(Read about me developing trench foot and getting trench foot in “24 hours to escape Everest Pt. I”)
I woke up in the motionless jeep to the sound of snoring in the backseat. I sat up and realized the driver and one of my Nepali aid workers had disappeared. I looked out the window at a clear sky speckled confidently with stars stretching out of the valley. We were parked on the side of the road along with many other trucks. A few tents had sprung up near our car and I could see the outline of a lodge. I suspected the driver had gotten tired and decided to stop for a rest. I looked at my phone: 4:45am. I felt slightly annoyed. After all, I had paid him to drive me through the night. How far were we? Only a few hours, I predicted. My friends would already be in Kathmandu by now and I felt a stab of jealously. I reasoned to myself that it was better for my driver to stop and rest than fall asleep at the wheel. The roads were incredibly dangerous, consisting of sharp narrow turns on the edge of cliffs and steep rocky hills (also on the edge of cliffs). I just hoped we woke up soon so we could get going asap.
Around 5:30 am the sun began to rise and I noticed Nepali men stirring from the beds of their trucks. They started walking around, brushing their teeth and congregating for roadside discussions. The Nepali man in the jeep with me woke up and said good morning. The driver came and spoke with him.
“There is a problem with the road so we have to wait for the light,” he explained. Oh, ok. No problem. The road will get cleared now that is is light and I’ll be back in Kathmandu before too long.
The Nepali men brushed their teeth on the side of the road and walked around casually. The driver walked up to a red jeep 5 or 6 vehicles ahead of ours.
“In the red jeep, your friends,” the previously snoring man said.
“Your friends in the red jeep,” he repeated.
“Oh,” I said. “I don’t want to talk to them.”
“They aren’t my friends,” I retorted dramatically.
Selfishly, I was happy they were stuck. They tried to leave me and they didn’t get any further than me in the end. Serves them right. But I also hoped they wouldn’t come talk to me. I didn’t want to talk to them. I didn’t know how to respond to an apology. I definitely didn’t know how to respond to any sort of half-hearted excuses or justification.
Later the driver returned and the man explained that there was a landslide the evening before. Fresh dirt and rock just to punish me further for opting not to wait for the airplane (which would have meant already being in Kathmandu with working feet and friendships intact). I wondered how long this would take. I managed to stay surprisingly calm about the situation since I was more upset with the guys than the landslide.
All the Nepali men from my jeep started walking around talking to other drivers and accessing the situation (which I couldn’t see). I played solitaire on my phone, glancing up occasionally in the hope I would see cars driving again. Instead I saw a shirtless man walking toward me. A shirtless man much taller then the Nepali men. Damn. I know that shirtless man. They’ve found me. My horrible ex-friends. I went back to solitaire and then I heard a rapping on the window and I opened the car door against my better judgment.
He didn’t even say anything, he just leaned in and hugged me and I started sobbing again. He told me he understood and I said he didn’t. He left me and I couldn’t walk and Nepali men had to carry me down the mountain and I was all alone.
He apologized in a voice so sincere I started to forgive him as much as I didn’t want to. He explained that they had already paid the driver and after waiting an hour and a half the driver threatened to leave with the money and no one in the jeep. He said he even considered waiting for me, skipping out on the jeep, but the other trekkers convinced him that maybe I had decided to stop in a lodge and to come along. He said he hadn’t known what to do and felt awful about it. He said he had stalled the jeep as long as he could.
When I told this part of the story to Rohit last night, he sort of sneered and commented on how convenient it was for them to assume I had stopped in a lodge. Rohit then started coming up with all kinds of terrible hypotheticals. Maybe, he said, those 4 Nepali guys weren’t going to be nice guys. Maybe they had done something bad. Maybe you were stuck outside all night with a swollen foot. In the end, he said, you weren’t even worth $200 to them. Their money mattered more than your safety.
Then thing is, apologies are personal. It’s my decision if I want to forgive or not. I’m still not happy about the situation, both of those guys know this. And sitting in that van that morning, I made it clear that I was still upset with both of them. We are only the choices that we make, and they made a poor choice. The thing is, I think they realize now how bad of a choice they made. And I can’t help shake the thought in my head reminding me that I signed up to do this trek alone and I’m not really allowed to hold others accountable for leaving me when I asked for that sort of commitment from anyone.
