Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Abode of Snow: Trekking in the Himalaya

Part I - The Journey to the Mountains...

(Right click here and open in new tab for suggested accompanying music:)

November 1st – November 9th, 2014 

Amidst a hurried morning of last minute preparations, Oscar and I escape the office for a quick, but real coffee. In a country where coffee means powdered NestCafe, it is hard to understate the bliss of a cup of dark, thick espresso. Meanwhile, our Project Week's 16.00 bus departure has been advanced last minute to 14.30, giving students twenty minutes exactly to leave their last class, finish packing and have lunch.  Rita exerts her Austrian Disciplinarian persona to its fullest as we hustle sixteen students into readiness. Miraculously, we are all on the bus and good to go on time. Only... where is the driver? We send Hindi speaking students to inquire. Ek minute, we are assured: one minute. He went for lunch. Well, everyone' gotta eat...

By the time we are rolling, its 16.00.

We drive North, passing through tunnels under hillsides and into large valley's I've not yet seen, increasingly densely developed as we draw near to Mumbai. In the golden light of the setting sun, I read from Peter Matthiesson's Snow Leopard, a story of trekking in the Himalayas that enthralled me when I read it nearly ten years ago, living in Guelph still, dreaming that I might be accepted to a mythical Hogwarts-like school on Vancouver Island. A wonderful full circle with which to begin a adventure to the same mountains that fed Matthiesson's pages and my imagination years ago.

Where the bus ride end, the real adventure begins. Aparna, MUWCI's on-site counsellor and psychology teacher, sweeps into action as our adult Hindi speaker and India Railway Specialist. She sorts us out, and soon we are not only on the right train, but spreading fresh pressed sheets onto the flip-down seats that will be our beds for the night. I make a visit to the various berths occupied by MUWCI students, offering a handshake, high five or hug to each as I bid goodnight to the suddenly stress-free students who have left the pressures of Ivy League college applications far behind.

I sleep solidly.

I wake up in Rajasthan.

Suddenly it is the grey light of dawn. I escape the vicious AC of our cart to squat in the none-air-conditioned service room between carts, where I take my morning chai and look out the open door at the world the tracks are slowly leading us through. The grey light of dawn is amplified by the greyscale scene all around: bleak train tracks, crumbling concrete platforms and thin framed people camouflaged by grey garments, picking through the mounds of rubbish dispelled from passing trains. The early morning sun has no warmth to it.

I head back in. We roll into farmland once more. I learn that I have woken up in Rajisthan. We pass Chambal Station, the home of Fulan Devi, better known as Bandit Queen, an Indian woman made (in)famous for seeking revenge for female rape victims by killing their male assailants. The land is flat here, strikingly different from the hills of Maharashtra, but the cows seem to share the same ascetic indifference to the goings ons around them.

As the day continues we travel across Rajasthan, through Madhya and Uttar Pradesh and finally into Haryana state, and Delhi.

Following tribe through crowd.

We arrive to Delhi at 16.30 with an original plan of waiting in the station for the full six hour wait before our connecting train. But as soon as we arrived in this ancient, thriving city we shift to Plan B. We ditch our mountain of packs in the train station and saddle up a fleet of rickshaws that take us to nearby Connaught Place. The meeting place: McDonalds. I am appalled, and escape to a nearby cafe for my first espresso in months. By the time I return, all the students have vanished. Rita—who hours ago had been asserting with her characteristically Austrian authority that no one was to leave the station—grins at me and explains the new rule: groups of three, with a cell phone, meet back here in four hours. Freedom.

After a few blocks of exploration amongst Connaught Place's array of far too Western shops—United Colors of Beneton, amongst others—Felipe and I leave Rita and Aparna to their shopping and dash out in search of more soulful adventure. Knowing only where we don't want to go, we turn to the next obvious landmark: a flag of India so large you can see it from space. Below this flag, in the park that surrounds it, we spot a group of impossibly colourful youth: UWC colourful. It is Meytar, Israel; Ian, Kenya; Attul, N. India and Ilie, Republic of Moldova. A group of lads of ever there was. While we had collectively agreed to stay close to Connaught Place, the six jump at the idea of going to see the famous India Gate—India's Arc de Triomphe. After a quick and hilarious work-out session in the park—we are, after all, preparing for a trek in the Himalayas!--we pile into rickshaws and race through the busy streets of Delhi on a Friday night.

