Australia: Rebellion

Right I’ve just had a big big coffee and I’m feeling a little zapped and I have spent the last fifteen seconds trying to think of a good introduction for this article (diary entry? Oh how I loathe the term ‘post’) but I couldn’t think of anything witty enough; I considered starting out with a humorous gothic horror parody where I envision you sitting in a darkened country mansion with me approaching the door draped in a sodden overcoat and drooping hat and declaring I had a dark tale to tell – I thought it seemed quite clever – but I’ve started entries in a similar manner before and it isn’t original enough for my mood, and so rather than begin this entry in such a style, I have instead opted to do this – that is, to waffle on without achieving anything at all for, oh, about one hundred and fifty words. Continue reading

Australia: A Tad Cult-Esque

‘Ello gawjus.  So I’m back in Australia now, at the little hostel/commune/cult just outside Tabulam, which is an hour away from Casino, which is two hours from Byron Bay, which is the first place of any real interest for hundreds of kilometres. After Bangkok, which stressed me out and ruined my liver, it’s pleasant to be back in the wilderness, thrashing my vital organs in a more calming environment. Continue reading

Bangkok: FFS

I have left Australia for Thailand for what I’m sure will be one week of exploring, misadventure and general debauchery.

Due to an error in my working visa application – the Australian government informed me over the phone that I could enter the country on a tourist visa while my working visa was still pending, then two weeks later informed me this wasn’t the case and I would have to leave – I have fled to Thailand. The trip has cost me a solid half of my remaining savings, and means I will be returning to my idyllic outback farm with around £250 to my name. This is not ideal, and I am rather incensed at having been misinformed and forced to spend all my savings and vacate the country. But nobody ever got a puddle of milk back into the bottle by weeping over it. And so I am in Thailand, whether I like it or not, and I am going to make the most of this most irritating of detours.

I probably sound quite privileged and selfish, don’t I, moaning about having to travel to a pretty country with a throbbing backpacker scene. The reason is, I was growing very fond of my little farm and the friendships that were blossoming there. I was enjoying my slow transformation from a weary old seen-it-all city bastard into a healthy and cheerful farmer. Bangkok feels like a large step backwards. But again, I’m here now, and there’s nothing else for it.

My first impressions of the city could be summarised best by a long, slow emptying of the lungs. I never wanted to visit Thailand, for the simple reason that everyone does. I had a stereotype in my head of what it would be like here, and lo, upon arriving at my hostel at 2am after a delightful 20 hours of transit, the first conversation I overheard was two American frat bros talking about how they got into a knife fight outside a brothel and how they hate anti-gun liberals and how badly they both want to get laid. Sigh. Abandon all culture, all ye who enter here.

I’m staying at a self-proclaimed party hostel, due to its being the cheapest one I could find. I feel old. I’m not sure when that happened, exactly, but at my ripe old age of 25 the idea of fifteen sunburned men in neon vests screaming at red beer pong cups, whirlpooling around one or two English girls clad in arse-cheek pinching shorts seems rather bland. Give me a gloomy bar and a weird old man to chat to any day.

I just really dislike the idea that people travel halfway around the world to a country with a fascinating new culture, and all they want to do is shag about and get pissed. It’s not my idea of fun and never has been. I’m partial to a beer, if you’ve read literally anything I’ve ever written you’ll have picked that up, but I prefer alcohol as an accessory to silly adventures and a lowerer of inhibitions that enables people to reveal their true selves without weeks of getting-to-know-you chatter. I loathe the muscle bound, tribal tattooed masses with their chest beating and arse-grabbing.

thailand at night

But maybe I’m being too harsh. I’ve barely been here one day. I’m going to try and make the most of it. I’m heading out now to wander the streets all on me bill, and perhaps I’ll find something to love about this place. Or perhaps I’ll just sink a couple of those buckets you hear about and stop being such a moany pretentious wanker and end up dancing with my top off in some ping pong show ladyboy frat bro fuckhead dancefloor.

Truly, it could go either way.

Australia: Hard Work and Hope

I am changing. I am changing, I can feel it, and not only that but I can feel it’s a change for the better.

I’ve been a very bad person for the last couple of years of my life. I’ve done things I’d be embarrassed to write here, that I’d be afraid to admit to strangers for fear of judgement. I’ve been selfish and stupid and confused, and in trying to right previous mistakes I’ve made dozens more. A large part of is a result of cowardice and dishonesty. I won’t contextualise, I won’t make excuses. I have been a coward, and I have been dishonest. That’s all that matters.

