He’s a Cycle-Path

So tomorrow we head off for a spot of hiking around the Annapurna Conservation Area.  Internet is unlikely so this will be my last spiel for a while.  We decided that seeing as we are four young examples of health and manliness we wouldn’t need a porter or a guide for the forthcoming 15 days.  Therefore we’re sending half our luggage to the finish line of the trek at Pokhara.  This entails booking our luggage on to a bus by buying a seat for said bags.  A foolproof plan I’m sure you’ll agree.

As part of my intense fitness training for the trek, I agreed to a wee mountain biking journey with Andrew “Monty Beaumonty” Spinks.  We (well he) reckoned we could cycle to the mountain village of Kikani.  The operative word here was mountain.  Hundreds of metres of never ending ascent.  Spinks, of course was off like a shot, leaving me to chug at sub-walking pace through terraces of ever-higher rice paddies and unsympathetic locals.  Rounding a corner to see another strip of untarmacked slope I had a private hissy fit, chucking my muddy bike into a bush and rolling on to some grass for a breather and a potential cry.  Leeches then attacked my legs.

When I finally reached Spinks at the top, who had presumably had time to read a novel and have a pedicure, I was a dirty, blood-encrusted mess.  We had a beer at the summit and then whooshed back down, which more than made up for it I might add.  The sunset over the valleys was the best of the trip so far.

However, the sun did set and neither of our hire bikes had been fitted with lights.  The whole city of Kathmandu doesn’t have any street lights either.  As you can imagine the traffic is quite hectic and there followed a rather harowing half an hour of swishing shadows, beeping horns, bumps, shouts, fumes and chaos.  It was actually brilliant, or that might be the hindsight talking.


Bungy the Hesitater

Tenuous title there, hope you’re getting it and inevitably “lolling” your sides off.  It refers of course, to my first and possibly last bungy jump, which took place on a rickety bride 160 metres above a river in a Nepalese gorge.  To say I needed encouragement to get to the edge of the platform is an understatement.  My ankles bound, I shuffled by such tiny margins towards the abyss the bloke in charge pretty much had to push me off.  However, just before the push I managed to bend my knees and force the semblance of a swan-dive out of my petrified frame.  People cheered, I tried to scream but my voice was left behind on the bridge.  Meanwhile Spinks and Stin were busy performing fearless backward dives.  Show-offs.

Later we went canyoning, which consisted largely of abseiling down waterfalls.  Stin and Marcus provided the comedy of the day, both resembling roller-skating deer as they splayed their legs on the cliff faces and bounced their helpless bodies off sodden rocks and crevices.  At one point, I fell over laughing at them, not to say I was much better.

Nepal is beautiful by the way, but you probably already knew that.  The other day, we experienced a little earthquake.  Well I say little, but far away in Sikkim, where the epicenter was, it was a lot more than little.  Back in Kathmandu, we were watching football on a hotel bed.  The bed began to rock back and forth, and the light was swinging like a pendulum.  Initially I thought the next door couple were going for it in a big way until it finally clicked.  “It’s a bloody earthquake!” I insightfully remarked, upon which we ran around like headless chickens and made for the lobby.  Sadly just round the corner a wall had collapsed and killed three people, one of whom was in their car and the other two, tragically were a father and his daughter.

So that’s the last bungy I want to do and most definitely the last earthquake.  Next stop – The Annapurna trek.

Seven Days in Tibet.

Well if anyone bothers to read this on a regular basis, apologies for the delay but as you can see, the title of this wee entry is Tibet.  And  Tibet isn’t too hot on widespread internet use.  Infact there’s a lot that Tibet isn’t to hot on, but that accusation lies soley at the steel-capped feet of the Chinese military.  Lhasa was awash with them.  Patrolling the streets and manning sniper spots on the rooves of buildings, the whole city felt like an occupied colony, and that’s exactly what it is.  Sifting between these troops (some of them with guns that Arnie would have deemed OTT) were thousands of pilgrims and orange-clad monks, stetson-wearing tibetans and gawping travellers.  During the day and even at night, many of these people would walk the clock-wise lap of the old-town, circling a temple from one million BC.  Others prostrated themsleves pn the ground, indenting their heads with the sodden gravel amd soaking themselves through in the name of Buddah and the ‘He Who Shall Not Be Named’ of Tibet, China’s Voldemort – the Dalai Lama.

We visied the Lama’s old hangouts – his summer palace and the big famous one you see on Chinese money – Potala Palace.  They were truly incredible but it was a bit sad.  Our amazing guide – a Tibetan lass called Meema (that’s Tibetan for Tuesday as it was the day she was born on, if you’re born on Thursday however you’re stuck with Poopoo for the rest of your life) described how everything was laid out as if the Lama would return.  We saw where he would meditate, where he would sleep and even where his mum used to poo, but of course the only time he’ll return is when he’s kicked the Buddah bucket and he’s ash in a jar.  It was like when old widows still lay out their husband’s suit every morning.

