16 November 2014

Annapurna Base Camp Trek - Day 7: Sunrise at Base Camp

To read all posts on my Annapurna Base Camp trek, click here for the complete series.

before dawn at Annapurna Base Camp
This is how I'll forever remember Annapurna Base Camp. Taken at sunrise on April 23, 2014.
I've been postponing this latest blog entry -- mainly due to the horrific avalanche that occurred in the Annapurna Circuit trail just last October 14. This unfortunate event had resulted in the deaths of 43 individuals--a mix of locals and trekkers of various nationalities--and I just couldn't bring myself to start writing my latest Annapurna blog post.

It seemed eerie that I was just talking in my previous post about my fear of encountering an avalanche while on my way up to Annapurna Base Camp...and now this tragedy.

This has not been a good year entirely for Nepal's trekking and climbing industry.  If you remember, I was in Tadapani on day 3 of this trek when the avalanche up on Mount Everest happened. And this is why I feel so strange right now as I write, because no words of sympathy and support may be appropriate enough to give tribute to the guides, porters, and trekkers who have lost their lives this year on this side of the Himalayas.

Nepal is like a second home to me. When you've spent enough time on its mountains, you learn to keep a piece of this wondrous place in your heart. I hope that by writing about my experiences in Everest Base Camp and Annapurna Base Camp (definitely not my last treks in Nepal), I get to honor, in my own small way, the memory of these people who have left this world too soon.

And so I continue with my Annapurna journal...

Day 7: April 23, 2014

I'm normally not an early morning person, but there was no way I was going to miss the dawn breaking over the impressive Annapurna mountain range.

It was a wonderfully crisp and cold morning. A few trekkers were already outside, just waiting for the sun to show up. Saw the Thai twins and called out a friendly 'good morning' to them. The snow lay thick on the ground, virtually untouched due to yesterday's heavy snowfall.  Since there was only a handful of trekkers who spent the night in base camp, it wasn't a huge crowd, of which I was incredibly thankful for. ABC may be the 'best-seller' route second to Everest Base Camp in Nepal, but it didn't have a commercialized feel to it. The crowd of trekkers was sure to come in an hour or so--composed of people who most likely stayed in Macchapucchre Base Camp or at lower levels the night before.

Twin brother and sister from Thailand. South Annapurna is in front of them, with the sunlight hitting its slopes.

As such, Madan, Hari and I practically had the place to ourselves as we stood there, taking photos and waiting for the sunrise. The sun took its time, but oh, what an unforgettable wait it was. I felt so tiny and insignificant, standing in the middle of this circle of mountains, watching as the sky took on different hues of white and blue. Because of Base Camp's unique location, you are actually given a 360-degree view of the sunlight breaking over the mountains. I swivelled slowly from left to right, looking up at South Annapurna, then Hinchuli and then Macchapucchre.

Light slowly filling up Annapurna Base Camp
Light slowly arriving at base camp
The sun arrived in glorious fashion, spilling light everywhere and warming up the place. I took the whole view in, knowing within me that it may take a while before I see this wonderful place again--perhaps never. Travel makes me a more appreciative person as a whole, and I told myself for the nth time how grateful I was to have made it to Annapurna Base Camp and witnessed such a landscape.

By the time we finished breakfast at 7:30 am, a whole gaggle of trekkers had already arrived and the place had started filling up and looking like some mini ski resort.  

leaving Annapurna Base Camp
leaving Annapurna Base Camp at 8:00 am

The boys and I took a last batch of photo ops by the ABC marker before heading down.  I was certainly in a triumphant mood -- having reached ABC as planned, with my altitude sickness completely gone, and being energized enough to face a long day of descent from base camp to Bamboo (2,300 meters / 7,544 feet).

posing by the Annapurna Base Camp marker
Yup! Really and truly made it to 4,130 meters above sea level. 

the Thapa brothers: Madan and Hari
The Thapa brothers: Madan and Hari
Descent was a bit slippery as the snow started to melt in some parts due to the sun. Madan took my hand and guided me firmly down a slippery slope; I was laughing and trying my best not to scream, because I felt that I was going to slip on the ice any minute.  Behind me, I could hear muffled squeals from both female and male trekkers as they too negotiated their way down the tricky slopes.

The weather was wonderfully cooperative and the Annapurna area looked stunning from any viewpoint as always.  It's really not called the Annapurna Sanctuary for nothing; once you cross the narrow valley and enter this haven, it does feel like you're in a sacred place untouched by time.

the Thapa brothers at Annapurna
I called out to Madan and Hari and asked them to stop so I could take this photo.  This photo will always remind me how beautiful the Annapurna Sanctuary is.

It was an incredibly long day of trekking. Although we were descending, the trail was still rough. Similar to what I did on the way back from Everest Base Camp, I put on headphones and finally listened to some music on the iPhone just to take my mind off the dreariness of the trail.

It started raining somewhere between Himalaya and Dovan, past lunchtime. Although that leg would normally take 2 hours, I was determined to cut it down to at least 1.5 hours.  Clearly, everyone was tired and not in a good mood due to the rain.  But because I've always felt rain was sort of my element (any Filipino would be used to it), I plunged headlong into the forested paths, with Hari and Madan following close behind. Some kind of madness overtook me;  I was rushing down quite recklessly, not caring anymore if I would slip.  I was bone tired, feeling rather grumpy, and I just wanted this long day to end. Sure, it was raining, but I felt comfortable enough zipping along the muddy path.

When we reached Dovan, I turned to Hari and asked, "How many hours did we take?"

He smiled and said, "One hour." An hour! Ha!

And without saying anything further and without even a water break, we made for Bamboo and reached it after another hour.  It was a long and tiring day--not without its hardships, but I was ecstatic to have completed the ABC trek as planned.

on the way down from Annapurna Base Camp
Day 7. On the way down from ABC.
There isn't much to say about the next few days after leaving ABC. After staying in Bamboo for the night, we had to head next for Jhinu (1,780 meters / 5,859 feet), which is famous for its hot springs, but with the required passage through Chhommrong.  If you remember my previous post on Chhommrong, this wasn't exactly the most convenient of trekking 'crossroads' because it's situated on a high hilltop.  Leaving and arriving here would entail undergoing some pretty rough steps.  Felt drained as I had lunch in Chhrommrong and ended up swapping knee injury sob stories with an Indian-Canadian whose knees were in worse shape than mine.

