Month: November 2014

While you wait…

For another installment of our Nepalese tour, here’s video of it put together by Shari and Michaela – sisters who we walked with on the Circuit.

 

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High altitude waiting: Annapurna Day 6-9

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Day 6: Upper Pisang – Nawal

Rejuvenated and headache free, Rose and I set off en route to our next village stop, Nawal. This meant climbing once again, but not at the same steep rate we had the day before.

In fact things started off nice and easy. The terrain was flat as we wandered through a forest, with mountains on either side. It felt a little bit like hiking in Alberta. While it was peaceful, and easy going at first, my mind in its overactive imagination having made a link to Alberta, decided it should make things more exciting. Rather than keep the experience simple and leave it at enjoying mountain views in the tranquility of a forest, I thought about danger, calamity, what kinds of perils can you find in the forests of Alberta? Two seconds later, the answer was clear: grizzlies. Teeth, claws, the ability to snap our bones and eat us for breakfast, the entire malicious picture had formed in my mind.

Carefree walking had now taken a hike.

With this new image in mind, I became vigilant, remembering something from a previous village where I’d seen a poster of a bear as one of the animals that live in this area. They were out here, I was convinced.

Inevitably, I heard a sound. A rustling to our left behind a tree. It was loud enough that everyone looked, but I was the only one who loudly said: “Jesus Christ” and moved back as I pointed at the animal.

It was big and dark and was slowly snacking away on something hidden behind the tree. In the previous village we’d seen a poster for a missing hiker, and I was sure we’d just found him.

As I backed up on the trail pointing, I was pretty sure I knew what the animal was and before I prepared to run I confirmed: “A bear?”.

Thakur, looked around and laughed, and Makala and Saree did the same.

It was a cow.

Oh-kay, false alarm. We were safe.

However, any image of me as a rugged Canadian in the eyes of the Australian sisters died on site. Really it was only a matter of time. And, in truth, I’m not sure it had formed at all.

After bypassing the dangers of a rogue vegetarian beast, we came upon a mani wall (the image above) – which is a Buddhist prayer wall that contained a bunch of stones inscribed with various Buddhist chants/prayers:

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It was aptly placed, because above us was a 300 metre, steep climb – and we’d need all the help we could get.

It was a trudge uphill, which we carried on for 1hr30 as other hikers passed us in half the time. Hearty we were not. However, at the top, all was forgiven as the views were amazing and our grumpiness was soon overtaken by huge helpings of dal bhat.

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After lunch we ran into a little boy on the road, who sang the refrain of all little children we met on the trail: “SWEETS! CHOCOLATE! SCHOOL PEN!”.

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Of that combination, a lot of well-meaning trekkers opt for giving kids a school pen, thinking in their minds that they’re contributing to the educational development of an impoverished nation. While a noble thought, the reality was much different, as we learned that many of the kids would take the pens to sell back to trekkers after which they’d likely spend the money on sweets or would take the pen and barter it for sweets between friends. So, really – all paths led to candy – and since we didn’t have any, we met a fair chunk of pouty kids who were happy to see us go.

And yet, reading blogs and hearing other trekkers suggesting to give kids toothbrushes and toothpaste when asked for candy, I felt we were better off dealing with kids’ disappointment from us not having anything rather than kids’ anger from being patronized by an adult. I remember despising adults on Halloween who handed out apples, in what I took to be a self-satisfied way – “I will not contribute to the degradation of bad teeth”. So, pouty faces it was.

Nawal lay around this corner:

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Once we passed, we came across another animal I’d been waiting to see, while not as vicious as a grizzly, it could do definitely do damage if bothered:

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Yaks!

As we saw these two milling about, Thakur, made yak noises at them. I followed his lead and did my best impression. Right after I did it, a much crisper version bellowed out from above us on the trail. We ran.

After turning around, we saw that a yak had been sitting above us on the trail, and based on the strangled sounds I made, we may have narrowly avoided a mating charge. Travellers are always hearkening for an authentic experience, so at very least I could bring that to the table with fellow travellers:

“We just trekked the Annapurna Circuit, stayed in local guesthouses, ate and drank local food, and sat on squat toilets in the middle of frigid nights”, fellow trekker.

