May 21, 2013: Active Day 16, Monjo to Lukla

Monjo to Lukla
In Monjo the sun was shining on the flower boxes as we gathered out front with a couple more of the world's cutest dogs. One of them had been sneaking in the common room that morning to beg for breakfast. "Fergie?!?" said Dovile hopefully. Nope, this doppelganger was a boy.
A local woman washes her hair outside. Photo credit: Kevin Cordova

A local woman washes her hair outside.
Photo credit: Kevin Cordova

I slathered on some of my expensive Namche sunscreen. I was wearing shorts on the mountain for the first time and didn't need to crisp the backs of my legs the way I did my forearms. It was supposed to be our last day of trekking and I figured it wouldn't hurt anything to buck tradition and expose a little knee. Besides, it was effing hot. On the way down we passed a woman washing her hair outside with a hose. I loved the organic simplicity of their lifestyle. We walked back down the trail to what must have been Phakding, since some people had left clean clothes there that were originally intended for Lukla. Dovile and I obviously left nothing as we had nothing the night we stayed. DK wanted to try a different place for tea, so while they sorted out the clothes issue, we continued to the new tea stop, used the toilet, and washed up. We sat on plastic tables out in the sun. The rest of the group joined us, and while we enjoyed some lemon tea a commotion started taking place around us.  We learned that the previous owner had died. There was about to be a funeral ceremony for which a high lama was flying in by helicopter. We asked if we should leave and they said no, just please move the tables aside so the lama could get through. Oh the irony. The one day I decide to wear shorts and we're paid a surprise visit by a high lama. I made sure to sit in the back of the table. Despite the faux pas, it was a very cool "coincidence" and I was thrilled to be a witness. DK asked the new owner, the previous owner's grandson, a bit more about the funeral. He told us that the body, which to them was just a discarded vessel, was burned outside the village just after he passed. Today was a ceremony to send the soul on its way. The man was important enough to warrant a visit from this lama at death, but they did not know each other in life. In preparation for the lama, a woman placed a metal receptacle on a stone wall in front of the courtyard, piled on some green branches, and lit a smoky fire underneath. We heard rotor blades chopping the air nearby and soon the lama and his entourage appeared through the smoke and disappeared just as quickly into the building. We were left to our tea. A little boy came outside and began playing with the smoky branches. A preteen girl dressed all in black like an 80's rock star came out and scolded him. She could only be his big sister. I reckoned it was safe to move and as I shifted, accidentally kicked one of the world's cutest dogs who had curled up at my feet under the table. She looked up at me indignantly. "Whoops! Sorry baby!" I said as I reached down and petted her. Bibak had a phone call for DK. Rather than call him over, Bibak walked up, grabbed DK's hand and pulled him away from the group. DK let his other wrist go limp and pranced along behind, making us all laugh. Hand holding was perfectly normal in Nepal, where the men were more physically affectionate with each other than in the west. We'd often see porters who were just friends holding hands on the trail. This scene was a comical contrast of the differences in our two cultures. Someone from across the street came by with a big blue plastic pitcher of millet beer. They poured a cup and we all passed it around thinking they meant for us to try it. It was tasty, and we all expressed our approval. Big smiles all around, apparently the man had brewed it himself. He refilled the cup. Soon it became apparent that they meant for us to finish the entire pitcher. We took that as our cue to leave and after finishing the cup, bowed and waved our way back onto the trail before they could refill it again.
View from the Wind Horse Photo credit: Kevin Cordova

View from the Wind Horse in Thado Koshigaon
Photo credit: Kevin Cordova

We had lunch back at the Wind Horse Lodge, home of little twinkle toes. I think she was there this time too, only a little more shy than before. The sun was out and we soaked it up on plastic chairs, enjoying conversations about the local sustainable lifestyle. DK asked the hostess where the food we were enjoying came from. She pointed to the garden behind the building. We talked about how it made so little sense for grocery stores to throw away food rather than donating it. How it costs so much to buy organic food at home. How we ought to be able to have reusable milk bottles like the old days. That was one I recently discovered I was able to do, thanks to Straus Family Creamery, makers of the best eggnog on earth. Once again I was so happy about the ease in which I was able to agree with my friends on these subjects.
Walking down. Photo credit: Kevin Cordova

