Last night at dinner, we ran into a fun group of Argentinians. I had met them earlier on the way to Chhongrom, and they were happy to tell me how beautiful it was in Cordoba and Mendoza, two places I know I will one day visit. But tonight they were in an intense argument, and it looked like it would turn into a full-on brawl. Only the intervention of one of the girls prevented the guys from throwing punches. Between all the "putas" and other few words my brain registered, I gathered that one of them had hurt his foot. He was heavy and looked out of shape. As a result, they all had to abandon their ABC attempt and head back down. One of the guys was devastated and extremely angry. He made it clear that he was not at fault and the trip was ruined if they didn't go. They had spent a lot of time, money, and effort to be here, they were only 2 days away (as I was), and now he had to give it all up because of someone else. I definitely sympathized with the guy. This was exactly one of the biggest reasons that I prefer traveling alone on big trips.
For me, I had already gone through the stages of denial, anger, etc. and was starting to accept the fact my trek was over. To be honest, it gave me great reason to return to Nepal soon. But more importantly, these are precisely the kind of situations that make someone grow, if they adopt the right outlook about it. I hoped the other guy would make peace with his fate, but I could tell he probably wouldn't.
There was something else this trek had taught me. On my Everest trip 5 years ago, it was during the monsoon and the king had just been assassinated. Maoists were running rampant in the countryside, the guidebook said that I should expect to pay bribes or get a bullet when I ran into them. There was a travel advisory but I went anyway, which turned out to be a great decision. I had the whole path almost entirely to myself all the way to Everest and back. Hours, days, and weeks went by with just the spectacular scenery and my thoughts.
But on this trek, I had Team Hyper Power Nemo Go! A porter, a guide, the horse, and his handler. Nepal was now "safe", it was trekking season, and at Poon Hill I counted 120 people watching the sunrise with me. I was never alone with my thoughts. So today, walking on my own steam, I finally was able to get away from everyone for the first time and just let my brain go quiet. I suddenly started to feel much better. And it hit me: the reason I hadn't enjoyed this trip nearly as much as the one 5 years ago was that this precise feeling I was experiencing right now had eluded me the entire week. I resolved right there that when I returned I would not have a guide, and maybe not even a porter.
You didn't need one anyway, really, Nepal was getting civilized. Perhaps too civilized. When I went to Everest BC last time, there was no electricity above 3500m, no drinking water (you had to use tablets), and getting a hot shower from water warmed by the sun was a luxury that only a few places had. On this trip there wasn't a single village that didn't have 24-hour electricity and hot (electrically heated) showers. My last trip, the food options were Dal Bhat or Dal Bhat. This time around, you could get a burger, lasagna, or a pizza just about anywhere (though I don't recommend you order them, they are generally pretty horrible).
I spoke with an older ex-hippy couple from Bishop, California my last night at the hot springs. It was cool to meet someone from a town that I had stopped in at least 100 times on my way to Mammoth. They had been in Nepal for 2 months, and last month did the Everest BC (EBC) trek. They said it was so packed that at times the line of people went on to the horizon in both directions. I couldn't believe it!! I had only met a handful of other trekkers during my EBC trip, and the picture they were describing made it sound like LA's 405 freeway during rush hour. Earlier I noted one of the things that made Nepal = Never Ending Peace and Love was that it was forever safe from large Asian tour groups. My reasoning was that in the mountains there were no roads to take their air-conditioned buses. But after meeting the Korean herd in Chhongrom with their 25 porters, chef, and 450 Korean beers and then hearing the Bishop couple's story, my theory was shattered. Here, even in the remote former kingdom of Nepal, the world's ocean of humanity was pouring in to ruin it.
My guide pointed out that there was now a road all the way to Muktinath, which is the halfway point of the Annapurna Circuit. Today you can literally fly into Jomson and take a bus to this sacred place, high on the dry mustang plateau shared with Tibet. And they were building a road to Manang on the other side! Only the narrow, steep, and very high region around the Thorong La pass would be safe from vehicles in a few years. It was very depressing. But part of me wasn't that surprised, really. This was happening all over the world to every great secret place once known only to few intrepid explorers. This was the age of Lonely Planet, which should be renamed Crowded Planet. Why would Nepal be magically protected? I had just been naive.
So, I will return. And it looks like I had better return very very soon, before it becomes yet another lost paradise.