DAY 3: October 21, 2009. From Jagat (1300m) to Dharapani (1860m)
Today was full of ups and down, both in terms of the terrain as well as how I was feeling. I woke up at abotu 5 am with an upset stomach and unfortunately had to endure what I would call a less than successful bathroom experience. So much for the cholrine drops. From here on out I am only going to drink boiled water (which the lodges charge for) or purchase water from one of the numerous "Safe Drinking Water Stations" that can be found along the route. It's annoying because both of these options cost extra money. Still, I'd rather pay an extra $2 a day if it means that I won't get sick. The bottled water isn't an option, as prices are now at $2.25 a bottle and steadily rising along with the elevation.
I also have been struggling with a runny nose and an early morning sore throat. Once we got on the trail this morning my throat began to feel better, but my nose has been running all day. To make matters worse, this congestion seems to have spread to my left ear, which has felt clogged all day. I am unable to pop my left ear. It's possible trhat this will go away, but it's also possible that it could lead to an ear infection. I'm trying to stay positive, but deep down I am very worried about getting any sicker. We are in a very remote valley that is inaccessable by road, so it's very important that I stay healthy.
So my questionable health was one of the downers of the day. What was a positive thing today? Well for starters, the scenery today was indescribably amazing. We continued to follow the same path which goes upstream along the Marsyangdi Nadi. As I mentioned, that path goes up and down throughout the day. Sometimes we have to climb over halfway to the top of the valley. Other times we were walking right along the river at the valley's nadir.
We only caught a few brief glimpses of the snow-capped Manaslu Range, but it didn't matter because the more immediate scenery of the soaring hillsides of the valley was more than enough to make me say, "Wow." We also saw some enormous cascading waterfalls and at one point we were so close to a waterfall that the water was splashing onto us. Here are a few pictures from the day:
As we climbed up along the side of the valley, we often had to walk along rather narrow pathways that hugged the mountainside. To my left would be more mountain, but to my right was a terrifying 200 meter drop down to the soaring river below.
I took these parts very slowly and tried not to think about what would happen if I tripped and fell down the side of the valley. These passages freaked me out a little bit and served as just another reminder of how serious trekking is. It might not be mountaineering, but trekking is still no joke.
Indeed, today was the first day that my body really began to feel fatigued towards the end of the day. The path had so many challenging ups and downs. We also kept a pretty quick pace. The reason is that it's better to make good time now so that we can go slower and take our time at the higher altitudes.
It was during one of these challenging stretches when I began to think about what a solitary affair trekking can be. Even though I'm walking right in front of or just behind Mimi, Dahn and Ramji, for long stretches of time no one says anything. We all just concentrate on walking and getting into our own zones. At times it can be a very emotional experience, when my thoughts become very internal and day-dreamy. My feet continue to propel my body foward, but often I find that my mind is elsewhere. In many ways, I really like this aspect of trekking. Other times though, I wish we were making more conversation.
On this point, it would be worth mentioning Dahn's role as our guide. I'm really happy to have him with us in case anything goes wrong. But he hasn't really told us all that much about where we are or information about the local people and cultures. Often, he walks in silence and concentration just as Mimi and I do, and on occasion he even sneaks his headphones on and listens to his I Pod Nano, which he got from his brother who lives in Japan. For the most part, I don't mind that Dahn often does his own thing. I wouldn't want a guide who was always blabbbing in my ear. But sometimes I wish he gave us a little more information about the areas that we are passing through.
Another funny thing about Dahn is that after taking a three year break from drinking alcohol, he began drinking again just a few days before our trek. Last night again we had some local millet wine and Dahn definitely got a little tipsy. He told me that we were brothers and that I should come back to Kathmandu and have a big dinner with his wife and two boys. He also mentioned numerous times that his wife is an excellent cook. It was fun having a drink with Dahn, but I am done with alcohol for the time being. I feel like I am getting sick, and with the increased altitude, I don't want to push my luck.
Also at the dinner table last night were our two new best friends, the Austrian couple named Peter and Dorothy. More on them in a minute. The final person at our dinner table last night was a burly Frenchman who was returning from a climbing expedition to some insane 7,000 meter peak that I had never heard of. This guy was extreme to the max, but also quite a bit arrogant. I guess you have to be arrogant if you are going to risk your life climbing mountains. He told us about some of his climbs, as well as some adventures in Tibet and Pakistan. Back at home in France he works as a mountain guide in the Alps. He likes to comes to the Himalayas to climb for pleasure. All in all, this French guy was quite bad ass.
