ANNAPURNA AND EVEREST TREK

December 7, 2003

 

Hello Adventurers,
My trekkers and I had an amazing time exploring the Himalayas. I just returned from Nepal a few nights ago. Any of the past Of Global Interest travelers will be happy to talk to you about their trip. Please do not hesitate to contact them — or me — to learn more. Maybe you will be next. In four years, Of Global Interest has traveled with 18 amazing and wonderful people, ages 24 to 66. I am thankful and grateful to them and to be in this business. Thank YOU too. Happy Thanksgiving!

My business associates and friends in Nepal are making arrangements for an Everest Expedition next spring. I am recruiting a Base Camp Support Team as part of this expedition. This is a three week trip, roughly April 25 to May 16, 04. We will stay at base camp with the climbers and learn first hand what it is like to be part of an Everest Expedition. One climber is an amputee who will attempt to be the first person to climb Everest without a foot. You can be there to cheer him on!

I have one very interested prospect for a trip to New Zealand in March 04. Maybe NZ is on your list of places to visit too. It definitely is on mine. How about it?

I am working on the report for the Of Global Interest Random Acts of Kindness Fund. This describes how I spent the $1,136(!) that came from donors like you. If you made a donation you will receive a copy of this report, otherwise let me know if you’d like one.

 

ADVENTURE JOURNAL ANNAPURNA AND EVEREST: PART ONE

“Five Flights Home”

November 23, 2003

It was last Monday that I learned my flight from Kathmandu to Bangkok had been canceled. Royal Nepal Airlines only has two planes and both were grounded, one in Hong Kong, the other in Dubai — technical difficulties they said. So much for getting to Bangkok and so much for my connecting flights. FIVE flights in a row had to line up: Kathmandu to Bangkok to Seoul to Los Angeles to Denver to Detroit to home! Why do I do this to myself?!

After a struggle with the airlines, hours at the front of a long line of angry tourists, I had a new reservation booked for the next day. When I arrived for the new flight at noon with my 200 pounds of luggage (imports for the Bazaar), I learned it was delayed, not for an hour — but for 15 hours! We would now leave at 2:50 AM the next morning. Again I would miss my connecting flight in Bangkok and the rest of my rebooked itinerary was, like before, useless. I would somehow have to fix this before 2:50 AM if I had any chance of getting home any time soon.

The airlines took us to a five star hotel, the Everest Hotel, where we ate like royalty. Rachel from Australia, who was also on this flight, became a good friend as well as everyone else. We were stuck together and got to know each other well. Royal Nepal gave us rooms at the hotel and would have a bus ready to take us back to the airport at 1AM.

After correcting my ticket at the airlines office downtown in Kathmandu, we had a beautiful Indian dinner at the hotel and were able to sleep a few hours and shower before the overnight flight to Bangkok.

At 2:50 AM the flight was delayed another hour which didn’t surprise anyone. One man said, “The Lord works in mysterious ways. . . and so do the Nepalese.” Finally five hours later, we were safe and landed in Bangkok by 9AM Thai time. The airlines took us to ANOTHER five star hotel, the tallest in Bangkok — 80 floors. The hotel lobby was on the 18th floor. Our room was on the 32nd.   Rachel and I had a wonderful time in Bangkok that day. She was working in Seoul and was on the same next flight as I at 10:40 PM. We managed to sleep, shop in a fashionable neighborhood, take showers and eat a gourmet dinner on the top floor of the hotel overlooking the entire city!

By 5:30 AM Korean time the next morning, we landed in Seoul where Rachel and I went our separate ways. She went back to work teaching English, and I went to the Asiana Airlines desk. “Is there a chance I can get a (free) room for my 12 hour layover here?” I asked, looking pathetically weary and tired.   To my surprise, the answer was “Yes!” It was too easy. A car and driver met me outside and took me downtown Seoul, an hour away, to a beautiful five star hotel. Again I slept like a queen, went shopping at the mall across the street, took a luxurious hot shower with fragrant soaps and ate an amazing all-I-could-eat buffet lunch — all paid for by the airlines! Yes!

