Nepal IV: Start, Stop, Start

Mon 7/25-Tue 7/26, days 40-41

Amy:

We were supposed to leave for GP Monday morning at 6 am, but the prime minister resigned Sunday and now the Maoist Party is calling for a general strike. Nepal’s civil war ended about a decade ago and one of the compromises made was that there would be a lot of compromises. So the prime minister resigns and a different Communist party calls for a strike, so we get an extra day to get ready for our trip. We were just going 30 kilometers (about 20 miles) north. But hanging out at home for another day was a little anti-climactic. We helped with a cleaning blitz and the chores got done in half the time. And as fun as doing chores are, they are not as fun as starting your adventure. We kept checking the news to see if the strike turned violent or would be extended until tomorrow. A few taxis broke the strike and were stopped and their taxis were burned. They take strikes very seriously here. For the most part, it’s just a day off for everyone. Very few businesses are open and no one is on the roads, including us. The strike ended that night and we headed to bed early, 5:30 am always comes faster than you think.

Lizzy had a pair of hiking boots that fit perfectly, and a pair of thick hiking socks, and they loaned us: a headlamp, sunscreen, 2 neckwraps, and I’m sure other things I can’t think of now. Pretty much we were the most unprepared hikers in the world. Or at least that’s how it felt to me. Nate said we couldn’t possibly even know that. I’m not so sure.

IMG_6938Yogya picked us up nice and early with a gassed up SUV and a sense of adventure. This vehicle was much higher than any of the taxis or vehicles we’d been in so far. Traffic was very light at 6 am and we made good time heading out of town. I was very puzzled at how it would take us 5-6 hours to go 30 kilometers. That’s very, very, very slow. But as we climbed the hills and jerked over huge holes and up muddied streets, it began to make sense.

The green, vibrant green always gets me. I was in something out of a movie or National Geographic. The terraced rice patties going up and down and up and down. Everything covered in water and everyone still out and about. Numerous times we’d have to stop to check out the integrity of the road. Someone ahead of us would wave us on, but Yogya often would get out and check for himself, of which we were thankful. We had a long time to get to know each other. A story time of sorts. How did you meet? Where are you from? How long have you been married? Why are you traveling around the world?

Which part of Nepal are you from? How did you get to Kathmandu? How long have you been here? Why do you go to these remote villages? And on and on and on.

We were really thankful that Yogya was our guide. He’s one of the founders of Five14 and we just felt safe. He had a few other treks he could have gone on, but he led us to GP and we felt so lucky.

Time and time again I said, “I can’t believe we’re doing this. It’s a dream come true.”

We stopped for tea and chatted with some French kids who had been in Nepal a few months doing a service project with a school. There was some type of village meeting going on that was very interesting. I didn’t realize this would only be one of many, many, cups of tea I’d be offered in the next few days.

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The hills were so green. I’d look again and again and just be amazed at the color. Rice patties and waterfalls and terrible roads.

I have no idea how the vehicle kept going through some of the ruts in the road. We didn’t slide off of the side of cliff. Up and up, more mud and trees and things in the road. Going 25 mph feels like the Indy-500, twists and turns and more mud and giant buses on small roads. Every curve we honked the horn. The local buses were facinating to me. People sitting on top, in the rain, on colorful buses traveling quickly on narrow, muddy roads. I always wondered if you pay less to sit on top of the bus.

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We entered the Shivapuri-Nagarjun National Park and the roads improved. For a little while. There is limited building and development in the park, but the villagers reach critical mass in some spots. Unfortunately, the earthquake damaged and destroyed a ton of houses, schools, and businesses. The area is in a state of rebuilding. From the vehicle it was tough to see the human determination and incredible effort that we would once we had our packs on our back. Random piles of red, red bricks, poised for some construction. Five14 actually met with the GP villagers last year after the earthquake and helped facilitate a discussion as to whether or not to rebuild the village in its original location. The villagers decided that if Five14 was willing to partner with them that they would like to try and rebuild in their traditional area. Over the past year nearly 20 structures have been rebuilt.

