Nepal Trip Journal

23 April to 27 May 2008


21-22 April 2008

SF to Hong Kong (HK). 13.5 hrs. It was cramped, but I slept most of the time. I sat next to a grumpy Indian who I fought with for the arm rest.

In HK I had a 14 hour layover (6am-7pm). This is how travel should be: easy. John candy has nothing on me: In my half day in HK I took trains, planes, automobiles, subways, boats trams and a travelator (.5 km set of outdoor escalators). It starts with a train to Kowloon and a shuttle to a park where old people scatter in mazes of plants & do Tai chi. In this 3 min ride I met a guy on business who spent a lot of time in HK. He gave me a days Itinerary: Take the subway to Wong tai Sin Temple, then to the avenue of the Asian Stars, a ferry to HK Island, A bus to stanley market/beach on the south side of the island, a taxi to victoria peak, a tram down the peak, a trip to the mid-town travelator then a train back to the airport. I did just that and saw a lot of HK from 7am-3pm.

In Buddhist or Muslim prayer, or most prayer for that matter, people tend to pray quietly or in unison. Nothing for the sort here. A dude in front of me was bent over & quivering. some chick next to me was upright muttering to herself. And this guy up front was on hands & knees & he kept throwing these stones on the ground then pulling the rope they were attached to to reel them in and then repeat. Nice temple, weird people.

The avenue of the stars is a little strip on the bay of victoria harbor. Jackie chan has a star. bruce lee has a statue & a star, and this guy has a star: the creator of the first silent film in HK. the film was called "stealing the roast duck." the first film that was truly created in HK was "Zhaung Zi tests his wife." To the people of HK this man is a hero.

Cut through the sky scrapers in the north of HK island, through the forest past beaches & you get to a small peninsula that houses stanley market I got 4 silk ties for 6 USD & a 6 foot hand painting for 30 USD. That is my kind of market. Stanley was a great break from the city.

A taxi to Victoria peak where a misunderstanding of my English saved me 30 HKD (the guy agreed to a price not understanding where he was taking me until halfway through the ride). the peak had cool views of the city butted up against jungle. On the tram ride down an old woman told me I was too cute to be single. I informed her that I was not. The world appeared to make sense for her once again :-)

The travelator is a bunch of walkways & escalators which take you up a bunch of locks outdoors. No other purpose other than that people are lazy. Midway I had a drink with an Ausie who, at 2pm was by himself and on his 5th beer. He raises race horses.

Back to the airport. They don't have water fountains here. Bummer.

On the flight to Kathmandu I met the guy who set the record for youngest person (at 22) to summit everest without a guide.

I printed out 8 passport pictures of me. of course I had left them in my checked bag, which you get after immigration, and so I was forced to pay for passport photos to be taken to get my visa to enter the country. I exited and a dude had a sign with my name on it. he took me to the hotel no problem.

The hotel was quite nice, but pricey (and by pricey I mean $13). It's secluded which is nice for relaxing, but not for doing stuff. I probably won't be staying there again except for on the 9th & 10th with Christa.

KATHMANDU 1 & Everest Trek Summary

23 April – 5 May

A trip to the airport. What a shitty airport. There's a guard out front who clearly knows almost no english. he mumbles "ticket." I tell him I have an e-ticket. he looks confused. I pull out my printed receipt and explain that I have an electronic ticket with Yeti airlines again. He's still confused, but apathetic. I smile and stride past him. He just sighs and resumes lounging. the guard on the other side of the metal detector frisks me and pulls out a full 500 ml water bottle from my pocket, smiles and puts it back. looks like they don't have the liquid's rule here. 4 1/2 hours of waiting and even having our tickets taken and getting in a minibus to the airport to be informed that flights to Lukla have been cancelled. kinda a bummer but I get a cab to a guest house with this russian couple that I met and I felt the nervousness that I've had most of the trip wash away. first off the guy bargained the cabby down from 500 to 300 rupees ($8 to $5) for a cab ride. I laid down in my room and wandered the streets and it all started to come rushing back to me: how third world countries work. I haven't been to one since egypt and I haven't had a minute to breath since. It was nice strolling down the streets with motor bikes wizzing by and cars honking. stray dogs asleep on the side of the road. My personal favorite is the cows wandering the streets or sleeping in the middle of the road. It's just people trying to get by as best they can. It made sense again and now I'm much more relaxed (except for the fact that I've got to pee every hour and a half cause of this diamox altitude medication I'm taking).

Anyway, I'm off to wander the city a little more and have a beer at the kathmandu guest house. tonight I'm taking the russians (Anna and Peval) to Fire & Ice Pizza place where it's rumored that this was the favorite place for Prince Dipendra & his girlfriend, before he massacred his entire family in 2001.

So I took notes every day in my journal and it's about 6 times longer than the last email, so I thought I'd spare you for now and give ya a summary and then hit you with the nitty gritty details that I think kirby, adi, christa, veronica and val might like but the rest of you (spear headed by andy) will moan and groan about.

Anyway, it took me three friggin' days to fly from kathmandu to lukla. weather bad in lukla, getting better.... planes fly out 20 minutes, weather getting worse, planes turn around and go back to katmandu (which by the way has a security screening for your checked luggage and then they give the luggage back to you so you can remove whatever knives or whatever you want before you walk the bag over to the ticket counter and check them in to the guy pulling the cart filled with bags).

So after three days I got there and hiked 4 hours to monjo. I jut so happened to meet up with two israeli's, Ido and Benny. They were doing the same trek as me, independently, at the same pace and were the only other people at the guest house. it was serendipity. benny ended up going home after getting altitude sickness at 3800 m.

Ido and I pushed on. we were above mt whiteny height by our 4th day and by our fifth day had completed or first of 5 consecutive 5000 + meter climbs. These mountains are huge. I mean the 5000 meter dirt piles that we were climbing looked like a little turd next to these 8000 meter giants like lohste and nuptse and Everest. On our 6th day we started a long hike and then found out that everest base camp was being closed off to everyone without a climbing permit on may 1. The day was april 30. shit. so Ido and I powered through altitude sickness and thin air and boulders and stuff, got a room at the last town before base camp and hoofed it the extra two hours there. it was pretty cool. hundreds of tents on a glacier right next to a huge glacier that looked like it was pouring from in between nuptse and some smaller peak that gaureded everest. the highlight was the everest basecamp bakery. the guy had to ship apples and dough and stuff from kathmandu which is why it cost 5 bucks a slice, but it was some of the best food I had on the trip.

We shlepped back after 10 hrs of hiking and pooped out.

Then next day we went to kala patar (5500 m peak with great everest views) and snapped some pictures then trekked down to this lodge before a big ass pass over the mountains that would lead us to this town Gokyo the next day. The dude that ran the place lead 10 everest expeditions and summited 4 times. the guy who ran the first place we stayed out in monjo summited 3 times then went to the states to become a civil engineer. he showed me the auto cad designs for the guest house and the hydro electric power plant that he built and used to supply power to 130 families near by as an act of charity.

Anyway the next day we summited the cho la pass. basically you find the two peaks that you're passing between and head for the v in between them. I was worried about it, but it turned out to be lots of fun. we got to boulder hop and then walk on this wild glacier with crazy ice structure that crunched several inches under your feet when you walked. you could see little underground streems as you crunched away, but it ice never gave way. as we walked across the glacier you could see these mamoth mountains that pictures just cant describe. we were the only ones there for quite some time and it was just amazing.

Finally down across another glacier that was quite different (it was riddled with lakes and sand dunes and rivers) to get to gokyo, a little lake town. we did our last big summit at 4am to see the sun rise over everest and then sat on our asses and enjoyed the lake view and the yak shit fuelled central furnace.

In two days we hiked down what had taken us 6 days to ascent, all the way down to lukla.

There we ran into Anna and Pavel, a russian couple that I had hung out with when I was waiting for 3 days for my lukla flight. we went out drinking in lukla (which is dead by 7:30 pm). We were the only ones out and enjoyed 2 of the towns 4 bars including an irish pub.

Now i'm back in kathmandu. my flight was actually on time (imagine that) and i'm getting another tailored suit here.

I'm staying again with ido and benny. we ended up doing the trip in 11 days (including a day of rest at gokyo), so i'm back early. oh and my american cell phone works here and in namche bazar on the everest trail for some reason.

Oh and there was about a 2:1 or 3:2 ratio of porters to yaks on the trails, ido and I decided.

Anyway, I gotta go celebrate with steak and drinks at rum doodle (a celebratory bar for ascending Everest, google the name if you're curious). i'll make sure to type up the gory details upon my return, and I'll respond to all your awesome emails tomorrow.


23 – 24 April

So as I was leaving the Internet café where I typed my first email, an open Photoshop application caught my eye. I asked the guy about it. He said that he was googling Hindu gods and pasting their head on a Nepali Nature background for a website that he was working on for his internet café. He wasn’t too bad with Photoshop. I taught him how to feather images to blend them more seamlessly and I showed him so he could have cool buttons on his site. Then I wandered off and got lost, eventually finding myself at the Kathmandu Guest House for a beer, no wait, some rum drink with fresh lime juice.

I met up with the Russians, Anna & Pavel for pizza at Fire & Ice. I spilled half my pizza on the table in an effort to better display it for a photo of the three of us. I still at the pizza. Early to bed. I had a better nights rest (my body is adjusting well to the Diamox).

We had an earlier flight (7:45 vs. 9:40) so I was convinced that I was going to fly to Lukla today. Not so. After 6, ½ hrs of waiting, all but two of the ten or so Lukla flights were cancelled on account of weather. F*ch. I got the last seat on tomorrows 6am flight. If that doesn’t make it I don’t know what to say.

Anna & Pavel were nice enough to take my bag back to the hotel so I could see some temples.

I bargained a heard of taxi drivers for a four hour temple tour. The guy in front said 800 Rupees. While he yammered about it being a good deal the guy behind him discretely raised six fingers. I looked at him and said “500.” He nodded and the guy in front said 600. I started walking forward & it was a good 20 seconds before the first guy realized what had happened. I think someone else shouted 500, but I respected the backstabbing bidding my guy did, so I stuck with him.

Some temple that starts with a P by the airport. Skinny cows, stray dogs, and monkes, more than you can shake a stick at, were there. On monkey stalked me for five minutes and another snuck up from behind and swiped a hole in a bag I was carrying in a failed attempt to get my food. Bastards.

The temples were neat and Hindu. There was on giant gold statue of a bull with its balls floppin’ about. The biggest thing was that there were non-stop, out door, public cremations at the temple. They’d make a bed of loggs, lay a body in cloth on the logs, cover it with twigs, (yeah, I know Eric the twigs and small stuff are supposed to go on the bottom, but it works), then they light it up. Friends and random people would watch from the bridge by the banks for the river where the cremation was.

