Saturday, October 23, 2010

What Goes Down Must Come Up

(Let's fast forward a bit to Nepal and we'll backtrack to China later...)

It's hard to put into words the physical and emotional roller coaster that is trekking to Mt. Everest Base Camp.

The scenery is obviously stunning!

For the first few days it could have been Canada or the Pacific Northwest, with a mighty river rolling through a pine forest--- however, you can tell it is Nepal by the Buddhist prayer flags and wheels. For those of you that don't know (which was me until this trip), Tibetan Buddhists believe that a blessing will spread throughout the world with each spin of the prayer wheel and flutter of the flags in the wind- nice, huh?

Lets not forget the incredible porters and yaks that go up and down the trail carrying supplies (and our bags- thanks yak!). These guys are incredible. They are TINY (way smaller than me) and carry a tremendous amount up these steep, rocky trails, with a lot of the weight supported on their foreheads--- we thought they are allowed to carry 70-80lbs.! It was hard to figure how long it would take us to get to our destinations since these guys could easily do it in half the time. Still impressed!

The dirty kids we met along the way in the sporadic villages were also pretty adorable.

I thought of Greg often since there were numerous suspension bridges we had to cross over the rushing river (that is too dangerous to raft to give you some indication of how mighty); these and the narrow paths and super steep steps alongside certain death cliffs made this one not for those fearful of heights. Oh, and make sure to stay mountain side or you might get bumped off the mountain by a yak ;-)

As we increased in elevation the trees started to disappear and the snow capped mountains surfaced--- pretty spectacular (and so quiet)! You had to remember to look up from the path and take in all the beauty.

It was pretty spectacular on the days we could see. We actually had pretty good weather, except when we hiked a particularly tough stretch for the sole purpose of the view. The journey to the Everest View Hotel was not rewarded with any view at all--- I'm sure it was lovely and the lemon tea was tasty!

The best part-- reaching base camp with a group of amazing people!

To name just a few... there was Linda, a 62-year-old midwife from Minnesota that inspired us all. The girls from New Zealand, Cathy and Claire, who liked to shop and totally made me laugh. David and Kristen from Saratoga Springs, NY who joined me in avoiding "dead people" while suggesting new career options ;-) Martin, our UN representative who just wouldn't take no for an answer while humming his latest music composition. Paula and Tracy, the Canadians who trekked up that long hill to Namche Bazaar with me and through the dense fog for that non existent view from the Everest View Hotel. Marcel who made sure no one was out of earshot--- Namasteeeeee! And my sweet Swiss friend and trekking (+ bakery) buddy for most of the days-- he was always nearby with an encouraging smile, checking that I was okay and offering his beloved masala chai. :-)

I thank them all for making this an experience of a lifetime.

Up, Down, More Up :-(
No one could really tell us how far we walked, but guesstimates were maybe 70-75km each way? We would usually walk anywhere from 8-16km a day (6-7 hours), but remember we need to get higher so a LOT of that was uphill. But no, not all uphill! There were plenty of downhills too, which just meant that all the uphill we just finished was really for nothing- talk about discouraging! It also always seemed that the hours of uphill came at the end of the day for some odd reason- giving us something to look forward to all day ;-)

It was exhausting (oh, my tired, achy legs), but at the end of the dayS we finally made it to the promised land- Base Camp and 4 rocks ;-)) Yay!!!!!!!!!

How Bad?
Yes, the nature squat was way preferable to the non flushing toilets at the tea houses along the trail. Tea house sounds charming, right? Yeah, not so much. They are basically flimsily constructed shelters made of plywood with no heating and plumbing. No complaints, they are better than a tent, but it was mighty chilly and loud in these joints.

Some were actually better than others and even had the option to pay for a hot shower which was really welcome after days of trekking (this was NO beauty contest or fashion show!).

After this experience I learned that my #1 priority isn't a shower, but a flushing toilet.

You really don't get used to that smell, hence why we usually opted for the pee rock along the way (not always so discrete).

We Have Two Options
Raj and Hari, our Nepalese guides, were great about keeping us safe and generally on track. They took good care of us, maybe with the exception of the menu. "Excuse me, I will now take the breakfast order. We have two options- porridge with apple and egg with toast." Same, same! It became a joke since the menu variety was so limited and oddly enough heavy on the Chinese, which would have been okay had I not just come from China where I actually ate good Chinese food.

