What comes to mind when I recollect the days and weeks of my solitary hike? Fatigue, momentary confusion, sometimes fear or hesitation, when the path took me to an unknown place. But also moments of happiness, when nature revealed its most beautiful treasures, and the people I met opened their doors for me.
Even though I travel by myself, mostly in silence, I always remember the people who have helped me on my way. Woodsmen, shepherds, fellow travellers – true, but not only them. Also women, and surprisingly often at that. Even though a hike in high mountains or deserts would be normally considered a men’s adventure, it was often women who extended a helping hand.
“Come to our home”, said Rokshan, a Kurdish girl I met deep in the desert of northern Iran. We had been complete strangers until a minute ago. Confounded, I looked into her large dark eyes; in this country, it was surely surprising for a solitary man to be invited by a woman. Although tired and hungry, I tried to refuse, but it was hopeless. Hospitality is sacred in this place. At her home, I was welcomed by her two sisters. Hot tea helped me to forget about long days of wandering in the rocky wilderness.
Another meeting I will never forget was in the Pamir valley in the heart of Central Asia’s highest mountain range. Trekking along the steep slopes of snow-capped mountains, I came across a small dwelling of Kyrgyz nomads. It was actually a real yurt: a shepherds’ tent with walls made of white canvas. There was a young woman standing at the door and beckoning me to come in. As soon as I sat down at the stove, she fed the fire and put a frugal meal on a small blanket in front of me. Her husband was tending to their livestock in the valley and would only come back in the evening. Until he returned, she was taking care of their home and a stranger like me. She did not speak my language, nor did she know where I came from, and yet she let me into her home.
When you are all by yourself on the trail, there is no-one else you can count on when you get in trouble. At times like these, the presence of another human being is invaluable. The women who accompanied me during my expeditions shared the hardships of travel with me. Their patience helped us get through tough times. Camping in freezing conditions on Himalayan glaciers. A sleepless night on the roof of yet another Asian bus heading to the unknown. A summer storm raging above us on a mountain ridge. Days spent in bed with a high fever, when my female friend saved my life, making me drink one glass of water after another. Even the times when the women who accompanied me used their charm to win over some sullen soldiers who blocked our way to yet another destination.
The solitude on a mountain trail. The piercing silence of the desert at sunset. The moan of the wind outside the tent in the freezing cold. How many experiences like these have I shared with women, many of whom I had only just met by accident? How many wonderful memories do I owe to the women who invited me under their roofs? On a day like this, I tend to recall the tremendous debt of gratitude I have incurred to the female part of mankind over the years of travelling.
Łukasz Supergan – a traveller, photographer, and journalist. A two-time winner of the Kolosy award in the category “Feat of the year.” His solo traverse of the Zagros Mountains was shortlisted for the National Geographic Traveler awards.