Next I was roaring down the tarmac, off to Los Angeles, a journey that would take over 12 hours in the sky, flying over the Pacific Ocean, cramped in one of those tiny seats. I woke up after sleeping about three hours and looked at my watch. It was 4AM. We would not arrive in Los Angeles until 10:10 that morning! UGH. I could not sleep.

I thought the hour would never arrive. Finally we landed in Los Angeles. The line for immigration was long and slow. Thus, I proceeded to miss my connecting flight to Denver. I had to retrieve my 200 pounds of luggage and HIKE to the United ticketing desk which was one MILE away. All my luggage towered precariously a top the little luggage cart. It was a work of art. I tried to control the load and not run over any young children. The sidewalk outside was full of people waiting for transportation with their many suitcases and overly tired, cranky kids — not an easy obstacle course for me. I was soaking wet with sweat by the time I pushed my tower up to the end of another long line of people at the ticket counter.

Finally, it was my turn. My ticket was again rebooked on the computer, and I was lined up for the 12:45 flight to Denver. I had to take my heavy checked bags and everything else over to another long line of people for security. Soon the line came to a halt when my turn was next. Nothing was happening. The machine was “DOWN”. Ugh. My flight would leave in less than 30 minutes. Waiting. Waiting. A worker said he would rush my baggage to the plane once the machine got going again. He tagged each with a big red sticker.

I proceeded upstairs to another security check where there was again a long line of people. Finally it was my turn. The security worker had to open one of my three carry on bags and had to look through its entire contents, very slowly of course. Ugh. I explained that my flight was leaving, and she proceeded to unravel and unroll everything at an even slower pace!

Finally, I was through security and now rushing, running, rushing, sweating, HAULING three heavy carry on bags. Like the Detroit airport, the luggage carts in Los Angeles were three dollars! Being in a hurry, I didn’t know if the dollars I had, if I had any, were too crinkly for the automated machine. I didn’t have time to mess around. All airports should have FREE luggage carts, darn it! I rushed to the gate, almost two miles away. There was not one soul in sight, except one woman who stood at the desk. “Are you Heather O’Neal?” she asked. Then she said, “Your plane just left.”

Again I had to rebook my now totally mangled and well worn ticket for the next flight to Denver in hopes of making my fifth and final flight from there to Detroit. Another long distance covered in this airport and more sweat. My ticket was changed one more time, possibly the most handled and reconfigured ticket in the world.

The next flight left at 2PM, in roughly 20 minutes. It looked like I might make it. After a long trek to gate 77 with my fingers crossed, I did make it but would my luggage?

The man next to me on the flight to Denver had a dog with him. The cage would not fit under the seat which caused a lot of consternation among the flight crew. They were scolding the poor man who looked very much like the farmer in the movie “Babe”. He was from Australia and had come a long way already like me. I could feel for him. Another passenger tried to joke, saying the dog’s cage wasn’t a problem for him. The stewardess responded by saying, “I wasn’t talking to you.” So much for the friendly skies!

Anywhere else in the world, the dog and the cage would not have been a problem. But here, this was the land of rules. It didn’t matter that the plane was half empty and that that dog could have had any seat to herself and that the man and the dog had been up all night flying halfway around the world.

I thought about the flight crew on Asiana Airlines, the Korean company I had just flown with for the last 20-plus hours. All of them were women, young, maybe in their twenties, all with smooth black hair pulled back, beautifully elegant, kind, gentile, sincere. Though they hardly spoke English, it didn’t matter. In contrast, on United Airlines, the crew was mixed, men and women with long and short hair, blond and brunet and red, heavy and thin, tall and short. Like every time I come home from a long trip abroad, I was seeing America with new eyes. I was seeing rules and laws and a poor dog, a tiny Australian-born Chihuahua, who was the cause of some lengthy and unnecessary turbulence.

