Turtuk, Ladakh, India

India: Leh to Turtuk: And the Adventure Begins!

Leh, Ladakh I stumbled out of bed in the crisp morning air. It was still dark outside and I could see my breath as I tried to shove my sleeping bag in its case while shivering uncontrollably. I was wearing all of my winter clothes, which weren’t much, and hadn’t taken off my maroon wool hat since I’d arrived at the airport in Leh several days prior.

I dropped my large green backpack stuffed with non-essentials, such as shampoo, conditioner and any type of clothing shorter than my ankles, as well as my laptop, at the door of the guesthouse owners’ kitchen and walked into the dark, cold air. I stood shivering, as a donkey standing on the street right below my paper-thin window screamed,

“HEEEEEE-HAWWWWW” over and over and over again.

It was the end of my third night in the girl’s bedroom decorated with Cinderella stickers. The sounds of the night were so clear in this room that it sounded as if packs of howling, barking, fighting dogs were tearing through my windows only to be countered by a pack of mad, crazed donkeys that must be on their last harried breaths while dying from rabies.

I was shocked to see that it was only one donkey outside my window, instead of ten, as it sounded from my bed.

“Oh my God!” Rosie exclaimed when she walked up to me in the dark. “What is happening with that donkey? And those dogs?! You were right! I thought you were exaggerating.”

Everyone always thinks that I’m exaggerating because most of the time, everything that happens to me is just too ridiculous to believe, including getting no sleep due to these crazed animals, which were, indeed, only standing outside my window. The rest of the area was so quiet and peaceful.

“Ha ha,” I said, sleepily. “Welcome to my life!”

We started walking down the dark bumpy dirt road that led into Leh. I nearly slammed directly into a cow that was sauntering along the road.

“MMOOOOOOO,” it said angrily as it continued walking slowly down the street.

Leh, Ladakh
Leh, Ladakh

Rosie and I were on our way to Nubra Valley, which is a remote valley in Ladakh, India, about 150 kilometers from Leh. The journey was to start at the ‘polo grounds’ where we were supposed to find a local bus that was leaving around 6 am.

The day before, we had tried to scout out these ‘polo grounds’ after being told by several people to go there for the bus. I had no idea what polo grounds in India were supposed to be as I pictured them as large fields of bright green grass with horses running around and the riders hitting each other with long hammers. Clearly, I was confused as we were in a high altitude town in the mountains of India with crumbling buildings and hadn’t seen anything resembling a large green field.

Turns out, it was a large parking lot, which had one ancient ‘bus’ sitting in the corner. We had found a man sleeping inside and asked,

“Are you the driver? Do you go to Nubra Valley?”

He smiled and nodded.

“Yes, yes,” he replied, as I later found out every Indian man will say to you, no matter what the actual truth is.

“Great!” we said. “What time?”

“Leave at 6!” he said. “Be here at 5:30 am” Then he crawled back into the old bus and fell asleep.

Which is why we were walking through the freezing, desolate streets the following morning around 5:30 am, shivering and running into cows in the dark. We made it to the polo ground and walked up to the old bus that was supposed to take us to Diskit – the largest and ‘most touristy’ village in the Nubra Valley where we were then going to try to hitchhike to Turtuk, which was the furthest that we could go before hitting Pakistan.

“Diskit?” we asked the driver. He shook his head and pointed to the gates of the polo grounds.

“Diskit?” we tried again. He wagged his head from side to side and then pointed to the far gate at the other end of the parking lot.

“Are you going to Diskit?” we asked an old man who was climbing on the bus. He wagged his head and pointed to the far gate.

We walked all the way to the far gate and out into Leh. There was no sign of a bus or anything. We sat down on the curb and waited. After a while, a Nepali guide came and unloaded many large, heavy bags from a truck and sat down nearby.

“Are you going to Diskit?” we asked.

“Yes, yes,” he replied, looking at his watch. “A bus should come by in an hour.”

Leh, Ladakh
On the road to Diskit!

It was already 7 am by this point and the small, restaurant behind us was opening its metal overhead door. The Nepali guide went inside and brought us back some steaming hot sugary Chai teas. I sipped mine as an old large empty Jeep rolled up. There were still no signs of this alleged bus, so we purchased seats in the Jeep, along with a solo Japanese woman and our Nepali guide friend with all of his heavy bags piled on top.

Ladakh, India
Khardung La Pass

Soon, we were rolling on out of town and up the most beautiful road with enormous, towering mountains surrounding it. Eventually, we hit ‘one of the highest motorable passes of the world’, although there are at least five more motorable passes in the Ladakh region alone that are higher but, still. It was the highest that I have ever been standing at 5,359m (17,982 ft). We jumped out at the top to breathe in the thin air and snap a few photos before rolling on down to the other side into the beautiful valley.

Ladakh, India
Nubra Valley

Once we got to Diskit, it didn’t seem very touristy at all (it was the very, very end of the tourist season and quite cold). We seemed to be the only people wandering the streets and it was difficult to find the time and location of the only local bus that would take us to Turtuk.

Ladakh, India
Nubra Valley

“Local bus?” we asked the men standing at the Jeeps in a big dusty parking lot.

“Oh yes, 2 pm,” one said, pointing at the parking lot.

“Oh yes, 1 pm,” said another, pointing towards the town.

Diskit, Ladakh India
Diskit

“Oh yes, maybe today,” said another pointing at the main road.

Diskit, Ladakh IndiaIt was impossible to hitchhike. We stood on the desolate road with our thumbs out but only military or private well-paid ‘taxis’ drove by, neither allowed to pick up hitchhikers. We eventually hiked on over to the Diskit Monestary and up it before pretty much running back to try and make the local bus.

Diskit, Ladakh India
Diskit Monastery

It wasn’t there. We waited and waited. It didn’t show up. We sipped on chai and took turns running to the ‘toilet’ which was a hole in the ground inside of a small, smelly box.

Nubra Valley, Ladakh India
Local bus to Turtuk

Finally, we saw it. This ancient mini bus pulled up to the far corner of the big, dusty parking lot. We ran for it, claiming two seats in the front by the door and crammed our bags in the tiny space by our feet.

Nubra Valley, Ladakh India
Local bus to Turtuk from Diskit

We sat there, eager to make it to Turtuk (about 90km) before dark. We watched as the bus filled up with children piling on and off. Women wearing scarves over their heads would get on and sit in the front while the old men would go to the back few rows. At one point, the bus was full. And then, one by one, everyone started getting off. One old man went to get a chai. A few children went to run around outside. Before we knew it, the bus was empty. Rosie and I looked at each other, sighed and then laughed.

We didn’t leave for another hour.

Nubra Valley, Ladakh IndiaThe journey, which should have taken 2-3 hours, was a slow one. We chugged on down the desolate road, passing the town of Hundar, famous for its small sand dunes and camel rides. I could see a few camels wandering among the dunes as we passed by.

Military men got on and off the bus as we passed military base after base in the most beautiful locations. There were hideouts dug out among the most beautiful landscapes, and some hideouts carved directly into the rocks nestled in the slopes of the mountains. The mountains alongside the Shyok river rose and dropped steeply as the river snaked its way through the valley. I was surprised by the amount of military bases but given the tumultuous history with this area, it shouldn’t have been a surprise.

Nubra Valley, Ladakh IndiaIn fact, Turtuk wasn’t even allowed to host visitors until 2010 when the locals residents (population is under 4,000) formed a petition to be allowed to interact with the outside world. It was known as the line of conflict, and the last major village before the Pakistan border. The area has bounced from being in India or Pakistan several times, and many older residents have had to choose to stay in their homes and become Indian or leave the village and rejoin Pakistan.

Nubra Valley, Ladakh IndiaAs the sun started to disappear, we drove alongside the beautiful river, passing small forests of beautiful yellow, red and orange trees, autumn glistening in the sunset. The bus was filled with family members and friends, everyone knew each other and as we chugged along, closer and closer to Turtuk, everyone’s smiles grew wider. Two boys hung off the bus while we were crossing a steep traverse, laughing at Rosie and I for refusing to throw our candy wrappers out of the bus window.

Nubra Valley, Ladakh India
The beginning of the ride -not quite the jovial mood yet

Chaos ensued when we arrived in a small town about 30 km from Turtuk. Everyone started yelling, laughing, jumping off the bus, jumping back on the bus, trading goods, piling on eggs and bags of food, purchasing meat, running and jumping back on several stops later. The jovial mood was catchy and Rosie and I grinned at each other. Watching the locals and military interact on the local bus to Turtuk is an experience well worth the long, long ride. When we finally arrived in Turtuk, it only appeared to be a long bumpy road with a few shops here and there.

“Where should we stay?” we whispered to each other as there didn’t seem to be any homestays in sight and we were nearing the end of the dirt road. Finally, the bus helper, a young teenager, said,

“Where do you get off?”

We realized that we were at the last stop.

“We don’t have anywhere to stay,” I said.

He began talking in Balti to the old woman sitting in the bench next to us.

Turtuk, Ladakh
Paradise.

“Follow her,” he said as he opened the bus door while pointing at us to exit. The old woman got off and motioned for us to follow her. She immediately began hiking straight up a mountain slope. Rosie and I followed her vigorous pace for some time before a handful of children ran over to us smiling,

“Hello!” they said, practicing their limited English. “How are you? We are friends!”

“Hello! Hello!” we said back as we huffed and puffed to keep up with this speed hiking old woman barreling straight up a mountain.

Turtuk, Ladakh, India
Paradise.

Finally, we reached a plateau and looked around. It was a beautiful sight. There were vast, green fields with large two story houses nestled in between. There were lush green trees, most still untouched by fall and children running around laughing. It was a hidden paradise that I could have never imagined from the desolate, dusty dirt road that we had just stopped at. Rosie and I looked at each other and giggled as we stepped into paradise.

Turtuk, Ladakh

More to come from Turtuk…my favorite place on the planet.

 

 

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Leh, Ladakh

India: Ladakh: The Most Wonderful Place in the World: Intro

Leh, Ladakh India
My heart was instantly filled with joy when I looked out the window and saw…

As my plane glided over the snow-capped peaks going into Ladakh, India, I felt a rush of pure joy. It somehow calmed my every nerve as I stared down at the beautiful heaps of snow-covered peaks… (there was a mild amount of panic however, since I was about to embark on a journey through these snowy peaks without a guide.)

 

It wasn’t just a calming sensation, but it was more…as if the universe was calming brushing its hand across my cheek, while gently saying, ‘Joy, you are home. You are finally home.’

 

Leh, Ladakh
This jacket saved me down the road..

I stepped off the plane, and the arctic mountain air hit me. I took a deep breath and smiled as I reached for my gigantic, warm puffy jacket, which looks like a giant marshmallow and feels like I have wrapped myself in my down sleeping bag. The airport consisted of a single tiny, crickity belt for the luggage and a security desk. While I waited for my bag, a security guard came and asked me to ‘check in’ since I was a foreigner (and seemed to be the only one in the airport). I walked over to the desk and smiled,

 

“Hello,” I said.

