Day 7: Annapurna Basecamp to Bamboo

I hopped out of the icebox called a bedroom that I shared with a Thai and Taiwanese girl, and caught the sunrise over basecamp to say goodbye to the glorious view of Annapurna.

I sat silently looking at the view that I had pushed so hard to reach, and started reflecting on my own life and personal goals.

What do you do when you had set a goal and you pushed yourself as hard as you possible could to reach that goal- and you reached it. What happens next?

It’s like climbing a mountain. What happens when you get to the top? (Other than the obvious going back down- don’t be a smartass reading this.)

I realized that I had come all this way and still had no idea how to answer my own question- but it was time to head down.

After two coffees, and navigating the difficulty that is peeing in a hole when the floor of the toilet is all iced over- I looked at Gambu, smirked and said, “let’s rock and roll,” and we started off into a trot downhill.

While passing all the trekkers who were just now heading to ABC, I felt like a marathoner crossing the finish line, giving away high fives left and right, accepting congratulations in the form of Namastes all the way down. I’ve never ran a marathon, so I really have no idea what that finish line is like, but I’m sure it’s just as glorious.

I was greeted with comments of, “wow- you’re quick,” and smiles from trekkers and porters alike. I realized that people recognized me since there weren’t many other solo, small blondes, carrying their own pack and a bamboo stick, ripping through the trail.

Just me.

Along the way I passed my frenchies, who softly kissed my cheeks (ooh la la) and bid me, “bon voyage.”

Next, I passed my roommate from Deurali, Dr. Nick, who gave me a firm handshake and wished me a safe journey home.

Then, I passed Harjit- who was a theme throughout my journey. Harjit, his wife, and in laws sat behind me on my flight from Abu Dhabu to Kathmandu. I ran into him sightseeing in Kathmandu, and proceeded to run into him at least every other day on the trek- always enthusiastically greeting one another, and after the third or fourth run in saying, “see you later!”

Harjit boomed a “well done” and firmly kissed my cheeks, with the pride of a man who has known me all my life. Our run ins had come full circle, but I joked that I’ll probably see him soon anyways!

Gambu and I continued on our merry way downhill for the next five hours- dropping over 6,000 feet by the end of our day.

Needless to say, my knees are creaking louder than the floorboards of an attic, and I’m running low on Advil (but no worries, I still have rum.)

I ended the evening still buzzed from excitement of being at ABC that morning, and looking forward to soaking in some hot springs the next day.

Although I peaked, my trek isn’t over yet- miles and miles to go baby!

Day 6: Deurali to Annapurna Basecamp.

Today was the big day: Annapurna Basecamp. It was the highest peak of my trek (13,650 ft or 4,130 meters), and the goal I had set for myself.

Gambu and I started from Deurali and ripped through Machhapuchhre Basecamp to Annapurna Basecamp in 3 hours. Although the trail itself was easier today, the altitude made it incredibly hard to breathe and I had to remind myself to slow down every time I started to feel dizzy.

Nevertheless, we arrived swiftly and were greeted with blue skies and glorious snow covered mountains, and all I could think was, “wow.”

This was living!

I climbing to the highest viewpoint, faced the mountains and dramatically threw my arms in the air and reveled in the glory.

It was everything I dreamed it would be- and I was going to be unapologetically cheesy about it.

After six days of pushing myself harder than I thought I could, it felt so good to be at the top. I’m nowhere near done with my trek, of course, but making it to ABC was still wort celebrating.

Once I was done basking, I decided it was time to rest.

I took my shoes off, unwrapped my toes and immediately knew I had a problem. Blisters had developed under my toenails and the only way to feel any relief would be to drain them.

So I took a big breath and grabbed a needle and tried to get deep enough to hit the blisters. I pride myself on my incredibly high tolerance for pain, but I couldn’t stop wincing while trying to push all the pus out.

I had to make a deeper slit above my nails to let everything drain and hopefully dry by tomorrow. Gambu noticed that I was having a bad time, so he sat down next to me and took my beat up feet in his hands.

He proceeded to go at it, with a pair of old nail clippers and a needle, while I yelped and laughed- my naturally reaction to pain when I’m too proud to cry. It was quite the ordeal, but I was lucky to have him power through my whimpering.

Then, at alarming rate- the perfectly blue skies turned grey and it started to snow. I could see my breath in the cold air, even indoors. I put on almost every article of clothing I had, until I was wearing three thermal layers, two coats, and three pairs of pants.

At 13,000 feet it’s best to keep your head clear, but my body wasn’t warming up so I got a little help from some Nepali rum mixed with hot water.

I spent the evening bundled up in a common room, watching my breath dance in the cold air, while feeling warm in all my glory.

Or the Nepali rum. Unclear.

All that matters is that I made it up to basecamp today and I’m really proud of that.

Day 5: Sinuwa to Deurali.

I basically floated today. My legs no longer shake when I stand, and I propel myself up steps even when they’re up to my hips. My new baseline is uncomfortable and slightly sore, and I’ve learned to be happy with that.

