Yaks, Everest and Altitude Sickness.

Trip Start Sep 05, 2010
Trip End Aug 21, 2011

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Flag of China  , Xizang,
Sunday, January 9, 2011

Having turned the light out at 9.30 last night ( actually 7.30 as we lost 2 hours at the border) it was pretty unbelievable that all four of us were still sound asleep when the other dorm banged on our door to pick us up for breakfast at 8. Luckily the guide wasn't even there himself when we dragged ourselves down (minus poorly Mikey). The hotel seemed to be some kind of bakery and the entire breakfast room was filled with 100s of loaves spread out all over the tables. When we had our toast and omelette it seemed that it probably wasn’t fresh bread, but cold and hungry it tasted pretty good. The lady even made me a plate to take up to Mikey who forced down 2 slices of toast. Looking out over the valley from the 5th floor after sunrise was pretty spectacular, but it seems so harsh that the Tibetans have to operate in the same time zone as Bejing so that it doesn’t get light until 9am.

After 5 minutes driving both Mikey and I both felt so pleased that we have made the decision to come this route. Winding up the mountains on a perfectly tarmacked but empty road, the scenery was incredible. Stopping after half an hour so we could all skate on a glacier and peer up at a sky burial site was brilliant, but after another hour we reached the first peak in the road at 5200m -amazing. (There will be nine on the way to Lhasa and this was the 3rd highest I think).  The wind at the top was seriously strong and absolutely freezing. After a few times running around in excitement, we also realised the air was incredibly thin and we were all puffing hard. Each peak is identified by an arch covered in prayer flags frantically flapping in the wind. We saw a Tibetan family put some up when they reached the summit just after us. Even they didn’t hang around in the cold.

Other highlights on the drive were; seeing herds of Yaks and even tiny Yak babies *, playing with an adorable fluffy mountain puppy at one of the many checkpoints, lunch in a cosy mountain restaurant warmed by jasmine tea and a roaring central stove, and best of all glimpsing Everest in the distance. There is something so spectacular about the highest mountain in the world, and struggling to walk 50m to pee behind a rock at 5000m, I have no idea how anyone climbs at 8000m!

When we reached the town we were supposed to be staying in and seeing that it was indeed pretty deserted and wild, we agreed to continue for another 2 hours to Shigatse, lured by the promise of a hot shower. The last two hours were a bit grim as we’d had 6hrs in the car already and the four of us in the backseat got a bit uncomfortable and stir crazy. Richard and Mikey passed the time in an indepth discussion of both their teams and their own footballing histories. (Miles you’ll be excited to hear he is a diehard Charlton Fan – that makes two of you.) Mirenae and I tried to sleep and super spy Will in the front kept on snapping photos. My body obviously reads altitude very accurately as I had to get our driver to screech to a halt so I could jump out and get some fresh air (thereby narrowly avoiding a repeat of Agra Fort) 100m before the highest pass of the day – 5600m.

On arrival the hotel rooms were spacious and it was lovely to be on our own, but they were FREEZING!!! Hot water or not, there was no way I was having a shower and then having wet hair. Also the loo didn’t flush and after Mikey’s first visit, the bathroom became a no-go zone. Remembering Bear Grylls’ survival advice that it was most important to get warm first, then think about food, Mikey and I jumped into bed in coats and hats and covered ourselves with two duvets. He was wretched having not eaten since the morning’s toast (he spent lunch asleep in the car again) and my head felt like it was going to explode. The Lonely Planet said altitude sickness starts like a terrible hangover and they are completely right. Any slight movement feels like a metal ball banging around in your head.

We were too miserable and cold to get up and feeling too sick to eat so we cowered under the duvet and watched a Chinese version of The Wall. (the game where they have that big foam wall with funny shaped holes in it advancing on people dressed in lycra suits and they have to make shapes to fit through it or it knocks them into a pool of water. ) Anyway despite being in Chinese it was pretty funny as Chinese people are really scared of the water and made some great faces when they fell in.

Lying in bed with your heart pounding and feeling breathless from lack of oxygen is not a comfortable feeling and it wasn’t a good night! 
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