Although we had encountered Linjon the German several times on the trail and in teahouses, Saffron and I first sat down with him for lunch in the village of Bamboo. Linjon was a medical student. I first encountered him in the lodge at Suile, the night before the most beautiful moment of my life. It’s a testament to my preoccupied mental state at the time, that when I first heard him speak, I thought he was Irish.
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All of our trekking groups were moving at roughly the same pace now, and most everyone chose to stop for lunch or at least an extended break in Bamboo. The night before, while discussing our route, the guides had referred to Bamboo as more of a “bathroom break,” than a destination, and when we arrived, we could see why. The whole place gave off kind of a dirty, scrappy vibe. Hygiene and maintenance, certainly, didn’t seem to be top priorities in Bamboo.
Linjon, Saffron and I were sitting at a three-person table, waiting for the food we had ordered from the lodge. “Are you feeling better, man?” I asked. Linjon had been kind of sick since we met him in Suile, where illness had waylaid him for a day. The prevailing theory was the altitude had knocked it out of him. Since we were now once again gaining elevation, I wondered if his sickness might be back.
“I’m feeling a lot better, thanks,’ he said. “My stomach is still kind of…” he made a gesture that might translate to ‘iffy,’ if he had been a native English speaker. Saffron and I both nodded that we understood. “Too much Dal Baht,” Saffron said and we all laughed.
It had been a hot morning, and I was parched. Although there is supposedly clean drinking water available for trekkers all throughout the Annapurna Sanctuary, I felt like I should be extra careful here in Bamboo. I asked Anker for some water, pulled my first-aid kit out of my bag, and put a couple water purification tablets in, just to be safe.
Linjon looked at me in puzzlement. “You paid for that water?” he asked.
“Yeah,” I answered. “But I put the purification tablets in just to be sure, you know? I don’t want to get sick up here.”
“But why pay for water when you can save some money and just get it from there?” Linjon asked. He pointed at a disgusting looking sink, sitting out in the courtyard, near the toilets.
“I don’t think that water’s safe to drink, man,” I said, confused. “Do you have purification tablets or anything?”
“Purification tablets?” he asked, earnestly.
I showed him the rolls of small Aqua-pur tablets I’d bought in Kathmandu, when I thought I’d be trekking the more remote Jiri to EBC route. “Like these? Or anything? You’re just drinking straight from the tap?”
“Yeah, from the tap,” he said. “Why wouldn’t I?” he said.
“So you’ve been drinking from the taps the whole trek??” I asked him, incredulous.
“Yeah, you haven’t?” he asked.
“No,” Saffron and I both said. I was unable to control an outburst of laughter. “That’s probably why you’ve been feeling sick, man. That’s not drinking water!”
“Really?!” he asked.
“No man, you have to ask your guide for clean drinking water.”
“But the locals drink it,” he said.
“Maybe man—I think they boil it actually—but you’re not a local! That shit will definitely make you sick. Your guide didn’t say anything about that?”
Linjon shakes his head. “You should probably stop drinking it,” Saffron said with a wry smile.
Linjon flagged down his guide, and hesitantly asks: “Hey, could I get a… how you say… ‘clean drinking water?’”
The guide stopped for a moment. “Drinking water? Yes,” he said. He collected Linjon’s water bottles and scurried out of sight.
Saffron and I couldn’t stop laughing. Linjon was laughing too, in a bemused sort of way.
“Aren’t you studying to become a doctor, man?” I ask him.
“Yeah,” he says. “I just thought, you know, why pay for water when I could get it for free? Why not save a buck?”
After Linjon got up to use the toilet, another German trekker sitting near us commented:
“Typical German. So economical.”
The next time we saw him, Linjon was looking much healthier.