Camp Quarantine : My Cup Runneth Over (pt 5)

Sunday, April 5, 2020 (day 9)

Today is my son’s thirteenth birthday. He greets me at the end of my hallway and stops just before the piece of tape which reads “Do Not Cross”. He rubs his sleepy eyes and smiles as I wish him a happy birthday. I stare at him pensively. It’s odd. I see a boy that I once knew but now he is gone. He’s been replaced by a teenager with wild, unkept hair and thick, large feet. Although he looks, acts, and sounds the same as he did yesterday, there’s a twinge in my heart as I realize that things are now different. He’s now a teenager which means that I must learn to loosen my grip and accept that he’s no longer a child. Instead, I should encourage him to begin his journey towards discovering the person who he wants to be. It makes me proud to see him standing strongly on his own and expressing more independence; however, the idea of having less control over sheltering and protecting him scares me. I suppose everyone, even my sweet baby boy, needs to experience some degree of sorrow, hardship, failure, and disappointment to truly know and appreciate what happiness is.

* * *

A week ago, I assumed Hunter’s birthday would be a bit of a letdown but it surprisingly turned out to be a very unforgettable day (in a good way). On top of having my husband run a few essential errands for our small family celebration, I sent a message to our close friends asking if they could send Hunter some virtual birthday wishes. They went above and beyond to do even better and organized a way of sending Hunter their birthday love while respecting the rules of physical distancing during this pandemic. It was truly heartwarming to watch the beauty of friendship from the confinements of my bedroom window.

As previously mentioned, I’m taking an online course on The Science of Well-Being. Essentially, it focuses on the psychology behind happiness and how it can be strengthened and sustained. There’s an entire section devoted to social connections since it’s such an important component of our well-being. Studies show that simply being around people makes us happier. And not only does it make us happier, but it also makes shared experiences even richer. Interestingly enough, they conducted a study on tasting chocolate – it concluded that those who sampled chocolate with another individual, even a stranger, rated the chocolate as being tastier and even more enjoyable compared to when they ate it alone.

What I’ve learning to appreciate while being in captivity is the importance of creating and strengthening social connections. Some of us tend to place socializing low on our priority list (guilty). We get caught up in chores, responsibilities, work, and so on; the little time and energy that we have left over, we use it to recover. We should remind ourselves to make the time, instead of waiting for it, to foster these connections.

So I challenge you in the future to smile at a stranger, put down your phone and strike up a conversation while waiting in line, listen to what people really have to say, reconnect with someone you lost touch with, and ultimately, learn to become better engaged with your surroundings. Today my friends really pulled through for me during a difficult time to help make my son’s day even brighter. A simple task with intangible meaning. These very friends who started off as mere strangers many years ago.

Stay home, Stay safe, stay positive!

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To be continued…

Camp Quarantine : So Far, So Good (pt. 4)

Thursday, April 2, 2020 (day 6)

Once accepting a situation, it often becomes easier to tolerate.

I initially passed my days like a house pet. I waited to be fed. I waited for attention. I waited for my husband to come home (and would get excited once he did). And I spent long hours sitting at the window, wondering where people were going. Okay, well maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration but I do hope that no one ever has to endure the hunger pangs of waiting for a teenager to wake up and feed you!
A few days into my quarantine, I decided that it was necessary to establish structure and routine in order to mentally survive this confinement. So every morning, I would wake up early, chat with my husband over coffee, make my bed, draw back the curtains, and begin my day.

Part of this routine included participating in an online course on The Science of Well-Being. In one of the sections, we discussed savouring. Savouring is the act of thoroughly enjoying something. Studies concluded that stepping out of your experience to savour and appreciate it will actually contribute to an increase in happiness!

It dawned on me that this is why I enjoy writing so much. Wandering Mandy is kind of a play on words. I wander a lot physically … but not nearly as much as I do mentally! I use writing as a tool to savour my experiences. It encourages me to pay closer attention and analyze how those moments make me feel and how I can capture them into words. How does this sand feel? What do those clouds look like? What is that smell in the air? How does all of this make me feel? I then try to preserve those experiences through my stories, which I can relive at any time.

