Anker promised us a leisurely day of trekking—a welcome respite after the never-ending stairs on day 1.
Several other trekking parties set off ahead of us; we lingered and enjoyed the early morning sun for a while. If we left too early, we would have nothing to do in the afternoon, Anker said.
I was able to get some service on my NCell SIM card outside the lodge, so I exchanged a few messages with Holly. She asked what it was like, and how far we’d walked. I told her considerably less than I’ve told you.
Before I knew it, Anker was waving me towards the trail, where he and the Malaysian were waiting. They wanted me to be with them, not with her. That was why I’d come here, after all. I was texting out of loneliness, yes, but also obligation. I shot off a final goodbye message, and joined my companions on the trail.
We shouldered our packs and walked out of Ulleri. The sun was shining, I was wearing a clean pair of underwear, and my stomach felt a lot better this morning. I was happy when the cell signal soon disappeared.
I had finally broken down over breakfast and just asked the Malaysian his name. “Saffron,” he’d said, looking relieved. “And what’s yours again?”
I was not so alone in this.
The trek from Ulleri to Ghorepani was a short one, as promised. Anker pointed out peaks as we walked, listing names and elevations. I was glad to be trekking with a guide. He kept me out of my own thoughts. We asked him questions about Nepal, the people and the culture. He asked us questions about our homelands, and he even spoke a bit of Malay with Saffron.
“Many of my friends go to work in Malaysia,” he said. “They say it is not so nice. I think myself, I want to go to Qatar.”
In the West, the concept of migrant workers in the Middle East conjures an image of modern slavery—poor immigrants toiling all day in unbearable desert heat to build huge monuments to the sheiks and their obscene oil wealth. Most Westerners aware of the phenomenon would say it’s a human rights violation.
But to the Nepali, the Middle East represents opportunity. Working in a place like Qatar or Dubai offers them the opportunity to earn more money than they could ever find in their impoverished homes. They want to go. Anker repeatedly mentions going to work in Qatar, despite the fact that he has a pretty good job, working as a trekking guide. At least he regularly comes into contact with rich foreigners, who tip him well at the end of a trek.
“Have you talked to any of your friends who have come back from the Middle East?” I asked Anker, trying to square up the two worlds. Maybe he had just been misled.
“Yes,” he said, “many. Most go back.”
I made a noncommittal noise. Maybe I had been misled.
The rest of the trekking was relatively uneventful. We went up, down, and through some sheep and yak pastures. Eventually we started seriously climbing again, gaining another 1,000 meters as we worked our way towards Ghorepani, the village at the base of the famous Poon Hill.