Monday, January 12, 2015

Nepal 4: The post with all the photos of spectacular mountains (...and one of me wearing a Scrunchie)

The terrain changed on Day 2, and we moved away from the outer edges of the mountains lined with terraced fields and moved into more wooded areas dense with fog. It was here that I felt like I was wandering around some Lord of the Rings set, all mysterious and forbidden.

But don't be silly, we still had those darn stone stairs.

This day was longer than the first, and we ended in Ghorepani village about 1000 feet below our final climbing point. The plan was to wake up on the third day and summit Poon Hill before dawn to watch the sun rise over the Annapurna range.

Arriving in Ghorepani
We hung out in Ghorepani for a bit before going to bed early. We had fog pretty much the whole way thus far so we prayed it would clear before our summit the next morning.

If those clouds would juuuuust move over a tiiiiiny bit, we could see the whole peaks up there in the sky....

The peaks teasing us more behind the village.

and a bonus pic of a mule train outside my window because: cute mules

That night was the coldest we'd had and we all gathered around the stove burning in the main room, sipping our masala teas, until a large group of Indian tourists sidled up next to us and began drying out their trekking socks by hanging them next to the stove.

That smell is now seared into my soul for eternity.

We moved away from the stove.

I ended up sleeping in my hat and gloves inside Kim's thermal sleeping bag under two heavy blankets. And I still shivered.

We woke before dawn and after putting on several layers (before, naturally, taking off half of them 20 minutes into the hike) we took off in a near sprint behind our guide up the hill in front of our tea house to climb the remaining 1000 feet to the top of Poon Hill.

It was dark, so we used our headlamps and the most brilliant, plentiful stars I've ever seen to guide our way. And we were definitely not alone.

We followed a long trail of other pre-dawn trekkers, passing by a couple faces we had already encountered the day or so before. One of those faces belonged to a Chinese tourist who went by "Steve." Steve is the smiliest, exhausted looking guy you'll ever meet and we frequently saw him along the trail panting and resting (but you know, happily). We also saw an older women we'd met the day before who was attempting to leave a stone memorial for her deceased daughter in the exact same place in Nepal that the daughter's boyfriend had left it some time before.

(This is part of the reason I love travelling. You meet such a wide-variety of people and learn pieces of their stories along the way. At one point in our trek we passed a group of people from Malaysia saying hi to a group of people from Singapore, then as we passed another group, the leader started with "Hi," then "Namaste," then finally "Bonjour!" as we all trekked past each other, not knowing what languages we all spoke but still feeling a part of the same adventure nonetheless.)

We arrived at the summit of Poon Hill with just enough time before sunrise to buy masala tea and secure a spot to sit. And with our feet dangling over the edge, and our faces being warmed by tea steam, we watched - this:

*angelic choir sings*

No fog!!! Hooray! We made it to our goal and were actually able to see the glorious range.

Our guides practically had to physically pull us away from the view after an hour or so in order to get us going on our day. We would hike about 9.5 miles by the end of that day and needed to get started.

It is here that I'll note that we were pretty happy with our fitness levels the first half of the trip. Kim understands Nepali and told us she overheard our guides saying we were "cheeto" (I'm sure that is not how you spell that word but that's how it sounded) which means "fast." They also said we were "strong" and kept telling us to slow down.

But things took a big turn when we started our descent. Christin and I both have knee issues and we quickly began to look like nursing home patients hobbling down the stone stairs on our walking sticks.

We had become decidedly un-Cheeto.

By the time we finally got to our tea house at the end of the day, my feet were steaming when I pulled my shoes off;

I wish you could see the amount of steam coming off. And it went on for like 15 minutes. 
My feet had literally overheated. That was a first.

And by that point, I had started to feel very head-coldy and run down in general. So by the time we got close to the end of our day, we suspect our guides made the executive decision to board us
in a tea house that was closer to us than their original plan. And their new choice was the most...rustic.... we'd seen yet.

It was perfectly fine and we enjoyed a good meal in the warm main area before going to bed. However, we discovered our light didn't work (fine, we had head lamps - and actually our guides helped rig up a half-working light for us in the end) and that the only bathroom was outside around the corner and it was a western style toilet.

And it locked from the outside.

Naturally I assumed someone was just waiting to trap me forever in the toilet so I prayed that I wouldn't need to use it during the night.

And while you might think having a "regular" style toilet for us would be a nice change from the Squattie Potties - you'd be wrong. Because water pressure is not high enough there to flush the toilet, you have to take a bucket, fill it from a spigot (all of this still inside the bathroom where someone may or may not be locking you in from the outside) and then hurl that bucket of water down the toilet to flush it. Which leaves water all over the seat, floor, you....

I took to rolling up my pant legs whenever I went in and trying to stand as far back as I could when I "flushed," while trying not to think of the post-toilet-using hands that had touched the spigot and bucket before me.

The next morning, Kim snapped one of my favorite photos of the whole trip which aptly captured my state of being by that point: Pants rolled up, headlamp still on, wearing a puffer coat and a scrunchie to hold my hair back, brushing my teeth with a bottle of water, holding the toilet paper roll we brought with us, outside the scary outward-locking bathroom.

Travel. It ain't all glamorous, friends.

We finish up the trek and get to Pokhara in our next post.