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Thursday, July 12, 2012

My Top Travel Books (Part 1)




A few months before the Big Trip, Lois of the WeAreSoleSisters sent us an email on assisting us in starting/beefing up our travel funds via a garage sale. I had a few old clothes and shoes to sell, but selling my old books have been a hard decision to make. Now, in retrospect, I think it was a very good decision, as it made room for new inspiring and eye-opening books. 


I love reading books, I love how it introduces me to a new world. When I was young, the books I read were those small pocket books - Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, Sweet Valley, Love Story. Over time especially when I entered UP (university), I was introduced to profound fictional books about life, culture, history - Paulo Coelho, Milan Kundera, Haruki Murakami, and of course the popular ones like Harry Potter, Dan Brown, and the likes. When I started working and traveling, I also began reading travel books like Thomas Friedman, Thant Myint-U, Gregory David Roberts (Shantaram!), and Michael Palin.


TREKKING BOOKS

If you're looking for books that would take you trekking vicariously through the high mountains of the Himalayas, Pakistan, Africa, or hiking through the Pacific Crest Trail, I highly recommend these books. But more than the trek itself, these books will inspire you. Not just in life but to experience being one with the mountains and nature.

1) Touch the Top of the World by Erik Weihenmayer


"Suddenly I told myself, 'You could turn around right now. Nobody would stop you.' Standing next to Jeff, my mind churned with fear, self-doubt, and endless self-questioning. Perhaps the way to approach such a monster of a mountain was to break it down into more manageable chunks, to clear my mind so heavy with expectation, and to experience the climb moment by moment, step by step. I would try not to worry about everything that lay ahead but focus on the beauty and friendship that was all around me, and no matter how high I got up the mountain, I would celebrate that as my summit." 

While walking along the streets of Pokhara and going into different book shops, I saw Erik Weihenmayer's 'Touch the Top of the World'. It was the only book in the coffeetable section. I read its brief description and became very curious. A blind man who climbed Everest? And it was very cheap at NPR500 (PH250 or USD6), while the other books I was initially looking for were NPR700+. I decided to buy it, and just because I had a trekking hangover. ;) 

Erik Weihenmayer was diagnosed with a degenerative eye disease that would leave him blind at the age of thirteen. The book takes us into the journey of his life - from the denial stage of his condition, to rebellion, to the struggle to accept people's low expectations of blind people, and when he found his gift and passion - climbing.

As he said in the introduction, he could not have climbed the Seven Peaks without a good team - the parents who taught him to fight and pursue his passion, the siblings who were his biggest fans, friends/teammates and people who have taught him to accept his blindness and to learn to live with it. But most importantly - it is his strength to defy people's expectations, and his will to do the one thing that makes him happy - climbing, and becoming an inspiration to all other blind people.

Over time, he harnessed his gift. He created his own systems so he can teach his students, to navigate the streets of his hometown, and to make his way up several mountains and cliffs. There were a lot of challenges, self-doubt, and criticisms. But he did it, he was able to climb the Seven Peaks, he climbed Mt. Everest. He has also raised a lof of funds for organizations supporting causes on glaucoma and empowering blind people. He inspires me and reminds me that nothing is impossible. 

2) Three Cups of Tea


I've always been interested in 'Three Cups of Tea' by Greg Mortenson, but it was never enough for me to buy it. But since you can trade books in Thamel, and they're also very cheap, I decided to buy it. And I'm so glad I did. 

Three Cups of Tea is the story of how Greg Mortenson's failed attempt to reach K2 lead him to build schools for children in the high mountains of Pakistan. It talks about education, family, hospitality, and the sense of community.

When he got lost during his K2 attempt, he was taken in by the chief of a village on the high mountains of Pakistan. He observed how the children there were out in the cold while studying. Before he left, he promised the chief that one day he will go back and build a school for those children.

Going back to the USA and saving up money wasn’t easy for him. He lived in his car for a time and worked really hard. Going up to successful mountaineering veterans and high net worth people to ask for support was also a challenge. But he did it anyway.

Once he had enough money to build the school, he gave up everything and went back to Pakistan. And this was during the time that there was political tension between the two countries. But there was another challenge, buying the materials for the building of the schools and having to transport them to the villages on the high mountains. More than the fact that there was an American in Pakistan, it was his mission that surprised them. But overtime, Greg Mortenson’s sincerity and spirit won them over, even the militant groups. For a few weeks they helped him bring all the supplies to the villages. They did it for their children. To provide decent education to their children. There was this one touching scene when the chief called Mortenson into his house and thanked him for everything he has done, for giving the children the one thing he wished he had back when he was also a child.

