There are no waves in Nepal
There are no waves in Nepal.
I knew that already before arriving there, of course. I knew that and little more…
I didn’t know the language, I didn’t know why I had chosen that place and I didn’t even know what I was going to do for two months… I didn’t know anything, but for some reason, I chose this country at the last moment, in order to get lost for a while.
It’s been only a couple of weeks since I turned on my phone for the first time in twelve days. I saw what was happening in the rest of the world and I had to change my flight to come back home the next morning. So I don’t think I’ve had time to digest the experience yet.
I’m gonna try to tell what I’m able to put into words…
I arrived in Kathmandu the 21st January and the taxi ride from the airport to my hostel was the first shock. Driving in Nepal is one of the most extreme things that I’ve seen in my life… It seems as if you’re about to crash or to hit someone all the time but EVERYTHING in this country is senseless chaos that for some strange reason, always turns out alright.
So I spent some days getting used to flowing in this chaos, trusting that nothing bad was going to happen and enjoying being the only westerner walking those streets. I got used to avoiding motorbikes, I got used to bargaining in the stores, I got used to every service being terrible, I got used to the lack of WCs and toilet paper (deep squat and water, I’m not getting into details…), I got used to the nepali timing having its own minutes and its own hours…
Having drifted around Kathmandu for enough days I went to Kopan Gompa, where I did a course on Buddhist meditation with Tibetan monks and I met some people to keep on travelling with: because travelling solo is never travelling solo.
A week of monastic environment and silence left us with a clear mind and the will to move more, so we decided to go to Pokhara, a town by a lake surrounded with mountains and much quieter than Kathmandu, that other travellers had told us about.
What we didn’t know was that, in order to get there, we needed an 8 hour bus ride. An 8 hour bus ride through nepali roads. That’s like travelling inside a washing machine…
A couple of days later, we were doing every trek around there… Hiking to view points at almost 6500ft (which back then was enough for us), visiting schools that were lost in the mountains, sleeping with local families and walking more and more hours through endless trails and dirt roads.
On that same week, we were watching the sunrise from the top of Poon Hill (10500ft) without any sense of time and not even recalling how many toothless old ladies smoking in a squat had told us “Namaste, namasteee!” on the way up.
We went back to Pokhara completely wrecked and on the next morning, after a casual 15 minutes conversation that I had with a stranger while having breakfast, I decided that I had to go to the Everest and chase my childhood dream. I convinced a friend to join me and we left to Kathmandu on the terrible washing machine-bus, not without first taking a farewell swim in the lake under the Annapurna peaks.
We rented the gear we needed in order not to lose a finger on the way up, we got the permits arriving to the office 5 minutes before they close and we mentally prepared ourselves for what was coming while still recovering from last week’s blisters and sore muscles.
And though the buses set the bar high, now we still needed to spend 12 hours trapped inside a washing machine-jeep with other 8 people and super loud nepali music before getting to the beginning of the trail. That was a torture but not in vain because in the jeep we met Doctor Bob, a renegade American pharmacist who had left his country and his boring job to become a traveller. He would say, though: “I’ve been doing this for 7 months. At some point it is not travelling anymore, right?”
I could write an entire book about Doctor Bob but I will only say that he hiked up to 13000ft wearing flip-flops (he would only put on his boots at night, inside the guest houses) and that he didn’t stop smoking cigarettes or drinking beers, not even above 16000ft. Doctor Bob is not a role model but he is a really special character…
I don’t even know what to say about the Everest trek which has probably been the hardest experience in my life up until that point. Here’s a list of stuff: yaks, children running with frozen dirty faces, daal bhat (no daal bhat, no life), old ladies washing their clothes while squatting, yak poop, shacky bridges, old ladies sewing while squatting, pack mules, Tibetan flags, old ladies cleaning and singing while squatting, more yak poop… and surreal landscapes all the time. Heights and distances that don’t make sense – we would sleep at 9800ft, then go down to 4900 and finally spend the next night at 8200 –from rivers and valleys to the high Himalayas, “the home of snow”. Always by ourselves (without guides or porters) and gathering around our only map to argue every night.
During winter time, water freezes at 13000ft but it is low season at least and you only cross paths with ten people per day, not 800 as we were told it would be some months later, with lines of people filling these trails.
