Seeing the World
This blog has been too philosophical lately, and that’s not what it’s here for. It’s for awesome pictures of traveling and backpacking and mountains and stuff like that. So back to the regularly scheduled programming.
On April 1st I’m flying to Amsterdam to meet up with my friend Maggie, who is currently studying abroad in Ireland. We’ll spend the next month on a whirlwind tour of Europe (I’ve waited so long to say that, you have no idea). We’ll be going to Belgium, France, Scotland, England and Ireland.
I get back to Pittsburgh the last week of May.
The first week of June, I’m moving to northern Pennsylvania to work a trail building internship with the US Forest service. We’ll be working on a 100 mile section of the North Country Trail which runs through Allegheny National Forest. I’ll get mu Forest Service Chainsaw Certification! Can’t wait!
So that’s what’s up. I’ve got four more days in Olympia, and I’m ready for a break from this rainy city.
2:26 pm • 16 March 2013
For those who see this blog, I posted a more full trip report about my time in India at the above link.
9:11 pm • 10 February 2013
The Pacific Northwest
There is something about the pacific northwest. That quality you see in pictures of it: dark brooding evergreens interlaced with ghoulish fog. Cold nights and mountain shadows. It is real. That quality exists just as strongly in real life.
I was standing at the bus stop sunday evening and even though I was a stone’s throw from my apartment complex and a short walk from the dorms, just beyond the streetlights was black forest, probably filled with yetis and vampires. It was bitter cold but still wet. When I exhaled there was that strange, crushing feeling when the air leaves your lungs and rejoins the atmosphere as a puff of cloud. It was quiet, too, despite being just on the edge of a college campus and a few miles away from a city. There’s something about the forest here that feels empty. Most forests, at night or during the day, teem with life: squirrels hopping between trees, sunlight filtering through swaying branches, a deer flicking through brush. But here it is quiet. Black. Of course there is life. There are deer and rabbits and birds and vines and evergreens and otters. But it is quiet. Cold and wet and quiet and green and dark.
8:39 pm • 19 January 2013 • 4 notes
Thoughts on the real world from one who glimpsed it and fled
I got back from India about a month ago. While I was in India, I traveled in two distinct ways and in two distinct places: trekking in the Himalayas in Northern India in clean air, stupendous mountain vistas, with 15 other lovely American students and a teacher. Then I took trains and buses with one friend through several cities and tourist areas in the more southern parts of India, down on the plains below the mountains which are generally more crowded, polluted, and pushy.
The mountains were indescribable. We learned about alpine environments in alpine environments. We climbed snow covered slopes amidst Christmas-tree scented rhododendron shrubs and herds of goats. We drank glacial melt. We slept under the stars. We partied with locals in a village over a hundred miles from the nearest road.
Traveling down into the plains was like descending into hell. I can’t explain a lot of what I saw. It seems strange to write down some of the things, inhumane in a way. I don’t know why. But bad things. Ways of life we would almost certainly consider cruel, inhuman, disgusting, unfair.
There were good things in the plains too, don’t get me wrong. Good people. Some beautiful landmarks- temples, bays, the Taj Mahal.
But all this time in India, I just absorbed what I saw, even the bad things. I kept thinking, people say India changes them but I feel the same. I felt like the same person. I still thought about the same things. I had imagined that when I arrived in India my previous interests would just be shut off. It was nothing like that.
It wasn’t until I went home that I felt shocked and confused. This is how India changed me:
I now pretty much feel like I love the United States. As in, capital L, I Love You United States and Westernized Civilization. I love your hot water. I love your grocery stores. I love that you don’t need signs on trains that say “no harassing female passengers”. I love that trash is taken to a landfill. Trust me folks, it’s not as bad as the some of the alternatives.
I love pizza. I love a quiet neighborhood. I love the clean air. I love toilet paper. I love washing machines and debit card readers and reliable internet. I love laws that are enforced. I love parking and traffic regulations. I love my bed. I love my couch. I love all these things because after seeing that millions of people live without them, I am sad that such a harder way of life continues, but reassured that these comforts still exist for me. I can’t help it. I consider myself a pretty frugal, reasonable person but I would never choose life like I saw in India over life in America. It’s just so much better.
