The next day I resolved to escape Thamel.
I awoke with a sore throat and a cough — a common traveler’s affliction in Kathmandu.
The past two days had been exhausting; and without a trek to take, my motivation to go back and tangle with the shopkeepers and hustlers was low.
I strolled over to Himalayan Java, where I again purchased the big breakfast and two coffees. I brought along my computer and researched treks. Remembering the woman I had met in Himalayan Java yesterday, I expanded my search to include the Annapurna treks.
A group of backpackers sat down next to me, laughing loudly.
“No you can’t, dude.”
“Yes I can! I live on $5 a day if I’m not staying in Thamel,” one of the young men says. “Easy.”
“If you live at the orphanage?”
“Yeah, even if I’m staying in a hostel, they’ll usually feed me at least one meal,” the guy says.
The rest seem to find this acceptable, and conversation moves on.
I’m paying something like $15 a night for my room at the Annapurna Guesthouse. Truthfully, I don’t even know what rate I agreed to pay when I submitted my online reservation. I hadn’t exactly been in a detail-oriented mode, at the time.
The backpacker’s conversation floats over a few familiar topics — fellow hostel guests, the parties of the night before – before moving to trekking.
“I don’t want to see Dal Baht again in my entire life,” one of the girls says.
“I eat it every day still,” says the guy who’s living so cheap. “I’ve kind of got a taste for it, now.”
“No you don’t,” the others say. “That shit is terrible.”
“And they’re disgusting when they prepare it. I swear to God, I saw someone come straight out of those squat toilets and go straight into the kitchen and start handling food. No wonder you’ve got the shits the whole time you’re trekking.”
“God that weed last night was ridiculous…”
I try to wrest my attention away from their discussion. Their conversation and casual traveler’s repartee is making me extremely lonely.
I pack up my stuff and head for the door. I stop at the community board to grab the contact info of a few people who are seeking trekking partners.
Upon setting foot back in the streets, I immediately catch a mouthful of dust. Coughing up a storm, I decide maybe it’s time to travel like a local, and get some facial protection. The damage is already done– the dust particles are lodged in my esophagus already, and have been ever since I arrived. I woke up feeling like shit. But protecting myself against further irritation didn’t seem like a bad idea.
And the buff I bought to cover my face was a dollar.
My stepbrother had gotten a buff last year for Christmas. He’d thrown an absolute fit. He’d wanted a gun.
In Kathmandu, I’m more than satisfied with the buff. It’s not a 100nm micron filter or whatever, but the thin piece of cheap fabric keeps most of the dust out of my throat. I wouldn’t mind some company though, even from my stepbrother, a much older man who I’d never much associated with.
He was the first person I’d ever seen go through a devastating breakup — if you choose to overlook my parents divorce when I was a kid, and my mother’s second divorce when I was an adolescent. Which I do try to overlook, as it generally makes for a simpler story. Somehow though, they usually find a way to bubble up.
Anyways, my stepbrother’s been hung up on his ex forever now. They’ve been broken up far longer than they were together. Still, to this day, he pines for her. You can hear it in every conversation, see it in every pregnant pause between beers. The man is a walking Paul Simon song:
“Losing love’s like a window in your heart / Everyone can see you’re blown apart.”
My thoughts lingered on family as I steered myself on a course out of Thamel, wandering the streets of greater Kathmandu; lost, alone, and blown apart.