Sunday, October 18, 2009

Sunkosi River and into India

The rafting trip was a really cool experience. It was a mixture of rafting, nature, culture, adventure, relaxation, teamwork, and campfire bonding.
The group consisted of 6 tourists and 6 crew members (2 of which were training). We had 2 rafts. One for all of our gear and the other for us. Then 2 safety kayakers.
I am always a little weary signing up for multi day group ventures. 10 days on a raft with people that suck would not be a fun scenario. Fortunately, the group came together well.
The first girl I met was a Canadian named Danica. We had a lot in common because she had also been traveling solo for a year and was on her last month. We instantly got along and exchanged travel experiences and compared emotional feelings such as getting through homesickness and the excitement of learning about new cultures. We had some good laughs right off the bat. Especially about how unattractive traveling can make you. If only men knew our potential beauty with a hair dryer, make-up, manicures, and form fitting cute clothes. But hairy legs, dirty clothes, and bug bitten out of shaped bodies were our lives right now. It was just humorous and refreshing to meet someone on the same wavelength as me.
Then there were 2 New Yorkers named Dan and Mike. Dan had been traveling and working abroad for 2 years. He has no intentions of going back to the States anytime soon. Mike just quit his job and bought a one-way ticket to meet up with Dan and live the traveler lifestyle as well. They were both really nice guys and it is always a pleasure to meet cool travelers from the US. Matt was this Aussie bloke that was on the last leg of his 16 month around the world trip. He had been all throughout the Middle East so it was interesting to here his stories and perspectives on those countries. He carries a guitar with him and wrote some cool songs during his travels. We spent almost every night listening to jam sessions around the camp fire. When Matt is not being a singer songwriter, he is a "wordsmith". He is very clever at combining 2 words in almost any case scenario. For instance, Brandy and Tang is a wonderful campfire drink that he coined "Brang". There was also the horrendous "wand" which is wind and sand combined and becomes very annoying when attempting to set up camp. Last, but surely not least was cute little Eimear. She was an Irish girl who had been working in the United Emirates for a year teaching English and was finishing up a 4 month trip through India and Nepal. She was one of those people who had he odd ability of retaining what she calls "useless information" such as song lyrics, movie quotes and any other corky thing you can imagine. I spent a lot of time laughing at her random blurbs about some movie made in the 1980s that none of us had ever even heard of. The group dynamic was pretty cool because we were all around the same age and all on long term travel trips.
We loaded up our rafts and got a safety briefing. We were all a little nervous since 2 people had died on the river a week ago. The rapids were rated up to 4-5+ so we were not sure what to expect. However, the first 3 days were pretty calm which gave us time to build our confidence up. Finally, we were off on the Sunkosi River and going out into the wild.
10 days sounds pretty intense for rafting, but most of the river was pretty calm with sporadic rapids here and there. Much of the time was spent floating down and enjoying the peacefulness. The river runs straight down the middle of Nepal and by the end of the trip we rafted almost 300 kilometers. All along the river we passed small villages and were able to catch a glimpse of the real Nepalis life. We were miles away from roads, tourist agencies, or guesthouses. Throughout the trip we passed villagers bathing themselves with river water, women washing clothes, kids swimming, and men fishing. The fisherman were hilarious because they would always be wearing small underwear. Some of them strapped a wooden box to their back with a battery inside and electrocuted the fish. Their friends would stand around with nets and collect the ones that floated up. One time we passed a crowd of people surrounding a pile of logs that were burning on the river bed. Our raft guide, Denish, explained that the villagers were cremating a dead body, as they do in the Hindu culture.
The river and the scenery were beautiful and I was looking around in awe trying to soak up the nature around me. Since we were on the water most of the time, I wasn't able to take a lot of pictures.
Each afternoon we would pull up to a white sandy beach to set up camp. It is pretty unique how many untouched beaches Nepal has with being a landlocked country. We joked at how we couldn't wait to go back home and be like...."yeah, some of the best beaches are in Nepal..." and then wait for people to be like....ummm there isn't an ocean anywhere?
