Tuesday, 22 January 2008

It's not the destination

I came across this in the Backpacker blog of my local newspaper. He talks about how sometimes getting to a destination can be as interesting as the destination itself, and his readers have commented with stories of the wierd and wonderful journeys they have experienced.

So here's one of mine:

A bunch of years ago I was travelling with my then boyfriend "Mountain Man". We'd just spent a couple of weeks in Ko Tao, Thailand, learning to dive (awesome), and now we were in Nepal heading off on the Annapurna Circuit Trek (even more awesome). This is a 2 or 3 week hike around the base of the Annapurna mountain range in the Himalayas.

We had all the gear, we'd hired me a porter to carry my pack (MM needed no porter thanks very much, real mountain men carry their own packs, only wussy city dwellers and girls use porters), we had our bus tickets and permits and were ready to roll. We hauled ourselves out of bed in the early morning darkness and made our way to the bus station. Which turned out to be a vast gravel parking lot swarming with busses, people, food and water sellers, and the odd confused tourist. No one spoke English, there were no signs, and we were at a complete loss to even begin to find our bus.

My porter, Sangam, found us thank heavens and threw himself into the fray, returning half an hour later to guide us to the correct bus and we clambered aboard. It was tiny - we could each get one butt-cheek on our seat and we had to balance our packs on our knees. We'd assumed we were on a bus dedicated to hikers, but then all manner of people began to come aboard... ancient wizened women, gnarled men, bright eyed youngsters in flipflops and torn t-shorts. Chickens with their feet bound were stuffed under seats, and a goat on a leash was lashed to the top of the luggage which was itself perched on the roof of the bus.

It was a long drive, and the bus got hotter and more fragrant as the day progressed. We stopped once or twice for the passengers to stretch their legs or use the loo (that'd be a squatting station over the river - don't drink the water!), and then the bus began to groan its way up into the mountains. The roads were rutted and full of potholes, many so big that we had to cross the width of the road against oncoming traffic to get around them. The drop was sheer with no railings and the occasional section of road had been swept away by landslides leaving a piece so narrow that I had to suck in my breath to help us squeeze across. From time to time we'd see the tumbled wreck of a bus far below us as we weaved and swayed along.

At first I was terrified, and then eventually I consigned myself to fate and fell asleep with my sweaty face pressed into my pack. I awoke suddenly to an almighty crash as we failed to dodge a deep pothole, and was even more startled to see a goat fall past my window! The whole of my side of the bus screamed at the driver to stop, we pulled up in a cloud of dust, and the goat's owner scurried from the vehicle to check on the poor thing. Luckily its leash was so very long that it hadn't strangled, but it wasn't very well... it spent the rest of the journey cradled in its owners lap, adding a subtle aroma of goat to our already ripe environment.

We got to our destination in one piece, but I remember nothing more of that day - it is completely eclipsed by the journey!

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