After the culture we set off in a land cruiser into a rather hilly region you may have heard of, known locally as the Himalayas.  Now I know no-one wants to read about how lovely something was, and how beautiful and pretty the scenery turned out to be so I’ll spare you.  Actually I don’t really know how to put what I saw into writing.  Let’s just say it was good.  To summarise – prayer flags, lakes, snow, rocks, valleys, villages and more prayer flags.  Photos to follow.  After a few days of this we came to the base camp of none other than Mount Everest.  Spinks was almost giddy with excitement.  Actually he was giddy, it was very annoying.  We ran to the nearest point to the great peak we could reach, cameras at the ready with sweaty palms (despite the cold).  There was a big cloud.  We might have well been looking at Snowdon.  Dejected we moped back to our tent and consoled ourselves with yak meat and beer.  Spinks was inconsolable.

The next morning we awoke early to catch a hopeful sunrise on the famous hillock, but no, clouds remained, like a really annoying big jacket.  Spinks was beyond help.  But suddenly, the wind changed and before our very eyes Big E started to reveal herself, unbuttoning her cloud jacket so quickly that we were very soon greeted with a rather glorious sight.  “Oh no.”  Grumbled Spinks.  “My camera battery just died.”  I’ll be selling him my pics when we get back for a handsome price.

Well, now we’re in Nepal.  To get here we drove down a valley that I last saw in Avatar, we had to navigate ourselves round a huge landslide and sang a few local songs with another Lama – this time just our lowly taxi driver.  I’m off to do a 160 metre bungy off a rope bridge.  Insert mass swearing here.

Just a Quicky

Well we missed Marcus at the airport, continuing a grand theme of disorganisation, but we bumped into him back at the hostel. Turns out we were waiting at the wrong gate, in ridiculous novelty outfits. Good.

And now we’re about to embark on the 45 hour train chug to Tibet. Things to look forward to: Mountains! Spinks shitting himself! (He’s still ill). Meeting the Australian girls who are supposedly going with us! Watching Spinks sleaze on said Australian girls!

I’m off to close my Chinese bank account – it’s the end of an era.

Only Fools and Horses

On the way to Songpan we had to change buses at Zoige.  This being central China, changing buses meant a six hour lay-over in the slightly creepy frontier town of Zoige.  There wasn’t much to do.  We found a muslim pool hall and Stin (G) set about thrashing the locals while Pumba (Spinks – current nickname refers to the fact that when hiking we can’t stand downwind from him) and I took an hour to play a frame of pool.  Pathetic.  Afterwards we ate at a noodle restaurant that contained a curiously large jar of hazy liquid populated with bobbing chicken’s feet and fermented plums.  We drank three glasses of the stuff each.  I’m not sure what happened but I woke up on the bus to Songpan with all my bags.  Unfortunately, Stin has a video of me during the previous three hours where I am seen kissing an old woman.  She was willing, mind. 

So we arrived in Songpan worse for wear.  After an evening in a potential gay club where there were far too many topless Tibetans high-fiving us we awoke the next day to book some horse-trekking. 

The horse-trek was interesting.  We set off at the crack of dawn up a pretty steep mountain.  I quickly named my horse Cliff as he seemed far too attracted to anything steep and deadly.  We climbed and we climbed until we came to a small entrance gate where we were told we would stay until the next day.  It wasn’t even midday.  The guides quickly made their way to a nearby hut and started watching TV.  Pretty underwhelmed we wandered around until we found some apparent hot springs.  They were cold.  Nevertheless we whiled away the time perfecting synchronized back-flips and being splashed by some rowdy monks.  Tibetan monks are way better than ours.

The next morning we headed back home.  The inadvertant highlight of this was Stin falling off his horse, which had led our pack confindently the whole way.  His steed stumbled on some pretty innocuous looking ground and almost in slow-motion it lurched to it’s knees, thereby launching the farmer forward where he performed a perfect textbook army-roll.  Except it wasn’t.  It turns out the formerly invincible Stin had cracked a rib.  (Or had he?  See the apparent hernia episode in Xi’an for some skepticism).  

Next stop:  Jiuzhaigou (I have no idea how to pronounce it).  An unbelievable national park in northern Sichuan.  It’s like New Zealand had a baby with Yosemite National Park.  Actually it’s almost better than that.  Whole valleys are taken up by water, which flow downwards through impossibly blue lakes, waterfalls and everything inbetween.  We walked around it for over 30 kilometres (or clicks as I have been trying to stop myself saying).  We also cheated the shuttle bus system thanks to a tip-off from a Belgian couple we keep bumping into, saving us 90 RMB each.  However by the end of the hiking all was not well.  Stin and Pumba started sitting down at every interval, eyes glazing over, mouths sagging.  By the time we got home, Pumba couldn’t get off the toilet and apparently Stin was hallucinating.  I bought them some water and went out for some food, reckoning that upon my return they’d be soundly asleep and safely on the mend.  No.  When I opened the door I was greeted with sounds last heard in a medical tent in 1940s Burma.  Spinks was violently spewing into a bucket in between gurgling trips to the now suffering toilet, while Stin could only manage deep guttural groans and wails, like a dying giraffe.  It was a messy night. 

So, we didn’t make our bus to Chengdu today – unsurprisingly.  With Pumba much healthier, and poor wee Stin recouping in his pit, all should be well for our final hurrah to Chenggers and a big welcome hug for Marcus.  Fingers crossed.