At Cargo Literary Magazine, we aim to bring you compelling stories of human development through the lens of travel. Each month we will be publishing your stories of change, of revelation: your creative nonfiction, your poems, your photo essays and digital art.
If you love Cargo’s photography features, we have exciting news! For the next eleven weeks, we will be presenting the photography of Jill Dobbe on Instagram, in a photo essay called “Casco Viejo, Panama-A New and Old Delight.” We will be adding a new photo each #TravelTuesday with the tags #InstaSeries, #Adventures in #Panama.
Do you have a passion for photography, and want to submit your #InstaStory for an #InstaSeries on Cargo’s Instagram page? Check out our submissions guidelines here:
Looking forward for more posts from Panama. Thanks Jill!
About Jill Dobbe
Jill is an international educator, travel writer, amateur photographer, and published author of two travel memoirs, who writes about her experiences living and working in schools and countries around the world. She presently lives in her seventh country, Honduras, with her husband, and Yorkie-Poo, Mickey. While working as an elementary principal, Jill also writes, reads, takes photos of the beautiful people and countries of Latin America, and muddles her way through the Spanish language. Jill loves her life as an international educator, and most days, feels like she is living her dream.
an angel carved from stone. A pair of wings tilted towards the sky, head bowed to listen. She guards a rock with faded letters at her feet. One hand rests open on her chest while the other clutches a rose. Spray paint has stained her halo red. Sun etches the path with shadow, elongates her body and severs her arm at the elbow.
The shade flickers when figures in black pass. Men carry shovels. Women carry lilacs. You carry your uncle in a box. His casket grinds into your right shoulder, its brass handles cold on your temple. Grains in the wood blur with each step.
Dirt fall disrupts the stillness. Metal grates against tiny stones every time the shovel pierces, drowning the pastor’s voice. When he waves his cross, you strike the ground with more force. A worm bursts when it catches on the shovel’s edge. Entrails fuse with mud while sweat drips and vanishes into the soil, an ache in your forearm throbs. The heap swells. Once you’ve buried this box, you will carry nothing but a realization. This cemetery is for the living: a place to hold when you should let go.
A tawny bird settles on a willow bough where its gaze meets yours, eyes black and resolute. On one foot, the bird sways. Cotton floats in the breeze around the two of you like a summer snow. A wisp lands on your wrist fragile and brief. Before you can touch it, the cotton takes flight and disappears into the sky. After a moment, the bird also departs.
All that remains is a dark mound. Ants scurry in and out of the fresh earth. Two clover leafs are chiselled on the monument above his name. Dates mark only the start and end, his years between reduced to a dash—a subtraction. Can angels hear the echo of a life hushed by gravestone?
Wet dirt softens the fall when you drop to your knees. White gloves turn black as you dig, teeth rattle and goose bumps emerge. Mud soars, nails scrape, come on just a little deeper. He can’t breathe. You can’t breathe. Someone hauls you to your feet.
Hearts bloat, then purge.
a quiet street in Ireland. Snow plummets towards cobblestone and fades into passing headlights. An icicle glimmers in the beam of a lamppost, its serrated point above the bench where you sit. Hairs on your neck stiffen when a snowflake melts, drips down your spine and a shiver wracks your body. In the square, a red bulb on the Christmas tree flickers. With a pop out of place in the stillness, the light dissolves to black.
Five children round the corner and prowl the sidewalk with cheeks red from cold. One hefts a stick over his left shoulder and another drags a sled. The last boy kicks a stone while he walks and when a wren chatters from a stop sign, he swipes the rock from the ground. His movements are so fast that you blink only once before the boys lunge.
Now imagine five children who circle a bloodied stone and a wren. One child scoops the wren into his hand. Brown feathers merge into golden wings and two white lines streak its eyes. Frantic pupils dart back and forth, roll to show white. Screeches escape through its beak while it struggles in the boy’s palm. After a sharp peck, the boy tightens his grip and the bird falls silent.
With his thumb pressed to its chest, the boy stuffs the bird into a shoebox and passes it around the circle. Each child shakes the box, a holiday present guessing game. The bird’s body slides and bashes against cardboard walls with muffled cries. Strung lights and chimney smoke douse the children in a shadowy haze. Their teeth gleam, laughter echoes. Why haven’t you stopped them?