From Jhinu, it's a hot and dusty trek back to Nayapul (almost felt like collapsing from dehydration and heat at some point), and then from Nayapul, a short car ride to Pokhara where it all started. The actual trek took a total of nine (9) days only: six days of trekking to reach ABC with Nayapul as the starting point, and three days to get back.

As early as Day 2, I realized that Annapurna Base Camp trek required more physical strength than Everest Base Camp. It was a challenging trail, but it left me hankering for more. Throughout the trek, I knew with certainty that I was bound to return to Nepal for several more times.  I had no excuse not to.  I had fallen in love with everything Nepal had to offer, and I truly wanted to see more of this country. Fortunately enough, I live in the same continent, and so I could actually afford to go once or twice a year to Nepal if I wanted to; the only challenge was to save up for any trek I set my sights on.

A couple of people had asked me: if they had to just choose one trek for Nepal, which one would I recommend: Everest Base Camp or Annapurna Base Camp?  I kind of struggle with the answer because it's a difficult one for me. What my real answer is? Do both.  Take the trail to Everest Base Camp for the 'glory' of saying you've been to the foot of the world's highest mountain.  But take Annapurna Base Camp as well if you want to see something really magnificent.  EBC is more or less a barren wilderness when you get there; the Annapurna Sanctuary offers the most stunning 360-degree views. (I do love both experiences, however, so I'm quite biased!)

So what's next?

Needless to say, I've been planning with Naba and the Himalayan Planet Adventures team on another trek/climb in 2015, and I'm still ironing out the details. Am really hoping to keep you all posted on this soon. In the meantime, I'll be working on another entry or so on costs and logistics when planning your own Annapurna Base Camp trek.

I've been getting a couple of messages and emails requesting for such details, and I thought I'd do one for ABC as well, since my entries on EBC trek expenses and 'what to expect' have been getting really good feedback.

So thanks, everyone! It's been a great experience so far, and it's really touching to hear from those who said they've enjoyed reading my blog updates.

For more questions, just shoot me an email at ginacsales@gmail.com. :)

me at Annapurna Base Camp
Tiny me surrounded by the massive Annapurna Sanctuary mountains

If you want to do an Annapurna Base Camp trek, do consider visiting the Himalayan Planet Adventures website and check out their 16-day Annapurna Base Camp trek package.

27 September 2014

Annapurna Base Camp Trek - Day 6: Reaching the Annapurna Sanctuary finally!

To read all posts on my Annapurna Base Camp trek, click here for the complete series.

Entering the Annapurna Sanctuary
Within the Annapurna Sanctuary at 3,200 + meters / 10,500 + feet above sea level

Day 6: April 22, 2014

D-Day. Always the hardest day.  And certainly an unforgettable one.

I woke up shivering in the cold inside my room at Himalaya, rather dreading what was about to happen. I knew the final push would always be difficult; it was either I make it to Annapurna Base Camp today or not.

Even if I had made it to Everest Base Camp last year at the [literally] breath-taking altitude level of 5,360 meters above sea level, I was never complacent enough to think that reaching ABC was a done deal. Being the realist that I was, I knew a dozen things could go wrong: a terrible bout of altitude sickness perhaps, or an ankle sprain -- or even an avalanche. 

Annapurna Base Camp (4,130 m)  is a sanctuary located within an imposing ring of mountains and no stranger to avalanches, which occur at times within the year.  This area did pose a certain risk -- one that I was reluctant to tell my family and friends back home. It was bad enough that I got a million messages while in Tadapani on Day 3 when they had heard about the avalanche in Everest Base Camp. I think if I had mentioned that Annapurna was prone to avalanches too, my loved ones would have probably gone into collective cardiac arrest.

That said, the locals would know best which routes to take after an avalanche or even whether to proceed OR NOT to base camp depending on the amount of snow falling. The local guides will be able to determine if it is safe to stay put and delay the trek to ABC if they feel an avalanche is highly possible. This is their territory, after all, and it would be wise to heed local advice.

on the way to Annapurna Base Camp
Us small people vs large boulders.  This area is prone to landslides and avalanches.
I was anxious to start as early as possible, and so we left at 7:30 am.  It was very cold, but I wore only 2 layers of thermals, my down vest, a scarf and a wool cap. I refrained from completely bundling up since Madan mentioned that the trail going up would be tough. If I was going to work up a sweat on the ascents, I didn't want to feel super hot and stuffy inside my outer shell jacket.

The trek from Himalaya to Deurali usually takes 2 hours but we did it in 2.5 hours due to the regular route being blocked from a recent landslide. And so we had to go through the more difficult path by the river bed and scramble over some large rocks. I was suddenly feeling very, very exhausted.  And when both the fatigue and headache started manifesting, I knew that I was starting to contract that all too familiar feeling of acute mountain sickness. After all, I was already past the 3,000-meter altitude mark. Hello, AMS, you old friend you.

The way from Deurali onwards looked very dramatic; you can feel you're officially entering the Annapurna Sanctuary as you trek through this narrow, rocky pass heading into the ring of mountains. This was avalanche territory, but the quasi-terror and fatigue I was experiencing still could not suppress the general awe I had of this beautiful place. 

Entering the Annapurna Sanctuary
Entering the Annapurna Sanctuary. Madan in front of me. The path here was flat but this was where I started
to contract altitude sickness.

Everything was mostly ascent that day -- whether gradual or steep, it was all about going up, and the altitude was getting to me. I kept asking Hari in a hopeful tone of voice, "No ali ali uralo?" ("No going down a little bit?") And he would shake his head, replying, "Ukalo for today. Bistaari, bistaari." ("All up today. Go slow, go slow.")

As I trudged beside Madan, he kept casting worried looks at me. I was walking like a zombie, just trying my best to keep it together. I would whisper to him at times, "Malai thakai lagyo." ("I'm tired.")

By the time we reached snow-filled Machhapuchhre Base Camp (3,700 m) for lunch, the sky was overcast and I was totally beat and actually starving. My brain was having a hard time processing that I still needed to make it to Annapurna Base Camp before nightfall. 

Inside the MBC teahouse, a lot of trekkers crowded inside the dining hall. Majority had no intentions of going to ABC that day.  Their aim was to spend the night at MBC and then trek up to ABC early morning the next day.  Which was a solid plan, actually, and one that I was ready to embrace -- especially when it started to rain hard as I was wearily eating my vegetable rice.

Madan kept looking out the window, his frown deepening as the rain continued.  A small part of me wanted him to decide that we would be sleeping in MBC tonight, but the stubborn (and hence, bigger) part of me felt that I had to stick to plan and reach Annapurna Base Camp that same day. I had psyched myself to do it in 6 days, and I didn't want to disappoint myself. 

