Tag Archives: Nepal

May 26-27, 2013: The Scarf

And so I, too, prepare to go, though I try hard to remain. That part of me that is bothered by the unopened letters in my rucksack, that longs to see my children, to drink wine, make love, be clean and comfortable again--that part of me is already facing south, over the mountains. This makes me sad, and so I stare about me, trying to etch into this journal the sense of Shey that is so precious, aware that all such effort is in vain; the beauty of this place must be cheerfully abandoned, like the wild rocks in the bright water of its streams. Frustration at the paltriness of words drives me to write, but there is more of Shey in a single sheep hair, in one withered sprig of everlasting, than in all these notes; to strive for permanence in what I think I have perceived is to miss the point. Peter Matthiessen, The Snow Leopard
That morning none of us were motivated enough to walk to the Organic Cafe. "Do you mind?" asked Ele. "No, no! I only suggested it so you would have someone to go with. There is plenty of hippie food back home," I said. We enjoyed the hotel buffet instead. I still had extra rupees to spend and planned on some last-minute shopping to pick up a few more gifts. Amanda and Ele offered to go with me. I found a pair of the downy slippers I envied back in Dingboche (and promptly used two weeks later on Mt. Shasta). We were talked into a shop by a scarf that had been calling my name every time I passed it on the street the past couple days. It turned out that Ele loved scarves so we were given the royal treatment by the shopkeeper once inside. Next stop was a textile shop to pick up more yak wool blankets for family. As I browsed, the shopkeeper prattled on in English, trying to be friendly and conversational. However, the clock was ticking. The longer I stayed the more distracted I became, as if California was already sucking my consciousness in that direction. He mistook my distraction for misunderstanding and told me his English must be bad. "No, no! It's great," I assured him. "My mind is just somewhere else." The hotel and inevitable trip home loomed ever closer. We passed DK on the street happily chatting away with a couple other guys. "You've been replaced," he told us when we met back in the lobby. Those guys were on the Annapurna trek that would start the next day. "Hello, goodbye. The story of my life," he said. The story of all our lives, I thought. If I didn't know he was miles away in Lukla, I may have suspected he overheard my conversation with Dovile on her last night. This wasn't the first time he would say something I had been thinking... or was it the other way around?
And still not one word had been spoken; only later did we discover that all thoughts, laughter, and emotions had been not similar but just the same, one mind, one Mind. - Mattheissen (43)
"Not always a bad thing," he continued. Not always indeed. It didn't feel that way now, though. The cab arrived on time at 10:30. DK tied a scarf around my neck that I would refuse to take off until I got home. It felt like a lifeline to Nepal. We hugged, he kissed my cheek and said "Keep in touch, okay?" "Will do. Thank you for the awesome time." Somehow those words felt inadequate. That was a great game. (Hook, 1991). Breathing got more difficult. I instinctively stepped outside as if more hot, humid air would help then turned around and said "Girls!" giving Amanda and Ele hugs. "Maybe someday I'll get to visit you in Queenstown," I told them. "Or we'll come to Calfornia," they said. "Yeah, come visit me!" This was a great idea. "You'll even have your own room!" I got into the cab and pushed aside a growing feeling of unfairness. These three people were now some of my favorite people on earth and I felt like I was just getting to know them. I wanted more time. "Every person with whom you interact is a part of the person you are becoming." - Abraham This is good news. I'd been so inspired by the three of them it's good to think that even if we never see each other again, they will always be part of who I become. Amanda inspired me for her ability to create a new life in a new country. Ele and her dad inspired me to work on a naturopath certification. DK inspired me to just be my whole authentic self. I would begin to write, study astronomy/astrology, begin my naturopath certification and play music again when I returned. The cab began to move forward and I looked out the back window to wave goodbye. First at Ele who looked contagiously tearful, then at DK. We locked eyes briefly, then I couldn't stand it anymore so I turned around and fiddled with my seat belt. I really didn't want to leave, yet was still so in love with life I didn't cry. Everything would be alright. How could it not be? Love was in control. I've heard it said that all the wisdom of the ages can be summed up in the following tune:
Row, row, row your boat Gently down the stream, Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily Life is but a dream
The past three weeks were a beautiful, perfect dream. The cab and I floated to the airport, flowing merrily along with the traffic, dust and chaos, completely at peace with it all. When we arrived I let the men carry my bags and absentmindedly passed out my remaining rupees for tips. Sleeping on the planes and in Changi was easy. I drifted to the rental car center in SFO and somehow remembered how to drive. Once at the empty house that I used to call home, I retrieved the key my sister was kind enough to hide for me and stepped into a shower fit for a goddess. How wondrous this, how mysterious! - Layman P'ang Chu-Shih I tried to make sense of the reverse culture shock. What was I doing here? In California, all my material needs were satisfied in complete abundance. Yet I wondered if here I'd ever be able to feel the sense of warmth and community I did in Nepal. Somehow there must be a way to unite the two. What would it take? I looked forward to finding out...

