the next morning we were actually able to see a snowy mountain peak in the distance, and i was encouraged. we drove to the staring point of our trek, where we met our trekking team:
person #1 - darcy - our doubly downgraded sikkimese guide. later i would learn that he is still in trainee status and therefore comes quite cheap. in spite of being a young trainee he already carries a world weary demeanor.
person #2 - our cook. a genius considering what he had to work with.
persons #3-5 - 3 porters/helpers - these guys (kids, really) are lowest on the totem pole, doing all of the dirty work.
person #6 - yak man - feeds, drives, loads, and loves (by this i mean cares for) the yaks.
4 yaks to carry all our stuff. a yak costs more than a porter, which in some way makes some sense, as a yak can carry more, though he can't set up a tent. a horse costs even more, as they move faster than the sluggish yaks, but yaks lend more atmosphere to a himilayan trek i think.
[technical note: these yaks aren't actually yaks, but are dzos, a yak/cow crossbreed. the problem with pure yaks is that they die at lower altitudes, hence the dzo was created. but locals often call dzos yaks anyway, and "yak" is more fun a word, so i will continue to call them yaks.]
and so we finally began our trek into the himilayas. the porters/cook ran ahead, while the yaks plodded behind. we lost our sun quickly as the clouds rolled in. still, we were low enough that it wasn't that cold, yet. at this altitude the vegetation was dense. trees were covered with moss, and there were even a few small flowers in bloom. we trekked near a roaring river, crossing it 3 times before finally heading up and away from it.
by 11:30 we were already at our first campsite. i was disgusted--this is trekking? it turns out most groups do in one day what were taking two to do. ugh. at least trish seemed happy with darcy's conservative approach. i held my tongue.
our campsite, where we would be apparently spending a LOT of time, consisted of a small trekkers hut and a tiny outhouse that darcy strongly suggested we not use. i didn't even dare look in, but trish did and declared it the most ungodly thing she had ever seen. our campsite was surrounded by a poisonous plant that darcy told us we mustn't dare touch (without explaining the consequences), yet our staff was busy collecting large clumps of it to brew up some sort of concoction, hopefully not for us. our camp was surrounded by heaps of yak shit (which is relatively benign), and more sneakily placed human shit (which is loathesome). i learned that not only do yaks not mind lying down in piles of their own shit, they revel in it (as much as yaks revel in anything). i suppose it is warm, at least. having nothing better to do, i spent a good deal of time watching the vapid yaks sit there and chew their cud, the bells around their necks chiming with each masticating motion. those damnable bells. hank was already complaining about the notion of sleeping through their all-night ringing. i offered the yak who carried my bag a few pieces of french toast i found in my pocket leftover from breakfast in yoksum. yaks will eat just about anything (mostly they set about eating tree limbs and leaves), but their eyes light up when offered french toast. i stroked the yak between his massive horns. it wasn't clear whether he was even aware of it--he just stared, vacantly. i asked darcy about the yak. he said it was 14. "how old do yaks live?" i asked. "14 or 15," he replied. i envisioned us carrying our own bags down after our yak died at the mountain top. on the other hand i also envisioned eating a tough but tasty french-toast-fed yak steak.
eating was the exciting part of the day. the aussies were big eaters, and i learned quickly that if i didn't spoon out my entire share upfront, they would quickly and remorselessly snatch it for themselves. meals usually consisted of 4 or 5 dishes, and sometimes even dessert. it was very impressive, though there was no meat or eggs. darcy told us this was because of "bird flu", which was nonsense--i'd been eating checken and eggs everywhere else. more cost cutting, no doubt.
meals were invariably followed (or sometimes accompanied) by a symphony of farts and belches from my aussie companions. this was especially awful after dinner, when trying to sleep in cramped quarters amongst all of the farts and giggles. yes, to them this was high entertainment. i realized, to my horror, that i would be spending the next 9 days with terrence and phillip.