Sunday, June 19, 2011

Trekking Day Thirteen, Fourteen, & Fifteen: June 3 - 5

June 3, 2011 - I was awoken pretty early, right at sunrise by the commotion of the village starting their day. As I rolled over in my bed to peek out the window I was instantly grateful for the noise.. what was covered by clouds the day before now had been uncovered and dressed in an aray of pinks and oranges from the rising sun. I grabbed my camera and leaped out of bed to push away all the blinds and begin to capture the mighty Mukintath Mountain, it was breath taking. Truly no angle or filter of my camera would ever be able to capture the beauty, mystique, or grace this mountain had at sunrise. It was amazing. This village was so blessed. It was rich with community, friendship, family, faith, yaks, and wonderful mother nature. I wanted to be a resident of Yak Kharka just so I too could wake up everyday to this sight!

But it was very early and so after a few pictures and some time just gazing out my window I crawled back into bed for another short hour of rest before it would officially be time to get up and start the day. When I got out of bed the second time I quickly looked out the window but my colorful mountain was now dressed in clouds and you could barely even tell there was an enormous rock in the distance. We got dressed, packed up all of our belongings, and headed to the kitchen to eat and pay for our stay. Today we would be heading to Thorung Phedi which means village at the foot of the mountain. This would be the last village we would be at before we went through the pass. We said our goodbyes to Yak Kharka and started up the trail. Today's route wasted no time in giving us lots of eye candy. After walking up a short climb we came into a wide open valley with massive boulders and lots of green grass in every direction. Tents were pitched all over and many prayer flags and painted rocks were stacked along the trails. The sky was clear and the Annapurna ranges were in full view, showing off their jagged peaks, large vast bodies, and neatly untouched snow pack. I just couldn't stand it. I threw off my pack and grabbed my camera. I started running up the hills towards the peaks I could no longer just pass them by below. I wanted so much to meet them face to face. The wild yaks watched me as I ran closer and higher on the hills towards the boulders probably wondering at what point along this travel I officially lost my mind. These ranges are just huge and unreachable. I finally reached a point of where I knew I couldn't run any closer. I stood in awe of the majesty before me, snapped as many pictures as I could, took a few deep breathes of the cool air to soak up the moment then turned around and headed back to the trail. I strapped back on my pack and headed across the bridge passing a herd of goats (little ones) and their babies singing and running up and down the cliffs.

Elise decided to stay back to rest and I all pumped up on my mountain high continued on merrily down the trail. The peaks were behind me and I couldn't stand knowing my back was turned to them so I hiked backwards. Not the safest move for me since I'm extremely clumsy but I was taught way back in high school tv classes that your eyes are the best lens. I knew my camera would never be able to fully capture what I was seeing and feeling so I needed to capture it and store it in my memory as best as I could. I stopped in another boulder field to see if Elise would catch up. I was greeted by some men on horses who came over to me to chat about the beautiful weather. Its like the universal conversation when your language is limited and so are the topics of discussion. But they were friendly and laughed at my enthusiasm for the landscape. After a while though I still didn't see Elise and so I picked up and carried on. I came to a fork in the trail. I could go up or down. Sizing up my options the up trail looked more fitting.. and I was suppose to be gaining altitude so I took the higher road. It was a steep climb made up of all loose scree and rocks. Funny.. the guide book said today's trek would be light and there was a beaten path... but I didn't have the book Elise did. I looked at my map and I seemed to be heading the right direction so up.. carefully as I could.. I went.

I reached the top of the cliff which flattened out to large pastures. There were some ruins of an old village on either side of a small trail. I walked along when all of a sudden from behind the lower ruins a huge yak came running up and blocked me from continuing on. He was massive with long hair. His face was half white and half black and it reminded me of the Phantom of the Opera. So the masked beast stared me up and down wondering what I was doing on his turf. I hesitated and he moved closer to me. I turned around and started back.. sorry Phantom! I didn't mean to invade! I went back to check out the route I had just taken and still no Elise and I didn't seem to have any better options for trails. Ok just move quickly. I went back to the ruins and my phantom yak, the guardian of the pastures, was gone. So I picked up the pace until I was far past the herds of yaks. I turned a bend and in the distance could see the basecamp of Thorung Phedi. Phew! I thought .. I am going in the right direction. However the closer I moved towards the basecamp the more I realized I had taken the wrong trail. The lower trail led to a stable bridge to cross the river then move up to the basecamp. I on the other hand was already too high and saw that I had to down climb and cross the waters and then hike back up. I saw a wooden bridge in the distance and being as stubborn as I am decided to head for that instead of turning around and going on the right trail. The trail I was on had been closed off for quite some time and for obvious reasons.

Reason number one being that it was a straight shot down with all loose scree again and every step your feet sunk into the gravel and slid. Great. I steadied myself and gracefully side stepped to hold my position. It took me a while to move down the never ending descent. When I hit the river back I was releaved! But the complications were not over. The wooden bridge I saw was reason number two the trail was no longer in use. The bridge had collasped on one side leaving me with very limited options on how to cross the river. There was a small island in the middle of the rushing water just before a small but fast moving waterfall.. I had to carefully jump on the boulders to the island. I used my trekking poles for balance and stretched my legs to reach the rocks. The water was rushing over my boots, thank goodness for gortex. I made it to the island and again had to figure out a strategy to move quickly across the very spread out boulders. Why do I do this to myself I wondered. Elise is going to laugh at me when I tell her about all of this. Well thankfully I made it across with dry feet. There was a trail I had to hike straight up to the camp above me. I turned around to take one last look at the death cliff I just conquered when I saw a white face and blue jacket moving ever so steadily down towards the river bank. Yes it was Elise who too took the wrong trail. The distance from one side of the river to the other was too much to yell for her so I sat on a boulder and watched her try to cross the broken bridge then hop the boulders and avoid getting swept up by the river like I had done. "So I think that lower trail was the right one" I said as she reached me and sat down to catch her breath. I don't think she was too amused. But we made it to Thorung Phedi safely and would be camping here for the night, around 14,500 ft before going to the pass.

I took a small rest to read before dinner. That night we met a wonderful newly wed couple from Texas, Aaron and Lidia, and played a few rounds of card games with them. Aaron told me of a little girl who tried to break his hands for candy on his second day of the trek.. sound familiar? She strikes again! We went to bed early that night because it would be a very early start to the pass. As we tried to fall asleep I heard some rustling of paper and scurrying of feet.. must be something outside.. so I closed my eyes and dreamt about the journeys to come.

June 4, 2011

We woke up bright and early.. very early.. to get started up the trail to the pass. We quickly discovered what all the rustling during the night was. Mice had broken into Elise's pack, feasted on her lunch for the day, and made a quick getaway before we could catch them. I checked my pack and found no fuzzy animals thank goodness. We put on all the layers we had for the day. We didn't know what to expect as far as weather was concerned. The night before we bantered back and forth with Aaron and Lidia about weather conditions but I kept my optimism up and predicted sun and blue skies while the other three predicted clouds and snow. We had our breakfast and started up the trail. The sun was high and the skies were empty of clouds (I was right about the weather!) I took the lead up the trail which was a series of switchbacks going up and up around big boulders and passing little streams caused by melting snow. After about an hour of climbing we reached the basecamp. Elise stopped to charge her camera batteries and I proceeded on up the curved path to find higher grounds for better pictures. Following me was another American couple who was from Steamboat Colorado. The Annapurnas were in full view, dressed to impress! They had no clouds or hills to hide behind today. Back and forth along the peaks my lens ran, snapping as many pictures as it could. When Elise met me at the top we decided to go on. The path was empty of any vegetation and wild life. Just rocks and dirt. The sun was high and the air was cool. There were snow patches but for the most part we had a clear path to trek across.

