Feathered Aspen


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Syraphru Besi to Deursagang to Laurebina Yak to Gosaikunda

November 27, 2010

When we woke up this morning, we were warm, even though we could see our breaths in great white puffs. Braving the cold, we set about packing up and went downstairs for another breakfast of eggs and bread.

Just as we were finishing eating, one of the other trekkers went to pay. The woman behind the counter apologized for acting oddly and explained that yesterday morning, after all the other trekkers had left, five Nepali boys who had stayed the night had come up to her with their large knives and threatened to kill her if she didn’t hand over all of her money.

It was a startling story to hear, especially in a place where the people are so peaceful, and the woman was obviously very shaken. It also explained why there had been a bunch of military men roaming the place yesterday.

Feeling a bit subdued and thinking about the many thousands of rupees we carry in our pockets, we set off on the trail. The climb from Laurebina Yak to Gosaikunda ascends 500 meters in just under two hours, but with the spectacular views all around us, we hardly noticed the gain in elevation.

Gradually, the landscape grew more and more barren, and up above, the pass rose up, rocky and dusted in snow. Past a stupah strewn with prayer flags, we made our way over a ridge, and before us, we saw the first sparkling, still lake of Gosaikunda.

Gosaikunda is a series of blue alpine lakes high in the mountains. It’s a site of religious pilgrimage for Hindus and Buddhists alike, but most of the mythology that surrounds the lakes is Hindu. It’s said that the rock that emerges from the center of the main lake is Shiva’s head.

In Gosaikunda, there are four lodges, but this late in the season, they participate in a daily rotation. With limited supply, they’re able to keep their prices high, and they all benefit. Today, the rotation has trekkers at Hotel Lakeside, and we had our pick of the first room.

Putting on an extra layer, we grabbed our books and headed out to the shoreline to admire the water and the stretch of close peaks that rise up behind it. I started Holy Cow, and with every page turn, I looked up to see the sunlight reflecting off the water. Just past the lodges, there are a few simpler, stone lodges, as well as a temple. These lodges are for pilgrims – often sadhus – who come to the lake to bathe or meditate. Right now, people are buzzing with the news of a new Bubbah, a Hindi holy man who has been here for the past four months. This yogi has been meditating for months on end, sitting out in the frigid cold, practically naked. At night, he goes into the lodge and sleeps under a thin blanket, but he wears hardly anything at all, and he barely eats. He does not take money from trekkers or pilgrims, but he will, occasionally, accept rice for food. At night, the temperature plumets between negative 10 and 20 degrees celcius, and during the day, it’s not unusual for the temperature to hover around zero. Nepalis and pilgrims are excited, because they think this man is the real deal, a real yogi. How else could you explain his ability to withstand extremely cold temperatures and so little food for such a long time?

The yogi talks to some of the trekkers, Nepalis, and pilgrims, and he says that he doesn’t know how much longer he will stay here. During one of his meditations, he built a stone wall as a form of prayer. He’s not sure how long his next meditation will take him.

Today, one of the military men came to visit the yogi. They are concerned because the lodges will close in six weeks. They don’t want the man to be left alone up here, because if he dies, the lodge owners will be held responsible. The yogi says that if he dies, it’s his problem, not the lodge owners. They seem to be at an empass.

After an hour or so of sitting by the lake and reading, I started to feel pretty crappy. I had a throbbing headache, and the joints in my legs and my arms and neck were aching. We walked back to the lodge, and Joshua put me in my sleeping bag with lots of blankets on top to try and get me warm. He force-fed me a bottle of water and a couple of ibuprofen. I lay there, shivering and feeling absolutely miserable for a half hour, and then Joshua filled up a water bottle with hot water, and I sat it on my belly and fell asleep.

When I woke up, the ibuprofen must have kicked in, and I felt better. We ate a sub-par lunch of noodle soup and fried potatoes (how can THAT go wrong, you might ask), and then, we filled our water bottles, unearthed the camera, and went slowly walking around the lakes.

It’s beautiful here, and as we walked, we stopped to take photos and point out even more beautiful vistas. We talked about All the Pretty Horses for almost two hours, trying to figure out what Alfonsa really wanted, what Alejandra really wanted. We tried to figure out why John Grady loved horses so much, and what he sacrificed to break them. It’s that good of a book. We talked and talked and talked about it, and it didn’t feel forced, like a report or a discussion. We were just wondering and thinking, and we talked about our favorite lines, the truest scenes.

We started to walk back, and Joshua asked me to explain the finer points of waxing cross country skis. Over by the temple, the yogi looked at us and waved, smiling. Joshua wondered if that’s allowed when you’re meditating.

Back at the lodge, we drank tea while I caught up on my writing and Joshua read. Other trekkers started wandering inside as the temperature fell, and now we’re sitting in the dining room, huddling together for warmth.

For dinner, Joshua and I forwent dal bhat in favor of something that’s hard to screw up, veg chowmein. In this high altitude lodges, most of the food is pretty bad, and although the dal is usually pretty good, it isn’t always. In the end, our clever alternative doesn’t really pay off. Somehow, they were even able to screw up veg chowmein.

Sitting by the illicit wood-burning fire, we chat with the other trekkers. A couple from a small Island off the southern coast of England tell us about their travels. The man has a homey voice and a quick laugh, and I love hearing about their trip on the Trans-Siberian railway, their stint in Southeast Asia, and their treks in Nepal, a long time ago.

Although it’s warm by the fire, we all decide to head off to bed. The walls are paper-thin here, so it feels a bit like a dorm. As we’re all bundling into bed, we can hear everyone else doing the same. It would be nice to cuddle close on a night as cold as this, but it’s another room with narrow beds. Joshua piles three blankets on top of my sleeping bag to compensate.

November 26, 2010

In the morning, we ordered more Tibetan bread and fried eggs. We ate them slowly, looking out at the mountains lit up in the soft, early light. After we had packed up, we said goodbye to Dorje and his wife and set out on the trail, continuing up switchbacks.

From Deursagang to Foprang, we climbed nearly 700 meters in less than an hour. We didn’t talk much, because we were panting most of the way. Also, something hadn’t quite agreed with us the day before, and our bellies were feeling a bit bloated and sore.

In Foprang, we stopped for a moment to admire the view of the Ganesh Himal and the mountains of Tibet to the east. After a couple of photos, we continued on our way.

The walk from Foprang to Sing Gompa climbs 100 meters in a little over an hour. After so many meters ascent, the path the rounded this ridge was positively relaxing. All around us, evergreens rustled, and we admired the glimpses of mountains between the trees.

