In the remote Mustang region high on the Tibetan plateau, a diverse group of young students and adult leaders with physical and invisible disabilities who are passionate about social change will grow in their understanding of the world as they embark on this one-of-a-kind adventure across Nepal.
EXPEDITION DETAILS & HIGHLIGHTS
Timeline: June 3 – 17, 2018
Expedition Leaders: 4 No Barriers Ambassadors, 2 Guides
Team: 12 Youth ages 15-19 with physical and invisible barriers
Journey: Begins in the thriving city of Kathmandu and from there the team travels to the trekking capital of Pokhara and onto the remote region of Mustang.
Travel Mode: Fixed wing aircrafts to jeeps to horseback and more!
Experience: Cultural-exchange activities, local community immersion, and learning about sustainable development, while soaking up the art, history, and culture of this fascinating destination
NO BARRIERS AMBASSADOR GUIDES
The first blind person to reach the summit of Mount Everest, Erik has climbed all Seven Summits, kayaked the Grand Canyon, and received a double major from Boston College. Through these inspirational expeditions and personal exploits he helped co-found not merely an organization, but a movement called No Barriers. Erik is also a co-founder and current board member of No Barriers USA.
Mandy is an award winning singer, songwriter and has three albums to her name despite the fact that she’s deaf. Recently she inspired millions with her rise to stardom on America’s Got Talent. As a motivational speaker Mandy shares her challenges while living the No Barriers spirit and demonstrating the courage to achieve the impossible.
Gretchen Evans served 27 years in the US Army earning a bronze star and rising to the rank of Command Sergeant Major. During her service, Gretchen survived a rocket blast which left her with hearing loss and a traumatic brain injury. Despite her injuries, Gretchen serves others as a passionate volunteer. She also achieved her No Barriers goal by finishing her book, “Leading from the Front.”
An inspirational adventurer, Bill was the first deaf-blind individual to reach the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro. He’s completed the Boston Marathon, twice, and hiked the Camino de Santiago from France to the tip of Spain. Bill is a motivational speaker who focuses on building a life without limits and is also a current board member of No Barriers USA.
MEET THE TEAM
DAY 1 UPDATE: Traveling to Nepal
Traveling to Nepal is no easy feat: multiple flights totaling nearly 40 hours, through heat and humidity, but our team never stopped buzzing with excitement. During our final flight, the attendants provided cotton balls to stuff in our ears to muffle the noise of the engines! There were cows at the airport and cows in the road. That night, we ate a traditional Nepali meal of lentils and rice called Dal Bhat.
Mandy Harvey via Instagram
After over a days worth of traveling we have landed in Nepal!!! Our adventure has started but won’t really feel like it till tomorrow. In the meantime I saw a monkey on the airway strip, water buffalo and I peed at the airport which was a hole a hole in the ground and nothing else! I’m loving this!!!! #nobarriers #explorenepal #bringiton
Erik Weihenmayer via Instagram
I am en route to Nepal to lead a special 2-week No Barriers Youth experience across the beautiful, remote Mustang region of the Himalaya, high on the Tibetan Plateau. Leading the trip with me are Bill Barkeley, a deaf-blind adventurer, marathoner, and No Barriers board member; Mandy Harvey, a musician with perfect pitch who happens to be deaf and who was a 2018 America’s Got Talent finalist; and Command Sergeant Major Gretchen Evans, author of Leading from the Front, who lost her hearing in a rocket blast while serving our country overseas. After acclimatizing in Kathmandu, our group will head to Mustang to experience history, culture, and spectacular scenery. Mustang has been a cultural and religious crossroad for thousands of years, as people traded and migrated across the Himalayas. We’ll follow the Gandaki River through the deepest canyon in the world, surrounded on both sides by 8000 meter peaks – Dhaulagiri to the north and Annapurna to the south. Along the way, we’ll learn from each other, interact with schools and communities, visit Buddhist and Hindu sites, and learn about the impact of local NGO’s. Our youth team is diverse, comprised of teens facing unique and different barriers. The 12 participants hail from across America, and their challenges include severe retinal degeneration, cerebral palsy, hearing impairment, and arthrogryposis – a severe mobility-limiting condition. But the challenges aren’t all physical: other teens on the trip have dealt with depression and anxiety, or come from underprivileged homes. One student was even born in Nepal and adopted by an American family! (surprise: that’s my son, Arjun). Importantly, the growth doesn’t stop once we depart Nepal. The goal of this experience is bigger than just two weeks in a wondrous country; after reaching our personal “Summit,” the teens will be asked to take a No Barriers Pledge to come home and use what they’ve learned about the Mustang, as well as about themselves, to Elevate their lives and their communities. Stay tuned for updates from the field. You can follow the journey at the link in my bio. #summitwithus #nobarrierslife #ilovenepal #SuperBlind
STUDENT PROFILE: Get to Know Arjun
Arjun was born in Nepal in 2002 and was adopted in 2008 and moved to the United States. The integration into life in the US was difficult because Arjun had no clue of what the language and customs were. He had not done many things that American kids knew how to do easily like riding a bike or swim. He learned English as fast as he could and it paid off. However he lost his ability to speak Nepalese and has almost no recollection of his memories from Nepal.