I'd stop to capture some quick pictures of the progress we were making up to the pass then proceed on. It was challenging but not impossible to climb the steep slopes to the pass. I felt strong and though we were in a much higher altitude then I had ever been in, it didn't bother me to keep a steady pace of breathing. We were moving right along. The guide book projected about a 4-6 hour climb up to the pass but after about three hours I saw in the distance a pile of red, yellow, and green material. Remember what I said about prayer flags being a sign of reaching your destination? Well there they were and we were about fifteen minutes from them. I could hear the winds at the top calling my name and I booked it forward. And then there we were, standing in front of a mound of prayer flags with more prayer flags strung and waving in all directions. In the middle was a sign that read "Congratulations for completing the Annapurna Circuit to Thorung La Pass" I burst into tears. I couldn't believe we had reached the top, over 17,700 ft. In every direction stood huge white peaks, all smiling and welcoming us to their view of the world. I was so humbled by the giants around us. The creation was overwhelming and the sense of acheivement was empowering. I just cried and laughed and took pictures. I had so much joy at this moment. It's a memory I'll never forget. I get asked by a lot of people why I enjoy climbing mountains so much. What's the appeal? What's the reward? Well climb a mountain and you will instantly understand. I can't explain it and pictures never do it justice. But you can feel your soul connecting with the wind when you're up on the top. And your feet sink into the ground like that's where they belong. Your body stands as still as the mountains against the breeze. It's that instant connection with nature. Its where we belong.. I know its definitely where I belong.

Well we couldn't stay up there all day especially on such a clear day with the sun being so bright. After an hour we began the descent. I hate descents I'll be honest. We had gained so much elevation and now we had to dropped down even more then we had gained. For a few hours we went straight down hill into the canyon. In the early afternoon we found a little hut to have a sandwhich and cool drink at. Our legs were tired and our faces were getting burned. We were heading into the desert and it was hot and dusty. The hut overlooked the valley. The canyon was beautiful with it's red and purple rock formation and winding rivers. In the middle was a big patch of green, an oasis called Muktinah. That would be our ending point for the day.

It took about another two hours of down climbing until we reached Muktinah. This city was a holy city where both the Hindu and Buddist faith were practiced. It attracted those of both faiths to travel great distances to celebrate and worship together in the many temples in the city. It didn't really matter what you believe because everyone got along and accepted each other. It was really a wonderful picture to witness. There was no judgement or pride. Simply ok that two people can live in harmony and have different beliefs and practices. It was good.

Our lodge that night was the Bob Marley Freedom Cafe. It was too much. Free love signs and tye dye splattered the walls and portraits of Bob himself were on every wall as well. The inside was decorated like a jungle with wild branches and leaves and fireplaces. The further into the lodge you got the more wall space opened up and murals of wild tye dyed jungle creatures were painted in every direction. Our rooms were bright pink with checkered curtains and fuzzy purple bed covers. It was very plush. The showers were lined with rocks on the floors and walls as if you were showering outside. It was a little wild for being in the holy city of the Annapurna Circuit. But it was fun and had good music and who doesn't want to sleep on a furry pink blanket after a day long trek up and down the mountains. Our next door neighbors were Aaron and Lidia from the previous night at basecamp. It was good to see they had made it over the pass safely and strong too.

That night I went out into the city to walk amongst the many other visitors. The skies were bright gold and the mountains were a solid shade of grey. The sun was setting and the landscape looked like a canvas painting. It was beautiful. The views are more then beautiful and I've tried to find a different word but nothing will do! I watched the women of the town sew scarves and socks together out of yak fur while the men stood around and talked shop. When the sun finally rested for the day the stars took their position to provide light and beauty to all those who were awake. I sat on our lodge's rooftop admiring the twinkling specs and enjoying the cool air. We had reached our goal and so much more. I was completely satisfied.

June 5, 2011 - Today we went to Jomson which I told you about a few posts ago so to refresh your memory scroll down and read that post! But we arrived late in the afternoon hoping to proceed on down the trail to a few more villages before calling it done on the trek. However our trip was cut short because plane seats were filling up fast. We had to fly back to Pokhara early and so Jomson was our last village on the circuit. But it wasn't a real disappointment. We had traveled far, seen so much, and enjoyed every minute of it. Now we would be heading back to our beloved Pokhara. The plane left early the next morning. It was a small aircraft packed with visitors from Pokhara just sightseeing in the Jomson for a few days. It flew over all the green pastures, lakes, and villages of Pokhara. It was really lovely to see from so high up. We got in early in the morning and decided to 'trek' back to Lakeside where we were staying instead of taking a taxi. The thought of riding in a car after trekking 150 miles just seemed silly. Of course we would walk! But wow did we forget what humidity felt like. Yuck! We stopped in the stores as we got into town to stock up on soap and shampoo... two things we hadn't had for 15 days.. and went to our guest house. We were greeted by the same warm and friendly faces we had spent time with just a few weeks prior. It was wonderful to see everyone. But first things first, we cleaned ourselves up and washed all of our gear. It was time to unwind from the trek, but we still had a week to have more adventures in Pokhara and I for one took full advantage of that opportunity.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Trekking Day Ten, Eleven, & Twelve: May 31 - June 2

We made it through the night and woke early the next morning, maybe around 5:00 a.m. or so.. At no point in our travels of trekking or resting did we have a watch. We just allowed our bodies to tell us when it was good to start and when it was good to stop. We put on the old faithful hiking boots, yak wool hats, and grabbed our cameras and water bottles.

Outside the air was so crisp and cool. It had snowed all night and low clouds swarmed the mountains. We filled up on hot coffee and Tsampa porridge before beginning the steep uphill climb to the lake. The friends we met were just waking as we were ready to begin our climb. We agreed to meet at the lake and Elise and I headed out.

The trail went straight up for miles on the mountain. There was a thick fog that only allowed for you to see about ten or so feet in front of you. It was nice to be in the cold weather though, and to be climbing with very little gear. I felt free! And so I started off quite fast. I looked behind a couple of times but the fog was so thick that I would loose Elise and have to wait until I could catch a glimpse of her blue jacket before continuing on. Every so often the fog would begin to move and new glimpses of the mountains and the freshly covered pastures would show. I'd stop and try to snap as many pictures as I could before the fog covered the views up again. We were the first to be on the trail that day and with all the snow there was no clear path. Being in front I had to blaze the way for the trekkers who would be coming up after me. The lake was up so up I went.

