Not sure how I’m going to compact a month in Nepal into one blog, but I ams gonna try …
I wasn’t going to blog Nepal. This blog—naughtypotty—is a random collection of dark (shady? sketchy? let’s go with kind of pathetic and too personal) comedy skits in narrative format on a screen, and my time in this weather-beaten, off-the-beaten-path country of kind people has been a bit of a serious journey for me.
Rather than relay the daily play by play, I’ll summarize in snippets …
Our Guides and Porters:
Ram Hari (pronounced “hurry”) Nepal. Has worked with Intrepid, the company I trekked with, for almost fifteen years. Hmm, how to summarize his presence briefly? He puts nearly every service provider I’ve ever met to shame. It’s almost like he likes to be the most accommodating person everrr. Strikethrough “almost.” Weird.
But seriously, he was so attentive throughout our trek (and after) that I even took the time to write an elaborate and glowing review of him for Intrepid. Not only that, but his gangly 55 kilos (121 pounds, which is my damn goal weight) ran The Everest Marathon in four hours and some odd minutes; from Base Camp to Namche Bazaar, it’s 26 miles at over 5,000 meters, which is really f’in high, people! Anyway, Ram is the awesomest possum and, if you do a trek in Nepal, demand him. ‘Nough said.
His assistants: Suk (aka Suku, aka Suki, aka “What’s the damage?”—that be slang for “How much do we owe for breakfast?”) was in charge of tracking our trekking food orders amongst other things; Bikash (sounds like “big ass”) helped with meal service and carried my daypack for a while on the day of the pass (so I wouldn’t pass out, which I was damn close to doing); and Jivan who literally held me at the elbow to drag me along those last few (hundred) meters.
If not for these hearty and heartfelt fellows, I’d not have made it and would have to haunt you from heaven. (At over 17,000 feet, I was geographically—as well as physically and mentally/emotionally—pretty close to bitin’ it [that be slang for dyin’], but alas God was not ready for the pleasure of my company, thank G.)
The six porters—Prem, Binod, Pawan, Amrit, Khogendra, and Dev—each carried two of our backpacks plus their own. This mass on their sturdy backs weighed more than some of them did. (No joke.) (For real real.) They were so gracious and grateful to us that I felt ashamed of myself—which, if you know me, you know I rarely (cough) ever feel shameful. I’m not sure why I felt this way (foreign feeling, remember?), but it must mean something significant, no? A few of them spoke some English. They were from every corner of this small country, which showed in the construct of their beautiful facial features. (Oh, to have been blessed with those cheek bones!)
The Trekkers in order of my meeting them, though actually, I kind of forget that order and only remember the first two and last two. (Eh, shrug):
Young’un, an Aussie, was all youthful exuberance with bright eyes vacant of the future in store for him, vibrant and keen. He was yearning to learn and experience and explore with depth. With still-developing wisdom, he had brave kindness and compassion and a love of animals and adventure; he also had an adorable unconscious self-consciousness expressed in hand fidgeting and nail picking. A whole life ahead of him. Take your time Young’un, enjoy it all—there is so much and room for it all. (It’s a wonder he didn’t catch ticks, fleas or rabies after cuddling up to all those mangy animals! “It licked me in the mouth, but it was only a puppy, I should be fine. [Giggle.]”)
Ginger Bean, Aussie, the only other female of our group, my roommate, and another redhead! Mid-twenties and wise beyond her years. She gave an excellent impersonation of our “Good Morninggg” wake up calls, ever ready with a funny quip and an easy laugh. Admirable social skills, easily and worthily the darling of our travellers. Listened to my pensive, tentative ramblings with a sensitive and (hopefully) unbiased ear. Missed her Jassy (i.e., hot surfer waiting for her at home). Put up with my nightly sleeping bag fidgeting and frequent bathroom needs. (Earplugs! I recommend earplugs, my friends.) Mesmerizing eyelashes, nice teeth. (Yes, vanity follows me to the hills, I admit.)
Telecom, Aussie, one of our three “senior” members at 58 and a bit of a loner. Escaping home life for a necessary reprieve that he didn’t want to talk about. When not in a self-pondering reverie, he was often unfiltered, if naive and, without Ginger Bean’s penchant for appropriate social mingling, off-putting at times. Though I felt sort of sorry for him (social empathy), I didn’t want to encourage misinterpreted impressions and kept to myself.