And people can say there is no use making these comparisons. That telling someone a child is starving in Africa is a silly way to make them clean their plate because it’s all relative. That’s fine. But the fact is that a child is starving in Africa. And somewhere in northwestern India the city of New Delhi continues to crawl day and night with masses of people and cars and motorbikes and autorickshaws that spray pollution into the smog-filled skies. And somewhere on a mountainside in the Indian State of Uttrakhand a trash heap that covers a mountainside is still endlessly burning and smoldering like some Biblical version of hell. And somewhere in Goa the same homeless hungry man is still reaching his hand inside bus windows and grabbing at people for food or money. And people are still swatting him away or ignoring him, just like I did. These things are true. And maybe that’s an unfair way to make a kid finish their dinner. It’s not as if finishing your dinner helps that starving child. But it’s still something that exists. And it’s scary that it exists, but it does. And once you know it exists you can’t forget it. Can’t unsee it. Once it’s undeniable, you are forever making those comparisons in your mind without realizing it. And with this knowledge comes an overwhelming feeling of powerlessness in the face of poverty and chaos.
We have our own problems, I know, us in the western world. Low voting turnouts. Medical care. The stupid fiscal cliff. But I no longer see any value in the endless time and money consuming arguments we have over these things. They are closer in nature to watching the latest viral youtube video or buying a new Christmas outfit ; they are so very distant from the physical realities of life. Food. Clothes. Basic sanitation. Are fiscal cliffs and filibusters and Facebook and twitter truly the necessities, nay luxuries of the free world they claim to be? Are they really the best we can do with the wealth we have?
Maybe we in America and the west have earned the right to have these things. By the very virtue of our wealth, we have earned the right to spend it on the stupidest, lamest things imaginable, like campaign adverts or gin joints or guns or an Herve Leger dress or our own website. Maybe that’s the fairest way to look at it.
We have real problems too. There is still crime here. There’s still social injustice. Of course there is still poverty too. But some of these are statistics we can compare, and by comparison we are doing a damn fine job.
And some of our money is spent on good things. Some of it goes toward stopping even more crime. Some of it goes to starving children in Africa and other places in the world. And sometimes buying that new Christmas outfit is… not necessary, but okay. I’m not saying America is completely wasteful. I just wish we were more aware of how lucky we are and more willing to admit that a lot of the time, our choices and possessions are unnecessary and luxurious. I wish we were more grateful of what we have. And not, It’s Thanksgiving and I’m thankful for my family and my dog, thankful. I mean, holy shit my life is so much easier and more awesome than so many other lives in the world. Look at the beautiful things I can consume and create and the time I have to appreciate all the beautiful things I’ve been given. We should feel overwhelmed, dare I say burdened, by how much we have.
So what do I conclude? I conclude that I don’t know. I conclude that the more I see the less I know. I conclude that seeing and knowing are important, but they don’t always lead to clarity or wisdom. Sometimes they just lead to sadness at the state of the world, and the inability to take hot showers for granted. On the other hand, maybe that is the wisdom I got from this trip. But I don’t know. I just don’t know.
EDIT 2/13: a caveat for if and when more people read this. I wrote this not too long after returning from India. To say the least, returning home was overwhelming and this essay is sort of, well, a downer. I don’t want people to think my time in India was a downer. I mean, I was in what are arguably the most incredible mountains on planet with like-minded individuals hiking and learning and generally absorbing every brilliant moment of living in such an environment. And we met tons of lovely and happy Indians. It was mostly life in the Indian cities and the culture shock of returning home that made me write something this depressing. This isn’t a retraction- what I wrote above is still true. But like everything, it’s just one perspective.
8:09 am • 31 December 2012
India-Post Wildlands Update
(Written November 5, 2012)
So Wildlands ended yesterday. We got up super early at our lovely camp in the foothills of the Himalaya and most of us took an hour jeep ride to catch a train to Delhi.
The train ride was about six hours and it was easily the most bizarre and insane experience of my life. Easily. It’s weird, we’ve been in India for about six weeks but we’ve been in the India you don’t commonly see or hear about. Not too many people actually go into the HImalaya, and we weren’t really experiencing the plains like most travelers do. But the train took us straight out onto the plains and the things we saw out of the train window were… bizarre? wrong? I don’t know, I can’t really describe what we saw. The mountains are semi-pristine, a place where older culture is more preserved because there are less roads, and where the air is clear. Over the course of the train ride the air became thicker and thicker with smog until you could only see about four hundred yards in each direction. We arrived in Delhi which is MAD. It’s insane. More than a little disturbing. And extremely overwhelming after spending six weeks in the backcountry with the same sixteen people.
