Veterans of many treks, ex-Marine and I expected to be hiking up actual dirt and stony trails used for many years by the locals and shepherds throughout Hunza. This was not the case. Aslam would lead the group straight up the mountain… over grass, huge boulders, across raging rivers, etc. This was an “exploratory” trek and he led us wherever he thought fit.
Straight up a gorge with a stream gushing down filled with boulders 3-5 feet tall as a path. The only way I could make it was to be hauled up by the arms. (It was a good thing this was before my rotator cuff tear!) At other times, the porters built a make-shift bridge over rushing streams by moving small logs and/or rocks. Tala, tala (slowly, slowly), we inched our way up in the heat to the first campsite and waited eagerly for dinner…starving to death.
If you are unfamiliar with trekking, the routine goes something like this:
- Get up at the literal “crack of dawn”, pack up your duffel, and if you wear gas permeable contact lenses like me, try to insert as hygenically as possible without flipping one somewhere in the tent. Side note on contact lenses: my Opthomologist who qualifies for sainthood finally recommended disposable soft lenses for situations like this. Use one-day only, and throw out. What a guy!)
- Break down tent.
- Breakfast (such as it may be)
- Start up the mountain. Have you ever noticed that there are very few downs?
- Tea Break – A sacred time on every trek in former British colonies. The crew would always find water and a spot to make tea. Even if it meant hopping down or up boulders to get the water.
- More trekking
- Lunch – ha…ha…
- More trekking
- Make camp by cleaning up the site. Removing all brush, rocks and cow poop before erecting your tent, unpack the duffel and collapse.
It was our first camp dinner at high altitude in Hunza and the group sat down around the camp table in the dining tent…starving. Our cook placed dinner before us…one chicken for 12 people. We stared…pondered…looked at each other…wondered if more was coming…and when nothing else materialized, did some more thinking. How do you pass around the chicken plate and serve yourself? You can’t take too much because one chicken doesn’t go very far. Pakistan chickens are “free range” or in other words, spend their days eating gravel. This chicken was definitely not an American Perdue four-pounder but one of the scrawniest excuses for a chicken we’d ever seen. The plate passed from person-to-person, each taking half a forkful of chicken.
This was not a good omen. How much weight were we going to lose on this vacation? Were we going to survive on rice and the 18# of candy brought with? What could the group do but compliment the cook on his excellent cuisine in the meanwhile telling Nigel that we needed a little more food for the next meal, and laugh hilariously throughout dinner. After that, ex-Marine and I started rationing our candy stash. It had to last for two more weeks!
Thirteen years later I still think of this scrawny, tough, bony, unedible chicken for 12 every time we eat one of our plump, juicy chickens.