Spirited Away…. The beginning

I spoke previously about my adventurous spirit, my youthful desires to embark on an epic journey. While I was never able fully realize my dreams of becoming the next Indiana Jones, I do set out for a mini adventure at least once a year. This was going to be an epic adventure year! I planned a thirteen day hiking trip to the Himalayas with my boys for spring break, A graduation trip to China and Japan with my son at the start of summer, a trip to the Hypogeum of Hal Saflien (resonance chamber) in Malta during mid-summer, and a relaxing girls trip/staycation in Atlanta just before I had to get back to work.  Yes, EPIC like I said right?  Well things started to change early into the new year.

On new years eve china announced that they had identified a novel virus that was infecting people and in less than two weeks later they began reporting the first deaths caused by this new virus. Before the end of the month the Chinese authorities had completely closed off Wuhan, the city where the disease originated, to prevent the spread of the disease. Unfortunately, by then it was too late, modern transportation has made the world more accessible, the disease gradually spread around the globe. Not being someone prone to panic I just figured it was something that would pass relatively quickly with little to no impact on my travel plans. I remembered previous outbreaks like N1H1, the bird flu, and SARS that really had no impact on my daily life. I assumed this would be no different, I was wrong.

As February approached, I began to become a tad worried about the spring break trip. I kept an eye out on the global rates of infection for most places but specifically Nepal. While there were not a significant number of cases reported in Nepal the trip was still knocked off course. Our flight had a layover in a town just hours away from Wuhan!  Yes, the epicenter of the outbreak, which at that point had thousands of infected and hundreds dead. Our flight was canceled. Scrambling to find new flights that did not touchdown in china was difficult and when I finally found a flight it was almost twice the price of my initial tickets. So, I had to make an executive decision. The boys were out! I got a refund for their portion of the trip and decided that this would be a solo adventure.

Now, I know most would read this and think WHY? Why would you travel during a disease outbreak? Why would you travel close to the part of the world where the disease started? Didn’t you realize that people were dying?  I don’t know how to explain it without sounding like an ass, but here goes. Right now, as I am writing I am seriously trying to think of a time in my adult life that I felt panicked. I can’t think of any; I am sure there may be a couple tucked away somewhere but at this moment I can’t think of one. I usually assess the situation, collect data, analyze what I think it means, and cross refence with what the talking heads are saying and check the pulse of friends and family. 99.999999999999% of the time I find that panic is not warranted, not constructive and slightly ridiculous.

I understood the nature of the virus, how it was spread, and its pathology. After my analysis I decided to continue with my trip. I went shopping for food for the boys to have while I was away and left them some spending cash. With that I packed by backpack, threw on my hiking shoes and was off! Changing my flights around made for longer layovers but nothing major. I arrived mid-day in Kathmandu’s dusty little airport full of energy ready to explore. My guide met me just outside the airport and took me to my hotel. Once there I had a quick orientation with the trip organizer (there were supposed to be other hikers, but I was the only one that showed). After that I was off to meander down the streets of Kathmandu.  It was a densely packed maze of hand-built shops and restaurants. The streets were filled with people, the faint sound of Hindi music and a tantalizing sent of curry chicken wafting through the air. The city seemed as busy and tangled as the crazy jumbled and twisted powerlines that fed it.  I was completely happy just walking around silently absorbing the energy of the people, the music and the moment. I found a random spot and ordered some curry chicken. The curry filled my belly but everything in the environment fed my soul. On my way back to the hotel I grabbed an adapter for my phone and a couple other odds and ends.

I had to be up early for breakfast and our ride to Pokhara. We took a short walk to the bus that would drive us the six or so hours to Pokhara. It was a long, bumpy, yet uniquely beautiful ride. I have never truly been on a solo trip before. This was the first time that I didn’t have to maintain conversation or think about anything other than what I wanted to. I road the entire way simply observing and reflecting. It felt so calm like I was a lone speck in the middle of the ocean drift, just joyfully riding one wave after the other. Being lulled into an internal state of bliss by everything around me. We reached our destination and I was ecstatic. It was beautiful! Not as congested and dusty as the city and the air was fresh and crisp.

I checked into my room and took a few minutes to enjoy the view then I was off to explore the town and grab some dinner. My first stop was Phewa lake. I didn’t take a boat ride (there was one included with my trip, but I decided to do it after my trek through the mountains). On this day I just wandered about silently enjoying the reflection of the clouds on the lake. While I sat watching the clouds dance across the lake, I realized that there was nearly no one out and about that day. I began looking around and strolled down Lakeside rd. peeking into shops and choosing a bistro for dinner. As I took my seat on the rooftop patio it was impossible to miss the fact that I was the only person in the restaurant.  Chatting with my waiter about the beautiful flowers that adorned the patio and the lack of customers I was informed that this was actually high season and normally the area would be filled with pedestrians.   Precautions and fear of Corona Virus had transformed the city into a ghost town. Many of the hotels that would have been filled to capacity now only held one or two visitors. If you found yourself in this same situation you may have been a bit fearful but frankly, I kind of enjoyed the idea of having the city to myself. Well I enjoyed until I had conversations with various venders and the concierge in the hotel lobby.

They all told tales of the impending struggles being caused by the lack of patrons. Most venders were making absolutely no money, and many would have to permanently have to close their business if this situation persisted. The hotels were struggling to meet the mortgage payments, and all were fearful about the state of their fragile economy post corona. What would be left of the city and how would people survive? I bought a few things here and there but mostly just sat listening to people as they emotionally shared their stories with me. I knew that I alone was not going to resuscitate their dying economy and felt genuine compassion and empathy for the struggle that was to come.

After dinner I returned to my hotel and prepared my daypack for my journey into the solitude Himalayan mountains. I would be spending the next five days, just my guide and I, hiking from village to village. I would be totally removed from the daily virus updates and have no contact with the outside world for that entire time. I was turning off all the noise, all the repeated tales of panic, and visual displays of anger over who got the last pack of tissue. Some of my friends don’t understand how I could allow myself to be in a situation where I wasn’t informed. The perspective I took was that whatever was to come over those next few days was going to come weather I knew all the details or had watched hours of news. I would simple see how things were going when I got back and handle any situations as needed. Some asked me “what about your kids?” and honestly, I had some slight concerns in that area. The funny thing was that I didn’t fear that they would run out of food or if they would get the virus. Most of my thoughts were about what others would say and what kind of mother they would believe me to be since I was not overly concerned about my boys. I sat quietly clearing what I like to call the precrimes (from the movie Minority Report). You know all the visions of side eyes and imagined catty whispers about my parental abilities that had yet to happen but that I believed were sure to come. I sat in that room looking out at all the stars in the night sky, I breathed deeply, and fell into a much-needed peaceful sleep. My mind, body, and soul were ready.

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