In the distance, way up the mountain tops, when the fog would move you could see the outlines of the big blue horned sheep. Oh how wonderful, wild animals! If you know me at all you know I have very bad luck with wild animals, especially big goats on mountains. I was hiking alone ahead quite a bit and the fog was so thick, all I could see were clouds. Well I ended up hiking right into a pack of these big blue horned sheep, about 50 or so, of all sizes. Smacked right into their herd and totally disrupted breakfast. There's a saying my favorite history teacher in high school always always said... "Learn from history or be doomed to repeat it" I've been attacked by these things before and so I said my quick apologies and booked it back down the bend with two or three quickly following me. AH! So I ran back into the clouds until the sound of their hooves grew faint. Phew! I waited for some time until Elise caught up. We took a rest hoping the herd would move on. Then it was attempt number two to get past ol' billy goat gruff and his family. By this time thankfully the clouds began to clear as we walked and we could see the herd moving down the mountain. The males were wrestling like boys do and the babies and mamas were finding more food. We took pictures and then walked fast past them.

It was about a three hour ascent to the lake. Again there was no clear path, but I knew we had to go up. I should earn a scout's badge or something for my trail finding ability on this day. The snow was actually quite deep and again the fog was so thick. We were gaining a lot of elevation as well, this lake is the highest lake in the world.

As soon as we reached the flat areas at the top the fog began to clear and the sun reflected off all the snow. Instant burn, felt it right away. It was SO BRIGHT I couldn't open my eyes. I covered my face quickly although I know with the few minutes it was exposed it was fried. I had to walk with my head down because my eyes couldn't take the intensity of the light.

When trekking, prayer flags are the indicator that you have reached your destination. The light mellowed out and you could see the piles of blues, yellow, and green material. I ran up to the stakes with the flying material and there she was, Tilicho Lake! A gorgeous blue and white body of water surrounded by edgy glaciers and massive mountains. Wow! Crystal blue ice covered the water. The sun was shining and the clouds cleared so you could see the mountains surrounding her. Pictures! Elise and I were excited. We were over 16,000 ft in altitude. The world is so wonderful up here!

At the top of the lake is an old hut, probably for expedition teams. The hut was locked up but you could see into the windows. I probably shouldn't have, but I did.. I pulled out a window and crawled into the hut to peek around. Snow and ice had packed itself in and covered the floors and walls. Pictures of Buddha hung on the ceilings and old food packages, prayer flags, and some gear was scattered about. From inside the hut I turned to look out the window and see what the view would be like if this was my home. Yes I think this will do :)

As we were being nosy we heard some voices and within seconds our friends from Spain and Finland peaked their head into my new home. So we crawled back out the window to celebrate our great find with them. They instantly thanked me for all the footprints they were able to follow to the lake. As with any good celebration, we pulled out a flask of whiskey, took a shot, took some pictures as a group, and then headed back to base camp. The clouds were becoming thick again and we had to pass back over the scree fields before the storms rolled in. I was so excited to have been at the lake, and just to be on this journey all together. My body felt so free and my heart was full of delight. I ran the snowy trail back to base camp and it felt good to run again!

We packed our gear up and headed back across the steep and unsturdy scree fields on our way back to Manang. When we got off the dangerous landslide zone we ran into the English girls we shared tea with a few days ago and a couple of Americans. They were hesitant about going across the fields and I had to talk them into it and give them tips on their safety. I never saw them after that but I do hope they made it safely and were able to experience the glorious lake!

We hiked back to Manang because we needed to restock on some supplies and money before our few day journey to Thorlong Pass. It was a long and hard day, going up and down in altitude and going from extreme snow and cold weather to extreme sun and hot weather down in the valleys. We were wiped out. We reached Manang in the early evening and quickly ate and went to sleep.

June 1, 2011 - Wow it's June already! Time flies! Unfortunately today Elise had some altitude sickness and so we needed to spend a day in town for her body to settle. We would be climbing up to around 18,000 ft within the next few days and it is a really bad idea to try to push it when you have symptoms already from the high altitude. So we chilled out. I went out and did some day hiking and site seeing again around the area. I bumped into our lake friends from Spain in a small cafe. Because of the intensity of the sun, their eyes were all blood shot and swollen. They had to wear sunglasses inside and they were in a lot of pain. It was awful for them. Elise and I were fine in the eyes, but our faces were leather and red! That was all for the day, just some time to catch our breath and prepare for the exciting journey to the pass!

June 2, 2011 - Elise was feeling a little better but still pretty ill. She wanted to press on however and so we did. We were going to Yak Karka, a yak farming village. The day was clear and bright and the trail head straight up, as it would from here on out as we approach the pass. We took our time to respect Elise's health. We were clear of trees and most bushes and the views were astonishing. In every direction it was rising blue peaks and snow. Amazing. We were getting so close. Our journey took us past one small village with two little guest houses. For those of you reading from the MILL, one of the guest houses had a MILL sticker on the window.. I couldn't believe it. The MILL is even at 14,000ft in the Himalaya!

Everyday the hiking got easier, more routine. And everyday the views continued to amaze me as they got bigger and more beautiful. I couldn't get use to seeing the mountains, I would scream and laugh and cry with every ten feet. So great!

The village of Yak Karka was one of my favorites. The people all lived in tents and spent the days herding yaks and working as porters. The community had about maybe 50 or so members. The women were in the tents cooking and the men would return to the village around 6 or so in the evening. When we arrived Elise went to lay down for a bit and I went off in search of some good picture opportunities (and to see the yaks!) There were many small children in the community and they were full of life. I ended up being chased around the villages by them, at one point walking with three or four of them hanging onto my legs. They would just shout NAMASTE, laugh, and then run into me. So much fun. I peaked around the tents of the locals and shared some small conversation with them in Nepali. It was very cool in the evening but the stars were so bright and the community stayed up late to talk around the fires and enjoy hot tea. It was peaceful and you could feel the love and energy of the people. I was really enjoying this village. Tomorrow we will press on to Thorong Phedi, to the base camp of the pass!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Trekking Day Seven, Eight, Nine: May 28 - 30, 2011

After six full days of trekking we decided to spend our seventh day hanging out in Manang to relax a bit. Besides it was Saturday and that is the day of rest in Nepal instead of Sunday. So we went to a little bakery to for breakfast to have some toast and coffee. By the time our meal was over, I was already bored. As most of you know, I don't do well sitting still. So I convinced Elise that we should at least do a small day hike around the area we were in. My body doesn't get tired.. I'm not bragging, it's a curse actually. So we decided that we'd like to hike up to the Gangapurna Glacier across the river from Manang. From a distance the trail seemed pretty obvious to follow so we headed out. In the midst of hiking and site seeing Elise and I somehow separated. After about an hour of climbing up a some steep scree field and big boulders, in and out of the forest, I spotted her blue jacket.