I saw a Tibetan temple next called Budnah or something like that (man, I’m usually better with names). It was a cool white dome with eyes painted everywhere. More interesting was the heavy pro “free Tibet” atmosphere with demonizing cartoons about China that consumed the place.

Anyway, havin’ a beer & praying I get to Lukla tomorrow.


25 April 08

Everest Day 1

Success! We flew into some small stone & dirt airstrip a 5 minute flight from Lukla. We landed by cork-screw dive bombing the strip at like a 30 or 40 degrees. Then we waited for the weather improvements & I met a guy named John with an uncanny resemblance to Ace Ventura Pet Detective.

An hour later we landed at Lukla. The strip starts at a shear cliff and rises at a steady 20 degree incline. The landing wasn’t very scary though.

We were met by a sea of porters and guides trying to get ~$10/day to carry all of your worldly possessions. In true third world fashion they carry the bags with a basket and straps that transfers the load onto their head.

I pushed through the crowd and started my hike at 2800 meters amongst the forested mountains that disappear into the clouds. I passed a guest house or store like every 10 to 20 minutes. I passed small herds of yaks carrying goods just about as frequently.

On a side note, I did use trekking poles and I have to admit I really like ‘em for down and up-hills (for flats they just get in the way). But I still think that the $150 model that Eric has with shock absorbers is excessive.

Anyway, 2 hrs down and I reached Phanding and another 2 hours up and I reached Monjo. I stayed at the Summit Lodge which was awesome. The single room with working light costs 50 rupees (at 63 rupees/$ that’s about 85 cents). They get you on the food for which I spent ~670rps for lunch, dinner, & breakfast.

I met a couple of Israelis (Ido and Beny) who are doing the same exact trek that I am and with the same 12-13 day goal, so I think I’ll try and travel with them. They were the only other people staying in the lodge that I was staying at my first night; what luck.

I would be remise if I didn’t talk about the lodge owner who’s a very interesting guy. First, he was a mountain guide who summated Everest 3 ½ times (the ½ time was getting to 8400 of 8850 meters on the western approach, where 21 out of the 40 climbers who have attempted to summit this way made it out alive, before his client got sick and had to turn around). After 15 years he decided too many of his guide friends were dying so he went to the US, got his GED, AA, and then BS in Civil Engineering. He now lives in Portland with his two daughters & comes back frequently to visit his girlfriend for whom he sunk $150,000 USD to build this very nice guest house so that she can run it and not be bored. He’s the only man around here that designed his own building using Autocad & wired the whole thing up himself. In fact, he made a hydro-electric power plant based in the nearby river to supply continuous power to him and the 130 other families over a 4 Km stretch for free. A very interesting guy.

26 April 08

Everest Day 2

First I gotta commend Val on her travel journal. Val did the same Everest and Annapurna hikes that I’m doing/going to do & took detailed day-by-day notes with prices & which guest houses are good and what the hike was like etc. About 5 or 6 people have already read the Everest entries & loved every word. One person said that they would have paid money for the notes. Another read her Annapurna entries and said that it tipped him over the edge and made him decide to extend his trip and hike Annapurna.

And another thing, I freaked out yesterday cause my hands & occasionally my toes were tingling. I found out that it was a Diamox side effect.

So the trekking was short today; an hour crossing bridges, an hour fifteen up a hill & 15 minutes wandering through Namche Bazaar (the biggest town on the Everest trek) looking for a room. In Namche they have the internet, a sporadically working ATM, three bakeries, people selling all sorts of trekking gear, and my favorite is that my American cell phone with my American SIM card works here. I called Adi and Christa for shits and giggles, but then realized that calls are probably a buck a minute so I turned off my phone.

Ido & I took a day hike up a hill an hour and a half to the emergency landing strip. This was a grass & pot-hole strip with 1 foot diameter rocks scattered about. The runway exited off a cliff and in about 500m if you don’t bank hard right you’d end up in the middle of a mountain. Sweet.

We found a small herd of yaks grazing with a huge snowy mountain, whose peak was hidden in the clouds, as a backdrop. Ido took a picture of me and the yaks. One tried to lunge at me, but he was one of the two that was tied up (and I guess now we know why).

Ido & I talked about travel & friendship & religion as we descended.

I took a nap, bought a book and a funny hat, then had dinner with Beny & Ido. We talked about how there was a movie about 9/11 being a conspiracy theory and how the Jews got the Torah. Ido thought the Jews just found it somewhere. Beny didn’t know.

27 April 08

Everest Day 3

We decided to skip the recommended rest day in Namche ‘cause we were feeling ok and it was only 11,000 ft (skiing elevation). The road winded along the hillside overlooking some mammoth snow capped Himalayan peaks. We were constantly dodging packs of yaks on the trail. Ido got impatient and tried to hurry past a herd of 3 yaks on a narrow section of the road. This annoyed the lead yak and he hit Ido in the butt with his horns as penance.

Over and down then up a steep hill where we began to feel the thin air until 1 & ½ hrs of climbing later we arrived at Tengbouche. Tengbouche is at a crest and as we poked over the edge we got our first glimpse of Everest. It was in the distance, but stood slightly dominant over the other mountains.

Ido & I had chocolate cake, which was fantastic and much better than in Namche, while we waited for Beny. I wandered off to a large Tibetan Buddhist monastery where I was allowed to enter and meditate. It was awesome; beautiful paintings, tapestries and a big gold Buddha. The monk that let me in wore a dark red robe, as is the custom. But, upon closer inspection, it was a mountain hardware fleece (probably a knock-off too). Apparently his mountaineer father gave it to him. Weird.

Two hours later Beny arrived. We got a cheap room for the night. The altitude is getting to him and he might go back to Kathmandu. We’ll see tomorrow.

Oh and in this little village I saw someone chatting on their Motorola Razer.

28 April 08

Everest Day 4

Benny was still feeling ill & didn’t want to press on. Ido continued on the trek with me& plans to meet up with Beny in 9 days.

We got out a little earlier today and were rewarded with mountains half bathed half in sun and half in shadow. Everest (poking out behind Mt Nuptse) was back lit and didn’t come into view clearly for an hour. As we hiked along the edge of a mountain following a river, we could see snow capped Himalayan giants towering above. The landscape began to change as we ascended above 4000 m (13,000 ft). Trees disappeared and only shrubs remained. By 4200 m the shrubs were mostly gone. On one side of us loomed mountains of rock and rubble with crags that were very reminiscent of Mordor from Lord of the Rings. On the other side, giants grew from a base of rubble and loomed, snow capped with wisps of clouds orbiting about them.

After 3 ½ hours of hiking & 600 m of elevation gain to 4400 m we arrived at Dingbouche. We got a room at the Snow Lion per Val’s recommendation. It is nicer than the last place and a room with 2 beds for 2 nights costs a grand total of 150 rupees (after some very mild bargaining). That’s about 50 cents/person/night. But they, like the vast majority of guest houses, make their money on food. You have to eat dinner & breakfast at the lodge or else the room costs like 1200 rps/night. But the food is pretty similar in variety, quality and price in most towns, so whatever.

Oh I forgot to mention there this one “town” on the map, Orsho. It’s 45 minutes from any real town on either side. This “town” consists of the Sunrise lodge & restaurant and a desert & rubble backdrop. I don’t know why I mentioned it, but it just felt eerie and out of place; a one lodge town.

Ido & I had garlic soup for lunch. The Autocad guy from the first guest house had mentioned that garlic soup is good for coping with altitude so we’ve had it almost every day. I don’t think it does too much, but we’re both afraid of altitude sickness as it seems like every day we’re ok, but at the hairy edge of falling ill- though it’s probably partly paranoia.

After lunch I climbed halfway up Nangkar Tshang to 4750 (15800ft), the highest that I’ve ever been. Each step I huffed and puffed and could feel the blood rushing in my head. But after an hour when I reached the peaks half way mark I was rewarded by breathtaking views of Ama Deblam and several other peaks that felt so much closer as I looked at them more eye-to-eye than I had during my hiking. I came down, enjoying the thickening air. When I got to the room I chatted with Ido and realized that I was forgetting words (not simple words, but words that I’d normally know). I was loopy and it scared me. But I laid down for several minutes and lucidity crept back into my brain.

As I write this from my room I can see through the window a 6800m snow capped Ama Deblam whose base is 50 m away. Man what I wouldn’t give for this view back home.

I took a nap as is becoming the custom, then adjourned for some Sherpa stew with gristly yak meat. This trip has virtually turned me into a vegetarian. Ido & I played president/asshole with some other Israeli travelers then stumbled through the dark hallway back to our room. (I had forgotten my head lamp and my brand new flashlight had broken. My theory is that somehow the altitude did it. It was spotty at 3800 M and didn’t work at all here at 4400 m. I even tried new batteries to no avail. Plus here Ido’s headlamp was barely working)

29 April 2008

Everest Day 5

Today is an easy day; an acclimatization day. We got a leisurely start and summated Nangkar Tshang (5100 m) in 2 hours. This is the hill that made me loopy halfway up yesterday & after one night’s sleep here at 4400 m I climbed it without too much trouble. I’ve been made a true believer in acclimatization.

At the peak we had the same spectacular views that I had yesterday only better. But, my camera wasn’t working; the lens wouldn’t retract. I tried to unscrew the tiny screws that hold the front cover to get at the lens with my fingernails and then with small rocks, but to little avail. Then I remembered a paperclip in my money belt holding some bills together. I sharpened it and flattened the end using a nearby boulder. I used my tool to open the case and fix the lens losing only one redundant screw in the process.

We took some pictures and napped on the peak for an hour and a half with the sound of wind whipping through the mountains in the background.

We came back down and decided to try a different place for lunch: Hotel Arizona. The menus are all about the same around here except for the more English that the owners speak, the more you pay.

30 April 2008

Everest Day 6

Yesterday was easy, today was the hardest day of the trek. For the third day in a row we set off up Nangkar Tshang, but after 15 min of climbing we cut left and slowly and steadily walked across this wasteland area where the only plants were shrubs. (the tree line in the Himalayas is about 4000 m.) We were in a valley surrounded by peaks. Cross the river, up a pass and through more dirt/sand/stone paths. All plants but moss had virtually disappeared by the time we reached this shitty little town called Lobuche. We were tired and not very well acclimatized. Ido got garlic soup to help with the altitude and I chatted with this girl who was from the states and had been living in a nunnery in little Debouche for three months. She informed us that May 1 they closed Everest base-camp for 10 days because of potential pro-Tibetan protesters making trouble for the Chinese Everest Olympic torch expedition. Shit- it's April 30th. We were planing on hiking to the next town, Gorak Shep, then maybe climbing the Everest viewing peak, Kala Patar, but that's it. now we've both got head aches at 4900 m and we have to climb to 5100 (Gorak Shep) and do a 4-5 hour round trip base camp hike before it gets dark. Stupid Chinese.