For Arjun, this program is special to him because he left Nepal at such an early age; he is very curious about learning more of his own culture and customs. He hopes to become closer to his heritage and connect with the people there to better understand himself. Arjun considers himself to be a great listener and thinks this will help his ability to connect not only with the locals, but the rest of his group. He also considers his sense of humor and positive attitude to be a strength and believes it helps break downs other’s walls.
DAY 2 UPDATE: Visiting the School for the Deaf
Erik: So we’re here in Pokhara at the School for the Deaf and we’re No Barriers and we’re about to interact with these amazing kids and students. I can’t wait. We’ve learned some sign language, some Nepali sign language, so we can at least say out names. And yeah, this is the school that we’re about to hang out in. Anything to add, Noah?
Noah: This is just an amazing experience to be here!
Day 2 kicked off with our No Barriers opening ceremonies and get-to-know-you activities for our students and Ambassadors. The big agenda item for the day was visiting the School for the Deaf. Getting there was half the fun with no defined lanes on the road, cars swerving every direction, avoiding cows and all manner to human transport on the road! Potholes the size of bathtubs…it was very exciting for everyone.
The school visit was amazing. Translation went from Nepali sign language to American sign language to English or Nepali to English, then English sign language to Nepali sign language, then back again.
Over 200 kids were there, all super interested in who we were and the technology of hearing aids (specifically cochlear implants).
STUDENT PROFILE: Get to Know Rachel
Rachel, a 17 year old, born in Cambodia and adopted at a few weeks of age has lived with several challenges in her life. As a side effect of life-saving medication in Cambodia, Rachel lost most of her hearing especially for language. She came to the US at 3 months of age and was amazingly able to use the little bit of low-frequency hearing to navigate the world. After many years of struggling to get more sound with hearing aids and other help, Rachel got her first CI-cochlear implant- when she was 8. She has only been hearing sounds and has been able to understand language for the last 8 years. She has attended several oral/deaf schools on the west and east coasts. She continues to work everyday to learn and improve her skills in hearing, understanding and language. Rachel is continuing her education, currently being homeschooled by her mother and is involved actively in several homeschool groups in Raleigh. She also works with an audio/verbal language therapist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Through this expedition, Rachel would like to explore her limits of hearing and language, get out of her comfort zone and explore interpersonal communication with a team in a new culture.
Near the end of our visit, we ate with the students and both groups did dance performances (we did the cupid shuffle).
Mandy Harvey via Twitter
Just finished visiting a deaf school in Nepal. Nepalese was translated to Nepali sign…Nepali sign to American sign…then to English. Four languages seamlessly flowing and everyone was happy and learning new signs and culture! I will remember today forever #languagelove #? pic.twitter.com/sxVgWjLiRG
— Mandy Harvey (@mandyharvey) June 6, 2018
That evening, Erik spoke to the group about the No Barriers Life Element of Vision.
What does Vision mean?
“Vision,” the first Life Element, asks you to define a purpose that will inspire you to give your best back to the world.
