• Heather O'Neal

Going Back to Nepal

Our adventure travel company, Of Global Interest LLC, has two trips planned for October 2016. I’ll make that — three trips — as I include my own.

We have four Returned Peace Corps Volunteers who were working in remote Nepal 35 years ago who are now on a reunion tour — heading back for the first time since serving their country as volunteers abroad. Their plan is to visit Pem’s village (my business partner), which requires a 10-hour jeep ride along a dirt and rocky road that follows just under the high winding ridges of the steep Himalayas. From there they will trek on foot a few days up to a nearby peak for Everest views and then to a small mountain airport, to fly back to Kathmandu.

Our second trip is a single trekker from Alaska. She will be hiking to Everest Base Camp, a 10 to 12 day journey from the tiny airport town of Lukla at 9,500 feet. The trail winds up and up and down and up again, through Solo Khumbu, the land of the Sherpa people in the Everest region of Nepal. Everest Base Camp is at 17,600 feet. The high point of her trek is Kalapatar at 18,300 feet, where trekkers find themselves surrounded by glistening, icy Himalayan peaks in all directions.

My plan is to trek five days along the Everest Base Camp route with the Alaskan trekker and then veer off the Everest trail toward Pem’s village, going overland with a porter another four days on foot. In his village I’ll meet the Returned Peace Corps Volunteers and spend a night with Pem and his family in the tiny town where he grew up. I have known Pem now 18 years, half his life. I’ve never been to his village. Finally, I hope to meet his parents!

I spent my junior year in Kathmandu, Nepal in 1986 to 87 through the University of Wisconsin. I was 20 years old, wide eyed, naive, young! I learned an encyclopedia daily while living there…. I learned about human nature, about society, civilization, politics, culture, customs, traditions, world religions, language, food — so many many things. I became a vegetarian soon after moving there — and it stuck. Thirty years later, I am still vegetarian. I could not — CANNOT — handle slabs of meat, fresh carcasses for all to see at those in-your-face butcher shop tables…on every corner in Kathmandu!

Twelve years later after my junior year, I returned to Nepal to find myself a fish out of water. In my mind I remembered the streets of the capital city as if it were yesterday when I was galavanting through them. I became completely disoriented, turned around and very much lost at every twelve, six and eight-way intersection. I was surprised by that. I didn’t imagine a place could change so much in a few short years.

I started this adventure travel company soon after that trip in 2000, mostly so I could make it my life’s work — hopefully paid work, that would enable me to go back to Nepal at least once a year, so I could see the vast and varied jumbled mess of changes more slowly over time, piece by piece, first hand. Between 2000 and 2009, I was going to Nepal twice a year, sharing my favorite country with fellow Americans on each trip — all while working with Pem as a guide.

Those years were the heyday of my life. Conveniently, I was able to see the world as I made my way around the world, getting to and from Nepal on each trip. I clocked many flight hours in small airplane window seats. I loved and reveled in every piece of it, exploring like a conquistador! Stopping in Bali, Bangkok, Bombay and at many of the world’s coastal beaches along the way. I claimed territory on each and every blank page of my extensive journal — absorbing all that the world had to offer me. Life at home was boring. America was familiar — just the same old, same old. Every flight and new airport lobby was the beginning of something big. Those were the days.

However, back then, between all those many moments and experiences, I dreamed of more — namely, a knight in shining armor. I dreamed of having a family. Would I ever possibly have a baby? I wanted to be a homemaker, doing all those tasks and chores my gender was pre-programed to do. My world had an empty place that widened between trips. I spent years searching for my Prince Charming. That mission kept me busy. Where, oh where, was he??!! I scoured the planet, looking.

In 2006, I turned 40. Fast skidding beyond the possibilities of my childbearing years — I met him. Or maybe — HE finally gave me the time of day — and we went on our first date! I talked non-stop, regaling all my stories of travel, adventure and entrepreneurship. He listened. “You’re it,” I thought. “I want to spend my life with you.” He was gentle and kind, successful, smart, handsome — what more could I ask for!?

Thus began our courtship which lasted a long time… And then a few miracles happened. We tied the knot. And at age 44 for me, three months shy of 45 — on the evening of March 29, 2011, I met my other Prince. Our beautiful, all natural, bouncing, round, baby boy was born. How did this happen? We had a son.

I love my little boy with all my heart. He started kindergarten a few weeks ago! He is my most beautiful artistic creation ever. How did this happen — this miracle — all the tiny miracles that make him the most amazing little person in the universe? I love him so much.

Thus, my more recent path has diverted me far from the snow-capped mountains of Nepal. These last seven years my journal pages have taken on an emotional hue. Now I write about the exotic places I find in the dusty corners of my mind, places illuminated by responsibilities and duties which dictate my actions and freedoms. I write of being a mom, of taking care of someone so especially dear to, and an extension of, my own heart. I write of deep love, of being an integral piece in the complex machinery that maintains another human being, of being so intimately tied to, and in awe of, a growing child! This experience has changed me. I am way more cautious now!

My last trip to Nepal was in 2009. That year I managed to bring home a dog from that far away country. Now he is our family dog, Khumbu. He reminds me daily of the past adventures I’ve walked. He has grounded me. He says, “Your free spirit makes me chew all the doors and windows of this house!” He says, “You must stay home! You must take care of me.” And as if he were my lucky charm, he helped me prepare for the unimaginable! As any mother will tell you, nothing can prepare you for having a child, but Khumbu did.

Khumbu is my link to my former life that is now a distant dream. I admit, I long for it.

So it has been swirling about my head that I should venture back to Nepal again. I recently bought a ticket that takes me from Detroit to Boston to Doha to Kathmandu. It is the shortest route I’ve ever taken — that takes me so far. I am going on my own this time, in hopes of bringing my husband and son with me on the next trip — to see the Himalayas, to see this magical place and culture, these mountain people and their traditions that have captivated me so completely the last 30 years.

I turned 50 this year. That alone is reason. It will be hard to leave. My family is my universe these days. I wonder how I will do with all the unseen dangers and uncertainties out there. I can’t think about those things or I am paralyzed — stuck at home. With global adventures on the horizon, I feel more alive. A mother needs such wind under her wings for grace and energy, for tackling the physical and emotional constraints of life's most important work — parenting. I am feeling more free now. My son and husband are, so far, thankfully, supportive. I must go.

So with that, I end my first blog post. It is my intention to share with you here, my upcoming journey. I leave tonight, September 26th! We’ll see what the world offers these days. So much the same — so much will be different.

With excitement,

Heather O’Neal

Of Global Interest Adventure Travel


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