The last boy raises the package over his head and slams it to the ground. They open the lid and tie the bird to a holly wreath with wings spread wide, neck tilted. Its head lolls upon three red berries. One child tosses you the bloody stone before they carry the bird away, chanting and singing through red-glowing streets.
The wren the wren the king of all birds, give us a stone to bury the wren.
a frosted moorland. Brittle wheat towers above, forward, and back like a skeletal sea. You weave through the stalks, rock clenched in hand. Grasses bend in the wind and brush against your thighs. Clouds puff from your cracked lips and sweat trickles in the corner of your mouth. When you break free of the field, a beach spreads across the land where ocean waves crash under a blanket of snow-riddled clouds.
A wren perches on a signpost that cautions visitors of rough tides ahead. Its plume is ruffled by sanded gusts and your hold tightens on the stone, but before you can launch it, the wren flies to a lighthouse at the water’s edge.
You stand at the base of the lighthouse. Its shadow buries you in darkness. Hoarfrost crystalizes around the tower and spirals towards the light. The wren glides to the balcony where your uncle teeters on the railing. He faces the water with his palms angled to the sky. Red lines spider across his eyes, irises silvery under the beacon. Blink. He now sits with a little girl who talks to him about things you wish you could remember. Blink. He leaps into the silver blend of sea and sky. Blink. Both figures are gone. The wren remains.
At the top, you rush onto the balcony. A blizzard descends, obscures the distance. Snowflakes seep through your white knuckles to melt on the stone while air numbs your lungs, paralyzes your feet. Will you forget the way he smelled? Will you remember the weight of his arm draped over your shoulder when you sat on this very balcony together? The wren calls from above, but you have lost sight of it in the snow.
Inside, a bulb rotates in a glass box, wind rattle hushed by its creak. The rotating light dims and blinds too bright, too fast. Closed fist, nails to palm, you strike the bulb with the stone. Over and over and over again. Jagged shards soar, distorts the white light red.
The bulb no longer revolves. You sink to the floor.
Calling all travellers with words to share this Summer! Cargo Issue no. 13 is looking for dynamic stories of personal transformation through travel, and insight into your cultural experiences. As always, we are looking for strong narratives, and art reflective of locality.
We are looking for nonfiction, poetry, photography and visual art streams – no fiction please. We love COVER ART! Send us your best images and the stories to go along with them. Submit by May 15th for consideration in Issue no. 13.
Venice was isolating. It was cold. It was dirty. It was nothing like I expected. It smelled of fish. I hate fish.
When I’d first found out we would be going to Venice, I was ecstatic; I couldn’t wait to see the city I’d been reading so much about since childhood—a romantic, sprawling city sparkling with lights and stars reflected on dark water streets. There was a small part of me expecting, hoping for, a small, quaint town like Assisi—but I had also expected something bigger than the reality. I had expected a city with the sun shining, not one with unpredictable rainclouds that opened at any moment with no fair warning. I had expected people running around to do God only knew what, in their heavy velvet gowns and their codpieces, in their chopines and tights, in their elaborately decorated Carnivale masks with ribbons and feathers and hook noses.
I hadn’t expected this ramshackle little place with fish scent and garbage in every canal, those canals smaller than I ever imagined, so small I wondered how any gondola carrying infatuated couples could get through them. Wondered why any infatuated couple would ever want to come through those dirty canals.
There were streets—another thing I hadn’t seen coming, another lie I had been told about Venice, the city of water-streets. And there weren’t just streets, but plazas, whole swaths of cobblestones grounding shops and restaurants and gelato shacks. There were walkways between houses and tiny bars, some so narrow I could stretch my arms out and run my fingers along the brick walls on both sides.
I did this multiple times, not because I was astounded by the discovery every time, but for the isolation. Touching the walls meant no one could walk beside me; I could grasp a few minutes of solitude, of contemplation, before my companions’ questions and exclamations and complaints could start up again, before I was forced to listen and respond.
Some so narrow I could stretch my arms out and run my fingers along the brick walls on both sides.
I thought about the way she was slowly sinking into herself, drowning in her own seas.
The isolation in Rome had been terrifying, but thrilling—the grandeur of Coliseum, of Vatican, of Trevi, made me feel small, insignificant, the lone life beside cold stone, and the crowds made me feel anxious, smothered, breathless. The isolation of Assisi had been spiritual: it was a city set on a hill geographically, chronologically, and I felt holy, set apart, isolated from the corruption of time. But Venice was too small, too dreary, too empty, to distract me from any feelings of solitude; there were no ancient monuments to tower over me, no holy hills to give me peace.
