Oct 27th, 2009 - Traveling indefinitely does nothing to improve your concept of time. Spending nine days rafting down a river can only exacerbate the problem. Einstein was right. Time is relative. A two hour ride out of Kathmandu brought me and my band of hearty adventurers to the beginning of our voyage down the Sun Kosi (River of Gold). The morning was spent preparing supplies and inflating the raft by hand all the while basking/baking in the Nepali sun.
We finally set out after lunch and so it began. The cast included two brothers and a solo female from England, one guy from Switzerland and another from Canada. Alex, Nick, Kirstin, Jason, and Adrienne. And then there were two guides (Sonkor and Armid), a safety kayaker (Ashrak), and two porters (Arun and ???) that appeared to be entering the early stages of puberty.
At one point three heterosexual gentlemen decided it would be a good idea to go skinny dipping in the Sun Kosi. The water is by no means freezing but it ain't warm either, especially at night. It is certainly enough to send your balls running towards the warmth of your stomach. And two brothers standing naked by the fire in attempt to increase their body temperature was probably a most impressive sight to be sure.
Luckily, I was dozing in the sand fifty feet away. I was fortunate enough to awake to the sound of two half-naked brothers (they decided to don shorts at this point) wrestling in the sand while one of our guide Songkor (also shitfaced) was screaming dire warnings of potential repercussions at the top his lungs in a stuttering form of English that defies comprehension and description for that matter.
So there I am in that semi-conscious state watching two dudes roll around in the sand to the sound of, “YOU GUYS STOP BLOODY FUCKING FIGHTING DRUNK BLEEDING NOT ENGLAND IS NEPAL FUCK GO AWAY HIKE TOMORROW BLOODY FUCKING BLEEDING NOT YOUR COUNTRY BLOODY FUCKING FIGHTING BLEEDING GO SLEEP!!!!!”. Nice.
The scuffle was nothing more than two drunk siblings having a go at one another sans animosity. Boys will be boys. They tried explaining this to Sonkor (guide) but I am not sure he was convinced. Perhaps the blood running down Alex’s face had something to do with the veracity of their story. Apparently, he was so disgruntled with their behavior that he kicked over their tent and poured river water all over it. No one is really sure but this seems to be the consensus. This did not deter Nick from crawling inside the flattened shelter and trying to have a snooze nor did it stop his brother Alex from trying to resurrect the tent while Nick was inside. If only I could have watched that process unfold.
At some point both decided the effort was futile and crawled into the adjoining tent that housed Jason the Canadian, but not before attempting to invade the other tents (they were repelled by the inhabitants). So there they lay face down, sopping wet, and piss drunk with not a sliver of clothing for warmth (save a pair of shorts). Had I not been sleeping outside I would have probably ended up being the middle spoon between the dynamic duo. So that was our first night.
Thankfully, the next day all was well and any hard feelings smoothed over. The journey continued. The Sun Kosi is by no means a white water rollercoaster of treacherous white water. It is famous for its combination of white water, mountain village atmosphere, and scenic beauty. In fact from what I have read it is considered one of the ten classic river trips in the world. With a length of 270 kilometers it is easily the longest river trip in Nepal and makes for an interesting journey.
|For some reason this dude thought wearing a dead snake around his neck a keen idea|
|Shitter on the bank|
Every night we camped along a perfect sandy beach and passed our evenings by the fire under a star-filled sky. In truth I was hoping for a bit more high-paced river action but the trip was perfect for what it was. Had I done a bit more research I probably would have opted for a different river with more continuous rapids but I have little reason to complain. This is due in no small part to the folks that joined me on the trip. We were jovial bunch and spent much of the time laughing profusely.
This is not to say that the trip was not without some exciting whitewater, just that the periods in between rapids was a bit lengthy. And we did negotiate a Class V (Hakapur) which accounted for a bit of an adrenaline charge. All rafts first stop on the river bank and walk a bit to get a good view of the monster. For someone with little experience it did make my heart beat a bit faster just looking at it. Half-way through there is a big hole of water created by boulders that you do not want to get sucked into. Doing so will result in the inevitable capsizing of the raft. That is a bad thing.
