I bussed back to Kathmandu.
I returned to the Annapurna Guesthouse, which was just as empty. The owner had kept my sneakers for me. When I asked, he smiled from behind the reception desk, opened a low drawer, and handed them to me, wrapped up in a blue plastic bag.
I would be a little sad to be leaving my blue ‘North Face’ hiking boots here in Kathmandu. We had some memories now, they and I. But, since I had worked so hard to negotiate a rental deal on them here in Kathmandu, I thought I should at least return the boots and reclaim my $30. That money could buy souvenirs for everyone back home.
I swapped the boots for my sneakers and struck back out into the maze-like streets of Thamel.
I had written two sentences of directions on the back of my rental receipt, but these proved to be woefully inadequate. I wandered the streets of Thamel for two hours, looking for the shop from which I had rented the boots. All the trekking outfitters looked the same, and none of them would admit to renting me a pair of hiking boots. Once, I was pretty sure I had found the correct shop, but the woman I had made the agreement with wasn’t there. The young Nepali men minding the shop said no, absolutely not, they didn’t rent boots.
That was as close as I got.
Linjon and I descended down the other side of the mountain from the Stupa. We had been told there was a waterfall to see, and truth was, really, we were both too cheap to pay for the water taxi back to Lakeside.
We walked for a long time, talking all the while. We saw the falls, saw a cave, and touched a more local side of Pokhara. By the time we returned to Lakeside, hours later, we were both sun-stricken and exhausted. But, in some way, we knew each well.
Travel friendships can be like that, sometimes.
“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well-preserved body, but rather to skid-in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming: “Wow! What a ride!”
—Hunter S. Thompson
The day after the interview, I got the email I knew was coming: After further consideration and review of your C.V., we have decided not to… blah, blah, blah.
I wasn’t sure if I should be relieved or devastated.
I didn’t feel much either way.
I had known I was not getting the job.
I knew I didn’t have the energy to remain abroad much longer. I was thoroughly used-up and totally worn-out. All that remained was to skid across the finish line: a bus to Kathmandu, then a flight home.
“Are you okay?”
These are not words one wants to hear in the middle of a job interview.
And yet, that was exactly what the Austrian woman asked me, halfway through my interview. “Are you okay?”
The answer was obviously no, anyone but I could have seen that.
But I said yes. Everything was fine. I was good.
I would not get the job in Austria.
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.