In the beginning, it was quite emotional for me to be isolated and I spent a lot of time mourning the loss of my freedom and secretly resenting my family for not showering me in more pity. After a few days though, I decided that enough was enough and that it was time to accept this situation. I made a conscious decision to not waste any more of my precious time waiting and lamenting about the things that I cannot do or change.
So how did I take this bad situation and turn it into good? Or, even better, how did I embrace it? I decided to take this opportunity to finish that book I’ve always wanted to read. I decided to dust off my ukulele and finally learn how to play it. I decided to get really good at juggling. I decided to actually use those self-care products that I’ve never had time to enjoy. I decided to return people’s calls and messages and really engage in meaningful conversations with them. I decided to savour this moment of being alone with my thoughts and put that energy and emotion into my writing. Most importantly, I decided to stop putting my life on hold and instead be positive and patient while I wait for this pandemic to end.

“If you change the way you look at things, then the things you look at change”.

Stay positive! Stay home! Stay safe!

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To Be Continued…

Camp Quarantine : COVID, Is That You? (pt. 3)

Monday, March 30, 2020
(Day 3)

You know that feeling when there’s a notice from the school saying there’s an outbreak of lice? As soon as your eyes gaze upon the word “lice”, your scalp starts to crawl and itch. Well, that’s how this feels. I’ve been in contact with a positive COVID-19 case and am required to self-isolate for two weeks and monitor for symptoms. If symptoms arise then I need to report them to the public health nurse (who checks in with me daily) and arrangements will be made for me to be tested. 

Thus, every tickle in my throat and every ache in my body has me like: COVID? Is that you? Are you coming for me? I’m not going to lie, my morale is taking a pretty hard hit today. I think one of my greatest qualities is my ability to stay optimistic. If you tell me something bad, I can usually counter it with something positive. But today, it was difficult to see the bright side of all of this.

I get dirty looks from my family anytime I sneeze or clear my throat within earshot of them. This is how the lepers must have felt! I’m also a bit nervous because I began developing mild symptoms this morning. My throat’s sore. My nose is tingling. My eyes are itchy. My body is stiff. Is this a hangover? Did I hit happy hour a little too early yesterday? Maybe it’s from too much screen time? MAYBE THIS IS IT! OH GOD! DIG MY GRAVE! I’M A GONER! I try my best to hide my symptoms from my family since I’m scared that they’ll toss me on an iceberg and set me out to sea. I can’t believe I’m the first case of COVID-19 in Bathurst! It’s like when you’re really good at dodgeball and have been training your whole life for this very moment … and then you’re the first one knocked out of the game.

In the midst of wallowing in self-pity, it dawns on me. I spent like a solid hour this morning molesting my cellmate … who I’m allergic to! She was giving me the cold shoulder since we had a disagreement last night so I was trying to make amends. She nipped me on the foot so I kicked her out of bed. Oh! By the way! My cellmate is my pet rat, Lulu.

I enjoy her companionship immensely, despite these darn allergies! I sometimes marvel at how this little creature can bring me so much joy yet can make other people cringe in disgust. I watch the way she scurries around the room, careful to stay close to the walls. With every passing day of isolation, she becomes a little more relaxed and at ease with her environment. I sigh as I realize that, I too, have to learn to become more at ease with this new situation.

So, I’ve either just found a cure for COVID or it was, indeed, just my allergies because within 30 minutes of taking a Claritin, I was symptom free. The power of the mind always astonishes me. I once read how repetitive negative thoughts, just thoughts, can significantly contribute to stress and disease of the body. The mind is such an incredible tool; however, if not used properly, it can cause more harm than good. If we exhaust our mind with stress and fear during this pandemic, our body will quickly follow. We need to remain smart and optimistic in order to maintain our mental resilience in overcoming this new challenge that we’re forced to live with. We can’t entirely control this situation but we can control the way we react to it!

Stay positive, stay home, and stay safe!

 

To Be Continued…

Camp Quarantine : Confirmation Day (pt. 2)

Sunday, March 29

I shout out the instructions on how to make the perfect cup of coffee to my husband from our master bedroom. “Take the Caramel Bliss from the bottom shelf in the fridge and put some in the frother!” … “Um… I dunno, maybe 30 ml?” … “Yeah, and then just hit the top button. It should go red…” Part of me thinks that I could get used to this kind of service … but the other part thinks that it would be easier if I could just do it myself.

I received confirmation that the suspected case of COVID-19 that I was in contact with is positive, and that I’ll have to stay in isolation for two weeks from my last point of contact with this individual. That extends my sentence from two to ten days of solitary confinement – April 9th is my set parole date. Exactly four days after my son’s thirteenth birthday. I had already been racking my brain for creative ways to celebrate as an isolated family but now I have to figure how to make his day extra special as a self-isolated mother confined to a bedroom. It’s saddening to realize that I’ll be celebrating my son becoming a teenager from behind a piece of tape that’s placed in the hallway, which reads “DO NOT CROSS”.

