Friday, July 6, 2012


We've been back in the U.S.A. for over one month now, and it's time to finish our travel blog! We were fortunate to find internet in many strange places along our journey, though it became scarce towards the end. Please read on, as our journey continued into Nepal!

March-April 2012
Whitney: We just got back from 18 days of trekking through the highest Apu's on Earth, the Himalayas!

Jonah: Nepal has been gorgeous.  We arrived in Kathmandu and after a few days found out where we wanted to go in the mountains. So many different trails to take.

Whitney: We decided to start from the old trail in Jiri and to walk each day for about 6 hours to the village we would sleep in each night. It took 9 days by foot to reach Namche Bazaar which is the beginning of the trek to Everest base camp.

Jonah: We walked for about 19 days, and saw some of the most spectacular things. From Jiri to Namche, the start of our journey, we walked through enchanting Rhododendron forests in full bloom (Jan you would have loved the flowers we'll show you pictures when I return), we saw so much farm/family life, as fields were etched in the side of hills. It was a real Nepal lifestyle/cultural immersion. It was also by far the most up and down and up and down again hiking we have ever done, yet it prepared us for the later trek up to Gokyo. In Namche we met our friend Pasangs family. What an amazing family they are, they welcomed us in and we felt at home.

Instead of going to Everest Base Camp from Namche Bazaar we chose to go to Gokyo Ri. We chose Gokyo because the View of Everest was said to be breathtaking, the lakes at Gokyo are very sacred, and there were supposed to be less people than the Everest Base Camp trek. All turned out to be true. From Namche we climbed. We were climbing from 12,000 feet onward, and needed to go slowly as not to succumb to altitude sickness, so we took many rests and took in the views of all the soaring high mountains. Eventually we reached Gokyo. A dreamland of ice and snow covered lakes, where silence greets you and beauty takes a hold of your heart.

Whitney: Gokyo is a ridge at over 17,000 feet high, so walking the whole way really helped us acclimatize. Meals were simple, nature was vast, the air was clean and it felt really good.

Jonah: In the morning after reaching Gokyo, we climbed up and saw the panorama of Everest, and many of the other highest peaks of the world. There we had a ceremony for Dad and scattered his ashes. A wonderful moment, to see dreams open up into reality.

Whitney: Gokyo was a very challenging climb for me. We woke up that morning before sunrise and made our way out into the frigid morning. The stars were out, and the mountains loomed like dark shadows. We didn't know exactly where we were going. We had thought that the path would be more obvious, that others would be seen with flashlights making the early morning hike. We had no such guidance. Eventually we found our way to the trailhead and started the long ascent. We made it a little less than halfway up Gokyo Ri when the sun rose over the not-so-distant Everest region mountains. It was a glorious sight, though made blurry through my morning grogginess. Halfway to the top in another 15 minutes we heard the sounds of other trekkers below. I know it's not a race, but we happened to be the first on the mountain, and I really wanted to spend time on the top in silence. The next 30 minutes had me panting and heaving as the highest altitude of my life combined with early morning exhaustion wore me down. And then ten trekkers gained and passed us on the mountain. It was the strangest feeling. An indignant feeling was born, as though by right of firsts we should have been able to experience the peace and quiet of the sacred mountain. No such luck. They were European  travelers, many from France and German, all loudly talking and laughing, snapping photos with their heavy lensed cameras, outfitted in still new, still clean clothes. We tried our best to find our sacred moments of silence by climbing over crags near to the prayer flags. Jonah scattered the ashes of his Father, and we threw Tibetan bread to the many types of crows. A trekker came by and took pictures loudly exclaiming about the multitude of black birds diving for the bread. We looked out onto the horizon and sat for longer than many of the people stayed.

Seeing Sagar Mata (Everest) was really strange. She sits high up among all these other tall tall mountains. More mountains than you can count, and it reminded me a lot of Alaska. I had always pictured Everest alone, by herself, tall and proud.  Instead, she is wedged in between a line of other slightly shorter sister goddesses. It's funny to come to Nepal, trek for nine days, then say "okay... which ones Everest?" We watched the sun change the shape of the clouds and the shadows on Sagar Mata and the other Himalayan high mountains. We counted our many blessings, and started the long descent, and long walk back to Namche Bazaar.

