The big come down (aka le End): Annapurna Day 20

COOLPIX S2800471We left for this in darkness.

1.5hrs later, 300 meters higher and hundreds more people, all was revealed: sunrise on parts of Nepal’s Himalayan range.

COOLPIX S2800437Poon Hill. This was the finishing touch to our trek: one last, closer view of the Himalayas before we got out of the mountains for good and laid down for a long rest. Needless to say, it was an incredible view in all directions:

COOLPIX S2800478
This included the view of all the people with us who were jostling for position to capture themselves at the best possible angle in front of the all the snowy peaks:

“Your head is in front of the mountain face. No! To the left. No, a bit more. Okay, good! That’s fine. Here we go”.

Poon Hill is a finishing point for other trekking routes as well as the Annapurna Circuit, which means there were a lot of ecstatic people, celebrating their own peak trekking moment that included pats on the back, some misty eyes, and a lot of smiling faces.

We spoke with some people who were fulfilling a lifelong wish to be in this spot, while others were no less excited as they agonized over their light meter readings and the condition of their telephoto lens to help them craft their definition of an award-winning photo.

Amazingly, the one thing I didn’t see was a hustler selling a balloon blowup of the Himalayan range, T-shirts with the same, or offering photos transferred onto mugs. In these circumstances in North America, it’s widely recognized as common courtesy to give people an outlet to transmute their emotions into a commercial transaction. And yet not even a single pin was for sale with sayings like: “I found my thrill on Poon Hill.”

Banksy would be duly impressed. Or he might have just sold T-shirts: “Poon Hill is not my shill” to impress us even more with his ironic commentary?

Despite the joyful atmosphere on the hill, now it was the “must come down” part of the trek. And, unfortunately, we had a long way to go. Much like our plunge from Thorung La to Muktinath, we’d be jumping a couple of thousand metres downwards. : 2123 in all, over the course of the afternoon.

We set off on the knee-punishing escapade, and after only an hour, started our heavy regimen of taking breaks, which would invariably coincide with Nepalese going uphill doing things like this:

COOLPIX S2800481I was standing comfortably on a cushiony insole and one inch of rubber below that. Now notice what they’re wearing on their feet.

It was amazing.

We carried on with our knee grind downhill by ourselves, as Thakur, worn down not by the walk so much as our slowness, walked ahead at a pace that he could bear. With all our stopping, it’s fair to say we didn’t even register a pace, but more a series of false starts. Go for five, stop for 10. Go for five, stop for 15.

Our rest time increased as the sun came out and we scrambled for shade wherever it was hiding. During one shade break, we noticed something even crazier than someone carrying chickens on their back uphill in the punishing sun with sandals on their feet: an American family walking uphill with a 6 year old and 4 year old.

Currently they were managing a meltdown with their youngest daughter who was sitting down, head in her hands saying:

“I’m hungry! I’m hungry! How much farther?!!”.

I couldn’t believe it: parents had the patience and stamina to do this with kids who, because of their small legs, were in their own predicament as they would not quite be able to make it up each step without jumping a little.

As we both sat there, not really believing our eyes the mother asked us: “Do you know how much farther it is to a restaurant up hill?”.

It was at least an hour, and maybe more depending on how slow they were going. But I couldn’t tell them the truth. Everyone looked so wasted and worn out, I said:

“Not too far. Maybe half an hour?”. A white lie, granted, but I thought it might offer some element of hope.

After that moment, as we passed this Swiss Family Robinson on our way down, I’d never felt better about our prospects of being able to finish. But first we broke for lunch: eating massive amounts of dhal bhat, which Rose and I realized would probably be the last lentil we’d see for a while: as we’d both been having steady dreams of devouring ribs, steaks, chickens, and all manner of other beast.

Donkeys, however, were not on the list. While we neared the end of the trek, we saw a pack of them coming downstairs:

COOLPIX S2800482As they trotted past, we both noticed one donkey with an open wound on its belly where the strap was attached (not the one above). The rubbing of the strap had broken the donkey’s skin, which was awful to see, and worse was imagining the donkey having to carry on in pain. While it was nice to think the donkey would be relieved of duty, it was unlikely given their value to traders: so was probably more realistic to hope the trader would patch him up enough to make his walk a little easier.

It was not the first or last injured animal we saw in Nepal or elsewhere in other countries in Southeast Asia. Where many people are living hand-to-mouth, and are themselves in bad health, it’s understandable that animal welfare is obviously going to be much lower down the list of concerns. However, it was still hard to see animals limping or nursing another injury.

And yet there are NGOs devoted entirely to street animals in Southeast Asian countries. While it’s a nice thought, I also find it pretty baffling. I love animals, but here’s a developing country where humans have shortened life expectancy, and you want to improve the quality of life for a street dog?

This was made even stranger by sights in Indonesia and India where, as a show of wealth and status, some residents wandered around with dogs on a leash as pets while, on the same sidewalk, street dogs scurried past them.

Okay, enough of that there eh. We have a trek to finish.

And it did in stages. First it started with a sign Rose and I passed on the route:

COOLPIX S2800484Then the final stage, two hours later. Here was the finish line, festooned with prayer flags.

COOLPIX S2800485Once across, we got in a taxi waiting for us, and sat stunned from the realization that we didn’t have to walk anymore.

20 days, 1000s of calories burned, and one patchy beard that looks like it belongs on a 15year old:

IMG_3512We were done. Ca suffit.

Au revoir.

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