Saddle up and move me out. I don't know why, but this little 100 meter switch-back climb through rocks and sand was the hardest 15-20 minutes of the trip. Later I'd scale boulders at 5300 m, but this was somehow more difficult. Anyway, through rubble & over rocks & on rare occasion, a nicely defined trail & we got to a small desert town named Gorak Shep. We through down our packs, breathe4d deeply and headed to base camp. There are three parts to this trek. First, up & down & up & down over boulders and rubble, then along the ridge of this rubble pile, and finally over a glacier to base camp. I didn't even know that we were on a glacier until I happened to glance to my right and saw huge boulders next to me being held up by pedestals of ice. We were on the rock covered portion of the glacier. To might right was the uncovered brother of the glacier on which I was treading. It seemed to pour out of Khumbutse & Nuptse (the peaks that obscure Everest (8850 m) & Loste (8400m). The glaciers was jagged & fierce looking. It looked like an avalanche had come down the mountain, been whipped into a frenzy by a hurricane, then flash frozen. As we approached we could see hundreds of tents (apparently there were 45 expeditions at the time, all of which had to get pulled back to base camp to clear the way for the Chinese). We walked past the check point where Nepalese guards were supposed to be checking for free Tibet junk. They weren't patrolling very hard, cause I only found out about their purpose a few days later when I talked to a trekker who had been searched. The highlight was the Everest base camp bakery. There's a tent where a guy gets ingredients packed in from Kathmandu and then bakes them in mini-ovens right then and there. Ido & I each had a $5 piece of apple pie. Maybe it was the long trek, maybe it was the backdrop o the tallest mountains in the world (though you can't see Everest from base camp) or maybe it was just that good, but that apple pie was the best dessert I've had this trip.

After navigating base camp for 45 minutes we headed back & passed out upon our return at 4;45. I had pushed myself too hard and could feel my body starting to get sick. This had happened to me before (Adi, Melissa, Nancy, & Randy, your remember the Yosemite backpacking trip where we had to hitch-hike back home). Luckily 10 hrs of sleep tonight & 11 the next cured me.

I don't recommend doing this much in a day if it can be avoided, but under the circumstances it was totally worth it.

1 May 2008

Everest Day 7

Kala Patar is a mound of dirt & rocks next to Gorak Shep. It rises 5500 or 5600 meters depending on who you ask. Regardless, at over 18,000 ft, it’s probably the highest point I’ll ever be at unless I really get into mountaineering.

We strapped on our day packs at 7am and climbed it the way we’ve learned how to on these high, thin aired hikes; one foot in front of the other, slowly steadily & patiently. The top of Kala Patar was riddled with prayer flags (brightly multi colored pieces of fabric with prayers written on them, strung together on a rope and hung at random around almost all trekking peaks and destinations).

Here we were with a 360 degree view of the Himalayas. Behind us Pumo Ri (7200 m), to its right, Lingtren (6800m), then Kumbutse (6700 m), nestled behind, but still towering above is Everest (8850m), then still looming in the background, Lhoste (8400m), in the foreground, still moving clockwise, Nuptse(7900 m). Facing south were some lesser 5000 meter peaks, then west, Lobuche peak (6100 m), Changri (6000 m), Chumbu (6900 m) then full circle back to Pumo Ri. Changri is just to the east of Changri La, the mythical paradise. In Nepali, “La” just means pass (trail between 2 mountains where a traveler may pass). So Chagri La is just the Mt Changri Pass.

Needless to say the views were breathtaking and a reminder of how small I am. This was the climax of the Everest trek and it did not disappoint. (Though the argument may be made that the journey itself is the climax, but that doesn’t sound right at all). After we had our fill, we descended and headed to Lobuche. My lungs thanked me both for the lower altitude, and also for the reduction of dust and fine sand in the air which made everyone cough.

We had cookies, which my very Jewish friend Ido had purchased several packages of in Kathmandu for 50 cents apiece, and tea at the Eco lodge. Then we went on our way to Dzonghla (the last little town before the Cho La pass, yeah that’s redundant, but us westerners are ignorant).

The trail was a narrow one that wrapped around a mountain. The stiff winds made me nervous about the huge plunge on the left to the valley below, but the cliff made the 2 hr hike all that much more enjoyable.

We made it to Dzonghla by 2:30, and to my surprise, got a room (often they’re booked up here). We stayed at the place Val told me about where the owner had lead 10 Everest expeditions and summated four times. We got there in the nick of time because at 3 it started to snow, very lightly, but snow non-the-less.

I chatted with this Christian kid who spent 2 years In Nepal after high school, but didn’t really know why. Then I talked with this dude from Boise who recommended the sampe place to stay in Gokyo (where we were going tomorrow) as Val had recommended. (On a quick aside, I think I’ve opened the lonely planed Nepal like 3 times and Vals travel nots so many times that the pages are wearing out.)

Anyway, early to bed to quash the sickness brought about by the previous day’s hike and to get ready for an early morning attack of the Cho La pass.

2 May 08

Everest Day 8

 I’ve heard horror stories about how hard it was to find the Cho La pass trail and how brutal a climb it was. I prepared for the worst. It turned out to be reasonably well marked (by Nepali standards) with green paint on rocks. And, though it was challenging, it was very enjoyable and not that dangerous. After the initial slug up rocks and rubble we got to boulder hop, which I very much enjoy. I actually got to use my hands a little and when I stopped to catch my breath I had a beautiful valley with snow capped peaks to look at.

It wasn’t ‘till the top of the boulders and the beginning of the snowy glacier that we saw another soul. Now here comes the coolest part. The glacier was capped with this odd snow/ice crystalline structure that you crunched and sunk several inches down into with each step. I could see little streams at parts through the Ice crystals, but the ground always held. Here is the only part with no trail at all, but who cares; mountain on the left, mountain on your right, head for the middle and you can’t go wrong.

This ice field with craggy peaks, distant peaks & devoid of people was one of my favorite parts of the trip. At the end of the glacier the two peaks joined at a small lake that we scrambled around. On the other side, traditional prayer flags signified our summit of the pass.

One step past the flags and I suddenly realized my Everest region trip was almost at an end. The scenery turned from the snowy mountain peaks behind me to a steep mass of rocks and brown hills and sprawls. How disappointing. But all good things must come to an end.

We trudged down the rocks until stopping at lunch at Dragnet and then continuing over another very different glacier from Cho La or Everest base camp. This one was huge. The crossing was “Nepali flat” (up and down with no net altitude gain). We zig zagged across a series of rock mounds, around lakes, over gray sand dunes and over rivers gushing out from under the glacier. To get from obstacle to obstacle you had to be on the lookout for manmade rock piles to lead the way. Also, we saw several primitive advertisements painted on stone for the Friendship lodge in Dragnet.

Aright up the river and we were at Gokyo, a small tourist village by a very pretty turquoise lake. There were a couple snow capped mountains and apparently, beautiful Gokyo valley is on the other side of a 5400 m pass, but Ido and I were tired of passes.

In the backyard sat a mound of dirt and rocks just like Kala Patar & Nangkar Tsang, called Gokyo Ri.

All the way down from Cho La I couldn’t stop thinking about watching TV on my big screen with Christa, a la bamba burrito and fresh baked cookies. To my surprise Gokyo Cho-oyo view lodge had none of those things. Though Ido and I did have celebratory pizza and beer, which weren’t bad.

Our room overlooks beautiful Gokyo Lake, the toilet is an Asian squatter, but it’s indoors and, like Val and some dude from Boise told me, the owner couldn’t be nicer.

3 May 08

Everest Day 9

Woke up at 4 am to summit Gokyo Ri at sunrise. We had to borrow a headlamp cause I forgot mine and my ridiculously expensive high powered durable REI flashlight failed after a few days. Just for that I might try and return my 13 year old back pack that I no longer use (they take almost anything back). Anyway for the 5th time in 5 days we trudge over 5000m. The sun rose, Everest and Lohste were back lit as expected, I was shivering and my camel back froze over on the ascent. But, Ido had never seen a mountain sunrise and he seemed happy. The views actually were nice, but not as nice as the views in the east.

By 7:30 we were down and ordering breakfast. We could have easily started out descent today and made it a 10 day trip, but we deserve a rest day. Cho-oyo view lodge was an upstairs dining room/lounge room right on the lake with windows all around. It has blankets and, like almost all lodges in the region, a central furnace powered by collected Yak dung. (Ido noted that they probably don’t wash their hands between loading Yak dung and cooking our food.)

It snowed hard for 2 – 3 hours on and off, but I was cozy under a comforter, reading, writing and looking out at the lakes and mountains.

Now for some random stuff. Ido and I guestimated that the Porter to Yak ratio on the trail is 3:2 or 2:1 (kinda sad since they have the same job).

The menu items for all the lodges are roughly the same. Breakfast: various breads, plain or cheese omelets, hash browns. Lunch/dinner: spaghetti with tomato sauce or cheese, Dhal Baat (traditional Nepali dish of lentil soup + boiled vegetables and rice), a variety of rice dishes with vegetables, eggs and or curries, spring rolls with veggies, cheese and/or tuna (spring rolls are actually more like calzones here), pizza, fried noodles, momo (pot stickers with veggies, potatoes, meat and/or cheese, that are steamed or fried), an array of tea, and some simple desserts like rice pudding or occasionally apple fritters. It’s actually a lot of variety, but it’s almost all vegetarian. The quality is so-so (though it beats the hell out of hungry-man camping food in a bag) and you find yourself craving lasagna, burritos, cookies, ice cream, steak, good curry, fruit juice, syrup for French toast and pancakes, if your Ido, shwarma, and about a dozen other foods. I guess that’s why Kirby & Val always talked about food in their Nepal travel blogs.

4 May 08

Day 10

This was another big hiking day. We were going down, but going down in one day the distance it took us three days to go up. We hiked downhill for four hours with only two 5 minute breaks. We did get side tracked cause Ido thought that instead of doing the Nepali down hill (up, down, down, up, down, down, etc.) we’d cut down and follow the river. Soon, as I predicted, the sketchy river trail ended and we had to climb back up the hill.

It was actually kinda pretty going down from Gokyo. We followed a gorge and could see the trail and slanted villages etched into the mountain across the river.

We got to some shitty place for lunch that served honey that was rock solid. The fried potatoes weren’t bad though.

It started to rain and I became even more determined to reach Namche Bazaar with its Sherpa land hotel with thick comforters and its three bakery’s. We marched uphill then down and through the rain to get to Namche before 3.

Both our knees were shot from the net 1400 m descent, but the air was thick and easy to breath. We scarfed some pastries, talked with some chick who was touting the wonders of Vepasena meditation, then another girl who said that Kilimanjaro was boring compared to this (apparently it’s 4 days up, 1 day down and no acclimatization days cause the porters want you to get sick so they don’t have to haul your junk to the top).

5 May 08

Day 11

The last hike; back down to Lukla airport. I hand’t confirmed my seat yet and I wanted to get there before the offices closed at 4. I later passed a guy doing the same thing on the same airlines. I wanted to beat him to the ticket counter to ensure a higher place in line in case the weather was bad in Lukla and only one or two planes got through.