On the way back to Namche we decided to go through Khumjung, which sits above Namche. While walking the last few hours we were enveloped in a deep myst and fog. The fog parted in a valley and revealed the National bird of Nepal, the Danphe. We hadn't seen any pictures of the Danphe before, and thought it looked like a peacock with shorter and brighter feathers. It was an amazing moment.

Jonah: After our last night in Namche Bazaar we journeyed back making our way to Lukla airport where most people start there trip instead of doing the long walk we had chosen. We flew over the mountains we had once climbed and in an hour were back in Kathmandu, it felt like cheating to the two of us. We enjoyed meeting more of PJ's family and spending more time with them in Kathmandu. Eventually we left Kathmandu for Pokhara, a beautiful lakeside town.

Whitney: More to be added on Pokhara and the last legs of our transition from Nepal to India! Stolen wallet, long bus rides, Varanasi, and more to come!

Travel certainly has etched new elements into our character, brought loneliness, adventure, and so much exhilaration. And we have undoubtedly learned what it means to push forward when we have wanted to turn back :-) Thanks to our friends and family who have supported our amazing adventures!

Friday, April 6, 2012

Update and THAILAND!

Hi friends and family,

Writing March 19th, 2011:

It's been a while! We've been keeping busy, and now are resting at the top of the World. We had our first sighting of Everest today! It was pretty exciting since we have been hiking for 9 days at high elevation from early morning to evening. We started our trek or hike as we say in the U.S. in Shivalaya and finally made our way to Namche Bazaar. If you're not familiar, you should google map our trek. Pretty crazy stuff, but really beautiful. We have many photos, but sadly Jonah did not think we would have a good internet connection. Who knew you could find nice computers and even wifi at one of the remotest and literally highest posts of the World? So photos will come later. Before I get ahead of myself with the Himalayan adventures, we'd like to update y'all on our adventures through Thailand. It's nice to go through things in chronological order :))

Our last blog post ended at Auroville. So much has happened since then!

Writing April 4th, 2011:

Whitney: We are in Pokhara, Nepal about a 6 hours bus ride west of Kathmandu. Pokhara is a lovely place situated on the Phewa Lake, Nepal's second largest lake. Its calm and quiet here with many nice restaurants, and tourist friendly streets, which come as a relief to us, it seems like a good time to relax and process the last 7 months of traveling.Nepal and Thailand have been stunning.

The flight to Thailand was shorter than I had imagined, and before we knew it we had flown from South India to Chiang Mai, a very different locale indeed. There may not be two more different parts of Asia for us to see such a contrast. The poverty and low standards of living in South India were starkly contrasted with Thailand. I was in ecstasy the first time we looked at the bathroom in our guesthouse. "You mean there are hot water heaters in every bathroom?? Hot shower?? For free?!!" And then there is the food... Oh the Thai food! Heavenly coconut Tom Ka soup, young green coconut juice, mango STICKY RICE! And, to top it off, the streets were clean, the ice cubes were edible, I could have ICE! AND in Chiang Mai there are cheap thai massage venues on every street, and I do mean every street. So, Thailand was every bit it's own culture shock for us. I liked it, I loved it. And yet, now that we are in Nepal, somewhat similar to Indian culture in many ways, Thailand feels like a dream. Almost as though I can't believe we were there, in the chilled out tropics, for a whole month. Yes, we were, and are, blessed.

We arrived in Chiang Mai the day before the annual flower festival, which is also one of the largest Orchid flower festivals in the World! We saw the parade, complete with Thai beauty pageant, and strolled amongst the orchid prize stands. Tiny tiny orchids the size of which could fit in a two year olds palm, and massive blooms the size of my face, all the different shapes and colors I had never even imagined existed in flowers, and they were right there about 10 blocks from our guesthouse. The royal Flora gardens were a strange place to wander on one of our day trips. Like a theme park without rides, and frankly without many nice flowers. They had sections that were supposed to represent some different countries of the World and their unique flora, but it was poorly done, and the one for Canada was so funny because they were selling waffles with syrup of all things. Random. Some things we did like about the Royal Flora park was it's weird light show at the end of the night, it's semi-believable "Go Green" theme, and the giant paper lanterns we sent off into the twinkling night sky at the end.

