Comoros Travel Guide

Comoros Flag

Ranked as #193 in the world as far as tourism, it’s not easy finding information on Comoros. But since we were in the Indian Ocean area, Chris and I were determined to visit. After much research into finding a flight, a plan began to come together. Here’s all the information I could gather, in the hopes that it helps other travelers who want to see this seldom-visited island nation.

Where is Comoros and how do you get there?

The Comoros archipelago is located northwest of Madagascar and due east of Tanzania/ Mozambique.

Only a few airlines fly to Comoros. Among them are Air France (from Paris, stopping in Amsterdam and Nairobi), Ethiopian Air (stopping in Madagascar), Air Tanzania, Kenya Airways, Air Madagascar, and Air Austral (from Reunion). Not all of these flights go every day of the week, so you have to be flexible with your dates when you do your searches, and some of these flights don’t show up in Skyscanner or AirGorilla, so it’s best to go directly to the airlines’ websites. In June 2019, there will be a Turkish Airlines flight from Istanbul (only through September, from what I could understand).

Chris boarding our Air Kenya flight

The visa (available upon arrival) was either $50 or 30€- so definitely try to bring some euros with you! It’s a much better deal.

There was an ATM at the tiny international airport, but it didn’t work. There are two ATMs in Moroni, the capital- the Exim bank machine takes Visa cards, while the BCC bank takes MasterCard (both on the same street as the National Museum). The Golden Tulip Resort has an ATM machine as well.

How do you get around the islands?

Comoros is made up of three main islands, and there are flights between them on AB Aviation and on Inter Isle airlines. These flights are notorious for being cancelled for weather or other undisclosed reasons, so some people take a speedboat between islands. These can be arranged via your hotel or guesthouse, and cost about what the flights cost, around 150 Euros.

Inter-island flights (if you’re lucky)

We only visited Grand Comoros, using taxis to get around. The island also has small buses, which look like shuttle vans. There’s a “bus station” that is really just a bus stop at the north and at the south of Moroni, where these buses pass through and you can hop on. Taxis anywhere in Moroni should cost 200 Comorian francs per person, and a shared taxi to the airport (if you grab one off the street near the Volovolo market) is 500 francs. Hotels will charge 20€ for an airport taxi, so if you’re good at bargaining, you can get your own for considerably less.

Where can you stay?

As of February 2019, there were about a dozen options on Booking.com for all three islands. There are another half-dozen or so on AirBnB and on Hotels.com. Some places have rooms with fans only; others have air conditioning- but be aware that power cuts are common on the island. On Grand Comore, we stayed at Jardin de la Paix, a mid-range option with a bar, terrace restaurant, and a dozen rooms. Our room only had a fan and was pretty hot and humid, but as far as I could tell, some of the other rooms have air con. We found the restaurant to be a bit overpriced, and ate most of our meals at other places nearby. The hotel only took cash, either francs or euro.

Standard non-air con room at Jardin de la Paix

We also visited the Golden Tulip Resort. They have a variety of room options, including beach bungalows. They also have a private beach, a spa, and a restaurant. It looked really relaxing and we enjoyed a swim and a lobster lunch there.

Golden Tulip Resort and Spa

What can you do there?

A major activity for Comoros is hiking up Mt Kerthala volcano, which can theoretically be done in one very long day, but can also be arranged as a two-day trio with porters hired to provide and carry tents, food, and water. Best not to try during the rainy season. The terrain is sharp volcanic rocks, so you really need good hiking boots with thick soles.

Of course the beaches on the islands are beautiful, and mostly deserted. Bear in mind that this is a Muslim nation, so swimming at public beaches should be done in shirts and shorts, not bikinis. Some guest houses and resorts offer private beaches and bikinis can be worn there.

Private beach at Golden Tulip

In the capital city of Moroni, there is a small national museum, which costs 1000 francs for foreigners and takes half an hour to visit. There is also a large, old mosque, and a busy outdoor market called Volovolo near the telecom building.

