Thursday, July 24, 2008

Out there... Way out there

At 7 p.m. the light in the city of Islamabad dims to a hazy yellow. So too, drops the incessant mid-day heat to a manageable blend of humidity, temperature, and breeze. The day is closing and the crickets rejoice from the cool depths of the cities overwhelming and abundant greenery. The hour apparently marks a shift change for the flying animals of the skyline. Crows, hawks, and robins collapse their wings and lower their intentions to ground level thus allowing airspace for the fruit bats. Medieval monsters with four foot wing spans who stalk the carcasses of mango, peach, and apple. The melody of the streets changes from the midday buzz of automobile horns and street vendors to the sounds of days end. I enjoy being constantly lost in translation but I find evening the most rewarding time to lurk about. Men and children stroll about the streets with the intention just too; women elaborately cloaked in beautifully colored and embroidered shalwar kameez follow, always slightly behind their husbands and his male acquaintances. On any and every block one can join, or in my case, watch a game of cricket. I am as confused watching this as I am watching the Pakistani sportsman’s other option, field hockey. The national jasmine and rose garden has become a personal favorite and its purifying aromas have cleansed my mind almost every night since I have been here. I can only imagine the garden’s vibrancy during peak bloom, however with precise care the ground crew has managed to maintain a kaleidoscope of pastel, splashed against a towering eucalyptus tree back drop and low hanging light, it is Elysium on the outskirts of chaos. This polarity is not unique to Islamabad, nor Pakistan from what I am told and read. Heartening poverty and gaudy wealth disturbingly intertwine. Landcruisers and rickshaws, Armani and rags, hair gel and fleas, over fed bellies, skin and ribs. It is difficult to find a westerners place in it all, do I give money or lecture on greater good? It is not my place.

My place has been a difficult one to find. This is by far the most intimidating (at first) culture I have ever submersed myself. Pakistani Muslims pass me on the street with a look of stern curiosity. I have exchanged their glance with a very humble and half hearted smile, quickly followed by a shy lowering of my vision to the step ahead. I wish I knew what my hosts think of my ‘greeting’ (or lack thereof) but either respected or rejected I am realizing it does not get me any deeper into this culture that both myself and much of the Western world needs a better understanding. Sad to say, but I imagine 25 years of American media scare tactics have had an effect on me. But my eyes are beginning to open. And while I still do not openly admit I am from the ‘big bold’ UNITED STATES (I have chosen Spain as my home country, which apparently was a good decision because as I was told by an elderly Pakistani, “Muslims once used the Straight of Gibraltar as an immigration route.” To which I replied, “Yes of course, what a beautiful part of Spain”) I do feel I am warming up to my hosts. I can only thank them for this as everyone I have met shares only kindness, willingness to talk, and generosity. This is backed by confirmation again and again that Pakistan is a safe place to travel. Pakistani newspapers speak of America’s bullying of the country and opinion articles express residents fear and opposition of the “homeland” moving in to fight its “war on whatever.” “If it wants to help, American should do as Mr. Mortensen,” I heard yesterday.

I could go on and on. I am quickly falling in love with Pakistan. But in order to wrap it up, the reason for my coming to Pakistan looms to the north of where I sit here and write. I read more and more about the mighty northern mountains but it does no good, I know the stories, I’ve seen the pictures. My appetite will soon be catered and I will ravenously feast upon buffet ala’ Karakoram… Tahu Rutum will be my first plate.

Wow, that last line was a little outrageous. Tomorrow I’m leaving for the North. I’m quite excited and unsure when we will speak next my friends. Please know I am thinking of you all, I love you all, and this is the time of our fucking lives!!!

Lastly, but certainly first in importance I want to tell you about my Pakistani friend Karrar Haidri who has been jumping through the many bureaucratic hoops required to attain a climbing permit here in Pakistan. He has been more than kind and I encourage you all, if considering an expedition to the Land of Purity, to contact him. He has two websites and Contact him and dream big!

And a Stone Chicken bakaaaaa!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

A Mental Flight

Just ended a 40hr workweek…construction, driving to Wendover NV as I type, I almost wish it were to party, but no, more work, concert stuff. Could not be more psyched! It seems as though Denali was ages ago, how time flies, sometimes too fast for my speed, do you ever wish it would just slow down? I’m sitting in the back seat, watching the sun go down over the distant salt flats. Quite a different setting than a month ago, freezing cold and all fucked up from the altitude, oh how quickly you forget the suffering when its sooooo hot. 95+F these days! Zack passes me the cornhusk pipe and I loose myself in the tunes. My mind drifts…..

……summit day was amazing, completely unexpected, and fucking unreal! My lil’ sis wasn’t faring so well; a good three thousand feet higher than ever before, she awoke at 17,100 ft with debilitating nausea and terrible cold. I helped her into her harness and put her crampons on for her. So stoked she had even made it this high, what a bad ass! Erin and I looked at each other and both knew there was no way we were going to make it. We have to at least try. One foot in front of the other, one step at time, each taking us deeper into the purity and further from oxygen. 20,320 at –30F is a trip, feels kinda like doing some drug for the first time, in fact it was a first for all of us. How could it be any better, two weeks of clear and cold weather, ahead of the crowds, with great family, and deeply inhaling the cleanest air my lungs have ever absorbed. The cold didn’t matter, standing on nature’s outstretched finger pointing out of the clouds and toward the bright sunshine. If heaven does exist it can’t be this high, people wouldn’t make it. Never before had I felt such a sense of pride as when I hugged my sister, she spoke simply of the trek, having forgotten her condition 10hrs prior.

My body shuddered and my legs became weightless as Erin withdrew the zip lock bag from his backpack. For three years I had been curiously anticipating when this moment would come. It caught me off guard, the tears and snot started streaming down my face, it was the second time Alaska would make me weep. Mentally, the remembrance of my cousin Drew, his spirit, and his teachings have been and will continue to be thoughts that I carry with me and disperse about the world. But physically, the scattering of his ashes, his being, is an occasion I’ve always felt more appropriately initiated by his immediate family. Still it is an event not chosen by human desire, but selected by the universe, Drew, and the majesty of the mountains. The summit of Denali is natural perfection, Drew chose well. Erin knelt, his younger brother scattered below him on the immense south face of Denali, he screamed toward space, healing I suppose. My sister stood tall, a puffball of cloths. My tears and snot froze to my jacket and I smiled, in love with the sweetness.

Couldn't be better