Also I’m sort of a sucker for sincere apologies and unfortunately my mother taught me too well about not holding grudges. I really believe he is sorry. We’ve talked a lot about it since then. I’ve traveled around the world and I think I’m good at reading people. When I feel like someone is apologizing to me from the bottom of their heart, it’s better for my mental health to forgive them. He told me I could still be mad at him and he totally understood and deserved it but wanted to make sure we were still friends.
He told me he was going back to the jeep to see what was going on. Then a series of events unfolded that would cause problems for hours to come and I still am not clear on the details. From my perspective, the Chilean girl’s guide came to me and, in horrible English (I would never judge someone for not speaking English. Nor would I blame a country for people not speaking a foreign language. But this is a tour company for Westerners and this guy spoke worse English than any guide I have met so far) said something that sounded to me like, “Your friends. Back to Salleri. You take bus.” I asked him if my friends were going back to Salleri and he said yes. And something about a bus. And a group of 5 Nepali guys were standing around saying random English words in unison and I was seriously confused. Bus. Kathmandu. Pay. Jeep. Salleri. Return. Change vehicle. You with your friends.
Ok. So this is what I determined: There was a landslide, my jeep needed to return to Salleri because the road was blocked and (eventually) I figured out there was a bus going to Kathmandu. I asked if I could speak to my friends and they said no which I found really sketchy. They wanted me to pay my driver but I had said I would pay in Kathmandu. I had no money now without an ATM. There are no ATMs until you reach Kathamandu. I only had about $30 on me.
Green shirt guy (as he will be called for the rest of this blog) seemed to be in charge of organizing this bus. “Ok,” he said, “You pay me in Kathmandu.” I clarified, “I pay you for him?” pointing to my jeep driver. “Yes,” he said. “16,000 rupees.”
I told him I wouldn’t pay the full price of the jeep since I didn’t get to Kathmandu. He said 10,000 rupees. I said I was only paying half for the jeep. I asked how much the bus to Kathmandu was. “yes,” said the Chilean girl’s guide.
Of course now there was a group of 8 Nepali men all congregated by my van shouting different things at me. Green shirt guy was hurrying me. I told him to hold on because I was injured.
“No time for injured!” He said and laughed. Not in a fun, sweet, everything is okay laugh. He laughed in the way a 7-year-old boy laughs when you get hurt. It’s not even an evil pathological laugh. It’s worse. It’s like, “stupid tourist girl her hurt foot. She deserves it for being Western.” (This is speculative on my part but I can guarantee you I can make you hate green shirt guy by the end of the blog). I looked him straight in the eye and asked why he was an asshole. I hope someone translated for him.
I hobbled to the red jeep where I found out the foreigners had left. Again. They had gone to the bus. One of the Nepali guys who carried me down the mountain grabbed my bag and we walked down the road to where the bus was waiting.
In fairness, the landslide was quite impressive. I didn’t think to stop and take a photo but essentially a mountain of dirt and rock taller than any car was laid across the road. A few guys were standing on top kicking off rocks into the river far below. I teetered across it the best I could on my good foot and then climbed on the bus.
It was mostly empty except for the 2 Nepali guides, the Chilean girl, my two male friends, and a few Nepali men who were sitting in the front and seemed associated with bus organization (including Green shirt guy). I sat down and the bus took off. The Nepali guide that I liked turned around and touched my arm and told me everything would be okay now. I didn’t blame him for leaving. He works for the Australian guy, not for me. The other guide (with the bad English) started trying to tell me that one of my friends almost made them miss the jeep because he was looking for me. The guide was laughing heartily at this, telling me that the guy was worried and going back to look for me and trying to stall the jeep.
I angrily told this guide, even raising my voice some, as he continued to laugh, that I’m glad he found me getting injured to the point of immobility and stranded in the Himalayas alone amusing, because I didn’t find it amusing at all. He laughed and laughed like a happy child. This is why I didn’t hire a trekking guide. They are typically oblivious to your emotions and the “help” they offer you is something you could do on your own. Then they make light of any emotional situation you might be having. In the past, I’ve even been directed by trekking guides to “hurry faster” up a mountain when I was worried I was getting altitude sickness. I really hate guides. But I’ll write more of the pros and cons of guides later.