As we regroup and walk down the Rajpath, a broad roadway, void of vehicles save parked military Royal Enfields—a testament to the Indian military's continued devotion to this iconic motorcycle—we see in the distance the giant stone archway that is the India Gate: a memorial to the 82,000 soldiers of the Indian Army who died between 1914-21 during the First World War. Each white rock of this colossal gate is inscribed with names of these fallen men. Through the arches, we notice outlines of scaffolding and people, and as we draw nearer, make out a bandstand. Inquiring to some nearby officers, in full ceremonial regalia, we are informed that tonight is a once-in-a-year concert: a band of Indian and British military musicians, flown in from all corners to play music in memory of these nations' long and complex history together.

We laugh at our luck, and joke about the crowd that must be occupying the roped off first row of chairs: Duke and Earls we imagine. But my laughter subsides as the second song begins. A traditional Indian flute plays out above the rest, swooping and reeling, carving an untouchable melody out of the background of classical western chord progressions. It is captivating. Awe inspiring. Moving. To me, in that moment, it is the story of India against a background of three hundred years of British rule; the sound of that which was never lost and after more than five thousand years can be recognized still. 

*All photo credit to my wonderful housemate and intrepid photographer *
Felipe Andres Fontecilla Gutierrez
aka. The Voice

Tuesday, Oct 12th, To Do: Create international network of disruptive innovators.

Time has been moving steadily on and now it seems I am two months into a life in India. 

The walls between the worlds of MUWCI and the rest of India are becoming increasingly permeable as my trips off campus become more frequent and less superficial.

This past week has been one of exploration and wonder.

In the forefront of my calendar of the last three weeks has been the Disruptive Innovation Festival ( hosted by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

Ellen herself created this foundation after sailing solo around the world and realizing that, like her supplies on board--drinking water, fuel, cheese--were finite resources that had to be used with great care and thought and so too is this planet we live on (Spaceship/Lifeboat Earth). In suite, global systems of creation and consumption must be inherently cyclical, and therefore sustainable, rather than linear processes. The foundation thus has as its main objective to accelerate the transition to a global circular economy. See a simplified example contrasting two such models below.

Photo: Ellen MacArthur Foundation

Apparently Ellen herself has long had a fascination with the UWC movement and when organizing this first Disruptive Innovation Festival (DIF), she had the Foundation contact the movement with an invitation to take part in the festival.

How this invitation happened to land with Oscar Avila Akerberg--my colleague in MUWCI's Triveni Department--I still do not fully understand. But as fate would have it, we found ourselves accepting the invitation and organizing the involvement of the UWC movement in this intriguing exercise in disruption. What began a simple plan quickly evolved and soon we had a student team working daily with us. The vision grew of using this as a platform to involve the entire UWC community: a community of thousands of individuals spanning five continents, eleven time zones and countless cultural backgrounds.

As the start date drew near, Oscar and I found ourselves feverishly contacting faculty, heads of colleges and students across the map. By mid morning we would have skyped with people in Norway, Hong Kong and Armenia; by day's end, we would have planned the goal for tomorrow morning, scrawled in my planner: Create international network of disruptive innovators. And the mantra that held it all together: Hold Nothing Back.
Initially we had four UWCs on board. Overnight this turned into seven, then ten. Every day we were sculpting emails to the different leverage points throughout the movement, networking on multiple levels simultaneously with heads of colleges, faculty and student-to-student, until the day before DIF began, we were orchestrating the involvement of thirteen out of the fourteen UWCs scattered around the world. 

Testing the studio space: Boscar approve.
Punctuated with nightly ideating sessions, constantly reinventing our approach and reflecting on our motivations and goals, we organized keen students into Idea Harvesters, Panelists and Logistics crews, while we built a studio space equipped with mics, lights and cameras: Oscar and I would be hosting online conversations with the Heads of the UWCs as well as students from each UWC: events that would be live-streamed to the 8,000 + DIF participants world wide. 

The first event went off. With the Heads of two UWCs working as our on-the-ground-men, we held a Q&A sessions with the Heads of the movement, "disrupting" their meeting on Vancouver Is., Canada with probing questions from UWC students, faculty and alumni, and a live audience of MUWCI students watching the live-stream just outside our little studio. Intermitent yells of protest and approval--indistinguishable with the full thirty second delay--created a thick ambience of Consequence. As the Heads discussed the movement's ideals and curriculum with certain democratic reservation, the trickle of questions being passed under the studio door turned into a torrent, and eventually the door was flung open.