A few days into the trip, we approached the 5+ rapid where the people had died. We pulled over to check out the rapid and see if it was something we could do or not. You could tell the crew was a bit nervous. One of them named Cita was having a hard time because it was her friend that died there. After 30 minutes of discussion, the guides decided it was too dangerous to go down. There were 3 major holes in the rapid and if the raft where to get stuck in one it could be extremely dangerous. We understood the circumstances and agreed to walk around. The rafts, however, needed to be guided by ropes through the rapids as they were far to heavy to carry around. When the crew attempted to get the first raft down, someone slipped and the current grabbed the raft. There were 2 people still in it as it headed straight for the rapid. Instantly, the crew went into action as the ran along the raft with safety ropes and watched as the 2 on board navigated around the holes. Luckily, they made it down safely and everyone cheered from the sidelines and sighed with relief. Everyone was super cautious with the next raft and it ended up getting lodged into a rock and stuck for a good while. We ended up having to unload a lot of things and carry them down to get the raft out of its position. All in was an eventful rapid even though we didn't officially go down it.
After a few days we were getting a bit comfortable rafting and maybe even a little too confident. There was a 4+ rapid that we were up against and we were ready for something exciting. Matt was in front next to Danica and I was behind him. We hit this massive wave straight on and the raft went up almost vertical. Matt was almost swept away with the water, but we all managed to stay in the boat. As we rounded the wave we were all excited and cheering and even taunting the rapids to give us some more. Out of nowhere the raft nailed a rock and all of a sudden Matt went flying out of the boat. It all took us by surprise and I don't think I will ever forget the look on his face as he went soaring into the river. I started laughing hysterically and even almost peed my pants, but I knew that we needed to do a safety rescue to get him back in the boat. Danica and I had our paddles all over the place and as we lifted him back in we rammed his face right into the handle of the paddle. Still, we were laughing and Matt ended up dragging himself into the boat pretty much. All this happened in about 10 seconds and just goes to show that you never know what can happen. Fortunately,there were no major injuries during the trip.
I shared a tent with Danica and we spent a lot of time talking and hanging out. I noticed that she was running out of energy quickly and not feeling 100% during the trip. In talking, she confided with me that she was actually diagnosed with breast cancer before she left to travel. She is only 23 and it is an odd case since she is so young. Back home, she had a lot of crazy things going on in her life at that time with her family and past relationships.....then with the diagnosis on top of that, she felt a need to get away for a bit and spend a year abroad. My first reaction was why didn't she immediately start getting treated for it. She explained to me that it was in the first stages and even though her doctor didn't recommend traveling, she didn't think much would spread over a years time. Danica is taking medicine weekly to stabilize the cancer. Normally she rests a lot and takes naps to combat the side effects, but there wasn't too much time for that during the rafting trip. I couldn't believe it when she told me and it put all my travels and experiences in perspective. How differently you would look at things if you had cancer while traveling.....
Danica chose not to tell anyone in her family and only her doctor and a close friend back at home know about it. She has told a few people in traveling. She isn't scared to talk about it, but just doesn't want people to treat her differently for it. Traveling was a choice she made and she wanted to get away for a bit before dealing with the treatments and the other issues going on in her life. Once I knew the whole background, it made more sense to me why she needed to get away for awhile. I asked her if I could talk about it in my blog and she said it was ok. In fact, she enjoyed talking to someone about it and getting it off her chest. I find peoples stories and reasons for traveling so interesting and I wanted to emphasize the unique individuals I have come across on my journey. I only knew Danica for 10 days, but she has a wonderful soul and a compassionate energy. I hope all of her treatments go well and her future is filled with many more trips and experiences ahead.
The Sunkosi River trip happened at a perfect time for me. I had been having a wave of homesickness and it was really refreshing to be around people who were on similar trips as I was. Being surrounded by nature really does something for the soul and I was feeling nice and refreshed when it was over.
Our group parted ways and it was sad to say goodbye. Sharada, the woman at the tourist agency that I worked with, invited me to stay at her home for my last night in Kathmandu. It was really nice to be able to be invited into a locals home. She made an amazing dinner and we sat around her kitchen table talking about my trip and the Nepali culture. This will not be my last time to visit Nepal...there are so many other places I want to explore. And a little thing called the Mt Everest base camp that I need to hike someday :)

I am now 4 days into India...