DAY 3 UPDATE: Arriving in Jomsom
Day 3 started with an early 4 a.m. wakeup and transfer to the Pokhara airport for the first flight to Jomsom. Jomsom is around 9,000 feet, so that was a big altitude jump for the team. The planes were so small we had to split the team into two flights. It was a spectacular flight through the Himalayas, flying around 12,000 feet through a gap with giant 20,000 foot mountains rising on each side of the plane.
First up, the crew made a brief pit stop, just chilling out at a coffee shop at 9,000 feet, enjoying an impromptu jam session from local musicians.
Didrik: What’s up ya’ll, we just arrived in Jomsom, about 8,000 – 9,000 feet. We finally got into the mountains, everybody’s super pumped. And that music in the background, well, I’ll let Noah explain.
Noah: So, some of the locals are putting on an impromptu jam session—they’ve got an electric piano, box drum, tambourine, and some wind chimes, and it’s quite beautiful actually.
Gretchen: The mountain are beautiful, we’re pumped to be here, it’s going to be a great day!
Nick: Yeah, it’s going to be awesome!
STUDENT PROFILE: Get to Know Noah
Noah was born blind with Lebers Congenital Amaurosis (LCA), an inherited retinal degenerative disease characterized by severe loss of vision at birth, but this doesn’t stop him from pursuing his many passions. He is a student lobsterman, skier, horseback rider, cross-country runner, baseball player, singer, musician, voice over artist, radio personality, and advocate from a small fishing village named Beals Island, Maine. He is interested in pursuing a journalism and law degree and hopes to eventually become a broadcast journalist for a major news network.
Noah uses his voice as an advocate for those who are blind and visually impaired. He advocates for audio description availability and has been working with stations in his local area since he was eight years old to make sure that all of them provide this service. As a middle school student, Noah often deals with bullies and others who don’t know how to deal with his disability and uses his voice to not only empower himself, but also those who are going through similar hardships.
Noah wants to join the Explore Nepal Expedition because he hopes to be exposed to new cultures, religions and people who are not like himself. He feels this trip will not only allow him to grow as a person, but come back with more of an understanding and respect for others. Once he returns, he will use his experience to educate people about diversity and help others to become more open to cultural variety at a time when division seems prevalent.
Not their only taste of music while in Nepal, the students also got to try out their own instrumental talents with a ukulele lesson from Mandy Harvey. As one of their official Kala Artists, Kala generously gave Mandy dozens of ukuleles to bring to Nepal and share with local youth.
Mandy also led a group discussion about the No Barriers Life Element of Reach.
What does Reach mean?
“Reach” encourages you to move beyond your comfort zone to grow and reach goals.
Later that day we visited a local monastery and took part in a Puja ceremony where the team received blessings for our upcoming trek into the mountains.
Next stop was the Mustangs Children Home, a boarding school where kids that live in rural areas with no school are sent to be educated. The students performed a series of dances and songs … it was like an episode of “Nepal’s Got Talent.” We reciprocated by sending Mandy to the front to sing “Over the Rainbow.”
DAY 4 UPDATE: Mustangs in the Mustang
Our 4th day here in Nepal was all about horses—Mustangs from the legendary region of Mustang!
Under a bit of dark sky and light drizzle we all saddled up and rode 1,000 feet up to a 600-year-old monastery.
Mandy Harvey via Instagram
Kutsab Teranga Monastery was built in the 15th century and sits on a mountain ridge overlooking the valley. Colorful prayer flags by the thousands fluttered in the strong breeze.
In the courtyard, Bill led a discussion about the No Barriers life element of Pioneering and the students filled out some portions of their flags and then shared what they wrote.
What does Pioneer mean?
“Pioneer” teaches us to persevere through challenges to innovate.
STUDENT PROFILE: Get to Know Jacey
Jacey is a freshman from North Carolina who loves laughing and making others smile and strives to live her life everyday with a positive attitude, despite any challenges that come her way. She truly believes happiness is contagious and that she can brighten other’s days just by being her true self. Jacey is a natural performer and enjoys acting at her local theater, the Flatrock Playhouse. She also spends much of her time volunteering for other important causes, including Habitat for Humanity, the Red Nose Foundation, and Rotarians Against Hunger.