TThe glacier was enormous and you could hear avalanches in all directions. It was crystal blue and when the clouds cleared, the snow would shine. It was surely worth the hike up to see. But you can only gaze at a glacier for so long, so we decided to head back. Sometimes when you're hiking you get off trail and sometimes when you get off trail to find yourself at a dead end on the side of a long cliff that only goes down for miles to the lake at the bottom of the glacier. Oh and the storms were moving in so the winds were very strong. The only way out of the situation was to climb up the side of the cliff, which was all very loose scree. So Elise went first putting into use her climbing techniques. After about two or three graceful moves the rocks began to slide and I ran to avoid being trampled the boulders and loose gravel. She caught her breath, waited for the ground to settle and scurried on up the face. Ok now it's my turn, only all the good rock holds were now at my feet from the landslide. So steady as she goes I began to climb. When I reached the middle of the face the winds picked up strong and tried to pull my body off the cliff. I reached for a hand hold to brace myself but the rock came loose and so I had nothing. Falling I reached out and somehow grabbed the only steady boulder on the face. I pulled myself as close into the wall as I could and clung on for life. Literally I thought I was surely falling to my death. Why on earth we thought this was a good idea I still am trying to figure out. So I stayed put for a few minutes, catching my breath and my focus. I had to continue up or I was going to fall. God is my steady rock I kept telling myself and reached for a higher foot placement. Two or three more long and graceful moves and I was close to the top. There was nothing to really grab onto, a little finger pocket to steady myself. A push with my feet I reached for the finger pocket, had a good hold, and just jumped as best as I could to the higher rock to find steady ground. Landed it! Oh.. my .. word.. what did we just do! My heart was racing and when I reached Elise I was so relieved. But we weren't in the clear just yet. With strong winds we had to scurry down a narrow and steep path on top of the cliff. We could see the pleasantly paved trails below and we worked our way towards them. When we reached the bottom, my heart began to beat a little bit more steadily but my head was still spinning. I went and sat a few minutes by the river, thanking the mighty Lord for his protection! Sometimes my sense of adventure outweighs my common sense. This was one of those times.

We hurried back to our village across the river, pumped up on adrenaline. In town we ran in Max and Felix, our German friends, and with excitement tried to explain our epic journey. I do believe they thought we were crazy! We decided after that to actually give our bodies a rest and went to have lunch and tea. But again after our meal, I was ready to do something else. The day was bright and the views were clear so I pursued another hike to the higher grounds of the village that overlook all of Manang and the farm fields. From the top I took some amazing shots of the Ganggapurna mountain and the glacier. The sun light was working in my favor and the peaks were all dressed and ready for their close ups. Oh how I love shooting good pictures and video. I was having so much fun. And this time I took a nice layout trail from top to bottom.

The next day, May 29, we started our side trip to Tilicho Lake, the world's highest and biggest lake. We would be spending the night in a guest house between Manang and Tilicho Basecamp so we had no need to rush. We started our day with our usual breakfast and reading, then stopped to stock up on fresh water, and began to pass through the villages. It was a fairly simple day and we reached our guest house in the early afternoon. We were the only visitors there and nothing was in site for miles. The views however were picture perfect so we sat outside for a bit admiring the creation and wondering what the heck the guest house manager does all day up here.. so lonely he has to be. The guest house also had a nice sun room so around four the temperature began to drop rapidly and the only warm room was the sun room so we went and sat in on the pillows on the floor and read. After about an hour or two a friendly young woman from Spain came and flopped down on the floor next to us. She had just returned from hiking to the lake and was going to stay the night at the guest house. Shortly after her arrival two more trekkers came in and flopped down. One was a man from Nepal and the other was his girlfriend, a very sweet and very exhausted French girl. I never caught the woman from Spain's name, but we sat on the floor and shared dinner and conversation for a couple of hours. Se was just a delight, so full of life and so eager to share stories. The poor girl from France was too exhausted from the hike she went straight to bed, but her boyfriend use to be a guide on the circuit and knew all the local guest houses so he served us all the food we could eat and was our translator with our guest house manager who spoke no English (and my Nepali isn't that far along but I was able to get a few things across) And our new friend from Spain was giving us tips on how to get to the lake. It wasn't an easy task actually. You had to cross an enormous scree field that frequently has land slides. The field is long, extremely steep, and extremely loose. After the incident at the glacier, Elise and I were a little nervous. The advice to basically lean your body towards the rocks, put one foot in front of the other, and go very slowly. Well here goes nothing I thought! It was getting late and we had a big day ahead of us to get to the base camp. So we wished our new friends goodnight and headed to sleep.

May 30, 2011. Today is our 15th day in Nepal! Wow time has flown by and yet so many adventures had already happened! The morning was cool and refreshing as we started off to the base camp. Along the route, which climbed up high, we met a handful of men who spoke very little to no English but we all hiked in a row towards the scree field trails. The trail descended down a rocky hill crossing over a broke wooden bridge and then ascended back up a very narrow and very loose trail. This was already looking sketchy. We climbed to the top of the other side of the mountain and proceeded onto the crazy trail we've heard so much about. When you reached it there was a sign that cautioned you about the high landslide danger. I just hoped no goats or yaks were above us to send rocks crashing down on us. Lined up in a row we started to make our way across the rocks. The gravel was deep and yes very very loose. The trail went up and down, breaking in the middle with some solid dirt, and then picking back up with the loose gravel and long cliffs to make about an hour or so worth of steady well thought out moves. The views around us though were incredible! and above us were sporadically placed boulders and rock formations that just caught my eye. So of course I would stop in the most awkward and unsteady areas to take pictures and then hurry along before my feet would slip. But as you can see we made it safely across and from a distance you could see the very high trail to the lake and at the bottom the base camp we'd be staying at.

Elise and I parted from the men and sat down to enjoy the beautiful canyon and mountain scene we were a part of. It was gorgeous, vast, and strong. After about two hours of laying in the sun we went and put our packs inside the very old guest house. A rather grumpy man managed the place and didn't seem very thrilled to see us. As soon we arrived however the storms moved in and the rain started pouring. Not only that but the temperatures dropped dramatically and our room had no heat and no electricity. We were in the heart of the mountains. So we put on everything we owned and went into a small hut to seek out some hot tea and shelter. Inside were all the men we met on the trail, laying on the floor gambling over card games, eating food prepared by their wives for their travels, and drinking raksi (Nepali homemade spirits - I hear it is STRONG) They had blankets so Elise and I pulled some blankets over us, acquired some hot tea, and sat for probably a good four hours watching the men gamble, smoke, drink, and eat. They laughed and shouted and no one spoke any English. We really didn't know what to make of it and the whole time I just wanted to join in on the fun!

The winds outside howled and the rain was falling hard. All of a sudden the door flew open and a man walked in. He was a trekker from Finland who was headed to the lake as well. He came and sat with Elise and I and told us he had gotten split up from his friends, a couple of young people from Spain, and he didn't know which way they went. If they were on the scree fields in the storms, they were in a lot of danger. So he would leave to check on them and then would come back worried with no good news of seeing them. We discussed options with him and I tried to give him some comfort that they were probably at the other lodge we had stayed at the previous night.

After about an hour or two, the door flew open again and his friends had arrived. They were stuck out in the storm but were off the scree fields in times and just had to scurry to the hut at the base camp. Relieved with their arrival, we all sat huddled together freezing, wet, and hungry. The pack of Nepali men started noticing us staring at them and got up to cook us some rice. The warm food felt so good! We all ate some rice, hot water, and swapped life stories. This group had all met in Nepal and decided to hike together. The young people from Spain had been traveling all over the world and their travels included studying for some time in Ohio and Pittsburgh - small world! So that was exciting to talk about them visiting my home town.

