Beautiful, final morning

If anything, it’s even more clear out than yesterday. Lovely to get a clear, last look at my mountains before I have to go. They seem so much closer now, even from Pokhara, because of the trek. It’s no longer an interminable series of ridges that stand between here and the base of the mountains…it’s just a few, a known walk, a few days work. Done in health with a little less hurry, it’s even an easy trek.

I will be back. Can’t stay away from this much snow and ice and elevation for long.

This leaving thing

Last full day here, and I spent it seeing the mountains, breakfast, shopping at Bhat Bhateni (new, small chain of supermarkets), mom at Once Upon a Time, a walk along the shore of Phewa Lake, and a nap. It was a beautiful morning, and in the last couple of hours the clouds and lightning have rolled in again, with some light rain.

Yesterday and today I’ve gradually lost the settled peace of just being here, because tomorrow will come so soon. It’s happened in little fits of realization, which I try to push from my mind, with limited success but that have built to a strong knowing that this is nearly over. I wish I could find a way around it, but I have to go back. As long as paychecks kept being direct-deposited I’d be content just to go on living here, but somehow I doubt that would continue long if I didn’t show on Monday.

So, back to work, to the problems still in need of solutions and the backlog of tasks that could carry me through 2015. Back to the land of the constantly dinging BlackBerry — I even get an upgraded model when I get back.

Back to people I miss, the redeeming factor of returning, though the connectedness through this blog, Facebook, cheap cell minutes and mobile data that was absent last time I was here has kept me feeling close to that part of home. Homesickness certainly hasn’t been a problem, and I’m given to it, so I think I have global communications and readying this blog beforehand to thank, along with the quiet peace of this place.

Actually, living remotely most of my close relationships, those with my family, has made me used to telecommuting in that area, and most will attest that we’ve been more in touch for the past weeks with me on the other side of the world than when I’m back in busy real life with nothing much to report. Too bad it isn’t work, instead, that functions that way.

Visibility

I’ve given up the idea of flying in a small plane in the mountains here, because visibility has been really poor for the last several days, morning til night. Even the evening showers haven’t revealed the mountains the next morning, beyond a hint of their shapes if you know where to look. It’s been humid, but also there has been a rash of wildfires burning uncontrollably, on top of agricultural field burning.

But today is clear, and I’m back on the roof. Everything is out, from Dhaulagiri through the Annapurna range. If this is my last good sight of them before leaving tomorrow, I’m satisfied.

Edit: Seems like cheating, but by the time I walked there the haze and clouds would move in. Taking a taxi up to Sarangkot right now to see the whole range before it disappears.

Edit again: Added a photo taken from Sarangkot.

Loving it

No rain to speak of today, but a lightning storm has been moving overhead for hours. Just sitting here at Peace Eye, dinner finished, enjoying the sounds of thunder. The people here I know at least somewhat now, from Devendra the manager and Rishi (sp?) the owner to the tourists from Switzerland, Sweden, Bosnia, England and Malaysia — the ones here for a while with, like myself, no real agenda and at least a passable grasp on behaving themselves in this society.

The last keeps me from despising them as I do so many tourists that cross my path, sitting with the soles of their feet up, eating with their left hand, wearing clothes that would be more appreciated in Europe or California, complaining about everything — most annoyingly, about Nepalis speaking Nepali in front of them (“oh my god, I know they’re talking about me, and I can’t understand…I won’t stand for that…no tip!”). I can’t excuse such a minimal amount of accommodation nor the apparent failure to read or appreciate even the first chapter of any fucking guidebook on the country. How does one justify such a self-centered failure even to attempt cultural understanding or, at least, compliance?

Along with the local Khukuri Rum, I had tonight my first glass of racksi, the Nepali village liquor. Rishi brings that out when his friends visit, and tonight I rated a glass. Would have rated more, but I’m a little scared of the stuff and don’t want to be hungover on my last full day. It’s a little sweet to my taste, and I’m the only westerner drinking it, so I switched back to rum after putting down a glass. Cool weather due to the clouds and quite a friendly mood among all of the recent regulars here tonight — very nice.

Finished shopping today and maxed out the Chase daily ATM limit paying for that and prepaying most of my final hotel bill. Lesson learned…do those things on separate days.