Jacey wanted to attend the Explore Nepal program because she is an adventurous soul who loves to try new things and push herself out of her comfort zone. While she performs for others all the time, Jacey still suffers from personal insecurities and is always trying to build her self-confidence. She believes that by stepping out of her comfort zone, she can become more brave and do whatever it is she puts her mind to.
Next up was a silent meditation for everyone at the top of the mountain ridge and then a slow descent down the ridge, along a lake, and through a few villages, before eventually hopping in some jeeps back to town.
After some curried chicken, rice, and banana pie for dinner everyone hit the hay for a good night’s rest.
DAY 5 UPDATE: Finding a Rope Team in Kagbeni
We left Jomsom today for the village of Kagbeni. The first part of the journey was on jeep through a wide river plain, with river crossings. Then we met our horse team and saddled up for the dusty trek into Kagbeni.
Once settled, Gretchen led a discussion on the No Barriers Life Element of Rope Team and the students journaled and explored the village.
For Gretchen, the meaning of Rope Team runs deep. After serving in the Army for 27 years, she was injured by a blast from a rocket during a combat deployment to Afghanistan.
She incurred life-changing and debilitating injuries; losing all hearing and suffering a traumatic brain injury. She recalls the transition from military to civilian life was difficult:
“My heart was broken, not only due to the injuries I sustained but also due to the sudden loss of family, of fellowship, and the mission I had found and loved: the military experience. I was lost, sad, and hopeless.”Gretchen
But, when she was at her lowest, a military friend reached out and spoke of his experience with No Barriers Warriors. Having just come back from an expedition, he spoke of finding hope and connection—what he called a “rope team.”
What does Rope Team mean?
“Rope Team” represents the importance of collaborating and connecting with others to build strong communities.
Soon after, Gretchen applied and was accepted to join an expedition. It gave her the tools she needed to replace her sense of hopelessness. And she took to heart the meaning of Rope Team.
While in Nepal, Gretchen is not only supporting the students on this journey, she’s reaching out to lend a hand to strangers and new friends she meets in local communities.
Yesterday, she took a moment to reflect on one of the highlights of her experiences with her Nepal Rope Team.
“40 minutes was how long it took Michael and I to get his boots on the first time. His orthotics make it extremely difficult and we’ve been tag-teaming this daily challenge. Today Michael strode confidently into the room with his boots on proclaiming he did it himself. I was honestly a little choked up. Today boots, tomorrow the world.” Gretchen
STUDENT PROFILE: Get to Know Michael
Even before birth, Michael has been told that he wouldn’t be able do many things in his life. He was born with a condition called arthrogryposis multiplex congenita, also known as AMC, which affects one in 3,000 newborns. Michael’s parents were told that the likelihood of him surviving birth was slim, but if he did survive, he would most likely never walk. He went beyond just surviving; he learned to walk, run, swim, ride a bike, and even ski! He now competes all over the country skiing in International Paralympic Committee Races and hopes to compete at the 2022 Paralympic Games!
Michael has used his story and his skills to rise above adversity and give back to the world in a way only he can. Michael thrives to show the world the clear message that life is about love, laughter, passion, and joy!
He wears braces on both legs and has limited use of one of his arms, but he can’t wait to explore and hike through Nepal. He states, “my main goal of traveling to Nepal would be to show the people affected with disabilities in other countries how much they are capable in the world, and how much strength they have within themselves.” He also would like to apply this to himself and learn from the other participants on this expedition.
At 16, Michael has gone through orthopedic surgeries, ICU visits, and many struggles with AMC. He has been labeled and had his limitations perceived based on his disability his entire life, but never lets his disability define who he is. Michael wishes to continue to live beyond his disability and continue to show others that he is truly capable of anything that he sets his mind to.