India was the whole reason I started this trip. I had wanted to visit a place so different then anything I had ever known and India seemed to pop in my mind anytime I visualized that place. Since I couldn't take too much time off of work, it was my desire to visit this country the led me to save money and leave my life in ATX for awhile. Then, trip turned into this wild and crazy round the world expedition, but here I am the place that started it all for me. My mind is mixed with so many emotions and I can't believe that I am finally here.
Eimear, the Irish chick who retained useless information, happened to be on the same flight as me into Delhi. Thank goodness for this because she had already spent 4 months traveling in India and knew how it all worked. For the first day and a half I walked behind Eimear as she whisked me through the streets and haggled for cabs and hotel rooms. She told me about the ins and outs and it really helped me to get my barrings straight. When we arrived our first night, it was right in the middle of the big Hindu festival called Diwali. I am not sure the whole background of this holiday, but it is translated into the "Festival of Lights". People drape lights all over their homes like we do for Christmas, and then they shoot fireworks all over the place throughout the night. It all sounds lovely, right? Well, fireworks combined with India equals WAR ZONE!!!!!!! The first few hours of being in Delhi consisted of me running and dodging fire crackers (more like fire missiles) flying down the streets. As we were checking into our guesthouse, the men at the reception stopped in the middle of our check-in and went into Hindu prayers for about 15 minutes while we sat there. I was like...what the heck is going on?.. we are in the middle of checking in and these guys stop to chant and light incense and hold hands. Eimear didn't seem the least bit surprised and gave me the "Welcome to India" look. After sorting out the cost of accomodation and waiting for them to finish their prayers we finally got situated into our rooms. We met some really cute Dutch and English boys who invited us out to dinner and to check out the Diwali festival. Once again, we were back in the streets and I felt like we were in the Desert Storm War with fireworks and dust surrounding me. Honestly, I was scared that one of us was going to get hurt. There was no police or safety people around and clearly no regulations on how to shoot off the fireworks. All I could think to myself was.."welcome to India Andrea...this is what you asked for....a place far different then you even know!"

I had signed up for a 21 day tour through the tourist areas of India. I was hesitant about doing it because I knew I was going to be spending far more money then I would if I were on my own. But a few months ago when I signed up for it, I was intimidated about traveling alone in India. I said goodbye to Eimear and went to meet up with my group. There were only 3 other people in the group. Emma, a girl from England and then Steve and Debra, a couple from Australia. They are all very nice and I think we will get along great.
After only 2 days on the tour, I realize that it was a good idea. India is very intense and there is so much going on around you at any given moment. I am glad that I can just follow a group around and enjoy getting used to my surroundings for a few weeks. It can get really exhausting and frustrating having to figure out directions, prices, transport, and everything else when you are alone for the first time in a new country. So....I am looking forward not having to worry about that crap for a bit and just enjoying the country.
Our first day, Digvijay, our guide, took us to a few places around Delhi. Our first stop was the largest Muslim Mosque in India. It was beautiful, but I was a bit put off at the entrance. There were all these men barking at us to pay rupees for every little thing. We had to pay to bring our camera in, pay to have them watch our shoes while we go inside, pay to wear the mandatory robe around our clothing and so on. I decided not to bring my camera in because it wasn't worth the $6 it would have cost and I didn't want to give them my money anyways. After the Mosque, we went to a Sikh temple. This was a completely different experience to the Muslim Mosque. We were asked to take our shoes off and put a scarf over our head, but no one asked for any money for it. Once we were inside, we were invited into the worshipping area and we were able to sit down a listen to the live music and watch the Sikhs praying on their knees. It was such a lovely and peaceful setting and I could have sat there for hours watching the people coming through to pray. I honestly don't know too much about Sikhism, but my guide describe it as a mixture of Muslim and Hinduism. Obviously, there is much more to it, but I won't try to explain it all in this blog. Besides the religious aspect, the Sikh community is well known for opening their doors to their own worshippers and outsiders as well. Behind the temple was loads of dormitories and apartments that they open to people for free or small donations. Also, there is a large dining hall where they serve meals for free or small donations. We were able to go into the kitchen and help the ladies bake bread and see the huge pots used for cooking for 100s of people. Mainly, it is other Sikhs that come to use these facilities. And you will never see a Sikh begging on the street for food or money as they are always taken care of at the temples. Apparently, they are a very wealthy religion and put the money back into its worshippers in this way.