The vegetable fried rice did wonders to my energy level and I was suddenly itching to leave. When the rain finally stopped after an hour or so of waiting, Madan gave me the signal to go, and there we were, negotiating the slippery, slushy snow up to Annapurna. Hari plunged way ahead and soon, he was just a small speck in the distance. Madan stayed with me, of course, and ensured that I wouldn't be falling into deep holes of soft snow. By now, I had to bundle up and put on my outer shell jacket which protected me from rain, snow and the biting cold. 

I was getting  a bit nervous because I was surrounded by mountains on all sides - these snow-covered silent, imposing mountains that were so majestic and terrifying at the same time. They looked like they were watching me, judging me, waiting for me to mess things up. Please, please, no avalanches please, I half-prayed, half-chanted silently. And then it began to snow in earnest: first from behind, and then snow started coming in all directions, pricking my face like tiny, cold needles. 

Machhapuchhre Base Camp behind me
Machhapuchhre Base Camp (3,700 meters) behind me, as I headed up to Annapurna Base Camp

To make things worse, I had just realized something that immediately filled me with panic.  If I were in a movie, this would have been a dolly zoom moment, with the camera zeroing in on the stricken expression on my face. 

My gloves. I left my gloves inside my rucksack. Which Hari was carrying right now.


Those two hours felt like an eternity. It was to be one of the most profound and challenging experiences in my life so far. I kept trudging up, doing my best not to slip in the snow. With my face half-covered by my wool scarf and my jacket hood protecting my head, I looked like a total Eskimo. I also tried not to look at my hands, because to see them would be to fully accept how totally cold and unprotected they were. Shoving my hands into my pockets wasn't that much of an option because I needed to hold onto my trekking poles badly for stability.  I was still going up, up, up on very slippery snow. 

During the first hour, I was able to encounter people who were on their way back. They were in a hurry, as the weather wasn't being cooperative. But as the snowfall worsened, it became clear that it was just me and Madan on the trail; no more trekkers venturing out into the snow that day.

Trekking in the snow without any gloves
As you can very well see, I had no gloves. Argh.

Heading up to Annapurna Base Camp
Can you spot my guide Madan? I stop at times to take photos; I may never see such a dreary but
gloriously lonesome landscape again.
Earlier, I had prayed for no avalanches. This time, I was praying not to get severe frostbite. Surely, I wasn't going to get frostbite at 3,700+ meters within 2 hours of trekking, right? Right? 

I repeatedly told myself how stupid I was. My kingdom for a pair of gloves right now! 

My head was throbbing, the snow kept falling, and the landscape was a complete white-out. I could barely even see Madan, who was ahead of me, setting out a path for both of us. At some point, I got emotional and started to tear up. I thought, was that a symptom of altitude sickness, too? Madan didn't get to see the tears forming at the corners of my eyes, but the silent mountains of the Annapurna range did.  They were the only witnesses to my near-breakdown.

The secret to enduring such conditions, I believe, is not to think too much. I tried not to think of my near-frozen hands and my numb face. I just focused on going up, one step at a time. Sure, I had a headache from the mild AMS and I felt like I was living in an icy hell at that point, but there was something I was still immensely grateful for: that there was ample -- little, but still ample -- oxygen in the atmosphere. I never felt completely robbed of breath. In the Everest region, I felt I was fighting for air most times; here in Annapurna, all I had to worry about was the rough trail and the snow.

Oh, and the lack of gloves, of course.

I promised myself that if I ever made it out of ABC alive, I would buy four extra pairs of gloves and just stuff my pockets silly with gloves on my next trek.

After a while, I couldn't believe it when Madan suddenly stopped in his tracks, turned to look at me with a grin and said, "Can you see the ABC teahouses? We'll be there in 10 minutes."

Really? We're here? I strained my eyes but because of the heavy snow falling, all I could make out was the famous Annapurna Base Camp marker, which welcomes every trekker.  And then I saw a patch of blue and brown, making its way towards us. It was Hari. He was coming for us, braving the cold wind and snow once more.

When he reached us, I immediately held out my hands. "Look, Hari! I forgot my gloves!" And my porter smiled the widest smile I've ever seen. "Oh! Good! You trekked in the snow without gloves. Just like a Nepali!" I think he was very proud of me...!

Madan suggested that we take photos beside the ABC marker early next morning but I insisted that we have a few photos taken now. It was important that I capture that moment of arrival--snow and all. And I could finally say to myself that I made it to Annapurna Base Camp in 6 days, as planned!

Posing by the Annapurna Base Camp marker
At the Annapurna Base Camp marker with my porter Hari. Not even the heavy snowfall could dampen my joy.
And yes, I made it to ABC without gloves! 
I didn't realize how terribly cold it was until I was inside my room at the teahouse.  Shivering uncontrollably, I peeled off all my gear made wet by the snow. Most rooms were empty because the snowfall probably deterred more trekkers from arriving that day.

While the teahouse owners were preparing dinner, I felt the urgent need to call home.  I knew my family was worried about me.  There wasn't any mobile signal in ABC, so I had to use the teahouse's satellite phone service at Rs 200 (US$ 2) per minute. What was supposed to be a 1-minute call to my younger sister ended up being a 7-minute one because I learned that moment that my beloved 2-year old Syrian pet hamster Ginny passed away yesterday.  Needless to say, I was very upset and I cried.

I knew Ginny was in the twilight of her years as a hamster, but I had hoped that she would still have a few extra months to go. What devastated me was that I wasn't there when she passed away, but my mom reassured me that she died peacefully, inside her comfy hideout, without any sickness. It was just old age. I was heartsick over her passing, but glad too that she lived a very happy and contented life.

It was sweet how the teahouse people fussed over me and my dinner when they found out why I was so upset. Tried to eat my pizza dinner, but I could only manage a few bites.  I didn't even finish a slice! My headache was worsening as well. By 7:30 pm, I whispered to Madan and Hari that I was completely exhausted and ready to sleep.

Woke up in the middle of the night to pee.  My bladder felt like it was about to burst; this feeling is all due to Diamox.  I bundled up, put on my head lamp, and braved the cold to go to the common toilet outdoors and peed like a gallonful. The headache was still there and I wished that it would go away by daybreak.

Like an answered prayer, all traces of altitude sickness were gone when I woke up at 3:20 am. In the darkness, I mouthed a silent 'thank you.' A thank-you to God, yes, but really, it was also just a thank-you in general.  A thank-you to the mountains, a thank-you to the wonderful people who helped me along the way.

