The next morning down in the common room at breakfast, Bibak was nowhere to be found. Dovile, lively as ever, told us they emptied the bar of all available beverages the night before. She reminded me of Marion from Raiders of the Lost Ark, except she drank the poor fellow under the dance floor instead of the table. Bibak appeared a while later, exhibiting a strange combination of hungover and flustered for having overslept. The weather had not improved, and was not likely to do so for a while. We needed to make it back to Kathmandu since all but three of us had flights the next morning. After some phone exchanges, DK told us that Mike, Sara, Me, Dovile, Kevin and Stacy would follow the porters to Surke to take another helicopter. The trekking season was ending, so from Surke the boys would leave us and our heavy bags to continue down the hill to their home village. DK, Ele, Amanda and Bibak would take a later flight and likely meet us that afternoon. The news of having to take a helicopter was a little disappointing this time because we would have no death-defying stories of the Lukla airport to tell when we got home. Just foggy pictures of "this is the runway we might have taken." To me it was another good excuse to come back someday. Since this was the last we'd see of the boys, they each tied prayer scarves around our necks. We then hugged them goodbye, telling them "thank you" and "dhanyabad" again for all their hard work and kindness. Stacy expressed best what we all were feeling as tears streamed freely down her face. Life soon provided some comic relief. We decided to take a group photo with the scarves. Someone handed a digital camera to a man who had clearly never seen one before. He looked at the the camera screen in amazement, pointing it every which way but at us. We laughed. He stuck his finger in front of the lens. We laughed more. The poor man seemed embarrassed by then, and someone tried to help him. Eventually we just passed the camera to someone else. Next thing we knew we were jogging to keep up as the porters began their flight down the hill. I think we all had a strange feeling as we waved and watched Bibak, DK, Ele and Amanda disappear behind the stone wall of the lodge, but there was no time to process it. It was all we could do to keep up. It was a misty, slippery hike back down to Surke, much the same as it had been on the way up. The difference was, this time we really flew. At one point I was caught on a narrow descent behind some slower trekkers. When it flattened out I overtook them and literally sprinted until I was in view of the frontrunners again, determined not to get lost a second time. Down in Surke, the porters dropped our big, heavy bags for the last time, bid us a final farewell, and without further ado, continued their trek home. Soon after, an enormous Russian helicopter flew overhead and then circled around to land, its rotors whipping a white ribbon of fog in a circle overhead. We had a guide with us from the same company as Sudip and Bibak, who was helping to look after us temporarily until our flight arrived. We asked apprehensively if this was it. Thankfully, it wasn't. The giant helicopter was sturdy enough to haul loads of sheet metal (to be carried up on porters' backs the rest of the way) but it looked ancient. We met up with our scrawny little puppy friend from day three, still looking hungry as ever. It was lunch time by now and after our morning trot down the mountain I was hungry too. I fished one of my organic raw food bars from my daypack and shared it with him, taking care to leave out any chocolate bits. I asked if anyone else wanted any, and got enough yeses to warrant digging my remaining stash out of our porter bag (which would have to be forcefully closed again). After moving up and down the mountain on the poor man's back these few weeks, they would finally be eaten. Better late than never. Eventually a perky little red helicopter landed close to the edge, keeping a respectful distance from the big one, which was still being unloaded. Our pilot told us it was just a baby, only three months old. We squeezed in and began the flight home, feeling increasing pressure from the heat and humidity the closer to the city we got. We landed on the familiar landing pad in Kathmandu, joking with the pilot that he was supposed to take us to Bali instead. "I'll take you anywhere if the price is right," he said. The look on his face told me he was playing along, but also completely meant what he said. We drove around to the front of the airport. I don't remember what vehicle we took, but it seemed bigger than the tiny old pickup we squeezed in on the way up. Sudip and his Aussie girlfriend Natalie were waiting, and walked with us to the van. "I've heard nothing but good things," I told her. "You all look tired," she said to us. Truth. Even more true would be tired, dirty, half-wild and completely happy. There was a lot of traffic in the city and the ride back was long, dusty and hot. By the time we reached our home in Thamel, we were very glad to be rid of the van and get settled back in to our rooms, which looked fit for royalty. Imagine the hot water lasting as long as you needed it to in the shower! What luxury! Mike and Sara had a room across from Dovile and I. The four of us decided to go into town and find an ATM. It had recently rained just enough to get the streets wet, and my $3 green plastic flip-flops were flipping mud/poo/spit up the back of my leg. We stopped back at the hotel and I changed into some trail runners. This was a mistake. When we went back out, the monsoon hit. The soft shell rain jacket I bought specifically for this trip because it had a hood finally got some use and held up nicely. However, the shoes filled up with water in seconds and wouldn't dry for days. We looked at jewelry, where Sara and I both bought an infinity symbol. One jewelry shop had a mirrored disco dog, and Dovile took a picture for Kevin and Stacy. We paused to look at some of those knit socks I still had to have. A shopkeeper materialized and told us to follow him up a dark, narrow stairwell for more choices. "I don't want to follow him up there!" said Sara with trepidation. "I do!" I said and went up after him. It would be an adventure, I wanted those darn socks, and by this time I had zero fear of the locals, convinced they were some of the kindest people on earth. Upstairs in a den full of textiles, I found my socks and a yak wool blanket. Sara bought something too and we negotiated together. Neither of us had much change, just the 1,000 rupee notes from the ATM, and when we pooled it I ended up coming out ahead and told her I'd pay her back but never did (dhanyabad, sister). Mike and Sara took the textile stuff and waded back to the hotel. Dovile and I continued in the pouring rain. The nice thing about a monsoon storm is it clears out an otherwise typically dusty and crowded street. We walked from shop to shop in peace, apologizing profusely for tracking buckets of water in wherever we stopped. Eventually we made it back to the shop where Dovile promised to return for the Buddha mask a lifetime ago. "Do you remember me?" she asked the shopkeeper and proceeded to banter with him and talk him down on the price. I bought a lotus flower and just paid what he asked. It was reasonable. We headed back to meet the crew for dinner. Unfortunately, DK, Bibak, Ele and Amanda would not be returning that day. We met Sudip and Natalie and waded through the flooded streets for our final celebration dinner. I looked at the menu. Sweet, they have pizzas. I was craving cheese. "Should I get the 8" or 12"?" I wondered out loud. "Get the 12", we'll help you eat it if it's too much." said K-Fed or Mike. Maybe both. I ordered the 12" pizza and a Bloody Mary. My eyes widened and jaw dropped when the pizza that arrived looked more like 18". "I should know better by now than to order