The day I met Pokhara Pete.

“I wish to pray for the passage of her soul as it rises to the radiant lights” – Pokhara Pete.

I had started my 18 day trek with 3 Nepali guy friends from Bhaktapur, after reaching our goal of Lake Tilicho they continued back the same route and I headed over Throng La Pass to complete the remainder of the Annapurna Circuit.  I had met Anja and Flo, two independent hikers, German and French, and we all decided to make a quick trek up and finish our journey with South Annapurna Basecamp (ABC).  On our way back down we crossed the main highway which most choose to end their trek by jumping on a crowded bus or jeep and riding back to Pokhara but not us! So we snaked our way down a less than traditional route by navigating small, un-mapped mountain trails and old washed out, overgrown roads until finally we came to rest our eyes on the little villages dotting the edges of the Seti River which feeds into Phewa Lake, the second largest lake in Nepal.

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Views of the Seti River as we came down into Pokhara Valley from the West

As long as the path stayed in the downward direction and remained heading east we trekked on hungry and ready for a lakeside community to gobble us up.  We walked through a few small villages where cars and buses could be seen and heard again.  We were surprised to find none of the places were open to serve us any food and here we had put off eating far too long and were just about on empty when we came into Pame, the village just a mile from Pokhara.  Flo was waving his arms out of the doorway of a place in complete celebration that he found us a Nepali woman who would cook us dal bhat and even tracked down some warm beers too.  We were officially done with the mountain trekking through the Annapurna Range.  After eating what I will call the worst dal bhat of the 3 months in Nepal we finished the walk to Pokhara alongside the lake.

 

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Our first views of Phewa Lake in Pokhara

Anja and I found the best little guesthouse tucked along the shore in what they refer to as ‘The Lakeside’ portion of Pokhara.  Although the city is one of the largest in the country this small quaint area along the water would never convince you of that.  The vibe is all about island time with tie-dye fabrics, hemp-made clothing and reggae music playing at the greasy little diners lined along the streets.

Our room at the guest house overlooked the lake and had been run by the same family for over 30 years for $6.00 a night. It had an attached bathroom, was safe and clean with a hot-‘ish’ shower depending on the time of day and if there was any sun since it was a direct sun-heated black tub on the roof rather than electric or gas water heater.  We said our goodbyes to Flo and exchanged information as he was rejoining his girlfriend waiting for him at a different guesthouse in Pokhara.

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Flo, Anja and I finishing up our trek together of Annapurna South Basecamp

Fresh Veggie Salad, followed by pizza and desser.....what no dal bhat!!
Fresh Veggie Salad, followed by pizza and dessert…..what no dal bhat!!

After the most refreshing fresh salad, a slice of amazing thin crust pizza and a ridiculously good brownie and ice cream dessert at ‘Godfathers Pizza’, which I highly recommend, we found ourselves walking the lakeside taking in the local sounds echoing across the lake.

We were drawn to the live music coming from a group of younger Nepali guys sitting at a really tiny tiki bar/hut with short little bamboo couches and a thatched floor overlooking the water.  They were playing all sorts of American covers and some memorable Nepali pop songs.  With no one else in sight we sat down and ordered a beer to enjoy the ambiance all to ourselves.  We met the guys and I only remember the one’s name, Bsan because I came to know him a bit better after taking a motorcycle ride later in my Pokhara stay.  That lovely ride resulted in my falling off the back of the bike on a steep, sharp corner heading down from seeing the World Peace Stuppa… another story for later.

That night the guys told us about a place to enjoy more music, beer and a game of pool called, ‘The Old Blues Bar’.  So, we conceded to following them and found ourselves playing a game of pool (on a snooker table) and having a beer.  I was sitting down at the table talking to Anja when a man who looked to be in his 60’s sat down at the bar close to our table.  He didn’t look to be all that healthy with a spindly and frail frame; he was at least 5’10”, thin and bony with a withdrawn look about him.  What made his sad appearance even more prominent was the deep set in look of confusion and pain all wrapped up into the furrowed skin between his eyes and sagging skin of his cheeks that drooped down near his jawline.  I have been told throughout my life that I am a very ’empathetic’ person,  I find myself wanting to get right down to the rawness and depth of a person rather than spend a lot of time on the surface level conversation.  This has also come to serve as a way to take the attention off of my own pain and problems and feel purposeful in letting someone vent and experience their own feelings while I tuck mine away for a bit.