I had made it to Annapurna Base Camp at 4,130 meters above sea level, and I had every reason to be thankful.

At Annapurna Base Camp
My bucket list moment  :)

To be continued....

My next post will focus on seeing the beautiful Annapurna Sanctuary at the break of dawn. The 360-degree view is incredible.  More on that soon!


If you want to do an Annapurna Base Camp trek, do consider visiting the Himalayan Planet Adventures website and check out their 16-day Annapurna Base Camp trek package.


18 August 2014

Annapurna Base Camp Trek - Day 5: A Hard Day's Trek to Himalaya

To read all posts on my Annapurna Base Camp trek, click here for the complete series.

trekking to Himalaya
Getting closer to Annapurna Base Camp. Day 5 on the trail. Madan, my guide, takes the lead as always.

Day 5: April 21, 2014

The goal was to trek for 6 hours from Chhommrong to Dovan (2,600 m / 8,528 ft above sea level) on Day Five.  I ended up doing 8 hours of trekking that day. Instead of staying the night at Dovan, I was forced to press on further for 2 more hours and reach Himalaya at an altitude of 2,900 meters.

Let me explain why.

It was a challenging day for me. I think what kinda bogged me down was having no choice but to hike further for a few more hours.  Physical fatigue is one thing, but what really makes or breaks your trek is the level of mental readiness.  

Day 2 was just crummy most of the time, with those Ulleri steps.  But I think I can safely say that on Days 5 & 6, I was quite the bipolar trekker--alternating between silent misery and excessive outward displays of cheerfulness. There were moments when the trail overwhelmed me and I would clam up, not talking to my companions. But I also wanted to dispel any negative attitude as much as I humanly could, and so I tried to compensate by maintaining a stream of chatter that lasted for minutes and minutes. Hari and Madan must have been so confused with me; I would look gloomy one moment and then switch to being ridiculously chipper in a Santa Claus ho-ho-ho kind of way.

trekking to Himalaya
Hari waiting for me to cross this rickety little bridge.
Challenge accepted!
Call it an attempt at mental survival, if you will. When you've been hiking up the mountains for a few days already, one tends to get a bit cuckoo at some point.

At 8:00 am, I said goodbye to Chhommrong.  The unique part about this place is that it is a crossroads for people heading to Base Camp and back. You have no choice but to pass through Chhommrong.  This isn't exactly good news when you're either leaving or returning to this place.  At the start of Day 5, I had to suffer through 30 straight minutes of cruising from the very high point of the Chhommrong settlement all the way down to a suspension bridge.  The rough steps were too numerous to count.  

My bad knees were screaming in protest, but I drowned out the pain by chatting with Hari all the way down. We left Madan behind. At first, I didn't understand why Madan was taking his own sweet time up at the Chhommrong teahouse; I found out later on he was talking to the teahouse owners and trying to reserve rooms at Dovan for us. (More about that later.)

Anyway, as we swept past a whole gaggle of trekkers leisurely making their way down the steps, Hari said that we would be climbing up the same Chhommrong steps on the way back after reaching Base Camp. Good lord, I thought to myself and tried not to panic. By then, I had just walked past a trekker who was slowly climbing up the steps bare-footed

I stopped in my tracks to ask, "Hi, are you okay??" (Well, what I actually wanted to say was, "Yo, what the hell is wrong with you, sister? Why are you walking without your boots? There's dung everywhere!")

But I restrained myself from any kind of verbal diarrhea.  I had no idea what she was attempting to do.

She looked up and rested her palms for a moment on top of her trekking poles while catching her breath. I think she could read my mind as I stared down at her soon-to-be-sunburned feet. "Yeah, I'm okay. I'd rather walk barefoot for now," she explained in a tired, ragged voice. "The way up is so hard."

Gulp. I wasn't looking forward to a potential Nightmare on the Ulleri Steps, Part 2.

suspension bridge after Chhommrong
The suspension bridge we crossed upon
leaving Chhommrong.
The descent continued until we found ourselves at the great suspension bridge. Hari explained to me that once we crossed the bridge, we would be doing a lot of ascents that day until we reach our destination. Couldn't really complain about the first few hours of going up; at least my knees could take a break from all those continuous downhills!

Before our lunch at Bamboo (2,300 m), we had a quick toilet break at a teahouse in Sinuwa (2,340 m) with a pretty viewpoint. It was there that I learned that if I, as the trekking client, ordered a glass of cold lemon juice (only for Rs 50), my guide and porter would each be served their own cold lemon juice for free. I couldn't think of a better way to spend Rs 50 (US$ 0.50). And it was a nice little tradition to uphold here in the Himalayas.

During lunch, Madan gave me the lowdown on today's destination. "I checked this morning from Chhommrong, and I found out the teahouses in Dovan are full," he warned. "If I can't get rooms for us in Dovan, we need to go on until we reach Himalaya. If there are no rooms in Himalaya, we go to Deurali."

The last stretch of ascents from Sinuwa to Bamboo had tired me out, but at least my dal bhat lunch had managed to re-energize me. I wasn't worried about the 1-2 hour trek from Bamboo to Dovan; I knew already that Dovan was not an option anymore for an overnight stay because of the lack of rooms. The fact that Dovan, a major stop in the trek, had only 3 teahouses (18 rooms in total) was completely ridiculous though. I wondered how the trail looked like during the busiest season of the year, which is October to November.  Do people end up sleeping on the dining hall tables then?

I then set my sights on Himalaya (2,900 m)  and I needed to ensure that we got there on time to reserve rooms. I didn't relish the idea of being forced to press on to Deurali (3,200 m) which entailed an extra 2-hour trek from Himalaya. So for me, it was Himalaya or nothing. Deurali wasn't an option in my head. I HAD to get to Himalaya on time. Bed space competition was fierce here, since there were only had 2 lodges, or a total of 12 rooms. This was like being in the 19th-century Oklahoma Land Rush or something.

As it was all ascent that afternoon through some dense forest-like areas, my energy was wearing thin by the hour.  When we walked past the Dovan teahouses, I tried not to stare at the other trekkers who were lounging about, sipping tea or reading their books. I didn't want to get all green with envy.

Madan decided that he would go way ahead to Himalaya to get rooms for us three. He would just meet us there, which I thought was a good strategy.  So from 3 to 5pm, Hari and I trudged up the path to Himalaya, stopping once in a while to share and munch on the big bag of trail mix I brought with me.  

