Good Energy

The guys at Good Energy have been really supportive and excited about the expedition, so much so that they have made a contribution which allows me to keep the blog regularly updated during the expedition, so they and everyone else can follow the journey. Good Energy supplies 100% renewable electricity sourced from wind, water, sun and sustainable biomass. CO2 from coal-fired electricity generation is one of the largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions in the world. Switch your electricity supply to Good Energy using this link and not only will you be supporting the pioneering community of independent green generators, but for every sign up they get they’ll make another donation to help get the bus around the world. It helps you cut your personal CO2 emissions, helps them grow a great business, and helps me get round the world.

Monday, 14 June 2010

Beautiful Energy

True beauty only exists in nature. That’s my stance in an ongoing debate with Rachel, an Israeli in Nepal for Buddhist meditation. Being as she’s Israeli, it’s good that we have something other than politics to argue about. Our one foray down that road leads to the whole restaurant stopping to listen to what turns into an aggressive shouting match.

Our friendship survived, only to be jeopardised again when she had the nerve to tell me the bus needs more colour, and proceeded to give me interior design tips. The idea of beautifying the physical manifestation of my philosophy of non-consumption/waste-consumption, with a lick of paint or some wood stain is almost as odious to me as the unfolding news of the Flotilla murders.

Next she accuses me of being a reductionist, incapable of appreciating art. I don’t see that as bad things. The world could do with more reduction. And anyway, I do appreciate art, for the ideas it presents, but not for it’s pure aesthetic as Rachel thinks I should. Its visual beauty is a manmade construct designed to manipulate emotions, and as Magrite said, C’est ne pas une pipe (This is not a pipe, this is a picture of a pipe). The ideas and history of artists and their artwork can be beautiful but how can you find their visual emotional trickery beautiful. Interesting, thought-provoking, but not beautiful.

Mountains are beautiful, and I don’t get to say goodbye to Rachel because she’s gone before I make it back from a stunning mountain trek which, for 3 days, bombards me with beauty. Not just beautiful landscapes, but beautiful ideas that are totally new to me, and ways of living whose functionality is beautiful.

It’s physically draining. My muscles tremble unable to turn my calories into movement strong enough to lift me up the path, or catch me as I descend down it. The unforgiving futility of dropping 400m and having to climb it again to reach a village less than a mile away batters my mental forces, and still my legs step on, sometimes so slowly I wonder if they are taking me anywhere.

I’ve never known a remoteness like this. My concept of time and distance can’t adjust to the world not being flat. I look at my map, and although the next village is close it could be hours away. The journey could more usefully be measured in terms of exhaustion rather than time, or by how much daylight will be left when we arrive, or by how much rain or sun we’ll get along the way, or how many rests the route will demand.

The second day is 8 hours of trekking, about the same journey time from central Rome to the centre of Milan by car. Walking on flat land you might cover 40km in that time. We finish the day 10km from where we started. Our first stop for rest is an hour into the day. I regain my breath as the sweat grows cold on my back. This would be the outskirts of Rome, motorway driving from here on, time to settle back after the aggression of driving through Roman traffic, set the music up for the journey, maybe a moment to stop for a cup of coffee or coke to fondle and keep me company.

As the crow, and rescue helicopter, flies, we’re never far from “civilisation” but the only way to get there for me is time and energy. I watch the eagles hovering perfectly still in the blustery ridge lift searching out a mouse or gecko on the ground, and dream of how much easier it would be to climb and traverse with a paraglider. Our 8 hour day could be done in 30 minutes with the right winds and an area flat and big enough to land.

There are no areas big enough to land. The only horizontal surfaces are the terracing, but they are so steep that the fields are tiny, barely big enough to lay a wing out, let alone land it. The work to make the terraces, drag a plough around them and move the plough and ox to the next one screams at me through the landscapes graceful tranquillity.

There are no internal combustion machines. It would take more work to get the fuel to them, than whatever work they could do. I’ve been to remote places in the Sahara, places that take days to reach, places that aren’t on the way to anywhere else, places so isolated that people have been transfixed, by my white skin and, in turn afraid then reduced to fits of laughter by my hairy arms and legs. But the difference is that here the remoteness is created not by distance but by difficulty.

The inconvenience of Gandruk and Goripani has created an infrastructure dependent on human and animal power because none of the alternatives we’ve invented are of any use here. It’s an infrastructure that totally sidesteps the things I am familiar with, roads, petrol stations, supermarkets. And it’s really good. It really works. It’s not full of compromises or cop-outs like most alternatives to the industrialised world. The whole way along the route people seem content. I’m sure it’s not utopia, but people are happy.

I’m accustomed to work, effort and labouring being the enemy, and conditioned to work, effort and labour only as much as necessary in order to avoid more work, effort and labour. Along the trek I see everything in terms of the energy it took to create with horror filled eyes. The natural forces that formed these mountains are countered by the forces of men that carried and laid the stone slabs making this never ending path, or by the strength of the mules that carried up the cement for the houses.

My morning maize porridge stares back at me politely reminding me of the effort to plough a field, harvest maize, grind it into flour, then collect wood and chop it for the fire to boil it into porridge. It’s full of calories in so many ways. Slowly my horror turns to the sort of respect that demands emulation, but my body doesn’t yet acclimatise to the pace.

We all have a base level of how physical our lifestyles require us to be, and this must be one of the most demanding corners of the world, but just like anywhere else, the kids play jokes and run up and down the path after each other on the walk to and from school.

They have electricity in places, created locally by small hydro-electric generators, and distributed by steel cables hauled up the mountainside and strung from small but heavy pylons, before being tightened by hand. Occasionally I see small solar PV panels, big enough to charge a radio or torches.

The last hour of the walk back to Birethanti is along 3km of roadworks. They are carving a road into the mountain. We time our run past a JCB on the cliff overhead to avoid the falling rocks and shale. Last month a local man was killed here. Carving a road through any landscape is an environmental holocaust; and in this landscape the destruction per mile is so much higher. It’s a thought that keeps me entertained when I am bouncing the bus over some shitty track, cursing the corrupt politicians for not having built a road yet.

It’s easy to be judgemental about road building, but roads bring healthcare, cheaper supplies and better profits for rural farmers. You can’t begrudge remote communities that. My magnanimity is made easier safe in the knowledge that there is no way man will ever be able to construct a road to Gandruk or Goripani. A thought, which along with the mountains that surround them, and the way of life there, is beautiful.

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