May 25, 2013: Durbar Square

The next morning I met the girls downstairs for breakfast. I was a little tired, but still felt good. "I might still be a little drunk," I admitted to a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed Amanda. Amanda told me about a book of Everest stories where people experienced the supernatural in the extreme conditions. Now THERE'S an Everest book that would be fun to read. I asked her if she was familiar with Graham Hancock. She wasn't so I suggested his books on the supernatural and the pyramids.
Thamel Eco gets festive. Photo credit: Eleanor Tresidder

Thamel Eco gets festive.
Photo credit: Eleanor Tresidder

We watched the dozens of resident sparrows hop in and out of all the planters. It seemed that every plant in the yard was in a pot. Good thing for the monsoons because otherwise they would be a lot of work to water. Three men worked at hanging bright new prayer flags from the balconies to the stupa in the center of the garden in honor of Buddha.
Typical Kathmandu Street. Photo credit: Eleanor Tresidder

Typical Kathmandu street.
Photo credit: Eleanor Tresidder

In the lobby we met our guide for Durbar Square, who was smartly dressed and possibly the most considerate person I'd ever met. After three weeks of trekking through the Himalayas and wandering the streets of Kathmandu we were quite impressed that a person would tell us to "watch your step" whenever we encountered a mere turd in the street. We followed him through the city on what was already a very warm morning. Hangover symptoms began to kick in as the temperature rose. Ele looked like she was feeling it too. What time did we get in last night? 3 am? Amanda, who got sleep, was chipper as ever. "Cheater!" I teased her.
Farmers' Market

Farmers' Market.
Photo credit: Amanda Tutton

We walked through a farmers' market. Our guide said this was the primary place where everybody in the entire city would come to get food. "We have markets that are closer to home," he explained, "but they don't always carry the variety that this one does."
Cows in the street

Cows in the street.
Photo credit: Amanda Tutton

Before long we were out of the Thamel District "tourist tunnel" and into the real Kathmandu. Cows wandered the street, masses of tangled wire dangled from ancient buildings, people tried to sell whatever they could from blankets spread on the street for maybe a few rupees a day. Cars and motorcycles squeezed by, horns blaring. Once at Durbar Square we waited outside a chain barrier while our guide took care of the entry fee.
Photo credit: Eleanor Tresidder

Photo credit: Eleanor Tresidder

The first monument we saw remained my favorite, for the childlike imaginative quality it possessed. It was a small, ancient shrine partially consumed by the roots of an ancient tree. I tried to imagine how the valley might have looked when the structure was first built. Even today it was still being used, as devotees kneeled in front, busily preparing colorful food offerings. There were so many temples and monuments, both Hindu and Buddhist, that it was almost overwhelming. I alternated between utter fascination and despair at the way they were, or more accurately were not, being preserved. Our guide knew all of them and talked about them in detail. In front of one he told us how the Kama Sutra evolved to coax the otherwise shy populace into having more kids. Government and religion were one and those in control believed that a greater population meant a stronger country. Erotic images found their way into the temple as a sacred act of creation.
Durbar Square was full of pigeons and cows, sentient being fed as a form of worship. Photo credit: Zebulun Pawledge

Durbar Square was full of pigeons and cows, sentient being fed as a form of worship.
Photo credit: Zebulun Pawledge

We walked into another temple with a wall of photos showing the most recent monarchs. We'd heard the story of the end of the monarchy in bits and pieces since our first tour of the Monkey Temple. In here we were able to put faces to the tragedy. Our guide told the story again, and emphasized that we cannot really know for certain what actually happened, because nearly everyone was killed and conspiracy theories abound. In short, one of the princes was in love with a woman, and became very angry when his parents the king and queen forbade him to pursue her for political reasons. One night he had been drinking heavily and got in an argument with his father. He stormed away from where the entire royal family was having dinner and returned with a gun (or guns), massacred his entire family, and eventually shot himself. Ten people were killed, four injured. A surviving uncle ascended the throne, until the monarchy was dissolved in favor of a republic in 2008. Nepal had been without a stable government since then.
Photo credit: Zebulun Pawledge