The setting of this evening was very strange from any other moment in my life yet it was probably one of my favorite memories of the trek. Being at the base camp with very little of anything and just enjoying the company of others while the weather went nuts outside was so appealing to me. The men there really loved each other and really enjoyed their game and the company (I'm sure the alcohol had something to do with it too) But there was a lot of good positive energy in the hut and I was just soaking it up. Again I was excited to meet new friends with new wonderful stories to share. We were all eager to get to the lake the next day too, so off to bed we went. The night wasn't too cold, though I had ditched my sleeping bag, I stole the blanket from the hut and thought warm thoughts the whole night to get me through. Tomorrow's hike to the lake would be a great adventure.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Trekking Day Four, Five, & Six: May 25 - 27

We have been told that in the regular trekking season, our autumn months, the circuit has 150 new visitors every day. So hundreds of foreign trekking enthusiasts plus porters plus guides plus the regular circuit local travelers.. it must be like being in New York City with all the traffic. However, we were the only three who started on our first day and we rarely ran into other trekkers on the trail. It was nice to have the open space, the trail to yourself, and the ability to gaze around at all of the creation.
On May 25 we woke early from Tal and headed out very early for it was a long and high ascent to Chimbe. Our route today led us out of the jungles and (deep breathe) into the cool open pine forests . Ahh (exhale) In mid morning we stopped at a police checkpoint to check in, have some buchwheat bread for breakfast, and then continued on to climb. This was the last time we saw Vesa. Again he needed a coca-cola, and the rest is history. Elise and I started to walk ahead to keep up the momentum and try to punch out the heavier part of the day before the noon sun hit us.

The forest reminded me much of Colorado. All the greens and browns and the rivers. It was beautiful and totally different then the days in the jungles we just had. Around noon we stopped for lunch in a small town. There was a lot of music and drums because of a wedding celebration that was taking place. I wanted to throw off my pack and dance with them, but instead I watched and enjoyed the energy going on around me. We threw back some veggie curry and hot tea and checked our faithful guide, the Lonely Planet, on what we to expect next. UP HILL. Oh good. So up we went, up this long winding cliff again sharing the little bit of trail with men and porter horses. My pack at this time felt very heavy and boy I was tired and sticky from the long day. The Lonely Planet warned us about the long steep uphill battle.. but I didn't expect to actually be climbing while being under attack. As we proceeded up this hill, thousands, literally, thousands of gnats swarmed our faces and our bodies.
Do you remember the dirty kid from Charlie Brown, the one where the dust storm always followed him around? That's what we looked like. I had dozen of gnats in my ears, in my eyes, in my clothes, in my mouth. I had to a bandana over my mouth. Unfortunately had lost my sunglasses in so I was experiencing how a cow or a horse feels when flies just sit in their eyes. It was awful. I couldn't see. This went on for quite some time. Once or twice I had to stop and bury my face in my shirt just to find some relief before pressing on. Everyday it was some different and some quite unexpected. Next time I'm bringing my cousin's bee keeping hat with the face net.

When we finally cleared the dark forest of the attacking gnats, we had about an hour of a straight shot to Chimbe. So we continued on and joined a crowd of school children on their way home for the day. We passed many stone villages, temples, and farms today. All really beautiful. When I finally have time to sort through them all, I will post some pictures. Prayer flags could be seen in every direction for miles on end. The forests and homes were decorated so brightly with them. As we were in the midst of the school crowd I heard a familiar voice and it was our German friends Max and Felix. Namaste! It was great to have run into them again. We entered the town together and as always headed towards the outsides of the towns for a guest house. Chimbe was very charming. It was a stone village with some shops and lots of little restaurants. It also had a beautiful river with a bridge that gave a spectacular view of the mountains. Volleyball is very popular in Nepal so we passed a few teams playing, and if I hadn't been exhausted from the days trek and the battle of the gnats, I would've asked to play. But I'm not very good as it is, and so I assumed they would've laughed at me.

So I decided to save my dignity and just go to the guest house. We cleaned up for dinner and headed into the dining room where we introduced Max and Felix to their first dinner of momos. This was a fairly newer lodge and the family managing it was very big and very nice. As we waited for our meal.. side note.. in these little guest houses they have one small wood burning stove where they cook everyone's meal. So you order and wait about an hour or more for your food especially if everyone orders something different so as we went on in the days we found it was easier and quicker to agree on the same food so we didn't have to wait until late evening to eat. Anyways as we waited for our meal we watched some Bollywood soap operas with the men of the house. They were very much into the dramatic affair unfolding before our eyes. They all sat, eyes glued to the televisions, mouths open.. and we sat behind them trying to figure out who the man really loved. Anything to pass the time. I was just relieved to be able to see again without bugs in my eyes. So we ate dinner and proceeded onto bed. No big spiders surprises this evening. A good night's sleep was sounding so sweet.

On May 26 we woke up to the sound of a heavy rain storm. It was pouring. We ran out of our rooms and met Max and Felix in the dining hall. After ordering breakfast we took a look at the route for the day. It was a fairly simple day, only about a four hour day to our next point and the ascent wasn't very high. So Elise and I decided to wait out the rain and take our time today. I went back to my room to take a nap which would be the last time I ever slept in my sleeping bag. Although I thought I packed really light, after a few days of those hills I decided I needed to go even a little lighter. So I left behind my sleeping bag and some articles of clothing. The guest house family could probably use them more then me anyways.

Late morning the rain continued but not as heavily. We packed up, threw on our rain gear, and decided to get a move on. Our path was a straight shot at the beginning leading us deep into the pine forests. We were surrounded by deep green pine trees and ferns. After about two hour of trekking we came out of the forest and into a small village. We stopped at a local tea house to get our of the wet weather for a bit. We ordered some tea and rice (24 hour power is their slogan for rice) and sat down to read. Inside the tea house we met two other young women trekkers from London. We chatted with them for a bit about trip details. As we were finishing our lunch the rain stopped and the scenery outside began to light up as the sun started to shine. We started back on the trail hoping to finish the remainder of the day's trek before more rain came. This was probably one of the best afternoons we had trekking. The lighting in the forests after the rain was absolutely stunning. The weather was cool and the water glistened off all the greens and browns. We approached a steep cliff side after some time which would circle us around the mountain. I cannot begin to describe the views. The mountains and valleys were covered in huge pine trees and you could see the blue river way below. Above was blue skies, brown peaks, and just above those brown peaks were bright white and blue white peaks of the ranges. We were finally in high enough to start to see and understand just how enormous and vast these ranges were. I had to walk backwards because I couldn't take my eyes off the scenery. It just went on forever and I wanted it to. So we surely took our time on this part of the route.