He passed me during a five minute cliff bar break. I powered uphill for the last two hours hard (ascending faster than I had descended on my first day). I never saw him. Maybe he stopped for lunch, I don’t know. I was disappointed, but it didn’t matter cause I couldn’t find the yeti airline ticket office for half an hour anyway. Beaten by a dude in a weird looking horizontal stripped shirt who I know nothing about and had talked to for 5 minutes; how embarrassing.

We failed to get a room in two lodges and ended up at the Yeti lodge, the crappiest place we’ve stayed at all trip. The pillows were literally 2 pieces of foam sewed together, the ceiling was covered with a blue tarp and the door wouldn’t open unless you lifted the bed mattress out of the way, the light power oscillated and they locked us out of our room twice. It was the only guest house that we refused to eat a single meal at.

Like Val, upon her return to Lukla, we had nasty spaghetti for dinner, but on the plus side I was reunited with Ana and Pavel (the Russian couple that I met waiting for the Lukla flights).

We painted the town (which was dead by 7:30 pm) red. We were the only customers at the 2 of the towns 4 pubs that we went to. The power went out at Boomerangs and they had to light candles as we enjoyed our local San Miguel brews (I don’t know how San Miguel is local). Then we had a choice between a pool cue with no tip and one that had been broken in half and duct taped back together at the Irish pub. On our way back Anna fell into a waist deep ditch. Pavel was behind her and fell on top of her. They were both ok.


6 May – 10 May 2008

So I guess I'm officially 4 for 4 in reeking disaster. For the few of you that don't already know a huge tornado hit Myanmar killing 100,000 and injuring 1,000,000+. It's very sad particularly because the Myanmar govt won't allow foreign aid for fear of loosing power over it's people. It's just so senseless. Anyway, my prayers go out to those poor people. So were did I leave off with my summary. Ah lukla. I was promised the first flight out, I got the third. They told me that the first three flights flew out at the same time. I didn't believe them. it actually turned out to be true. By some miracle the weather was good and the flights were on time. It was nuts. One yeti flight gets in and turns off the runway to this small airplane parking lot that's a square 4 plane lengths by 4 plane lengths. then a gorkha flight comes in and then another yeti flight there are now three planes in this tiny area spinning in circles to point the right direction and hustling like hell to get people off and on the planes. The first yeti flight pulls out of the parking lot and moves around a gorkha plane that's actually turning around. The planes scoot by each other with like 5 feet to spare. Not 5 minutes after the first yeti flight takes off the third, my plane, lands and crams into the little parking lot. In 10 minutes they deplane, we board and we're on the runway (an unexpected burst of efficiency). We careen down the 20 degree downhill runway towards the edge of the cliff. I'd say maybe 50 yards before the end of the cliff/runway the pilot hits the elevator and the plane lifts off seconds before getting a real boost of speed from falling off the mountain.

Ido had gotten on the gorkha flight before me. We exchanged emails before and agreed to meet up. Not an hour and a half after I land (then get a taxi) I bump into Ido in thamel, both of us looking for a place to stay. We found some ok place with the regular power outages. (Nepal cities have 4-8 hours of power outages a day due to power constraints. Some think it's due to corporate greed, all educated people think it's ridiculous: Nepal has the second largest, behind Brazil, potential water power in the world. all they need to do is build some hydro electric plants and they'd have enough energy for themselves plus enough to sell to India and china, but the govt. sucks. A lot of folks are waiting with fingers crossed to see if the new maoist govt will actually build the much needed power plants.)

We wasted the day with showers and email etc, and enjoyed ever minute of it. The room had TV and we caught up on the US elections and B-rated movies. Finally a steak dinner and drinks at Rum Doodle to celebrate. (Rum Doodle is a book about ascending the worlds tallest peak at 40,000 1/2 ft. It's a spoof on into thin air and other such climbing books and it is a tradition to go their after going to Everest.)

The next day I went to see one of the three Durbar Squares. (Where the center of power of Katmandu used to be. It apparently moved around a lot.) On the way I saw this weird ceremony where girls of like 8 or 9 were getting married to bowls of fruit in a lavish ceremony. Apparently they first get married to fruit then later to the sun and then later in life to a man. The first two marriages ensure that the girls will never be widows. The girls were decked out in their prettiest Hindi garb (no cracks guys they were too young for me :P) and seemed to be enjoying being pretty princesses. I saw a group of guys doing the same thing on the other side of the courtyard and they were fidgety and clearly annoyed to be there.

I checked out this one very cool temple that was simple, but ornately carved. it's the home of the living goddess. Apparently durbar square holds a living goddess; a young girl. I don't know what she does, but there were a bunch of mythical stories about why she is needed. Anyway she looses her god status when she gets her period and is replaced by a younger model. It's said that it is bad luck to marry an ex-goddess, probably cause she was brought up to be a spoiled brat.

I realized about this time that Christa was getting in late Friday night and we were going to be going to annapurna on sun. She needed here Travel Information Management System (governmental trekkers card for database tracking purposes in case you get lost) and her annapurna permit. I don't think the offices are open on Sat: crap. I wandered into an internet cafe to see if they had internet and photoshop. "photo-what?" the dude replied. Luckily a kanuk on an i-mac who was doing his masters thesis on information management for medical institutions overheard me and offered to help with his GIMP freeware, photoshop equivalent software. We dug through embarrassing pictures of Christa getting cake thrown at her on her birthday and picts of andy bearing his ass and making out with someone that earned him a railroad spike to the back until we stumbled upon a pict of christa at Alcatraz with prison bars in the background, headphones on and a goofy smile. Ludovic graciously helped me make 4 passport picts from that pict from my website. He emailed the photo out to me then I set about the task of finding a place with internet and a color printer. The 7th internet cafe that I asked had one and I printed out the picts and went all about town getting her travel docs and our plane tix from Johmson to pokhara.

After all this I still had time to check out Durbar square number two in Patan. Much the same as number one, it had a bunch of cool temples, but it also had a small but awesome museum (some say one of the best in the subcontinent) that explained about hindu and Buddhist gods and what their posses mean and their hand gestures mean. Hindu gods often have more than one head and more than two arms to show their godly and complex emotions and feelings. A pose with a triple bend (legs going one way, torso another and head another) is a passive placated stance. Angular dancing means there's about to be some violence going down. Ganish, the elephant headed son of partivi and Shiva used to have a normal head. Partivi once told him to guard her door and not to let anyone in. Big daddy shiva comes home and ganish say's you can't pass. "WTF!" shiva exclaims. "I've got my orders," mutters ganesha stupidly. Bam! Shiva lops off his head. Partivi is distraught and tells Shiva to bring their son back to life. Finally Shiva pouts and says ok, but he gets the head of whatever animal/person walks by next. An elephant walked by. You'll also notice that Ganesha often has one tusk shorter than the other. The moon made fun of him and called him a fatty so he got pissed and broke off the tip of one of his own horns a chucked it at the moon.

Buddhism often coexists with Hinduism and got started by Siddhartha in around 6-7 ad. Buddha found that the way to nirvana is to relinquish desire. His simple message spread and now there's a lot of Buddhists. Buddhism and Hinduism are very intermingled and it is often confusing to tell the difference.

I had dinner alone at some cool beer garden at an Indian restaurant. It was pretty sweet, but then I got reminded that in Asian culture the fattier meat near the bone and the intestine are considered delicacies. Gimme some nice lean meat any day. Ido and benny got some kinda stomach bug and couldn't make it out.

The next day I stopped my ritual of a Delima's breakfast (awesome garden breakfast of eggs, toast, tea and home fries for a buck). I tried the 8 story high, lonely planet recommended Helen's. The lonely planet recommendation got to their heads as they raised the price and the food was sub par except for the excellent croissants.

I got a taxi to baktapur (where Durbar square number three is) about 12 km (or one hour with smoggy Katmandu traffic) away. I got the usual attack of guides and was eventually persuaded by a ninth grader to check out his art school. It was actually pretty interesting. It was all about Tibetan Buddhist art. I learned that it takes 10 years + to become a master and a lot of paintings are joint works of beginners doing the simple stuff, intermediates doing the figures and shading and masters doing the 24 carat gold and silver painting and the facial expressions with 6 hair brushes. I talked with the university educated art studio manager for about an hour about his hopes and fears of the Maoist government and the need for hydro electric power and how he felt torn voting for a people who brutally murdered Nepalese. But, he felt that the Maoists are the only ones that even claim to want to help the bulk the Nepalese (94% of which are farmers). He fears that they will get comfy in power and forget those that supported them, but in two years time we'll find out.

I wandered through he quite touristless streets and even got some weird looks from Hindi's in suits with crazy grass lei's around their neck when I went into some temples. I saw women on the street knitting the caps they sell in thamel (tourist part of Katmandu). I saw old women sieving grain and pots baking in the sun. I saw ducks and goats being herded and animal intestines being cleaned and left over wheat husks being burned and used to cook scrawny carcasses. I saw horribly malnourished pet (I think) dogs. And of course some beautiful temples. Hindi's are all about crazy color and paint and quantity over quality of temples- or maybe it's just that they don't have a lot of money and I'm comparing them to some great churches and mosques that I've seen.

A few locals had told me that Indians (some of which live in Nepal) are money grubbers and Nepalese are kind and fair. Now this is a gross stereotype and I didn't put much stock into it, but I found a few grains of truth to this up bringing. When I got back from lukla Ido took me to a barber to get shaved with one of those old fashion rasor blades for 50rps. I asked for a shave and the dude ended up shaving me and then, without asking, gave me a massage. It was odd, but I thought maybe it was some weird custom. Then he asked for 500 rps. We talked him down to 200. sneeky sneeky. In Baktapur the two kids that took me to their art school were in 9th grade and 6th grade and were nepali and Indian respectively. When I didn't want a painting they nepali kid thanked me for my time, but the Indian kid changed tunes and tried to ask me for money for a book for school. Later an Indian university student claiming to want only to practice his English with me asked for money for a dictionary. Now these are only a very few incidence and greed is racially blind, but maybe there's a little bit of truth to the relative cultural up bringing of nepali's vs indians... maybe.

I saw the wheels of the great new years three story temple chariot against one of the temples. I bought a painting of Everest in Baktapur. The guy wanted 14,000 (about the same price as similar paintings in thamel); I talked him down to 5,000. Still 80 bucks is steeper than I'm used to paying for art, but it was nice and art seemed expensive across the board.

I went back via express bus (30 rps, vs 450 for a taxi there) and talked to a kid who bought hats for 150 in baktapur and sold them for 300 in thamel. He wanted to go to the US and study computers. He liked wrestling and was floored when I told him that even a starting janitor makes ~1800 USD/month (nepali's make about 100 USD/month). He was floored again when I told him what rent cost.