* * *

Once the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in New Brunswick, it only took one week before the province was forced to declare a state of emergency. It was like something out of an apocalyptic movie. People were panic buying, shelves were empty, jobs were lost, and our community’s resources quickly dwindled down to only the essentials. Restaurants gradually decreased from 50 percent capacity, to take-out only, to being closed until further notice. Traffic was sparse until it was eventually non-existent. And local businesses closed, leaving nothing but a door littered with COVID-19 signs and a vacant parking lot behind.
There’s an unnerving silence. The kind of silence you would expect in a rural area but not in the middle of a city. As I walked the dog, I recall there being no sound except the cawing of a nearby crow. Cars were at home and houses were occupied but the city lacked any signs of life. This pandemic has caused the pulse of our charismatic city to steadily slow down until it eventually flatlined.
We all must realize that we’re living through a crisis which requires absolute compliance and cooperation. Unforunately, those who choose to dig in their heels and forego their social distancing are contributing to heightened tensions worldwide. Finger pointing on how others are responding to the COVID-19 directives is resulting in a widening of the generational gap.
Globally, we must continue to break down boarders. Help our neighbour. Spread kindness. Speak the universal language of compassion. And work together for a universal cause. In this situation, the whole is not greater than the sum of its parts but equal – meaning that our individual actions are just as important, if not more, for overcoming this pandemic together.

Please, continue to stay home and stay safe!

To Be Continued…

Camp Quarantine : Isolation Day (pt. 1)

March 27, 2020

“You’ve been in recent contact with a suspected COVID-19 case so you will be required to self-isolate for two days until the test is confirmed…” I receive this phone call at 9:45pm on Friday night from the public health nurse. In an instant, things became very real, very fast. My husband stares at me as I hang up. Knowing that this day would likely come, I give him a shrug and we begin to execute our contingency plan.

My youngest son’s eyes water in fear as I explain to him that I’ve been in contact with a potential case and have to go into self-isolation for two days. Moments ago, I was surrounded by my family during our ‘forced family fun’ night. We were eating pizza and choking back tears as we watched Schindler’s List. I did as I was told. I’ve been isolating properly. I’ve been washing my hands raw. And now I have to isolate myself from even my family. How quickly things can change. I reassure my youngest that it’s going to be okay and that with my work, this would happen eventually. We just need to take the necessary precautions to keep everyone else safe. I then ask him to begin disinfecting the light switches, door handles, and common surface areas while I tell the other two kids.

My husband is in our bedroom, packing his stuff so that he can relocate to the spare room downstairs. I get a twinge in my heart as I watch him fill a suitcase full of clothes, not knowing if this will be for two days or two weeks. He grabs his alarm clock, two pillows, and all of his toiletries. And just like that, I officially begin quarantine. I look around my bedroom. It doesn’t look different but it certainly feels much different; I suddenly feel a bit sad, scared that my family may be at risk, and lonely.

***

Two weeks ago, we began social distancing as the COVID-19 virus took the world by surprise.

The kids were initially excited to be given two weeks off school; however, as the situation continued to grow, so did their social distancing … and boredom. Trying to maintain normalcy, I began slipping ‘to do’ lists under my son’s door every morning, titled “Camp Quarantine”. It gives him a list of responsibilities ranging from English and math assignments to basic household chores. Are these desperate attempts to stimulate his mind a complete waste of time? Who knows. But I do them anyway. The assignment which I am most excited about is his journal. He began recording his day to day experiences of living through this pandemic. I emphasized that this is a historical event in which none of us have ever experienced before. We don’t know how long it will last nor how it will end but we do know, for sure, that this will reshape the way we live and the world around us.

