Tiger Balm Tales Vol. 5
If blogs were scratch-and-sniff you’d really be in trouble with this post. I found myself chanting the mantra, “Breathe through your mouth, not through your nose.” – while completely naked.
Oh, sorry, I got ahead of myself; let me go back to the beginning.
This was really the beginning of our Annapurna Circuit trekking. After spending a fun, memorable day in the little village of Puma, we put our packs on for the first time and actually started trekking. Since we had made a special visit to Puma, today we had to trek to meet back up with the official Annapurna trail. This meant we had to do some non-tourist trekking at first. What’s non-tourist trekking? It’s the paths that the locals take. We started a massive descent down from the hilltop village, down the uneven steps. Step, after step, after step. I was taking in the beauty of the rice terraces and the diverse shades of green surrounding me and that’s when it happened. My dad fell.
I was quite a ways behind him and I watched as Bishnu, and Deil, our guide and porter, rushed to help him get up. By the time I reached him, he was up and dusting himself off. We told him to sit down for a bit and relax. I looked at Bishnu and I could tell we were thinking the same thing; ”what was I thinking taking a 73-year-old on the trail?!” Dad rested and was fine, but for me, that’s when things really got heavy. No, not my bag, but the stress that was weighing down upon my shoulders; the stress of responsibility for someone.
I’m single. I’ve always been single. I worry about no one but myself. Strangely, for the first time, I thought – what if something happens and Dad gets hurt; my family will kill me for talking him into this! As a single, independent traveler I revel in my freedom and lack of responsibility. If I do something dumb – I only have myself to blame. I don’t have to worry about anyone else’s feelings, wants, needs, health, or self-esteem. Sure, it’s not for everyone; some people like taking care of others; however, I don’t. Actually, I never really give my irresponsibility much thought until I’m suddenly confronted with a responsibility – then it seems overwhelming to me.
After this first incident, I found myself watching my dad’s every move, calculating if he was shifting his weight correctly, keeping his center of balance, resting enough, drinking enough, and being too close to the edge; it was relentless torture to my brain.
We finally made it down to the river where we would shortly meet up with the ‘official’ Annapurna circuit. My quads were shaking uncontrollably from all of the downhill we just finished. The stream didn’t really have a good way across which forced us to take off our shoes and socks and walk over. Bishnu offered to carry my dad as we were both worried about him falling. But Dad of course was too proud to do that, so he used his pole for balance and waded across. I watched nervously as I took off my shoes and socks. I looked down and saw my one last going-away present from Puma; my sock was soaked in blood. Damn, those leaches!
The cold water did feel good on my hot, swollen feet; and it was only noon. The rest of the day we spent going up and down and up and down through villages and across bridges. We met many locals along the way going about their daily chores. We tried our best to stay in the shade as the sun seemed to be sucking the energy out of us with every step like a leach on my foot. We were walking on the flat in the sun when I looked over at my dad and observed him walking along slowly like he was a steam engine losing steam up a hill…ready to roll backward.
We had been hiking for about 8 hours and the sun was going down fast. The trekking was going much slower than Bishnu or I had originally anticipated. We weren’t near our final destination yet, but we both knew that we didn’t want Dad walking in the dark. Quite frankly, I didn’t want to hike in the dark either; I was exhausted from the physical and mental exertion I was putting myself through! We were still about a 30-minute uphill climb to Bahundanda so we decided to simply stop at the next guesthouse we came across.
As we came into a small little spattering of houses, there were a few that offered lodging. I followed Bishnu upstairs to look at the rooms. Considering this was our first look at a guest house along the circuit, I didn’t really know what to expect. The lodging resembled a loft in a barn. Small room, thin boards with gaps plugged up my newspaper wallpaper, small wooden beds, no plumbing, no electricity. Looks good to me…we’ll take it!
After a sweaty day of hiking plus getting caught in a muddy rain storm, more than anything I wanted to get clean. Bishnu kindly organized a hot bucket of water for me to ‘shower’. Although bucket showers are not ideal…I was used to them from my varied travels. I dug my headlamp, toiletry bag, and some clean, warm clothes out of my bag. I was told the only private place to shower was in the outhouse…um…ok –that sounds good. I made my way out to the outhouse and that’s when it hit me…the smell of sewage. I peeked into the door and there was a steaming, small bucket of water inviting me in, but the smell of shit was keeping me out.
With no electricity, I had to shine my little headlamp around the small, damp outhouse. My beam of light burrowed through the rising steam and into the corners looking for other creatures that may turn this into a ‘group shower’ for me. The outhouse was the size of a broom closet with a squat toilet, water spigot, a small plastic empty bucket, and now my little steaming bucket. There was a rusty old nail near the faucet and a small window to try to ventilate.
The ventilation was futile as the odor rose from the ground and infused the little room as if someone was burning incense in the corner…yet this was no incense. I gingerly stepped inside and thought, how the hell am I going to do this? There was nowhere to hang my clean clothes, take off my dirty clothes, or to even set my toiletry bag. But my vanity won out…I stepped in and started my mantra…breathe through your mouth, not through your nose.
I’ve been in lots of tough situations when it comes to travel, but showering in the cold, dark, sewage-smelling outhouse was one of the worst. I hung my headlamp, towel, and clean clothes on the faucet head, my dirty clothes on the nail, and I tried my best not to step in the squat toilet. Even though I was in theory getting clean, I wondered if the smell would seep into my skin and I would smell like shit for days.
I continued to try to breathe through my mouth with long deliberate breaths. I decided that my hot water seemed to make the smell worse…like boiling a pot of soup or something…as things heat up, so does the aroma. It was the longest feeling short bucket shower of my life! I quickly tried to dry off with my little shammy travel towel and put on enough clothes to go outside and finish dressing. I stepped outside and the cold air hit me and I took in a big whiff of fresh air trying to purge my senses of the past odors.
In the end, I was clean, and my dad made it through the first day of trekking; that was all that mattered. The first day of trekking was a success. Albeit a bit stressful and smelly – but still a success!