Round the world in 15 days!

How to describe a trek that was so long, so varied, and so incredible?  We started out expecting a wild and snowy land, with moments of exhaustion and cold.  While we did find a bit of that, we also found luxury guesthouses with hot water (!), incredible pumpkin curries and homemade local apple pie, soothing hot springs, and some very interesting people. 

Day 1-3: We started out armed with a porter/guide named Krishna (pictured with the funky hair below), new woollen mittens, and soft, tender feet!  Our first few days were low altitude, so the weather was hot and there was lots of agriculture, people, and busy towns.  We followed a noisy glacial river the whole way, and our hotel rooms often looked out over it.  We breezed past the Maoist checkpoint, unfortunately forking over $30 each, a sizeable sum considering the highest we paid for accomodation on the entire trek was about $3.

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We saw lots of interesting people and sights, including a 65 year-old man who carried a 65kg pack on his head day after day, and quite a few ‘chicken men’.  The reason for this madness is that these towns are only accesible by foot, so all goods have to be carried/donkeyed in for up to 7 days!  It made for quiet peaceful walking!

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Day 4-7:  We began to climb higher, and rounded the hills to enter a large glacial valley, with our first up-close view of the most majestic mountains in the Annapurna range – Annapurna II, III, and IV, and Gangapurna rising to our left.  The air became quite chilly and the land less inhabited.  Although farming was no longer evident, the ‘donkey train’ ensured that fresh food was still available, and we discovered the homemade apple pie, which was INCREDIBLE.  Our guide was working out very well, being lots of fun and incredibly knowledgeable about where to find the best bakeries and local cuisine.  There was lots of local culture to see including a new monastary, and we met a few very friendly local people.

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Day 8-9: After 8 days of buildup, we were finally nearing….THE PASS.  Being located at 5400M, the highest pass in the world, we found that the guides and other travellers really hyped up the difficulty and danger of this part of the trek.  The night before we made ‘our summit bid’ we stayed in a lodge full of sick and anxious trekkers popping Diamox and aspirin like candy.  We made serious waves in the crowd when we mentionned that we had skipped our ‘acclimatization day’ in favour of continuing towards the next apple pie stop.  But we figured that with the extra fuel, it would be a breeze.

(claire) Well, Seth annoyingly DID find it a breeze, more or less.  However, I did not.  It was probably the hardest physical day I have ever had, although I did make it over.  It took 4 hours of climbing to the top and the severe lack of oxygen made me take about a full breath to every step.  Seth took a funny video in ‘real time’ of my progress, but it definitely looked like someone put it in slo-mo.  But if I turned around, I would just have to try again the next day, and I sure wasn’t going to do that, so I pushed on.  I don’t remember a lot of the last hour of climbing, the top, and the first hour of descending.  I got a splitting headache and felt pretty dizzy, sort of in my own little world, and Seth luckily realized by the top that we would need to descend quickly.  Luckily it was a quick descent and I was feeling better in a few hours.  It was pretty scary though, and my body took a few days to feel normal again.  I was still proud of my determination and now I can be part of the altitude-sickness club with laura.  (it’s a pretty exclusive club!)

(seth)I would like to think that my incredible physical strength and determination was what got me to the top, but the reality is that it is more likely to do with spending time at high altitude before (although never this high).  The first hour in the dark reminded me of a series of paintings by one of my favorite artists.  As the sun rose behind the impressive Annapurna II and IV it looked like “The Domination of Light” by Magrite.  Truely beautiful and a fit distraction from the cold of -12C at 4500m.  After sun was up we found ourselves in a barren landscape dominated by rock and snow.  Whit little to look at and no altitude headache I pushed until I reached what I called ‘hypoxic euphoria’, a condition similar to ‘the zone’ that joggers experience, but occurs at only a walking pace.  We reached the top and sat in the tea house for some cookies and tea.  Strapped to the pillar was a small balloon with a red Canadian flag, left (I presume) by Justina and Lifa only 2 weeks earlier!  Claire was not looking good at this point and kept telling me to give Krishna more cookies. He was not disappointed and in no hurry to leave.  We snapped a quick photo and pretty much ran down the 1600m decent to Muktinath, where we enjoyed the hottest showers of our trek and local popped corn.

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Day 10-12: The next few days were shorter, as we recovered from our climb.  We passed through the ‘windy valley’ which is absolutely the most reliable wind we have ever seen (every day at 10am on the dot the massive wind comes up).  In Marpha we tried some local apple brandy, and made another bakery stop (luckily we were walking everyday otherwise we’d probably be growing out of our clothes by now).  We also stayed in some nice hotels, and to our complete shock, one even had a REAL sit-down toilet.  After months of squatting to pee down a hole, we both stopped dead in our tracks at the sight of what seth termed ‘the butt-cup’.  We decided that in a country that doesn’t have sanitizer, we prefer the hole!

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Day 13-15:  As our trek neared to a close, we finally got the chance to stay with a family.  We stopped for lunch at a lovely little cottage, and the warmth and friendliness of the 5 kids and parents, and the incredible lunch (fresh limes from the tree, cilantro, local rice, thick fresh dal, homemade chapatis) won us over and we decided to stay for the night.  Their sign did say they were a ‘guesthouse’ but in the end, we took the parent’s beds and the kids slept on the floor of the kitchen.  Well, actually it was only one room but with partitions.  It was a humbling experience as this family shared everything they had with us, and to watch a family of 7 living together in a house with no windows, holes in the roof, and at the same time living with such warmth and happiness and joy.  The little girl delighted us by picking up the chickens and trying to get them to ride the goat (which we soon began to help her with!) 

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While sharing some whisky over dinner with the father, a heated exchange about the Maoists (who have signed a deal with the government here but show few signs of honouring it) resulted in the father tearing up and burning our Maoist receipt.  We didn’t think it was such a big deal at the time, because the Maoists are supposed to have stopped taxing trekkers, but on our last day we ran into some more Maoists who didn’t seem to ‘remember’ that fact.  Thank goodness for our sweet-talking guide, who convinced them to let us off with a 100 rupee ‘replacement receipt fee’…without him, things could have been much more expensive!


Our trek concluded with a climb to Poon Hill to watch the beautiful sunrise on the mountains.  Unfortunately, it’s proximity to Pokhara and description in the Lonely Planet ensured that we were not alone – at least 50 other people were there to make ooohhing noises.  Not exactly what we are used to (like in Garibaldi) but it was gorgeous nonetheless.

One note of caution: anyone planning on one day trekking in this region may want to do it SOON.  They are building roads like crazy, and there may be road access to most of the conservation area in as little as 4-5 years.  This will really change the feel, and as it is already touristy enough, it may destroy what little culture and peace remains.  We feel so fortunate to have been able to do it, but we certainly learned a lot about the effects of tourism during our time there, and the increase in people is sure to reduce future experiences.

2 Responses to “Round the world in 15 days!”

  1. Beth says:

    “We made serious waves in the crowd when we mentionned that we had skipped our ‘acclimatization day’ in favour of continuing towards the next apple pie stop.”

    You guys are my heroes! Rock on!

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