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  • I channeled my inner teenage girl scream into interpretive dance.

    Milliseconds was all it took for me to pull my legs up and stand on the wooden bench. Lal and Raj were on the other side of the small rectangular dining area, watching ‘The Chronicles of Naria’ in Nepali, but jumped to their feet when they looked at me. Wiping fried rice from my face and beard I pointed, very masculinely at the terror that appeared between my bare feet - a light brown spider the size of my fist. Long pointed hairs shot up out of it’s bulbous back, and it’s index finger length legs fanned outward.

    I could actually see it’s eyes.

    There was simply no way to play it cool. I’d already been seen. I couldn’t retract my natural reaction to certain death. Stand on a chair, Brad. That’s good.

    Lal and Raj didn’t even bother to hide their laughter. Raj meandered behind the curtain that led to the kitchen, while Lal came over and began kicking the thing with his bare foot. It was big enough to make a clattering noise against the dry wood floor as the spider retreated beneath my bench, and under the floor. The teahouse owner came rushing in at the sound of the ruckus, followed by her 5 children, who stared blankly at me in their pajamas.

    “I uh… I don’t like spiders,” I said to the room of people who didn’t speak english.

    Raj, in his amazing dedication, rushed back into the room from the kitchen, wielding a long set of metal tongs and a bowl. It was that moment I decided it was time to get down, before the rest of the village poked their heads inside.

    I ate the rest of my fried rice standing up.

    Other than the aforementioned incident, this tea lodge was very comfortable. I managed to stay awake until about 0850, and I still woke up in the middle of the night and had a hard time going back to sleep, but overall my stay was comfortable. At least, more comfortable than my first night. There is something beautiful about blending into your current situation. When you don’t feel like an outsider in a new thing you’re doing, it feels as though you’ve gained a new quality. It’s uplifting, to say the least.

    From Chamje, our target route was to reach a little village called Bagarchhop - a small assortment of tea houses in the middle of a highly vegetated farm land. Unsatisfied with the cleanliness of the lodges in comparison to the places I’d already stayed, I urged to move ahead to the next village - Danakyu. My guide, though not pleased, agreed to push ahead of our itinerary.

    I don’t have the most experience in the world at hiking. What I’ve done to date consists entirely of varying lengths of day hikes - nothing overnight, or over a period of several days. I was surprised to find that our trekking days have generally been beginning between 0700-0730, and ending between 0130 or 0200. So we made it to Danakyu with several hours to spare before the sun set. I was pleased to find that not only was it the most comfortable room to date, but this was the first evening that we stayed at a lodge where there were other trekkers resting for the night.

    There’s a kind of community that exists on the trail. Almost no two people or two groups are from the same place, but everyone is there for the same reason: to trek the Annapurna Circuit. We are all going the same way. Though it was the first night I’d shard the dining room of a tea house, I was sightly soured by the unwillingness of those there to hold a conversation. They were a large group of younger people, who seemed to be perfectly comfortable sticking to their own ranks. It made sense, they probably didn’t feel the need to talk to the bearded guy in the corner. But it was still nice to be able to see other people. To smile at them and have them smile back. To say hello. It was refreshing to be in a room with other people who were speaking a language I understood.

    This was the second night in a row I was able to relax and be inspired by the landscape around me. I perched my disgusting feet up on the stone wall of the garden and watched the sun set behind the mountains, happy. On the trek, it can be difficult to multi-task. And by that, I mean it’s difficult to take in the view while also walking. Most of the trail so far was actually by way of a dirt road that had been carved into the rock, littered with loose rocks that held ample opportunity to roll your ankle. It was only during breaks, lunch or the end of the day that I was able to really take in the view. It still being warm where we were, however, the season promoted a haze that hung in the air so that you could only see the silhouette of the great mountains beyond. But I knew they were there.

    The next morning, I woke with ease, feeling rested. I grabbed my toothbrush and water bottle and shuffled down stairs to brush my teeth, mumbling to myself to remember not to use the facet water. Lal greeted me on the stairs.

    “Happy New Year!” I said enthusiastically. It felt strange to say in April.
    “Happy New Year to you as well, Bradley!” Then he was right to business. “Tea?”

    With every meal, the Nepali were adamant about at least one cup of tea. Hence, tea house trekking. I didn’t complain - through this little rule I discovered that I love a nice hot cup of lemon tea. It was basically like if Starbucks decided to pick a mountain range and advertise trekking there. Then it would be called Starbucks trekking.

    Which actually sounds pretty cool.

    The terrain was most definitely beginning to become more mountainous today. Though because of the haze, you would only catch distant glimpses as our trail wove through the steep hills.

    When we finally got to Chame, I felt my shoulders slowly creep up my neck and my stomach started feeling like it was being pulled toward my spine. Initially, it was exciting walking into the village - it was the biggest one we’d passed through since the town we’d started in. The street was filled with trekkers who came seemingly from nowhere. No one had passed us on the trail, yet, here they were - a whole town full of trekkers. We looked at four teahouses before my guide started becoming very annoyed with me. He’d eyed the lodge most immediately visible upon entering the village, but even from the outside, I knew I wanted to see more of what was in town. Finally, after 45 minutes, Lal dragged me back to the tea house he was looking at initially.