My husband and I both work in the healthcare field; therefore, we’re considered essential workers. We both face different stresses during this time. As a surgeon, my husband’s access to the hospital is limited so he’s often quite distracted by trying to figure out what to do with his more urgent cases. How do you tell a person they have cancer and in the same breath tell them that they have to wait for treatment? When I find this pandemic frustrating or overwhelming, I think of these people …

I work in a primary care clinic, approximately thirty minutes from home. Our services have also been reduced to urgent and essential; however, I still continue to carry out patient visits over the telephone. I work with an elderly and vulnerable population, so I try to ensure that they are staying home and have the support they need during this difficult time. I sit down at my desk every morning, pull up my list of patients on my computer, and begin calling: “Hi, this Amanda, your nurse practitioner. During the pandemic, I will try my best to care for you over the phone in order to keep you home and keep you safe…”

Everywhere I turn, it’s about the pandemic. I have coffee with my husband in the morning and we discuss the latest development. I drive to work and tune into CBC and it’s about the pandemic. I call patients and they require reassurance about the pandemic. I check my Facebook and it’s about how people are coping with the pandemic. I call my mother on my way home and we talk about how this pandemic is affecting our daily routine. I then go home and discuss the latest cases in New Brunswick with my husband.

I live in the Northeastern region of New Brunswick. Every day the numbers continue to grow and there are newer cases closer and closer to home. I can feel the squeeze of the coronavirus slowly surrounding us, like a snake with its prey. It squeezes tighter and tighter until it will eventually penetrate our communities, our neighbourhoods, and our homes…

Please, stay home and stay safe!

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To Be Continued…

Mandy Uncensored: Happy 2nd Anniversary!

It’s been approximately two years since I created a blog under the alias “Wandering Mandy“.

I’ve never considered blogging before and kind of fell into it by accident – we were embarking upon an adventure of a lifetime (with no wifi) so I decided to bring along a traveller’s notebook that my husband had given me years ago. It still smelled of new leather and the pages were still crisp and white. As we journeyed to the summit of Kilimanjaro, I spent my early mornings and late nights jotting notes so that I could remember the details from this experience – the way the air felt, the look of the trees, my bodily responses to high altitude, my daily apprehensions, and so on. I wanted to capture it all without the tainted and bias influence of hindsight. Pure and raw emotions!

Upon returning home, I decided to create a blog so that I could share these stories with my family. I used it as a way of preserving my adventures so not only could I relive them but also in hopes that maybe one day, my children would take an interest in reading them. They could see me as something more than a parent, a provider, a maid, a taxi driver, a teacher, etc. But instead, as a woman who is strong yet vulnerable, adventurous yet careless, and brave yet naive. Someone who takes risks, listens to strangers, laughs, loves, and chases her dreams – despite how absurd they may seem. Someone who truly lives.

Once establishing a blog and receiving tremendous support from my family, I decided to branch out into social media. I hesitated at first. Would I be judged? Would people think it’s foolish? Would I be humble bragging? But then I realized that most people probably won’t even care let alone read it … BUT maybe it will reach someone who will really enjoy reading it. Maybe someone who is not as fortunate to have the same opportunities that I have will be able to share my adventures through my stories. Maybe I can bring them with me to share the breathlessness of high altitude, the excitement of going to a foreign land, and the triumph of reaching a summit!

So two years of hobby blogging later, I have a modest 728 Instagram followers, 134 Facebook followers, and 154 Blog followers. Since then, I have created 22 posts, have learned how to use WordPress, and continue to slowly improve my writing. I still go back and enjoy my older posts to relive the bone-chilling temperatures of Kilimanjaro or the smooth, warmth of the Sahara dessert and it still makes me smile.

All this to say, THANK YOU! Thank you ALL for your interest in my Facebook, Instagram, and Blog! Thank you ALL for taking that time to read my stories, to share your comments, and to support my hobby. I am truly grateful and motivated to continue to share my stories with those who are interested.

Life is such a beautiful adventure! Don’t be afraid to reach out, try something that you’ve always wanted to try, taste a new food, befriend a stranger, and put yourself out there.

“The biggest adventure you can take is to live the life of your dreams”

The Story Beyond the Picture: Diamond In The Rough

They say a picture is worth a thousand words – it can be a means of expression, a way of preserving a moment, a method of story-telling, and so on. However, sometimes we can’t truly appreciate a picture until we know the story behind it.

For this reason, I decided to create a subsection in my blog called, “The Story Behind the Picture”. Here, I will take some of my favorite travel pictures and turn them into short stories. These moments and interactions, for me, are what make traveling so enriching: they open your heart, broaden your mind, and ignite your soul.

