Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Langtang, Part 2

...Suddenly, Bino shouted something to me and I looked over and saw Ross being eaten alive by wild animals!

Just kidding. That was to freak my mom out a little. No, I looked over and saw 2 figures coming down the mountain! My heart instantly flooded with joy. But then -- "TWO figures??" I thought. "One of them must be dead! But which one?!" And just as my mind started racing in a hundred new directions, a third figure appeared from behind! YAAAAYYY!!!

Unfortunately we still had to wait half an hour until the three of them made it down the mountain, so it wasn't instant gratification like in the movies. When they finally made it down and we greeted them at the bottom, I ran up to them crying with relief, to the great bewilderment of the two people Ross had hiked with. I didn't care. I proceeded to cry, shout at Ross for worrying me so much, and hug him in happiness at the same time, like some sort of crazy woman.

It turned out that the 2 people he'd gone with were pretty hardcore trekkers. One was an English guy named Stu, and the other was a Swiss girl named Babs. Babs and Stu hijacked Ross and made him trek with them not just to the first peak, but to the next one, which was even higher, at 4,600m! That's why they'd taken twice as long as they should have to return. I suppose the lesson here is, never ever go trekking with Swiss people. They are way more fit than you will ever be and they will fuck you up.

This is what Ross was actually doing while I was imagining him being gored to death by angry yaks:

Click here to see a panorama from the 4,600m peak that Ross hiked up to:

After our tearful hellos, we had some lunch, let Ross rest for a little while, and then started our descent. We all thought that would be the end of that day's craziness, BUT NO. That's not how it works in the mountains. We stopped at a guesthouse in Langtang Valley after walking down for 2 hours. We were chilling out with some Nepali tea when we noticed the hosts of the guesthouse putting sticks of incense into little figurines in the kitchen. Noticing our confused looks, Bino explained that an old woman in the village had died a few days ago, so they were doing a ceremony to ward off devils from the guesthouse. Not only that, but every house in the village had to do the same ceremony within one week of the death.

They invited us into the kitchen to watch the ceremony, and I'm so glad they did because I'd never seen anything like it in my life. A lama (Buddhist priest) started chanting loudly in Tibetan and ringing a bell. (He would continue to do this throughout the entire ceremony described below, for about half an hour.) The little figurines that they'd made were on the floor in the middle of the kitchen. These represented the devils. While the lama chanted, another man cooked a meal of daal bhaat (of course) and spooned little portions of it next to the figurines.

Meanwhile, everyone was handed a little ball of some sort of potato paste and told to circle it around their bodies and heads 3 times to protect them from the devils. (We later realized that the figurines on the floor were made of this same potato paste.) Over in the corner, an old lady had a photo album of their family laid out, and was rubbing the potato paste over the pictures -- this was to ward off the devils from the family members who weren't present. So thoughtful.

Then there was a lot of throwing of food. The lama tossed corn, salt, and rice into the air as he chanted. (I kept thinking, jeez, this is going to be a lot of effort to clean up later!) Then the old woman made a little pathway on the floor using flour -- all the way from the potato figurines to the balcony outside -- and this was to give the devils a way to leave the house. Then the three of them suddenly shouted and whistled very loudly, ostensibly to scare off the devils, but mostly I think it just scared me. Finally, the two men picked up the figurines and carried them out of the house to take them down to the river, while the old lady swept up the flour path behind them as quickly as she could.

We ran over to the window to watch them take the figurines outside. When they placed them onto the ground, 3 donkeys started eating the figurines and the daal bhaat offerings! And that was the end of the ceremony. Everything went back to normal and we were served dinner shortly after. I couldn't believe how incredibly insane the whole thing was - after it was over, I rushed to get my notebook and wrote down as many of the details as I could remember so I could blog about it later. Always thinking of my dear readers, you know. If only we could've taken pictures!

As if to give us a bit of a break, the next 2 days were largely free of mishaps and just involved many hours of walking downhill, back to the first guesthouse. Perhaps the most exciting thing that happened during these days was when we stopped for a break at a guesthouse on our way down. Ross and Bino decided to have some Red Bull (to give them WINGS!), and suddenly a donkey approached and went right for the Red Bull! Apparently donkeys LOVE that shit, because this guy would not leave us alone the entire time we were sitting there. It was the cutest assault by a donkey I've ever had the privilege to be a part of.

(That bandaid is on my nose because, the previous day while I was staring up at the mountain in search of Ross for 4 hours, I didn't have any sunscreen and my nose burnt so badly that I got blisters! The things I do for my boyfriend.)

On our last day of descent, during our last 1.5 hours of walking, we were caught in a huge rainstorm and everything, EVERYTHING, got soaked, even despite having raincoats and raincovers on our bags. So much for all the rain gear we bought. Bino even had us put salt in our shoes, an old Nepali trick to prevent leeches during the rainy season. I made an impenetrable salt barrier in my socks and shoes, but after about 5 minutes of walking through the rain, my impenetrable salt barrier turned into a saltwater bath. Still, none of us got any leeches, so I guess the Nepalis must know their stuff after all.

On day 9, we were meant to take the bus back from the trailhead to Kathmandu, but it wasn't running due to a massive strike. The political situation in Nepal is pretty sticky - the government has had one year in which they promised to write a constitution, but in that year, they spent about 90 minutes working on it, those fucking slackers. The deadline had been that very day and they still hadn't finished, which was what caused huge riots in Kathmandu. Four buses had been burned there just that morning. (This is a typical tactic during the strikes, although they usually let the passengers off first.) This is why our bus wasn't running. Couldn't blame them, really.

