Packing Day 6: Testing my Equanimity
Breakfast consists of hard, doughnut- shaped cookies dusted with icing sugar, dipped in coffee. We then head back up onto the road. “Hello legs!” – it’s a steep climb. I strain my eyes for signs of last night’s revelry down below, but all is quiet.
The river becomes calmer as we go and eventually, we leave it altogether and the landscape is dry and dusty. Those lush, flowered valleys from just days ago, seem a distant memory.
Then unexpectedly we come around a corner and are presented with the most incredible spectacle of monolithic sand-stone mountains of amazing shape, rising behind each other in consecutive colours from white to brown to red to green. We are stopped in our tracks and snap pic after pic in a futile attempt to capture the majesty.
Eventually we move on, but when we get down the road, Kati shouts for me to look back. I turn to see a whole new spectacle from this side – and so the photo shoot begins again. It looks almost unreal and puts me in mind of the elaborate cemeteries we see on the outskirts of every village – usually perched on a hill, they are mini villages in themselves and we joke that the Kyrgyz are far better housed when dead than alive. We have taken to calling them “movie sets”, as they look so fake from afar.
We come to a big tar intersection. There’s a little shop on the corner. I am desperate for protein,
“I know we can’t carry raw eggs, but can’t we buy some and boil them up right here?”, “Good idea!”. We pull in and there are plug point inside- everything of ours needs charging. We ask if we can plug in and the lady shop-owner gladly agrees. We buy lots of stuff and haul out the cooker to boil eggs.
“Since we’re waiting for the charging, why not just eat here?”, so we squat like bergies on the corner of the porch. Next thing you know, she’s hauled out a table and chairs and set up for us in front of the shop. She even brings paper napkins and salt! We are feeling buoyed when we finally depart, both us and our appliances fully re-charged.
At around 17h00 we reach a village and since prospects for water and a secluded campsite seem sparse, not to mention that rain looks imminent, we decide to enquirer at the local shop about accommodation. Luckily there’s a Polish couple with their kids buying ice cream. They speak English and help with translation. As it turns out the shop owner is busy creating a guest house. He has a room and shower. 1000Kgs pp plus 1000 pp for dinner and breakfast. He’s taking a chance! The Polish Lady jumps in to negotiate on our behalf and it ends up being 1000 pp all-in. We look at the room – large and empty, except for a carpet on the floor and some mattresses and blankets stacked in the corner, but it’s spotless. There’s a smaller one next door, so Kati can have her privacy. The shower and toilet are brand, spanking new and I am ecstatic until I discover that the plumbing has not yet been hooked up and the actual ablutions are an outside long-drop starting block and an outside donkey-powered bucket shower – ah well, it was a nice thought. At least the outside facilities are scrupulously clean.
They fire up the donkey. It takes about an hour for the water to heat and it turns out to be one of the best showering experiences ever. The hot water comes out of a tap and the cold water gets scooped out of a large drum alongside. Both are mixed in a bucket and you wash from here using a pot-like scoop. There is even a proper sauna alongside the shower room – a regular spa! Steve and I go in together so we can do the full-on back scrub, hair wash affair. We take our time, revelling in the sheer luxury of the warm water and wash our clothes in the bucket at the same time.
Kati is feeling cold and reluctant to venture outside, but I persuade her it will be absolutely worth it and is not to be missed. She has an equally memorable experience – what luck the plumbing isn’t hooked up!
Shortly after showering I feel an itching on my back. I try not to scratch, as this always makes it worse, but it gets progressively more and more uncomfortable. Then Kati comes in with her phone and asks what these little critters are crawling on her screen – they look like lice. Could they be in the pelt carpet on her floor? We can hear pigeons cooing on the roof. I inspect the mattresses with reading glasses and a torch, but cannot see anything. Still the itching continues and when I ask Steve to inspect my back – indeed, it is covered in welts and red all over. Maybe the bites are sand flies from last night’s camping spot that have been aggravated by the hot water and the back scrub? It’s a mystery, but either way it’s unbearable!
Dinner adds to my woes – it’s a bowl of rice, studded with lumps of fatty lamb. I pick out the lumps, but the dish is infused with the intense fatty taste. I know I need this nutrition and I try my best to overcome the aversion, but can only get about 1/3 through. Vulture Kati is ready to swoop and she cleans my plate in no time. I marvel at her ability to pack it away. Tomorrow when she’s flying on the flats and I’m lagging behind, I’m going to regret this…
Sleep seems entirely impossible, as my back feels like hundreds of red ants are crawling beneath my skin. Steve puts on aloe gel, which is supposed to soothe, but makes no difference. He then snores away merrily beside me while I conjure up the lilting Burmese voice of my meditation teacher, Goenka: “howeva unpleasant a sunsation may be, you are to remain entirely equanimous, completely equanimous, see that you do not generate new sankaras of awersion. Observe that everything, pleasant or unpleasant, has the same characteristic of arising, passing avay, arising, passing avay, anicca, anicca, anicca…I endeavour to live with the itch and rise above it and eventually, mercifully, drift off…