I had a mushroom and bean tostada for dinner, ratatouille for lunch and a croisant with espresso for breakfast. I’m no longer on the trail and I’m most definitely no longer in Myanmar. Nepal is quite different. Since I’ve arrived a few weeks ago, I’ve had little interaction with locals who aren’t in the tourist trade. It’s been like being in a bubble, isolated from the country.
This isn’t a complaint though. I’ve come here for the same reason as most people. To hike. And the hikes are worth it, and understandably isolated from the “real” Nepal. Locals simply didn’t set up towns at the high elevations that I hiked through. Shortly after landing I picked up and went to the Annapurna region. I hiked the Annapurna Circuit, with three days of side trips to Ice Lake and Tilicho Lake (”The Highest Lake In The World!”), then I added a trip to Annapurna One’s Base Camp. All very excellent. It took 16 days, with plenty of short days, but that’s still considered blazingly fast. They typical fashion would involve almost thirty days of hiking a few hours per day. That’s understandable in the high altitude region. Or in parts where the trial is stairs. The stairs are brutally steep and go for a long ways. It can be quite a pounding on the knees. But for a good portion of the trek, fast miles make sense in my mind. You’re transitioning along ROADS through lowland areas that at this time of year have few views due to the poor visibility of pre-monsoon polluted skies. Nepal has decided to build roads up many valleys. I’m sure that it’ll benefit many. But in the case of the Annapurna Circuit I’d be surprised if it didn’t kill the trek and thus the thriving economy of the area. And they’re building them for the express purpose of increasing tourism. Seems like a bad management choice to me! BOOO road building.
The towns, villages, settlements, and solitary guesthouses are one of the highlights of trekking in the area. Some have “real” components that are amazing stone enclaves that seem to date from perhistory. Imagine Mesa Verde at 13,000 feet and still inhabited. Then there are the guest houses. They make their money on the food as rooms cost anywhere from nothing to two dollars. Meals hovered just under $4. They’re a great place to meet others. Very social vibe.
As for meeting others. Here’s a mind bender. At a bus stop on the way to the trek I met a girl from Davis, Amber (she’s from Idaho). Small world. Then at the side trip to Ice Lake I met Andy and Katie (also from Idaho) who are excellent friends with my enemy (I mean good friend) Ben who worked with me in Utah. Andy and Katie knew Ben in college in Colorado. Small world. Then during this conversation, they started talking amongst themselves when I mentioned that I had I lived in Davis. They said something about blah, blah, blah Amber. They were talking about Amber, who they went to high school with, and I went to college with. And who I had just run in to after five years and hadn’t mentioned. Now THAT’S a small world.
On other fronts. I met a lot of other cool people and hiked with them on and off. The french guys who carried two wheels of french cheese, a whole smoked ham, a bottle of wine and two homemade liquers were of course a highlight!!
And so were the mountains. And it’s for the mountains that I’m extending my visa and continuing to walk for another three weeks in Nepal. Off to the Everest region.
My time in SE Asia is over. Tomorrow I fly to Nepal. I’m happy how I traveled, and not sad that I’m leaving. Myanmar, my last month, was the highlight. Just enough of off the beaten track excitement. It’s a wonderful country, with a horrible government. The people are exceptionally friendly with most people eager to practice english and extend some hospitality. I enjoyed the rigors of the country. Main roads turn to dirt and usually require one bus to pull off the road for the other to go past. Most towns had around 3-10 other tourists. Air conditioning was scarce for a budget traveler, and electricity was usually off so it didn’t matter.
I’m excited about the next step and totally unsure where I want to go after Nepal.
I’ve had a full social calendar. I’ve made no less than six friends who show up randomly at my hotel, seeing if I want to hang out. And yesterday alone, I was introduced to at least a hundred family members and friends. The morning started with getting picked up for a sight seeing tour (gratis of course). I was sandwiched on a moto by two of my good friends. We stopped at one of their houses to parade in front of his mom. “Look mom! No job, but I’m hanging with a white dude and practicing English!” Then next door to a friend’s house. I was upstairs to be struck in the face with the sight of two small boys splayed out near naked on the floor, only covered by a little gauze on their dicks and tshirts. Fresh circumcisions. Nice. The extended family continued to fan the sick looking kids, but really I was the center of attention. If I got circumcised when I was five, I’d be crying. Met the four generations. Ate food, drank tea. Outside in the street were some wildly dressed, wildly dancing Hindus. You know, just a random festival, no big deal.
