Trekking In Nepal: Stool-Softening, Nausea-Inducing Wonderfulness

Your last seven days in India were spent in Rishikesh, a veritable hippie nest. It was a much needed week of rest, given your whirlwind three-week tour from Goa, to Mumbai, to Orccha, to Khajuraho, to Allahabad, to Varanasi, all the way to Darjeeling, all the way back to Lucknow, and finally a miserable and expensive time in Chandigar. You remember the insides of trains, mostly. And buses. And being cold. And struggling to keep costs low.

So in Rishikesh, you were quite pleased by the cheap guest house rates, affordable food, and leisure walks along the river. You and Maeva gathered your strength, slept 10+ hours a night, and plotted your escape to Nepal.

You are proud—a little too proud—of the fact that you spent five months in India and didn’t get sick. Ha! Your gut bacteria are little bad asses! By the end, you were drinking local water, eating all the raw veg you wanted, and tearing like a boss through all the local hole-in-the-wall eateries.

Enter Nepal.

Crossing the border on foot.

Crossing the border on foot.

You crossed into the country on foot via Bambasa-Mahendranagar and felt newly rich, despite the $40 fee for your visa (one U.S. dollar buys 96.5 Nepali rupees, compared to 60 Indian ones). You began to feel stomach cramps, went straight to bed, farted powerfully under the covers, developed a sore throat and a cough, rose only to choke down a thali, and then popped a Valium for the night. The next morning, you pooped liquid but otherwise felt okay.

No big deal.

You hopped on a bus to the next major city, Butwal—an awful nine hours you’ve since blacked out. You and Maeva were practically at each other’s throats, so overrun with fatigue from the transit. You were determined to hustle through the plains, away from the dust and the thalis and get to Pokhara, but not first without seeing Limbini’s Unesco World Heritage Site: the birthplace of Buddha.

What's up? You're in the capital of World Peace.

What’s up? You’re in the capital of World Peace.

Stomach felt okay, bowels felt a bit dodgy, so you returned to your diet of 12+ bananas and curd to set conditions right. Sorted.

Pokhara was everything you wanted it to be, and more. It was your mecca. Filled with outdoorsy European tourists, discounted outdoors gear, pashminas, and book stores. You felt yourself going weak in the knees at the prospect of a shopping spree. Nepal was going to be a complete budget breaker. You knew that you could avoid the temptation of shopping for things you didn’t need, given the bulk of your backpack—one laden by a large 2.8kg wool blanket and a voluminous down jacket.

And a very pretty place, too!

And a very pretty place, too!

No, shopping wouldn’t be a problem. Trekking would be. After all, everyone comes to Nepal to trek. If you don’t pony up the dough, you’re left without much else to do besides the same city-hopping rhythm of India. And god forbid you pass up an opportunity to mountain run in the Himalayas!

You’re gonna talk The Budget for a moment.

First you had to gear up:

Rain poncho: $8

New socks: $2

Map: $2

(Trekking boots purchased earlier in Darjeeling: $35)

Not too bad. You’d managed to budget for the boots well in advance. The rain poncho was wonderfully designed and would certainly be useful to you in the future. You had no regrets there.

But the fees didn’t stop there. Then came the permits.

TIMS registration card: $20

Annapurna Sanctuary Permit: $20

Last-minute passport photos: $3 (Price gouged by a vicious little Nepali woman! And you know she’s not going to lose any sleep over it.)

Nepal has decriminalized homosexuality, btw. Hooray!

Nepal has decriminalized homosexuality, btw. Hooray!

Ouch. Forty bucks just for the right to hike. Then you learned some other appalling things. First, that temperatures at Annapurna Base Camp were as low as -20 C… but usually -8. You knew you didn’t tolerate the cold well and decided that a sleeping bag was a must.

Sleeping bag rental: $8

Also… your army surplus rucksack, while great for travel, is just about the most poorly designed bag for trekking. So…

Backpack rental: $8

Sigh.

Warm enough and comfortable walking now, with all your permits? Great!

