Ed Rosenthal, as told to Matthew Segal:
There's an openness to the desert that is just wonderful. It lets you focus on what matters in life. There are no real estate deals going on. You are alone with yourself, and there's a spirit of the desert -- an energy you don't find elsewhere.
I felt completely alone.
I could see the canopy of the jungle spinning towards me. Then I lost consciousness and remember nothing of the impact. Later I learned that the plane had broken into pieces about two miles above the ground.
I woke the next day and looked up into the canopy. The first thought I had was: "I survived an air crash."
I shouted out for my mother in but I only heard the sounds of the jungle. I was completely alone.
There were mountains in every direction. Mountains she had climbed. Mountains that had stolen the lives of her friends and nearly claimed hers too. But never had she invested so much in a mountain as the one under her boots at last.
Danger was a constant companion. Of course there was the possibility of being attacked by Flecheiros, but even greater hazards lay in the journey itself. This was highly jagged terrain incised by innumerable creeks with vertical banks that had to be scaled or slithered down (up to twenty-five in a day's march). Never mind the snakes and jaguars; these are much overrated. The real danger was that of slipping and breaking a limb or falling and being impaled on the Punji sticks left by the machete-wielding trailblazers at the front of the line.
On a lengthy expedition of this kind, food supplies are a critical issue, not simply for energy but for morale. No one can carry fifty days' rations on top of a hammock, clothing, and other essential equipment. Daily hunting made up the shortfall. Naturally, returns were better on some days than others. There were many days when the hunters could bag only a few monkeys. A bowl of thin monkey broth simply couldn't compensate for a long day's march and left everyone in a sullen mood.
Some people need to revisit Paris. I am a compulsive returnee to Tibet and Kailash. It is my escape from western civilization and its vulgarity, Berlusconi to Gaga. The four days it takes me, going from a little less than 16,000 feet to 18,600 as I go over the pass, Droelma La, circling the mountain, very slowly, enables me to detach from the octopus grasp of my culture's adhesive attachment to time. It is a meditation trek. It is an attempt to hear whatever I believe is reality, which gets obscured by the incessant noise of one's life.
The scenery was overwhelmingly beautiful as we walked between turreted cliffs, passing white streamers of waterfalls and boulders patched with orange and green lichens. Looking at a photograph of the Horsehead Nebula, swimming in its ocean of dust and gases, I have an appropriate sense of my size in the universe. The landscape of Tibet has the same effect on me. We passed a young woman on her own, very pretty, prostrating her way along the path, a major endeavor that could certainly take her several weeks. When you do prostrations around anything sacred, you walk from where your feet are at the end of the prostration to where your head just was -- in other words, your height -- and then do the next prostration. It pays to be tall.