Finally, on to the excursion for the day. Got on the motos. Drove out of town. Check point! They’re pulling us over for not wearing helmets. Whistles blowing, pointing, cops in the street. Friend on the back says to friend driving “pull a u-turn”! We did, and I proceeded to run from the cops in a country known primarily for police brutality. Oh well. So it was decided we’d take the back way. It turned out to be a LONG detour, up and over a mountain pass, just to avoid the check point. Finally, we arrived at the famous Sleeping Buddha. It’s said to be the largest in the world at about 180 meters. It’s one of those projects that’s not finished and likely never to be finished. Still, quite a quirky and fun place to go though. It was 182 rooms. Kind of the grand project of an architectural nutcase. Some of the rooms a filled with concrete statues depicting the story of Buddha.
Then on to grandmother’s house. Who we woke up. “Look! A white guy!” Then lunch at a ‘famous’, beautiful lake of which the only thing that I learned about was that women are not allowed. Just like in the head of the Sleeping Buddha. For lunch I was again granted special treatment. We ate the food that the restauranteurs had made for themselves. And got free dishes on top of that. After the ride back to town and a nap, I was again picked up for some socializing.
More friends, more family. Hung out at a friend’s bettle nut stand. Bettle nut is a drug that lots of men and women chew. It does nasty work rotting your teeth, and you spit red juice everywhere. I got to try wrapping the leaf bundles and ever chewed one myself. Spent a few hours there. Then walked down to the continuation of the Hindu festival. Oggled at men with metal hooks in their backs pulling strongly while dancing and men with 80+ metal spikes in their bodies that supported elaborate head dresses. I followed the crowd right in to the tiny temple and the heated, manic, sweaty, colored powder covered, culmination of the festival. Finally the day ended after a long dinner where everyone talked about religion. They’re amazed by my atheism. Myanmar is extremely devout and I’ve had multiple conversations about faith so far.
That was just one day.
On other fronts. It’s hot. Burmese food is pretty ok, but not great. I’m going to Hpa-An by boat today (one of the nicest trips in the country). Might not have internet for phone access for a while. Who knows.
As usual, I’ve done a lot.
Spent a great remainder of my time in Laos hosted by Denis Lagarde and family. Then took a night train to here. It was more like napping than actually sleeping. Yesterday, I basically went shopping. Went to the weekend market. Which I had been told was on of the biggest markets in Asia. I wasn’t enthralled but it was good. The most interesting thing about it was that amongst all of the shops selling cheap, fake clothes were shops selling stuff designed by the owners. I also went to the mall and got stuck in the area with luxury good stores, not about to find my way out for a long while.
Then today, more chores. Bought my Nepal ticket. Mailed off my photos. Bought replacements for things that I had lost or broken, etc, etc.
Bangkok is an enjoyable city. I like being about to take the sky train and a boat taxi around. It’s so much wealthier and modern and “western” than everywhere that I’ve been.
My eyes hurt. I killed five butterflies today by smashing in to them while riding my moto. One hit my sunglasses. I lucked out with the moto though. The buddy that I’ve been touring with had three breakdowns in three days. I only had to deal with four scarily loose bolts and one non-existant bolt.
My travels in Laos are coming to an end and they’ve been superb. Especially the last few days. Backtracking… Last night I stayed in a village at the mouth of a famous cave (Kong Lo). It just so happened that it was a party night to celebrate the full moon. So I got to dance my socks off, and gamble, and drink, and laugh, and play carnival games and eat with almost 2000 villagers and two other tourists. The region reminds me of the southwest (Zion in particular), except the rocks are black instead of red, and it’s a jungle. So beautiful.
That was the end of The Loop. Other bits included passing by almost a dozen large trucks ladden with hundreds of dogs in cages headed for consumption in Vietnam. And even more of the same trucks going the other way empty.
We rode by a huge dam site and reservoir. The first quarter or so was basically a tour of a development project like that. Quite interesting how they’ve built a very nice road to a remote area. Relocated the villages. And all of the nice pickup trucks driving about.
Stayed in a small village where the option for food was rice and vegetables. Anything else? No. Fun rats in the walls. Beautiful, hard rain. The reservoir goes right up to the village and the tree are still standing in the water.
My buddy Taylor’s moto broke down three times.
Swam. Saw another cave. Tried new foods. Today’s pick was Double Cheese Pork Burger flavored potatoe chips. mmmmm…. Food in general was pretty meager on the trip. Just not many options beyond noodle soup. The largest town that we stayed in had a restaurant named “The Only One” (but now there is another one).
Oh, and I thought I had worms, but now I don’t think so.