It was not an easy decision to leave my adopted family in Nepal just as the Covid-19 started to emerge its ugly head. After spending 3 wonderful weeks trekking in Nepal I made the decision to cut my trip short to return home. At that time there was only 1 positive case, a boy returning from overseas.
Six months later the numbers have dramatically increased, maybe not as many as other countries, but remember Nepal is a very poor country with limited COVID testing, so, therefore, the numbers are possibly higher than thought. However, my husband and family were eager to see me return to Australia where the situation would be a lot safer than staying in Nepal. Little did we know that we were on the brink of a global pandemic that would see countries locked down indefinitely and overseas travel curtailed. Several months after returning home my friends would say to me “how are you coping being at home for so long”?. This was not an issue for me because I have the ability to adjust to any situation and be happy. Being home has its upside, spending time with family, friends, my dog, and having the time to learn new skills is rewarding in itself.
I would like to share with you my reflections on my last trip to Nepal. Between my time in Kathmandu and the remote village of Maguwa village where I support a Nepalese family plus work as a volunteer at Saraswati Primary School, I decided to take a hike to the epicenter of the 2016 Earthquake.
My previous visit to the village of Barpak was 8 years ago. I was so looking forward to returning to see how the village had recovered after the earthquake which sadly destroyed most of the houses in the area. Supported by an experienced guide and porter the trek took us through various ecosystems and terrain. Crossing suspension bridges and raging glacial rivers, we hiked through lush forests to high arid mountains plateaus. Nepal is so diverse, hiking from village to village living and breathing the local culture is my passion. Many villages in Nepal are now crisscrossed by roads that are only accessible during the dry season, to try and attempt to travel by road anywhere in Nepal is attempting fate. Road travel may take up to 10 hours or more on one of the roughest terrain in the world. You may say it is risky but it is part of the adventure of travelling. Thankfully on this trip, I only have myself to look after rather than managing a group of would-be trekkers.
I love the feeling of isolation when trekking alone. Well, not actually alone I would not be that fool-heart to think that I could trek in remote areas by myself. I am always accompanied by an experienced guide and porter. My favourite section of the hike was from Machha Kola to Larpak, the weather was hot and sticky as we started the steep climb and after several hours of zig-zagging our way up the hill, we turned the final corner and were greeted with a cooling breeze.
Hankering for a cup of chai I was expecting to see a village or some type of civilization. No such luck, in front of us was another ridge and another valley to climb. The trail that we took was not your normal tourist trail, it was a trail that locals had been using for years to walk from their village. Civilization in these parts are hours away, getting supplies for winter months can take days.
I must confess I thought we would at least meet some locals on the trail or working in the fields. We had walked 9 hours over wild terrain without seeing another person on the trail. We stopped for breaks along the way to rest and refuel our weary bodies. Finally, we reached our destination of Larpak where we would stay in a local home for the night. On arrival, we were approached by a beautiful girl of about 18 years, she had a look of surprise when she saw a dishevelled woman walk towards her. I could hardly muster a greeting, all I wanted was a hot shower followed by a warm bed. As a shower was out of the question due to a shortage of wood, wet wipes were on the agenda, followed by a big hearty bowl of hot soup. After a full stomach, I snuggled down in my sleeping bag on a somewhat hard bed and slept for 9 hours.
The following day I woke to a stunning sunrise with views of surrounding 6,000-meter peaks. It was a great decision to rest as my aching body and sore feet would not have walked another kilometre. After a hearty breakfast of porridge and pancakes, the water was boiled for a refreshing bucket shower. The remainder of the day I spent time meandering around the village chatting to the locals whilst our guide and porter helped harvest the fields. In Nepal, every helping hand is gratefully received to do this hard back-breaking work.
Resting yesterday was pure bliss refreshing me and easing my aches and pains. I knew what was in store for me today another mountain to climb another village to rest. Onward and upwards we climbed reaching 4000 meters by lunch. The weather was beginning to cloud over and you could feel the cold air entering your lunges. Breathing starts to become laboured around 3500 meters, so slowing down and taking your time is important for acclimatization.
For me, it was not difficult to keep a steady slow pace although sometimes I would catch a glimpse of my guide and porters face and see a look of sheer boredom. Happy smiles appeared as I sent them on their way singing Nepalese folk songs, knowing that we would meet up at the next tea-shop. The freedom and silence embrace me as I slowly trudge up the hill, smiling and thinking to myself how blessed I was to be in Nepal surrounded by these stunning pristine views.
Little did I know that we were on the edge of a global pandemic that was about to close country borders and bring travel to its knees. How sad to think that I will not know when I will be able to return to Nepal. Everyone’s hearts and prays go out to the Nepalese people to continue to stay healthy and safe during this pandemic. As of writing this blog Nepal now has over 29,000 cases and over 90 deaths. The lack of a good health system and Government that is slow to act will no doubt have a huge impact on this tiny landlocked country.