My Month at Mango Tree, Part 2: The Food, the Friends, the Fun

First things first: I forgot to include a link to Mango Tree Eco-Resort’s web page in my last post.  If you’re interested in paying them a visit – whether it’s just to soak up the beautiful scenery there in the Himalayan foothills, to get your hands dirty in the gardens or on some cow udders, or to treat your tastebuds to some of the best Dal Baat anywhere – click away.

So, in the last post “My Month at Mango Tree, Part 1: The Place, the Work” I tried to share the basics about where they are and what they do, in addition to a little bragging about what I contributed.  (If you’ve already forgotten, the answer is: A rather large pile of leaves and buffalo dung hemmed in by a ring of sizeable rocks.”)  I hope to have expressed, if briefly and insufficiently, some of the joy I find in living and working outdoors, in inserting myself into the food cycle – inserting myself consciously and deliberately, I should say, since we’re all already part of it, inextricably tied up with and dependent on plants, animals, fungi, microbes, rain, sunlight, carbon, and nitrogen, whether we think of it that way or not – and doing things that I believe are really necessary.  Physically necessary to grow the materials necessary for the preservation of my body and mind, socially necessary as part of the transformation towards a healthy, just, and sustainable world.

This heady, theoretical side of my interest in manual labor has a more down-to-earth counterpart: the fact that, in my experience, the best way to make friends and have fun is to work together on something you both find important and valuable.  When getting to know someone, I’d much rather have a crowbar in hand than a coffee.  Maybe it’s as simple as having something to fiddle with during the awkward pauses in those first conversations, or maybe it’s as deep as the connection that comes from the merging of separate purposes and efforts into a single result.  Either way, I tend to find myself in good spirits while farming, eager to get out of bed in the morning and open to whatever and whoever the day will bring.

Oh, and also, the food at farms tends to be AWESOME.  To wit,

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As much as I loved the work, the highlight of most mornings usually came around 10AM when three sweet words would come ringing out of the kitchen: “DAL BAAT TIME!”  Spades and sickles drop to the ground, taps are turned on, grime is scraped out from under fingernails, and saliva starts to accumulate at the thought of the forthcoming mound of beans’n’rice.  Tiny lentils of yellow, green, and black persuasions, plus a curry (“Tarkari”) of seasonal veggies.  In this case, green beans, chayotes, and ’taters.

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We ate mostly the same veggies day after day at our 10AM brunches and our 7PM dinners, but it never felt repetitive.  Partially because the lentils, dried and stored in seasons past, changed by the day: chickpeas, green peas, kidney beans, small pulses of all shapes and sizes.  Also because the veggies were fresh from the garden, picked from the vine or dug up from the ground just a few hours previous.  Even the spices – the turmeric in the curries, the ginger in the tea – were raised on-site.

On the side: a cup of fresh buttermilk.  Since the villagers generally lack both a dependable electricity supply and the money to buy and run refrigerators, plain milk would spoil quickly in Nepal’s subtropical heat.  Better to churn it right of, separating it into ghee, which like butter can last much longer, and buttermilk, which ages into a sour, probiotic brew.

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More DB, this time with Tikka auntie (you’ll meet her later)’s powdered lentil-based fake fish roll recipe.  Everything tastes particularly good when eaten al fresco, in the great outdoors under the shade of a sixty year old mango tree.

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Taking a break from painting the new “Welcome” sign for an afternoon snack: fried “Chew-ra” beaten rice with roasted soybeans.

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More “Chew-ra,” the afternoon carbohydrate of choice since you can eat it as-is, along with potato curry and some fish straight from the pond.

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Same same, but this time with a side of “Batamas Sadeko,” roasted soybean salad.

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“Aloo Paratha,” pan-fried flatbread stuffed with potato filling and served with a side curry.

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“Bollinhos de arrhoz” or something like that (apparently spelling is harder in Portugues than Nepali).  Steam some rice, mix in cheese, chili, tomatoes, cilantro, herbs and spices, shape into tater tot form, and deep fry.

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Serve with salsa.  Flower optional.

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More “Batamas Sadeko’” soybean salad, prepared as a snack to help us wash down a few liters of fetid “Rakshi” moonshine.

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Plain old “Sadeko,” made of dry ramen noodles, tomatoes, onions, chilis, and cilantro.  The taste is strong enough to get the Rakshi flavor out of your mouth, but it’s so salty and spicy that you can’t help but take another shot.  Vicious cycle.

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And last but not least, homemade pizza fresh from the clay oven that I helped put the finishing touches on on my first day.  Home-grown veggies, local buffalo cheese…now all we need is for those rosemary bushes to grow another foot or two.   Dev, owner and founder, puts together some of the best pizza I had in Nepal.

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As are Chico and Camila, the two Brazilians responsible for those Bollinhos above.  He was a freelance architect and designer, she was an accountant, but they both grew tired of their stressful, unhealthy, expensive, demanding life in Sao Paolo and decided to sell everything and hit the road.  My sort of folks!

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Here we are on a little nature walk up to a small waterfall.

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My two new cousins, Kishan and Yokel, two local dudes who came for canyoning course and decided to stay on at the farm as helpers and apprentices.

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Yokel, who makes a mean Batamas Sadeko, comes from village about 1000m (3 hour walk for me, 2 for him) above Mango Tree.  He’s studying education but does side work as a trek manager – he’s even been on TV in Scandinavia, advising celebrity trekking teams about which berries are safe to eat.

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The long walk down from Yokel’s place.

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Mama, who singlehandedly runs her own organic farm in the front yard, growing enough veggies for a family of four.  Most every other villager does the same.    Looks like I’ve got a lot to learn.

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Kishan’s village is a few days’ trek up along the Annapurna circuit.  He’s apprenticing at Mango Tree until he’s ready to go back home and start his own organic farm.

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Swiss volunteer Adrian, a winter intern from environmental engineering university in Zurich.  Majoring in organic farming, full of knowledge about chemicals and nutrients, plant taxonomy, composting methods…and dumpster diving and psytrance.

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My buddy Steve, fellow intercontinental cyclist, Annapurna bikepacking partner, and author of the cycle blog “Cycling the 6.”

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Where’d that streak of vermillion on his forehead come from?  From Tikka Auntie, the sorceress behind all that splendid Dal Baat.  On account of the special Nepalese new years’ vermillion paste, usually reserved for siblings, she instructed me to call her “Didi” (older sister) from then on.

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I guess that makes her husband, lovingly referred to as “Budewar” (grampa), my brother.

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Or at the very least my partner in crime.

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“Laure,” (soldier), and “Biralo,” (kitty).

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And everyone’s favorite, the star of the show, little baby Aria.

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Put ‘em all together for a few weeks of hard work, good food, card games, amateur jam sessions, and a liter or two of Rakshi, and this is what you get.

Thanks to Dev and Sonia  for a wonderful month, for the new connections, for all I learned, for the great memories.

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4 Responses to My Month at Mango Tree, Part 2: The Food, the Friends, the Fun

  1. deepak Adhiakri says:

    It’s amazing

  2. wd says:

    Nice work. PS sweet tan

  3. Tobias Metz says:

    Great great blog Mike! I enjoyed a lot reading and watching the pictures.
    Take care!
    Tobi
    (we met at the hiker/biker site in Monterrey)