The traditional Sikh men are very intimidating at first because they wear stark white linen clothing with blue turbans. Most of them have long facial beards. Across their shoulders they wear a knife much like you would if you had a sword. This is the traditional dress and both men and woman would wear the knife in the past for protection. Nowadays, the knife is simply worn for traditional reasons. When I would walk by these men I was scared to make eye contact, but when I did their faces lightened up and they gave me a head nod and gentle smile. Unfortunately, I connect men in turbans with war and terrorism, which is a terrible thing for me to think. Obviously, there were so many good people around the world practicing different religions and it was really neat for me to have a peak.
I realize that them welcoming outsiders in to view their religion is a way to gain followers and spread their word. Don't worry...I am not planning on converting into Sikhism. However, I was very impressed with the temple and facilities they provided. It was also nice to not have to pay to learn about and view these things as the previous Mosque had done. Pictures were allowed to be taken, but I felt that it would be disrespectful. It would be like someone walking into a Catholic church mass and snapping I just walked around admiring this religion that is so foreign to anything I have ever seen before.
We took a 17 hour train ride to a city in Rajasthan called Jaisalmer. This is the largest city closest to the Pakistan border and is smack dab in the middle of the desert. The town is actually a huge fortress that was built in the 12th century. Today, the fort is still in tact and one of the few forts in the world that is still inhabited. 1/3 of the city still lives and works within the fort. Our guesthouse is inside the fort and we are literally sleeping within the walls of this ancient city. It's sand colored and the light of the sun reflecting of the sandstone is a site to see. Tomorrow we will spend a few hours learning about the history of the fortress. I am so excited to finally be in India....I think the next few weeks will bring many interesting experiences. Well, that's it for now...hee hee....sorry for the long blog :)

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Annapurna Base Trek

Ok - I have a quick update since my last blog. Apparently, the Muslim dude from Tajikistan is a legitimate person. He asked to be my friend on facebook and his profile page checked out. Either that...or he is one hell of a con artist :) So...with that said, perhaps I may have over reacted a tiny bit when I was with him. But given the circumstances and the dodgy characters around that area of town, I think it was pretty understandable for me to have my guard up. There is no doubt that the other men that approached me where touts of some sort.
I just really hope the Tajikistan guy never finds my blog.....because, well...that would be a bit awkward.
Let me first begin with saying that Nepal is awesome. I will be as bold to even say that I think it is my top favorite country....tied with Ecuador of course. This will not be the last time I visit, there is so much more that I need to explore.
My guide's name was Nyrma. It was really nice to have him along for the hike because there were certain parts where I did not see other people for awhile. However, turns out I paid a lot of money for an "English" speaking guide who admitted to me (well along on our trek) that in fact, he does not speak very much English and actually studied French. So....that was a bit frustrating for me since the whole reason I hired him was to teach me about the culture and chit-chat along the way. Nonetheless, it was good to have someone around. Plus, he carried my bag the entire way.
We started off our hike in a small town called Naya pol. As I mentioned in my last blog, there was a Hindu festival taking place. Goats were sacrificed and most of Nepal, besides the tourism jobs, were on a 3 week holiday. Within the first 15 minutes of walking we came upon a small crowd. I peaked through and saw that there was a headless goat laying on the dirt pathway. One man had a blow torch and was burning the hair off of it. It was a startling sight for me. I met a girl once in Laos who watched villagers butcher and take apart a cow in the middle of town. I asked her if it freaked her out and she responded nonchalantly with "You should be able to kill the animal that you eat." I agreed with her statement and admitted that my knowledge of meat was reduced to sanitary packages at supermarkets. Sure, during my travels I have visited open markets where I have seen meat hanging on hooks in 100 degree weather. I have also seen large pigs roasting over a fire while people peeled off the skin to eat. But the blow torching of a headless goat in a pile of dirt was a new site for me. I quickly made a mental note to stick to a vegetarian diet along the trek. It actually wasn't going to be difficult to eat vegetarian. The primary meal for the Nepalis was a dish called Dal Bhat. It consists of a heaping portion of rice with a side of fried potatoes, spinach, and some sort of chutney. Then there is a bowl of watery lentil soup that you pour over the rice. If you order this dish, you can have all of the dal bhat that you can eat. It is what the porters live off of and is actually quite tasty. Since meat is rarely eaten, the people get most of their protein from lentils. It is a good high energy meal. For curiosity though, I did try a piece of goat later in the trek. It was fatty and tough. I also had soup one night and commented on how good the sun dried tomatoes where....only to find out that I was eating dried yak meat. But for the most part, I stuck to a vegetarian diet.
