A whole lot has happened since my last post, most notably the month-long trek to Everest Base Camp, but writing down the specific events that transpired upon this trek would take far too many hours and pages for me to bother writing or for anyone else to bother reading. So instead, here are some tidbits and observations from the damn near 3 months I've spent in Nepal, a few random stories that are hopefully worth reading, and a shocking and tragic conclusion that no one could have seen coming. Without further adieu...
Before I even left Korea, I decided that I wouldn't shave while I was in Nepal. Why? I've never had a big beard before, and it seemed that one appropriate time to grow one would be when I'm high in the mountains, trekking from village to village, in all probability wearing my red, white, and black checked lumberjack flannel. Of course, my original plan was to be in Nepal for maybe 2 months, not the 4 or so months that it is starting to look like it will ultimately be before I finally am able to pry myself free of this enchanting land.
I guess the whole giant beard thing is working out alright, but I will be getting a hot shave before I leave Nepal, since it will only cost a buck or two, and it's one more thing to check off my bucket list. Plus, I'll probably look 5 years younger. Bonus. The downside will be that I'll no longer look like Chewbacca, but you know the thing about beards? They'll grow on ya!
My pack on the Everest Trek:
My backpack is absurd. It's an 80 liter bag, and for the duration of the Everest trek (I'm presently on day 25 of said trek), it's been either close-to-full, so full that I have to attach things to the outside of it, or somewhere in between. What in God's name could I possibly have with me that would occupy so much room, especially given that I have no tent or sleeping mat, and meals are available (and cheap, at least compared to US prices) at teahouses located every few hours along the whole route I've been following?
Let me start by saying that if I weren't such a photography dork, my bag, and life for the last few weeks, would be vastly different. As for photography and photography-related gear, I'm carrying 3 different camera bodies (my old Canon 30D is just a backup in case one of my other cameras breaks) and two lenses, a 24-105mm f/4 and a 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6. That's enough techno-babble for now, but what this means is that I have some serious weight in cameras. The 100-400mm lens looks like a bazooka, and sometimes seems to weighs as much as one. I brought it to take pictures of wildlife, which unfortunately is almost non-existent.
I've also got a big external flash which has yet to be used in Nepal, a tripod that is probably about 2 feet tall when compacted and about 6 feet tall extended (doesn't fit inside my bag – it has to be strapped to the outside), 2 spare batteries, extra lens filters, a remote timer, cleaning supplies, and … oh yeah! A freakin' computer. And an external hard drive and mouse. All of these things require care to transport, whether it be on my body or in my bag as I trek, or in my bag on top of a hellish Nepali bus that makes a Six Flags roller coaster look and feel like a limo ride.
AND a 20 degree Fahrenheit sleeping bag, a couple changes of clothes, outerwear like a raincoat, gloves, hats, etc, a Kindle, a Steripen (If you don't know what this is, good. If you are thinking of buying one, don't.), running shoes, sandals, hiking boots that cause me to be in crippling pain every time I put them on, a backpack cover for rain, a first-aid kit, bungee cords, a headlamp and flashlight with extra batteries, a 'sleep sack,' which is basically a thin fleece liner for a sleeping bag that doubles as an extra padded case for my laptop as I trek, maps, a journal, a quick-dry towel, a generic Leatherman, 2 1-liter Nalgenes, a bag of random electronics (cords and mounts for charging, adapters, etc.), all the toiletries you'd need, including pills for the unforeseen, and a couple rolls of toilet paper – you have to provide your own here, although I've learned to go without, in the typical Indian / Nepali style, when the appropriate tools are available. I'll leave that one for you to figure out on your own, if you are so inclined. And then there are the things that have come and gone from my bag, like snacks and a rented down jacket, without which my time above 4000 meters in the Everest region would have been unbearably cold.
I never weighed all my stuff together, but it's gotta be above 50 pounds. Hopefully I'll get a chance to weigh it back in Kathmandu. I've seen porters carry bigger bags than me, but after close to 2 months of trekking in various regions in Nepal, I haven't yet seen a tourist with more stuff than me. I guess in the end I'll be glad I carried all this, since I'll theoretically have some kick-ass pictures, but there have been times when I've wanted to say “NO MORE!” and throw all this crap into a glacier, off a cliff, or into a yak-shit fueled furnace. But I only have one more week of dealing with this, as I make my way back from Namche Bazaar to Jiri on foot, and then to Kathmandu via bus.
When I left Korea, I weighed about 185 pounds, which at 6'-4” was probably a pretty healthy weight. I inherited a belt from another teacher at Beyond Advanced, where I used to teach English to elementary-school students, and I fastened it on the third notch at this time. When I use it now, which isn't too often, as it increases the chaffing and bruising that occur on my waist and hips because of my ridiculously heavy backpack, I have to use the sixth or seventh notches. And my ribs are fairly visible all the time. Picture Christian Bale in “The Machinist.” Or make your own inappropriate joke about death camp prisoners. It isn't that bad, really, but I am going to need to start doing some serious eating and upper-body exercises as soon as I'm back down in civilization, where food is cheap and there's enough oxygen to exercise. I don't know what I weigh now, and hope to find this out, too, as soon as I'm back in Kathmandu, but I'm willing to guess it is less than at any time since when I was in junior high or high school, when I was a rail. But my legs are rock hard, and I am hoping to try kicking down a door or two at my earliest possible convenience.