Coming Together as One
At the end of the day, Erik shared his thoughts on how the journey is shaping the students:
“On the heels of Gretchen’s talk about Rope Team today I realized this group of students is truly coming together as one. The students that need an extra hand either on the trail, with equipment, or with the horses, are getting help from their peers. Many of them have opened up and shared deeply personal life experiences. Tomorrow’s adventure will take us 7 miles hiking and on horses up valley with a 3,000 foot elevation jump. It could be our biggest reach of the trip.”Erik
DAY 6 UPDATE: The Ancient and Auspicious Muktinath
The trek from Kagbeni to Muktinath was the highlight of the expedition so far. It was a big adventure on horseback across WIDE open expanses for miles and miles.
We passed a few goat herders, but traffic was relatively light on the way to the Muktinath temple, an ancient sacred place for both Hindus and Buddhists.
Early in the day we stopped at high point that is known for fossils. Hundreds of millions of years ago, this area was underwater and deposits of fossilized sea creatures like mollusks were left behind when the sea retreated.
STUDENT PROFILE: Get to Know Faye
When Faye was younger (elementary and middle school), she lived with Tourette syndrome. Although she did not have a severe case she did have visible symptoms including constant blinking of eyes and clearing of throat. Faye was teased repeatedly and bullied by her peers. “It really was horrible to be teased for something that I have no control over,” says Faye. From her experience with Tourette syndrome, she has gained an appreciation for life and a desire to help others with disabilities, saying, “it has truly given me a sense of compassion for others.”
AN ESSAY FROM THE FIELD | by Faye
“Traveling without my family for the first time was a mix of emotions for me. I was excited to embark on a new journey with people I had met only through the phone and social media. But I was also very nervous, because I was going to a foreign country without my parents.
With just one traditional and surprisingly spicy Nepali dinner, I have a new No Barriers family and rope team. Talking about our daily lives and connections between each other, we have grown into a stronger community in a matter of a few meals. The group activities broke the awkward ice for us and allowed us to dive into deep conversations about ourselves and our barriers that we are facing. Most of us had the same barrier, which I’m sure reassured almost of us.
After the first days of figuring out how to have conversations and share our stories, we created jokes and shared many laughs on our journey from the crazy airports in Pohkara to the relaxing pool side at the Mount Kalish Resort. We took a plane ride through heaven, from Pohkara to Jomsom, surrounded by huge snow capped mountains of the Himalayas. The first breathe of air in Jomsom is unbelievably crisp and fresh from the cold mountains, the only thing most of us could do is smile and be amazed by the breathtaking view we are immersed in. Being in moments such as those reminded all of us that the world is such a diverse place but we all find a way to relate to each other.”Faye
Just as we were approaching the holy city of Muktinath, the skies opened and down-poured on the team for 5 minutes. Our local guides and horsemen called it “very auspicious.”
Behind the temple in the outer courtyard is a semi-circular wall with 108 stone faucets in the shape of a bull’s face, about seven feet high. Water from the ice-cold Kali Gantaki River has been diverted to flow through the mouths of these bulls and hardy pilgrims who visit the temple often stand beneath each of the spouts, even in freezing temperatures.
STUDENT PROFILE: Get to Know Emma
Emma is a Senior at Golden High School and has already developed a clear and intense passion for animal rescue. She has started her own club called Animal Advocacy which is a rescue network that helps to rehabilitate and then place dogs into loving homes. Her family alone has temporarily housed over 130 animals with medical needs. She considers this passion one that teaches her a lot about how to love and persevere through challenge.
While Emma is entirely dedicated to her passion and love of animals, she also recognizes that she often disconnects from other aspects of her life and she hopes to be able to build strong and lasting relationships on this expedition. She believes strongly that she needs to be a good leader in order to best pursue her passions, and hopes to hone those skills on the expedition while also supporting those around her. She knows that what she can gain from this experience can truly help her accomplish her goals and give deserving issues a voice.
108 is a highly auspicious number in Hindu and Buddhist traditions and has numerous meanings. In ancient religions, 108 was tied to the lunar calendar. There are also 108 beads on the mala (a garland of prayer beads) and devotees will chant 108 mantras. Temples often have 108 steps, columns, or other features.
Later that day, Nate led a discussion on the No Barriers Life Element Alchemy.
