Hello mountains

Trip Start Dec 04, 2006
Trip End Aug 05, 2007

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Monday, April 9, 2007

Nathan here: Well, Tara and I are leading the race for Idiot Tourist(s) of the Month. Essentially we left Thailand with about $55 USD in cash, figuring that we would arrive and get cash at the airport in Kathmandu. In our defense, we've taken close to 30 flights so far and getting cash in the Arrivals Lounge has never been a problem, not in Cambodia, not in Laos, etc, etc. See where I'm going with this. So we arrive in Kathmandu and there's no ATM in the arrivals lounge and we don't have enough $USD to pay for our entry visas. Rookie mistake big time. Fortunately, this really REALLY nice couple from Oman - on their honeymoon - spotted us the money without us even asking. After clearing cutoms, we repaid them easily enough. How friendly is that?

Moving on. When Tara and I began planning this trip, I had to really push for Nepal to be included. I grew up camping and hiking and figured that a round the world trip would be incomplete without a trek in the Himalayas. She agreed as long as we spent an equal amount of time somewhere hot and on the beach. Well, I've lived up to my end of the bargain and now we are here - ready to trek.

Before coming we knew there were a ton of trekking options. I've had my heart set on completing the 18-21 day Annapurna Circuit, which is considered to be the premiere trek in the country. Sure, Everest Base Camp takes you to Everest and a higher altitude but the Annapurna Circuit, at approximately 300km, provides the most in terms of culture and stunning views. A key highlight or challenge will be making it through Thorung La Pass, at 5416 meters (17,700 ft). At that altitude, you have access to approx. 50% of the oxygen you would have at sea level which means our feet will feel like lead and we will most likely have some type of headache.

Tara was, to say the least, reticent from the beginning. Mainly because she hasn't had much hiking experience and she doesn't like the cold (I know, we're from where?). Fortunately, we met a few travellers in Asia who had completed this trek and loved it so Tara's concerns were lessened. We also decided to postpone our visit by one month so that the weather would be warmer.

Tara here: Well, we arrived in Kathmandu, population 5 million, the other day and found it to be very different from Southeast Asia. There is much more of an Indian influence not surprising given how close we are to India - and the streets are just so incredibly crowded and most of them are not even paved. They are kind of like crowded pedestrian streets with cars or big motorbikes barrelling through with horns ablazing. Obviously there are no sidewalks, but shops and small hotels line the roads. When the vehicles go by we have to run to the side because unlike Vietnam where they really didn't want to hit you, here I am not so convinced. We have seen a few minor collisions already and Nathan was nearly knocked down by a guy on a motorbike.

Nathan here: yeah, he plowed his head into my shoulder but fortunately he wasn't going too fast.

Tara again. We have posted a few pictures to try and illustrate the craziness but they don't really do it justice. You'll just have to take my word for it. Nonetheless, we are happy for the change of pace - and weather I might add - it is 25 degrees here during the day and actually cool enough to wear pants at night. We are staying in a small guest house right in the thick of it www.hotelgreatwallnepal.com and they have agreed to store our extra gear while we hike - yes for 20 or 21 days.

Now, Nathan explained that we are climbing very, very high so naturally we have hired help along the way. In a day and a half we have successfully hired a guide to lead us and a porter to carry our stuff. We also rented and bought some extra equipment that we will need, including down sleeping bags good to -15, a down jacket for me and proper hiking boots. To give you an idea, we are paying the porter $9 a day to lug all our stuff around, and a guide $13 a day to speak English to us and tell us what and what not to do.

Nathan here: Apparently a guide is not necessary but we thought that this would be a great opporunity to interact with a local over an extended period of time. We met Pasang Sherpa today and he's super friendly with a super big laugh to boot.

Tara here: Apparently acommodation on the trek will range from $3-6 USD most nights - not including heat because there isn't any (yes, I'm trying not to think about it) and sometimes not including electricity. I am sure my muscles will go numb after about day two - will let you know after the fact. We have also booked two flights home from Pokhara, the town where the trek ends for about $150.

A few more words about Kathmandu so far. In the day and a half that we have been here we have seen some extreme poverty like we saw in Cambodia - women with babies asking for money or toddlers begging on the street. Not quite as much as Cambodia, but it is always hard to see. Another little tidbit. In most of the other countries we have been in so far people get things from A to B by piling them on the back of a motorbike or truck or rickshaw or other type of vehicle. Here, they mostly just carry things on their backs. We saw a guy carrying a fridge down the street today by himself. Yes, these people are small, but they are incredibly strong. I am sure we will be out of breath and huffing and puffing during our trek while our porter will hum along carrying 25 kilos of our stuff with no issues whatsoever.

Nathan again. Now, there won't be internet access on the trek so, unless something goes wrong, you won't hear from us until the end of the month. Hope everyone has a great month and we'll see you in a little bit. N&T.

PS - I know I'm not going to be popular with this next bit, but I'm predicting Ottawa goes down to Sid and the Penguins. You heard it here folks.
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Where I stayed
Nathan's Villa Hostel

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