Thanks for allowing me to share my stories with you! xo

Kathmandu, Nepal

She walks with such rigidity as she carries a bucket of candles throughout the Buddhist stupa. There’s something about her that instantly catches my eye. She’s clearly not a tourist; however, she’s also not like the other locals who come here to either pray or to desperately try to sell items to tourists. She humbly walks about the temple, past the shrines and prayer wheels, throwing grains for the pigeons. She has shiny, black hair which is slicked back into a partial pony tail. She dresses in multiple layers of tattered, worn clothing. She has a teal blue dress hidden under a pink cardigan and loose black and beige pants with geometrical patterns on them. Around her neck, she wears a couple of wooden Tibetan prayer beads, which coincides with her Bindi – a colored dot in the centre of her forehead.
I watch from afar as she reaches into her orange satchel, and, with her knobby, arthritic fingers, pulls out a banana to feed to a monkey. Properly named the Swayambhunath Stupa, it’s now more commonly referred to as the ‘Monkey Temple’ since this ancient place of worship is infested with monkeys … and likely because most of the tourists struggle to pronounce ‘Swayambhunath’.

Amongst the commotion of praying monks, begging children, and tourists snapping selfies, I remain captivated by this woman who continues on with her business paying no attention to anyone else. She shoos away greedy monkeys to feed the ones who didn’t receive a banana yet. I admire her sincere respect for all living beings. So zen. So pure. So selfless. Seemingly having so little, she still manages to give. She gives without asking for praise, recognition, or anything in return. She gives simply because she is truly a good person.

I notice a few candles fall out of her heaping bucket. I rush over and pick up the one which has rolled away and offer it back to her. As I smile and extend my hand out to return it to her – I can tell that she doesn’t speak a word of English. She looks at me with one lazy eye; her timeworn face crinkles as she returns the smile. Her eyes carry such wisdom and experience – I can’t help but wonder what those eyes have seen. She signals for me to keep it. She points to an area where locals are placing candles as offerings and chanting a Buddhist prayer. I listen to the low, humming of “om ah hum” – which I believe is a mantra to symbolize the body, speech, and mind.

Although appearing worn and tattered on the outside, this woman’s soul was absolutely radiant. She reminded me of the importance of humanity. Dalai Lama once said, love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive. In a world divided between beliefs, religion, culture, nationality, language – we can still choose to make a connection with one another through the universal language of kindness.

Everest Base Camp: Flying to Lukla (part 1)

Absolute chaos plagues the Kathmandu airport as flights are cancelled and delayed. Our flight is scheduled to depart at 0830 hrs … which was one hour ago. Dinesh, our Intrepid guide, has honestly informed us that the weather in Lukla is not looking good for today. I can’t help but wonder how this is going to affect our trip. We’re currently on a tight schedule, requiring eight days to properly acclimatize during the 62 km ascent, leaving only four days to descend back to Lukla. If we’re bumped today, our group goes to the bottom of the list for tomorrow’s flights, which will make our chances of reaching Everest Base Camp even slimmer with every passing day.

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As I sit on the floor, leaned up against our group’s stack of red duffel bags, I stare at my surroundings in despair. The terminal is filled with a dense, frantic crowd consisting of various ages and ethnicities. From what I can decipher, there seem to be three main categories: travel groups, solo trekkers, and, mainly, local Nepalese people trying to get back to their home in the mountains.

I suddenly notice Dinesh tunneling his way through the crowd towards us. “Grab all of your stuff and follow me!!” Stunned, we do as he says. We pick up our bags and push our way through to a small, green kiosk which reads “Tara Air”. Dinesh instructs us to pass all of our bags forward. I feel slightly anxious, as this seems like a very time-sensitive task so I quickly start grabbing bags and throwing them forward without question. The man behind the kiosk begins tagging our duffel bags as he stacks them on the scale and weighs them collectively. Afterwards, he tosses them behind him and then quickly weighs and tags our backpacks and returns them to us. Once this is done, Dinesh hands us our boarding passes and leads us to the security, which is divided between men and women. We rush through security and enter into a calmer waiting area, which looks like a standard departure gate at an airport.

As our group sits, facing one another, I quietly stare at Dinesh, awaiting further instructions. He’s a tall, slim man, in about his late 20’s, with tan skin, a black goatee, and thick black hair, which is hidden under a flat-billed baseball cap. His hat is black and white with a patch which reads “Sun Bear Sunscreen. Seriously Protective” and there’s a picture of a bear – I’m quite captivated by this hat. His ears are both pieced, which seems to be a common style for Nepalese men, and he wears two rings on his right hand. He appears slightly anxious as he frequently checks his phone, which I’m assuming is to be able to anticipate three steps ahead. All of his belongings for the next two weeks are carried in a medium-sized, lime-green backpack, which is leaned up against his seat.

