Sunday, December 16, 2007


The mountains! We climbed alongside pilgrims sporting yak skin boots and sheep skin coats. The women wore turquoise and silver braided thick into their hair. While we wheezed and stumbled at the ever-higher altitudes, they calmly span their prayer wheels and watched their breath puff in the air.

We climbed up and up (though really not that far once we looked back down, we noted sheepishly) until we arrived at a hermitage made up of linked stupas and caves. In one cave we found a hermit flanked by a yak butter lamp, a tanga painting, smooth rock walls, and a thermos for tea. He had lived in that cave for ten years. Mum asked what the best and worst parts of hermit-dome were. Best: the silence. Worst: the first year of silence. Like all worth-while things, deep silent peace takes some adjusting to, he said. He blessed our foreheads with water and taught us how to say goodbye properly before shooing us out of his cave.

Farther up the mountain, we added our prayer flag chain to the mountainside already thick with flapping primary colors and prayed for peace, inner and outer. I found a man's hat in a shrub and wore it jauntily down the mountain, then mum tried to steal the cover of a mountain-side toilet because it looked to her like found-art. We reminisced about the Perthies we met the day before and how nice it had been to take a meal with complete strangers from Australia (Perth, your love letter may be coming soon), then sang some Christmas songs as we found our breath coming back to us.

At the bottom of the trail, we were greeted by the compulsory welcome-to-Tibet sign: a shaggy yak. He nodded as we took our compulsory yak photo, then shooed us from his spiritual spot and returned to his silence.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

A Love Letter

Dear Tibet,

You had me at hello. Or rather, at the deep red brass-knockered double doors leading into that hello. Though I know this is old news, I figure you deserve to hear it personally: You are breath-taking. Give me an expansive sky and a heavy dose of rugged terrain and you'll have my heart indefinitely. (Which you do.)

Today hundreds of pilgrims fresh from the mountains led the way into your Potala Palace, and the personal quarters of the Dalai Lamas (#5-14). There, they prayed, prostrated, and spooned thick yak butter from their personal supplies into huge burning copper bowls. They taught their russet-potato-cheeked children to do the same.

Then, a courtyard full of shouting monks debated the nature of emptiness, jumping and smacking their hands, thwacking their beads, and swirling dust around their crimson robes. We've only just met, and already you're showing me this? What intimate beauty.

This is daily life for you, Tibet, but it is astounding to me. I mean, honestly, you've fed me yak meat 4 times in the last 2 days! (Don't get me wrong, it's delicious. Especially the Momo dumplings...Chengdu's dumplings would blush.) Tomorrow I plan to follow the pilgrims again - this time around one of your mecca-like clock-wise prayer circuits. I've resisted your chunky turqoise and weavings so far, but a girl can only hold out so long...and it probably won't be long, as I'm afraid my judgement has been more than mildly impaired by your intoxicating razor-thin air.

You fill me up in that big blue sky, sharp mountains, beaming ruddy faces sort of way that embodies so many of my favorite places from Durango, CO to the High Atlas of Morocco to Taos... to you, Tibet.

This is more than a mild infatuation.

Sunday, December 02, 2007


I've just a smidge of time on this fine Cambodian day to write:

Hello! Following an overnight layover in Thailand (where I mistook an elephant for a dumpster...because really, which is more likely to stand idley in a city alley?) I am in Batdambang with friends and my mum. We travelled here with a Colorado-based Cambodian family, previously displaced following the Pol Pot regime. (Here is where I note that if the last sentence left you mystified, I would ask you to pick up a copy of "Survival in the Killing Fields" asap.)

During the last few days (when not exploring the jungley 7th Wonder of World, oh Angkor Wat you have my heart!), we have been exploring the divine match-up between local need in Tehan and international funds. Based on these: a bathroom has begun to be built, an english teaching program has been started for grades 7 and 8, the poorest of the village have received bundles of basic essentials, the leaders have requested and received rocks to keep the road from washing out during monsoon season, and a possible link-up with the Heifer Project has been investigated.

In the grand scheme, this mini-week's work is amounting to just a drop in the international bucket...but it is a lovely drop.

Also, last week I ate fried bees and that is worth noting here. More to come! (posts, not bees.)