 

They smiled and asked for my passport, looked at it and had me sign my name on a paper. I walked back over to see the bright orange cover of my green backpack on the belt. I grabbed it and looked around. I hadn’t had time during my horrendous airport experiences to stop at an ATM to get any money. My phone didn’t work either and there was no wifi at this minuscule airport (which was only open in the mornings).

 

Leh, Ladakh
Ladakh

I stepped outside and was hit with the arctic air and sunlight at the same time. I smiled, looking around at the mountains surrounding the airport. Military were running around everywhere and no one seemed to care or notice that I was the only solo and foreign traveler. I had no idea what to do. I glanced around and saw a single ATM near a huddle of military men. Since my phone didn’t work and my currency app had seemed to crash, I had no idea what the currency exchange was so I took out 10,000 rupees since that seemed like a lot, hoping that I hadn’t just overdrawn my meager bank account.

 

Leh, Ladakh
Leaving the airport!

“Taxi?” I asked one of the military huddles and they all pointed to a window by the corner of the airport. There were heaps of Indian men standing around, pushing towards the window. I walked up, realizing that there were no lines, and pushed my way up to the window.

 

“Leh?” I said to the short man inside the window.

 

“Where?” he asked, showing me a map. My stupid phone was frozen and I couldn’t remember the name of the guesthouse that I’d booked.

 

“City?” I said sheepishly, shrugging and hoping my phone would unfreeze before my taxi driver reached the town.

 

“500 rupees,” he said, holding out his hand for the cash while simultaneously writing me a ticket. 500 rupees seemed perfectly reasonable since I had no other options and had no idea what the exchange rate was. After paying him, he handed me a ticket. Another man was already carrying my bag away towards a few old beat-up vans. I ran after him,

 

“Are you my driver,” I asked. He nodded and I got into his old rickety van, watching the mountains roll by as we rolled into town. He stopped at an intersection.

 

“Where?”

 

Leh, Ladakh
Local kids – photo cred: Rosie

I hit my phone on the door and it suddenly worked again. I was able to locate the photo of the address of my guesthouse and he turned away from the town and drove down a peaceful road alongside a river. We hit bump after bump as he gently swerved around packs of dogs running along the road, a donkey and a few cows grazing along. He pulled up to a towering white house and carried my bag up to the door. The guesthouse was as cold inside as it was outside. The owner of the guesthouse smiled broadly and carried my bag to my room, which turns out was his daughter’s room and covered in Cinderella stickers. It was freezing. There were no heaters in Ladakh. I pulled on my warm, wool hat and went down to the kitchen for a tea.

 

The kitchen/seating area was warm by the owner’s wife cooking and the sheer number of people lined up on the cushioned benches lining the windows. Everyone smiled at me as I sat down on an open portion of the low cushioned benches, lined with pillows. The owner placed a cup of hot milk in front of me. His wife walked over and put a bowl of sugar and instant coffee in front of me before handing me a plate of piping hot eggs on bread.

 

“What are your plans? Where are you going? Where are you from?” asked this young, bubbly couple from Delhi who were in town to take their engagement pictures for their upcoming wedding.

 

I realized that I wasn’t ready to make friends yet. I needed time to myself and to sleep…I hadn’t slept in over 30 hours. After talking with them while eating and drinking my hot milk, I excused myself and went up to my cold room, wrapping myself in my sleeping bag and three comforters and went to sleep at 3,500 m (11,562 feet) for the first time in a long time. I love high altitude. I slept like a baby until late afternoon. The sun was sinking so I crawled out of bed and went for a walk.

 

Leh, Ladakh
Leh, Ladakh

Walking along the peaceful road with cows lingering along the street and packs of happy dogs running amok, I sauntered along the beautiful road, stopping to admire some aspen trees along the way. I came across a small group of stores, most of which were closed and a coffee shop. I went in for a latte with my notebook. I wanted to be alone and write before I had to go and try to make friends to adventure with for the week before my friend Thibaud arrived. I came a week early because I was itching to get to the mountains and because I have a hard time traveling with the same person for long periods of time. I wanted time to let the universe choose my path for me.

 

Leh, Ladakh
Leh

Only it chose it sooner than I thought. The coffee shop was full and I looked around for an open seat anywhere. I walked up to a girl sitting alone at a table,

 

“Can I sit here,” I asked as she smiled widely and made room for me, patting the pillow next to her.

 

“Hi,” I said as I sat down. “I just arrived!”

 

“Me too,” she replied. “I know that I need to make friends to do things this week but I needed some time to myself first.”

 

Leh, Ladakh
More to come from Ladakh!

“Me too!” I said, smiling at the irony of two solo travelers seeking alone time but meeting each other. And that’s how I met Rosie, my happy, bubbly British travel partner for the next week. More from our adventures to the border of Pakistan!

Leh, Ladakh
More to come from Leh!

 

 

Leh, Ladakh India

Romania, Russia, India: Sometimes, it isn’t about the journey but all about the destination ;)

“You’ve never been to India,” asked the 100 millionth traveler. “Really? Why not? You’ve been traveling for so long.”

“Ummm, ummmmm, I just need to be mentally ready,” I stammered, not knowing how to explain my fear of it. “It just isn’t my time to go.”

Delhi – on the day I left. – photo cred- Washington Post

But really, I never had any plans to go at all. Ever. I just don’t like hordes of people. Or smog. Or traffic. Or big cities full of people, smog and traffic. And that is what I pictured India to be…everywhere. I assumed that I would go and get a parasite and shit my pants on a train like other travelers that I’ve met. Travelers either really, really love India or really, really hate it. There never seems to be a middle ground.

Of course, every single misperception of a place is the exact reason that I wind up going there. To find out if my fears are true. And they are usually the exact opposite. So let’s find out:

BUCHAREST, ROMANIA

Romania
Ahhhh goodbye Romania!

I arrived at the Bucharest airport super early for my flight to India. I was heading to Leh, a city in the high desert nestled in the Himalayas that sits high at 3,500 m (11,482 ft). While I was planning my research on Tibetan Buddhism for a fiction book that I want to write, my hiking buddy Thiabud said,

“Joy, we have to go to Ladakh for your research.”

“Nah, nah,” I said, still never wanting to go to India. “Let’s go AFTER Nepal…maybe.”

However, winter was already on its way to Ladakh and the decision wasn’t up to me. We had to go there first or wait until next summer. So, I booked a flight to India. I was going to be there for an entire week before Thibaud and was terrified.

At the Romanian airport, I kissed Europe goodbye and got into the long line to check in. Only to find out that I was waiting in the wrong long line and by the time that I found my long line, I didn’t have very much time before my gate closed. I waited in line for nearly an hour. I reached the counter five minutes before check in closed.

“I need to see proof of travel,” the woman said behind the counter. She had her bleached blonde hair tied in a tight bun and narrowed her eyes at me as I shifted my eyes away from her glare. “Do you have another flight?”

“I was going to take a bus,” I said.

“Out of India?” she scoffed. “To where?”

“Kathmandu,” I replied.

“You were going to take a bus to Kathmandu from Delhi?” she said.

“Yes, yes,” I continued lying.

“No, it doesn’t matter,” she said. “We need to see a plane ticket out of India.”

I had always known this day would come. I had skirted this issue for years, for hundreds of flights. The curse of traveling with one-way tickets. Only now, my gate was about to close, I had a shit ton of new gear that I needed to check onto the flight, and I was going to miss the flight altogether.

“Can you please check my bag and I will find a flight,” I pleaded with her steely gaze. She shook her head and waved her hand at me.

The tiny airport didn’t have functioning wifi and my phone wasn’t getting much service. The screen kept freezing every 10 seconds as well. I had about three minutes before I was going to miss all three of my flights to get to Leh. My face was burning, my head pounding and I was furiously trying not to cry as I texted my friend Thibaud. He just happened to see my message immediately.

Help! Buy me a flight to Nepal! Hurry! I am going to miss my plane, I wrote.

 

Ok, Ok, he replied. What day? What time? What airline?

 

I don’t care, I have one minute! Hurry! Hurry! Buy any! Pick a date!

 

I went to a different flight attendant and threw my bag on the belt.

“Please, please check my bag!” I cried as I handed him my passport. He narrowed his eyes at me. By now, everyone in line knew my dilemma and had all seen the tears slipping down my cheeks.

“Where is your flight?” he said. “I know you need proof of onward travel.”

“It’s here! It’s here!” I lied, shoving my stupid frozen phone in his face. “But my phone is frozen. The screen is frozen!”

He rolled his eyes and took my passport and started to check me into the flight.

“You have about 10 seconds,” he said, glaring at me.

I slammed my phone on the counter and started crying. It was either the crack against the counter or my tears falling on it that really knocked it back into place but all of a sudden, the flight that Thibaud had miraculously purchased for me showed up in my email.

“See! See!” I said, thrusting my phone in his face. He read the email and then smiled. They all smiled as he handed me my passport and said,

“You better run, you only have five minutes to get to the gate!”

I ran through security, through immigration, through another security and to my gate as it was already boarding. I took a quick moment to call Thibaud and thank him. I was dripping with sweat when I got onto my flight and took a big deep breath. I turned on my meditation app, closed my eyes and ….

MOSCOW, RUSSIA

Landed in Moscow. I somehow ended up in the Premier Gold Lounge when I got lost trying to find International Transfers and met Ela, a beautiful Romanian from the mountains who was taking a sabbatical to Thailand. She swiped us in and we sipped on champagne while dining on dried fish and cream puffs before she ran off to catch her flight. I sauntered to my flight with a champagne buzz only to find out that it was already boarding,

“HURRY! HURRY!” the frazzled, frantic Indian flight attendant shouted at me even though I wasn’t late at all. Several Indian men pushed by me and she let them through before shining a light onto my passport.

“Where’s your visa?” she said, flipping through the pages.

“It’s an e-visa,” I said, getting out the paperwork that I had to show at Indian immigration when I arrived in Delhi.

She shined her light on it before pushing me aside.

“No, no,” she said. “Your visa won’t work.”

“It will!” I said. “It is from Indian immigration.”

She pushed me further to the side, trying to make more room for the hordes of Indian men that were trying to push their way through. There wasn’t an orderly line and I had to stand behind her, yelling in her ear,

“It is my visa!”

She shook her head as she waved everyone through. Soon, there were others with my predicament. I tried again, shoving my paperwork in her face,

“I have a visa! I have a return flight! I have a passport!”

“You can’t get on the plane,” she said.

Finally, after a while, she looked at my paperwork again,

“Wrong passport number,” she said.

We argued for a while as she wagged her head from side to side and looking at me with crazy eyes. Finally, I read her my passport numbers while she looked at my visa. She then had to see a screenshot of my passport on my phone to ensure that it was, indeed, my passport. Then, she had to read the numbers again and again and again and again before she looked at me and said,

“Well, hurry! You are going to miss your flight.”

I got on a bus and crammed into a seat sandwiched between two Indian men. I smiled at them and they ignored me. The bus took off down the runway and drove for 20 minutes.

“Are we at another airport?” I joked to the younger Indian man to my left. He looked at me. “Because the bus ride is so long?” He stared at me. “Ok, never mind,” I said.