The idea is to stay to the left and skirt the beast. As it turns out someone died here about a month ago (although we already knew about it our guide did not share that tidbit until afterward).
The actual ride was a bit anti-climatic as if it is done correctly there is very little in the way of excitement. It was the set of rapids directly following that one that provided the boat churning sensation. In fact for most of the trip it was the longer stretches of Class III rapids that provided the most gratification as it is possible to hit them head on, sideways, and backwards for full effect. During such stints it was not uncommon to find myself heeing and haaawing like a deranged cowboy.
And now a word on the staff. For those of you that have been reading along for the duration you will be familiar with my inability to ever really get a grasp of some situations due to language barriers and cultural differences. Well, this trip was no exception. It was more like the absolute epitome of all I have encountered thus far. And it was not just me. For the most part none us had any clue as to what was going on at any given point…..ever.
Let’s start with the porters. They looked awfully young but we were told their ages were 19 and 22. When we sort of called bullshit it was admitted they were actually 15 and 17. And then I believe it was finally revealed that their true ages were 14 and 16….probably. I guess they did not want us to question the decision to utilize child labor. It was a holiday so we were assured that they were on a school break and the reason for their attendance was to learn the ropes in order to one day obtain employment as river guides. They were working in exchange for a free trip and an apprenticeship…….probably.
What is the definition of ‘rapid’? Well, that would depend. Apparently, to our guides a rapid is anything Class IV or above. All else is a slight ripple. So when we are told that the ‘rapids’ are finished for the day and we relax only to be nearly jostled out of the boat by a non-‘rapid’ you can understand our confusion.
In fact during one our relaxing floats through a non-‘rapid’ the other boat almost capsized. I guess if a stretch of river has not been given an actual name then it does not exist……probably.
I have yet to pinpoint the definition of the word ‘soon’. I have narrowed it down to somewhere between a half -hour and three hours. At one point I was told we were going to camp ‘soon’. We then stopped for lunch and continued on after that for another two and a half hours. Right.
One of the guides, Songkor, was particularly nebulous. In fact I would guess that I understood no more than 15% of anything he ever said and that may be a bit optimistic. He was quite fond of saying something he knew to be funny and then laughing semi-hysterically at what he’d just said. His reaction was similar on many occasions when one of us would say something that was not meant to be a joke. He would laugh, then we would laugh because he was laughing for reasons beyond us, then he would continue laughing because he thought everyone was in on the joke, then we would laugh because he was laughing because he thought he knew what everyone was laughing at. It was a vicious cycle.
There was a time that he said the woods behind our camp might contain a tiger. We asked if he was serious and he said yes but then laughed like a lunatic again. On another occasion he stated that the monkeys in the trees behind our site were ‘one of the most danger things’ on the river but later implied the danger was related to their possible attempt to violate us sexually while we slept (This was more directed at me personally as I was the only one sleeping under the stars, usually by the camp fire.)
Even if you wanted a straight answer on something it was impossible to tell if he was serious. On one evening were discussing the rather surprising fact that given the lack of daylight it was only 7 pm to which Songkor responded with something to the effect, “you mean 7 am’, followed by another succession of maniacal laughter which instigated the same in all of us.
The evening at our third campsite was quite memorable. Without fail many locals would make their way from the hillside villages to take a look at the strangers parked on the beach. Most times it was shy children gazing at us as if we were extraterrestrial beings that just landed in our inflatable rubber spacecraft. But on this occasion some thirty or forty villagers made their way down to have a look and put on a bit of a show. It was Diwali festival time. This five day 'festival of lights' is the second most important Hindu extravaganza in Nepal. The third day is considered to be the most important as this is when Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, comes to visit every home that is lit well enough to justify her presence.
Well, these folks were banging drums, moving slowly in a circle, and chanting ‘Doh-So-Ree’ (I forget the translation). They had a small donation plate in the sand and when one of our guides placed a few rupees on the plate he was subsequently picked up and carried around in circles to the chant of ‘Doh-So-Ree’. Some of us decided we should do the same so we pooled some rupees for the offering. As we determined the logistics of trying to pick me would be most entertaining I was chosen to place the money on the plate. They were undeterred. Three younger Nepali males hoisted me as high as they could and carried me in the sand to the familiar chant. All were entertained by that one.