I didn’t even make eye contact with the Chilean girl or the Aussie guy, I just sat in my seat and felt thankful that the bus was so empty. And then I started to realize that this bus, a standard government Tata bus, was essentially off-roading as fast as possible. We were jerking around corners, rattling up rocky terrain, and at one point, I kid you not, we drove through a semi-deep river. The bus in front of us, coming out of the river and trying to climb the unstable and steep bank, began to totter on the precipice. I actually started holding my breath watching this bus in front of us. After all, my first time in Nepal in April I saw this:
People die in bus crashes in Nepal too frequently for this to be a comfortable situation. In August 2016 alone at least 80 people were killed in 4 bus crashes and dozens more injured as buses slipped off the edge of cliffs falling up to 980 feet. A quick google search will produce more than enough information to prevent anyone from ever wanting to take a bus in Nepal.
So we are rattling along, hoping we aren’t going to die. My friend that I decided to forgive was sitting behind me and making a series of hilarious comments to himself: “Oh my God.” “Oh fuck!” “Shit shit shit!!” as we veered around corners and swerved to prevent hitting a man running out in the middle of the road (this happened twice). When we stopped at a “gas station” (which was a battered building looking as though it was the sole remaining structure after a bomb blast and the headquarters for zombies in The Walking Dead), the meter for gas read 666 and he decided that we had actually all died on the trek to Everest and that we were currently in hell.
I think I was making passive aggressive comments about getting ditched in the mountains when the Aussie guy, who hadn’t even looked at me the entire bus ride, suddenly reached across the aisle and and grabbed my hand and squeezed it really hard and looked me straight in the eye and told me he was so so sorry about leaving me behind. Honestly, if I hadn’t decided to forgive the first guy, I don’t think I could’ve held out on the Aussie. Again, it’s all about the eyes. And I felt like I was going to cry the apologize was so sincere. So I told him that I forgave him and we were all friends. Plus, we were definitely going to die in this bus and it’s better not to die angry and with enemies.
But honestly I was mostly enjoying myself at this point. The organizers started watching weird Nepali music videos. I accepted that I probably wasn’t getting back to Kathmandu in one piece (and even if I did they would have to amputate my foot) and just accepted that I would never get a shower. The Aussie guy bought me breakfast and a coke at a roadside joint. He had already called his airline to get his flight changed since we weren’t making it to Kathmandu by 11am. His guide explained that he had rented out the entire bus for 5,000 rupees in order to get the Aussie airport in time which is why we weren’t stopped every 3 minutes to cram on more people. He had worked out a deal already involving the refund (they were only getting refunded 30% of their jeep money). I was confused about how much I should be paying for the bus and to who but I decided it was easier to worry about when I actually had money.
This one seems very sexual for Nepali culture. I googled it later. It is. The singer is very controversial for what she wears.
This one just left me wondering, “what’s in the box?”
Green shirt guy started stopping off and putting giant tires on the bus and then driving to drop them off in different places. This seems to define Nepal pretty well: you pay 5,000 rupees to rent out a bus and they are still doing their own business moves on your dime. Tourists are cash cows in Nepal. Walking ATMs.
We got to Kathmandu and I would have been naïve to think this was where the story ends. Green shirt guy pointed to the ATM across the street and told him I owed him 16,000 for the jeep plus 3,000 for the bus. A woman in orange had gotten on the bus in Kathmandu and he told me that she was the jeep driver’s wife (I have no idea if this is true or not). I told him I was paying half for the jeep. I wasn’t budging on that. The question is how much do I owe for the bus to Kathmandu? I actually didn’t know. I knew 5,000 was paid by the Aussie’s guide and that’s it. Green shirt guy started using the guide as a translator which was clearly making the guide uncomfortable. Since I wasn’t paying him to be my guide I didn’t want to bring him into the mix. He’s a good guy. He didn’t need any extra drama. When we left the bus, Green Shirt Guy started trying to involve the two of my male friends (because there is no point trying to do business with women). Suddenly I didn’t owe 3,000 for the bus but 5,000, bringing my new total to 21,000. I just shook my head and laughed at this. There was no way I was paying more than the price of my jeep for the ride to Kathmandu.