Being in a land of strangers, like crowded Rome or quiet Assisi, wasn’t bad: no one knew me anyway, they weren’t ignoring, I wasn’t lonely. But Venice, with its dismal disposition and narrow streets, made me feel more separate, more unlike the rest of the group I had no room to move away from. It was a ridiculous, self-pitying idea: this craving for solitude to wallow in loneliness.
I didn’t think about my classmates—they seemed to either be having as miserable a time as I, or an unrelateably good time. I didn’t think about the shopkeepers—they were native, they knew everyone. I didn’t think about the medieval Venetians I had so romanticized—their days were filled with masquerade balls and velvet gowns and illicit rendezvous, they were fine.
I did think about the island, and its own isolation, stranded as it was in the Adriatic Sea, with its only connection to its fellow islands a bridge, a ribbon or a spiderweb that tentatively connected Venice to the others, that brought it trainloads of strangers every day to plunder her Carnivale riches and gaze at her canals, to be horrified by her filth or blinded by her romance, but never truly see her, get to know her, just like I couldn’t. I thought about the way she was slowly sinking into herself, drowning in her own seas.
I left Venice early. It had started that unanticipated, cold, mocking rain again; my shoes were soaked and my lacy shirt—which I had worn to feel like the romantic Venetian heroines I loved reading about—was sticking to my skin and starting to itch; my umbrella was useless now, laden with rain. I had gotten the masks I had wanted, and my roommates were sick of the place. Plus, I was scared I wouldn’t get on the right train by myself. Why bother staying?
We dozed on the train. I thought about the short little Venetian venture, tried to rectify the Venice I had always dreamed of with the Venice I saw: the garbage-strewn canals, the heavy downpours and gloomy skies, the derelict and algae-crusted houses. The despondent atmosphere wafting up from the blue-grey-green waters, making me want to cry, to hide in the corner shadows of buildings or run into one of the churches or jump into the dirty water itself and let its chill wake me up…
…But despite the grey skies and fishy waters, I rather liked it. The atmosphere—atmospheric Venice. It was small and dirty and ramshackle and unexpected, and that made it feel real, authentic, like people could actually get murdered there in gruesome fashions, and that made all the Venetian mysteries I had read come to life. The crumble of Venice, the peel of plaster and stink of canals, the antiquity, made it so much more than my imaginings, made the City of Water solid. There had been beauty beyond the rubbish, behind the rubble, between the grocery bags and plastic bottles. It was an ancient beauty, one that showed what the island city had once been: a city of opulence and romance and intrigue to rival Rome; a city of set-apartness like Assisi, worthy of all praise and glory. A city set adrift, set apart, in isolation, in its own contemplation.
It was an ancient beauty.
The Venice with substance, character.
I had feared solitude the whole time I was in Italy—feared loneliness, separation, vulnerability. But in Venice I felt the beauty of that solitude I dreaded. With it came silence, a chance to mull on the mocking voices in my head or ignore them for the slight slapping of Venetian water on ancient stone. With the stillness of solitude came the opportunity to look at my surroundings—to get out of my head and experience, soak in the adventure I had always craved.
I wonder if I had just been so consumed with myself that I had missed out on the beauty of Venice, if I had projected my fears of solitude onto the city and turned into a crumble of litter and disappointment. I wonder if I had just been on the wrong side of the city, if I had wandered into the poorer sphere, if there would have been marble palaces and splendor if I had just turned to look. If a few feet away had been sparkling canals with honeymooning gondola patrons, skies with no rain. But I like to keep the Venice I got, the Venice with substance, character. The Venice that let me think. The Venice that let me wander in contemplation, in solitude.
The cliff shadow is an angle curtaining the valley floor with granular dusk.