But back to Peter and Dorothy, who seem to have become our best friends ever. As I mentioned, this inititally happened because Dahn is good friends with their guide, whose name is Pasang. So we spent most of the day walking with them, and have shared a table with them at the last three or four meals. I found out last night that Peter works as a personal business consultant. I assumed that this meant he advised companies on how to downsize etc, but he explained that he actually works with CEOs to help them meet their personal goals and live a fruitful life. When he told me that he also works with individuals outside the business world, I realized that Peter was actually what we in the States call a "Life Coach." Kudos Peter! As a couple, Peter and Dorothy are adorable and today they wore matching blue jackets to go with their matching red backpacks. I wonder how many more days they will be our unofficial travel partners.
Well this has been a pretty long entry so I think I will wrap it up. We are spending the night in a very small village (they are all small villages) called Dharapani. We are at 1860m and we have a 800m climb ahead of us tomorrow. Time to rest up!
DAY 4: October 22, 2009. Dharapani (1860m) to Chame (2670m)
I woke up today with a bad sore throat and an uncomfortable ear that I was unable to pop. After a breakpast of oatmeal with fresh apples, we packes our stuff and got on our way. As I write this, the power has gone off in the lodge we are staying at in Chame. Of course, it wouldn't be a day in Nepal without a blackout! I now write by candlelight. Some rowdy French trekkers have managed to continue playing Yatzee despite the diminished visibility.
Anyways, as soon as we started walking today, my left ear really began to throb. I knew instantly that I had an ear infection and had to find some antibiotics. Unfortunately, the next health post wasn't until Chame which meant I had to wait it out for the rest of the day before I could get some medication.
The first few hours were pretty mild in terms of the terrain. My ear was hurting but my body was doing OK. Then came a very steep climb through a wooded area that lasted about an hour. As we climbed higher, I noticed that the plants were changing. Earlier on, the landscape was dominated by an almost tropical array of plants. This included a plethora of wild marijuana plants. The plants themselves were quite dried up, and although the leaves looked quite pretty, there were no buds to be found. Either the plants were out of season or some enterprising trekkers had picked the plants clean.
In any event, as we climbed higher, we saw more and more trees. I believe they were pine trees or perhaps firs. On the occasion that we could see a high mountain, these trees would climb up the hillside in interesting patterns. At a certain point, they would simply stop. This meant that the "tree line" was in our sight. I really enjoyed looking at these thin, green treets and observing the patterns they formed on the side of the mountain.
After a long haul, the steep inline came to a conlusion. At this point, I had become quite hungry which was fortunate because it was time for lunch. Despite my throbbing ear, I was able to put it aside and truly enjoy how wonderful our lunch was. We ate in a very small village of just a few huts and lodges called Timang. We had lunch on a rooftop patio which gave us an astounding, serene view of the surrounding mountains.
Needless to say, we dined with our Austrian friends Peter and Dorothy, and we have essentially joined forces and formed a very oddly paired expedition. The fifty year old Austrians and then us. The expedition is rounded out by the two guides, Dahn and Pasang, as well as three porters. Dorothy and Peter have a bigger crew than us and have two porters in addition to their guide. Each of their porters is carrying a very large bag and I often wonder why they brought so much stuff and what it all is.
We usually walk a little bit apart from them and then meet up for meals. Despite our difference in age, I think that we all get along quite well. They are also vegetarian, and project a slight hippy vibe, or as Peter calls them, 68ers. We have had some interesting conversations and all in all I think we are on the same page. Today at lunch Peter said he though we had a very nice group.
Anyways, the view at lunch was astounding and it marked the first time where I really felt like I was high up in the mountains. Up until this point we had been inside the valley and were only able to catch glimpes of the mountains. But at lunch we were out in the open and it felt liberating. I was really happy at lunch.
We finished the rest of the day's journey to Chame in just under three hours. Once we checked into the lodge, Mimi and I went with Dahn to find the health post. After a bit of asking around, we found it and I met with the doctor. He quickly diagnosed me with an ear infection and gave me the appropriate medicine. I was very relieved. I should be better in two or three days.
As I write this, the French Yatzee players are becoming increasingly loud and obnoxious. Peter and Dorothy, who are sitting across from me, have become visibly annoyed as well by the ruckous and I find this very endearing. You see, something like loud Yatzee players is just the kind of thing that would annoy Mimi and I too. Kindred spirits!
Despite getting sick, I can say with certainty that this is one of the most amazing experiences of my life. I never would have that that I would be where I am now, bundled up in a cozy mountain lodge in the middle of the Nepali Himalayas. I'm truly grateful to be able to have this experience and I can't wait until we get even higher up into the mountains.
Right now in Chame we are at 2760m. The voyage tomorrow will take us to another village called Pisang, which is at around 3300m. This is without a doubt the highest I will have ever been in my life. It will also bring us even closer to the Annapurna range, which I have learned is a very shy mountain range, meaning that its peaks are often hidden behind clouds. In any event, I can't wait to get back out there tomorrow. My legs are sore, but I feel that I am close to approaching a solid groove and that in a day or two, the hikes will be absolutely no problem for me.