In Sing Gompa, we stopped at one of the guest houses for a cup of tea and coconut biscuits. We’ve begun another game of 5000, and Joshua has regained his groove and his confidence: he’s already beating me by 300 points.

From Sing Gompa, we climbed for a couple of hours, emerging from the evergreens and picking our way over dry, stony ground surrounded by brush. This area is a red panda sanctuary, so we kept our eyes peeled for something red and furry. I saw another one of those badgery looking guys, and we half wondered if maybe red pandas aren’t red at all. Maybe they’re tan and have black faces.

A little after noon, we came to a couple of guest houses. Today’s a short day of hiking, so even though we had only been walking for three hours, we stopped and ordered a couple bowls of soup and Tibetan bread (and in case you’re wondering, it was cheaper than the man’s lunch from yesterday).

We started playing another hand of cards, and the German trekker we had seen in Nagthali a few days ago came walking up. Recognizing us, he sat down at our table, and we chatted about the Tamang trek and where we’re headed next. Apparently, Floriano had taken the trail from Thuman to Timure, and from there, he had walked all the way up to the Tibetan border. We expressed envy, and he assured us that there hadn’t been much to see, just a bunch of Chinese with large weapons.

After lunch, the three of us walked up to Laurebina Yak. Although it wouldn’t be difficult to make our way to Gosaikunda tonight, the views from Laurebina are supposed to be incredible. As we climbed the last few hundred meters, we chatted about the Annapurna, which all of us had done, and we asked Flor a little bit about living and going to school in Austria.

In Laurebina Yak, we stayed at Hotel Mount View Rest, a larger guest house overlooking a panorama of peaks and the subcontinent to the south. It was one of the most spectacular vistas yet, and in the distance, we could even see the Annapurna range and the swooping tip of Machapucchre. Ganesh Himal was enormous and snowy on the horizon, and we could see even more of the Tibetan Mountains. To the east, Langtang rose up and up, and we sat outside, layered in all of our warmest clothing, admiring the gorgeous view.

When the sun began to set, it edged the subcontinental horizon in bright orange. Thin, low clouds below glowed pink and blue, and the mountains morphed into different, gorgeous creatures as the sky behind them turned first blue, then pink, then purple. When the sun was gone, it got even colder, and we went inside to sit by the fire.

While Joshua started The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, I tore my way through the back half of All the Pretty Horses. It’s amazing, and I’m a convert. For those of you who thought that I could never love a male author (including myself), you’re wrong. McCarthy is a god among men.

When the Dal Bhaat came out, we ate at a table with Flor. The food was awful, but we tried to ignore it by telling funny travel stories. Apparently, when Flor was 20, he and his buddies took a VW bus from Germany to Egypt and then on to Morocco. While they were in the desert of Morocco, one of his friends stepped on a scorpion, and they drove like maniacs to the nearest town for help. There, the men told his friend that they were going to slit open the bottom of his foot with a dirty knife to let all the poison flow out. Fortunately, they took a risk and drove like hell to the next village, where the method for treating a scorpion sting is an injection by sterlized hypodermic needle.

Back by the fire, we continued reading, and after a bit, a flustered Westerner and four Nepalis blew in the door. Ruddy from wind and cold, they slumped in chairs in front of the fire. The Westerner had stayed in Gosaikunda the night before, and on his way down to Sing Gompa, he had lost his wallet with his passport, visa, airline tickets, and lots of cash. Frantic, he had recruited a few Nepalis to help him walk up and down the trail to find his missing belongings.

They climbed back up to Gosaikunda, and thankfully, a Nepali man had found the wallet on a stupah and turned it in to one of the guest houses. The man was so relieved, he hardly noticed the bitter cold and his thousand meter descent, ascent, and then descent again. Everyone around the fire talked about good karma and the wonderful Nepali man who had passed up a year’s salary in rupees to be honest.

After a while, we crawled into bed and piled blankets on top of us to ward off the cold. We left the curtains open so we could see the stars, and within minutes, Joshua was sleeping. I stayed up late, finishing All the Pretty Horses, and when I closed the last page, I had tears leaking out of my eyes. The ending was lonely, so I curled up next to Joshua, stuck my face in his shoulder, and fell asleep.

November 25, 2010

We woke up and ate a breakfast of Tibetan bread and fried eggs in the dining room. An older German man came up to us and asked us about where we had been trekking and if we had any suggestions for a day trek. He had come to Nepal to hike in the Gokyo-Everest region, and he had given himself a bit of cushion time at the end, because he had taken the somewhat unreliable flight into and out of Lukla. His month of trekking had gone without a hitch, and he had found himself with a few extra days in Kathmandu. Not knowing much about Langtang (or the bus ride it takes to get here), he bought a ticket to Syraphru Besi, thinking it would be a good place to do day hikes.

It’s too bad that someone hadn’t told him about the Tamang Heritage trek or that you can even do Langtang in four days. Instead, he did a lot of dusty road walking to more modern villages near Syraphru. We recommended that he hike in the direction of Gatlang. The trail climbs quite quickly, and within a couple of hours, you have spectacular views of the Ganesh Himal, mountains in Tibet, and even the back of Langtang. The view is beautiful, but you do end up cutting through a road of dusty switchbacks.

While we were talking to the German man, two Nepalis walked in. Both of us did a double take when we recognized Pemba, and we exclaimed loudly and excitedly when we saw him. Looking a bit shy and embarrassed, he walked up to us and gave us two-handed handshakes, bowing gently as he did so. The German man took in the exchange, perplexed. ‘You seem to be quite familiar with the Nepalis,’ he said, and I’m not sure if he meant it as a compliment or not.

After the German left to go on his hike, we walked up to Pemba again and said hello. Apparently, some members of his family own the Buddha Guest House, and he’s here to visit them before he makes his way up to Dunche to visit his kids in school. He seemed a bit flustered by all of our attention, so wished him well and headed out to find internet.

The dial-up internet cost three rupees a minute. It was also painfully slow. It took nearly an hour to post my blogs, and afterwards, we blitzed Minnesota and Wisconsin Masters of Social Work websites, trying to figure out if I need to take the GRE (I don’t), when the application deadlines are (Mid-December to early January), and how much it costs (too much, se la vie).

After 90 minutes, we paid the proprietor nearly 300 rupees, and he could barely keep from laughing. We probably just paid his rent.

Back at the guest house, we packed up, paid, and headed out. Walking in the same direction that we followed just ten days ago, we came to the army check point and then crossed the suspension bridge. On the other side, we climbed through old Syraphru Besi, crossed another suspension bridge, and then made our way up Langtang Valley. After about an hour, we came to the turn off to Thulu Syraphru, and we began to climb in earnest.

