Friday, August 28, 2009

Nepal Trek 2009 - May 20, Lukla to Kathmandu

The last morning in the mountains of Nepal dawned bright and early. We had a 7 am flight to catch and so we were up early for breakfast. I snapped a picture of the kitchen as we were on our way to the dining hall.

Our wash bucket was just outside the dining hall. This was one of the essentials all during the trek - hot (or lukewarm) water, soap and a towel. Up in the alpine zone, it didn't take long for the boiling water to cool to lukewarm or frigid, but, regardless of the temp, hand washing was critical for keeping the gastro-intestinal issues under control.

After breakfast we gathered outside for the short walk to the airport terminal.

L to R: Jon Miller and Sonam Sherpa

A short walk up the hill to the airport terminal, and we were on our way.

It's a short runway on a hill. Very exciting for take-off and landings. The morning was sunny, but the clouds were gathering and the weather was turning bad all through the Kathmandu valley. We were playing, "beat the clock and the weather" on this morning.

Lukla airport entrance.

Check-in was a bit chaotic. Tendi and some of our other Sherpas that would be returning to Everest Base Camp came to say goodbye. Tears were shed, that's for sure. I was certainly sad to say goodbye.

The view of the tarmac as we were waiting for our flight to arrive. We heard an alarm go off and there was a cheer. That was the signal that the plane had taken off from the Kathmandu airport and was on its way.

We had heard that there was bad weather in the valley and that it was uncertain as to whether there would be any flights out of Lukla, so it was reassuring that they were allowing planes to leave Kathmandu. We were scheduled for the first Yeti Airlines flight out.

Jon Miller, waiting.

Chris Marquardt and Jon Miller look bored.

They were playing to the paparazzi.

My boarding pass.

The first flight out was a different airline. The efficiency of unloading and loading is amazing. The turn around is 5 - 10 minutes.

That's our plane arriving. Notice the clouds rolling in over the mountain.

We were already lined up and ready to go. As soon as the plane came up to the terminal, we were rushing out the door.

The plane was quickly unloaded and our gear was rolled out as we were marching to the door.

A swarm of workers quickly transfer the goods and baggage.

Whew! We're on and ready to go.

This is the next flight's passengers, awaiting their turn. They were the last group to leave Lukla on this day. The weather rolled in quickly and the airport was shut down. We were lucky to be able to make the flight out.

Everyone had their cameras out to take a video of the take-off. It's definitely an exciting one.

The wheels leave the runway just before the runway ends - at the edge of a cliff. Very exciting, indeed.

My last glimpse of the Himalayas. I cried all the way to Kathmandu.

After being in the mountains, it was a real change of scenery to see the Kathmandu valley from the air.

Flying over Kathmandu, it was a real shock to see the buildings and motor vehicles, also.

Touchdown in the rain.

We loaded onto our bus for the drive from the airport back to our hotel in Thamel. We passed by a street market on the way.

Our rooms weren't yet ready for us when we arrived so we had a cup of tea in the dining room. After drinking from aluminum cups for the trek, this was a bit of a luxury - ceramic cups are definitely nicer to drink from.

Several of us went to the New Orleans Cafe for lunch and this was my comfort food of the day - a cheeseburger that was very tasty. After not being able to eat for days on end, and being so very tired of curried cauliflower, I devoured this very quickly. I'm not much of a carnivore, but I have to admit that this was delicious!

Everyone got out their iPhones and iPod touches to check email. The New Orleans Cafe has free wi-fi - another huge luxury.

L to R: Thilo and John

L to R: Jeff and Megan

Hearty appetites all around.

L to R: John, Kyle, Steve

Culture shock - back to the noises, smells, and sounds of the city, not to mention the heat and humidity.

Thamel street photography.

Steve and I went to the embroiderer's shop to pick up our order. We had some stuff put on our fleece jackets.

We also went to a jeweler's and had some custom work done. I got a kick out of their metal scale. The price for a piece is according to the weight of the metal.

Steve and I had to wait until late afternoon for our room to be ready, but it was worth the wait. We had one of the nicer rooms in the hotel - plenty of room to spread our gear around and get organized.

The added bonus was a shower that worked - HOT WATER - hot damn! I can't explain how nice it felt to get clean, really clean, after the trek.

Back to the roof at sunset to see the spectacular thunderstorms brewing over the mountains. We were, indeed, lucky to get to Kathmandu on this particular day.

My post from this day can be read here: Back in Kathmandu

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Nepal Trek 2009 - May 19, Monju to Lukla

Sunrise over Monju. This was going to be a long day of walking, but the reward was promised to be a hotel room with a private, western-style toilet and a shower. Ha! More on that later in this post, but it was an auspicious start to our day to think about a hot shower at the end of our trekking adventure.

This was one of the prettiest waterfalls we saw on the trek. I just took a quick snapshot of it because I didn't have a tripod to actually set up a proper shot.