Chiang Mai was a nice place to spend a week, and I (Whitney) was able to recover from a nasty lung infection alla South India. While in Chiang Mai Jonah and I were able to do some much needed research on the rest of our Thailand trip possibilities. We decided to head North to Chiang Dao and do our second trek of our trip. Chiang Dao mountain is the third highest in Thailand, and we heard from many people that you should only go if you will be camping, and that a guide and porter are highly recommended. We thought camping was a fun idea, but we wanted to save some money by doing it ourselves. We arrived in Chiang Dao area and found a great guesthouse away from the small town. There we met a young couple, one local Thai woman and her German husband baker, they were really amazing and helpful. They encouraged us to go it alone, rented us a tent, and later helped us find some less expensive Thai islands to go to.

First though, we heard there was a music festival going on nearby called "Shambhala in the heart," which ended up being a very interesting time. Jonah and I spent our second night at the festival, camping amongst a hundred or so Japanese hippies, many of whom were sleeping in giant tepees. That night we also witnessed our first ever all Japanese boy-band salsa group... Very very strange! Chiang Dao was full of surprises. The following day we left the hazy festival for Chiang Dao mountain, which is far outside the town so we ended up renting a motorcycle and driving through the jungle landscape to the park ranger station. There we were issued permits and started our ascent on the steepest road Jonah or I have ever ridden on, and this was with both our backpacks and tent on! Jonah gripping the handle bars with the weight of me, our backpacks, the tent, and the force of gravity all hanging onto him. It was absolutely un-real how steep this road lined with Banana trees and tropical flora was. Where were we going? Would we even make it? We were off the beaten track most definitely. We made it... fwewww... Annnd we found a place to leave our motorcycle for a couple of days, by divine grace a big party was pulling into a village house somewhat near to the trail and were amiable enough to let us leave it in their lot. We re-stocked on water for the trek, as the days were really heating up around that region, and we set off on our trek a little later than we had planned, around 1PM. The hottest part of the day was probably not the best time to set out, but we had underestimated the amount of driving time necessary. All we set out with information wise was a tiny overhead map on my iPod, and the words "when you come to the signs in Thai, always go left." The first day we really had no idea how long we would have to walk in order to reach the campsite, as the only information online was given by an expert trekker, a very fast expert trekker. And so we set out and hastened our steps. At this point neither Jonah nor I had done much trekking for a while so we weren't in the best of shape, but the lowering sun on the horizon kept us moving. We reached the first camp site around 4:30PM, though we didn't know until the next day that it was only the first of many sites we could have camped at... woopsies. We passed through huge bamboo groves, a large field of wild banana trees, tall grasses, and large trees dotted the hillsides. It was beautiful. The bird-songs were amazing, and we saw no-one, which was great! And a little scary too. Were we alone in the jungle wilderness? The night was really cold, but the stars that came out so clearly made it all worth it. The next day we summited Chiang Dao, and sheepishly walked passed many other campsites in use by Europeans with guides and porters. They were a little surprised to see us "wanderers" in them parts alone, but the guides were impressed by our ability to get that far, so one took sympathy and told us the right trail to take to the top, which was really the only confusing bit of the trek. The views from the top were AMAZING! We took many photos which I will upload at a later time. All in all, we highly recommend doing this trek, and taking a recorder with you to remember the birdsong later.

We made it back to the village and left for Pai within two days. Pai was just a place we were passing through to reach the Burmese border villages however, and besides being a very touristy hippy sort of place one could relax in, we don't have much to tell about it. We left Pai for Mae Hong Son via a tiny tourist van, and the windiest road that we have ever ever been on! In Mae Hong Son Jonah even bought a T-Shirt which describes the turns in number which one takes on the journey between the two locations. I almost threw up... And I don't get car sick... Susan, you would've been outa luck! Mae Hong Son was very nice, and even now there is something I miss about it. It was very Asian, in the way that we slept in rooms with thin bamboo walls, with windows overlooking a very beautiful park in front of a lake, in front of a buddhist temple. Each afternoon the park would fill with ladies of all ages who would perform some traditional Qigong moves to a very old recording of Chinese music with a squeaky eeky voice which would eep out the directions. I even saw a few women wearing mumus and hair curlers! So cute! After dusk would fall a couple of young Thai Indie singers would strum guitar and sing "Sawasdee Kap! Sawasdee Ka...." in front of the temple, and a large night market would start up along the main roads of the town.