When the event came to a close, we met the students outside. A mix of exhilaration and utter frustration made for an energetic reception. Once the masses cleared out--it being well passed 11.00pm--our DIF student team remained for a dance party clean up. And then to bed. The next day was, after all, the big event, in which the students of the movement, not the Heads, would come together to disrupt and innovate.

The Student Panel brought the grit into the conversation.
While some students voiced praise for the IB (the International Baccalaureate--the once-revolutionary curriculum, co-created along with UWC in the 70s), others called for a complete overhaul of our educational model. MUWCI's own student rep, a second year student with an analysis of surgical precision, brought to question the movement as a whole, its relevance and problematically elitist nature. Students outside the studio cheered. Her mother live-chatted the DIF audience. I messaged Pelham, MUWCI's Head who was skipping Head of College meetings to follow the discussion, to ask if I could borrow his motorbike for a recki mission to a nearby lake the following morning. Thrilling all round.

Our time on the DIF clock ran out, and the panel came to an end, but the conversation rolled on outside, gathering momentum as it developed in student courtyards and common rooms. As for Oscar and I, it was the end of our big push and also happened to be my birthday. Abuzz with the energy on campus, we headed home to celebrate.

[Since then, 
a review of UWC @ DIF made its way into the UWC Mahindra Magazine, published across the UWC network.]

Reconnaissance en wheels - Morning Mountains

The next morning--after a modest sleep in--I met up with my Outdoor Education counterpart, his partner and we headed out on motorbikes, me on a rough and ready dirt-road hybrid, them on a Kawasaki Ninja. After so many days behind the computer, the thrill of exploration under wide open skies and warm, thick air was a welcome change of pace. Keeping up with Arvin's Ninja was also a change of pace, as we zipped between boys on bikes, women carrying brass water pots and the occasional herd of cows: too holy to move for traffic.

Our route took us North along the neighbouring valley, out of the flatlands of fields and up the spine of a long ridge of land, overlooking expansive valleys to East and West: terraced rice paddies here, the gold-painted spires of Temples there, and everywhere the furious green of the late monsoon season. Each corner we rounded took my breath away, and as we raced across the top of the final ridge and the full panorama revealed itself, I was laughing and hooting into my pleasure, unable to contain the amazement I was feeling. Good thing we don't have helmet radios, was all I could think.

The reconnaissance mission took us off the main road and along a windy path into clusters of villages. We stopped and waited as Arvin inquired in Hindi, then continued by foot and bike until we found what we were looking for: a put-in place for our kayaks, to the beautiful waters of Pavna Lake.

As our valley's Mula river dries up post-monsoon, this is where our seasonal migration will take the MUWCI kayakers I am training. Young boys follow these curious foreigners to the water's edge--Arvin, though Indian, looks a world apart from the folks who call this village home--and ask if they can come boating with us. The fact that we have no boats with us is no damper to their excitement.

On the way back, I stop now and then to give someone a ride to the next village. One old man drops his walking stick. I circle back. He is dressed entirely in soft, white cotton garments, like many of the men here, taking the image of Gandhi and Nehru in their attire. By the time I catch up to Arvin and Marija, they are sitting at a table at a road side restaurant: a long awaited lunch. I am struck by the wealth of adventure to be had just in these surrounding valleys, let alone beyond, and my day dreams of getting wheels take on a notably more real tone...

That night, Friday night, Oscar and I head into Pune to celebrate both DIF and my birthday. We stay at the studio space of one of MUWCI's art teachers: a lovely man who makes gorgeous figures out of stone, intriguing boxes out of copper and huge bowls out of all sorts of metals. The space smells, tastes, feels like creation, equipped with the bare essentials for an artist immersed in their work: a toilet, a sink and a single mattress for rest.

Diwali - Festival of Lights... and much food

The next day, Oscar heads home while I meet up with a former MUWCI student and College of the Atlantic (COA) alumn whom I met a world away in the small town of Bar Harbour, Maine, some nine months ago on a visit from Halifax to old Pearson friends. I spend the afternoon with her family in Pune to celebrate the penultimate day of Diwali: India's eight day Festival of Lights that makes Christmas look like an afterthought.

We drink homemade wine and eat all manner of treats. Brothers and sisters exchange gifts and I am schooled in all the Indian literature I need to read by be-speckled old men with the politics of Gandhi fresh in their minds. Stuffed and nearly ready to go home, a few of us head to a nearby Korean coffee shop, owned by the father of a MUWCI grad, where we sit cross legged on pillows and I drink a proper cup'o . 