Photo credit: Zebulun Pawledge

Another highlight of our tour was a stop to see the princess Kumari, considered to be a living goddess. She appeared briefly in a window just after we arrived, only to be whisked away by her attendants. Our guide told us this was probably because someone tried to take a picture, which was not permitted. We walked up and down Freak Street, once a hippie hot spot, now the same as any other street. Amanda with all her extra energy went to explore more temples. Ele and I took a potty break and waited for her in the shade of a building, trying not to melt. Some men walked up and wanted to talk. All we wanted to do was sleep. They tried to tell us there was a party going on at the Monkey Temple. (Been there, done that.) Fortunately Amanda returned shortly and we were on our way without having to fend off any more unwanted chit-chat. Once back at the hotel, we ordered lunch. Soup and salad was about all I'd be able to handle in the heat, so I asked for a Greek salad and some hot and sour soup. Normally two of my favorite things. The salad was divine, the hot and sour soup was so spicy I coughed and my eyes watered when I tried to eat it. I'm a person who will put a slice of jalapeno on every nacho chip I eat and think nothing of it. That soup was HOT (piro). DK sat down with us for a minute looking like I felt. He suggested we might have time to do a cooking class later. At the moment all I wanted to do was sleep, but said a cooking class would be worth staying awake for. He left to go back to bed. "Ugh, I'm so jealous," I said as he walked off. Finishing the soup was starting to feel like work. We finished our food, made plans to meet up later, and I went upstairs and collapsed on top of my bed (it was still effing hot in that room) for a blissful 3 hour nap. Later I met the girls for dinner. (The cooking class was not to be, but later I found this blog post from another trekker who had managed to fit one in.) We walked through the streets of Kathmandu and tried to remember how to make decisions on our own. We chose a restaurant with a New Orleans theme for dinner, mostly because it was the first place we found. I looked at the menu and ordered a small salad, a vegetable dish and a Bloody Mary. "This is a small?" I said incredulously when the food arrived. What, am I back in the States already? Both dishes were enormous. I knew immediately I wouldn't be able to finish it but vowed to do my best. I nearly choked when I tried the drink. It was just Tabasco and ice. What was with all the extra spice today? A sparkling clean baby-faced kid showed up and sat down. "Who are you?" I asked. "I'm still trying to figure that out," DK said. Touché. "Hmm, yeah I vaguely remember you as the guy we started the tour with." "Hey, Tiff, do you know anything about cameras?" he said, changing the subject. DK pulled out an actual SLR. "Not really." Why, do I sound like I do? (Clueless, 1995) Ele did, and immediately they began playing around with it, resulting in some really cool photos. "Hey, share those, will you?" I said. Before heading back to Phat Kath for dessert, DK took a sip of my mostly untouched Bloody Mary and made a face that plainly said "Oh hell no." Yep, exactly what I thought when I tried to drink it. Downstairs below the Phat Kath was a menu for crepes. I ordered an ice cream crepe, picturing a crepe with a nice cold scoop of ice cream on top. We went upstairs and sat in the cozy little nest under the live grapefruit tree. The crepes arrived and the ice cream turned out to be wrapped inside, completely warm and melted. Oh well, it still tasted good. DK challenged me to a game of backgammon. I'd never played and my brain was moving way to slow to count the little triangles on the board fast enough to make it interesting. I enlisted the help of the girls to help me count, and also to include them in our activity. Poor DK had lost all patience by the time I lost spectacularly. Apparently I wasn't the great and worthy opponent (Hook, 1991) he'd been hoping for. "You should try it again when you're not so tired," he said. Yeah, I'll get right on that. I was still on vacation and anything involving counting wasn't exactly high on my list of priorities. The moon rose and Amanda made a comment about it. "Super moon tonight," I said. There would be multiple this year, and having a nearly full super moon on Buddha's birthday made it seem that much more special. The conversation turned to dating. Ele and Amanda seemed to think that it was hard to meet men in New Zealand. I couldn't argue, since the only Kiwi male I met in my two weeks there was our guide Ben. At the time Ben told me all the Kiwis were in Canada. I didn't meet any in Canada either, it took a trip to Nepal to meet one more. They're about as elusive as their namesake birds. The girls said that in New Zealand people don't really "date" or have dating sites like we do in the states. "Maybe you should start one," I said. "The list of couples I know who met online grows by the day." "Yeah, I see a lot of them too," said DK, meaning guests on his trips. We joked that in Nepal the site would be called "Many Shoes" instead of "Plenty of Fish." "I don't know that you really need it," I said. "All my past relationships started organically. The last one I met in a dog park and I didn't even have a dog. You just never know." "True," said Amanda. "You could end up talking to your future husband on a bus." "I met a girl on a bus once," said DK, and he told his story of a "chance" meeting with a Polish babe that ended up hot and heavy. "It was awesome!" he finished with a laugh that was dangerously close to a giggle. "You're the guy on the bus!!" quipped Amanda. Awesome, couldn't have said it better myself. Not long after she turned in for the night early. DK told a story of a fun party that got started in a bathroom when the weather got bad wherever they were. "What's the weirdest place you've ever partied?" he asked. I didn't answer but thought back... boats, busses, houses, apartments, bars, pubs, clubs, offices, streets, lakes, rivers, beaches, deserts, mountains, football fields, Disneyland, a set in Hollywood... Lukla... frankly, it would be hard to top Kathmandu and the Monkey Temple on Buddha's birthday. "What time do you leave tomorrow?" asked Ele. "10:30," I said. "I scheduled you a cab," said DK. I looked at him with so much affection in that moment. What a considerate thing to do. The man had done so many kind little things for us that he didn't have to do on this trip. I had "find a way to the airport" on my mental "to do" list for the next morning and was so relieved to be able to check it off the night before. "Thank you," I said, putting as much appreciation into the words and I could. Ele looked pouty. "Let's not think about that right now. It's still fun time," I insisted. So we just enjoyed each others' company until the Phat Kath closed. On the way home we passed a place called the Organic Cafe and DK suggested we try it. "Good luck getting Amanda to go with you there," I told Ele. Amanda was a meat and potatoes kind of gal. "I'll go with you for breakfast tomorrow morning if you'd like." We decided to see how we felt the next day. The gate to the hotel was closed and locked this time, but an employee hurried over to let us in. We said goodnight and I walked back upstairs on my last night in Nepal.

