The end of my journey in Nepal. What a bittersweet day! Bitter, because- I have said goodbye to a new family, I have left friends from all over the world, and I have had to leave a country from which I still want more. Sweet, because- it was a success in every sense of the word, I will take many memories/moments/lessons with me, I am a better person for having been, and I am on to new adventures. If I could capture my experience in just a few words it would be- Challenging, inspiring, hilarious, and humbling. But because it has been far too long since my last post, I will gift you with more than just a few words today. Since we last spoke….
I have completed the Annapurna Base Camp Trek! It took nine days total, even with an extremely grueling detour to the top of poon hill that may or may not have been worth it (Jury’s still out). We started our trek on Tuesday October 1st, late in the afternoon due to an illness delay (Jamie had a pretty severe case of the sniffles). Our international trekking team included- Lauren (USA), Jamie (New Zealand), Chanelle (Australia), and myself. Day 1 was cloudy and we began by ascending at least 7685 stairs. We only walked for about three hours on this day, but based on how we behaved when we arrived at our first lodge you would have thought we had been walking for a week. In other words, we consumed our body weight in food and I think the kitchen was genuinely concerned they were going to run out of pringles. Once we made it to the top of ABC, there may actually have been a national shortage.
Okay enough about pringles and I also changed my mind about recapping each day, because I’m already bored writing about it so I can’t imagine how you feel. Lets try again. We decided to do our trek without a guide and without any porters. We were one of the few groups along the trek that had made this ambitious decision. Generally, a guide is hired to help you navigate the mountains, keep you safe, encourage and maintain group morality, etc. A porter serves the purpose of carrying all of your crap up the mountain. Porters have been the subject of much controversy in Nepal, although I think the feeling is generally improving. While guides have (or should have) significant knowledge about the the Nepali mountain ranges and generally a lifetime of experience trekking; porters are often very low class citizens willing to do just about anything to feed their family, including dragging upwards of 60 lbs to the top of some of the world’s highest mountain ranges in unreliable clothing and broken flip-flops. Many times, the porters have never hiked this mountain, are malnourished, and are not in any type of outstanding physical fitness. Nepal guidebooks warn travelers of porter abuse and report horrific tales of porters being left behind to fend for themselves in bad weather conditions because they are too sick or injured to go on. On the contrary, without foreign clients accepting the services offered, there would be no source of income for hundreds or thousands of Nepali families. To ensure safe and appropriate care of porters, the general rule is that you are expected to treat your porter like an employee- providing safe working conditions and fair wages. Although ultimately I was glad I chose not to have a porter, I did see examples of both good and bad porter hires. I saw a large Finish group invite their porters into the dining hall (generally, porters are not allowed into the dining until all the foreigners have finished their meals and left) to buy them tea and teach them their favorite dice game. I also saw a porter limping with a bamboo cane, his flip flops taped together, carrying two client’s loads on his head while they ran ahead with nothing but the weight of their camera’s on their backs. My overall impression is that there is still much progress to be made in the respect and care of porters. As for guides, we had a good map and in the few instances where we had to guess (do we go under the fallen telephone pole or down the waterfall/steps?) we got lucky. The only times that a guide would really have come in handy was when we got into the villages. We frequently followed the well marked signs (Next village this way…) because well, who wouldn’t. The signs did indeed take you to the next village, but not before taking you on a sometimes strenuous uphill detour to the guest house of a clever owner. I imagine the guides were intelligent enough to avoid these sneaky traps.
So, on the way to ABC we traveled up and down mountains for four days. There are small villages about 2 hours apart from each other where you can find a guest house for $1 a night. Sounds good until you pay $8 for your dinner. Ouch. Food prices understandably increased the higher you go due to the fact that man power is the only way to transport food beyond the road from which we started at on day 1. Porters are responsible for this as well. We even saw a porter carrying what appeared to be a bed on his head. It was easy to pay the higher prices when you saw these guys running up and down the mountains with everything from new pots and pans to toilet paper and bottles of whiskey. We made it to Base Camp on the morning of day 5. We woke up early to see the sun shining for the first time in a few days so we decided to stay in bed and head up to our “summit” a little later. Unfortunately, the weather did not cooperate and by the time we made it to the top we were in a complete whiteout. This was unsurprising, as the previous three days had given us spectacularly terrible weather. We stayed an extra night at the top and the next morning woke up early enough to steal a few brief moments from the sun to take some photos. The day after we left the top, the sky decided to open up magnificently blue for the remainder of our descent. Oh well.
