Distance covered: 36,706 km (22,808 miles)
Subjects found: 75
M is now alone more than ever.
Her “husband” won’t let her leave the house, she says, while he himself returns only out of necessity.
M suspects he is seeing someone else – he no longer comes home for lunch, returns only briefly in the evenings to change into his “handsome” clothes, and regularly switches off his phone, she says.
She doesn’t seem quite sure how to process rejection by a “husband” she never wanted in the first place.
Meanwhile, Moreno and I have just reached the Tibetan plateau, and one of the highest towns on Earth, at over 4,000 metres above sea level. We’ve become excellent candidates for altitude sickness, having gained over 3.5 vertical kilometres in only 26 hours.
(No symptoms yet!)
Despite yesterday’s doubts, we were in fact able to complete today’s journey by undersleeping and overpaying. We immediately began the search for the nine people I photographed in and around the small Tibetan town four years ago.
Moreno has since pronounced it our “worst search ever”, and with good reason.
The level of English understood here is very nearly zero. Our level of Tibetan, needless to say, is even lower. At last Moreno and I were able to obtain a short written explanation of our search in both Tibetan and Chinese – only to realise that few people were literate enough to read it.
We did, ultimately, learn something of the people we’d come searching for, but the news was far from good…
One was declared dead (via a sleeping gesture, and much pointing at the sky).
Three others were identified as nomads, who are currently in the high mountains for two months collecting the highly lucrative “caterpillar fungus” (known as “the Viagra of the Himalaya”).
One of the novice monks, we were told, will also be in the mountains collecting medicinal herbs for the next 20 days. When we went to the monastery for further information, we found zero monks, and a construction site centred around a gaping hole in the earth.
Two more are also believed to be nomads, and are also likely to be out of reach somewhere in the mountains.
Of the remaining two, there were no clues whatsoever.
All day the weather alternated between blazing sunshine and bucketing rain, before finally settling on lightning, thunder and a fierce hailstorm to end the day.
Everything feels upsidedown now.
The Human, Earth Project was launched in the mad hope of finding M, and bringing her home to her family. I always hoped but never realistically expected to find her. I anticipated dead ends, expulsion, perhaps even imprisonment – but not this.
Ninety-nine other subjects were added, so that my search could succeed even if it failed with M.
Now we’ve found her, it’s hard to focus on the other ninety-nine. It feels wrong leaving her alone, though I know there’s nothing else we can do for now. Her problems will not be solved so quickly or easily, and I’ve made my promises.
While we finish our journey, Moreno and I will be investigating all possibilities for M’s future.
There will be a happy ending in all this.
To follow M’s story and our own, sign up here.