Back in May I heard through some friends about an American girl who had apparently gone missing up in the Langtang area (You can see my original post HERE). Word came just as the Maoists were in the middle of shutting down the country. This added to the confusion, and I was among the many people who assumed that the strike had delayed her return to Kathamndu and she was either stuck in Dunche or Syrabru, or after getting frustrated with a lack of transportation had decided to walk back via Gosainkund and Helumbu. As we clear the middle of August she has still not turned up.
I'm not sure why her story still sticks with me so much, but I find that at least once or twice a week I think about what might have happened to her, or where she is, or how hard this must be for her parents. Now I have never met her, and what I know about her comes to me only through the facebook page they created for her in the search and what I read in the media. The thoughts continue mostly though because she disappeared doing one of the things that I love most in the world, and from what I have read about her, she had in some similar approaches to life and travel that resonate with me.
There is nothing like getting out in the middle of the Himalaya and walking the trails of those mountains, and in some ways doing it on your own adds to the experience. There are many people who would scold me for writing that, as traveling by yourself especially in places with potentially dangerous terrain puts yourself more at risk and potentially in a bad situation. I stand by it though, and there are few experiences like it. A lot of people ask me what I like about trekking so much, when I tell the stories it just sounds like a lot of walking and work. But you can't convey all the little moments, like coming around a bend and having three wild goats come up onto the trail, or turning the corner and seeing a snow covered peak that had been hiding behind a ridge, or discovering a four hundred year old monastery three thousand feet up above the trail. When you are on your own there are no distractions, there is just you, the trail and the mountains and rivers around you. You can take it all in, at your own pace and as you like.
Reading some comments on some media websites, especially in the States, there were a lot of ignorant comments about how trekking by herself was such a terrible idea. Mostly written by people that have never been outside their state I would assume, it doesn't take one long to realize once here that this is one of the safest destinations on the planet. Despite the sometimes dangerous trail conditions and the sheer number of tourists that come through regions like Langtang, Nepal boasts an extremely low rate of fatalities for foreign tourists. The Nepali people are some of the least threatening people on the planet, and even more so up in Buddhist regions like Langtang, and doubly so when it is a region that knows that tourism is their bread and butter. Langtang has very few villages that even exist for reasons other than tourism, Langtang Village and a portion of Kyanjin Gompa excepted.
I even traveled here during the height of the insurgency, in 2002 and 2004. The Maoists had blown up a control tower at the airport in Lukla, scaring away many tourists. There was such a backlash against them for this that while I was hiking on my way to Everest from Jiri they had actually spray painted slogans in English to win over tourists saying things like "Foreigners are welcome to see our sacrifice." My point in brining this up is that it is for the most part extremely safe and aside from some petty theft, foreigners are rarely ever the target of violent crime.
All of this makes Aubry's disappearance so much more of a mystery to me. Langtang is not a trail that you can lose, there are high mountains on either side of the river and basically one trail. If she had just gotten into physical trouble with the terrain via a nasty fall or something, someone would have seen her or her belongings not far from the trail. Besides my understanding is that she disappeared somewhere between Lama Hotel and the police checkpoint before you get to Langtang village, a portion of the trail which is relatively free of any scary drops or precarious cliffs. As for abduction by locals, it just seems so out of character for that region. She was there at the end of the high season, how could someone not notice with all the people, both Nepali and foreign going through. Again there aren't many trails through that valley. Also why? Sure everyone likes white woman, but it's dangerous. White folk tend to stand out in Nepal and India. As many people assume that we are all rich and have connections many also view messing with westerners as potentially a very dangerous undertaking. Even if someone had decided to traffic this one girl, many many people would be reluctant to work alongside or get involved. Where would you bring her that she wouldn't stand out? Lastly the traffic strike that followed paralyzed the whole country for over a week, how were they moving around?
All of this kind of went through my mind as I passed some of her missing posters on the trail in langtang. What could possibly have happened to her out here? I'm reminded when I see them still up at Bhat Betini, or Phora, or in Thamel. We can all hope that this will still have the best possible ending, and my thoughts go out to her family. The only thing I would maybe say to them if I could is that Aubrey was doing something that few people ever get to do, she was experiencing something that few people ever dare to experience, and she was living like few people ever get to live. While her disappearance is a tragedy, her life seems to be an inspiration.