When we arrived in Pisang, we had the option of staying in Lower Pisang at the base of the valley or hiking a hundred to two hundred meters up the valley wall to Upper Pisang. The choice was easy. The higher location means better views and the absence of modern structures makes it more atmospheric. On the other hand, it’s much smaller and we knew there were only three guesthouses in town and were not confident we would find a room. Sure enough, the first place we checked out near the bottom of the village was full, even though we had arrived fairly early in the afternoon. The rooms were decent, the mattresses thicker than a finger, the guy who greeted us friendly and the ancient man sitting quietly by a window overlooking the valley below flashed us a toothless but welcoming grin. We were disappointed we had to move on.
Part of that disappointment stemmed from having to climb another fifty meters or so to get to the next guesthouse. The rooms were slightly more expensive, but nicer and at least one was free, so it looked like we’d be staying there. Nevertheless, we decided to hike up another fifty meters to the top of the village and check out the last guesthouse.
A friendly old woman runs the place, but the rooms were dark, tiny and cold and the beds little more than a wooden platform covered by a thin piece of foam. On the other hand, she had a free room and it was cheap. Despite that, we decided to pay a bit more for comfort and headed back down to the second guest house. I felt bad for the woman running the cheap place, but figured she probably filled all her rooms every day anyway, considering the lack of options in town.
We informed the guy at the middle guest house we’d like to book the room he had showed us and he promptly tripled the price. Obviously he had seen us go up to the third guesthouse and when we came back down he must have assumed they were full and he was our only option. I suppose you have to admire the ruthless business sense and if he had simply stated the new price, it wouldn’t have bothered us so much, but the incredibly rude attitude he suddenly adopted annoyed us. I suppose he may have felt slighted when we left to check out the final guesthouse, but I’m sure others have done the same. Either way, we wanted nothing further to do with him and headed back up to stay with the friendly old woman.
We spent the rest of the evening in her living room/kitchen/dining room crowded around a beat-up old wood-burning stove. Any time we leaned back from the stove, we immediately felt the freezing cold. We played cards while waiting for dinner and a bit more afterwards, before retiring to the thinly padded slabs of wood in our dark and freezing cell.
The next morning, we headed down to the first guest house we visited to reserve our rooms for that night. We liked Upper Pisang and had decided to take a break from trekking and spend the day there, figuring we could use some rest after all the days spent walking 30% as far as everyone else. Plus, we had yet to visit the Buddhist monastery perched atop a small cliff above town, affording beautiful views of the valley below and several of the Annapurna peaks on the other side.
During the day, we hiked up to that monastery to take some photos and headed down to Lower Pisang to get some lunch. After our meal, the two people I was trekking with wanted to catch up on some laundry. While they were doing this, I took one of the trails leaving town and followed it up the mountain behind us. I passed a few locals carrying heavy loads on their backs on my way out of town, but once I had climbed a hundred meters or so, I was completely alone.
The trail was steep and I moved slowly—the lack of oxygen in the high altitude gave me no choice. Despite that, I climbed several hundred meters above town. It was hard work, but well worth it. Walking along the narrow path among the sparse red, green and yellow vegetation with no people in sight, but incredible views of the valley below and the warm sun above was one of my favorite moments on the trek.
For most of the day we were alone at our new guest house, but in the afternoon, other trekkers started showing up, among them a large group of Israelis and a Portuguese guy. I would become very familiar with this group over the coming week. They were a bit loud as a whole, but were nice enough for the most part. There were two notable exceptions.
One was the Portuguese guy and the other an Israeli who was actually trekking on his own but occasionally hung with the rest of the group—usually when it came time to stay somewhere for the night so he could mooch food off them. We will encounter him again later in this series.
On this night, he wandered in a few hours after the others and immediately started borrowing various things from different people, before sitting down to a meal of everyone else’s food. Along the Annapurna Circuit, the tea houses charge very little for a room with the assumption (sometimes explicitly stated) that you order dinner and breakfast from their kitchen.
This guy always prepared his own meals using muesli he carried with him, supplemented by things others gave him. This meant he was not only mooching off fellow trekkers, but taking money from the locals, who have very little to begin with and could never themselves afford the muesli he was eating to save money at their expense.
The Portuguese guy was a different story. While the Israeli was an asshole, to put it bluntly, the Portuguese was simply annoying. He seemed to only enjoy trekking for the opportunities it created to inform those around him just how far he had walked that day; and you can be sure the number of kilometers he gave would always be higher than anyone else’s, even if it had to grow mid-conversation.
He will feature much more later in this series, but for now we got to spend an evening listening to him explain to everyone in turn how incredibly far he had journeyed that day and how many land-speed records he had broken in the process. He never mentioned a single thing he saw along the way, probably because he never bothered to stop and take a look.
Series continued in part 9: Pisang to Ngawal: A Hard Climb to Beautiful Views