We finally reached the plane and then sat on the runway for a really long time before the pilot said,

“The flight will be delayed so we can remove the luggage of those not allowed on the plane.”

The plane slowly made its way to the airport (which was so, so far away) and sat there for what seemed like an eternity. This wouldn’t have mattered had I not booked a very close connecting flight on another airline upon arriving in India. Planes only flew to Leh in the mornings so if I missed it, then I likely was going to be stuck in Delhi for the night.

DELHI, INDIA

When the plane finally landed in Delhi, I fidgeted restlessly in my seat at the back of the plane. As soon as we taxied, everyone jumped up to get their things and started pushing to the front. The seat belt sign wasn’t even off yet and there was already a mob.

I’m going to miss my flight, I thought as it was already nearly 5 am by the time that I got off the plane and I still had to go through customs, get my visa, take my bag through customs and check in for the domestic flight, check my bag, go through security and board the flight…all in 55 minutes.

Customs was about a mile away and I sprinted. I arrived at a nearly empty line and sighed in relief until I realized that it took the man approximately 20 minutes to process each person’s visa and there were four people in front of me. I tried to look patient but inwardly, I was in full panic mode. The immigration officer turned away the older Mexican couple in front of me and I ran up to him, slapped down my paperwork and passport and smiled widely.

The agent hemmed and hawed over my visa form, over my passport, over each page in my passport, stopping to stare at me and then at my passport photo and then at my e-visa photo over and over while flipping through all of the stamps in my passport again (there are a lot of pages) and with each page, he gazed slowly at the stamps and I silently cursed getting the extended pages passport. After what seemed like another eternity, he took my photo and three different sets of fingerprints, none of which worked so he redid it several more times before he finally stamped my passport.

“Thank you,” I said politely before sprinting for the baggage claim. I grabbed my bag and sprinted through customs, not even pausing to give the security officer a chance to ask me any questions or put my bag through the security check.

I had 15 minutes to check in for my flight.

I ran into the airport and followed the signs for domestic departures. It was very unclear of where domestic departures actually were located and I asked, breathlessly, several military officers standing guard while running around before finally seeing a military man checking IDs in front of an escalator. I ran over and waited in line. When it was my turn, I showed him my passport and the flight information on my phone.

“No,” he said. “Ticket.”

“I don’t have a ticket yet,” I said. “I need to check in still.”

“No, no, this won’t work,” he said, dismissing me and trying to lean around me for the next person in line.

“I have a ticket!” I said again, showing him the confirmation on my phone again.

“But you already missed your flight,” he said, waving me away again.

“NO!” I cried. “I have a few minutes. Please let me in!”

He looked at it again, scrutinizing the details of the itinerary from my Delhi to Leh flight.

“Oh yes, it leaves very soon,” he said. “You missed it.”

“Not yet!!” I cried. “Please let me in!”

He shook his head and said,

“You are in the wrong terminal.”

“What?” I said.

“Yes, yes, other terminal is very far away,” he said. “You must take a bus or a taxi.”

He pointed me in the direction of the bus and I took off running. I ran out of the airport and immediately started sweating profusely as the smog and humidity hit me at once.

“Where is the shuttle to Terminal 1D?” I yelled to a military guard.

“See this number,” he said, pointing to the large 1 in front of us. “You need to go past it to 2, then past it to 3, then 4, then 5, and all the way to 10.”

As soon as he said 10, I started running for 10 with all my might, while carrying all my bags. There was a very old, crickity bus that was shutting its doors and pulling away at the same time. A crowd of people that had been trying to get on it with piles of luggage pulled away from the doors in order to wait for the next bus. I pushed past the long line and mob of suitcases and chased the bus as it slowly moved away from the curb. I started hitting the side of it as I reached the doors.

“WAIT!!!” I shouted, while banging on the doors as it was still moving very slowly. “WAIT!”

It stopped. The doors opened,

“FULL!” said the driver. He started to shut the doors when a very large Belgium man reached down and grabbed me by my backpack and yanked me onto the overcrowded bus. He literally shoved me horizontally onto a pile of luggage that occupied the middle of the aisle. I looked to my right and smiled weakly at the old lady who I was semi-lying on. The bus took off with a lurch and we began rambling out of the airport only for him to slam on his brakes as soon as we hit Delhi traffic. The driver drove manically when he could and slammed on his brakes at all other times, luggage flying about and I held onto the pole that my bag was lodged into as tightly as possible.

I sighed. I finally looked around for the first time since entering India. The bus was jam packed with people. We finally pulled up to the terminal and as I prepared to run off, I realized it was still the wrong terminal. I had to peel myself off the luggage so others could exit the bus and the slowest and oldest of all grannies hobbled to the doorway of the bus. People slowly and gently lifted each granny off the bus. I got back on and several more people crowded on, pushing me into another pile of luggage further into the bus. We pushed on, sitting in traffic and listening to the madness of horns honking all around.

Delhi India
Everything that I was carrying while running through the Delhi airports…

I was sure I missed my flight. There was no possible way that I could have made it by now. Finally, we pulled up to Terminal 1 and the driver slowly rolled past Terminal 1A and miraculously stopped at Terminal 1D. I grabbed my bag and tried to get off but was stuck behind another slow-moving adorable granny. I waited patiently as all the men waiting to get on gently picked her up and lifted her off the bus. Then, I pushed past everyone else and started running for what I thought was the terminal check in.

I ran up several flights of stairs, rather than waiting for the elevator and pushed through the tiny doorway as three military men tried to squeeze thru at the same time. They gave me strange looks as I came to a room that only had a tiny ticket stand for SpiceJet, the airline I was looking for and nothing else in the room. Everyone looked at me very confused and I said,

“I have a SpiceJet flight! I only have one minute! Where can I drop my bag?!”

Even though I was way over the time by now.

“Wrong place,” they kindly answered. “Go to check in”

“But where is check in?!”

They pointed outside.

I ran back down all of the stairs and back outside and over to the next building. There was a long line and a security guard checking IDs and boarding passes in order to enter the airport. There was another military officer checking someone’s information in the handicap line and I jumped into that line as the officer was busy slowly scrutinizing the man’s ID, hemming and hawing over letting him enter or not. I sighed loudly and he looked at me with disdain, reaching out for my boarding pass, which I didn’t have because I still needed to check in.

I handed him my passport and showed him my itinerary on my phone.

“Boarding pass?” he said.

“I NEED TO CHECK IN!” I said, pointing to the check in counters inside the stupid airport. “Please let me go thru!”

He looked at my itinerary on my phone again, slowly before he said,

“Fine, go” as I was already pushing past him and into the airport. I ran through the check in area searching for SpiceJet on the departing flight board. It said, “LAST CALL” for my flight as I ran to the counter, past the line, shouting,

“LEH! LEH! LEH!”

A man grabbed my arm and led me to another counter where there were more lines and I shouted,

“LEH!”

Everyone looked at me in panic and another worker grabbed my bag off my back and yanked me up to the counter. I was completely out of breath, soaked in sweat and relieved that it appeared I was somehow getting on this flight, even though it was already boarding and I was way past check in time. The lady handed me my boarding card and said,

“HURRY!”

as she glanced over to the security line. I ran over to the security right as they stopped the belt and stopped letting people through. There appeared to be a problem with a bag and it took all of the security guards to consult over what to do. As they stood huddled in a circle, I tried to inwardly meditate in order to come to terms with the bleak outlook of still making this flight. Finally, they all slowly sauntered back to their respective posts and started the belt again.

I waited in line for the female security officer to let me into the curtained room in order to frisk me and right when it was my turn to go through, a cleaning woman went in and started mopping the floor.

“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me,” I said under my breath. I started to walk in anyways.

“STOP! WAIT!” a military man yelled, crossing his arms at me. I stopped and waited in line until the woman was finally done mopping the 4X6 ft curtained ‘room’. The security woman leaned out from the curtain and motioned for me to come inside. She really got into the underwires of my bra, pretty deep until she finally cleared me and allowed me through the other side. I walked over to get my bag, but it still hadn’t come through the security belt.

The Berlin tote bag…and all my luggage I was running with.

The security woman checking the bags seemed very concerned with my Berlin tote bag which was crammed full of outdoor clothes that I had purchased in Bucharest. They set it aside and walked away. I stood there and watched as my bag sat there, marked for security but everyone ignoring it.

“That’s MINE,” I said finally, pointing to the bag. I wanted to run to my gate so very badly. The security guard frowned at me and waved me away.

“That’s my bag!” I said. “Please!”

They glared at me, ignoring me and my bag as I tried to calm myself down. Finally, the man slowly walked over and brought the bag to me. He had me sift through it before opening my toiletries bag and examined my tweezers for what seemed like an eternity with another officer. They held my tweezers, looked at me, talked amongst themselves, looked at me, while twirling the metal tweezers around.

“Please, I am going to miss my flight!” I said.

He finally shrugged, picked up my bag and put it back through security check. Tears welled up in my eyes for the third time since landing in India as I waited for them to screen my bag again. Finally, they handed it to me. I grabbed it and took off in a full sprint to my gate, which was on the opposite side of the terminal. Right as I ran up to the gate, they were starting to shut the door and I slid through and handed the woman my boarding card as she was walking down the aisle to the shuttle.

Leh, Ladakh India
My heart was instantly filled with joy when I looked out the window and saw…

I hopped on the shuttle and breathed for what felt like the first time since arriving in India. The flight was short and as we flew past the smog, the mountains opened up and there were snow capped peaks for miles. I finally felt my joy rise up inside as I stared at row after row after row of enormous snow covered mountains in awe.

More to come from the most beautiful, wonderful place on the planet!

 

Ladakh India
Home…

 

 

 

Thailand: Shit Pants Joy: Part Two: The Hospital

It wasn’t the first time that I shit my pants that night that made me go to the hospital. Nor was it the second or the third. In fact, I wasn’t going to go to the hospital at all because I was too afraid that I would shit my pants on the way there.

“Can you bring some of those extra-large pads?” I texted to a dear new friend, referring to the pads that Asians wear on their periods, which seem to be about 20x larger than any pads I have ever used.

“Just those for the period or do they have special diaper ones?” she replied.

“Period. I can’t bring myself to wear a diaper,” I said. “This is the worst time of my life.”

“I can take you to the hospital too,” she wrote back.

Pai Hospital So, there we were, 20 minutes later, the wind whipping through our hair on her tiny little motorbike as she drove me, my diaper-like pad, and my cast to the Pai Hospital.  She dropped me off and I limped into the tiny hospital. It was more of an open air entrance leading straight to the waiting room/registration room/emergency room/everything else. I limped up to a window and registered, giving them my name before sitting down in exhaustion, sweat and pain.

“AUUUUGGGGHHHHHHHHHH,” screamed a man over and over and over again.

He was about 10 feet away in the ‘emergency room’. It was unbearable. So were the overhead lights. I put my head down as tears rolled down my face in pure agony of how I was feeling. Someone came over and put me in a wheelchair. They wheeled me into an open air room that consisted of the pharmacy/cashier/vital signs/ doctor consultation room. They weighed me, down 3kg (6lbs) and wheeled me to see the doctor who asked my symptoms,

“Well, I shit my pants.”

