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 just us this year. On the outside, I have our up lights aimed at the best winter targets, since the trees are dropping their last leaves. I play around with the lights a little bit by putting colored glass discs on the end of some of my lights in my backyard. I have used red, blue and green. It dims the lights quite a bit, but it’s fine for a couple weeks as we get 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 for outside decorations. We live at the end of a dead end road, so virtually no one will ever see our driveway. We don’t particularly love to see all that stuff in our yard during the daylight hours, so we kept it pretty chill on the outside this year. 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. We also knew we had to keep on trekking in order to make it to the end of the 110 mile loop with 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 and 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 ourselves into. We were bound and determined 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, sat a small guard house at the head of a rope and wood suspension bridge. This would be the first of many river crossings we would encounter. There was no choice but to pass by he guard house to see what the Nepalese military man wanted from 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. If all we’d had were big bills, that’s what it would have cost us to keep going.
This guy was friendly but disappointed that we had the right change. The rope bridge wasn’t difficult but a little nerve-racking with the fast-moving snow melt river underneath us. The bridge was well-maintained and about 100 yards long. This kind of thing is why we came to this part of Nepal, j to be on a path less traveled. These are the quieter trails that would lead us deep into the Nepalese 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 4000 foot ascents followed by 4000 foot descents, day after day. The fronts of our legs would be as equally exhausted as the backs of our legs at the end of every day. We passed through villages along the way with inhabitants that 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 personal, relatable level with them. The women got so excited they would holler down to the next house, and a gaggle of women would come in 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 high pass at 17,000 feet. I hope those prayer flags are still flapping in the Himalayan wind somewhere up there.
On day two of the trek, we were still relatively low in altitude when we passed a small stone shepherd‘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 grew and propagated them 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 in people’s yards.
Another thing that surprised us and pleased us on that trek is that no matter how deep into the Himalayan boonies we got, just about every village we passed through had Snickers bars to offer. Not much else was available as far as provisions.. rice, dhal, oatmeal, onions and some other things we didn’t recognize were the regulars to choose from, but there were often king-size Snickers bars. The Snickers became the highlight of our days, and as we reached a tiny village, we would speculate if this would be a Snickers village or not. When it was, we would stop, take our packs off and rest while we shared a Snickers. It’s the small things in life that bring joy, and to this day, when I see a Snickers bar at the store, I can remember how weird it was to see something so out of place there 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 the end of one of our longer days, 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 covered the windows. As we quietly walked past these houses, someone called out to us and motioned for 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 offer. We were led to a room up some tiny steps, where we were surrounded by stone walls with kerosene lamps that made for a very unforgettable moment. The women that lived there were very quiet but 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 height? We sat there mesmerized by our surroundings, and with 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 would be warm. We thought this was wonderful and felt our bones warming immediately. She smiled and held her finger up as if 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. 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 pot of coals on the ground beneath us. She pulled the 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 this day off. After that magical dinner, we thought we had reached Nirvana, as we lay our heads down on the stone floor, tucked into our sleeping bags with our bowl of coals between us. We smiled at each other. Just as we were about to drift into oblivion, Mimi, with her blue eyes gleaming, pulled out a Snickers bar. She had secretly 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 altitudes with sights that will be very difficult 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 Snickers bar.