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After about 4-5 hours of winding, we stopped for lunch and as it turns out, jammed rocks under the wheels (so it wouldn’t roll off the hill), and pick up our packs and left the car. We left the car. The car was behind us. Now we had 5-6 hours of hiking. That had to be a joke. How was I going to walk for 5 hours? We hiked 15 minutes to get to a spot where Yogya knew a guy that would make us lunch. He doesn’t normally have lunch ready in his restaurant, but Yogya called and he made the dal bhat much less spicy for foreigners. Yogya also encouraged us to eat the traditional Nepali way: with our hands. Now I eat sandwiches, pizza, fried chicken, and snack food all with my hands. I don’t know why it seemed so strange to use my hands to mixed the rice and lentils and then stuff them into my mouth. But it did. Nate tried it first and looked like a natural to me. Yogya explained the “trick” is to use your thumb to push the food into your mouth. Sounds easy. I tried it and it was fine, but it really looked like a young child had eaten at my spot on the table. I feel good about the attempt, but I think I’ll hold off on renouncing cutlery.

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We were served more tea and we were full and it was time to hit the road. With the SUV left behind, the restaurant owner/chef actually led us out through terraced rice patties. They were walking so fast, or maybe I was walking so slow. Regardless, I began a narrative: unprepared hikers do 5 hour hike in record 7 hours. We had what we thought was plenty of water, but it was hard walking up river beds, or going over old landslides, or balancing on stones to get to the next stone so you don’t get your feet soaked. We ran out of water about halfway through and there was no where to buy water. We had a water filter called the Sawyer Mini and asked a local for some water. It was strange filtering someone else’s water. Almost rude. I know I wasn’t saying, “Your water makes me sick!” But the process of filtering and filling and refilling was a bit strange. But even Yogya didn’t drink the unfiltered water. There seems to be a belief that getting diahrrea once a month is health. I wasn’t wanting to find out. We were told that locals understood, westerners had to be careful or get sick. It was still a bit strange.

There were times when I really didn’t think we would be able to hike for five more hours, or four more, or three. I wasn’t sure how fast we were going, because it really felt slow, so I never really knew how much closer we were getting. If the estimate is 5-6 hours and we’re going slowly, 2 hours in would mean there were still 5 hours until we got to GP. At one point I asked Yogya was there a stopping point in case we couldn’t make it. He was vague. That was not particularly reassuring, but he didn’t seem worried.

We passed a group of men, huddled around a huge tarp with a whole bunch of cut up wild buffalo. Giant bones off to the side (probably the jaw bone) and huge hunks of meat everywhere and skin still on it. I couldn’t look at it and the smell of blood was so strong that I had to walk very quick ahead of the guys to get away from it. Each guy was taking some of the buff (as they call it), all I knew is that I did not want to watch.

On the way up we stopped and talked to people on their way down. Well, Yogya talked and I tried to catch my breath. One group was taking a woman down to amputate her leg. I think she was still walking at this point. She had an infection or something. A few hours later they passed us on the way up, carrying the woman back home after surgery. Nate and I didn’t realize this until later in the day that it was the same woman, who must have been in incredible pain. Yogya said he even stopped and talked to them and we were standing right there, but so exhausted or in the zone or out of it that we didn’t even realize it was the same group. That’s how hard it was. In my head I was vowing to do training next time (yes, we’re going back).

HCMW5514Nate and I were drenched in sweat, Yogya was barely perspiring. It was an easy walk for him and an intense hike for us. It was basically hiking up old rocky, river beds. More technical than difficult. There were nervewracking points climbing over landslides. They looked pretty old, but I worried that it could start again at any time. We also saw fresh landslides. There was so much water. Waterfalls every few feet. Some that disappeared to the top of the hill, and the hill disappeared into the clouds. Clouds and mist really surrounded everything. Like walking in a haze. When we stopped to catch our breath (mine) the views were just incredible. Yes, I wanted to see really tall mountains, but here was a different kind of majesty.

We kepted hiking and I hoped it would get easier; it didn’t. I was incredulous with myself that I packed jeans. The more weight in my bag, meant more on my back and my human power was resposible for carrying that up the mountains. Jeans would just be wet and clunky and uncomfortable. I remember thinking I should bring them in case it gets cold. Now it was just dead weight and my legs were tired.