Volovolo market is always bustling

There is a dive shop on Grand Comore at Itsandra Resort. They offer diving and other water activities such as swimming with dolphins. They are very responsive via their Facebook page. They charge 60€ per person for a dive, with all equipment provided.

Outside of Moroni, you can see the ruins of the ancient capital city, Iconi, dating back to the 12th century. A blend of Persian and Swahili art and architecture can still be found today, but you really have to look for it. From Moroni, ask for the “BonzAmi” taxi stop- that will cost 200 francs from anywhere in Moroni- then switch to any shared taxi heading south, which will be 250 francs. Iconi is about 5km south of Moroni.

Deah, exploring the ruins of the old palace in Iconi

A local tour agency, Ylang Tour, may be of some help for planning activities on the ground, although they were not open the whole time we were in Moroni.

The island of Moheli has a marine nature reserve, home to a wide array of biodiversity. Created as a National Park in 1998, it extends over 400 sq kilometers.

Our hotel offered to get us a driver for the day for an island tour, but when he wanted 80 Euros, we figured we could get taxis on our own for way less. We met a couple of Peace Corps workers and once they explained the taxi system to us, we were ready to take it on! If you speak a bit of French, you can probably manage it.

Grand Mosque du Vandredi

What is the history of Comoros?

Originally settled by Swahili explorers, the Comoros islands were also explored by Omani sailors, who called it the “perfume islands” due to the natural crops of ylang-ylang and vanilla. Later, Madagascar sailors discovered the islands, and then the Portuguese in 1505. The French acquired the islands in the 19th century, and in 1961 the Comoros were granted autonomous rule along with Madagascar. In the 1970s (the date is a bit disputed), Comoros became independent, but the island of Mayotte elected to remain with France, as they do to this day. Since independence, Comoros has had no less than 24 coups- earning it the nickname “Cloud Coup Coup Land”.

Commemorating a 1978 coup

What language do they speak?

The word Comoros is based on the Arabic word “qamar“, or moon. The older people on the islands speak Comoran, which they call Shikomoro, a Bantu language similar to Swahili. French and Arabic are also official languages, and the younger people teach themselves some English. We only learned a few words in Shikomoro, such as “Yedje” for hello, “maharaba” for thank you, and “Injema“, which basically means “I am well”. At least trying these three words will bring a smile to any Comoran’s face.

What will it cost you?

This is always a hard question to answer- it all depends on whether you’re looking for an easy resort vacation or a do-it-yourself budget trip. Flights into/out of Moroni will run a minimum of 500€, and if you travel between islands, add at least 150€ for each round trip. The fanciest resorts, such as Moheli Laka Lodge, run over 150€ a night, with a midsize hotel on Grand Comore costing around 65€, and some rooms in guest houses on the islands as low as 30€ per night. Dinner at a “nice” hotel for two people cost us 35€, while the small restaurant two doors down cost us half that much for grilled chicken, grilled fish, rice, and plantains. Shared taxis are very cheap, while renting a car or hiring a driver for the day can cost anywhere from 40€ to 80€. So really, it all depends on what your comfort level is and what you want to do in your time on the islands.

Lobster is the national dish!

Is there beer?

The most important question for travelers! Although Comoros is a Sunni Islam nation, they do allow beer- we found Three Horses Beer, from Madagascar, as well as Heineken. Most hotels will have a full bar of spirits and mixers as well.

A frosty Three Horses Beer

I hope this guide helps you get started with planning a trip to the Comoros! Please leave any questions and I’ll try to give an answer; or if you’ve been to Comoros and have some insight to offer, drop it here for other travelers!

Cruising the Indian Ocean: Mauritius, Seychelles, Madagascar, and Reunion

Costa Cruise boat Indian Ocean

We had planned to go to Central Asia after India, but since it’s cold and wintry there in February, we spotted a cruise that was visiting four Indian Ocean islands. After considering the prices for lodging, meals, and airfare to such remote places, the cruise turned out to be a good deal- being flexible with our dates, we were able to get a heavily discounted fare for an upcoming sailing. We signed up- and got a free $50 onboard credit from Expedia!

