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Around the World in 210 Days

The Trek, Week One: An Uphill Battle

NEPAL | Wednesday, 12 March 2008 | Views [1543] | Comments [5]

We are basking in the Thai sun at the moment, preparing to embark deep into the ocean on a scuba diving trip. But for now, we need to tell you about travelling the other direction...

If any of you have seen the episode of The Simpsons where Homer climbs the Murderhorn, this blog may be redundant. For the rest of you, however, the following is more or less a transcription of our journalings for the 20 days we were trekking through the Himalayas. Because we do not feeling like going to ConvertEverythingBecauseAmericansHaveToBeDifferent.com, we will be using meters. But, as many of you have already closed the window in face of the daunting task of mental conversion (and it does get daunting... rupees to dollars, meters to feet, kilos to pounds... ugh), here is a helpful hint: a meter is about the same as a yard, so multiply the meterage by 3 and you've got about the right number of feet. Since the journal starts during the trek, here is what we did leading up to then:

We arrived in Kathmandu on Feb. 10th, greeted at the airport by a smiling man in green- Tika, our trekking guide. We hired him online after reading good reviews, and emailed back and forth until we were fairly confident his English was at a comfortable level. We had been debating between two possible guides, but he seemed the friendliest so we went with him. He hung yellow flower lays over our necks as we walked to a taxi. So far a little touristy, perhaps, but not bad. Maybe he was the right guide to pick...

We rode into town and although Tika offered help with picking a hotel, we had just flown in from India and knew all too well that when you get help with hotels, you are being overcharged so the hotel can pay commission to the person that "helped" you. Anyway, we went to a hotel we had read reviews about and dropped off our bags. We discussed the plan with Tika for the next few days, as we were supposed to start our trek on about the 13th. As Tika was leaving, he asked in passing if we could give him a few rupees to help with housing and food, as we were not paying his daily rate until the trek started. Hrm... well, we didn't ask him to show up early, but we gave him a little bit and he seemed satisfied.

We were staying in downtown Kathmandu, in an area called Thamel. Thamel is a mecca of counterfeit North Face gear, and unless you're planning on summiting Mt. Everest (quite an expensive endeavor- an expedition to the top costs something like $50,000), the shoddy nepalese North Face gear should be good enough. So with that in mind, we hopped from shop to shop, collecting prices and creating a spreadsheet of the cost to quality ratio of each shop's items. After making the rounds, we went back and bought a nice heap of boots, jackets, gloves, hats, hiking poles, and rented a couple sleeping bags. Tika met up with us and offered his help, but again, having been numbed to "help" in India, we forced our ways in front of him to ask the salespeople questions before he could assist us.

We ended the night agreeing to meet up with Tika at 5am in order to get to the bus in time. Our plan was to hike to the Everest Base Camp via Jiri, a small village about 9 hours away by bus. It is an alternate and extended trekking route, as most people fly into the town of Lukla on a 16-seater plane, and make the trek from there. We had read that the long trek was full of beautiful things not to be missed, and welcomed escaping the loud honking of the city that had become our background music. Plus, Andrew was more than happy to take a bus and walk rather than hop on a prop plane that would no doubt be flying through fog and between mountains.

(That should catch you up to where the journal kicks off, so now... our Trekking Journal...)

2-13-08: DAY 1
Kathmandu (1317m) to Jiri (1955m)

Yesterday we loaded up our newly purchased hiking gear on our backs (well, mostly on Tika's...) and caught the "luxury"bus to Jiri. By luxury, we mean seats that had a 90 degree bend and the ability to lean forward but not back, windows that drift open as the road gets bumpy, staticky shouting fromt he radio (although with a laugh track, so we don't think it's propaganda), squealing brakes, an average speed of 2 (miles or kilometers per hour, take your pick), and two baggage handlers who handled baggage by climibg out the door (while moving) and using the window as a step up to the roof. Oh, and colofrul frill on the top of the front windshiled. The ride was up and down, swerved left and right, and made us both feel ill. Alex couldn't even listen to the ipod without getting the queasy reading-in-the-car feeling. Our queasiness wasn't too bad, apparently, because we saw two buses slow down long enough for a passenger to vomit out the window. Within two minutes of each other. Ew.