But what about the cost of food up in the mountains? Rumor had it that a dhal bat (unlimited rice and lentils with paltry piles of vegetables could cost as much as $6… and that’s only one meal of the day). You knew just eating up in the mountains would cost you and arm and a leg. Local guides recommended a daily budget of $20/day… which you were totally unprepared to pay. So you went shopping…

Food Stock: $24

…for about 8kg of food.

Which dramatically offset later costs, even though it was heavy.

Which dramatically offset later costs, even though it was heavy.

Everything fit neatly into your rental bag and you knew that you would make back your money in savings in a matter of days. So great!

What about a mountain guide? A taxi to the trail head?

Go fuck yourself!

You weren’t going to shell out another penny for that kind of luxury. You and Maeva rose at 7am for the first time in… err… one month, and walked forty-five minutes to the local bus stop, paid $1.10 for the transport, and finally began the trek of your dreams…

PHEDI TO ANNAPURNA BASE CAMP – NOTES FROM THE FIELD

Day 1

  • Sunny, warm. Ready to go!

  • Maeva has a horrible start. First 90 minutes is nothing but steep stone stairs. Your legs feel strong. Lungs okay. Enjoy the beautiful views while waiting at the top for Maeva.

  • Learn that Maeva has near diarrhea explosions. Thinks she ate too many oranges. You wonder idly why your foolish little friend decided to buy one kilo of oranges right before beginning an uphill trek.

  • Progress is slow. Maeva’s body not used to the activity. Quick lunch of muesli soaked in cold water. Continue walking. Maeva drops all her oranges. Makes you eat one.

  • Reach your first overnight village after much time walking uphill. Very charming. You are cold. Order a dal bhat.

  • Maeva has a real diarrhea explosion just before bed. Keeps it clean. Keeps muttering about the oranges.

Day 2

  • Amazing view of the mountain in the morning. Legs feeling good. Then you feel a sore throat. Then the beginnings of tendonitis in Lefty (just like on the Camino). Then sciatica in your back. You are falling apart.

  • Maeva screamed when she saw it, so startled by the majesty.

    Maeva screamed when she saw it, so startled by the majesty.

  • Feel pissed that you can feel so good one day and so shitty on the next. Body feels very weak.

  • Stagger through some beautiful villages. Sit in the sun and stretch your back. Sciatica immediately goes away. So does your sore throat. Tendonitis never peeps again. You wonder if Vitamin D is a performance enhancer.

  • Maeva has a good walk. Then meets more stone stairs. A lot more. She bitches a lot.

  • You eat a delicious veg curry for dinner. Notice that you are not hungry at all.

  • Feet are stinky.

  • Maeva informs you that the book she’s reading, Into Thin Air, mentions that diarrhea can occur as a symptom of altitude sickness, due to the amount of oxygen required for digestion.

Day 3

  • Hot springs! First warm bath in 6 months. Warm, not hot. But good. Happy to soak and wash some laundry.

  • The hot springs.

    The hot springs.

  • Calves are a bit sore. Maeva’s are dreadfully sore. She feels pain. And she struggles with more stone stairs. There is no end to stone stairs. Damn stairs the whole day!

  • While going upstairs, you met your favorite sherpa, who might weigh only 90lbs and was carried 50kg of rice.

    While going upstairs, you met your favorite sherpa, who might weigh only 90lbs and was carried 50kg of rice.

  • You love stairs. Stairs are easy.

  • Meet a lovely young French-Canadian feminist who practices Kung-Fu. Talk Women’s Self-Defense for a couple of hours.

Day 4

  • Wonder if you are feeling a touch of altitude sickness. Learn that the smell of your socks was making you feel sick.

  • Chat with one of the guides. Ask him if he thinks its safe to eat your raw, unsalted, slightly moldy peanuts. “These are okay. Should roast them. Yes, they are okay. Except for that one. And that one. And this one…” he picks so many from the bag. “Don’t eat too many. Digestion hard in high altitudes. May cause diarrhea.” Why the hell does no one ever talk about that symptom?

  • You, after a peanut snack.

    You, after a peanut snack.

  • Slow and steady wins the race. Meave learns how to not stop. Only 3.5 hours of walking for a projected 5-hour walk. Super champions.

