some sort of champion for these people and this country through my photographs, writing and storytelling.

Some of the biggest opportunities to help this developing nation: increased funding for medical care, education and recycling. Specifically, I was absolutely appalled by all of the garbage strewn into otherwise pristine streams and hillsides — mostly plastic bags, glass bottles, plastic bottles, discarded candy wrappers. When I asked both of my guides if recycling was something done in Nepal, I got the same answer: “No.” If this is true — if ever there was opportunity to create new jobs and industry in the country, I’d point the finger at recycling. Rally the locals in the mountains to collect it all (and pay them), and begin a profitable recycling industry similar to the one I witnessed in the Daharvi slum of Mumbai. With the number of tourists consuming water and soda from plastic bottles alone, Nepal is sitting on a mini goldmine. It’s something I’ll certainly muse on and research, as there have got to be organizations looking into this already …

For now, my body is fatigued from these last two weeks and I need to rest. It’s hard to do when my mind is active with the observations, criticisms, ideas, etc., that this piece of my journey has initiated.

To be continued.

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