We got to Jiri and Tika "found" us a room. Part of us resents him for helping because we just gout out of India and never really needed help finding a room. And what we did need help on he doesn't: bargaining. Infact, we suspect he "helps out"the businesses we go to, probably with a discount for himself.

We met a  Canadian/Nepalese couple, who were cool to talk to even though the Canadian mentioned that her guide got frostbite on the Annapurna circuit last week.. Andrew has already threatened that Alex better not let any of her fingers or toes fall off, or else. Tika showed us a map of the route we were taking, with our destinations circled along the way. It was very exciting to see, and we were ready to get going. We also were tired, though, so after dinner we went back to our swanky 100 rupee room and dove into our sleeping bags, which smelled like a thousand backpackers in the middle of the summer.

DAY 2
Jiri (1955m) to Shivalaya (1770m)

This morning we woke up at about 6:30, after a solid 8ish hours sleep. We dined on honey porridge (with extra sugar), and packed our bags. We left about 8, but upon discovering that Alex's sunglasses were broken (shockingly, Andrew's third pair on the trip were not) we made a couple stops nearby. The first shop had the most hideous "Judge Doom from Roger Rabbit" sunglasses. They were round lenses with metal contraptions that apparently stayed on your face by stabbing into your ear-flesh. Alex didn't try them on. It was kind of funny trying to explain why the second, plastic pair, wouldn't do either. We found some nice ones for 150 rupees, and bought a couple caps for the same. Because Andrew's head is so mammoth, we couldn't find a cap that fit, so we bought Tika a shiny new "Abidas" cap and Andrew borrowed his old one (which fit, oddly enough). Everything here is ridiculously small, by the way, because the Nepalese are ridiculously small. When Andrew was trying to buy hiking boots, most of the shop people just laughed when he told them his size. Sometimes they brought him their "biggest pair," which fit like baby booties, and always if there was a pair that fit, they were suddenly much higher quality and therefore more expensive.
 
Anyhow, our first bit of walking out of the village was on a road suitable for cars. We thought to ourselves, "If it's like this the whole way..." Then we ascended a hill trail that left us out of breath and sweaty. We thought to ourselves, "If it's like this the whole way..." In fact, about 20 feet up the hill, we had to stop and shed the extra two pairs of long johns, long sleeved shirts, and two jackets that we thought we would need. When we were down to T-shirts and hiking pants converted into shorts, we continued. We kept being passed by Sherpas who ascended the trail as gracefully as goats. Okay, by Sherpas we mean little old ladies and small children... it was disheartening at times.
 
We stopped at lunch at one of the smoky shacks on the side of the trail and had Dal Baht (Dal Baht is the national Nepalese dish: usually it is served with rice, boiled spinach, a potato curry, and a very salty lentil bean soup). Tika told us the cost of the dish before he even asked, and it made us even more suspicious (and angry) that he wasn't being truthful with us. The cook even had to ask him the price. Oh, and it took an hour to get the food, something the Canadian we had met warned us will happen every time we order anything other than instant noodles. While we were waiting on our food, we staretd hearing music in the distance. It turned out to be couple of teenage porters carrying craploads of stuff in back-baskets, with attached speakers. It was like a miniature parade (the kind you might see in Imperial, TX on the Fourth of July, except without the bubble gum).
 
The trail was nice and sparkly because of a very fragile crystal-y rock that is sprinkled over the dust. It was nice that the trail was so decorative, too, because it's hard to look up while walking on some parts of the trail. When we did the views were fantastic, though. The mist settles into the valleyts and highlights the peaks of the hills. It looks like that "Blue Mountains.jpg" wallpaper that comes with Windows XP. You know what we're talking about.
 
