Day 3: May 26, 2014 (Monday) Soti Khola -> Machha Khola
5:30am wake up call and we were eating our porridge and brown bread by 6:30, bags packed and water sanitized. We’re getting faster at packing up and getting ready that early in the morning. Tek and Krishna enjoyed some fried rice and we all had a cup of tea. We set off a little past 7am to beat the heat of the day. We got lucky and had cloudy skies to protect our bodies from the sun. We only had a few sprinkles here and there and the weather added a mysterious factor to the already overwhelmingly beautiful scenery. The hike started off pretty easy, a few ups and downs, but nothing crazy. We passed by several amazing waterfalls pumping pretty fast from last night’s rain. We also passed by several men carrying huge loads on their backs. Two of them were carrying massive sheets of corrugated metal. Tek told us they carry 100+kgs (that’s over 220 lbs!) of weight from place to place. Simply incredible! We also saw another porter passing by with an enormous load and he was wearing rubber flip flops. The back of his heels were cracked and callused. These men have the strongest calves I have ever seen!
As we turned a corner, Tek had a grin on his face and was awkwardly laughing. I thought he was reacting this way to the nearby waterfall, but he was actually looking at the path directly ahead. I glanced over to see a very narrow walkway up the side of a cliff with step-like formations made of rock. Ahh, this must be what he warned us about yesterday!
We made our way up the path next to the mountain which pretty much barreled us like a wave. I asked Tek if the porters carrying the crazy huge loads would cross this same path and questioned how they do so with the shape of the mountain and the narrow width of the path. He said they basically just bend at a 90 degree angle and crouch the whole way. He then said “donkeys come here too.” Within seconds of him saying that, he turned around and exclaimed, “OH! Donkeys are coming!” I don’t think I will ever forget the look of surprise/terror on his face. It was like his worst nightmare was coming true. The thin pathway was only about 150-200 meters long and we were caught in the middle as donkeys approached. We all pushed ourselves up against the mountain and Tek held onto my hand to make sure we wouldn’t go anywhere. The first group of 8-10 donkeys passed and then we saw another group. Tek asked one of the men with the donkeys how many more were coming and he informed us that this was the first of five groups. Well, we better get comfortable! We watched and took photos as they came by jingling one by one with bells on their necks. Once they passed, we pushed forward and Tek showed us a spot where a crazy lady almost fell off of the cliff while he was guiding because she was trying to take a photo. The path was actually much better than I anticipated after first glance. It doesn’t compare to the top of Mt. Eolus in Southwest Colorado or even the thin parts on Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park in Utah, but I anticipate we may get to that extreme eventually considering this is only day 3 and we are still in the foothills…of the Himalayas.
We continued on the path, winding around the picturesque river, taking in the vibrant greenery and cliffs surrounding us. We passed by another cliff where Tek told us, “Last year, An Australian fell and on the way down he is going to be dead.” Translation: “Last year, an Australian man fell off of this cliff and died.” We loved the way he communicated this to us but felt very sad this happened here. Apparently the man’s guide was too far away and he got too close to the edge to try to take a picture and fell.
Anyway, you can get the picture that his trek isn’t a walk in the park. The ups and downs today felt like good training for the real mountains we will soon see. We were ahead of schedule when we reached the village of Lapubesi, where we would normally eat lunch. So, instead, we continued our walk which lead us over an enormous suspension bridge (maybe 200-300 feet in length) overlooking a giant, multi-level waterfall. It was breathtaking! We eventually found ourselves at a small home next to the river where a sweet Nepali woman made us some of the best dal bhat we have had yet. We are becoming quite the connoisseurs of dal bhat because almost all Nepali people eat dal bhat twice a day, for lunch and dinner. It is a meal that includes rice, a potato curry, sometimes a cooked green such as spinach, lentil soup (dal), and a spicy pickle sauce (if you are lucky). No matter how many times you eat it, it will always taste completely different depending on the chef. I feel that this is generally a nice trait of dal bhat because I can imagine eating the same thing twice a day every day with the same flavor could get a little old!
After lunch, we walked about another hour and a half to Machha Khola where we would stay for the night. During this time, Tek stopped to take a picture with his phone. It is refreshing to see our guide, a Nepali Mountain veteran, who has hiked this path about 50 times still in awe of the views. It was almost as if he just discovered he had a camera on his phone for the first time because he stopped several additional times along the way to take pictures. Or maybe he was just inspired by our unhealthy obsession with taking pictures?!
The dark clouds started to clear and we could see our first real view of the snowy Himalayan peaks! We hope it is clear tomorrow so we can see them in all of their glory. When we arrived at the lodge, Tek led the way up the stairs to the “best room” of the place. It has windows on 3 of the 4 sides, all of which have an incredible view. I am writing this from the room! Tek made them change the sheets and he and Krishna arranged the beds and situated them “just so” to make us comfortable. They are truly the best!
We wasted no time heading for the shower after 6 hours of hiking. John only got a trickle of water but I was able to get some more water pressure after asking the owner if she could help. I saw a 3 inch spider on the ceiling while I was showering and kept doing that thing where you look away to get soap and then quickly look back to make sure the spider is exactly where you left it. When I was finished, looked away to get my towel, looked back, and it was gone! Talk about a creepy feeling! I still don’t know where it went, but I am fairly sure it isn’t on my head. I was mentally prepared for spiders in Laos and only saw one. Now this big spider thing is becoming a nightly occurrence in Nepal! Who knew? Soon, we will be at altitudes where they can’t live, I think…
We spent the rest of the afternoon talking with Tek and Krishna and learning about how hard it is for Nepali people to get a visa to live in the U.S. Tek wants to go so badly and wants to move from Nepal within 3 years. It’s hard to make a living and survive here. We feel very fortunate to come from a place with so much opportunity. Without that and the support of our families and friends, there would be no way we could be traveling and experiencing the rest of the world.
Aside from talking with Tek and Krishna, we also did some reading and I did some knitting. We also watched the daughter of the owner of our lodge because she was quite the trouble maker. She loved to pick up the wild baby chickens and walk around with them until she got yelled at. She could always be seen with one shoe on and one shoe off and a dirty face covered in a mischievous look. She also got in trouble for running around the edge of a pit next door where the locals were digging a septic system. We later learned she is 4 years old and has many issues. She can’t speak and apparently gets into everything. We also learned that after a septic system is build, people have to haul out the waste to a nearby pit which will be filled for some time (maybe 2-3 years) and then a new one will be built and used until full and the process will continue to repeat. Talk about a dirty job.
The weather started to clear and we were able to see blue sky and the snowy mountains in the distance! We can also see the stars tonight, which hopefully is a good sign for tomorrow.
Now, guess what we had for dinner?! Yep, you got it. Dal baht. Yet another different taste but also very good. This was our 7th dal bhat in 4 days! We didn’t eat with Tek and Krishna because their culture has hierarchical rules where the client or customer eats, followed by the guide, and then the porter. We respect their cultural etiquette, but also expressed to Tek and Krishna that we would love to all eat together. They have been eating with us when they can but some lodge owners, like the one tonight, are very strict about the “unwritten rules”, so we ate alone. It is very strange to experience this type of class system. We are happy though because when we are together just with Tek and Krishna, we treat each other as equals. We joke with each other and eat together and have a good time. We are very thankful the two of them are leading us on this journey!
Tomorrow will be a longer day, mostly uphill, so we will get up early again and get moving by 7 am. We are sure the roosters will start crowing by 4:30am, so probably no need to set an alarm!