“Now boarding Flight TA 159” is announced over the intercom in broken English. I glance at my boarding pass … that’s us! We make our way to the gate, exit the building, and board a bus. As soon as the last person is seated, the bus takes off as if it has just stolen something. Confused that we’re heading in the opposite direction of the airport, I just quietly sit and stare out the window. We drive past by grounded aircrafts, military cargo planes, and helicopters, until we reach a vacant runway at the very end of the airport. Uh … now what? Dinesh notices the bewildered look on our faces and informs us that we’re waiting for our plane to land. I can feel that our group is becoming more relaxed – with every step forward we take, we become more confident that we’ll be able to depart to Lukla today.

After thirty minutes of watching the sky, a small plane comes into view and lands close to us with such finesse. It is nearly the same size as our bus. As soon as it’s stationary, it quickly refuels and reloads. Our bags are tossed into a small hatch in the back. Once given permission to board the plane, I walk up the five, flimsy steps and duck my head to get into the small doorway. To my surprise, the inside of the plane is lined with two rows of six seats along the windows. Wahoo! Window seats for everyone! As soon as we’re seated, a flight attendant makes her way up the narrow isle, which runs directly into the cockpit, and begins handing out mints and cotton balls. I’m unsure what the cotton balls are for until I see Sieu stuffing them into his ears. As the pilot fires up the engine, the smell of fumes fill this small vessel. I watch the pilot flick switches and push buttons as he runs through his safety checks. The flight attendant tries to give the emergency instructions over the deafening sound of the engine.

Less than ten minutes after boarding, the small plane bumps along the runway in preparation for takeoff. I begin doubting if the plane is even powerful enough to get us off the ground; however, like the physics-defying bumblebee, this plane, too, is somehow able to lift off and fly! A wave of giddiness overcomes me, in complete disbelief, that we’re actually going to Lukla as scheduled! Our biggest concern leading up to this trip was this flight. Lukla’s airport is notorious for being the most dangerous in the world due to its short runway and high altitude; therefore, it’s common to have flights cancelled. After a few days of repeated cancellations, some groups opt to hire a helicopter. If not, then an alternative route has to be decided.

I stare out the window, eager to get into the mountains and start our new adventure! Once we move away from the densely populated city of Kathmandu, which looks like a bowl of Lego pieces, we reach the vacant, outstretched mountains of the Himalayas. It’s a gloomy looking day, with thick grey and white rain-laden clouds draping over the peaks. Our plane occasionally jerks as it fights to resist the crosswinds. I occasionally spot a small villages in the most unthinkable locations with no road leading to or from. It’s only noticeable by its plantations, which pour down along the mountainside. I began dreaming about what life must be like for these people living in such a remote area…

My thoughts are interrupted by our plane taking a sudden and sharp turn to the left. I’m not sure what’s going on but I can see out the cockpit that we’re heading directly into the side of a mountain! Looking around for answers, there are none. As I anticipate a fiery crash, in what felt like the very last moment, the plane straightens out and tucks down unthinkably low into a hidden valley. Once stabilized, the fight attendant tells us one-by-one that we’re not able to land in Lukla, which is only 10 minutes away, and will instead be making an emergency stop. As we turn the bend of the mountain base, the 671 m long runway of Phaplu comes into view. As soon as the plane thumps down onto this short landing strip, the breaks jam on, and we’re all pulled forward from the sudden change in velocity.

***

Phaplu is an ‘off the beaten path’ village with a population of approximately 175 residents. The roads leading out of this village have been washed away by a landslide and it’s about a 3-4 day trek on foot to Lukla; therefore, our only option is to hope for a rescue tomorrow by plane. We carry our duffel bags down the middle of a narrow dirt road, dodging water buffalos, as we look for accommodations. The air is damp and cool. Ducks bathe in the mud puddles and chickens roam in a clueless manner. There are no other tourists in sight. The locals seem shy and modest, as they carry on with their business, manning their small shops and tending to their crops. I smile and greet them with a “Namaste” and they nod and return a sincere smile. The doors on most of the houses are open, with children running in and out freely.

