A few weeks ago, I served up some raw notes of my trip to Nepal for your consumption. Partly, it was an attempt by me to process the experience as only time and the comforts of home can allow.
This is what big looks like when it's immense.
Mostly, it was me being lazy about getting a blog post up before deadline.
Between bibimbap and blog, where do you think I went?
Imagine my surprise when I went online and encountered (because online is a Place, totally) comments from people who actually, really enjoyed the post.
So, I figured Why not? Let’s do as my mind is doing anyway: (re)start at the beginning, jump to the middle, and eventually saunter on towards The End.
In my last post, I boasted to you that I decided to go to Nepal for many reasons, most importantly of all, that of daring prestige. That was a story of Heroics (of sorts). In this post, I will confess to you that going to Nepal was a move, too, that would at the very least buy me some time while I contemplated my future outside of the cloistered safety of the ivory tower.
That, after all, is the magic and allure of the Journey. Louis L’Amour put it very well when he said “[a] journey is time suspended. All decisions await arrival, and one travels on, day after day, accepting each as it comes” (1990: 168).
I had been living so long according to a plan, knowing three steps ahead where I needed to be in order to push still forward, pursuing a dream, a career and accolades I never really stopped to think I may not have wanted.
Stopping, it turned out, was easy compared to actually making the last, final decision to leave. That decision took months and it was pure agony.
But then, I have never been good at making decisions: when you plan three steps ahead, the realization comes rather quickly that one choice always (in the sense that “always” is “inevitable”) leads to another. There’s no avoiding it.
After all, as Mr. L’Amour also says, waiting at the end of a journey “is the harsh reality of decision and doing” (1990: 168).
That reality for me is NOW. But in the meantime, here is a story about what happened THEN, on the day I learned that my body is at once my closest companion and immediate enemy and that sometimes the easy way out is, in fact, the best way.
March 31st, 2011
Day 12 of 21
At the end of the day, I came to the conclusion that this day had been about the little things.
It had to be.
With the pain in my knee spreading to the upper and lower parts of my body and my feet all a’ blister, the best thing to do was appreciate what didn’t go wrong, and that’s what they call OPTIMISM! in The End.
Despite my reluctance to begin the trek, the day actually started off quite wonderfully. Hem showed me Annapurna I, visible in the morning light outside our tea house, and I ate a “light breakfast” (2 eggs, sunny-side up, potatoes and onions, toast and tea) with the Holland Boys, whose jolly company I was very glad to be keeping. They, of course – and in what I can only rationalize as their innate superhuman agility – would disappear into the horizon during the day, bouncing off rocks and cartwheeling down sheer drops and precipices, as I followed resolutely behind, one small sure step after another.
As we ambled along in The Trek, the landscape gradually went from being “Canadian” back to “sub-tropic”. Essentially, this meant the gradual waning of jagged rocks, icy streams and conifers and the return of water buffalos, banxan trees and rhododendrons.
We followed a river gorge for a time – professed to be one of the world’s largest. But it didn’t really seem like it to me. Though, what do I know about gorges? It could have been big. It was, by my estimation at least, very gorge-like.
But like most Things, gorges come and gorges go, and after a while we found ourselves at the bottom of a very large, very long, multi-leveled waterfall.
What can I say? I was impressed.
Then, just about an hour from lunch:
- Rain. Lots. Little. LOTS.
- Nagging to persistent to full on pain.
- Rocky roads, “undulating” up and down, but mostly D-O-W-N.
- A pace that was brisk, then halting and, finally, hobbling.
It was enough.
Since our decent from the apex of our journey – the highs of the mighty Thorung La Pass – my knee had begun to protest the punishment I was putting it through by periodically freezing up and/or sending sharp, very precise pain up the side of my body and straight into the back of my neck. By the time we passed the waterfall, I was basically using my trekking pole as a crutch. Hem suggested we take a bus to our destination at trek’s end today, and though I found that a bit of cheat, my mind eventually submitted its will to my body’s demands.
But then, a small surprise as we entered the Waterfall Restaurant, cruelly located at the bottom of some very steep and VERY slippery, stone steps.
Waterfall in the rain with pain.