The trekking routes weren't open to tourism until the late 1950s. The routes were basically "super highways" that the porters and villagers used for trading. Still today, these routes are filled with porters and pony caravans carrying supplies from village to village. Most of it now is catered to tourism, but it is neat to know that there is so much history in the steps that we were taking.
Later on in the day, we came across a Nepalis family coming down a steep hill. They were taking a break on the side of the path. I noticed a large basket tied to the back of one of the younger man. The older mother was tending to the basket. As I came around the family I looked and saw that in the basket was a grown man who appeared to be physically and mentally disabled. They cut out the front part of the basket for his legs to hang out. This family must have been heading into the city, perhaps to celebrate the Hindu festival....and they were carrying their grown son in a basket the entire way there. Physical or mental disabilities are a life changing struggle for families anywhere in the world. In America, though, we have resources and government help (handicap accessible areas, community programs and schools etc.) In the Himalayan villages, there are no such programs or help. How difficult it must be to live each day with those sort of problems. My admiration went out to the family carrying their son down the steep steps of the mountain.
The first few days of hiking, we crossed through the low level mountains in areas of lush green and rushing rivers. It was beautiful, however, the weather was a bit cloudy and I still had not seen any mountain peaks. It was 2 weeks before the height of the hiking season....and the rainy season had dragged a bit longer then usual. I was really hoping that this wouldn't ruin the mountain views I had ahead of me.
The next morning we woke up at 4:00am. There was a viewing at the top of this place called Poon Hill. It was supposed to be outstanding for sunrises. I strapped on my headlamp and we began the 1 hour walk up the steep hill. The whole way up, the sky was filled with clouds. I was really disappointed inside....was I really not going to see any mountains on my Himalayan trek? I spoke to the mountain, cloud, and sun gods as I hiked up. I just told them to give me a view....the tiniest view and I would be happy. When we arrived to the top it was still dark and you couldn't see much. After a few minutes, Nyrma pointed out into the valley and when I turned my head I saw my first mountain peak. It was a dark shadow against the slightly lighter sky. The clouds appeared to be rolling off the mountain like a wave in slow motion. I had the biggest smile on my face. It was day 3 and I was seeing my first glimpse of the almighty mountain range. I sat on a tree stump and watched for the next hour as the sun made its way up and the clouds slowly descended from the turned out to be an extraordinary view. As the sun rose you could see the light hitting certain edges of the mountains and they appeared to be glowing. Hello Himalayas! (there are pics on Picasa of the views)
When we returned I ordered a yummy pancake with peanut butter on top. Half way through eating it I came across a fly that had gotten stuck in the batter. In fact, most of the meals I had, contained strands of hair or pesky little insects in them. We used to joke in Ecuador that it wasn't a genuine Ecuadorian meal unless you found a strand of hair in it. It is much the same here in Nepal. Everything is cooked to order in these small kitchens with gas cookers. The Nepalis woman have long dark manes of hair and some of the houses have no windows to block anything from coming in. The meals were good and hearty, but you always had to have an inspection before eating.
As we continued walking this day, I noticed that my breathing was getting harder and harder. We were now around 3000 meters (almost 10,000 feet). The previous days I was pretty impressed by my fitness level and how good I felt walking. But on this day, I was not as cocky....the altitude was making it a bit more difficult.
At this point I was walking with a Finnish and Australian guy. They both had guides as well. We stopped in a little down for a rest. There was this little baby monkey sitting on the chair. Unfortunately, the locals probably bought the monkey to use as a way to get the tourists attention. I went to pet the monkey and give it some love as I rested. When I sat down, it climbed into my lap and fell was so sweet. There were a few kids in the town and I practiced my Nepalis phrases that I had studied. I asked them how they were and what their names were. They just giggled and laughed at me.