Walking down.
Photo credit: Kevin Cordova

We were almost to Lukla when I realized I had to pee and had to pee NOW. Damn the millet beer. I desperately looked for a suitable rock or tree, and when I found one, true to form, it had already been well-used. The need was so urgent I wasn't watching my step. Shit! I stepped in shit. Someone had kicked a few leaves over their pile and I didn't see it. Eeeeeewwwww. I scraped off as much as I could as I walked and made a mental note to avoid touching the shoes or keeping them in the room later. At our home in Lukla there was again just one community shower. We elected to reverse the order we went in at the White Yak. Sweet, that meant I was going second. Magic Mike got to go first, which wasn't much of a reward, since he was the one who discovered the water was cold and had to wait while they fixed the heat. Ele, Amanda, Dovile and I settled in their room for some girl talk. Ele tried to compare herself to one of our beautiful mutual friends. I had to call her on it. "So are you!" I said, incredulous. "Weren't you the one who had some random dude tell you you had a great body in Rivendell?" "Yeah, but he was like 50," she countered. I laughed. Maybe the 50-year-old had just climbed one of those big-ass mountains and was feeling extra brave that day. The other dudes may not be saying it, but I'd be willing to bet they were thinking it. "Trust me, you have nothing to worry about." Since she works in recreation, she complained that the men she met seemed more interested in toys (like snowboards) than women. "You're just now figuring that out?" said DK. He had joined us a moment ago. We laughed. I didn't say it in the presence of a man, but the key really is to become one of the toys. Not in a bad way, but to really own that air of feminine mystery that keeps them interested in playing the game. Women and snowboards are not mutually exclusive.
The Lukla Runway. Photo credit: Kevin Cordova

The Lukla Runway.
Photo credit: Kevin Cordova

Dovile and I left to wander the streets of Lukla in a fruitless search for an ATM. We enlisted the help of Bibak, described by DK earlier as the "Don of Lukla" to help us. Bibak led us back up the street towards the infamous Lukla runway. We stopped at the boarded up Western Union Dovile and I had already passed earlier. He looked flabbergasted. That was the only place he knew.
The party starts. Photo credit: Michael Allen

The party starts.
From left: Bibak, Dovile, Ele, Me, Mike.
Photo credit: Michael Allen

Dovile resigned herself to getting cash back at a local shop. The shopkeeper wanted to charge her a 10% transaction fee. Not only was she good at jingles, she was also good at negotiating and got him down to 8%. With fresh rupees burning a hole in her pocket, she bought the three of us a tall cans of expired San Miguel from a shop across the street to drink on the steps in front of our lodge. Soon we were joined by Ele, Mike and Sara. Back inside, DK told one of his favorite stories about Bibak's dancing. We'd been hearing bits and pieces of it the entire trip. "Imagine no inhibition! Some people upstairs were trying to sleep and I literally had to hold him down to try to keep him quiet!" DK put his hands on my shoulders and pushed down for added effect. Oooh, I can't wait. I thought. This is going to be awesome. We pooled our money for tips for the boys. I thought I had more rupees besides what I had set aside for them, but apparently spent them all in Namche. Dang it, I should have gotten more when Dovile did. DK came around and quietly told us what the amount came to, which was "really generous." Well, the boys earned it, and good on us for recognizing it. Dinner that night was the best dal bhat yet, also with some really, really, really good chicken. Dovile was able to get the chef to give her the recipe before we left:
Chop a chicken quarter into little pieces with bone in. Throw a handful of garlic on a hot pan, sear chicken, flip, lower heat when you have browned both sides add salt, pepper, chopped tomato and onion, and cook until done.
The party was about to start. DK called us up one by one and gave us certificates and our park pass. When he got to me I was the one who was "camera-shy but not shy with the camera." "T-Pain!" Everyone else shouted. With the formalities finished, it was time to party. DK brought out a box of San Miguel and passed them around to the boys. Someone poured shots. Britney Spears t-shirts were all the rage amongst the porters, so I wasn't surprised when N Sync began blaring on the speakers. What did surprise me was when Mike, who once upon a time claimed to have no rhythm, jumped up and busted out the dance routine from their music video. It didn't take a hypnotist to turn him into Napoleon Dynamite, only alcohol. Two beers and maybe a shot at altitude were all it took to make the rest of us think this was a great idea. We all joined him and channeled our inner boy-band in a circle around the wood burning stove. It was time to consider the other guests and take this party elsewhere. Outside it was raining buckets. Not that we cared. The boys tried to teach us the native song they sang at base camp and we sang loudly in the street to the first bar which was... closed. DK was temporarily speechless because he knew the owner, but recovered quickly and led us on to a second. Once inside it was bare feet, dancing, and more pool. Stacy and Kevin played DJ. The bar had something tasty in a hookah and we all took a hit or two. I found myself dancing with an old local dude. When my body told me it was in my best interest to take a water break, he turned to Sara who looked both scared and grossed out. "Just roll with it!" I told her, though it would have been a prime opportunity to see if "the face" worked across cultures. Magic "no rhythm" Mike meanwhile had attracted the attention of a crazy trekker chick named Amber with his moves on the dance floor. I say crazy trekker chick tongue in cheek, she's probably at home saying the same thing about us. We'd both be right. The bartenders watched it all in utter amusement. It was late by the time the last of our party left for home. K-Fed and I closed out and walked back. It was still raining.