I went to a first ATM which wasn’t working, Green Shirt Guy following me while arguing with himself (I wasn’t listening, I just kept repeating that I was paying 8,000 for the jeep). I hobbled across a bustling highway to a new ATM and upon exiting I tried to hand 8,000 rupees to the woman in orange (the “wife”). He wouldn’t let her take it. He just yelled in Nepali some more bullshit and was grabbing onto the Aussie guy’s guide not letting him leave. Finally the guide wrangled free and just booked it out of the situation so I assumed he and the two guys were leaving. (They did).
Green Shirt Guy was yelling so much he attracted a crowd. About 30 people gathered around us in front of the bank listening to him yelling and some of them trying to understand my side of the story. I continued to maintain a very calm and clear voice throughout, refusing to get emotional or worked up as I knew that it would only hinder my situation. I again and again repeated to those around me that:
“I hired a jeep in Salleri to come to Kathmandu for 16,000 rupees. I said I would pay in Kathmandu when I got to a bank. But the jeep stopped halfway. The jeep returned to Salleri. I took the bus to Kathmandu. I am happy to pay the half. I will pay 8,000 rupees for the jeep.”
One of the guys explained that Green Shirt Guy now said that I owed 8,000 rupees to the woman and 8,000 rupees to him for the bus. So now we have gone from 19,000 to 21,000 to 16,000 in 20 minutes. I said that is too much for a bus. Most of the time different men in the group were just shouting at each other about the situation, having become impassioned and inspired by our tale and taking one of our sides (I seemed to have a decent number of people defending me). When there is nothing else to do why not join a financial argument on the side of the road? The owner of the bank came out and looked totally shocked at how popular his ATM was doing. He asked us to move to a different part of the sidewalk and I besieged him.
“Sir, can you help me? This man is trying to take money from me unfairly. I want to call the police.” His English was very good and he said he would call them and told me to hang on a second.
One young Nepali guy who had my side told me not to pay anyone any money until the police came. This was the most solid piece of advice I had be given in awhile. Especially because I was anxious to give the “wife” the 8,000 rupees which I did owe in order to deal with Green Shirt Guy on just the issue of the bus. But everyone was in on this together and everyone was looking at me as if I glowed dollar signs.
In five or ten minutes 3 police officers arrived and Green Shirt Guy and half the crowd decided to start yelling different information at them. I stood there totally silent, not knowing what lies were being told about me in Nepali, waiting patiently for my turn to explain. The cops were getting overwhelmed by the crowd so they decided to take the three of us to the police station.
So I hop in a police car and the three of us ride in silence to the police station in Kathmandu where the cops lead us through some armed guards and gates to a table outside the building where I again explain the situation calmly and steadily,
“I hired a jeep from Salleri to Kathmandu….”
Green Shirt Guy was still worked up and raving in Nepali. The woman in orange had said nothing and was making phone calls. Green Shirt Guy and the cops were speaking in Nepali and drawing a timeline on some paper. Then Green Shirt guy started doing some impressive math. He wrote on the paper:
16,000- 8,000 =
Then he paused. He added a 1 in front of the 8,000. Then he concluded that:
16,000- 18,000 = 21,000
Does this man go to sleep at night proud of his skills in trying to shake down tourists?
As they were talking an officer walked up and asked me a question. I again explained the situation.
“I hired and jeep from Salleri to Kathmandu….”
I told him I was happy to pay the 8,000 for the jeep. “The jeep took me halfway to Kathmandu,” I explained, “I think it is fair to pay half of the 16,000 for half of the trip.” All the cops seemed to nod in agreement.
The officer asked me about my friends and the guide. I told him the guide said 5,000 was paid for 3 tourists and 2 guides to take the bus. He asked if I saw the money exchanged. I said no. He told me that Green Shirt Guy was saying that the 5,000 was never paid and he wanted it paid now. I told him that the guides weren’t my guides and I shouldn’t have to pay for the foreigners and I believed it should have been taken care of with those people. I gave them the card of one of the guides and his trekking company and said the police could call if there was an issue but it shouldn’t be for me to take care of. This wasn’t my guide and it wasn’t my company. The officer asked me who organized my van in Salleri and I said I did. The agreement was between me and the driver. I was traveling alone.
The officer asked how much I said I would pay for the bus. I told him that I was originally told that 5,000 would include my fare on the bus. I said if that was a misunderstanding I am happy to pay but Green Shirt Guy has been telling me so many different amounts that I don’t know how much to pay and that, honestly, I think he is just trying to get as much money from me as possible.
