I met Anya for the first time while passing she and her French friend, Javier, taking a rest by a large rock enor ute to Tatopani from Jomsom. I spoke a few words to them in passing regarding my trek and didn’t stop at that time to make much conversation. She laughs now about the next hour or so of the walk as they were behind me in the distance watching my decision to hop on a bus. The journal entry she showed me from that day was something like, ‘Wisconsin disappeared on the bus’.
I had lost the 3 Nepali guys earlier in the day in a little village that I think I decided to walk through rather than around so they were not with me at the time and I had waited sometime for them to walk up at one point so I didn’t know if they were in front or behind me anymore. So I came to a large bend in the road where the riverbed seemed to widen and instead of taking the road around the entire edge of the river that we were following I opted to traverse the riverbed across and avoid some unnecessary road. It worked as I had watched, while I stopped to squat and pee before crossing, some local farmers with their water buffalos snake their way across the rocky open span of land. So I managed to hop, skip and jump over the water, using a little homemade log bridge at one point, and then I heard the sound of a vehicle and looked back to see a bus rounding the bend. It was the only bus seen yet in the day coming my direction so I gauged my pace and quickened up my steps to make it to the other side of the riverbed and onto the road just in time. I raised a trekking pole and the bus came to stop in front of me and one of the 3 Nepali guys I was walking with stuck his head out and without a word I jumped on and was whisked away.
The bus stopped for everyone to unload and have some tea, bathroom breaks and the guys got some sort of curry in a little dishes that I gladly took. Then back on the bus I was squeezed next to a drunk man in his 30’s or 40’s maybe, he kept elbowing me, smiling big and dancing with his arms to the Nepali folk music playing loudly in the background. One more stop for the 2 or 3 tourists including me to check in at a TIMS check point (Trekking Information Management System). Everyone has permits when trekking in various regions and these are checkpoints for you to have your permit stamped and then your next intended destination documented in a ledger in case of any emergency so that you can be back-tracked so to speak. Last stop for that bus was short of Tatopani – due to the petro shortage the buses don’t just keep going because they literally don’t have enough fuel and we needed to hope for another bus with fuel and enough passengers to go the last stretch. I immediately noticed a large group of foreigners seemingly having a great time standing and sitting around a table in the open dusty ground of this ‘bus stop’ where there are a few little shops that serve food and beer. The group was 15 Czech’s and their 8 guides and porters waiting for their privately hired bus to arrive and proceeding to get drunk on Kukri rum and Tuborg beer. I asked about their plans and they indicated they had ordered a bus and laughed about it maybe showing up…so they were just whooping it up, chasing ducks and I was happy to be welcomed immediately to the group by being offered a coke bottle with straight rum in it to have a toast.
I told my Nepali mates they needed to talk to the guide(s) because we could get on the bus with them and just needed to know how much they would want to charge us to tag along. In the end the bus arrived and we all piled on – packs on top and booze inside for an adventurous ride. The bus had colorful yarn macrame hanging down all around the front of it. I found it to be full of dust as it rained down on my head every time we swayed and bounced which is every 3 seconds!! The singing started immediately from the Czech’s and continued endlessly back and forth in a battle between the Czech’s and then the Nepali’s each singing their own traditional songs, anthems and cheers. I sat as the single American foreigner humming, laughing, gasping every so often at the crazy driving on the edge of the mountain and appreciating my company of a bus full of cheer the whole 4 hour ride.
We stopped to ‘pile’ out of the bus at one point and see a waterfall on the side of the road and I went out with the Nepali guys to get some pictures. I handed my phone to Hari, one of the 3 I was traveling with, to take a picture of mhe. I njstepped down on the rocks to get closer to the spraying water and that’s when my 1st of 9 lives in Nepal was used up. Suddenly my foot slipped and I careened head first into a deep crevice of rocks that was being beaten by the forceful water falling from above. I hit my head so hard, that was the first thing that smacked against the rocks, and immediately was aware of this loud and chaotic force pinning me upside down. I just remember thinking long enough about being upside down and not having the ability to right myself and no concept of where my arms or even the rest of my body really was – I was simply conscious of my head being where it was and I think my only option was to move my head in a way that I could find air amidst the heavy weight of water in my face.
Thank God within only seconds Hari had thrown my phone and jumped down to grab me by my arm and leg and pulled me up onto the rocky ledge I started on. I didn’t have time to even think about how I was going to get out on my own before I felt his hands dragging me out. I immediately came to feeling like I needed to regain control of the situation and saw my purple jacket down in the rocks which I was able to stoop over and get myself, thankfully I had my go pro on my wrist (the selfie stick) because it came back up with me. The first thing Hari said to me while looking me over head to toe and staring into my eyes was something like ‘and this is why I am never leaving your side’. I felt protected at that moment and I understood the feeling of having someone next to you in a moment of crisis when you aren’t able to get out of something by yourself and you have no control. I went back to the bus where the Nepali guys had all heard quickly what happened among themselves and were all worried and making sure I was ok. I felt stupid at that moment just feeling the need to stay in control and find my pack on the top of the bus, none of them were happy when I jumped on the ladder myself and climbed up before they could stop me, so that I could get my dry clothes out and change. I walked down a little path so I could get out of sight to change and it felt like I had 10 Nepali watchdogs that wanted to stay next to me the whole time.
I was lucky I came out of it all with a big goose egg on my head and only bruised legs and arms, that night after we got into Tatopani the guys made it a point to check on me in the evening as I could have a minor concussion and didn’t want to be left alone to sleep all day the next day or anything. They were so good about everything and Hari especially really has continued to check on me as I haven’t returned to Kathmandu yet and I owe him a nice meal at least after saving me from dying in a waterfall in the Himalayas.