Wow! One year and 111 chapters later, I’m done with this project!! What a ride. Thanks everyone for coming along with me on this journey. I’ve appreciated each and every reader more than you can know. I’ll drop some more in-depth thoughts about the process and what’s next for me next week, but for now, just enjoy the closing chapter of this story.
I awoke early on my final day in Nepal.
Some animal instinct warned me of impending change.
Sunlight was streaming onto my pallet-like bed in my room at the Annapurna Guesthouse. Dust shimmered in the sunbeam, leading the air an ethereal solidity. It looked like I could reach across the room and pluck the sunbeam straight out of the sky. It was a strangely beautiful sight.
Dust was inescapable in this city. Already, after only two days back in Kathmandu, my cough had come back. It would linger with me long after I returned home, a half-welcome reminder the damages wandering could inflict on a person.
After spending a minute or two laying in bed, jolt-awake, I decided I was unlikely to go back to sleep. I gathered my belongings, meager as they were, and packed my bag to fly.
I checked out of the Annapurna Guesthouse before 10 a.m., as requested. I left my bag at reception, and stumbled, one final time, into the chaos of Thamel.
I headed for the main street. I stopped at the first stall along my way and bought a fifth of whiskey and two Snickers bars. I took a long swig of the whiskey and chased it with a bite of the candy.
That’ll help, I thought. I made to pocket the fifth, thought better of it, and took another gulp. That’ll help more.
I put the booze in my back pocket and struck out into the streets, looking to spend the last of my Nepali rupees. I’d been advised the currency was totally worthless outside of the country. Everyone else wanted Nepal’s troubles to stay in Nepal, it seemed.
I didn’t mind — I had a lot of people to buy souvenirs for. And the extra 50 bucks I’d paid for my ticket at least included checked baggage, so I figured I’d buy a bag, stuff it full of tourist shlock, and bring a gift for everyone I knew back home. Six months on the road, and I was feeling especially generous towards my friends and family. I had a few things I wanted to get for Holly, even.
She would have loved it here, I thought. Well, not here, in Kathmandu… but… she would have loved Nepal.
In a different past, where everything hadn’t gone belly-up in Thailand, maybe. Or in a distant future, when I — or we — returned to finally see Everest… maybe. But looking back on things, it certainly felt like Fate had brought me here, alone.
This moment needed to be mine.
Or maybe that’s just what you need to tell yourself, I thought darkly. I took another swig of whiskey. I was starting to despise Thamel this morning.
There was a lot of shopping to do though, and vendors rarely gave a fair price quickly, so I whiled away a few hours bargaining. The whiskey dulled my desires, and made it easy for me to walk away when I didn’t get the prices I wanted.
All the troubles between me and Holly had started with money, and here I was, literally spending money to get it out of my way. I considered the irony, briefly, as I bartered with a fabric merchant. He was a worthy foe though, and I soon found my attention consumed by the negotiation. In the end, I walked away with everything I wanted.
Was I leaving Nepal with what I wanted though? That was the question I found myself unable to bury under any amount of whisky. I bought beautiful thing after beautiful thing — my bag felt heavy with images of the Orient. People back home would enjoy these things a lot, I knew. They’d love the story of me, halfway across the world, meditating and meeting monks in coffee shops and trekking to the top of the world. I’d loved the story too, when I told it to myself in Hong Kong.
That wasn’t the real story, of course.
But, well — stories are stories. We can tell them however we want.
My shopping done, I had one last meal of Tibetan Momos, drank two more beers, and collected my luggage from the Annapurna Guesthouse. I shook the proprietor’s hand. He smiled warmly, and wished me on my way with one final ‘namaste.’
I walked into the street, luggage in my hands, and flagged down the first taxi I saw. A tiny, beat-up white station wagon would be my escort out of Nepal. I threw my bags in the back, and got in the front seat with the driver. I had to slump and bend my neck, to keep my head from hitting the ceiling.
“Airport,” I said.
“You are going home?” he asked me, as we began to drive.
“Yeah,” I said
“You like Nepal?” he asked.
“Oh, absolutely!” I gushed. “You have an amazing country. And the people are so nice.”
“Yes,” he said, nodding. “We are very proud of that. Nepali very happy people. Even in dark times, happy people.”
“Things have not been easy, since the earthquake, have they?”
“No,” he said simply. “Things have not been easy. Difficult times for Nepal.”
“Do you think Nepal will recover?” I asked.
He hesitated. “I do not know.”
“Many young people simply want to leave the country, right? For the Middle East??”
“Yes,” he said, sadly. “Opportunities are better outside Nepal. Here: no opportunity. Nepal is a beautiful place, amazing people… but very bad government. Bad business. No opportunity.”
Our conversation ground to a halt as the car did. We were stuck in bumper-to-bumper Kathmandu gridlock.
“Normal, normal,” my driver said. “Bad traffic here.”
“And you choose to be a taxi driver?” I said with a laugh.
“What else is there to do, brother? Like I say, no opportunity.”
I had no response for that.
“But it is good you are here,” he continued. “Nepal need tourists. This season we have less, but hopefully next year… people will know it is safe here.”
“I hope so,” I said.
He somehow snaked us out of the worst of the traffic jam, and soon, we were pulling into the airport. A small, squat building surrounded by industrial sprawl and choked under pollution and dust, it didn’t look much better during the day than it had at night.
“I hope you like Nepal,” my driver said as he dropped me off at the dingy brick terminal. “Will you be coming back to visit?”
“Oh, definitely,” I said, as I opened the door and went to collect my bags. I pulled them out of the trunk, and moved over to the driver’s side to pay. I handed him his fare and a tip, which he accepted with a gracious nod.
“We have a saying here,” he told me, through his open window. “Come for the mountains, come back for the people.”
“I have heard it,” I responded, with a smile. “It’s a good saying, brother.”
I shouldered my bag, turned towards the terminal, and headed for home.
I had a person to see.
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