Oct 30, 2008 1:17 PM posted by Mark Sherouse [updated Nov 17, 2008 12:22 AM by Vicki Sherouse]
October 2, Hong Kong
We are supposed to be in Bangkok and I hope we will be in 3 more hours. Our hotel called to reconfirm our flight this morning but when we got to the airport it had been canceled. We were momentarily panicked as the flight to Nepal leaves tomorrow. However, the nice women with Thai Airlines rebooked us through Hong Kong. Big, fancy international airport with the stores I always shop at: Gucci, Ferragamo, Coach, Burberrys, Versace, many so expensive I've never even heard of them.
Our morning was nice as we walked over to a park in Chengdu with an artificial lake and gigantic outdoor teahouse. Many families boating on the lake—paddle boats, rowboats, electric motorboats. I had a stupendous lemon tea and Mark jasmine—comes with a huge thermos of hot water so you can keep adding water. We were immediately assaulted by two men wanting to clean our ears and give us neck and shoulder massages—passed on the ear cleaning (Mark will post a picture of their implements) but did get the massage. Very nice.
We are seeing far more 2-3 children families here. In rural China (heaven knows what that means with 100 cities over a million) 2 children are allowed, and all the 54 official minority groups can have as many children as they want. In total they only make up 8% of the population. I also found out that if you have a girl first and you or your husband don't have any siblings, then you may have another child. If you don't fit into one of those categories you have to pay an enormous sum to register the child (like a birth certificate) and also you have to pay for all their schooling from kindergarten on.
October 3 Kathmandu, Nepal
I can’t really believe we are here. Kathmandu sounds so exotic—a place I never expected to visit. We stayed in basically a dump last night near the Bangkok airport. But it was only $13. The choices I found were there or at the airport Novatel which was well over $180. Because our flight was delayed in Bangkok we were only there 7 hours anyway. It was clean but old. There was an incredible thunderstorm during the night that lasted for hours with the loudest lightning and thunder I’ve ever heard and massive amounts of rain. The monsoon season doesn’t end in Thailand until November.
The Kathmandu airport was a zoo, especially once we left the terminal. Our hotel was meeting us but two other fellows grabbed our bags and pretended to be with the driver and then wanted us to pay them. The hotel car was blocked in by another so our driver had a rousing battle with several men before we could leave. The hotel is amazing, quite old but beautiful, located on the edge of a large forest that the hotel owns. It was once part of the King’s reserve and the only standing forest of any size in the whole valley. The forest dates back 500 years and some of the rubber trees our over 200. Monkeys roam the grounds. We will see how well behaved they are at the outside dinner buffet. Can’t just have ramen here as there are no stores anywhere within walking distance. We have to hire the hotel car—but it is only $20 to town and they will wait for you for 2 hours and then bring you back included. Tomorrow night—ramen. The hotel itself is free with our credit card points. They have saved us a ton of money, which is good since India is going to cost 3 times what we budgeted.
October 5 Kathmandu
We leave at 6 am tomorrow to catch the plane to begin our trek to Everest Base Camp. We hired a porter and a guide who we will meet in Lukla when the plane lands. We decided that at this altitude our packs were just too heavy, even though they were only about 33 and 24 lbs respectively. With a porter we can take lots of snacks and extras that will make the trip more pleasant. The cost is very low and we were able to get in touch with a very reliable trekking agent here in Kathmandu through a connection I made with a Seattle high school librarian.
The hotel buffet was wonderful and no monkeys attacked—they waited until this morning to jump at Mark. He was bringing me a muffin after breakfast—he had to give them the food as there were no hotel employees around—with their big monkey sticks. Yesterday and today we went into Thamel, which is the tourist part of Kathmandu. It was a madhouse. Picture a very narrow street completely crowded with pedestrians, beggers, bicycles, motor scooters, pedicabs, cars, trucks, hawkers, touts, store displays. Literally no sidewalks and traffic running over you. Crossing the street was one of the scariest things I've ever done. Anyway, ATMs wouldn't give us enough money so we keep looking for other ones. We have to take enough cash for the entire trek. We did find a little grocery with lots of American food, so we bought snacks for the trek like gorp, candy, teabags, and toilet paper. Supposedly, all that will be available is water and your left hand—we'll see.
