As mentioned previously, when I was 23 I went traveling in Central America myself for three months. It was a last-minute trip and I didn’t really know what or where I should be. I never got over the social anxiety everyone feels at first when trying to make friends on the road or in a hostel. This time I was determined to improve on this. I heard four girls in my hostel were doing the Annapurna Circuit the following morning so I knocked on their door and asked if I could join. So here’s how it went…
Day 1: Nayapul to Ulleri – 1000m to 2010m
We left the hostel just after 10am in a taxi to go to the pass office. Certain trek areas, usually the more difficult, higher up routes, require you to have a TIMS pass, a Trekkers’ Information Management System. This means you pass through certain checkpoints and register so in the event of any natural disaster or other mishap, you can be located efficiently.
We bumped into a few kiddies not long into it and I was well organised with my individual candies ready for them. They knew the drill too, asked for candy, asked for a photo and flash a peace sign. Absolute pros.
It was hot and dry with a broad, well-trodden path. I drank about 7-8 litres of water and still felt dehydrated. We ascended quicker than planned, so we pushed on a little further to make the next day easier. The steps up to Ulleri were killer but I was delighted we got them out the way. The accommodation along the circuit is like stables for humans. No electricity and certainly no hot water, clean sheets were a luxury. We ate Dal Bat for dinner, a very watery lentil dahl with rice to pad it out. “Dal Bat Power, 24 hour,” as the locals say.
Day 2: Ulleri to Ghorepani – 2010 to 2870m
More killer steps on Day 2. The terrain was starting to change to narrow paths and every few hundred metres a stunning waterfall appeared. Definitely one the most beautiful landscapes that I’ve ever seen. The lodgings in Ghorepani weren’t quite as basic as the night before and we even had a dribble of wifi. The whole route is pretty well catered to and there’s small huts selling everything from energy drinks to biscuits to loo roll. As I undressed I realised I had a cut just below my belly button, and there was a patch of blood on my top. I presumed I must have brushed against a branch or something and thought no more of it.
Day 3: Ghorepani up to Poon Hill and then across to Tadapani – 2870 to 3210 to 2710m
A lot of people get up around 4am to trek up to Poon Hill, the peak of the Annapurna Circuit, to see the sunrise. We agreed we’d go early but not quite sunrise. We were all pretty sluggish and had tired legs so, it was hard going as the oxygen gradually thinned as we ascended. I’m glad we didn’t go for sunrise! As predicted it was covered in cloud once again and we couldn’t see two metres in front of us. Fortunately, just as we descended back into Ghorepani, most of the clouds parted and we got a pretty good view of Annapurna 1 and Annapurna South.
So we head off, legs feeling heavy and tired. We were in the thick of the jungle now, a misty, moist closed in environment. We started to collect a few skinny leeches on our shoes and one of us would start yelping and call for the salt to kill them. It was really starting to freak me out. Every twig, leave, hair, toggle, drip of sweat, bug, zip and brush of my headphones felt like a leech on me. While in a clearing when I felt a brush on my chest and looked down to find a leech latched on to my boob. I lost my shit. I stripped down to my underwear and made the girls inspect me for more. It then dawned on me, the “cut” on my tummy the day before must have been a leech too.
Day 4: Tadapani to Kimche – 2710 to 1640m
We were all on surprisingly good form on the last day, and we stuck our earphones in and danced our way down the mountain. We stopped in Ghandruk and asked for a slice of apple pie, a tradition on the circuit. When we arrived in Kimche we arranged for the taxi to take us back to where we were staying. I eased off my walking shoes and discovered a big blood patch on my ankle. Leeches strike again. At this stage I was feeling too smug about overcoming social anxiety and conquering the Annapurnas to freakout. The bloodstain was now a badge of honour.