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  • MoonSchool holds by MoonSchool holds
Sport Climbing 28 September 2004 - 10:34:32 Posted by Freak      

Climbing beyond our Western Cultural bias

Gripped.com - Climbing Magazine

Climbing beyond our Western Cultural bias
Story by Katie Brown

Originally in Gripped Vol.6 Iss.2 Apr/May 2004

Iím sitting in the back of a van, somewhere in the middle of Mexico, jouncing along in rhythm with the bumps in the thinly paved road on which weíre traveling. My pen occasionally skids, making my writing look like that of a child. The desert surrounds us and my traveling companion sits slouched in the driver seat, shirt off and cowboy hat on. We pass cows lying amongst cactus, flocks of birds that take flight as we approach and mongrel dogs feasting over road kill rotting on the side of the road.

Itís a strange thing, this nomadic way of life to which climbers are drawn. Our sport continually puts us outside of our comfort zone and our lifestyle does as well. Living out of the back of a van, without the benefits of modern conveniences that ordinary life provides, we push ourselves to become comfortable and content with little more than the bare essentials of existence. Sometimes we even go to remote areas of the world.

Nearly a year ago, I took a trip to India and it was my first time in a third world country. Immediately upon landing, I was overwhelmed. The wealth and the poverty, the smells of burning garbage, human waste, incense and lotus flowers, the brown dryness of the land, the fluorescent saris of the women, the noise of the city and the quiet of a night spent at the rocks intermingle and assault the senses. I had been told before leaving that a person either loved or hated India, there was nothing in between. My first couple of days in India were spent traveling from Bangalore to Hampi, a town in the desert. During that time I tried to overcome the fear that I had of the people, the food, the water and the poverty. I was afraid of everything about India and I wanted to go home. I didnít want to be afraid, but I did not know how to turn off the emotions that I was feeling.

Five weeks in India passed and my fears took a back seat to living and experiencing the moment. Day after day we woke before the sun in order to climb before temperatures became unbearable. Life was reduced to its simplest form as we became used to the rhythm of moving our bodies over stone. Indians on pilgrimage to worship Hanuman, the monkey god, whose temple sat on a bluff overlooking Hampi, watched us in fascination as we imitated the movements of the monkeys that they came to worship. In India, beauty and horror coincide and my own emotions melded with life there. Wonder, tempered by fear, and fear tempered by wonder, worked themselves into a beautiful cycle of days spent in Hampi.

As we drive through the heart of Mexico we are leaving behind everything with which we are comfortable and are moving farther into the unknown. Yet, what seems foreign now will soon become home and we will grow to love it, just as I grew to love India. The hot sun that has given my friendís back a distinct red hue will turn into a deep tan, the rooster crowing at dawn will become our alarm for early morning climbing, the curious stares of locals will become friendly waves, the climbs with bolts that always seem to be just out of reach will become the signature of the place.

The time that I spent in India passed quickly and before I knew it I was packing my bags and looking forward to a hot shower. As our group drove out of Hampi, passing ox-driven carts on the way, I realized that I was beyond thankful to have experienced the place. The jeep blew clouds of dust in the air, coating the inside and making the already hot air hard to breathe. We passed an orange-robed holy man clutching a long walking stick as gnarled as the hand gripping it. Further on we passed three women walking side-by-side, purple, green and pink saris wrapped elegantly around their bodies. They carried metal tins and baskets of fruit on their heads. Small shanties lined the road and mongrel dogs wove in and out of their open doorways, looking for scraps of food. Eventually we left Hampi, and crossing a bridge, we went over a bump and found ourselves on a paved road. A car zipped past my window in the other direction and I jumped in my seat. I suddenly felt a heaviness deep inside me over the thought of leaving as I realized that Iíd fallen in love with the place.

Traveling to new places and new cultures is still frightening, as is climbing high above your last piece of protection, pushing your abilities into a new, unknown level of difficulty, being fifteen pitches off the ground or spending your first night on a wall. For me, this means that a small Indian girl digging her hand in my pocket in search of treasures makes me want to hug her rather than shy away. It means that wading across a dirty river can become a commonplace occurrence, as can haggling with a shopkeeper over a price, having my picture taken with Indian men, or weaving my way through throngs of people. It means that I have had the opportunity to see joy on the faces of people faced with a life of barely surviving, to experience the welcoming nature and peaceful spirit of people from other cultures, to learn to live without all the trappings of Western society. Most importantly, however, it means that I am learning how to step out of my comfort zone and to become comfortable in another zone of living.

Katie Brown is a writer who was one of the top sport and competition climbers of the nineties

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