I was tired when I reached Himalaya.  The rooms were indeed very limited, and I didn't have the luxury of getting my own room. So for the first time on a trek, I was asked to share a room (with 4 single beds inside it) with two Chinese individuals.  Since I got there first, I was able to choose a nice bed by the window with a ledge for my stuff, some ample floor space for my rucksack, and wall hooks nearby for my trekking clothes.  

Himalaya teahouse
my teahouse at Himalaya (2,900 meters / 9,514 feet above sea level)

The two Chinese nationals--a boy and a girl--arrived around 30 minutes later. For a moment there, I thought they were a couple, but the girl had told me that they were just traveling as friends. At least I didn't have to undergo the awkward situation of sharing a room with a couple. 

As it got dark and the sun disappeared from view, a few more trekkers trickled in. I was grateful to have reached Himalaya on time; I couldn't imagine heading on to Deurali at night to negotiate for bed space.

It was extremely cold in Himalaya. The gas shower was moderately hot but because it was freezing cold everywhere (even inside the shower), the hot water couldn't do much to keep me warm.  I think there were only two female trekkers--a Thai and myself--who actually braved the shower. Can't speak for the Thai girl, but I can definitely say most Filipino women will find a way to take a bath regardless of climate conditions.

Inside the dining hall, there was no stove, no heat, and everyone huddled together, wearing their down jackets and wool caps. Dinner was an intriguing spaghetti mix of onion, garlic, tuna and cheese, but as always, I barely touched my dish due to lack of appetite. 

Because the dining hall tables were laid out in a way that you end up talking to a lot of people around you, I made friends with the Thai girl, my fellow hygiene addict. She was actually trekking with her twin brother. I had seen them on the trail a couple of times, but it was only now that I was getting to know them. She said that she had initially wanted to do the Annapurna Base Camp trek alone. But her parents wouldn't allow her to go by herself, and so her twin offered to accompany her.  And she revealed, with a giggle, that her brother was enjoying the trek more than she was. 

Lights out at 8:00 pm and I shivered underneath two thick layers of blankets. Today's trek wore me out but in retrospect, I figured that it was a million times better starting Base Camp Day from Himalaya than from Dovan.  It meant less trekking hours on the most important day of the trek.  With that comforting thought in mind, I fell asleep.

trekking to Himalaya
As the day wore on, Machhapuchhre (Fish Tail Mountain) looked bigger and closer. One day left to reach Annapurna Base Camp!

* * *

If you want to do an Annapurna Base Camp trek, do consider visiting the Himalayan Planet Adventures website and check out their 16-day Annapurna Base Camp trek package.

02 August 2014

Annapurna Base Camp Trek - Day 4: The Mad Dash to Chhommrong

To read all posts on my Annapurna Base Camp trek, click here for the complete series.

On the way to Chhommrong
Taken from my iPhone. Hari, with the view of Machhapuchhre on the way to Chhommrong (2,210 m / 7,249 ft
above sea level).

Day 4: April 20, 2014

By now, I was getting used to life on the Annapurna trail.  I never felt I had to worry about oxygen intake (unlike during the Everest Base Camp trek), but what occupied my thoughts were the trail paths, which were significantly more challenging in this region.  I was dealing with minor knee injuries prior to my ABC hike, and the pain from these injuries felt magnified on the trek itself.

Day 4 was relatively easy, because it was all about descending from Tadapani (2,710 meters) to Chhommrong (2,210 meters / 7,249 feet above sea level). However, just because the altitude was lower didn't mean the trail would be easy peasy the whole day.  Lazed a bit after my breakfast in my Tadapani teahouse and went online to do some Facebook and Instagram updates--which earned me a glare and some tsk-tsks from my ever strict guide Madan. I think he was anxious for us to leave at 8:00 am but because I dallied and took my time, we ended up leaving at 9:00 am.

It was a 6-hour trek, excluding lunch hour, to Chhrommrong, a popular stop known for its stunning views of the Annapurna range. (To be honest, everywhere you go in the Annapurna region seems to boast of fantastic scenery, so there's actually no shortage of mountain views.) Since I left Tadapani at 9:00 am, I was gunning to reach Chhommrong by 4:00 pm.

On the way to Chhommrong
It was a good day for photo op breaks!
To make up for my tardiness, I sped down the rocky path. Sort of a bad thing to do. The first 2 hours would mean 100% descent. My knees took a beating again (honestly, this is beginning to be stale news already) and at some point, I was afraid they would collapse.  When you're going downhill for 2 hours without breaking pace, it can get totally tough on the knees.

Then for some reason, my stomach started acting up, and I realized I BADLY needed to go to the toilet.  It was that urgent. Fortunately, I spotted a teahouse in the middle of nowhere, and I made a beeline for it, leaving Madan behind. The teahouse looked abandoned when I reached it; I was panicking because I wanted to ask for permission to use the toilet but there wasn't anyone around. I wasn't sure if I could just use the toilet without asking.  Went around the teahouse a bit and hollered 'namaste, is there anyone here?', but Nature was desperately calling. And so I let go of whatever social graces I had left, and just rushed to the squat toilet (the only available toilet, period), which had no water, no light and no windows. Nothing. It was just a little outhouse with a hole in a middle and with a door that could hardly close properly. But when I had to go, I just had to go. 

Okay, that was too much information, but it just goes to show that I've become really skilled at taking a dump at just about anywhere on this trail. Trekkers can't be choosers. 

The pretty countryside. Chhommrong was near, at this point.
The rest of the day was pretty uneventful. Descended some more, and in my mad rush, I overtook a lot of trekkers. My porter Hari and I kept pace with one another while Madan dawdled a bit and was left behind (but since he's ultra fast, he could always catch up with us whenever he needed to). As Hari and I tackled some uphills after lunch, I would watch him RUN up the steps effortlessly with my rucksack and his stuff on his back--which amounted to around 12 kilos or so. 

It was insane. The Nepalis never fail to amaze me with their speed and strength. They own the mountains, I'd say. I asked Hari why he was so annoyingly fast. He laughed and said that he was in the army some years back.  As part of their drills, they had to run up and down the mountain paths with 25 kilos each on their backs. Okay, that explained it.

Hari wasn't as fluent as his brother Madan when it came to English, but we managed to communicate well and laugh a lot in between. He taught me some general Nepalese words, and he asked me the equivalent of those words in Filipino, which pleased me a great deal. Our mini language lessons helped pass the time, especially during the uphills--and by 3:30 pm, I had reached Chhommrong.  I was ahead of plan by 30 minutes, hooray! 