A group of us headed to a hostel in the Paharganj which is the backpacker neighborhood of Delhi filled with hostels. We got nice rooms for about ten dollars a night, went out and found dinner, and were generally confused by the overwhelming stimulation of the city.
Today my friend Philip and I said goodbye to the last few remaining Wildlands friends, who left for the airport- flying to Thailand and Nepal. Philip and I are staying in Delhi another day, then taking a train to Agra and on to Varanasi for Diwali, a huge Indian festival of light.
It’s going to take me a day or two to adjust to the plains. Wildlands was such a fantastic, fantastic experience. I really can’t explain what it was like to spend so much time trekking around the highest mountains in the world for six weeks, having class as the sun set over the snowy peaks right behind us, drinking from glacial streams, having snowball fights at 13000 feet, and hanging out with really awesome people with similar interests. We even happened to be staying at an old Indian house on October 31st and had an epic halloween party.
It will be easier to explain through pictures, but unfortunately that probably won’t be happening until I get home in a month.
If the internet here cooperates, the post before this will be a brief summary of the two Wildlands treks that I wrote up and attempted to post about a week ago. It doesn’t nearly cover everything, but nobody would want to read that and I probably couldn’t write it.
One of the strangest things about coming to Delhi is seeing white people again, and having to meet new people again. But I’m excited to see the Taj Mahal in a few days, to see Varanasi, and I can’t wait to head further south to the coast- Mumbai and the Goan beaches.
2:36 pm • 22 December 2012
India- Ranikhet Update
(Written October 31, 2012)
Hi everyone. It’s been a mad, mad bunch of weekks since I last posted here. Again, forgive spelling grammar mistakes. This computer is terrible, to say the least.
I’m in the town of Ranikhet in the Himalayan foothills. I’ve spent the past four weeks trekking in various parts of Himalayan backcountry. We did two treks:
The first trek started in the town of Darchula, where I last had computer access. We trekked up into a valley (the Darma Valley) that has no road- the only transportation is pony and foot, so the culture is preserved in a way that is disappearing as the road winds further into the hills. We hiked up the valley over a two week period- no idea of the distance, maybe thirty or forty miles? The valley ended at a town called Dantu at the base of the Panchchuli mountain group, a stunning group of five snowy Himalayan peaks. We hiked to Panchchuli basecamp. We had cold nights and even a blizzard at Panchculi, and we got to experience alpine environments.
We stayed a few nights in a village called Nagling, where the ancestral head of the Darma valley lives- we stayed at his house, which is a beautiful complex of crumbling old Indian architecture. The people in the Darma valley are transhumant, which means they live up high in the summer and down lower in the winter. We stayed in their summer homes where they farm and pasture their animals, and which they would leave ina few weeks. We also encountered families traveling down with their herds of animals, chickens, clothes, and food strapped to their backs for the winter.
We hiked back out of the Darma Valley after 17 days and took a long jeep ride to the town of Munsyari, where we rested at a lodge, stocked up on snacks and took our midterm exam.
The second trek began directly from the lodge at Munsyari about ten days ago. For the past ten days we’ve hiked up, over, and back down various ridges surrounding the Johor valley. One day we hiked over a mountain pass and ascended about 4400 feet- almost a vertical mile. It was a difficult but amazing hike.
We finished the trek the day before yesterday at a river camp, and traveled to Ranikhet yesterday. In four days this study abroad program will end, and I have a month to travel India before I fly home.
My friend Philip and I plan to visit Rishikesh, Delhi and Agra the first week, then travel to the holy city of Varanasi for Diwali, the second biggest festival in India. Our loose plan after that is Mumbai and Goa.
The lifestyle we live as part of the Wildlands program is great. We have tea time twice a day, we camp almost every night and usually trek or day hike 6-15 miles a day. I’m more acclimatized to high altitudes than I’ve ever been. The highest we reached was a ridge by Panchchuli, which was about 14,000 feet. We had an incredible snowball fight on that hike, but the snow also made it one of the most treacherous hikes I’ve ever done.
Our teacher, Chris, is excellent. We have learned more in about a month than I usually learn in an entire quarter. Forest ecology, culture, natural history. We also have several local guides with us who are always willing to talk.
Hope everyone on the east coast is safe from the hurricane.
Til next time.
