It’s been a while! Well we finished our stint on the Annapurna Circuit Trek, legs and backs aching, cameras broken (mine, and on the first day) and various records ticked. Quite literally the highlight of the trek was the 5400 metre Thorong Pass, although getting there was far from easy. It took eight days actually, although the Lonely Planet recommends you get there in eleven (Sergeant Pumba and Major Stin ensured we hiked further than was perceived possible every bloody day) and they were rather action packed.
We started quite low down altitude-wise, among waterfalls, jungle and rice paddies. Pretty standard for Nepal as far as we were concerned. During this time we met a Spanish bloke called Joan (pronounced Joanne as in Lumley) who seemed to be stoned all the time yet somehow sauntered to his destination with a full bag with a minimum amount of fuss. Thanks to him we didn’t take any of the wrong turns we doubtless would of, as our map was less accurate than Arsene Wegner. Slowly we rose through the valleys until rocks began replacing trees.
One of these rocks landed on Spinks’ head after we decided to copy some Nepalese in taking a short-cut. The lesson was quickly learned that Nepalese are quite a bit better at the whole mountain thing. Twinkling their toes from stone to perch, we looked like marauding rhinos in comparison, Stin stumbling up ahead in one instance causing a mini-landslide that connected with Pumba’s rather fragile noggin. After some harsh words that we’ll put down as “friendly banter” we decided never to take a short-cut ever again. Bloody Nepalese.
By now we were climbing through the park at a great rate of knots, villages becoming older and more remote, huge eagles circling the thermals above us and mountains starting to appear out of the rapidly removing clouds. We stopped at one village where they seemed to be having some sort of party. It turns out it was a show they were putting on to celebrate tourism in Nepal. Spinks was presented with a little hand-knitted man-bag for being the first guest at the festivities, and he then gave quite a good inoffensive speech. We were all mightily impressed. We were then entered into an apple eating competition (I couldn’t enter for Chinese crown related reasons) where a Dutch girl thrashed all and sundry ad we all helped ourselves to the local brew – a mixture of fermented barley and urine apparently.
Higher and higher we went, climbing above 4000 metres into what appeared to be Mordor on a bad day. Before we made the final ascent to the Pass, we stopped in a village where there was a tiny cinema that promised free tea and popcorn. Excited for a wee slice of civilization we settled down to a movie called Into The Thin Air. The plot involved a group of climbers all dying in variously horrible ways on Mount Everest. It was more harrowing than Requiem For A Dream. I wept into to my free tea, vowing never to climb anywhere near a giant mountain ever again. Spinks on the other hand has vowed to climb Everest before he’s 35. Idiot.
And so the final pass loomed. I was a breathless, stumbling fool, pausing for monumental breaks every twenty metres or so. Marcus was in a similar shape, although he thought I was waiting for him to give moral support (Spinks and Stin had marched miles ahead obviously), a claim I was more than willing to accept. We were now officially in the Himalayas, huge peaks of snow looming over us but as soon as we were up we were down. The snow was replaced with sand and suddenly we were in Afghanistan, with a head-wind similar to the rear-end of a jumbo jet. The final slog to Jomsom was surreal but worth it, with rum and apple brandy as a liquid pat on the liver.
Finally we cheated and bussed it to Tapotani (or something similar) where we spent two days in hot springs and a chance to give Spinks his birthday present: An Andrew Survival Kit, complete with spare socks, toilet paper, deodorant and a book by Edmund Hillary warning about the effects on Altitude Sickness. I think he was happy.
Next up: River Rafting with Israelis for three days!