This blue marble

– and yet it spins


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Reaching Mt Everest – or how to cheat properly

everest-3

Mt Everest the second to the left; Lhotse on the right. The classic ascent starts on the ice river on bottom left, and the last camp is at the last ridge, right side of the summit.

“You have a helicopter booked to fly you back, so why don’t you take it for a spin around Mount Everest first?” This is how we ended up cheating everybody else on the way to Everest Base Camp.

The sun rose in Namche Bazaar, and our plan was to trek back to Lukla that day. After all, we were not here for fun but for work. My colleague needed to leave Nepal the same night, so she had booked a helicopter to pick her up from Namche and bring her to Lukla so she could fly back to Kathmandu and out to Sweden. Fortunate for her, as she still suffered from altitude sickness from the day before. everest-2The helicopter was booked to fly all the way to Namche from Lukla, so indeed we did take it out for a spin first. My colleagues were dying to see Everest up close. It may sound lame but this was never on my bucket list. It was possibly the only thing missing from my bucket list. When the chopper landed I was not going to get on it. When it took off I was somehow onboard.

Our pilot had oxygen. We did not. He let out a little fizz into the cabin at takeoff, and then happily breathed his own oxygen for the rest of the trip. We flew well over Base Camp which means we must have been at approximately 6,000 m altitude. As I was taking photos and videos I forgot to breathe regularly – and actually caught a bout of mild altitude sensitivity right there, seated on the plane. Feeling sick and lightheaded I tried to focus on breathing, while my colleague, who was blue in the face just the night before, was happy as a canary in the front seat.everest-4The moon landscape that makes up the last 4 days of trekking is astonishing. It seems quite dead, but I am convinced it isn’t. This is the top of the world. Life is found in highly unlikely places. And while it is exotic and dangerous to us Europeans, sherpas and yaks consider this their home. Hats off to them (if anybody wears a hat anymore).
everest-1(Namche Bazaar and Mt Everest, Nepal; November 2016)


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A cliché that wasn’t

Processed with Snapseed.Langkawi. What a touristy-sounding destination. Never was on my travel bucket list. But somehow I ended up there anyway – and instead of my cliché come true, I was whisked away into the middle of a 10 million-year-old rainforest and by a large reef, on a wonderful private beach. The Andaman Resort makes an effort to educate visitors about the jungle, the ocean, and the reef. It claims to run a sustainable, green policy, which seems reasonable giving-back, in return of being allowed to run a resort in the middle of a nature conservation area.

Unfortunately, the cliché did manifest itself one day with a long dry spell. We drove down to Pantai Chenang. What a mistake. As we sat enjoying teh tarik by a beachside café, conversation was difficult due to the distractions of banana boats ripping through waves, parasailers being dragged around by fast boats, and jeeps transporting people from pickup points to watersport stations, and back. The water was criss-cross -littered with floating dividers in different colors, making out swim lanes and divisions between swimmers and motor equipment. I am glad to report none of us seemed inclined to buy a fanny pack, a souvenir T-shirt, and a beer; and as the sun set we happily drove back to our little corner of the island. Not even a photo remains of this experience.

The night was long, just the way I prefer: with philosophical conversation, a few bottles of wine, sounds of the beach, frog song, and the darkness of the rainforest. The essence of Langkawi is its gorgeous (and brave) nature. Only one person was reported killed due to the 2004 christmas tsunami – the reef right outside our resort took the blow and saved the island. While others party away on Pantai Chenang, the people of the resort collaborate to reconstruct the reef, giving back thanks of survival. This is the Langkawi I like and will one day return to. Because, again, my snorkel gear remained useless in my backpack.

(Langkawi, Malaysia; September 2016)


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By the Andaman Sea

Processed with Snapseed.It was dark upon arrival on Langkawi. My checked-in backpack was slathered in oil. Ants had mysteriously infested our rental car and seemed to crawl in endless streams from its seams like a sequel to Hitchcock’s “The Birds”. My Malaysian friend drove into the jungle, without hesitation. We arrived on a pitch-black parking lot, entered a huge, empty hotel lobby, checked in, and hurried to get some sleep. I really had little idea where I had got to.

But morning came dressed differently, as it tends to do. Along with hundreds of singing birds and cicadas. And slow, soft waves rolling in. I practiced yoga at dawn. My friend went for a swim. I also found my way to the beach – the gorgeous, quiet, golden beach!

