Pockets of Blue

musings of my mind

Month: November 2008

Around the World: Part Three

Continued from Part Two

I step outside our room into the courtyard, turn to go into the kitchen, and am stopped in my tracks. A massive white peak glows in the twilight above. After a cloudy afternoon it is my first good close look at a 6000m peak, presenting itself in dramatic fashion. I snap a picture and smile into the dining room.

Thamserku
Thamserku (6618m) looming over the hotel

A few hours earlier Cam and I set foot on the trail. I was excited to get out of Lukla and finally into some peace and quiet in the countryside. It came quickly and was wonderful. Though this section of the trek is fairly heavily populated, the pace of living quite suits someone who grew up in the woods of Northern New York. We meander through the towns, greeting other trekkers and porters, and eventually make our way to a waterfall by the trail. A short, steep climb brings us to what looks like an amazing hotel. It is perched on a hill with one side looking at the waterfall and the other the fertile river valley below. We immediately get a double room ($3 USD), ditch our packs, and go the dining room to order some food and a gigantic pot of milk tea. There we meet a solo trekker from Switzerland and a British couple. They were headed up, and in a few days I would be joining them.

Dinner was delicious and by 8pm we had passed out, weary from the long day. This would be the start of a pattern — bed near dusk, rise at dawn. A very welcome change from my night owl lifestyle back home. The next morning we headed out early and walked for a few hours before making it to Namche Bazaar (3440m/11,300ft), a beautiful terraced town cut into a bowl in a hillside. Namche is the “Sherpa capital” and largest town in the Khumbu, so we had our choice of dozens of hotels in town. We ended up picking one right in the middle — it had a spectacularly positioned dining room looking out over the gorge to the Southwest, from which we proceeded to gorge ourselves on lunch.

From the start of the trek Cam had been complaining of weariness and coughing, so we decided to take a rest day; mainly for acclimatization but also to give his body a chance to shake out the respiratory infection. We slept in, changed to a “luxury room” (attached shower! wooohoo!), and I set off on a day hike to Thame, a famous Sherpa village four miles up the churning Bhote Kosi Nadi river. It’s a gorgeous walk along a hillside above the river and I chat with a group of cute Sherpa kids on break from school in town. By one pm I’ve made it to Thame (3800m) and have a huge lunch of (unlimited!) Dhaal Bhat, a dish of rice, lentil soup, and vegetable curry. The day is rather cloudy but once in a while the clouds would part to reveal a massive 6000m snow-capped peak a seemingly stone’s throw away.

By the time I make it back to Namche it’s late afternoon and drizzling a bit — we order dinner and I take a (much-needed) shower. Cam is starting to feel better, so we plan to rise early and hike to the next town.


We round a bend in the trail, and something strangely familiar comes into view. In a gap in the clouds two massive mountains appear, and I recognize one instantly: Everest. I stop in awe for a few seconds and snap some pictures — though they’re still 25km away they seem larger than life. It’s a pretty, warm day and I can’t help thinking about what the conditions would be up there..

Thamserku
First glimpse of Everest and Lhotse

A steep drop back down to the Dudh Kosi and back up the other side eventually brings us to Tengboche (3860m/12,660ft). Its famous monastery dominates the town and owns half of the hotels in the village. I know the view is supposed to be incredible, but the afternoon clouds have again robbed any chance of sightseeing. At this point Cameron was feeling pretty rough and was anticipating needing two days to rest. Not looking forward to sitting idly for two days, we decide to split up and meet up at the top of the trek. Luckily, we run into Darren and Tanya (the Brits) again at our hotel at chat it up over dinner. We’re enthused to keep going and I decide to go along with them the next morning.

I wake up excitedly the next morning and peer out the window at a massive cirque of peaks. Rushing outside, I gaze in the splendor of the most superb view of my life. Nothing had ever even come close. Two massive peaks (Thamserku [6618m] and Kangtega [6783m]) dominate, and I mean utterly own, the sky to the Southeast. Their glaciers creep down 2800 vertical meters of their flanks, connecting to the summits less than 6km away. To the North Ama Dablam’s picturesque summit foreshortened the Everest-Lhotse massif just beyond — stunning alpine scenery at 6am.

I pack up after breakfast and bid Cam adieu, setting off on my own. The trail drops down to a thick rhododendron forest and I’m not psyched to be off on my own…


To be continued

Around the World: Part Two

Continued from Part One

So, after a day wandering the city I was back sitting in an airport, waiting for my Etihad Airways flight to depart for Abu Dhabi. It was an overnighter, and one of the best flights I’ve ever had, actually. You could choose your own entertainment (in coach!) and I even managed to get a few hours of sleep in the half-empty plane.

Abu Dhabi
Abu Dhabi International

Dawn revealed a dusty, desolate airport with no view whatsoever. Pretty much what I expected in the Middle East — though a view of the city would’ve been nice. I ran into a few obvious American and European trekkers in the terminal, and by mid-morning we were off, bound for Kathmandu.

