Pretty quickly we fell into a rhythm of stuff management, repacking our sleeping bags, duffle and daypacks each morning. Then we could move on to more important matters, tuning in to the sweetness of local seabuckthorn juice, the vivid hues of jungle foliage, the subtleties of seasoning in a cup of masala tea, the creaking of prayer wheels as we entered each new village. My head was always full, even if my mousse-less hair was not.
After a few days of going native, we stayed at a teahouse that boasted a warm shower with a mirror hung on a post outside. I looked at myself in the slightly wavy glass: tangled hair pulled back from a sunburned face, pale eyes set among a network of tiny wrinkles.
“My goodness,” I thought, “I’m turning into Jane Goodall.”
I’ve always admired anthropologist Jane Goodall and her work with wild chimpanzees in Tanzania. But the woman is 22 years older than me. And she’s lived much of her life among monkeys.
It was disconcerting to realize that, when unadorned, I look like an aging field primatologist, a flower child gone to seed, or someone’s Earthship-dwelling eccentric great-aunt. I tried to think in terms of an aged wise woman, not a wizened bag lady. I vowed to minimize my mirror time while trekking and to remember that Jane Goodall (now 79) might never make the cover of Vogue, but she was named a UN Messenger of Peace.
So I embraced my inner and outer Jane Goodall and lost myself in trekking. Everything was intense and new: the dense yak cheese, constant sweat, bells of approaching donkey trains, smell of burnt offerings at Hindu altars, buzz of nighttime mosquitoes, zing of fresh ginger. I learned to squat comfortably over the toilet holes, eat garlic soup, and trade “Namastes” with the shy-friendly Nepali people. And each day we got a little higher in elevation, closer to the mythical Thorung-La, stronger and more confident. Though my steps slowed and my breaths quickened as we neared 18,000 feet, the pass itself was almost anticlimactic after the huge anticipation.
Our two-week trek ended at a luxury hotel in Pokhara, where our bag of extravagances awaited us (clean underwear! iPod! earrings!). I took a luxuriant shower and slept under fresh sheets to the hum of an air conditioner. Heavenly. But over the next few days, pampered and reclaiming the accoutrements of civilization, I realized I missed the intimacy, intensity and earthiness of trekking.
Perhaps I have more in common with Jane Goodall than I realized.