In the internet cafe, we had written down the essay prompts for my application, and as we walked, we tried to figure out what social workers do and ‘how they work towards a just society.’ I have to be honest; I already felt stumped. What’s a just society? What’s justice? What does a just society look like, and what DO social workers do? I tried to think of all the social workers I’ve heard of or encountered. They work in schools, in hospitals, and in the court system. They act as case workers and facilitators. They can be counselors or managers. They work in immigration, and they’re active in child advocacy and human rights. I suspect the better question might be: what don’t social workers do?

As for a ‘just society,’ I’m absolutely flummoxed. Do just societies exist? Is the United States a just society that just doesn’t operate that well? It’s been a long time since I thought about justice, and I’m just not sure how I feel about it anymore. It’s a nice idea and certainly preferable, but when and where does it occur?

It dawns on me that my cynicism and apathy are just a not-so-clever camoflauge for laziness.

We climb through bamboo and over waterfalls. We climb up steps and steps and steps, and finally, we can see the other side of the valley. In the bamboo, hundreds of lovely birds rustle about, and every once in a while, they dart across our path, with their long, colorful tailfeathers.

After just under three hours of hiking, the trees part and we can see Thulu Syraphru. The village climbs up the steep hillside, and at the bottom, villagers are harvesting their fields. At the base of the village, a man calls out to us, wondering where we’ve come from and where we are going. We tell him, and he asks us if we might like to come and have lunch. Feeling adventurous, we agree and climb the stairs to his two-story, wooden home.

The man gestures towards a couple of wicker stools on his balcony, and we sit, looking out over the valley. We ask what there is to eat, and he tells us that he’ll make veg noodle soup with Tibetan bread. It sounds good to us, and we agree without asking the price.

This is not a restaurant, and there is no table, but we finish our game of 5000 on the balcony floor. I was winning for most of the game, but in the very last hand, when I’m nearly 200 points in the lead, Joshua pulls out an astounding series of runs and sets, and he beats me by 100 points. I’m almost relieved. He’s been a total sour-puss ever since he started losing, and I was worried that he might plunge into a deep depression if I won so epic a card game.

As it was, he gloated, and I made sad, shocked faces, and he gloated some more. He asked me to describe the last hand, play by play, in my blog, but I thought I might spare you and just give you the salient details.

After my big loss, I poked my head into the kitchen to ask where the bathroom was. The man shook his head. ‘No toilet,’ he said. I walked back to the fields, hoping to find a bit of privacy. I thought I had, but in mid-squat, I looked up to a field of small, brown monkeys looking up at me. When it became obvious that I wasn’t about to tell them to get lost, they continued their harvest robbery, digging for carrots and potatoes.

Back on the balcony, the man served us our simple meal of soup and bread, and we ate it happily, congratulating ourselves on stepping out of our box and having a lunch adventure. The man sat next to us. He lit a cigarette and told us about a marriage taking place in the village tonight. Apparently, it’s tradition for the woman’s family to walk to the village of the man’s family. In this wedding, the woman and her family are from Helambu, and the wedding party walked for nearly a week to reach Thulu Syraphru. A Nepali wedding is very expensive, the man explained, the man’s family has to pay for the woman’s family and their travel expenses. The woman’s earrings are also very expensive.

We nodded sympathetically, but the man was pretty sure that we had no idea what he was talking about. ‘You don’t know,’ he said. ‘Very expensive. Not like you.’

Dude. If you only knew.

When we had finished eating, we asked him how much we should pay him. He narrowed his eyes. ‘650 rupees,’ he said. Joshua and I looked at each other. Joshua pulled out his wallet and picked out rupees. ‘I only have 550 rupees,’ he said. The man looked at us. ‘No, I think you have more.’

Joshua went into our other wallet and fished out a 1000 rupee bill. The man gave us change. We left.

In a restaurant, two noodle soups and two pieces of Tibetan bread would cost between 400 and maybe 500 rupees. Usually, we order chowmein and fried potatoes, more expensive dishes, and the total has yet to come out over 600 rupees. On the balcony of some man’s house, we just ate the most expensive lunch in Langtang Valley.

Both of us were a bit put off. It’s not the money. In the end, we spent maybe a dollar or two more than we would have spent in a nicer restaurant in the village. We were irritated because we had purposely gone out of our way to trust this man, sitting on his balcony which was obviously not a restaurant, and not asking him how much he would charge us. We took a leap of faith in trusting him, and he took advantage of us. What’s worse, he knew that we had been hiking in Langtang for a week and a half, so he knew that we would know that he was dramatically overcharging us.

Whatever. We tried to shrug it off. Walking up through the village, three small boys in their school uniforms blocked our path and demanded money, sweets, school pens. Joshua pretend growled and stomped his way through, and the little boys thought it was hilarious. They followed us the whole way up the village, blocking our path and giggling as we growled and stomped up to them. By the end, they were laughing so hard, they were hanging on to our pant legs to keep standing upright.

At the top of Thulu Syraphru, we passed a gompa and a chorten, and then we began climbing switchbacks up to Deursagang. After an hour of climbing and a few hundred meters ascent, we arrived at Hotel Lovely Morning View, and small, wooden guest house overlooking Langtang Valley. In the distance, we could see the Ganesh Himal peaks, and it really was a lovely view.

We ordered a thermos of tea, and sitting in a dining room surrounded by windows, we sat, drinking. While Joshua finished Holy Cow, I started tapping out some of my essay ideas for the Social Work application. The proprietors, a smiley, kind couple, came upstairs to admire the laptop. On the wall, there was a picture of the man holding a red panda. I remarked, amazed, and he smiled shyly, explaining that he is a local guide, and he is an expert in Langtang wildlife. He asked us if we had seen any wildlife on our trek, and we told him that we had seen a couple of animals that looked like some sort of ferret or badger, much larger than a squirrel, but with a black face. The man’s English was fairly good, but this description was beyond him, and he shrugged his shoulders, smiling. A little later, he brought up a bird identification guide, and I flipped through, showing him some of the birds we’ve seen.

For dinner, we ate Dal Bhaat again. Outside, the sun had set, and we stayed up a little while longer, reading and writing. Finally, we went to bed.


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Nagthali to Tatopani to Syaphru Besi

November 24, 2010
This morning, we had another breakfast of Tibetan bread and fried eggs. Afterwards, we finished packing up and headed out on the trail.