Living as I have for the past three weeks in the Australian outback has given me hope for my own future. With no strings remaining to unatonable sins from the past, I am finally free to consider myself a worthwhile person again. I am able to like myself for the first time in two years, because I am not hurting anybody anymore, and consequently I am no longer ashamed of my life.

The weeks at the hostel have passed quietly, peacefully, joyfully. My working visa isn’t yet granted due to an error in my application, and so I have been unable to work. During the day, the hostel empties as all cars and pickups in the drive head out to the fields to pick blueberries. I spend the silent mornings cooking breakfast, lifting weights, writing my book, playing guitar, reading, sunbathing, or listening to music. The internet at the property ran out a week ago, and since then we’ve been almost entirely cut off from the rest of the world. No news, no social media, nothing. The occasional message to family is all I’ve used my phone for. It is so very quiet. It is so very beautiful.

I have immersed myself in farm work to ease the days along. Years working behind a desk and drinking to excess has made me lazy. But I feel awake out here in nature. Somebody calls out that we need firewood, I take an axe outside and cut logs into small pieces until I get blisters. Somebody tells me the pigs need to be fed, I grab a bucket and a sack of pig pellets. Somebody mentions that the mound of manure out the back needs moving, I find a wheelbarrow. A shed needs tearing down, I grab a hammer.

There is astonishing clarity to be found from immersing yourself in dirty, simple, honest work. When I am outside, sweating through some repetitive task in the sunshine, my brain, whose overactivity is the bane of my life, suddenly becomes quiet. I become fixated with the present moment, with my sole, simple goal; I am not concerned with past sorrows or future fears, only the task at hand.

My palms, my forearms and my legs are coated in cuts and bruises. I like it. My clothes are mucky and hang off me; gone are the tight fitting tees of 2015, gone are the drab black garbs of Berlin. Last weekend I picked up a bundle of free work shirts from outside the local charity shop one sunny Saturday. They are practical and comfortable and all I need. And every evening I sleep soundly, satisfied that the firewood I cut up that afternoon is keeping everybody warm in the living room.

Weekends are spent in a haze of cheap wine; you can get five litres for nine dollars from the nearest town, an hour away. We lounge together on the grass, twenty or thirty backpackers, music playing, and the farm dogs lay between us. We have all arrived with equally colourful and fucked up life stories, yet the laughter never stops. Two hundred miles from civilisation, adults discover that they never quite grew up, not really. Despite all our years of experience, all the wisdom, out here on the farm everything is as it was at eight years old. Friendships are born, relationships spark and fizzle or burn out, rivalries form, alliances are made.

Arguments have broken out several times as personalities jostle and clash and vie for position at the top of the chain. I stay away from social politics. It bores me. Let the angrier boys and girls yell at one another until they’re blue in the face; I’d rather sit with Ben and Seth and chat shit together in the afternoon warmth, sipping sweet white wine out of chipped white mugs.

I’m not thinking about the future. I have barely eight hundred pounds to my name now, and until I start working, dreaming of the future is a luxury I can’t afford. The past still rears its head most days, whether it’s in the form of a familiar song or a stumbled-upon photograph, and it still hurts the same as it always has, but I’m not afraid to look back anymore. After years of hating myself, three weeks on a farm on the far side of the world has helped me to see that I am not a bad person who occasionally does good things, but a decent human being who has made mistakes. And from this point onward in my life, starting everything anew, I am going to be honest, and I am going to be brave, and I am going to channel all my efforts into becoming the man I was meant to be. Somebody I can be proud of.

Japan: Hitchin’ A Ride

The_Great_Wave_off_Kanagawa

I’ve been in Japan for two weeks now, and good heavens it has been wonderful. See, in India and Nepal there was a lot of soul searching and loneliness, there were a lot of challenging sights and situations, and there was a considerable amount of homesickness and general lamenting. That’s not to say India and Nepal weren’t fantastic, exhilarating experiences; they absolutely were, but alongside the majestic highs there was an equal number of explosive lows – especially in India. But Japan? Boy oh boy, Japan is golden. Continue reading

Japan: Cartoon Tits and Headbanging Deer

The_Great_Wave_off_Kanagawa

Right, so I’m in Japan. It wasn’t meant to be a part of my trip; I was supposed to fly from India to Australia and live there for a year. But life is weird, and instead of a flight to Melbourne I whizzed over to Kathmandu, wandered around in the Himalayas for a bit, and now for some reason I find myself here, in the Land of the Rising Sun. And it’s fucking wicked.