The Australian tried hard to wedge the dog carrier under the seat, pushing it down hard with his boot, bending the box out of shape. Now it was stuck cockeyed and even harder to remove. The flight crew finally gave up, thank goodness, and we had a pleasant flight after that. When we finally landed in Denver, the Australian called me “mate”. “Good-bye, Mate,” he said.

Now I was soon on my fifth and final flight from Denver to Detroit. No problems there. Those last two hours in the sky felt like fleeting seconds after three and four days of delays, long long layovers, super long air times and several bad movies. By midnight on Thursday, November 20, I was home on Eighth Street in Ann Arbor with my kitty-cat. 200 pounds of luggage from Nepal was also with me. At that moment life was good — very good.

Heather O’Neal
Of Global Interest LLC Adventure Travel
Ann Arbor, Michigan
(734) 369-3107
www.ofglobalinterest.com

 

Hello Adventurers,

ADVENTURE JOURNAL II
Annapurna Trek

October 6-20, 2003

It is hard to predict the weather though everyone tries. When asked what clothes to take to Nepal, I always lean on the warmer side — being warm, that is. I’d rather be hot than cold, personally. But while trekking in the Annapurna region of the Himalayas a few months ago in October, it was downright really HOT! I wasn’t going to let anyone know I was sweating so much — my pants were sticking to my legs. I wanted nothing more than the short shorts and revealing tank tops the culturally insensitive trekkers wore.

Because there are no department stores on the trail, the locals must go a long way to shop for fashionable sportswear. Instead someone in the family, maybe a grandmother or an aunt, is usually skilled in sewing. Thus family clothing and local traditions are born. Another option is to wait until the man with the traveling store comes by. Often he carries clothes, jeans and shirts made in China. These men usually have “lungies” as well, two meters of cloth worn around the waist like a skirt. At my sweatiest moment, I wanted to find a lungie.
Pemba, our local guide and my business partner, spotted a traveling shop owner with a closet-load on his back. Yes, he had lungies. I bought one without trying it on. How could I go wrong? At the lodge that night, I tried it on. Yuck! I looked like a cow with two meters of stiff material crinkled like colorful wrapping paper around my waist. How can this exact same fabric look so beautiful on the local women? I should face it. I’m an American and ethnic dress doesn’t really go. I ended up wearing the lungie on my head like a turban with part of it hanging down over my shoulders. It made a nice barrier against the intense sun while on the trail.
During this trek to Jomsom and Muktinath, I was with Linda, George and Baerbel. Baerbel is originally from Germany and now holds the record as my oldest trekker at 66. There was a group of Israelis who stopped her on the trail to ask if they could take her picture. “We are so proud of you,” they said. “We cannot believe you are doing this.” They were in awe of her age, and were impressed she was smiling and so beautiful at 12,000 feet. Some tourists take pictures of the mountains, the villages, the villagers, the donkey trains, the water buffalo and the bridges. Others want a picture of Baerbel. We were proud to be trekking with her. She was famous!

The next person to sign up for this trip was Linda. She and Baerbel shared a meditation class, and Linda was eager for adventure. Growing up, Linda had traveled a lot, but now as an adult with a fast-pace career, a certain freedom was calling. This trip would be the first of many to come, she vowed.
Linda kept us and our porters and Pemba entertained with her Yoga classes almost every morning. The porters and she were out there, in the grass, in the garden, on the cliff, along the trail, in the goat shed, stretching and balancing like the wind, the rain and the mountain pose too. I captured a few classes on video tape. Beautiful. Pemba was especially flexible, holding one toe high in the air behind him while the other arm soared like Superman over the valley! Linda was fun and a very good and patient teacher. She and I shared a room at every lodge and became great friends.   George, Baerbel’s husband, was the last to sign up for this trip. He had been in a car accident almost a year ago, and his rib cage was almost crushed. Baerbel was close to canceling her trip. Instead, George signed up for the tour too! And he ran the trail twice and three times, back and forth, holding their new digital camera, snapping unbelievable pictures at every turn, in every village, of every face. He talked to the locals, truly engaged in the magic of the mountains and the spirit of Nepal.
At one rest stop, I looked up to see George carrying a HUGE and heavy load while the porter it belonged to took a break. This porter was not one of ours, as we do not load our porters down like the local businesses and some big trekking companies do. George asked if he could try the load and the porter smiled. Carrying large objects long distances over Himalayan Mountains should be an Olympic sport! The Nepalese would blow the world away.   I want to carry large objects long distances around Ann Arbor just to show Americans what the Nepalese do everyday! George was curious. We were all curious and in disbelief at the loads we saw on the trail. A line of 20 men carried five 2 inch diameter thick metal cables that were 50 feet long. The weight was incredible. The cables were for a bridge that would be built to span one of many raging rivers. These men are the truck drivers of Nepal. Instead of 18 wheels, try 20 pairs of legs and lots of muscle and sweat!

