We dragged ourselves out of bed this morning to more frozen windows and pipes. Nothing had changed since we had seen Everest. We were still cold, hungry and cash poor. We had to make it to Namche for an ATM if we were to eat tonight.
Our one break today was at a tea shop in a village we had stayed in two nights before. Kio and I had the weak black tea with sugar that we have everyday, and the coconut crackers that have begun to trigger my gag reflex.
The two trekkers sitting next to us ordered noodles, and when they came out, the smell of garlic and spices was unbearable. I ate my crackers and tried to ignore them, but when I looked over ten minutes later, one of them was still trying to finish his plate. I wondered what was taking him so long with the noodles, if he needed help.
I considered whether I was hungry enough to actually go over and eat his leftovers if there would be any. There weren’t.
“Tonight, I’m taking out money and we eat whatever we want,” I told Kio.
“I’m too,” he said.
We thought about the noodles and fried rice and cheese sandwiches we had seen on menus that we had passed up each time for the more economical dal baht.
“I think we need change theme of this trip,” Kio said. “Gastro tourism.”
We finished the tea and crackers and kept walking.
It was a long and windy road to Namche, and sometimes it felt like we were walking in circles. It took us eight hours, but at five, we finally made it back to the cold, grey paper mache city. It was brimming with trekkers decked in North Face gear, maundering through the stone streets between square brick guesthouses, and past vendor after vendor of one-of-a-kind, handmade Nepali goods.
We dumped our bags at a guesthouse chosen at random and withdrew our monies from the center ATM.
“Let’s go eat.”
I had the veggie burger that had haunted my dreams the previous six days. It came with cheese and fried potatoes that I doused with salt and ketchup. I ate it so fast I nearly choked, and still, I was hungry.
Kio bought us a slice of banana cake, chocolate cake, a chocolate donut, coffee and hot chocolate. We inhaled it all, and finally I was full.
Yesterday’s Everest couldn’t have been further from my mind.
“I’m tired of these mountains.” Kio brought coffees to the table.
We had had an argument with the manager of our guesthouse over where we ate dinner last night. We had agreed upon checking in that we would eat dinner and breakfast at the house in lieu of paying for the room. When we returned last night, following our feast at the other cafe, the restaurant was closed and the woman working at the time said a big breakfast in the morning would suffice.
This morning, the manager told us we were only allowed to order one thing from the menu, which was called “Big Breakfast.” We had apparently renounced our rights to choose anything else on the menu by not having eaten there last night.
“But sir (Kio had gotten me into the habit of calling people “sir” and “ma’am”), what we want to order will be more expensive than the big breakfast anyway.”
“No,” he said. “You order big breakfast, or pay 1000 rupees.”
One thousand rupees was literally five times more than we had paid for any accommodation on this trail, but I preferred paying it to giving into this man’s irrationality. I handed him a thousand rupee bill and we went back to the cafe we had dined at the night before.
“We should have stayed in this place,” Kio said, sixteen hours too late. It was also a guesthouse.
“Yea, we should have.”
I had another veggie burger.
“Maybe we can go to Salleri today,” Kio said after a few hours of walking.
“There’s no way.”
“We started at 11 today.”
We stopped at a cafe to look at the map.
“No, ok, tomorrow.”
We decided a village called Surke was as far as we would probably make it today.
The woman at the cafe brought out our tea with a couple of boiled potatoes and salt and pepper.
“Thank you so much.”
Kio dug in his backpack and took out the bag of tea leaves from Kathmandu.
He went inside to deliver it. “It’s good tea from Kathmandu,” I heard him say.
The woman came out again with another plate of potatoes.
We made it to a guesthouse in Surke as it was getting dark.
We ordered dinner and talked across the long wooden table to the owner’s 17-year-old son with the perfect square teeth. Kio asked him whether yetis were real, and I asked what it was like to live in the mountains. He didn’t live in the mountains. The family was from Kathmandu and came up to open the lodge for the season. And yetis were real, of course, but they had all been killed off in the 70’s.
His little brother sat with his dinner in front of the little television in the corner playing cartoon Christmas series. He’d get up to hit it when the picture started getting fuzzy.
As we ate our dal baht, our new friend assured us that we wouldn’t be able to make it to Salleri tomorrow like we had thought.
“It’s impossible,” he said.
It would take us two days.
Damn. Two more days.
I dreamt last night that I was in a supermarket looking at rows of chapstick. There were so many options, so many colors. It was beautiful.
For four days I’ve been using a q-tip to scrape out the last bit of my chapstick from the tube. It’s officially empty and my lips have never been so dry. It hurts to smile. Maybe it’s lucky then that I didn’t do any smiling today. Neither the group of drunk singing Nepali teens we passed while the sun was out and the trail smelled like horseshit, nor the weed-smoking grandma we climbed by as the sun disappeared behind the mountains could pull a sore smile out of me.
We walked eight hours straight. We really wanted to get to Salleri today, but the kid had been right. It was impossible.
We were still walking as darkness fell. It had been at least a couple of hours uphill. I was climbing on some alien second wind, but Kio was struggling.
“Kamille, stop,” he called from behind me. He sat on a rock and said those words that didn’t matter: “I can’t walk.”
It didn’t matter.
“It’s stupid what we do, Kamille. Normal people don’t do it. Walk up, down, up, up again, again. It’s not normal. We walk all day. We don’t speak. And we can’t get there.”
I offered him a pack of coconut crackers. He refused them. I couldn’t blame him.
He said there with his head in his hands and kept insisting he was too exhausted to go on.
“I know, but we can’t stay here, Kio.”
The night was navy blue with black shadows. I didn’t know how long we would have to walk in the dark.
I asked a girl watching us from the doorway of the building in front of us if there was some guesthouse near. She said the name of one and pointed up the next hill.
“It is near?” I asked. It was a stupid question, but I asked.
The girl nodded.
Kio pushed himself up off the rock and we kept walking.
We got to the top of the hill and found the girl had been right about the place being close by. At the top of the hill here was a street lined with buildings, covered with Christmas lights. A dancing blue strobe light hung from one guesthouse. I rushed to it and asked for a room, while Kio leaned against a pillar outside. Inside, there were five or six people sitting on benches watching WWE wrestling.
We followed a woman up four flights of stairs, dropped our bags and sat on our new beds for a minute.
“Let’s go eat,” I said, getting up.
“No, I don’t wanna eat,” Kio snapped. “I wanna speak with you.”
I returned to my seat and listened as he continued the venting he had started down the hill. “I don’t understand why they build these cities up, up, and not around,” he was saying.
When he finished, I nodded and looked at him as sympathetically as I could.
Then, “I’m hungry,” I said. “You’ll feel better with food.”
I had expected him to protest, but he nodded and this time we both got up to head down.
Kio took my arm and stopped me in the doorway. “And this bitch,” he said, “opens a room on the third floor. I think the bottom floors are not full.”
It was that kind of day.
What a day. It only took us six hours to get to Salleri, but it was six hours of thinking ‘we must nearly be there.’
Another two hours of climbing this morning brought out of me the frustration Kio must have felt last night. How could we still be climbing in these f*#%ing mountains? We were on the way down, so why all the uphill?
The path leveled later and for the next four hours we walked a flat, endless dirt road.