“How many times?” she asked.

“While I was sleeping,” I said, a few tears slipping down my cheeks. “I was vomiting a lot on the first day. Fever, severe headache, chills, sweating, etc.”

She handed me a cup, well it was a tiny fraction of a cup…a cup that was quite possibly the size of a tablespoon, and said,

“We need you to take sample of your poop.”

They wheeled me back to the waiting room/entrance/ER where I sat holding my tiny cup crying at how bright the lights were and how bad my head hurt when a nurse came over and had me get on a stretcher. They wheeled me through the wide open door into the ‘ER’ which was a small room filled with people on stretchers with IVs. The Thai man next to me looked very peaceful. He had two bags of fluid going into his arm and he was wrapped in a blanket and sleeping. They hooked up my IV when all of a sudden, it hit.

“I have to go,” I said, sitting up in a panic, no time to spare as I tried to shove my injured foot into my heavy walking boot. The nurse looked at me with wide eyes as she had just jammed the needle in my arm for my IV. She shook her head.

“Now!” I said as I was already sliding off the bed with my walking cast-boot on. “Where’s the toilet?”

She pointed to a door about 10 feet away (it was a very small room) and I lurched for it, dragging my heavy IV bag stand with me. A male nurse ran over and helped me get the IV stand over the stairs and I went into the bathroom. It was very unclean for Western hospital standards but very clean for Asian standards. There was only water on half the floor and there was toilet paper. The toilet was wet and covered in pee but there was actually toilet paper, inside the bathroom! I quickly cleaned off the seat because there was no possibility of squatting in my cast with an IV attached to my arm while trying to poop in a minuscule cup.

Sparing the ugly details, I did manage to get some of the sample securely inside the world’s tiniest cup with the lid securely fastened. Although, it was not a clean job: I didn’t want to touch the cup or unclean lid ever again, and I badly wanted to scrub my hands. Wearing my boot on one foot and my other foot bare, I limped through the water on the floor to the sink where I realized there was no soap. This should never be a surprise in Asia but in the emergency room of the hospital, I had to admit, I was surprised.

I stood there with a cup of shit in one of my shitty hands and an IV stand in the other and then I limped back out into the ‘ER’ where the entire waiting room sat staring at me. All of those foreigners, with scrapes, cuts and blood from fresh motorbike accidents sat staring at me as I came out with shit in a cup and on my hand and my IV bag and my wet foot and boot.

I tried to hand the cup to a nurse and she shook her head. A man ran over and set a large plastic bucket down and started motioning for me to set the tiny cup into it. The cup was about 1/1000 of the size of the bucket. It was actually difficult to set it all the way at the bottom of the enormous clear bucket. They all backed away as I shuffled over to the ER doctors’ sink with my IV in tow and washed my hands thoroughly, at least five times before a nurse finally helped me and led me back to my bed.

They fixed my IV and I put my sweatshirt over my eyes and a blanket over my legs on the stretcher. There wasn’t a pillow or a sheet to lay on so the plastic was either really hot or cold pending on my ever changing feverish body temperature. Right as I started to relax, with the sweatshirt over my eyes while listening to the European foreigner explain how he wrecked his motorbike to the intake lady, the man next to me woke up,

“AUUUUUUGGGGGGGHHHHHHH” he began screaming. “AAUAUUUUUUUGGGGGHHHHHHH”

I took the sweatshirt off my eyes right at the time that he began thrashing wildly and trying to punch anything and everything around him. He hit my IV bag and IV stand very hard. The nurses and doctors ran over as my IV bag was swinging and I was trying to hold the tube straight in my arm while trying not to get punched. They started pinning him down as another nurse quickly wheeled me out of the ER and into the waiting room (just thru the big open door). She fixed my IV and then ran back into the ER. I watched for a few minutes from the waiting room and then realized all the people in the waiting room were staring at me, lying on a stretcher with an IV bag so I put my sweatshirt back over my eyes and cried.

Hours later, after the police had run into the ER and securely fastened the crazy screaming Thai man into restraints and carried him in a special bed out of the hospital, the nurse wheeled me back into the ER and hooked me up with another IV. Another hour later, the doctor finally came over to talk with me,

“We have results,” he said in broken English. “Very bad infection. Very bad. Bacterial. You must stay in the hospital 1-5 days.”

“No, no, no,” I said. “I have to pay for this upfront and I don’t want to stay overnight. Can you give me antibiotics?”

“No,” he said, shaking his head. “It is too serious. We cannot let you leave. Your hydrochrloaseiajoenvldkvie levels are too high. It is very serious.”

“What are hydrochlorioeialdkvkei levels?” I asked, having no idea what he was talking about and everything he was showing me was in Thai and my phone was about to die.

“Very serious. No hospital discharge patient in you condition. You have stay. You have sign special form if leave but can’t let you.”

So, I was admitted to the hospital. They came and pulled a curtain around me so that I could put on the hospital shirt, which covered my short running shorts, leaving me with the appearance that I wasn’t wearing anything at all. They wheeled me outside and down an airy corridor before going into a room filled with beds. All of the beds were full of older people with IV bags attached to them and family members around them, all carrying blankets. They looked at me with pity when they realized that I was alone.

“Don’t you have any friends?” the nurse asked me gently. I was the only person alone in the community room.

“Waaaaaaaaaaah,” I cried, unable to control my tears as they parked me next to a bed by the community toilet.

I settled in, trying to smile at the older Thai lady and her husband sitting on the bed next to me. They smiled back and the urge hit again. I had just taken off my boot so I jammed my foot back in my boot and tried to climb down the stairs from my bed. My new IV cart’s wheels were broken and I had to carry it into the bathroom, which required going down a few stairs and then up another stair to squeeze it into the tiny stall that contained the only western toilet (I could not use a squat with my boot). I knocked the top of the heavy IV cart on the doorway and my IV bag swung wildly. I closed the door and realized that there was blood smeared all over the wall that I had just bumped against. I swallowed some vomit as I sat down. Then I realized there was no toilet paper.

In Asian countries, there are attachments next to the toilet that we call ‘ass showers’ which are designed to clean yourself with a healthy dose of water without needing to use toilet paper. I actually like to use these but sometimes, you get a leaky one. And sometimes, it comes out too fast and too hard, and you end up getting water all over you and your pants. This was one of those times. I picked it up and tried to gently spray my butt but there is only one setting and water came shooting out at rocket speed. I was drenched from the waist down.

With no other options in sight, I tried to shake dry my legs, shorts, and self while pulling my shorts back up and hobbling out of the toilet, still trying to shake myself dry while trying to get my broken IV stand out of the tiny stall without hitting the bloody wall that I had already brushed against twice now. I finally made it to the sink.

No soap.

“Auuuguggggghhh” I moaned as I washed my hands with water and dumped the empty soap container on them in hopes that some sort of disinfecting would happen soon. I hobbled back to my bed. The husband of the woman next to me jumped up to help me try to navigate the stairs with my broken IV cart and finally, I was back in my bed. This happened at least three more times with no nurses in sight. Finally, one walked by and I yelled at her until she finally came over.

“Toilet paper?” I asked. “Soap?” “Doctor?” “What is wrong with me? I need to talk to someone to see what all these fluids are…”

She smiled and trotted off, coming back with roll of toilet paper and tossing it in my lap with a bag filled with toothpaste and a toothbrush.

“Cup kun Kaaaa!” I said. “But where is the doctor?” But she was already gone. The woman on the bed next to me smiled gently as she ate rice from plastic Tupperware that her husband at brought her.

“Me sick,” I said, imitating vomiting, fever and stomach flu to her. “You?”

“Me here,” she said, pointing to her heart. I wanted to hug her but there was no way that I could get out of my bed again unless it was an urgent run to the bathroom. Another nurse walked over and brought me a tray of food.

“Doctor?” I asked. “English?” She smiled, shook her head and walked away. I looked at the tray. There was rice, meat, porridge and a bag of white liquid. I had a few bananas and a box of soy milk. I hadn’t even attempted to eat anything in over 48 hours. I gingerly ate some of the rice and bananas along with the soy milk before dragging my IV cart to the bloody toilet again.

When I got back, I tried to push the ‘call nurse’ button. But nothing happened. I pushed it several times in a row and the woman in the bed next to me looked at me with wide eyes and shook her head. About 20 minutes later, four nurses came running over.

“What? What? What?” They said, barely speaking English.

“I have some questions,” I said as it was getting late and no one had told me anything and they kept attaching new bags of medicine to my IV. “I need to see my doctor. I need to know what is wrong.”

They shook their heads and walked off. I realized that no one used the ‘call nurse’ button and it was likely only for emergencies as everyone else in the room had stared at me in disbelief when I pushed the button. I watched as the other sick people’s family members rolled out their blankets and slept on the floor by their loved ones. I felt lonely and sick and didn’t even have my glasses or a backup pair of contacts with me. I was weak and tired but there was a bright light shining in my eyes and I couldn’t sleep.

Some time later, when another nurse, ignoring my pleas for anyone speaking English to come talk to me about my ‘condition’, was changing my IV, she managed to understand that I couldn’t sleep and brought me some ‘sleep medicine’. I relaxed and dozed off for a few hours.

In the morning, they wanted my ‘first pee’ in a tiny cup so I went through all of the bathroom challenges yet again. Only this time trying to balance a tiny cup full of urine along with my heavy broken IV stand, with two new full bags swinging freely with every step that I took, proved impossible. I set the cup above the bathroom sink and washed my hands with the soap that I had coerced from the night cleaning lady during one of my many bathroom runs.

I left the pee cup above the sink and hobbled up the stairs with my IV cart and back to my bed. I called for nurses, pushed my ‘call nurse’ button 100 times and called for more nurses. No one came. After some time, I began to worry about the tiny clear plastic pee cup sitting by the bathroom sink. It was the community toilet.

Finally, after about an hour, a nurse walked by and I shouted at her,

“Pee cup, pee cup!” while pointing to the toilet. She looked at me and walked away. I gave up.

Some time later, another nurse came over and gave me a new bag of mysterious mystery drugs into my IV.

“Can you please get my pee cup?” I asked, pointing to the bathroom. She nodded and then walked away, in the opposite direction of the toilet.

Whatever she had injected into my veins began giving me the worst headache that I have ever, ever had in my life. And I have had a lot of rage-inducing vomiting migraines. I sat up and began clutching my head, rocking back and forth. After a few minutes, it grew worse and I hit the ‘call nurse’ button 100 times. I began moaning uncontrollably. I got really scared and called my mom on Skype on speaker with the last 2% of my remaining phone battery:

“MOOOOOOOOM,” I cried. “I’m in the hospital and my head, it is exploding. It is exploding! AUuuuuggggghhhhhhh.”

“It sounds like you are having an allergic reaction to some medicine they gave you. It should go away in 20 minutes,” she said as my uncontrollable panic rose.

I was sobbing hysterically, rocking back and forth and screaming “HELP” “HELP” every few seconds. No one came to my side. The other Thai roommates and their family members looked at me in horror.

