“Wait until Jihnudana,” Ankit, the young porter, had told me again and again. “There, we dance.”
I had never thought that after nine days on the trail, walking miles and miles every day with a heavy load on my back, that I’d feel like dancing at the end of the day. But, come Jihnudanda, there I was, along with all my new friends: late night in the mountains, dancing and laughing until the neighbors told us to shut off the music.
By the time we reached Jihnudanda, Linjon and I had been trying to get drunk for four or five days. I’m not really sure why the idea had taken hold with us, but alcohol had been a huge topic of conversation between us on the trail.
Every time we brought it up, our guides said two things: “wait until Jihnu,” and “We will drink raksi!”
Raksi is a local Nepali liquor, fermented from god knows what, bottled in whatever is handy, and sure to give you a nasty headache if you overdo it.
They have a liquor like this almost everywhere in the world, it turns out. Palinka in Hungary, Rakija in Serbia, Arak in Bali, Aguadiente in Colombia… the list goes on. Most of them are better than raksi.
But after a week of hearing about the stuff, laughing and joking with our guides — our friends — of course we were gonna try it.
We retraced our route down the Annapurna Valley without much incident. We stopped at Chhommrong for lunch, where I bartered with a Tibetan woman for some souvenirs. She sold me two yak-bone bracelets. One, containing the “om-mani-padme-hum” mantra, I would give to Holly, the last time I would ever see her. The other, depicting the eight auspicious Buddhist symbols, I would wear on my wrist every day for nine months, a reminder to live an ethical life, before losing it while on a 24-hour, blacked out bender in Las Vegas.
But I didn’t know that, then.
After our race, Young Ankit and I struck up some conversation as we sat waiting for the rest of our group to catch up with us. Ankit was working as a porter, carrying the diplomat’s pack, but I had noticed that he seemed a little different from the rest of the porters. Younger, less beat-down. He was more wide-eyed, and certainly more social. Many of the other porters didn’t even speak English. Ankit was animated, articulate, and curious about life in countries other than his own.
It turned out, this was his first-ever trek. He was 15.
It was all still an adventure to him.
As I predicted, breakfast and departure from Annapurna Base Camp was a quick affair. Our objective accomplished, everyone had caught the scent of civilization. We’d get down about twice as fast as we had gotten up — we’d be back to Pokhara in three days.
The sign leaving Base Camp read “THANK YOU 4 BEING TOGETHER WITH US. HAVE A FANTASTIC TREKKING. SEE YOU AGAIN.”
It was one of the greatest signs I’d ever seen in my life.