As I sat inside the dining hall of my teahouse, I watched from the window as trekkers trickled into Chhommrong between 4 to 4:45 pm. Hmmm. Could it be that I had done very well today after all? This trek was never really a competition anyway, but it felt good to test my limits and speed up on the trail sometimes. Got into a conversation with a solo Canadian trekker, and we basically swapped stories about our knee injuries.  He had to take Ibuprofen every 8 hours because of the grueling trail path. I was to run into him every now and then all throughout the ABC trek.

Dinner was so-so; I didn't have much of an appetite, as usual. But the dining hall was a great place to be in, and there were loads of fellow trekking guests.  Hari taught me some new card games, and so I played with the boys, with other guys standing by watching us.  It seemed I really had beginner's luck that night, and won most of the games. 

Madan had warned me that tomorrow could be a challenging day for me, so I decided to rest early. And like what I did on previous days on the trail, I could only pray that my luck would hold out 'til I reached my destination.

Watching the day end in Chhommrong. The clouds were starting to roll in. I couldn't believe that in two days, I would be at the base of THOSE mountains.

* * *

If you want to do an Annapurna Base Camp trek, do consider visiting the Himalayan Planet Adventures website and check out their 16-day Annapurna Base Camp trek package.

05 July 2014

Annapurna Base Camp Trek - Day 3: Trek to Tadapani

To read all posts on my Annapurna Base Camp trek, click here for the complete series.

the view from Tadapani
The view from my Tadapani teahouse: South Annapurna, Hinchuli and Machhapuchhre

Day 3: April 19, 2014

Yesterday being Good Friday, I reckoned that I had done enough penance for my sins after going up those damned Ulleri steps. When I woke up today at 4:00 am, I was feeling extremely sorry for myself and was not in the best mood to do some trekking. Along with my battered knees, my ego seemed to have shrivelled up and died and would probably only resurrect on Easter Sunday.

Madan said that the sky was very cloudy that third day of the trek and he made the executive decision of not pushing through with the sunrise hike to Poon Hill (3,210 m). A
fter he did a quick once-over of my sorry state that early morning, I think he kind of knew that I was not in such great condition and he was just trying to make me feel better by using weather as the main excuse (although it really was cloudy). Poon Hill was considered by many as one of the highlights of the whole ABC trek, and I did struggle internally for a bit if I really wanted to go there and see the view or not.

But my guide pointed out that there would be better views of the Annapurna range as we moved closer to our final destination. And so I wasn't totally heartbroken over the idea of resting some more that morning and regaining strength. I breakfasted on oat porridge with apple bits at 7:30 am and managed to get on the trail 30 minutes later. Our aim was to reach Tadapani (2,710 m / 8,891 ft) that day, which would take 6 hours excluding lunch hour.  

photo by Gina Sales
An hour after leaving Ghorepani, we reached the top of a steep hill.
Tadapani was lower than Ghorepani in altitude, so there weren't any acclimatization issues at all. In fact, I barely had problems adjusting to altitude throughout the trek. What really bothered me were the cruel trail paths. That morning alone, as I left Ghorepani, I found myself doing an hour's worth of steep steps (what else was new?) up a hill. The trail was full of trekkers during that overcast spring morning, and I honestly think the majority looked really weary and feeling pressured to keep pace with everyone else.

I knew I was feeling the pressure. Was out of breath most of the time, but I just kept mumbling to myself to go on--especially during those times when there was a gaggle of people behind me. We were all kinda walking like zombies. If I had less pride in myself, I would have stopped and allowed some to overtake me. But I had skipped Poon Hill that morning already, and I felt I had no excuse to give myself a break.

After reaching the top of the hill finally, I took a good look around--and again, I wasn't totally surprised that the ascent looked challenging from my high viewpoint. Because it was.  Back in my country, this would have been a day's climb to the top of a high mountain already.  (Had to remind myself I was only on Day 3 of this 9-day trek. Groan.) 
The rough forest trail heading to Tadapani
The rough forest trail heading to Tadapani. It was all mostly descent.

After that climb, it was mostly a series of knee-battering, continuous descents that day. While many trekkers continued to rest on top of that hill, I was determined to press on. Told Madan I wanted to go ahead, and he acknowledged my wish with an approving smile.  He and Hari followed me from a considerable distance, which gave me enough space; it felt good to walk ahead of everyone else and have some semblance of solitude as I made some pretty painful descents on the rough trail.

Made it to Tadapani at 3:00 pm; I was so pleased to have been right on schedule that I felt nearly redeemed from the misery that was Day 2.  Tadapani is a quieter settlement than Ghorepani. Had time to relax, write my notes, charge my phone for Rs 100, go on unlimited Wi-Fi for Rs 200--and take a shower only for Rs 100!  The low prices were unbelievable, considering how everything in the Everest region cost thrice as much. 

Teahouse owner warming up the stove inside the dining hall
Teahouse owner warming up the stove inside the dining hall
My teahouse is called Super View and lives up to its name. It has some fantastic views of South Annapurna, Hinchuli and Macchapuchhre--the sight of which did not make me that sad anymore for missing out on Poon Hill. 

I sat in one corner of the teahouse's dining hall right beside the stove, and watched as the owner started to light the fire. The sun hadn't even set and it was already very cold. It was going to be a chilly night, and I didn't intend to give up my spot near the stove (which, incidentally, happened to have the best Wi-Fi signal).

When I finally went online, I was surprised to get what seemed like a hundred notifications from people on Facebook, Viber, Instagram, etc. I heard on that same day that an avalanche had occurred above Everest Base Camp and that more than a dozen Sherpas were killed somewhere in the Khumbu Icefall area while they were preparing the ropes and ladders for that season's Everest summit expedition.

Before I went online, I had no idea that people back home were freaking out over my safety. Most of them didn't have a clue where Annapurna was, and assumed I was just a stone's throw away from Everest Base Camp when the avalanche happened.

Hello. I mean, really.

I suppose I can never really convince people like my sisters (who don't make it a point to know their geography) to go check the distance between Annapurna and Everest so that they can realize that these are two separate regions. But it was sweet to get messages from everyone anyway; I just had to spend considerable time answering all the messages to assure everyone I was alive.  I was in good hands with Madan and Hari, and there was always Naba of Himalayan Planet Adventures in Kathmandu who knew what to do and had a copy of my travel insurance policy should things go wrong.

