Survived trekking!

Trip Start Jun 27, 2007
Trip End Jun 2008

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Flag of Nepal  ,
Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Back in Kathmandu, having survived the treks to the Annapurna foothills
and the Everest region.  I did manage to move into Thamel the day
after writing my last entry.  Joined my group on the 25th. 
We are a small group, only 4.  Kiri, my roommate is from British
Columbia, works at a winery,  Alex is originally from Belarus but
now lives in NYC doing some sort of high-powered software development
for one of the exchanges, and Charles is an architecture student at
Univ. of Manchester in England.  None of them seem to have done
much research before this trip, and didn't realize we were hiking into
the mts. at the beginning of the monsoon, with every possibility that
we would never see a snow-capped peak!  The main goal of the trip
for each of them was seeing Everest.  I spun every prayer wheel I
could find, chanted mantras, and sent up heartfelt prayers to all the
deities I could think of, hoping they would indeed see it, and that we
would not get stuck in :Lukla - notorious for its cloudy weather and
crazy runway where the planes can't land if it's foggy.  Or
windy.  Or raining hard.  You get the picture. 

Well, we were incredibly lucky.  Our Annapurna hike was 6 1/2
days.  Highest elevation was Poon Hill, about 9000 feet.  It
was hot, it rained every afternoon, and there were leeches.  I got
one stuck to my ankle 2 days in a row - the only person to be
afflicted.  Why me?  But they bit thru my sock and came off
on their own, so the only way I even knew they had been there was the
bloody mess they left behind.  Yuk!  I still have
scars.  But, every single morning was clear and we got to see all
the mountains in all their splendor - the Annapurnas (there are
several), Huinchuli, Macchapuchare, and the Dhaulagiris.  They
were gorgeous.  5 AM to 7AM was prime viewing and then the clouds
came back by mid-morning and it rained by 4.  By then, we were
usually at the teahouse and under a roof, so not so bad.  Teahouse
trekking has its advantages in rainy season.  The rooms are very
basic, just a bed, occasionally an attached bathroom, but usually
shared.  We brought our own sleeping bags.  There were hot
showers available, tho, free in the Annpurna region.  You had to
pay in the Everest area.  Food is the main disadvantage I can see
compared to tent camping.  Trekking with a tenting group, you
have your own kitchen crew, and my experience has been to have great
food. We had the teahouse menus memorized by the 2nd day.  I am so
sick to death of veggie fried rice and fried noodles, I never want to
see another platefull.

We only had half a day in Pokhara at the end of the trek and then flew
back to K'du.  Next morning we were supposed to fly out to
Lukla.  That would have been June 3rd.  It was the 5th before
we got there, having spent 2 days getting to the airport by 6 and
sitting there until 11 or so, when they finally gave up and cancelled
the flights to Lukla due to bad weather.  We got out on the first
flight on the 5th.  Managed to do our whole itinerary, 
getting up to Tengboche at about 13,000 feet.  I expected the
monsoon to be less here, but it was worse.  We didn't even have
clear mornings most of the time.  Just little clearing trends when
the clouds would lift out of the particular valley we were in, allowing
some views.  But thick heavy clouds hung over the high mts. most
of the time.  It didn't actually rain until afternoon, then
drizzled for a while before settling down to a hard rain.  Cold,
damp, grey.  I was thanking my lucky stars we weren't in
tents!  I got a lot of reading done, as there wasn't much else to
do once we got to the teahouses.  Same menu.  Just more
expensive.  Through some amazing luck, we actually did have a
clear morning in Tengboche and finally saw Everest, as well as sneak
peaks at Lhotse, and amazing views of Thamserku, Kang Tega and Ama
Dablam.  Kiri and I woke up around 5, looked out the window, saw
only fog, and went back to bed.  20 minutes later one of our crew
was pounding on our door saying the mts. were out!  We jumped up
and threw jackets on over our pj's and went out.  Sure
enough!  That's how quickly it can change.  From about 5:30
til 7, the mts. put on quite a show, and then as quickly as it started,
the fog came back and you couldn't see 100 feet in front of you.

Charles left us in Tengboche.  He is continuing on to Everest Base
Camp and  Kala Patar.  I hope he makes it ok and gets to see
what he wants to see.  We walked one really long day (our guide
Krishna said it was 23 kms.!) from Tengboche back down to Monjo, and
then on to Lukla the next.  This morning we were at the airport by
6:30, waiting and watching the fog roll in.  I thought we were
hosed for sure, but around 9:30, all of a sudden, 3 planes came in one
after the other.  One from each airline that services Lukla. 
They never cut the engines, just off-loaded the people on board, threw
their luggage off, threw ours on, stuffed us on the plane, slammed the
door and were starting down the runway before we even had our seatbelts
fastened.  It was a little scary, because I was under the
impression these little planes didn't have the equipment to navigate
unless they could see clearly.  And we were flying thru thick
clouds.  But we made it safely back to K'du, and I am sooooo
glad!  I have to say I'm glad to be done trekking thru the

The interesting part of the Everest trip for me is that I was there 20
years ago on my first trip to Nepal.  That trip was much longer
and we went much farther, but all the places I saw now, I had been to
before.  The area has grown a lot.  There are new hotels
everywhere.  Just a lot more buildings.  Namche has internet,
even an ATM!  They tell me Dingboche has internet!  And there
are 5 lodges at Gorek Shep, which was a flat sandy camping spot 20
years ago.  I saw pictures of Gokyo Lakes, ringed with
lodges.  Like Switzerland!  Well, not exactly, but there was
nothing there in 1988 but a few stone shelters for yak herders. 
We met an American guy who works with a conservation agency in Lukla
last night, and he was a fountain of information about the current
situation in Nepal.  He said the reason it is so hard to get out
of Lukla now is the airlines have been deregulated, and they can make
more money (right now) flying food out to western Nepal for the relief
agencies, so they just cancel their flights to Lukla and go
elsewhere.  There is a huge pileup of expedition gear in the Lukla
airport waiting for the big Russian helicopters to come get it, but
they are all hired out for more lucrative business in
Afghanistan.  So it goes.  There is so much corruption, and
so much political infighting and so much lack of common sense in this
country, it makes you wonder how they survive at all. 

Anyway, we survived, we are back in what passes for civilization - I
had a salad nicoise and a nice glass of South African pinotage for
lunch today - and I have 2 days to do laundry, buy some more stuff,
ship a box home, and then I leave on the 14th, bound for Istanbul thru
Bahrain.  I have a week in Istanbul on my own and then join my 2nd
GAP group to tour Turkey for 2 weeks.  I'll try to post again from
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