The first thing I noticed about trekking in Nepal was the lack of insects. In Australia, you’d be flapping your hands like a seal just to keep the flies off. Here – nothing. Even ants seemed to be in short supply.
This trivial thought was soon banished by another, more pressing issue: the realisation that a few weeks of jogging wouldn’t stop me gasping like Darth Vader as I climbed stair after stair, wondering where the top was.
The top, of course, was a very long way away indeed. It was, I decided, a matter of pacing oneself. Climb 200m, have a rest, have a drink, push on… And as it turns out, every hour or so a rustic establishment would arise from the path, offering a welcoming bottle of (supposedly) filtered water, a bench, and facilities for sanitary relief.
At Ulleri lodge I sat, panting and looking over the pleasant terraced valley. Trekkers wound their way up the path, and between them, short and stocky Nepali porters schlepping unnaturally heavy loads of bags, or beans, or bricks. They carried these in bamboo baskets held across their foreheads by a sling. No wonder the Gurkhas were renowned for their toughness by the British Army.
After sucking back so much water, the call of nature became urgent and I was directed to the facilities, or rather, facility, singular. They were much in demand, even if they were rustic.
Leaving my gear behind, I cautiously approached the timber shed and opened the door, and observed the traditional Nepali squat toilet – a porcelain sink cemented into the floor, with a water-filled plastic bucket for flushing purposes. No toilet paper, but that matter need not currently concern us.
It was at this point that I realised that I had been wrong. There were insects in Nepal. For lurking in the bowl was a creature, possibly unclassified by science. It was an evil black colour, apparently the result of an illicit liaison between a Glebe cockroach and a tarantula, with more legs than a hydra has heads. It may have not been the fabled Himalayan Yeti, but it sure was part of its genetic heritage.
I took an involuntary step backwards and may have emitted a low scream. By now, though, I was desperate, but it wasn’t like there was anywhere else to go. After all, proceedings could be conducted from the standing position. In fact, if I was being charitable, I could probably make the next user’s visit just that little bit less frightening by weakening the beast’s constitution with a stream of concentrated urine.
I stepped forward and closed the door behind me. Another problem presented itself. It was dark in here, really dark, and I didn’t want to pee on my shoes. I reversed out and opened the door again. I checked for a light switch. Daft really. OK, so no lights. Well, my shoes were waterproof.
I was just about to step back in when I inadvertently rubbed my eyes, and found that I was wearing my sunglasses. No wonder it was so dark.
Problem solved! I took them off and placed them on top of my cap. Feeling confident that I had beaten this foreign puzzle I re-entered ….
I’ve already mentioned that Nepalis are short and stocky by nature. Out here it’s a long way from the local Bunnings, so building materials are in short supply. Nepali architecture is best described as “what can I almost get away with”.
So it was that my sunglasses (apparently having added a further centimetre to my height) struck the door lintel and fell, in slow motion.
As they fell I prayed:
Not into the toilet
O please God no
Not into the toilet
They struck the edge of the abyss, and rolled, basketball-like, around and around the rim. You wouldn’t think that sunglasses had the necessary structure for such a feat, but there you’d be wrong. I stood paralysed, my head rotating like a wheel, afraid to bend down and grab them lest my hat go in too, when they finally stopped, balanced on the edge for a last dramatic instant and fell into the bowl, coming to rest an inch below the black beast.
My friends, I am pleased to say I did not hesitate. Or not for long. Sunglasses cannot be purchased halfway up Everest, especially not prescriptions.
Using my hat for protection, I fished out the glasses, and hung them on a nail as I unfairly punished the beast. After leaving the facilities I emptied a whole bottle of antiseptic hand-wash onto the glasses and scrubbed them like a sailor.
‘What took you so long?” asked my guide, impatiently. I pretended that I couldn’t understand his accent.