We liked Mae Hong Son very much, but were determined to make it to Mae Sot, or "little Burma." Annnnd to get to Mae sot, from Mae Hong Son you have to take the red pickup truck taxi called  "Songthaew," whih is an adventure in itself, as the trip takes about 6 hours. Honestly though, it wasn't so bad. We enjoyed seeing the locals, the villagers with their vegetables and giant bags piling up in the back of the truck. We had bench seats to sit on, and smiled when the new people would jump on and the others would jump off. It seemed we were the only tourist types to travel that way for a long time, and we liked that. We passed the Burmese refugee camps at one point and saw how the simple huts were crammed together for miles on end. There must have been thousands living there from the number of roofs we saw spanning the distance. That really brought it home for us. In Chiang Mai we had seen the movie "The Lady" which happened to be about the situation in Burma and Aung San Suu Kyi, who was and now is again (yay!) the rightfully and Democratically elected leader of Burma. It's now one of my favorite movies, and I recommend it to everyone! The best thing about that movie is that it is hopeful, not tragic, and what's best is that between the time we saw it in Chiang Mai, and now, Aung San Suu Kyi has been re-elected and is now assuming power in Burma! This is a great article from CBS on the issue if you want to read more, and here's a nice snippet from it I liked:

"The former junta had kept Suu Kyi imprisoned in her lakeside home for the better part of two decades. When she was finally released in late 2010, just after a general election that was deemed by most as neither free nor fair, few could have imagined she would so quickly make the leap from democracy advocate to elected official — opening the way for a potential presidential run in 2015.

But Burma has changed dramatically over that time. The junta finally ceded power last year, and although many of its leaders merely swapped their military uniforms for civilian suits, they went on to stun even their staunchest critics by releasing political prisoners, signing cease-fires with rebels, relaxing press censorship and opening a direct dialogue with Suu Kyi, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 while under house arrest."

So at the time we decided not to go into Burma because we didn't want to support the military regime, but now if we went back, I think we might consider going to visit. We are both hoping and praying that she will win the Presidential election of 2015!!

We left Mae Sot and traveled for the first time to the mega city of Bangkok via VIP overnight bus, which is quite the opposite experience from Indian local! Can you say thank Goddess there's a bathroom on board?!! Yes!

Jonah: In BKK we certainly felt the bustle of a BIG city. Pushed our way through the tourist packed street of Khao San road, ate our fill at the kings old chefs restaurant, felt the culture shock of Bangkok's mega million dollar malls, watched a Hollywood movie in a massive/plush movie theater.

The Islands were wonderful! The first we went to was little Koh Chang, a recommendation by a lovely German man and his Thai wife, two bakers we met in Chiang Dao when we hiked Chiang Dao Mt. and stayed at their families Guest House. The Island is located in the Northern Andaman Coast. It had a very laid back feel, partly because of its seclusion, size and having no roads on it. We stayed in a simple Bungalow, in one of the Islands small resorts if you can call them that. The water was not clear nor the sand perfect white, yet that's not really the draw of the island. It was more the place to get away from the development, sit under some palm trees or swing in a hammock. We spent only a few days there and then traveled down the coast to Lao Liang Island. Lao Liang is a part of the Trang Islands, near to Krabi. Lao Liang is a tiny Island with a small stretch of perfect white sand, and clear blue water. The reason we went here is because its supposed to be one of the best places in Thailand to snorkel right off the beach. The fish were spectacular! Beautiful Clown fish families, Regal Tang, Moorish Idol, Small Puffer Fish ect. There is only one resort on the Island and you stay in big tents with beds and electricity, it was fun. We also took a long Kayak ride to a nearby Island and snorkeled there as well. Unfortunately about 3 years back there was a big coral bleaching that took place one hot summer. Because of this almost all of Thailand's soft coral is now grey. We sadly could really see global warmings affect on the sea life, as beautifully brightly colored fish swam past grey corals. However not all the corals were grey, in some areas we saw beautiful hard corals that still had their pinks, reds, and purples.

