Let’s make it unscary.
I traveled in Nepal over Christmas this year. My sister travels a bunch at the end of every year. Early December, she asked me if I wanted to come to Nepal to do a trek with her over Christmas.
I debated for a week and said, “welp, screw it, why not”.
And then I panicked for two weeks as I had a lot A LOT of last minute preparation to do. I realized I had absolutely no useful equipment, my passport was expired, my co-op term was ending, I had an interview to fly to, I had other video interviews to prep for, I more applications to prep, I had a design project to figure out, I had a plane ticket to buy, I had time zones to math out, I had visa and passport photos to take, I had money to withdraw, I had travel insurance to purchase, I had a renting situation to double-check, courses to email professors for.
It was pretty crazy.
First off, I want to explain myself, especially for me, because this is a bit completely off the radar. I mean, who goes from doing nothing in Canada to backpacking in Nepal without anything inbetween? I’ve spent some time thinking about it, but I don’t have a great explanation. The best answer I have is that when life gets really crazy and unknown, you have to be crazy right back at it.
So on Christmas Eve, I hopped onto a midnight flight from Toronto through London (Heathrow is nice) and Istanbul (not so nice) into Kathmandu, where I was to meet up with my sister. And by meet up, I mean blunder my way through the visa application process at the airport (I wrote n/a on like half the form and prayed the officer wouldn’t ask me about it), pray that my packpack made it through checked luggage, wait for my sister to arrive 1 hour late, pray that her backpack made it through checked luggage, run across the airport asking for instructions on how to get to our flight departing in 45 minutes, realize it was on the other side of the airport accessible by a 10 minute run around the airfield to the domestic side while hauling ass with some 30-40 lbs of backpacks.
There was a lot of on the spot improv.
Luckily we made it on time, and we took a beautiful flight out of Kathmandu into Pokhara where one side of the plane had an amazing view of the Himalayas and where I realized, “Holy shit Toto I don’t think I’m in Canada anymore”. A hotel taxi was waiting for us at the airport, we dropped our things off at the room and started figuring out the rest of the trip.
The next day, we started our 5 day Mardi Himal trek in the Annapurna mountain range. In general, it was very laid back. There are camps or lodges to stay at every night, and small restaurants to eat lunch at every day. We’d wake up at 7 every day to catch the sunrise, eat a meal of dal bhat, leave at 9 and hike until 12 or 1, eat more dal bhat, then hike until 4-5 and eat more dal bhat.
God I hate dal bhat.
The 1st day we went through a village and up 1500m to Australian Camp.
The 2nd day we went through a forest.
The 3rd day was up another 1500m where our minds were being continuously blown away by how close we were to the mountains and how absolutely perfect they all looked.
The 4th day we decided not to travel another 800m up to a viewpoint, so we descended a painful 2000m through jungle, and then on the 5th day had a more leisurely final descent to take a taxi jeep crammed with 25 people (my sister has a video).
We met a lot of wonderful people along the way, a really tall German on vacation alone, a hilarious Australian couple working in Mali? on vacation, a group of retired volunteer doctors and teachers, a family of 4 living in Nepal doing humanitarian work, a family with 3 boys and another family with 3 girls on vacation, a training Spanish ultramarathon athlete, and a bunch of sherpas. You talk to them a bit during breakfasts and lunches and dinners and during the treks, and you go your own ways. You also get to see and greet to a lot of locals in the mountainside who are used to all the hikers.
We spent the rest of the time resting and exploring Pokhara and Kathmandu, taking a flight on a 2-person plane through the Annapurna mountain range, visiting shops and temples, lounging around the city, eating out (I love food), absorbing the city before I flew back to Toronto for school and she flew to the Philippines for the rest of her vacation.
It was all absolutely breath-taking and unforgettable.
And after all that, I realized again that the world is really, really big, and I’m really, really small.
The world is a scary place. That’s what my parents tell me all the time. Don’t go into the woods, there are bears. Don’t drive by yourself, you could get into an accident. Don’t drive at night, it’s too dark. Don’t fly to this city, there’s a lot of violence there. Don’t go on that plane, it’s not safe enough. Don’t go skydiving, you could die. Don’t go on the hike, you’ll get too exhausted. Don’t go on the hike, it’s going to be too much work.
The world is a scary place, but not because it’s dangerous. But because it’s real.
The vast majority of the world isn’t in a perfect little bubble that always fits your schedule and your plans and your abilities and your wants perfectly. You can’t be afraid of pushing your boundaries and pushing your limits to open your world a little bit.
We met a family of 4 who used to live in Washington. They decided it wasn’t right for them, and tried out working in several other humanitarian organizations in other countries before settling for Nepal. The father was a doctor and the wife was a veterinarian. They uprooted themselves because it didn’t feel perfect.
We met a sherpa who graduated university (I forgot where). He worked alongside the Canadian army in Saudi Arabia in 2004, but now he’s back leading treks.
We took a tour through some temples in Kathmandu. Our tour guide was a Nepalese aerospace engineer who graduated from a university in Kiev and worked several years in a great career before marrying and returning to Nepal for family. Now he works as a tour guide while helping out at a local orphanage.
The father of the family of 3 girls is a surgeon. He talked about how his friend went into med school because his father was also a doctor. In the last semester of med school, he quit, and the father saw him a bit later as a pastry chef. 15 years later they caught up again, and he was a med student again. It was amazing that his friend’s path went in such a long and winded path back to where he started, so he has to balance the advice he gives his daughters with that in mind.
Life doesn’t have to be this straightforward path towards this concrete goal. And that isn’t how life works for a lot of people. It’s scary to not really have any clue how it will turn out, but the end can still be equally amazing.
Life is scary. There is a lot of danger. There are a lot of problems to face and paths to choose from. We all wish there was a magical guiding hand to pull us to the right path and to the right choices. But there isn’t.
Life is scary. But you can make it unscary by realizing that you can be wrong, and that you will be wrong. You can make it unscary by not letting fear dictate your life - you can conquer fear and do what scares you anyways.
Life may be scary, but you can choose to be scared.