“HEEEEEEELP ME!” I screamed, unable to control my raging headache. I thought for sure I was dying. “Please help!!!” No one came and I could hear my mom praying over the phone.

“AUUUUUGHGHHGHGHGHGHG My skin! My skin is turning blue! MOM! MY SKIN IS BLUE!” I kept screaming before I realized that my phone died and I was all alone and my mom probably thought I was dying too with no way to get a hold of me.

My skin on my arms and legs had turned to this very pale and very concerning shade of blue. I clutched my head and screamed, rocking back and forth. It must’ve been at least 20 minutes before a nurse came over and injected something in my vein and I quickly fell asleep.

When I awoke, my skin was back to its normal color and a doctor was standing by my bed,

“It is time for you to go,” he said.

“Wait, what?” I asked. “What am I allergic to? What happened? What medicine did you give me? I need answers! What infection do I have? Is it still serious?”

“You better now,” he said. “No fever, Time to go.”

And he walked away.  No answers given.

“WAIT!” I yelled. “What am I allergic to? What did you give me? What do I have?”

Nothing.

A nurse eventually wheeled me out to an outside area where my bedmate was also sitting, waiting to be released. I hobbled over to the nurse’s stand,

“I need a full report of everything that you gave me and what my serious infection was about,” I said sternly to the smiling, cheerful nurse who was a ray of sunshine over my night nurses. “And a note for my insurance and my job and I need to know what I was just allergic to and I still don’t feel good, what can I do and….”

She smiled and walked away.

“Can you at least charge my phone?” I asked. She took it and attached it to a charger in the nurse’s stand so I could contact my friend to pick me up. I also needed to contact my mom to tell her that I hadn’t died since the last thing she probably heard was ‘my skin is blue.’

While my phone was charging, they wheeled me to the pharmacy where I was given about 10 different prescriptions with no explanation from a doctor or anyone. The pharmacist looked at me and said,

“Your dad, your dad is calling the hospital over and over and over. You call him,” she smiled and went back to her pharmacy work. I sat there looking at all the prescriptions in my hand, confused by what was happening and another patient came over and wheeled me to the cashier.

I tried to hand her my credit card.

She shook her head.

“No, no, no credit card. This hospital cash only.”

Fuck.

“What’s the total bill?” I asked.

2,087 baht. The equivalent of $65.99 in USD or a mere 58.26 EU.

Sometimes, you get what you pay for.

Upper Mustang, Nepal

Thailand: Shit Pants Joy: Part One

Well, I know that I have a million blogs to fill in but since my last one was about a hospital in a foreign country, then I figured this would be a good place to start. I will work my way backwards.

>>>

Pai, Thailand
My porch in Pai.

I woke up in Pai, Thailand with a sore throat and feeling shitty. I listened to the birds chirping outside and could see peeps of sunlight streaming through a crack in my thick linen curtains. I pulled my navy blue comforter over my head and vowed to stay in bed all day. I had some big decisions to make and my foot was throbbing from the day before. I heaved myself out of bed quickly when the urge hit again – ramming my broken foot into the walking boot, quickly fastening the straps and limp-running to the toilet.

Diarrhea. Every traveler’s dream. And a dead foot. And on the way to the toilet, I realized I had a pulled groin muscle.

Upper Mustang, Nepal
One of my last runs…

****Backstory: The highlights of my broken foot include: injuring it while running to the Tibet border several months ago, ignoring the pain while hiking 20k a day for another week. Then, one day, nearly a month later, I woke up with it swollen, bruised and unable to move. It hasn’t moved since. One doctor called it a fracture after seeing the X-Ray, prescribing crutches and then eventually prescribing a large, plastic walking boot. Throwing the heavy plastic boot over a motorbike proved difficult and I pulled my groin muscle the day before this saga.****

I pondered this as I crawled back into bed and pulled my comforter over my head.

I had been offered a teaching job in the mountains outside of Chiang Mai, even with a broken foot. It was only for one semester and the semester had already started. They were badly in need of a 6th grade teacher for an international school, meaning that it was a real 6th grade class and I would be teaching all of the subjects, which I haven’t ever done before. I had promised the head of the school a decision by the end of the day and I woke up too sick to think straight.

Pai, Thailand
The monstrous boot and crutches

After crying a lot about my broken foot, pulled groin muscle, constant diarrhea, and the thought of teaching Geometry to 6th graders, I managed to get myself some coconut soup and crawled back into bed.

I have to get my life together, I thought, which is something that I’ve thought nearly every day of this halfway horrid Chinese dog year (see Blog to come). I emailed the orthopedic specialist in Chiang Mai to make an appointment for my broken foot and emailed the head of the school with a million more questions. Then, I pulled myself out of bed and crutched all the way to the bus station and bought a ticket back to Chiang Mai for the following morning. On the way back, I stopped at the ATM, stocked up on water, meat sticks and a mango yogurt shake to help with the diarrhea and carried it all back home on crutches and with a cast.

And then it hit. Not long after gorging on the meat sticks and mango shake, the sore throat came back. Later, I started burning up and every bone in my body ached. Each little hair follicle on my head began aching. My cheeks were on fire. I started sweating and shivering at the same time. My body shut down and I alternated from crawling into bed to limp-running in my moonboot to the toilet. Then, I started alternating between vomiting and diarrhea. It felt like someone was ripping out my hair in clumps and every bone in my body was breaking whenever I moved. My foot was throbbing. My vomit had filled a large plastic bag – at least 3kg (6 lbs) – I guessed as I heaved it outside before running back to the bathroom.

This rough patch went on for about 24 hours before it really took a turn for the worse. I woke up during the second night of my trauma and did my normal run for the toilet. Then, I realized something.

I shit my pants.

I threw out my underwear, pulled my sweats back on (they were unaffected, I think) and crawled back to bed. Only to find out that every time I woke up, it had happened again. And again. And again. Four times in one night and a lot of toilet paper stuffed in my underwear later,

“Man, I wish I had an adult diaper,” said no one ever until the moment they are shitting themselves in their sleep because they are so damn sick.

And then it got worse. I woke up drenched in sweat, my sweats soaked, shirt soaked, bed sheets pooled up with sweat and water and I was shivering. I moved to the other twin bed in my little room, changed and crawled under the sheets, only to wake up to the maid coming in to find me lying there shivering in yet another pool of water, all my new dry clothes soaking wet, a puddle of sweat underneath me, on my comforter, my pillow soaked, everything. She gasped.

“Uhhh, start with the bathroom,” I said meekly to her as her male coworker who had opened the door had already run away in shock.

She walked into the bathroom and gasped. I forgot about the underwear/trash situation happening inside.

“I will be outside,” I said as I stumbled outside. I was still soaking wet and started shivering so I grabbed a scarf and sarong and tried warm up while waiting on the porch for the eternity that it took her to douse my gross shitty room with every possible bit of cleaning supplies that she had. When she was finally satisfied, I crawled back inside and directly into the shower and then directly back into my (new) sheets before none of this was coming to an end and my headache and diarrhea growing more frequent and…

 

More to come from Shit Pants Joy…. Part Two

Gili Air, Lombok, Inonesia

Indonesia: Nothing like a Trip to the Island ‘Hospital’

 

Gili Air, Lombok, Indonesia
The best place for some solitude.

Of course, when you jump on a plane on a whim to the other side of the world, then you still have to deal with what is going on inside of you. And, no matter how many Balinese massages that I got, those feelings kept arising. My time was very introspective. It was the only month abroad where I repelled away potential new friends. But sometimes, I suppose, that is ok. It is ok to listen to your body and to your soul. My soul desperately wanted to be alone and to process everything that happened, how it happened and what I can do differently next time.

Gili Meno, Lombok, Indonesia
Such a cliche 😉

The day that I decided to turn things around, to start a routine with running, writing and planning for my future, was the first day of my new life. I was so excited to get going and made a list of everything to start doing the next day. Anna and I created charts and set the stage for our futures. I went to bed with less anxiety than my other days (even though all of my days in Indonesia were filled with sun, beaches and swimming so not the worst place for breakup/life change anxiety).

But then, when I woke up, something terrible happened. I couldn’t move. It was like when Gregor Samsa woke up as a giant cockroach one morning in The Metamorphasis and couldn’t figure out how to get out of bed. I awoke on my back, unable to move my arms or legs and my first (clearly hallucinogenic) thought was,

OH fuck. I have turned into a giant insect.

I flopped around on my back, trying not to wake up Anna who was sleeping next to me, and then realized that the pounding in my head had paralyzed my entire body as waves of nausea passed over me.

Do giant cockroaches feel nausea? I pondered as I pried open one eye with all my might to find out my fate. I lifted my head ever so slightly to find that I was still human. I saw both my arms and legs, yet they still wouldn’t move. My head ached as I lifted it so I set it back down on the pillow, squeezing my eye back shut as another wave of nausea hit. My head hurt so bad, my nausea was so bad, and it was all I could do to not shit my pants since my body, for some reason, still couldn’t move.

I’m going to die, I reasoned with myself for several hours of inexplicable trauma before Anna forced me to the island hospital. By that point, still channeling Gregor’s strength for getting out of bed as a cockroach, I had made it to the end of the bed and gotten one leg off before resting for another hour. My head was mushed into a towel at the end of the bed and I was sobbing in pain from my illness. The electricity had gone out at some point in the morning and I was lying in my own sweat for hours without the aid of a fan.

“Joy, you need to go to the doctor,” she said. “This doesn’t seem as it will heal on its own.”

Forcing myself to stand up, I shuffled down the dirt path past our bungalow, past the burning leaves and chickens running around me and blindly followed Anna. At first, I thought I couldn’t see due to the illness but halfway there, I realized that I wasn’t wearing my glasses or contacts.

Gili Air, Lombok, Inonesia
My new home…

The ‘island hospital’ was boiling hot inside as the electricity was still out on the entire island. It consisted of a room with a desk and a few men standing around. They looked very, very young. But again, I couldn’t really see so they were a blur of smiles and poor English as they tried to ask me questions. Anna had already met them to get me some medicine but they all thought it was better if I just came in myself. I had been experiencing extreme diarrhea for about a week and very extreme diarrhea for the past several days. My dehydration level was very high and I hadn’t even attempted to eat in the past 24 hours. I remembered trying to take a sip of water around 12 hours before the hospital visit.

“You are the one who is sick?” the doctor asked as I started crying. It hurt to talk, to stand so he had me lay on the gurney that was by the door. It was a hot, plastic table with a plastic pillow. I was still sweating profusely as lines of sweat began running down the plastic on the pillow. The doctor poked my stomach a few times and took my temperature. He checked my blood pressure,

“Oh, very very low,” he said. “You have low pressure, very low.”

“She needs an IV,” Anna told them. “She is very dehydrated and can’t keep anything down.”

“We give her injection, injection first. Then antibiotic. Then infusion.” The doctor replied.

“No, no, no,” Anna said. “She needs an IV first. She is very dehydrated. You can’t give her antibiotics without doing any tests.”