“Yeah, I did that. Plus was sexually assaulted by a Nepalese yak”,

“Oh?!”, fellow trekker.

“Given its size, it was an amazingly tender experience”.

Our narrow miss brought us into the village of Nawal where we stayed for the night:

We did a quick tour, and found the now obligatory gompa, prayer wheels, and this massive tree growing around a cement stupa, adjacent to the gompa:

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I think we were in bed at 730 again – next stop Manang for a two day rest to get used to even higher altitude.

Day 7- 9: Nawal – Manang

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This was one of the easiest days we had. Looking back at Nawal (picture above), we headed to Manang, across more or less flat trail, with more mountain views:

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And, a lot more yaks (I left the yak calls to Thakur. I trusted he knew how not to send mixed messages.)

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We rolled in around midday after an apple pie in the village beforehand, and came upon Manang, which we quickly saw was a massive waiting room. All trekkers spend two days here to acclimatize to high altitude, which means down time, and a lot of people. There were makeshift movie houses showing Himalayan related films like: Seven years in Tibet and Kundun plus more cafes, where even at 3500metres, deprived Western travellers could enjoy “freshly” ground espresso.

There was also a medical clinic that offered a free lecture on altitude sickness, and the symptoms one could expect. We sat in and took an oxygen saturation test, which measures how much oxygen your body is currently absorbing. Apparently a rate of 85% was average. Rose went first at 88%, and I came up with the same. While it felt a bit reassuring, we were also told the results weren’t proven measures against getting sick – only guidelines. In other words, not to worry, we could still get sick.

Wonderful.

We spent two days here catching up on laundry, did a bit of climbing around the place, including passing a glacial lake (the colour of the river next to yaks above), which again, I found reminiscent of Alberta (Banff).

And, I even wrote postcards to my family (any sign, anyone?).

Now the trek had entered the big point which we’d, in many ways, been training for in that we’d been ascending at a slow pace to acclimatize. The next stretch would take us to Thorung High Camp, the highest altitude at which we’d sleep, followed by the big trek over the mountain at the highest altitude we’d experience – 5416metres – through Thorung La Pass. Now, tragically, the site of where the avalanche struck five days after we passed.

Next stop the BIG climb.

Talk soon

PS. We’re having issues transferring photos of a camera and there may be a slight lag in getting to the next instalment. Instead, I may jump to Thailand, and then jump back. On va voir.

Beasts, Burns and Turns : Annapurna Day 4-5

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Day 4: Timang – Chame

“TO THE LEFT!”, Thakur shakes his walking stick at us, urging us to move towards the stone wall and make way for the oncoming herd (one of which you can see above). Good news: we all quickly shove aside safely. Bad news: my hand now feels like it’s submerged in boiling water. In my surge to the left, I’d also grabbed a leaf on the wall, which, according to my luck, happened to be stinging nettle.

I never thought about this plant in my life, and hence never doubted its name. But I can vouch, in this instant, the botanist(s) who named it were really on the money.

My hand feels like it’s on fire.

And, in truth, it also feels like a scolding. I thought I was pretty agile getting out of the way, and briefly saw myself not doing too badly at the Running of the Bulls. Now with my fiery hand, it’s a burning reminder, that I’m probably (and really quite literally) overreaching.

Thakur, however, has a remedy. It’s the plant growing right next to the stinging nettle, which he explains is the antidote to the burning effects of its next door neighbour. Sure enough, after he rubs this second plant’s leaves all over my hand, it numbs the burning, allowing me to focus on other things apart from the pain like, when exactly is the Running of the Bulls?

Thankfully, that would be the only incident of the day. We didn’t have the same taxing time of the day before, as the route was flat for once, with nary a big incline in sight. So, we took our time, stopping on the way to have what the Annapurna Circuit is also known for – apples (straight ahead behind my bag):

image We later ran into someone else on the Circuit, who, after eating one piece of apple pie after another along the route, said that it was like “An apple-pie trek”, and got excited about his expression. The truth is many other clever minds had beaten him to it: and the Circuit has had the slogan for a while – funnily enough, we did see this trekker after we’d both completed the Circuit, and he explained that he laughed after getting online, seeing that his tagline had already been enjoying a long life.