The candle is almost gone! We're in a guesthouse now. We were going to stay at the "Shivalaya Hilton" (no affiliation), but we passed because it had an Eastern style toilet. Turns out every place in this town does, so we're stuck for the night with a hole in the ground. Most of these towns have rolling blackouts (including Kathmandu), so we are on candlepower right now. When we got moved into the guesthouse, Tika told us the hot showers were nice, and free. Perfect combination, as we've heard later on it is far too cold to shower at all. So Andrew took him up on the offer first, and came back shivering, as the "hot" shower was more like "water straight from the river." Then Tika arrived to inform us that he was wrong, it is 30 rupees per "hot" shower. Grr.
 
2-14-08: DAY 3 (Morning)
Shivalaya (1770m) to Deurali Pass (2705m)
We just broke for lunch... and we're tired. We started at probably the lowest point we will be at on the trek, and when we stopped for tea about 400m ago, we could see our lunch destination: a smattering of houses at the ridge of a mountain. The last half hour was rough, and our clothes got soaked with sweat. As soon as we stopped, we realized we were no longer in the sun but inside a frosty cloud, so we had to pile on our winter gear. It makes us wonder what we'll do later on when we are sweating on the inside and it is snowing on the outside. Our solution for now is a big pot of lemon tea at the Lama Guest House & Restaurant. This morning our milk tea tasted like bacon grease, then our black tea tasted like firewood and smoke, so hopefully the lemon tea will be more of the fruit/tea flavor.
 
Although this last ascent was hard, it was also quite beautiful. It was a winding stone path (staircase) that was dug out of the mountainside, so that moss covered the walls that were waist to shoulder high surrounding us. We also crossed two creeks on bridges made of logs and wood planks, saw a water mill house, and, well, we're glad the rest of the day is down hill. One cool thing we noticed is that people run thick rubber tubes/hoses from the creks to their houses, where they curve over into pails, some with faucets (although the water pretty much always drips). It's a really smart system, but it makes you realize that the water is starting in the top of mountains... Alex claims it is something to do with ocean floor plates...
 
DAY 3 (Afternoon)
Deurali (2705m) to Bhandar (2190m)
The rest of the trek today was much quicker - only a couple hours and all downhill. We started again bundled in our winter stuff and shed it as we made it down to Bhandar. Once inside the guesthouse, we dove under our sleeping bags and spent the rest of our Valentine's Day listening to Harry Potter. Just as Dumbledore entered the room to start the big final battle, our battery died, so with our breath held we charged the ipod during dinner and breakfast the next morning. Our V-day dinner consisted of garlic potatoes and vegetable fried potatoes (very potatoey), a pancake, leamon tea, and our last coconut cookie for dessert (Along the way, you can buy goods at "tea houses," which are basically people's homes opened for business during the day. The best thing we found were coconut cookies, which come in a little yellow roll and are de-licious. Little did we know that the 20 rupees we were paying for them was a bargain compared to what we'd end up shelling out for the same thing a couple thousand meters higher up...). Oh, and during dinner we watched a Hindi soap opera, which was awesomely horrible. The camerawork was so bad... everytime someone said something shocking (which was every other line at least) the camera zoomed in on each character in turn to show their reaction, sometimes doubling back to important characters for second and third reaction shots. Andrew has dubbed it the "Hindi Zoom," and plans to use it in every film he ever makes.
 
2-15-08: DAY 4 (Morning)
Bhandar (2190m) to Kinja (1580m)
Over breakfast we met up with a nice Australian couple, Michael and Kim, that are doing a similar trek as us on their own (guideless). They had just taken the bus from KTM to Bhandar, and from the sound of it we were lucky to get off in Jiri and walk the way.
 
