The Hippo


May 28, 2020








Dan Szczesny

Five favorites

Movie: Kill Bill 2
Book: The Snow Leopard by Peter Mattiessen, the book that made me want to go to Nepal
Kind of Music: Jazz
Food: food truck Mexican
Thing about NH: Being able to be so far into the mountains that you can stand on a mountain and see no man-made objects

Mountain man
Local author writes about honeymoon hike


A year after local author and hiking enthusiast (and Hippo associate publisher) Dan Szczesny published The Adventures of Buffalo and Tough Cookie, his new work, The Nepal Chronicles, hits shelves this month. Part travelogue, part memoir, the book captures Szczesny and his wife Meenakshi’s adventures as they get married in Kathmandu, then trek to the Everest Base Camp. 

What did a day of hiking look like?
We hiked unguided and unportered. We were not part of a commercial trekking group. We carried our own gear and we guided ourselves. … Because of that, our advantage was we had a lot of time on our hands. We spent 16 days in the Himalayas and we could rest when we wanted, or if we liked a town we could stay there. So it helped us acclimate. It also allowed us to really submerge ourselves into the culture. I had the advantage of being with Meena. She knew how to speak the language.
Your first book was about hiking with your 10-year-old foster daughter, and this book is about hiking with your new wife. What’s the difference between hiking with a 10-year-old and an adult?
With Janelle, I was 100 percent responsible. … When you are an adult and you are on the trail and you’re miles and miles from the road and you have no options, you’re exhausted and out of food or water or in the middle of a rain storm, you don’t cry. You don’t break down, you just grumble and put your head down and get out of there. But when you’re a kid, the no-option option is often accompanied by some unpleasantness, so I had to be very aware of her temperament and what she could and couldn’t do. … When adults hike together, you are very goal-oriented. You are reaching a summit. But with kids, there is no end game. The journey is what it’s about, so I had to learn that. The summits aren’t important. Getting to the summits are. 
How did you decide to do this together? 
[Meena’s] father, who knew that we loved hiking, actually came to me and said, ‘Would you be willing to get married in a traditional Nepalese wedding ceremony in Kathmandu?’ and I thought about that for a split second and I said, ‘Yes, absolutely, of course.’ … Since we were going to be there anyway … it just made sense.
What was most surprising about Nepal?
Absolutely everything. Meena said to me, ‘When you go to Nepal you are going to see things that you just simply don’t understand and if you try to make sense of those things as we go it’s just going to drive you crazy. So just put it in a box in your head and then later come back to it and figure it out. At the time, it’ll drive you nuts.’ And she was completely right.
What was the most dangerous thing about the trip?
The most dangerous thing was cultural appropriation, because as a Westerner I go there and I’m dropped into this culture in a way that is actually being part of that society and culture, and the worst thing that I can do is treat it as odd or strange or peculiar. There’s a lot of talk about the ugly American, and that’s a stereotype, but there’s some truth to it, unfortunately. 
How did you translate the whole experience into a book?
What I had to do was find what I felt was the heart of every day or hike. And whether that was finding a monastery or a particularly difficult climb or finding an interesting character along the way, that would be the core of the chapter and I would fashion the rest of it around that. 
What advice do you have for travelers that they won’t find in a guidebook?
There are three bits of advice as a traveler, whether it’s trekking to the Himalayas or going to the Candia Farmers Market. One is to be fearless. Two is to have insatiable curiosity. Three is leave your prejudices at home. If you can do those things, anywhere you go is going to be an adventure. — Rebecca Fishow 
As seen in the July 17, 2014 issue of the Hippo.

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