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.


Gallery: Rovaniemi 2010

I added in the gallery section a few photos from last June in Rovaniemi (featuring the "Londonians" JP and Caroline). I'll keep filling this album as I get further in the photo process.


Tomorrow is the day for departure on a big hike at the northern end of Cumberland Sound. It's been such a busy weekend that we are really looking forward to getting out of here and chilling somewhere where we can't worry about anything because it's not there to worry about. And there's plenty of nothing to worry about there.

I don't think we'll be accumulating a lot of kilometers this time - it would be nice simply to find a few cool spots and stay at them for as long as we feel like, enjoy the camp life, do some bouldering and fishing, scramble some hills in the evenings.

This change in hiking strategy actually stems from the big realization that hiking is just a fancy word for walking. "Hey, let's go walk for seven days on the tundra." Neh,

On another note, my boulder climbing project here in Pang, my nemesis, is still unbeatable. I've worked through it's three sections individually but need 300 % more effort to link them. It's all overhanging an no footholds except the roof edge (in other words, heel-hooks all the way). I'm waiting for the day when I surprise myself and do two sectors in a row. According to my calculcations, that will be around 2017. But I've upped my frequency at the rock and hope to do that this year. The rock is probably 7something on French bouldering grade, maybe 7a or 7a+. Could be less. I don't have anything to compare it to. The route will be called Eesti Aerobic.


Northern light photos in the gallery

I added new northern light photos in the gallery. Go check them out!

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