I awoke around 4:30 a.m., shivering in my sleeping bag.
The cheap thing I had rented in Pokhara was performing about as well as I’d feared it would.
Anker had threatened us with a 4:45 a.m. start to catch the sunrise from Poon Hill, so I didn’t bother going back to sleep.
I stumbled to the bathroom. The dormitory was rising, loudly, but that wasn’t really an issue, since everyone in the lodge was going to do the sunrise hike to the nearby hilltop. Everyone had trekked here specifically to see the sun rise over the Annapurna and Dhalaguiri ranges— home to the eighth and tenth tallest mountains in the world. If anything’s worth getting up at 4:45 a.m. for, surely that sight must be near the top of the list.
Our group stumbled out of the lodge, sleepy. We joined a long conga-line of humans trudging up Poon Hill. Every guesthouse in Ghorepani must have emptied for the sunrise. For many of these people, this morning would be the culmination of their trek. While I was cautiously optimistic, I was also very grateful to have another week of trekking ahead of me. It felt like I was just beginning to understand what this experience was about. It would be a shame to turn around and be back in Pokhara by tomorrow.
The climb was quick and quiet. By the time we reached the top, I had mostly woken up. A bored-looking gatekeeper collected our entrance fees, a paltry 50 rupees (50 cents), and gave us a printed, full-color ticket in return.
One has to wonder about idiosyncrasies like that. If they need to collect a 50 cent fee to maintain the area, wouldn’t it make more sense to save money on the color printing? That’s not cheap, you know. Well, maybe it is cheap in Nepal. Most things are.
It was still predawn when we reached the summit of Poon Hill. It was dark and cold. A mass of humanity swarmed this way and that, eager to keep warm via movement. I sat down on a stone bench, facing the mountain ranges. Space was filling up quickly, and I wanted a good spot when the light came. Soon, Sol and her guide arrived. She gave me a tired smile, and sat down next to me.
I was happy for the friend. As we started talking, one part of me wished Holly was here beside me. Another, louder part of my mind said this was better. Sol, the Argentine adventurer, who had come to Nepal on her own. Sol, who would go on to India to volunteer in an orphanage after this, was better than Holly, the petulant child who had lied and whined and left me holding her leash for months.
But then again, one of those was a person; the other, just an idea of a person.
I looked over at Sol. She looked at me and smiled. She was shivering, and I noticed she didn’t have any gloves on. She caught me looking. “I forgot them,” she said sheepishly, before jamming her hands in her pockets. “I did not know it would be this cold.”
“You can borrow mine,” I offered. I took off the fuzzy green mittens I had purchased in Thamel and held them out to her. “Really. It’s cold where I’m from,” I said. “I’m used to it.”
She hesitated for a second, before taking them. “Thank you. It is very warm in Buenos Aires,” she said. “I’m not used to the cold.” She smiled. I smiled, and laughed.
I put my hands in my jacket pockets. It was cold, and the sun still seemed far off.
I bid Sol and her guide a temporary goodbye, and got up to explore the area. My hands were cold already. I wondered why I gave away the gloves. I knew the answer though.
I had a bit of a crush on Sol.
My first instinct was to feel bad; years of being in a monogamous relationship will condition this response into you. I thought of Holly, all alone, at home, while I met exotic foreign women in Nepal.
It’s ok, I reassured myself. After all those months of dragging her along, after Taiwan, after being destroyed in Hong Kong… I’ll allow myself a little travel crush. I’m never going to see her again anyways, I thought.
And anyways, the thought of Holly all faithful, abandoned and alone at home wasn’t exactly true. She had broken my heart as much as I’d broken hers. I had seen messages on her phone, some guy hitting on her and her response “I’ve had some adventures in love, but nothing’s really stuck.”
We hadn’t discussed it.
I knew of nothing I could say to a person that would sit next to you, in a foreign country, begging you to come home with her, while she was saying that to another man. So instead of talking, I bought a ticket onto Nepal. I would fight my own demons.
I would chase my own dreams.
I didn’t exactly want to be caught up in these feelings at Poon Hill, but feelings for Sol were forcing me to do some relationship arithmetic while I waited for the sun to rise. What was fair, and what could I allow myself to feel in this situation? Of course, I thought as I watched the sky lighten, and the mountains begin to take on definition, it wasn’t exactly a normal situation. I had no barometer for “fair,” here, alone, at 2,900 meters atop Poon Hill. The whole experience seemed like something out of a movie. If this were a movie, I would have some life-changing revelation about life, return home, reaffirm my love and sweep her off her feet.
Standing there atop Poon Hill, awaiting the daylight, I wasn’t sure that was going to happen.