( Cover Fea­ture)

WKND - - Contents - By jan­ice ro­drigues

The cor­po­rate high flyer who left her job so that she could learn to live again

Two years ago, Kon­stantina Sakel­lar­iou’s life was as per­fect as it could get. The Greek na­tional had over 20 years in the cor­po­rate field and served as a part­ner and mar­ket­ing and op­er­a­tions di­rec­tor in Stan­ton Chase In­ter­na­tional in Dubai. So, when she, along with a few col­leagues, or­gan­ised a trip to scale Mount Kil­i­man­jaro in Tan­za­nia two years ago, she did not ex­pect it to lead her on a jour­ney of self- ex­plo­ration or in­spire her to write her up­com­ing mem­oir The Un­usual Jour­neys of a Girl Like Any Other. This is her story…

How it all be­gan

“When you reach an al­ti­tude of 6,000 me­tres — and you’re not a pro­fes­sional moun­taineer — breath­ing gets a lit­tle dif­fi­cult. It’s be­cause when you in­hale, you’re only get­ting about 40 per cent of the oxy­gen, but your body is still ex­ert­ing it­self and de­mand­ing more. So the fi­nal ef­fect is that the air you breathe does not feel like it’s enough. Your brain and stom­ach don’t re­act well. You are reel­ing, and brought to your knees.

“The en­tire trip to Mount Kil­i­man­jaro was re­ally chal­leng­ing

for me. My stom­ach didn’t re­act well be­cause of the high al­ti­tude and I stayed up late the previous night be­cause I was feel­ing sick. Be­fore we scaled the moun­tain, I found my­self won­der­ing why I was so up­set and stressed out. I cer­tainly did not have any­one forc­ing me to climb. In the mo­ments that fol­lowed, I found my­self won­der­ing ‘ Who am I?’

“As I climbed up the moun­tain, I re­alised I did not have the right an­swer to that ques­tion. It felt like ev­ery­thing I had been do­ing un­til that point had been a cy­cle. A good one, but it was no longer work­ing and I had to start a brand new cy­cle. It was a mo­ment of bril­liant clar­ity.”

on Tak­ing The Plunge

“As a Greek na­tional, I’ve trav­elled around Europe when I was younger, but these were all tra­di­tional va­ca­tions spent with the fam­ily. I was never a hiker. But I be­lieve that when you get out of your com­fort zone and push your­self, some­thing truly mag­i­cal hap­pens. It’s al­most like you’re shed­ding an old skin. You emerge brand new.

“Af­ter I came back to the UAE, I re­alised that I wanted to do a big­ger trip. It was no longer about a hik­ing adventure but a spir­i­tual jour­ney for me. So, I took a long sab­bat­i­cal from work and over the course of the next year and a half, I trav­elled to six other coun­tries, com­ing back to the UAE af­ter ev­ery trip. I felt like I was div­ing and col­lect­ing parts of my­self with ev­ery jour­ney, and com­ing home was like com­ing up for air.”

The be­gin­ning of her adventure

“Amer­i­can writer Joseph Camp­bell was the one who coined the term ‘ hero’s jour­ney’ and you can see it in all pop­u­lar fic­tion, from The Hob­bit to The Hunger Games. If you’ve no­ticed, some­thing trig­gers the adventure, and the hero goes along with it ( reluc­tantly at first) un­til he or she is men­tally and emo­tion­ally trans­formed.

“When I re­turned from my seven trips, I re­alised that I had been on some­thing of a hero’s jour­ney my­self. Each trip brought with it a change, a new un­der­stand­ing, un­til I felt like a com­pletely new per­son. To­day, I see the world, its op­por­tu­ni­ties and its threats, in a whole new light. That is how strong a hero’s jour­ney can be.

“Af­ter Kil­i­man­jaro, I de­cided to take a long trip through

Nepal. This wasn’t re­ally hik­ing but more of a cul­tural trip. Dif­fer­ent groups al­ways joined me, and this time we went off the road and ended up stay­ing in a pri­vate school in Makadum. I have so much awe for the peo­ple there. The man who ran the school was less ed­u­cated than I was, but he was mak­ing a real dif­fer­ence to his life — and to the lives of all the chil­dren in his vil­lage.

“My next trip was to China, and once I was there, I started think­ing about bound­aries. It was very much in­flu­enced by the Great Wall of China, and it made me re­alise that a lot of the things that we feed our mind on a daily ba­sis is garbage, and that we should all put a stop to it. I’ve no­ticed that if men don’t want to do some­thing, they sim­ply won’t do it. But women think they are be­ing kind but ac­cept­ing things they shouldn’t have to. This trip put things into per­spec­tive re­gard­ing bound­aries when it comes to fam­ily and re­la­tion­ships.