  • All afternoon to rest in snowy village 1,000 meters below Base Camp. Very bright. Beautiful. Sunny. Then fog. Learn that it is snowing at Base Camp. Local guide says Base Camp might not be achievable the next day. You are worried.

  • Snowy village.

    Snowy village.

  • Feel intense stomach cramps during dinner. Eating is hard and takes time. But you finish your dinner.

  • Oh my god… oh no!” Famous last words. You run to the bathroom and have a poop explosion. Lots of activity in bowels. Three poops before bed. Afraid to fart.

  • Maeva finishes Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air before bed. Declares she no longer wants to walk to Base Camp. Is too afraid dying. You try to talk some sense into her.

Day 5

  • Wake up bright and early, feeling great. Stuff 500g of muesli into your face. Hear a helicopter and damn it because you know Maeva is going to freak out.

  • Rescue helicopter wakes Maeva, who has had nightmares of dying in the Himalayas all night. She screams, “I don’t wanna go!” Everyone is outside, watching the helicopter, which has arrived to air lift some Korean trekker who fell and broke her arm.

  • Rescue helicopter.

    Rescue helicopter.

  • Everyone came out to watch.

    Everyone came out to watch.

  • Maeva talks to the guide, feeling very concerned.

    Maeva talks to the guide, feeling very concerned.

  • You beg Maeva to come to Base Camp. She comes along, bitterly.

  • Sky is clear, but trail is icy. Maeva falls often. She yells. She cries. You wait for her often, but are anxious to get to the Base Camp. Snow everywhere.

  • Snow!

    Snow!

  • Maeva very upset and tired. She says you can go on ahead. You leave her ass and ascend to Base Camp without stopping—three hours of vigorous walking—and pass everyone like a possessed sonofabitch.

  • Pretty the whole way.

    Pretty the whole way.

  • Air is thin. Stopping feels bad. Light-headed. Face burning from solar rays reflecting on snow. But very happy. Blow lots of snot rockets. Total “runner’s high.

  • Happier than a pig in shit!

    Happier than a pig in shit!

  • Achieve Base camp. Decide that you are probably the worst person ever to hike with, because it would take nothing short of an actual emergency (Alexis’ hyponaetremia in the Grand Canyon) to make you slow down for someone (Katie’s wicked sore throat; Neil’s fallen arches; Alexis’ prior night of food poisoning are not exceptional enough!) Once your exercise high kicks in, there’s no slowing you down.

  • Wait for Maeva for one hour. Clouds roll in when she arrives. No more views of the mountains. Maeva rests for one hour, but weather forces you to descend.

  • Annapurna Base Camp

    Annapurna Base Camp

  • Cold up there!

    Cold up there!

  • No visibility at all.

    No visibility at all.

  • Come back ice-sliding downhill. Whee! Super fun. Fall and slide on your ass for 20 meters. Lose coat. Don’t care.

  • Maeva looked like this the whole way down!

    Maeva looked like this the whole way down!

  • Last bit of clear sky.

    Last bit of clear sky.

  • Coat is returned later in the day. A guide recognized it as yours.

  • Starts to hail. Then to rain. Shoes are soaked. Feel very tired. Eat well but sleep little.

  • Wet....

    Wet….

Day 6

  • Wake up feeling like shit. Then shit liquid. No other problems.

  • Descend slowly. Knees are barking, especially arthritic Righty. And you’re starving.

  • Steepest stairs again. Hard to regulate temperature. Day is cold and cloudy. Your are sweaty. Hands go numb. End the day early. Fell like you’re about to get hypothermia.

  • Can’t get warm. Stay in bed. Pass out. Wake up. Starving. All you have left is spicy canned fish.

  • Sunburned and pathetically cold in bed.

    Sunburned and pathetically cold in bed.

  • It is the hottest thing you have ever attempted to eat in your life. You eat it anyway. Just barely.

  • Trouble finishing dinner. Brain is hungry, stomach is not.

Day 7

  • “I gotta poop. I hate pooping. It’s so much work.” Poop is not super solid, but not a problem. in the morning.

  • Completely out of food. Walk seven hours. Get yourselves out of the mountains fast. Knees are sore.

