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  Annapurna/Dhaulagiri 2005: IVAN VALLEJO RICAURTE Full Dispatch from Phokara

picture copyright© Piotr Pustelnik


Dear friends: I am writing now from the peaceful Phokara, a little city and it is like the entrance gate to the Annapurnas and Dhaulagiri chain.  In contrast with the craziness and fast pace of Katmandu, Phokara lives almost in total peace; the little birds have here all the space in the world to sing from five in the morning, the sun rises looking in the mirror of the beautiful Phokara lake and part of the Annapurnas and Machapuchare also salute the reflection; the latter, a spectacular and towering peak of almost 7,000 m. of altitude (6,997 m) is considered sacred ground by the Nepalese people.  The truth is that this is an enchanted town, so much that when I opened the curtain of my hotel room this morning and enjoyed all the landscape I had in front of me, I thought that with the excuse of spending an unforgettable honey moon in this place, I would easily marry again.

Now, I have to tell you that getting here has been a long road filled with much patience, and to continue with the analogy of getting married again, it has been like those loves that you sometimes get by chance, with exigencies, a little complicated, which demand a lot of dedication until you get a definitive YES.

In my last update, I told you that our trip was frustrated and we had to turn around to Katmandu because there was no way to pass that road, because of the manifestations of the Maoist guerrilla.  We started the trip again yesterday, Sunday.  We left at seven in the morning from Katmandu, with our fingers crossed to find the situation corrected and to get up to Phokara.  Just when we had left Katmandu, we met with a line of cars of every kind: cargo trucks, buses, taxis, private cars, etc.; at least two hundred units.  With this panorama and thinking that there would be a similar number of cars from Phokara to Katmandu, we thought that covering the distance of just 200 Km would take a while.

Our lane was open at nine thirty in the morning, so it had been two hours waiting, and from there we started the procession to the coveted city.  We advanced just a few meters and then there was another wait of at least an hour each time; curiously the Osho book which I had chosen to carry in this trip, talked about the value of PATIENCE, such a coincidence.  The truth is that I would have never thought of putting in practice the suggestions of Osho immediately: the value of patience is wisdom, don’t expect things to wind up immediately, because you would lose objectivity and the results would not be the best ones.

For a moment I thought that in some part of the road, Osho could have found some Maoist leader; if not, how to explain such a coincidence.

In the slow advance of the endless line of cars, hours passed by and the travelers made everything we could think about to enjoy the moment; to read, listen to music, play cards on the road, eat little Nepalese bananas (because they were very little), drink water, sleep, take pictures, film; so many possible things with the only objective of enjoying intensely the moment we were living.  Reading Osho couldn’t have been better.

To make a long story short, at eight in the evening we finally reached the city of our dreams, after a trip of 13 hours to cover just 200 kilometers.  Doing the math, I discovered we had traveled at just 15 Km per hour yesterday.  How about that!  This is wicked, right?

In the evening, as a reward we had dinner like kings in Mama Mia Restaurant to celebrate our arrival to Phokara and to calm the fierce hunger we had all day.

Today, I will briefly comment something about my teammates, because I will later write a specific chronicle.  Right now we are twenty members: ten climbers who are going to Dhaulagiri, nine out of them are Italian and me, from my Ecuador; there are two more climbers who will join us next week (Iñaki Ochoa and Peter Guggemos); other nine teammates are only doing the approach trek to Dhaulagiri and the official Nepalese link, a representative of the Ministry of Tourism of Nepal assigned by the government, will go with us during the entire expedition.  There is a good atmosphere, they are good friends and everybody has an excellent disposition to have a good time.

My dear friends, we will leave in an hour to Beni, the next little town after Phokara, and from there we will start the approach trek.  I will write the next chronicle somewhere in that trail.  For now, kind regards from beautiful Phokara, an ideal city for a first or second or whatever HONEYMOON.

With my love,

Iván Vallejo Ricaurte


Translated from Spanish by Jorge Rivera



Katmandu, April 2, 2005

Friends of Ecuador and the world.

I begin by telling you that I wanted to write this chronicle from Phokara, a little town located 250 Km to the Northeast of Katmandu, a place from where the trek to Dhaulagiri and/or Annapurna starts.

I went to bed at three and a half in the morning after having set up all the necessary material for the expedition: food, clothes, technical materials, etc.  At four and a half in the morning, Nima Serpa, my Nepalese friend who owns the agency that takes care of all the details for the expedition, was ready to put in order and to distribute the cargo, as well as the expeditioneers in two buses ready to go, because we are a total of 18 members counting climbers and companions, for the trip to Base Camp.  With all the paraphernalia ready and with sleepy faces most of us, we left the hotel at six fifteen in the morning.  I was lucky with the seat I chose because it was the best and I could stretch as much as I wanted and I could recover the many hours of sleep I owed to my little Latin body.  Thus, I rendered myself to Morpheus.

After forty five minutes I realized, between my dreams that the bus had stopped.  I didn’t worry at all, because I was only interested in sleep, I guess it was what everybody was interested about. After the insistence of Manuelito Lugli (coordinator of the expedition) to know what was the problem, we learned that the traffic jam was because the Nepalese army was checking, vehicle by vehicle in a check point, as a security measure to prevent any trouble by the famous Maoists.

Looking at the line of cars waiting, the most optimistic guess to reach the check point was two hours.  I got the information and I rolled back to continue sleeping.

In my dreams and because my body was twisted due to discomfort, I thought two hours had gone by.  The effect of time passed but our bus or the ones in front or behind us had not moved an inch.  Coming back from the other world, I opened one eye, then the other, I stretched first and then I shook away by sleep like a cat and decided to find out by my own means the end of this matter.  When I saw the amazing line of all kind of vehicles that were waiting for this check point, I immediately remembered Kafka’s Chinese wall, when he talks about infinitum and the never-ending.  That was exactly what I had before my eyes: hundreds or maybe thousands of stopped vehicles waiting to get an order to continue the trip to Phokara.

Such a mess could not be possible for an operation of a simple check, we investigated completely and found out that in a trail of more or less one kilometer the Maos had obstructed the road and the militaries were taking measures to clean up the way, and they were not brave enough for fear of more attacks.

The hours passed, then noon came, then one in the afternoon, then it was two o’clock and we hadn’t moved an inch since we were planted there at seven in the morning.  At three, without a sign for solution, starving, we looked for a place to eat, fortunately there are chickens and good will all around the world and we could calm our hunger, the heat, the boredom and the fatigue with a great chicken soup and noodles.

We remained chatting at the table until four in the afternoon with the hope to continue our trip but no, it was impossible.  So we just turned around and went back to Katmandu.

Here I am back again, with the hope to pass early tomorrow towards Phokara where we will start our approach trek to Dhaulagiri.

These nuances remind me of my dear Ecuador, where you cannot get bored because the surprises and the creativity assault us every step of the way.

With all my love from the capital of Nepal, waiting to continue;

Iván Vallejo Ricaurte


Translated from Spanish by Jorge Rivera


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