I watched the end of karate kid II and then had dinner at a kick ass Italian restaurant, la dolci vida, with Ido and benny.

Today's been lazy. I met a girl, Kendra, at Delia's who'd been teaching English in south east asia for 11 months and was about do to 3 weeks teaching in Nepal. Her favorite show in Thailand had been algizera. She said it was refreshing and real. She just graduated and I think she's still got a lot of idealism in her (she noted that Obama and Clinton are both great, which they are, and was annoyed that they couldn't compromise with some sort of co-presidency). It's nice to see that idealism in a person. With a healthy dose of reality in the working years to come I bet her views will round out nicely.

I got the final adjustments of my tailored suit today. I'm going to surprise christa in my suit with a tie from Hong Kong, flowers, a bottle of wine and some snacks when she arrives at the airport tonight.

Tomorrow is the monkey temple, bus confirmation to Annapurna (i'm sick of Katmandu) and maybe a Thamel or temple tour for Christa.

9 May 08

Kathmandu 2

So I picked up a somewhat frazzled Christa at the airport in my suit and tie with flowers and wine. She was obviously relieved to see me (some dude had grabbed her wrist or something at her HK hostel the night before and made her feel uncomfortable, so she got a hotel room).

Ten in the morning and I took her to Delimas for breakfast, then to the museum in Patan that explains how Hinduism works. We also saw a couple of 8 story tree/temple chariots in the streets that were gonna be used in some city tug-of-war festival.

Back in Thamel we got Christa a custom designed tailored dress and shirt for $57. She was ecstatic. She must’ve held every piece of fabric in the store up against her torso twice by the time she made her choice. Of course she did this so rapidly I thought she must’ve had more arms than Vishnu.

Some more cash, a second bus ticket, hamburgers at New Orleans Café (which thinks that a Ganesha statue is classic Louisiana), a failed attempt at bargaining for a room upon our return, ponchos purchased, and a last meal at an Italian restaurant and we headed home.


11 May 08

Annapurna Day 1

We got in the local bus for a $5 seven hour ride which actually wasn’t that bad. The first hour was spent getting out of Kathmandu. Some kid would hang out the door shouting BeshisaharBeshisaharBeshisahara (Beshisahara was the bus destination). Every now and again he would tap on the door, the bus would stop in the middle of the road and he’d wheel and deal and get someone else on board. He stopped hustling eventually, but spent the entire trip hanging partway out the door.

Through Kathmandu we dodged cows that were peacefully seated in the middle of the road. The revered hamburgers were treated with a velvet glove. Not so for dogs. We saw one wander into traffic, the car swerves to the left to avoid it, but the dog turns around and starts walking back. His butt gets clipped by the back tire and he gets spun back around headed back into traffic. He walks one more lane over when he gets clipped again and spins 180 degrees back towards the edge of the road. He makes it to the middle of the last lane and a semi can’t stop. The dog goes in between the wheels, but the axel clips him and knocks him to the side. I still remember the splat of the rear wheels. Christa saw it coming before it happened and averted her eyes (though she did see an organ roll). Ugh.

We weaved through the country side by rivers and rice fields. We stopped at some local shops occasionally for pee breaks and a Dahl Baat lunch. We were fortunate and booked the front two (roomiest) bus seats, so we actually had leg room… until 5 hours in, at Dumbre. At Dumbre the locals came out in hoards. They saturated the bus and filled the bench right in front of me. One woman sat on my arm rest and physically grabbed my wrist and put it on the other side of my body so her fat ass could fit. When I squeezed my arm to a more reasonable position in the middle of by moody she grabbed it again and almost dislocated it. The woman on the bench in front with the baby in one hand and a chicken in a black plastic bag in the other (which was freaking Christa out) laughed.

After 7 hours we got to Beshisahara, walked 50 meters, looked bewildered and tourist like and muttered “Bhulbhule” (our destitiation) to no one in particular, and moments later “Bus Bhulbule, 100 rupees per person over there, on the roof.” We climbed the roof of the bus and waited. A funny partly toothless Nepali smiled at me and occasionally exclaimed “Thank you very much!” (The only English that he knew). We were joined on the roof by a nice Canadian Engineer and lawyer couple. We bumped passed the trail that we were supposed to be walking on. Val and Kirby were suckers. The big problem was low laying power lines. They’re hard to see and they clip you in the head if you don’t pay attention. One kid got wacked in the head by a bamboo gate. A ware almost knocked my hat off, but I caught it. This road barely looked like a hummer could get through it, yet here we were passing by jeeps as we traversed streams on top of the crowded roof of a bus. F*ckin awesome!

We got to Bhulbhule and said goodbye to the Canucks. We walked down near the bridge and got a room at the Everest Guest House. I had hiked around Everest and was feeling lazy and Christa wanted to enjoy herself, so we decided to get a porter. I asked the guy who gave us the room (who was apparently a friend of Pramodh, the Guesthouse owner) if he know of any porters and how much they’d cost. He said 500 rps/day ($8) to carry my bag with all our stuff in it, while I carried Christa’s bag with only water and snacks. $4/person/day to carry all of your stuff, how could we say no?

After wandering off to a waterfall we came back and took a wonderful hot shower and relaxed with a couple of beers. Around 5 I was approached by a humble gentleman who spoke pretty good English. He said “I understand you want a porter.” We talked and I said that I was looking for someone to carry my big back for 9-10 days to Johmson for 500/day. He said that the trekking season’s almost over and business is slow right now so he’d be happy to be my porter. I asked his name. He replied “Pramodh.” He was the owner and chef of the Guesthouse that we were staying at. I almost felt bad. But I didn’t haggle (500/day is reasonable, but a touch low) & I intended to tip well if he’s as nice as he appears. What luck!

Plus the food and beer prices are half what they were in the Everest region and I think we’re the only tourists in Bhulbhule. Christa is very at ease here. The little kids around here are sweet and say “Namaste!” (hello) with smiles and without asking for money. It’s a bit hot, the views aren’t great yet and we are hiking near monsoon season, but other than that, things couldn’t be better.

12 May 08

Annapurna Day 2

We got an early start at 7:10. Promahd said goodbye to his family for ~12 days and picked up my big bag. On the way out of town it seems like everyone was teasing and joking with him about wanting to go trekking, but he was picking up a couple of extra bucks (~$80 for 10 days minus food). And since the average Nepali nets less than $300/year that’s not too bad for some added income. The paick was ~ 55 pounds with his back in there, but it wasn’t like a duffel bag that he had to carry with a piece of burlap around his head and a rope slung around the bottom. I would be shocked 5 hours later at lunch when he made a head strap and used it with my bag in lieu of the hip straps, despite my best effort to adjust all the straps and explain the hip load bearing. I’ll have to try the head thing one of these days to see if there’s anything to it.

The road was hot. The trail follows the river for the whole trek. The path was pretty easy with only a few real climbs (granted I was only carrying a 10-15 lb pack). The scenery was pretty, but I wasn’t that impressed, I know from experience it will get better. The hills and hills of tiered corn fields and the plethora of non-tourist villages on the hills were pretty rad.

I had heard mixed things about which was more popular, the Everest trek or the Annapurna trek. On the one hand everyone’s heard of Everest. On the other, you don’t have to fly to Annapurna; so everyone can do it. Maybe it’s just cause it’s the beginning or the slow time of year or something, but the Everest region was way, way more crowded. We’ve been the only tourists in the hotel both nights. Maybe the Annapurna season is different, but In the first day we passed about 12 travelers, while in Everest I passed about 100 in my first day.

We passed the Canadians from day 1 then had lunch in Sange where the road that they’re building around all of Annapurna ends. After that point you walk on the dust and rubble of the workings of the road to be. When we ascended & started seeing trees awesomely perches on the side of cliffs. We passed a hoard of construction chipping away at a stony cliff to make way for the road. I’ve never actually seen construction workers cat call before, but all 20 of ‘em stopped and started hooting “Namasteeeee!” at Christa. (Remember Namaste means hello.) It was bizarre. Christa was apparently used to this kind of behavior. They didn’t even try and conceal their blatant stares. “I’m a blonde with big boobs. I’m used to it,” Christa shrugged.

We escaped all semblance of a road and dug into what felt like a jungle. The animals were loud, but hidden. The path was enclosed, the palm leaves were thick, and the switchback bordered a waterfall. Sweet.

After a short, steep ascent we reached a waterfall on the other side of the river which was to be the view from our window at the “Superb rainbow view guest house.” We watched the waterfall, taught a Nepali girl, who was too young to walk, how to use a camera, and took picts of a dragon fly the size of my hand while enjoying a large bottle of beer. We took a lovely hot bucket shower then relaxed over dinner.

On a side note I took a pict lying in a small field of wild marijuana. Weird.

13 May 08

Annapurna Day 3

We hiked across town and over one of the many rickety cable bridges that bounce as you walk and sway with the stiff wind and you traverse. The day before we had had to wait for 10 minutes as a convoy of 7 or 8 groups of donkeys, totaling ~150 donkeys, passed by us. Today they came in smaller spurts as we ascended a 2 hour rocky climb with Pramodh carrying a heavy load. Snow capped peaks started to poke their way through the clouds and every time they did Christa would glow with delight and shriek “Peaks!” and point.

We passed a little military base protected by barbed wire which appeared to serve no purpose. The path lead us down by the flat sandy banks of the river to a tourist town called Tal. It was like a ghost town; devoid of tourists, but filled with Nepali people milling about. I later saw some tourist statistics at a permit check point. That, combined with discussions with Pramodh, helped to explain this. My memory is a touch fuzzy, but here are the stats on number of tourists visitors per month in this region. March-1000, April 2200, May 660, …, Sept 2000, Oct 400, Nov 1600. Winter and the monsoon season (June-Aug) only are low hundreds. The Nepalese that work in the tourist industry make almost all their money from early March to early May, but mostly from early September to November. Other statistics that I remember are, who travel here: 18% French, 16% Israeli, 9% English, 40% other and I forget the rest. (The Israelis travel here and Thailand and other adventurous, but cheap places after getting out of the army before go University). Some people capitalize on these statistics by having Hebrew signs to attract Israelis. Anyway, some guesthouse proprietors own and others like Pramodh rent for ~40,000 rps ($700) per year. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but Christa and I only spent 800 rps for dinner, room and breakfast at Pramodh’s place. And he basically doesn’t work 8 months out of the year. It’s also going to get tougher for Pramodh and other guest house owners. They’re building a road all the way along the Annapurna circuit. It’s completed through Sange (halfway through our Day 2) and is completed, but not connected, sporadically throughout the hike. The road is scheduled to be completed in 10 years, but the schedule will probably slip. This is good for farmers who need supplies and poor villagers who may have medical emergencies. In the future, it may even be good for a lazy kind of tourism, but for now it will hurt people like Pramodh who have enough trouble making ends meet. He tells me that he’s thinking about moving and finding another job as business gets worse.