something in inches in a country that uses metric," I joked. "You better help me eat this." Rather than the usual t-shirts, this restaurant was wallpapered in giant paper "Yeti" feet. Our table got one to share. Everyone just stared at the blank canvas at first, and I got the ball rolling by drawing in the Active Himalayas logo. Then we passed it around and everyone added something. Stacy lettered in HimaYAYA and drew a stick figure DK with his green backpack, and finger pointing up saying "It's all downhill from here!" Dovile wrote all of our nicknames on the toes. Sudip supplied the time and date of our "summit." The others added a few inside jokes like "Don't worry about flushing the toilet, we're on holiday!" The foot provided a little bit of closure on our goodbye dinner, though we were missing our brothers and sisters who were spending their third night in Lukla. Sudip told us that Nepal stood for "Never Ending Peace and Love." A perfect description. He then couldn't resist a jibe at their neighbor saying India stood for "I'll Never Do It Again." We laughed. After dinner, the rain had let up somewhat but the streets were still flooded. The water (though not so much the air) was also getting cold. We opted out of trying to find a nightspot in those conditions and just sat outside in the Thamel Eco courtyard and drank beer. One by one everyone went to bed until it was just Dovile and I talking about, work, life and of course boys. Dovile was 10 years younger. At 25 she'd had her share of love drama, yet had a more grown up view of her sexuality than most women her age. When I turned 25 I lost a fiancé, watched a younger sister marry the man of her dreams, and lost a grandpa all in the span of two weeks. My luck in love didn't improve much in the decade to follow. I told her when my last relationship ended I was so burned out I lost interest in playing the game altogether, deciding to do what I wanted, when I wanted for a while. She then asked the hard question I'd been avoiding asking myself. "How long has it been?" Dammit, now I had to think about it. I looked up and thought back. "Lets see, around October 2010. Wow, 2 1/2 years. A bit scary how fast time flies. The thing is, my life has been, dare I say it, more interesting single. In the past 2 1/2 years I've been to New Zealand, Canada, bought a house, and now am here in Nepal." We changed the subject to work. Both of us had jobs that required a lot of extra hours and felt that life would pass us by if we kept it up. We both agreed that DK led an authentic, mostly ideal life. She said I could be a guide. "I don't know if I'm tough enough to be a guide! The boys had to carry my pack to base camp." I said with a grin. "I don't know that I need to do what DK does, but it would be nice to do whatever it is that I authentically do." "He's got an awesome life where he gets to travel, live simply, and meet all kinds of people, which sounds great, but then who are you close to?" I continued and immediately felt convicted. Who was I close to anyway? All of my old friends were all married with kids or otherwise partnered up, and lived in different cities and countries. True I had my own house now, but I lived alone with only a flock of hummingbirds for pets. Why not do a job that I loved doing even if it meant leaving the country? The men at the hotel told us that they were closing down the bar. It was getting very late. We took the hint and when our beers were finished, walked upstairs to continue the girl talk in our room.
Almost Famous There was no question as to what we wanted for dinner. More of that divine chicken and dal bhat. It was just as good the second time around. We put more music on. K-Fed pointed out a spiderish looking bug that would move in time to the music. We knew it wasn't a coincidence when the bug changed its rhythm to match the next song. Both of us tried to get a video, Kevin's turned out best: Meanwhile, Dovile tried to get the Indian family up to dance with her. Bibak was always a willing partner, and in her he had finally met his match. Dovile had even less inhibition than he did, sometimes he would just watch her in stunned silence, but usually they moved together well. Bibak wanted to include his pal DK, and pulled him up on the dance floor with them. DK continued his joke from Phakding and he brought his limp wrist up to his chest as if to say "me??" and then pranced out on the dance floor to join them for a bit. The rest of us tried to hang as long as we could, but ended up turning in early in favor of more sleep.Alcohol is on the short list of things besides planes and the sound of vomit that will interfere with my sleep. I slept maybe a couple of hours and then was wide awake at first light. Well, whatever light was able to penetrate the pea soup fog blanketing the town, anyway. No one else was up and it was past our call time, so I figured it was safe to assume our super-early flight had been cancelled. I went out in the hallway to the only power outlet I'd seen since Namche, plugged in my long dead phone and connected to the intermittent WiFi connection that was actually working at that hour. The others got up and passed me in the hallway yet still I sat on the stairs, deleting emails, while my phone charged. Over an hour later I joined everyone downstairs for a basic breakfast. We had ordered light the day before deliberately so they wouldn't have to fix anything elaborate at the early hour before our flight. We received the official word that our flight was cancelled. Good, I'd rather spend the extra day in the mountains than in Kathmandu anyway. A little while later we walked down the street to get more food. Ele, Amanda and I got some of the best hot chocolate on earth. There was VH1 on TV at this place and once again I was reminded of how out of touch I'd been with the mainstream. When we cashed out I was able to get more rupees, and paid the 10% fee. It was a much more subdued day. We barely saw Magic Mike who seemed content to read up in their room. In the common room I chatted with a British fellow who was up trekking on his own with a guide, asking him what he thought about the trails he took and whether he'd return. He seemed burned out on Nepal and wanted to see other countries. North and South America were both on his list. I on the other hand was already scheming to return, thinking I could spend a year traveling the tiny country and it still wouldn't be enough. Now that my phone was alive again, I went back upstairs, put my headphones in and settled in bed for a snooze. I woke up when DK came in to ask what I wanted for lunch and barely knew where I was when I opened my eyes. I fumbled around clumsily for my clock mumbling, "Mmmmmfff, how long was I out?" He told me the time and I abandoned my search for the clock. I half-consciously picked one of the food choices he named, and when he walked out, decided that had been sleeping long enough and got up. With my wits returning, I became conscious of the fact that I had been dancing around barefoot in a bar the night before. I decided to try for another shower. I stepped in and got the bottom half of me washed (the most important part) when the water quit. I don't mean the hot water quit, I mean water stopped coming out of the shower altogether. I didn't have enough ambition to try to find someone to fix it, and called it good enough. There was an Indian family downstairs, a man and his young daughter had just finished their Himalaya trek also. He seemed super proud of her, as well he should be. I asked where they were from and he said New York. I raised an eyebrow since his accent was somewhat heavy. He said he was originally from India. "Isn't it funny? The truth just sounds different." - Penny Lane,
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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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.