Tired, full and immensely satisfied, I meet my ride home and sleepily make my way back to the college.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

...of the Once Mountains of Maharashtra.

Blue skies are the backwash of an increasingly dry and hot Mulshi valley. The river levels are dropping by a foot every three days or so and streams that a fortnight ago wetted one's knees are now shy rivulets. From high places one can see these last strings of silver coursing through the grasses, fleeing the hillsides for the safety of the mother Mulshi that flows below, as if they know the fate that awaits them if they linger any longer.

The earth has become a hard cracked pavement, muddy footprints frozen in time. The mud crabs--the unlikely sentinels of the earthen pathways--are seen less often, hiding in the cool depths where the soil is still moist. 

Solo Reflection atop Mount Wilko.

On Saturday I went on a second hike up Mount Wilkonson. Just a day hike, with some 25 students. On the way up we stop at Sacred Grove. A ten minute walk from MUWCI lies a grove of large trees, mango and others unknown to me. The grove sits alone on an otherwise naked hillside and is home to an ancient rock—these ground down remnants of the once-mountains of Maharashtra being much older than the Rockies, older than the Himalayas. This rock has been revered since pre-Hindu times, as a god, a spirit of nature and now as a holy host of Hindu deities. Some time in the last few thousand years, some people decided to honour the rock and build a one room temple around it, built in the likeness of the god. The rocks used for its construction are massive, and appear nowhere else in this region. How and why they were brought so far is a mystery, along with the origin of the architects who, using neither mortar nor joinings built this temple that has stood longer than most of the world's nation-states combined.

Today it is easily missed, surrounded by the dense vegetation of the grove itself. But it is still a holy place and fresh sticks of incense can be found scattered about its insides and outs, along with burnt down candles, a testament to the old saying that one must never let the gods sleep in darkness.

As we pass through the grove we stop, and between us share what knowledge we have of the place and its history. Two by two, we take off our shoes and barefoot, enter the mud floor to look up and marvel at the impressively simple geometry that has held this holy thing together for so long. An old man appears, sweating and baring a sickled machete.

Pani a he ka? He asks me. Water? I offer him my bottle and he drinks modestly. He is still working hard as we prepare to leave, cleaning the place of the trash that accumulates from local use. The switch from eating off of banana leaves to styrofoam is, in the scope of this place, a decidedly recent event. I give him a pomegranate and he gives me a smile. The gods will be taken care of tonight, he silently assures me.

Our time atop Mount Wilkinson is calm, sunny and reflective. We break into small groups and discuss how the shift in perspective of such heights changes one's way of perceiving things: our home in the distance, the meaning of service, our own journeys that have brought us here together. We end with an hour long solo, write letters to ourselves that I will safe-keep for one year, then head down the mountain, just in time for sunset. Looking back to the West half way into our descent, we can see the lone tree that marks the spot where we shared the shade, young people from Morocco, Ethiopia, Norway, South Sudan, Portugal, the Maldives and more. Drawn out sharply by the setting sun, the tree marks the spot well and reminds us of that moment of reflection. As the last rays grow dim, laughter lends rhythm to our quickening pace. Home is close now, and dinner awaits.

A setting sun makes silhouettes of Mount Wilkinson and the lone tree that marks our resting place.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Weekend adventures

Sunday, we wake up around 07.00, after a windy night atop Mt. Wilkinson, the nearby mountain top one can see from Mahindra campus. With a group of some fifty students, from all corners of the world, many of whom have just spent their first night out camping, we wind our way along the spines of impossibly green hilltops, made all the more impossible by the impending dry season that will turn them first brown, then red as they are swept by fires and finally black.

Having had no breakfast, and a decent trek back, we pack out the gear, run home to shower and arrive en masse at the cafeteria for Sunday brunch. The exhaustion hits me only as the third plate of delicious food disappears. Two cups of chai in, I decide to cease the gently cafination and give up the fight, for an hour long nap, before an afternoon meeting to discuss a workshop on different leadership models. By the end of the meeting, collaborating with a former Diplomat and UWC grad from Jamaica, a Chilean physicist/enthusiast and a handful of eager second year students, I am awake again.