As I beach-combed this morning, looking for seashells, sea glass, and other interesting flotsam and jetsam for my beach jars collection, I realized, privileged, that I was on a paradise beach between a 10 million year-old rainforest and a large, possibly equally old coral reef. Under a warm sun, and above turquoise water, and on golden sands. One christmas, over a decade ago, there was a tsunami on this very beach. Today there is only tranquility. And I.Processed with Snapseed.(Langkawi, Malaysia; September 2016)


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Borders are a human invention – part II

loviisaforest-1Borders are a human invention. Ownership of anything is a human invention. We cannot function without slicing and dividing this planet into pieces, each claiming ownership of one plot – or several. In society at any age in history, landless people were always the sorriest lot. In many countries owning land is common, whereas in other cultures the divide between land owners and the landless is broad and deep.

But Nature knows no borders. Nature owns everything. And so we must work to keep the borders between my father’s forest and the neighbor’s forest clear and visible. Yet I could not find the borders of our forest if I tried. A rock here, a cleared corridor there. Fortunately we have no fences as animals know of no borders either.

As we walked around, trying to get a feel of which turf and tree is owned by whom, I got a sinking feeling of being a badly programmed human. Because I would easily overlook any border and happily chop off a christmas tree in the neighbor’s forest. And I thought of a passage from my favorite poem in the whole world, “Progressive insanities of a pioneer” by Margaret Atwood:

He stood, a point
on a sheet of green paper
proclaiming himself the centre

with no walls, no borders
anywhere; the sky no height
above him, totally un
enclosed
and shouted:

Let me out!

loviisaforest.3(Loviisa, Finland; March 2016)


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Surfacing above the exhausted air

nepal-27-webKathmandu valley is a pot brimming with dust, exhaust gas, and smoke. On sunny days a thick, warm-tinted, dry haze hangs over the city. Finnish, a master of subtlety, has a word for that sun-tinged haze: auer, also known as päivänsavu (day smoke).

While auer may be one of the most beautiful words in the Finnish language, on the second day in Kathmandu I was coughing and sneezing my airways inside out. How surprising to learn that made-in-Bangladesh generic allergy medicines can alleviate pollution irritation.

And how lovely to escape out into Nagarkot hills on the fifth day, if only for a night. And what a night. There was a sunset over the valley, a hilarious birthday dinner celebration, learning to play the Tibetan singing bowl, making a sarangi band play “happy birthday” twice because we missed it the first time, and later working on the computer in bed by candlelight in a room that never knew heating.

And there was a sunrise, to the East right off the Himalayas. No dust haze, just heavy dew hanging over the air before a clean, clear day began. nepal-28-web(Nagarkot, Nepal; January 2015)


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A message from a lost world

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There it is, standing nonchalantly on my kitchen counter. Disregarding the clutter and the snow outside, this Cycas revoluta proudly stands as a messenger from 250 millions years ago. Yes, before the dinosaurs. What a joke, then, that I bought it at Ikea, that paragon for modernity and human everyday life, instead of a specialty garden shop offering a more worthy handling.

People go gaga for cycads. Some feel the presence of dinosaurs, others a cosmic connection, and many are fascinated by its botanical secrets. And then there are those who make money in cycad trafficking.

Yes, cycad trafficking. Indeed. Just like tortoise trafficking, or ivory trafficking.  There are those who go to great lengths to smuggle rare, CITES-protected cycads, in order to cash in thousands per plant. Not only botanists collect cycads, but also celebrities wishing to build a world-traveled, connoisseur image of themselves.

Even some botanists have faced jailtime. “Botanists in jail?!” you may ask. Indeed, botanists are usually not associated with rogue behavior. But there is something about the cycads. Is it persistence from the Permian age, regardless of herbivorous dinosaurs, ice age, and pollution? Is it in the palm-resembling looks of a plant that is closer related to the spruces and pines of our time? For me, cycads have been magical ever since the age of five when I went gaga over dinosaurs and the Jurassic age. The fascination was reinforced when I read Cycad Island by Oliver Sacks in my early twenties.

And so I carefully place my little cycad on my windowsill, sending it a silent thought to produce at least that one expected leaf per year. Perhaps it will befriend my bonsai trees and decide it, too, is here to stay.

(Helsinki, Finland; December 2014)