To help Nyrma practice his English, I tried to ask him questions as we walked. One day I asked him if he had a girlfriend. I thought it was a reasonable and normal thing to ask. He turned really red in the face and laughed and then told me that he had a wife...not a girlfriend. "Oh that is you have kids?" I replied. He laughed more and conversed with the other Nepalis guide that was near us. Then he looked at me and in broken English said "My wife told me not to never trust other women."....then he started walking faster and I was a bit confused at the sudden awkwardness. The Australian's guide spoke really good English and told the Aussie that my guide thought I was hitting on him. Which is not at all what my intention was and I didn't think that I gave the slightest hint to that idea. As it turns out, many of the Nepalis guides sleep with the foreign woman on the treks. This was news to me and I thought it quite hilarious that my guide thought that I was pursuing him.
Nyrma may have been good to his wife, but the Australian's guide on the other hand was what we would call a "player". He had local girlfriends in most of the small villages and a fiance back in Kathmandu. I guess those type of men live all over the world :)
For a few days the Australian guy hiked with me. Unbeknownst to me, there were hand signals and secret conversations between him and our guides about him trying to hook up with me on the hike. After several days of walking together, the Australian guy told me that our guides were surprised that we hadn't slept together yet. This statement took me by surprise and I just sat there staring at him and wondering why in the world he was saying this to me in the first place. He went further on about how he could tell that I wasn't interested in him, though. I still stayed quiet as I wasn't sure what type of response he wanted...he was right, I was not interested in him like that. A few moments later he went on to say "In fact....I am not interested in you either. You seem like a nice girl, but I probably wouldn't sleep with you. I'm sure you don't hear that very often from men, do you?" At this point I was really in shock by the ridiculousness of this Ham of a man. He went on...."But you see that Chinese girl over there? I could seduce her in 10 minutes I bet."
Uhhhhh was this guy serious? He was also right again. Most men don't tell me after knowing me for 2 days whether or not they would sleep with me. I don't think that is a very normal conversation to have. I just gave him a weird smile and walked to another table and sat down. What a class act this guy was when I realized that you can get stuck on these treks with the most unusual people. Here I was trying to be "one with nature" in the Himalayan mountains and somehow it turned into Sex Trek 2009!
I had decided to keep walking and doing my thing. I was not going to converse with this guy unless he started the conversation. He was really beginning to annoy me. But for some reason he trotted along next to me and continued to talk as if the prior conversation was nothing awkward or weird for him. I gave him one word answers and tried to concentrate on my steps.
When we arrived to the town where we were staying the night, the lodge was full. It turned out that I was going to have to share a room with the Australian and another Finnish guy. I was pretty thankful there would be 3 of us in the room. This lodge was packed with people from all around the world. There was a Korean family, a Romanian couple, a Spanish man, 2 German girls, the Finnish, the Aussie, and me. We all sat around a big table for dinner and had fun playing cards and chatting with one another. The Australian wasn't annoying me as much now that we were in a big group and I had other people to talk with.
The next morning we were going to do the long walk to the Annapurna Base Camp. We needed to go up 1000 meters. This is the day that a lot of people got altitude sickness so we were going to be taking it nice and slow. Once again, the Australian began his walk with me. I tried to not let him annoy me this next day. He was definitely a true class act and someone I would never be interested in, but all in all he was harmless. In chatting with him, it helped me forget the steep mountains we were ascending. Throughout this day it wasn't the altitude that got to me, but I developed a killer cold instead. My throat got sore and I sneezed and coughed constantly. I think the constant change in temperature and rain and my lack of proper clothing led to my sickness. We arrived to the top of the base camp at 4320 meters (14,000 feet). Because of the weather, you could not see any of the glorious mountains. To make matters worse, the lodge was booked up again. Even the dining halls were booked. It turned out that we would have to sleep in a tent that night. To avoid sleeping in the same tent with the Australian, I got set up in a tent with 2 Korean girls and a Chinese girl. I tried to speak to them, but they were very shy and didn't say much in return. Throughout the night I could hear the wind howling and the mountains roaring. Several times I heard avalanches in the was if the mountains were alive. Mother nature will you humble you so quickly in these moments.