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We stop in front of a building, with a sign which reads “Lodging and Fooding”. It looks like we’ve found everything that we need! As we entered the building, we follow Dinesh up the rickety, narrow stairs to the second floor. Nepal is known for their lodging consisting of tea houses, which have basic amenities; however, this one resembles more of a treehouse. We are given a room, as the remainder of the group proceeds to the third floor. Our room is small, lacking even a window. There are two, single beds laying perpendicular to one another, with just enough room to place our bags down. On the bed is a single pillow, with a worn, floral comforter. The paneling on the wall is varnished and seems to be lacking insulation by how easily the sound is carried from room to room. I plop down on the bed with an alarming thud. “Ouff … these mattresses are a lot thinner than they look!”, I say to Sieu, who is laying out his sleeping bag. Although the accommodations are simple, the hospitality is warm and welcoming – which is everything that I need!

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To Be Continued In…
Everest Base Camp: Flying to Lukla – Part 2

EBC, easy as 1-2-3…

This is a story of when I decided to trek to the Base Camp of Mount Everest with eight of my craziest friends. It’s kind of a difficult story to tell because it’s not really what you’d expect, but I’m going to tell it anyway…

I guess the best place to start this story is where my very first story left off – descending from the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro. I was sitting in the mess tent during our last night on the mountain, surrounded by my new friends and old ones. As we were all joking and reminiscing about our great adventure together, someone lobbed out the idea of trekking to Everest Base Camp. Two people eagerly jumped on the idea while the remainder of the group went silent. I shuddered at the idea of the frost gnawing at my nose while I squint into the blinding snowstorm, struggling to find our group. I shook this thought away as I leaned into Sieu and whispered “Yeaaaaaaaaaah … that’s a little too hardcore for us…”

Fast forward 18 months later and here I am looking for the gate to Kathmandu in the Istanbul airport. Somewhere in between that moment on the mountain and now, all nine of us impulsively booked this trip, no questions asked, when it went on sale. So, here we are, soon to be reuniting for the first time as old friends at the Moonlight Hotel in Kathmandu, Nepal.

The reality of this trip still alludes me. I’m going through the usual motions that I do during all of our travels. I go through security. Roam the airport. Board the plane. Pick out a movie. Fall asleep. Wake up. Leave the plane. And repeat.

As I head towards gate D13, I feel as if I’m walking in slow motion against a blur of cell phones and business suits rushing by me. Everyone looks the same and pulls along that same rectangular carry on suitcase with the long handle and four-tiny wheels struggling to keep up. As I look around to find real signs of life, an image comes into focus. It’s two men, in their late-20’s, standing off to the side. They are casually dressed and are both wearing Osprey backpacks. One of them is bent down tying his hiking boot while they continue to engage in conversation. As I watch him tighten his laces, it’s like something finally clicked. It’s as if I finally woke up from this haze and realized what’s going on. I guess the best way to explain it is like being the last person to understand a joke: … waiiiiiiit a minute …. we are soon going to be in Kathmandu …. which is in Asia … and then we will be hiking for 12 days through the Himalayas to the Base Camp … of Mount Everest! My stomach fluttered with excitement. I walk over to them and lean in, a bit giddy, and say “Let me guess … you’re going to Kathmandu?” They both stop talking and look at me blankly. “Uh.. yeah…” one of them finally replies with a puzzled look on his face. “I can tell by your backpack!!!” I respond quickly, with a big goofy grin, as I point to mine and keep walking. Good job, Sherlock Holmes. I praise myself; however, they don’t seem as impressed with my deductive reasoning.

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As we reach our gate, it’s buzzing with eager travelers waiting to board their plane. I look around and see Osprey backpacks, Merrell hiking boots, and pants, which zip off into shorts! The girls have messy hair and their faces have been kissed by the elements of wind, sun, and cold. They don’t airbrush these flaws but instead, embrace them. Although I’ve never been here before, there’s a sense of familiarity in my surroundings. It’s like I stumbled upon an isolated pocket of misfits hidden in this hectic, polished airport and it’s exactly where I belong. Normally, I don’t always feel like I fit in, but here, I do. I am innately shy, which makes me quite socially awkward and a little bit weird. My social skills are slightly limited by my attention span and my interests are all over the place as a result of that. Here, I look around and see dreamers, explorers, and risk-takers who refuse to conform.

As we wait to board the plane, I begin feeling slightly apprehensive. Leading up to this point, I’ve had a false sense of certainty since my last hike to the summit of Kilimanjaro went so well; however, what exactly was it that made me successful? The training? Proper hydration? Taking Diamox? Or perhaps it was an absolute fluke?! I began realizing that I may not be able to replicate that same experience. This may actually be very challenging. My training and diet have suffered due to the reality of adult responsibilities but also due to the lack of motivation brought on by fear, as I had with Kilimanjaro. I am tired, dehydrated, and have never trekked for this long before. Also, we are only 10 kg of gear, which is 5 kg less than Kilimanjaro, yet the trip is double in length. Did I even choose the right gear to at least stay comfortable? As these questions fill my mind, I realize that it is too late now. In two days, we will begin our trek.