The drive to and from town has been quite an eye opener. Buildings here are about 3-6 stories, all made of handmade bricks, some with outer coverings of stucco or cement, some not. The roads are not all paved, even in very populous areas. We followed a river much of the way—not as big as most Montana creeks. Women were doing their wash, little boys were swimming naked, cows roaming in and out and along the road piles of garbage everywhere. There are lots of dogs nosing through the garbage and just running loose on the streets with the cows. Most of the women dress in traditional saris as the culture here is 85% Hindu and 15% Buddhist. Most of the Buddhists live in the mountainous areas rather than in Kathmandu. Kathmandu is over a million—so it is no small town.
We are taking our little computer on the trek so we will be able to write our blog, but I don't know how often we will be able to post. There is Internet available towards the beginning and end of the next 25 days, but in the middle, nothing but satellite phones for emergencies. I really think we are headed to the ends of the earth. Wish us luck. Vicki
October 8-- Namche Bazaar
We are now 3 days into our 24 day trek. However, today was really quite sad. The same flight we came in on to Lukla on Monday crashed this morning killing all aboard—17. Apparently it was cloudy and the the pilot came in too low and ran straight into the mountain. There were 2 Nepalese guides and everyone else was on a German tour. The news spread quickly up and down the mountains as several military men were headed down from Namche to help. There is also intermittent cell phone service available. There hasn't been a fatal crash at that airport in many, many years so all the Nepalese were quite shocked.
When we get back to Kathmandu Mark will post picture of the airport if not before.
We have actually done quite well with the hiking. We divided the normal first day into two to help with the acclimatizing. We were quite worried about today because it is supposed to be the hardest of the trek with a 2300 ft climb and no way to break it up. However, I have been on harder hikes in the West and in the Alps—we went very slowly but were here at 1:00. The altitude is now 11,304 ft so everyone spends two nights here—even those going on to climb Everest. The chance of altitude sickness is just too great—even among the young and super-fit.
This is our third guest house. They are all very much alike. The standard charge is $3 a night for a double room. For that you get two smallish twin beds that go wall to wall with just enough room between them for a door to open. The toilet, shower and sink are down the hall and shared by about 25 people. Last night it was not even a Western toilet—not my favorite type. Of course no linens (everyone brings a sleeping bag), no heat, and 1 bare bulb in the ceiling for light.
You are expected to eat breakfast and supper at your guest house. That is how they make enough money to survive. We have been spending about $25 a day on food so it is inexpensive. The choices are about the same. Today for breakfast Mark had a omelet and toast and I had French toast. Last night for dinner I had eggs and French fries and Mark had dahl bat, which is the national dish. Down low there is lots of rice, later on mostly just potatoes. The only meat on the menu has been noodles or rice with tuna. I've got to be able to lose weight here!
October 10 First Sight of Everest
I am sitting here in our room at 7:30 pm in the dark typing my blog. We started from Namche Bazaar this morning and after about 1 ½ hrs walk rounded a bend and there was Everest. It was quite exciting, amazing and thrilling. The clouds stayed away all morning so we were able to see the unbelievable mountains ringing us on three sides as we walked. It was an easy day, not too much up or down, but we walked longer than usual--about 6 hrs. As Mark said when we saw Everest, we can't say it is the fulfillment of a dream, because in our wildest imagination we never dreamed it possible for us to be trekking in the Himalayas. But dream or not, it was wonderful.
Now to get to our room. Because we can't walk as far and as fast as most trekkers we are not always staying in the best lodges. This one is the last lodge before we cross the river and head up for a 2000 ft climb. Most trekkers leave Namche and get all the way to where we will have lunch tomorrow, but we couldn't go that far in a day. So our lodge has no lights in the rooms and filthy bathrooms—at least according to Mark. I am relying on our Little John jar—which is a life saver here. Dinner was okay though—lemon tea and spaghetti with about 3 tbs of sauce and cheese. Lunch was fried eggs and french fries.
Last night I had Yak steak—which was quite good and actually cheaper than Mark's Dahl Baht, which is the national dish in the mountains. My only concern was that Namche is the end of the line for the traders coming from Tibet with their Yaks—I have a feeling the ones eaten are the ones too feeble to make it back across the mountains.