The next morning when Magic Mike and I tried stretching, I was dismayed to find I could barely move. There was no soreness, I had just lost all flexibility to the point where touching my toes became touching my knees. Weird, shouldn't all this exercise be making me more flexible? Ele taught me a trick where I was to try stretching, and then spin around a few times and try it again. I spun around obediently and when I bent down again, was able to reach my toes as well as I normally do, with my fingertips. (You'll never catch me with my palms on the ground unless it's after months of training.) "Wow, that's amazing, thanks!" Ele and Amanda realized that one of their rented down jackets was missing. Apparently it had come off the outside of their porter bag the day before. DK said it wouldn't be a problem, but he'd probably have to argue with the vendor over the cost of the replacement when we got back to Namche. Sudip would have been a big help with that. We walked up the nearby hillside passing more prayer stones on the way. It was foggy and I had a jacket on. "Hey T-Pain, are you sick?" asked K-Fed, wondering why I wasn't in my usual t-shirt. "No, I just don't do fog. Fog is cold," I replied. Dovile and Stacy put their own spin on Unforgiveable and Powerthirst, laughing all the way down. We passed the Syrangboche Airport, one of the world's highest, and began to descend down to Namche.
The next morning we walked up the stone pathway through the white rhododendron tunnel for the last time. At the top of the hill in Tengboche, we made friends with another dog, a female this time, who became our pet for the day. Dovile named her Fergie. Fergie trotted along side us down the pink rhododendron-lined switchbacks to the river, where we stopped at the end of the suspension bridge again for some tea. Stacy and Dovile mentioned wanting to take her home. "I don't think any of us could provide as good a home for her as she has here." I said. "She's free to run these mountain trails all day and it appears as though she has plenty to eat. It's a dog's paradise." I was a little jealous. Okay, maybe a lot jealous. DK made good his promise and gave the little boy who lived there the red cricket ball. The boy, glad to have some playmates, also played with Ele and Dovile with a piece of wood that through the magic of imagination became a plane. He brought out another toy to show us, a plastic rabbit on three wheels. The fourth was missing. DK asked Bibak the word for rabbit. "Kharayo, kharayo, kharayo," he repeated. Before we left, Bibak threw Stacy on his back and pretended he would carry her up the hill on the other side. We were sure he could have done it without much trouble. On the way up to Khumjung we passed a tree nursery established by the Himalayan Trust. Sir Ed could see the direction Nepal was headed and sought to mitigate the environmental impact caused by increased tourism to Everest.
With its rapidly increasing population, primitive agriculture, and steep terrain, Nepal has the most serious erosion problem of any country in the world, and the problem worsens as more forests disappear in the scouring of the land for food and fuel; in eastern Nepal, and especially in the Kathmandu Valley, firewood for cooking (not to speak of heat) is already precious, brought in by peasants who have walked for miles to sell the meager faggots on their backs. The country folk cook their own food by burning cakes of livestock dung, depriving the soil of the precious manure that would nourish it and permit it to hold water. Without wood humus or manure, the soil deteriorates, compacts and turns to dust, to be washed away in the rush of the monsoon. Peter Matthiessen, The Snow LeopardOnce up the hill on the other side, we cruised along a relatively smooth trail into Khumjung. The most striking thing about Khumjung was the entire town appeared to be color-coordinated, in contrast to the kaleidoscope of colors present everywhere else we'd been. Every sheet metal roof was green. Did they have some sort of high-mountain homeowners association enforcing the rule? Fergie was still with us when we got to our lodging. The Hidden Village was also beautiful, with lots of stone and wood. Our room had a spectacular view of the village. We all enjoyed veggie momos and spring rolls for lunch to make it easier for them to prepare. DK went into the kitchen to help, the rest of us, considered unclean both literally and spiritually, were not permitted. Dovile and Stacy went outside to play with the dog while we waited. After lunch Fergie had disappeared... maybe to head back home, wherever her home actually was. Every yard in town was fenced with a rock wall and the passages between the walls were narrow. DK expertly lead us through the maze to get to a monastery at the foot of the mountain across town from our lodge. On the way, I can't really explain it, it felt like I moved into a dark cloud. The energy got really heavy. Later when I tried to rationalize it, I thought maybe the altitude had finally brought up some muck that had been plaguing other people in their dreams. I've also been accused of being an empath so perhaps the energy I picked up might not have been mine. Whatever it was it hit hard and hit fast. We passed some cute little baby cows or yaks or yak-cows and I didn't care. DK pointed out a community water spring that Sir Ed, who focused a lot of his attention on Khumjung, had put in for the community. This seemed really sad to me, that the people couldn't even get water for themselves. We entered the monastery and took off our shoes. They appeared to be restoring it, the building was in nowhere near as good condition as the one in Tengboche. Was this because of fewer tourist rupees? Once inside they unlocked a case with a supposed yeti skull. The somewhat barbaric story of how it came to be there didn't improve my mood. We sat down in a circle and DK started to talk more about the Nepali culture and how women were supposed to appear sad at weddings as part of the tradition. Historically girls were married off in arranged marriages, and would leave their families at a young age for a life of servitude. While this isn't necessarily the case today, brides still pretend to reflect the sadness of their ancestors. Funny how marriage tends to be a better deal for men, yet even today many women still use it to measure their self worth. An old man came in and hissed me off the bench where I was sitting. Fuck, I just sat on a religious artifact didn't I? This is a huge no-no. Without being conscious of what I was doing, I had plopped down on one of the benches reserved for monks. I skulked over to where the others were sitting, completely ashamed and embarrassed. It was about that