From Tatopani, you can follow the trail a number of directions. There’s a path to Syraphru Besi, another to Goljung, and another to Chilime. Intending to spend our night at Gatlang, we headed for Chilime.

Gatlang is the largest Tamang village and also the furthest west on the Tamang trek. Although our guide book doesn’t really suggest a specific itinerary for the Tamang trek, we assumed that it was a natural place to stop for the night from looking at the map. To get there, you pass through Chilime and then work your way up into another valley. In this way, the first two hours of the trek are down hill, and the last two are uphill.

For the first time on our treks, we got a bit lost. Although the trail has been fairly easy to navigate by maps and signs until now, the trail out of Tatopani has a number of unlabeled junctures and side trails. Thankfully, you’re never far from people, and if you ask, anyone can point out the correct trail to whichever village you’re headed.

The sun came out, and our long sleeves were much too hot. Changing into our shorts and pushing up our long sleeves, we slathered on yet another layer of sunscreen. It’s been five days since we were in a place where we could shower, and we’re feeling pretty grimy – especially after our questionably clean hot spring experience last night.

As we passed, the Tamang people were harvesting their fields. With baskets strapped to their backs and scythes in their hands, they skillfully sorted wheat, millet, rice, and chilies. Even small children helped – or at least enjoyed napping nearby in the sun. We said Namaste when we walked by, and almost everyone looked up with a smile and a Namaste of their own.

Crossing the river, we walked by Chilime and around chortens and mani walls. We talked about All the Pretty Horses and about coffee and what makes a cowboy and the souls of horses. It’s nice to read and like the same book.

Past another village, we turned up another valley. We passed our first trekker of the day coming in the other direction. She looked sweaty and miserable, and she asked if the trail ahead was mostly up or down. We broke the news to her gently.

It took another couple of hours to climb to Gatlang. Passing through more terraced fields, we watched still more farmers harvesting their crops and herding cows. It seemed like we could hear the bleating of small goats from every home we passed.

Finally, we arrived in Gatlang. One of the very first buildings was a community lodge, and although it looked quite nice from the outside, the rooms were filled with too many beds, and it looked a bit dirty. Overall, I wasn’t too impressed, and I told Joshua that I’d rather see what else they had to offer in the village.

It took us 20 minutes to walk up to the road. Gatlang is huge, but unlike the other larger villages we’ve seen, it still has all cobblestone pathways with no motorized vehicles or electricity. The place is entirely uncommercialized, and everywhere you look, there are homes and gardens with chickens and livestock living on the first floor. Above, the kitchens and bedrooms are walled in with lovely, ornate wooden windows.

We walked and walked, but there were no lodges. By the road, we saw our fist lodge, but it was in the midst of construction, and when we walked inside, the rooms were half-done and dirty. I didn’t like the look of it.

We ordered lunch from the half-finished lodge, and while we waited, we looked at the map. We asked the proprietor how long he thought it would take to get to Syraphru Besi. He looked dubious. ‘Four hours,’ he said.
We debated the merits of pushing on. It would be two by the time we left Gatlang, and if it took us four hours to get to Syraphru, it would be six by the time we walked into town. It might be dark. On the up side, there would be a shower and a lodge with clean rooms. Tomorrow, we could use the internet. We didn’t particularly feel like hanging out for the rest of the afternoon in this construction site.
We decided to do it. Our food came, and a trekker and his guide arrived and took a room. Sitting at the table next to us, the trekker introduced himself. He’s from Hawaii, and he loves it. Apparently, Maui was voted the 13th best micro-climate in the world. Rent’s expensive though; he pays 2100 dollars a month, which is a lot for someone who’s never had a real job. He paints t-shirts and sells old rock and roll posters for living. It takes him three or four hours to paint his t-shirts, and he usually ends up selling them in the parking lots of concerts that he goes to.
Within the first five minutes of conversation, we discovered that he had had a nasty strain of E.coli lodged up his ureter in Kathmandu, and he considered the Grateful Dead to be the greatest rock band of all time. ‘Minnesota’s cold, isn’t it?’ he said. Next, he told us that the oil companies of America are trying to turn New Orleans into Atlantic City ‘with lots of casinos and a weird vibe,’ but he hasn’t been there ‘since it was trashed.’
Joshua is pretty funny when he’s irritated. He gets this grimace on his face that I’m pretty sure he thinks is a smile but is actually a grimace, and he tries to casually exit the conversation, but instead, he’s not casual at all and really very obvious. Right around the time our Hawaiian friend started talking about watching Humpback whales mating and eating all raw foods, Joshua abruptly stood up and went to go pay. We left quickly, leaving Mr. Maui looking a little forlorn.
I asked Joshua what had irritated him so much about Mr. Maui. He couldn’t put his finger on it, but in the end, we took a line out of All the Pretty Horses. The vaqueros hate it when people have all sorts of opinions about things that they really know very little about. Cowboys respect people who know a lot about a little and leave the opinions to everyone else. Joshua fancies himself a cowboy 🙂 (For the record, I’d have to say I’d agree with the vaqueros.)
We set out of Gatlang at a cruise. Following the road, we walked fast as our shadows grew longer and longer. We passed packs of children that shouted Namaste and then demanded money, gifts, or school pens. Some of them ran after us for a long while, having spied a pen sticking out of Joshua’s bag.
We passed Goljung after a couple of hours, but we decided to press on, and at the switchbacks down to Syraphru Besi, we took the small side path that descended down stone stairs.
In the end, it took us about three hours to walk from Gatlang to Syraphru Besi. It was still light when we walked into town, and finding the Buddha Guest House, we were taken to a clean room. At the end of the hall, the proprietor showed us the shower with an electric water heater. Just what we needed.
Shedding my pack, I headed straight for the shower. It was hot, and I soaped and shampooed myself twice over. Downstairs, Joshua had ordered two dal bhat with extra pappadam, and we played cards while we waited. When the food came, it was sublime. The dal had cilantro in it, and the kindly cook served seconds of the fried greens, my favorite dal bhaat side.
We played a few more hands of Rummy 5000. We’re coming up to 4000, and although I’ve been winning since the first hand, Joshua’s finally caught up to me. It was touch and go for a while, but he’s trying out a few new strategies, and they seem to be working out. Things are back to normal, and I’m losing again 🙂
It’s late now, and Joshua’s been sleeping for a couple of hours while I’ve been writing. I’m hoping to post everything I’ve written in the past couple of weeks tomorrow, so I’ve stayed up late finishing. Lots of love to the friends and fam at home -E
November 23, 2010
For breakfast, we sat in front of the fire, watching Nima roll out Tibetan bread and then fry them in a dry skillet. Gyurme fussed with the wood, creating a space for the bread to sit on the coals, and one at a time, Nima would deftly drop the fried pieces until they puffed and browned.
To fry the eggs, Nima first whisked them into small cups. Warming a skillet with a generous coating of oil over the flames, she dropped the egg inside, tilting the skillet until it spread into a disc, and then flipping the disc with a twist of her wrist on the skillet handle. As she worked, Gyurme hovered and tried to help, moving things or trying to hand her implements. Irritated, she swatted at his hand and pushed him to the side with her hips. Finally, he sat down in front of the fire and stuck his hands directly into the flames, warming them.
The eggs were still hot, when Nima tossed them onto the puffed pieces of Tibetan bread. The oil and salt from the eggs flavored the dry pieces of bread, and their heat put off an appealing steam. We ate them with our fingers.