Mauritius

Leaving the Maldives, we transited through Dubai and arrived in Mauritius a few days before the cruise. The small island has a fascinating history: known to Arab traders and the Portuguese but settled by neither, it was the Dutch in 1598 that populated the island for a hundred years- and completely wiped out the Dodo bird and the black ebony trees. In 1712 came the French, who valiantly fought the British during the Napoleonic Wars- the 1810 battle of Grand Port in Mauritius was the only naval battle the French won. But… four months later the Brits returned and prevailed, taking possession of the island. After the British abolished slavery, they produced sugar cane with the labor of half a million indentured laborers from India in what was called “The Grand Experiment”. Finally, in 1968, Mauritius gained its independence.

The sugar cane fields seem to go on forever here

We stayed three nights in the small village of La Gaulette on the southwest side of the island, in a fabulous roomy studio apartment (a place I really loved). We swam at La Morne beach, saw the UNESCO memorial commemorating the end of the slave trade, and teamed up with our hotel neighbors to drive to waterfalls and a nature reserve in the interior of this picturesque volcanic island. Then we moved north for two days, staying in Grand Baie, where we went scuba diving (and saw a very cool scorpionfish trying to camouflage himself next to a sunken wreck we were exploring). A barrier reef encircles the entire island of Mauritius and makes for some of the best diving in the world. That night we had a delicious Creole seafood dinner. The next morning we boarded our Costa cruise at Port Louis.

Chamarel Falls

Seven Colored Earth Natural Reserve

Touristing with friends

Seychelles

After two northbound days at sea, our first port of call was Victoria, Seychelles. The Seychelles are a collection of 115 islands, most of which are uninhabited. We felt like the tour excursions were rather pricey, so we set off on our own. We took a public bus up and over the granite spine of the island, and arrived at a postcard-perfect beach. On the other side of the street: a small shop, where we purchased cold Seybrew beers and Slow Turtle Ciders, which we enjoyed while sunbathing. The water was warm, the beach was clean, and the waves were perfect for body surfing. The next day we took another bus to Beau Vallon beach on the other side of the island, and enjoyed that one too. Some fellow cruisers we met the second day told us “This beach is just like the excursion we took yesterday except it didn’t cost €140!”.

Madagascar

After two and a half days in the Seychelles, we sailed southwest for one day and arrived at Nosy Be, Madagascar (“Nosy” means island, and “Be” means bay in Malagasy). Originally settled by explorers from Indonesian Borneo, Madagascar has a little different feel to it than the rest of the Indian Ocean islands- part Indonesian, part Indian, and part African, along with some remnants from European exploration as well. On Nosy Be, Chris and I took a tuk-tuk to a lemur sanctuary, where we were able to check out 15 of Madagascar’s 71 lemur species. In a “semi-free” environment, the primates live on their own little islands- they don’t like to cross water- not in cages, but fairly domesticated by this point, cared for and fed by tourists and park staff.

On our second day in Madagascar, our boat docked in a different city- Antsiranana, previously known as Diego Suarez. After a stroll around the small city (it was a quiet Sunday, so not much going on), we found a bar with cold Three Horses Beer and not-so-blazing-fast WiFi, and caught up on some communications.

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Chris in Madagascar

 

We had another day at sea while we sailed up and around Madagascar- did I mention that our time onboard our cruise is mainly spent trying out the culinary creations of the 106 cooks, served by the 145-person restaurant(s) staff? Of course we also make time each day for the four hot tubs, two pools, theater, five clubs, two coffee bars, and the gym. Plus lying on the loungers up on the solarium deck at night watching the Southern Cross rise in the jet black sky- so clear you can see the Milky Way. It’s just beautiful.

A fisherman approaches our cruise ship

Anyway. On our third Madagascar day, we docked at Tamatave (also called Toamasina), where we decided to visit another lemur park, because they are just so danged cute. I didn’t like this one as much, because they kept some in cages- as they are getting acclimatized to the park- but the park does stretch for acres and acres where other semi-wild lemurs roam free (we spotted two in the trees). As most of the wild lemur species are endangered, I guess this is better than losing them all.