On one occasion we stopped at a riverside village to replenish our alcohol supply. The town was a bit ramshackle to say the least but it did have an interesting feature; there was Maoist propaganda painted all over the walls of buildings. I guess we were in the land of true believers. I was approached by a woman who seemed to recognize me and began speaking to me as if we were old acquaintances. This went on for some time and I was mesmerized by the conviction with which she spoke. She was clearly undeterred by the fact that I had absolutely no clue as to what she was saying. She had knowledge to impart and nothing would stand in her way. When a local man asked what she was on about she insisted that she knew us and continued to pontificate. Finally, she moved on to some others of us as she had done all she could with me. If only I knew what she was saying.
During lunch one day we began hurling ourselves off a small sand shelf into the river for the hell of it. We even began synchronizing leaps among the lot of us. The other guide (Armid) definitely received the most outstanding leap award. Have you ever witnessed a three year old hurling him or herself into a kiddie pool. That about summed it up. He would begin with the most sprightly of sprints, almost skipping while flailing his arms and wearing a countenance of unbridled childish ecstasy. Invariably he would jump entirely too early, land on the sand right in front of the water, and then lunge about two and a half feet into the river. Damn entertaining.
The trip was not without its hitches, most notably in the form of intestinal malady. For the most part the food was excellent but on the fifth or sixth night we were served an ungodly portion of rice and kidney beans. When I tell you there was probably a sufficient quantity to incapacitate fifteen people I do not exaggerate. It was absurd. And for reasons beyond us some of us decided to make it a personal challenge. Up until that point I had been eating like a pig with an intestinal parasite and this night was no exception. I believe I ingested enough food for three people and a toddler. I was a gluttonous moron. And I paid dearly. I barely made it to the sand next to the fire and proceeded to slip into semi-catatonic state. Had any of the before mentioned monkeys decided to make me their prison bitch there would have been little I could have done to thwart their advances.
The next day I fared no better as my noxious flatulence turned into an unholy form of diarrhea. At one point I found myself squatting against a rock praying for a reprieve. It finally came but that was a day I hope not to repeat. I was not the only victim, just the most severely affected. I may never be able to eat another kidney bean in my life.
And then there was the screaming contest. Throughout our trip children would congregate along the riverbank to continuously and relentlessly yell who knows what in our direction. I am sure it was mostly innocuous and playful but after six days of it I decided to retaliate. While we were about to enjoy lunch one day an exchange went like this:
Children across the river: BLAAAAAAAAAAAAH, GIBBERISH, BLAH, BLAAAAAAAAAAH!
Children across the river: [momentary silence due to what I presume to be shock followed by playful regurgitation] AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHH!!!!!
Me: AAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHH GAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!!!
Children across the river: [another momentary silence and then another imitation] AAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHH GAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!!!
Me: GAAAAAAAAAAAA BLAAAAAAAAAAAAH GAAAR PHLEEEW [violently contorting my body] BLAAAAAG HAAAA FLAAAAAAAAABBY FLEW (more violent gyrations] WALOOOOO MAAAAAAAAAAAAAH KAAAAAAAAAAW BLAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!!!!!!
They could not quite duplicate that one but they made a hell of an effort. This went on for about five minutes. Perhaps I need a CAT Scan.
After all that time on the river we concluded the tour with a 15 hour night ride from Dharan Bazaar back to Kathmandu on a public bus. Yipee. It was about what you would expect: broken seats, overcrowding, lack of rear suspension, terrible roads, unreasonable speeds, near collisions, and the obligatory tire puncture. People were standing, sitting, and sleeping in the isle. The kids sitting behind my friend and I enjoyed playing with our hair which finally elicited a ‘STOP IT!!’ from Jason. I think they were stunned as it took a good 90 seconds for them to whimper out a ‘soooooorrry’.
By some miracle I managed to sleep but I think the Valium doled out by a member of the group assisted in that department. It was quite a treat to awake to the violent jostling and swaying of the bus that appeared to be doing Mach 2 and careening down the road completely out of control. It was best to just close one’s eyes and find a happy place.
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'Love me or hate me, but spare me your indifference.' -- Libbie Fudim