In 1974 I visited my first exotic place, Afghanistan, at that time a mysterious place few persons had been. It made a big impression on me, incomparable to neighboring countries like Iran or Pakistan I also passed through during my trip from Europe to India. Since Afghanistan I have visited several unique areas, as a scientist doing field work or as a trekker in the mountains. The Canadian High Arctic and Nepal where I have spent several months each, were most unique. Many trekking stories are from these areas and fully based on personal experiences, snap shots of highlights and lowlights.
What is so special about these areas? In Northern Canada I was thrilled by the pristine wilderness with numerous wild animals, one of the last truly wild areas on earth where people haven’t penetrated. In the mountains of Nepal it is the true friendliness of the people in remote mountain villages combined with climbing the highest passes and mountains on earth with the very dependable Sherpa Mountain guides.
The trekking stories describe various thrilling experiences: encounters with wild animals like wolves, bears and rattle snakes or traveling by boat, helicopter and plane of which a landing by plane on the wild tundra is most special. The common poor weather conditions make traveling and camping hard work. Over the past 30 years nobody in my party ever died but we got close a few times.
How did I manage to get there? This is difficult to answer as very few persons ever get the opportunity. I was always looking for special areas but never really knew what and kept on searching creating an opportunity by accepting modestly paid research jobs at the university.
One thing I discovered is that you need a special physique and mind to survive the field work and camping for months in the wilderness. The weather is either too cold, or too warm, and when the temperature is fine there are too many bugs or there is a strong wind. Very few days of a field season are as comfortable as a sunny day out in a city park or a cultured forest in Central Europe.
I always lost 3 to 5 kg in body weight over the 2-3 months field season which was less than the 10–15 kg average for most persons. It seems that this was caused by the stress to survive. Eating large amounts of food to counteract this never worked. You never see fat animals in the wild, not even when there is abundant food as the stress to survive keeps them slim, muscled, agile and very fit. Only zoos have fat animals. As a human being you must also have an agile character to survive, i.e. being resourceful and adaptable, and this seems more important than a fit body.
Why did I go back to these unique areas so often? It seems that once you prove that you can handle it, there is surprisingly little competition and you simply get hooked. Most of my students, colleagues or fellow trekkers would only do it once claiming it was interesting but never again. I always had a hard time finding experienced persons who wanted to join such trips.
Looking back, the truly most rewarding knowledge I gained is that the world is very diverse and interesting in terms of wilderness and original cultures. I also learned how friendly and intelligent different cultures can be when they retain their identity. We should try to preserve both the natural habitats and diverse cultures, both are precious.