It was a beautiful day when we departed Ghorepani. Most of the clouds from the sunrise had cleared, and we were treated to awesome blue skies and miles-long views as we resumed our trekking.
A long day lay ahead of us, as we hoped to stretch from Ghorepani all the way through to the village of Suile—perched on the hills above the main route to Annapurna Base Camp. From our 4:45 a.m. start to when we finally reached Suile at 3:30, we trekked for 11 hours.
Despite the length, the day was not exhausting. My legs were beginning to grow used to the constant changes in elevation: the up-downs, and the long stretches of flat. My back felt stronger from carrying my heavy pack, and my lungs were beginning to grasp the intricacies of Anker’s command: “slowly, slowly.”
We walked at a leisurely pace, stopping often at large stone benches built along the trail. These rest spots, Anker said, were built by locals, as a way to honor dead relatives, and curry karma. Whatever the reason, they were much appreciated. We stopped every thirty minutes or so to drink some water from our bottles, wipe the seat off our faces, and maybe unburden our backs for a minute or two.
Around lunchtime, we stopped at a lodge in the village of Banthani for a longer rest. “The Tranquility Guest House,” the signs read. On this day, at this moment, the place lived up to the name. Our packs hit the ground like anvils. A cool breeze tickled my sweat-soaked back as I sat down to rest. The skies were blue, and prayer flags fluttered in the breeze above us. A perfect, peaceful moment.
I asked Saffron if he’d like to split a big pot of tea, and he agreed.
As we lingered, more and more trekkers decided to join us in the clearing. Soon, the lodge resembled a bustling restaurant patio—although it had none of the toxic urgency one finds in most American restaurants. Both staff and patrons moved at a languid, relaxed pace.
What need was there to hurry?
As we waited for our tea, an older couple struck up a conversation with me. It was the Germans from the first teahouse, at Ulleri. Or rather, I had thought they were Germans. As we got to speaking, they said they lived in Israel. One was Jewish, and one was Austrian. I had simply assumed their nationality, because I’d heard them speaking German.
“I’m interviewing for a job in Austria!” I told the woman, when I found out her nationality.
“Oh Vienna is beautiful,” she said. “You will love it there.”
“It’s not in Vienna,” I said, “it’s in Linz.”
Her face fell a little bit. “Linz is… ok,” she said. “But you must see Vienna! It is such a beautiful city.”
We talked for a bit more about Austria, about what life might be like for an expat, the difficulties of learning the German language.
I asked them about life in Israel: “Is it difficult to live in a militarized state?”
“You get used to it,” they said. “It does not bother us much. We know we are as safe as we can be.”
Not in the mood to ruin a perfect day, I skirted the issue of Palestine. “Do you guys like Barack Obama?” I asked. “I understand he’s not that popular in Israel.”
“I do not think he fully understands the Islam problem,” the woman said.
The phrasing struck me, but again, I didn’t much feel like chasing that line of questioning. Especially since Saffron, who was sitting nearby listening but not participating in the conversation, was a Muslim.
The Israelis turned it back on me: “so, you’re an American. I have a question for you,” the man said. “Donald Trump.”
He phrased it somewhere between a statement and a question. I laughed an exasperated laugh. “I don’t know. He won’t win the primary,” I said. “He is too extreme.”
“You are moving to Austria?” the man asked me with a twinkle in his eye. “Meet me in Vienna, and we will talk about how he cannot win.”
I lost it laughing, and had to walk away from the conversation. What else was there to say?
For the rest of the trek, and indeed, for the rest of election season, I’d randomly catch myself thinking of this exchange, and laughing.
“Meet me in Vienna, and we will talk about how he cannot win.”