As this train of man-power passed on the trail, one man switched his portion of the load from his right shoulder to his left. It seemed a huge effort to keep in step and to shift the weight at the same time. But he then looked up at me and smiled, totally unbothered by the cumbersome, tedious, worm-like cables. These men were more than impressive. Everyone was in step with code words for stopping and starting, marching along, transporting that cable to the river’s edge. Someday I hope to watch them construct such a bridge, using hands alone, no wheels, no backhoes, no tall cranes! That’s art.
George was also seen carrying a 200 liter water tank for about three steps before he had to set it down. He was determined to understand the life of the Nepalese. This HUGE and HEAVY plastic tank, though empty, was the kind of load that must get caught in tree branches along the trail. How do they do it? However they do, they smile, especially when tourists pay attention, admiring them for their courage, their humility and their strength.
Then George was missing. Where did he go? We looked back to find him chasing a man who carried a load of chicken cages. Each cage had one live chicken inside, maybe 12 in total! George had to have a picture of that. Hopefully some will be on my website soon.   We made a good team, trekking, hiking, up and down, up and down, then up 3,000! stone steps. Yes, the next day we were sooooo sore! I’ve never been sore like that before, serious soredom, like unbearable pain especially when climbing DOWN stairs. For the next few days, we were moaning in the mornings before breakfast, before hitting the trail. In the evenings too, we were aching and groaning. Turning in the sleeping bag was painful too! Did the pain stop anyone? NO way!   After breakfast we groaned over to the trail and were off like super jocks, hammering those muscles, up and down incredible terrain. After the first few steps, we were warmed up and fine again, and the rest of the day’s hike felt OK. Being mesmerized by our surroundings at every second helped too. Something kept us going, something deep.

The views abounded. It was a spectacular green and hearty jungle the first few days. The insects were screaming, shrieking in a constant high pitch. We could hardly hear each other speak. And at any space in the tree branches, if you looked closely, a giant spider web would soon come into view and then the giant spider!   We were constantly enchanted by the local people and getting to know their rich culture. We trekked through time, back in time, to a simpler world, where young children carried grass on their backs, walking like bushes themselves. Baerbel spotted these three girls sitting on a rock and asked them if she could take a picture. They were young, maybe 3, 5, and 8 years old. The littlest had a little load. The oldest had the biggest. It was plain long grass collected probably for the family water buffalo. These girls were adorable, the three of them in different sizes, scurrying down the trail. What a picture that would be!

Our aches and pains were trivial and nonexistent once on the road. So much to see. We covered ground where several native groups lived. Nepal boasts 62 official ethnicities. These mountains are tremendous. Transportation and communication are slow and in some places non existent. These ethnic groups have their own history. Each has survived secluded and alone, until the modern day and fancy bridges. Each developed differently with 62 different languages at least, different ethnic dress, religions, customs, food and architecture. Imagine the challenge the Nepalese government has.   I was intrigued by the architecture along the trail. When the houses changed their style, it meant a new local group. Houses in one village had ornately carved wooden windows, another had corn drying in the rafters. Some villages had houses made of stone, others of mud, so many flowers in one village, and stacks of firewood on flat rooftops in another. As we trekked deeper, higher and further north along the trail toward Tibet, we were soon in Mustang, the region of Nepal that is part of the Tibetan Plateau. It seemed we were crossing not only mountains, time and space but cultures and nations too.

