The silly side of small group travel you have to experience to understand 

written by Danielle McDonald January 24, 2024

‘Wah wah wah.’ ‘Sip, sip.’ ‘Honey man’s at it again.’ You’d be forgiven for having no idea what any of this meant and certainly forgiven if it doesn’t stir a giggle as you read. That’s because they’re inside jokes. In this case, jokes that only a dozen or so people in the world will ever understand. 

It turns out that if you put 11 travellers, two assistant guides and one trekking leader at the edge of the world, on Intrepid’s Annapurna Circuit Trek, some pretty great memories and even greater inside jokes will start to unfold. 

This is my ode to the inside jokes because they’re powerful critters and, some might say, the secret to incredible adventures.

There’s plenty to say for small group travel. There are obvious factors like how getting around is made easier and certain experiences are made possible only by a smaller group size. You won’t catch 25+ people sitting in a tiny prayer room with a monk at the top of a 300-metre climb, receiving a blessing for the following day’s Thorong La Pass hike. But an intimate group of just 11? Go get your blessings, friends. You’re going to need them. 

What isn’t as easily explained – unless you’ve been on a small group adventure – is just how bonding the experience can be. How total strangers quickly whisked into a tiny shuttle bus turn into friends. Or how group dynamics form within the first hour of a welcome meeting. You just have to do those things in real life to understand.  

Our group shared many kilometres of trails, lemon teas and group photos together. Image credit: Jeff See.

It’s for this reason that I’m going to try my best to give you the inside scoop on just a few of our group’s inside jokes. 

The thing I need to tell you about these jokes is that you will not get them — by definition, you can’t, don’t even try, go ahead and roll your eyes and whisper, ‘What?’

These were our inside jokes, which only happened because this particular group of people ended up in this particular place at this particular time. This is my ode to the inside jokes because they’re powerful critters and, some might say, the secret to incredible adventures. 

Day 5: In three sleeps time, we’d like to have some momos

By day five of the Annapurna Circuit Trek, you’ve covered some ground, literally and conversationally. In the first few days, you walk about 60 kilometres while taking in views of subtropical valleys, meeting local goat herders and really getting to know your hiking boots.  

With up to eight hours a day spent trekking together, these are the formative days when group roles start to emerge. The jokester begins to show their comic side, the unofficial photographer starts orchestrating all group photos (thanks, Jeff), and the classically trained trekker begins to wander just slightly ahead of the group. 

On the evening of day five, after a game of cards involving all six of our Nepali porters and our leader, we sat down to dinner together. As we shuffled into our seats, the comedian of our group (let’s call him Ray) started mischievously encouraging each of us to commit to celebrating our arrival in neighbouring Manang with a joint feast of at least 150 hand-made momos.

Momos, arguably one of Nepal‘s greatest culinary delights, are small steamed or fried dumplings perfect to tuck into after a day on the trails. They’re made by hand, to order. For reference, a regular order for a large restaurant may be 20 to 30. So, for our group to order 150+ was a pretty proposterous concept.  

‘Ray, why don’t you call and ask them to prepare our order?’ our leader giggled as he handed his phone over, knowing full well the language barrier paired with an obnoxious order quantity would prove difficult. Of course, Ray eagerly accepted the spotlight and took the phone in hand with us all sitting by. 

He rehearsed what he needed to say: what we’d order and when we’d arrive.

But what came out of his mouth as his call was answered and he was put on the spot in front of our group can only be described as the product of stage fright. Timidly, he stuttered: ‘Hi, my name is Ray… In three sleeps time, we’d like to have some momos.’  

As the rest of us erupted in laughter, the confused Nepali restaurant owner swiftly hung up on our new friend, and our group’s first inside joke was born.  

Day 7: Wah, wah, wah

By day seven, you’re starting to count how many days you’ve got until ‘the pass’ (Thorong La Pass, that is). At this point, you’re gaining elevation of, at minimum, a few hundred metres per day. Snow-capped mountain peaks that were once elusive now surround your every move and the yaks you were looking forward to meeting are at every turn.  

Before we’d set off, our trip leader, Dipendra Neupane, had given detailed briefings about symptoms of altitude sickness. He’d also begun recording our blood oxygen levels morning and night to ensure we were fit and healthy for the long days and elevation gain ahead. 

When we met a pair of young women from Israel who had hired a local mountain guide to lead their way, it became pretty clear, pretty quickly that this duo hadn’t been given the same level of preparation we had.  

On the occasions our trails crossed paths, they mentioned how they’d longed for the camaraderie of a group setting and also raised concerns about how well-prepared, or not, their guide was for the epic Thorong La Pass hike ahead. 

It was in the moment that our new friends’ guide gathered our group and, somewhat incoherently, announced a rhyme that, in fact, did not rhyme that we started to understand their concerns. Was this an indication of the extent of their guide’s altitude preparedness?  

The laughter that erupted in that moment connected us in ways that resonated throughout the trip.

He enthusiastically urged us to chant ‘wah, wah, wah’, gesturing us to clap our hands with him as if he’d made a groundbreaking statement. I don’t know why this happened, none of us did, but that’s not the point (stay with me) – this moment, paired with what our new friends had already told us about their guide’s mountain knowledge, made us grateful to have an experienced, knowledgeable leader like Diprendra by our side.  

It was also in this moment, while still clapping and chanting along as directed, in our state of utter confusion about what was unravelling, another inside joke was added to our arsenal.  

And I know my attempt to retell this joke probably isn’t landing – like I said, you had to be there – but when I tell you that the laughter that erupted in that moment connected us in ways that resonated throughout the rest of the trip, I really mean it.

From that day forward, whenever someone was confused, we’d chant ‘wah, wah wah’. When an exciting group announcement was made, you could hear that very same chant ring out. And if someone unintentionally rhymed? Well, you get the idea… 

Day 11: It’s the final countdown

On this day, you wake up at ridiculous o’clock – 3 am to be exact – to have breakfast with your group and then begin trekking across the cold, dark mountains to reach the highest point of the trip, Thorong La Pass, at 5400 metres elevation. 

That morning, the Rocky theme song rang out across our breakfast table. One of our now-beloved Aussie travellers had decided this was the most fitting tune to prepare us for the Rocky-like feat of the 950-metre elevation gain ahead.  

As my fingers froze, I tugged my second beanie over my head and trampled across the snow in the dark that morning. I couldn’t help but think there was no way I could do it without the playful camaraderie and giggles of support that rippled through the group that day.  

So sure, the places you’ll see and the things you’ll experience on an Intrepid trek in Nepal (whether that’s Everest Basecamp, Annapurna Basecamp or Annapurna Circuit) will undoubtedly stick with you forever. But it’s the local leaders and Intrepid people you’ll meet along the way who’ll make your adventure that much sweeter (and funnier). 

And if you were wondering how our pair of Israeli friends got on? They were fine making it over the Pass with their leader by their side. In fact, they joined our final group dinner in Pokhara at the end of our trip. There weren’t any momos on the menu that night, but there were plenty of giggles and good times. Wah, wah, wah! 

Check out the Annapurna Circuit Trek for yourself and discover more Intrepid small-group adventures in Nepal. 

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