There was no bright sun, blue skies on Day 6, which pretty much reflected how we felt. From here in Chame back down to Besisahar will take five days of trekking down, four days at best if we push it and walk aggressively. That was not an inviting thought. It’s one thing to trek upwards and have the next village, next destination, next section of the circuit to look forward to. It’s a whole other thing to walk down the route we came. To make matters worse, we knew the higher altitude views of snowy mountains would slowly disappear from here. Though the lower altitude scenery of lush valleys and rocky gorges was equally stunning, it didn’t have the same feeling, especially since this part of the Annapurna Circuit route was meant to be trekked up, not down.
It was the number of days and knowing that we will probably not be loving them that made us even consider taking the jeep again. After Day 1 on the death jeep, we swore we would never, ever take that jeep again. At the time, we didn’t think we would ever need to. The circuit circled back on the west side, and once we successfully trekked the Annapurna Circuit, we would not come back to do it again. Of course, that was before everything happened and we headed back down this same side. If we were going to take the death jeep again this time, we were determined to only take the jeep for the right price.
Morning of Day 6, we scouted out the jeep prices. Unfortunately, they were the same as what we were offered in Besisahar on the way up – 2500 rupees per person, 2000 at the lowest. We flat out walked away. As they say, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” There was no way we were paying a highly inflated price just to risk our lives in a death jeep again. Especially since we knew the price was 900 rupees!
So we put our backpacks on and started walking. Since Chame was the usual starting point for the jeep, we figured maybe in the villages further down, if jeeps passed by with room (or even empty), then we could get a much better price. If not, then we could always walk. I trusted my legs to not walk me off the cliff much more than I trusted the jeep drivers to not drive us off the cliff. Plus the jeep we would have been on was packed – it drove by us with a man sitting on top with other bags and tubing, and we couldn’t help but wave at him and laugh.
The weather was poor with overcast skies and rain threatening to come down at any point. This meant the clouds covered up any potentially good views. While we lamented about that, it made us grateful for the amazing days we had previously. Overall the walk down was not bad. At least walking downhill was a bit easier than uphill. Plus the regular trail was just so, so, so much better than the snowy ones we’ve had, so no complaints.
We reached Temang (where we had started trekking on Day 2) an hour faster than when we had walked up. By that time we were pretty hungry, so we took a lunch break. We took a chance (might as well) and asked the teahouse owners if there were jeeps available in Temang – they said they would try to check. By the end of our meal, they had contacted a jeep for us and we negotiated the price down to 1000 rupees per person, which we were much more comfortable with. (It started at 2000, but we were adamant.) Now we just had to wait for it to arrive.
An hour later, we were still waiting, and getting very impatient. We knew from experience that just because we reached an agreement with the teahouse owner, it didn’t mean that a) the jeep will for sure arrive or b) the driver won’t increase the price. So until the jeep arrives, we see the driver, talk to him about the destination, agree and double-, triple-check the price, there was no guarantee of anything. We were ready with a backup plan to default to at any point, which was continue walking down to the next villages, the farther the better. But all the waiting was eating away at our precious daylight walking time.
The teahouse owner kept saying “in 20 minutes,” “in 10 minutes,” “in 5 minutes.” Finally we had had enough and set a time – if the jeep doesn’t come by 2pm, we have to keep walking and meet it along the way. A few minutes before 2pm, we heard several jeeps driving into Temang. The teahouse owner went to check and we were hopeful, but came back empty-handed! Enough was enough, and we took matters into our own hands. I went to one of the jeeps and the driver was more than happy to drive to Besisahar for 1000 rupees per person. So Carlos and I got in. I wasn’t thrilled about snubbing the teahouse owner, but we couldn’t wait for his jeep any longer.
We couldn’t believe we were willingly taking another death jeep. We tried to focus on the positives. 1) We knew what to expect this time. 2) Carlos and I were the only people in our row instead of the four on the jeep up, so it wasn’t crammed. 3) The road was terribly bumpy, but at least it limited the speed at which the jeep could be driven. If the roads were smooth, you bet the drivers would be speeding through it as fast as they could. So the awful thing was, in a way, a blessing in disguise. 4) We had gotten a much fairer price, though it was still higher than locals (such is a foreigner’s life in developing countries). 5) This will save us at least three days, and we can reach Besisahar today. 6) We made it out alive!
Sometime around 8pm, we arrived to Besisahar in the dark. The ride was a blur of bumpiness and shakiness. Ironically, we learned that while being packed like sardines into the jeep on the way up was awful (think painful hips and bruised arms), it actually had a benefit – we weren’t shaken around as much (because there was nowhere to move to). This time, because there were only two of us, there was plenty of room to be shaken around. Our backs were destroyed from keeping us upright and correcting our positions every few seconds for hours. It took two days to fully recover from that (and this is why you should travel when you’re young!).
We went to the nicest hotel in Besisahar that night to reward ourselves. A hot shower and a soft bed never seemed so luxurious. We saw some Swedish trekkers we had occasionally talked to in the past few days doing the same thing. They were the ones who had checked the weather and spread the news about the impending snow (it’s a true trekker community). It was nice to know that we weren’t the only ones who decided to come back down. After dinner, we didn’t even try to do anything but relax and go to bed. Our attempt to trek the Annapurna Circuit had officially come to an end. We didn’t make it this time, but we will be back someday for redemption!