I was horrified over what happened to those poor Sherpas.  Because I had done the Everest Base Camp trek last year, the Khumbu region was indeed very close to my heart. Sherpas are one of the most hard-working, nicest people I know, and they are the true, unsung heroes in every Everest expedition. All those ropes that Everest summit climbers use from base camp to the summit were prepared in advance by Sherpas, and the latter certainly put their lives on the line year after year to ensure everyone else's safety. When I think of words like bravery, dedication and true grit, these are words that come to life in the form of Sherpas hailing from the Everest region.

The avalanche was the topic of the night over dinner in Tadapani. The locals were discussing amongst themselves if they knew any of the Sherpas who had died from the disaster. I still didn't have much of an appetite, but the garlic soup and the several forkfuls I had of garlic cheese macaroni were comforting. I felt like I had done well that day, and could only hope for the best in tomorrow's trek.      

One of my favorite forest trails on the way to Tadapani. Hari and Madan right ahead of me.
One of my favorite forest trails on the way to Tadapani. Hari and Madan right ahead of me.

* * *

If you want to do an Annapurna Base Camp trek, do consider visiting the Himalayan Planet Adventures website and check out their 16-day Annapurna Base Camp trek package.

05 June 2014

Annapurna Base Camp Trek - Day 2: Trekking up the Ulleri Steps to Ghorepani

To read all posts on my Annapurna Base Camp trek, click here for the complete series.

Day 2 of the Annapurna Base Camp Trek - the forest trail in the afternoon
Day 2. Madan (left) and Hari (right) chillaxin' while I take photos. We had to pass through this dense forest in the afternoon.

Day 2: April 18, 2014

Horrible day. Just horrible. With a lot of drama and public displays of grumpiness from my end. Why does Day 2 of a trek always have to be a miserable one?

If you've been following my (mis)adventures on this blog, you'll know that the second day of my Everest Base Camp trek was an unforgettable ordeal--and this year's trek to Annapurna Base Camp just had to follow the same pattern. You know...the kind of hiking pattern that does cruel tricks to the mind and ego: an easy peasy Day 1 to make you feel good about your supposedly mad trekking skillz and then--kablam!--Day 2 throws you a sadistic punch to the stomach and leaves you in near-tears.

I totally blame the mountain trail, of course. And to a certain degree, myself--for being quite unprepared and not reading up more on the infamous Ulleri steps.

Day 2 of the Annapurna Base Camp trek - crossing suspension bridges
The day started nicely enough with a few
suspension bridges along the way. Then things
got rough quickly...
We were out on the path by 8:00 am, and my guide Madan informed me that it would take 2 hours in the morning to finish the steep ascent from Tikkedhunga (1,577 m) to Ulleri (1,960 m). And another 3-4 hours more until we reach Ghorepani at 2,850 meters above sea level by the end of the day. Great, I can do this, I told myself.

Well, see, here's the problem:  I should have remembered (as early as last year's EBC trek, for heaven's sake) that the Nepalis are like super human beings; think of them as a whole nation of agile Legolas-like entities who seem to have been born with a natural speed up on the mountains. What seems like *just* a 2-hour steep ascent to them may not necessarily be the same thing for us regular folks who find it harder to defy the laws of gravity.

I spent 4 hours that morning climbing up, up, up a sadistic, never-ending flight of steep rocky steps. It was like doing the StairMaster beside a ravine for 4 straight hours in the heat of the sun. Actually, to put things into better perspective, the total ascent to Ulleri was like going up the Empire State Building practically twice. From street level to the 103rd floor, the Empire State has around 1,870 steps. The stone stairs from Tikkedhunga to Ulleri is comprised of 3,210 steps; some say it's about 3,480. Try doing all those steps at an altitude level that's three to four times higher than that of the Empire State Building.  Just thinking about it all right now makes me want to hurl.

I kept moaning and groaning during those 4 hours, finding excuses to stop every 30 steps and guzzle down my water supply. Madan, who was used to my moods, knew how to take everything in stride.  I must have looked like a total drama queen to my porter Hari, though. He was always gently advising me to take it easy. "Bistaari, bistaari ('go slow, go slow')," he would say--before sprinting up the steps with my 10-kilo rucksack on his back. And in my mind, I was sobbing out, "Yes, unfortunately, Hari, that's exactly what I'm doing."

I don't have photos of the steeper parts of the Ulleri trail,
which is composed of more than 3,200 steps.  This was
taken during the 'easier' bits.
Wasn't able to take many photos on the Ulleri trail because I was frequently looking down at the steps, watching my balance, and trying my best to survive the ordeal and to avoid fainting from the overpowering stench of animal dung. Dung everywhere. The smell was so strong, I felt my clothes reeked of dung for several hours.

To make myself marinate in self-pity even more, I watched taller, younger trekkers pass me by. The path itself was steep, yes, but the actual steps were also tall to begin with, and so it was all an extra struggle for me. Short-legged petite me was at such a natural disadvantage. The one prayer that kept running through my head was, please God, do play fair and let me lose at least 5 pounds on this literally shitty trail alone.

I wanted to burst into tears of relief when we finally reached Banthanti (2,250 m) for lunch. Because this was such a popular lunch stop, the locals at the teahouses were very busy cooking for everyone, and it took some time before my food (vegetable fried rice) was served. I was ravenous; that was the only time during the entire 9-day trek that I actually wiped my plate clean.

The trail after lunch was, blessedly enough, a 3-hour mix of flat terrain, gradual inclines and steep ascents. I mean, after that morning of Day 2, everything else felt easier. The Ulleri experience just completely stole the 'Worst Day Ever' Award from my EBC Trek Day 2, which was basically a 9-hour trek to Namche Bazaar in the pouring monsoon rain.

As we headed closer to the day's destination, I was feeling sick at the realization that Ghorepani stood at an elevation of 2,850 meters. That meant, from Tikkedhunga's height of 1,577 meters, I had made a total ascent gain of 1,273 meters on this day alone. It was obviously not your regular trekking day. I've never even covered that much in a day's trek on the Everest Base Camp trail.

<a href=
Donkeys on the trail
I reached Ghorepani, shivering slightly; the hot day had given way to a very chilly afternoon, and I was nursing a small cold as I hiked up. Ghorepani is like a smaller version of Namche Bazaar with many locals settled here eking out a simple living, while trekkers use this main stop to relax and prepare for the tough trail ahead of them.

Every trekker in the teahouse looked worn out and was sharing his or her own tale of woe on the Ulleri trail while drying socks by the stove (where everyone gathers, as this is the warmest place in every teahouse). Personally, I must have looked disgruntled and robbed of all happiness.