I will say that he pissed off a cliff—as in peed—with an impressive arc that none of us would have seen (since he was behind us) had not Ram, aka Rammy, chastised him whereby we all had to turn to around to see what was what. (One of two indelibly inked memories I’d rather delete, TYVM.)
Band Mate, another Aussie, mid-twenties, drummer, sleeve of tattoos, blue-blue-bluest eyes, and a Go-Pro appendage. He probably appreciates vintage. He’s empathetic—a self-proclaimed “crier”—and aware, will do well working with children. In clashing contrast to his personality and appearance, he works in government accounting. (Thank you for saving me from “Almost” after the last supper, so to speak.)
Mattipedia, Aussie, known to contribute to conversation commencing with, “Actually, did you know …?” Neurotransmitters firing much faster than the rest of us (me, at least), he tolerated our (my?) innocuous ignorance whilst patiently(?) educating. I’m sure I’ve stored the array of received (and rapidly diminishing) facts somewhere in my noggin, ready for procurement at the exact apt time! (<—Trying to sounds smart.) (Not succeeding.) In that case, I revert to our mutual interest in ... Gigi Gorgeous! Like, oh my god, ok! (Note to ‘Pedia: Please send list of books, movies and TV shows as discussed. Memory of a nat here.) Mr. Tenenbaum, yet another Aussie. As the nickname suggests, he looks like and has the personality and demeanor of belonging in—or perhaps is from—the movie The Royal Tenenbaums. He also has a royally hollow leg as evidenced by his ginormous consumption of numerous dal bhat1 servings (and the leftovers from any member of our group with a lighter appetite). Quiet, yet not pensive, he took in the goings-on of the group and added selective and savoury bits to conversations. He found his sweetheart on the Mount Everest Base Camp Trek (EBC Trek) that he completed less than a week before this trek. Nice calves. Dal Bhat King, Irish. Man. “Well, there’s no sense in letting it go to waste, I reckon.” Though Mr. Tenenbaum may hold the record for dal bhat servings (minus one exceptional night all of our food consumption was surpassed by eager Young’un), the Irishman reigns in my mind as Dal Bhat King. Enthusiasm (and beer) adds points to the tally and the ultimate triumph of overall consumption records—in my estimation. And given he also completed the EBC Trek with nary a kilo lost, I must assume he quietly consumed additional calories. (Plus, it would have been rude to nickname him “Ducks,” though they could be heard following him throughout our mountain trek: “Better out than in!” I say!) Vegan Man, British, the eldest (by a few months)—and by far the fittest—of our group at 66-years young. Let that be a lesson to me. (Though I only ate meat [chicken] once on our trek, indeed because of Vegan’s presence; I am not a Vegan or a Vegetarian and, though my being sensitive to his sensitivity to animal welfare on the trek did likely save at least one whole bird, my first meal upon arrival back in Kathmandu was salami pizza. [It wasn’t that good.] Nonetheless, his influence has endeavoured me to eat fewer animals, though I will not give up cheese. Or eggs. Or bacon! Moderation. Moderation is the key. For me. Good enough.) Vegan Man was somewhat oblivious to the goings-on around him and, at times, less polite to “people of service,” which I’m not sure I can blame on lack of animal consumption. Let’s leave it at that. “Almost A Grandfather”: Will revisit him after the Mikes (next). The Two Michaels, British, aka Tender Heart and Tender Heart with A Side of Sarcasm (And A Cappuccino). I’m sorry, you get lumped together because you both showed up together, late (Cappuccino, I can hear you saying, “We weren’t late!”) Both are under employ in the social work field. Apt. The former, Tender Heart, a quiet sort, sensitive to the feelings of others, hung back with me on the trail when it seemed—scratch “seemed”—when I was most definitely losing steam. He subtly slowed his pace and made some comment on the scenery or some such thing that didn’t require a reply (so as to save my breath). And when he asked me, “How are you?” he meant it. And he didn’t just mean to ask about how I was doing with the physical effort but, later, when “Almost” was obviously crowding me, I know Tender Heart was including that in his query, too. Oh, you think I didn’t notice? Ha! And thank you. Your presence gave me the strength to take another step and another breath (in more ways than one) ... Side of Sarcasm. As I mentioned to him, “I don’t trust