“Very inflamed,” he replied. “Bad stomach. Big intestines, too big for stomach pain. We give her injection, then antiobiotic, then injection.”

This arguing went on for a while before they finally conceded to giving me an ‘infusion’ first, which turned out to be an IV. They gave me my first ‘injection’ during the first bag of fluids, claiming that it would stop my nausea. I started vomiting profusely by my second bag of fluids and six more times during my third bag of fluids. I was lying on the hot plastic pillow sobbing with vomit dripping down the steps below me. The bag that they had given me had a hole in it and the doctor walked away, seeming angry that I was still vomiting.

A girl ran into the ‘island hospital’, frantic,

“My boyfriend, my boyfriend!” she cried. “He is very injured. You must come. It is an emergency.”

“We can no leave,” one of the men said. “You come here.”

“He cannot move! He is much hurt!” she cried in broken English with a heavy European accent. “He is much, much pain. You come with me!”

“No, no,” the doctor said. “He come here.”

Gili Air, Lombok, Indonesia

After much arguing, the girl managed to get one of the men from the room to go with her. After a while, they came back in. Her boyfriend was slightly limping but didn’t appear to be dying at all.

“What happened?” the doctor asked as they sat in the two chairs about four feet from where I was lying and occasionally vomiting with an IV stuck to my arm.

“A sea urchin!” The girl cried. “Is it poisonous, is he ok?”

Anna had come back by this point and was assessing the situation. There was no electricity on the island, no power or internet to look anything up on Google so after a lot of back and forth from the doctor and the couple over the very expensive medicine, Anna interjected and said,

“You aren’t getting anywhere right now. Go and try to find a way to call your insurance and see what you should do.”

Gili Meno, Lombok, Indonesia
Anna and I during happier days 😉

The arguing stopped and they left. Anna left to find some food and to get out of the sweaty gross clinic that now carried the putrid smell of my vomit. After some time, the couple came back in, purchased the expensive sea urchin medicine and left.

Some time later, an older Danish man calmly walked in.

“My son was hit by a sea urchin,” he said. “Can you remove the spines? There are maybe five or six.”

“Yes, yes,” said the doctor.

Later, the Danish man brought in his son, 19, who sounded jolly and not in pain at all. They examined him and found not 5 but 15 of the spines stuck in his foot. He laughed as they removed them, gave him his medicine and as they sat to pay, I started vomiting again.

“I’m sorry,” I muttered as I puked in a bag right next to them, unable to move with my third bag of IV fluids dripping into my veins. I couldn’t see what they looked like but I kept imagining Steve Urwin and what his super child would’ve looked like if this had happened to them. They ignored my vomiting as they laughed with the doctor and talked the bill down to half the price.

Once everyone was gone, the doctor looked at me in dismay. I was far worse than when I had come in and he seemed disappointed with me every time that I vomited. One of his helpers would pat me on the back, whispering kind words when I vomited and the doctor wouldn’t even bring me a tissue.

“I give you another injection,” he said.

“But your injections aren’t helping,” I said. “I don’t know what they are!”

But I let him give me another one anyways because I didn’t know what else to do. He gave me some medicine, hydration packets and instructed that I go to the hospital on another island the following morning. When the fourth IV bag ran out, I asked,

“Can you take out the IV please?”

“You pay first,” he replied.

“Yes, yes, we will pay,” Anna said, who had come back to get me. “Just take out her IV.”

“No, you pay first then I remove IV,” he said.

“You won’t take out her IV until we pay you?” she asked as I threw up again. We paid, he took out my IV and we very slowly walked back to our bungalow.

Gili T, Lombok, Indonesia
Island life 🙂

The following day, I was still sick but on the mend as I wasn’t throwing up profusely anymore. I had purchased a flight that was departing in two days and I found out that none of the boats were running anymore.

Gili T, Lombok, Indonesia
Were these waves from the earthquakes?!

“There have been many earthquakes,” an Australian girl told me at a café that I was trying to finish a writing job at while also fighting waves of extreme nausea. “They don’t want the tourists to know as they might not come anymore.”

She showed me the map of earthquakes that her local, Balinese friend had texted her. 56 earthquakes in the past seven days!

Gili T, Lombok, IndonesiaTourists usually come to the Gili islands, which were the three islands that Anna and I had been camped at for weeks on end, via fast boats from Bali. The trip usually takes about an hour and a half. Since all of the fast boats had ceased to run the week before, which I didn’t know about, due to the earthquakes, the only option to get to the Bali airport was to take the public ferry from the neighboring island of Lombok or to take a flight from Lombok.

Lombok, Indonesia
Look at that engine! The odometer never even moved!

Since I found all of this out two days before my flight, all of the flights from Lombok were booked (and too expensive) so I had to take the public ferry.

Lombok, Indonesia
To the right is a gaping hole that you can’t see very well 😉
Lombok, Indonesia
Vans just don’t get any better than this!

This consisted of a public boat to Lombok, a two hour ride in a very old van (I sat on a very worn out seat over the motor which became boiling hot within 20 minutes as the engine kept stalling, with holes by my feet, trying to keep my flip flops from falling down the hole where the brake pedal was at) then a ferry ride where we sat on the boat for two hours before it departed, five hours at sea, and then another two hours near the Bali port, waiting for room to dock.

Gili islands, Indonesia
Bye bye island life!

My ticket was supposed to involve a driver on the other side dropping me directly at my hotel several hours away, but things don’t work that way in Bali. I sat in the front seat next to the driver in a van full of other travelers in case I needed to vomit. The young male tattooed driver drove fast and recklessly, which would’ve been to my delight if it meant we would arrive at the hotel sooner. But instead, there was dead stopped traffic every other minute, so he would swerve around slower vehicles, narrowly missing the families passing by on motorbikes and swerve back onto the road while slamming on his brakes in order to not slam into the stopped car in front of us…all while trying to light his cigarette. Several hours later, he stopped in dark alley, opened my door and said,

“This is your stop.”

“No, no, take me to my hotel,” I said, showing him my hotel on my map.

“No, no, one stop,” he said. “You stop here.”

“It is night and this is a dark alley,” I said, getting angry (which you are never ever supposed to do in Asia). “There are no taxis around.”

“NO,” he said. “Only stop.”

We argued as the other travelers looked on. They were all going further north so after getting mad, I just grabbed my backpack out of the back of the van and he sped off. I looked around, trying to figure out what to do when a motorbike drove up.

“Taxi?” he asked.

Kuta, Bali, Indonesia
The best splurge ever.

After bartering my way onto a random motorbike in a random alley, we piled my things onto his bike and rode off into the night. I had to direct him to my hotel while balancing my things and my phone without falling off the bike. Once I checked in, I set my things in my fancy and beautiful $30 splurge of a room and headed off for a massage before making my very first new friend, Wayung. She was a beautiful Balinese hostess who walked up to me as I finally sat down to eat for the first time of the day around 10 pm and said,

“You have the strongest most beautiful arms!”

“Hahahaha,” I said, glancing at my glistening arms from the oils from my massage. “Thank you! It is my sick and starvation diet!”

We laughed and then I taught her how to exercise in the restaurant (literally, showed her YouTube videos and everything) before heading off for bed. The next day, I laughed with more people before heading off to the airport, finally feeling like myself again.

The illness was only at its worst for a few days but really, those toxins needed to come out. The bad energy that I was carrying around and the victim mentality had to go, and it came out both physically as well as emotionally.

Gili islands, Indonesia
Bye bye island life 😦

I love the healing nature of traveling. And traveling altogether. I love even the moments when I am sick, alone and arguing with a young, tattooed Indonesian shuttle driver who leaves me on a dark alley in the middle of nowhere. It sure does beat a cubicle!

Till next year, Indonesia!

Gili islands, lombok, Indonesia

Indonesia: A time for tears, processing and a lot of sun

Indonesia

While I was trying so hard to make it work in the USA, I finally broke down and went to see a therapist. I went to figure out why I couldn’t stay at home and why I was so miserable.

“This is supposed to be my home,” I told him. “But every day is so, so hard. It doesn’t feel good. It doesn’t feel right.”

“Home is what you make it to be, Joy,” he replied. “Home is whatever you want to see.”

I always wanted to make sure that I wasn’t running away, but really, each time I was running home.

Oh, Hello World.

>>>>>>

I flew to Indonesia on a whim to clear my head, recover from my USA life and to meet my friend Anna.

Anna is a quirky girl. She is tiny, adorable and completely antisocial and social at the same time. She was the only person that I wanted to travel with during this time of disbelief with how quickly my life turned.

We met in Vietnam. A friend of another travel friend, she was, perhaps the only person in my life who offered to come and retrieve me at an airport in a foreign country, and she hadn’t even met me yet. We bonded quickly as she forced me to step in front of a busy Hanoi highway and walk across, with motorcycles, cars, trucks and buses coming straight at us in full force.

“Don’t change your pace, don’t stop walking,” she said as she guided me and my heavy backpack across the bustling highway. There were no crosswalks, no lights to wait for. Rather, you just start walking and watch incredulously as a large truck comes zooming straight for you, only to swerve out of the way last minute in a simple flowing motion. She showed me the best cafes and where to sit on tiny plastic stools to drink cheap beer or gin and people watch. After that trip, I stopped in to see her several more times and we kept in touch on a daily or weekly basis.

So, when I lost my boyfriend, home, and job on the same day, and had just come back from visiting my family, my grief too strong to process on the steps of my best friend’s house in Denver… Anna said,

“Come to me!” as she was recovering from a sudden illness in a Burmese hospital. “Let’s go to Bangladesh or Bhutan! We can meet in Bangkok.”

Since she seemed to only choose places that started with a ‘B’, I scoured my sad little brain for a place that would be good for recovery and planning for the future. Bangladesh just didn’t seem like the place for that.

“Bali?!” I suggested as I sat looking up flights for Europe or Asia for the following days. I had several flights picked out for several different countries before she replied,

“YES! YES! Bali!”

>>>>

As soon as I stepped on the plane bound for Asia and heard the melodious sounds of languages that I couldn’t understand, I felt happier. There is nothing more glorious than being in a room (or plane) full of people and not being able to understand a single word. Sort of like you were gifted a song, a tune for life that is always in the background of your thoughts but never on the forefront of your mind.

Ubud, Bali
Free breakfast in the garden!

Indonesia is the perfect place to recover from a breakup and a bad job. With bountiful amounts of healthy restaurants and cheap oil massages, it almost feels fake. Then, you hit up the smaller islands where the locals all want to know your name and hang out, juice shakes run rampant and the sun is hot, beaches not full at all… why would you go anywhere else?

Every time I felt sad or mad during that first week when I arrived in Ubud, I walked downstairs into the beautiful Balinese garden of our guesthouse and got a massage or a scrub. In fact, I could get a mani/pedi and 60-minute Balinese massage for under $13.

I ran into my friend Kasia, a beautiful girl from Poland with an even more beautiful spirit. We had nearly died together in a Thai flood back in 2011, and I have always considered her a lifelong friend even though we are always on different sides of the world.