The flight in was pretty chill — I was in high spirits and excited to see a familiar face again. However the situation started to deteriorate rather quickly. I will retell it stream-of-consciousness style:

Didn’t bring extra passport photos…must purchase photos from photo stand guy in terminal…but no money…not enough cash to exchange for Nepal Rupees or to pay for visa…must go to ATM..which is outside airport…hand over passport as deposit for my return to get visa…walk out get harassed by throngs of people get money from ATM..can’t find entrance back to arrivals hall…go through security in reverse…retrieve passport…buy passport photos exchange money wait in line for over an hour…………….. ipod almost dead………… no charger………….. mind-numbingly boring waiting ……………………………………….. get visa…get harassed by throngs again…pick random dude for taxi…sun is setting and it is pouring…negotiate for price, ask them to bring me to Cameron’s hotel…car looks like it was built in the 50s…traffic is INSANE…no traffic laws…still pouring…no windshield wipers…driving British-style on the left…air smells like i’m swimming in a smokestack…moving about 100 feet a minute… people bikes motorbikes everywhere… bombing down a one-way street with 3″ of clearance on each side…potholes like swimming pools…where the hell am I?…pulling out in front of incoming traffic like they’re not there… bracing for impact … interminable, incessant honking… traffic flowing like a fluid… stopping. People grabbing my bags…”yes, this yellow house”…”no I need to meet my friend is he here?”…”yes yes this vewy nice hotel vewy comfortable”…”what is this place?”…”you stay here you like”…”no I have to meet my friend, please bring me to Paknajol”…”you stay here tonight I bring you there tomorrow morning”….”NO I HAVE TO FLY OUT OF HERE TOMORROW JUST BRING ME TO THE YELLOW HOUSE”…”ok ok 500 rupees more then”….. [no way in hell sleazeball] ……back in the car with my bags…still raining…seeing westerners in the street…good…pull into crazy steep gravel terrible rutted driveway…stop again…look at sign…The Yellow House…pay driver 600 rupees for fare and tip $2USD…talk with dude at desk…walk downstairs…finally…see Cameron.

“Where the hell have you been?” is my greeting. I’m four hours late. Guess that was expected. I order Pad Thai and a big beer, plop my tired ass on the wooden table’s bench and relay the story. Release.

“So when’s our flight tomorrow?”
“Seven.”
“AM? No way.”
“Yep. Our taxi comes at five.” It’s ten o’clock.

We organize payments, gear, etc, and pass out. Ten minutes of knocking later and I wake up — it’s 4:30 and time to go. We hop back in a taxi, go to the airport (different, domestic terminal), wait for hours, and by 11 are sitting in a plane. We only know it’s ours by noticing people getting on with the same color tickets as us. Awesome. Soon we’re airborne and by one PM it looks like we’re going to fly into the side of a mountain. But no, we touch down and slow to a crawl in the span of about fifteen seconds. After a delicious lunch in Lukla, packs on our back, we’ve come to the main event: 11 days of trekking in the heart of the Himalaya, up to Everest Base Camp at 5300m. We’re in Lukla, at 2800m, but energy is high and we’re feeling good. Well, for a little while anyway..


To be continued

Around the World: Part One

On the 21st of October I returned from a four-week trip around the world. Where to begin?

One of the goals of this trip was a complete disconnection from my (at the time not so great) normal life. In this spirit, I turned off my cell phone and left it at home. There would be no laptop, no phone, and no way to get in touch with me. Perfect.

Trax-Bus-Plane-Plane-Shuttle-Train-Subway-Subway-Train-Car

After 24 hours, an hour of sleep, and myriad forms of public transportation I was navigating the Métropolitain in Paris to get to Gare Saint-Lazare so I could catch a train to Caen. By the time I met my folks at the Caen train station (still quite familiar from three years ago) I was a zombie. I did my best to maintain a (groggy) conversation with my Aunt and Uncle as we made our way to the rented villa in Hermanville-sur-Mer, home of the first church service in liberated France in June 1944.

Well, that’s about all it had going for it. I had been to Caen already along with several D-day beaches so we decided to head to Mont Saint Michel to the Southeast for something new. Mont St. Michel is a small medieval town and Cathedral built on a 250 foot pointy hill on the coast. The setting was excellent, and we waded through the Japanese tourists around and up to the Cathedral of which we received an excellent tour.

The next day brought a tour of nearby Lisieux and Saint Therese Cathedral. It was nice to have some time with my Aunt and Uncle but the day was pretty short. The apex of my few days there was the next evening, a stunning nine-course meal at the only Michelin-starred restaurant in Caen. It sampled the whole gamut of French seafood-based cuisine and finished off with three desserts, ranging from an avocado sorbet to chocolate mousse. Wow. I figured I’d be remembering that meal for a while — Nepal isn’t especially renowned for its fine cuisine — so I soaked it all in (the service, the wine, everything) as best I could. I still think about Camembert (think I finally overcame my long aversion to stinky cheese) even now.

Car-Train-Taxi

A light travel morning brought us (my folks and I) back to Paris with a day to kill. It was a Saturday and we decided to just wander around the neighborhood a bit, seeing the Moulin Rouge (whoopdee-doo) and walking up to Sacré-Couer in the Montmartre neighborhood. It was a dead ringer for the Spanish Steps in Rome and had a fantastic view of the sprawling city.

Parisian building
View from Sacré-Couer

We lounged around for a little while on the steps, then headed back to the hotel for some R&R before going back out again for an early (by Parisian standards) dinner. I tried some Beef Tartar (spiced raw beef) and found it delicious, and we had a really nice meal between the three of us. I was really loving living it up before heading out by my (cheap) self.

But it had to be. My folks left early in the morning to catch their flight, but I had all day to wander around Paris before my 8:30 flight. I first checked my email (so much for disconnection) and made plans to meet up with Cameron in Kathmandu, then wandered South to the Louvre. It was then that I remembered that the Musee d’Orsay had been closed during my last trip to Paris, so I bought a ticket and checked it out. It was excellent: Impressionism and Post-impressionism were probably my favorite periods, and the museum ranked right up there with the Van Gogh in Amsterdam. Afterwards I still had time to spare but decided to just head to the airport four hours early. There I savored a sumptuous meal at…McDonalds. So much for livin’ it up.

To be continued

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