Whitney: While at that island Jonah lost his choco sandals to the sea while hoisting the kayak into a boat that luckily was headed all the way back to our island, and was helpful to give us a ride back. Otherwise we would have missed the boat back to the mainland, and our quick flight back to Bangkok. The next day after we arrived in Bangkok from the islands we were off again, this time to the mountainous region of Nepal.

It seemed all too surreal, how did the time go by so slowly in South India, and so quickly in Thailand. I can feel myself begin to pout even as I sit in the beautiful Pokhara, Nepal... How strange is travel! We will definitely be going back to Thailand someday...

Next blog post already in the works will be an exclusive on NEPAL!!!!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

New Pictures of India

I've finally wisened up to the uses of Flickr. since photobucket has been ridiculously slow since the start. So, please enjoy the slideshow of our time in India! I will be adding more pictures to it soon!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Auroville, City of Dawn, City of Confusion

Well, one thing about writing this post is especially convenient, our time in Auroville is coming to a close in two days, so we can really be accurate in our overall perceptions of this very unique place.

Whitney: Five years ago I went into Whole Foods Market in the Pearl District of downtown Portland and bought some Maroma incense. Maroma is one of the best I've ever come across, and they always have a tiny insert with information about the product, and also mention Auroville. As soon as I read even that small blurb about Auroville I said " This place sounds amazing! I have to find out more!" Little did I know then that I would make the trip to India and be fortunate enough to volunteer and live here for two months. It's amazing how these things can happen.
Auroville was founded in 1968 by The Mother, who was a woman of jewish heritage from France. Mirra Alfassa came to India, and here she met the political and spiritual philosopher Sri Aurobindo (hence Auroville's name). Sri Aurobindo was also a great poet and writer, and his main teachings from my perspective seem to be that spiritual truths unite us, while religious dogma separates us. Of course he also believed in love and the pursuit of higher consciousness as every other guru touts too. I started reading The Mother's teachings in the U.S., and I found her much more approachable. Perhaps her more famous quotes are descriptions of her vision for Auroville: 

"Auroville wants to be a universal town where men and women of all countries are able to live in peace and progressive harmony above all creeds, all politics and all nationalities. The purpose of Auroville is to realize human unity." 

Auroville Charter

  1. Auroville belongs to nobody in particular. Auroville belongs to humanity as a whole. But to live in Auroville, one must be a willing servitor of the Divine Consciousness.
  2. Auroville will be the place of an unending education,
    of constant progress, and a youth that never ages.
  3. Auroville wants to be the bridge between the past and the future. Taking advantage of all discoveries from without and from within, Auroville will boldly spring towards future realizations.
  4. Auroville will be a site of material and spiritual researches for a living embodiment of an actual Human Unity. 

Sri Aurobindo and The Mother have both passed on, The Mother in 1978. One of my questions in coming here was how is Auroville doing on it's own? Is it sticking to The Mother's vision? If so/not how is it differing? 

The Mother wanted Auroville to be completely free of money, any monetary system, to be a place where Karma Yoga or voluntary service is done on all levels, and a place of free education for all people at any stage of life and in whatever area they chose to learn about. These are things I dream of too, though these are dreams far from the reality of what has happened with the rest of the World. I can say that Auroville is currently only following some of The Mother's wishes, though I do believe in the potential of Auroville to fulfill it's purpose eventually. 

Our first weeks in Auroville were not what we expected, even though we didn't know what to expect. We were without a doubt under-whelmed. Auroville does not blossom overnight for many travelers, we were to find out. It's strange because Auroville seems to have many many things geared towards tourism, even a big visitors center, where you can walk through a small gallery with information. But, that's the problem. We didn't come to Auroville to walk through museums about it, we came to volunteer our time and enrgy, to see if this place could inspire us, to find understanding, and to make friends with the land, and people. Staying in Center Guesthouse (in the center of Auroville of course) was absolutely convenient, and we did make some very good friends because of that location, but the only true Aurovillians we met while there was a guide for a bicycle tour we signed up for. We really were feeling and asking "where's the real Auroville?" And another thing, The Mother wanted Auroville to be a place without capitalism or money, but everything here costs so much! So, we felt very confused about the whole thing the first couple of weeks.