I used to be an anti-globalization nut, for purely romantic reasons. My thoughts on the matter have changed since, but I'll leave the debate and politics out of this paragraph and just mention a few related things I've seen here. Back in September, I saw a newspaper article in Kathmandu's English-language newspaper that shocked me with the following fact: Ten years ago, only 0.5% of Nepali people had access to a telephone. Now, 50% of Nepalis have access to a phone. Awesome, right? And there's nowhere that it is more apparent than on the trail. Not a day goes by, and on more crowded portions of the trail, not an hour goes by that I don't encounter an overladen porter (they're almost all overladen) trekking along happily, listening to Indian or Nepali music on the speaker that's built into his cellphone.
We live in a weird time. I haven't seen a car, truck, or bus for almost a month, and all the heating in this area is done with wood or yak-shit burning stoves, but there is cell phone service all the way from Jiri (in the middle of nowhere) to Everest Base Camp (even more in the middle of nowhere).
I once came around a corner and saw a Nepali woman with her back to me, dressed in traditional clothing sitting meditatively, looking out on a beautiful green valley with the imposing Himalayas completing the tranquil scene. Judging by the atmosphere and her meditative pose, I assumed that she was … yes! Meditating. I walked by as quietly as I could, hoping not to bother her attempts to reach Nirvana, and when I looked back a minute later, I discovered she wasn't meditating at all. She was texting.
The Annapurna Circuit versus my Everest Base Camp / Gokyo Trek
Gadgets and nicknacks
In America, if you pick up some kind of small nicknack or tool, like salt, soap, or a bag of rice, it's likely to say “Made in China,” “Made in Taiwan,” or “Made in Mexico.” Here, everything is “Made in India.” Perhaps there's some kind of link to my globalization paragraph above, but I'll leave this alone too. It's just kind of weird. I wonder if the world is at all shifting towards a “Made in India” market.
The Tragic Conclusion
I'm sitting in Namche Bazaar, where I hope to leave tomorrow, on foot, en route to Jiri and then Kathmandu via bus. But unexpectedly, I'm sitting here alone. Katie is back in America due to circumstances I'm not going to discuss here, but that neither she nor I had any control over. I only found out that I would be on my own into the foreseeable future yesterday. Needless to say, this came as a shock.
Katie and I had planned on finishing this trek, checking out a couple National Parks / wildlife preserves here in Nepal, and then going overland into India, and touring across at least part of this huge nation via train, stopping at landmarks as necessary to fulfill the tourist checklist. But now I'm on my own, and I'm just not sure what is going to happen. Everything just got extraordinarily complicated. Now, if I need to use the bathroom, I can't say, “Katie, can you watch my stuff for a second while I use the bathroom?” I can't take care of the laundry while Katie figures out where we are going to sleep that night. I can't even drink hot tea anymore, as Katie took off with the camp stove! (No fault of her own, and I wouldn't have room for it in my overflowing backpack anyways.) And finally, who the hell is going to get me out of bed before 10AM?
I'm going to finish off my Nepal checklist, which includes getting back to Kathmandu in one piece, eating a ton of chocolate cake at the Snowman Cafe, and then visiting Chitwan and Bardia National Parks, where wild tiger sightings are common, and when this is all done …
… I really don't know.
I'm hoping the next week, which I'll spend on a relatively empty trail (peak season has come and gone) with no company but my annoyingly large backpack, will provide some sort of clarity / answer / revelation, but in my experience this ever hoped-for moment of lucidity will remain as elusive as it is today.
I'm back to living day-to-day, and it's both exciting and terrifying. But more terrifying, possibly because I haven't been in this situation in a while. I'm considering finishing up in Nepal and heading straight to Vietnam to start looking for work. The advantage of doing this would be that I'd start off with more money in my pocket than when I got to Korea. And some form of stability. The disadvantage would be that I'd have to start working again. Not that teaching English is too stressful. On the contrary, it is (or was, in Korea anyways), a wonderful experience that earned me a great number of friends and a feeling of accomplishment.
Of course, there's also the original “overland to and through India” option.
Of course, there's also the “hang out on the beach in Thailand” option.
Of course, there's also the “See and photograph the awesome wildlife in Borneo” option.
Of course, there's also the “hang out on the beach in Indonesia” option.
Of course, there's also the “go to Sri Lanka, which I know nothing about” option.
Of course, there's also the “go check out Cambodia and Laos” option.
And of course, there's the “finish writing this long-winded blog entry” option.
If anyone has any brilliant insights, I'd love to hear them. Send me an email.
Oh, and one of these days I'm going to take a shower and wear a clean change of clothes. But don't hold your breath. Or do, if I'm in the room.