The New York City Marathon is a trip around the world, through several global neighborhoods, Little Mexico, Italy, the Hasidic Jewish quarter, Harlem. This trail in the mountains was nothing like New York, but it was a similar cultural journey. Each step was a short flight, from one set of ethnic norms to another, from one universe to the next.   The natives smiled. They enjoyed the tourists, us, the foreigners, who came from so far away to see their backyards, the views from which don’t fit in photographs. Glorious mountains in the distance everywhere, above the hanging laundry, above the cabbage patch, beyond the neighbors chimney, over the next cliff, and at the end of the raging river valley.   We trekked through the forested hill sides, up to the very toes of the WHITE Himalayan peaks, towering in the sky like incarnate gods. Pemba said, “There’s the Dhaulagiri Ice Fall.” Dhaulagiri is the seventh tallest mountain in the world. It seemed up close and personal once he pointed it out. A pair of binoculars would put you in and among those ice blocks. In slow geological motion, its glacier was falling down that rock face. Pemba said, “Before this trek, I had a job working on a Dhaulagiri expedition.” Then he said, “Two weeks ago, one man died right up there.”

Dhaulagiri was a sight, massive, rounded on top, with an incredible and wide ice fall pouring off its shoulder. Coming up the cobble stone trail, we approached the village of Kalopani, and it was just like Oz! I almost saw a face in the snow and ice covering the mountain, looming over this little innocent village. The green rain forest was now gray and black and white, rocks, snow, glaciers. Not far away, people were testing themselves up there in a dangerous place, pushing themselves to their limits and to the highest summits. “Someone died,” Pemba said. And we couldn’t forget that.   Pemba said another man on the expedition was sick, probably altitude and hypothermia combined. He had lost consciousness, and it was Pemba’s job to get him down A-S-A-P. Pemba was one of four Sherpas handling this Japanese man. It must have been easy to imagine he was a dead man, a heavy load in the shape of a body, still and lifeless inside the hypothermic wrap. I learned about these things in my Wilderness First Responder (WFR, ‘Woofer’) course. I always carry the manual, just in case. Maybe the man was in a coma. The Sherpas had to maneuver the body from camp III down to a helicopter FAST. This took the entire day. The man was still breathing.

Pemba said they came to a crevasse, a split in the ice on the ice fall. The crack was deep, the kind that has no bottom. Pemba said he slipped and fell — just at the wrong moment. It was a miracle. He landed on a ledge about 12 feet down. Though I have never seen Pemba afraid nor can I imagine him panicking, he said he was scared to death — however not so much from falling. When he called for help, one of the others refused to come. It was too dangerous, better one death than three, four or five!
Instead of leaving Pemba in the ice fall forever, another Sherpa stepped to the edge. He anchored himself with ropes, hoping the ice would not fail. He lowered a rope and pulled dear Pemba to safety.   Such situations are all in a day’s work for Sherpa climbing guides. Pemba and friends managed to get the Japanese man to a helicopter and a hospital in time. Unlike his teammate, this man would live to see his family again. He survived because Pemba and others put their lives at risk. That man is lucky. And I am lucky to have Pemba for a friend. If I haven’t said it already, Pemba is amazing.

Heather O’Neal
Of Global Interest LLC Adventure Travel
Ann Arbor, Michigan
(734) 369-3107
www.ofglobalinterest.com

 

Annapurna Trek Continued – Sent December 18, 2003

Hello Adventurers,
De-stress and escape to another world while reading the Adventure Journal. All one needs is a trip to a warm and sunny beach, ancient ruins, Buddhist temples, Festivals in Spain or high Himalayan peaks! Someday doctors will prescribe adventure since traveling is the best form of medicine.