We were still seeing pine trees along the path, but as we headed to lower elevations, the vegetation was becoming more diverse with oaks and understory trees.

These door cloths are not only picturesque, but also really good at keeping drafts at bay and the dust from flying into the room.

Firewood is abundant at the lower elevations, in contrast to the yak dung stored as fuel up above the treeline. I much prefer the smell of wood burning rather than yak dung burning, but the warmth from either source is very welcomed by the weary trekker.

I don't remember what village this was.

We had a short rest break in the shade, though. It was pretty warm as I recall - especially walking in the morning sun.

Pemba Sherpa - I loved those mirrored sunglasses.

Tendi Sherpa - back to his ball cap; the pink princess knit hat safely stored in his pack.

That's a lot of weight to carry in the hot sun. The tump strap around this porter's head is there primarily for balancing the load according to our Sherpas.

Phakding - the site of our first campsite.

Laundry time again.

Juniper and incense bush, drying in the morning sun.

I'm sure I photographed this construction site on the first day of our trek. It didn't seem as if much progress had been made while we were gone, but, then, everything has to be done by hand.

I stopped to watch the carpenters working with their hand planes and adzes. It was eye candy for me, and I took the opportunity to get a sightings pic with my Woodcentral hat.

The craftsman with his tools. He was really skillful with them, too.

The forest at this altitude was a mix of deciduous and evergreen trees.

All along the trail were small farms and family gardens terraced into the hillsides.

Grain, drying in the sun.

The equivalent of a delivery truck in this part of Nepal - one of the yak/cow hybrids.

Porters with their heavy loads.

Aha! The source of those porter baskets.

Trekking in short sleeves. If I had brought shorts, I would have been tempted to wear them - it was a hot day compared to what we had been used to, although I think it really wasn't all that hot outside.

One of the last bridges to cross for the trek.

Another craftsman at work, carving one of the myriad prayer stones that dot the path.

Gravel is made by hand up here, too. Large stones are hammered inside a metal ring until they are broken down to the right size.

The lower we went in elevation, the more people there were living along the path.

I'm not sure what significance the colors have on these prayer stones, but they are beautiful to see.

Oxalis - not sure what species.

This looks like a very tasty plant in the cabbage family.

Another crow - there were so many different corvids to see on this trek.

Shoes, drying in the sun - is there a recurring them with "drying in the sun?"

Hmmmmm, surprise, surprise - another primrose.

Another rest break in the shade.

And another primrose - this one comes with a story. I was walking with Kancha Sherpa during the afternoon and I kept stopping to take pictures of plants along the way. This one really caught my attention and I immediately dropped to the ground to take the picture. A porter was coming up the path, watching all this, and he stopped to ask Kancha if I was drunk. I asked Kancha to tell him I was a crazy botanist, but Kancha didn't know the word for botanist.

"How do you say scientist?" I asked. Eventually we settled on the term, "crazy scientist," which is "bolo baigyanik" in Nepali.

On the outskirts of Lukla.

The gateway to Lukla. Steve was waiting for me here so that we could walk the last bit together.

Firewood, stored under the house along with space for livestock.

Back through the gauntlet of shops and shop keepers.

A street game of Carom was being played by some boys off in a little alcove next to a shop.

We arrived late in the afternoon, but there was still quite a bit of activity.

Click on the pic to check out that Starbucks logo - it's a fake one with a mountain instead of the usual logo.

Here's a cool juxtaposition - "The Irish Pub," complete with a prayer wheel to be spun as you enter the establishment.

School girls on their way home.

Look! A real room with walls and a door! I lost a few pounds on the trek, my hair is a greasy mess, my feet are very sore and I'm very tired, but I was really happy to be there - until I tried the shower, that is. What was supposed to have been a hot shower was actually an ice cold one. I made a lot of noise such as, "this is the worst shower I ever had the misfortune to take," or something to that effect. Steve wrote down what I was yelling as I was trying to get clean. It's probably not suitable for posting on a family-friendly blog such as this one.

The room did have a western style toilet, but the seat was held on with double-sided tape, which failed the first time the seat was used. It's a good thing we were already used to squat toilets!

We don't look too worse for wear, I think.

No stones to sleep on, either, plus room to reorganize all our gear. What a luxury!

After some time to clean up, we gathered in the tea room and started supper.

Our cook made us another cake, this one with Chris Marquardt's "Tips from the top floor" logo.

Jon recorded it all for "The Rest of Everest" podcast.

After dinner and dessert, it was time to give our Sherpa staff their pay and tips. I think you'll be able to tell from their expressions, that they were pretty happy about getting paid for a job well done.

The kitchen staff was paid first . . .

then it was Chirri's turn. I loved that smile!

Mingmar next.

The next staff members were our trail Sherpas. This is Kancha.

One of our two Pasangs.

The other Pasang, Kancha's younger brother.

Last one up was Karma - our sidhar.

We had the most amazing staff - thank you Mountain Tribes - you guys are the best!