As we got higher and higher, the owners of the guest houses went from saying “we don’t have hot shower, only cold shower” to “we don’t have cold shower, only a bucket” to “we don’t have bucket but we have a river”… Every day we thought the trail couldn’t get harder and that the worst was already done. And every day it would surprise us again.
Moving above 16000ft is like trying to walk while sets of waves break on you… But standing up there and looking around makes it worth it.
Bob used to say that the sunset was “hiker’s midnight” and we would all eat daal bhat for dinner and gather around the fire trying to fight the freezing cold under tons of clothes, without even enough energy or oxygen to laugh at each other.
We arrived at the base camp after ten days of walking and we met Alex Txikon, who was there with his team trying to complete the first winter expedition to the top. They invited us to have some tea inside their tent and we talked about the absurd need of climbing mountains just because “they are there” as if we were “conquering the useless”.
We could hike down in only two days, even though one nepali guide told us he was 100% sure we wouldn’t be able to do it and on the 23rd of February we were arriving in Lukla with the sunset, following the last row of yaks. On the next morning, we dragged our bodies to the socalled “most dangerous airport in the world” and flew back to the city chaos after nearly 14 days lost in the mountains.
It was Losar, Tibetan new year (happy 2147!), and we had forgotten how to live without our “wake up frozen, put on some hard socks and walk on the moon for 7 hours a day” routine. We didn’t even know what to do with so much oxygen…
Going back to civilization was comfortable and we had not really found anything up there in the mountain. But maybe we need to be uncomfortable and do something absurd every once in a while. I really don’t know but maybe we have to fight and “conquer the useless” in order to get a bit closer to who we are.
Next morning I was saying goodbye to my trek mates and taking another nasty bus ride to Chitwan. Nepal has several worlds of its own inside: I had been hiking frozen mountains a few days ago and now I was in the middle of the jungle. Heat, mosquitoes and hundreds of wild noises around me that only the local people could understand.
So I spend a couple of days walking through the landscapes of “The jungle book” with the other two backpackers that were staying at the hostel, between running deers, flirting peacocks, crocodiles under the sun, elephants carrying loads of branches, birds of every possible shape and colour, thief monkeys, bears poking the ground… and our nepali guide with his stick, as if that was going to save us in a dangerous situation.
And everything ends up with me climbing to a tree (emergency protocol…) while watching a rhino fight by the lake and feeling the whole world trembling underneath. That same night, a group of ten people had a tense situation in front of two shining eyes in the dark. A guide later told us: “No, if it had been a tiger, something would have happened… It was probably only a leopard…”
I go back to Kathmandu feeling connected to the jungle and still slightly freaked out because of the couple of complicated moments I had lived with the wild animals. Then, I spend the last twelve days of the trip in a Vipassana center where I meditated ten hours a days and I didn’t do anything else but going inside. That was much harder than climbing the Everest, yeap…
As I said in the beginning, everything finished suddenly when I found out about what was happening and I had to come back home… And now I’m telling the story and it all seems like a big dream that I’m just waking up from.
There are no waves in Nepal…
But there are gigantic mountains and jungles full of life.
There are people so genuinely nice that you won’t trust their lack of self-interest.
There are exhausted western travellers hiking up with expensive 10kg backpacks well-adjusted on their backs.
There are porters passing us by on their shorts while carrying 60kgs on a strap on their forehead.
There are children running from one village to the next one after school and old men that close their eyes and sit cross-legged for hours.
There is a young Nepalese kid travelling the country on his feet with no money while writing his story.
There is a Canadian white-bearded forest ranger sharing anecdotes with backpackers and bringing wood to the mountain villages.
There are elephants that get high smelling flowers and destroy entire neighbourhoods.
There are Sherpas hiking in just one day as much as you did in two and drinking rice beer all the way.
There is a French guy who doesn’t have a phone and owns only what he wears living in his rainbow-coloured Mongolian yurt.
There are people around temples asking for enlightment and long-bearded gurus trying to sell it.
There are hundreds of travellers searching for something far from home, completely sure that there is a different way of living.
There is all of that and many other things that wouldn’t even fit inside a book. And so much more beyond words…
There are no waves in Nepal but there is some kind of chaotic flow inside which you can learn how to move. And in the end, everything always goes well…
Search for something that you’re not going to find and conquer the useless. Really, it’s worth it…
I hope we’ll meet in the water this summer!
Take care and see you soon…