Enter our volunteer experiences with the Auroville Kindergarten. We had been trying, without success, to arrange for volunteer work for at least four months, and had sent several e-mails to the kindergarten expressing interest. A connection from our Mill Valley fund-raising concert had come through with an e-mail of a woman architect in Auroville. She actually went to the kindergarten for us before we arrived, and we finally received an e-mail back. Eventually we made our way to a scheduled teachers meeting, and after they saw we were good people, they invited us to start assisting two of the teachers. We were there Monday through Friday, 8:30AM-1PM every week. I was assisting children around the age of 5, and Jonah age 6. It was really wonderful for us to experience the changes of the children's moods day to day, and to learn how to feel compassion when they acted out ;)

Jonah (Starting where Whitney left off)

Volunteering at the Kindergarten really allowed the doors to open in AV. And when I say doors I mean both my heart as well as the heart of Aurovillians. We were able to really serve, and see great insights in how Aurovillians have been putting into place the visions of The Mother and Sri Aurobindo. One Small example is that when the children begin there day and when the teachers meetings begin, they start with a short meditation or "Consintration" is the word they prefer in AV. The children are told to imagine they are silent mountains, focus on the there breathe, and the candle+flowers in the center of the circle. As I sat with children every morning I noticed the beauty that they held and how this concentration truly had a calming affect on each one of them. This also was true to the concentration held in the teachers meetings. Although only for 1 Min or 30 sec, it takes baby steps to reach the goal, Unity. Big smiles, laughter, running around, fighting and small conflicts were presented every day. It was work. But who says that work can't be enjoyable? One of the greatest lessons I took away and am still reminding my self every day is that, you cant teach children anything. So how then? Instead of teaching, you create a loving space, allowing them to teach themselves and if they fall, give them another option, another way to reach there goal. If I could embody this teaching alone, wow what progress I would truly make. This teaching has also been one that has presented itself to me in meditation recently, that is, calm my mind, open up space within (simply by allowing) and let the divine do the rest. Because what can we really do anyway, there always seems to be a larger grace making this whole creation flow. Making it flower, fall and flower again.

This past month has brought many challenges/ opportunities to grow. One of which came in the form of a natural disaster, a cyclone. Whitney and I heard whispers of the approaching Cyclone, whispered on the gentle, still air before the storm. And it CAME. We were eating lunch at a cafe set in a forested outdoor setting and were forced inside the small kitchen of the place do to the pouring rain. In candle light we and the rest of the pack in 35 others finished our lunch. Then with a short break in the storm Whitney and I hopped on the Motor Cycle and rode through the thick, soon to be thinned and drastically re-arranged forest leading back to our guest house. Eventually night fell and with it, over one million tress. You see, Auroville used to be a desert. But, with the hands of hundreds and later thousands of humans, comming from over 124 diffrent countries, Auroville with Mother Earths blessings has taken this once desert and made it in to a giant forest. A forest of once over 2 million trees until the Cyclone which uprooted and broke over half of the two million. That night was the first grand scale natural disasters I have ever expeirenced, and wow how humbling it really was. Our guest house had no windows, which has its pluses because that means no broken glass, but what did happen was that we really felt as if we were right in the middle of the spinning vortex of wind and water, the vortex forcasters called "Thane". The wind and water consumed our small guest house that night, yet we both managed to live through it. No one in Auroville was injured, and only a few houses were really devestated by the storm. Unfortunatly this was not the case for the people of Pondicherry and the villages living closer to the coast. There the winds were almost double the speed and as news papers reported around 100 people were killed. 

 Whitney: The cyclone was pretty raw, and getting up the next morning after no sleep, the winds were still blowing in the downpour till late in the day. But the communities quick recovery and good spirits was absoluteley amazing. And really, there's probably no place safer from a natural disaster than the place one just happened. The unlikelihood of lightning striking twice and all. So, our tale will end here today, and we will pick up on the next blog about our circular trip through south India last week, and our fairwells to Auroville. 

Au revoir nous aimons!

Whitney and Jonah