So far today has been mostly down hill. We just got into a valley much lower than we stayed in last night, and are headed for a village 400m higher than that, so we have an uphill battle ahead of us today. Two cool things we saw this morning: 1) a couple great waterfalls, not like action movie waterfalls, but the kind where the water cascades down from one jagged rock to the next. Very picturesque (although we didn't take any pictures, funny enough). 2) Bagh Chal: we stopped so Tika could grab some breakfast (why he didn't eat at the guesthouse like us we do not know) and three kids were playing a game on a stone table. They had drawn a 16 square grid on the stone and were using kernels of corns and stones as sheep and tigers. The game means "Moving Tigers, and it is like an advanced version of Checkers. Tika said he'll teach us how to play tonight. Speaking of... the other night we played a round of Gin Rummy. He knew pretty much how to play, and it turned out it was because they have a similar game. So we decided to learn "Nepalese Rummy." It's like Gin Rummy, except there is a joker, you must have at least one run, your discards should be messy (something we first witnessed in India... those guys don't know what a stack is, and don't know how to shuffle either), and, most importantly, if you are teaching the game, you can change the rules and/or scoring system in a way that is advantageous to you. Still, we're excited about learning Bagh Chal.
 
DAY 4 (Afternoon)
Kinja (1580m) to Sethe (2580m)
That. Was. Hard. We walked (at least) a vertical kilometer, and felt every centimeter of it. The big news, though, is that Tika and the guesthouse owner decided to charge us 100 rupees. We met up again with Michael and Kim from Bhandar, and ended up staying at the same lodge. Problem is they were only charged 50 rupees, (as we found out while thawing out around the stove-- because they convinced us to take a "hot" bucket shower... never again). Oddly, in Bhandar we were charged 50 and them 100. So now we have to confront Tika, because it is bothersome/infuriating that we are paying him to help us and it seems like he is trying instead to help the economy or something. Worst still, we didn't get to learn Bagh Chal. Pft.
 
2-16-08: DAY 5 (Morning)
Sethe (2580m) to Lamjura Pass (3500m)
The talk with Tika went well, we think. At least he seemed to be angry for us being overcharged, and promised to be on our side (after Alex's threats of finding a new guide). He also offered to go back and sort things out, but seeing as how we had already started climbing up, there was no way we were going to do it again.
 
After "the talk," things were quite pleasant, although tough. Andrew decided he needed a brunch break, so we stopped before the long stretch of Lamjura Pass. That area was really cool. While we were eating, clouds enveloped the mountain, and as we left, fog billowed up over the trees, across the trail, and down the other side. It went as fast as chimney smoke (in fact, Andrew swore that's what it was for a while), and disappeared when we got close enough. After abot 20 more minutes of serious uphilling, we came to the pass. It was gorgeous and serene. It was the first real snow covering we've seen yet. The pass wound around the side of the moutnain, dipping up and down much gentler than anything else we walked today. It was chilly, but incredibly peaceful.
 
DAY 5 (Afternoon)
Lamjura Pass (3500m) to Junbesi (2680m)
Our initial itinerary was to stop in Taktor, but as Junbesi was "only" an hour and a half further, we decided after lunch we could make it. Although it was mostly downhill, it was still a good workout. We walked through the rest of the pass after lunch, which was, as Andrew put it, very cinematic. It looked like a graveyard; black tree stumps covering the hillside, and ominous fog crawling across the muddy path. As we went downhill through a forest it seemed straight out of Lord of the Rings. The trees were tall and gnarled, and covered in an orangeish green moss. At times the moss formed lumps that looked like animals clinging to the trunks. It was cool.
 
2-17-08: DAY 6 (Morning)
Junbesi (2680m) to Ringmu (2700m)
Last night we did indeed learn how to play Bagh Chal. This morning, Alex's ankle was really bothering her, so she ditched her fake hiking boots and opted instead for flip flops with socks. This means that, from the ankles down, at least, Alex is very Nepalese.
 
Today has been nice and easy so far, and at times was reminiscent of a Texas canyon (the dusty path, that is... if you look out it's like nothing we've ever seen). We crossed a steel bridge that swayed and bounced about 40 meters above the river. It was a nice view of the river. Now, it's lunch time.
 