Anyway, we crossed one of several more bridges and ascended up a hill dotted with little waterfalls and bamboo. The flora and fauna was distinctly changing as we rose. We broke to eat and pump water at a little waterfall. Light mist from the falls cooled us as we gazed out over the gorge to the tree doted and snow capped peaks.

We pressed on through a nice big town and when I saw a bakery with chocolate croissants I was tempted to stop, but we pushed on to Bagarchap for the evening. We bumped back into the Aussi we had seen a few days back & his friend Gema, who was an Aussie turned NY model that dropped out of high school at 16 to model in Milan. Maybe it ws the ratty clothes, but I don’t think she was any prettier than Christa.

I am getting fatter, not loosing weight this trip. Between the free refills on Dal Bhat, not carrying a real pack and eating half of Christa’s food I’m not gonna fit into my tailor made suit when I get back.

14 May 08

Annapurna Day 4

Today is an easy day; only four hours of hiking. It started with me eating too much at breakfast cause Christa had an upset stomach and the mooch in me capitalized. We had a steep 45 minute beautiful ascent through thick foliage and brightly colored trees. At the peak Christa noticed that the clouds behind us had parted to reveal a gorgeous snow covered range. If you didn’t look closely, you might think that the snow was just more clouds.

We started timing our Donkey squadron encounters. About every 33 minutes a company of donkeys would appear suddenly from behind a bend. We would evade and then jump past them. A brief reprieve the relentless cycle would repeat.

Christa bought a sprite for her stomach ache, which seemed to help. Later the diamox would make her fingers tingle and she would pull her hamstring and limp a little before forgetting about the injury.

On one of the sections of completed road on our way to Chame we ran into some 12th grade Nepalis who I chatted with. One of the kids had acted as a porter a few times, so I asked how they make any money grossing 50 rps a day and eating 2 Dal Bhat plates and paying for a room. He explained that porters get their room for free and where we pay 240 rps for Dal Bhat a porter pays about 70 or 80 rps. This means that they net about 350 rps a day. After 10 days of work that’s about $55 which makes sense. My new Nepali friend also informed me that with these partial road constructions people are starting to transport goods from big cities like Manang & Pisang via mountain bike.

We got to the moonlight inn at 11:30 am and stopped for the day. Tomorrow will be tough, today we rest and enjoy internet.

15 May 08

Annapurna Day 5

We got up early and I had the best chocolate pancake ever. They infused a melted mars bar in a fluffy pancake, yum. Two thirds of the day was spent along a partially constructed road. The landscape continued to metamorphosize with altitude. The trees became pine trees and massive rocky bowls and snow capped peaks began to emerge. The path reminded me a lot of the Sierras, but the background was much more massive. After four hours of flat and gentle climbs we reached Pisang for lunch. We watched Baliwood TV over the shoulder of the owner as we ate.

We were prepared for a hellish climb to Gyaru (up the hill). Val had told us that the climb was so strenuous that it was barely worth the extra effort (as opposed to taking the less scenic low road). She obviously didn’t have a porter. After an hour of Nepali flat we crossed a bridge and ascended steep switch backs for 55 minutes, occasionally pausing to admire the increasingly good view of Annapurna peaks IV and II. At the top we were rewarded with a traditional Tibetan village, a quaint guesthouse called Yak Ru, amazing views of Annapurna IV, II, & II and a view of the low road alternative and an appreciation of the lack of view that that path would have yielded. We met a nice Coloradan couple that had been enjoying the view for a day and a half. We chatted about travel as the sun dipped low and illuminated these mammoth 8000 m peaks (Everest is 8850 m for reference).

The guy, Tom, taught me how to increase my cameras exposure time to 15 seconds for cool night shots. Us for were the only ones out at night and we enjoyed the solitude of the cozy wood cabin and fire stove until Tom realized that the moon was about full and was bathing the mountains in a beautiful gentle blue light. We admired the view until we got cold and went to bed.

16 May 08

Annapurna Day 6

We awoke at 5 and snuggled up on the balcony as we waited for the sun to rise and hit the Annapurna peaks. This was probably the most I’ve slowed down and really soaked in the scenery all trip. I’d get bored if I did it everywhere, but it was really nice to do here. At 5:30 the golden sun slowly began to engulf the snowy peaks, working its way down the mountain. Annapurna III had yet to be released from its cloud cover, but IV & II were pretty clear and certainly magnificent. We watched a baby horse discover that it could run, sort of, as it clumsily tried to gallop up and down a 15 m stretch of stony path. It was really cute. We napped then said our goodbyes & left late at 8:10.

We descended and watched Annapurna IV & II fade into the distance behind us. We passed farmers whipping bulls to make them pull a metal spike through the steep hillside to till the earth for planting. We came upon another quaint stony Tibetan village. We passed by the emergency dirt airport of Humde once again scoffing at those poor suckers who listened to their guides and porters (who didn’t want to lug the bags up the high road) and ignorantly took the low road. Suckers.

Christa and I bickered over nothing and took some time apart both on the hike and later in town. The half hour here or there did us a lot of good.

We descended and travelled the flat road to Manang which was pretty dead in this off season. I had a mushroom enchilada for lunch which was pretty damned tasty.

Christa got snippy so I left and took a walk around town. I found a great looking bakery with apple pie and black forest cat and an authentic local restaurant that was half the price of our guesthouses restaurant. I got Christa Pringles (which she had been craving) a potato dumpling (cause she likes potatoes and they’re 14 cents apiece) and fleece lined hand knit rainbow socks to keep her feet warm and to match the hat that she got in Chame. When I got back she was sweet as could be, even before receiving the gifts. After receiving the gifts she said thanks and slept a lot. (I don’t know why, she slept 12 hours the night before).

We’ve got our own toilet (a first) and a great view of Annapurna III, if only the clouds would part. Down the road there are advertisements for English “movie theaters” (TV + DvD player + benches).

At 4:30 I woke Christa from her 3 ½ hour hap and dragged her to the movies. It was actually remarkably nice. They played a well burned version of “into thin air” on a good sized projector screen in a room with a dozen benches covered in animal fur. It had good surround sound too. The movie cost 100 rps a piece which wasn’t bad. We were the only ones there so we took the seat next to the central furnace. Oh yeah, we’re roughing it.

17 May 08

Annapurna Day 7

This is an acclimatization/rest day, but it turned out to be the hardest day on the trip (after Through La I imagine). We got a lazy start and I got an apple crumble with custard for breakfast. Mmm.

We started our 1.1 km vertical climb through a series of rock buildings that comprised a local Tibetan village. Then we went up & up & up. Slowly, but steadily. Christa’s complaining morphed to tell the tale of the 3 ½ hr ascent to 4600 m. It started off as “uphill sucks,” then “I hat this,” then “my ass is sooo sore,” followed by increasing amounts of coughing and a more belabored step. Then the anger faded and was replaced by a battle between anguish and resolve. Finally, there was the “I just can’t do this.” The walking did not halt, but the coughing and occasional tears were still present. Finally we reached the flat. My legs were a bit tired and it was nice to have some flat, but for Christa it spelled stumbling relief. We hiked ½ hours around the corner and there were the ice lakes and the Yak herders. The two lakes were very pretty with a backdrop of three rubbly peaks. The true reward was when we walked past the lakes and turned around. After two days the clouds had parted over Annapurna III & Gangapurna. Sprawling before us were pastures, grazing Yaks, sparkling lakes, then a cliff- no cities, no farm land, no rivers, just air that seemed to draw the two majestic snow blanketed giants towards us. Light clouds wisped around these mammoth mountains and added to the mystique. From up here (even though we were 3000 m below the peaks) the mountains took on a different form. No longer were we craning our necks up looking across the valley at the massive tree trunk of a base with the peaks shrinking away out of perspective. Now they appeared almost as if you could bound across the field, past a family of Yaks by the lake and leap over the cliff to be carried away on a cloud to the pristine unwavering giants. This was the Kala Patar of the Annapurna Circuit. It usurped Gyaru as the best viewpoint on the trek.

I circled the lake, talking picture after picture, after devouring a packed lunch. Afterwards I tried to have Christa take a picture of me and a baby Yak with its mother, but as I approached the retreated. I finally had Christa run ahead then I snuck up from below and Christa got a picture or two off just as the Yaks saw me and hurried away. Yeah I know this isn’t really respecting nature, but no harm done and it was a cool pict.

We took two hours to descent/ slip down the steep trail. It was a heck of a lot easier going down. We got to our hotel where we reunited with Dan & Audrey (the couple who had traveled Asia for 2 years that we met in Chame). I had delicious mushroom Lasagna as we talked about botched shaves and haircuts and dreams about being tazered. Christa was in better spirits, but I knew she was really hurting when she couldn’t finish her beer. That’s when I decided to carry her water (leaving her completely unencumbered) for the duration of the trek.

18 May 08

Annapurna Day 8

A lot of people seemed to think that this would be a tough day cause of the 1 km ascent, but, especially compared to the day before, it was pretty easy. All the ascending was gradual and the total hike time was only 5 ½ hours. We turned the corner away from Annapurna III and Gangapurna and headed up the river. At 4000 m, just like in the Everest region, only shrubs, grass, rock and dirt remained. Some snow capped 6000 m peaks dotted the sides of our paths, but the 7-8000 m beauties lay behind us. Often we’d stop and gaze back at the shrinking white mountains.

Yesterday when I saw the path we were to take today from above I realized that our trek was nearing an end. But, it wasn’t until today that it really sunk in. Only two more days remain. We started talking about what we wanted to buy in Pokhara. I even designed a monogram.

We stumbled over rock slides to our highest sleeping elevation; 4540 m. Christa had a touch of altitude sickness, so I introduced her to the local remedy; garlic soup, which seemed to help.

I can see the steep ascent to Throng Pass that we will summit tomorrow and it makes me smile because I’m reminded that the trek aint over yet. There’s still more fun to be had and beauty to be absorbed. I’m also smiling because I saw the food here and it looks quite good.

At 4 it started to snow and snow and blizzard. If it stops soon it will make the trail beautiful, but if it persists I fear that it may make the pass difficult to ford. We shall see.

19 May 2008

Annapurna Day 9

We went to bed early- around 7 so we could wake up at 4:30 and leave by 5:30, as this is supposed to be the hardest, longest day on the trek. Christa was nervous that there would be avalanches, but I assured here that we'd be fine. We began the steep hour ascent to high base camp. The brown hills had been covered in a delicate sheet of snow which seemed to transform these otherwise barren hills into a beautiful winter wonderland (in mid-May). It was still snowing lightly which added to the mystique of this trail which overnight had turned into a fantasy land. It really is amazing just how much more beautiful and magical mountains appear when covered in snow.

