“Invention, it must be humbly admitted, does not consist in creating out of void, but out of chaos.” Mary Shelley

According to a recent study, it takes fifty hours with someone before considering them a casual friend, ninety hours for the transition to good friends, and about two hundred hours to become best friends, the kind with emergency contact status.

The six of us gather for dinner at Hotel Harmika, to mark the official start of our group’s itinerary. We met only once prior, months ago in Austin, to review logistics and set our intentions for the trip.

There is some overlap in our Venn diagram of friendships. Each of us knows at least one other person at the table, and confusingly, there are three Sarahs. We are all friends with Erika and ended up in Kathmandu, in large part, because of her.

Erika and Sarah A, not to be confused with Sarah JB or Sarah B, recently co-founded Wild Rising Yoga Retreats. The trip to Nepal is their endeavor’s first-ever offering. We are subjects on the test run.

Sarah A lived and worked with a non-profit in Nepal for several years. During that time, she led service tours in the Everest region. Her contacts and knowledge of the country provide an invaluable scaffolding to our trip. I am relieved to let go of the logistical reins.

For the next ten days, we will travel and live together: first visiting sacred sites in Kathmandu; then flying to Pokhara, for a twenty-four-hour stop-over, before embarking on a five-day trek on the lower section of the Annapurna Circuit.

I calculate that by the trip’s end, we will spend almost two-hundred and forty hours in each other’s company. It promises to be a dynamic time for invention. The friendships, experiences, and insights from which do not exist yet, as we sit eating our first meal together in Nepal, sharing arrival stories.

The day and a half of sightseeing in Kathmandu is a staccato reel of images tattooed in my visual cortex. Unlike my experience on the first morning at the Boudhanath Stupa, I am very much in the observer role as we visit Kopan Monastery, earthquake-damaged Durbar Square, the Monkey Temple or Swayambhunath, and the Hindu temple Pashupatinath.

It is the only way I can handle the heady overstimulation, as I absorb as much of the frenzied, contrasting details as my brain can hold.

Our time in Nepal coincides with Tihar, the five-day Hindu festival of lights honoring the goddess Lakshmi, further amplifying the exotic with an added layer of color, ritual, and celebration.

The velocity of the experience creates a blur, and yet some moments remain frozen in my mind.

Noticing the pink glitter-sparkle cellphone case held to the Buddhist nun’s bald head, as she laughs exuberantly.

Witnessing the bodies prepared for cremation at Pashupatinath Temple, wrapped in ceremonial orange fabric.

Watching the sunset overlooking Kathmandu while surrounded by hundreds of monkeys.

Observing the unexplainable magic of the communal effort between our guides and strangers that parted the dense, pulsating crowd for our van to pass.

It Isn’t Always Comfortable


“Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts. It even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you. It should change you.” – Anthony Bourdain

The pollution is so thick; I instinctively take shallow sips of air as I search the crowd of men pressed against the barricade, forming an amalgam of gray and black winter jackets. Each calls to the tourists coming out of the airport, offering rides into the city.

The mix of darkness and smog creates a dense curtain. Kathmandu appears as an opaque orb of light in the distance. I cannot collect enough sensory information to ground myself.

My stomach tightens. I have always been a plan B thinker, vigilantly so when I travel. I tell myself that this time, plan A will work.

Our friends arrived the day prior and texted that they arranged for a driver to pick us up. I scan the crowd while watching other bewildered tourists with bulky backpacks load into cars.

Finally, in the collage of faces, I see a man holding up a rumpled spiral notebook, the kind at the bottom of my feral daughter’s backpack, with my first name scribbled in blue ink across the ruled page.

I make eye contact with the notebook holder, grab Sarah’s arm, and we follow two men to a tiny car. After a few grateful glances and awkward attempts at conversation, Sarah and I squish into the backseat.

We do not exchange another word with the men for the thirty-minute ride, while they speak quietly to each other in Nepali.

Our headlights stop short in the dust and pollution, creating a hazy sepia filter to our introduction to Kathmandu.

I peer out the front window and see that we are one tiny bee in a honking swarm of cars, buses, and motorbikes with masked riders.

The dirt road, riddled with potholes, make the decorations hanging from the rearview mirror swing left and right. The driver expertly dodges oncoming trucks and motorcycles with practiced agility.

We pass walls of small storefronts and low buildings, many with scaffolding, evidence of the 2015 devasting earthquake.

Streams of people of all ages, most wearing breathing masks or holding scarfs over their mouths, flow on each side of the street.

There are sporadic risk-takers who defiantly attempt to cross the road, banging on the sides of cars and jumping from one momentary opening in the traffic to another.

I think of Doha, where we left five hours earlier, and its science-fiction-like cleanliness, as I adjust to Kathmandu’s dystopic pollution and poverty.

I bury my face into the top of my jacket to breathe, trying to filter out the toxic air. I look over at Sarah and give a reassuring smile that says we will settle into our new reality and calibrate to the chaos.

We are in a different universe. That is what we both wanted.

Note: I traveled to Nepal in November of 2018. This is the third essay in a series that describes my experience.

Take Off


Even the demanding man towing his embarrassed wife and kids from one airline representative to another cannot change the system. I don’t know it yet, but my arbitrary placement in line is the first lesson in what will be the theme of my trip to Nepal.

Life is random and senseless.

The departure gate for our flight to Doha is at the end of long hallway making our group of passengers look more distinct than the usual muddling of people in airports. Most are transferring through Qatar to final destinations in India, China, and the Middle East.

The waiting area is crowded, with only a handful of Westerners and many multi-generational families. There is less child-centered parenting and more collective patience for crying babies and whining toddlers. The older children are noticeably self-sufficient and well-behaved.

It’s against this ordinariness that six manicured flight attendants, dressed in elegant magenta and gold uniforms evoking 1960’s aviation glamor, appear out of the blurry distance.

Each woman’s hair is pulled back into a tight dark bun, and their lipstick and eye makeup are so exquisitely applied that I immediately think of the stylized, mannequinesque women in Robert Palmer’s music video, “Addicted to Love.”

They are so beautiful that I cannot turn away and take note that I have never once in my life ever looked so perfect.

Two of the women move behind the gate desk and announce a mandatory recheck of all passengers. The process quickly reveals itself to be an unexpected lottery. For no apparent reason, the attendant on the left permits only one carry-on bag while the attendant on the right allows for two.

The decision is baseless but consistent.

A sense of community builds through the language of furtive glances, subtle head shaking, and the shrugging of shoulders. The lucky passengers look down as they return to their seats; some cannot hide their reflexive grin of good fortune.

My friend Sarah and I calculate our position in line like chess masters thinking ten moves ahead. In the end, I keep both of my bags and Sarah is forced to surrender her backpack.

While boarding, I pass the previously irate man, now calmly fiddling with his headphones, and deliberately look down the row to smile at his wife and kids. As we take off, the cabin glows with a hypnotic pinky-purple, similar to the color that emits from lights made for reptile tanks.

I sit next to a couple making their way to Thailand for their honeymoon. They are both twenty-seven years old. In the time between their birth and sitting down next to me, I have been married to the same man and raised a family of four.

Their sweetness stirs in me a longing to start over. We quickly fall into one of those buzzy, temporary, confessional bonds that can only happen on planes. After hours of talking and laughing, I close my eyes to rest and remember that life is random and senseless and we each create the meaning.

Note: I traveled to Nepal in November of 2018. This is the first essay in a series that describes my experience.