Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Bhutan. The third stop.

Oh My God. Was my first thought.Oh my god. How stunning is this place? Panoramic view of the Himalayas. Clean Air. No Alcohol. No drugs. No smoking. What, no smoking? you are kidding me?!

Prayer flags. Beautiful.

True. Bhutan is as natural and organic as it gets. They don't eat meat. Fabulous I thought, that means we ain't got to kill anything! what a result! I was chuffed.

From the minute we walked off the plane, I knew it would be here that I would loose it. It is so fucking cliche when people say to you "when you go travelling, you really find yourself!" but gobble me up and spit me out, is it true.

We arrived in Bhutan at 1030am and were 2,000 feet up in the thick of Himalayan mountains and fresh air. Once we found our resting place, I became overwhelmed and began to cry. I walked away from the others as I didn't want to get upset around them, but Brian came after me. We talked for ages and he really helped me out. He made sense of things in my head. He was brilliant. I knew it would be hard here, as it would be wrong to go to such a spiritual place and feel very little. And that was what Bhutan was. Spiritual. It was here that I felt it inside. The place just does something indescribable to you. No matter how you try to control it, it catches up on you, and wins.

On 22/10/07 we were well on our way to Tronsa. We stopped at the highest point on the mountain where there was 108 chortens-Buddhist shrines. We were told to walk around it 3 times, as it is said to do so would give you prosperity and good fortune in coming times. We carried on travelling through the stunning landscape and were soon to play Archery with our Bhutanese comrades that we had met earlier on. Claire was fantastic, I was total shit. But it was excellent fun, and Claire actually hit the target-target was 150 metres away and so small. Amazing she was.

It is a trekkers paradise! We trekked up to Tigers Nest Monastery in traditional dress with our fellow Bhutanese pilgrims. Here, we met the Bhutanese monks and briefly experienced their way of living. Of course, it was such a cultural difference.

On 23/10/07 we began our first big trek. We started at UGENCHOLING and were heading for NEANGUIAKHANG-a place which I wouldn't even try to pronounce. It was at 2,800 metres up and we trekked up to 3650 metres which actually works out to be roughly 12,000 feet. This was the hardest day so far for me since we left sunny England. It took us 9 and a half hours and Dave and I ended up walking together as Leo, Brian and Bruno had gone on ahead. Claire was some 2 hours behind which was awful as I wanted to wait, but felt I had to push my endurance to the max. It was all pretty much up hill and extremely steep. I am so grateful to Dave because after just 40 minutes, I broke down as carrying a third of my body weight on my back was proving near on impossible. I was beginning to feel that I was near to the end of this journey. That I couldn't go on. Thankfully, with Dave beside me encouraging me, I pulled myself together and pursued. A few hours on, the tables reversed and Dave needed to stop. Within 2 minutes we both stopped. 2 minutes start, 2 minutes stop. It was like we were in some sort of fucking marathon training. It had got to the point where Dave and I were both gagging cos we were so fucked. Dave actually went a worrying white colour at one point, and with no medic around I was pleading with him not to pass out on me. But Dave being Dave, determined as he was, got through it. With every step, the pain increased, with every step, it got steeper, and steeper. With some time and agonising pain, we eventually could see the top. No idea how happy we were, we both stopped and had a fag!!!!! We were both so proud, we pushed ourselves ultimately, physically and mentally. Tears were shed and blisters were formed, aching limbs and sweaty stinking clothes, but we made it.

On 25/10/07 we had a smaller trek. Man alive. I couldn't actually feel my feet! It was OK though as it was flat all the way, no more hills!!! I write in my diary that it was so nice because we all got to walk together with our Bhutanese comrades, or pilgrims. One of which, Kezang, lovely girl was 21 the night before! We were soon told that we would be attending a fire festival. It sounds dangerous I thought, probably will be...... LOVE IT!

After 3 days of trekking, what felt like a month, we'd finished. The hardcore, never ending trek was over. And the relief was unreal. Next stop, fire festival. Hmmm, curious.

The fire festival started at 9pm and we all went in our traditional dress that we had fitted on the first couple of days being in Bhutan. The Bhutanese girls decided it would be a good idea to put makeup on me, but no fucker told me how much I on. I looked in the mirror and looked like something out of the Rocky Horror show. It was hideous. Fire festival was indeed dangerous, mental, electric, crazy arsed Bhutanese people going mad running through a mass of fur on fire. I think I was, if anything a bit anxious, I didn't mind to much, I think I had an advantage as I'm so small. That's an interesting point actually, the Bhutanese are all quite small, and Brian is really tall.....They should cater these fire lighting arch way things for all heights. Brian was fine, but even so.....

