Fat Mac took an immediate disliking to everyone else on the trip at the baggage collection in Delhi airport. I’d told him that we would likely be able to identify many of those who’d be joining us on the trek by spotting folk who picked up their Exodus kitbags from the carousel. Exodus sends you a kitbag well in advance of departure, and advises you to use it, as it’s perfectly designed to be sturdy enough to withstand rough handling, and is also suitable for loading onto pack horses.
As several Exodus bags were retrieved from the carousel, I could hear Mac mumbling to himself.
“Ooooh nae…Ooooh nae…anither wan. Oooooh feck. Oooo nae.”
“What’s wrong?” I enquired.
“They’re a’ effin evil bourgeois, Rodz, that’s whit. Every wan o’ them. Nae even wan is wurrrkin class. Ah’m goany hate this trip.”
“Ah kin tell frae their claethes. They wans wi Exodus bags. They’re a’ wearin’ they fancy daft stuff you tried to force on me at the outdoor shoap.”
I looked at Mac, standing there and sticking out like a sore thumb in his t-shirt, button check shirt, Aran jumper, woolly hat, denim jacket (with toothbrush poking out of his breast pocket), jeans and walking boots, and wondered if he’d even make it from the airport exit to the group bus without poleaxing in the Delhi heat.
Funnily enough, as the days wore on and as he spoke to them in turn, Fat Mac gradually took to each and every one of the other people on the trek. In a similar, though completely opposite, way, the others politely greeted us as we eventually grouped outside the airport, were very friendly and chatty, but then, especially after the first group meal that evening at which Fat Mac had far too much beer and felt it necessary to spout off about this, that and the other, especially the spicy food, the heat and the potency of Indian beer, slowly but perceptively started to distance themselves from us whenever possible.
There was also a formal request from the non-Scots in the group for sub-titles after Mac had had his third bottle of beer.
Some group meals, apart from those on the trek, lunches and dinners at some of the hotels, were voluntary (in that you could elect to either join the group, or eat elsewhere – in both instances at your own expense). It was noticeable that there was a full house at the very first group dinner. At the second one, two or three people had decided to eat at other restaurants. Just before the third one I overheard some furtive whisperings in the background, the gist of which was that several folk were waiting to see if Fat Mac was going to the group meal before committing themselves either way. By the fourth and last voluntary group meal it was only Fat Mac, Lindsey, my sister, myself and the long-suffering guide in attendance.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
The maximum number of participants on the Darjeeling, Sikkim and the Singalila Ridge holiday provided by Exodus is 16. There were actually 17 of us.
After that first evening meal, Mac decided to stick to burgers, if at all possible.
“Ah’m nae hivin’ ony mair o’ thae spicy food if ah kin help it. Whits wrang wi fush ‘n chups onywise?”
“Rodz! Whit a’ weez daying on this train, Rodz? There’s nae a bar on this train, by the way. It’s some kinda effin toy train or sum-hin.”
After enjoying the toy train from Darjeeling to Ghum we were reunited with our five cars, and driven to Dhodrey, where the trek up the Singalila started.
It wasn’t long before things didn’t look so good. After half an hour’s walking on the first day, Fat Mac collapsed and said he’d had enough. “Jes leave me here fer they vultures we saw, Rodz. Ah’m knackered.”
Mac actually has quite a noble philosophy. It basically involves going with the flow and taking things as they come, which is rather appealing. This does, however, mean that he’s not particularly good at forward planning, or at reading material such as the detailed explanatory Trip Notes which Exodus provides.
As he noticeably flagged later on, on that first afternoon, I tried to encourage him by saying it wasn’t that far to the campsite.
“Whit! Are weez camping?”
I told him we were due to camp for the next 6 days.
“Whit? Camping! In a tent?”
But for reasons we were soon to discover, the news about camping seemed to spur Mac on, and he positively zoomed up the final slope. Mac was still the last to reach the campsite, of course, where the guide had grouped the rest of us in a circle, preparing to explain the sleeping, eating and ablution arrangements when Mac, surveying the scene and puffing and panting, barged past everyone, went straight up to the guide and demanded, “Which wan’s ra beer tent?” The look of disappointment on Mac’s face when the guide told him that there wasn’t one, was something to behold.
The Singalila Ridge trek is popular because of the potential views of four of the world’s five highest mountains – Everest, Lotse, Kanchenjunga and the other one. When we arrived at the second campsite it was too cloudy to see any of them. After dinner in the meal tent the guide explained that it might clear by the morning. If it did, he would wake us all at 5 am for everyone to see the sunrise over the mountain tops. Fat Mac looked at me with incredulity. “Rodz, Ah cannae see ra point in gawkin’ at hills onytime, let alane at 5 in the effin morning. Whit kinda sick, demented, heidcase bampot is thon guide?”
By the third day Mac seemed to have accepted his fate, and had perked up a fair bit. He kept himself going by singing traditional hymns in the style of Harry McClintock [click on the above short video for a snippet].
I knew that Fat Mac had been given a smart phone to take on this trip by his girlfriend, but even after several days on the Ridge I hadn’t seen him take a single photo, so I asked him what was wrong.
“It’s ra usual war against ra machines, Rodz. I inadvertently took a 40 minute video of ra inside o’ ma powket on ra plane frae Embry and it’s used up a’ ra memory on ma phone. Ah may as weel chuck ra effin thing awa.”
Above is a very brief extract of his video.
By the 4th day of the trek, and still without a drop of alcohol, Fat Mac was looking very pleased with himself.
“Why the smiles?” I asked him.
“Rodz – This is ma new beer divining stick. Things will shortly pick up, believe me.”
By the fifth day of the trek, apart from an incident when one of the pack horses tried to attack and kill/mount him, Mac said he was actually enjoying himself.
I, on the other hand, was the one who seemed to be suffering.
Either I was allergic to something, or a beastie had bitten me, I don’t know which, but my face started to swell up until I could hardly see where I was going. I had also aged horribly, by about ten years, probably due to the stress of trying to micro-manage Mac on a day-to-day basis.
Most of the people on the trip were wrinklies or near-wrinklies, with a few who were a bit younger. Various professions were represented, including transportation, horticulture, optometry, physiotherapy, medicine and alternative medicine. Each day, Fat Mac would spend some time talking to one of them, and then later announce to me that his life had been transformed as a result of the advice he had been given.
The first time this happened, he said that he had been advised by a professional, no less, to give up beer and get new specs, so that he didn’t have to squint anymore when reading. The second time it was that he was going to give up beer and do more stretching exercises so that he wasn’t so stiff in the mornings. The third time it was that he was going to give up beer and get a cure for several new diseases he hadn’t even realised he had. The fourth time it was that he was going to give up beer and entirely change his diet.
There was one fairly obvious common thread running through the advice he was being given by the professionals.
By the end of the trip, Fat Mac was a new man. His final announcement on arriving at the end of the Singalila Ridge was that, from now on, he was going to stop drinking and live on an exclusive diet of avocados and peanuts.
Then he headed into the bar and ordered two Hits.
If you look closely at the above photo, you may be able to see that Hit beer doesn’t exceed 14% proof. After the two bottles, and against the specific advice of the quite obviously horrified barman, Mac ordered a third. I really don’t have the words to describe what happened next, but thank goodness he eventually went back to the Kingfisher before turning in for the night.