I love those sweet lemur faces!

Reunion

After another day at sea, we arrived at the last of our stops in the Mascarene archipelago , the island of Reunion. Originally known as Isle de Bourbon, it’s now a French overseas department. The island is dominated by a volcanic caldera, and surrounded by both black sand and white sand beaches. Roaming around the small town of Le Port on our first day there, it seemed so European after our other stops. We found a bar and settled in for some cold beverages and people-watching. The next day, we took a bus to the beach town of St-Gilles-des-Bains, and played in the ocean for a while. Standing at the back of the boat that night, we watched the glittering lights of Reunion fade away as we headed back to Mauritius.

The dodo might be extinct, but you can still find a cold one at this bar

We arrived in Mauritius and docked, and spent the day in Port Louis, visiting some historic buildings there including the Caudan Waterfront and the Aapravasi Ghat, a UNESCO World Heritage Museum that tells the story of the 462,000 indentured servants brought from India, China, Comoros, Madagascar, and Yemen to work in sugar cane plantations. Most modern-day Mauritians are descended from these laborers, so it’s a big part of their history. It’s a good museum to visit and includes parts of the original processing buildings for the immigrants.

Aapravasi Ghats Heritage Museum, Port Louis

After one last night on the boat, we were done with our cruise. We left Port Louis, and stayed at a BandB on the southeast end of Mauritius for two more nights. Tomorrow we fly from here to South Africa, to visit some friends in Durban.

Have you been to the Indian Ocean islands? What was your favorite?

Nepal

We spent four weeks in Nepal, visiting several areas. Nepal is a beautiful, hospitable and interesting country- and also trashy, polluted, and maddeningly inefficient. But let’s talk about the good stuff first!

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Chris and I arrived in Kathmandu during the Hindu festival of Dashain. We stayed in Thamel, the five-block tourist zone of the busy city, and I promptly got sick. I spent 12 hours throwing up, then felt much better and didn’t have any problems the rest of the time I was there. So at least I got that out of the way. We also got to meet up with our friend Ray, our most adventurous friend, who we met on the Appalachian Trail in 2014, so that was fun!

An offering for Dashain
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Fun to see friends around the world!

We got our trekking permits and got an eight hour bus to Besisahar. From there we started the Annapurna Circuit trek, a roughly 150 mile hike that goes up a river valley, over a Himalayan pass, and down another river valley, with views of the Annapurna and Dhaulagiri mountains each day. For six days we trekked steadily upwards (although with plenty of maddening downhills too) through small villages, farm fields, mountain paths, and goat trails. We ate meals and stayed in small teahouses, so we didn’t have to carry tents or food. Some people take a guide or porters, but we did not (for a day-by-day blog post of our Annapurna Circuit hike, click here).

Following this river valley all the way up

The architecture, people, and religious customs in this area are more (Buddhist) Tibetan than (Hindu) Nepalese. For centuries, trade between India and Nepal, and China and Tibet, has centered on these passes through the Himalayas. The people greet us with ” Namaste”, and most are vegetarian. The locals along the route are poor by western standards, but feeding and housing tourists, as well as farming, makes these people more well-off than those in other parts of the country.

At the High Pass on the trek

Happily, we had excellent weather, and after six days up the Marsygandi River Valley, an acclimatization day at 3500 meters, and another two days up, we were at the high pass. Painstakingly, with one foot in front of the other, we made it over the high pass at 5400 meters, and started down the other side, along the Kali Gandaki river valley. Going down proved pretty much as hard as going up but without the fear of Acute Mountain Sickness or HAPE/HACE. After three or four days down, I decided I was done hiking and we hopped on a bus (for what was literally the most terrifying bus ride I’ve ever been on) to a pretty lakeside town, Pokhara.