Creating a cup of Tibetan tea required an even more exotic process. Using a long metal cylinder fitted with a rope to carry on their backs like a quiver for arrows, Nima emptied a small bowl of water that had been infused with dark, brown, and apparently re-used herbs into a funnel over the cylinder. Next, she threw in a couple small pats of butter, two cups of milk, a generous toss of salt, and a thermos-full of steaming water.

From here, Gyurme took over. Using a long wooden plunger, he stepped on the rope fixed to the cylinder, placed the opening of the cylinder between his knees, and then started pumping the plunger. Steam rose out of the cylinder, and the plunger made an industrious sound. Beads of sweat worked their way over Gyurme’s brow.

Nima plucked four chipped porcelain cups from her shelves, and Gyurme poured a healthy portion into each. They handed two to us, beaming, and kept the other two for themselves.
So, for the second day in a row, I choked down Tibetan tea. I don’t know if it was because I watched the whole process or if it’s because Nima made it (and everything she touches turns to gold) or if it just grows on you, but it wasn’t quite as bad as I remembered. It was almost palatable. Nima and Gyurme watched to make sure we drank every last drop. When we had finished, Gyurme seemed exceptionally proud of us and said, ‘Tibetan tea makes you very strong,’ he flexed his biceps to demonstrate, ‘it gives you gastric problems, too!’

One of the most amazing things about the whole Tibetan tea process was the cylinder-quiver. Yesterday, when we had seen them walking away from Nagthali, ready to close up and go home, they had two things with them. Gyurme had a small backpack, and Nima had the cylinder-quiver. They’re not about to spend a day without their Tibetan tea.

After breakfast, we began our hike up to the lookout point where you can see Tibet. It was a lovely hike, but we didn’t get our hopes up. When we woke up, the clouds had been thick over the mountains, and they showed no signs of letting up. After an hour of hiking through rhododendron forests that have been browned by fall, flakes of snow began to drift onto our shoulders. We continued to climb up into more forests where the gnarled trunks and branches were covered with moss like some pre-historic monsters or woodland creatures. The snow fell harder.

By the time we reached the third hill and the end of the trail, the snow was falling so hard, we could barely see twenty feet in front of us, much less Tibet. The snow was sticking to the path and trees, our shoulders and hats. It was a shame, because I’m sure we would have been able to see a spectacular view of mountains and Tibet, but it was wintry and wonderful just the same. We sang christmas songs again.

On our way down, we count ourselves lucky. Here we are, in the middle of the Himalaya, and we’re all alone. We’re hiking a trail that’s been open for just four years, and we’re getting a chance to meet Nepalis who have lived, cooked, and worked here for generations. We’re learning their names, and we’re eating their food. All around us, the landscape is spectacular. Some day, not too long from now, Nagthali will probably look and feel a lot like Ghorepani, and this hike up to the Tibet viewpoint might even look a lot like Poon Hill. But for now, it’s just us and Gyurme and Nami, and we feel like we’ve stumbled upon an incredible secret.

After three hours, their little white and yellow lodge comes into view. Nami is outside, standing with her arms crossed over her chest and looking out towards the Langtang mountains. Down the hill and over a distance, two small figures are sitting next to a prayer flag. She tells me one of them is Gyurme.

Joshua and I pack up our things and move them to the picnic table outside the kitchen. Although the clouds had seemed impenetrable just half an hour ago, the sun has broken through, and we can see some of the Langtang mountains peaking out. It’s just before 11, and Joshua goes off to the bathroom. Nima walks over to me and asks, ‘lunch?’ I try to tell her that we’d like lunch between 11:30 and noon, but this proves to be very difficult. Nima walks inside to get their little battery-run clock and comes back outside. She points at it and then she points at me. I try to show her 11:30. I point at the minute hand and then make a noise as though I’m dragging it around to the number 6. Nima looks at me, confused.

After a couple of minutes of trying to talk to each other, we give up and look back at the mountains. I’ve closed my hand into a loose fist, and it’s lying next to the little clock on the table. Nima raises her hand and I see her debate whether or not to pull it back, but in the end, she pats the top of my fist with her palm. Then she picks up the clock and walks back into the kitchen.
Joshua comes back a couple of minutes later, and we take out our books to read. I’ve just started All the Pretty Horses, and I have to say that I’m enjoying it every bit as much as Joshua did. I guess it’s not just a boy thing. McCarthy’s dialogue is perfect and hilarious, and during some scenes, I’m laughing so hard, I’m snorting. In honor of some of the best lines, we’ve begun asking each other ‘where’d you get that gun?’ and the other responds, ‘at the gettin’ place.’

A little after 11, we figure it’s time to order lunch. Joshua walks inside to order a couple veg fried rice, and he walks out a couple minutes later, having had none of the communication problems Nima and I had. As we wait, we continue to read. I stop Joshua every few minutes or so to repeat some of the dialogue.

In the kitchen, we hear Nima chopping. She dumps something into the frying pan, and it sizzles. After a bit, she brings out a couple of plates, and the rice is the same as it was the night before, and unlike so many of our other lunches, it requires no additional spices. By now, Nima’s cooking has risen to epic heights. She can do no wrong.

As we’re finishing our lunch, Gyurme walks up from his lookout. He nods a Namaste at us, but he heads first for his wife. They don’t touch, but they stand close to one another, talking. Nima’s shoulders seem to relax when he is near. Once he’s talked to Nima, he walks over to us and asks us about our hike this morning. We tell him that Tibet was hidden, but that it was still a lovely hike, and he nods his head. He laughs when we tell him it snowed a ton.

Nima and Gyurme head into the kitchen, and we hear them eating. We read our books for a few more pages, and then Joshua goes inside to pay. Nima and Gyurme ask him if he’ll wait for them to finish eating. They’d like to say goodbye.

