28 March 2014

Inbound from Nepal

I know its only been a few weeks but it feels like half a year.

This trip has been many things.  As one trekker put it, "this trip was like being tossed into the inferno and having all the extra crap burned off."  If you are ever in the mood for a crazy experience, Nepal is defiantly the place to go.  One thing to note, everything here is tougher.  Even the Gorkha soldiers are seen as some of the most fierce warriors and still to this day protect the British Royals.  The country itself has over five times more land then the actual measured area because of elevation change as well as having eight climate zones.  This is the land of extremes.  Its temperamental to the core.

Then there are the people.  I was fortunate enough to go to the tiny villages that very few whities ever visit, and the warm welcomes you receive from the bashful locals can only put a smile on your face.  Prepare to be dirty all the time and covered in bug bites.  There is no escaping it.  I think this was the smelliest I've ever been, so it is not for the faint of heart.  If you are afraid of germs, heights, needless recklessness, and the unknown, this is not the place for you.

Coming here is like going back in time.  Considering that I am filming the whole experience, it was odd to be running around with a camera and computer.  Such technology in an area where the majority of people walk, grow there own food, farm their own animals, and carry heavy baskets full of all sorts of stuff on their head is a little out of the ordinary.  Prepare to be surrounded by kids everywhere you go, they are curious of everything about you.

Solitude was not a part of this journey.  Traveling with a group was an experiment, one that I would not do again.  It's one thing when you can split and go do your own thing, but here everything was together.  I know this fits for some people so I am not speaking for everybody.  If you want a guided trip where there is no need to worry about anything because everything is being taken care of, then this is the package for you.  For the traveler there is no planning.  All transportation, accommodations, food, water, and services were pre-planned.  Even visits to major destinations were covered because you are shuttled from one location to the next until you don't even care where you are going.  You certainly get your moneys worth, but just know the precautions.

There are a lot of things that could have gone horribly wrong on this trip, but didn't.  I would like to say they were all close calls, some of them more extreme then others.  But ultimately we all made it out unscathed and quite casually at that.  Somehow it all worked out in the end.  I still shake my head just dumbfounded by it all.

I have almost a terabyte of footage to go through that the three of us were able to shoot on this trip alone.  That does not include the previous footage that we are going to have to sift through from previous treks, and the footage over the next year that we will be collecting.  The payoff to this whole journey is the fact that I get to work with some amazing people to try and expose something big that will hopefully have a huge impact on society.  I know I speak far to generally right now, but I would rather work hard to complete the project before giving away too many surprises.

More to come.

And for those who would like to know the itinerary:

It started in Kathmandu.  A couple days in the city to get acclimated, fit in some shopping, and see the big temples, religious sites, and old castles.  We even went to one of the Thannka Schools to see the painters working there and hear about their meanings.  It was nice and we saw some amazing sites, but as always I was looking forward to getting out of the dirty, noisy, black smog filled cities.

We started our 6-8 hour bus ride to the Gorka district to head into the hills.  This bus ride is one of the sketchiest things I've ever done.  The main 'Highway' out of Kathmandu into the lower valleys and along the river towards the himalayas is a small, narrow, and winding road full of giant tourist busses and tankers.  There is a least one crash a day, with a couple really fatal crashes where a bus falls off the cliff and into the river.  One our ride back we witnessed one of these crashes.  Then after reaching the hills we then went up a dirt road for over 2 hours that was only one lane wide.  It was bumpy, had no railing to speak of, and sometimes no more then two inches of space between road and cliff.  We were in a bus not made for off-roading and even the bus driver protested at one point.  But with lack of space to turn around, we had to go forth.  We made it just after the sun went down and enjoyed a moon lit hike away from the drop off point into the crisp mountain air.  We spend the night in tents on the grounds that had just been purchased by ELA (Everest Learning Academy) to build an orphanage.  From here on our I'm going to be vague with names and locations.  We've cover a lot of different towns, villages, districts, regions, and general locations.  So it's been a bit fuzzy.

At this point I should fill in the characters.  A Doctor, 11 trekkers, and 30 porters.  Dr. T, founder of Ecopolitan and ELA is the one that hosts these treks to raise money for the charities he supports.  The trekkers includes two of his family members, his mother who is 83 years old and his youngest sister.  Then his assistant, three filmers including me, and an animator for the upcoming film.  Then an extra 4 regular trekkers, one of which had joined in order to volunteer for one of the schools  The 30 porters were there to cook our food, boil our water, set up our tents, and carry our luggage.  Might I add how crazy all these people are.  Some would cary up to three large bags with other small items in between on their heads strapped together with rope and hike up crazy hills with snow while in flip flops.  Meanwhile all us 'trekkers' had only one small backpack all the while complaining that we were out of water.