 So, naturally, I felt the urge to motion the man over with a hand gesture and eye contact.  He stood up, stepped near and responded by saying, “I suppose I could join you but I’m not much for good company”. I was intrigued at that point by his simple response that begged the question of “Why?”  Anja and I introduced ourselves and he did the same telling us his name was Pete and then proceeding to say, “I just found out that my sister died”.  I think my heart actually dropped in my chest as I felt the instant depth of his sorrow no longer kept inside but a wound open and fresh on the outside.  Within hours he had heard that his closest sister, Sue, had died suddenly from a heart attack back in Australia where he was originally from.  He was distressed and in a state of numbness as he proceeded to explain she died on Friday the 13th of Nov. it had already been 5 days and due to some email issues he had only just found out via email from his family that day. The most difficult thing at the moment was that he would not be able to fly back home, to Australia, in time for her funeral. He would be leaving the following day and had his flight booked, so there he sat just feeling through one of the most painful things he would experience in life, the death of a sister, sitting at a bar with strangers.
He spent some time talking about her heart and soul and spirit, who she was and how she mattered to him. She was his oldest sister at 69 and he was 58, he had 3 other sisters and was just wanting to come up with the words to have his family say on his behalf at the funeral he wouldn’t make.  I offered to write down his words and feelings for him as he jumped from thought to thought and what he described next was a beautiful summary of what he wished, “I wish to pray for the passage of her soul as it rises to the radiant lights”.   He had said that when he closed his eyes this was what he saw and he wasn’t too sure what he believed when it came to God or other religions but he believed her spirit was truly beautiful and that he could visualize her rising up into the bright light above.  The whole night was quite touching to me as he proceeded to talk about how he also lost a best friend, Jeff, to suicide only a few years ago.  For those of you reading this who don’t know I also in the recent years lost 2 very close loved ones, my aunt Carrie to lung cancer at 54 yrs old and my brother-in-law, Jeff, at 43 yrs old to suicide.  We ended that night sitting by the lake on a piece of driftwood with a glass of wine and laughing about some truly beautiful and joyful moments and memories we carried of our loved ones.

Losing loved ones brought our hearts together on that night. The most spiritual and touching of moments are right under our noses wherever we are in life and it amazes me who and what walks in the door when I open it to those around me.  I am saying a prayer for Pokhara Pete today in hopes that he made it safely back home where he could be of comfort to his family and feel the comfort of his family that he needed. We are all in need of others during our life to listen, to express, to feel and share the joy and the sorrow of life’s amazing journey. The best advise I can give after this experience is to keep your heart open to others and their stories and moments of connection because you may not always see the opportunities to help or be a light for someone else if you are too busy looking down at your own stumbling feet.  Pete said he was grateful and felt truly blessed to have met me at that moment and been allowed to share feelings and tears when he otherwise would not have expressed himself so openly to others before. I am glad for that night and will remember it forever.

 

No Money, No Petro, No Phone – No Problem when you have Nepali family with hearts as big the mountains that surround you!


I arrived in Tatopani with my injuries from the waterfall plunge as a great reason to spend a day recovering. The 3 guys I had traveled with from Kathmandu got up and after buying me breakfast to say goodbye they headed towards Pokhara via bus.  I happily found some comfort in the room for awhile, writing, napping and thinking about my next plan before venturing out to soak in a hot springs. They were beautiful for the body, extremely hot, but the setting wasn’t nearly as scenic as a second place I came to find on my Annapurna Basecamp route in Jhinu Danda.

I was eating my dinner looking out on the road and I saw Anja hiking up, the smiling German gal I ran into briefly the day before while walking. We chatted and had a laugh about how she had watched me ‘disappear’ onto that fateful bus when I decided to jump on with my Nepali friends. Her French friend arrived behind her and they went to find some cheaper options to stay but I knew we would cross paths if I decided to head towards Annapurna Basecamp in the morning as that was her plan.

I left Tatopani the following morning feeling a bit irresponsible and anxious after having come face to face with nearly running out of money. After paying the hotel I was down to less than 800 rupees ($8) because I hadn’t planned on trekking over the pass and continuing my journey so my only real option at getting cash would be to get on a bus to Beni in the opposite direction as ABC and Ghorepani. It’s funny I left the hotel without making a decision on what I was doing and started to walk. Within a 1/2 kilometer I came to the important junction of a footbridge leading East into the valley toward Ghorepani or the road leading South to Beni. I sat down on a rock and called Shree, unsure of anyone else that could truly aide me in my financial dilemma in the middle of the Annapurna Region. He immediately answered, a good sign to start, and continued to respond to my emotional indecisiveness by saying, “keep going Ang Dolma Sherpa (my nickname from our Everest Region Trek), you’re there now and makes no sense to not see ABC”. He said you have to make it to Ghorepani that night and seek out Sunny Guesthouse, there you can speak with the woman who runs the hotel and call him and he would get the money in my hands. My problem was resolved and I instantly had the freedom once again to continue on in the direction I most wanted to go, Annapurna Basecamp.

That day was one of the most relaxing and beautiful of the trek so far. The landscape was terraced hillsides and the daily life of the Nepalese people was ever-present during harvest season. It was constant activity in all of the bustling villages far removed from from tourism in nearly every sense. The men could be seen and heard up on the terraced mountainsides, pushing, pulling, prodding, shouting, grunting and whistling at their bulls churning up the earth with their handmade plows.