“When I vis­ited Viet­nam, it was rain­ing heav­ily. It was so green and there was so much life all around me. That was when I started think­ing about start­ing from scratch. If you’re not happy with the per­son you are, and have a chance to cre­ate a new per­son, who do you cre­ate? To an­swer that ques­tion is about tak­ing re­spon­si­bil­ity for the per­son you are be­com­ing.

“Trav­el­ling in Oman was all about em­brac­ing my fem­i­nine side. Again, I met with a large group, and found that there wasn’t re­ally a lot of ex­ert­ing phys­i­cal work to do. It was sim­ply about en­joy­ing the nat­u­ral beauty of the place.

“At Ever­est base camp, the sheer ex­hil­a­ra­tion I felt helped me let go of the last re­mem­brance of my­self. My fi­nal jour­ney was in Bhutan. Again, it was like the weather was a part of my jour­ney — it was spring, ev­ery­thing was in bloom, and it was in that coun­try that I felt re­born.

“When I came back from my last trip, my mind felt so clear. I sim­ply sat down one day and told my­self ‘ I have to write about this’, and my book was writ­ten in three weeks. The first draft was like a baby com­ing out.”

On Writ­ing

“Spo­ken word poet Sarah Kay once said ‘ Some­times the only way I know how to work through some­thing is by writ­ing a poem’. I un­der­stand that be­cause I felt the same way. While I was trav­el­ling, I was only tak­ing things in. Ev­ery jour­ney was in­spi­ra­tional and it made me see that there was so much more to na­ture and hu­man be­ings that I had ever ex­pected. But when I came back and be­gan to write, that’s when I clar­i­fied my thoughts. For me, that book The Un­usual Jour­neys of a Girl Like Any Other sim­ply had to come out. It took its time, not be­cause of de­tails or tech­ni­cal­i­ties, but be­cause it rep­re­sents me. I was lucky enough to have those ex­pe­ri­ences, and I had to pass it on.”

Why We should all travel more

“El­iz­a­beth Gil­bert, au­thor of Eat, Pray, Love was a jour­nal­ist long be­fore she be­came an au­thor. But what made her so fa­mous was that, through her book, she al­lowed her­self to dis­cover her­self. I think women are more open to change. That is not to say men are not! But I be­lieve women are not afraid to say ‘ I want to dis­cover some­thing new about my­self’.

That be­ing said, both women and men should travel more, be­cause if they are look­ing for some­thing new, they are go­ing to find it. And it doesn’t have to be just about trav­el­ling — there’s more than one way to find a new side to your­self. The point is whether you are ac­tu­ally look­ing for it or not. A lot of the times, peo­ple say they can’t re­ally go be­cause of fi­nan­cial prob­lems, but trav­el­ling can be cheap if you know how to go about it. Most of the time, it is all just an ex­cuse to stay in your com­fort zone.”

On find­ing her­self

“I be­lieve that ev­ery­thing we do an­swers the ques­tion ‘ Who am I?’ Whether we make de­ci­sions sub­con­sciously or con­sciously, our choices de­fine us. And if we are not happy with our def­i­ni­tion of our­selves, that’s when we have to change. For ex­am­ple, if we have a prod­uct, but can­not de­fine it, we can never know how to pro­mote it. The same goes for a per­son — if I’m com­fort­able with my­self, I will know in­stantly if some­thing does not suit me. How­ever, if I don’t re­ally know who I am, I will con­sider ev­ery al­ter­na­tive and then even­tu­ally opt for the more ra­tio­nal point of view. But is that wise?

The trick is re­al­is­ing that there is no right or wrong way. You just have to just find the right path for you, in that mo­ment. So, when you know who you are, ev­ery­thing be­comes ef­fort­less.”

jan­[email protected] khalee­j­times. com

HIKE HAPPY: Kon­stantina dur­ing the climb up to Mount Kil­i­man­jaro; ( left,top) as seen dur­ing her as­cent in 2014; ( bot­tom) walk­ing along the Great Wall of China

ON A HERO’S JOUR­NEY: 1 Rid­ing an ele­phant in Chit­wan, Nepal 2 feel­ing on top of the world at Mount Kil­i­man­jaro 3 meet­ing stu­dents of the pri­vate school in Makadum, Nepal 4 at the Tiger’s Nest monastery in Bhutan 5 go­ing shut­ter- happy in Oman 6 tak­ing the Machame route to Kil­i­man­jaro 7 pos­ing while climb­ing the moun­tain

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