Adventure Journal II Annapurna Trek Fall 2003 Continued…

October 6-20, 2003

My trekking friends and I were on the trail somewhere in the midst of large rocks, hills and GIANT waterfalls, inside the world’s deepest river gorge. It was two miles down from the summits of two mountains to the river between them! We were not lost. We were just not at the village where we were supposed to be by a certain time, and it was getting dark. It was getting darker and darker. Pemba raced ahead to find the porters, by now hours ahead of us on the trail. (Did I mention “Sherpa time” versus “tourist time”? It means multiply Sherpa time by four to get tourist time. If it takes a Sherpa one hour to get to the next village, then the same distance will take the tourists about four hours.)

It was really dark now, and we were creeping at a snail’s pace along a rocky path we could not see. Baerbel was holding my arm and we were both feeling our way with our toes. Finally Pemba was back, bearing headlamps. We had to trek in total darkness to a town an hour away!   As we were crossing one spectacular suspension bridge over a dark and raging river, under several million stars with a silver sliver of the moon shining down, Baerbel yelled, “Oh WOW!” She insisted we turn off our headlamps. “Oh wow!” we said in the blackness. The night sky and mountain shadows surrounded us as we stood on the narrow walkway of the huge bridge. The sound of the river echoed from the deep void underfoot — Oh WOW! This night turned out to be the highlight of our trip.   Finally we made it to the intended village where we promptly ordered a large and hefty dinner. We were exhausted and were soon sound asleep in our sleeping bags on wooden beds in stone buildings at the lodge. This was Tatopani, one of the biggest villages on the trail. It was also worth every sore muscle since Tato-pani means “Hot Water” in Nepali. There was a natural hot springs here along the river bank. The next morning, it felt SOOOO good! A swimsuit would have been nice, but instead I wore a T-shirt and a pair of fake Adidas men’s shorts I bought at a shop nearby.

Continuing on our journey, ten days on the trail altogether, we were now moving beyond the giant white Himalayan peaks. One reason they were so white is because they catch all the rain that sweeps across the Indian subcontinent during the summer monsoon. We were now on the other side of that wall-like barrier in a land that got hardly any rain. It looked like the Tibetan Plateau. It was a sandy dusty, arid, brown, high altitude desert with major gusty winds in the afternoon. We had to wear face masks since sandblasting our lungs did not sound pleasant.   We trekked along the Kaligandaki River which was almost dried up. A steady yet raging canal flowed in the middle of the mile-wide valley. It bubbled and growled its way along, angry it could not reach both sides of the valley. It was not the season yet.   This was a totally different landscape than the green tropical hilly region in which we started. We had come a long long way. It was easy to forget the adventures of the previous day. Now this flat, windy river valley was taking us straight into Tibet.

And at that moment, the trail where we stood — ended. It was a narrow road cut into the rocky cliff, and it was gone. Maybe years ago or yesterday, it slid into the river, and at this juncture, the rest of the cliff was on the verge of going down too. My mind rapidly mapped out our options and visualized the consequences. Pemba instinctively headed — up the cliff and expected us to follow. No way, I said.   Another choice was to go down and somehow wade across the river. But what if it was deeper than it looked? What if one of us were swept away? What if we turned around instead? It was a four hour journey back to the last bridge. Ugh. Going up seemed the best. Maybe the trail would pick up again on the other side.   Trusting Pemba, we went up. We were following the man who was recently pulling comatose bodies off high Himalayan peaks and who aspires to climb Mt. Everest. Linda, Baerbel, George and I followed him, grabbing the occasional shrub, hoping its roots would hold. Slipping on a loose stone or scree, could have sent any one of us tumbling down into the river. I stayed behind ready to catch. But even with sore muscles, we were strong. We did it. We made it, up and over that landslide. On the other side of the cliff and once on solid trail again, we were beaming in amazement and pride. Look what we did! Perhaps mountaineering was in our future after all!