Bino insisted that despite all this political insanity, no one had ever harmed any tourists, so we were safe to go back to Kathmandu if we could find someone willing to drive us. He explained that even the rebels understand that tourism is the backbone of the Nepali economy, so they wouldn't do anything to the tourists. I thought, if they REALLY understood that, they wouldn't do any of this shit in the first place, because guess what? Burning buses down generally scares tourists off, even if you (usually) let them off first.

We spent most of that day trying to organize alternate transportation back to Kathmandu. Over the course of the day we found 4 other people who wanted to share a ride with us: Irina, an older Russian lady; Babs, the Swiss girl that Ross had trekked with 2 days before (the mountains are such a small world); and 2 other people that Babs met, Beatrice and Steffen. Eventually we found a Nepali guy with a 7-seater Jeep who was willing to drive us back to Kathmandu for the extortionate rate of $150. (Cost of the bus: $6.) We had 7 people, the Jeep had 7 seats - everything seemed ready to go.

Unfortunately Beatrice and Steffen had 2 other people with them -- a guide, who for the sake of the story we'll call Asshole, and a porter -- who also wanted to get back to Kathmandu. But because we already had 7 people, they said they were happy to wait for another Jeep. Great, we said. Thanks.

But then a few minutes later, you can probably see where this is going, even though the driver had previously said that he wouldn't take more than 7 people, and even though there physically wasn't any more room in the Jeep, and even though JUST MINUTES AGO they had agreed to wait for another Jeep, Asshole threw a huge fit and demanded that we let him and the porter come too. He even approached Ross and me, and told us a story about how he was good friends with the driver, and the driver wanted to let them go with us. (Bino later confirmed that this was a complete lie. The driver did not know Asshole and did not want to let them in with us, but was too chickenshit to say so to them directly.)

Things quickly devolved into a really vicious argument between Bino, the driver, and Asshole, all in Nepali, while the rest of us watched angrily. Bino later told us that Asshole had threatened him, "I'll see you in Kathmandu!!" and had also threatened that he would pay the driver an extra $50 and take the Jeep all to himself. He basically threw the biggest tantrum I've ever seen an adult throw, even though there was no room in the Jeep for them anyway. In the end the 7 of us left without them. Asshole.

But all of this would be academic anyway, as we would soon find out. We set off on our ride back to Kathmandu around 3:30pm. The first thing that happened was that the car's Check Oil light turned on. This was an Indian car, so in addition to a little light turning on, a soothing British voice announced, "Please check the oil pressure for your safety." It kept repeating this phrase over and over, every minute or so, and then with increasing frequency and urgency as time went on, until we finally decided that we should probably stop and check the oil pressure for our safety. This took about half an hour.

After driving for another hour, we came across a huge flood in the road. A waterfall to the side of the path had overflown because of the heavy rain. The current was so strong that we were a bit scared it might slide the car right over the side of the mountain, so we decided that we would walk through the water while the driver drove the Jeep across. (He was quite a brave dude, for someone who couldn't say no to an Asshole.) It was seriously fucking cold, but we all made it over and hopped back into the car, elated that we'd overcome the last of our obstacles. Ha!

From left to right: Steffen, me, Bino, and our driver. Our Jeep is already across the water.

After another hour, we had to stop because there had been a landslide. The road was now impassable (a bit like my impenetrable salt barrier must've been to the leeches, but even better). Everyone got out of the car, completely exasperated. By this point it was also starting to seem that the older Russian lady, Irina, was a bit insane. She was constantly marching around with her camera, recording every detail of the journey. Until we figured out that she's a film-maker by profession, this really amused all of us. She would do things like randomly point the camera at one of us and ask us to narrate, right in the middle of the landslide. (Here is her website. She promised to post the finished video of our journey on there when it's finished!)

This is Bino walking across the landslide before they cleared it:

Here, Irina asked me to film her walking marching across the cleared part of the landslide. In the foreground, Beatrice finds this absolutely hilarious.

Meanwhile, every time we started the car, the soothing British voice would recommend, "Put on your seatbelt for a safe drive." After encountering a landslide, wading through a freezing cold river, and being threatened by a very angry Nepali man, we couldn't help but laugh at the irony.

In the end it turned out that they wouldn't be able to clear the landslide that night, so after all that effort, we had to drive an hour back to the nearest village, spend the night, and try again the next day. For 4 hours of driving, we only managed to get about 14km that day.

The next morning, as we were about to leave again in the Jeep, Asshole strolls in to our guesthouse! I told you the mountains were a small world. He announced that there was now a bus going to Kathmandu, and ONLY Beatrice and Steffen were invited onto it, and the rest of us weren't. What a fucking child. Steffen decided to go with him on the bus to save money, but Beatrice had had enough of Asshole's shenanigans and stuck with us in the Jeep. Which was cool, because I liked Beatrice and would've been sad to see her go with Asshole.

We piled into the Jeep once more and started our drive for the last time. We had to hang around for 2 hours waiting for the landslide to be cleared, but they finally did it. Once we crossed it, the rest of the drive back went smoothly (almost unbelievably so, given the massive clusterfuck of the previous day).

Bino fell asleep on me on the drive back, and Ross couldn't resist snapping a photo:

So that was our trek. The second half of it seemed to be a bit disastrous, but like I said, somehow I had fun nonetheless. We met lots of interesting people, had many new experiences, and got a hell of a lot of exercise. I absolutely want to come back to Nepal again and do more trekking someday, a sentence I never thought I would hear myself say (or feel myself type).

Also, you should all go look at the pictures, because they're fantastic. :)

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