point I began to become aware of the dark cloud I had wandered into, because I don't normally attract that kind of experience. What was going on? We pulled on our shoes and headed back downhill. Still in my funk, I was annoyed with all the shallow American chit-chat. You're missing the real Nepal, my shadow whispered. We were in the first and only place that was somewhat out of the "tourist tunnel" and yet insisted on keeping the tourist bubble around us with our conversation and our activity. I had to get away. The second we got back I made a beeline for our room. Maybe the others were going to go play volleyball now, I didn't know and didn't care. Like Dumbledore's crazy sister I felt whatever this was about to come exploding out of me. Where would I go? The top of a nearby hill was my first choice, but now I was afraid I'd be intruding on some other forbidden holy land like a kitchen or an old bench. Maybe upstairs? I eyed the staircase and then looked down the hall at some doors on the end. They opened onto a balcony. This would do for now. I settled into a meditation pose and just breathed. Though it took a while, eventually the darkness lifted. Sitting on that balcony I was able to observe a day in the life of the village without being seen. Well, that's not true, one monk on the path saw me and we watched each other curiously as he walked, but most of the other locals were oblivious. A man swept the front of his shop for what seemed like hours. A nearby chicken scratched a safe distance from the old-fashioned broom. Young men and women moved quickly and cheerily up the path. Old men moved slowly. Someone used a megaphone to send a message to the other side of town. Clouds began to form in the river valley below and moved slowly up to the edge of the village. Baby potato plants grew in the sandy soil beneath me. Still conscious of being unclean, I went back to the room long enough to get my nail clippers. Amanda was upstairs and I asked her what time we should meet for dinner. Not for a while, so I went back to my balcony to spend more quality time with Nepal. I was cheerful and otherwise back to normal again by dinner. Since I left the group rather abruptly and never returned for the volleyball game, DK asked how I was doing. Fine, now. I said I'd been conscious of being the tourist, and wanted to see the town without being seen. He seemed to understand and had the good grace to leave it at that.
When we walked out into the courtyard of the White Yak to leave the next morning, this was our view: It was a beautiful, comfortable place and the night before was the first Type I fun we'd had at a lodge in a while. For the uninitiated, fun can be classified into three basic types. Type I fun is an activity that's fun while you're participating and fun later. The sunny afternoon at Rivendell was mostly Type I. Type II fun is not particularly fun while you're participating, but fun later. Mountaineering often falls in this category. Type III fun is fun while you're participating, and not particularly fun later. A night out drinking that results in a wicked hangover, for example.
Ravens have the ability to teach you how to stir the magic of life without fear, to work the magic of the spiritual laws on the physical plane, and stir the energies to manifest what you most need. If raven has come into your life, expect magic. Raven speaks of the opportunity to become the magician or enchantress of your life and to bring your inner magician out of the dark into the light. Raven speaks of messages from the spirit realm that can shape-shift your life dramatically.We walked up to the monastery, up the stone steps, through the courtyard, and upstairs to the entryway were we took off our shoes. The monks were already chanting. Hmmm, this was odd, we ought to be slightly early if the puja was the same time as before. We walked in silently, hardly daring to breathe, and sat down on one of the rugs. We were the only two tourists in the building. Could it be because climbing season was almost over? Both of us had a weird feeling about it. A few minutes later the monks stopped and got up to leave. A couple of them were kind enough to tell us to come back for the puja at four. We were an hour early. It was Saturday. As this was their holy day, they kept to a different schedule. Feeling slightly embarrassed and maybe a little ashamed for intruding, we padded out, put on our shoes and tried to decide what to do for an hour. Ele suggested tea and I jumped on the idea. We walked down to a different place than before. The new tea house was also a bakery and smelled divine. Even though we were on the down hill portion of the trip, I decided to stick to my no sugar rule. Well, that and I didn't think to bring cash; Ele was kind enough to buy the tea for us. There was rhododendron tea on the menu. Why not? We asked the hostess if we could try a small pot of it. She said she was out of stock, so we settled on milk tea. Once again, it was good to get some one-on-one time with somebody. Ele told me a lot about what it was like to work for Active (awesome) and some of her other adventures in Nepal. She was lucky enough to have done the Annapurna trek before EBC. I learned that she and Amanda also had a couple of extra days in Kathmandu after the tour and we made tentative plans to figure out something to do. Maybe south Nepal? We kept hearing legends of river dolphins and elephants and thought it might be worth another flight to try to see them. The conversation inevitably turned to one of my favorite topics, relationships. I showed her one of the hand analysis parlor tricks I had been taught that is supposed to indicate number of partnerships and when they show up in our lives. If there is any truth to it, we both had something to look forward to. Time will tell. I brought up Jyotish and the Ganas. I told her the placement of the moon indicates our heart and how we relate, and the placement of the sun represents our father and our career. She thought her dad sounded Rakshasa. Her career definitely fit the bill. My own dad is a Deva and my career at the time was quite Deva-ish. The trouble was, my heart wasn't in it. That day was the first time I thought about it in that way. I wondered if there was a way to unite the two... have the Deva career that my Rakshasa heart could be into. I was having so much fun getting to know her better that the hour just flew by. The "small" teapot was enough to provide us each multiple cups, so we visited the ladies' room before taking our chances with the monastery again. Up the stone steps we went, and into the courtyard. There were dozens of other tourists waiting to enter. A good sign. Like before, we all took off our shoes and squeezed