Warm-up hike

Mixed day. Unsettling at times and great at other times.

I woke up early yet again. I can’t go back to sleep when I do, because I’m afraid to sleep through a clear sunrise on the mountains. At around 530 this morning I walked to the hotel roof. At first it looked too dark or cloudy. Then I realized I was looking at the dark forms of Annapurna and Machapuchare. The sky started to turn pink through Pokhara’s haze, and the tops of the peaks changed slowly. Then bright sunlight started at the top of the highest ones and started stretching down. When that happened, I noticed another bright spot to my left across the lake. In the distance, it was Dhaulagiri, the first time I’ve ever seen it. I snapped a bunch of pictures, then headed downstairs for breakfast.

After an egg and veggie scramble and masala chai, I went back for another look. Still a bit hazy, but Annapurna South made for some good pictures as the morning’s first flight to Jonson crossed it on its way up the valley. It was all beautiful.

I then packed my day pack and headed out of town in the direction of Sarang Kot. It was about an hour before I found road that headed up. I had missed the trailhead described somewhere online as being across the street from the Pokhara-Baglung bus station, so I walked up the road.

Near the top the trail left the road, and I climbed steps from there the rest of the way. Took pictures of Pokhara from above and the couple dozen parasailers up there catching thermals, then descended a littler to an empty restaurant and ate an early lunch.

I left around noon and lost my way immediately. I had found the more direct route down to the lake on my way up, but I couldn’t find it again, and it isn’t on any of my maps. I resolved to head back down the road, but before getting too far I found someone and paid him to show me to the top of the steps.

800 meters of descending stone steps later, through open sun and humid jungle, I finally got down to the lake and the road to Lakeside, my legs quivering from the descent far more than the ascent. The way I trained, it really is true that getting up is only half the job, or less than half perhaps.

The unsettling parts were¬†at the beginning of my walk and higher on the hill. Someone asked me on one of the non-tourist streets in Pokhara where I was from. I’ve always answered honestly and not had a single problem. Last time around, I recall most answers of “US” or “America” being greeted with interest and questions about older musicians. Not this guy, who went off about something to do with China. Could have been positive, I guess, because I could understand only a few sentences, but I didn’t get that impression.

The second was up in Sarang Kot. On the way up I talked for a while with a local. He was nice, spoke good English due to guiding and living along a popular day hike route, and showed me his treasured marijuana plant. His house and field looked well kept. On the way down, though, the guy who wanted to talk was very different. He asked for money; I gave him a cigarette instead and lit it for him while he talked.

“Fuck America” was the topic, his words. Why we come here and give money to the rich and the government and not to the poor? Understandable, as a lot of foreign aid is wasted and the rest concentrated in certain areas, as is tourism. A man living again alongside a route for daily hikes by tourists wouldn’t seem the most likely to complain about this, as his town gets a lot of tourist money simply due to its location, elevation and view.

Well, not just those things. It’s also due to the government developing roads and nice trails up to Sarang Kot. So his complaint about our paying government fees, including one to walk up that trail, and that money just going to the govt isn’t wholely true (along with the obvious factor of them determining their corrupt govt members, not me). Were we not to come to Nepal, he and his village would be poorer and without even their basic infrastructure — he just wouldn’t realize it much.

I could argue with him like this, but he is right in that he lives in poverty — probably far from the worst in Nepal, but horribly far down the food chain from the people like me he sees everyday — and that my money isn’t doing anything for him. The divide between middle/upper class and the poor in Nepal is huge, not just with regard to money to buy things and education but to more fundamental issues like health, nutrition and education. Yes, the West has has, sad, horrible poverty; no, it is not fucking anything like the worst here. Nothing.

My money here goes first to hotel owners, shop keepers, cab drivers and their employees (if any outside their own family), then to the government. Little of the wealth and comfort walking past daily will ever serve to improve the life of someone without capital to open a hotel or otherwise provide to tourists. So many offers I hear for guides, because that is one way they can get in on my spending without significant money of their own.

And regardless of the facts and specifics of the problem, this man was frustrated and expressing it in pretty good English, complete with properly utilized swearing. His feelings were pretty clear, and I couldn’t take them lightly. Right or wrong, or somewhere in between, he isn’t making it up or changing his mind. Without veering into politics that are not my own, it’s well known what has changed here while I was gone. Perhaps that is what has led this man away from worship of the rich West and its visitors and into blaming them for his lack of opportunity.