Chris and Tommy and their entourage from EcoTrek were there (we had met them at High Camp before taking on the Thorung La).
Rather, they were still there.
Turns out, Chris had been throwing up and was feeling dizzy and nauseous. This, too, was a surprise, considering that he and Tommy had consistently left me in the dust each time we crossed paths. The decision was made, for Chris’ sake, to take the local bus the rest of the way to Tatopani. We elected to join them as we sat down to lunch…right around the time The Germans joined us.
Ah, Ze Germans!
They had run into me a lifetime ago, a few days after I started The Trek. High-powered, well-to-do, outrageously personable and armed with the best that Nikkon has to offer, they had gained a mild celebrity among the Annapurna trekkers for their insatiable entitlements and prodigious appetites.
If they were tired, it was not because of unwarranted exertion or the previous night’s overindulgence in cheap Nepali beer or even the strenuousness of the terrain. It was because the slow progress of Others (i.e. the old, the novice, the non-German) who audaciously got in the way of their German efficiency.
If they had to wait while they were hungry, it was because you had the nerve to order first.
If they were discombobulated with altitude sickness, well, it was because there was just too much altitude to begin with, anyway.
On this day, they filled the lodge with sleek abandon, as their harried guide scrambled after them, putting discarded gloves and trekking poles and backpacks into neat piles in the corners of the restaurant while presenting them with menus for their midday repast. The man’s arms were little more than blurred streaks on either side of him, he moved so F-A-S-T.
They ordered first.
They ate so much chow mien.
It was epic.
I ordered a Fanta and when Chris asked if it was cold (he drank a coke to help the dizziness/nausea, but it was warm), I gave him the portion I didn’t already pour into my cup.
And so we waited for the bus, Chris pretty much passed out on a nearby cot. There was a rooster that was being stored in an upside down basket in the room with us who kept crowing, CROWing, CROWING as if to resurrect the long-dead morning, but Chris kept his eyes closed even as I set my teeth on edge.
The bus ride itself cost 280Rs (about $4.00 US), and aside from a few parts where I was convinced we’d fall off the razor’s edge we were driving on, and my worry that Chris, with the aid of the ride, would throw up on me, I could tell by the dull throbbing of my knee that it was so very worth it.
Our refuge for the night, the Old Kamala Lodge, was a very nice place – spacious, clean, with some neat gardens (banana trees and all), and complete with en suite bathrooms for patrons.
My childhood fascination with banana trees continues, unabated. No matter what the Freudians say.
And the room came with TOILET PAPER!!! An absolute rarity in the “supply your own” ethos of the Himalayas.
And, much like the last couple of places we stayed at but still no less appreciated, I was able re-charge my batteries here, hassle-free (some places charge for this, others simply cannot accommodate you).
And, due to the altitude, it was actually pretty warm all around – my feet weren’t freezing after showering and I was quite pleased to discover that I wouldn’t need an extra blanket to pass the night.
And, because of the glorious proximity of the bathroom, I didn’t have to worry about having to “go all the way” to the bathroom. Trivial? Silly? Revealing of my First World sensitive sensibilities?
Not. In. The. Slightest.
Not when your stomach turns on you in the middle of the night and you have to run – RUUUUUNNNN!!! – down 3 flights of wooden steps and around a dark corner to a cupboard size closet without plumbing but still, somehow, with water (hopefully water) standing EVERYWHERE between you and your destination: a battered squat toilet.
Not when, amid the snow and ice and the chill of the night, 40 total strangers find themselves sharing two outhouses located waaay behind the relative warmth of the lodge.
Not when the squats become ovens of hot poo once the cold is chased away. And especially after the Germans make it to them before you do.
AND, I met up again with the Czech couple, the Ultra Cool Katz I had first encountered the night I shared my dinner hour with the Determined Korean Man. They were headed home, finally, after months and months away. As we congratulated each other on passing the Pass I learned that I – ME!!! – completed the trek across the Thorung La ONE HOUR before they – in all their sinewy vegetarian fitness – did.
See what I mean? When the world as a whole is set up with trail and tribulation, it really is all about the small things.
It has to be.
L’amour, Louis. (1990). Education of a Wandering Man. Bantam Books.