What does Alchemy mean?
“Alchemy” is how we harness life experience into optimism.
With alchemy on the mind, the students have been sharing stories of where they witnessed an event spinning adversity into strength and change.
DAY 7 UPDATE: Reaching Summits in Tiri
Coming off the heels of a major day of hiking and travel to the Muktinath temple, a few members of the team decided to rest and relax for the day while others were ready to hit the trail off to a nearby monastery.
Sitting high atop a nearby rocky promontory, the Samdup Choeding Monastery was built more than 900 years ago in the 13th century.
Perched above the town of Tiri, this monastery isn’t active anymore, but hosts an incredible display of ancient painted artwork and building construction.
STUDENT PROFILE: Get to Know Nyah
Nyah is a 17-year-old who grew up in the mountains of Colorado. Nyah suffers from Anxiety and Depression, a challenge that not many people can see, but these struggles have impacted her everyday life quite drastically. For that reason, Nyah’s main focus right now is on her personal self-care, but she struggles with her own self-confidence and courage.
On the Nepal expedition, Nyah really hopes to develop her confidence and bravery. Her self-doubt is a big cause of her anxiety and depression and she believes that by participating in this program, she can better believe in herself. She hopes to learn from the others on the expedition about overcoming challenges and barriers in their own lives, whether that be physical challenges or internal challenges like the one Nyah is facings.
When she returns from this program, Nyah hopes to develop the No Barriers mindset and be able to develop the courage to handle anything that comes her way.
The wind here is unrelenting. At this high elevation of 10,000 feet, the hot air rises in the morning and fills the landscape with a wild and blistering wind.
The team took shelter from the heat and the wind under some trees and talked about the No Barriers Life Element Summits.
What does Summits mean?
“Summits” encourages us to find the gifts earned through the struggle.
We all shared stories in our lives where we reached out for physical or metaphorical summits and the gifts received to those who try and fail or those who stand on top.
DAY 8 UPDATE: Rope Team Rampage!
With everyone fully rested and almost recovered, the inaugural No Barriers Rope Team Rampage kicked off at 10 a.m. The Rope Team Rampage is an event where four teams work their way around a place (in this case Kagbeni) completing a series of tasks ranging from the silly to the serious.
Photo and video documentation is key. Along they way they interact with locals, learn about the culture, geography, and history, and maybe even a bit about themselves.
The successful teams are the ones that rely on the skills of everyone, get creative, and just go for it.
STUDENT PROFILE: Get to Know Manuel
Manuel is a 16-year-old student who has struggled in school and at home for many years with ADHD. Despite his challenges, he sought the help he needed. He faced his adversities and pioneered his way to being diagnosed and getting better. Today he is a model student who gets along well with teachers and peers. He is involved in sports and loves coding and creating video games. He wants to develop his leadership skills and learn how to continue to thrive in challenging environments.
It was Manuel’s principal who recommended him for this program, believing that this opportunity will push him further and help him learn to live a full life despite the inevitable challenges he will continue to face. Manuel hopes to learn healthier habits—how to survive in an unknown environment and to learn better leadership skills so he can contribute to his family and community. He said he owes a lot of people for helping him out of the bad place he was in, and notes that “being a good leader means that the leader is ready to help others and without needing to be asked for help; they put others before them and can get everyone involved when someone is going through rough times.”
That evening, the evidence was reviewed by the judges (Mandy, Didrik, and Nate) and a winner was announced. It was a close race but ultimately Team Zoom Zoom Bananas came out on top. The other 3 teams were Rice Balls, Handicapable, and Funky Buddha.
STUDENT PROFILE: Get to Know Maddie
Maddie is a 17 year old from Georgia with many passions and many challenges. While on a ski retreat in Virginia, she experienced something that would change her life forever. Conditions were very bad on the slopes which led Maddie to hit a metal pole at high impact. She was incredibly lucky to walk away with only three less ligaments and staples in her skull. However, she had internal bleeding in her brain that went undiagnosed after the incident, which has led to a Traumatic Brain Injury. Her journey did not end after her accident, though: Maddie believes that “there is nothing that I can face and not be able to overcome”. She did not slow down or get discouraged from aspiring to be the best softball player and person she could be.
