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Published: January 4th 2008
Getting inspiration from the Himalayas
During our trip we meet many great people. Sometimes we not just meet but also manage to travel together. Rick and Forrest are great example of this. These Alaskan are father and son. We met them in Pakistan and ended up traveling Tibet together. Here is a text Forrest wrote us after we split in Nepal.
Forrest, thanks for the text! Safe trips!
Claudio and Fernando
"We met Fernando, Claudio, and Lily, in Karimabad, Pakistan. My father, Rick, and I had spent a couple of nights in the Old Hunza Inn already, and were accustomed to "communal dinners" which were, at that late point in the tourist season, lonely affairs. So it was with eagerness that we walked into the dining room one night to find the three of them sitting down to eat. A second glance, though, made me reconsider. One of the men, it was clear, was insane. He had bright eyes and laughed a lot and seemed too cheerful to be entirely healthy. The other man appeared to be a pirate: he had shoulder length curly hair and a moustache and goatee stolen directly from seventeenth century France. And the girl was morose bordering on suicidal.
Speaking to these odd three, however, turned out to be a joy. The crazy one--Fernando, of course--kept up a running string of commentary on...well, I'm not entirely sure what. Everything. But he was FUNNY. And Claudio the pirate added motions and facial expressions to Fernando's narration that made eating difficult through the laughter. After a few minutes, Lily seemed to wake up and began adding acerbic comments in all the right places. The trio could have been a rehearsed act.
We were to learn later, of course, that Lily's reticence was a product of her unplanned week alone in Delhi and a hasty arrival in Pakistan. And that the brothers' mental unrest was caused by a week of frantic battle with immigration officials and visas in a gallant attempt to save Lily.
Several nights we ate together, and at each meal we liked the "dos hermanos y una chiquita bonita" a bit more. Further conversation revealed that both us and them planned on taking the same route: over the Khunjerab Pass into China, through Kashgar and Urumqi to Golmud, then to Lhasa by train, and finally across the Tibetan Plateau into Nepal.
I became very sick. The trio left and we exchanged email addresses so that they could keep us informed of just what the hassles with the Chinese bureaucracy would prove to be.
I recovered and we got quickly on our way: and soon found that we were only three days behind. We ended up catching them in Dunhuang, but only for about five minutes. They then caught the bus to Golmud to try to get tickets to Lhasa--something which seemed very unlikely to happen. See, the Chinese government had just announced that no new permits would be issued for Lhasa for another week and a half: and the possibility of getting on the train without a permit was very slim. If we were going to be trapped somewhere for a week waiting for permits, Dad and I both agreed Dunhuang would be a better place than the frontier sprawl of Golmud. But the hermanos and Lily were ballsier than us. "Hell," they said, "we'll give it a shot."
That night we got an email: they'd gotten tickets without a problem, and would be on the morning's train. We caught the sleeper bus and arrived in Golmud late on the day they left. Keeping our heads down and pretending we weren't wearing Gor-tex, we went to the ticket counter and asked for two tickets for Lhasa, which we got. We came back to the train station as the train pulled in, and went through security as nonchalantly and inconspicuously as possible. The plan was to walk on the train immediately, thereby spending as little time as possible in the terminal where we were susceptible to the unwanted attentions of the police. (Not only were we traveling without a permit, but we were also smuggling several knives onboard: but that is another story altogether.) So we walked immediately to the barrier and handed out tickets to the ticket collector. He looked at them and handed them back. Shit, we thought, we've been caught. "Not train," he said. "Next one."
We sighed our relief and lay down on the benches, pulling out jackets over our faces trying not to stand out and in the effort standing out immensely.
But we were lucky and, despite running into several German men on the train dressed only in black satin panties, we arrived in Lhasa without a hitch.
Lhasa is a city both of tragedy and of hope. It is, on the one hand, a large and commercialized Chinese city. (We met a German diplomat who remarked offhand on Chinese cities: "They are all the same. All ugly, all big, all loud. They suck." I paraphrase.) There is a Chinese flag flying from the highest turret of the Potala, the traditional seat of Tibetan authority. There are security cameras surrounding the Barkhor, the Tibetan quarter of town. The Jokhung, the monastery at the heart of the Barkhor, is subject to around the clock police surveillance, "just in case." Yet at the same time, pilgrims from all throughout Tibet come in all array of costume and manner, but all elated and honored to be in the once--and still--holy city. Laughter was everywhere, even as seas of prostrating pilgrims parted for police cruisers. Inside the Jokhung, an extremely confused policeman was handed a handful of lit incense by a monk, which he held, unsure how to proceed, for several minutes.
And then we reconnected with the three. We saw Fernando first, in a hat most commonly worn by old Chinese men and a pair of aviator sunglasses. Claudio came next wearing a massive army surplus down trench coat which Lily disparagingly referred to as "your Rusky coat, darling." And last came the chiquita herself, elegantly dressed in a windbreaker and jeans, looking positively normal. And so, as we walked, she led us at some distance--just to add respectability. For neither Dad nor myself were dressed quite sanely, either: I was wearing a chuba, the traditional Tibetan garment, and Dad was in the same trekking clothes he'd worn for the past month straight. The men of the party were, needless to say, a motley crew.
As we walked, a driver swerved and nearly hit one of us. Fernando leapt into the centre of the road and yelled loudly at the poor man for several seconds. The driver, very, very cowed, apologized and drove slowly on.
I was impressed. "You speak Chinese?" Dad asked.
"No," said Fernando wisely. "Only swear at someone in your own language. They always understand. And otherwise, you can mean to say, 'Fuck off asshole,' but accidentally say, 'I want to fuck your asshole.' Or something."
We decided to split the cost and rent a Landrover to get to the Nepali border. Thus, we spent the next week traveling with Lily, Claudio, and Fernando. In that time, it was reconfirmed again, again, and again, how wrong had been that first impression of mine. These three are wonderful. Fernando is entirely insane: insanely funny and insanely fun to be around. Claudio: no pirate, he. Noble to a fault and as kind-hearted as it is possible to be. And Lily, who I had taken for morose--no, if Lily was any fuller of joi-de-vivre, she would spontaneously combust of happiness.
And so for that week--there are travel details which I shall not render: the ruins at Gyantse; the moonlit walk across the plateau at New Tingri; the splendor of Everest; the lakes so blue it hurt to look upon them; the adventures in tolerance which were our contractual difficulties with the tour agency; and so on and so forth--but for that week, we enjoyed ourselves as thoroughly as it is possible to do. For we were in the most breathtaking country in the world with the loveliest companions for which one could ever ask.
So whoever's reading this about the hermanos: keep reading. Whatever they have to say, since they're saying it--it's worth listening to.
Carry on, bros."
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