Starting back down the mountains…

We spent a couple of days resting our aching feet in Pokhara, then decided to visit Chitwan National Park. We stayed at the lovely Chitwan Village Resort, and enjoyed various activities such as a canoe ride, a jungle walk, and a Jeep safari. We saw dozens of sub-tropical birds: herons, osprey, storks, and kingfishers, as well as crocodiles, monkeys, deer, rhinos, elephants, and boars. We even encountered a wild rhino foraging in the village, watching as an exasperated farmer chased it out of his farm field.

While we were in Chitwan, the Diwali festival began. Candles everywhere, and colored-sand or colored-rice rangolis in front of everyone’s front door made the area festive. We took a bus back to Kathmandu, and visited the UNESCO Durbar Square (largely destroyed by the 2015 earthquake, and with very few signs of being reconstructed anytime soon), and Swayambhunath Buddhist temple (the monkey temple) and enjoyed walking around the streets in and near Thamel. It’s a pleasant, fairly quiet area with lots of courtyard cafes, hotels of all budget levels, and shops selling trekking gear and Nepalese souvenirs. On our last day in town, we went to visit the Temple of Boudhanath, one of the largest Buddhist stupas in the world.

Swayambhunath Temple
Monkeys greet us as we head up the steps

Unfortunately, Nepal has a serious trash and pollution problem. High on a hill in Kathmandu, one cannot see the other side of the city due to the smog. Nepalese think nothing of dropping trash on the ground when they are done with their candies, chips, or water bottles, even at their holiest sites. This trash accumulates in every stream and on every hillside leading in and out of Kathmandu- I watched as a dump truck full of trash pulled up next to a mountain side, reversed, and then emptied its load of brightly- bagged trash straight down the hillside. Trash is burned in the streets and the villages constantly, giving off an acrid smoke as the various plastics burn. It is no wonder that most Nepalese wear face-masks for their own respiratory protection. It is extremely common to see and hear the person walking or sitting next to you hawk up a huge loogie wherever they are- indoors or out- and spit it on the ground.

Just one of the piles of trash in Kathmandu

So. Nepal. Beautiful country- fabulous trekking- but not the highest on my list to visit. There’s plenty of other places to vacation in Asia that have at least gotten their trash problem under control. I’m glad we came, and I’m glad we’re going. I think Nepal would be a difficult place to work and live in.

Total costs for Nepal:

Flight: $0 (we used airline points to get from DC to here)

Visas: $40 per person for the 30 day visa

Food, lodging, permits, activities, souvenirs: $1580

Days in country: 26

Cost per day: $60 for two people

Have you been to Nepal? What were your impressions?

Annapurna Circuit Trek (Nepal)

Here’s the run-down from our two weeks of trekking the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal (if you want to read about our trip to Nepal as a whole then click here).

After securing our TIMS (Trekker Information Management System- in case you disappear and they need to go look for you -2000 rupees/ $17) and our ACAP permits (Annapurna Conservation Area Project- 3000 rupees / $25) in Kathmandu, we stocked up on a bit of gear in Thamel, the tourist zone in Kathmandu. On every street corner are stalls selling both real and counterfeit North Face, Jack Wolfskin, Quechua, and Columbia, all at a fraction of the cost in the US. It’s all too easy to pick up an extra puffy coat or a sleeping bag here for perhaps $15-20 USD.

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Map, hiking poles, permits: ready to go!

After that, we took a bus to Besisahar (7 hours), the starting point of the trek (which can range anywhere from 100-200 miles, depending on how much actual trail one hikes and how much of the fairly-recently-built dirt road one walks). These are my daily updates from our hike:

Day One:

Besisahar to Bathundanda. We saw water buffalos, bamboo stands, and rhododendron forests today. Warm weather- almost hot but not quite. The villagers all greet us with “namaste” as they scythe their rice crop or transport it on mule caravans up the steep mountain paths. The ladies all wear brightly colored headscarfs and gold earrings and nose rings. Most people still have a mark on their forehead from last weeks Dashain celebration. My Fitbit says 36,000 steps and 15 miles. A really tough day- hoping day two is a little easier. Many people actually take a Jeep for part of today’s walk now that there is a (unfinished) road but we walked the mountain paths. We stayed the night at the Mountain View Teahouse in Bathundanda for 300 rupees for our double room, plus we had breakfast and dinner there. We enjoyed a chat with the owner, whose family had owned the property for four generations. He had to rebuild after the 2015 earthquake. His place used to be full every night, but now with more people taking jeeps and skipping this section, he only has a handful each night in high season (October/November- no rain, no snow).

