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Rain and clouds this morning, so no way in hell is anyone going flying. Despite a new head cold that has caught me by surprise, it seems that new plans are required and a hike in the countryside the best way to salvage bad weather. Given that the Himalayas usually stand clear in the morning (if only for a few minutes at or before sunrise), and that I very much want him to see these mountains, we agree on an overnight trek to Dhampus and one night at the Dhaulagiri View Lodge. Even if we have no view, the trail up and back is full of sights and people and the culture of Nepal’s foothills.

So we pack up quickly, leave two bags at the front, and let the DVL know we’re coming. We postpone the paragliding till Monday. A young taxi driver grudgingly agrees to take us to Phedi, where the trail to Dhampus begins (and which I tried to avoid by finding a vehicle to the top of the first ridge) and we’re off through the city on a Saturday morning.

About halfway up the trail, the clouds get their act together and it starts to rain lightly. I can tell from how fast they are moving that these clouds are serious. We make a run for the tea house I stopped at the other day, and just beat the downpour. While we warm up with tea and enjoy some coconut biscuits, the owner comes by and we chat about weather, his business, the Chinese, and visitors smoking dope. “Sometimes it’s okay, like when you’re on the trail all day and you get tired or have leg trouble. But it makes you one-sided.” He told the story of a German man who had just stayed with him for 3 days who indulged from morning to night. “He spoke in many voices,” the proprietor said, “and I think he was not right in the head.” After he took his leave, his son dropped by and let us know that he walked the Phedi to Dhampus trail everyday, up and down, so he could catch a bus that would take him to school in Pokhara. He wants to go into business and is working on his computer skills.

After a good 45 minutes under shelter, the rain lets up and gives us a chance to reach the ridge.
No sooner do we arrive than a party at a small tea shop strikes up, Nepali movie music blasting, and an attractive young woman steals the show with her smooth and sexy dance moves. One man after another steps up to try and dance with her, but she leaves them in the dust. It’s Saturday, everyone’s day off, and so a party mood prevails. We have lunch to get out of the blustery wind, and are delighted when the clouds part and sunshine reappears.

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In fact, walking the last 20 minutes to the Lodge, we have a grand view of the Dhampus ridge and valley fields, the mountains peeking through the clouds, and a band of rainbow below. It’s an auspicious welcome.

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Max carried the pack the entire way and I’m grateful because my energy levels are dropping precipitously. He is still in discovery mode and heads up to the ridge for the cloudy sunset, while I crash for a long and deliciously quiet nap.

At dinner, we talk about his recent Hawaii trip w/ his girlfriend, and how that went & etc. I tell him a little of being in Nepal this long and weathering the flu, getting well in Bandipur, and some general reflections about tourism and travel. Even though we last saw each other in Japan in October, we are able to pick up thematic threads easily and it’s great fun to chat. I will confess to a bit of anxiety before he arrived, wondering if all this solo time and travel had made me strange or weird. But he reassured me I’m still the same boring guy. Sweet.

He’s a media star in Tokyo, using skillfully his great ability in Japanese, his self-confidence, and his deep baritone voice–plus a smattering of good looks–to move regularly between radio (NHK World News and an intermediate English class), MCing major fundraising, corporate, music or sport events, TV commercials (his Honda and Samsung Galaxy ads ran throughout the Winter Olympics), and the occasional translation.

That he could leave all that behind for about 10 days, and lose income from missed opportunities MCing, is a great testament to his general curiosity about the world. His 2,500+ Facebook “friends” expressed a wide range of comments about how happy/envious/jealous they were that he can make this trip. I’m just relieved he made it safely and consider each minute together a precious gift.

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