As we entered back into the forests we walked through a section that was decorated with all kinds of memorials and prayer flags. There was something to breathtaking, peaceful, and magical about this site. I just felt the need to walk slowly, breath deeply, and appreciate the moment. It was really spiritual as were a lot of moments along the trek. We approached another small town where we met a young man from India. He said he had been sitting in the town for an hour now.. an hour for what I asked.. and he pointed up towards the sky. There she was! The peak of Annapurna II in all her glory. He had been waiting for the clouds to clear so he could see the jagged cone shaped peak. We all sat in amazement and excitement. It was captivating! After about an hour of just talking and admiring beautiful mother nature, Elise and I pressed on to finish the day's route. We ended in Lower Pisang, a wonderful old stone village almost untouched by western civilization. The Tibetan community here was so friendly and greeted you with the biggest smiles. We stayed in a log cabin guest house along with one other French couple.

I forgot to mention we had passed this huge rock face, a great barrier they call it. They say it is the gateway to heaven. Everyone who dies, their souls go into this wide and tall rock slab. It was mighty, smooth, and the further up we climbed the higher it rose. You felt so small next to it. All of nature seemed to bow to its glory. Again I need to post pictures and you will (hopefully) understand the magnificence I am trying to describe. Well tonight we ended in Lower Pisang. It was a beautiful day and we were feeling great.

The next morning, May 27, we woke up and enjoyed our favorite Tibetian breakfast, Tsampa Porridge and instant coffee. We decided to take a longer higher route together because it offered more remote villages and better views. We started off climbing up to Upper Pisang which is the extension of the first village, just a steeper climb up the hill. On our way out of all village we would pass prayer wheels which were columns that spun and was a practice of the Buddhist faith. You were suppose to spin the wheels as you prayed and walked around them. They were about 10 to 12 feet long. I stopped to listen to the songs and prayers of some of the older women in town. I just enjoy the passion and peace of their faith. We left Pisang, one of my favorite villages, and headed north. After some time we crossed another high bridge and found our trail. It was leading around and around straight up this steep hill. Talk about false summits. Every time I looked up I thought for sure, one more traverse and we're there.. I was mistaken. It went on for miles and just kept getting steeper. However I think I function much better at high altitudes because I was much stronger and faster at this steeper climb then I was at the climbs lower in the jungles. When I reached the top I found some rock stairs that led me into this medieval stone Tibetan village, only a few small houses and a guest house. I was instantly swarmed by four or five old Tibetan villagers all grabbing at me and shouting and smiling. I didn't know what to do! I was surrounded and I couldn't understand a word of what they were saying.. I think it had been a while since they had seen white skin. Elise was still far back on the trail climbing so she wasn't helpful at the moment. Another older woman came running out of her home shouting and pushing them off of me. Thank goodness for her rescue! She was so beautiful and so sweet. She invited me up to sit and brought me some green tea as I waited for Elise. She ran the guest house, which was certainly one of the oldest ones I had seen along the trip. It even showcased a furry large yak head. From her home you could see mountains for miles! We sat and watched them, trying to study and store to memory all the details of the ever rising rocks before we began to trek on again. At this point we were about 11,000 ft or more, so we had gained about 9,000 ft in six days. We descended from the high villages to pick up the remainder of the route heading to Manang. We stopped at a wooden bridge to acquire some water from the river when I met a new friend. He was carrying a dead rabbit in his mouth and he was a weasel of sorts. He dropped the rabbit when he spotted me and began to run a muck around and around, circling me in every direction. It was hilarious. In and out of bushes, following me over the bridge and up the trail. I don't think he had seen white skin in a while either, he wasn't sure what to make of us but he followed us to be sure we left town so he could feast on his victory rabbit without judgement.

We had to travel through two or three small yak farming villages before reaching Manang. They were wide open field, surrounded by the mountains and buckwheat pastures. Manang was a half way point in which you could decided to go off to other side trips or just press on up to the pass. It was also a place to restock on supplies and gear. The town offered many guest houses, bakeries, shops, and even a "movie theater" that showed movies like Into Thin Air, Touching the Void, 27 Years in Tibet. Very unique place indeed. So this marked day six of our journey. From Manang we will take a side trip before pressing on to the pass. The weather was much colder up here at night but the stars were so bright and clear. I put on my yak hat and ended my day star gazing and dreaming about what has been and what is yet to come.

Special Note: As I'm writing these blogs, I'm also spending my days enjoying much the life and people of Pokhara. I have met some new wonderful friends who live here in Pokhara and I was able to spend a day with them at a local university practicing English. We also have spent some time and meals together since hanging out in town, exchanging life stories, and enjoying good friendship. One young beautiful woman, Neelam, told me she's been reading my blog so I want to say to her, you are a brilliant woman and a great new friend! Our time together has been so precious and fun and I am excited for your future opportunities. Thank you so much for your kindness and for your help in my Nepali language :) See you in New York!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

May 23 & 24, Trekking Day Two and Three

Even being on vacation, I cannot sleep past 5:30 a.m. So I awoke with the mountains and the early birds, the sky was pink and blue and the clouds had cleared a nice views of the range. I began to pack my gear, put back on my boots, and woke up Elise and Vesa to begin first full day of trekking. We were headed towards the town of Gomson. Our path wasn't hard to follow. We cut through big corn mazes leading us to beautiful waterfalls and open fields. The sun was hot even in the early morning. The jungles are so tightly packed that there wasn't a chance for a breeze of wind to cool us off. Without fail every village we came to, Vesa stopped for a Coca-Cola. I still don't know how he drank all that sugar in this humid environment. I would have killed over.

We passed many children in their school outfits traveling to the next town. Namaste, Namaste! They were all so eager to say hello and give you big smiles. As we were walking a few small children came out from the corn fields and began to follow us, "Sweets?! Sweets?!" They were asking for chocolates and candy. "Sorry no no sweets" and I kept moving. That wasn't going to cut it for one little girl. She grabbed onto my hands, and began to crack my knuckles as she demanded sweets. For being four or so, she had quite a strong grip! I had to almost wrestle her off and book it, I thought for sure she was going to break my hands. And that is why you should not give children candy, they go mad for it.

After about 6 hours of trekking up and down rolling rocky hills and in between jungles we came to a bridge that over looked a beautiful big waterfall with many pools underneath. We were burnt, sticky, and our backs needed a rest from our packs so we all looked at each other and agreed to climb down the hill and swim. The water was so refreshing and it over looked the vast hills down the river which we had just traveled through.

We jumped in and began to climb higher on the falls to the upper pools to stand under the falling water. But leave it up to me to be the first to get hurt. As I was climbing, my feet began to cramp from the cold water. I slipped, fell down off the boulders and hit my leg hard on the bottom rocks. Well falling is nothing new for me so I proceeded back up the boulder. But wow did my leg hurt! I decided maybe to get out of the water and make sure everything was ok, probably just a bruise. Yes there was a bruise and my shin was very swollen and I had a very very deep cut.. actually two very deep cuts. My first reaction, seriously, was to pull out a small needle and thread from my first aid kit and begin to sew my shin back together. It wasn't looking very good. But the idea of sewing my own.. well I just put a lot of big bandages on it and hoped for the best.

We got to Gomson late afternoon. Our room came with its own complimentary spider, this one even bigger then the previous friend we found. Our hotel overlooked this deep lush valley and on the other side of the river was a massive waterfall. Spectacular! We had dinner under a grass hut overlooking the falls, the rushing water and vibrant green trees was picture perfect. This night we were joined by huge beetles landing all over us and our food. How many more days until we were out of the king-kong sized bug land? Well overall it was a great second day and my leg was feeling strong so I decided not to stitch it. Phew!

