The Kid Goes Abroad
All members of the 17K adventure group were given a nickname, assigned by other group members. Being a latecomer, I suffered a mite of anxiety wondering what nickname I would be assigned. In the end, Yoda, No-Sheep-Nate and Spooner decided that as the youngest member of the group, I would henceforth be addressed as “The Kid.” The name was not derogatory, but almost endearing. I took a liking to it. In possession of my nickname, I could now join the others. The adventure had begun.
The Boeing 777 resembled a massive nursery. Rows of people snuggled under blankets in the dark airliner. Consequently, my dad and I had the back of the plane to ourselves. This gave us the chance to wander around. Peering through a layer of oily grime and children’s smeary handprints on the tiny window, we descried a land of snow and ice below. Occasionally, a brave rocky outcropping appeared, breaking free of winter’s stranglehold. Glaciers buried valleys, winding between mountains like long, twisty roads. The view was almost bleak, since only three colors existed: cerulean sky, white snow and grey-brown rock. I marveled at the desolate landscape, inhospitable, too rugged for all except the most skilled arctic explorers. Greenland. Our plane sped on, and Greenland’s coast met the horizon. Like a massive blue swimming pool filled with white inner tubes and air mattress, the ocean stretched out below, speckled with ice.
The 13 hour flight seemed short, due perhaps to my excitement. Describing the initial 48 hours of the trip as disappointing would be inaccurate, but the time certainly did not conform to expectations. In theory, I was traveling to a remote part of a 3rd world country to live, trek, climb, and do other touristy things with a group of friends and acquaintances. But following the 13 hour plane ride, we experienced delays in a modern european airport, an overnight stay in a posh hotel, and more airplane rides. The 3rd world element was entirely missing until we arrived at a rural airport in the Near East. I stepped off the plane onto a sunbaked tarmac, feeling like a movie character on an epic quest, braving the blowing dust of a desert environment. A razor wire-topped chain link fence surrounded airport, accentuating the cinematic adventure feel. Our tour group had attempted to bring the first world with us, and a small mountain of bags greeted us at the baggage claim. Local passengers looked on in awe as we hoisted 41 full duffels from the belt and filed up the small baggage area. Once other passengers had left, we threw the bags down an escalator, so we did not have to carry our ridiculous pile of gear down stairs. When our taxi arrived, I thought back to my time in Bolivia. A slightly battered van, crammed full of seats, pulled up to the curb. Moments later, our mountain of gear teetered and swayed in the wind atop the van. The vehicle’s small diesel engine whined pitifully as it strained away, pulling too many people and far too much luggage up to the mountains.
And then we arrived at Camp M, our home for the foreseeable future. For a remote part of a 3rd world country, Camp M was quite a nice place. The main building, adorned with a fine stone facade, housed a huge dining room. Outside, a motley collection of tables and chairs lolled about on a stone patio overlooking the valley and a town of 100,000 people. A fortified palace loomed over the patio, and farther up the hill, ruins of an ancient Hittite stronghold clung tenaciously to the mountainside. Immediately above the dining hall, uneven and crumbly cement steps led to a dormitory building with 6 rooms, each containing four beds. Compared with some local digs, the dormitory at Camp M was pretty upscale. There was carpet, even if it had never been vacuumed. White paint hid the ugly concrete walls of the building. Guests enjoyed the use of real mattresses and blankets. Each room had a door with a finicky lock, a window that opened, and a tiled water closet which lacked a p-trap and consequently stunk strongly of ammonia and sewage. There were outlets, from which power could occasionally be drawn. Bipeds weren’t the only inhabitants of Camp M. Critters of four, six, and eight legs abounded. The two resident dogs slept during the day and barked incessantly from sundown to sunrise. Upon close inspection, a thriving population of crawlies were present in nooks and crannies everywhere. Mud, one of our group members, wanted her door shut “too keep the spiders out.” I looked wryly at the dormitory building and decided to keep my door open “to <em>let</em> the spiders out.”
Though the buildings of Camp M housed us at night and during meal times, we spent our waking hours exploring the palaces, mosques, and ancient ruins within walking distance of Camp M. But of those places, I shall write more later.