At the beginning of our trek, something not so good happened. It was when we finally made it to the top of Poon Hill at 12,000 feet. It was six or seven AM by the time we got to the top of the lookout tower. This is one of the most spectacular mountain-scapes in the world. It was excellent! And such a view had been worth every one of the 3,000 stone steps the day before. It was a short 45 minute hike UP that morning, and at the top there were 40 more wooden steps to get to the top of the tower. Without a care in the world, we were watching the sunrise, mingling with other tourists, taking pictures and rolling video tape.   We were almost the last to leave that special spot. That was when the bad news thing happened, the dreaded, the stories we had heard for months, the one reason we almost canceled the whole trip. The other trekkers on the trail the day before had warned us. It happened to them too, and it was happening to us now.

From the lookout tower, it was a short distance down to where there was a gate. The only way back to the lodge and down to civilization was through that gate. At this moment, two “Maoists” were waiting for us on the other side. They held the gate shut.   Nepal is in the midst of a very violent peasant uprising. Every day several people are killed in clashes between the “Maoists” and the Nepalese army. They call themselves Maoists because they believe in Mao Zedong’s philosophy. Though not backed by the Chinese, they believe “the only way to change is through the barrel of a gun”. The Maoists have a lot of support in the villages and have managed to gain control of two-thirds of the country. They want to chan ge the old traditional Hindu ways into new modern ways. They want communism and most of all, a less corrupt government.

These two Maoists were young, maybe 15 and 18 years old. They were nervous about the situation, more than we were. They wanted us to pay 1000 rupees (about $15) each. Pemba spoke in Nepali. “I am with one German, one Hungarian, one Spaniard and one Arab. They do not speak English. I cannot explain this problem to them. Please let me pay you something and let us go,” he said.   Meanwhile I whispered to Linda, “We do not speak English,” and she whispered to Baerbel, “We don’t speak English,” and Baerbel, facing the Maoists, said somewhat loudly to George, “We don’t speak English.” We tried not to laugh. Luckily the Maoists were in a hurry. We paid only 200 rupees each (about $3). And it was worth it to get an official “Maoist” receipt. In the past, villagers pretending to be Maoists had been asking tourists for money. Now the Maoists were issuing receipts so there was no doubt. These were the Maoists.

With a hammer and sickle in one corner and pictures of Lenin, Stalin, Marx, Engles, and Mao in the other, the receipt says in Nepali: “Long live Maoism, Leninism and Prachandapath! Nepal Communist Party (Maoists). Special Regional Bureau. Peoples War Assistance Mission 2060. We received from Miss Heather O’Neal for the development and success of the peoples war with best wishes, 200 rupees. Signature of Recipient. Biplar in charge.” Then it says, “Thank you for your support!”   They didn’t carry guns, and we didn’t feel threatened, but we also didn’t know who or what was lurking in the bushes nearby. We were polite and so were they, and everyone was happy when it was over. I was only sorry for the youngsters and for Nepal and sorry my video camera was not rolling. Darn.

The situation is terrible, especially for the Nepalese. It is brother against brother like most civil wars. As tourists, we are the very fragile golden egg. Both sides tiptoe around us. Without tourism, Nepal has very little income.   While trekking, our ultimate goal was to get to a very sacred spot, the ancient temple of Muktinath. People from near and far, both Buddhists and Hindus have worshiped here for the last two THOUSAND years. It is the holiest place within several miles of difficult mountain terrain and everyone comes, even Hindu pilgrims from India. We encountered a few Indian villagers on the trail, real pilgrims who had obviously come a long long way. We had come a long long way too.

The temple was built in the middle of a large mountain stream. I bathed my hand (rather than my body like the natives) under the 108 cow-head spouts that poured freezing cold glacial water from their mouths. I made a few wishes and prayed that the gods would grant them soon.

Thank you for reading the Adventure Journal. I am trying to bring the world home to you. I am also trying to take you around the world.  Happy Holidays!

Heather O’Neal
Of Global Interest LLC Adventure Travel
Ann Arbor, Michigan
(734) 369-3107
www.ofglobalinterest.com

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