When Olivia decided to go on a big trek, the Himalayas in Nepal offered the challenge, beautiful scenery and trekking culture she was looking for. This photo shows her in a guesthouse en route with the mountains in the background.
I’ve always gone walking. When I was a child we used to go to the Lake District and while I didn't always enjoy dragging along behind the grown-ups, I loved the lakes and the scenery. As an adult, I started walking there again and decided I wanted to challenge myself and go further afield.
Once I'd made the decision, I didn't want to put it off for too long. My youngest child was nearly off to university, and I felt it was a good time in my life as I was reasonably fit.
I chose the Annapurna Sanctuary trek as I wanted to go to the Himalayas and this was a trek not only recommended by friends, but sounded right for my fitness level. From my research I knew that Nepal would be lovely and was set up for trekking, with great routes and guesthouses.
I booked my trip with a well-established company (there are plenty to choose from) and everything was very well organised.
Preparing for my tripAccording to the travel company, Annapurna Sanctuary is suitable for people who are generally quite fit. I trained by walking in the Lake District and locally, including some Time Out walks. I also went to the gym, but there wasn’t really any specific training I could do. Living in London, there’s a limit to the number of mountains you can climb...
I had to have various jabs before the trip, including hepatitis A and B, typhoid and rabies. It was also a requirement to take out special insurance to cover expensive emergencies, such as being airlifted off the mountain.
The kit list included a sleeping bag, good walking boots, thick socks, walking poles (optional) and a warm hat.
Arriving in NepalWhen I got to Nepal, our whole group was picked up from the airport and taken to a hotel. We spent the first couple of days in the capital, Kathmandu, seeing all the sights, including the temples.
Kathmandu is a fascinating place and the Nepalese are wonderful people. Visitors to Kathmandu are generally respectful. Most are there as part of an adventure holiday: trekking or white-water rafting.
On the second evening, we had a Nepalese feast and the next day we travelled by minibus to a beautiful village called Bandipur, where we stayed the night. The following day we were briefed about our trek.
Setting out on our trekThere were 15 people in my group, ranging in age from 20s to mid-60s. We got on well from the start, which was good as we were going to be spending a lot of time together. We would be trekking through the Annapurna Sanctuary, aiming to reach Annapurna base camp before ending our journey in Pokhara.
We had one main guide, along with two trainees who were learning the ropes. All the guides were Nepalese and spoke good English. Some companies have English guides but I'm glad ours were Nepalese as I would rather use local people.
Nepalese porters carried our kit bags. During the trek they would set off while we were still having breakfast, each carrying two or three people's bags while we walked with just our daypacks. Each trekker has one long, soft kit bag: I tried not to pack too much into mine. I can't believe how strong those porters are - they're up and down the mountains all the time. It’s a very hard life.
We got to know the porters a bit and chatted with them as much as we could, but unlike our guides, they didn't speak much English and of course none of us spoke the language so communication wasn't easy. We did have one drunken evening, though, when we all got on really well!
Step by step in AnnapurnaWe usually started off at around 8am and we'd walk for between five to nine hours a day, depending on where we were going to stay that night. The scenery was beautiful. It was warm in the lowlands and as we climbed higher up the mountains it got colder and colder.
The trek follows a well-trodden path, largely made up of stone steps, which you go up and down the whole time. The first day we were faced with over 3,000 steps and some people practically ran up them – there was a certain competitive element to the group.
Sometimes it was hard going. One day it rained constantly and for nine hours we were just trudging along in the rain. The route takes you through all kinds of terrain: level, steep, steep, level, steep and then level again. It winds through forests, by beautiful waterfalls and over rivers on perilous bridges. I was never scared, though.
Some days, we walked very fast and at the end of the day I'd think, all I've done is look at my feet. But the sense of achievement was fantastic.
Staying at guesthousesEach day, we wound our way up through the mountains. By the time we reached our destination for the night, the porters would already have dropped off our bags at one of the guesthouses. Some were considerably more basic than others, but all of them had a certain charm.
