The jeep ride back to Pokhara took forever.
The road, typical of developing infrastructure, was rocky, dirty, and pothole-filled. The huge 4×4 jeep, luckily, was prepared for these conditions But I, riding without a seatbelt on one of the jump-benches in the back, was not.
My stomach was also feeling a little iffy — although clearly not as poorly as the diplomat’s daughter’s, who we had ceded the front seat to without any argument — and the jolting and sloshing was not helping anything.
But, the same way a life goes by day by day, month by month, year by year…the ride passed: minute by minute, hour by hour, until we were back on familiar ground.
My Nepali SIM card grabbed a signal, finally, and hundreds of notifications pinged my phone. I wasn’t quite sure how that made me feel. It had been kind of nice being away from it all. I looked across at the guides sitting opposite me, on the other bench. They were all immersed in their phones.
They had been immersed in their phones all trek — they got the faster wifi codes from the lodge owners, and they knew what cell company offered data coverage where. For them, venturing into the mountains was hardly a disconnect — it was work, and they took what little windows they could get to escape from work. They were probably a lot more pleased to return to Pokhara than I was.
And then: just like that, ten days after we’d started, we were back in Pokhara.
The Jeep dropped me off near the Hotel Snow Leopard, and I said my goodbyes to Anker and Saffron. I tipped Ankit a few extra bills, and I loped down the alley.
The owners of the Hotel Snow Leopard were sitting in their lobby, playing cards. Exactly where I left them. With the earthquake and the blockade, business was slow. I wasn’t sure they did much else.
They smiled to see me. “Same room?” they asked.
“Same rate?” I responded.
They nodded, amiably. One of the women unlocked the luggage storage, and I retrieved my bag. I was enormously relieved to see it still contained my computer. I had trusted the people enough to leave the computer there, but I still had nurtured a small sliver of anxiety in the back of my mind. It was relieving to have my faith in people, once again, re-affirmed by the Nepali.
I hauled both bags — my trekking bag and my suitcase — up the stairs to my room. I turned the key, threw the bags as far as I could from the door, and collapsed on the bed.
I was exhausted.
Unfortunately, I had the biggest interview of my life in about three hours. An Austrian company, Runtastic, was trying to hire me as a digital marketer. They wanted to sponsor my relocation, and had basically promised me a whole new life in Linz, Austria. If I did well, I would fly home, pack my things, then say goodbye to my life in the USA.
You couldn’t have asked for a cleaner end.
But I’d tried to tie things up a little too tightly, scheduling the interview for the same day we returned from the trek. I was in no shape to be considering the next stage of my life. Still, I had to.
I wrestled myself from the bed with a sigh, and collected all the trekking gear I’d rented or wanted to sell back. I plugged in all my electronics, taking advantage of the fact that power was available – since I knew sometimes it wasn’t. I locked my door and hit the street. I stopped for an espresso at the closest place I could find which served coffee. That helped somewhat, but not much.
The streets of Pokhara were starting to come alive with nightlife: bands and groups of young people out reveling. I had no energy or headspace for them. I walked straight to the shop I’d rented my backpack and sleeping bag from, where I returned them and received a paltry deposit in return. It seemed less than I should get, and the owner and I argued over it a bit, but I eventually gave up. I was too tired, and it wasn’t worth it.
She also refused to buy any of my extra trekking gear. I probably could have shopped it around, and found someone who would have paid at least a few hundred rupees for it, but, disgusted, I simply threw it into one of the many bins in her shop, happy to be rid of it. I knew, despite her protests that “no one would buy this junk,” she would put it back on the shelves, and sell it to another trekking tourist.
I headed back to Hotel Snow Leopard. Feeling my eyes droop, I stopped at a kiosk for a Red Bull and a few more gigabytes of cellular data. My interview was on Skype, and I planned to do the whole thing on cell data — that way, at least if the power cut, the wifi wouldn’t go. I would simply tether from my phone to my laptop, and Skype from the computer. It was a good plan. I’d had plenty of time to think about it coming down from the mountains.
With the Red Bull and the data, I was prepared for the interview. I bought a few candy bars and bags of chips as well, in case things didn’t go so good. I started back towards Hotel Snow Leopard, with maybe an hour and a half to spare.
I ducked into one of the area’s tiny barbershops, and asked for a shave. My face was pretty unruly, after ten days trekking without a razor. A straight-razor shave sounded nice. The guys whipped my whiskers off real quick, and then, just like the barber in Kathmandu, they started offering extra services. In dire need of stress relief right before such a big moment in my life, I accepted.
We didn’t talk much while they cut my hair, massaged my scalp with scented oils, and gave me a face and shoulder massage. I left the place a little more relaxed, but all the more concerned with the time that had been eaten up. There was nowhere left to run.
I had to return to Hotel Snow Leopard, and face my future.