A good holiday is about unrest, not rest
Like a fat full-stop, it lay in my hand. A small orange – not exactly fresh, but purchased anyway because a toothless woman had walked half a day to sell it for just 30 rupees.
I looked at it for a long time, then gouged a thumb under its skin. Then I laughed, because I’d travelled half the world and up a mountain’s worth of stone steps to do something I no longer have time to do at home: peel an orange.
Like many people, I live a hyphenated life: Angela – mother; Angela – journalist; Angela – commentator; Angela – wife; Angela – cook; Angela – sex goddess (OK, maybe not). There are few moments when I’m just Angela. None when I’m the girl I once was – an inquisitive, globetrotting wanderer who thanked God she was born at the bottom of the world so she could spend her life exploring the rest of it.
In my 20s, I’d endeavoured to live as modernist author Katherine Mansfield suggested, leaving “bits of yourself fluttering on the fences”. But family and responsibilities put paid to all that. And, mostly, that was fine. We holidayed: Fiji, Byron Bay, Bathurst.
We still enjoyed cocktails, surfing and swims (not so much in Bathurst). But I yearned for a journey, a big bite of something strange and elemental and perhaps a bit uncomfortable, where stretching outwards might fill me inwards.
Travel writer AA Gill calls it the “unrest” holiday. He reckons our continual hunt for “pool-schmoozing” is all wrong and what makes us feel alive is more and different stress, not less. “What makes us excited and active and interesting is the danger and self-reliance,” he says. “Relaxation is breathing out. The good bit is taking a deep breath and jumping in.”
So I jumped. To Nepal. With a pair of boots, a backpack and a map through forests and monasteries to the foot of the highest mountain on Earth. Everest, we call it; Chomolungma, say the Sherpas, “goddess mother of the world”.
My trek organiser, World Expeditions, sent a kit list of Gore-Tex and wee funnels (apparently girls can do it standing up); tips for dealing with altitude (basically, keep breathing); and an itinerary peppered with exotic names such as Namche Bazaar (a place as gorgeous as it sounds). But like a blurb on a book cover, this could only hint at the story that might unfold.
A journey, I’ve realised, isn’t talking or reading about, or wishing to have, others’ lives – it’s about living your own.
The words that dive-bomb my days like errant magpies (and, as such, are my livelihood) disappeared. It freed me to look, taste, listen: fat meringuey drops of snow; the sweet bite of coriander in a bowl of hot broth; the tinkle of a yak bell.
Days were measured not by tasks ticked, but metres trodden. With a beguiling rhythm of foot and breath, I stepped into an ancient tradition of people who journey not necessarily to conquer or to ‘find themselves’ but, as DH Lawrence writes, to a state where “cool, unlying life will rush in”.
You may argue it’s self-indulgent, expensive, and incompatible with the demands of family life. But you don’t have to hop on a plane to enjoy a journey; a tent and a scrap of bush will equally suffice.
I should confess that, on the second day, I doubted I’d make it, believing the 5364m to Everest Base Camp would elude me. The thin air emptied my stomach and vice-gripped my head. But the moment I stopped thinking about whether I’d succeed, arrive and achieve, I began to enjoy the very thing that had enticed me in the first place: the journey.
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