After a 5 hour delayed layover in Kuala Lumpur (GORGEOUS airport), I flew into Osaka on the 26th of May, and my god. As soon as you land you know where you are; cartoon characters guide you through the airport. A giant Mario beamed at me as I passed through immigration. I hopped on a train into the city, and the fact that for once I didn’t feel overwhelmed and bewildered told me that I was growing accustomed to this nomadic whatevery that has been my life since the beginning of March.

I took a few different trains, amazed at their efficiency and their cleanliness. I’m definitely not in Berlin anymore. I found my hostel easy enough, Hostel Ebisutei, and arrived there stinky and knackered. It was a world away from the standard ramshackle hostels you experience on your usual South East Asia trips; this place looked more like Alt J’s private recording studio than a place for cheap-arse travellers to crash. The owner is Daich, a flat cap-clad Osaka local who is extremely generous when it comes to plumb sake.

On my first night I made a few friends and we hit up a cool Japanese bar or two, and I found myself trashed before I knew it. I ended my first day in the city sitting in the hostel living room at 4am, drunkenly waxing lyrical about my frustrations with spiritualism and religion to two American girls who were on exchange in the city studying architecture and helping design a new tea house. Honestly, I talk some shit when I’m drunk. I woke up the next day and cringed at my pissed-up philosophising. But hey ho.

The next day reality set in, and I wandered the city alone to find Osaka Castle. If you know me or have suffered through any of these weird diaries over the past three years or so, you’ll know that I am an emotionally volatile weirdo and my heart can soar or crash without warning. And so, as I wandered the streets of the alien city, I felt my spirits sink. It was just so different to anywhere I’d been in the past three months. It was just so clean and quiet and spacious that it felt fake, unreal; there were no cows in the road, and no masonry was crumbling around me, and there were no blasting horns, and the air wasn’t thick with fumes, and I felt uneasy; I suppose you could call it reverse culture shock.

Whenever I feel uncomfortable, my heart takes a nose dive – and always in the same direction. I miss home, I miss family, I miss friends… I miss a girl. I was wandering through a charming temple garden when this feeling of longing gripped my heart so hard that my legs almost buckled. What the hell was I doing on the far side of the world from everything and everyone I love, people I’d not spent proper time with in years? In a moment, all my wanderlust drained out of me, and I felt stupid and lost. I sat on some stone steps and watched people walk their dogs around the park, kids playing on swings, and could think of nothing to do but put my headphones in and listen to a song that summarises the feeling entirely: Despair in the Departure Lounge, by the Arctic Monkeys. Maybe it’s a bit corny, but it sums the feeling up better than I ever could. Here:

He’s pining for her, in a people carrier
There might be buildings and pretty things to see like that, but architecture won’t do
Although it might say a lot about the city or town
I don’t care what they’ve got, keep on turning ’em down
It don’t say the funny things she does
Don’t even try and cheer him up because… it just won’t happen

He’s got the feeling again, this time on the aeroplane
There might be tellies in the back of the seats in front, but Rodney and Del won’t do
Although it might take your mind off the aches and the pains
Laugh when he falls through the bar but you’re feeling the same
‘Cause she isn’t there to hold your hand
And she won’t be waiting for you when you land

And it feels like she’s just nowhere near
You could well be out on your ear
This thought comes closely followed by the fear
And the thought of it makes you feel a bit… ill

Yesterday, I saw a girl who looked like someone you might knock about with
And almost shouted
And then reality kicked in within us, it seems as we become the winners
You lose a bit of summat… and half wonder if you won it at all

As the last few chords rang out I felt my melancholy dissipate. Sometimes all you need is to feel like someone understands. That’s what music is to me, man. It’s being understood. There was nobody around to tell me to keep my chin up and that everything would be okay, so I told myself to keep my chin up, and I told myself that everything would be okay. I stood up, took a deep breath, and carried on to the castle.

The castle was perfectly lovely, and upon following the sounds of screaming violence that filled one corner of the complex I was delighted to find a large ornate hall in which young Japanese men and women were beating each other with very large bamboo swords. It was a competition, as far as I understood, and the sport is Kendo; a samurai-esque combat sport but with less limb-severing than in the good old days. I stood in the hall for some time, grinning from ear to ear watching shrieking young men thwack each other silly with bits of wood.