I don't think I was very good company that evening for Madan and Hari, who didn't seem to have lost their appetites.  I was so tired, I only had a few forkfuls of my tomato-onion-cheese macaroni dinner; Madan ended up eating the rest of the dish. Hot shower was actually free, but my exhaustion level was off the charts and all I wanted was to crawl into bed and pray that I would make it to Poon Hill (3,210 m) by sunrise tomorrow, still in one piece.

Day of Annapurna Base Camp trek - from Tikkedhunga to Ghorepani
Six hours from Tikkedhunga to Ghorepani? You lie, you signboard you! Kidding aside, I honestly couldn't
do it in six. 
P.S. I write this post today, June 5. This, too, is a very special day for me. Not only is it my birthday today, but it was the same day I reached Everest Base Camp just a year ago.  Within the past 12 months, I feel like my two treks in Nepal have helped me grow so much as a person. These experiences have allowed me to revel in whatever strengths I have and have taught me to accept my limitations as well. It's been an awesome year. Hope there are more to come. :)
* * *

If you want to do an Annapurna Base Camp trek, do consider visiting the Himalayan Planet Adventures website and check out their 16-day Annapurna Base Camp trek package.

29 May 2014

Annapurna Base Camp Trek - Day 1: Trek to Tikkedhunga

To read all posts on my Annapurna Base Camp trek, click here for the complete series.

Annapurna Base Camp
Annapurna Base Camp. Elevation: 4,130 meters (13,550 feet) above sea level. Photo by Gina Sales, April 2014.

It must have been the cold and fatigue talking, but when I reached Everest Base Camp last year on the 5th of June (my 33rd birthday, to be exact), I muttered to myself that I didn't need to see another mountain again for a very, very long time. At that moment, I was tired as hell, breathless, and dealing with a sunburn and a pounding headache.

But the Himalayas is like a black hole: once you get sucked into it, escape is well nigh impossible---and a second trek is highly probable. Every trekker who's been to Nepal understands the lure of this mighty mountain range.

Six evenings after reaching Everest Base Camp, I was back in Kathmandu having my farewell dinner in Rum Doodle with Naba, the co-owner and managing director of Himalayan Planet Adventures. Over fish and chips, I found myself asking the all-important question: "So, where can I trek next?"

"Annapurna Base Camp."  That was Naba's swift reply and that became my obsession in the following months. I was ready to return to Nepal in 2014 after all.

As early as January 2014, I worked with Naba on an itinerary that aligned with my busy work schedule. I had a route map of ABC on my office desk to keep me inspired every day. I counted the days leading to my April 15 arrival in Kathmandu. I ran, I did yoga, I told myself I was primed and ready.  I thought, oh, I've achieved EBC.  I mean, how hard can ABC be after that, right?


As I was to discover throughout my 9-day trek, Annapurna Base Camp proved to be just as tough and challenging as Everest Base Camp. Sure, it was lower than EBC with only an elevation of 4,130 m (13,550 ft) as the end goal. I didn't realize that terrain was going to play a major factor in testing my endurance in this trek.

To keep to a modest budget for ABC, I opted to take a 7-hour bus ride from Kathmandu to Pokhara and back, instead of taking the plane. The ride wasn't a total ordeal, as I chose to go via Greenline, which is like one of the country's premier tourist bus services with a good safety record. Buffet lunch was part of the package, I had good spacious seats, and there were adequate toilet stops. In short, I was a happy camper. After the recent Nepal Airlines plane crash that killed 18 people heading from Pokhara to Jumla, I wasn't keen on taking a domestic flight anytime soon. I still get the shivers every time I think of my flight from Kathmandu to Lukla in the Everest region.

The classic route to Annapurna Base Camp usually starts with an overnight in Pokhara, a lovely bustling tourist town that serves as the jump-off point for the trek.  I got to rest well and sort out my gear in the hotel while bonding with my companions.  I made sure from the very start of the trip planning process that Madan, my guide to Everest Base Camp last year, would be with me again on this trek. My porter was Hari--who I found out later on is actually Madan's elder brother. With the two brothers watching over me, I knew I was in good hands.

Day 1: April 17, 2014

Started the day right with a big breakfast at my Pokhara hotel. We were out by 8:00 am and on a 1.5-hour ride via private car to Nayapul, where the trek officially begins. There was enough time for a quick snack of spicy vegetable curry and coffee (what a combination) at a Nayapul roadside canteen before hitting the trail at 10:30 am.

Day 1. This dog walked beside me for quite a while on
the trail. My porter Hari was just a few meters ahead.
I was awash in a nice warm sensation of being at home as I started my walk on the trail with Madan and Hari. It felt like being on the EBC trek all over again; the only difference here was that the altitude level was a lot kinder since we were starting at a height of only 1,070 meters above sea level.

(Side note: As I write this first blog entry on Annapurna Base Camp, I realize that today's date is May 29--a very special day.  It is the 61st anniversary of Hillary and Tenzing's historic ascent to Mt. Everest's summit, and it falls on the same day that I started my Everest Base Camp trek last year. Perhaps I was meant to write this blog post on this auspicious date after all.)

As we were still at a lower elevation, it was a hot and humid day. Nothing exciting really happened since the first day was pretty much peanuts--4 hours of trekking on relatively flat terrain plus lunch hour. Since I was doing the trek in spring time, that meant significant 'trekking traffic' on the road.  Last year, I practically had the Everest trail all to myself during monsoon season.  This year promised to be different.

I encountered many American, Canadian and European trekkers. Didn't get to see any Filipinos on the ABC trail (which made me feel a wee bit lonely), but there were a lot of Chinese and a handful of Thais, Koreans and Indians. Yup, the Philippines was sadly underrepresented. And it didn't help that I kept being mistaken for a Thai or Japanese national.

Reached my Tikkedhunga teahouse at 2:30 pm--just in time to settle down before a particularly heavy rainstorm started. Whether it was spring time or monsoon season, I already had a fair amount of Himalayan trekking experience to know that one had to be prepared for any kind of weather up in the mountains.

Had potato cheese momos and hot chocolate (as in really good hot chocolate) for dinner and then I hit the sack at 9:00 pm. I knew we were going to do some tough trekking the next day, and I certainly needed rest in preparation for that.

* * *

If you want to do an Annapurna Base Camp trek, do consider visiting the Himalayan Planet Adventures website and check out their 16-day Annapurna Base Camp trek package.