in together on the rugs. Unfortunately, this tourist group was more disrespectful about the no cameras rule. Ele even put on her teacher hat and reprimanded one of them. Once the puja started, we could tell right away the day was special. All the various instruments that laid unused in the first one we witnessed came out in force on Saturday. Horns were blown, drums beaten, bells rung, and all sorts of notes and rhythms and chants went on and off in various succession. I was completely absorbed by it all. I vaguely noticed people get up to leave. Finally Ele and I were the last ones sitting. The last person who left told her it had been nearly two hours. What?? No way we had been sitting that long. I wasn't used to time travel that didn't involve alcohol. If we didn't leave soon, we'd be caught in the dark and would miss dinner. We got up as quietly as possible and walked out. The monks showed no signs of stopping. That night after dinner, Mike, Amanda and I got back on my favorite subject while the others played cards. I tried some hand analysis parlor tricks with them involving heart lines but couldn't remember the characteristics of the different archetypes off the top of my head. So I transitioned into topics that I could talk about for hours, specifically the four variables employed by Match Matrix and the Jyotish system for compatibility. I introduced them to the Nakshatras and told them if they were in India and someone asked "hey baby, what's your sign?" they'd be able to surprise and delight them by answering "Mula" or "Anuradha." They were the first enthusiastic audience I could ever remember having. Everyone else usually just humors me. I told them thanks for listening. We Sagittarians love to preach and it was fun having listeners who genuinely seemed interested. The lights went out. Crap, my headlamp is downstairs. The lights turned back on. Whew, no worries then. The lights went out longer. Uh oh. When the lights came on again Amanda got up to leave and I decided not to take my chances with stumbling in the dark and followed her downstairs. I was in bed but not asleep when an extremely hyper Dovile came giggling into the room. Must be all the oxygen. DK was behind her with some of his Rescue Remedy that she dubbed "Dinosaur Drops" after one of the jokes he told earlier:
A kid accidentally left his hallucinogens out at Grandma's house. "Grandma, have you seen my pills?" She looks at him and says, " F--- the pills, have you seen the dinosaur in the kitchen?"DK wished me luck and closed the door. He was in the room next to her and she began tapping some morse code on the wall. No answer. "I might not be the one who needs the luck," I joked. We talked about all kinds of random stuff. Decorating led to landscaping led to plants led to the Backster Effect. The topic that finally killed her buzz and knocked both of us out cold was work, bookkeeping and taxes. ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.
That night on one of the inevitable midnight trips to the toilet I found myself side-stepping a bunch of dal barf in the hallway. There was splatter in front of every doorway between our room, which was right in the middle the hall, and the two Asian-style toilets at the end. Ew, sucks to be whoever did this. When DK got the Kala Patthar trekkers out of bed at 0-dark-thirty the first thing he asked us was, "How are you feeling?" It didn't appear as though the culprit was among us. Mike, Sara, Ele, Amanda, DK and I donned our headlamps and moved out. The other three opted the night before to sleep in or take a shorter hike with Sudip at dawn. We were all still tired so we took our time up the hillside. In the dark there weren't many distractions so I was free to just stare at my feet in the glow of the headlamp (this is a good chakra healing exercise) and give all my attention to putting one foot in front of the other as we climbed. As it began to get light, we looked around. The hill we were on didn't seem to be all that steep, yet the views were spectacular.
"Wow, it's so nice up here!" I breathed, taking it all in.
An understatement; any eloquence I may have possessed had gone out the window down around 14,000 ft. Indeed it was "nice." It was also remarkable how the vistas could continue to get more stunning by the day. We took pictures and not long after clouds began to roll in.
"Can we keep going to at least get to 18,000 ft.?" Sara asked DK, who wore an altimeter.
We all agreed this was a worthy goal and slogged on. It didn't take long before we climbed above the clouds and were grateful for the opportunity to get more pictures as the sun rose. The clouds caught up with us again.
We could see the top and it was too much of a temptation to resist. We took a page out of Forrest Gump's book and said since we had gone this far, we might as well keep going to the summit.
At around 18,200 ft. / 5,545 m, we reached the highest point of our trek. I sat on a rock, which was starting to look soft and cozy, and DK passed around some cookies / biscuits to celebrate. (Probably Coconut Crunchees. That's what it looks like he's pointing to in the photo.) I took a bite, discovered with dismay that I had no spit, and managed to finish the cookie with a couple mouthfuls of water.
We took another photo to document the achievement. Let my red, peely face and raccoon eyes caution you to bring fresh sunscreen with a high SPF and apply liberally and often if you ever spend any time at altitude.
"We've certainly seen each other at our worst," Sara said, in reference to our sunburns, windburns, illnesses and general unpleasant effects stemming from multiple days without a shower.
"And our best," I finished.
Up there we were real. We had no need to hide ourselves behind pretention or define ourselves with competition or materialism. The longer we stayed, the more we became completely authentic. Human beings, each with a body that may not always work the way we'd like it to, yet finding the strength to carry on anyway. Spiritual beings who valued looking after each other more than looking important; who appreciated a shared experience more than we ever could a shiny new "thing."
The clouds were relentless in their pursuit and we still had a lot of walking ahead of us so we didn't stay long before heading back down for breakfast.
As the Gorakshep dry lakebed came into view, I was able to see clearly why we started off so slow. The first part of the hike was much steeper than it seemed in the dark.
"Wow, did we really just climb up this?" I asked.
Down on the lakebed people had written messages with stone. My favorite was the one that read I ♥ EBC. I paused and took the picture, though I like Ele's better. Dhanyabad (thank you) to whoever made it.
