This is the fifth in a series of monthly stories by travel writers from EPIC Group Writers, an Edmonds non-profit organization whose mission is to support those who create, communicate and connect through cultural and artistic endeavors, especially the literary arts.
“Out! Out!” our Nepalese guide shouted joyfully, pulling us American women down the minivan steps.
“Here are your Annapurnas!” he roared, pointing far up beyond our best imagination.
Gathering our heavy duffels from the piles, we were at the trail’s base, feeling thrill and trepidation. Only this morning our Northwest band of 14 trekkers flew into Pokara, a few hours flight from Kathmandu. Ahead of us was a path of ancient stairs to conquer these next 12 days.
Oh, indeed…too many clothes and comforts were still dripping off our Western ways. Although some of us were minimalists, a few still carried full bottles of shampoo and an abundance of shoes. We stared at our male guide roping a 25-lb. duffel with a second. But, ah, we wouldn’t be carrying such a load – the Sherpa women would.
We watched both duffels being hoisted on to their backs, along with their own little pack. It was a sad marvel. How could they walk up a narrow path for six hours a day? None of the 30- to 45-year-old women met our eyes. This was their first trekking mission, being chosen by our guide as the “strong carriers” of their villages. Our trip organizer was thoughtful enough to provide them with boots and ski parkas.
On our first day, it was obvious that these women preferred no eye contact. We’d take a break; they’d plow ahead. They rested at steep switchbacks where we didn’t. Still, upon that taxing trail, there were plenty of moments to pause, bow and say “Namaste” like we meant it. Not one smiled. We were told that they were shy and nervous around us “royalty.”
The hard trek was amazing; alas…my personal agony gnawed deeper, watching these sturdy women steadily climb. By the fourth day of guilt, I tried chocolate and nuts — this brought smiles. The fifth day brought more as we tipped beers together — although at separate tables.
On the day we reached Ghandruk village, I had a hunch to find common ground: bear their pain. I asked permission to carry a bundle. Request denied. But, persisting that I wanted to understand their strength, the most confident woman helped me adjust the load. I staggered a mere three wobbly steps.
“That’s it!” I cried. “Help me!”
And, oh the melting laughter that bonded us at that moment. I remember them shaking their heads at my folly. We began learning their names and rudimentary phrases. Step by step we surged on, eventually dancing together on evenings when local musicians magically appeared at our teahouses.
What kind of memory do I want to leave with the locals in the countries I visit? Can I make do by taking less? I believe that sharing our humanity takes more than acknowledgement; it takes a humble heart. Final photos and a tear-filled farewell dinner showed the bonds we eventually formed. These once shy women were leaning into us….like friends do.
— By Rita Ireland
As an offshoot of EPIC’s Monday morning writing sessions held at the Edmonds library, the EPIC Group Travel Writers meet at Savvy Traveler once a month. Participants of this fluid group love to travel and write stories about their journeys. You are invited to attend on the second Wednesday of the month from 3:30-5 p.m. Free to members and non-members of EPIC Group Writers.