Once they’ve finished, they walk out to us and Joshua settles the bill. We take a few more photos of the lodge to post on-line, and Nima hovers around, making sure that we’ve gotten the best angles. When we put on our packs, Gyurme tells us to follow him, and we all do, including Nima. Up on the hill, we walk over to the very edge, and he points out Tatopani, far below. The top lodge is his brother’s, he says. Nima touches my arm and points to the south. ‘Gatlang,’ she says. I nod. She moves her hand a little to the east. ‘Goljung,’ she says. I nod again. Then she tugs my arm. When she starts walking, I follow her. She looks to make sure I’m right behind, and as we walk, I notice how much taller I am. Her flip flops slap at her heels as we walk along.

A little ways away, on the south side of the hill, she comes to a prayer flag and beneath it, an exposed bit of rock. She points at three small depressions that look vaguely like footprints. ‘Buddha’s foot,’ she says, and then she sits right on top of the rock, with her feet tucked under her. She points at three more villages. ‘Dunche, Thulu Syraphru, Syraphru Besi,’ she says.
Gyurme and Joshua come up behind us, and just like Nima, Gyurme tells Joshua about the Buddha’s footprints. Gyurme sits down next to Nima on the rock on the edge of the steep hillside, and we thank them for their hospitality. Nima tells us to come again when we have a family. Gyurme tells us to not forget about the photos on the website. We tell him we won’t forget.

They point out our path to Tatopani, and as we walk away, we wave goodbye. They stay seated on the Buddha’s rock, waving back at us and looking out at the mountains to the west.
The trail from Nagthali to Tatopani is downhill, and we spend the first hour picking our way down a steep slope. Without trees to block our view, we can see Chilime, Gatlang, Goljung, and Syraphru Besi in the distance. The clouds have cleared, and the sun has even come out. Up above, the snowy mountains emerge.

In Brimdang, we loose the path at a gompa, and then we find it again. A pack of enormous grey and white monkeys gallop off into the trees just feet in front of us, and we stand, gaping at these enormous creatures, hanging from the trees. Their tails have to be almost four feet long, and they’re all looking at us, curious.

Brimdang is a small collection of wooden homes with terraced fields. A couple of women in the traditional Tamang top-hat and dress are sitting in their front yard, sorting grain. They bow deeply when we say Namaste. On the other side of town, a dozen or more cows are coming up the path, and a couple of herders in their woolen tunics and enormous Gorkha knifes tucked into their belts are tapping their rumps with bamboo switches. We come to a stand-off on the edge of a rice terrace, and although I’m terrified of their pointy, long horns, they’re actually more terrified of us. They look at us, and then they look at the fence into the field next to them. Much to the dismay of the herders, they decide to walk right through the fence.

Inside the field, two small children are running and jumping into stacks of hay. The little girl is a bit older, but she can’t be more than seven. When the herders yell at the cows, she takes matters into her own hands. She runs up in front of the big bull and stares him down, yelling. Then she picks up a little stone and chucks it right between the bull’s horns. He backs up and goes out the fence, leading a little entourage behind him.

It takes another hour from Brimdang to reach Tatopani, and as we walk, we talk about the jobs we’ve had. Joshua started out at Taco Bell, held a brief stint at Menards, and then moved on to Davannis, where he made pizzas and then delivered them. He worked from the time he was 14, and he worked all the way through the school year, too. In college, he worked at the gym and then at the school cafeteria. In the summers, he worked for conferences.

Of course, I’ve heard all of these stories before, but still, it’s fun to total them all up and compare our experiences. I started working when I was 14 too. I bussed tables and filled drinks at Key’s Cafe and Bakery the first summer, and the next, I was a receptionist at Great Clips, sorting bills, sweeping hair, and folding laundry. In the summer after I went to England, I worked at the Turkey Drumstick stand at the state fair, accumulating layers of grease and grit all over my skin, and then the next year, I worked the night shift at Fed Ex, sorting irregular packages. In college, I never stayed in one place for long, and I worked a series of office jobs – stuffing envelopes in Admissions, doing odd-jobs in Alumni Giving, and totaling figures in Accounting. In the summers, I worked for Fed Ex and another office job at Walden, and then with conferences. The last year of school, I gave speeches and rallied idealists to work in our country’s poorest schools, and in the Spring, I worked for a Montessori center, running after toddlers and wiping up their poo.

After a while, we could see the buildings of Tatopani through the trees, and before long, we were walking by three steaming pools, filled with Indian and Nepali men and women. At the back, carved fountains spouted hot water that smelled of sulfur, and behind the pools, dozens of prayer flags were strung over the source of the hot spring.

We passed the hot spring, and down below, we found Pilgrim’s Guest House, a large, well-kept, and completely empty lodge. The owner came out of his kitchen as we walked up, and when we asked if he had a room, he took us up to one on the second floor with lots of windows and a view of the valley. He told us it was ours for a hundred rupees a night. Done.

Changing into boxers and t-shirts, we gathered our towels and flip flops and walked to the hot spring. The three square-shaped pools were each filled with murky, brownish water, and a thin sheen of what looked like oil coated the water like skin. We got in.

For an hour, we sat in the hot water, enjoying the warmth and steam. In the pool next to ours, a dozen women were lounging, wearing red sarongs that bared their shoulders but covered them to their knees. On their heads, they’d wrapped up their hair in plastic bags. Some of the women were Buddhist nuns, and their closely shaved hair and red bathing robes seemed out of place in the steam.

The men in our pool and the pool to the other side had hairstyles that we’ve seen on some of the saddhus – a close crop with a tuft of hair at the crown in the back. They have a piece of string tied under their armpit like a shoulder bag with no bag and another tied around their waist.
After a while, two very old Tamang women approached the pools. Dressed in their traditional long wrap dress, woolen tunic, top hat, and fabric belts, they took their time de-layering. Although our guide book had warned us to dress modestly at the pools, it seemed like maybe it wasn’t as big of a deal as they had thought. These two very old, very wrinkled women were completely topless, and they wrapped their impossibly long braids around their heads like a crown before they walked into the water and stood under the fountains.

We’d been in the pools for a long while before another Westerner came in. A New Zealander with a guide, he got in and sat next to us, asking us about our trek so far and telling us a little bit about his job as a care giver and his studies in Organic Farming.

The steam went to our heads, and once we had been in the pool for about an hour, we were ready to head back to the lodge. Saying goodbye to the New Zealander, we wrapped up in our towels and walked to our room. After we had changed into some dry clothes, we ordered dal bhat and sat in the dining room, reading and playing cards.