Green shirt guy was still carrying on and the officer physically moved his back toward the man to block him out and looked me straight in the eye and said,
“Did you tell this man not to let anyone else on the bus? Please be honest with me.”
I put my hands together and looked him in the eye and said, “I promise I never told him to do that.” He asked who was on the bus and I said, “2 guys from Nepal, a woman and her kid, a-”
The officer stopped me and told me to come into his office. I walked in the room with him and I sat down on a bench and looked around the Nepali police department. It was pretty barren, white walls, stacks of paper, a few desks with people writing in registers.
He asked me when I arrived in Nepal and asked where I had been. I told him about Everest Base Camp. He asked me how long it took. I said I walked from Salleri to Base Camp and back to Salleri in 16 days, I had 4 rest days.
“Wow,” the officer said, “you’re fast!”
I explained about having to wait for a flight from Lukla and decided just to walk. Base Camp to Salleri in 4 days. 191km (118 miles) in 4 days with a two day rest in between. He looked impressed. He asked me about what I did for a living and when I was returning to the US. He told me he had also been in the Everest region before. He seemed like a really nice, calm guy. Then he asked how much I am willing to pay.
“I will pay the jeep driver’s wife 8,000 rupees because I took the jeep halfway. I’m happy to pay that.” He nodded in agreement and said it is fair. I told him I didn’t know what a fair price for the bus would be.
“For the bus,” he said, “Would you be okay paying 1000 rupees? Or 1500 rupees?”
“Yes, that’s fine.”
He scrunched his nose.
“You would be able to pay 2000 rupees, you know, just to keep these people happy?” He said, indicating with his eyes than perhaps he found the people a bit obnoxious.
“Anything,” I said, “I can pay 2000 rupees. I don’t mind. Whatever you think is fair as an officer.”
When he called the people into his office their demeanor had changed entirely. Green Shirt Man said he didn’t even need 2000 from me, 1500 would suffice. They seemed nice suddenly. I don’t know what the other cops said to them but Green Shirt Man went from loud and angry to cordial and calm.
I gave them the money and thanked the cop for helping me. He told me not to thank him, he was here to help and to keep people happy. He told me to enjoy the rest of my stay in Nepal. I told him I was going to take my first shower in awhile and joked that it was really a civil service to Nepal. He said I didn’t smell that bad for 3 weeks trekking.
Nicest cop I’ve ever met. Who knew the Nepali police were so great?
I know this seems like a lot of drama, but I’ve traveled a lot and I feel very strongly about not giving into scams. Too many people get scared or frustrated and cave. The problem is that this makes these people believe they can keep treating tourists like walking ATMs. It especially bothers me when people see me and think, “Oh. Little blonde girl. We can easily get money from her.” I don’t like being seen as weak or easy. So I rather take an extra hour and stand up for all the little blonde tourists everywhere. If you threaten to call the police, usually these people will cave. I know when I am right and I’ve gotten pretty good at staying calm and not letting anyone intimidate me. In this situation they let the cops get called and I still ended up winning out (near the beginning I offered to pay 11,000 and I ended up paying 9500, so they should have taken my money then).
I left the police station feeling pretty proud of myself. I got a taxi from the street that drove me an extra 10 minutes in the wrong direction to a hotel with the same name as mine (but much nicer) and then finally to my little boutique where a bag full of clean clothes, a nice bed, a shower, and my laptop were waiting for me. And then I indulged in a 25-minute shower complete with shampoo, body wash, conditioner, and a razor. I washed my hair three times. I was in there so long I no joke brought a snack in with me. A bag of chips sitting in the sink nearby and a cold coke zero.
Try not washing your hair for three weeks and taking a shower. It might be the biggest serotonin rush I’ve had since my Indian friends messed me up on bhang.
And then I sat down on the clean bed and reflected about the last 24 hours and just laughed. I developed trench foot, got carried down a mountain by Nepali men, got stranded in Salleri alone, slept on the side of the road, climbed over a landslide, took a death bus to Kathmandu, and then had to fight to save myself $115 but I made it. I arrived safely back in India yesterday.
Though I’m not sure I’m leaving my house again anytime soon.