Monday, May 9, 2011

21 Days at the Top of the World: Day 1 - And Away We Go

(Photo 1: moi, Cathy, Steve, Christina, Rosemary & Nancy) Arriving at SFO at 10:00pm, Hassan and I find Cathy (our fearless leader & organizer) and her husband Stan already checked for our 1:30 AM flight on Cathay Pacific. Within a few minutes, the whole gang is there, minus James, who's already been in Beijing for a week, seeing a girl he's been chatting up on the Internet for the past 6 months (more on that later).

This is a big trip for us. We haven’t been gone this long together since our honeymoon in Bali 14 years ago where we spent a month. When Cathy first sent the proposed itinerary – 21days in China (Tibet), Nepal & India (Sikkim & West Bengal) – I thought the chances were slim given my art festival commitments. However, in reading the details, we concluded that what better way to see a part of the world we hadn’t been to than with a group of people who have been there before -- and we'll work around the show commitments.

(Photo 2: Rosemary, Cathy & Stan)

I'm a bit nervous - I've never traveled with a group before - especially a group of relative strangers - and Hassan hasn't traveled with a group in 20 years. (So can we play well with others? We're used to having a reservation for our first night somewhere, then winging the rest...) I only know Cathy slightly, from her fabulous but now defunct store, Inner Journey - a victim of the recession -- where she carried pieces from my Ancient Splendor Collection. But from the beginning of our acquaintance there has been a connection between her and I and we’ve talked of the possibility of this trip often. Hassan has only met her briefly a couple of times.

Together, we had both just met the rest of the group at Cathy and Stan's house for a couple of hours the last Saturday in January 2011 where we also met Dorje and Usha who own Third Eye Travel and one of their employees, Arun. And now here we are together again, going into the second week in April 2001.

In addition, I'm apprehensive that Hassan and I have packed too much stuff as Cathy had emphasized "pack light" more than once. We're new to the group and certainly don't want to be showing up with “too much stuff,” especially as we’re traveling to Third World countries where conditions for carting stuff around can be rough. (I can’t help but remember a trip with a friend a couple of years ago where we took the Eurostar from London to Paris with 2 big suitcases that felt like they were packed with rocks and we had to somehow hoist them over our heads for train storage. Lucky we didn’t get hernias.) But, as the gang sees our bags they all exclaim, "that's it!!?? Turns out we probably have less than half of what everyone else has (not including what they're bringing for the nuns). Although we don't know this yet, our light bags will serve us well in the near future.

(Photo 2: a still from the movie "Himalaya") I'm as prepared as possible multiple-media wise: my iPad will serve as a repository of the hundreds of photos and videos we'll take. On it, I’ve also got Michael Palin's PBS documentary series Himalaya (which includes "Annapurna to Everest" and "The Roof of the World") as well as the 2007 award winning movie Himalaya (a Nepali movie nominated in the Best Foreign Film category at the 72nd Academy Awards).

On my iPod Nano, I’ve got an audio book I’ve been dying to read (pun intended) Murder in the High Himalaya: Loyalty, Tragedy, and Escape from Tibet, as well as a slew of trip-focused music such as Tibet – Cry of the Snow Lion, Tibetan Meditation Music, The Lama’s Chants: Songs of Awakening, Journey to Nepal, Journey to Nepal (iTunes only) – and, for good measure, a bit of Sainkyo Namtchylak including “Time Out - Seven Songs for Tuva” (iTunes only).

I’ve also spent extensive time on the Web, researching all our destinations. I am multi-dimensionally prepared…or so I think.