The sun set, and after a little bit, our food came. It wasn’t as good as Nima’s, but it was still pretty tasty. After a few hands of Rummy 5000, Joshua stopped having fun. It seems that, after a good six years of learning how to play, I now know how to win, and I do so with alarming frequency. It’s making my husband cranky.


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Kathmandu to Syaphru Besi to Riverside Hotel

November 16, 2010

We had 4 days off trail. During two of those days, we endured epic bus journeys. On another, we navigated Nepali bureaucracy.

So this morning, there was no mumbling or groaning or complaining when the alarm went off at six. In fact, we leapt out of our sleeping bags, our feet itching to get on the trail. We packed up, ate Tibetan bread with eggs, slurped piping hot tea, and then got out of town.

At the permit checkpoint, we glanced at the ledger. Yesterday, nearly 30 trekkers had passed in and out of Langtang. That about 150 less than in the Annapurna. We were the first trekkers today.

Crossing a suspension bridge, we looked up at the different valleys. One takes you to the Tamang Heritage Trail, another takes you to Langtang, and the other goes up to the Gosainkund Lakes. We’ll do all of these trails by the time we’re done, but for now, we’re headed to Langtang.
On the other side of the river, old Syraphru Besi looks like a town out of a western filmset.

There’s smoke coming out of the chimneys, chickens and cows in the street, and women coming out of swinging wooden doors with buckets of water that they toss onto the gravel road that runs through the center of town.

We crossed another suspension bridge and began heading up through thick, green undergrowth. The air smelled like wood. There weren’t pines around, so it wasn’t that, but it had the same tangy, woodsy smell. Around us, the trees are starting to change colors, and the whole place is just on the edge of summer and fall.

We felt great. It sounds silly, but for some reason, finding out that Red Wing is a 20 minute drive from Ellsworth and then reading that it was ranked in the top 100 of historical destinations in National Geographic put a whole new spin on things. I started to get excited about going home and exploring it. I’m not even as worried about jobs. I’ve been kicking around the idea of waitressing, and also of getting my masters in Social Work. I’ve got all these new ideas, and I’m not feeling so anxious. The trail helps, too.

We passed through a number of small little villages with guest houses. Each of them sat on the same river, rioting past over enormous bolder the size of buses or buildings. We saw a few trekkers descending from the other direction, but otherwise, not a soul passed us (except for a weird Dutchman. He tried to walk with for a while, but I was so put off by his awkward/competitive vibe that I hardly said a word to him.).

After four and a half hours of hiking, we hit Upper Rimche. Stopping at Hotel Ganesh View, we sat at a picnic table overlooking the valley. We ordered a couple plates of veg chowmein, played a few hands of cards, and just generally marveled at our good fortune. This place rocks.
From Rimche, it was a 20 minute walk to Lama Hotel, the village where most Langtang trekkers stay on their first night. Hoping to avoid the ‘crowds,’ we decided to head on to a lone guest house, about an hour away.

The air started to cool off, and low, misty clouds rolled in and then out again. I stung my hand on a mean set of stinging nettles and had to take a Benadryl, but mostly, it was wonderful. Up ahead, we could see our first glimmers of snowy mountains.

At Riverside Hotel, a small string of rooms sits next to loud, white water. A beautiful red tree hangs over the path. The guest house keeper invited us in, and we took off our packs.
Before we lost the motivation, we ran out and did 60 push-ups and 60 sit-ups. Joshua’s training to be a policing bad-ass, and I don’t need any such excuse. Afterwards, we layered up and sat by the river. For 50 rupees, we ordered a thermos full of hot water, and feeling very thrifty, we added in our own tea bag. We saved 5 dollars. (Tea is more expensive than food here.)

We read, looking up and enjoying the view at the end of every page. At five, our guest house keeper brought out tons of Dal Bhaat, and we ate until we were stuffed. We finished the thermos of tea.

When the light went down over the hills, we moved into the kitchen where the fire under the stove was still burning. It’s warm in here, and the guest house keeping, Ukchi, is very friendly. I’m typing, and Joshua’s reading. In a bit, it’ll be bedtime.

Once I’d finished writing, Ukchi, our guest house keeper, asked to see some of our photos. I showed him our little slide show from the Annapurna. Although he’s never been there, he seemed pleased that it wasn’t too different from his Langtang Valley. He told us that his wife runs a lodge in Langtang while he runs Riverside. They spend the tourist season apart, and his three sons are all in a Kathmandu boarding school. The come home two months a year for the holidays, during Deshain and Deuwali. He seemed lonely, and he told us that life felt hard here.
Like others we’ve spoken to, he’s not impressed with the government.

We talked for a little while, and when the fire started to die out, we all said goodnight. In our sleeping bags, Joshua and I scooted in close to catch each other’s warmth, but it was a long while before we were warm enough to sleep.

November 15, 2010

Have you heard of those gravity simulators? I haven’t personally seen one in action, but I get the impression that you sit in one and then it whips you about and you feel your cheeks flap back towards your ears. Ok. Maybe that’s a bit abstract. Have you ever seen a rock tumbler? They’re the sort of craft novelty that sounds like a really great idea at the time, and I’m sure that there’s someone somewhere who has put this appliance to really great use, but the for the rest of us, once purchased, it sits on the shelf and collects dust.

Well, anyway. Imaging that you’re sitting in a little cockpit, and by whatever method, that cockpit is taken through motions one part gravity simulator and one part rock tumbler. It’s bumpy; it’s bone-jarring; and it’s one hell of a ride. Now, imagine that you are in that little cockpit for 10 hours.

Actually, I’m beginning to think that this metaphor doesn’t really do our bus ride yesterday any justice. A ‘little cockpit’ sounds quite cozy and sterile, and the bus – I assure you – was neither of these things. For a vehicle containing 30 tightly packed seats, there were an astounding number of passengers. Every seat was full, there were people standing in the aisle, the driver’s cab was bursting, and there were over a dozen perched on the roof. I would estimate that there were nearly twice as many passengers as there were seats.

There was some screaming (more on that later), some vomitting, quite a bit of dust, even more exhaust, and the distinct smell of body ordor. It was a bouncing, heaving, breathing mass of humanity that crossed mountains and teetered over the edge of chasms that seemed to fall forever. More than once, our back tire met the loose gravel on the edge of cliff face, and I watched as those little stones fell down, down, down.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. We woke up at 6:15 and quickly scrambled to pack up the last of our things and make it to the dining room for breakfast. After a short wait, our toast, eggs, and tea arrived, and we gobbled it all down. Outside, our taxi driver was already waiting, so we hurried to pay and check our big bags in their storage room.