Woman could be seen in nearly every home outside on the stone patios beating huge piles of grain with long sticks of bamboo all in unison. They were all talking loudly, laughing and rarely noticed a passing white face walking along and stopping to snap a picture. Some woman use these big hand woven sifting trays, standing to sift like basically tossing something in a fry pan. A more modern approach was a boy using a rudimentary foot-pedaled machine to power a belt that would rotate large beat up metal blades of a fan. His mother stood in front and tossed the grains from the woven tray while the dusty light outer shells blew off and heavier desirable grains fell to the ground in little heaps at her feet.

Little ones were getting bathed outside their with big basins of soapy water where clothes were also being laundered and laid out to dry all across the stone walls and grassy hills. The woman bath outside as well with sarongs around them pouring cold water over there upside down heads of hair and attempting to scrub up awckwardly underneath the sarong. At first it all seems like such a pain but you come to realize after days and weeks of seeing it all over and over that they aren’t looking for better, faster, easier ways to do things all the time. They have a routine in their chores and activities and the time they need to do these things remains the same. Food is on the table, rest is found at night and joy is seen in the everyday activity. There is not this pressure to do something faster or better when what you get from your current pace is all that you need. It’s definitely a healthy thing to witness coming from the culture of bigger, better, faster, more product, less time, quantity, quantity and more quantity.

A man was sitting cross- legged on the ground using an old hand-crank sewing machine, stitching up clothes in the sun while his older daughter chitter-chattered away at him.

sewing

It was really the first time I can say I didn’t see any needs or reliance on the tourism to keep the villagers busy in their daily lives. I stopped at one point to take the huge cephalopod fossil out of my pack and leave it behind on a rock wall. There was a little girl and boy on the wall standing over me saying, “sweets”, “picture”, “chocolate” and I smiled and said no sweets but I have this present for you…..and pulled the huge fossil from the bottom of my pack. I don’t think they were very enthused about my gift and it will likely stay there for years without any notice that it’s a fossil from the riverbank 50 kilometers away and hundreds of meters below us!!

Further along in my walk I stopped to have some soup for lunch and looked down to see this message on my phone that said ‘Locked SIM’. I asked a local Nepali guide at the teahouse if I could use his phone to contact Shree once again for help!  I needed to see if there was anyway he could find out my PUK number required to unlock the SIM.  All I could think was thankfully this happened after I was able to contact him about money earlier in the day or I may have been ‘bussing’ to Beni after all.  I was shit out of luck unless Shree managed to find the code or get me a new SIM card.  I had reached a point in my journey where I had no money or cell phone service. If it weren’t for my Nepali brothers back in Bhaktapur I would have had to scrap the trip much sooner. He didn’t have the PUK number I later found out and my old number was history but he said he may be able to get me a SIM card in the middle of the ABC trek when I crossed paths with one of the iTrek Nepal guides coming back with a client so we left it at that and I remained without a cell phone in hopes of wi-fi to keep in touch as needed. I’ve been off the radar for longer periods of time that’s for sure.

I continued along toward Ghorepani. I was walking along and starting to climb some more ‘lovely’ steps when a little girl and her dog came running down one of the hills next to the trail and she quietly just looked at me and began walking along beside me.  I pointed ahead and said “Ghorepani”, she said “yes” and I attempted to ask her what village she was from but regardless of how simple I tried to speak she just looked at me and nodded smiling.  Cute as a button, she carried her little purse with a long strap on her head like all the porters carry their loads and baskets around the villages.  She proceeded to run up the endless rock steps stopping and looking and waiting for me just like she was out for a walk herself and enjoyed the company.  Her dog went in front of us just a few meters at all times.  She couldn’t have been more than 5 or 6.  It’s amazing the freedom all these little ones seem to run about with, on some very steep and dangerous cliffs and ridges. It was like her home was in the middle of the wilderness where we were walking and it brings a whole new perspective to what their ‘neighborhoods’ and ‘boundaries’ are when it comes to playing in the woods and walking with strangers to and from nearby villages.  I thought I was wild and free as a child but seeing her just run up and down the mountain trails with her dog really brought a smile to my heart.  A little girl and her dog playing in the wilderness, I could relate to that from my own childhood.

 

After coming up to the next village the little girl did stop trailing along and I came upon a guest house up in the woods and saw a familiar face, it was Anja. We were only a few hours from Ghorepani and she was hiking with a different French guy, Flo, whom she also ran into earlier in her hike when he was with his girlfriend.  He was going to head up to ABC as well so that night we all ended up in Ghorepani, he happened to still get be with his guide and they were also staying at the Sunny Guesthouse which is where we all landed.  I managed to do just what Shree had instructed and the woman from the hotel got on the phone with Shree and 1/2 hour later I had money in hand and he was transferring funds to her bank account. I was a happy trekker among new friends and ready to finish my journey up to Annapurna Basecamp thanks to the beautiful people of this beautiful country.

ghorepani