anyone who doesn’t have a good dose of sarcasm in them!” I trust him plenty. His quips were always welcome and elicited a chuckle if not outright guffaws. But beneath the jest is a marshmallow of sweet softness. On that note, he is also a great hugger (though it could have been the bulky layers of down comfort when I practically collapsed on him upon arrival at our “pre-base” camp Teahouse)! He is also either the slowest eater of soup or he lingered behind with me at the Teahouse (the same teahouse where I had my earlier gushy collapse). This time, I developed altitude sickness—nausea, headache, weariness—and started crying in my garlic soup, not from discomfort but from the thought of letting the group down should I not be able to continue. Oh, Mr. Slow Soup Sipper, you softy! (Side note: Our fearless and medically well-stocked leader, Rammy, promptly thrust Tiger Balm across my temples and forehead with his thumbs and remedied me with an assortment of drugs that all but alleviated my symptoms and allowed me to partake in the “altitude adjustment” ascent that very afternoon. Needless to say, I went to bed at 6:30pm.) “Almost A Grandfather” (Exhausted sigh.) At 66-years old (nose hairs and hearing loss—but young in inappropriate hopefulness), this British “gentleman” was the second eldest of the bunch and perhaps the second fittest. Proper British accent, proper British condescension. Improper British persuasion, namely me. (More in my next blog). The Annapurna Circuit (aka Annapurna Base Camp Trek): I took one of each: t-shirt, thermal leggings and top, leggings, trekking pants, wind/waterproof pants, light jacket, flannel jacket, wool sweater, down jacket, rain cover, knitted hat, scarf, headlamp, minus-20-degree sleeping bag, set of walking poles, the now forever-tainted book Lolita, and my iPad mini I took two of each: long sleeve shirt, under-ginch three of each: variously thick gloves four of each: variously warm socks—some nights I wore every clothing item I had plus the musty, bedbug bedding and still shivered; way-too-many panty liners, vitamins, health powders and snacks—trekker’s bars, dried peas, and bee pollen amongst them twenty-one days of one-foot-in-front-of-the-other walking/hiking/trekking with a lot of up and down (not the kind of up and down you find in the Philippines, or in the mind of “Almost A Grandfather.”) one day of rest/altitude acclimatization (with a minor I-die-soon afternoon trek). a 200km distance with a peak height of 5416 meters (17,769 feet). The trail was a wretched wake-up-at-3:30am-start-trek-at-4:30am-in-total-darkness-with-headlamp-and-numb-fingers-through-snow-and-ice-horizontally-crossing-a-slip-and-slide-and-fall-to-certain-death path. We (I) trudged toward the top where I dragged my ass the last few hundred meters and stopped to rest every twenty steps, and then every ten steps, and finally handed my miniature daypack to Jevon. I arrived much behind the rest of the group at the top, Thorolong La Pass, at an I-die-now temperature of minus 15 degrees (minus 25 with wind chill)! Several of us cried at the top, before and after all the hugs went around. Hashtag: foreverbonded. And then an almost 3000-foot straight-down decent to breathable altitude levels and our teahouse. (Ginger Bean got altitude sickness and puked on the street in front of our teahouse upon arrival there. Poor Little Bean. Someone held her hair back for her. Awww.) only a few ‘Western’ toilets. Instead, roll up pant legs and tuck boot laces in (to avoid them touching filth), squat, balance, aim for the hole in the ground, try not to breath and try not to touch anything, “It puts the TP in the basket,” dump bucket of water (if there is one and the water’s not frozen) over the refuse, gag, evacuate and sanitize hands. (This is the girl with Guccis??) even fewer hot showers (I had three hot, two tepid, one glacial), opt for sponge bath (i.e., armpit/cookie wipe down and/or live with grime). no heated rooms, solo sleeping sack plus sixteen layers: shiver me timber! food. same menu. at. every. venue. Nonetheless, I managed to not. lose. any. weight. W-T-F? (WTF answer: Hot chocolate, apple crumble and peanut cookies. Damn it.) misc: chapped lips (both), dry skin, diarrhoea (I wish) and/or constipation (I had), headaches at high altitudes, a cold from day one through to the end (all but two of us had it), plenty of tissues, cold feet, sunburned faces (and hands, most of the rest was constantly covered), “How do you say in Nepali, ‘It’s fucking cold!’