Cipro and Pringles

I’ve been holed up in my room all day napping and reading, trying to kick a resurgently upset stomach. After a late and light breakfast I walked a couple blocks to the nearest pharmacy and bought enough ciprofloxacin to have lasted this entire trip for around $12. Gotta love the pharmaceutical prices and prescription practices here. On the way back I grabbed a tube of Pringles, and here I lie, late in the afternoon, awaiting the afternoon storms.

It has stormed and rained somewhat heavily the last two evenings. Winds get high, lightning is abundant and temperatures drop nicely. It has been lasting about an hour. Somewhat atypical for this early in the pre-monsoon spring, I believe, is the number of days this has occurred recently. It may miss us today, but it looks and sounds like it is coming.

I’m really hoping to be more mobile tomorrow, since I really have just then and Thursday to enjoy life here. I’m fairly set on waiting til Friday late morning to fly to Kathmandu, with a cab ride the backup if that flight is canceled, before my 920pm departure from Nepal.

Days are short

It just hit me this afternoon that I don’t have much time left. It seems like I’ve been here forever but, at the same time, that it was just a few days ago that I arrived. I’ve been moving around as my whims have dictated; now, however, there is a limit to what I can dream up and do.

I don’t have time to take a plane to go explore Jomsom and the surrounding area. Well, I do, but it would take every day I have left and require an early flight tomorrow. I don’t want to spend my last days here dealing with more travel arrangements or, worse, predicting the likelihood of successfully getting a timely return flight out of that temperamental airport.

I did some of my gift shopping today. If anyone wants something specific, let me know, and I’ll try. So far I picked up a few things that will pack fairly small for the flights home. I generally have no idea what to buy my nieces and nephews back in the states for Christmas, much less here without their Amazon lists, so an attempt at that must still be made. I’m thinking sharp Gurkha knives would be most appropriate — small ones, of course, for their little hands.

Tomorrow’s plan is as extensive as today’s: read a lot, shop a little, see mountains when they’re out, eat when necessary. I’m coming out of this trip as relaxed as possible and knowing that I saw way more on this trip than I had anticipated, despite and because of relaxing my trekking plan.

Misty, pink mountains

I almost skipped the rooftop this morning, because it looked too hazy from downstairs. But just as I got up here the peaks started to show. Then the sun turned the clouds pink, and now the snow and ice on the east faces and ridges of Annapurna South and III are glowing pink as well.

It’s a beautiful morning after yesterday’s evening storms.

Relaxing

Posts may fall off a bit, as I’ve determined not to do too much in the way of activities for the last few days of my time here. Yesterday I just hung out around the guesthouse for dinner and drinks, met Devendra’s son (picture below) and read a bit. Skipped the new year’s concert, since people were headed there rather late considering my continued 0430 starts of day.

This morning I slept til 6, though, which was really nice, and laid in bed reading for another couple hours, partly to relax and partly not to invade the cafe staffed by people who had gone to the concert and hadn’t had much sleep, I’m guessing. Breakfast and more reading, then some more reading, and I’m halfway through the book I started today.

The guesthouse made some calls about flying in something smaller than a 22-person mountain flight, and after a shower I stopped down the road at Aero Club Nepal, which flies a fixed-wing two-seat ultralight for around $250 an hour. I’m considering doing that tomorrow or Tuesday morning early.

For now, I’m back at Once Upon a Time for a slightly late lunch. In around 3 hours, Newcastle is playing the early game, so I’ll probably find a place to watch that before dinner. Until then, reading and relaxing.

It’s a little humid and hazy today, hiding the mountains even when I woke up, but sure beats “spring” in Chicago. The streets are packed with locals off work for the holiday, though god knows where they work, because it seems everything is open.

Catching up

Okay, I’m back at Peace Eye. New room, somewhere between the niceness of the two previous ones. Yesterday they were full, but Devendra here still arranged my room, just at the hotel across the road. It was fine, and I could even watch TV in the room, but outside my window was the courtyard of the hotel next door — loud from 5 am to midnight and occupied partially by a generator burning high-sulfur diesel. A hundred tv channels couldn’t make up for the lack of sleep and clearheadedness.

