WE HAVE MOVED INTO our last week to set our final Christmas plans. Our gifts are purchased and wrapped up under the tree. The packages for the people who won’t be coming to our home this year are mailed and hopefully under their Christmas trees at their homes. Mimi has our house looking wonderful on the inside in order to have a great Christmas with lots of family this year. On the outside I have our up lights aimed at the best winter targets since the leaves are dropping their last leaves. I play around a little bit with them by putting colored glass discs that fit on my light cartridges on some of the ones in my backyard. I have used red, blue and green. It does change the lights quite a bit but it’s fine for a couple weeks to see those colors after the sun goes down and for an hour before the sun comes up.
This year that’s about all we’re doing as far as outside decorations. We live down a road where virtually no one will ever see our driveway and we don’t particularly love to see all the regular yard decorations in our yard during the daylight hours so we kept it pretty chill on the outside. Santa Claus doesn’t seem to mind, he still comes every year and eats our cookies.
Last week I wrote about our journey to get to Nepal for some trekking on the Annapurna circuit. The journey getting to the starting point of our trek was a great story with a couple near misses. We had prepared ourselves for some heavy physical challenges with the altitude, food and water issues and we knew we had to keep on trekking in order to make it to the end of the 110 mile loop in time to get back to Kathmandu for our return flight home. We chose our route around the 26,000 foot mountain to go counterclockwise because it makes climbing the 17,000 foot Thorong La pass safer in a little easier although there is nothing easy about that climb.
We had our visas and vaccinations for hepatitis A, typhoid, and meningitis. What could possibly go wrong? We hoped we had all the right gear as the weather can be very unpredictable at those altitudes. Luckily the weather turned out to be just what we hoped for, cool and crisp with clear skies. We noticed that some people had hired Sherpas to carry their stuff for them so they could enjoy the trek without all the extra weight. We looked at each other wondering what we had gotten our- selves into. We were bound and deter- mined to do this without any help so off we went.
A few hours into our first day we came across our first hurdle. In the middle of nowhere there was a small guard house size building set up just before one of the mini river crossings on either rope or wooden suspension bridges. There was no choice but to pass by the guard house to see why the Nepolis military man wanted us. I had a feeling I knew what he wanted and I was right. It would cost us a little bit to buy a “special” permit to cross the rope suspension bridge. It wasn’t much money and we had heard that this might happen a time or two on this trek so we were prepared with some small denominations of rupees because they don’t have change so if you have big bills that’s what it will cost you to keep going. This guy was friendly and disappointed that we had the right change.
The road bridge wasn’t difficult but a little nerve-racking with the fast-moving snow melt river under us. The bridge was well-maintained and about 100 yards long. This kind of thing is why we came to this part of Nepal just to be on a path less trav- eled. These are the quieter trails That would lead us deeper into the Nepolis lifestyle, connecting with the local culture while experiencing a wider variety of Nepal's most beautiful landscapes.
We knew that our daily hikes would be very strenuous with 4,000 foot ascents fol- lowed by 4,000 foot descents day after day so the front of our legs would be as equally as exhausted as the backs of our legs at the end of the day. We also knew that we would pass through villages along the way which inhabitants were extremely friendly to people passing through. We were invited into homes for tea and sometimes meals.
When we would indicate to those that heated up some tea for us that Mimi was three months pregnant it seemed to put us on a more relatable level with them. The women would get so excited they would holler down to the next house and a gaggle of women would come giggling to see Mimi, smiling and wishing her the best. Some even gave her prayer flags which she later hung up when we reached the Hipas at 17,000 feet. I hope those prayer flags are still flapping in the Himalayan wind some- where up there.
On day two of the trek we were still relatively low in altitude when we passed a small stone shepard‘s home that was covered with the most beautiful morning glory we had ever seen. I still don’t know how it survived the crazy weather but it was apparently pretty hardy. Each petal of these morning glories had a perfect white star on it. We had never seen anything quite like it. I roamed around a little bit to see if anyone was around, they must have been out and about but not far because there was smoke coming from the stone chimney.
