We left Suile with our sights set on the trekking village of Deurali.
It would be a long day, Anker pledged, with a lot of up and down. We had to descend from Suile, perched on the hill, to the village of Chhomrong, at the base of the Annapurna Sanctuary. From Chhomrong, we would begin hiking up the valley, towards the Annapurna Glacier, and just short of the glacier, our final destination: Annapurna Base Camp.
My mood was serene. Saffron said he had found his trekking legs, and the sun was shining down on us. All the elements were set for a beautiful day on the trail. I felt satisfied and happy as we began beating the trail out of town. We went down, then up. We kept leapfrogging the Canadians on the trail, passing them and being passed by them. I found them much less irritating on the trail than I had in the lodge. I felt a person transformed.
We’d been trekking for a few hours when Anker stopped our progress. He turned serious. “This is most dangerous part of the trek,” he said. “Because in this forest there are bears.”
“Bears?” Saffron asked.
“Yes,” Anker said, his face a mask of seriousness. “Sloth bears. And the bears… do not like…” he waved his hand in circles in front of his face, “they do not like the face. If they see your face, they will attack you.” He mimed clawing at a face. “And they will attack your face first.”
My eyes widened. “Are you serious?”
“Yes,” Anker said. “So maybe we move… fast… through this area.”
Saffron and I both nodded vigorously.
“And if you are going to stop for the pee, let us know so we stay in a group,” Anker added. “If we see a bear, we run.”
Luckily, after that terrifying speech, we didn’t end up encountering any bears. We all emerged from the forest with our faces unscathed, no worse for wear. I did need to pee though. There was no way I was stopping after hearing Anker’s story about a local farmer who had stopped to take a piss in that forest and found himself face to face with a sloth bear. He’d fought the thing off with some farming tool, Anker said, but had lost an eye and a hand in the process.
And I’m not nearly as badass as that guy. I just held it.
Once we had cleared the forest, the day was beautiful. Without a cloud in the sky, we trekked up and down, cutting a line across the side of a mountain on our way to Chhomrong. We crossed a long, impressive suspension bridge, which marked the end of the easy hiking. From here, our path started climbing. We took a rest at the base of the stairs, where we drank some water and caught our breath. With the now familiar mantra from Anker, “slowly, slowly,” we began to climb.