There is so much more to talk about but I will leave the detail to Mark. The computer is low on battery but we will be able to recharge tomorrow night. PS It is very cold here, especially by this raging river out our door that is fed by dozens of glaciers. I would say it is about 50 and of course colder during the night. Our sleeping bags are warm—we will definitely be in bed by 8:30 as we can't afford to use up all our batteries. Tomorrow we will be buying some candles. Vicki
October 12 – Pangboche, Khumbu, Nepal
Today was a short day, thank heavens. This is the 7th day on the trail and Sherpa's don't believe in resting on the seventh day or at all. Mark and Mingma, our guide, went out for a couple more hours this afternoon while I took a nap and washed socks. It is in the 50's, so I am cold except when walking. Our lodge tonight is luxury compared to the last two. There is a western toilet, a waste basket in the hall, and a working light bulb. It doesn't take much to please me now. However, we are at tree line which means that wood stoves are changing to yak dung stoves. This is the highest, year round settlement in the Khumbu.
Prices are also rising. Last night was $4 for the lodge instead of $2. Also charging batteries for the computer is up to $2 an hour.
Yesterday we hiked up to the Tengboche Monastery which was only founded in 1917 but is very influential. It has one o f the finest views of Everest and the surrounding mountains close to Namche, so it is a final destination for some trekkers who have less time or interest in going higher. The monks there are very environmentally conscious and have put in a water turbine for electricity for the area and done a great deal of reforestation. They also care for children who are orphaned
This is a very international trek. So far we have met people from New Zealand, Wales, Scotland, England, Austria, France, Canada, Hungary, Australia, Germany, Russia, Italy, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, and Indiana. I am going to sign off so the battery can charge better. Vicki
October 22-- We did it!
I was never very sure that we could get to and climb Kalla Pattar, the small peak from which you can get the only close up view of Everest without climbing it. But we did it. We didn't quite reach the south summit as Mark hit his altitude limit at the plateau just 200 ft. below it. We were right at 18,000 ft. However our guide assured us that the view of Everest was the same and the summit, which is quite small, had dozens of people on it. We could clearly see Everest Base Camp, the ice fall wall and the expanse of the Kumbu glacier that is fed by Everest and several other 25,000 and up peaks. We had decided several days earlier not to walk to base camp as it is across the glacier so there is no set path and is a morass of boulders, gravel and other fun stuff. When you get there you can't even see Everest and it is very cold.
Speaking of cold—for the last six days daytime temps have been about 40 (for about 2 hours) and below freezing in our rooms at night. I have been sleeping in long johns, my last clean pair of trousers, knee high socks, second pair socks, woolen Sherpa slippers and then a jacket zipped around my thighs and butt. On top, long underwear, polypro tshirt, long sleeve shirt, polartec jacket, down jacket. On head baclava, polar tec hat, down hood of jacket and two pair of gloves. All this with a hot water bottle inside a down mummy bag with extra liner and hood. Just like snowmobiling only no place to get warm. They only heat the dining area from about 5 to 9 pm with 1 stove fed by yak patties or at the highest lodges, kerosene. When the heat was on, unless you sat by the stove, it would warm up to at least 50.
I had my worst day on Monday, the day after we climbed Kallar Pattar. I woke up throwing up, but felt I could walk as we didn't want to spend another night in the coldest possible place. By noon, I knew I couldn't walk another 4 hours, so our guide went ahead but there was no space of any kind available at the intermediate point; they had even sold out the dining hall floors. By this time my malady had moved downward and I spent ½ hour in a squatter trying to decide whether to throw up or other. It was after 2 and a 4 hr walk to the lodge we had booked—it is dark here at 5. So for a mere $100 USA cash we rented a horse and handler. I haven't ridden in about 30 yrs and there was no pommel. The worst part was that the stirrups were permanently mounted for someone about 5 ft tall so my poor knees were screaming all the way. Most of the path was fairly flat until right at the end where you drop over the edge of the moraine of the Kumbu glacier. At that point, the horse knew where we were headed, and refused to go. The handler tried 5-6 different approaches until the horse started bucking and shying and I finally said—just get me off. Mingma had come with me and Mark was following behind. It was now near dark, very windy and cold—especially since I hadn't been moving much for the last couple of hours. Mingma went back with the horse to find Mark and I started down the escarpment—and might I mention that 1 of my hiking poles wouldn't lock so I was not doing well at all. Luckily, Mark wasn't very far back and they caught up with me in about 30 minutes. It then took about 45 minutes at dusk for Mingma to pull me down the trail. Truly not a good day.