Maybe frustration that will lead to real change here, not simply substituting one upper class for another, still possessing all the power and opportunity. I hope it does, because anyone that loves coming here would like to see happier, healthier people throughout this country. We’d like the money we spend to see this beautiful place with its wonderful people to improve the place as a whole.

In the meantime, though, what do I say to this frustration? “I voted for Obama, and though his so-called socialism is nothing of the sort in relation to this issue, he’s the most likely one to ensure our country directs foreign aid to help the poor”? Or, “I’m from Canada. Nunavut, actually. Never heard of it? Kilos, kilometers, eh?”

Settled in Pokhara

Myself and a guy from California, Shelby, I think he said his name was, ended up in line together in the airport and then on the flight together. So I followed his lead and we split a cab to Hotel Peace Eye in Lakeside East. Getting laundry done now, cuz god and everyone around me knows I need it. Probably will sit out some of the afternoon sun then wander.

Only problem is there are clouds in my mountain view. Same with the view from the plane, so I haven’t seen a peak yet.

The picture below is the view from the hotel roof looking towards Sarangkot and the hidden-for-now expanse of the Annapurna Himal.

Headed to Pokhara

I’m sitting in the departures area of the domestic terminal at Kathmandu, waiting for a slightly delayed flight to Pokhara. The taxi ride this morning was quick around Ring Road, so I’ve had some time to kill here.

If anything, it seems flying domestic in Nepal is more complicated than flying international. The ticketing area is a jumble of people and airline counters, each of which only opens for a bit before that airline’s next flight is set to depart. There’s an airport tax to be paid at a separate counter first, then you have to convert your eticket to a boarding pass at the ticket counter.Security checkpoints with metal detectors are before and after ticketing for some reason.

As I was sitting here a minute ago, I met my first actual Everest summiter, Dorje, a climbing and trekking guide and HAP waiting for his flight to Lukla to set up base camp for clients set to arrive in a few days. It’ll be his fourth trip to the summit, on oxygen only above 8300 meters. It was cool to meet someone who’s been there, especially one who does the hard work.

Hopefully I catch this flight, getting to Pokhara by 2 this afternoon. No idea what the PA announcements are saying.

Last night in Kathmandu

Tomorrow I head to Pokhara on a noon flight. I will be back in Kathmandu later in April on my way home, but for the next couple weeks I will be based further west in Pokhara.

I spent the morning getting a croissant and chai at Pumpernickel and buying the ticket for tomorrow’s flight. I got that from a randomly chosen travel/trekking agent on one of the less crowded streets of Thamel. Apparently they get a 15% commission on domestic flights, and we split that, bringing the price down a little.

I wandered the busy part of Thamel a little, then was chosen as a subject on which a few school kids could practice their English. They were out of school today for a Buddhist holiday, and they pointed me in the direction of the stupa down the street where the festival was happening. Didn’t see much festival — just a lot of school kids hanging around playing a game involving throwing coins on the ground. Probably I missed most of it, since this was nearly noon by now. Walked around the stupa and took pictures, got some Indian lunch at KC’s Restaurant on their third-floor deck, then headed back here with a mildly upset stomach that had started earlier in the morning.

After a taxi ride from hell — all rutted, unpaved back roads for twice as long since the main road was blocked — I decided the best thing for my stomach was some of the local rum. I drank that and read for a while, took a nap a woke up feeling better, if not 100%. That took me up to dinner, which was lovely (I’m not at all sick of it so far) dal bhat.

After dinner I sat around with a couple of the volunteers based here, then Scott from the Mountain Fund came back. We stayed up talking outside for a couple of hours about the fun/challenges of running an NGO here, some of the alpine climbers he knows and some of the other NGOs in Asia that have had publicized troubles of late. Fascinating stuff that I’ve only read in books til now.

Time to get some rest so I can wake up and repack before heading to the airport. This has been a good few days, and I can see returning to stay with the Mountain Fund (AAC Clubhouse) either later this trip or on another.

Success with technology

I got the data service working on my phone with its new Nepali SIM card. The phone just needed to be told the details for NCell’s APN, which were found in English in the little guide they gave me. Still using WiFi when possible, but with all auto-updates disabled and the relatively inexpensive data costs, NCell should serve me well.

I also tested the Delorme tracker yesterday, letting it run in track mode during the morning’s wandering. It worked flawlessly except in the very narrow streets of Thamel, where I would guess it struggled to get a GPS fix let alone a two-way connection to the Iridium network. That should mean in will work well through most or all of my planned trek.