May 24, 2013: Active Day 19, Buddha’s Birthday

Breakfast at Thamel Eco.  Photo credit: Michael Allen

Breakfast at Thamel Eco.
Photo credit: Michael Allen

Day 19 was the last official day of the Active tour. All the guests except me, Ele and Amanda were scheduled to fly out. I had opted way back in the planning stages to stay an extra couple of days because the later flight saved a considerable amount of money. It turned out to be an extremely auspicious decision. Dovile had the earliest flight out that morning. I woke up early with her and we went downstairs for breakfast and more girl talk with Stacy about (what else?) boys. DK, Ele, and Amanda still hadn't made it back from Lukla and had to tell her goodbye over the phone. It was a disappointing turn of events, but she handled it in stride. After all, her next stop was Dubai and the beach; not a bad consolation prize. When he was presenting our certificates in Lukla, DK referred to Dovile as his ray of sunshine, or something to that affect. Indeed she had been for all of us. When her cab whisked her away, our world got a little dimmer. I tagged along with Stacy and Kevin while they did their last-minute shopping. First they bargained for pants, next we stopped in a shop where Stacy hunted for the perfect bracelet. I wasn't in the market for jewelry but kept coming back to a key chain with a lotus carving. I asked if they had any of the same symbols on a necklace, and they pointed me towards some in different colors. I asked again if they had any in the same color as the key chain. The shopkeeper then pulled out a bag with the designs. I chose the one I liked and he designed a necklace for me right there, making it that much more special. Up the street we were drawn in to a shop because of its huge chunks of pink salt out front. I'm in hippie heaven!" I exclaimed excitedly when we walked in.
I'm accidently photobombing this one. Photo credit: Kevin Cordova

I'm accidently photobombing this one.
Photo credit: Kevin Cordova

There was tea, pink salt, and spices abound. We bought some for friends and family and continued on, eventually ending up in a souvenir shop selling typical tourist trinkets like magnets and postcards. Kevin and I both had our eye on a collection of magnets that looked more substantial than most. He said he was out of rupees so I told him to just add it to mine. "Are you sure?" "Dude, you're my EBC brother now, I think I can manage a $2 magnet!" From day one, Kevin was keeping our spirits light with his wit and humor. We owed much of the laughter on the trail to him. Stacy was the warmhearted sort who fostered homeless dogs back home and helped keep us connected like a family. Like Dovile, they had to settle for a phone farewell. DK and the girls had finally escaped the fog in Lukla and were on their way back, just not quite soon enough. Their cabs probably crossed paths going to and from the airport.
Thamel District

Thamel District

It was down to me, Mike and Sara. I also followed them along for their pre-flight shopping. Their list, rather than Buddha masks, singing bowls, or yak wool blankets, consisted of items like water sanitation tablets. The two lucky ducks weren't going home, instead they were continuing on their world tour and needed to travel light. When it was time to meet in the lobby for their cab, we all hugged them goodbye. Mike had been so friendly with everybody with his ability to talk about nearly any subject. He followed none of my rules for staying healthy (eating fried snickers bars for dessert... whaaat?) and was the strongest guest on the trip, impervious even to kerosene fumes. Mike could light up a room with his laugh, Sara with her smile. "Brother from another mother!" DK said to Mike when we gathered in the lobby to send them off. He got that right. All of us were now EBC brothers and sisters and I loved them like family. Somehow Mike ended up in charge of collecting the trip leaders' thank you card and tips and handed them over. I don't know how much they each ended up with, but whatever it was it wasn't enough. The more I think about it, the more I believe that there's no job on earth more important. The three of them took our world-weary souls and over the course of three short weeks filled us with so much love and light that when I got home and looked at my thinner, healthier body I wondered how my overflowing heart could still fit inside. To me, that's priceless. The HimalayanWe waved at Mike and Sara through the back window of the cab as they idled down the alley and then turned on the street. A tearful Ele said she was glad she didn't end up going through this in person multiple times. Hmmm, maybe that was why I suddenly felt so drained. All the goodbyes happened so fast and at the moment I was feeling quite lost and alone with half of my family missing. I sat on one of the seats in the lobby and stared at the local newspaper "The Himalayan" without really reading it. Someone suggested the remaining four of us go to dinner and I enthusiastically agreed before heading back up to the room. Amanda stopped by later and we enjoyed some more girl talk. She told me to meet them upstairs when it was time to leave for dinner. When the time came, I walked up and DK was already in there with his guitar. "He came to wake us up," said Ele. I grinned. "That's a nice wake up call."
♫ The one scarlet with the flowers in his hair ♫

