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Musings About Family, Travel And Gardening With Allen Martinson.

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Poon Hill Incident




Just before Christmas I was writing about a journey that Mimi and I had taken in Nepal. To refresh your memory Mimi was three months pregnant with our son Max. Our daughter Mia was three years old and was spending time with Mimi‘s parents while we trecked around the 26,000 foot Annapurna circuit. We were a little over halfway through our 110 mile loop around the great mountain and feeling great. We had not seen many other treckers at this point, we had gotten into our grooves and our being there in January the views have been spectacular due to the crisp blue skies. Our next challenge was coming up the next day, one of the main reasons we chose this route was to climb Nepal’s highest pass. We would wake up early and ascend the eight hour path to high camp and onto the 17,000 foot Thorung La pass. The view from this pass was of the Kali Gandaki Valley and many peaks in the 26,000 to 27,000 foot range. We stayed up there for as long as we could take it. The winds were strong in the temps were very cold.



At first making it up there was exhilarating enough and the view was so stunning that the cold didn’t creep in for a while. Once we began to cool down we knew we had to move on after taking as many photos of the prayer flags with the white mountains andthe blue skies as a backdrop. We still had to make it down some steep Paths to Muktinaath.This was a place that we were excited to see. At the foot of the pass is a holy place for both Hindus and Buddhists. It is one of the highest temples in Nepal at around 10,000 feet the temple blended right into the side of the rocky mountains since it was made of stone. There were some monks there who were very friendly that were happy to show us around the crazy labyrinth of seemingly under ground, actually carved into the mountain, of passages in rooms lit with kerosene lanterns. We sat down for a while and had some tea while having some laughs while motioning to them that Mimi was pregnant. They began to fuss over her and started bringing blankets and building a fire. They were preparing a place for us to sleep.


That was not why we went in there, we really wanted to see what this temple looked like on the inside, but we couldn’t pass on thei kind offer after the eight or 10 hour day we had just endured, our legs were tired. The buzz of the energy that we were feeling from the monks was totally revitalizing and fun. Later that night someone showed up with a hot vegetable broth and noodle bowl that knocked us out under our warm yak hair blankets. Someone tended to fire all night to keep us warm. I still remember that being one of the deepest sleep I have ever experienced. The next two days we were still in open country that was dry and windy with breathtaking views in every direction. We crossed many suspension bridges and we’re  beginning a downhill path through riverbeds towards the Apple capital of Nepal. Once we got there we saw a few apple trees along the way. The apples were very small and tart. There must have been a lot more apple tree somewhere growing on some terraces on the side of the mountain but we didn’t see them. The village is famous for its apple brandy and apple Gardens. I guess being the only place with apples makes this place the Apple capital of Nepal. We were following a path now that was one of the most beautiful areas I have ever seen we were surrounded by 200-year-old rhododendron forests. We had seen lots of rhododendrons growing in the Appalachian trail hikes but never had we seen anything like this. Rhododendron in Nepal is known as Gurans; it is indigenous to the high Himalaya and is also the national flower of Nepal. Here In Mississippi they are known as azaleas. The blooms look very much like our beloved azaleas but the leaves are very different. There are 32 species of rhododendron in Nepal, ten of the species were in the area that we were hiking through. They are native in Nepal, India, Bhutan and Tibet.


We were not there for the full bloom that happens in March but there were some sporadic blooms on some of the 200-year-old trees. We couldn’t imagine what the Paths must look like when in full bloom with Himalayan backdrop. We vowed to make it back there one day to see it. That will have to be after our garden center days are behind us because we will never be able to travel in March or April as long as we are busy at our garden center. The name rhododendron is derived from the Greek words Rodas (meaning rose) and dendron (meaning tree). There are Bushy species and some tree species that can be 100 feet tall. Some of the species take 20 years to bloom. Some of the tree species take 50 years to bloom. We noticed that the rhododendrons at lower altitude were showing vibrant red blooms however as altitude increased the colors began shifting to pink and as we got even higher to around 10,000 feet they gradually became pure white. We hope to see the full bloom one day, we would like to do that whole treck again at a much slower pace. There has been a lot of work done on rhododendrons by nursery people to make it a landscape plant. Because of their beautiful flowers  cultivators have created 28,000 cultivars of rhododendrons for ornamental use. There is rumor that there is a heat tolerant rhododendron that will take the Mississippi heat. It hasn’t hit the market yet which makes me doubt it’s success but we can’t complain we have our azaleas down here, hard to beat. We are heading into our last few days of the treck. We are mostly staying below 10,000 feet and passing through villages more frequently than before.




