Caryl's book, I taste fire, earth, rain: elements of a life with a Sherpa traces Caryl and Nima Sherpa's journey as they crisscross the Annapurna, Los Angeles, Michigan and Solukhumbu and learn to reconcile their two worlds.
The memoir picks up in the spring of 1991, when 39 year-old Caryl leaves behind her posh home, difficult job as the manager of an interior architecture project and a messy breakup in Los Angeles and arrives in Kathmandu searching for a sense of purpose and in desperate need of change. Once on the trail, she quickly befriends one of her guides, Nima. While Nima is calm, assured and has strong faith, Caryl is restless, full of doubts and skeptical. Despite the language barrier and cultural divide, the two are instantly attracted to each other and risk a relationship.
While a large part of the book is devoted to stories about their love and marriage, Caryl also delves into the more serious issues of cross-cultural unions and the frustrations they experienced while adjusting to a world that did not fully accept Nima nor understood her feelings.
"Nima is wise, has been through some tough experiences and like other Sherpas was very adaptable. But it was still a very alienating environment for him and the way he dressed, or spoke, his lack of formal education, his rough edges made him an outsider. Sometimes people who want to emigrate to the US only see the money and opportunities, and fail to realise that it can be very difficult," Caryl explained.
For readers who are unfamiliar with Nepal's topography, Caryl describes the Brahmin, Gurung and Tibetan villages that she passes through on her way to Thorung-La and Kala Pattar in meticulous detail. Her understanding of Sherpa culture and explanations of their customs and rituals will also fascinate and educate even Sherpas.
Two decades later, she finds the country is almost unrecognisable: "When I came here in 1991, there were very few tourists and we used to camp out on the river banks. Today there are big, fancy lodges even in the Khumbu, and there is a road around the Annapurna circuit."
After almost 20 years in the US, the Sherpas are now back in Kathmandu and preparing to settle permanently in Nima's hometown in Solukhumbu. Caryl who took 15 years to complete her first book while working full-time, wants to dedicate more of her time to writing. She told the Nepali Times, "I have plenty of free time now and living in the foothills of Himalayas will definitely boost my creativity." The couple is currently busy traveling back and forth from Kathmandu to Solukhumbu, making arrangements for their new home and planning to open a retreat for artists and writers near Namche Bazar.
Although Caryl says she misses her family in the US and might struggle to get through Nepali winters in cement houses with no central heating, she feels at home and is ready to start her life as a Sherpani.