On arrival each afternoon, at about five o'clock, we were all exhausted and ready for a shower. However, there wasn't always enough hot water as they were solar powered. Our group worked out a system where we'd get three minutes’ hot water each, if we were lucky, before it ran out. The first people to arrive – the fastest walkers – got the first showers.
Each room usually had two or three beds. After showering, I'd get my sleeping bag out and make up my bed, chill for a bit and write in my diary until it was time to eat.
The food was divine. I loved the apple porridge we had for breakfast and the ginger tea. For dinner, each guesthouse had a small menu of dishes and I usually chose the popular Nepalese meal of dal bhat – rice and a lentil soup – which was usually accompanied by vegetarian curry and pickle. It would vary depending on the area and what was available.
When you're walking all day, you fall into a pattern with the fast walkers up in front so you don't get to spend time with everyone. Mealtimes gave us the chance to talk to people who might have been at the other end of the trek.
After dinner, our guide would tell us what we were going to be doing the next day. And then we'd all go to bed. None of us had the energy to spend hours socialising in the evenings.
Along the wayWe'd stop at guesthouses for lunch, too. We’d sit outside to eat and enjoy the scenery. Sometimes other trekking groups, with people from all over the world, would join us. The route we took isn’t at all isolated. The trekking season is quite short and I went in October, which is the most popular time.
The guesthouses varied, and so did the loos. If you needed a loo between guesthouse stops, you'd have to go behind a bush, although we were marching along at such a pace I don't think anyone actually did!
We saw monkeys in the wild, which was great after seeing them at the monkey temple in Kathmandu. Sometimes we would have to step to the side as a cavalcade of donkeys bearing supplies would overtake us. We also did see the biggest spider any of us had ever seen.
Almost on top of the worldAfter several incredible days, we arrived at Machapuchare base camp, which is at 3,700m and is the last point before the final stretch up to Annapurna base camp. The whole journey took my breath away and reaching Annapurna base camp (4,130m above sea level) was amazing – you are in a bowl of mountains, which fills you with elation. The clear mountain air and the feeling of being somewhere so beautiful and so far away from what I’m used to was a life-changing experience.
At Machapuchare I got altitude sickness. It was horrible. I couldn’t even lift my eyes. I felt as if I was in a tunnel and I thought I was going to pass out. It didn't actually make me sick – I just didn't want to move. It's a bit like a migraine. It only lasted a few hours, though, and the guides knew exactly what to do and they helped me through it and on up to Annapurna base camp.
We ended the trek at Pokhara, which is a beautiful lakeside town. It's popular with trekkers and has a relaxed, hippy feel. Pokhara caters to tired trekkers with plenty of Ayurvedic massage places. Our hotel was of a high standard, and also had a pool. It was a lovely way to relax after the trek.
We took a little plane back from Pokhara to Kathmandu to catch our flights home. We all wanted to take the hour-long flight you can do around the top of Mount Everest. But for safety reasons the weather conditions have to be exactly right or they won't fly and unfortunately that's what happened to us. We sat at the airport waiting to go but in the end our flight was called off.
Poverty and tourism in NepalNepal is a very poor country. A lot of Nepalese men go abroad for work – to build in Qatar ready for the 2022 World Cup, for instance – and there have been reports about the number of deaths of Nepalese men. There is a huge amount of unemployment in Nepal, but the people who live near trekking routes get by.
I think trekkers are generally pretty decent and try to be aware of the environment and local people, but there are the associated problems that come with tourism – soil erosion, and some litter along the trekking routes.
Coming homeThe trek didn't require specialist skills but it was fairly challenging and I was extremely fit by the time I got home. On my return, I was on such a high. I'd really like to go back to Nepal and do another trek some day.
To anyone considering a trek, I’d say if you meet the fitness criteria and are an experienced walker, don’t hesitate. Just go. You'll love it!
As well as travel, Olivia's into good food and music. Check out her music and food blog, GourmetGigs.