Granted, I’m fueled by coffee and Advil- but I also think my body is accustomed to getting beat up every day.

Yesterday Harrison reminded me that our bodies are actually stronger than we think they are. He told me that anytime we think we are too tired or in too much pain, it’s actually all in our heads.

Of course, when he tried to convince me that the pain of my toenail falling off was also mental and that I could will my toenail to stay on, I really had to draw the line.

That shit hurts, and I’m going to keep taping my toenail to my toe until I’m ready to tear it off.

Anyways, even with my throbbing toenail, we arrived in Deurali fairly early. We had made a six hour journey into 4.5 hours in true Pauline and Gambu fashion.

Nevertheless, all of the guest houses in the village were already full and I didn’t have a room. Gambu, crafty as he is, arranged for me to sleep in the store of the lodge, next to the open space where all of the Nepali porters and guides slept together.

I shrugged and said, “no problem.” It’s amazing how much you stop caring at some point.

Fortunately, after chatting with another guide, Gambu found an empty bed in a tiny room, made from plywood and stone. I would be sharing the room with Nick, a lovely British doctor in his 70s. We laughed at our awkward introduction, neither of us had had a roommate like one another before, but I assured him that I didn’t snore and made a great roomie.

I spent the rest of the day sitting on a bench outside, basking in the sun, listening to the waterfalls, and resting my legs.

Tomorrow I’m climbing to Machhapuchhre Basecamp and Annapurna Basecamp- the peak of my trek. It’s a big day, and I couldn’t be more ready for it.

Bring it on.

Conversations with Strangers: Kelsey from Colorado

Kelsey and I met while watching the sunset over Annapurna in Nadapani. I had seen her around over the last few days, and could just tell she was a warm and inviting person, so striking up a chat with her was effortless.

About her: I learned that Kelsey and her fiancé, Matt, are from Colorado and both quit their jobs to travel for six months. Before the trip she was working at the suicide prevention hotline, which absolutely blew me away, but made sense because I could tell she had a great phone voice.

Biggest takeaway from her job:

Her biggest takeaway was quite simple: People are resilient. She had heard all sorts of stories about people’s traumas and hardships, but what inspired her the most was that these people were still fighting for their lives and still finding the courage to pick up the phone and call for help.

She also mentioned the importance of listening and validating, and I couldn’t agree more. Sometimes all people need to hear is, “it’s okay, I hear you.”

What she’s looking for:

Self contentment. Kelsey was open about how she felt like she was in survival mode at her job, burning out with life, and not taking care of herself. Part of the purpose of this trip was to reconnect with herself, her needs, and her goals.

Kelsey reflected how a lot of us are feeling. What really stuck with me though was how she not only talked about what she wants to get from her travels, but how she wants to bring back those learnings back home with her.

It’s easy to think about how you want to grow as a person while you travel, but it’s harder to think about how that growth extends past the trip itself. I’m certainly not perfect at it.

I believe everything happens for a reason, and chatting with Kelsey that evening felt serendipitous in a way. Earlier in the day, while I was cursing my way up from Ghorepani, I kept telling myself, “I am resilient.” It struck me when she used that same word, and I couldn’t help but smile at how right she was.

People are resilient.

Kelsey and Matt, I wish you safe travels!


Day 4: Nadapani to Sinuwa

I bid adieu to my French friends, laced up my boots and headed towards Sinuwa with Gambu. By now, I felt used to the Nepali flat (constantly going either uphill or downhill) and was starting to feel stronger. I even started to appreciate how the steep inclines would naturally stretch my calves out while I walked, which felt more efficient than stretching after.

We made it to Chhromrong for lunch, and I was on my way to pee in a hole in the ground (Nepali version of a toilet) when a tall, tan and handsome stranger appeared on the trail.

Naturally, I gave him a wave and he wandered on over to have a chat.

His name was Harrison and he was a Canadian who left everything behind to travel. He had just come off the Annapurna Circuit, and was now trekking the Annapurna Sanctuary as well. I was of course intrigued, but his next stop was going to be Dovan- two hours past where I was headed for the evening.

I politely excused myself with the classiest thing I could say to a good-looking man, “I have to go pee in a hole now- catch you later,” and let Harrison go on his merry way.

We were headed in the same direction, so unsurprisingly I caught up with him shortly after, and we matched pace.

Gambu asked Harrison where his end point would be today, and he responded, “Sinuwa,” instead of Dovan. Earlier he had joked about staying there if it involved a candlelit dhal bat dinner with me, and now I rolled my eyes at his “coincidental” change of plans.

So, we ended up walking to Sinuwa together and talking the entire way. (Okay, Harrison talked while I huffed and puffed my way uphill.) He towered over me, so his steps were equal to two of mine, but I appreciated his slower pace on my behalf. Every once in a while, I noticed that my pack would feel a little lighter, and realized that Harrison would gently push my pack up so that it would be easier on me- it was quite sweet.

Once we made it to the village, we decided to split a room, for financial reasons and warmth, of course.

