I’m sitting in my apartment with snow outside the window and wondering how I’ve been home for almost a month. The transition back to American life (and life without school, for the first time in my life) hasn’t been easy. There’s something about traveling that makes me feel like I’m living at my highest capacity. I wake up with purpose and fall into bed exhausted. I see things, I understand more about the world, I am quieter. I am my best self when I travel.
I have two blogs left for you all. This one is about the trek that we attempted in Nepal, and the next will be about the days we spent in Alex’s Nepali village.
Before we left, Alex mentioned that we might enjoy trekking. Nepal is very much a developing country – beautiful, but not without it’s struggles. 20 years ago, Kathmandu (Nepal’s capital) was the only city with reliable electricity. Today, much of the country has electricity, but the power is provided by the water rushing through the country’s rivers. During low season, the country instates systematic power cuts in different districts. If you’re in one of those areas, the power will randomly shut off. Being plunged into darkness is quite an experience. There have also been recent efforts implement squat toilets everywhere in the country. One of my professors was in Nepal 20 years ago, and he said that there was feces everywhere. I can say that there were toilets almost everywhere that we went, so Nepal is improving in that way, if slowly.
Trekking is one of the reasons that Nepal has transitioned into a more developed country. Trekking is tourism, because tourists want to hike in the beautiful Himalayan mountains. Pokhara, the country’s lake city, is the headquarters for trekkers. Most treks leave from there, and the streets are lined with small shops selling trekking supplies for low prices. Guide companies are headquartered there as well.
Because we were only in Nepal for 10 days, we decided to try the Poon Hill trek, which is 4-5 days in length. Alex is speedy, and she decided that we could accomplish the hike in three days. Knowing nothing about the terrain, Dana and I told her that we trusted her judgement. She told us to pack fleeces and running shoes, and maybe a snow hat and mittens for the top of the trek, which would take us to a look out point directly across from the Annapurna Mountain range on day 3.
We met Alex in Pokhara after our first Nepali bus experience and spent the night there before heading to the starting point of the trek. I was feeling sick – I hadn’t been able to keep down my breakfast – so I kept my head out the window for our entire pre-trek bus ride, avoiding throwing up. The bus deposited us by a small wooden shack built into the side of a hill. We ate some oranges and a piece of chapati (Nepali bread) before heading into the valley.
For the next six hours, we walked. The first four hours of the trek were fairly mild. The Nepali word for “flat” means “a little bit up, a little bit down” and that was what we experienced. It wasn’t hugely strenuous, and we talked most of the time. We reached our planned stop by 1 pm, so we decided to go on. I was feeling a little light headed because I hadn’t eaten much, but wanted to get the stairs out of the way.
For the next two hours, we moved at a snail’s pace. All I remember was stepping. Step. Step. Step. We climbed rock stairs that were built into the side of the mountain. Step. Step. Step. Donkeys passed us. We sweated. I struggled to breath. I remember that my vision went fuzzy around the edges several times and I wondered if I might fall off the side of the mountain. We eventually made it to a tea house, a small wooden structure for trekkers, and collapsed into their chairs. We drank 10 cups of tea that night, and climbed into our beds wearing every piece of clothing we’d packed. It was freezing.
The next day was less stairs, but it started to get snowy. Compared to the day before, though, the small hills felt luxurious. We ended up reaching Gondaruck, the town before the summit, in the early afternoon hours. The final day was summit day, so we woke up at 5 a.m. and finished the last 45 minutes of the trek. I don’t think I’ve ever been in so much pain. My running shoes slid on the ice, and I could barely see through the dark mist. I couldn’t breathe. I hated it.
But the summit was beautiful. We sipped tea as the sun came up over the mountains. Peace flags fluttered in the breeze, and the air pinched our noses with cold. After enjoying the view for an hour, we headed back down for breakfast. We planned to descend the entire trek on day 3, so we headed down the mountain at a fast clip. We were fine until the stairs – those damn stairs! – which made my knees feel numb and searingly painful all at once. We saw a jeep during the late afternoon hours and hitched a ride back to the city in order to make it home before dark.
Just last week, Dana looked up the trekking route and discovered that the trip was 24 miles, round trip. Suddenly, our pain and the subsequent week of hobbling through the Nepali streets made sense. Although it was different from the half marathon that I completed last fall, and different from the Tough Mudder that I ran last summer, the trek was still one of the most physically difficult things I’ve ever done. But those views, man. Those views made it worth it. I felt tinier than I’ve ever felt before. The stars, the unparalleled quiet, the hugeness of something not man made… those are the sensations I’ll log in my mind as some of the most valuable things I’ve ever experienced.