Back in the common room, the topic of conversation returned to the incident the night before. In the light of day we could see that the piles of puke ran all the way down the L-shaped hallway from the common room to the toilets. Unlike the poor soul in Namche, whoever did this was stealthy. No one heard a sound.
Kevin said he thought the regurgitated rice was snow when he first saw it in the middle of the night.
"Good thing you didn't make a snowball," someone joked.
Stacy ran down her list of many, many other possible solutions.
"They could have just gone outside, they could have used one of the 20 bins outside of every doorway..."
"How are they supposed to clean the carpet?" someone wondered. The "carpet" was a green plastic porous Astroturf-type stuff.
"We'll call Stanley Steamer!" chirped Dovile.
"♫ Stanley Steamer, there's nowhere in the world we can't clean! ♫" she sang.
"I'm really good at jingles!!" she continued.
We laughed harder.
When we put on our packs to leave, we looked distastefully at the hill we had to climb to get out of the valley.
"I'm so happy to be going back down!" Kevin said as he pointed up.
"Jaam jaam! (Let's go!)" said DK.
We stopped at Lobuche for some more kerosene fumes. DK was still in his parent role and told us we should try to take a quick nap before we continued. Instantly all of us were asleep at the table... no need to tell these kids twice.
Down the valley our final destination was Pheriche (13,911 ft. / 4,240 m) and a lodge called the White Yak. It was another new off-the-itinerary facility we'd be trying out. DK was looking forward to it. After the awesomeness that was Rivendell we completely trusted his judgement. That and anything would be better than another night in Gorak Shep or Lobuche.
He said we'd be safe to eat meat when we arrived because it was flown in by helicopter. Slaughtering animals generally is not permitted in Sagarmatha National Park. Any meat on the menu is typically carried up from below and can be quite old by the time it reaches your plate. A refrigerator would also have to be carried up on someone's back, so the existence of one was unlikely, even if a lodge actually had the power to run it.
We walked through more yak herder shacks in the valley below the original yak herder shacks. In a field behind the stone cottages was a whole herd of yaks, many with babies. It was nice to see them in their more natural element, rather than working on trails. Some of them got really close. Sara and one yak startled each other, and then ran off in opposite directions. Those of us who witnessed tried not to laugh... too much.
The White Yak did not disappoint. It was a beautiful building with lots of stone, wood, and clean relatively oxygen-rich air. In the dining room they passed out little skeleton keys with wooden key chains shaped like mountains. Dovile and I would be staying in a room named Lhotse. For dinner we looked at the entire menu and not just the vegetarian options for the first time since Kathmandu. Mike ordered yak steak.
Before we retreated up to our rooms, DK passed around a hat filled with bits of paper.
"There's only one shower," he said.
We had gone at least four days without bathing with anything more substantial than wet-wipes. Some people thought he meant only one of us would get a shower and eyed the hat with competitive interest. In actuality the hat contained the numbers one through eight and we'd be drawing to see what order we'd get to clean up. I drew a 7. That shower was well worth the wait, my hair was beyond gross.
A party was well underway by the time I made it downstairs. DK had introduced the group to Kukhuraa (chicken) rum, and even convinced a few that it was really made from chickens. The bottle was about gone by the time I made it back downstairs.
I was content to just be clean and sober that night. The other girls sat around the wood burning stove, which was burning yak chips instead of wood, and gossiped while their hair dried. Mike, Kevin and I played Crazy Eights. Well, Kevin and I played Crazy Eights. Mike won Crazy Eights. Every hand.
Green Day played over the speakers.
"I'm back in Jr. High!" I said to a room full of people who would have only been in elementary school, or maybe even kindergarten. Dammit, when did I become the geriatric?
At dinner DK told us in a whisper that Sudip would leave the tour early the next morning so he could be in Kathmandu in time to pick up his girlfriend from the airport.
"When I go over the itinerary for tomorrow, I want you all to point at him and say 'Oooooo!'" he said mischievously.
When the time came, we all performed admirably and Sudip seemed sufficiently embarrassed.
After dinner we all sat around the stove again. We got to hear more from Sudip that night, I'm not sure if this was because he had some of the chicken rum in him or was just excited to be seeing his woman soon. Maybe both. He told some funny stories from past treks involving alcohol-related pranks and fights with a girl. I suspected some of them were intended to embarrass DK to get even for dinner. It was no use, DK was not the sort of person to lose his cool any time for any reason. I may have caught a hint of vulnerability after one story but it was probably the rum. I'm not sure if I've ever met anyone so chill.
We also got to hear about the real Nepal. How there hadn't been a stable government since the fall of the monarchy and corruption was rampant. His and Bibak's run-ins with the law. How the caste system was only now beginning to dissolve. How he was breaking tradition by courting a woman from Australia.
One question came up that everyone had a different answer to. Nepal, as small as it is, has over 100 different languages and sub-cultures. How do you unite a country so diverse long enough to form a stable government without killing off that diversity and culture? DK favored a republic approach. Let the smaller sub-cultures remain mostly autonomous, they've evolved to suit their location and probably have a sustainable lifestyle for the region. I agreed. Dovile favored a more democratic majority rule approach. There is no right answer to this question, and anyone who comes up with a workable solution holds the key to peace and stability not only in Nepal, but the entire world.
The fire had long gone out and most people had gone upstairs after the long day. We diehards played a few more rounds of cards, using the stove as a table before calling it a night.
