4:00 P.M. local time (6:15 A.M. EDT)
My work is done. Dave's eating again, and he's looking so much healthier. The turning point came at lunch here at the teahouse we're staying in for the night. Dave ate one-third of a plate of hash browns. Later, when we went to the monastery he so eloquently described, he was jumping up the trail, like his usual self. So now I can stop pestering him to take a "pemmican break." That seemed to be all he could eat. Fortunately, we both had a stash of some great trail food that's better than Cliff Bars and probably a lot cheaper. In fact, I've got a plastic bag full of trail snacks out, and Dave keeps asking, "Can I have a gum drop?"
"Knock yourself out."
"Hey, can I have some of your chocolate bars?"
He eats his way through an entire bag of beef jerky and still seems ravenous. The local yaks may be in for trouble; I see him getting out his camping knife.
The decision to depart from our plans and take a slow descent was perfect because it's giving us a chance to absorb more of Nepal than we would have by rushing in a wave of exhaustion to get to our main goal—the summit of Imja Tse. And, as David pointed out, our new friend Annie reported the wasteful deaths of three people doing no more than hiking into high altitude and not taking care of themselves. Possibly a fourth, who is in a coma, will succumb as well.
Annie and David were a couple of folks we met early on, and every time their paths crossed in the Himalayas, they each wondered what had become of Dave and me. It's one of the privileges of trekking here—meeting affable people involved in a similar experience and then trying to get news about them up and down the trails. I wish them the best. David is also bound for Island Peak with his party.
A couple of things David forgot to mention—it's thanks to Nayam (I'm sure I'm butchering his name, sorry) that our downward trip has gone so smoothly. Nayam is running a caravan of three yaks for us with all our gear, batteries, equipment, and so on. He went into Pangboche and found us a room at this teahouse; and to us, a private plywood room with two bunks and a thin mattress, a very clean outhouse, and a clean dining room seem like a four-star hotel.
Earlier on the trail, Annie had told us about the monastery here. We asked Nayam about it, and he took us up a path through a grove of trees. (This is one of the nicest towns we have seen so far.) We passed two huge, old prayer wheels suspended inside dark rooms. You go in the room, walk the prayer wheel clockwise by pulling on a rope, and at each revolution, a bell rings. Three times is generally considered good luck. I did this, and then Nayam asked us to wait. He ran off to get a monk's permission for us to visit, soon returning with the monk, who unlocked the ancient building for us and entertained us with Chang, as David pointed out. Nayam clearly felt awed. He bowed before the altar and offered prayers, and I saw his eyes brimming with tears. Then he ended up having about two glasses of Chang—the one and a half that the Buddhist monk poured for him and the last half of mine.
I was tempted to kneel at the altar and pray myself. Offerings of rice and oil had been left next to a small burning lamp. The darkness, scary face masks, giant suspended drums, old irregular beams, paintings of Buddha in different poses on the walls, and especially Nayam's devotion, all gave an air of spiritual wonder to the place.
Though we're descending, the adventure is far from over. Yes, we have some leisure to recover—to use baby wipes as if they were some exotic luxury and put on a little Lubriderm to recover from the chapping. But you know, those rickety suspension bridges are still waiting for us, as are those steep, stony trails that can catch an ankle and twist it on the way down as well as up.
I'm going to close for today. Our big gel cell battery seems to be working fine, but the inverter is making a horrible shrill tone, and the laptop battery isn't charging any more. So best be safe and send out this dispatch—five days left until Kathmandu, and if the batteries hold out, the dispatches will keep coming.
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Mike Jackman is an editor in chief of TechProGuild, an editor of PC Troubleshooter and Windows Support Professional, and also works as a freelance Web designer and consultant. Together with his co-editor in chief David Bard, he is traveling to Nepal to report on high-altitude technology and to climb 20,285-foot Imja Tse. In his spare time (when he can find some), Mike’s an avid devourer and writer of science fiction, parent to two perpetually adolescent cats, and a hiking enthusiast.