    The cement building narrowed after a small courtyard, into a dark, dingy hallway where the walls were wet. There were no guardrails on the cement steps, and piles of cardboard and bottles were tucked into the corners or spaces between walls. The room he led me to looked less than pleasing - all cement walls that were faded from handprints, velvet curtains that had dried dirt smeared across them so that the room glowed a dirty orange, and the attached bathroom filled the room with the smell of shit.

    “This good? No more looking?” Lal said impatiently.
    “It’s okay,” I replied unenthusiastically. I was now stressed about not being able to find a lodge I liked, as well as they fact that Lal was clearly looking to stop for the day. It was only 0130. “I’d like to look next door though.

    The tea lodge next to us looked very clean and quaint. Not to mention several trekkers were sprawled out in the courtyard there, laughing and drinking.

    Lal shook his head. “No, that one is very old.”
    “Well I’d like to look,” I said truthfully.
    My guide paused and became red in the face, but bit his tongue. Then, “Okay, fine. Go look,” he mumbled shortly.

    I had to drag him next door with me. He shuffled his feet sluggishly across the stone road. “This is very embarrassing, Bradley,” he huffed.

    Not knowing what he meant, I silently walked into the next tea house. The room was clean and well kept, but there were several gapping holes in the ceiling above the bed. Reluctantly, I agreed to stay in the dirty cement room. Once we put the bags inside, Lal stepped inside after me, his voice shaking.

    “Bradley, from now on, I will chose the room. No more looking.”
    “Why were you embarrassed?”
    “People saw us walking up and down the street several times.”
    A fire burned in my gut, but I channeled it into reason. “Are you angry because looking at different lodges isn’t convenient for you?”
    He paused for a long time. Uncomfortably long.
    “Well, Raj is very tired from carrying your bag back and forth all the time.”

    I looked at Raj, who waved happily at me. He had been sitting on a bench in the street with my bag waiting for us to find a lodge ever since we walked into town. He hadn’t followed us to a single lodge.

    “Lal, if I’m not comfortable in a room, I will not stay there,” I said, unsympathetically adamant. This was my trek, and I knew that if I didn’t want to do something, I didn’t have to.

    After Lal and Raj left me in my room, I was plagued by the quiet, which I usually welcome. I was reminded yet again of the distance between me and home, and how secluded I was. My guide appeared to be more concerned about what was convenient to him, rather than my level of comfort. I wandered the streets, distracting myself by taking photographs of the village. But after a while, I didn’t know where else to go, so I returned back to the tea house and unpacked.

    The stress Lal had caused me had opened up a door into a homesickness I had never felt before. The journey so far had certainly had it’s high high’s and now I was at a low. To break the fourth wall - this is when I reached out to you all, my awesome readers.

    Thank you for your kind and encouraging words. It worked wonders for me.

    Angie was on her way to the airport and couldn’t talk on the phone yet, but would be able to soon. I’d been leaning on wifi for all my communication needs - even phone calls. So it was a real kick in the gut when a storm rolled through and the entire village lost power.

    I sat at a table by myself eating dinner by the light of my phone that night. With it being dark outside now, almost no energy remained in me to find positivity. I wanted to crawl into bed.

    “Where are you from?” said a voice.

    Across the room, a group of younger people were playing cards beneath a single worked lightbulb. They were all looking at me.

    “The states,” I said, “Michigan. What about you?”
    The girl who spoke before replied, “Israel. We’re three couples traveling together. Are you traveling alone?”
    “Just me and my guide and porter.”
    Another one of the girls spoke. “You have a guide AND a porter?” she asked, clearly surprised.

    We got to talking about the trek so far, and how I was learning a lot about what was really important to bring, and what wasn’t. The group of them were trekking without a guide or a porter and packed efficiently enough that they were all able to carry their own bags comfortably. Needless to say, I was able to pick their brains about how to pack a little better.

    “Would you like to play with us?” said one of the guys at the table, motioning to the cards in front of him.

    I agreed at once, though my card skills were less than Vegas-worthy. They walked me through the rules, showing me the specialty cards and how table worked. It didn’t take long at all to catch on - it was basically like a more fun version of Uno.

    They opened up their table and made room for another chair.
    “What’s this game called?” I asked as the cards were being dealt.
    They all answered at once. “Sheep head.”
    “Sheep Head?” I confirmed out loud, not at all understanding the reference.
    Then they all burst out in laughter and the girl next to me got my focus and slowed her pronunciation. “Shithead.”

    We played for several hours. The game became longer the more players there were, and we were a table of 7. At one point, we gained the attention of the kitchen staff, who hovered over our shoulders. I thought they were watching us play, but actually they wanted the table to order dinner so they could close the kitchen.

    After they ordered, I left them alone to eat and thanked them for the game and the company. I honestly could not have asked for a nicer group of people to come across, especially today. On the way upstairs, I passed the kitchen, where a party seemed to be taking place. Lal was there, laughing and cooking food with the owners of the tea lodge. This made everything more clear - he wanted to stay here because he knew the owners.

    As I entered my dingy room, the lights came back on and my phone dinged with alerts. I called Angie, who was at the airport last I heard, on her way home from Utah. Half the time, the internet wasn’t good enough to make a call through the wifi, but I gave it a shot. After the day I had, it would make all the difference in the world to hear her voice. The line rang and rang, and I figured that she was already on the plane. Then the lined clicked and her voice came through.

    “Hello?”
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