we got out of the jeep at the sikkim border checkpoint, showing our passports and special "sikkim" permits. our paperwork was in order, but our jeep wasn't, and our driver and "guide" crawled underneath the vehicle to work on the problem. we had decended steeply from darjeeling, and for the first time in 6 days, i felt vaguely warm, as the sun peeked out of the clouds. i chatted with trish and hank, the extremely friendly austrialian couple i would spend the next 10 days with in very close company. they were ridiculously upbeat about the trek, though trish was a bit nervous about the physical demands to come.
i had just paid 18000 rupees ($400+) for a 10 day trek, making this easily my most expensive travel related activity ever. already our trekking guide had been downgraded that morning from the "best" guide to a different "really good" guide, and my trust in "fat mickey", the nepali or tibetan or sikimese looking (i really can't tell the difference) tour operator out of darjeeling, was wavering. i was already annoyed that this day 1 of a 10 day trek didn't involve one bit of trekking. we were simply being driven to a hotel in yoksom--we wouldn't even be hiring our cook, porters and yaks until tomorrow, yet we were still paying $40 for the day. it got worse after our breakfast stop, when we were presented with a bill. "but mickey said everything was included so i didn't bring any rupees", i told our guide, whose face dropped at the news. i was lying of course, and "found" some cash. i wanted to establish early on that i would expect to receive what i was promised, or i would make trouble. not that i expected this scene to make a whole lot of difference, having already forked over every rupee in advance. even good natured hank took and annoyed stance and started cursing fat mickey. trish was annoyed by our negativity.
we arrived in yoksum and our guide apologized for our hotel being full. instead of staying in the nice place on the top of the hill we were relegated to the pokey place on the main drag. at least my bathroom had a hot water geyser, though at the moment there was no electricity to heat the water with. remembering breakfast, i asked, "you will be paying for our lunch and dinner, right?" i asked. "yes, yes, everything" our guide said. so we all went hog wild at lunch and dinner, ordering multiple plates of everything from the menu, though sadly the restaurant was completely out of meat. at dinner we were presented with a bill for our drinks, both from lunch and dinner. our waiter told us that our guide said we had to pay for our drinks. hank and i were irate, but trish wanted us to pay up and behave. we relented. our downgraded guide appeared and apologized that he was no longer going to be able to guide us, but that a doubly downgraded "good" guide would be taking us along. those bastards. would it be nine more days of this? would they even have enough food to feed us or adquate sleeping bags to keep us warm?
after dinner, in the rain, the town lit by candlelight and the occasional bolt of lightning, i scoured the streets for a pair of mittens and some extra alkaline batteries, but couldn't find either. damp and tired, i followed the candlelight up the stairs to my cold, dark room.