Finding Nemo

Monday, May 16, 2011

Day 1: Pokhara (830m / 2740') to Ulleri (1960m / 6450')

The taxi from Pokhara took us out of the city, and soon the decent road gave way to a single lane bombed-out strip of asphalt shared by diesel-spewing trucks, 5-pack families on motorbikes, and the usual assortment of traffic cows.  Nepal had a new nickname: Never-Ending Potholes And Lorries.  But it didn't matter, we were surrounded by the steep Himalayan foothills covered in green forest and pretty rice terraces.  And even though Pokhara is the prettiest city in the country, it was exhilirating to be finally headed out to the real Nepal: the biggest mountains in the world!

Obviously I was either completely insane or a colossal moron to be attempting this trek to Annapurna Base Camp.  The attachment of my achilles to my heel was dubious, I still had plantar fascitis in the same foot, and my left knee still hadn't recovered from my January surgery.  But I was here, in Nepal, wasn't I?  I couldn't just put my tail between my legs and retreat.  I had to try.  However stupid climbing 4000m in 6 days on bad wheels might be.  (Yeah, I know.  I have issues.)

Annapurna South luring me forward
The morning was gorgeous and blue for a change, the incredible Annapurnas were peaking over the foothills every now and then, luring me forward.  It was an auspicious beginning.  The taxi driver was my tour guide, pointing out which peaks were which and smiling in satisfaction when I made ooo-ing noises.  It is pretty amazing when you think about it: Pokhara is only 830m, and barely a few miles as the crow flies rises the stunning tooth of the Fishtail, Machhapuchhre, at 6997m (23,090').  The even taller Annapurnas are a bit further back and so appear smaller but it is an illusion.  Annapurna I is the 10th highest peak in the world at 8091m (26,700'), and rubbing elbows just to the West is The White Mountain, Dhaulagiri, the 7th highest peak at 8171m (27,000').  There are many more peaks in the massif going up to Annapurna VII, and the range is considered the most beautiful in Nepal.

Which is why I had originally intended to do the Annapurna circuit, which takes you all the way around the entire massif, through the dry Mustang plateau, over the Thorung La pass at 5416m (17,800'), and back down the other side.  But with my bad wheels a 3-week trek going up and down mountains obviously was beyond stupidity, it bordered on delusion.  I settled for the much easier 2-week trek going to Annapurna Base Camp!!  And I had a secret weapon.

Meet Kalu.  Yeah, I know what you are thinking.  He looks like a little pony, you know the kind you find at kids birthday parties that look so sad and mistreated you wonder if they wished they were dead.  But trust me, Kalu is Super-Pony!!  I jumped on the "horse" as the Nepalese called it, and my legs almost touched the ground.  When I first saw him, I was depressed.  I knew how tough the terrain was, sometimes there were endless staircases that went up and down for miles.  How could this donkey get me anywhere?  When we approached our first set of steps, I offered to get off and let the horse walk.  The horse handler, Deepak, assured me it was fine.  Next thing I know, this little burro is hauling my 185 lb butt straight up the stairs!  I hung on in disbelief.  And it just kept trucking.  This was the little donkey that could.

When proper trekkers, loaded with packs tromped by, they smiled at me.  I knew it was a smirk, 'Look at this kook, he's in Nepal and instead of doing a real trek he's cheating on a donkey!'  I looked like a douche.  But it was OK, I usually look like a douche back home anyway.  After several more staircases, the pony was really breathing hard and I could feel its little heart thudding.  I read too many stories about horses going until their heart burst and dropping dead.  So I got off, and walked for a good part of the day.  But at the end, we were faced with a staircase of 2000 steps (according to our guide).  It took an hour to climb for regular folks.  I did my best, but about halfway up I felt a sharp stab in my ankle.  Visions of a ruptured achilles spun in my head, followed by the idea of being hauled by donkeys for hours all the way back to the road.  I got back on Kalu.

Little Engine that Could

And that's when he turned into Super-Pony.  That little guy trudged up and up and up, it was steep enough to give people pause, but somehow my mountain goat-horse kept at it.  It started to rain, the steep stone steps became slick.  He slipped a few times, which is freaky when you are looking at thousand foot drop-offs, but I knew the old boy had it in him.  Sweating, panting, heart thudding, on he climbed.  I was in disbelief.

Finally we reached Ulleri, a little village perched on the top of a mountain.  Super-pony had done it.  Even though my achilles was burning, maybe I had a chance after all.  And then it hit me.  Kalu can only take people up steps.  Not down.  Doh.

No comments:

Post a Comment