Highlights and lowlights from a trip to ABC-
– You will meet AMAZING people. This was one of my favorite parts of trekking. We met people from all over the world every single day. So many cool stories and adventures. Specifically, we performed a very unofficial Nepali sun dance with aging American Marty, his taiwanese wife, and his adorable assistant guide “Eric” in the very middle of a trail through the himalayas. We helped a young Irish-Argentinian couple prepare for their ambitious ascent from base camp to the summit of Annapurna. We donated our spare beds to a middle aged Australian couple who met online three years previously and had just experienced some of the more difficult days of their relationship. Anyway, the list goes on. But it was so much fun to meet people and often see them again, all of us on the same journey.
– Lemon Ginger tea is a natural analgesic for sore muscles and cold bodies.
– There is no sense in being miserable about the weather. We had about the crappiest week of trekking in the history of Octobers I am pretty sure. But overall we had an incredible experience that I would do again in a heart beat. I can’t say the same for everyone else we met along the way. Specifically an older British couple who decided the country of Nepal had conspired against them to put a rain cloud over their trek and therefore hated anyone and everything that had to do with Nepal and/or trekking. We met quite a few people who’s everest treks had been cancelled due to terrible weather and they had therefore been re-routed across the country to ABC. Most of these people had traveled all the way from Europe just to reach Everest and despite the massive wrench in their plans were still some of most enthusiastic trekkers I met. A situation is certainly what you make of it.
– Chinese people visit ABC by the thousands. They also have the most stylish and technologically advanced gear on the entire mountain. Which unfortunately does not make up for the fact that they are also the least physically prepared tourists around.
– You will happily pay an exuberant amount of money for a bowl of ramen noodles at 4,100 meters. This will be the best bowl of ramen noodles you have ever had in your life.
– Beds are hard to come by during peak season at ABC. Even harder, when the everest treks are cancelled. I am grateful to have not spent a night on the kitchen floor like some Germans I know or been the Korean lady who showed up in the dark proclaiming desperately “PLEASE give me spot in dining room! I’m old lady!” only to be turned away.
– If you successfully arrive at the top of ABC, you will have completed more stairs than you have ever walked before in your entire life and your ass will look amazing. If you then proceed to Poon Hill, you will curse the inventor of stairs and not give a sh*t about your ass.
– Going down hurts more than hiking up. I think it’s a sign I’m getting old. I’m pretty sure if I had walked one more minute my joints would have actually popped and more than one of my bones would have broken in half.
– When you arrive back to civilization, you will not have any inkling as to how awful you and your belongings smell. Although you knew along the trek that your things we’re starting to stink pretty bad, you are surrounded by others in the same situation so it seems a little less insulting. You won’t realize the aggressiveness of your stench until a few days later when one of your honest friends finally mentions she can’t go in your hotel room.
-Trekking is one the the most personal journeys you can have. It is scary, challenging, amazing, gratifying, fun, awe-inducing, and overall incredible. I want to trek again and again. There are few times that I have really felt so connected to myself. You should all do it to.
Here I am again, being long winded. Growing up, I was always one of those students who threw a fit about word limits on my essays. I could not understand why someone would want me to stop at page 12. Do you believe it? The good news is you are not my professor so you can stop reading at anytime. Well, I will end there for today. Currently en route to Sri Lanka via India. That’s another story in itself that I could summarize with my complaint letter to priceline.com. Did you know if you have a connecting domestic flight in India, you are required to get a visa? Yeah, neither did I. So my original booking of Kathmandu–>Mumbai–>Chennai–>Sri Lanka was completely useless when I got to the ticket counter. So here I am $270 later, preparing for a 9 hour layover in Mumbai so I can get a direct flight to Sri Lanka and avoid my domestic layover. It’s not like I had any plans to leave the airport! Ugh. Fortunately a met a Canadian hippie named Tom who shared in my plight and overcame this problem of international law with me. Well, I will write again soon because I still want to tell you about the Dashain festival (I ate goat tongue, for breakfast) and my last few days in Nepal. I guess it’s a good thing I have 9 hours in Mumbai. Watch out, there are so many blog posts coming. If all goes well, Sri Lanka here I come!