Day 4: Chame - Bragha
Total distance: 100.67km
Total Ascent: 4631m
Total Descent: 2144m
Today was the best (and longest) day so far. That's probably not the last time I will say that. There were loads of snowy peaks, I saw my first ice falls, there were clear skies all day and I spotted peanut butter in a shop I passed. I'm not sure which I was more excited by. I didn't buy the PB due to weight and bulk, but it's nice to know it's there if I need it.
I'm still amazed that my legs feel so good. I guess when the downhill segments pick up I'll start to notice the burn. My feet are doing great, my back is fine, but my shoulders are another matter. Yesterday it was my right shoulder that seized up and caused endless agony. Today it was my left. It was not something I was prepared for. No matter how I adjust my pack, my shoulders continue to scream at me. I'm looking forward to ditching it when I tackle some day trips off the circuit.
Today's journey was another merging of two Lonely Planet days into one, making for a looooong day. I chatted to a few people throughout the day, both tourists and locals, who all thought I was crazy, especially doing it without a porter. In the end it took me 10 hours to reach my destination, with only a short break for lunch and a couple of snacks. No wonder my shoulders hate me.
The first hour or so of this morning's trek was through a beautiful pine forest, which smelled much nicer than the yak poo that I'm used to passing. A dog came up to me on this section and stuck with me until I reached the road. I have no idea who he belonged to but he was incredibly loyal. Every time I stopped, he stopped. He then would run ahead and turn around to make sure I was following him. I was a little sad when he left.
After leaving the forest I was met with the most incredible views of the giant snow-capped mountains, much closer than on previous days. I was within sight of Annapurna II for most of the day, walking around from the east to the north side. I wouldn't be surprised if I took 300 photos just of this one mountain (daily photo count: 373). When it tops out at almost 8000m, it's hard not to be impressed.
As the day went on further mountains appeared, each one just as impressive as the last, with no cloud cover to ruin the view. It's still hard to get my head around that I am hiking in the Himalayas, gazing at some of the tallest mountains in the world. I've already started planning my Everest trek.
The second half of today's trek passed through several medieval-style villages, consisting of a maze of flat-roofed stone buildings. From a distance they looked like abandoned towns, that would probably form a tourist attraction with a hefty fee in Europe. They were fantastic to wander through, constantly getting myself lost but somehow finding my way out again.
The route between two of these villages was steep. Ridiculously steep. It was over an hour of switchbacks directly up the side of a mountain, without a break. The gradient must have been over 20% the entire time. I am fine walking with my backpack along a flat road or downhill, but the slightest incline kills my legs and my lungs. One kilometre took me almost 30 minutes. The disheartening part was going back downhill a couple of hours later - it was like all that effort was a waste, as I know I'll be heading back up again soon.
Due to my tendency to lose the correct path, I decided to try writing down directions that I could stick in my pocket and check regularly. I wrote down whether I should be on trail or road, when I should cross a bridge, the expected time between towns and any major intersections I should be aware of. I still missed two turn-offs.
Sometimes as I'm walking along by myself, random songs will pop into my head. For two days now, I've had the children's nursery rhyme "The Grand Old Duke of York" stuck on repeat. I think it's the line about 'marching up to the top of the hill' that is resonating with me. I then find my footsteps matching the beat of the song. It's helped me over more than one hill.
At the end of the day I reached my planned destination, Bragha. I was exhausted, sore and ready to finish. Bragha is a small town with only three hotels. The first two I tried were booked out. I was not prepared to continue walking to the next village, even though it was only 30 minutes away. Luck was on my side and there was a bed available at the last one. I happily dumped my bag and almost fell over due to the change in my centre of gravity. I felt as light as a feather - it was the best feeling in the world.
First priority was food. There was a bakery in town so I headed straight for it, communicating with the baker to find the vegan items. I was glad to find their bread rolls suited my dietary requirements (which was delicious), but even better was their peanut butter cookies! They weren't the best cookies going around (cookies should never be that crispy) but it sorted out my peanut butter craving for now.