The first school he built proved to be the start of one of the endeavors of a non-profit organization to provide more schools to the villages in Pakistan. He continued this mission even to the high mountains of Afghanistan in his book Stones into Schools. And I can’t wait to read it also. 

These people inspire me and remind me of the things we can do. And that we can make things happen despite all the challenges it entails. 

3) Wild by Cheryl Strayed


"It was all unknown to me then, as I sat on that white bench on the day I finished my hike. Everything except the fact that I didn’t have to know. That it was enough to trust that what I’d done was true. To understand its meaning without yet being able to say precisely what it was. To believe that I didn’t need to reach with my bare hands anymore. To know that seeing the fish beneath the surface of the water was enough. That it was everything. It was my life – like all lives, mysterious and irrevocable and sacred. So very close, so very present, so very belonging to me. 

How wild it was, to let it be."

I recently bought a kindle touch. Despite my hesitations before about ebook readers, I’d have to admit I love my kindle, especially the fact that reading the kindle was like reading a book. One of the free books in the kindle group was Wild by Cheryl Strayed. The brief description mentioned the words: ‘hike’ and ‘trail’. And of course it got me interested. It’s the story about the loss, heartbreak, and pain she experienced and how it all led to her doing the Pacific Crest Trail. Reading through it brought back memories of my trek in Nepal. The issues of packing too much stuff, the boots, the cold, the heat, the amazing landscapes, and the priceless and invaluable benefits of trekking – clearing of the mind, facing fears, lessons on humility, and just pure bliss.

And the one most important lesson on trekking - the importance of the 'now', the 'present', and just letting things be.

I highly encourage you guys to read these books. And go trekking!

More to come and other recommendations:
What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami
Himalaya by Michael Palin
Into Thin Air by John Krakaeur


LITERARY TRAVEL BOOKS

If you want to have an idea of how amazingly colorful and diverse the different cultures are in the world, I highly recommend these books.

1) The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy


"The only dream worth having is to dream that you will live while you are alive, and die only when you are dead. To love, to be loved. To never forget your own insignificance. To never get used to the unspeakable violence and vulgar disparity of the life around you. To seek joy in the saddest places. To pursue beauty to its lair. To never simplify what is complicated or complicate what is simple. To respect strength, never power. Above all to watch. To try and understand. To never look away. And never, never to forget."

I’ve always loved reading. But ever since I graduated from college, I always tend to a start a book then not finish it. What’s worse is that I tend to buy books and not read them at all. Except Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things.

It tells of the tragedy of a Kerala family brought about by society’s caste system and Love Laws (That lay down who should be loved. And how. And how much.)

It took me almost a week to read it. But for the first time, in a long time, I finished reading a book. It’s not exactly the story that pulled me but the way the story was written. I’m not that good with words so I really can’t describe how different and effective her story telling skill is. Maybe you just ought to read the book to understand why I have a hard time explaining.

Or read the following excerpts:

"Perhaps it's true that things can change in a day. That a few dozen hours can affect the outcome of whole lifetimes. And that when they do, those few dozen hours, like the salvaged remains of a burned house---the charred clock, the singed photograph, the scorched furniture---must be resurrected from the ruins and examined. Preserved. Accounted for. Little events, ordinary things, smashed and reconstitutred. Imbued with new meaning. Suddenly they become the bleached bones of a story."

"When you hurt people, they begin to love you less. That's what careless words do. They make people love you a little less." 

It was already 2:00 am and I knew that I had to put down the book. But the last chapter was just too…passionate - the unforbidden love, the words used, the way the sentences were constructed – all of which just leave you mesmerized and alive at 2:00 am in the morning. It’s like the chapter alone can be a masterpiece.

"Being with him made her feel as though her soul had escaped from the narrow confines of her island country into the vast, extravagant spaces of his. He made her feel as though the world belonged to them- as though it lay before them like an opened frog on a dissecting table, begging to be examined." 

"The way her body existed only where he touched her. The rest of her was smoke." 

"He folded his fear into a perfect rose. He held it out in the palm of his hand. She took it from him and put it in her hair." 


More to come and other recommendations:
Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts
The Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner
Aleph by Paulo Coelho