♫ The one scarlet with the flowers in his hair ♫

We walked through the streets of Kathmandu and ended up at a familiar staircase. The Phat Kath; now infamous because of the hat DK sported on sunny days in the mountains. Once upstairs I stared at the chalkboard menu for a few minutes and was at a loss as to what to order. It all felt so foreign and complicated compared to the simplicity I was used to on the trail. So I asked a man who worked there what his favorite item was and ordered it. I couldn't pronounce it at the time and still couldn't tell you what it was. A huge delicious plate of something containing lots of everything, including the first meat I'd had in weeks. Next priority was a beverage. The tantalizing cocktail menu that was off-limits on our first visit a lifetime ago was now all mine for the choosing. It all looked good, and I opted for a Phat Kath just for the name. Moments later, I was surprised when not just one Phat Kath arrived, but two. It was happy hour. Excellent, what luck. Over the course of conversation we learned that tonight was Buddha's birthday and there would be a festival at the Monkey Temple. Whaaat?? We were so in. What could possibly be more awesome? Apparently my luck wasn't running out anytime soon. We finished our drinks and DK led us on to a second nightspot. We walked upstairs to another cool hangout that I remember as a blend of funky and sporty. My kind of place. We found a table by a window with a view of a flat in the building across the street. For some reason this made the Kathmandu seem more real to me and my gaze kept returning to the window, just so happy to be there. Ele and I sat on one side, DK and Amanda on the other. The cocktail menu was huge, and all of it looked appealing. How to choose? DK solved that problem when he said he wanted to order the first round and have us guess what it was. A game! Heck yeah, surprise us. The drink was green and dangerously sweet. Either Amanda or Ele correctly guessed what it was (I don't remember the name now) and we ended up getting a second round. It was harder to hear DK and Amanda so I spent most of that time bonding with my Kiwi sister. Something inspired a toast to "happy as!" and the three of us girls raised our glasses. Where was my Kiwi brother? Surely he needed to be in on this one. When he returned, we raised our glasses again. "Joust, to happy as!!" We were the luckiest people on earth that night. DK said something along the lines of it was our choices that created the luck. Ha, well then lucky us for being the sort of people who make good choices and for being born in places where more good choices are possible. DK and Amanda were talking about The Bhagavad Gita. He asked me if I'd read it. Of course I'd read it. What was blowing my mind as I nodded was that he had too. Seriously, where had these people been all my life? DK talked about a custom trip he wanted to organize in another part of Nepal. What he was describing sounded perfect. "Yes! Sign me up!" I said. I completely trusted his judgement by now, as he seemed to be a sort of magnet for all things awesome. Anything Nepal-related already sounded good, and his idea was unique enough to put it above the rest. We moved on to a third nightspot. This place was bright and spacious and featured some live music. Local boys played and sang in perfect English, you'd never know it was a second language to them. Ele and I looked the menu over and were won over by a drink featuring lots of coconut. DK sat down and immediately appeared to become one with the music. A guy came up to our table and asked for a light. Neither Ele or I had one. When the guy walked away, DK chastised us for missing an opportunity to invite him to join our party. "I'm trying to help you out," he said. I admit that I was completely oblivious to the fact that the guy's asking for a light was probably not the primary intention. Still, flirting with complete strangers on my second to last night in town wasn't high on my priority list. Yet. It was almost time to meet to go to the temple. We walked back along the way of the hotel where we said goodnight to Amanda, who wasn't super keen on Type III fun. From there it was back to Phat Kath. Ele put another drink in my hand. I smelled it and immediately my body told me I'd have to choose between that drink and the Monkey Temple. I chose the temple and held on to the drink without touching it. The place was hopping. We were introduced to a man who had just successfully summitted Everest. Mountaineering royalty!! We're not worthy!! How lucky were we to meet one of them! When Mike, Amanda and I talked psychology back in Rivendell I mentioned the Meyers-Briggs put me right on the cusp between introvert and extrovert. Alcohol definitely tips the balance in favor of the 'E'. Get a few drinks in me and I'll chirp away merrily at anybody about almost anything. I started jabbering excitedly at my new mountaineer friend and learned that he was from Canada and was a businessman. We had that in common so talked about it for a bit. I asked him about his future adventuring plans and he didn't seem too keen on tackling any mountains any time soon. Who could blame him, I had a hard enough time just keeping it together at the base camp. He mentioned he dedicated his climb to a worthy cause and I told him that was wonderful and threw an arm around him. This is something folks with my kind of heart line tend to do, though maybe not to people we just met. It might have been a bit much for the poor fellow but I was too drunk to care. He introduced me to his friend who also summitted, a doctor from down south in the US, maybe Louisiana. They gave me a hard time for not finishing the drink in my hand so I donated it to them. Soon the party moved downstairs to make the trek over to the temple. My new climber friends decided to join us for the walk over. I had no idea where the heck I was going, and depended on DK and Ele to lead us there. On the way she saw a statue and remembering what she saw locals do earlier, touched it where there was a deposit of colored powder, and then painted a dot on my forehead where the third eye would be. Perfect. The festival was like everything else I'd seen in Nepal. An eclectic mix of modern west and traditional east. Western tourists like ourselves joined the devoted Buddhists and circumvented the temple block in a clockwise direction. Occasionally I found myself side-stepping one of the devout when he stopped and dropped in the middle of traffic to worship face down on the ground. Wow, this was the real deal. It was so amazing to experience something like that in person, at the time there was no place else on earth I would rather have been. In keeping with tradition, some of the faithful were giving away food. As sentient beings, we were allowed to receive this gift and sat in plastic chairs under a canopy with other participants. I wondered if the food had previously been offered to and blessed by the monks. We only stayed long enough to taste a sample before giving up our seats so others could partake. Not long after, our climber friends decided to call it a night. I continued on with DK and Ele and attempted to communicate what I liked about them as Kiwis so much. It was hard to put into words. "You're so authentic!" I said. "So much about where I'm from is about being fake. Fake and pretentious and materialistic. I try to be my real self at home and after a while it gets lonely and so I have to be fake to fit in. It's not like that with you." "You're one of us now," said Ele. If I wasn't so happy I might have cried. What a wonderful thought. ("What you seek is seeking you."- Rumi) If only my flight home in two days was to New Zealand. "My Kiwi sister!" I said. I tried to tell DK how much all these experiences meant to me, how grateful I was he decided to share it all with us, and how much he inspired me over the past three weeks. Again, it was hard to put into words, but I felt like he got the gist. He talked a bit more about his experience with Nepal, especially how wonderful its people were. A compliment like that really means something coming from DK. Not only has he been all over the world himself, the world also comes to be with him on these trips. "Yes, it's one thing to read about it, it's quite another to experience it," I agreed. Again. I don't think we ever disagreed about anything. We stopped at a vendor displaying a table full of candles. In exchange for a few rupees, we could light a few candles, make a wish, and then blow them out. Much like a big birthday cake for Buddha. Ele lit an auspicious number and blew them out. DK asked if I'd like to make a wish. My mind went blank. Could it really be I was totally devoid of desire? I was completely fulfilled in the moment and looked forward to whatever would come next. Hmmm, how "enlightened" of me. Well, if that wholehearted acceptance of 'what is' was a taste of enlightenment, it may actually be the one true desire worth pursuing. "It's already coming true!" I said. Isn't happiness at the root of whatever it is we want? What if we're already happy, what is there to want then? The feeling of want was replaced with total gratitude. Looking back, I suppose I could have wished for more time, maybe a double-header of Everest and Annapurna. We walked up some of the temple steps and sat down, talking a little, mostly just content to be a part of that magical night. It began to sprinkle, and apprehensive of another deluge like the one on Thursday, we headed home after only one lap around the Temple. The devoted would be walking all night and all day to reach 108. Ele and I crossed the street. Where was DK? He eventually made his way over. "There's my Kiwi brother!" I chirped. On the way home as we walked down to the bridge across the river the conversation turned to birds. Ele said the word, and smiling I said, "I love how you guys say 'bird.'" "Bird." repeated DK in that lovely Kiwi accent. My imaginary bird soared lightly on the sound. "Say it again!" I laughed. Silence. "I didn't mean to embarrass you, I really do think it's cool." "How do you say it?" he asked. "Bird," I said, putting heavy emphasis on the 'R'. You could almost hear the imaginary bird thudding to the ground. They agreed our American pronunciation wasn't as fitting. "The aborigines named birds like the sounds they make." he said, and then told us their word for crow. It did sound a bit like a crow cawing. We three little birds continued to the hotel, and approached what appeared to be a locked gate. Uh, oh, were we locked out? Not tonight; DK was able to push it open and we went upstairs to our rooms. It was still hot and humid so I passed out on top the bed, only to wake up later in a pool of sweat. I spread a towel on the cool bathroom floor tiles and slept there a while, too drunk and happy to care. If this didn't end up the best night ever, it was definitely in the top ten. I leap across the mountaintops, madly singing the song of all songs ... Wine makes drunk the mind and body But it is love which thrills the soul When I approach you, I feel the mad pounding of love The singing wonder The joy which opens blossoms on the trees of the world. Come to me, and I shall dance with you In the temples, on the beaches, through the crowded streets Be you man or woman, plant or animal, slave or free I shall show you the brilliant crystal fires, shining within I shall show you the beauty deep within your soul I shall show the path beyond Heaven. Only dance, and your illusions will blow in the wind Dance, and make joyous the love around you Dance, and your veils which hide the Light Shall swirl in a heap at your feet. Rumi