The taxi ride took less than 10 minutes. Our buses stood in the street, and they already looked full. A bit apprehensive, we double and thrice checked that this bus was, in fact, headed to Syraphru Besi. Judging by nods and gestures, we boarded.

Our tickets said seats 7 and 8, and while Nepali bus rides tend to be life-threatening, chaotic ventures, the Nepali are very serious about people sitting in their proper seats. We sat.
Looking around, there were perhaps eight other Westerners who appeared to be trekking-bound. A few of them had guides, but others seemed to be going it alone, like us. Gradually, the bus became even more packed, and at 7:30 – our estimated time of departure – the bus driver started the engine and began to inch forward. Joshua was shocked. Starting on time is unheard of.

But not so fast. One irrate Nepali man stood over a couple of Westerners two rows ahead of us, telling them that these were his seats, and they need to get out. The money collector got involved, and somehow, he decided that where they needed to be sitting is where we were sitting. We looked behind us. We looked in front. There were no more seats.

Showing the money collector our tickets, we explained that these seats, in fact, were ours. We would not be moving. He disagreed. He told us that we should take ‘those seats.’ By way of explaining ‘those seats,’ he gestured to the back of the bus. There were none. Now, you might think that perhaps this was a large bus and maybe he couldn’t see ‘those seats.’ Maybe he didn’t realize that they were all full.

Nope. This was a tiny-ass bus, and I can most certainly assure you that every bleedin’ passenger could see for his or herself that there were no such seats available. The man was quite clearly trying to screw us over.

In my firmest terms, I politely availed this man of his notion. By now, the situation had escalated. There were people screaming. The man who believed that the two Westerners in front of us had taken his seats unjustly was getting in the woman’s face and gesturing angrily. I took my cues.

‘Do you see seats back there?’ I asked. ‘No, you don’t, because there are no seats back there. You are lying to me, and you know it. I bought tickets. These are mine, you see? We’re not moving.’
I could feel the blood pumping in my ears. I was pissed. Joshua, unsure of what had gotten ahold of me, put a warning hand on my arm. When the man once again tried to tell me to get out of our seats and go back to ‘those seats,’ he restrained me from, as my students would say, ‘clicking out.’ That’s right. I was about to go New Orleans on his ass.

So there was some more screaming and more gesturing. It went on like this for about 30 minutes, and then, when it became clear that our asses were rooted to those bus seats, the bus driver started the bus and made his way out of Kathmandu. The horrible, rotten-toothed money collector man tried once more to tell us to move to ‘those seats.’ I didn’t respond to him; I just gave him my meanest possible mean look. He seemed to get the idea.

It was hostile for a bit, the locals hating the tourists for taking up bus seats and the tourists resenting the locals for feeling like we’re all just money trees and as long as we hand over our rupees, they don’t give a damn what happens to us. It was the start to a fine ride.

A couple of hours later, the bus came to a stop in front of a little road-side cafe. People stumbled off to use the restroom and load up on snacks, but I stayed put. You had better believe I’m not falling for that one. Sure enough, as soon as everyone had disembarked, the Nepali man with double-booked tickets came on the bus, moved the bags from the seats, and deposited his mother and sister. He had been thoroughly awful to the Western couple, screaming and spewing spittle in their faces, but now I felt a little bit bad for him. He had paid for the bus too, and his mother was very, very old. His sister sat on the floor with her face on the seat, clutching her stomach and groaning. It was a bad situation all around.

When everyone came back on the bus, there was surprisingly little fuss. Two people volunteered to sit on the roof, and everyone who insisted on seats had them. I drowsed off and on for hours. The bus bounced over potholes and switchbacks. I took a dramamine.

At one of the stops, I hopped off and purchases a couple of mandarins and some bananas. We ate them slowly, trying to pass the time. It was only noon.

The bus kept going. Below us, the gorge dropped so far down that it went out of sight. The edge of the road crumbled away into nothingness. I tried not to look. When we hit bumps or holes so hard that our butts flew out of our seats, I wondered how the people on the roof were managing to hang on.

At 3, we arrived in Dhunche. Checking in at the permit office, we all stretched our legs for a bit. The air had gotten much cooler since Kathmandu, and everyone took out extra layers.

Back in the bus, we rode for another two hours, stopping to pick up and drop off locals along the way. This part of the road was one of the worst yet, and people began vomiting from motion sickness. I kept my eyes closed. As long as I can pretend to sleep, I’m ok.

About an hour from Syraphru Besi, I started to have that I’m-going-to-absolutely-lose-it-if-I-don’t-get-off-this-godforsaken-bus-very-very-soon feeling. By the time we got to the village, I was already half way out the door. I stumbled out onto solid ground and thanked whatever diety it was that had decided we were fit to live another day. This was our last bus ride in Nepal, and we lived to tell the tale. Now, I can tell you that Lonely Planet tells travelers to use the bus system as little as possible, because there are more bus fatalities here than anywhere else. That was my little secret that I was going to wait to tell you until it was all over, and now it is.

In Syraphru Besi, we found the first guest house, Hotel Peaceful, and immediately dumped our packs. Joshua went to order Dal Bhaat, and I went to go take care of a problem that only a course of anti-biotics can take care of.

The rest of the trekkers seemed to all lodge themselves at Hotel Peaceful too, and within minutes, the place was full. It took them a while to churn out that much Dal Bhaat, so while we waited, we played cards in the candlelight. With frequent power outages, candles are always nearby.

Dal Bhaat was delicious, and we scarfed it all down, barely coming up for air. When it was all said and done, it was nearly 7. We looked around, and no one seemed ready to head off to bed, but we reasoned that it’s trail-time. We led the way.

In our room, we laid out our sleeping bags on one of the narrow twins. It’s funny, because although we technically met and began dating in high school, I wouldn’t call us ‘high school sweethearts.’ We don’t reminisce about the good old days or all the teachers and friends that we had who were the same. Sometimes, we’ll start a story and we’ll realize that the other actually does know who we’re talking about, but it almost always comes as a surprise. We didn’t have the same friends in high school, and although we met on the school bus and we had crushes on each other for a couple of years, we didn’t start dating until the very last semester.

Sometimes though, it’s fun to take out those old stories. We tease each other about what we were thinking and when. We debate who really asked out who. We talked for a while, thinking about old friends that we haven’t seen or heard of in a long time, and then, when our eyes started to close, we learned over, kissed cold noses, and fell asleep.