‘Did ecstasy roll at my feet?’ Hiking Adam’s Peak, Sri Lanka

“…learn to be quiet, still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.” Franz Kafka

IMG_0746Here’s the thing, hiking Adam’s Peak in Sri Lanka was not how I’d imagined.  I’d envisioned a dark, somewhat solitary, quiet hike through the tropical forest. After all, how many people arise at 2am to climb over 5500 stairs, covering an ascent and range of 7 km?

Hundreds of thousands. According to our driver and hotel staff, about 400,000. Seriously.

I climbed stairs with: women carrying babies, families holding hands with toddlers, elderly couples treading barefoot, flip-flop wearing singing, chanting teenagers, twenty somethings smoking something that smelled like weed, foreigners from France and Austria outfitted in down parkas, hiking boots, trekking poles and backpacks.IMG_0710

Oh, the internal depths traveling reveals.  All journeys, be they home or abroad, continually invite a deeper sense of  self discovery. It’s what I choose to do with my discovering that takes time, energy and choice.

“Every time you leave home, another road takes you into a world you were never in….May you travel in an awakened way, gathered wisely into your inner ground; that you may not waste the invitations which wait along the way to transform you.” John O’Donahue, For the Traveler, To Bless the Space Between Us.

I’ve been home for 2 weeks, from an incredible journey covering Bangalore, India, to  Sri Lanka, to Kurumba, Maldives. I hiked Adam’s Peak on Feb. 14, 2015.  It’s taken me until now to press into my internal resistance and explore my feelings, emotions, and words that help describe the path.

The trek began with a longer than usual drive from Colombo to Dalhousie (unexpected road conditions, an unusual amount of traffic) to reach Adam’s Peak, which rises “like a miniature Matterhorn” from the surrounding lush tropical forest in Sri Lanka.

We meandered our way along winding hillside roads (thanks to our highly competent driver),  ascending continually through lush, green, tropical foliage;  unfolding geography and vegetation transfixing my gaze as the sun slowly sank beyond the horizon.

About 3 km outside of Dalhousie, traffic came to a standstill, on a road, maybe 20 feet wide. Buses, small cars, rickshaws, and vans at a complete stop. After a somewhat animated conversation with a police officer, our driver stated that there was no way to get to our hotel (at least by car) for an undetermined state of time.

Inhale: I am

Exhale: Here now.

I was not interested in spending my few remaining hours of sleep stretched out in the back of a vehicle the size of a Honda Civic. We were stuck – zero movement, forward or back. What to do?  Simple: put a few things in my small backpack, leave our luggage and valuables locked with the driver, and walk the dark, winding (‘Hey, we’re in the hills in Sri Lanka, how cool is that!?) road to the hotel.

IMG_0698Our driver was most upset, “Madame, Madame, Sir, Sir, I have never had this happen.” Upon loaning us his torch, off we walked. Squeezing past buses  (engines still running, inhaling exhaust fumes) walking the dark, twisting road, listening to the sounds of the night, shuffling along with fellow travelers, finally arriving at our hotel at 10 pm.  We drank some beer, ate some food and went to bed.

Being an eternal optimist, even though exhausted, I was excited about our adventure and repeated the phrase: ‘We are in Sri Lanka, how cool is this!’ Clue that it was going to be busier than we thought (aside from noticing all the traffic and people) the hotel staff mentioned we’d want to leave at 1 am instead of 2, if we hoped to make it to the top for sunrise.

Inhale: I am

Exhale: Here now.

Buddhist tradition holds that the Buddha’s footprint resides at the top of Adam’s Peak and for many Sri Lankans this is a historical pilgrimage, a site of worship, dating back thousands of years. Other religious faith traditions have attempted to weave their story into the imprint at the top of the mountain and you are more than welcome to read guide books and theological papers written on the subject.

(Note to self: climbing a Buddhist historical site, on a weekend, in pilgrimage season, on Valentine’s Day is not exactly a SoulStrolling, contemplative journey).IMG_0720

By 7:30 am we had not reached the top, and learned from fellow pilgrims that it would take at least another 2 hours to get there. We were at a complete, packed, body to body standstill. Concrete stairs, guard railings on both sides, 3 people wide (going up and down), no possible way to move. None. No movement. Quiet breathing, hundreds of people, patiently waiting.

We gave up on our plan. We’d persevered through the chilly dark night, bypassed many on my aggressive lead to scale the sides of the path through mud and dirt, behaved like rude white Americans with our ‘excuse me, excuse me,’ and the list goes on. We stopped, climbed over the railings, joined the ranks of those descending, savored the breathtaking view, sighed, and turned down the mountain.

Inhale: I am

Exhale: Here now.

IMG_0729What had driven me to try sidestepping the designated route, cut in and out of line (the Sri Lankan people being incredibly gracious) and push ahead? Was it my Western upbringing and culture? Yes. Was it my belief that there must be some way to get past all these people? Yes. Was it my tenacious, adventuresome, exploring personality? Yes. Was it my hope that after all this walking, hiking, being physically close to others that we were going to get to the top? Yes.

Was it my irritation with the ‘system’: a national, religious, pilgrimage site that wasn’t monitored, policed, nor kept safe, according to ‘my standards’? Yes. Was it my absolute pissed off sleep deprived frustration at not having attained my goal? Yes. Was I mad at myself that after all my Girl Guide training I’d not adequately prepared for this hike? Yes.

Inhale: I am

Exhale: Here now.

Did I chuckle at myself, alternately hugging myself and giving my tired soul all the love I could muster? Yes. Is my husband and friend the absolute best person to hike with?  Did we laugh, joke, persevere, encourage and cheer each other on? Are we still friends? Was it a memorable experience? Yes.

Am I incredibly grateful and thankful for saying ‘yes’ to this journey?  Was I humbled and astounded by the many other souls who waited, climbed, slowly, meticulously placing one foot in front of the other? Yes.

Did I witness and experience the sunrise unfolding over Sri Lanka (just at a different point than envisioned)? Yes. Was I supported by the multiple physical presence and gift of other pilgrims who smiled, shared a warm coat, chatted, stood in silence, watched and waited? Absolutely.IMG_0725

Would I do this again? Perhaps. Just not on Valentine’s Day, during pilgrimage season, on a Saturday.

Inhale: I am

Exhale: Here now.

Did ecstasy not roll at my feet? Or did it unravel, unfurl, unlatch and open in other ways?

May you say ‘Yes’ to  SoulStrolling journeys which call, and embrace the transformational invitations that wait along the way.

 

 

 

 

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3 Comments Add yours

  1. kaycehughlett@comcast.net says:

    My dear friend – this may be your most beautiful post ever! So grateful to have you in my life! xoxoKayce S. Hughlett http://www.kaycehughlett.com206-851-0010The more I learn, the less I know.

  2. Molly Kenzler says:

    Dear Sharon – this is so rich and honest and good. Thank you!

  3. Sharon Richards says:

    Thank you Molly and Kayce.

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