9:52 am • 22 December 2012
Hi all. A few minutes (and spare rupees) of time so here are some notes on India so far (forgive grammar/spelling errors):
Our teacher is really cool. He lives in thailand and has worked for wildlands for twenty years. Because hes done it for so long he has connections with an Indian teacher/tourist company and we’re getting to go to all these places (like daharchula and the darma valley) where almost no westerners go. Indian cities/villages are pretty much like you would imagine- cows and dogs all over the street. Horns are pretty much used instead of any kind of traffic rules. Honk when you see people or other cars or cows so they know you’re there. Big trucks even say ‘horn please!’ on the back so they know where you are.
The sanitary conditions are generally appalling. There is garbage everywhere- in the streets, gutters, mountainsides, trails.The dogs and cows eat the garbage on the streets in the city.
That said, we’ve been to some fairly pristine areas. Our first camp at Sattal (sattal means seven lakes) was on a mountain top above a lake. The area was subtropical elevation, and we did a great hike in the surrounding mountains over to a butterfly museum run by a local. The showers and bathrooms at the camp are inhabited at night by what we call the bird-eater spiders- spiders a bit smaller than your palm. Apparently they’re friendly but I still avoid them.
Every morning and afternoon we have tea, and because one of our guides knew a family, we got to randomly stop in on an Indian family. They gave us excellent tea.
We’re learning about agriculture and every day we past the altered landscape of the terraced mountains. It actually looks really beautiful even if it isn’t completely natural, and we just read a scientific article arguing that it terraces prevent landslides.
In Indian culture, staring is not impolite, so when we drive through a town all the heads turn. When we walk down the street, especially in Dharchula where white people are extremely rare, people will follow you or bring their kids to meet you just because we’re white. When I walked around the town of NAinital a few days ago, overalls and short hair, the attention is almost overwhelming. The towns alone are overwhelming- so many people, animals, colors, things for sale, people trying to sell you things or lead you somewhere to do business.
Tomorrow we are going to Darma valley to trek for 17 days, and our teacher Chris said he has never seen westerners trekking there. I am looking forward to getting out of the city.
That’s all for now. Cheers all.
1:27 am • 1 October 2012
Hello, friendly blog-readers. It’s been awhile.
If you haven’t heard, I’m flying to India on Sunday (the 23rd.)
Summer has been great. The lovely folks at Marty’s Market in the strip district hired me even though they knew I would be leaving for India in the fall, and I had a good time working for them in August and September.
But at last, it is almost the eve of my departure. I got a bunch of vaccinations and a visa stamped in my passports, but as far as expectations about India, I have done my best to keep the slate completely clean. I know that whatever I am going to experience is almost unimaginable to the person I am now, so instead I am going in with eyes and mind open.
Unfortunately I don’t have any witty and interesting anecdotes for this blog entry- most of my time lately has been spent working at Marty’s.
In a few days I will step onto a flight longer than any flight I have ever taken (which is actually saying something considering I’ve flown to New Zealand) and fly to the most foreign of worlds to live with 16 people I have never met.
Right now, I’m scared. I don’t want to get malaria. I don’t want to get altitude sickness. I don’t want to get lost. I don’t want to be alone in India. I don’t speak any of the language. I don’t know if my ‘dressy’ outfit is up to the standards of polite Indian society. This trip feels more like stepping into an unknown void than anything I’ve ever done.
But I’m also excited, of course.
I also know that I’m insanely lucky, now more than ever. I’m only 20 and the list of awesome trips and experiences I’ve been able to have is disproportionately long for someone my age. That’s really all there is to say.
I will do my best to make some kind of update to this blog while I am in India (if only to assure my immediate family that I’m still kicking.) While it is unlikely I will have phone access, I have been told we will encounter internet cafes not infrequently.
Today I’m loading up my pack one final time to make sure everything fits.
A few other notes:
I released a new album, My Mother’s Land, yesterday. It is the first music I have written, recorded, and liked since before I graduated high school. Have a listen at my bandcamp:
Second, this Saturday (the 22nd) is the Pittsburgh Maker Faire at the Children’s Museum on the North Side. Luke will be there with his handheld tesla coil, and I will be there as his sidekick. I would recommend checking out the Faire. It should be really interesting.
Last, I have compiled all of my creative endeavors into one internet filing drawer called http://rebeccakambic.com - mostly because Luke had his own website and I liked it so I wanted one too. From there you can access all my trip reports, music, videos, and travel photography. Someday when I’m unspeakably famous people will no doubt flock there, but for now it’s really just a fun design project for me.
That’s all for now. I’ll see you all on the other side.
6:42 am • 21 September 2012
A Toast to Life, the Universe, and Everything: Reflections on Spring Quarter
Life is really, really nice right now.