I check my work email—which seems to fill up constantly—and find a series of excited emails from Pelham, the college director who invited me here to work primarily to develop MUWCI's outdoor education programming. With the last three days of near constant downpour, he and I are both keen to get me on the nearby Mulshi river, that has carved out the valley we live. It is swollen of late, inundating the rice paddies on either side and causing the locals to graze their buffalos higher in the surrounding foothills. Not having seen my email, I appear to have missed my chance for a paddle. But I call him just in case.

He says to be at his house as soon as I can. He has already called a jeep. We drive down to the college gate, pick up two plastic river kayaks, paddles and pdfs, and head off with our driver down increasingly washed out dirt road, following the river upstream until we are near the foot of the Mulshi dam, a giant expanse of concrete that has flooded more than one hundred villages to provide power and water to Mumbai. In return we have a river that runs year round.

As we shoulder the kayaks and trot down a brick and mud slope towards the water's edge, locals look at us as if we are mad, and some start yelling, gesturing big waves and moving water. The damn is being opened. Mala samjat. We understand. They look on in horror and curiosity as these two white aliens from another world set off down the river. I turn around once in a while to see them watching, half waiting to see a rip of white water come careering around the river bend.

Instead, we enjoy a calm paddle, punctuated by sections of small rapids and tight squeezes under branches that are older than the community we live in. We paddle on, and Pelham beckons me to silence, motioning to look to the right hand river bank. I have heard of alligator holes, and keep my eyes peeled. But soon enough I realize what I am looking for. As I pass under one tree, what I took to be large fruits begin to move. Not fruits. Fruit bats. Bigger than any bat I've ever seen. Two feet from wing tip to wing tip, they take off from their upside down perches, and take to the air. There are hundreds of them, flocking from tree to tree, flying directly over us, close enough to make out the small holes in their wings and, as they pass over the clouded sun, to see the bone structure of these mysterious winged mammals. We drift down the river in silence for some time, bellow this chorus of wheeling spectrums.

Looking beyond the river banks, I glimpse the surrounding mountains and am suddenly reminded of where I am. Since arriving, I have hardly had the time to take in this new place, with its new, yet familiar smells of cooking fires, warmth and earth. Pelham and I discuss the importance of bringing students and villagers down this river, to connect with it, to understand the fine balance that is our source of water, to know our place as stewards of this ever changing phenomenon: the river mother, that which cleanses all; in the local epistemology, a tributary of the sacred Ganges.

Pelham cracks a thermos and we drink tea, lazily rafted up, lazily floating down the thick flow of water. Our paddle ends with an invigorating shoot between pillars of a bridge, over a concrete ledge and a three foot drop into a white whirl.

We drag our boats up to the road, past where Pelham, two days ago, saw a snake, some four meters in length. Having paddled back to the base of the college drive, we shoulder our boats and walk uphill to the gates, where we stack the boats and store the paddles, helped by Indian staff who are still getting used to this elder white authority figure (Pelham), carrying a boat over his head. I hop on the bac of Pelham's motorbike and dry my hair as he whisks us up the winding road that switches back and forth up to the college. A hot shower and a good meal later, and I am at peace with this world that I am only just getting to know. I return home to my and Felipe's flat, to our third flatmate: a five week old kitten who I am quickly falling in love with. We play, as I contemplate her smallness and my love for her.

Circles of Learning

Within a few hours of being here, I feel the familiar magic that is a United World College. Everywhere around me are students and teachers from all over the world, committed to common values of peace, justice, understanding and sustainability. Being faculty, not student, is a spider's thread between branches of the same tree. The calm, strong intent is rich in the air, meddling with the smells of indian cuisine for lunch and the thickness of the monsoon air.

I learn that I am going to be helping organize MUWCI's Triveni program. One of the reasons I was so keen to come to Mahindra UWC was to be involved in the shift away from purely academic programming and towards project based learning and eventually, a UWC diploma: to equip students not only for the world of elite Ivy Leagues that too often steal away the bulk of UWC alumni, but also for street-level activism in their own communities, or perhaps, some combination of the two.

A snippet of last year's handbook explaining the Triveni program, sent out to prospective students. My work is to help MUWCI work towards an almost entirely project oriented learning model, in which Triveni projects, largely service oriented, are the vehicle for students experiences with local communities and their own skill-building for future actions

As part of a series of skill-building workshops I am designing and running along with other Triveni staff and MUWCI faculty, I am leading a discussion on leadership styles, based on the four quadrants laid out by the NOLS school of outdoor education.

It has been four days since I landed. 