The Yatzee crowd has been served their dinner and they are now much quieter. Hopefully it will last.
DAY 5: October 23, 2009. Chame (2670m) to Pisang (3200m)
Much like yesterday, today was full of ups and down. Less so in terms of the terrain, which was basically one big uphill climb. But in terms of my health and outlook, today was quite a bumpy ride. The day started as it always does, with a 7am breakfast followed by an 8am departure. Only this morning, I woke up utterly freezing. It is remarkable what a difference the sun makes. If the sun is out, I quickly become hot and sweaty. For the first few days I was even trekking in shorts. But if the sun goes down or falls behind some clowds, the temperature drastically plummets. Accordingly, the days have been quite hot and the nights have become increasingly cold. This morning, the cold stuck with me and I wasn't able to warm up until about an hour into the day's hike.
This was bad news, because I knew it was important to stay warm so that I could recover from my cold and ear infection quickly. On top of the cold, this morning involved a very strenous ascent up through the valley. It wore me out pretty quickly and I was quite relieved when we made it to the lunch break.
After lunch, the day became much better. We took lunch at a very warm area in a town called Dhikur Pokhari. Again, the view was astounding and it was great to recharge my body's batteries and enjoy the view.
Speaking of views, the scenery today was absolutely astounding. I've come to terms with the fact that I will be unable to adequately describe the things that I am seeing. Words such as tree, mountain, river and snow simply don't communicate the endless beauty of the Annapurnas. Also, it's not like there is one specific thing that is so strikingly beautiful. It is the sum of everything that makes walking here so enjoyable, and beauty is constant and everpresent. The hiking is challenging and the accomodations are modest (to put it mildly), but it's without a doubt worth it because I can say with certainty that there is no place else in the world that is quite like the Annapurna region of the Himalayas.
Where else would I be able to walk through a village with the sun beating down on me, look up and see soaring white mountaintops in all directions? The cliffs, the waterfalls, the creeks, the trees, the mountains. It all adds up to something previously unimaginable and causes me to say with regularity, "I can't believe where I am right now. How did I get here? Is this for real?"
Sometimes, the villages remind me of an old Western film, or what I imagine that the Wild West might have been like. It's not there are tumbleweeds and cowboys, but there is something about walking into a town of maybe six small huts, with maybe a donkey or a chicken closeby, and knowing that you are a solid four days walk from anything that might be considered "civilization."
Another great thing about today was that there wasn't a cloud in sight. Not only did this make the mountaintops perfectly visible, but the blue sky alone was amazing to look at. I can't remember ever seeing such a pure blue sky. This also put the polluted cities we had left behind into sharp perspective. In many ways I had become completely accustomed to the smoggy skies of Asian cities. But being out here really makes you appreciate a pure blue sky.
After lunch, we had a very short trip to the village of Pisang, where we are spending the night. Although I was far from fully recovered, I began to feel better during the walk after lunch. We arrived early enough in the day that Mimi and I were able to handwash our dirty socks and underwear and hang them out to dry. It was really nice to have a shorter day of walking.
We spent the rest of the afternoon enjoying the warmth of the sunb and chatting with two other travelers, a girl from London and a girl from Zimbabwe who now lives in Cambodia but seems to be perpetually traveling. Before we knew it, the late afternoon had come and we moved inside to the main dining area. Some porters had lit a wood stove to warm us up, but something went terribly wrong and smoke started billowing out of the stove. The smoke became so dense and acrid that we all had to move outside. It was quite cold by this point though so we all relocated to the kitchen and warmed up by the wood fire that was being used to cook our dinner.
Eventually, we moved back to the dining area, only to find three incredibly rambunxious five-year old Nepali boys running around like crazy without any pants. They were unbelievably cute but I have no idea why they weren't wearing pants. I guess rough-housing is just more fun that way. I also broke my rule of no photography of people and took this shot:
Later in the evening, after we had eater dinner, Dahn joined us by the stove and hung out with us and some other porters and guides. We had some good laughs. Some of Dahn's favorite English expressions include, "Why not, coconut?" and "Don't worry, chicken curry!" So tonight I taught him "See you later Alligator/In a while Crocadile." He got a tremendous kick out of this rhyme and I hope that he can work it into his repatoire.
Despite the smoke filled room, the lackluster food and the stinky squat toilet, I had a really nice time at this lodge in Pisang, whose name I don't even know. We are at 3200m and I can definitely feel that altitude. Tomorrow we have a long, strenous journey to Manang. Time for bed!