Another short day, only four hours of hiking. All straight up steps.
We are almost to our destination when we are stopped by four young men. “Maoist check point. Must make donation,” they say. I know this is complete crap. From what I’ve read about the Maoists and spoken to locals in Kathmandu, the Maoists are a bunch of thugs. Julie and Tobin’s porter and Mark’s guide try to speak to the Maoists, reason with them. Min, my guide, tells me, “You need to make donation. Maybe 500, 600, 700, 1,000 rupees.” I look at him like he’s crazy. He is crazy.
I smile. “Why do I have to make a donation? What will happen if I don’t?” Min shrugs. “Maybe you go talk to them.” I smile again. “No, maybe you go talk to them. You are my guide. That is your job.” He walks over and talks to them. Through his body language I can tell he’s a supporter. After several minutes he returns.
“How much you like to donate?”
I ask him, very seriously, “Do you understand donate means voluntary?”
He stares at me.
I try again. “I would like to donate nothing.”
He shakes his head. “No, donate 500, 600, 700, maybe more rupees.”
He stares at me.
“If I were going to be forced to give money, which is what this feels like, I will not give more than 100 rupees.”
He goes back to talk to the Maoists.
The other porters and guides are encouraging their clients to “donate” money.
I’m sitting on the stone wall, resting, furious. This is ridiculous.
The other trekkers walk away. I don’t realize they are gone until the guides and porters surround me. “You must pay. Everyone else leave. You pay.”
I’m staring at their faces. This is a difficult situation. I don’t want to give a single cent to the Maoist cause, out of principle. They forcefully take land from landowners. They kidnapped a colleague’s brother-in-law for ransom. They killed two tourists on this very trail.
My guide won’t look at me, he’s hob nobbing with the Maoist thugs. This angers me.
I look into the eyes of the other guides and realize they don’t want to be here any more than I do. I know that if I don’t pay it could mean trouble for them later.
Angrily, I pull a 100 rupee note from my wallet and hand it to the Maoist with my left hand, an insult.
Another Maoist thanks me and tells me this is for the good of Nepal.
I stare at him icily. In a cold voice, I say, “Good? You think this is good? No, sir, this is very bad. This is bad because every trekker will go back to their country and tell their friends, ‘Don’t go to Nepal, Nepal is a very bad country because the Maoists force you to pay money when you don’t want to.’”
He interrupts me, “You misunderstand.”
“Oh, no, sir, I understand perfectly. Do you know the word extortion? That’s what this is. Extortion. You say this money is for development. I see no projects. I paid fees in Kathmandu and in Chame to be on the trail. THOSE fees are for development. These fees are a lie. You are taking advantage of guests in your country. This is very, very bad.”
I continue to stare. The four Maoists are looking down at their feet. They won’t look at me; they won’t look at each other.
I take my Maoist receipt and leave.