DAY 6 (Afternoon)
Ringmu (2700m) to Taksindu (3000m)
Did we say lunch time? We meant waiting another hour time. And the pizza we ordered was about as good as a pizza ordered in the Himalayas, where tomatoes are scarce and tomato sauce is considered the same as ketchup. After hour 2 hr lunch break, we trudged up, then down, to Taksindu. Not much else has happened... Andrew did just beat Tika in Bagh Chal though.
 
2-18-08: DAY 7
Taksindu (3000m) to Bupsa (?)
This morning was foggy and cold, and the path was muddy. And although we passed 30 or so donkeys, which were delightful to see, it gave us 30 or so more reasons not to slip in the "mud." After lunch was uphill, and it was a good, hard workout. Tika is getting on our nerves again, because he doesn't think we can make it from here to Namche Bazar in two days, even though everyone else in our guesthouse (including the Aussies) is planning to do it. Alex was pushing for this itinerary and Andrew disagreed at first, but after looking at Michael and Kim's map and talking to an Austrian (also named Michael) and his guide, we decided it was better than wasting two days along the way. We are about to sit Tika down and tell him we are changing the plans. He is starting to really get on our nerves...

Tags: mountains

Comments

1

You posted just in the nick of time.
I was googling for lawyer jokes to post.

Here are my notes to myself on your recent posting:

Dear Self,
1.Andrew and Alex don't really do things that are easy.
2. find out if Bagh Chal can be copied and sold in America by a capitalist dad.
3. Remind Spanky (a.k.a. Mr. Nix) that he will need his entire spring break to read the long posts of AlexAndrew.
Love, me


Now, this 'Hindi Zoom' that you speak of...
is it something like this:
http://youtube.com/watch?v=_fItwwN-TOE

Okay, if it isn't too much trouble,
bring home a sherpa. (but not Tika)
I am willing to share him with Spanky on alternate days.

(Sandy just never did buy into the idea of carrying all my stuff and doing all my hard work.
Her response to bearing my burdens is Sherpa Schmerpa...She is sort of the strong willed type and frankly I just give up on her at this point.)

Come home and I promise you one whole day without my jokes.

  Richard Mar 13, 2008 3:54 AM

2

One day? It's three entire joke-less days or we're staying in Thailand (Do you like our improved bargaining skills?).

  Alex & Andrew Mar 13, 2008 9:24 PM

3

Doh!

The last thing in the world I expected was tough bargaining from you two.
This changes everything.
Here is the new deal:
You two come home and I'll go a day and a half without cracking a joke and I will throw in some dung for your cooking or roofing pleasures.
That is as low as I can go.

Speaking of jokes, I saw Alex's dad a few days ago and he was complaining about the cost of groceries. I said..You live in the country. You should get some chickens!
He said..."yeah but those things are so damn hard to milk."

  Richard Mar 13, 2008 11:56 PM

4

I will not need my Spring Break. This is when being a History teach and talking about Africa comes in handy. Lion King keeps the kids as quiet as they have ever been. It is almost as if they have never seen the movie. And while still teaching about Africa, I plan on showing Madagascar, Jungle Book and Tarzan. Disney Movies Rock

  Mr. Movie showing NIX Mar 15, 2008 4:41 AM

5

MR.Movie Showing Nix,
(wonder where you got that movie habit)

Be sure and ask about hakuna matata on the final exams.
Kids love it when you go all global lingo on the test phrases.
In case you don't remember:
Hakuna matata is a Swahili phrase that is literally translated as "There are no worries here". It is sometimes translated as "no worries", although is more commonly used similarly to the English phrase "no problem".

Oh how I miss being an educator.

Have you thought of taking your students on a field trip to the sticky six?

Did you know that even though it won't be posted here for months and months perhaps even years...
the Andrew/Alex gang is scuba diving off the coast of Thailand? Can you believe they would choose to do that when they could be here in Lubbock America eating dirt from the sky as it passes by in the wind.
Kids today!

  richard Mar 15, 2008 7:24 AM

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