Is That A Headache?
I was in constant fear of altitude sickness as the days went by, not something to be toyed with. There was the constant reminder of how serious things could get with the frequent sound of rescue helicopters going up and down the mountain--- a sound I really didn't like on the way up.

Unfortunately altitude sickness did strike our group. First my trekking buddies, Kristen and David, had to go back down the mountain in the middle of the night in what sounded like a harrowing trip to the medical clinic, getting lost when they lost the yak trail.

Then, in the scariest moment of the trip, Catherine (NZ) collapsed on the trail and had to be airlifted out. It was terribly upsetting watching as she struggled with oxygen running out or not working. Thankfully Jake (Canada), Brooke (Delaware) and a couple of foreign doctors that happened to be nearby were able to get her stabilized for the flight back to Kathmandu.

It seriously made me reconsider going any higher since your mind starts to play games with you, convincing you one of the symptoms is starting. Luckily I was fine! I stayed hydrated, drinking 6 liters of water a day, but that garlic soup wasn't my thing.

The good thing is that everyone was okay once they got to lower elevation.

Crazy Landing
All I have to say is you should all go to YouTube and watch the Lukla landing video. Insane! I have never experienced a steep, uphill runway on the side of a mountain. It took serious skill to land those tiny planes. The day we flew out one pilot did crash a plane into the wall upon landing, but all were fine.

However, there have been some accidents at this airport, so they don't seem to chance it which is why fog closed the airport for days at the end of our trek. Luckily we got the last plane out a day after we arrived in Lukla, but some Brits we met early along had been stuck for 4 days and spent the $1600 to helicopter out, along with most people going stir crazy in a town with not a whole lot going on (the fake Starbucks was packed!)

Get Me Outta Here!
Arriving in Kathmandu at the start of the trip was definitely a love/hate experience. The city is total chaos with no traffic lights and CONSTANT honking from the cars and motorcycles that are trying to cram their way through the tiny, windy streets (that should really be 1-way, but aren't). It is also amazing filthy- the state of their streets and rivers is really horrendous and sad.

It is also really lively with colorfully dressed locals giving it a really distinct energy. In fact, on our first night we ran into a festival parade with people all over the streets celebrating. We also got stuck in a roadblock of riot police and army personnel when the president passed--- they do have those Maoist issues still.

Eventually, the honking won out and I couldn't wait to get to the peace of the mountains.

Then after weeks of peace (and bad food and plumbing), chaos was just what I was craving.

Since the original trip itinerary changed, we arrived at Base Camp two days early, meaning we were really just killing time to get back to Kathmandu. At this point I was totally exhausted and just had enough, so joined my two German-speaking friends and left our guides for a 2-day trek down the mountain alone (don't worry, it was near impossible to get lost).

We had a lovely time stopping first in Phakding (and their Reggae bar that inexplicably played no reggae- sorry Donovan) and then Lukla waiting for a flight out.
Unfortunately, right after we dropped our bags at the lodge I ended up twisting my ankle pretty badly (and ignoring the loud snapping sound it made). Yes, we walk over 100km and I hurt myself basically outside the airport- how stupid!

I was happy to be back hobbling around Kathmandu, eating yummy food, celebrating with a cocktail, massage and a tour around the city, including the Monkey Temple which has hundreds of monkeys scampering about.

We even got back in time for the biggest Hindu celebration of the year, the Dashain Festival, when thousands of animals are sacrificed. I skipped the public sacrifice in the main square after seeing the animals all over town for sale--- those poor goats didn't know what was coming.

Doing It For The Orphans
At the end of the day this trek was to benefit the orphans, so it was nice to visit their homes.

We first went to Brighter Futures where most of the kids were away for the holiday (like our Christmas). We toured the facility and a neighboring village- it was nice to get out into the countryside to see a different type of Nepal.

Then we eventually found Shining Stars where 30 incredibly personable kids reside. They appeared to be the happiest orphans and put on a bit of a singing and dancing performance, after greeting us with flowers and tika (red dot on my forehead).

They also had one of the crazy big, bamboo swings that I SO wanted to try, but after my ankle injury in Lukla I thought better of it.

After seeing street kids in Kathmandu huffing, I was really glad that I was able to do something to help give these 44 kids a better life and a real chance at a future.

Thanks again to everyone that donated- you are really making a difference!

1 comment:

  1. the dirty kids were cute...hjahahaha!! i want to go on that swing