We are now 2 days further down the trail and there is actual oxygen to breathe. It is still very cold, but the days have been beautifully clear and sunny with stunning mountain views. Last night we also went outside to see the stars and Milky Way—what a difference several thousand feet of atmosphere can make. Has it been worth it---yes, absolutely. Would I do it again—never.
October 26—Phakding, Nepal
We are one day away from Lukla and hopefully, the plane to Kathmandu. I have basically been sick for a week, nothing too horrible, just upset stomach and loss of appetite. But it has made the last part of the trip not very good for me. Also, downhill is just not my favorite—my knees don't like being brakes. Mingma has been great to help me over the rough spots in the trail. The weather has been glorious during the day—bright blue skies make a great back drop for the snowy mountains. However, it clouds up some about 2 and the wind comes up—making for some really cold evenings and nights.
The trails have been really crowded—last year 8,000 people made the trek in October, plus all the porters, yaks, and local populace. All of them faster than we are. However, we feel like we have made many folk's day; they see us, and feel better about the progress they are making.
I spend my hiking day dreaming about hot showers and bathtubs, a sink not shared by 60 other people, sheets, western toilets, and central heating. Coming to a place like this makes you fully realize how lucky you are, to be middle class in the US.. Our guide is making $15 a day and the porter $6 plus tip. They work very hard and live in what we would consider primitive conditions, yet they are no less deserving of a better life then we are. Certainly, it is an eye opening experience.
The plight of the porters is especially moving. At some of the tea houses, when we have tried to buy the porter a drink, he has been refused service. In general, the porters don't come from the Sherpa ethnic group but from another “lower” caste from a lower altitude. At night the Sherpa guides sleep in the dining room or dormitory of the lodges and are welcome around the stove. The porters have a “shelter” in each village that is used by both the trekking porters and the goods porters. It is usually a rough stone building with no windows or doors; if they want a fire or food they must find their own. The loads they carry range from 70 to 140 lbs. Our guide used to be a porter and says conditions are greatly improved with the shelters. Until a few years ago, the porters stayed in caves and under tarps in the woods or held down by rocks. One feels badly about having them shoulder your backpack, but without the trekkers they would have no access to cash at all—the same with most of the guides. Subsistence farming is what they do the rest of the time. It is a world light years away from Missoula, MT.
October 31, Kathmandu
We made it back to Kathmandu Tuesday, after a stand-by flight from Lukla. So our Himalayan trek is done, a success. Unfortunately, a shoulder pain that appeared Tuesday has grown into a full-fledged debilitating condition. We think it is a pinched nerve in my back or shoulder, but I can't even sit up or stand without intense pain. I'm taking pain pills recommended by doctor in-law Beth, but am beginning to wonder what it's going to be like riding an elephant in Chitwan next Monday. Hopefully, it will get better with a few days' rest. Mark is typing this for me and I will respond to emails as I can.
November 4, Chitwam National Park
We have spent the last three days at Chitwan Adventure Resort in southern Nepal, but my shoulder is still giving me a lot of problems. We have managed to spread the activities over three days instead of two, and double-doses of pain medication have meant I could do most of them. Chitwan is on the border with India and is basically a jungle park. So far, we have been on a dug-out canoe trip, an elephant trek, a jeep safari, and an elephant bath. We have had the opportunity to see wild boar, spotted Nepalese deer, giant termite mounds, assorted storks, cranes, eagles, and peacocks, but the most exciting was the one-horned rhinoceros, of which we have seen five. On this morning's elephant safari (quite comfortable, like riding a double-decker bus) we were able to get within 20 feet of several rhinos. This evening on the jeep safari we saw another mother and child rhino. Our stay here has included all our meals and activities, lodging, etc., all for about $60/day for the two of us. Accommodations are somewhat spartan, but we do have satellite TV (when electricity is working), and we are anxiously looking for the results of the US elections when we wake up tomorrow (Wednesday morning).
Mark is typing this for me; I am trying not to sit up. I hope India will be easier on my shoulder. I did forgo the elephant bath festivities in the river this morning and was merely an observer. Of course this also enabled me to avoid any nasty river parasites I might have acquired. We are on to Kathmandu tomorrow and then Varanasi (Benares), India, on Thursday.