We spent the afternoon together, and I learned he was a former football player, turned vegetarian, meditating Zen Buddhist. Very type B, to my very type A.

It was refreshing to talk to someone who was so different than I was. He was insightful and introspective, on a mission to better know himself. Whereas, I know myself quite well and tend to stay away from deep conversations. I realized that his calm was contagious and I found myself sharing a lot of the thoughts I had been having about my life, that I was to hesitant to even admit to myself.

He later asked me what my spirit animal was. Harrison was a wolf- prideful and independent, but happy to also be part of the pack.

I am a mantis shrimp.

I am small, but strong and fierce, and I see the world in more colors than most people do.

We were clearly in opposite exhibits of this zoo, but somehow it worked.

The rest of the evening was lovely, dhal bat dinner and a cozy night in. The next morning he headed off to Annapurna Basecamp- a nine hour trek, so I gifted him the rest of my Quest Bars and wished him well.

Day 3: Ghorepani to Nadapani

I write in my journal every day, and Gambu, my guide, always asks “what are you writing about?”

Every day I give him the same answer, “I’m finding different ways to say: everything is beautiful and everything hurts.”

This morning was particularly hard.

Imagine going up a flight of stairs carrying a small child. You keep climbing flight after flight, and you think the end is up ahead, but you turn the corner and you just see more stairs. You do this a few hundred more times, all while taking in less oxygen as you climb higher.

I thought that part was tough, but I forgot about a nifty little law called gravity. What goes up, must come down. So, I spent the next two hours in a steep descent.

Going downhill sounds like a better time than climbing uphill, but it takes such a toll on my knees that I couldn’t wait to go uphill again.

Anyways, they say all is well that ends well right?

I got to my guest house early in the day, per usual. Gambu and I keep a quick pace and don’t really rest along the way, which gives me plenty of time to relax and enjoy the views.

I had been thinking about how this trek feels a lot less social than the last trek I have been on, the Camino De Santiago. I met so many incredible people from all over the world on that trek, some of whom feel like family to me now. I missed that kind of atmosphere.

Then I realized, maybe it wasn’t the trek. Maybe it was me. Maybe I was being less social than usual?

This was a brilliant realization because this was something I could fix!

I decided to be more open to having a chat with passersby, so when two beautiful Frenchmen, whom I had seen around on the trek, stopped to chat with me and asked me to join them for dinner I happily obliged.

They were Kevin and Remi, two friends who both worked in finance just enjoying a vacation together.

We spent hours sitting around the fire in the dining room of the lodge we were staying at. Remi taught me French, while Kevin poked fun at how few vacation days Americans get. Then our little ménage à trois did the most fun and exciting thing two Frenchmen and myself could do: we played Uno until we were politely asked to go to bed.

Like I said, all is well that ends well. A day that started out so rough, ended in the loveliest of ways.

Day 2: Ulleri to Ghorepani

I’m currently warming myself up in front of a single space heater (okay, it’s actually just metal barrel with a fire lit inside it) in the main room of a small lodge in Ghorepani, while John Mayer’s greatest hits play in the background.

My legs are tired from another uphill day, but it’s a good tired. I suppose it’s hard to be anything but divinely calm and happy when you’ve been surrounded by mountains all day.

I thought the views from my first day were impressive, but nothing prepared me for seeing Annapurna in all her glory- especially the view from Poon Hill.

I’ll spare you the description because my words can’t do it justice, and instead I’ll share what trekking in Nepal is like so far.

The Annapurna Sanctuary is a pretty popular trek, with trekkers visiting from all over the world. Most people hire either a guide or a porter to accompany them. I chose to hire only a guide, because I have too much pride to hire someone else to carry my pack. Plus, I have a personal rule for whenever I travel: I brought it, I carry it.

I’ll share more about my guide later, because he is wonderful and deserves more than just a few lines in this post.

Anyways, you might be wondering what bougie hotels I am staying in along the way. Well let’s just say things have gotten a lot more humble since my luxury apartment in Pokhara.

Everyone sleeps in guest houses, which are plentiful along the trail. I’m used to sleeping in simple and shared accommodations from staying in albergues while trekking in Spain- but these guest houses are a new level of basic.

For reference, I’ll describe the room I’m staying in tonight.

I have a small room with two twin beds. Why did I get two? Because it’s freezing at night (there’s no heat and the walls are thin), and I figured out that if you get a double room, you get TWO blankets!

This is what I call, “Strategerie.”

I also have the luxury of having a bathroom attached to my room. (Yesterday I shared a bathroom with an entire floor, hence the excitement.) I’m not sure that I would usually call an ice cold bathroom that has a metal sheet for a door and a window that can’t close a luxury, but the shower had warm water and that was all that mattered today.

All in all though, it’s not bad. Of course, it’s a gentle reminder to be grateful for everything I have back home, like heating and outlets, but I’m too in love with the Annapurna Sanctuary to mind.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to bed in the cocoon of blankets I have crafted for myself.