She loves challenging herself each and every day, whether that is physically or mentally. Because of her experiences thus far in life, Maddie wants to pursue a career that serves the public in either politics or law. She knows that “life is something that is not promised and I feel that I should live everyday doing what I love and things that I want to do”. Maddie would like to use her experiences in Nepal to encourage others in her community and show them how many amazing things are in the world and how they can embrace them to give their best back to the world.
In the evening, our cook staff prepared an incredible cake for our group. This was the last night with our cooks as tomorrow we begin the return journey. We’ve come geographically as far as we can on this expedition and it’s time to turn around and prepare for our return home.
DAY 9 UPDATE: Goin’ to Kathmandu
We’ve begun the long journey back to civilization and it involved hiking, two-days of flights, and a harrowing journey from the Kathmandu airport through the city streets to a hotel in the middle of the city.
Our first stop was Pokhara and we had no guarantees of our flight due to low clouds so a 10-hour bus ride was a real possibility. Thankfully on the morning of our flight, the pass through the Himalayas was clear and our 20 minute bush plane flight went off without a hitch.
There was even some dancing on our flight from Pokhara to Kathmandu despite the humidity in the plane (see video below).
We rallied to our hotel and during the bus ride someone pointed out the lack of any kind of markers on the street: lanes, crosswalks, dividers, or stripes. We were all completely fascinated with this busy and chaotic city.
STUDENT PROFILE: Get to Know Zach
When Zack was in middle school, he was very anxious and struggled with the traditional school system. At that point, he couldn’t see an easy way out or a path that he could take. He now reflects on this time in his life as one of his most difficult he has ever experienced. However, he found a hopefulness and dedication to students with disabilities after working with them in a classroom setting. Zack explains, “I’ve continually been changing into someone who isn’t going to fall back into what I was five years ago.” Now a 17-year-old junior at Cyber Village Academy, Zack continues to work through this by learning in a non-traditional setting, attending school online.
Zack feels this No Barriers expedition will help him improve his skills in a group setting, both in teamwork and in leadership. “I think that being put into different situations where sometimes you have to be a leader, or step back and listen to what others are saying and communicating to complete a goal, are all very important,” he notes.
Zack is inspired by working with students of all backgrounds and abilities. Every day in his work he discovers a new thing that excites him, whether that be travel, photography or teaching. Ultimately, Zack aspires to be a teacher or professional photographer. He states, “being an inspiration to students would be amazing. I’d love to pay forward what my teachers gave to me.”
Thamel is a hot-spot for shopping and dining in Kathmandu. Known for its narrow alleys crowded with a variety of shops and vendors, it’s a fun stop for checking out local wares and finding souvenirs.
Since it was Mandy’s last night in Nepal, we said our goodbyes with a farewell dinner that was an incredible feast of Tibetan cuisine. We also spent some time talking about the No Barriers Life Element of Elevate and mentally preparing for the No Barriers pledges each of us will make the next day.
What does Elevate mean?
“Elevate” is when we impact the world as a leader who serves.
I’m leaving Nepal in a couple hours and I’m overwhelmed! This has been such an amazing trip with so many stories and adventures to share. Here are a couple: Monkey Temple, Sam’s Cafe where the staff is mostly deaf, donating @kalabrandmusic ukuleles to the students of Mustang and Kagbeni, seeing the students from @nobarriersusa change before my eyes in the most beautiful ways possible…and getting to experience all of this with my dad! Ohh yes and MC Hammer pants! #explorenepal #nobarriers #nolanguagebarrier #canttouchthis #?
Tomorrow, we plan to visit the Monkey Temple which involves a massive stair climb to the top of a large hill.
DAY 10 UPDATE: Monkey Temple & Closing Ceremonies
We were up early to beat the heat and catch the bus to Swayambhunath, the Monkey Temple, an ancient hilltop structure that overlooks the Kathmandu Valley. The Tibetan name for the site means ‘Sublime Trees’ and legend says that Swayambhu was born out of a lotus flower that bloomed in the middle of a lake that once filled the whole Kathmandu Valley. This stupa is the oldest of its kind in Nepal and has numerous shrines and monasteries (and monkeys) on its premises.