May 24, we had a very long and very high ascent to accomplish today. Elise and I arose early and skipped breakfast to get some of the climb out of the way before the hot sun hit us. I had been taking Nepali lessons for a few months before I came on the trip and I was excited to pass the local farmers and ask for directions and talk about the trail in Nepali. When that sun hit it would laugh at my SPF 30 and torch my skin. We were consuming so much water as we went up, up, and up. Our packs felt heavier then ever. We were stopped by a Spanish couple who were on their way back from a 20 day trek. They were making a video of their journey so we gave them an interview, received some well wishes, and proceeded on up the rocky trails, through the jungles, over the bridges, back up the rocky trails. At the top of a long boulder stairway was a small restaurant (they just pop up every now and then) that overlooked another huge waterfall. We stopped for a meal and watched the water fall, all thinking how good it would be to jump off the cliff into the cool pool. The wonderful thing about this waterfall was when the sun hit it just right it would cast a clear and colorful rainbow all along the rock face and trees. It was brilliant. I could have stared for hours in amazement.

After lunch we began to climb up and up again. This time out of the trees and into the large fields of marijuana. They were quite beautiful and spread all over. We passed many grass hut villages along the way and stopped to watch the women prepare grain and work in the fields. It was a 10 hour day and we were losing energy towards late afternoon, which was also the steepest part of our climb that day. A soldier came out of the trees to greet us as we were moving along. They were blasting the side of the mountain, where we were walking, and he needed to move us quickly before they set off the dynamite. Good idea! He led us up a steep cliff that traversed around the mountain, high above the mountain they were blasting into. We shared the road with porter horses wonderfully decorated in colorful headpieces and bells. As I did every time I passed the horses and mules, I gave them some encouragement because they have a hard job and I appreciated much the rice they brought to the villages.
Men with big chicken cages strapped to their heads and backs also ran alongside of us and the horses, we were all trying to book it off the hills before the blasting.

We arrived in Tal around 6:00 p.m. and headed to the last lodge in town. We were exhausted. It had been a long and eventful day. The sun had finally started to set and the cool evening air was a blessing. Tonight we met Felix and Max, two young men from Germany. We had dinner with them and exchanged life stories. They were a lot of fun, first time out on their own seeking adventure and definitely had great spirits about them.

No matter how strenuous the day was or how much I wanted to toss my pack into the valleys below, at the end of the day it all felt well. My friend Bill always says something to the effect of "nothing nature is rushed but yet everything is accomplished" That's how I feel about this trek. There's no way to rush it and we can only travel as far as our bodies and minds will let us, but at the end of the day I felt that however far we got and whatever we did or saw was exactly how it was suppose to be. Tomorrow is another day of new sights and challenges. But for tonight, we are in Tal.

May 22, 2011: Trekking Day One

After a day or two of delay because of the declaration protests, we were finally able to book a bus ticket from Pokhara to Besi Sahar, the starting point of our trek. Our wonderful guest house manager gave Elise and I a ride to the bus station on the other end of Lakeside. Good-bye Pokhara and Fewa Lake... Hello Annapurna Circuit! The bus we boarded was marketed as a tourism only bus.. but it made quite a few.. ok a lot .. of local stops along the way. Originally five blancos (white tourists) boarded the bus. I met a wonderful chap from Norway who was taking a few months off to travel to India, Thailand, China, and Nepal. I will quickly find more trekkers who too took a few months off to travel to these Asian destinations. He was a journalist for Doctors Without Borders, and we quickly found out that we both had visits to Haiti in common so we were easily lost in conversation for the beginning of the five hour bus trip. The bus rides in this country are anything but boring. Between the loud Nepali/Indian music, the young men hanging out the doors, the windy bumpy roads, and the beautiful scenery, its quite the wild experience.

On route we kept making stops to pick up more and more people.. and baby chickens. At one point the bus was so crowded I had baby chickens at my feet, a little girl in my lap, and I was holding an old man's walking stick and umbrella. They pack these buses like sardines, the more the merrier is the mentality. And every bus driver knows the other so we made stops on the road while passing other buses just to shake hands and exchange good tidings. Over and around these windy mountain roads we went, horns blasting, music playing, people screaming over one another to talk, everyone holding on to each other for dear life. On the bus I met another lovely man named Mem. He was the head master of a boarding school in Pokhara and invited me to come teach English there when I was done trekking. It sounds like a good opportunity.. and if its my only ticket back to Nepal I just may take him up on it.

About three hours into our bus ride, we were going along this long bumpy steep dirt road around the mountains. The bus driver quickly put on the breaks, flying everyone forward by surprise. I thought maybe we had another flat tire which had delayed us just an hour before. However, this time two little old people came on board the bus. The young men who were hustling and bustling people started to herd everyone to the back of the bus. A very old and very small woman and man came onto the bus. They were local farmers, about four feet tall, and both weighing no more then 80 lbs a piece. Strapped to their heads and backs were sacks of grain weighing at least double, if not more, their weight. They were walking to the next town, barefoot, in piecemeal clothing in the hot humid weather. It was a great picture of the love Nepali people have for each other. The bus driver kindly invited to take them to their destination, without cost, saving them a day or so of walking and giving their bodies a chance to relax. They were beautiful and I have often thought about that woman and man throughout this journey, especially when there were times I was walking with a pack in the hot sun about to feel miserable. That was their life each and every day. Its hard to believe the strength and resilience we're capable of having. We just have to expect and know we're able to have it.

So we arrived in Besi Sahar around noon. We went into a little Indian restaurant to grab a quick bite to eat and that's when we met Vesa. Vesa was a man from Finland who was starting the Annapurna Circuit as well, but by himself. He came up to Elise and I and ask if he could join us for lunch. We all sat and ate a big plate of rice and vegetable curry together then headed to the police check point to register our permits and begin our first day of trekking. We were headed to Bhulboule, about a two and half to three hour walk from Besi Sahar. Not a bad little walk after a five hour bus ride. The beginning of the trail crossed a bridge over the river, climbed a series of high rocky steps, and entered into the humid and lush jungles. The sun was high and hot, and being in the trees gave us a taste of the conditions we'd be trudging through for the next few days. This day also set the pace of walking with Vesa. Every village we passed he stopped and asked for a Coca-Cola and sat down to enjoy the views. He was one-of-a-kind and I was glad he made Elise and I slow down and soak up the moment. We weren't quite out of civilization just yet; motor bikes and jeeps still had access to the area we were in so the sounds of horns over powered the sounds of birds and rivers.

We didn't take a guide or hire a porter. We were determined to carry our own weight. The Lonely Planet Trekking Book filled in as our guide, and for the most part kept us on trail. We arrived at our destination late afternoon and checked in again with the Annapurna Circuit Conservation Project. We were greeted with a warm welcome and gained our first stamp on our permits. Our last efforts of the day were to hike down and over a wooden bridge, jump a few boulders and make our way up to our tea house. The tea houses are all different. Some are very nice and new while others have a lot of history (meaning they're old) and a lot of character.. mainly big bugs! Our first room came with a view of the white mountain peaks and a beautiful brightly covered spider the size of my hand. It actually photographed really well.