I drifted back to the hostel after, and didn’t do very much with the rest of my evening. I was invited for beers by a burly, hairy American named Yan, but I politely declined because he seemed ever so slightly mad and also he dropped the beefiest farts incessantly in the dorm, which made me furious in a very English ‘tut-increasingly-loudly’ way. I wandered the streets alone for an hour, ate a guilty McDonalds because I wanted something familiar, and went to sleep in my quaint little Japanese bed cubicle coffin thing.

The next morning, everything began to change. I showered, dressed (I don’t know why I bothered to write that because everybody showers and dresses every day and I’m just wasting words (this is also wasting words (so is this (CHRIST)))) and in the common area met a 22 year old Russian girl named Anastasiia. She has a shaved head and a calligraphic tattoo on her cheek that reads ‘art’ that I first misread as ‘arse’. Alongside Daich, I now had two proper friends in Japan, and I felt happy. At times it feels like somebody is smiling down on me. At my lowest moments, something always comes along.

I checked out of Daich’s place and moved a kilometre away to somewhere I’d booked the previous night, Backstage Osaka, because I’d read that it was a decent place to meet other travellers. That turned out to be a fallacy, because it’s the low season and the hostel was almost dead, however I did befriend two cool dudes who worked there named Ryan (England) and Daniel (Spain). They taught me about the culture, where to eat for cheap, and which booze to drink if I wanted to avoid setting my wallet aflame.

I spent a few evenings in a row with Anastasiia and a Taiwanese guy called Luke down by the river in Dotonbori, which is Osaka’s neon-soaked answer to Times Square – another strange epicentre of ultra-capitalism that has somehow fooled us all into believing that enough flashing adverts all side by side can transcend soulless consumerism and become art. But whatever – I’ll drop my faux-intellectual pretensions and admit that it is very pretty down there, and a lovely place to spend a few hours drinking wine and watching the lights dance off the calm waters.

Anastasiia – hereafter ‘Ana’, because I can’t be arsed typing her full name – busks to fund her travels. She found no luck on the streets and bridges of Osaka, and so in defeat we got drunk by the river’s edge and passed the guitar around. A Korean couple joined us, as well as a few local drunks, and we played and sang until the early hours of the morning, then stumbled away home to sleep.

On another night we climbed up to the rooftop of an apartment building to watch the city lights, then down on street level we browsed the myriad sex shops and laughed at the jaw-dropping range of fetish DVDs on offer. I find that Japan, like pretty much every country I’ve visited ever, is rife with contradictions. The people here are kind, generous and respectful to a fault. It’s considered rude to eat in the street, talking on trains earns you a pack of rueful stares, and crossing the road before the sign allows you is blasphemy – and yet gigantic anime tits bulge out at you from every available surface. Chewing your food in public is uncouth, yet throbbing cartoon breasts is a-ok? I do not yet understand.

I got my last rabies jab in Osaka, too. It was the 28th of May and 7 days since the bite, and in order to not die I needed to find a doctor and get needled and whatnot. Ryan from Backstage hostel gave me directions to one hospital that had patched him up previously, and I made my way there at 3pm. I translated a few phrases in Japanese (badly) on my phone before setting off – stuff like ‘I got chewed by a dog. I was on Nepal. I may have some rabies.’ The only English-speaking member of staff actually laughed at me when I showed her my note and – at this point can I just say that literally everyone has laughed when I told them I got mauled by a dog, even my mum. Why? Why god? Why does nobody take my potential death seriously, in any way, shape or form?

But whatever. I got sent to another hospital across the city which shut at 5pm, which made it a bit of a hectic jaunt over there because for all I knew if I didn’t get the injection that day I’d turn rabid and explode in a couple of weeks’ time. I made it to the place okay though and was left sitting in a waiting room watching sumo wrestling for a little while, then swiftly shanked, pumped full of life-saving juices, charged a hundred bastard quid and sent on my way.

I visited Nara one day too, which is an hour’s train ride from Osaka. There is a fuck ton of deer there, and you can buy biscuits to feed them. They all bow to you when requesting a biscuit, which is odd. I am unsure as to how the many thousands of deer that inhabit Nara park all learned to bow, but bow they do, and people bow back to them. I mooched off on my own to get away from the throng of school trip kids, and had a quiet word with one of the deer that I found lounging in the shade. I sat next to it and it nodded at me, and I shook my head and told it not to worry about pleasantries. I gave it a few biscuits but was forced to flee when fifteen other deer noticed and trotted over all bowing frantically.