The next day we started up into the mountains, porters in the lead.  After 8 hours of giant stairs through rhododendron forest we arrived into the cloudy hilltops (Or in this case not-hill-tops, everything is just a giant canyon) at a 'Holy' Lake only to be greeted by the two Himalayan ranges Annapurna and Ganesh Himal after the clouds split.  We stayed here for the next two nights using one of the days to go exploring further into the mountains.  But mostly just siting by the campfire and taking pictures.  Every day intense thick fog would roll in only to split right at sunset and give us extremely clear nights with the full moon as our lighting.

We woke after the second night to pack up all our stuff and head back down towards the rivers.  This day we hiked down 6,500 ft.  to stay in a village at our first school.  ELA is not a part of this school because there are politics with another charity repressing them from taking further action.  DR.T hopes to come to a peace agreement with the other charity so they allow the village to accept help from us as well.  The schools are in very poor shape, and there is not enough funding to have the amount of teachers they need.  Most kids stay home in places like this to help on the farm rather then get any education.  Problems follow areas such as that like child abduction.  ELA doesn't just give the kids a better education, but helps the lowest cast system become a stronger more fulfilled community.  Later that night before bed the village hosted a ceremony, with music which they later asked us to join in there dancing.  At the time it was a riot, and we later came to see all the villages had us join in this way. The next morning we had a long meeting and the school has agreed that they do want help and are willing to follow the steps to get started, even without the permission of the other charity that has threatened to pull out.   Then we were off.

We swam at the river which was so nice after being as smelly as we were, having not showered in a week.  After the day there we hiked back up the other side of the canyon to the next village.  This time we were greeted with a big celebration.  This was a place ELA had been contributing for 6 months.  Already there were huge differences not only in the behavior and demeanor of the students, but the quality of the classrooms and teachers.  We were showered in flowers, given a grand entrance, and sat through a long welcoming speeches and more singing and dancing.  We camped at the school, recharged batteries and reset.  Then once again off the next morning.

Now, I'm going to breeze through the rest of the schools, because we would do as many a one to three of these ceremonies a day.  It was great to see the effects it was having on the children and the communities, and we only saw but a fraction of the areas where ELA is involved.  But by the end I felt bad that I wasn't as excited to see the kids as they were to see us.  The idea behind these treks is that by going to the villages and showing them that we care and that we are still paying attention gives them incentive to keep their community nice and to do as well as they can.  Every trek (two a year) re-routes to new locations so that over time all the schools will be visited.  I think this is a very effective way to show our support and keep the motivation alive.  Plus it was a wonderful experience to share with so many different people.

We eventually hopped back on the road and shuttled ourselves into the lower valleys to Chitwan, here we spent some time at a 'Resort,' where I made good friends with the resort-kitty who spent time with me.  We did Elephant rides to go see the rhinos near the river, as well as bathing the elephants.  There I got to ride the elephant by climbing up the trunk, over the head, and onto her back.  Other then that we finished up interviews and ultimately relaxed after having done so much.  We visited on of the orphanages and went to a few more schools before returning on the long bumpy road to Kathmandu.  This trip we had a couple close calls almost colliding with other cars but came out unharmed.  On the way we saw two reck s, one a giant tanker that I don't even know how it could have possibly got in the position it was in.  The other a bus that had fallen off the cliff the day before and killed 5 people.  Back in the city, we finished up some scripting and questions for interviews before eventually catching our flights home.  It is now the 28th, and I left on the 26th- that does not account for the day I gain from going back in time to the West Coast.

And here I am.  Already making plans to return to Nepal in a month and continue to Israel just following.  We are well on the way to making something big.

Its is so cheesy but I love it so much.

04 March 2014


"Lily, think of everything, all of it: every mountain before you, every pound you carry, every dollar you wish to manifest... as if it were made of pixie dust.

Suddenly, dominion over all things isn't so intimidating, huh?

    The Universe"

On Saturday I will be flying to Nepal to hike the mountains to film a documentary.  Some day it doesn't feel real, yet at the same time this insane amount of adrenaline reminds me that it is happening.  I've been wishing for this, funny how easily it happened.  My mantra this year is "Dreams open up reality," and I'm well on my way.