In the middle of the night I had a weird stomach pain and realized I needed to rush to the bathroom. As I hobbled out of the tent I looked up to see the cloudless sky and the Annapurna mountain sanctuary surrounding me. No one else was around and I could not believe the site. It was astonishing. After I went to the bathroom, I sat at a table for a few minutes and enjoyed the view. Little did I know, it would be the only time I would see the mountain range like that....the rest of my time there would be cloudy.
The next morning was a cloudy sunrise. At certain points you could see glimpses of the mountains but it was nothing like the site from the previous night. Since I was ahead of schedule, I decided to stay another night at the base camp. It would give me a chance to relax and improve my health. The Australian and other people that were hiking the same days as us moved on down the mountain. I walked up to the lookout point to have some time alone and watch the passing clouds. There was a monument lined with Buddhist prayer flags dedicated to all of the people who died in Annapurna. One of the most famous climbers in the world, the Russian Anatoli Boukreev, died in 1997 by an avalanche there. Many people have perished in these mountains. In fact, while I was trekking there was a Korean climbing expedition with 6 men. 2 of the men went missing a few days before I had arrived to the base camp. They were nowhere to be found and it was thought that they were killed by an avalanche as well. After days of missing, they were pronounced dead.
As I watched the mountains come in and out of view, an Austrian man walked by me with a cello case. He climbed this tall rock and set up his instrument. Finally, he began playing the cello. I just sat there staring at the massive mountain range covered in patchy clouds and listened to him was one of those surreal moments in life where you aren't really sure what is real or not. I was alone in the middle of the Himalayas listening to a live session of the cello!
The weather didn't improve too much that day but it was nice to rest and I met some really interesting people. It was a shame to not see the whole mountain sanctuary during the day without clouds, but there was nothing much you could do about it.
Nyrma and I set off down the mountain. What took us almost 6 days to climb, would only take 3-4 days to get down.
There was a bit of drama with my guide because the agency had told me that it would take 12 days to do the entire trek. Well...turns out a blind turtle could have done it faster then 12 days. We would walk for a few hours and then Nyrma would try to get me to stop and stay the night somewhere when it was only 12pm. I told him how I wanted to keep walking until well into the afternoon. Also, he was not honest with me about distances to the next towns to discourage me from wanting to continue walking. If I hire a guide next time in Nepal, I will underestimate my walking time. If I take longer, then I will pay for those extra days. I didn't know anything about the trek an assumed that 12 days would be fine. But at some points I felt as if I were being held hostage on the mountain because Nyrma would not let me do what I wanted. I knew the distances were possible and that he was just trying to keep me on the trek for more days. Finally, I told him that I would be fine to take my own backpack and continue walking without him. With his lack of English and telling me white lies about distances etc, it was difficult at some points of the trek. But, I realized that he was only trying to make a living. And he was taking me on the number of days that his boss had paid him for. Finally, I told him I would pay him for the 12 days but to please get me down in 9. It was a lesson learned on my part and I don't falter him for trying to do his job. Overall he was a nice guide.
The trek was amazing and if I didn't have a tour booked for India in a few weeks then I would extend my visa and do another trek. There is so much more to see in Nepal. Someday I would love to come back and visit all of the small villages where the tourists don't come to. This way I could grasp the culture and the people better.
Now I am in the enchanting town of Pokhara. It is much more chilled out then Kathmandu. Tons of hippies flock here for meditation, yoga, and drugs. The weather hasn't been too good though, so I have spent most of my time reading and journaling. In a few days I will be going on a 9 day river rafting excursion. There will be 8 of us in the raft. Last week 2 people died on the river we will be going on. The company did not have safety kayakers and the raft went down the rapids anyways. The boat flipped and the guide and another person were killed. I was a little worried when I heard about the news, but the company I am using has safety kayakers and the best equipment. It is also a reputable company in Lonely Planet. As my stomach nerves were getting to me about the rafting, I went online and read the news. There was a devastating Typhoon that blew through the Philippines and a horrible earthquake in Sumatra Indonesia. 100s of people died instantly. People die everyday and you never know what could happen tomorrow. I started coming to grips with the rafting....everything will be ok and it will be an amazing experience to raft through Nepal miles away from any civilization.