Bhutan goes on and on and on in my diaries, so I cant write too much more. I could but to break it down is difficult in this short space. All I know is that Bhutan made me. It broke me and transformed me, and then made me again. Its weird. It is the most life changing place we went to and gave me a bigger, wider out look on my life. NZ triggered it, Bhutan set it off. An incredible place on this earth, I was lucky enough to go there with incredible people. All of them.

New Zealand

As I write briefly and not descriptively from my diary, this is how my journey went on.
New Zealand.
We set off from Tanna in Vanuatu to Port Villa (also Vanuatu) to Sydney and on to New Zealand. The Journey from Vanuatu started at 10am on 11/10/07.
Leo explained to us in Vanuatu that our journey would continue with the Maori.
We were to live and work on a ship for the next part of our trip. I knew that this part of the journey would be truly awesome, as New Zealand was somewhere that always had great meaning to me.
The tall ship, R. TUCKER. THOMPSON was huge, with enormous sails and a grand entrance, it had such a beautiful sense of welcoming. We climbed aboard and had little time to settle in before we began our continued epic journey. It was a wise idea at the time to only take the essential stuff with us. Our bags were so big to store on board that it seemed pointless bringing everything. Waterproofs were the only thing that were essential.
As we found our feet, I couldn't help but wonder about our current situation. For me, it was a time to think about my life and what was important. My journey had suddenly become a real evaluation of my true emotion.
After a few days of settling in 15/10/07 to be exact, we went diving for cray fish. We rowed the Waka out and away from the TUCKER THOMPSON tall ship and had a quick brief on the dive. Our task was to dive down and collect as many cray fish as we could. This was something for Brian and Leo as they both had diving experience. I couldnt work out the whole breathing thing-I was spitting and coughing and god knows what. No, I just couldnt master it! Still, it was pleasent enough, I was swimming in the New Zealand sea for fuck sake!.

Later on that day, Dave and I decided to climb up to the top mast where we had time to reflect. I think we both had a true moment, and I would give almost anything to have that moment again. The moment was an overwhelming one of realisation and of reality. We were in New Zealand looking upon the great sea with the sound of silence in our lives. It was this very moment that I began to find true peace with the devastation and destruction I had endured in my young life. We didnt need to say anything to eachother because we both knew it. We knew this was the start of something better.
When the night fell upon us, the ship really did do itself justice. I would stand over the edge, holding on to the ropes and see dolphins glowing in the water and swimming gracefully beside us. The stars shined wildly over the sea, and looking into the distance, there was nothing but an open world. It was breath taking, it was the beginning.
The vessel would glide through the sea so passively and with little effort against the harsh waves. A storm had brewed up over a few days, but none of us were frightened. I think I speak for everyone when I say, we made the most of every minute and it was here that we fought together.
For most of the time it was all pretty hands on, our duties were to put the sails up, scrub the deck, polish the brass, steer the boat and help the chef cook. Bruno was the one who had the cooking expertise, so he took on the cooking job very well.
Working on the ship was a real team effort. I know it sounds obvious, but I think that it was here when we all came together and bounced off each other. We had all been thrown into the middle of the ocean, and they say that if you're out at sea for too long, you go insane....Thankfully, that didn't happen, but quite a few of us were barfing up the first few days.
It wasn't long before Leo told us that we were to climb an Island called the Motukokako Island, Hole in the rock or as Pirates call it Piercy Island. It is a rocky island off the very northern tip of Cape Brett Bay of Islands, which features a hole where boats can pass through. The Island, to the Maori holds something of a rite of passage. The Maoris would swim the shark infested sea to the island, and then climb to the very top. It was hardcore.
I was below deck when we arrived at Motukokako Island. On climbing up to the top deck, everyone had gone pretty silent and I think the fear of the climb had started to wade in. It was massive. No question.
On the 17/10/07 we began our climb early at 8am, and after 4-5 hour or so, there abouts, we all reached the top. We initially climbed it individually then went up through the terrain together on a single rope which we were all attached too. The view was just too much to comprehend. Unreal and truly amazing. The tall ship looked like something out of a film, so rich and grand. On reaching the summit, Leo informed us of our next destination on this once in a life time journey. Bhutan. I couldn't really react at the time but I did my best, because I remember everyone saying "wow, that's cool" and all I could think of was "where the hell is Bhutan...."