I saw a very big Buddha statue in Nara, inside the world’s largest wooden structure, which is very impressive and nice and good and – look, I’ve always been shit at describing architecture. Just google it if you’re that curious. Otherwise, just imagine a wooden Japanese temple except really fucking big. I sat outside the place for ten minutes or so watching the school trips flow around the grounds, and reflected on how no matter where you are in the world, teenagers are really quite hideous and gangly. I am glad puberty is behind me.

Japan has been wonderful so far, and I can’t wait to dash to and fro across its beautiful, mad landscape.

Nepal: Annapurna Base Camp Trek – Day 1

Alright. I went trekking. Let’s get into it.

The day before our adventure began, my new little gang of Colombian Samy, Aussie Alex, Israeli Jonathon and Swedish Pontus spent a long, lazy afternoon smoking hash and drinking beer in the lakeside sunshine that drenches Pokhara, hippy paradise. I smoked a bit too much and drank way too much, and ended the day hurling my guts up into a hostel sink, clogging it, and having to scoop out handfuls of vomit to clean the drain. It was not glamorous.

It was supposed to be me, Colombian Samy and Aussie Alex, but at 6am three alarms went off and only two bodies heaved themselves upright. Samy decided to stay behind because there was a rave he wanted to go to in a couple of days somewhere in the jungle. Alex and I ate breakfast and set off; Alex full of cold, me sleep deprived and sickly from loudly vomiting for hours the previous evening.

We got a taxi to the mountains; we planned to start the trek to Annapurna Base Camp from a town called New Bridge – Alex had done her homework far more than I, who had no gear and even less of an idea. I realised in the taxi that I’d even forgotten to buy sodding trousers. I’m that half-wit that you see in sub-zero temperatures in a pair of board shorts, apparently. I had some hiking boots Jonathon gave me for a tenner, a rented coat with a hood, and a single hiking pole. Beyond that, my backpack contained shampoo, toothbrush, one pair of boxers and maybe a spare t shirt or something. My wallet had 7000 rupees inside – about 45 quid. Suffice to say, I was ill prepared.

As our taxi wound out of Pokhara the clouds parted and above the encircling green hills we saw snowy peaks for the first time, miles and miles away, yet enormous enough that they still towered over us. For the first time since planning the trip, I felt nervous.

We arrived in Nayapul, and had a short row with the taxi driver because we agreed he would take us to New Bridge, a stop further along the trek, but the driver kept insisting that was where he had taken us – though the map said differently (it turns out that Nayapul literally means ‘new bridge’, so we were both kind of right). We hopped in a jeep that took us a couple of kilometres along the trek to a hamlet called Siwai, and our journey began proper.

We were in good spirits at the start, amazed to be so isolated in nature. My boots were snug and my body felt strong, and hiking through little Tibetan-style villages was a joy. I remarked to Alex that I’d always hoped somewhere like this truly existed, but never really believed it. But no, it’s all true: scattered mountain villages, stone huts with wooden doorframes, mules tethered in the yard and roosters wandering freely, high up the slopes of the Himalayan valleys.

We walked for miles and found New Bridge – our intended start point. We grabbed lunch, amiable in the afternoon sunshine, and gawped at the humid green mountains surrounding us, with the caramel river sloshing far below. I remember thinking at the time that it didn’t look too much like the Himalayas I was expecting; our journey so far had been much more vibrant and luscious. And so, in good spirits and making excellent time, we set off for Chhomrong, our destination for the evening. We were happy. And then everything went very fucking Chhom-wrong.

The village is some 2100 metres above sea level. We were already at a height of around 1500 at New Bridge – so we would have to ascend 600 metres, which is quite a lot. However, what we didn’t realise is that Chhomfuckingrong was situated on a different hill to us, which meant we had to first descend several hundred metres, and then bloody claw our way back up again. We’d smashed several kilometres in no time at all, and then we found ourselves at the foot of the longest, most crooked, steepest, most perilous staircase I’ve ever seen in my entire life.

Stairway to heaven is a cool song but a useless phrase. Heaven wouldn’t have a fucking staircase leading up to it; it’d have an escalator or possibly a gilded lift, like the one Donald Trump has, although the elevator to the pearly gates wouldn’t smell like stale cigars and old man fart, which the ones in Trump Tower definitely do. What I’m getting at is this: the stairs went into the fucking clouds. This was going to be crap, but there was nothing else for it. I bought us a couple of horrible energy drinks in the last village, and with a joint groan we started up the mountain.

