Days Like These - Part I

Trip Start Sep 08, 2010
Trip End Ongoing

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Sunday, November 28, 2010

At 06:15 the five of us are sitting in the freezing darkness inside the van. No driver. No guide.
I am feeling no better from early morning visit to the 'toilet' (an upstairs room with no light and two open holes in the floor) and just want to remain perfectly still whilst dreading the 150Km of bumpy dirt road that lies ahead of us this morning.
At 06:30 Alex goes back inside to find our guide and driver sitting around the stove enjoying a cup of tea and a cigarette.

The van bounces through the darkness as we ascend the glacial valley and all occupants are thrown violently from side to side, up and down. I sit inside myself, concentrating on muscle control.

At 07:40 the van comes to an abrupt stop and we sit in empty blackness that coalesces into the form of the Rombok monastery. We are informed that the road has been unusually good this morning and we have arrived a little early. We sit in silence and try to imagine what manner of road improvements have led to this unexpected speed, what manner of rush hour traffic we have by some miracle avoided this November morning.
- We will have to wait twenty minutes until sunrise, Dolma, our guide, tells us.
We all know this is wildly optimistic having witnessed every sunrise since arriving in Lhasa - remember even here, at the base of the highest point in Tibet, we are still observing Beijing time - but we do not have the strength to argue the point.
- How far to EBC? Someone asks.
- 8Km, comes the reply.
- So we could get there before sunrise?
- Yes
- Shall we go then?
- It is I think cloudy today. Sunrise will be better here. You will see nothing at EBC.
- So we'll stay?
- Yes.

And so we sit and wait alone in the freezing night of 5100m. To our left the black outline of the small monastery emerges a fraction more out of the black hill. To our right the black outline of the nunnery, an empty guest house and one window behind whose curtain a bare bulb burns. We sit in silence and wait for seconds to pass. We sit and shiver until eventually our convulsions become giggles and we begin to laugh at the ludicrousness of our situation. Having got out of bed at a quarter past five, we are, three hours later, still sitting in a van in the freezing darkness, five thousand one hundred metres above sea level, alone in a car park with a guide who is refusing to talk to us waiting for the sun to rise into a cloud-filled sky that will obscure our view of the highest mountain in the world.
Forty minutes after we arrived, with the skies just beginning to suggest hints lighter than those of the surrounding mountains, two Land Cruisers - their occupants having enjoyed another hour in bed - rumble on past, straight on towards sunrise at Everest Base Camp. Ten minutes later, fed up and cold to the bones I slide open the door and step outside to photograph the dawn-filled clouds and what may or may not be the base of Everest.
I return to the van to find the giggles have become slightly hysterical and enquiring, am related the latest conversation between Louise and Dolma.
L - Dolma? Is there somewhere near here we can get a hot drink? at EBC maybe?
D - Yes (pointing to the building just to our right). There.
L - (Not thinking Dolma quite understood the question) No, is there somewhere where we can get a hot drink? a tea or a coffee?
D - Yes. There. (Pointing once more to the window that exposed the bare light). You can get breakfast there.
And so we are sitting inside, huddled around a dung-burning stove as pancakes and tea are prepared for us in utter disbelief that we could have been here all along rather than cramped in the freezing van. The others are in higher spirits which only goes to compound how dreadful I am feeling and after half my pancake I have to dash to the squat again.
The Land Cruisers returning from EBC pull up outside. Their occupants with beaming smiles join us around the dung stove and we mill about for another quarter of an hour for no apparent reason. A baby is produced from somewhere and much cooing ensues. I walk out to the van.
Ten minutes later Beth (whose body temperature has now dropped to below mere grumpiness) and I sit in the van waiting to move on. A conference is going on outside and when it becomes clear Dolma is beginning her rehearsed introduction to the monastery I shout out of the window and we are reluctantly included back in the tour.
After our tour of the monastery and we have all resumed our positions in the van, Dolma turns around and addresses us with sombre face. 
- We have many kilometres today. It's cloudy. We shall go? she says indicating the way back down the valley.
There is a stunned silence.
- Well, Dolma, I offer, Being presumptuous and speaking on behalf of the rest of the group, I think we'd all rather like to go the final eight kilometres to the Base Camp if that's alright.
She shrugs her shoulder as if to say suit yourself but it's a waste of everyone's time, and instructs the driver to carry on.
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