Each one of my days on the Milford Track ends with a variation of this back and forth: Jordan, a 20-something walking guide who wears hipster glasses stands in front of a mostly geriatric crowd and begins…
Jordan: Tomorrow’s dinner options are stewed venison with whipped garlic potatoes and a red wine gravy. *Rubs stomach*
Jordan: Or New Zealand salmon with roasted spuds and a veggie medley. *Closes eyes, lips pursed*
Jordan: And the vegetarian option is a roasted winter squash with quinoa and goat cheese. *Rubs stomach again*
The setting is the Pamplona Lodge common area. Fifty of us sit at round tables. Tattoo free young people in kitchen whites are busing our used dishes. The inside furnishings are reminiscent of college dorm rooms: the sofas are long and blockish with navy fabrics; wood coffee tables are between them and have that plain IKEA look. Scant attention has been paid to decorations. The posters and prints that are hung relate in some way to New Zealand hiking. A bookcase is in the corner and is filled with 1990s Nat Geo magazines and pulp paperbacks crusty from non-use. The most worn spines belong to nature-type field manuals like bird watching guides and plant directories. A smorgasbord of board games are in a pile, flattened and yellow tinged the way board games discovered in attic chests are, corner seams torn from the flattening. A guest book is on a table, and a blank page is headlined with today’s date. Log entries go back years, containing mostly mundane exclamations (“We had a sunny day on the Milford!”; “My clothes are so wet!”; “It didn’t stop raining but we had such a great time today!”), but there are a few pages that have immaculate color pencil drawings of keas or ballads of inferior verse. There is a stack of similarly sized guide books nearby.
Called a tree house, the Pamplona Lodge is actually a congregation of I think five structures—land based—interconnected via covered wood walkways. It’s the way their roof tops pop out of the dense fern forest they’re built into that gives it the tree house aspect, like they’re poking from actual lofty canopy. Above the forest, across the valley, is a screensaver worthy mountain cliff. It reminds me of one of those modernist pictures where the artist takes an everyday object with dense, engineered innards and simply splits the object in twain and photographs the side view of one of the halves. From my far down vantage the cliff’s scalpel edge is smoking. Just beginning to disappear behind it is the sun, which has been on a slow hop-scotch across the blue divide between the valley’s opposing mountains. The cliff shadow is an angle curtaining the valley floor with granular dusk. The Lodge was designed to maximize the sun’s effect—the walls and the first quarter of the roof are windows—and most hikers spent the late afternoon sprawled on the sofas while sipping tea, eating cookies, and delighting in the radiance. The next morning the same vantage would sight cloud and rain. Rain would freckle the windows and the aggregate of drops would turn the landscape beyond into a mottled mass.
The grander setting is the Milford Track. I’m on it with Ultimate Hikes, which runs a government sanctioned monopoly of guided walks on multiple New Zealand trails. And what I am now trying to determine is the wisdom in and justification for spending a lot of money on a four day hiking trek that comes with hot showers, drying rooms, comfy beds, full dinner services, and electricity.
Hiking the Milford Track to begin with, Ultimate Hikes or not, is a bit of an indulgence. Simply getting there, assuming you belong to 99.99% of the world’s population that doesn’t live in New Zealand, requires a vertigo inducing 10+ hour international flight, a regional jet to Queenstown, a four hour bus ride to Lake Te Anau Downs, and then a one hour ferry ride to the trailhead.
The logistical complications arise entirely as a result of the track being in Fiordland, which is New Zealand’s largest national park and a UNESCO heritage site. The name is a bit of an amelioration trick to make up for the etymological gaff of dubbing Milford Sound (Fiordland’s iconic site) a “sound” as opposed to what it is in fact: a fjord. To the uninitiated—which tour bus and cruise guides assume you are if you have bought a ticket for either one—a sound is a deep, river carved gorge. They are typically V shaped with walls that have less slope than a wall carved by a fjord. Fjords are glacially carved with walls that come straight out of the water like a rising sea monster. Milford’s lesser known tourist pairing—Doubtful Sound—as well as the numerous other “sounds” suffer from the same cartographic ignorance that would have made Columbus proud. So when given the chance to make a correction, New Zealand went with the “fuck it” route and lumped all the “sounds” into the same geographical region and dubbed it “Fiordland.”
Hiking the Milford Track to begin with, Ultimate Hikes or not, is a bit of an indulgence.
Fiordland is a land in opposition with itself.
That Fiordland is accessible at all is an example of our (man’s) incredible attempts to corral nature for our own pecuniary and sight seeing benefits and nature’s constant, gallant attempts to frustrate those purposes. Fiordland is a fantail of land that begins halfway down the western side of south island and extends to the bottom. It is south island’s stoic guardian agains the Tasman Sea, which pummels it with gale winds and rain. Milford Sound receives, on average, 6,412 mm of rain each year, which makes it one of the wettest places on Earth. For some perspective, perpetually damp Seattle receives 952 mm. A plethora of mountain ranges lace the area, and the rivers between them wiggle through like capillaries on a drunk man’s nose. There is constant destruction and constant regeneration; Fiordland is a land in opposition with itself. The tectonic plates are prolific here, each year pushing mountains up by 10mm, but the trio of forces—wind, rain, and water—impedes any advance by shaving each of those millimeters off, so the mountain peaks that are stiff with snow year round are made stagnant by the sky they tarry in.