36 hours of transit later. 4 airports. 3 flights. 6 movies. Roughly 5 broken hours of sleep. And we land in Nepal. Let the adventure begin…

Mandy Uncensored: First World Problems

I’m starting a new section of my blog called “Mandy Uncensored”, which will consist of posts not directly related to travel. They will be more thoughts and opinion-based. Will I be brave enough to publish my inner thoughts, allowing them to be publicly judged or criticized? Honestly, I’m not sure … But if I am, I hope you enjoy it and may even draw some inspiration or motivation from it.

Thanks for reading!

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Have you ever came back from an incredible vacation only to find yourself feeling worse than before you left? You feel torn between what was and what is. You battle with the internal tug-of-war of being thrown back into the chaos of routine and responsibilities while your mind refuses to leave vacation. You return to your comfortable lifestyle surrounded by so much and yet, you feel so unfulfilled…

Why?

Upon a recent return from an amazing three weeks in Nepal, I’ve been trying to figure out what this emptiness is that has been debilitating me. Consequently, I even began questioning: who am I? What do I want to do with my life? What kind of person do I want to be? And what is it about travel that makes me feel so damn good and how can I integrate that into my day-to-day routine?

I began to realize that, for me, traveling allows me to be the best version of myself. While traveling, I feel released from my responsibilities, obligations, and chores and, instead, become preoccupied with immersing myself in a new culture and making real human connections. I set aside the trivialness of an idle mind, like questioning if I am good enough and if people like me and so on. During travel, I allow myself to let go because this new surrounding is out of my control. I have nothing to hold on to. I have nothing to prove. I don’t feel judged. And, while traveling, I have so little possessions to become possessed by. I become basic and simple – which is rather quite liberating.

So instead of waiting for my next adventure to let go and feel like I can breathe again, I’ve started questioning how can I learn to embrace my daily routine and stop taking life so seriously. And I’ve concluded that it’s centered around our values and priorities. One of those priorities, being yourself. We need to learn to love ourselves unconditionally for who we are and not what status we carry, how much we own, or who we are friends with. We need to stop measuring wealth by what we can hold, and stop defining love by what we are told so that we can learn to be happy with who we are and what we have. We need to stop assuming that possessions are a measurement of our success – because they are not. These are just things. And we need to stop waiting to be told that we are pretty to feel valued – because these are just words. And instead of counting the likes and seeking external gratifications, we should turn our focus inward. We should work towards freeing ourselves from the shackles of pride and humility and stop trying to sell ourselves in exchange for the approval of others. Focus on loving and accepting who you really are. Because, after all, if we can’t love ourselves – how do we expect others to?

Instead of continuing down this path of self-destruction with distorted values and personal criticism, we should just focus on being the best version of ourselves and accept that this IS enough. Be the person who YOU are happy to wake up to in the morning. Live by the values that YOU feel are acceptable. Be the parent, friend, or family member that YOU would want to be around. Stop buying wealth and chasing likes – instead, try chasing real-life experiences. Try being real. Being kind. Being sincere. Take the time to make real connections. Listen – like, really listen, to others. Don’t just wait for your turn to talk. And not only speak with purpose and meaning but live with it. Look for the good in everyone – even if you have to squint to see it. Look for people’s strengths instead of their flaws – because, after all, their strengths do not weaken yours nor does their flaws erase yours.

Let go and just let life happen – because it will happen whether we try to control it or not. Let go of expectations. Let go of people’s approval. Let go of counting how many friends you have on social media. Let go of surrounding yourself with items that you think people will envy. Don’t become obsessed with the past or fixated on the future because now is the only time that really matters. Stop waiting for weekends, for vacations, for friends or for opportunities and start living life now.

Don’t only do what you love but learn to love what you do. Life is not about finding yourself, it’s about creating yourself! Figure out what person you want to be and be that person. Decide what your personal version of happiness is and once you discover it, live on your own terms.

Be kind to yourself. Embrace your flaws, don’t criticize them. Follow your passion, despite how silly it may seem. And, most importantly, allow yourself to be happy – in doing so, you will be able to make those around you happy too.