Day Two:

Another seven hour hiking day, but only 28,000 steps over 13 miles. We went steeply down 200 meters to a river, crossed it, and then spent the rest of the day ascending 200 meters plus another 75. The trail crossed the dirt road three times. Some trekkers just took the road, as the grade is more gentle, but then there’s road dust and less things to see like the troop of 20 monkeys we saw and the field of butterflies we walked through!! We stayed the night at Chyamche, at a mid-sized teahouse named Lhasa Hotel. They had propane-heated water so I got to take a shower!

Day Three:

Today was some ups and some downs, but definitely more ups, ending the day with an 800 meter elevation gain. The prettiest part of today was the village of Tal, set in a flat broad river valley. I was ready to set down my bags and stay there forever. They had a small school- I could teach there! Beautifully colored teahouses all with gardens and soft grass. Lovely. We spent the night between Bagarchap and Danaqyu at the Royal Mountain Cottage. Free room, and about $20 for dinner and $12 for breakfast (for two). Some hot water there, but the (common) toilet was across the street from the hotel- not so convenient at 3 am in the cold night!

Day Four:

Fifteen miles today, with a total elevation gain of 680 meters. We saw villagers cleaning intestines at the village well, a woman winnowing wheat from chaff, and a man husking corn. Imagine the work that goes into preparing every meal. The people up here are really more Tibetan than Nepalese, in dress, custom, and physical features. Every lunch and dinner spot advertises WiFi but no one actually has it during most of the day. Tonight we slept in a dorm at the brand new hotel in Bratang but no one else was here so we got double blankets, which is good because it’s COLD!! This dorm was 800 rupees for each of us, which is an absolute fortune ($7 each) on the Annapurna, but it was the only place in town and too far to go to the next town. Probably should have stopped back in Chame with the rest of our hiking bubble but we weren’t tired yet so we pressed on a few more miles.

Days Five and Six:

An elevation gain of 700 meters. As we hiked up to the village of Manang, we passed through a blue pine forest with prayer flags wrapped everywhere. We passed a huge monolithic slab called Paungda Danda which rises straight up 1500 meters, unbroken. Later we saw a 3 sided snow bowl, higher up in the Himalayas. It’s all very beautiful. But cold. Okay for a hoodie during the sunny day but at night we sleep with all our clothes on plus a puffy jacket and heavy yak-hair blankets in unheated rooms- last night it got down below 30 and our water froze.
Today we take a rest day to acclimatize to our elevation at 3450 meters. This village has a bakery and even a “cinema” (basically a TV with a DVD player) playing “Into Thin Air”, “Everest”, and “Seven Years in Tibet”. And we need to do some laundry once the water thaws! We stayed one night here at the Ghala Guest House, which was okay but a bit basic (we arrived into town rather late so Manang was largely full) and then the second night we switched to the Royal Manang Hotel (500 rupees for a double room, plus eating breakfast and dinner there). We also attended a Himalayan Rescue Association free talk on Acute Mountain Sickness, HAPE, and HACE (high altitude pulmonary edema and high altitude cerebral edema) so we can be alert for signs of any illness as we finish our ascent the next few days.

Day Seven:

Today we gained 700 meters up to Letdar. I had my blood-oxygen level checked yesterday and it was 89%, so I’ve started taking Diamox for altitude acclimatization. It makes you breathe faster, which increases your oxygen in your bloodstream, and it gets your kidneys going, separating your waste fluid out and making your blood more concentrated with red blood cells. And so now I have to pee every hour. Which is really fun when hiking or when the squat toilet is outside and it’s 15 degrees at night. Last night the bucket of water by the toilet froze over! Tomorrow we will hike the final 600 meters to high camp, sleep there till 5 am, and then head over the pass. Hopefully. All the places in Letdar were full so we wound up staying at a very small teahouse with a super nice family just outside of town. They prepared delicious dhal baht for us and we chatted with the nephew, Karma, who spoke some English. We had a yak-dung fire and the blankets smelled like yaks but we were cold so you do what you have to do!

