The twelfth day of the hike began with some bittersweet goodbyes. Michael and his wife Donna began the trip with the intention of splitting off and completing the Snowman Trek. Our hike included five large mountain passes. Snowman, which is considered to be the most difficult trek in the world, mirrors our walk until a left turn takes the walkers to five more passes. Donna decided to stay with our group so we all bid farewell to her husband and our beloved guide Haba. The entire group dynamic changed with the addition of a new guide and the seeds for drama were sown.
Our new leader did not follow any of the established footsteps of his predecessor. Our departure times, break times, meal times, and educational lectures were all tossed into the wind. Change is always hard so I tried to chalk this up as a learning experience. One night our camp was so small that our tents nearly touched each other is a small soggy field covered with horseshit. On the positive side of things, the freezing temperatures killed all of the leeches that are notorious at this particular location. On that night, we held a vote that tore our group apart for the remainder of the trip.
During dinner, the guides offered two possible campsites for the last day of the trek. The first option was to stay at the planned spot. This was a campground on a hill above Gasa situated by an ancient monastery and included a car ride to a local hot spring. The second required an additional hour of walking and would end up at the hot spring. The vote was six to two and not much thought was given to the outcome. At breakfast the next morning, a distinct chill of animosity raised its ugly head. The two in the minority were upset and decided to share their disappointment by not talking to the other trekkers for the next few days. It was third grade on steroids.
I had my kindle for the entire trip and was reading The New Earth by Eckhart Tolle. In this spiritual book, he explains how the ego likes to associate with drama to give itself meaning and purpose. Prior to my walk on the Camino de Santiago, I often found myself orchestrating the choir of drama. Realizing that is serves no useful purpose, I was able to use this as an opportunity to divorce myself from other people’s problems by staying present in the moment. I did feel compassion for their discomfort but not let it infect my happiness on this incredible journey.
Our final night on the trial culminated with a long drive to the famous hot springs. The shower was a large square block filled with water. Each wall of the square had three tubes with flowing water. Sitting on the ground, the water hit me in the middle of my back. Not a Four Seasons, but surely a huge improvement from previous baths in the frigid rivers. The five hot pools were all made of wood and varied in temperature. My final ten minutes in the hot water was spent in a deep mediation. We drove back to the camp for our final night of sleep in a tent. Five feet from my tent flap, I smashed my toe into a stake resulting in a broken toe. Shit happens!
I woke on my final day in a tent to the actual sound of monks chanting. Breakfast was a child’s dream with pancakes and french fries. We loaded into two separate cars (based on how we voted) and drove to civilization. The last three days were spent in three larger cities including Punakha, Thimphu, and Paro. We visited temples, Dzongs, museums, and monasteries. Out final tourist attraction was a visit to the oldest monastery (7th century) in Bhutan.
Most of us had our final goodbyes at the airport in Bangkok. I am single and fiercely independent, so cutting the cord to the group was quite relieving. To be able to choose what, when, and where to eat-sleep-walk-think was a forgotten simple pleasure. I ended up spending a final week in a spectacular hotel in Phuket Thailand. The place had eight rooms and I was the only guest for the entire week. At the tail end of the rainy season, my room was $130 per night. In peak time, the same room is $500 per night. I have never experienced luxury at this level. Breakfast by the infinity pool followed by a short walk to the beach for two hours of Thai massage. Life does not get better.
I am a very fortunate person to be able to experience these journeys. Walking through the Himalayas and being so near to the birth place of Buddhism gives me intense goosebumps. The beauty and grandeur of the mountains cannot be shared through photographs. The walking was not only physically demanding but also required tremendous thought. 80% of my steps required cognizant thought to make sure my foot landed in a safe place. This was a great lesson in being present but made me yearn for the long smoother trails in Spain. The opposite was true on that trail with 80% of my steps being mindless which fostered a perfect environment for a walking meditation. For that reason, I recently booked another ticket to Spain and will revisit my love from May 13-June 22.
The stars rarely align to allow a person to take this kind of journey. Think about reaching up and creating your own constellations!
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