07 January 2008

Annapurna Episode I: The Gastric Menace

Here's what happened: about two minutes after I published the last post, I suddenly felt sick to my stomach and ran back to my room. What did I do, ye travel gods?? I didn't vomit, but plus two days for recovery nevertheless. So I ended up "enjoying" New Year's Eve in Pokhara (=hordes of drunken men from India roaming streets strangely absent of white people) after all. And, with all the time wasted on stomach upsets and whatnot, I decided to amend my plan and, like a coward, *not* cross Thorung La, the world's highest mountain pass (5400 meters). Instead, I took a cheap(ish) flight to Jomsom, the first major town after the pass. From there, I walked up to another town called Kagbeni, which sits at the entrance to the fabled Mustang Kingdom, where I assume they drive excellent cars. The Mustang Kingdom is a small Tibetan enclave buried deep in Nepal. The landscape there is parched and dusty like Tibet itself, and it's still ruled by a raj, even. The capital, Lo Manthang, is a walled, medieval city. Boy, do I want to go, but one cannot advance farther than the STOP! sign at Kagbeni without first purchasing a special permit. Cost: $700! That's not a typo! That's seven hundred, seven zero zero dollars. And it's only good for ten days, after which you have to pay $70/day for an extension. So I didn't go there... but I did manage to sell my Tibetan coat (from the prostration business) to a local family for half of what I paid for it. I explained to the woman how special it is to me, and she said she'd probably fling it around her ailing mother when she visits from Kathmandu. And then I walked back.

I had expected the conditions on this trek to be a bit rougher, but so far it's been TOO EASY. The "trail" is actually a dirt road that jeeps travel on, and at least every hour you pass through a Nepali town chock full of hotels (with hot showers), restaurants, shops (selling Bounty bars, which I love), and even bookstores and (as you can see) Internet access. I had expected I'd have to eat dhal bhat every day (basically rice and beans, the staple dish of every poor country), but in many cases, the dhal bhat is more expensive than, e.g., pizza or enchiladas. I recommend avoiding the pizza, by the way, but the enchiladas are delish. Tonight, I will be having apple pie and custard served with hot chocolate and rum (yum). Despite all this luxury, my daily expenses have hovered around $8. Recently, I stayed at a town called Tatopani, which literally means "hot water" and I sat in the hot water springs for two days. Why not, when your "expensive" hotel room costs $1.30? Tonight, my room is about 15 cents, I think, but I report this only for your amusement and amazement, readers, not because all I care about is how cheap everything is. Those Bounty bars are like a buck each, after all: quite a splurge.

Yesterday, my goal was to trek from Tatopani to Ghorapani (horse water!). The trail is clearly marked on my map, heavily used, and quite easy to find and obvious on the ground. Naturally, I got lost. When I realized I took a wrong turn, I asked a restauranteur if I could take a "shortcut" over a mountain rather than backtrack. Sure, he said, only an hour and a half to Ghara, a town midway between Tatopani and Ghorapani. Splendid! Four hours later, I did indeed arrive, exhausted and spent, in Ghara (got lost a few more times, too, once in a forest where I was certain I would die--that one was for you, Zach). So it took me an extra day to reach Ghorapani, but I was rewarded just now with a lovely view of the Annapurna Himal at sunset from the top of Poon Hill, 3180 meters. Spectacular! I sat for about three hours before the main event just watching the clouds gradually tear themselves away from the sacred, snowy peaks, drift off, and evaporate. How could I not end such an evening with apple pie and berummed hot chocolate? And off I go to do just that. Things are cheap here in the mountains, but not as cheap as in the plains. To wit: Internet access is around $5/hour! Egads!

Coming soon, Episode II: Attack of the Scones

1 comment:

emfbohn said...

Holy cow!!! Is this THE Steve Syrek?????? It's former LCGAgrrl Emily of those Medium days (remember me???) Anyway I've heard from a current staffer and they might want to do stories on alumni and what madness we're up to now. Looks like you might have the best stories of us all! Fill me in, ok? coachbohne@yahoo.com
p.s. I'm now living in your former hometown of M&M land, feel sorry for me???