After tea at high base camp the trails grade was reduced and, although the air was getting thinner as we approached our 5416 m destination, the reduction of steepness made the climb reasonably pleasant. After an hour of climbing we stopped to use the toilet at the trail's last Tea House. It was the grossest toilet I've seen in Nepal. It was a shack with a piece of tin for a door. There was no means of securing the door shut. Inside there was no hole for excrement to be disposed and no bucket for toilet paper. Instead there were two stones to step on and a pile of shit and toilet paper that covered the floor. At its peak the pile of dried waste was several times higher than the stones on which you were supposed to stand. Needless to say, Christa went behind this shack, not in it.

We pressed on through the rolling snowy hills, and as the clouds began to clear striking snowy peaks were revealed behind us. All these peaks, at 6000 m, paled in comparison to the 8000 m Annapurnas. But, these mountains had a different feel. The Annapurnas were somewhat isolated in there majesty, while these snowy hills, mountains, and streams were woven together to create a surreal snow land. Christa's sustained 3 1/2 hr smile & sense of wonder echoed the feel of the land. (It didn't hurt that we had long since passed all the other hikers & didn't see another soul for hours.) At last the two peaks, whose joining was Throng La, appeared in the horizon. As we neared they grew. They weren't that tall, but were quite striking and unique. The one on the left was entombed in a thick blanket of snow and looked both imposing and fluffy at the same time. The one on the right was steeper and bore a rocky face, being only patched with snow. They were the sentinels that stood at the gates of the pass.

By this time the paths was virtually flat and we traversed the gently sloping plains of snow towards the prayer flags in the distance. Despite the surroundings the ground underfoot was sturdy and was rarely covered by more than an inch of snow.

At last we reached the huge knot of red, blue, green, white & yellow prayer flags that you see all over Nepal. They symbolize fire, water, earth, wind & iron (don't ask me why Iron). They have prayers of good luck written on them with a picture of a horse who is to carry these prayers into the wind, or with a picture of Buddah on them. So, of course I followed the tradition I started at Cho La and tangled myself in them & had a picture taken.

We took Pictures at 5400 m, snacked and enjoyed the view. The clouds rolled back in, even though it was only 9:30, & it started to get chilly. So, we pressed on through the pass. Immediately I was transported back to the Everest Region's Cho La where, like here, stepping across the threshhold resulted in a steep descent and a sudden change in scenery from snoey peaks to dull brown rocky mountains. The surroundings turned to lifeless brown and gray rubble. I found myself frequently looking back to the shrinking snowy peaks that guarded the pass as we descended into the clouds below.

As we descended through this strange lifeless desert of rock I reflected on the trip. At first I thought that it had three highlights: views of Annapurna IV & II from Gyaru, views of lakes, Yaks, and Annapurna III & Gangapurna from the Ice Lakes, & the Throng La ascent experience. Then I compared it to the Everest trek. It certainly lacked the constant engulfing grandeur of that region, but it possesed something that the Everest lacked. The Annapurna trek was ever changing. The specific highlights that I mentioned were amazing, but the changing environment that this trek had was something wonderful that I've never before experienced. The trip began in a city & started with a roof-top bus ride through small villages. The terrain began hot and humid with corn terraces and farming villages. It ascended through increasingly lush and tropical jungly terrain dotted with ferns, brightly colored trees, & patches of wild marijuana. The path cooled as we ascended and traversed rocky mountain sides & waterfalls & cat-calling construction workers. We passed sandy shores & bamboo dotted hills as we gazed out on tree-lined peaks enshrouded in cloud. The lush trees were traded for pine as the air cooled and thinned. It felt like we were back hiking in the Sierras except for the size of the mammoth rock faces and mountains in the horizon. These trees too would fade and melt into shrubs and rock as we ascended and the massive Annapurnas would reveal themselves in all their glory. They would disappear and reappear into the encircling clouds. Eventually they would fade altogether into the background as we hiked above the 4000 m tree-line through dirty, rocky, shrub-filled, hill trails. The trails would then be transformed over night into a magical snow land in which we would exist for a precious four hours. Then that too would disappear more suddenly than it had appeared, giving way to the lifeless rubble, which possessed its own timeless beauty, on which we were currently treading. As we slipped under the clouds we could see Muktinath, our destination, in the distance. The air would thicken and life would return to the soil, first as moss, then shrubs, then finally as the young vibrant green wheat fields of the city below. As I saw my first motor vehicle since Bhulbhule, 8 days ago, I couldn't help but feel that our trek had come to an end even though we had one more day of walking.

We had mad the journey across the pass quite quickly (7 hrs including 1/2 hours of snacking) and arrived at the Bob Marley Hotel at 12:30. The three of us (Pramodh included) celebrated with Gnocchi & alcohol and then napped the afternoon away. (The Gnocchi was quite good, but the Nepali kid who made it insulted me in broken Engish when I pronounced the name of the dish with a "ch". He explained that the "h" was silent and then rudely inquired if I even knew what Gnocchi was.) Pramodh went off to visit an old friend who he hadn't seen in 10 years and who had also abandoned four kids with his first wife in Bhulbhule. Christa & I used the remaining light hours to watch the sun set over a distant mountain range by the steps of a Tibetan Monastery.

On a side-note let's recap my path of destruction: 1) Maoist Rebels take legal control of Nepal 2) China closes down base camp due to potential "free Tibet" protests 3) Nearby Myanmar gets hits with a devastating cyclone that kills 100,000 + and injures ~ 1,000,000. To make matters worse the military government won't allow western aid for fear of loosing some grip on its people. 4) A massive earthquake hits neighboring China. The official death toll from the Chinese earthquake has risen to more than 55,000. The toll in Sichuan, the hardest-hit province, rose to 55,239, with 24,949 people missing, according to the province's vice-governor. Up to 1,000 people are believed to have died in other provinces. Thousands of survivors in Sichuan are being evacuated amid fears that aftershocks could unblock dammed rivers and unleash flooding. About 5 million people have been left homeless in the province.The earthquake is the biggest disaster for the world's children in seven years, according to Save the Children. The charity said 3 million babies, infants and teenagers were among the worst affected by the 7.9 magnitude quake that struck the south-western Chinese province on May 12. More than 10,000 were killed when their schools collapsed, or were buried beneath landslides; at least 4,727 others were orphaned.

All joking aside, the Myanmar and China disasters are really just horrible and my heart goes out to the victims.

20 May 08

Annapurna Day 10

The afternoon before, after lunch, a slightly intoxicated Josh wandered over to a store where I paid for phone time to call my travel agent and confirm our open plane tickets from Johmson to Pokhara for the 21st of May (the morning after we got to Johmson). After having them talk with Gorkha Airlines then calling me back, then talking to me, and then calling the airlines several times, the best that they could get me was the morning of the 23rd. That meant sitting on my butt in Johmson with nothing to do for two days. My only hope was getting to Hohmson on the 20th and finding out if there’s been a cancellation. This motivation to be the first trekker to Gorkaha airlines coupled with the fact that the scenery was just not very interesting (at least by our spoiled standards) spurred us to hightail it to Johmson in 4 hours, arriving at the Gorkha ticked office before noon. I tried unsuccessfully to bribe the guy to get seats on the plane for the 21st, but we did manage to get on a flight (no additional charge) on the 22nd.

Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself. The views of some of the cities with their green wheat fields and tree lined roads were nice. However, the whole walk (like the rest of the 6 day walk to Pokhara would have been) was along a Jeep road. It just wasn’t very appealing to see jeeps pass us. Plus the fly-in 2-3 day tourists annoyed me for some reason. I looked at some of the mountains the next day and realized that they were as pretty as many in the sierras, but I had simply been spoiled.

Christa has been singing a song from Xanadu, a musical about roller-skating Greek muses falling in love with 1980’s artists, on the way down. But she only knows one word “Xanadu,” so I’d hear a repeated “Xaaaannnaduuuu du da du da daaa.” Anyway when we saw the Xanadu hotel + German bakery after the Gorkha ticket office we knew it was serendipity.

The hotel was nice, but our arrival was bittersweet cause it meant saying goodbye to our friend and porter Pramodh. He and I had bonded yesterday when he asked if the WWF is real. People love the WWF, WWE, Raw, Smackdown, etc. here. According to Pramodh, most Nepalis think that wrestling is real. We also laughed about the four Indians that we passed near Muktinath ascending Throng La late in the day. Three of them had no shoes and claimed that Shiva would protect their feet from snow and rock. I prefer to put my faith in Timberland.

Pramodh had told me how he rents his hotel for 40,000 rps/year (~$700) and that with the new soon to bypass Bhulbhule he will need to abandon his hotel business. He’s sharp though and wants to cash in on the road. He wants to save up and go in with 3 buddies to buy a buss and drive it up and down the new road. (Apparently the only bus on the trail is always full, and I can certainly attest to that.)

Christa and I said our sad goodbyes. He said that leaving mad him happy (to go back to his family), but sad to leave us. We hugged him goodbye (he hugged Christa very awkwardly out of respect). We also gave him a 1500 rps (~$27) tip. Considering the average Nepali makes ~$260/year that aint to bad.

He continued walking today. He’ll walk to Pokhara in, what would take a tourist 6-8 days, two days, and then bus it back to Beshisahara then Bhulbhule. When he left Christa cried. It was very sweet. Then we laughed about how she had lent him her extra beanie for going over Throng La because he was literally wearing his towel as a hat. Then he never took the beanie off, or for that matter offered it back. The guide book mentioned that lending is often considered a gift by porters, but I didn’t believe it till I saw it. Christa had got a nice Nepali hat while here, so she didn’t mind and was glad knowing that Pramodh would get more use out of it than her.

We spent the rest of the day wandering through town, reading and eating. We also watched a parade of people celebrating Buddha’s birthday.

21 May 08

Annapurna Day 11

We waited in Johmson. We read, wrote and ate. At one point we hiked 15 minutes up a hill to the “mountain resort.” Some locals were playing volleyball. No tourists could be seen in the very large empty building. We tried to print something for a t-shirt design, but both internet places had broken printers. We tried to do laundry, but it was too expensive here and they weren’t certain that they could do it today. We tried to get chocolate cake or a chocolate brownie, but all 5 bakeries were out. We tried by buy knit socks with fleece lining that they make here, but they only had one or two left in every shop and they were all reject colors plus they were too small for me. So we read, wrote and ate.

I finished Obama’s “The Audacity of Hope.” It was excellent. It wasn’t bad being forced to relax, but Christa and I are both ready to get out of here.


22 – 24 May 08

It's the final few hours before my red eye to Hong Kong. Christa is in the air, en route to Bangkok and will meet me for the Hong Kong - SFO flight tomorrow at 2pm.

We left off at the completion of the Annapurna trek.

The morning of our departure we left our hotel, rounded the corner and entered the tiny airport. There were no metal detectors or machines to scan our bags. Some guard would have us open our bags and then kinda poke in them a little and then slap a "checked" sticker on them. We got quickly patted down, but they didn't bother to check our carry on bag. I was also surprised to see that our hotel owner was in the airport with an airport personnel tag on. Apparently he was an inn keeper/ airport employee. Weird. The flight was on time. The engines barely powered down from landing before revving up again for take off.

