In Nepal

(See the whole Nepal picture gallery.)

"My name is Sulim Pal, I am from Nepal, I just want to sell you a shawl, come with me and you'll have a ball". A suave Nepalese businessman in Kathmandu was trying to sell us shawls in his store. He burst into a laugh. Even though we knew that he was probably just trying to make money by making us feel good, we were fascinated by his charisma. He was telling us that he didn't actually care about money; money came to him whether he tried or not. He didn't want to scam people like all the other stores. It was all about good karma. He said if you do good things to others, good things will happen to you. His eyes were lit from enthusiasm as he spoke.

Then he invited us to his house the next day. We hesitated. He seemed genuine but we had just met him half-an-hour ago. During our three weeks in Nepal in October, we had med about hundred salesmen every day trying to rid us from our monies. Why would he be any different?

Nepal, and especially the capital Kathmandu, can be exhausting in that respect. There is not a moment in the cities when somebody's not harassing you to buy a product or a service. Typical conversation starters were: "Is this your first time in Nepal, sir?" "You going hiking, sir?" If you answer the harmless sounding question, you invite a sales pitch. It's better to ignore it and keep walking.

There were also salesmen of another kind that would try to sell you some good times with hash or marihuana. They were less pushy due to the delicate matter they were dealing with.

We bought our shawls (which, by the way, were of superb quality) and never returned to the store again.

We had just finished a seven day hike from near Pokhara, a days drive from Kathmandu, to Annapurna Base Camp (ABC). Annapurna Base Camp lies next to the 10th highest peak in the world, Annapurna I, at over 8000 m. (Detail: ABC is not the base camp for Annapurna I but climbers but for another lower peak, Annapurna South.) The Annapurna Sanctuary Trail hike involves hiking up a tenuous but straightforward trail in beautiful settings to around 4100 m above the sea level. It is one of the most popular hiking routes in Nepal along with the Annapurna Circuit.

The Annapurna Sanctuary Trail is lined with several tea houses where the hikers can eat and overnight. For that reason, we did not pack any food or tents. Most people (maybe around 80-90 % of all hikers) grab a guide to help them get to ABC, but we didn't want one. Call it sense of adventure, or stubbornness.

In retrospect, there was no need for us to hire a guide at least in terms of navigation and finding a place to sleep. Following the trail was simple enough with just a map, and people spoke English at the tea houses. And as long as we stopped hiking before 2-3 pm, there was still space in the tea houses.

The trail itself was super interesting from the bottom to the top, with a meandering path, waterfalls, mountain vies, lush forests, monkeys, birds - and for extra challenge, some leeches. I contracted a leech one day but did not realize it until later. As the night fell and we were undressing in our room in a tea house, in the dark, Delia's head torch happened to shine its beam on my bare foot that I was just going to stick into the sleeping bag. "What happened to your foot!", she gasped. It was covered in blood. A leech had latched onto my shoe, walked up until it reached skin, then set its headquarters in my shoe for some blood gurgling action. It left a neat round hole that kept bleeding for a while after it vacated the premises. My sock was stiff from the blood. A sanitary wipe from the first aid fixed my foot.

We completed the hike to ABC and back in about seven days at a fairly relaxed pace. Normally it takes 8-10 days, but we found seven days to be just perfect for having sufficiently physical days but providing enough time to chill out. The up-and-then-down characteristics of the trail profile, plus the brutal heat at times, kept our legs working hard every day. By the end of the trip we felt strong and simply ran down the steep trails built with stairs (which was most places). Trip highlights: boulder climbing at 4000 m with a Scott, an Irish and two older Chinese ladies; sipping hot cocoa at ABC while watching the sunrise on the mountains; and hanging out with some cool people at night in the tea houses. And yak cheese pizza with its awesomely pungent smell.

In Pokhara, we celebrated our return from the mountains with Mojito Pitchers and Grilled Chicken Salad at the slickest restaurant in town. We soon discovered it was run by some Canadians. If figures. We weren't particularly drawn to southern style restaurants but the Mojitos in this one were just too good.

Mojito recipe here.