Landscape altering events are literal scars on the environment: portions of mountainsides have crumpled into valleys and splintered the gigantic beech trees that grew for centuries beneath them. And if weather has moods then they’re most evident here. The weather is pestilential. Each sunny day is punished by a week of rain. Days that dawn sunny and warm are by noon fog blasted and torrential. On the day we were to hike Mackinnon Pass, a 1,154 meter above sea level mountain saddle that is the track’s only real rigor test, what had been morning blues were altered gray, and rain fell heavy. By the time we had reached the pass and descended to the valley on the other side, all hints of the weather tantrum were gone, and the sun shone hot with little covering cloud. In between though, rain polished the rocks on the trail so they looked emerald. Waterfalls were sprites on distant mountain sides. Climbing the Pass’s switchbacks meant we were buffered from wind, but when we reached the saddle the wind hit us uninhibited. Rainfall that the mountain moss could not hold poured into gullies that ran at our feet. They followed the saddle’s downward angle to the cliff edge. Beyond the edge was a thousand meter drop, straight down, no ledge or piedmont to stop whatever object was dropped from it until it hit the valley below. The wind bowling down the valley on that side hit the cliff and fluted up, and as the water in the gullies poured from the cliff edge, ready to spray down into vertical oblivion, the wind from below lofted it skyward. Fiordland, I learned, is a place where waterfalls fall up.
Yet there we, humans, go. The mountain tunnel to Milford Sound took eighteen years to complete (World War II interrupted the work), and requires a power station and numerous compressors to pump out the 40,000 liters of water that per hour percolate through the rock so as to allow mega buses filled with tourists to make their way to the tour ship terminal. At Mackinnon Pass, signs advise groups to remain together during their crossings. A shelter is built at the top to provide protection, yet a plaque inside commemorates that it is the second hut built in this location, meaning that the previous one was blown off its foundation, the material scattered like confetti towards the valley it looks over. Helicopter evacuations are frequent. In my Ultimate Hikes group, a woman came across a man whose head was wedged between two rocks on the Mackinnon Pass ascent. Blood spooled out of a head gash. He was air lifted out with five broken ribs, a concussion, torso contusions, and a punctured lung. The rescue helicopter was delayed in arriving because another one was already in the airspace to remove a different injured hiker.
It seems to be a very human quality to impose our presence on a place that so blatantly does not want us. The idea that certain parts of our planet have a character opposed to our existence might not cross the minds of their initial explorers. But even for a non-spiritual person like myself, it is impossible to not become addicted to the almost lethal spirituality that exist in these places. Human religions demand that we look up to worship—e.g. cathedral architecture galvanizes your eyes skyward with their abundance of stained glass, gilded ornaments, and out-of-ratio-with-reality mosaics—but a mountain demands that your eyes be low and high. The terrain captures with scope the entirety of your perspective by putting hail into your eyes, wrapping your body with a concussing pressure of wind, while allowing the far off landscape to moil in elemental ferment.
At Mackinnon Pass, signs advise groups to remain together during their crossings.
Shelling out a gross amount of money is exactly what I did.
To be clear, however: the Milford Track is not a permanent place of danger, nor even a frequent one. But as is true of any distant, natural place, Milford is not without risk. The nearness to danger is better characterized as a flirtation with its most mild form. It is possible to sense the landscape’s intolerance of you without feeling threatened by it.
This is caused partly by the layout of the track itself. As far as hiking trails go, the Milford is not a hiking trail, and, other than Mackinnon Pass (which is a remarkably easy hump), it could constitute a glorified stroll with 53.5 kilometers of well maintained, flat track that’s essentially two valley walks with a mountain in the middle whose terminus is Milford Sound.
It is also partly the result of the DOC’s total charge over the track. The Track’s unique geography—ingress and egress points that require water taxi transportation—lets the DOC control exactly how many people begin each day. To even board the ferry that’ll take you to the trail head, you must show proof of bookings for each night and receipt for the taxi at track’s end. So only forty hikers with a DOC booking start each day. And, since the track is one way, the advertisement is that you’re less likely to pass another hiker and therefore more able to experience Fiordland’s unadulterated nature.