  • Descend to trail head, expecting lower prices and good eats. Prices terribly and disappointingly high. Remain hungry.

  • You feel mild nausea in the middle of the night. It goes away.

  • Liquid poo in morning. No rhyme or reason.

And then…?

The real fun started.

You returned to Pokhara by bus, happily found that none of the stuff you’d left behind had been stolen, and checked into a lovely new hotel. You and Maeva had steaming hot showers and did all of your laundry and scrubbed yourselves more thoroughly than you ever have—in the last 6 months. It felt good to be back in civilization. You spent the latter half of your day walking up and down the streets, looking at things to buy for your friends back home.

You ate dinner in your hotel and shortly thereafter felt some mild nausea. It lasted for about 90 minutes. You couldn’t explain it. But it went away.

The next day, you spent the entire day shopping and haggling. It was fantastic. And after the deed was done, you went back to your room, did some yoga, read a book, ate a bit of cereal and…

…felt the nausea again.

It wasn’t intense. Not really. But is was persistent. You burped a lot. Told Maeva that something was wrong with you, but that you were hungry. But also tired. But hungry. But then worried you wouldn’t be able to eat. You then abruptly ran to the toilet to dry heave. Nothing.

Meave got you out of the room. You burped constantly. Retched occasionally. Spit. Burped some more. And then screeched like a pterodactyl, as you do, wondering if you might puke. Nothing.

You bought a Coca-Cola. Drank it. Hoped it might settle your stomach. Made you burp more. “If it’s possible to vomit burps, that’s what I’m doing!”

Ordered some cabbage and noodles. Realized in short order you had lost all interest in eating. Packed it up and went back to the hotel. Slowly. Felt terrible.

Collapsed in bed. Focused on breathing. Whined.

Got up and went to the toilet. Vomited promptly. Didn’t feel better.

Laid down in bed again. For ten minutes. Got up, vomited urgently. Voluminously.

“That’s it!” Maeva cheered. “Get it out! You’ll feel better when you do.”

Only you didn’t.

You never got that post-vomit relief you’re supposed to get after a bout. You curled up in a ball on the floor, close to the toilet, and waited for the next bout.

“This is pretty unpleasant,” you said.

Maeva couldn’t stop laughing. “I’m sorry,” she apologized. “But you’re right. You really do sound like a dinosaur when you puke.”

It was true. You laughed even though you felt pretty bad. Then got up and puked again.

And again. And again. And again.

But the end of an hour, you were shaken, dehydrated, exhausted, dizzy. And totally unable to vomit anything more. Just stomach bile.

“Oh my god, you really sound like you’re suffering.”

More like drowning in bile, choking on your own fingers. You gasped for air, thanked God for the spray hose near the toilet (and thought all Western bathrooms should be equipped with one) to clean up the mess, and crawled on your hands and knees across the white tiles of the bathroom and went back to your place on the carpet. Like a sick dog.

Just how you like it.

Just how you like it.

No relief. Ever. Not a bit. If felt like mice were stampeding through your intestines. It felt like a stone sat in the bottom of your stomach and no amount of violent retching could dislodge it. You passed out.

Then woke up and puked again. Told yourself you wouldn’t cry, even though you were pseudo sobbing—or coughing—or gasping—or all three.

This isn’t worse than Spain. Nothing beats what happened to you on The Camino.

That’s true. But it was damn unpleasant. And maybe you’re just so used to getting violently ill during your travels (read: pneumonia, flu, strep throat in Ireland, stomach bugs in Spain, persistent coughs in France, alcohol poisoning/hospitalization in Bosnia) that nothing phases you anymore. Who knows?

You heard a neighbor in your hotel puking in the morning. Maeva experienced discomfort in her bowels the following day, as well as no desire to eat. You can’t be sure if you have a stomach virus, Delhi belly, or giardia.

Maybe you should be more concerned. But aside from occasional stomach cramps, loose stool, occasional nausea, and your one night of violent, pterodactyl vomiting, you feel great! Like, really! No foolin’.

“I’m one more stomach bug away from my goal weight.”

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Categories: Illness, Nepal, Struggles | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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