The summer here is also the monsoon season and the weather had other ideas. Under misty and rainy skies the team climbed the hundreds of steps up the hill and towards the giant stupa at the top.
Along the way we passed flower sellers with hand made strings of orange carnations, Nepali stair-climbing enthusiasts dressed in gym clothes, hoards of monkeys of all ages, and dozens of Buddhist and Hindu inspired statues. A giant mural of Buddha’s eyes and eyebrows is painted at the top of the stupa and gives the appearance of Buddha looking at all us as we climbed the stairs.
Upon reaching the top of the hill, the smells of this place were overwhelming: incense, birds, wet monkeys, butter candles, burning juniper; and we were surrounded by a discordant mix of sounds: chanting pilgrims, shrieking monkeys, barking dogs, sizzling fires, clanging bells, spinning prayer wheels.
We hit up a local Indian place for lunch and gobbled down naan, tika masala, and pollack panner. With full bellies, we went into the afternoon program to close out this incredible experience in Nepal. The students worked on their individual and group No Barriers pledges, journaled, and wrote letters to sponsors.
STUDENT PROFILE: Get to Know Nick
Nick’s challenges have been with him since day one, having been born three months early and weighing less than two pounds. He has lived with hydrocephalus and spastic diplegic cerebral palsy his whole life. That said, he is adamant that his disability does not define him in a negative light. “I am disabled, and I own that, but I am so much more: Writer. Photographer. Graphic designer. Music lover.”
His cerebral palsy is the more prevalent of the two diagnoses that he faces; it often manifests in fluctuating, though chronic, pain and more difficulty in pushing himself physically. However, this will not stop him from facing any challenge that the group may face in Nepal. Nick states, “I believe that the Explore Nepal expedition would open my mind to different ways to tackle a problem, be it physical or interpersonal”.
Nick wanted to journey to Nepal “to prove to myself and others that I can accomplish things I otherwise never would have considered”. This expedition will allow him to leap outside of his comfort zone alongside his peers and some incredible trip leaders. Through this experience, he wants to learn what kind of person he truly is when it comes to adapting personal goals to take on difficult challenges.
After two weeks of Nepali and Tibetan cuisine, we decided it was time to ease back into more familiar foods, in this case pizza! Our farewell dinner took place at Kathmandu’s famous Fire & Ice Pizzeria.
Just before leaving for the airport and our flights back to the USA, Erik led our closing coin ceremony. It was powerful and when finished, the tears started to flow.
Each person elevated this experience for the group in their own way and we recognized that.
We’ve pioneered our way in the shadows of snowy Himalayan giants, through wind blown rocks and flying horse hooves to the edge of the earth.
We reached across cultures and interacted with locals throughout the region in a deep and meaningful way.
We formed rope teams and connected with each other on a vision that will be used to springboard everyone into the next stage of our lives. There were summits along each step of this journey, but to get there involved a fair amount of alchemy, turning obstacles into launching pads.
We learned and practiced the No Barriers Life as a group and as individuals. The foundation is set. What comes next will be huge.
MEMORABLE MOMENTS: To Nepal and Back
It’s been nearly a week since this incredible team of students and leaders make the long trek back home, but we can’t stop buzzing about this unforgettable experience. Here’s a look back at just a few of the memorable moments from the Explore Nepal Expedition. And stayed tuned—we’ll be sharing more stories and videos in the near future!
#1: Trying New Foods
#2: Being welcomed to Nepal with tika blessings
#3: Gretchen passing her No Barriers coin to someone who inspired her
#4: Sharing ukuleles with Nepali kids
#5: Experiencing ancient and sacred spaces
#6: Less hiking, more riding!
#7: Traveling with global adventurers Bill Barkeley and Erik Weihenmayer, who inspired this expedition
#8: Meeting locals in each community we visited
#9: Our awesome expedition guides, Kaitlyn and Nate
#10: Our storyteller, Didrik
May 31, 2018