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Day Eight:

Today we woke up at six am to ascend the extremely steep 650 meters to high camp. They only have 150 beds there and I am a slow hiker so we had to get moving to beat the crowd. Yesterday we were above the tree line, with juniper bushes and flocks of blue sheep. Today there’s not even scrub brush, just Himalayan griffins and lammergeyers circling in the air around us. It was a tough push to get here, but we have 18 hours to acclimate to our 4850 meters (15,852 feet) before we go over the high pass tomorrow and start back down. The daytime temp is 25 degrees, it will be 10 degrees when we start in the morning. My pack weighs next to nothing because I’m wearing all my clothes (yes we carried our own packs- no porters for us!). We’re staying at a dorm in high camp because all the private rooms were full (people with guides have them call up to reserve ahead of them). The dorm is 100 rupees each. There’s water all around the common toilet, which is frozen over, or else it’s frozen urine- I don’t want to know which. Mainly I’m just happy that I don’t have a headache or nausea like I did when I reached this height on Kilimanjaro.

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Day Nine:

Up and Over: we woke at 4 am to start the final ascent over the high pass, called Thorong La. We slept in all our clothes plus jackets (suuuuuuuper cold) so we just had to put on our shoes and packs. Most of the other people in our 16-bed dorm were getting ready too.
The first two hours were cold but not windy, just the light of the super brilliant stars and the moon to guide us up the steep path. An hour in we stopped for a hot sugary black tea at a cold and lonely teahouse, and at 6 am the stars winked out and the sun started to rise.
After dozens of false summits, suddenly at 7 am we rounded a hill and there was the high pass, covered with prayer flags. Packs were dropped, cameras retrieved, a few tears (from me), someone fainted (not me). It didn’t feel real that we had
hiked 650 meters up in 3 hours and we were now standing at 5,416 meters (17,769 feet- over 3.3 miles above sea level).
It took another five hours to get down 1600 meters to the next town (with a lot of rest breaks and a lunch stop). Hopefully the rest of the way down won’t be so steep
– it’s hell on the knees. We stopped for the day around noon in Muktinath at the Path of Dreams Hotel, which thankfully had hot water and I was abe to take a shower- my first in a week.
An amazing day- one I certainly wasn’t sure I’d be able to achieve, but together we did it!

Day Ten:

Still pretty muscle-sore from the high pass and descent yesterday, we got a late start. We started in Muktinath, a sacred pilgrimage sight to both Hindus and Buddhists. There is a temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu with 108 waterspouts, from which holy water pours. There is also a fire gumpa, where a natural gas eternal flame is considered a sacred site.We decided to hike the trail from Muktinath to Jomsom, rather than take the road via Kagbeni. The trail took us up another 200 meters to a fantastic viewpoint, and a flock of blue sheep with their tinkling little bells. Then we descended over 1,000 meters down a very steep path, past some wild horses, to a small village named Lupra. We had lunch, then followed the river bed to Jomsom. We had to cross the river three times and in the third crossing, I fell in the water. That sucked- it was really cold.
But now we’re at Jomsom, trying some local apple brandy and apple pie for my birthday, and our elevation is only 2720 meters (8704 feet) so while it’s still cold at night, it’s not bitterly freezing. Yay!!

Day Eleven:

Jomsom to Kalopani. What I thought was going to be an easy downhill day turned into a 19.3 mile slog up and down various hills, trying to avoid the dusty road with its incessant honking of mopeds, jeeps, and busses.
We ate lunch at the old village of Marpha, famous for its apple brandy. Then we hiked through five out-of-the-way villages that are slowly dying, as the road has bypassed them and the Tibetan salt trade that was once their lifeblood has been replaced by cheaper salt from India (which adds iodine to their salt, solving several health problems of the people who have lived here for centuries). This area, the Kali Gandaki river valley, holds four of the 12 passes to Tibet, and was once the crossroads of goods coming from India and Nepal trading with goods from Tibet and China.