That night was rough. Even with the window open the smell of kerosene was overpowering. I tried to breathe through my buff and felt even more suffocated than breathing straight fumes. Though dragging the sleeping bag outside was tempting, I settled for moving my face as close to the window as possible, imagining the outside air to be somewhat cleaner. Directly outside would not have been much of an improvement. Once the sun went down smoke from yak dung fires spewed from every lodge and the streets of Lobuche became clouded with it. I learned this the hard way the evening before when I coaxed a few of the others outside briefly before dinner with the promise of clean air, only to get incredulous looks and a bunch of "thanks a lot" remarks as we quickly decided kerosene fumes were preferable and went back inside. By morning my eyes felt like they were going to pop out of my head. I thought back to all the times I went fishing as a kid, and watched their eyes bulge out when we pulled them from the water. Poor fish... this was terrible. I had finally met my kryptonite on the mountain and it was kerosene fumes. Little sleep, little air, and fish eyes. Get me out of here. I had just enough ambition to brush my hair but didn't bother to do anything with it other than pull on the pink hat, and moved much slower than normal packing up. My eyes felt better when we left the building and were back in clean air. Still, the damage had been done and I was drained. The only other time I could remember being affected by altitude was in a float plane in Canada. I don't know how high we were, high enough to be flying over glaciers, and planes that small aren't exactly pressurized. I wished at the time I had toothpicks to hold my eyes open, the views were epic but all my body wanted to do was sleep. The same happened today. Whenever we stopped for water, it was very tempting to curl up on some of the nice cozy rocks for a snooze. At one stop the porters, who had already been to Gorak Shep, materialized to take some of our daypacks. I was cuddled up with nice soft boulder, sipping water with my eyes half-open, which made me an ideal candidate to give up her pack. I didn't hesitate. DK came over and ran down a list of symptoms. " Headache?" "No." " Nausea?" "No." "Tummy bubbles?" (What? Even in my stupor that one was funny.) "No. Just tired." We finished the trip to Gorak Shep (16,942 ft. / 5,140 m), our home for the night, and had lunch. Then it was on to base camp. The trail to base camp traversed the top of the Khumbu glacier. For all the rocks and sand, we might not have known we were on a glacier, though at times we could hear the trickle of melt water running underneath. The glacier and valley were enormous. Even without being in a somewhat weakened state from altitude the effect would be humbling. A glacial moonscape seemed an unlikely place to encounter wildlife, yet here was where we came across some of the only local fauna of our entire trip. A few mystery birds as big as chickens. DK and I looked in his bird book later and decided they were probably Tibetan Snowcocks. On the way, we noticed a commotion involving a helicopter on a nearby mountain and pulled out our binoculars to have a closer look. It appeared to be a rescue. The helicopter took off with something dangling from its rescue net. I zoomed in as much as the lens would go and snapped a photo as it flew past us back down the valley, not thinking much of it. It wasn't until later that we found out what happened. I'll quote this passage from another blog, as it tells the story respectfully:
With the end of the Moro/Steck effort plus a false start due to lack of funding for the Gleb Sokolov and Alexander Kirikov North side climb, the new route climbs were not going well. But it turned worse. On May 15, Russian Alexi Bolotov fell to his death as he was rappelling from a small shoulder off Nuptse. Bolotov and his partner Denis Urubko had left Base Camp at 2:00AM. They climbed through the Khumbu Icefall and began climbing one of Nuptse’s rock walls via an easy couloir at angle of 45 degrees. As the sun rose on the Western Cwm, they began a traverse across a ledge where they found some old rope. Using this old line, they began a rappel on a steep 60 foot wall. Bolotov tied in and put stress on the old rope, as it shifted it brushed against the sharp rock edges and broke sending Bolotov free-falling 1000 feet. Urubko quickly down climbed with a first aid kit only find his partner dead. A few days later a helicopter picked up his body to return him home to Russia. The news spread quickly as the 50 year-old Bolotov was well liked and very well-respected. Climbers not only on Everest but on other Himalayan mountains were devastated by the news. With this tragedy, the final attempt to set a new route on Everest on 2013 was stopped. Everest 2013: Season Recap: Summits, Records and Fights, Alan ArnetteWe hiked up a rise and paused at the top before the trail descended back down to base camp. It might be important for some to note that when I say "base camp," it could mean two things. There was the actual base camp, also referred to as Tent City, where climbers and their support staff actually stayed. Then, a respectable distance away, was a monument loaded with prayer flags and a sign saying "Everest Base Camp" where most day trekkers like ourselves would end up, take our photos, and leave. Going all the way to Tent City meant a heftier permit fee, and I'm sure most of us would have agreed it wasn't worth it just to stop in for a few minutes. Actually staying there a night might be another story... From the top of the rise, Tent City seemed miles away, and even the shorter walk to the monument was somewhat unappealing due to the inevitable walk back up once all the photos were taken. DK gave us the option to wait where we were, saying we were close enough to call it good, and we could save our energy for Kala Patthar the next day where the views were better. It may have been tempting, but we were a family now and all descended to base camp together. At the bottom of the hill the trail Nepali-flattened out and we crossed over what was now obviously a glacier with photogenic blue pools and icicles abound. I was looking around considering my next shot while simultaneously trying to keep up when suddenly we were there. DK was laughing and pulled me into a hug. This took me completely by surprise and I couldn't think of anything to say other than; "Thank you for getting me here!" We all made it!! Everest Base Camp. I was 17,598 ft. / 5,364 m high and 7,452 miles / 11,992 km from home. K-Fed asked DK if we would have gotten any love if we'd stayed behind on the ridge. "Nope, you'd have had to watch it through binoculars," he replied cheerfully. We took our individual and group photos in front of the sign, then sat down and tried to eat the cookies DK handed out. I was so tired. The rock I was sitting on began to feel nice and soft, and I looked back up the hill apprehensively. Then Sudip, Bibak and the porters started to sing something celebratory in Nepali. DK added rhythm. Next thing I knew I was clapping along, smiling, and feeling fully alive again. Music can be such an amazing healer. It was one of those moments that will probably stick with me forever. The climb back up the glacier, which had seemed so daunting a moment before, now felt perfectly manageable, especially since I had no pack. We went on our way. Back at Gorak Shep we settled into the common room. I finally got around to asking DK for that article he referred to back in Namche. I don't remember the author now, she was a woman who questioned the rationality behind 40-80 hour work weeks when so much of the time is unproductive and so much of the money just goes to materialistic pursuits. DK asked what I thought and I said it was spot on. "Sometimes hard to be the only weirdo trying to live that way," I said. He told me I wasn't the only one, and gave me a fist bump. True, the only difference was I was still trying and DK was successfully doing.