?”, treated water, mixed emotions, vacillating between busy thoughts and vacant head space, nothingness and everything. absolutely stunning scenery. From vast valley gorges with jade-tinted rivers—that we had to wade through once up to our thighs (cranky Anna)—and blasting waterfalls to suspect suspension bridges through lush tropical jungle, from pine, birch, bonsai and fir forests to wind-swept Death Valley parched plains and to the most majestic tear-rendering wretched mountain peaks His Mighty Hand formed. Forgive the blatant God Almighty reference but, when you’re up there so high within an oxygen-deprived breath of (in) heaven, it feels like the embrace of The One (or at least a clasped hand on heaving chest and cracked throat). (We interrupt this blog to let you know that I am sitting in an out of the way, Wi-Fi-friendly bistro hiding from "Almost"—just had the best burger—bopping to the tune of “Relax” by Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Relax, don’t do it, when you wanna go to it, relax don’t do it ... when you wanna coooooome. Okay, continue.) When we arrive back to Kathmandu, we’re lost for words. And direction. For twenty-one days, we’ve been told when to get up—with a knock on the door and a “Good Morninggg,” when to order breakfast lunch dinner tea, where we’re going, what to wear and what to expect. We have not had to think for ourselves or attend to our own needs. (Except in the stinky outhouses.) We’ve trekked and eaten and talked and laughed and remained silent and played card games or watched others play and packed and unpacked and brushed our teeth (usually) and slept (illy) and squatted and squinted. We pondered our lives and the lives of our fellow trekkers and wondered at how insignificant we each are on this planet and yet how we must trek on—on this path and in life—and how we must live out our journeys and be happy, if not for ourselves but for our loved ones who hold us so dear in their hearts. And with our loves so far away, we subconsciously subterfuge ourselves with attachments to those closest to the nearest dearest dreamers (us) along on this wanderlust must of a task, this trek, The Annapurna Circuit. Oh Glorious One, we are humbled before you! Namaste, namaste, namaste. End dramatic romantic rant. * What have I (re)learned? The Himalayan Mountains and, in particular The Annapurna Circuit, are some of the most amazing, awe-inspiring, magnificent trekking (and personal) journeys one might ever experience in a lifetime. Most of it looks like home, people! Vancouver Island is f’n amazing! God’s Country, I tell ya. (If I had my little red shoes, I’d be clicking the hell out of my Salvatore Ferragamo heels right now—with matching clutch, of course.) No matter how many miles, no matter how high the mountain, it’s still calories in, calories out. Damn it. (I didn’t lose any weight. And, no, it’s not just muscle because my camel-toe shorts still don’t fit.) Instead of taking my naturopathic altitude pills the two days before and the day of the highest pass, I’d gotten mixed up and taken my mercury metal detox chelation drugs, which normally make me drowsy and physically exhausted. It truly is a wonder I made it without being carried. Or helicoptered out. We saw a lot of 'choppers evacuating trekkers. Just sayin'.) Every teenager (person) in the developed world would do well by going on exchange in a place where kids play football (soccer) with an empty jerrycan and hockey with a plastic lid nailed to a stick, on dirty, dusty fields—with smiles on their faces and joy in their hearts. No matter where you are, there you are. What matters most? A family’s love, loyal friends, a warm bed, food in your belly and peace in your soul. Homework: Pack for #5 above (home). #nostomania P.S. You can get an MRI in Kathmandu for only 300 bucks (Canadian!) but it'll still take you two hours to convince a team of physicians in a private clinic to give you the necessary referral! Grrr (I spent the money on Dior sunglasses instead. Better investment. Hashtag: recoveringhypochondriac. Hashtag: shameless.) 1 Dal bhat is the most popular local Nepalese food: white rice, veggie or chicken curry, something mouth-meltingly spicy, lentil sauce (soup), pickled something, chilies (really, really f’in spicy chilies). The locals eat this every dang day, folks, with God’s utensils—their hands! It seems they don’t know how to eat with cutlery; one day when our porters ate with us, they tried to stab away at their roast chicken (some had never had roast chicken before) until we mercifully insisted they use their hands, which they did.