Trekking with purpose
Meet one of our most inspiring community members, Elsie (aka, stilltrekkin). A Canadian native, Elsie has developed a special relationship with Nepal over many years, experiences and miles. She tells us about her adventures on the road – and her 75th birthday plans at Everest base camp.
What was your first ever trip – tell us about it?
After the usual touristy things to places like Hawaii, and most of North America and Mexico, my first major trip out of North America was to Switzerland and Italy where I hiked with friends in the alps for a month – that was 1991 when I was still working as a bank manager (I was 57 yrs old, but holding at 39).
When I walked out onto the terrace of my Zermatt guest house to a magnificent view of the Matterhorn, the emotions overflowed (and ran down my cheeks and dripped off my chin!)
That trip was in honour of my best friend’s retirement.
We decided then and there that when I retired in 1995 that Nepal was our next destination (it was to be my “once in a lifetime trip to Mount Everest”).
I didn’t dream that I would fall I love with the country and the people and end of living and working there (a whole second career – minus the pay) when I took early retirement at 60 (July 1995) I’ve hardly been home since!
What’s the best piece of travel advice you ever received?
Remember when you travel in the third world that the reason you are there is that it is different than home. Don’t expect it to be like home. Enjoy and appreciate the difference.
Do you consider yourself a ‘traveller’?
Not really. People often ask me why I keep returning to Nepal and why don’t I choose to go somewhere else? Nepal has truly become my second home – so whether I’m heading east or west, I’m just going home.
I’ve walked on the Great Wall of China, walked the Kora around Mount Kailash three times, explored the Guge Kingdom in far western Tibet and would still love to go to Ladakh and do a safari in Africa.
So little time and so many places yet to see. But I can’t spare the time right now!
What’s the scariest thing you’ve ever done on your travels (and how did it all turn out in the end?)
While I was still working i was assigned to accompany a group of co-workers that had won a company incentive program. I was working in the marketing department of the company and had designed the campaign – the winners received an 8-day trip to Mazatlan, Mexico and I was to be their group leader as well as represent the travel agent that had arranged the trip. That turned out to be scary trying to keep track of 14 people who had too much tequila at a welcome pool party!
After I made it through the first night and got everyone into their own beds safely the next few days were enjoyable. Then I decided to reward myself with my first parasailing trip! It was my 50th birthday and there I was soaring over high-rise beach hotels under a parachute canopy and tethered on a very long rope to the back of a speed boat bouncing over waves on the Pacific Ocean.
Actually that was fun… until it came time to land on the beach. The fellow who went up previous to me had landed in the ocean and got tangled in the ropes and shroud of the parachute. No one would go out to rescue him and in fact, were all very mad because the chute got wet and the company could not take other people up until it dried out. I was worried!
There was a little Mexican man running frantically on the beach below me shouting instructions in Spanish and I understood very little of what he was trying to tell me about which ropes to pull to turn the chute. His frantic gestures were equally vague. Fortunately for both of us, I did manage to land safely on the sand and in one piece, but it was touch and go for a while. I had visions of drowning wrapped in a bright orange parasail and entangled in many metres of rope!
Afterwards, when I saw the little warning card on the dresser in my hotel room suggesting that guests avoid parasailing with the fellows soliciting business on the beach, I did count my blessings for the safe return and wondered momentarily what happens if you are several hundred feet in the air and the motorboat runs out of fuel?
When and how did you come to join the Thorn Tree community?
I joined the Thorn Tree in February 2004. My initial motivation was the fact that many people were extremely nervous about travelling in Nepal at the height of the Maoist insurgency.
The travel warnings seemed to be escalating quickly and I felt so much of the hype was completely exaggerated. Tourism is such an important part of the Nepal economy. It was not just the industry that was suffering it was all of the many, many people involved indirectly in support roles – right down to the farmers that supply fresh food stuffs to the village lodges, the porters, the taxi drivers etc. Exercising a little common sense, there was no need to avoid travel in Nepal – during that time I was all over the country without any problem, other than sometimes having to be patient about travel delays.
I wanted people to know that from someone with first-hand information – not the media who seemed to want the situation to be more exciting than the reality. Thorn Tree was a great place to get that message across.
I actually spend comparatively little time on the Internet unless it is work related. I just don’t have enough hours in the day… but what time I do have there is no question that Thorn Tree gets my vote. I believe that Lonely Planet and Thorn Tree has built an excellent reputation as a source of accurate travel information and I feel honoured to be able to contribute to that info pool from time to time.
I meet an amazing number of people in my travels who quote the Thorn Tree forum and Lonely Planet guides as if they are the Holy Bible, Koran and the Talmud all rolled into one!
What’s the next journey you have planned?
I head back to Nepal on September 25 this year. After managing two medical dental camps with volunteer groups in rural villages, I am going to retrace the route of my first trek in Nepal with a small group. Our destination is Kala Pattar and Everest base camp starting from Jiri. We’ll be trekking 21 days and then flying back to Kathmandu from Lukla.
This trek has a special purpose – it’s the culmination of a campaign to raise $75,000 cad to establish a blood bank at Kanti children’s hospital in Kathmandu. We are already soliciting pledges for the project. Those that come along in the trekking group are also going to help me celebrate my 75th birthday at Everest base camp with balloons, noise makers, party hats and birthday cake.
It’s going to be the best birthday ever and I’m hoping that we’ll create enough awareness of the urgent need at Kanti hospital, that my birthday gift will be enough money to meet our goal. 100% of the money pledged will go to the hospital project.
Two of the people who will accompany me are particularly special in my life – one is a grandson and the other the young Nepali man who was my porter in 1995 on my first trek to Everest. Since then we have trekked many miles together. He ultimately became a trekking guide and then coordinator of our many community projects in Nepal.
It sounds divine. And what about your own corner of the world… where do you rest your hiking boots?
I’m fortunate to live with the Canadian Rockies almost in my back yard – and despite the fact that I spend much of my time going back and forth to the other side of the world, I do love our own mountains too.
I’ve spent 30 years hiking, camping, hosting backcountry hiking camps and backpacking in the Rockies and have loved every minute of that time. But the opportunity that has come to me to help make a difference in the lives of others has greatly enriched my own life. I wouldn’t change those opportunities for all the golf resorts and retirement communities that tend to attract many of my peers.
I guess I’ll just keep on trekkin’ as long as I have the strength to do so – there’s still time to “retire” when I get old – whenever that turns out to be!