There are moments on the Milford when it is possible to think you’ve stepped into the Tertiary period before man. The water here is so clear that if it did not move you could look at a sand bottom four meters in depth and see with such clarity its stones it would be as if you held them in your palm. Trout the size of children slink through the gelid blue. Certain birds—the whio blue duck, for example—are so rare that spotting one requires informing a track ranger. And other birds are so ignorant of people and our harms that they quite literally peck on your shoelaces. The DOC has successfully industrialized out the type of industrious human behavior that would entirely ruin a place like this.
For the above reasons, and because of over a century of successful marketing that’s caused the track to gain international renown, the Milford is often referred to as “the finest track in the world.” I was pulled to it partly for this reason, even if it is, as travel writer Paul Theroux wrote back in 1992, “simply tourist board hyperbole.” Mine was not a unique fascination though. If using the objective metric of how difficult it is to secure a DOC hut booking, the Milford is New Zealand’s most popular track. Each of the three DOC huts get booked out rapidly after the booking period’s opening. Other popular tracks, such as the Routeburn and Kepler, do not fill nearly as fast. And still others, the Rakiura for example, can be booked a day before starting out. Absent winning what is essentially the Milford DOC hut lottery though, you will never get to see the place. Unless of course you decide to shell out a gross amount of money to do a guided walk with Ultimate Hikes.
I would be in New Zealand for one year with the chance that I would never be back, so shelling out a gross amount of money is exactly what I did.
It is a bit difficult for me to write this part since I come from a family that values thrift and financial modesty. To give you some idea, my dad drove…well, drives…a 1986 Ford pick-up truck. The cab interior is upholstered with Mexican serape style carpet, and I remember going on junk yard excursions when it needed a new bumper. The top speed is 85 mph. Top speed as in the highest speed labeled on the speedometer, not the speed at which the truck begins to convulse. That would be 55 mph. In San Diego, where the Mercedes, Lexus, Insert Brand of Luxury Car Here, is so common that it’s a trope, seeing Ole Blue in the after-school pick-up line up was, for my sister at least, down right mortifying. She’d duck in the cab so no one could see her, or instruct my dad to park off campus and she’d meet him. Our house’s interior is that manufactured wood with dark varnish that might have made an design splash when it debuted in 1982, but has since been modeled as the “Before” picture in every HGTV show ever. The hallways and living room are a gallery for my sister’s artwork, with particular focus on her preschool to first grade period. When the armrests of my dad’s banker chair wore out, he had the entire piece re-upholstered with Hawaiian print fabric. And, anyways, you get it.
Pricing for Ultimate Hikes rooms begins at around $2,000 NZD. They cap at close to $3,200, which is for an en suite double. This is per person. There’s no promise for poshness. Ultimate Hikes promises dryness and comfort in a place that nearly guarantees that you will be wet and uncomfortable—all the glossy pictures of smiling hikers viewing an eye-wateringly clear and blue Milford is at best propaganda and at worse fraudulent inducement (that our group enjoyed nearly three days of pristine weather was an anomaly).
The price tag is for that definition of luxury that includes inessential, difficult to obtain objects or services. The same definition that makes us believe a lie-flat chair on an airplane is worth three-thousand dollars. This is Ultimate Hikes, per its website: “Our lodges offer hot showers, delicious 3 course meals, beer & wine, heating, drying rooms and warm snug beds.” Their more proactive selling technique is by pointing out what you do not get if you don’t book with them. One website page has a two-column graph, one side titled “Going Guided,” the other “Going it Alone.” It’s the written equivalent of an infomercial, and I can almost imagine the voice-over’s tonal shift when it reads the Going Guided column with pep and the Go it Alone column with discouragement:
Going Guided: Well appointed comfortable lodges[!] —> Going it Alone: Basic huts [ : ( ]
Going Guided: Hot showers [!] —> Going it Alone: No showers [ : ( ]
Going Guided: Meals provided [!] —>
Going it Alone: Carry & cook your own food [ : ( ]
The Going Guided column even lists “safety is paramount” and leaves the Going it Alone equivalent is ominously blank.
