Friday, Dec. 19, 11:13PM
Song: Crickets, the river’s gentle murmur, a dog barking
Today was such a great day! We woke up in Shithole, Nepal, and it was actually raining slightly and overcast. The feeling was unanimous that we wished to lay in bed, watch a movie, read our books, maybe go spend some time on the internet (when the power came on), and even maybe have a hot shower or go see a movie. Unfortunately we were speaking of luxuries only available in dreams, as none of this was possible, nor did we want to linger unnecessarily in our unsavory guest room. We walked around searching for our power-food, alu paratha (big spicy potato pancake and curry), and we actually found it! Hot damn they were good! (I’ve probably written about ’em more than we’ve actually eaten them, today being only my second time in Nepal), so how could it not be a spectacular day!?
I had a surprising amount energy today. I lead the pack, cruising up our mountains with sheer conquest pumping through my legs, and it was the most beautiful scenery we’ve had in 2 weeks. Sun dissolved the clouds, and I was actually Happy to have big hills, because that means big beautiful mountain scenery. Unlike the mountains I know back home, which are big, gradually rising grey giants, the Himilayas are the product of post-Pangea India crashing into the Asian continent, causing countless rippling hills, closely packed together as far as the eye can see. Anyway as long as they’re not too steep, it’s a pleasure to see and worth the upward effort (and downward reward.) At one pass Jamey and I got ambushed by about 20 students and we spent 30 minutes taking pictures and hanging out. Everyone wanted pics with us, wearing our helmets and posing on our bikes. I wanted one of their email addresses so I could send them the pics, but unbelievably None of them had one! I especially like the little baby sitting on my back rack for a shot.
Not far out of the mountains we saw a neat-looking clearing (that didn’t look like anyone’s farm land) which we thought might be campable, but I insisted we bike along the footpath leading into the woods to see if we could get nearer to the river, and we found the sweetest place to camp right on a cliff overlooking the valley. This place is incredibly sweet! So tonight we pitched our tents, washed up in the river, boiled water to drink and for tea, and now we’re sleeping in a peaceful quiet spot under the stars.
When we’re not staying on a farm, in a guesthouse, or at hotel, (ie. in a school or in the woods), two of us will bike to the nearest town to pick up some food for dinner and some fresh fruit for breakfast. It was Bonnie’s & my turn, so we biked 5km in a spectacular sunset to a town that sounds like BallBang. We did well, scoring chowmein, samosas, and veg. fritters for dinner, and tomatoes, cabbage, garlic, green beans, cilantro, oranges, bananas (and salt) for a fresh fruit & veg breakfast salad tomorrow. We made this once before, trying to re-create a tiny salad we were served at the best little hole-in-the-wall in Demauli, plus one important lemon — I had a little English-speaking guardian angel taking me all around town asking for one! — but no lemons in town. What fun it was! The town was dark except for a dozen fires here and there… it was so surreal, all the fires in the street. We went down a dark side street to find take-away soda (most soda is in glass bottles which you drink there at the store or restaurant), and the boy took me to 8 different stores and hotels. I never in a million years thought I’d feel so perfectly at home walking down a street lit by firelight in a foreign country, holding a 4th grader’s hand, shopping for dinner, and here I am. We always create a stir wherever we go, but now I’m totally used to it, and it’s pretty fun. When I came back from my hunt with the boy to find Bonnie waiting for our hot food, she had no less than 20 kids crowded around her. Each of them took turns shaking her hand and practicing their English on her. Soon we were on our way with a massive amount of food for $4 (incl. 4 kilos of fruits & veg!) and we enjoyed our nighttime ride home lit by our bike lights. We stand out so much from the other on the road as we’re the only ones with lights! (One girl on the road the other day said ‘Goodbye tourists!”) Save for some rough pavement, it’s pretty safe!
It’s SO nice to be camping out. I love the farms and the country, and love a little time in the cities (to get my fixes), but I really can do without the in-between towns that are basically crappy urban centers, devoid of the riches of agro-Nepali country goodness. You’re paying to stay in dirty dingy guest houses, and despite the people’s consistent friendliness it’s like purgatory, and you can’t wait to get out. A few kilometers out you let out a sigh of relief at the green fields, goats jumping (well there are goats everywhere but city goats are all shabby), clay homes with thatch roofs, clean streams… Anyway camping is the best, and this spot is glorious. Plus, there’s nobody peering in our window (like in the school house). Actually, there’s nobody, except for some apparently beautiful girl passing through that Jamey and Cara went down to the river with to fetch some water, whom they shared a long silent moment just sitting and enjoying the peace.
At first I used to think it was weird, but Nepalis just come and chill with you, whatever you’re doing, often times without saying a word. It’s not like they’re just staring and being weird, either. And it happens everywhere: on the side of the road a whole family or two will just come and stay with you while you do your thing; at a store; in the hotel… today the 18yr (newlywed) girl just came into our guest room (for the 5th time, unannounced) and just hung out while we were carrying on, goofing and cracking jokes. It’s funniest in the restaurants — the server will sit at the table; or the whole family, with friends and neighbors, will just sit and watch you eat. This may all sound rude or invasive, but really it’s not, because the vibe is so much less formal and impersonal like in most businesses we know — it’s we who are the guests, and we have stepped into the lives of these families. A server isn’t really a server, but the inn-keeper’s son or cousin. The cook isn’t a cook, he’s the owner of the guesthouse or kitchen you happened upon. On the street when we ask someone for help, everyone around is interested, because they all want to know (innocently enough) what’s happening in their town, eager to help with no motives or $trings attached.
I went down to the river after dinner to wash up, and walked around with my headlamp off (ie. in total darkness save for the moon and it’s reflection on the water) and I realized, as I’ve done repeatedly, that I’m in Nepal! Orion is looking down at me from above, just like at home, but instead of being surrounded by millions in an orange cloud I’m in dark, in the quiet, alone. Ahhhhhhhhh. I see a headlamp across the way and hear a Nepali voice. I’m in Nepal!!!! It’s my extreme privilege to spend time in this alternate universe on Earth. I can’t believe it’s true, that I can just hop on a plane and be in a place like this. This is the miracle of our day, of our good fortune, of our good planet that we can do this. It is everything I’ve wished for. And I’m going to do it, again and again and again. The only thing that would make it more perfect here is You.
We came up with a Christmas plan tonight. Just before the border there is another National Park. Hopefully, we can camp in it and enjoy the peace of Nepal for one last night.
I can’t believe we’re going to step into another world yet again, so soon. But for now it’s time for me to sneak behind my eyelids. I imagine being curled up on the comfy couch, my belly full on eggnog and the white glazed Christmas cookies, glowing embers in the fireplace, the Christmas tree and manger still yet alive in frozen timeless time. It’s time for bed! Goodnight, my beloveds!