Last night I had a second mushroom pizza, this time at Fire and Ice. Wasn’t planning on it, but the three NGO volunteers that are staying here longer term wanted to go there, so I joined them. The rest of the westerners here — including Scott, who runs the organization — were out overnight at a village where they do some work, so dinner here would have been quiet. Bought a bit of Nepali rum and some coke and enjoyed those in the garden before catching my best night of sleep this week. Even slept til 430 this morning, a new personal best for the trip.

This morning I did a little research online on hotels in Pokhara, where I plan to head tomorrow. I am going to head to north or south Lakeside and find something when I get there and can see the places and argue pricing. I’m planning to visit the Yeti Airlines office this morning to see about a flight, since that sounds more pleasant right now than does trying to get on the correct bus to Pokhara. As far as the experience goes, from the air you see the mountains, while from the bus you see lush valleys — neither a bad thing. Bus would be cheaper, of course, but it’s my second choice right now.

From Pokhara, I’ll get my first looks at the Annapurna Himal. I cannot wait. I’ve actually had dreams over the years that I was back there looking at them on a crisp morning from a hotel roof. That’s in addition to playing the mind trick with myself of looking at low clouds along the horizon and pretending they are hiding snow-covered peaks (this actually works). Still can’t believe I’m back in Nepal.

Successful day. Worn out.

The last post got delayed an hour or so because I needed good WiFi to post it. Despite having a local SIM card with a data plan in my phone now, I can’t get it to connect to the web. Texting and calls work fine, but I really got it so I could use cheaper MBs to communicate rather than text. Hopefully can get that working soon.

Returned to mushroom pizza for lunch. That should be the exception this trip rather than the rule like last time, but the Rum Doodle isn’t exactly traditional Nepali food anyway. I failed to see if the little foot we posted to their wall in ’99 is still there, because only the roof of the restaurant was open, and I can’t remember where we were sitting last time anyway. May have to go back there one evening anyway, to see if any mountain-climbing types are about.

I took a cab down there, but the walk back from Thamel was a treat. What formerly were sidewalks have been reduced to rubble as part of some slow progressing project to widen the street. They got the destruction part done, but I didn’t see any reconstruction going on. Because of that project, you have to alternate between dodging the edge of traffic — one lane each way with both sides passing against oncoming traffic and faster moving motorcycles filling any gaps — and hiking through the rubble of bricks, dust and exposed (hopefully dead) power cables.

Further, if the stuff coming out of my nose when I got back is any standard by which to judge today’s air quality, no one should breathe Kathmandu. They really have a problem: dirty diesels, less-than-completely combusting petrols and the dust from unpaved streets. Apparently electrifying the two-stroke auto-rickshaws a few years back had little effect, because it still smells and tastes like Kathmandu.

Busy, expensive morning

At the Rum Doodle for lunch with the famous feet.

Spent the morning running around. Took a cab to Thamel, promptly got lost, found my way to the Pumpernickel for a croissant with yak cheese and chai. Found a local SIM for my phone, then a camera store and replaced the lens security broke running the xray belt backward in Abu Dhabi yesterday (yesterday? Yeah, I think it was).

From there I thought I’d get reacquainted with Thamel, so I walked around a bit and found the hotels at which we stayed in ’99 — then promptly got really lost wandering out of Thamel. Emerged next to a giant pool of water big enough to appear on Google Maps and found my way to where the Annapurna Conservation Area Project (ACAP) office was supposed to be so I could pay my entry fee.

It wasn’t there. Went into the Mountain Hardwear store (yes, they have one now, right next to The North Face) and got directions. It was back past the giant pool of water and a smoky bus stop.

My three remaining passport photos were insufficient to get the ACAP and TIMS (general trekking) permits. God knows why they need so many fucking pictures of me. I even had to give a picture and both thumb prints to get the SIM card! Wandered for a half hour with a similarly confused Canadian couple until we found a photo store, where the minimum order was 8 more photos — I needed one.

Back to the Tourist Board to finish the ACAP entry permit, and I think I’m done. Truly an expensive morning between permit fees, the mobile service and the lens. On the other hand, I think I’m done with the hard part now…except arranging transport to Pokhara.

Moon over Kathmandu

Quick post because my phone is nearly dead and the load shedding hits here from 8 to midnight today. Made it Kathmandu, to a nice and much appreciated welcome from the Mountain Fund’s AAC Clubhouse.

Quite smoggy here today, as is typical for the valley, making the poorly photographed moon noticeably orange. The long trip had been depressing, but seeing the foggy hills concealing mountains on the walk to immigration made it all worth it.

Tomorrow I will get situated with the phone charging situation, find my way around a little, and maybe work on trekking permits. Or whatever…the agenda is scant.