The bus ride to Pokhara from Kathmandu and back to Kathmandu is extremely slow and bumpy: the road conditions, as is usual in Nepal, are abysmal and it took us seven hours to do a few hundred kilometers. No wonder there are so many road accidents in the country.

During our last days in Kathmandu while waiting for our departure day, we got a little sloppy with the drinking water and both acquired diarrhoea. In Nepal, you can't even wash your teeth with tap water because it's not clean. We started ignoring that rule in the end, and paid for it. The last few night we spent in a luxurious hotel just for the heck of it. We became very familiar with its immaculate toilets.

See the whole Nepal picture gallery.


Season's end

Fall season is a wrap. Before heading to Nepal for a little holiday in early October, we pulled out the boat from the water and waved goodbyes to the waves. The last trip on the fiord we did while the first snow was falling down. Floater suits were worth their cost on those cool days.

In this blog entryy you will find a mixed collection of photos from October.

Our new team member, Sola, followed us all over on our trips. She handled the boat well except for jumping in and out of it: she always gets stuck by the belly on the side. We have to give her a lift. Now she has learned how to appropriately stiffen up into plank position for easier lifting convenience.

Aulatsivikjuak Bay:

Mouths full of trail-mix ("no, don't take a picture now!"):

A hike that I enjoyed especially much was from the Hudson's Bay cabin towards Moon Lake at the end of Pangnirtung Fiord. We traveled to the cabin by boat, barely making it in through the barricading rocks at a quickly dropping tide. The propeller got dinged there a few times and now it's looking like we've actually been to places.

The blue spot in the image is a ghost of an ancient shaman.

In the bay there was a great little spot for parking the boat. The hike was very fun, steep with great views, sporty. Thanks for Devin and Kendra for company there! We didn't quite go all the way to Moon Lake but I would be interested to do so in the winter with skis. The approach would have to be less steep, though. Summiting Moon Peak would be well worthwhile.

All in all it was a great fall season. We did the mileage we wanted to with the boat and learned the basic skills. Tides do not seem that complicated to keep track of anymore. And it was positive to observe that our boat didn't sink.

Having a boat is a lot like having a baby. You have to constantly keep an eye on it and if you don't, something bad will happen. The only difference is that babies are probably less work.


Netsilik Lake hike

This fall again we went for a walk on the tundra. Our destination this time was Netsilik Lake located west of Cumberland Sound. Trip specs: take a looong boat ride to the end of Netsilik Fiord, chill out for a night, hike for five days from Netsilik Fiord to Netsilik Lake and back, chill out for a night and take another loooong boat ride back home.

And heavy emphasis on the chilling out. Last year we made a trip to Clearwater Fiord and completed a grueling hike. That was supposed to be a chilled out trip but was everything but that: painful, stressful, hard, desperate and ugly. Good hiking areas don't come easy here, and we had learned it the hard way.

Netsilik Lake area is a known area for hunting by foot. It's got ancient travel routes and is known for great caribou hunting. Or used to be: caribou have disappeared almost completely from around Pangnirtung (which means "the place of bull caribou") and Netsilik Lake. Due to its historical importance and good hiking, we were interested to check out Netsilik Lake.

Learning from last year's mistakes, we kept a compass handy all the time. The hiking turned out to be decent right away, and the compass gave us accurate directions (as long as we took account the 30+ degree declination). Strong southeasternly winds pushed us with medium effort to Netsilik Lake in two days. It wasn't easy, but it wasn't very difficult either.

An overnight at Netsilik was magnificient despite the increasing winds. The lake is massive and covers a huge area of land. It's got seal and tons of fish. The shores are littered with ancient markers (as well as a few more recent fuel drums), tent rings and other signs of Inuit presence in the past. We would have liked to have stayed longer, but the winds made us anxious to start heading back.

Then came the "not so fun part" of our hike. I guess it was to be expected. For three days we hiked into very strong winds, leaning forward and weaving our way back to our pickup spot. We did not take any risks and went back the exact same route as we came in. No fancy stuff this time - just keep it simple and get our assed out of there without unnecessary pain.

After returning to Pangnirtung, we got several congratulations for being the first qallunaat to walk to Netsilik Lake. Most people were proud of us. Some were not so sure. We could have "spooked" the caribou. I find that rather ironic but appreciate the concern.

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