Vesa fell asleep instantly as we arrived to our rooms. Elise and I ordered some soup and bread and enjoyed the peace of the river below us and the fresh cool evening air. As we were eating a goat walked into the dining room and begin to beg for food. And when it didn't get any, the bold goat then tried to get on our table and eat from our plates. I think the goat thought it was a dog to be honest. We chased it out of the room only to have it return minutes later because it didn't want to be out in the rain. Only in Nepal!

Today however we saw our first glimpses of the Annapurnas. They were brilliant and enormous. I couldn't take my eyes off of them and I was in awe that I was only seeing the tippy top of the mountains and they still made the Rockies look small. I couldn't wait to move forward and uncover more of their beauty. Tonight we could finally see stars as well.. so many of them. I didn't know what to anticipate or expect for the trek, I only knew that for the next two weeks or so I just had to climb and enjoy every minute of it. End of day one.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Eat, Love, Pray, & Trek

So not the most original title but there is a lot of purpose and truth about my life on the trek in it. I just returned to Pokhara this morning after a 15 day trek around the Annapurna Circuit. Wow! What an experience, amazing doesn't begin to describe the personal growth, the physical challenge, or the majestic views of the journey. My intention was to blog along the way, however internet access was very few and far between. I didn't mind though, and because of a great idea of a close friend, I journaled every day. So I'll start from the end, that is the end of the trek but surely not the end of my journey. I've always liked stories that start at the end. You're still left wondering what is to come next.

June 05, 2011 we arrived in Jomson, what we thought was our second to last stop. The day started bright and early in Muktinah,which is the next district after the pass.. but we'll talk about that climb we get there ;) Muktinah is a holy city, attracting many Israelis, Tibetans, and Indians to come and visit the many beautiful temples. It's a place where both people of Hindu and Buddhist faith can come, practice, and celebrate their religion freely with an understanding and together without objection from either side. It's a great picture of how we can believe in different ideas but still have peace.. what a concept. As per usual, we started the day with Tsampa porridge, coffee, and some reading at the guest house. After our breakfast routine, we went to the safe drinking station, filled our bottles with fresh water, checked in at the police station and then headed on down the road for a five hour trek to Jomson, where we would book a plane ticket back to Pokhara, and then planned on continuing on to Marpha which the Lonely Planet (and our personal guide) describes as the trekkers favorite on the other side of the pass.

After going through the pass, it was an easy stroll down a wide road to Jomson. The sun was hot and instead of being in the middle of the jungle or the mountains we were now in the middle of a beautiful canyon that seemed to continue on forever in every direction. The rolling hills and dusty roads reminded me much of Canon City in Colorado.. only twice the size. It was hard to keep up a good pace when my eyes kept looking straight up at the enormous white peaks that rose and shined above the red and purple rocks. Five hours to trek left a lot of time for thinking. Most of the time I would talk to myself (no shame in it) to God, or make mental notes of what to blog about. I often too thought about this idea of community, of being a body, and of each having their own part to support and contribute. What was the truth in it, why should it be shared, and how did it connect with Women Change Makers and Empowering Women of Nepal?

About noon time we stopped in the little town of Kagbeni to have lunch, reload on carbs which is all we have eaten for the past 15 days! It was about noon or so when we stopped. As we were waiting for our meal this huge gust of wind started throwing rocks at the restaurant windows just about the time I was reading in Lonely Planet that you should be out of the area we were in by 11 a.m. because of the strong head winds.. 11:00 huh.. we still had over an hour or so to get to Jomson, and about two hours or so to Marpha. Well we hurried up and ate our meal and I threw back some Seabuckthorn juice, which is from a plant in the mountains that is chalked full of vitamins and nutrients. Makes the body strong! Looking out the window we could see the dust, silt, and rocks of the trail flying in the wind. We put bandanas over our faces and headed out into the wild unknown.

If it wasn't for the heavy pack on my back I would have surely been flying to Jomson. There is no exaggeration for how strong these winds were. Being in the middle of the dessert surrounded by mountains, the wind is trapped and you could tell it doesn't like to be caged in this valley. I put my head forward and picked up the pace so not to get knocked around. It was always something, there was hardly a time when it was just easy breezy trekking. If it wasn't the hot jungles, bugs, and big hills then it was the high altitude, wild yaks, and big hills. Now it was the beaming sun and the forceful winds that helped pass the time and make our bodies work very hard. At one point when Jomson was clearly in sight I began to almost run against the wind over the dried up river. I gained speed on some porter horses and ran along side of them, shouting encouraging words to them with hopes I too would believe this soon would be over.

We reached Jomson which is a fairly large city especially compared to the little villages we had been in. The airport was on the whole other side of the city so still in the craziness of the wind we passed shops, guest houses, restaurants, and schools over the bridge to the airport. When we reached the travel agent we were relieved, out of breathe, and bright red in the face from sunburn and from being pummeled by rocks. We asked for flights out on Tuesday as we had planned to head further to Marpha for a day then back track to Jomson. Unfortunately however the only day open to fly was the next morning, Monday, canceling our plans to visit Marpha. Well that is life.

We stayed the night in Jomson at a little guest house/German bakery. I spent the evening eating apple momos and gazing up at the beautiful white and grey mountain that is Nilgiri. She is wonderful in all her glory! Monday morning we boarded a small plane and took a half hour plan ride through the roaring hills, over the green farmlands, passing the Annapurnas heading back to Pokhara. And here is where I sit and write to you.

Each day was new. Each day has its own story. Each day was full of wonderful surprises, unforgettable views, new friends, challenges of all sorts, and a warm meal at the end of the day. For 15 days I began to understand how simple our lives can be and yet how wonderful and fulfilling. For 15 days I trekked through the jungles, the mountains, and the valleys. I ate some of the most satisfying food I have ever tasted. With limited resources they sure do know how to work with what they have! I loved and befriended the guest house keepers
, the warm faces of the villagers, the interesting and wonderful fellow trekkers I shared meals and card games with. I spent time praying over the communities I passed, the workers in the fields, the amazing people in the stone villages. I also spent time praying and mediating on what these people and how their lives could influence and teach me.

So here I am from the starting point, Lakeside Pokhara, Nepal and it doesn't quite feel like I've been roughing it in the mountains for over two weeks yet. I am anxious to take you through my journey so I too can keep it fresh in my mind all the moments of the days spent trekking, eating, loving, and praying. There's a quote that really explains my feelings post-trek, that I will talk more about when I get to that day in my blogging. But it really does hold value that its not about the beginning or reaching the end, but it's about the moments and steps in between that we are here, now, with the people we are with, doing what we're doing.
No matter how far we get, there is still more, and for that I'm glad that this isn't the end, especially in Nepal. Every day you may make progress. Every step may be fruitful. Yet there will stretch out before you an ever-lengthening, ever-ascending, ever-improving path. You know you will never get to the end of the journey. But this, far from discouraging, only adds to the joy and glory of the climb." - Churchill