May 23, 2013: Active Day 18, Lukla to Kathmandu

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.
"Classic" Photo credit: Eleanor Tresidder

"Classic"
Photo credit: Eleanor Tresidder

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.
The misty walk down. Photo credit: Kevin Cordova

The misty walk down.
Photo credit: Kevin Cordova

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.
Enormous helicopter whipping ribbons of fog. Photo credit: Kevin Cordova

Enormous helicopter whipping ribbons of fog.
Photo credit: Kevin Cordova

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.
Our little baby 3 month old helicopter.

Our little helicopter.

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.
Not the disco dog, but a doppelganger. Photo credit: Kevin Cordova

Not the disco dog, but a doppelganger.
Photo credit: Kevin Cordova

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.
From left: Sudip, Sara, Dovile, Me, Mike, Kevin and Stacy Photo credit: Dovile Soblinskas

From left: Sudip, Sara, Dovile, Me, Mike, Kevin and Stacy
Photo credit: Dovile Soblinskas

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."
HimaYAYA Photo credit: Kevin Cordova

HimaYAYA
Photo credit: Kevin Cordova

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.
Yeti foot, left side. Photo credit: Kevin Cordova

Yeti foot, left side.
Photo credit: Kevin Cordova

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.

May 22, 2013: Active Day 17, Lukla

View of the pea soup from our lodge. The runway is out there somewhere. Photo credit: Kevin Cordova

View of the pea soup from our lodge. The runway is out there somewhere.
Photo credit: Kevin Cordova

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, 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.

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.

May 20, 2013: Active Day 15, Monjo via Namche

Khumjung to Monjo
Hidden Village Lodge Photo credit: Kevin Cordova

Hidden Village Lodge
Photo credit: Kevin Cordova

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!"
The trail out of Khumjung. Photo credit: Kevin Cordova

The trail out of Khumjung.
Photo credit: Kevin Cordova

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.
Stacy

Stacy

DK and K-Fed

DK and K-Fed

"You better not HAVE no Sherpa brothers"

"You better not HAVE no Sherpa brothers!"