Before tackling the enormous valley on the way to Lobuche Mike and I once again warmed up with some of our favorite P90X yoga moves. The others showed us some other good stretches on the flagstone patio outside. First stop was a cluster of yak herder shacks, almost completely made from stone, and utterly picturesque. We shared some gummy candy and posed for the photo op.
Late in the day we reached a village called Lobuje, and there sought refuge from the wind in a cramped, spectacularly filthy lodge. The three or four stone toilets in the village were literally overflowing with excrement. The latrines were so abhorrent that most people, Nepalese and Westerners alike, evacuated their bowels outside on the open ground, wherever the urge struck. Huge stinking piles of human feces lay everywhere; it was impossible not to walk in it. The river of snowmelt meandering through the center of the settlement was an open sewer. The main room of the lodge where we stayed was furnished with wooden bunk platforms for some thirty people. I found an unoccupied bunk on the upper level, shook as many fleas and lice as possible from the soiled mattress, and spread out my sleeping bag. Against the near wall was a small iron stove that supplied heat by burning dried yak dung. After sunset the temperature dropped to well below freezing, and porters flocked in from the cruel night to warm themselves around the stove. Because dung burns poorly under the best of circumstances, and especially so in the oxygen-depleted air of 16,200 feet, the lodge filled with dense, acrid smoke, as if the exhaust from a diesel bus were being piped directly into the room. Twice during the night, coughing uncontrollably, I had to flee outside for air. By night my eyes were burning and bloodshot, my nostrils clogged with black soot, and I'd developed a dry, persistent hack that would stay with me until the end of the expedition. Jon Krakauer, Into Thin AirFurther up the hill we reached a site of memorials for climbers who were killed on Everest.
Twenty stone monuments stood in a somber row along the crest of the glacier's terminal moraine, overlooking the mist-filled valley: memorials to climbers who had died on Everest, most of them Sherpa. Jon Krakauer, Into Thin AirI walked around and didn't recognize any names, other than Scott Fisher.
The Valley View Lodge had one semi-western toilet for every two rooms. Dovile and I shared one with Ele and Amanda. When I say semi-western, I'm describing a toilet that you could sit on if it wasn't public, with a big bucket of water and a pitcher nearby for flushing purposes. Ideally, one scoop of water would be enough to "flush" but this was rarely the case. As there were four women trying with minimal success to be polite, we were out of toilet-flushing water by the next morning. Amanda made it her mission to get more water for the toilet. Her insistence inspired the quote of the trip when Ele exclaimed in a slightly exasperated tone; "Don't worry about flushing the toilet... we're on holiday!!" Ha! Perfect. It's in. From then on out, just about anything became "Don't worry about _____, we're on holiday!!" Lonely Planet. I couldn't imagine wanting to do this trek on my own, or even necessarily with a partner as they were. Our group was way too much fun. Meeting these amazing people and enjoying the HimaYAYA experience with them was what made the trip pure magic. Our day's acclimatization hike was up the hill behind us called Nangkartshang. We wouldn't summit, according to my map the top was about 18,425 ft. / 5,616 m, we just walked up the trail to what was probably about 16,000 ft. / 4,877 m. On top of the first ridge sat a stupa where many porters stopped to rest, visit with each other, and smoke cigarettes. Wait a minute. Smoking cigarettes at 15,000 ft??? What the...? Man, these dudes were tough. Almost as tough as Chuck Norris. An enormous valley loomed ahead of us. Along the bottom ran a tiny little pinstripe trail with a miniscule speck of a man walking along it. This would be tomorrow's destination. The view was humbling to say the least.We sat outside on plastic chairs that beautiful sunny morning, enjoyed breakfast, and chatted with a couple of independent trekkers from Washington D.C. When we asked them how they managed to plan all of this on their own, they referred us to
After the morning's tea I inevitably had to answer the call of nature. We were high enough now that my body was losing the ability to hold it comfortably for any length of time. The only suitable rocks were inconveniently located downhill from the trail. There was nothing for it so I trotted down. With the rocks sufficiently watered, I tried a brisk walk back up and was gasping for air by the time I caught up with the others.
"That'd be the altitude," said DK.
You think? Guess there wouldn't be any Everest Marathons in my near future.
We walked back down to our plastic chairs and sunshine. Our friends from D.C. pointed out a metal basin that we could use to wash socks.
"Laundry? Whaaat? That's not fun!" I joked. I still had plenty of relatively clean clothes at the time since the cold weather gear had barely been touched.
A few minutes later DK showed us how it was done. Take the basin, add water, wet and soap up your socks and scrub away at them with a plastic brush. Then rinse and wring them out and stick them on the clothesline. Expect them to blow away in the wind because there weren't many pins. Had I been ambitious enough to follow his lead, my great-grandparents would have been proud.
"I love the common miracles... the hardship and simplicity... the contentment of doing one thing at a time. Though we talk little here, I am never lonely; I am returned into myself," Matthiessen (228).
This experience seemed to be shared among us, though we were all slightly worn from the journey by now, smiles were more common and every day more social barriers dissolved.
Later in the common room I overheard a man from another tour say he wanted to go home. How strange that sounded. In the mountains I was happy, at peace... content. Yet in the back of my mind I knew eventually I would have to leave. What was it then that I would return to?
"No snowflake ever falls in the wrong place," quoted Matthiessen (281).
This brought be back to the present and reminded me that for now I was meant to be there in that place that I loved. The evening card players invited me to join them but I passed in favor of finishing The Snow Leopard. I laid flat on one of the bench seats under my heavy tea house blanket and turned the pages. Sudip came over and handed me a pillow. Dhanyabad (thank you), my friend. It's always the little things. We may not remember what people say and do, but we always remember the way they made us feel. At that moment, I felt at home.