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.
“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.
When we say “Jeep” in the developing world, to be clear, we mean ”Jeep-like vehicle.” This can vary from high-end luxury passenger Jeep, to stripped-down ex-military vehicle, to active-duty military vehicle, to what was probably once a consumer vehicle, modified beyond all recognition until it looks like something from “Mad Max.”
The ‘Jeep’ we rode back to Pokhara in most clearly resembled the last type in that list. Every bit of paneling had been torn out, and benches had been installed in the trunk area. This converted a five-person vehicle to a ten-person vehicle. Which was good, because we were ten. No one, from the Nepali to the foreigners, was trying to pay for two Jeeps. Even split ten ways, this was a luxury.
But, sometimes, after a long struggle, you need a luxury.
The next morning I woke with a sense of sadness.
Today would see us out of the mountains, and back to Pokhara. Our time in this wilderness sanctuary was over. This idea was reinforced by our guides, who told us we could catch a jeep home after only a few hours walk. It felt weird to hear the words “jeep,” and consider riding in a car, when for the past ten days, we’d been on nothing but foot paths. I had kind of forgotten cars existed, up there in the steep mountains.
But modernity was beckoning.