Before we wound up our day, we ran into some more animaux, strutting along, on their way to a village farther down, maybe to carry more riders uphill?: image We rolled into Chame, our final stop for the day, at around noon. It was a built in rest day (half-day) for us, which didn’t work for others who we’d been trekking with and were on a tighter schedule. So they pushed on as they saw us drift off in to our guesthouse where we hung some laundry, then plopped down outside, unapologetically, for an afternoon nap.

Afterwards, Rose and I strolled the village, visiting a Gompa (Buddhist shrine) which had a single, massive prayer wheel inside: image On our way back, we passed more prayer wheels in the middle of the village, plus had a run-in with a young, but determined motorcycle gang: image We were now firmly in a Buddhist region and would see prayer wheels and flags everywhere, including in our next stop, Upper Pisang, where I also sat in on a Buddhist ritual, and Rose had a brush with the effects of high altitude.

 

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Day 5: Chame – Upper Pisang

By looking at the adjacent map, and from the name of the village to which we were headed, you can guess what general direction we were headed in today. It also marked a milestone of sorts: we’d be cracking 3,000meters (9,800feet) for the first time. While altitude sickness can hit at a lower altitude, with our highest altitude of the entire trek at 5416, after today it would mean we we’d be just passed halfway there.

To underline the point, and as inspiration for our day’s journey, we had an early morning view of Annapurna 2 mountain (I think), peeking over the ridge ahead of us, as we set out:

image We moved through forest for a little bit, until we emerged onto a new road that had recently been carved out of the side of the hills with the help of some well placed dynamite. This was a common gripe for trekkers on the Circuit, many feeling the road diminished the experience of walking through Nepal. While I would later agree: after walking on the road, eating dust from passing buses and jeeps, I didn’t find it a big deal on this particular stretch, where occassional motorbikes passed without much dust in their wake, and the views remained incredible: image On the mountain ahead, we also began to see the effects of altitude. The reduced oxygen at higher altitude created a horizontal border where you could see where the trees stopped growing, and alpine plants like lichen and moss, that could get by on less oxygen, took their place: image Unfortunately, Rose also began to FEEL the effects of altitude. She started getting a headache about halfway through our walk, which got progressively worse the higher up we went. I got nervous about it (no surprise), but I later learned in these situations, hitting the holy shit button was still pre-emptive. The effects of altitude have a sliding scale of severity – apparently, most people will experience a headache of one sort or another on their way up: what’s most important is to see whether the headache goes away or gets worse, leading to nausea. If it hangs around or gets worse, the general rule is to go down in altitude to readjust your body before going up again.

While Rose admitted her head felt like it was in a vice, it was still too early to make a call of what to do next. Thakur recommended she take a Tylenol, and see where things stood after that. We eventually made our destination for the day: Upper Pisang, which, to me, was one of the big highlights of the trip. It looked a bit like a medieval village: image something that you’d see in a Lord of the Rings film or Game of Thrones (I haven’t seen the show, though Makala and Saree suggested it worked): image As Rose got drugged and had a quick nap, I explored a Buddhist gompa at the top of the village. After a burning hand the day before, my luck now appeared to have changed, because the monks were conducting a ceremony and inviting guests in to watch. I had no idea what was happening, but watched the Lama recite Buddhist verses as other monks chanted, and a musical section blew through massive horns.

While this was happening another monk walked around with a bowl of popcorn and other treats, offering visitors a snack. The whole thing struck me as a great, informal approach to worship/devotion: much different than some of the more pious, somber rituals I’d cringed through in Anglican Church.

Nevertheless, I didn’t go quite as far in my exaltation as some other Western tourists, whom were sitting, cross-legged in what I suppose was a meditation pose, and after the monks had finished a particular chant, opened their eyes, looked over to Makala and said: “Wow. Can you feel the energy?”.

Though, I didn’t hear it first hand, I’d thought if someone had said it to me, I would have liked to reply: “Oh, didn’t mean to disturb. That’s the lentils I just had for lunch. Sorry about that”

In any case, thankfully their were no more disturbances on our side, as Rose’s headache cleared up by morning, coinciding with another peek at Annapurna 2 peak (again, I think) looking over at us, as we got ready for our next push to the village of Nawal, on the other side of the mountain. image Talk soon