Sunday, July 27, 2008

Trapped in the Himalayas

(Me hiking over a landslide with a strong head cold)
I've been home from Asia for a little over a week and I haven't really been able to convince myself that my trip wasn't just a dream. I miss the sounds of monks chanting, intense burning, and prayer flags waving in the distance. I miss always being on the move. I miss being a celebrity. I miss living simply. I miss bonding with people traveling your same way. I miss so much, and yet so little. I don't understand how countries like India and Nepal function, it's just one big chaotic mess.
Although I've recapped this story to many people in the past week, I think I'll put it here too while it's fresh on my mind.
Well you know those movies where the main characters go on a road trip and EVERYTHING that could possibly go wrong, goes wrong? Well that pretty much defines the last week of my trip. It all started in Jomsom, a small village. It is the only place in the Annapurna region where there is an airport. We heard that sometimes because of the windy weather, airplanes aren't able to land, so we gave ourselves three days to try and catch a plane. Saturday came, no planes. Sunday came, no planes. Monday came, no signs of planes. We had spent the weekend anxiously awaiting the sign of good weather with several sets of travelers. We all were forced together in the same oppressive circumstances and formed a bond. Monday morning came and we all waited in the airport courtyard, making plans to get out of the Himalayas without the planes, when we heard the roar of an engine. We looked up and there it was. The thing we had been praying for all week: a small 15 seater airplane. We jumped for joy, screamed and hugged each other as we leaped toward the check in area. Because the airplanes were so small and there were a bunch of different companies, we didn't all have tickets for the small airplane. The first couple grabbed their bags and boarded a plane. The next two couples got on the next plane, leaving me, my dad, and our guide sitting patiently in the airport. We shouted out to them that we would see them in Pokhara! We checked our bags, went through the security check and lined the runway, but alas fate was not as kind to us and did not bring us an airplane.
From that moment we began the hardest journey of my life.
With all of our friends gone, we somberly slid into a jeep, wiped away our tears and pulled out of Jomsom. This leg of the "Amazing Race" to get back to Kathmandu was fairly uneventful. We stopped for a random tea break, had to wait on the side of the road while they blasted the mountain, and had to stop while the police pulled a man sitting next to us who had robbed a hotel. We got out of the jeep and began walking due to landslides. We walked for 5 hours on a quiet trail. We reached the landslides and instead of taking a three mile detour decided to risk our lives and cross the ACTIVE landslide. Our guide, who was a short, plump sherpa who never walked faster than a leisurely stroll, turned to us and said, "We walk fast here" turned around and started sprinting over the rocks, he looked like some kind of mountain goat. But this was when I knew we were in trouble, so I took off after him, trying not to notice the cliff on one side of me and the falling rocks on the other. Our group barely missed 8 falling boulders, God must really like me because that's the only reason why I'm alive right now. Mental and emotional exhaustion captured me towards the end of the 5 hours and walked right off a footbridge and fell in the water.
The next day began at five. I had woken up with a head cold, lucky me. We were told that we could catch a jeep after a half an hour walk. When we got to the jeep stand they "didn't feel like driving today." Of course, typical Nepal, so we put on our packs and turned down the road to go to the next jeep stop, which just happened to be about TWO hours away. While walking in my exhausted state I moved to the side of the road to avoid pack mules. I wasn't fast enough and one hit me right in the ribs, knocking the wind out of me.
But alas, we made it and got in an old bus, packed with people. Did I mention that there weren't any roads?? Just a dirt, rock trail? So an intense drive. At one point we were driving STRAIGHT up a mountain covered in mud when we got stuck... of course! No worries, we pushed the bus out and were on our way.
We got to a real live city! After being in the mountains for so long, I was soooo happy to see civilization! But my brief joy and dismantled when we found out there was a transit strike and there were no buses or taxis going to Pokhara. We searched for someone who would take us, but there was no one. We put our packs back on and started walked down the street, when an old beat up car pulled over and we got in. Well the car lasted thirty seconds before it pulled over to change it's tire. It took 8 nepalese men ONE HOUR to change one little tire. Finally we got going. We made it to paved road and were actually making good time when the car sputtered to a stop. It had died, completely. Of course this would happen to us, heaven forbid something actually worked out!
We waited in the smeltering heat while our taxi driver hitchhiked into town. He brought a new car, which was almost as beat up. Well that was good news. We got in the car, only to realize that this new car was going to tow the old car, with a piece of rope. That's right, a flimsy piece of rope. We tried it for a minute. The rope broke, DUH! But they try it again with the now broken rope. Hello?! Seriously?!! Do they have minds??
Anyways we continue our drive, only to run into a group of angry strikers who surrounded our car, jumping on the roof, shouting things at us. I thought I was going to die, right there. SOOO scary.
We finally get to Pokhara to find the city lined with empty cars. I guess there was a fuel shortage. We had no idea how we were going to find someone to drive us... either they were on strike or they had no gas. So we went to the airport. They had flights to Kathmandu, but oh wait, they stopped flying an hour earlier because they were working on the runway. I personally think they just didn't want to fly us because that would be too easy.
We finally found a car who had stolen some gas and began to drive. Ooooof course there happens to be a monsoon. We held on to our seats as our driver drove through the small windy mountain roads through a monsoon for 6 hours. And I was coughing and sniffing like mad the entire time.
But alas we make it to Kathmandu after 48 hours of hell. Did I mention that the airplane ride was only 44 minutes. 44 FREAKIN' MINUTES.
From Kathmandu we flew to Delhi, slept overnight in the airport. From Delhi we went to Helsinki, Finland. Finland to Amsterdam( another night spent on the side of the runway). Amsterdam to Houston. Houston to SLC!!!
Being in the middle of the Himalayas fighting to get to civilization helped me come to know myself. I realized how silly and trivial all my problems back home were. I mean, HELLO, I have everything I could ever want in Salt lake, and yet I complain all the time. I now know the meaning of living life to the fullest and going out and making life an adventure. Never again am I going to let my emotions hinder my life, I have too much to live for!

1 comment:

susan said...

Thank you for charting your travels and for the insights from the journey. It sounds as though you had many "opportunities" to learn about patience. I'm glad you are safe and well. And it's wonderful to hear how you appreciate the past few weeks.