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Published: September 27th 2008
It's been a while since I wrote a blog... Not that I had nothing to say!!! The day I landed in Asia again, I had so much to say, but it's been a couple weeks now, and I probably forgot a lot of what I wanted to say. About being in the airport in Addis Ababa looking at all the different people from everywhere in the world except probably Canada, dressed in their traditional clothes. About being upgraded from economy class to business class between Ethopia and Delhi and enjoying it immensely. About having to pay extra for my heavy luggage in Delhi (books and more books and Gamow bag) and having to wait for a loooong time because the credit card device was in the other terminal. About the extremely friendly Indian customs officers who asked me why I was not staying in India. About flying over Nepal after the monsoon and being amazed at how green it is. And about how great it is to have fast and cheap internet connections!
So I arrived in Kathmandu, and I ended up having 2 full days to recover before I started my exploration mission in the Khumbu. It was great. I spent most of that time with another guide who was also waiting for his group to show up a few days later. We shared travel stories, good meals and also knowledge about the Nepalese culture, hinduism, buddhism and anything we need to know before the clients arrive. I felt like I was back in school, studying for a final exam, it was fun!
Then I flew to Lukla to start exploring with my sirdar Karma. Woaw! You probably all know by now that I don't like flying. And usually I like to land because I know it is over. Well, in Lukla, it is a different story. I knew the airstrip was short, but not THAT short!!!!!!! Holy smokes! I still can't believe it! This must be a joke! These pilots are AMAZING! Not only do they fly in bad weather, they have to land on an airstrip that is shorter than my driveway!!! Well, I know I have a long driveway, but still! And then of course I thought about the fact that we had to take off on the same airstrip in 10 days... (OK, I just googled the Lukla airstrip... It is 527 METERS long with a near 20% incline. They also add that at the end of the runway, there is a wall of solid rock! I know, I saw it...)
So we made it, amazingly, and then we had breakfast in a lodge and started walking. I was happy to be in the Khumbu, 12 years later. In 1996, I had planned to go to Everest Base Camp but a bad bronchitis changed my plans a bit... So I was there, finally!
The hike was good, not too hard, short days too, but you can only go so far because soon you have to stop to acclimatize. We stayed in lodges, and I was amazed how comfortable they are. Especially in Namche, a big village that looks like a little Kathmandu. But the most fascinating thing is to walk in these somewhat modern villages, and see the local masons building stone houses with hammers, sitting next to a satellite dish... Some people have internet, washing machines, dryers, TV, DVD players, but next to them other people live with just the basics. Or not even that.
We spent the next few days exploring a valley that is not visited much by trekkers. That was quite interesting despite the bad weather. Early in the morning it was usually fairly clear and I could see amazing peaks such as Ama Dablam, Cho Oyu, Lotse, Nuptse, but within an hour or two, it was foggy again and often the rain would start.
We went to places that looked like nothing had changed there in the last thousand years, we saw a lot of yaks and cute yak babies, but no mountains because of the fog. Each day we walked, we were further away from comfort and modern life, and soon there was no electricity, the rooms got smaller, and the floor went from carpeted to wooden to well... dirt floor. And the beds were also shorter, and the blankets thicker! I also had to shake the blanket in the last guest house because I found some kind of worm in it... I was surprised that it didn't bother me much, although I usually don't like these critters... I just shrugged and thought this is part of the experience...
I was happy to eat local food. Tsampa porrdge in the morning, dhal bat at lunch and dinner... My guide thought I should eat pizza... I drank also tons of cups of tea, which I called syrup because it was sooooo sweet!
We explored one valley that used to be a trading route between Tibet and Nepal. It is closed now, but it's interesting to think that people used to go back and forth on these trails. Now there is hardly anybody living in these valleys, and I could only sit in my room and wonder about how different the life of these people is compared to our fast-paced society. And enjoy the warmth coming out of the very basic stove where some yak dung was burning. I went outside that night as it was getting dark, and it was foggy. I could see the silhouette of the yaks and their herder coming back home. Such a beautiful, peaceful sight. No sound, other than the little creek running. Total shanti.
After the exploration misson was over, we started going down. We walked 2 long days, and made it back to Lukla. In Lukla you never know when you fly out, but luckily, after a whole night of rain, the morning was clear enough for the planes to come. I watched, amazed again, the planes landing. One, two, three planes landed, and in less than 3 minutes, the passengers were out, the luggage too, and the next batch of tourists was inside the plane with the luggage and the door was closed, and the planes ready to take off. Our plane was in the second batch, we took off, and all went well!
I arrived in Kathmandu a few days earlier than scheduled, but it was perfect because I had to go to the INdian embassy to get my new visa... I read somewhere that people start lining up at 4 am because they only give 60 visas per day... I thought 4 am was a bit crazy so I got up at 5, and started walking towards the embassy. It was again, a very interesting experience to walk down the streets of Kathmandu in the dark. There was nobody except the taxi and rickshaw drivers. It was like the dogs owned the streets. One taxi driver followed me for a long time, trying to convince me to get in his car. He started at 200 Rs, then went down and down. But it took so long that I told him if he didn't agree to my price, soon I would have to lower it because we were getting very close to the embassy!!! We finally agreed and he dropped me off in front of the gate. There was nobody there!!! Expect a policeman. So I sat there, and started studying hindi. I was writing some sentences (or trying to) and the policeman eventually looked at what I was doing and thought it was very interesting! He called his friend over saying that "didi" is writting in nevanagari! I was embarrassed when he looked at my writting... He tried some sentences in hindi but I didn't understand much. Within a half hour though, I had company, a bunch of Thai people lined up behind me and it was great because one woman was there to help them go through the process and she helped me too... It is not that straight forward! I finally dropped of my application form and will find out soon if I get the visa.
So I have 2 more days off before my clients arrive. I really enjoy going to all the bookstores in Kathmandu. I have lots to review about buddhism and hinduism and Nepalese culture and history but it's fun. Thamel has great restaurants so I sit down with my books, eat and read. It's nice to be in the same hotel room for a few days, I was just thinking about how many different hotel rooms I stayed in recently and it's funny because it is like being at home each time. The monsoon doesn't seem to be over and we had incredible rainy days, but it's fascinating to see so much water coming down from the sky. Hopefully it will change soon because I don't think my group will enjoy trekking in the rain.
UNtil then, I walk in Thamel and see the same guys trying to sell me, and other tourists, some Tiger Balm, or a little drum, or a sitar, or who knows what... I guess I could get annoyed, but they are so persistent, so patient that I can only smile at them and they usually smile back... Yeah, it is just part of the charms of travelling in Kathmandu.
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