Gili Air, LombokShe was traveling with her boyfriend, David, whom I met for the first time. They are perhaps the most wonderful couple – she is completely and unashamedly herself as is he and they just work. If or when I choose to date again, I hope to find someone that fits with me as well as they fit with each other.

Gili Islands, Lombok, Indonesia
Ahhhhh!

After sadly saying goodbye to Kasia and David, Anna and I made our way to the islands in order to continue on our quest for relaxation, happiness and healing. Anna, who had been sick for weeks since landing in the Burmese hospital, was cured on our first night in Gili Air by our guesthouse host using reflexology and massage. I was healing simply by time, energy clearing and the joy of planning for my international future again.

Gili islands, lombok, IndonesiaWith the sun shining brightly every day and smiling locals pronouncing their love, it was the only place that I wanted to be and the best place to gather my energy again. It gave me the structure that I needed to plan out my next move. And boy, is it going to be a good one 😉

>>>>

 

Bali, Indonesia
The exact spot of this talk.

The beard and I had that final talk, that last break from what was already over and broken, while I was hiking through a Balinese jungle. When I hung up, the anger was still there, with layers of fear and disappointment hidden beneath it. Perhaps, those feelings will hang with me for a while. I don’t alter my life very often for another person and when I do, it’s because I truly believe that they will hold a special place in it. But this dude turned out to be a huge disappointment and I will continue to learn from these heartbreaking moments. I spent more time looking at the future through his eyes rather than my own. Someday, if someone really wants to come in, then they will choose to look through my eyes for once and see me for exactly who I am.

“Yeah, sorry, I’m hiking through a Balinese jungle right now,” I told him during our last phone call, when the sounds of the birds and parrots squawking through the phone became too loud.

Bali, Indonesia
Goddamn it feels good to be back.

“Wait, what??” he said. “Where are you?! You are in Bali??”

“Yes, yes,” I said.

“What will you do next?” he asked.

“Oh, I don’t know, probably pop on over to Europe to visit some friends, maybe Spain, France. Maybe hiking through Slovenia, then maybe…”

“Who are you?!” he asked.

Exactly.

I just followed my heart back home.

Colorado

USA: The worst day of them all.

Colorado, USA
Pondering my next move last fall…

Intuition is a tricky beast. If you are super aware of yours, like I am, then you pretty much always know when you are following it and when you aren’t. The universe also throws in little clues. When I’m on the right path, then I have extraordinary good luck – like walking into a room full of bacon and beards every single day. But, when I’m on the wrong path, even when I know it is the wrong path, the universe really gives me a shove.

Eye surgery, Denver, CO
Getting that possibly cancerous eye mole removed..

Not much has gone my way since choosing to stay in the USA. In a single (very cold) week, I lost heat and water in the house that I was housesitting and ran over and killed a dog while working 12 hours a day. Another day, I had a migraine that caused me to vomit so I went to the clinic. To fix the headache and my vomiting-induced dehydration, they gave me an IV. The nurse missed capping the catheter and blood spurted out all over my clothes, soaking my expensive puffy jacket in the process. I walked into Safeway to get my prescription filled looking like a murder victim.

Other ways the universe was trying to tell me something:

Oh you know, just another day!

I sliced open my hand causing it to bleed for three days, a ketchup bottle exploded on me at a restaurant in Vail, I injured my knee, threw out my neck for a week, severely hurt or broke a bone in my foot, sprained my finger, and then a dentist ruined my mouth. I went in for a routine checkup, ended up getting a filling for a receding gum line and wound up with the dentist performing a ‘routine filling treatment’ by realigning my bite. He shaved my teeth, which I later found out isn’t so ‘routine’ but is more ‘controversial’ and I still can’t close my mouth together, teeth in constant pain and knocking into one another.

When something goes wrong every single day, then you know the universe is shouting,

“GO…GO…GO!!!!”

Colorado, USA
Every single day felt like this ledge…

But, I continued to ignore it, even after I’d saved up some money, paid off all my bills and dreamt of running away. I just couldn’t go until one day, I finally cracked.

“I’m going to have to leave soon,” I told my bearded, bacon-loving boyfriend after some sort of stupid work stress. “I’m just not happy here.”

A few days later, he drove out to where I was staying and said,

“I want to come with you.”

Unchartered territory. I froze, unable to let my excitement out for fear that it wasn’t real. Finally! A hot rugged mountain man that I had been dating for many months that wanted to drop his real life and pave a new path with me…

Colorado
Oh, the early days of van life…

Our new path turned into him buying a campervan. We planned on living in it together so he could fulfill his dreams of playing music and I could write to my heart’s content. But, several weeks later, after the initial excitement wore off, I struggled with my role in the endeavor – Groupie? Booking agent? Trying to find enough internet in the van to continue teaching and my writing job while working on a book?

Something didn’t feel right or fit with my internal desire to go overseas again but I ignored my gut instinct because I was so excited to see where this relationship would go.

With our departure date several months away from when we decided to embark on this path together, over time, his “I can’t find anything wrong with you” turned into “why are you wearing a puffy jacket inside” and “I don’t like how you breathe.” Then, there was the fateful fight where my bearded sweetheart turned into a huge bearded dick, revealing everything that I already knew deep down but didn’t want to hear:

He wasn’t ready for me.

Whatever torment that someone else had caused him or whatever he was holding back during our trip planning came out in one fateful blow. As I listened to him criticize how often I laughed, I realized that his issues may have nothing to do with me, rather he has some deeper wounds that need to heal before he will properly let anyone in. Or, maybe he just really didn’t like me. But, I sat there, tears streaming down my face, trying to defend my laugh, my cooking, myself, while listening to everything that annoyed him about me and everything that I couldn’t do right.

The next morning, I packed up and moved on out of his house – Denver-bound to pack for a work trip to Seattle. My job had grown even more intolerable then it had started. My caring give-a-shit level had dropped to mediocre at best as my boss ran the company in a bipolar gossipy drunk kind of way. It was the worst office environment that I had ever worked in as several of the nine employees expected they were getting fired on a weekly basis. Whenever I spent time in the office, I thought I was suffering from a combination of tourrettes and a stroke. I would check my face in the bathroom mirror every 30 minutes to see if my face was, indeed, drooping on one side.

After spending approximately 28 hours in Seattle for the work trip, I arrived back in Denver around 2:30 am. Around 9:00 am, I received a text from my boss:

“We need to talk.”

I checked my work email and realized that it had been shut off. I made some coffee and called my boss,

“I’m so saaaaad,” she whined.

“Why are you sad?” I asked.

“We have to let you go,” she replied.

Fired.

Later that day, after leaving my home office with FedEx, I got a call from my beard.

“I don’t want to live in a van with you,” he said, which was a mutually reciprocated feeling at the moment but it still hurt to hear it.

I sat on the steps of a closed Montessori school crying hysterically when I finally realized what was happening. Fired and dumped on the same day? By a job I hated and a dude that suddenly seemed to hate me?

Siesta Key, Florida
My mom flew me right on out of my agony for a week.

The universe was giving me the ultimate blow – ripping out the only two things that were still keeping me around. Without the beard and the (pitiful amount of) money from my main job, I realized I would’ve left a long time before. I sadly said goodbye to the beard, sad that it was over but more sad that I believed it would work out. He is a wonderful man and I loved him, even though I never had the courage to say it out loud. But, sometimes in life, you just have to let someone go, especially when they aren’t letting you in (or pushing you away in a really mean and angry way).

After much grief over the past eight months, which were a constant struggle for me to find my place in the wrong place – which I knew the entire time, while dreaming of building a future with this dude and being whisked away into the sunset in our (his) Dodge ProMaster van, I said my goodbye. The goodbye the universe was shouting at me to say…

USA
🙂

“Goodbye USA,” I said as I stepped on a plane with a one-way international flight and …

 

** Thanks Mom and my family for flying me out to their Florida vacation and taking care of me the day after all of this happened (with margaritas and standup paddleboards). I have the best family in the world and love them very much.

USA: When in Doubt, Leave Town… Part 3 (The End!)

paria canyon, utah
Fueling for the day!

Waking up exhausted and sore on the third day of our backpacking trip through Buckskin Gulch and Paria Canyon, I calculated our mileage – 32.1 miles in the first two days, which was not easy as nearly all of it was hiking through slippery mud, pools of water and the river.Paria canyon, arizona

Luckily, Day 3 started out with another mushroom breakfast for all of us. As we trekked out of camp, my sore feet and legs immediately felt the burn as we slogged through the mud, muck and river. The sun was shining bright and we were no longer in a tight canyon. Rather, the walls opened up and we could feel the warm rays on us for most of the day. The landscape changed vastly and we soon felt the effects of our breakfast kicking in.

Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness As I walked along, the colors grew brighter and the desert starting to speak to me. Now, these mushrooms are so mild that I can go about a normal day on them so this transformation with my soul wasn’t due to the mere effect of microdosing. Instead it was the magic of the outdoors…the isolation and the wonderment of the towering canyon around us as it opened up into towering cliffs and mountains engulfing the tiny river bed that was snaking its way through the wilderness.

“Slow down,” the desert said. “Listen to the universe.”

I slowed down. I stopped and rubbed mud all over my body again. Then, I listened to the universe.

“You know what you need to do,” the universe said as the mud hardened quickly from the sun’s beautify beams of light. “Go back to being you.”

Buckskin Gulch, Paria CanyonI got back into the river, splashing icy cold water all over my muddy arms and face and looked up to the sky with glee,

“Hehehehe,” I giggled happily as I began to feel at peace with myself, with the outdoors, with everything that I have been hating doing and with what I needed to do next.

>>>

Paria River Canyon -Vermillion Cliffs WildernessSoon, we started crossing the river only every 10 minutes rather than with every other step. The trails grew higher and snaked their way across flat rocks and you could choose your own adventure.

Izaac started going higher and higher before he finally yelled,

“Guys! Come see what I found!”

Paria River Canyon -Vermillion Cliffs WildernessHigh on one of the cliffs, he had spotted the most amazing panel of petroglyphs that I had ever seen. He stood there staring in awe alongside Mary as Alex and I caught up to them. We dropped our packs and climbed up to where they were standing. The panels told a story that we could not understand as I stood staring at the alien figures, animals and arrowheads.

Paria River Canyon -Vermillion Cliffs WildernessWe trekked on in a blissful state and ate a mushroom lunch. Eventually, as all of the drugs wore off, we began climbing higher and higher and found ourselves on a trail very far from the river. It rose drastically and fell just as drastically. There was a spot where we had to slide in front of a rock, over a cliff of tumbling rocks to stay on the trail. Then, we began a steep descent.

….Back in 2013, I got myself caught up in competitive racing up and down 14’ers. This means that I would compete for time on mountains that were 14,000 feet and higher. Now, the stupidity of this is self-explanatory but what’s even more dumb is that I wasn’t competing with anyone other than myself.

One fateful day, halfway down a very steep and way too fast run down the side of the mountain, I wiped out. Hard. The couple that witnessed the accident thought that I broke both my knee and my neck at the same time. However, as I stood up, dazed and in pain, I realized that neither of the two were broken and that I could still walk.