Opening the circle of some thirty youths, almost all in their first year at Mahindra UWC, I decide to borrow a tradition of facilitating I have experienced in the Cultural-West. Say your name, where you are from—whatever that might mean to you—and your gender pronoun preference. After a few raised eyebrows, the ball gets rolling. People giggling, young women referring to themselves as female, young men as men, obviously. Then the young man, who says that he prefers being referred to as “she”. People are quiet, giggle. The speaker smiles. Are they making a joke? Even I don't know, though I hope they aren't. She is not. Later, she will describe that she had never been given an opportunity to chose her gender pronoun. She discovered she was queer a year ago, stood up in a community meeting at MUWCI, announced it, and sat down.

In that moment in our small circle, she opened the minds of people from countries and cultures around the world.  

Mahindra United World College, Maharashtra, India


I arrived at 3am, five days ago. Although it seems like weeks now.

The flights melted into one long, yet suspiciously short journey across some 18, 000 km: 

Canada's West Coast to India's. 

Sun Ra Arkestra: an old shot, not mine. But they still provided a mesmerizing,
otherworldly performance, for free, to thousands in downtown Chicago. 

With an unexpected and very welcome twenty four hour stop in Chicago to breathe some non-conditioned air into my soar throat, and to catch Sun Ra Arkestra play a free show, befriend some wonderful strangers and generally develop a soft spot for a surprisingly friendly city.

At 03.00 in the morning, after some 3.5 days in transit, I find my home for the next year: a small flat I will be sharing with a young Chilean graduate from UWC Singapore and a kitten who is clearly drunk. Felipe, whom I have not so much as seen a photo of or exchanged emails with, has left me little notes that guide my sleepy self towards my bedroom. The mattress is stiff, and comforting after four months of cabin living / tenting in British Columbia's Sooke Hills. I ambitiously set my alarm for 07.00, and fall into sleep.

Soon enough I am up, feeling oddly rested. I shake sleep aside and head outside to explore this new place with a morning run. By the time I make it to breakfast, my body has realized how hungry it is, and takes it out on me until, a few servings of delicious Indian breaky later, it is satiated. And it is only 07.30. Lost between time zones, I had set my alarm an hour early. Happy for the quiet dining hall, I ease into my first day, meeting all the people who have guided me here over months of email conversations and eager skype chats. The jet lag, mysteriously, is nowhere to be seen.
September 06, 2014

The first step of the journey...

A woodland home, for rest, thought and reflection.

Our final staff banquet at Camp Thunderbird: the high school Prom I never had.

 The first step of the journey: the familiar 

and charms 

of Canada's West Coast.

The road into the mountains... 


Some nine months ago, I sat in my parent's home in Toronto, wondering what to do with my near future, as is part of the Christmas custom. At my father's suggestion, I made for a nearby nunnery, and hid away for three days to sit, ponder and plan. I drew out the various trajectories my post-university life might take, and sat until I sensed that which felt best. 

Cutting wood the honest way: an ode to Nova Scotia.

That same week I started planning, and two weeks later, back in Halifax, Nova Scotia, I had the outline of a plan: a starting point for the next leg of the journey. I would finish university, head West to Vancouver Island for the spring and summer, then fly to Maharashtra, India to work, volunteer, live at Mahindra United World College, one of fourteen UWCs around the world, and sister school to Lester B. Pearson United World College, my home from the age of sixteen to eighteen and a stepping stone into a much more connected, exciting, inviting and challenging world than I had ever known.

My volunteer-job outline was to come primarily as an outdoor education instructor, and to help Mahindra UWC of India--known more affectionately as MUWCI--to develop an outdoor program to match an already enthusiastic culture of outdoor adventure. With a backdrop of sacred forest groves, mountain caves, paddle-able rivers and of course, the Himalayas, it seemed a suitable proposition. 

And so, as I made motions to finish my thesis, final projects and one chapter of life in Canada's rugged and real East Coast, I also made ready to start a new chapter... with a quick stop over in BC of course. Heading to India on a pretence of leading out trips, I felt a sudden urge to brush up on my guiding skills. Working as a kayak guide and counsellor with Camp Thunderbird's Leadership Development program, I was able to do just that, in my time off ferrying to Vancouver for Wilderness First Responder training and, of course, to see to my visa.

Four months later, feeling grounded, fit and generally ready for adventure, I bid farewell to my woodland community and within twenty four hours, was on a plane, heading so far West I would end up East.