I had my final evaluation yesterday. My teacher, Clarissa, was pleased with my work and I got all my credits. Next year Clarissa is teaching a full year program about biology and geology in the southwest, and we discussed the possibility that when I return from studying abroad in South Africa winter quarter of next year, I can transfer into her program. If it works out, I could have the opportunity to return to our field work we began in the southwest this quarter, and raft down the Grand Canyon.
I’m really done with school now, and life is really, really nice.
I’ve made more excellent friends in the past two months than I have in the past six years. Clay, who introduced me to hitchhiking, inspired me to continue juggling, and allowed me to help him remodel his cave forest dwelling. Leah, who lives in a cabin on the sound where we live out our dharma bums fantasies of drinking wine and reading philosophy late into the night, going to sleep in a loft and washing our faces with dew in the morning. Kyla, Gray, Rachel, Gus, Claire- all amazing people I have met here, the right place at the right time.
I spent a few days this weekend living in Clay’s cave while he was away working for the Fish and Wildlife department. In the evening, we light candles and sit in the flickering light listening to the soft rain on the roof. In the morning, sun slants through the side door of the cave straight into the sleeping area, and we cook pancakes and eggy-in-a-basket on the coleman stove for breakfast.
Like I said, life is nice.
Tomorrow I’m having a pancake dinner/eat-all-of-Rebecca’s-food-because-she’s-leaving dinner at my place, and hopefully I’ll get to say goodbye to many of my friends from this quarter. I just got back from an end of the quarter get-together at my friend Ruth’s house. Before the party a group of us juggled in the park, and Clay gave me his juggling clubs.
This is very exciting for several reasons.
The first thing you notice about Clay (besides the beard and overalls) are his juggling clubs, which are red, blue and yellow. The first time I ever saw him he was juggling. The first day of class he was juggling these clubs. He bought them in Ecuador and decorated them himself. He carried them hundreds of miles on the southwest trip and backpacking in the Hoh Rainforest, in addition to his own travels around the world. Clay has been a juggling mentor for me the past few weeks, and he just bought seven new juggling clubs, so he decided to pass his on to me so I could continue learning.
I return to the east coast on friday, and I am sad to see this program end. I and many of my friends are studying abroad in the fall, and some I will see when I return in the winter, but some will be away all year. I shall have to enjoy this niceness while it is here.
Cheers, everybody. I hope life is nice for you too.
12:16 am • 14 June 2012
It’s been a very nice couple of weeks since I got back from three weeks of camping and backpacking and adventuring.
My program is very interesting. We’ve been mixing lectures about water chemistry and photosynthesis with statistics, bioinformatics and data visualization lessons. We got all of the class data, GPS locations and photographs, of lichens and mosses together from the Grand Canyon hikes and put them into a google map so that future researchers there can reference their locations.
We’ve also been examining water and moss samples taken from various locations in the southwest looking for tardigrades. We have found quite a few already, which is very exciting because only one other person has ever isolated tardigrades in the desert before, and they were working only in New Mexico.
Under the microscope, tardigrades look like this:
They can survive extreme dehydration/dessication, the vacuum of space and extreme high and low temperatures. Because they can’t really move very far (being microscopic), one article we read about them described their ability to go dormant as escaping in time rather than escaping in space like most mobile animals can. Pretty cool.
Yesterday I helped my friend rebuild his man-made cave in the forest. He lives in the forest near Evergreen, and now he’s rebuilding his structure for the summer. It was hard work, so after that we picked up some food and headed to our friends house.
Our friend was having a bonfire at her cabin on the sound. Later in the evening her neighbor took us out in his rowboat to look for a sea lion that had been living on another boat. Though we didn’t see the sea lion, we did see the bioluminescence in the Puget Sound, which was awesome.
Anytime the water is disturbed, the algae that live there glow greenish blue. Each stroke of the oars made a puff of light that spread and faded through the water. A trailing hand in the water left a path of green-blue light. It was beautiful.
I didn’t take this picture- I had no camera- but this is what it looks like when the water is disturbed. The light on the sound was much more green than this picture. It was a really nice bonfire over all.
Here’s a picture a classmate took on the Southwest trip of our burro research group examining some plant life in a burro wallow.
The weather has been pretty sunny and mild here, perfect for getting out of class at noon and going to circus club in red square or going for a walk or laying in the athletic field doing homework.
Just a few more weeks till summer.
4:42 pm • 27 May 2012