I found some flowers that had mature seeds on them and filled up a small bag which I later poured into the cuff of my pants when we were going through customs on the way home. Bringing anything agricultural home is a no-no but we had to have these. We propagated the seeds when we got home. The seeds were planted in gallon pots with little trellises on them and sold at garden works. Some of you might remember them because they were so unusual. They were a big hit! We named them Himalayan sunset. We stopped growing them after the third year because we were hearing too frequently that like all morning glory they would take over an area if left unmanaged. I still have one that shows up every year in my front highway garden. I still see a few around town.
Another thing that surprised us and pleased us on that trek is that no matter how deep into the Himalayan boonies we could get just about every village we passed through had snicker bars to offer. Not much else was available as far as provisions. Rice, dall, oatmeal, onions and some other things we didn’t recognize were the normal things to choose from but there were always king-size snicker bars. The snicker became the highlight of our days. When we reached a tiny village we would bet whether or not this would be a snicker village or not. When it was we would take off our packs and rest a while and split a snicker bar. The small things in life that bring joy, to this day when I see a snicker bar at the store. I can remember how weird it was to see something so out of place that brought us so much happiness. I imagine we looked like Hansel and Gretel munching down on some chocolate out in the middle of nowhere.
I will never forget one of our longer days that ended just as it was getting dark. We were at high altitude and it was getting very cold very fast. I was beginning to worry about what our night was going to be like in those temperatures. We would have to break camp soon before it got much colder and darker. Just when we were about to call it a day we could see a village made up of about five stone houses. We could see kerosene lamps through some of the boards that cover the windows.
As we quietly walked past these houses someone called out to us and motioned us to come to their door. We felt like Mary and Joseph with Mimi pregnant and us looking for a place to lay our heads. We understood that they were offering us a meal and a place to stay for a few rupees. That was music to our ears, at least we would have walls around us and a roof over our heads. It was cold and we were too weary to pass on this. We were led to a
room up some tiny steps. We were sur- rounded by stone walls with kerosene lamps that made for a very unforgettable moment.
The women who lived there were very quiet and very busy fussing over us to make sure we were comfortable. We sat at the one table in the room. The table was very tall and the stools that we sat on were very tall. We wondered why the extraordinary heights. As we sat there mesmerized with our surroundings and the snow falling silently outside we were elated to be inside this beautiful setting. A young girl came in with a huge blanket to cover our table and our legs so we will be warm. We thought this was wonderful and felt our bones warming immediately. She smiled and held her finger up to say “wait this gets better.” We didn’t know what was coming.
She brought in some yak butter tea to make us feel even warmer and the tea is very nutritious after a day like we had just experienced. She held her finger up again, we couldn’t imagine what more she had in store for us. She came back with a giant pot full of hot coals. We thought maybe she was going to cook some fantastic meal on our table. What she did instead I will never forget. She pulled the heavy wool blanket that was covering our legs out of her way and scampered under our table to set the blazing pot of coal on the ground beneath us. She pulled a blanket back around our legs and all the way down to the floor. The heat was unbelievably soothing to our souls and our bones. She came out from underneath the table with a huge, beautiful smile on her face that we will never forget.
She held her finger up one more time. What else could she possibly offer? She came back into the room with a hot bowl of spicy soup and some delicious bread to finish it off. We thought we had reached nirvana as we lay our heads down on the stone floor in our sleeping bags with our bowl of coals between us. We smiled at each other. Just as we were about to drift away into oblivion Mimi, with her blue eyes gleaming, pulled out a snicker bar; she secretly had bought an extra one on our last stop just for an occasion like this. Now we had reached nirvana! It was lights out, or should I say kerosene lantern out, after that.
I’m going to have to pick up on the story next week because I’m out of space. The next part of the journey gets very interesting and I get myself into a little trouble. We will be heading into some very high altitude with sites that will be very hard to describe. Until then keep yourself safe and sound. Let the people you love know you love them. This season might be rough on someone you know, hopefully you can brighten up their kerosene lamp a little with something as simple as some warm words and a snicker bar.