This sell-by-comparison tactic is on the trail too. Ultimate Hike lodges are right up against the track on the Routeburn and Milford, have expansive windows that make seeing the interiors a certainty, and are within close radii to DOC huts and campsites, which means DOC hikers pass the lodges at peak weariness. When I hiked the Routeburn and was in low spirits owing to the soggy and cold night in front of me, knowing too that the one sturdy building I’d be able to step into would be a drop toilet that smelled of septic and would have bugs flying up from the blackness below, I walked by the Ultimate Hikes lodge and saw people with wool turtle necks milling inside nibbling cheese. I stared and thought, “Is that mother fucker double fisting wine?”
Our house’s interior is that manufactured wood with dark varnish that might have made an design splash when it debuted in 1982.
We came in as strangers, we leave as friends.
But here’s an admission: an Ultimate Hikes guided walk is outstanding. The cost and its beyond-all-rational-distance-from-reality suggest that partaking in one would be a once in a lifetime experience, but for many of the people in my group, the experience was their second or third. My roommate, a fastidious and neat engineer from the base of Mt. Fuji, was on his fourth Ultimate Hike. An older Australian couple who had come after their marriage were back, decades later, with their daughter and her husband. At each hut the four of them parsed back through those old guest books to see what the newly weds had scribbled. To a person we were impressed with the food offerings and raved about the professionalism, dedication to safety, knowledge, and attitudes of our young guides. We eagerly filled in our names and email addresses on those “Keep in Touch” sheets that must be included in any “we came in as strangers, we leave as friends” group itinerary.
The reason it is outstanding is due to what having all the details of societal type living taken care of does for you. Ultimate Hikes will cook for you, make your bed, dry your clothes, worry about how you get from point A to point B so that what you can concentrate on is you. They create an emotional buttress so that while you hike and are slopping through mud and are so wet you might as well be in a tub, your complex interior monologue can focus less on the sacrifices of comfort and more on what you are experiencing. And, trust me, if you have ever made a bed sheet purchase based off of thread count then I am describing you. While in comfort it’s possible to cast off the notion that you’re spoiled and believe you can empathize, regardless of what trite injustice or disagreeable scenario you’ve been put in, with the people in the world who have real problems and who tolerate more than cold and rain on the daily. But when you are wet and cold, and when you are used to not being wet and cold, then it is difficult to concentrate on much else over a long period. You may still appreciate the moment for what it is, but the high of sensory discovery is like any other high and it will have its commensurate low. What Ultimate Hikes does is catch you during that fall with creme brûlée padding and lay you into soft linens. There is another cost, however, one that goes beyond the line on a Master Card bill. I’m back and forth about whether I should itemize or whether I should lay out my subjective opinion. Since it’s less judicious but more expedient to do the latter, I’ll say that I question the righteousness of expending even a minute portion of our world’s non-renewable resources to provide totally unnecessary comforts so that very rich people who are not in great physical shape can enjoy a distant outdoor place that would get along fine without them. The crates of salmon, the ice creams, the lunch meats and cheese and breads put out for self-service lunches, the diesel gasoline used to power the generators, all this is helicoptered in. There is no limit to the amount of hot..
Thanks so much to travel journalist Jenna Kunze for her decorated images of her travels through Nepal, India and China. We have chosen a special one of Muktinath Temple in Nepal for the cover of Cargo’s Issue 12. Check it out! Then check out a few more of her awesome shots.
About the Cover:
Muktinath temple lies in a remote area of Mustang, Nepal. To reach this holy pilgrimage site, I embarked on a three day motorbike ride up the Himalayan mountains. At an elevation of 3,710 meters, I was attracted to the contrast of earth tones against the ribbonlike prayer flags that decorate the country.
Muktinath Temple, Nepal.
. . .
Spectators on India’s Republic Day in Bundi, India
. . .
Compact apartment buildings in Xiamen, China.
. . .
In small towns like Bundi, milk is delivered door to door from these large jugs.
• • •
A woman rides her bike amongst traffic in eastern Nepal.
• • •
At the vegetable market in Jaipur, women earn by the kilo.
. . .
Mustang, Nepal, is a region bordering Tibet.
. . .
. . .
A view inside Muktinath temple, Nepal.
. . .
An ancient stepwell used to collect rainwater in India.
. . .
A boy on his camel in Rajasthan, India.
. . .
“Safety standards” in Nepal.
. . .
A gypsy family in the Thar Desert of Rajasthan, India.
I have always believed that images are not just two-dimensional substance. Every picture has a story and emotions attached to it. I love clicking pictures, and for me, I use my pictures to find meaning in the randomness.