My problem is that I tend to get hung up in the villages because I have to stop in attempt to communicate with anyone who will try. I love to see how the culture runs in a tiny village where there are no roads, no electricity, no Communication with the outside world. I’ll look around at what the structures are built with  and I have to wonder how some of the things got there. Someone had to carry corrugated tin for the roofs and supplies that definitely didn’t grow there. The walls are mostly built of stone from the mountains that surround them, I get that but the wood used as braces and Joists have to be hewn on the spot that the tree is felled. We couldn’t walk past an area where the wood was being hewn for someone’s house. It was incredible to see the perfect work that the Napolis people could do with the same tools they must’ve been using for thousands of years. Most of the wood being hewn was cedar and the smell was amazing.




They didn’t mind our sitting down to watch them work. They were just as intrigued with us as we were with them. Everyone had their part in the process. The men were moving the big stuff while the younger men and women shaved the wood to perfection while someone overlooked and taught them the trade. The little children were in charge of keeping the fire going and keeping the tea kettle hot while chasing each other around the sticks. I imagine the scene was one that was has looked very similar for a very long time. It was a family affair with lots of hard work and lots of playful laughter. We always had a hard time getting up and leaving a woodworking team because we knew it could be the last time we ever see anything like this. I suppose it goes on still today. Whenever I smell fresh cut cedar I go into a daze remembering those beautiful family collaborations. By this time we were on day 15 and we were getting weary. We were still energized by the scenery and the wonderful spirit of the place but our muscles were beginning to remind us that we would need to rest soon.



We had one more big push to go, one that we still talk about today whenever I get carried away in my pace. We call it the great Poon Hill incident. Mimi and I have taken a lot of hikes together and like anyone we have our own paces. We don’t always walk together, usually somewhat within view of each other, but not always within earshot. Sometimes one of us gets An adrenaline rush and take off pretty fast. When that happens the other one doesn’t expect them to slow down and the one with the sudden burst of energy doesn’t expect the other to keep up. It’s just a phenomenon that happens to runners, bikers and hikers. I get that rush even during a workday sometimes and I don’t fight it. I love it when it happens because it feels very spiritual and liberating. We know to stop eventually and wait on the other and rest up for a while. Well, I didn’t do the waiting up part on this particular day and I will be sorry until my last breath. PoonHill is a well-known climb in this area that offers magnificent views as the final days of the treck are upon us. We woke up at 4:30 in the morning on a cold mountain side. We got going in order to reach the top in time to catch the sunrise. We left our stuff and just carried the essentials because we would have to pass right back through there on the way down. We were moving on up at a pretty good pace in the darkness when I got one of those adrenaline rushes and took off. The problem this time is that I didn’t do that part that we normally expect each other to do. I was so amped up I forgot about the part when I’m supposed to stop and wait for Mimi. Before I knew it I had reached the top of poon hill and the sun had not risen yet and that’s when I realize that Mimi had not risen yet either. At about the same moment that I realized what I had done an English girl that had made it up there soon after me walked over to ask me if I was with a pregnant girl. I already knew I was in trouble when I said that I was. The girl told me that Mimi was sitting on a rock crying and having some trouble. Before she finished her sentence I was already headed back down Poon Hill to take my punishment. When I came across Mimi she had already gotten back on her feet and was seething her way towards me. I have to this day never seeing her so mad at me. There were no words that would cool the situation, I was in big trouble. We made it back to the top and I eventually stopped trying to make things better because every thing I said was making things worse. I had broken the unwritten rule, we were fatigued and she was pregnant. I do know when it’s time to stop talking and this was one of those times. We spent a quiet couple hours up there with the prayer flags in the eagle soaring overhead with the Himalaya gleeming white for as far as the eye could see. Mimi wanted to be alone to take it all in and quite frankly that sounded better than my being thrown over a cliff so I granted her that wish. We got our act back together before the descentbut to this day it still comes up from time to time. We laugh about it now but I’m always careful not to laugh too loud or too long, still a tender subject. We managed to make that entire treck without any injuries or stomach bugs which amazed me, we were certain that we would get some sort of bug along the way no matter how careful we were.


We made it until the last day. We made it all the way back to Kathmandu and went out the night before our long flight home to get something to eat. Mimi caught a bug that night and had to deal with it on our 40 hour journey back home. 

Those stomach bugs unfortunately are a part of traveling to Third World countries. She was glad that if she had to catch one that it was not in the middle of the trip which would’ve caused us to have to stop to recover which would’ve made it impossible for us to have made it to the end of the treck in time for us to make our flight home. We will always cherish the memories that  were made on that adventure and are eagerly awaiting a time that we can go somewhere for another otherworldly adventure.

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