We climbed above the clouds, but not above the mountain. We followed the same winding river pass that would have taken us to Pokhara by foot except for we did it in 20 minutes instead of 6 days. On the left side of the plane brilliant peaks that had been hidden by the clouds now stood proud and tall, gleaming in the sunlight. On the right side of the plane small villages dotted the rolling hills upon which rice, wheat and corn terraces had been carved as far as the eye could see. We snaked around these contrasting landscapes until the mountains disappeared revealing a large valley and thousands and thousands of homes. The small aircraft's shadow enlarged as we descended and in no time at all we were in Pokhara. 

Pokhara is a wonderful alternative to Kathmadu. It is Nepal's second largest city but their is soooo much less honking and pollution. We stayed in the tourist area: lakeside, aptly named as it is located by the side of a large lake. Like Kathmandu the main stretch was filled with tourist shops selling knock off north-face bags and clever t-shirts. This place was different though. The main stretch was wide and honking was minimal. To the north lay the Himalayas (though alas we would not see them during our three day stay due to rotten cloud cover). To the west was beautiful Phew Tal, a lake that stretched into the horizon, and, on a clear day would have reflected the Himalayas. And to the south lay a set of dense jungly green hills. Atop their crest lay the World Peace Pagoda; a tribute to Buddha and the four holiest sights of Buddhism.

We bargained for a room, threw down our bags and began to shop. But, Christa became irritable which I soon recognized was not irritability, but actually hunger in disguise. We were the only ones on the terrace of a restaurant where we had pizza, beer and a banana split while gazing out onto the still waters of Phew Tal.

The monsoons were starting to begin and it was low tourist season. We capitalized bargaining hard. We got things at half the price that the October tourists would: custom shirts, fuzzy knit socks, custom jewelry, paintings, bags, shawls, etc. We were good tourists and helped spark the Nepali economy. Frankly after 10 days of trekking it was kinda nice to be a consumer.

We had mushroom topped steaks at the New Everest Grill as the sun set over the lake. One large beer a piece was had at almost every meal. It was really nice.

At night (and ever night hence) the power had been cut for our hotel, and most of the other buildings in Pokhara, so we read our books by candle light.

On our second day we began to check the progress of our custom works. They were all behind schedule, but we had a day of padding so we weren't worried.

I hired a cab to take us around to the world peace pagoda and the mountaineering museum over a span of 4-5 hours for under 10 dollars. The World Peace Pagoda begins with a bright garden that leads into a graceful white dome around which are four golden dioramas of the most holy places in Buddhism. 1) Lumbini, where Buddha was born. 2) The tree where Buddha sat when he defeated the demon Mara to attain Enlightenment. 3) The location where Buddha taught his first pupils the path to enlightenment. 4) Some sacred grove where you could buy enlightenment in a bottle for 650 rupees... or something like that. I took a picture in of a large family from Baktapur, Nepal in front of the stuppa. They had a cannon 850 IS (the upgraded camera from mine). I thought Nepali's were poor. At the end of the pict the family told the two small children to thank me. The young girl, no more than 5, took my hand with both of hers, which was barely sufficient, and shook. Then she kissed my finger and said thank you. It was really cute.

The views from atop the stuppa overlooked all of pokhara valley and Phew Tal. They were quite striking, but would have been even more so had the clouds lifted to reveal the mountains beyond. Cest La Vi. I'd seen them up close and personal, so I really couldn't complain.

Next we went to the mountaineering museum which showed the history of the Himalayas. One of the exhibits contrasted eastern Europeans of 50 years ago and current day Nepali's. The toys, type of labor, tools etc were strikingly similar. It was kinda odd to think of many of the hill cultures to simply be societies trapped 50 years in the past comingled with cell phones and the internet. How strange indeed.

The exhibit detailed mountain people around the globe. It described the worlds 16 (I think) peaks over 8000 meters and the story of the first teams to successfully summit each of them. All of them were first climbed in the 1950's & 60's. Everest was named after the British lead from the Indian Himalayan surveying team. The locals call it Sagaramatha (Sky Mother). It was first summated in 1953 by a Nepali (Tenzing Norgay) and a New Zealander (Sir Edmond Hillary) who were part of a British climbing team. Tenzing and Hillary are revered like Gods here. Annapurna (the range we hiked) literally translates to "full of food," which I find amusing. A better translation would be "The Mother Provider."

We learned of the Himalayan formation and the special plants that grow in the regions and their healing powers. We learned about the history of the Sherpa, and the evolution of climbing. It was a pretty awesome museum.

We returned to base to retrieve our trekking laundry which had been laundered and folded for $3. We lounged. It was nice to stroll by the streets and enjoy a slow meal. I usually don't slow down when I travel. So it was nice to take pause and just relax. The streets have relatively few touts, not a soul offered me Tiger Balm, I only had to fend of one or two people a day trying to sell me drugs, and the streets were bright and cheery. There was only one small blemish in the day and that was an art dealer who had promised to sell me a piece of artwork with a custom fabric border. When I got there to pick it up in the evening he told me that the tailor didn't show up and maybe he'd get it to me tomorrow or maybe the next day. I had to ditch him, find a new piece of art at a different gallery and hatch a weird scheme to meet the artist's brother in a Kathmandu hotel who would take me to a Thanka painting border tailor specialist on the outside of town who would sew my painting into elegant Tibetan cloth and have it ready for me the next day. (Amazingly it ended worked just like he said it would.)

The next day was lazier still. We bought a picnic lunch and rented a row boat. We paddled out to the center of Phew Tal and ate in peace and seclusion. We paddled to a Hindu temple on an island in the middle of lake. Fifty or so Hindu's in brightly colored garb came to pray and, oddly enough, feed the pigeons. There was too much business so we paddled to the jungly banks of the lake that lead up to the World Peace Pagoda. The boat drifted with the wind as we read our books.

Later we had a lakeside beer at a garden cafe. It was decorated with a variety of plants for ambiance including three four foot tall marijuana plants. The plants were surprisingly handsome and contributed nicely to the garden feel. We watched Indian snake charmers play reed instruments as three cobras slowly arose from their baskets. The sun dipped low in the horizon. The Indian placed a large python over the neck of an excited by freaked out Israeli girl. Her friend took a picture.

We collected Christa's custom necklace: a silver C with 2 Carat shimmering Topaz gems on each end of the letter and with Tanzanite accents in the center. We collected our custom shirts and then headed north to a less touristy part of the lake.

We got to the last building along the road that served food (passing "Cosmic Brontosaurs Language School" along the way). The sun was resting and at the "view point restaurant" we could see fresh rice paddies, dense hills and a lake that reflected the orange sky. We soaked it in on our last night in Pokhara.

We walked back in the darkness with only the light of flickering fire flies dotting the lakes edge to light our way. After tripping in ditches and almost getting run over by passing motorists we realized that was not enough so I used my camera's LCD screen to light the way. At 9pm our Jeweler had not finished my custom silver & aquamarine gem necklace that I had designed for my mom. The power had gone out preventing work. (This is very common in Nepal.) Power would come back on around 2am and he promised to finish it from 2 to 4 am and deliver it at 5am in time for our 6 am departure. I was skeptical, but at 5:05 am he came-a-knocking.


 25 – 27 May 08

The tourist bus was quite pleasant, but we stopped for lunch at places with people serving us in starched white shirts calling us "sir" and "ma'am." I miss the local bus lunches where they didn't speak a word of English and I had to point, but the food was good and dirt cheap. Christa didn't seem to mind paying an extra dollar for quality, cleanliness & service. The highlight of the trip was touts that assaulted us with delicious, warm, 50 cent chocolate croissants in the morning at the bus station...

In Thamel, Kathmandu, Christa got her custom dress & shirt tailored & bought a mask. I got my painting boarder taken care of and bought an arm full of DVD's including some not yet released on DVD (most likely taken by a dude in a theater with a tripod & a camera).

We spent sunset on the hilltop monkey temple which, with its forests, monkeys, golden stuppa, Hindu shrines and random little pagodas is the prettiest temple I've seen in Nepal. Baby monkeys clinged to their mothers as their fur shone golden in the sunset with all of Kathmandu valley as the backdrop. The only disruption to the peace and beauty of the temple was the vicious stray dog fights. Though it was interesting to see the dog with the bad hind leg hold its ground against a pack of three.

We had a lovely wine filled dinner then a terrible experience at a Hookah bar. First they tried to bring me a hookah that was like 8 inches tall and tell me that it was good. I made them take it back. I had to ask for tongs for the coals which they stacked way too densely. I had to re-arrange them myself to get any descent smoke. The inlet pipe was far too narrow; it was like sucking through a straw. Then, instead of relaxing hookah music with lounge couches they had wooden chairs and a live Nepali Rock bands that did poor covers of American songs. The lead singer looked like he was humping the mike. We went to a charming pub near our hotel where we talked with a couple of frenchies who were thinking about abandoning their jobs to open a bar in Cambodia. The woman started going off on a tangent about how we don't know what it's like to be in a world war and who is our generation to judge people like here grandfather who was forced to house and feed German soldiers in his home in France. She was entertaining and very animated, but just about as batty as the Hindu who would, the next day, tell me that Hinduism is 2 million years old.

The next day I took Christa to see Pushupati Temple and Bodenath Stupa. It was the same as I'd seen before, but it was a must see for her. Later that afternoon we went to the last sight that I wanted to see; Garden of Dreams. "It's a five minute walk from Thamel, but a million miles away," according to the Lonely Planet. They hit the nail on the head. Right by the crowded, loud, smoky, annoying streets of Thamel are high wall that guard these gardens. Inside is a master piece of plant life, fountains, sculptures and white arches and pillars. It was made in the 1920's and restored in the 80's. Walking into those gardens feels like coming up for air after being submerged in icy waters. It has a small garden amphitheater, a gazebo, and a hidden garden with a series of small waterfalls. It has several tables and benches and open lawn areas to relax and read. It even had a little cafe and bar. Christa and I went back to Thamel and packed a picnic dinner. We came back at dark where we enjoyed Pepsi, falafels and runts in the presence of the now gracefully illuminated garden. We stared out over the dark reflection pond and watched the lilies drift and the trees sway. Our last night ended early, but ended well.

The last day was filled with packing and last minute logistics. I dropped Christa off at the airport and now here I am with three more hours left. It's been one hell of a trip.

Thanks all to enduring my long rambling email. If you liked them I've got good news, I'll be transcribing my trip journal in the next week or so and will be sending out a mammoth word document with all the travel compilations. If you didn't like them, well, tough. I'll also have the picts up at in early June. Also if anyone is interested in trekking in Nepal I recorded travel logistics for each of my two treks (hiking times, prices etc).

So this is me signing off. Burritos, hamburgers, flushing toilets and uninterrupted electricity here I come!

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