Namche from Above

Namche from Above

Photo credit: Eleanor Tresidder

Photo credit: Eleanor Tresidder

 
 
My jacket is ready to par-tay. From left: DK, Amanda, Dovile, Stacy, Mike, Sara, Kevin, Me Photo credit: Michael Allen

My jacket is ready to par-tay.
From left: DK, Amanda, Dovile, Stacy, Mike, Sara, Kevin, Me
Photo credit: Michael Allen

In Namche we would have time to spend in town. We decided on lunch and then put our packs in an empty room before heading up to one of the pubs for pool and beer. As the beer would have been carried in on someone's back, it was all in cans. I chose a can labeled Everest, just because, and we posed with our celebratory drinks. We had two causes to celebrate that day, the successful journey to base camp, and Sara's 28th birthday. A couple of never-ending games of pool ensued. No one other than K-Fed had any pool playing ability, and he finally ended the last game with a successful jump shot to a corner pocket.  
Bibak

Bibak

Sara and Mike

Sara and Mike

DK

DK

Ele and Mike

Ele and Mike

Dovile and Sara

Dovile and Sara

Ele and Kevin

Ele and Kevin

Sara

Sara

Dovile and Mike

Dovile and Mike

Local Namche woman.

Local Namche woman.

We left to do some shopping. I considered some of the knit socks I had been so jealous of, and instead used the last of the cash I had (the rest earmarked for the porters in Lukla) for TP and sunscreen. Better late on the sunscreen than never. As per usual, I was drawn like a magnet into one of the art shops, and lusted after most of the paintings. I could visit Nepal just to shop for art. At lunch we were entertained by a plastic bag floating on the breeze. The bag in and of itself wasn't all that interesting, what was funny was that it appeared to be chasing nervous chickens down the opposing hillside. "Who needs TV?" I asked. We exited the park, and stopped at the same ranger station where we registered our camera on the way in. An endless donkey train carrying my favorite substance (kerosene... poor animals) plodded up the hill as we waited.
Bibak and DK check us out of the park.


Bibak and DK check us out of the park.

Those blue containers are full of kerosene.


Those blue containers are full of kerosene.

Down the dusty switchbacks to the Hillary Bridge we went. Kevin joked that yak (or was it mule?) urine was Nepali tea. He intended this to mean that the Nepalese were tough, not that the tea was bad. "No, American tea!" countered Bibak, the ever-present smile on his face. Bibak would chatter on breathlessly all day in Nepali but was usually shy with his English. He must have been warming up to us. "Way to dish it back, Bibak!" I said, laughing. We crossed the bridge and continued down the river. My bladder was feeling the beer we had earlier. On finding a suitable hiding place, I waited for the others to pass before pointing up and saying "charpi" (toilet) to Bibak who was herding us from behind. Luckily the trail was actually flat and not Nepali flat so I was able to run to catch up.
Sometimes the critters walk IN. Photo credit: Eleanor Tresidder

Sometimes the critters walk IN.
Photo credit: Eleanor Tresidder

Our rooms in Monjo were downstairs from the common room above. From inside we had a pleasant, green view of the river and surrounding hillside. The window was nearly level with the ground outside, and we could see the feet of people and various critters as they walked by. Each room had its own shower. When it was my turn I went as fast as possible, running a razor up my furry legs while the shampoo rinsed from my hair. I debated quickly whether I wanted to take my chances and wash it again because it still smelled. It was a good decision, the water ran cold soon after and I actually felt clean when I was done. Dovile and I washed our knickers in the sink and hung them up on the wooden slats covering the window. Even being quick-dry, they wouldn't completely dry for four days. We were back down in the  green forest climate where we started and the air was always damp.
Enormous Spider Photo credit: Stacy Rothenberg

Enormous Spider
Photo credit: Stacy Rothenberg

There was a commotion outside in the hallway. Kevin and Stacy had an enormous spider in their room. This may have been the moment when our rooms transformed into scary dungeon rooms for some of the others. Dovile went upstairs and I stayed behind to do some more grooming. While standing at the sink, I was hit with one of the strongest instances of déjà vu I could ever remember. It was as if I had been in that exact place before either in a dream or as another person. I paused to see if any more of the vision or memory would come and when it didn't, went back in the bedroom to clean out and organize my pack. Later I was back in the bathroom standing in front of the mirror, which was not above the sink, trying to coax my hair into doing something halfway civilized. I looked over at the window and a local man was standing there watching and smiling, completely casual. I just smiled back and he moved on. I walked back upstairs to the common room. River Monsters was on TV. Seeing TV again was somewhat mesmerizing. The not-so-good news reported tornado damage in US. Thankfully someone changed the channel to the movie Up. One of my favorites. I said it was a good date movie (that was the first time I'd seen it) and Ele disagreed. "It's too sad!" she said. "Oh, I was bawling my eyes out in the beginning," I agreed. "The rest of the movie is cute though." "He liked it," I mused, thinking back. My date liked seeing me cry at movies, plus he also liked the movie. There were a bunch of British dudes up there with us on a different tour. It sounded like they actually stayed a night or two at base camp which would have been fun. They talked to Amanda at length about New Zealand and she tried to sell them on an Active trip. Dinner arrived, and with it my plate of somewhat bland dal bhat. People were passing around a plastic bottle of green hot sauce to make it more interesting. When the bottle reached me I turned it over, intending to squeeze a few drops on my rice. Instead the cap popped off and the entire contents of the bottle oozed onto my plate. Lovely. Well, at least it wasn't salt. I can handle spice, but the hot sauce soup might have been a bit much. I scraped most of the sauce onto another dish, mixed the rest in, and diluted it with more rice. Problem solved. The boys had a surprise in store for Sara's birthday. They had baked a watery but still tasty cake and decorated it with flowers from the flower boxes outside. She got prayer scarves, tiny little prayer wheel earrings, and a bottle of chicken rum.
Happy birthday Sara!

