A chronicle of Alison and Ron's trip around the world in 2009-2010.

"Not all those who wander are lost"
- Tolkien

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Trek Preparation in Thamel

The Thamel area of Kathmandu is a trekkers heaven. It has shop after shop of stores filled with trekking gear. Most of it looks like brand name gear but it really is made in Nepal or China with a stolen (or slightly altered) logo. My favorite was socks I bought that said Southface on them, they made me crack up every time I put them on.

Along with 4 new pairs of “coolmax” socks, our largest purchase was hiking boots. We must have tried on 20 pairs of shoes at a dozen different stores. It was surprisingly hard to find our sizes and the ones that fit were often super-ugly (I know that’s not supposed to be a consideration) or of questionable quality for the price. Our patience paid off, and I found a light green pair of boots for 3500 NRS ($48) that were most comfortable if a tad big. I figured bigger was better than smaller, as my feet were bound to swell from hours of walking. Ron later found a pair of black boots he liked, being quoted 6500 NRS ($89) at one shop but negotiating down to 3900 NRS ($53) at another.

We thought it was going to be cold but weren’t sure just how cold. Some we talked to thought that gloves and hats were unnecessary at this time of year. Maybe in Kathmandu, but we were sure glad we went ahead and bought yeti hats knitted from colorful yarn and fingerless gloves with a super functional fold-over mitten parts for a mere 500 NRS ($7) for the lot.

At first fumbling, we quickly learned the negotiation dance with local street vendors. If you ask the price and there is a one count pause than the real price is about a third less. If there is glance focused somewhere in the distance (where I think they picture you as a rich westerner in a big house) followed by a pause longer than two counts then the real price is probably half what is quoted. If there is sustained eye contact and no pauses then it’s a fair price. This is a very rare occurrence, but it does happen.

Part of the scam of tour based trekking is that they procure your permits for you, which is supposedly an expensive and difficult process. To trek in Annapurna you need two: Annapurna Conservation Area Permit (ACAP) and Tourist Information Management System (TIMS). These require little more than showing up at the Nepal Tourism Office right next to the main local bus station in Kathmandu, filling out a couple forms, giving 6-8 passport sized photos (we printed around 30 each on our Epson printer before we left on this trip), and 4000 NRS ($55) for the both of us. It took about two hours of our time (walking time included) and we were officially independent trekkers.

We didn’t want a guide, because the trails are well marked and easy to follow but we both cringed at carrying all of our gear ourselves, so we opted for a porter. Since we were leaving from Pokhara, naturally we thought to hire one there but after talking to a few folks, albeit from tour agencies, we considered hiring one from Kathmandu if, that is, we found the right person. Walking out onto the street one night, we were approached by a guy from Touch Paradise and we went back to their office to discuss. There are at least a million tour agencies here, so it could have been anyone from anywhere that night. We immediately liked the owner and after some discussion asked if we could speak to the proposed porter ahead of time (which was a prerequisite for our decision).

We met Krishna, a small (is there another?) Nepali in his thirties that looked about as big as the bag we wanted him to carry. It was a “yes” at first sight as we asked him questions about his experience and style. We just wanted someone that was easy going and spoke passable English and he was all that with a good sense of humor to boot.

We had an appointment to meet another porter (that according to Ron, sounded like he had marbles in his mouth) so we played hard to get but immediately went back and booked him. For 14 nights porter service (not including transportation to/from Pokhara) we paid 894 NRS /day ($12) or 12516 NRS ($169). This would later prove to be the best decision we made in the trek, as he carried all of our heavy stuff and was a cool guy and quasi guide as well. Worth every single rupee, indeed.


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