 “I’m fine, I’m fine,” I reassured the horrified couple as I walked away, fully aware of the fact that I couldn’t move any of my fingers or my wrists. I had to walk 4 more miles to my car and then drive down a steep, rough rode with two sprained wrists and several broken fingers. Ever since then, I have been terrified of downhills, both when I am trail running and hiking… 

Paria River Canyon -Vermillion Cliffs WildernessSo, as we hiked down a very steep grade with the Paria river snaking far below us, I gingerly placed my foot as carefully as I could on the slippery dirt slope. But, alas, the carefulness was likely my demise, as with one single step, my foot caught the downwind of several small pebbles and went flying. As I started falling, I threw my hands back, trekking poles and all, and grabbed onto something to break my fall.

“Oooooooooooooowwwwww,” I cried as I realized my hand was wrapped around a cactus. I sat up and examined my hand. There were at least 10 clumps of thousands of tiny little needles engulfed in my right hand with several larger spikes sticking out of it. I couldn’t touch any part of my hand without cactus needles going further into it.

“Oh my! Are you ok?” My dear friend Mary asked as her and Alex approached me.

I wiped tears off my face, held out my hand and said,

“Can you take my picture?” as if documenting my pain would make it better.

Paria River Canyon -Vermillion Cliffs WildernessMary got out tweezers and started tweezing away as I flinched in pain. After what seemed like an eternity but really probably 20 minutes, we gave up, stood up and continued down the slope. I brushed my hand, breaking all of the remaining thousands of tiny miniscule needles into my hand so that I could continue down.

Paria River Canyon -Vermillion Cliffs WildernessEventually, as the sun was setting, we found somewhere high on the mountainside that was flat enough to camp. Exhausted, we set up camp, made dinner and relaxed as the beauty of the night settled in.

Paria River Canyon -Vermillion Cliffs WildernessOur last day was mushroom free yet the beauty and the magic of the desert continued to work its spell on Alex and I. We lingered back, walking as slowly as we could and breaking as often as possible as neither of us wanted the trip to end. I didn’t want to reenter the real world nor did I want to deal with the repercussions of ignoring what the universe was telling me since I had to go back to all three of my jobs for at least a few more months.

Paria River Canyon -Vermillion Cliffs WildernessYet, eventually, even the slowest walker would have to face the end of the road. Approximately 53 miles later, we finished our four-day trek through the Paria Canyon – Vermillion Cliff Wilderness.

>>>>

When I got back, feeling happy and free, I no longer felt needy or sad, and I no longer let trivial things get me so down or mad. Once your balance is restored, then you can just be.

I drove straight out of the desert (with what felt like a broken foot and cactus needles embedded all throughout my right hand) and back into the arms of my big crush. As we hugged, I could feel the change, the change within, where I wasn’t looking at him to make me happy but instead I was finally ready to just share my joy instead.

Paria River Canyon -Vermillion Cliffs WildernessUnfortunately, when you’ve had a life revelation but can’t yet change anything right away, the joy starts to dissipate and the apathy comes back. After a few weeks, I started feeling like I was dying on the inside, my spirit destroyed by the stresses of the everyday life that I wasn’t sure why I was still doing. With the desert still lingering in my mind, I knew what I had to do, no more excuses, no more waiting around.

It wasn’t the man, rather it was me. My freedom, myself. And I knew how to get it. He can join my path or hell, we can even pave a new path together, or I can walk alone. But I got to get moving again. I immediately called him,

“I have to be honest with you,” I said. “I am miserable. I have had the hardest and worst past months of my life. I’m going to have to move on now. I’m going to have to leave.”

And with that, I hung up the phone and knew exactly what I was going to do next. Till next time 😉

 

 

USA: When in doubt, leave town….Part Two

Buckskin Gulch, Paria Canyon
Just sharing some jerky at the campsite 😉

I woke up sore from the first day of trekking through Buckskin Gulch. Walking nearly 17 miles throughout the day, with a majority of it being through water and mud, was more taxing then my cocky hiking mind was prepared for. Coming from the cold canyon slog and waking up inside the tall, looming walls, I wondered if the entire hike would be this way – cold, dark, hard and adventurous. Yet, day two took a surprising turn very early on:

Buckskin Gulch, Paria Canyon
LIGHT!!

“Would you like to have a mushroom breakfast?” asked Alex, the Guatemalan/American with an infectious smile. A professional photographer, he had quit his life to move to the desert and live in a yurt. He was currently building a house on his desert property and decided to take a break to go on this much needed trip. As the other two in our group seemed to be in a rush for most of the trip, Alex and I bonded over our lax and easygoing trekking style. I usually hike quite fast too, but after leaving the stresses of my life behind me, all I wanted to do was mozy on through this canyon and enjoy every free second that I had.

Buckskin Gulch, Paria Canyon
Slogging through the mud and water!

“Hmmmmm,” I said. “I don’t know.” But then took one anyways. The microdose was so small that I wasn’t going to trip out and the capsule was packed full of ginger and turmeric, making it a healthy choice. Microdosing psilocybin can be a vehicle for self-awareness. In fact, they are currently being used around the world as treatments for anxiety, depression and cultivating a more meaningful insight on life. I really wanted to try anything that would reframe my mindset back to my happy place – being free and exploring, rather than worrying about how to analyze a spreadsheet for something that I could care less about.

Buckskin Gulch, Paria Canyon
Alex is heading into the light!

We packed up and trudged out of camp through the slick, green and brown shiny mud that permeated every step. As we walked along, I realized that day two would bring an entirely new set of challenges… We hiked along the river, crossing it every ten steps. I placed my foot in a slippery green mud patch…and it was quickly swallowed by the puddle. All the way up my leg!

“AUUUUUUGHHHH,” I yelled. “Quicksand!” I yanked my leg out and lurched forward, bracing myself on my handy dandy Helinox trekking poles. I quickly pressed on a few more steps to get back into the slick and muddy river so that I could wash off my muddy leg.

Buckskin Gulch, Paria Canyon
SUNSHINE!!!

Alex and I saw our first ray of sunshine right as the mushrooms began to kick in. After being in a cold, dark canyon for the past 28 hours, we started hurrying through the dark turns and stopping whenever we could see the bright rays of the sunlight striking the river and canyon walls. The walls grew brighter and more profound with each step.

“A shark!” I yelled, pointing to one particular wall as the shark swam into an elephant whose trunk was hugging the nose of an Indian!

“Look at that face!” exclaimed Alex as he pointed to another wall.

Buckskin Gulch, Paria Canyon
The magical green/brown sludge!

Oh this became magical, I thought as all of the hardships of the day before dissipated into pockets of sunshine. It was then that we noticed the green sludge. The beautiful, glistening green mud. The color of mint, it shimmered under the sunlight.

We rounded another long bend into the darkness, but with each long bend of cold, dark canyon walls brought another bend full of warmth and sunshine. Finally, we could resist no more. We reached down and picked up the glistening green slime mud and began rubbing it all over our faces.

Buckskin Gulch, Paria Canyon
Oh joy, oh happy day!

“OOOohhhhhhhhhhh,” I said. “We have found the fountain of youth!” as I continued to slather it all over my face.

“This feels sooooo good,” Alex said as we made sure that our faces were fully covered and continued on with our trek.

Buckskin Gulch, Paria Canyon
The fountain of youth 😉

We gave it time to settle before finding that perfect bend filled with sunshine where we dropped our packs and bounded into the water with glee. Splashing the icy water on my mud ridden face mask felt nothing less than full and utter pleasure. Once the mud was cleared away, my face felt softer than the first time I visited the Jjimjilbang. It felt fresh and full and ….

Buckskin Gulch, Paria Canyon
Pure joy.

I had found my joy. I couldn’t tell if it was the microdosing or just the utter bliss of seeing sunshine after a completely dark day and being free to run and laugh and play. Working 10-14 hour days was long forgotten and I realized that it wasn’t everything that I had been doing that was getting me so down, but rather, the lack of time that I had to do what I loved – explore and feel free. Here I was, in the wilderness, stomping around through mud and muck with my new friend Alex. I was back to traveling, adventuring, and meeting new folks who got me, understood me.

Buckskin Gulch, Paria Canyon This wasn’t just any ole trip for me. This reopened my eyes to what I was missing. Granted, I was doing the things that were bringing me down for a reason. When you have $18 in your bank account (I had more money when I was 8) then you set goals and get yourself out of it. By remaining homeless for a few months and continuing to work three jobs, I was able to get myself out of the financial hole that I had been in…within two months, I had paid off my credit card, stacked up my savings and paid all of my taxes. It wasn’t easy, nor was it much fun but part of my desert awakening was to realize that it was all necessary for me to do and to do as quickly as possible.

But, goddamn. In the desert, nothing really mattered. None of that shit mattered. I felt alive again for the first time in a while.

>>>>

Buckskin Gulch, Paria Canyon
Sunshine…

After our mud masks, Alex and I eventually found the rest of our group – Izaac and Mary and the four of us hiked together for a while admiring the contrasts of the towering canyon walls. We walked through and along the winding river as every other bend continued to bring rays of sunshine along with it.

Buckskin Gulch, Paria Canyon
I mean, who wouldn’t want this?!

Alex and I eventually got greedy. The fountain of youth, aka bright green, slimy sludge, seemed to beckon us around every bend. We fell behind and then fell prey to the call of the mud. We gleefully smeared mud all over our faces again and kept on hiking. After removing it for the second time, which didn’t feel as glorious, we stopped to break for a coffee.

“There’s a good spot,” Alex pointed as we climbed out of the river and set our packs down on the hard sandstone riverbank leaning against a towering canyon wall.

As we sat on the hard sand bank, on the sandstone steps that led us out of the wind and into a teeny tiny cul-de-sac, to boil the water for our coffee, I noticed the ‘hard steps’ were starting to get wet. After a few more minutes, the hard steps that we were sitting on began to break down and water began forming under us!

We jumped up and moved closer to the river, out of our decaying cul-de-sac as the entire area started waving and rippling, like cement during a severe earthquake. We were making coffee on some type of hardened quicksand!

Buckskin Gulch, Paria Canyon The day turned long as the very mild psychedelic effects wore off and the pain in my feet became evident. I wondered with each step if I had perhaps broken a small bone in my foot or damaged a ligament from getting it stuck in between two rocks the day before. Each step turned into a severe twinge of pain and I began balancing on my trekking poles and silently cursing the other two for being so far ahead of us. We couldn’t stop, camp and enjoy the rest of the day until we found them.

We trudged through the muddy bends, sliding through mud and wading through the river.

I don’t want to do this hike fast, I thought. I want to slow down, for once, and enjoy the views while setting up camp early.  

Buckskin Gulch, Paria Canyon
I was probably trying not to cry in pain here! haha.

After what seemed like an eternity after we wanted to stop and camp, we finally found the rest of the crew. Several miles later, we decided on a place to camp for the night. 15.2 miles was a lot harder through the mud, green slime and river wading then I thought it would be. I couldn’t bear another step by the time we set up camp and sat down exhausted to enjoy the full moon, good company with my crew and gluten-free mac n cheese to get ready for another day….

More to come from Day 3!