The weight limit is 15kg. On top of this comes your share of the tent, and either a camping stove, a cooking pot, or the group shovel. (Needless to say there will be no bathroom facilities camping in the middle of nowhere.) Mountains trails are more difficult with every tube of face cream or clever gadget you so desperately want beside you. The evening before we – a group of 10 women – depart Kathmandu on a 16-day trek in the rural west of Nepal, there’s a shedding party like no other.
In a world where shopping is believed to be therapeutic and commodities promise to make us happy, I found it surprisingly easy to dump that extra soap bar, pair of socks, and packet of wipes I hauled all the way over here from Cape Town. While some are desperate for things, I was desperate to be rid of the stuff that weigh us down.
At 05:30 the next morning the hotel lobby is a mess of women organising packs, finding a spot for the last few things and haphazardly stuffing the rest into bags to be stored at the hotel. This heap of unwanted extras include our phones, tablets, laptops, and all electronics except for one shared camera. I even leave my watch. Two weeks isn’t long, but most of us can’t remember when last we had a digital detox of more than a few hours. Absolutely no contact with our moms, boyfriends, or besties was unheard of.
Heavy with lightness
Having my life on my back is both heavy and light. A tortoise of sorts, my navy shell holds everything I need to be warm, fed, clothed, and comfortable camping in the wilderness and trekking across the most rural regions of Nepal. On the days we cover 13km and cross consecutive mountain passes, my life is heavy. But when we pack up camp the following morning, I’m reminded of my lightness.
We pick a flat area near a water source. Flat is a rarity in Nepal, so finding both is magic. I sigh my pack off and take a few minutes to finish the day’s snacks, drink some water, and give my legs a break. Then I’m back beside my trusty navy shell. A tent, a sleeping mat, and a sleeping bag. Already my pack is deflated by about half, so finding the rest of the things I’ll need tonight will be easy.
A cup, a single bar of multi-purpose soap, and a sarong. Clean underwear is balanced precariously on a rock while I’m crouched in the river, splashing ice water on my body and hair, giving everything a quick scrub, and proceeding to rinse today’s underwear and possibly my t-shirt with the same soap in the same river.
The same thermals, fleece, thick socks, and down jacket I wore last night and the night before. My sarong is now my scarf. The most difficult decision is choosing one of two t-shirts before piling tomorrow’s clothes into a vague pillow shape.
Everyone has her own look. For 16 days she wears that hat, that scarf, and those pants. It gets to a point where you know how to redistribute the washing in the morning. No one cares that you look exactly the same every day. They are your clothes, so why would you wear anything else?
Naturally this involved a lot of planning before the trip, but once my food was zipped into their plastics, meals are as easy as getting dressed. I only have to decide whether I want raisons or prunes with my breakfast, polenta or couscous with my dinner. It also proves rather difficult to stick to my coffee rations. In fact, I would gladly have carried another kilogram up those mountain passes for the luxury of having more.
While hiking food could most definitely be processed and full of crap, my meals turned out surprisingly clean. Some starch, dried vegetables, nuts and seeds. Half the time we buy dinner in the villages. The staple in Nepal is dahl bat: heaping plates of rice, bean broth, and whatever vegetables they have at the time – sometimes none. It is equally clean and simple. I feel just about great, albeit sometimes a little bit hungry.
With dressing, washing, eating, and drinking taken care of without a minute of thought, I discover a different kind of abundance. Nature has me gasping, laughing, and crying in the same day. I have time for talking and talking and talking some more – something a group of girls never tires of. There’s time for us to get to the end of our stories. There’s chance to indulge in each simple activity – watch a pot of water until it boils; eat first and then drink, because they share one cup; give the laundry all the time and attention it wants but never gets.
In the quiet there is space for my mind to go all the places it wants to. There is also space in the quiet for it to rest, because for once I’m not telling it to run frantically anywhere. It can be just here right now, taking in all of the abundance.
In the quiet in the dark all I have to do is read and write by head torch or sit around the fire telling stories. My book might transport me to a different world, but there are no mindless distractions or endless scrolling and I don’t look up after two hours wondering where the time went. Sleep comes easy, and with no watch to tell me I can’t go to bed at 21:00, I wake up at dawn without the alarm I’m so used to hating.
Back in Cape Town
A week after I arrive, the Christmas decorations go up and they’re shouting ‘Shop! Shop! Shop!’. I’m not pretending that I’ll get rid of all my belongings and I’m definitely not boycotting Christmas, but having the chance to live out of a pack for two weeks and feel light and free because of it, does make you think twice about putting that nice looking dinner set or spatula on your wish list. Will it actually make the food taste better? Probably not. Will I be tired of my fancy new dinner set within a year or two? Probably.
Would I rather spend all that money on another trip next year? Definitely.