We stayed the night in Kalopani, at the nicest place we’ve stayed in so far- the Kalopani Guesthouse- a beautiful double room for 1000 rupees, ($8.50) with a private toilet, hot water and wonderfully comfortable beds, plus delicous food and coffee next door. I wanted to stay there forever.

Day Twelve:

Landslides on the trail forced to take the road today. Which sucked. In the end, we said to hell with this and took the bus 15 miles down the road (which took two hours so you can imagine the state of the ‘road’) to the town of Tatopani, home of Nepalese hot springs and giant lemon trees. We stayed in the Old Kamala Hotel, again for 1000 rupees, but not as nice as last night. The hot springs had a dead, skinned goat lying next to it, which wasn’t so nice to look at- but I suppose that’s how we get our food! We are undecided on whether to hike tomorrow or take a bus (you can probably guess which one I want and which one Chris wants).

Day Thirteen:

A decision to make today. Continue down the trail- which at this point goes back up to 3000 meters and climbs Poon Hill (which is supposed to be lovely views), or take the bus to the finishing point. My feet hurt and I feel like I’m done with this hike so I’m calling it done and Chris doesn’t argue. We take the bus. It is literally the scariest bus ride I’ve ever taken, as we careen down the steepest and narrowest part of the Kali Gandeki River valley in a microbus loaded to the gills. It’s only 100 kilometers to the lakeside village of Pokhara,  but it takes a full 8 hours to travel. In the end, this one day of bus riding saves us three days of hiking and so our Annapurna Circuit trek is done. We arrive in Pokhara and look forward to relaxing a bit.

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A few stats: my fitbit says we hiked 170 miles, the official Annapurna road map says we hiked 120 miles. We did some alternative treks on a few days so that figures in some of the difference (plus you get some mileage even on rest days, etc). We spent an average of $40 each day (rough approximate) for a place to stay and food for two people. The trail is well marked with red and white blazes- we didn’t feel like we needed a guide. We often hiked alone, but we also ran in to the same people again and again. On one day when we signed in at a TIMS/ACAP checkpoint, we were the 231st and 232nd people to check in that day. Now that there is a road that almost (not the top four days) reaches the whole Annapurna route, some people like the route more (as it is more accessible) while others like it less (because the road is yuck and it takes a lot of side trekking to avoid it). Villagers who live along the road like it, as it reduces costs for food and supplies for them, but they also lament the loss of trekkers who have gone in search of other hikes that are more rural.

Questions about the Annapurna Circuit? Drop them here and I’ll give you an answer as best as I can!

Road Trip 2018 Wrap Up

Four months ago, Chris and I turned over the keys to the new owner of our house, and left on a road trip across the US and Canada. We drove 16,000 miles, and visited 18 states, four Canadian provinces, and 22 national parks. Plus a one week cruise, two flights, and two ferries! We made it to Burning Man festival in Nevada, and we got to stay with several friends along the way (always the best part of travel). We also spent ten days in Texas visiting family and friends, and then returned to Virginia for another ten days to visit family and friends, and pack for our next trip.

In case you missed any of the posts from the past few months, here they are:

Road Trip: Michigan to Minnesota 

Road Trip: South Dakota to Montana

Road Trip: Canada Northbound to Alaska

Road Trip: Alaska

Road Trip: Pacific Northwest

Burning Man 2018

Road Trip: Utah, Idaho, Yellowstone, Colorado, New Mexico

Tomorrow we leave for Nepal. There, we  plan to go trekking in the Annapurna Mountains, and we hope to do a side trip to visit Bhutan. We’d like to see Bangladesh, Maldives, and then spend the winter in India. If weather and international relations permit, we will try to visit the various ‘Stans in the spring. Click on the “Follow” button below if you want my blog post to come to your email each time I write one (about every 3 weeks).