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.

Angela found time to peel an orange between steps up this mountain

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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7 comments

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    • Peter Thornton says:

      09:26am | 27/05/12

      Good metaphors, like practical suggestions, are often spoken but practiced less often. At times the endless clamor of life haunts all of us with the unfulfilled dreams and vision of the entire history of the world’s ghosts. All of us, regardless of who or what we think we are are merely passing through. Abandon all hope for a better past. The true, beautiful and unspoiled reality is right here, right now.

    • stephen says:

      10:41am | 27/05/12

      Which base camp did you get to Angie ?
      Cause there’s 5 of them.

      And on Thursday, Sherpas had found another body up the slopes because there were 1500 people creating a log-jam, waiting to get up past base-camp 4.
      They were on a holiday like you were : climbing, climbing, feeding a guide rope through their hands and not even having to look up, but at your feet you stare because you’re not really climbing.
      Just having fun.

      Everest is hard enough.
      Ivy Leaguers go there on summer break, get half way up Everest, take some photos, then come back down again and tell all and sundry that the mountains can kill, but I/we made it, and I’m now a man/Woman for it.

      Try K2.
      Or the North Face, (The Eiger).

      That’ll sort out the funkenwagnells from the forlorn.
      I like that Katherine Mansfield quip, who’s a better writer than the bloke who wrote The Old Man and the Sea.

    • stephen says:

      06:39pm | 27/05/12

      Actually, I’ve never climbed ... except over the the back fence scooting because I nicked milk-bottle money ... again.
      (Must stop wearing red polos.)

      But I regain my upper mien ; climbing the mountain is a very special skill.
      I did it briefly once, 5 years ago, and I gotta tell you, there is something absolutely compulsive and obsessive about looking up, stepping one step farther up, and the arms and hands regulating the rhythm - don’t they always ... Mr. Thomson, please take note - and you either lead or follow your mate who is your best friend on the mountain ... heck, Angie, I envy you !

    • BenJay says:

      11:28pm | 27/05/12

      Sherpas do all the work, holiday makers claim the glory, hasn’t changed in 59 years

    • fdgdf says:

      08:45am | 28/05/12

      I don’t know what kind of lotus-eating life the article writer leads, that she thinks a holiday should involves “different kinds of stress”, but when I have a holiday, I like to RELAX, and be COMFORTABLE. There’s nothing wrong with that.

      I found the tone of this article really condescending and also, stuffed with too many adjectives.

    • M says:

      10:13am | 28/05/12

      I agree with the author, I love being stressed. but I’m the sort who thrives on pressure and deadlines.

    • DocBud says:

      09:38am | 29/05/12

      “Like a fat full-stop..” I think we have a new contender for worst metaphor ever. It might not qualify though as the other contenders have been written by school kids in English essays.

      “Like many people, I live a hyphenated life: Angela – mother;...”

      What garbage: absolutely anybody; - mother, - father, - brother, - sister, - shop assistant, - engineer, - awful writer.

      And then,

      “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.”

      and

      “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 (do you read your articles back to yourself, Angela?) (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.”

      Yet,

      “My trek organiser, World Expeditions, sent ............ an itinerary.”

      A good holiday is about whatever the person taking it wants it to be, for some that will be “pool-schmoozing”, for some it will be discovering cities or countries never before visited and for others it will be expensive, well-organised adventures that enable them to look down their noses at the unenlightened hoi polloi.

 

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