In case you think I’m just lazy and bullshitting, let it be known that the steps number somewhere in the thousands. THOUSANDS. Do you know what a hundred steps looks like? A hundred steps gets you maybe from the bottom to the top of a football stadium. Now imagine fucking THOUSANDS, you bastards. THOUSANDS. Do you know how many steps there are in the sodding Empire State Building? 1860. THOUSANDS.

[I am swearing a lot today aren’t I? Goodness me. I’m ever so sorry, old sport.]

Alex was having a hell of a job getting up the stairs. I was too, quietly hating life, but I had mentally prepared for the challenge and I’m fairly used to being in extreme discomfort due to a lifetime of gargantuan misjudgements and monstrous decisions. Alex, however, was ill before the trek, and still had a cough and cold, and her lungs were given her a rough time. I kept stopping at the top of each flight to wait for her as she wheezed and heaved herself up. The only help I could offer was the occasional joke or reassuring sentiment, but it did no good. We simply had to grind on.

Other countries really are not like the UK. Health and safety in the Himalayas just isn’t a thing. You don’t get a handrail on the death stairs; there is no safety net. You have a cruel incline before you, and a nightmarish empty expanse immediately behind you, cold stone slabs dropping away eagerly into the mist thousands of feet below. The river at this point is no longer visible; you have climbed too high. If you fall, there is nothing, and you will have a long time to ponder your mistake on the way down. And still the peak of the mountain eludes you.

If the first 10km of our journey took us three hours, the last 2km took about the same. I read the map to Alex when she asked how much further we had to go: 750 metres distance. 500 metres height. We passed a rabble of white mountain goats on the way up, balanced impossibly on grass verges and tree roots, yelling at each other and staring at us with their alien pupils. I was still chipper – at least outwardly – lying incessantly to Alex that the next flight was surely the last.

After setting off from Siwai at 10am, we made it to Chhomrong around 5 in the evening. We were barely speaking at that point; everything I said to Alex was met with aggressive silence. We got a couple of beds in the first mountainside lodge we passed, and found the dorm room to be Spartan and cold. I bought a victory beer and we sat to eat rice in the small communal area, surrounded by other, equally flush-faced trekkers, most of whom were far older.

As I sipped my beer and enjoyed the post-exercise endorphins, Alex looked at me with watery eyes. She told me she had made a mistake, bitten off more than she could chew, and she was going home the next morning. I had a heart attack of course, terrified of trekking the mountains alone, but gave her a hug and a smile, and slowly tried to calm her. I told her she’d done amazingly well, and I promised the next day would be easier, that the worst was done, and that we wouldn’t have to struggle as much as we had that day again on the trail. I believed it myself too at the time – I’d checked the elevation of the other hamlets we’d be stopping in and found them to be far gentler.

[SPOILERALERTIWASFUCKINGWRONG]

I told Alex to sleep on it, and went up alone onto the terrace to sit and look at the mountains. I sat in a plastic garden chair with my bare feet propped up on a railing, and sighed contentedly as I drank my beer. Perhaps the worst truly was over, and from here on out it would be okay. And then, as if the mountains had read my mind, the low-hanging clouds that had all day obscured their peaks dissipated, mists drifting away on the wind.

Unveiled before me were the furious black cliffs of Annapurna, the deadliest mountain on the planet. To the east was the fang-like monstrosity that is Machhapuchhre, a sheer screaming spear into the clouds that has never been summited. They were at least 10 kilometres in the distance as the crow flies, but still their soaring spires loomed higher than the evening moon.

For every 100 safe returns, there are 34 deaths on the slopes of Annapurna. If you are going to try to summit, you have a one in three chance of dying. One in three. Your odds of survival are better playing Russian Roulette. Fortunately I wasn’t going to be attempting the peak, only base camp – but even then, there are 4 or 5 deaths a year just on the base camp trail. Earlier in the day, we passed a missing person poster for a woman who had disappeared on the mountain in February. I read the paper with my mouth agape.

The ferocity of those misty black cliffs is burned into my retinas forever. The sheer physicality, the weight, the mute, solemn threat of violence – in fact no, not a threat. A promise. The mountain allows no room for debate, no more than an ant can beg a wanton child not to stamp their foot. It is absolute, inhospitable, impossible; it will kill you. I’ve never felt so utterly, utterly powerless as I did looking up at those snow-swept peaks. The thought that there are humans out there who gaze upon such a horrifying sight and see a challenge chills me to the bone. There are some places on this earth that humans were never, ever supposed to set foot, and Annapurna is one of them. And, next morning, that’s exactly where we were headed.