Tuesday, November 24, 2009
Chennai (named Madras by the British, corrected relatively recently back to a more local moniker) is a bit different than most of the places I've been so far. Furthest south, and close to the ocean, it's incredibly humid and warm, even in "winter", which is now. It actually reminded me strongly of the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, a strange connection that took a day or two to shake off. Lots of temples of various architecture and age, including many older ones (600 AD?) in a place called Mamallapuram, a tourist town that did little to dispel my Mexico schizophenia.
Most interesting, however, was getting to stay with my friend and her husband and son - altogether an incredibly talented family. She is a very accomplished Indian Classical Dancer, and we were treated to a short private performance. There are many styles of classical dance, but I'd never seen any of them, and to get such an amazing performance up close was perhaps the best introduction one could hope for. Her husband is a well-known Classical Vocalist who performs with her as well as in his own shows; she played a commercially-produced CD of him for her mini-performance. And last but not least, their son is a budding western-style guitarist, inordinately fond of Jimi Hendrix, who we got to hear play in his school's "western music assembly" the day we arrived. Wow. Best of all, they are all incredibly warm and welcoming, a pleasure to get to know individually as well as part of a family.
Also met up with a new friend from this year's MTB Himachal (funny being on the same trip and meeting back up with people from previous activities...) and cycled to Pondicherry, about 150km south on a beautiful coastal road. My first trip on a road bike was great - so different than the grinding you do cycling up and down rough mountain terrain. No crazy pictures, but it was great to just ride through the greenery and salty air. A quick stay with other cycling friends there and back the next day - nice tour.
Now off to Bangalore for the last stop on this tour - a little climbing, a little cycling, and some good face time with friends.
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
We spent about a week back at the main NIM campus de-issuing gear, doing a bit more rock climbing, practicing the graduation ceremony, and, most importantly, going into town so the long-deprived students could have some junk food. Junk food in this case means chaats, street food, often fried, frequently sweet, and, as required by the definition of street food, largely without redeeming nutritional value but fun to eat! Tikki burgers (fried potato patties on a roll with chili sauce), dahi puri (fried crunchies with sweet sauce and chili sauce and yogurt), and jalebis (fried swirls of batter subsequently saturated in sugar syrup)... sense a trend?
But the more important graduation ceremony was carried out in good style, followed by a "cultural" presentation - everything from Bollywood-style dance numbers to skits about decompressing from the NIM experience to local dance and traditional music. Students returned their stylish NIM graduation sweaters and were suddenly faced with that inevitable end of such an intense ordeal and bonding experience. Hasty goodbyes and early-morning departures left some relieved, some hoping to see new friends on the Advanced Course next year.
I personally am ready for some down time, and am looking forward to a visit with two new friends, one from the mountain bike race, one from the Basic Course, in Chennai. Mmm... warm weather.
Thursday, November 12, 2009
Wow - that was definitely interesting. I learned a ton of old-school and expedition-specific techniques, a bunch more Hindi, and the names of about a quarter of the students. I thought remembering eight English names on a 3-day Rainier climb was hard...
A three-day march brought us to Base Camp, complete with generator and electric lights, 10-person canvas tents, a stone shelter with propane stoves, a cook staff, and the biggest pressure cooker pot I've ever seen. Porters carried up daily fresh vegetables and eggs, and the ten goats I watched being weighed at our first camp were regularly made into mutton stew. (I love the idea of being able to pet my, or my fellow climbers', dinner's fuzzy nose.) Once a week there was even a "mail run" - money could be given to a porter who would bring back sweets or TP the next day! Crazy expedition stuff.
Over 18 days of hiking in and practicing around Base Camp we covered ice climbing, crevasse crossing, basic snow skills, navigation, and height gain. Some things were the same, some from about 20 years ago, and a few things were just straight-up new to me. Such a strange mix of old and new techniques. Fortunately, a guy who works with a climbing-certification organization paid a visit as well, so I wasn't the only person insisting on crazy things like manufacturer-specified angles of ice-screw placement.
And despite being the "slow" instructor, both in the speed of my students and my non-understanding of daily instructions in Hindi, everyone was great, super helpful and largely indulgent of my ignorance of daily camp workings. On top of it, I had to take my turn as Duty Instructor, responsible for making sure everything happens on time and in line. But I don't know what I'm supposed to be ordering or finding out during morning parade, let along the Hindi words for "attention" and "at ease"... (Actually, I do now - Sabdan and Vishram, in case you ever need to know.) One of the hardest things I've ever done, truthfully - maintaining a (relatively) even keel through not knowing what's going on, trying to suggest improvements while not being condescending, and generally having to sit back and watch a situation I would normally be at least partially in charge of run completely differently.
My basic goal of understanding more of how climbing works here has definitely been accomplished. Larger goals will come with time - I intend to do more with the programs here, though I'm not sure yet in what capacity or timeframe. Down from the mountains now, we're back to more ceremony and logistical management than activity, and I'm about ready to go. A couple more days of graduation rehearsals, assessments, etc, and I'll be on my own again, in charge of my own time. Amazing how important that is when you don't have it.