No plans for today or, really, for when to head back to Kathmandu, whether to do that just in time for my flight home or somewhat earlier. Raz, trekking guide, invited me to dinner in his home in Kathmandu, so if I get back early enough I will try to do that. Pokhara is just so much more pleasant, however, and my sole remaining task for this trip is to do some shopping, which can be done here as well as in the smelly capital.

One other idea is to fly to Jomsom for a night or two. Just a thought at this point.

So, back to telling the final bits of the trekking story. Even after posting that we were heading down, I almost changed my mind and kept going. Looking at the map, it seemed that we had ascended the most lengthy steep sections of the route. We were on top of a minor ridge at that point, and — understanding that this is a trail that has to descend and ascend regularly to cross streams and rivets — we were due basically to follow the current contour line upriver, that main river rising to meet the trail. From there, we would ascend alongside the river nearly until it reached its glacial source.

Damn this sickness, because in any other condition that is doable. The hard part was done, and all that was left was a day and a few hours of known, steady ascent. However, yesterday morning wasn’t greeted by a temporarily healed GI system as had been the previous one. We turned downhill, descending in around ninety minutes the steps that seemed interminable the day before. I was okay, partially because I knew the pain was to be very temporary.

After that descent, I lost the flow again and slowed dramatically again. I wasn’t feeling much worse than I had been on the initial part of the descent, but the hope of getting quickly to a road had been lost, so my stomach gained considerably more influence over how I was feeling.

Here was the problem, and I’ll edit this later with village names when I am upstairs with my map: Raz suggested we go by a lower route to a road than the one he had pointed out from the opposite side of the valley the day before. That sounded fine. He estimated it at an hour and a half to two, versus four to the other road. Great.

Problems arose when we got to where the road should have been, and it wasn’t there. It really wasn’t a big deal in retrospect, because even with my slow pace it only took three-and-a-half hours. But at the time, hearing every time we reached another village that the road was another half hour was more than a little demoralizing. Turns out the road was new, so neither Raz nor any of the other guides he talked to knew exactly how far it had been built up this valley.

Beyond being demoralizing, it sapped my strength, because I didn’t want to stop to rest if the road was around the next ridge. At one point early on, I didn’t refill my water bottle because the road was to be gained before I could drink the remaining half litre. Finally decided after three hours that the next village I saw would either have Fanta or a road, and either way we were stopping there. We did. We had Fantas. And the road was 20 minutes further.

After that break, I felt strong again. We should have stopped like that much earlier, not for a seat on one of the stone porter rest stops but in a chair at a restaurant for a half hour. It would have made everything more pleasant. We weren’t in a hurry, but we acted like it, rushing past everyone else taking breaks, until it was too much and I was exhausted and sick again.

So, with twenty minutes to go, according to the people at that restaurant, we headed out. Raz had taken my bag, partially by force, a few minutes earlier, and he wouldn’t give it back. It didn’t help much, because I had packed lightly, but it was a little easier.

We got close to the next village, and I’ll be damned if there wasn’t a Land Rover driving up to it. At that point, I could have carried both our bags and Raz, I was so relieved. Turned out we had had to walk down the main valley much further than anticipated. I’ll post a picture of the map when I can.

Two hours in a taxi, just a regular Nepali taxi unsuited for such a road, brought us back to Pokhara. I sat on the left side, figuring we could pull over if I had to vomit; came close but made it. Got my room across the street here, tipped out Raz (too much according to the interwebs, but I think he won’t get paid for the remaining days I had booked — need to sort that out with his agency), stripped out of my dirty clothes into some clean ones left at Peace Eye, had lunch, and laid down.

Other than breakfast this morning at Hungry Eye (breakfast buffet for Rs 345!) I barely left my room. When the power was on, I watched soccer reruns from last weekend and American movies on HBO. Always good to have tv for a down day.

Now I’m back in the open cafe at Peace Eye, eating lunch, reading and just hanging out. Tonight, today’s Premier League matches should be on, if not here then in bars and restaurants along the lake. It’s also Nepali New Year’s Eve, as year 2070 begins tomorrow, so there will be celebrations for that. Hopefully can manage to see the party and some football.