Happy birthday Sara!

Not a bad way to ring in 28.

Not a bad way to ring in 28.

Scarf Scarf
The prayer wheel earrings.

The prayer wheel earrings.

Chicken rum!

Chicken rum!

Chicken rum is traditionally enjoyed with hot water so out came the glasses and a teapot. We pried our eyes away from the TV and played a game or two of asshole. Dovile won. Most of us headed down to our dungeon to sleep, Dovile and Ele stayed and chatted away into the night.

May 19, 2013: Active Day 14, Deboche to Khumjung

Deboche to Khumjung
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.
Playing catch.

Playing catch.

"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.
Bibak and Stacy Photo credit: Eleanor Tresidder.

Bibak and Stacy
Photo credit: Eleanor Tresidder.

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 Leopard
Once 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?
Green roofs of Khumjung

Green roofs of Khumjung

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.
Babies, just a day or two old.

Babies, just a day or two old.

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.
Khumjung Monastery Photo credit: Eleanor Tresidder

Khumjung Monastery
Photo credit: Eleanor Tresidder

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.
The story of the yeti skull.

The story of the yeti skull.

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.

May 18, 2013: Active Day 13, Back to Rivendell

Periche to Deboche
When we walked out into the courtyard of the White Yak to leave the next morning, this was our view: The White Yak 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.
The White Yak. Photo credit: Eleanor Tresidder

The White Yak.
Photo credit: Eleanor Tresidder

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.
Nepali Flat Nepali Flat
Rockin' it back to Rivendell. Photo credit: Michael Allan

Rockin' it back to Rivendell.
Photo credit: Michael Allan

Photo credit: Kevin Cordova Photo bomb: Dan Keys

Photo credit: Kevin Cordova
Photo bomb: Dan Keys

Inhaling kerosene fumes and dodging dal barf in the hallway were more Type II. Not so fun in the moment, but fun to joke about later. The Type I fun at the White Yak made us wish for a second night. The good news was we were heading back to Rivendell, the original scene of so much Type I fun in the days before. The trail started off with some classic Nepali flat. Flatten your hand and roll it in a wavelike motion and you'll get an idea of what Nepali flat means to the rest of the world. "Sometimes uphill, sometimes downhill." Back at Rivendell, Ele and I were keen enough on another puja to make the somewhat steep trek back up to Tengboche. There were dozens of ravens vocalizing outside as we moved up the stone path through the rhododendrons. "They ought to change the name to Ravendell," I said. The good news was, according to Animal-Speak, ravens were a good omen, symbolizing magic, shape-shifting and creation. Interesting because looking back, if I could only choose only one word to describe my adventure in Nepal, it would be magic. I'll paraphrase from the book below:
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.
Back at Rivendell.

Back at Rivendell.

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:
photoA 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.

May 17, 2013: Active Day 12, Kala Patthar

Gorak Shep to PericheThat 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.
Everest and Nuptse

Everest and Nuptse, first light.

Khumbu Glacier

Sunrise on the Khumbu Glacier

Everest (29,029 ft. / 8,848 m)

Everest (29,029 ft. / 8,848 m)

Clouds rolling in...

Clouds rolling in...

Kongma Tse (19,095 ft. / 5,820 m)

Kongma Tse (19,095 ft. / 5,820 m)

Above the clouds on Kala Patthar.

Above the clouds on Kala Patthar.

Everest and Nuptse (25,791 ft. / 7,861 m)

Everest and Nuptse (25,791 ft. / 7,861 m)

 
"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.
From left, Mike, DK, Bibak, Sara, Me, Ele Photo credit: Amanda Tutton

From left, Mike, DK, Bibak, Sara, Me, Ele
Photo credit: Amanda Tutton

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.
Photo credit: Eleanor Tresidder

Photo credit: Eleanor Tresidder

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. We laughed. "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.
Herd of Yaks

Herd of Yaks

Yak Herder Shacks

Yak Herder Shacks

Baby Yaks Photo credit: Eleanor Tresidder

Baby Yaks
Photo credit: Eleanor Tresidder

Baby yak wrestling match. Photo credit: Amanda Tutton

Baby yak wrestling match.
Photo credit: Amanda Tutton

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?
From left: Stacy, Amanda, Sara, Dovile, Ele, Mike, Me Photo credit: Stacy Rothenberg

From left: Stacy, Amanda, Sara, Dovile, Ele, Mike, Me
Photo credit: Stacy Rothenberg

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.