Wednesday, April 16, 2008

A Downer and Outer

I finally got the crud. After all the water I pour down daily (you can buy a bottled water called Penguin, ironically) I just lucked out. Jim says that every time I open and shut the spout to my drinking bottle, I spread germs on it. Good heavens. There are germs everywhere. Triple anything I’ve known in my life. I can’t decide what to touch and not to touch. Everyone’s hands just look dirty.

But here’s the deal. Yesterday was basically the final trek in Annapurna Region. The glorious peaks were at my back as we departed from Ghandruk. after a breakfast of banana pancake that was big plate size, and an omelette. I would never eat these things at home, but Jim keeps pushing me to shovel in the carbs and proteins for strength. It has helped, I hate to admit. However today, the banana stayed with me until the night, belching all way thanks to swigs of Sprite and I wasn’t a happy camper trudging two and a half hours down the usual stone steps. (It’s harder on your calves and knees to go downstairs, and harder on your puff and heart going upstairs, six of one, half a dozen of the other.)

However, this trek was on the "freeway." That means it’s the major via for men and women toting enormous bags and handmade sisal baskets stuffed with groceries. The path is about eight feet wide and it wanders through the farming area where I was impressed by the cleanliness of the tiny houses, usually offering a rest stop for trekkers. After the chicken man passed, and the egg man (Imagine the responsibility of that), wse noticed a lot of boxed fruit drinks (those awful sweet things) and toilet paper, which I’ve never found in any bathroom or hotel on this trek. It is still hard for me to see these people dripping sweat hiking up miles of stairs with baskets of loot on their back, but little children start doing this at an early age.

I was ready with "Hooray" when we reached the river, about 6 thousand feet below. We walked on another of those swinging bridges (I still cannot master that) but then ahead of us was about three more hours of my kinda cross country trekking, although this was in the proverbial rock path and I stumbled often. The jest of this story is that the sun was about ninety degrees. Remember the old Africa adage that only Fools and Englishmen go out in the noon day sun? You can check us off as "Fool." It was so hot energy was fading away at breakneck speed and my feet, which don’t get sore for some reason, were toting me on the best they could. At last when we stopped at one rest place (Coca-Cola stock must have risen these past few days with all the Sprites I drink for sugar kicks.)I got the brainy idea I’ve seen athletes do of taking my hand towel (drying on the outside of my backpack along with my handwashed underwear) passing it under cold water from one of the rubber tubes from which water pours at each dwelling, and then wearing it on my head under the baseball cap. It was instant air conditioning and for that reason I didn’t get sun stroke, I think.

Then we reached Birethani although a community of about 50 people, the hotel called Moonlight was the worst yet. Here was the true hole in the ground toilet outside (with none of the luxuries of an outhouse) and through the door beside it was the shower. Everyone in the community came to use that shower. A sink was against the wall outside, good for washing hands and teeth. However, I said I’d stay dirty for a night and hopefully the next hotel would be safer health wise. Jim sort of gets irritated at my reluctance to accept the inevitable in the poorest country in the world. I feel ashamed but we Americans are so over-conscious about germs, disease, filth, garbage, etc. It’s hard to break the habit. Meanwhile, I was sick as a dog and could only lay down in a depressing little cell on top of two mattresses (we always move the mattress from the second bed to the one I’ll sleep in to make it softer) and wait out dinner and the night. I tried to eat water buffalo yoghurt with some rice and sugar in it. That was about all. It didn’t help my nausea much. (Maybe I’m losing a few pounds?)

Today after hiking about an hour on a ridiculous road (I saw my first motor vehicle in five days), and then climbing up about a thousand feet, we arrived at the bus stop and a taxi was there to pick us up and drive us back to Pokhara. Talk about Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride! The taxi was Indian style with a flowered light green print covering the seats and the outside of the cab was chartreuse as well. The driver was a young Indian with long greasy hair who laid on the horn for the entire way - which was a good thing since the buses and landrovers coming the other way were flat out road hogs. Along the way, children held out hands of berries, so Jim wanted to stop and try some. They looked like tiny orange raspberries but I’m not going to sample in this state of stomach.

What has been the worst environmental problem for me is the constant odor of smoke. From before dawn, when families begin to build fires for cooking and whatever, there is this stench of wood burning that won’t leave your nostrils. We had passed three young and pretty Chinese girls who were sick and tired of their trek, according to their sherpa. Each wore pretty print scarves like bandit masks and hats that covered everything else but their eyes. I gather this was a habit they had learned in China where pollution is such a problem. Now I’m on the lookout for a neck scarf.

Well, to end today’s report, we finally arrived in Pokhara at what is considered a swank hotel - It rambles with healthy, clean, well furnished rooms. There is a SHOWER and a TOILET so I can get rid of what I need to rid of in comfort. There is even, dare I sway it, electricity and air condition. This place is called Fish Tail Inn, after the majestic mountain which you can no longer see. To get here we had to cross a low-key river on a raft where a pilot in khaki uniform pulled us across with a green rope. Tomorrow we leave early for Chitwan Jungle Lodge. It’s a five hour drive into the sweltering jungle of elephants, rhinoceros and maybe tigers.

Photos: Ghandruk (notice the stairs); the chicken man; the hair cut; close up of traveling chickens; washing; toting; offering wild yellow raspberries.

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