It’s important to be mindful of all the factors that made my trip possible. It’s so easy to say “I” took a trip when actually there is a web of interdependent realities, each contributing to the overall project (and passage). Everything in life has the characteristic of interdependency if we take time to really think about how to “connect the dots.” For this Far West Passage, I will list the major “players” first, and then say more about each one in turn.
- Relatively stable social & political contexts
- airline safety
- gear: bags, camera, iPad
- friends who kept in touch
So first, I have to acknowledge with gratitude and affection my partner Miko, who gave me the green light to do this trip. When funding for my sabbatical year research project did not materialize, it was then a matter of seizing the moment and liberating myself from the confines of academia. My first trip to Nepal (and second to India) took place 35 years ago, and Miko and I have been together for 34, so she has heard endless (and repetitive) accounts of that long-ago and faraway time. She knows how important it was in shaping some of my sensibilities, and perhaps in my turn towards anthropology. The chance to revisit some of these places and add new ones (Indonesia and Turkey) meant a long and sustained trip that, exciting as it sounded, she knew she didn’t want to tackle. So she kept the home fires burning, managed basic affairs, and served as an important link back to the contexts of life in Albany, California. Weekly emails and sometimes Skype conversations also helped to keep our personalities in tune, even as we were dealing with business matters. So thank you Miko!
Next, my university enabled me to do the trip by granting me a year-long sabbatical with no strings attached. I will do a separate entry on what a sabbatical is, does, and makes possible, but suffice to say that the issue is not money (although having 75% of one’s salary for an entire year is like manna from heaven). The main gift a sabbatical provides is time to explore, rest, take chances, think creatively, work without interruption, screw up, make repairs, and so on. It’s the “and so on” that perhaps matters most!
Body-mind balance gave me the confidence to commit myself to months of travel and occasional physical challenges. Had I not been very active all these years–hiking, backpacking, working out, eating sensibly–I would have had a very different and much more sedentary kind of trip. The fact that my knee could heal after an injury in the mountains of Indonesia is testament to the benefits of good health. I was also pretty calm during the trip, handling setbacks with equanimity and delighting fully in new discoveries and adventures. I credit this fairly stable state-of-mind/heart to…
…my ongoing zazen practice. It never gets old, never fails to teach me about myself, and remains a fundamental resource in the kind of life I’m trying to live and navigate consistently.
Relatively stable social and political orders in all the countries I visited meant that a foreigner like myself–such an obvious target for thieves and miscreants–could move about in relative safety. This is no small matter. Compared to countries where one’s health and sometimes life is at risk because of conflict, disease, skin color, country of origin, religious affiliation, or disaster, my trip was mostly free of overt political and social strife (save for Turkey).
Airline safety was another hugely significant factor in this trip. Although I did take chances when in Nepal and India on airlines with sketchy safety records, I was mostly impressed with the professionalism I encountered on all of my 21 flights. I should mention, though, that three days after landing in Pokhara, Nepal, another airline crashed in the mountains, with 18 killed. We saw the cremation of a government official who was on that flight in Kathmandu when we visited the city’s main Hindu temple.
Now we come to the heart of the matter: my gear, various and sundry though it may be, performed wonderfully. When I left the Bay Area in late September for my first two talks in Hawaii, I had to pack everything I thought I would need for the entire trip. That meant clothes for temperate Japan, tropical Indonesia, and winter in India and Nepal. I had 3 bags, the smallest of which fit inside my large day pack so that I could board a flight with only 2 bags. At first, I could carry on both bags and thus avoid the anxiety and time wasted at baggage claim.
The small backpack was my daily go-to bag, safely protecting my valuables and capable of carrying a modest amount of supplies. The 22-inch size wheelie had the option of converting to a backpack in case I needed to schlep it and the other bag over rough terrain. All 3 bags came from REI and held up beautifully. Boots by Keen, running shoes by New Balance.
What made the difference for storage in tight spaces were compression sacks to push the air out of folded clothes and thus provide more space. I had many other smaller bags to carry cords, plugs, medicines, toiletries, clothes, socks, underwear, camera gear, and an extended keyboard for the iPad mini. I did not have a cell phone and now think this was probably a mistake, but oh well. I managed.
My camera, bless its lens, light meter, and motherboard, was a Canon Powershot G15. It doesn’t look like much but its body is metal, not plastic, and it is manufactured in Japan. Only a couple times did I want a telephoto, but not enough to lug around a big single-lens reflex camera like I did last time (a metal-body Nikon, plus wide angle and telephoto lenses). I found that the G15 could get me reasonably close and then, after editing and because of high pixel count, I could crop and zoom to get the close-ups I wanted. There’s already a G16 on the market, and I would buy this model again.
These acknowledgements started out with a personal touch and that’s how they will wind up.
All the friends, colleagues, and even strangers who took time to communicate and express support for this endeavor meant a great deal to me when traveling solo. Although I rarely felt lonely, there were many occasions when I would have enjoyed a face-to-face conversation at dinner or breakfast to recount stories and discoveries, or just to swap information or bitch about this or that. Being in email contact with folks near and far was always inspiring (even when unhappy news arrived) and much appreciated. Sincerely yours…
Finally, a big bow to my son, Max, for taking time out of his busy media-driven life in Tokyo to come into “deep Asia” and spend a week with me in Nepal. Without him, it’s unlikely I would have done the paragliding adventure, which remains among the top five discoveries of the trip.
The fact that we got along so well is also a marvelous and deeply appreciated gift that I will never forget. With any luck, we will try again to be in Nepal together within the next five years, and take a trek along that ridge leading to the high valleys near Machapuchare Himal.