I was afraid to ask how much longer the hike was because I was afraid that he would say we were still really far away. Finally after 4 hours, Yogya said we were 9/10ths there. Really?! Yes, really. It was such a good feeling. The hike got a little bit easier. I was pretty proud that we had done it. Or almost done it.

We reached the village gate about 5 hours after we had started hiking. We climbed the hill and sat our bags down and some kids followed us up the hill. Normally when you arrive at a place, you get a little space. Especially after 10 hours of traveling, I was ready for some down time. But in the village, that isn’t the first thing you do. You catch up with your friends over tea. So that’s what we did: listened to Yogya talk with the village leaders in their local language, which is different than Nepali; we watched children chase each other, shove each other, and climb rocks and show off. We were seated outside of the village general store, under an awning that had a cordless phone, plugged into the power grid. It’s a really neat network of phones between villages and it harkens back to the switchboards of old. A guy sits there with a notepad and paper and takes phone calls every few minutes and then relays the information to whomever needs it. It is the hub of the village and I felt very important sitting there and a little bit in the way. But it was a feast for the senses sitting there.

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We dropped our bags off in our room, which was very simple, with a sleeping mat and blankets on the floor and plywood walls and a door. The actual structure of the building has sturdy re-bar walls, filled in with concrete and a slanted tin roof. Everything felt wet. It was slightly damp, but all the same I just wanted to be dry. We hadn’t been dry since being in Nepal during rainy season. If I were to live here, I think that would be one of the most difficult parts. But yes, I could see us living in Nepal.

We continued our rounds to meet different villagers. We headed into one homestay and we were served more tea and roasted corn on the cob. But it isn’t sweet corn and there wasn’t any butter or salt or pepper, so it was very different than we were used to. It tasted like unsalted popcorn and though it wasn’t my favorite, I kind of liked it. The Nepalis pop off the kernals with their hands and eat them sort of like M&Ms. This was a sort of pre-dinner snack. We met with the village elder and a few others and Nate and I just listened and enjoyed the moment.

We headed back to our room to get freshened up and chill out before dinner. We were hungry. We wandered around a bit without Yogya and found him in the kitchen of the couple who was cooking our dinner. It smelled amazing. It was also difficult to get comfortable sitting on my little stool. I grabbed the ukelele and played a few songs with Nate. The man of the house, Valoo (which means bear), was cutting up some meat. Where did it come from? Yes, it was the wild buff we had seen on the bloody tarp earlier in the day. That was going to be part of our very special dinner including dal bhat of course. We were served some spicy fried soy beans. They made them less spicy for us, but still spicy. Then a bowl of the best parts of the buff. Not exactly sure what that means, but it’s heart, liver, cartilage, stomach, best not to ask questions. We did our best to eat what was put before us. Some of the pieces were so chewy that you just had to swallow it. I drew a line at the bone, but most of the chewy stuff was cartilege and didn’t taste bad, but did give your jaw a real work out. But the flavor was amazing. I can still taste it. We will need to find Nepali restaurants in Orlando. But up in the villages, the flavors are just unique. Replication will be impossible, so I guess we will have to go back and do an extended trek up to see the red pandas (I’m speaking this into existence, I figure if I say it enough, it will happen). After the buff, there was dal bhat. How was I going to eat any more? This was the fourth dish we’d been served, however in Nepal, you get a refill on your plate before it’s even considered a serving. So you’re eating buff and someone comes around and puts more buff in your dish. The same was true of the corn, and the soybeans, and the dal bhat. We were so full. So, so full.

That night as we reflected on the day, I was struck by how hard it was. Nate was telling the story of the day into the microphone and every 30 seconds I would interject how difficult the hike was. Though it was damp, I was exhausted. I remember the first night of our bike trip, leaving the rain fly off our tent, with no rain in the forecast and of course it rained. We poured a few gallons out of the tent that night 7 years ago, but had just biked all day and didn’t care about being sweaty, smelly, and damp. Tonight was nearly the same and yet so different.

IMG_7237Nate’s conclusion, “You don’t know what you’re capable of until you’re pushed to your limits.”