There's a snake in the raft ... There's a snake in the raft! Really!!" Not a sentence that is heard too often ... at least not in my circles. But alas - there was actually a snake in our white water river raft, slivering around in the small lip of water that runs the circumference of the bottom of the vessel. Now I could really embellish this story here, make the snake longer, fatter, more poisonous. Have it learching at us, tongue spitting, eyes bulging. But the fact that we were in the middle of a river that was running fast and high and there was an unknown species of snake at our feet (it crawled across Jordans toes), I think is enough of a campfire story!
Nepals beautiful Seti River. After the monsoon, the river is wild and its banks are still high. Perfect for a rafting trip. The kids were all super excited, both Mels and mine. The eight of us set out with another boat, a guide each and a couple of safety kayakers for two days and one night on the river. It was an incredible trip. We all screamed loudly as we crashed through rapids, we did backflips and cannon balls into the river in the times between. We soaked in Nepali life from the georgous banks of the river and were stunned by the beauty of lime green rolling terraces and ideallic Nepali homes, set high into the hills.
Camp was set up for us on a beautiful sandy beach where we were feed great food all made by smiling souls. A barman turned up from a nearby village, offering warm beer. The kids found quicksand, or quick "mud" as it turned out and all got very tribal. We spent the evening by a campfire, listening and sharing stories with people from across the globe. It was sad to leave the raft the following day. We could have kept going and tackled more challenging rapids in the days to come. Oh, and as for the snake, she made it out of the boat alive. Turned out to be a water snake, not clear on its biting power. The incident happened after only 30 mins on the water. We were practicing some calls, "left back, right forward, double back, get down" etc ... but apparently here is no official rafting call for "get the heck out of the boat so the snake doesn't bite you!" We found ourselves squished like standing sardines on a small rock in the middle of the river, while Mel, brave girl, managed to hold the snakes head down with the paddle, while the guide threw the safety rope to three giggling boys on the side of the river, who all thought this was the best show they had ever seen! Ben almost had a panic attack, the other kids, including myself, were somewhere between laughing hysterically and completely freaking out! Ok, campfire story told. And not even embellished, not one bit.
We got brief, surprising peeks at the mountains on most days. They would appear as if giants, high in the sky. Often you would hear "look at the mountains!". We would look up and wonder what they were referring to. "Where?".... "Up there" they would point, tilting their heads back ... way back. "Up there!" Then a majestic snowy peak would make a grand appearance through the clouds. So high that you never expected to look THAT far up! Then, as quickly as it appeared, and like the closing curtain of a wonderful broadway show ... it was gone. Enveloped again in a blanket of cloud and mist. And we would wait. And wait. Willing the clouds away again. But these are things that of course cannot be controlled. Nature will do its thing. Mountains will shine under a clear sky, or they will remain hidden. It is natures choice. But regardless, to be in the presence of these beauties is indescribable. There is a certain spell that the Himalayas cast. Thousands of mountain climbers and amateur trekkers will all attest to this. What is it exactly?
We were lucky enough to awake one early morning in a remote village set high in the hills, in the lap of the Annapurna and be greeted by blue sky and clear mountain views. It was extraordinary, beautiful, short lived. By the time we had snapped a few shots, the mist rolled back in and keep its secrets hidden for the rest of our time there. We had trekked just a short but steep distance to the village of Dhampas, near Pokhara. Stone walkways curved their way through the hillside, winding upwards through villages, traditional houses and terraced rices fields. An easy walk by most standards, Himalayan standards that is! For me, it was a challenge. Tall, steep steps for what seemed like hours. It wasn`t. We would watch other more serious trekkers pass us, with their porter behind or ahead, carrying all their stuff. Some were going for a few days, others a few weeks. Many Europeans, or North Americans in all the fancy trekking gear. Micro fibre this, Gortex that, Deuter, North Face, Osprey and Soloman labels providing quality, comfortable gear for the great outdoors. And the Nepali porters, carrying double their weight, wearing jeans and flat, converse style, canvas shoes, with no support or grip at all. It can be lucrative to be a porter - in Nepali standards. Maybe five to ten dollars a day. More if they become a guide. And like most Nepali people, always smiling, always offering kindness and goodwill.
There had been alot of talk about leeches and this we were not too keen on. But it seemed that as we hiked higher, that the leech season may be done after all. Wrong. At breakfast the next morning, after a walk through the mountain village in the mist, I noticed a fair amount of blood on my inner ankle and pants. There is was. It had sucked enough and had fallen off and was crawing away, leaving a trail of my blood behind it. Gross for sure, but at least I did not have to wrestle or burn it off me! But I had had enough of the sight of blood from the afternoon before when Jordan had a nasty fall, opening up the back of his head on the concrete. The head bleeds - alot. It was gushing from him, and we thought it was serious. A concussion for sure. It turned out to be benign luckily, but gave us all, Jordan especially, poor kid, a nasty fright. Another campfire story!
We ate out alot in Nepal. The food is good. The menus cater to the international traveller in most places and they do great job of it. There are a few Nepali specialties also. We came to love fresh mint lemonades and fresh steamed Mo Mo's (stuffed dumplings). The two cafes down the lane from Mels place became our second home, good for freshly baked french bread, delicious breakfasts, traditional Indian and outstanding nachos. Oh ... and wifi. When there was power. Most of Nepal works on a load sharing basis, so each day, there is no power for a few hours. Sometimes more. You get used to this. You get used to sqwat toilets. You get used to showering where you pee. You get used to buffalo sharing the pot holed road with you. You get used to mangled, lonely, hungry stray dogs sitting beneath your feet at cafes. I definitely got used to taking my laundry out and having it brought back, clean and folded for $3! I got used to eating out all the time for so cheap.
We spent some time with street children, joining in on celebrations of the annual Dashain festival. Beautiful faces, curious and strong. I wish we could have done more of this. Worked with children. We did not have enough time to get officially involved, but we spent time with kids whenever we could. Kids gamble during festival time, on the street with their friends. Its a game of chance, with a board and wooden dice. I lost each time I played, as did Jordan. The enterprising "banker" however had a fist full of our money!?
I grew to love Nepal during our two and a half weeks there. Much in part to our beautiful host and my dear friend, whose kindness and warmth nurtured us and made us feel so welcome. And her wonderful children who embraced and bonded with Ben and Jordan like they had been friends for years. Watching our children together, telling stories from our own childhood to inquistive ears was heart warming and had us all giggling. I am grateful for the love of a wonderful friend. Thank you Mel.
I love Nepal for its people, so quiet with so much warmth in their eyes. I love this country for the struggles it endures every single day and for it sheer beauty. While so sad to say goodbye, Nepal will call us back, I am sure of that.