Wednesday, April 20, 2005

time standing still...

I had planned to use these few days between trekking and my flight home up at the Last Resort, a tranquil little place out of the Kathmandu Valley where such relaxing and rejuvenating activities as bungee jumping, canyoning and rafting can be undertaken.

While I am certainly not interested in bungee, or, for that matter, some other weird jumping off high thing whilst being attached to a rope (save the bouncing around for ages afterwards), I would thoroughly enjoy canyoning - essential, rappelling or abseiling down into a canyon, swimming, dossing around, and then rafting/canoeing out - and really wanted to give rafting a go whilst in the rafting capitol of the world!

However, due to circumstances out of my control, i have been unable to fulfil these last ambitions of Nepal. Firstly, I wanted to stick around and play tour guide to a couple of the others who finished the trek with me and who hadn't seen much of Kathmandu beforehand. Secondly, having left a few bits and pieces with out trekking company in Kathmandu (namely my laptop, passport and plane tickets...), I was reluctant to leave for more fun and frolics before relocating my valuables (so to speak). Today, I finally have my laptop back, though no passport and tickets. I am reliably informed, however, that they will be brought to my hotel when someone comes to pick me up to take me to the airport for my flight - at little bit last minute for my liking, but there is no arguing with these people! And thirdly - I am simply too ill to move very far from a toilet; I know - not a nice concept - but brutal honesty is my middle name, as most of you, no doubt, know. Oh yeah - and fourthly (not sure I've got that high before!) - I leant my wifi card from my laptop to a local bar owner who was trying to set up a free wireless access point in his pub, and I am still waiting to get it back...

So there it is. I'm stuck in Kathmandu. Up until today, however, this had been a pleasure as I had been showing Matt (friend from trekking) and Ruth (random chick we met in the Hotel) around the major sights. Did the regular ones again, and finally managed to visit Pashupatinath - a religious site (aren't they all - I am just about templed out already!) down on the river, where they cremate their bodies.

I say "cremate" - what I actually mean is BURN - they do so in open fires on little "pires" by the side of the river. When all is done, a little man with a stick and a bucket chucks the ashes into the river - the same river where people are having full on baths and washing their clothes just metres away. Seriously - I have photos to prove it! Very peculiar.

Matt and I were rather unimpressed with Pashupatinath. The buildings are all a bit dilapidated, the gardens are rather unkempt and there is litter, detritus and filth just about everywhere you look. I can't imagine St. Paul’s in London would be very popular if we let it get such a state!

These last few days in Kathmandu have been mostly spent, despite the above, panicking about my return to the UK: not only have I got finals to worry about (and believe me, worrying I am), I have received a torrent of emails about various matters which need dealing with NOW! Mostly, it seems i have missed the deadline to "apply to sit my final exams". I couldn't believe it when I read this email - who wouldn't want to sit their final exams having spent 5 long years building up to them?! I think more the point is the Registry - sorry, that should be Education Directorate - have forgotten who is doing an extra year and who should be graduating this year! There are also numerous bits of work and assessment forms that need handing in, most of which i haven't done yet, and without which I will not be allowed to sit my finals.

Then there is all the graduation ceremony nonsense I am supposed to have done already (I have actually done all this online now, but it doesn't seem to make me feel much better>>>). I have to pay 250 quid just to sit for hours and wait for my name to be called, trudge to the front, all embarrassed, and collect a fake scroll of paper, all whilst wearing silly clothes I have to pay MORE to hire. And what's more - my parents are going to be there! It's all for them I suppose - they have waited quite a while and paid an awful lot to get me this far. And they are just chomping at the bit to finally complete their embarrassing photo collection - I'm sure, as I type, Mother is clearing a space next to my Brother's graduation photograph, and simultaneously thinking what she's going to wear (not possible just to do one thing at once, you see!)

Ho hum. I suppose I can console myself with the thought that hopefully (touch wood) it will all be over in just a few months and I can piss off on holiday before the trudge of the Real World and a Job kick in in August.

And on that merry note - I'm not nearly as miserable as I make out, you know (I'm actually quite fun really) - I shall toddle off!

Maybe more later - i have a good few hours to while away in the departure lounge at Abu Dhabi...!

TFN (is anyone actually still reading this -please leave comments!)


Sunday, April 17, 2005

I didn’t get shot or fall off anything - oh hang on I did…!

Mother’s prime concerns about my trek in the Himalaya were that I’d either be inadvertently shot by Maoist rebels or I would fall off some high thing; it is her job to worry, after all! While we didn’t meet any Maoist troubles whatsoever, I did manage to fall off the front door step of a lodge in Pheriche (2 days from Gorak Shep – our highest sleep point) and severely twist my ankle… The next morning it had swollen to the size of an orange and I could barely walk on it. I had the physiotherapist look at it and (there happened to be one on the trip with us – thanks aemar!) strap it up for me and took a diclofenac, both of which helped enormously. Nothing broken and the ligaments in tact, I was able to continue with the trek, though whether this was a blessing or not I have still not decided.

The trek was incredibly hard work. Particularly the day climbing up to Namche Bazaar, the Sherpa capital, with 700m ascent over about half a kilometer; and the 600m climb up to Tyenboche (very famous – possibly highest – monastery in the world) with nasty effects of altitude (see below) wasn’t much fun either. Also, the 8 hour round trip to Everest Base Camp (5364m), from Gorak Shep (5140m), was horrible – and on getting there we were mostly too tired and ill to bother photographing the disappointing pile of rubble and tents! Gavin randomly met Appa Sherpa as we were doing a side walk on a rest day in Namche, who agreed to share camps at base camp; Appa Sherpa is currently the living record holder for the most summits of Everest and is very famous in Nepal! Whilst at Base camp, we helped Gavin make his tent platform (clearing rubble and ice to form a flatish space with a small wall around it) – or should I say: those of us who weren’t feeling like crap did!

Unfortunately, we all came down with something after our base camp day (combination of sun, exertion and some weird shit we were given to eat when we got there – sampa (a cake made from millet and rancid yak milk (looked rather like chocolate cake or fudge so we all took huge bites!) and chang (an alcoholic beverage again made from millet, and simply left to ferment – or go off to you and me! – in a big barrel). It is rude to refuse, so none of us did, and all but 2 of us became ill. One of our party (Matt – an engineer from Devizes) was vomiting every 20m on the way back. Great! It doesn’t say any of this in the guidebooks!

Another trip from Gorak Shep was our attempt on Kala Pattar – a 5545m peak with beautiful, close-up panoramic views of Everest, Nuptse, Lhotse and the rest. Unfortunately, we attempted this the day after Everest base camp, when many of the group had been up all night vomiting (and worse) every half hour. Of the 14 or so who reached Gorak Shep (I didn’t mention yet that 2 people turned back after Lobuche, 4920m, did I?!), only 9 felt well enough to attempt Kala Pattar, and Matt and I had to stop about halfway up due to illness and exhaustion (and, in my case, a brief but alarming incident of haematemesis!) – we reached approximately 5300m, took our photos, collapsed for 20 minutes and then got the hell out of there! The 7 others summitted, and have the photos to prove it.

We all headed down that afternoon, our destination Dingboche (just over a head from Pheriche (4150m) – about an 8 mile trek (which at altitude and having not eaten for 3 days feels like 30m), those of us who had been on Kala Pattar were particularly knackered.

The group then split in 2 – the four of us not going on to do a trekking peak called Island Peak (Imja Tse), 6139m (not sure why it is called a trekking peak – it is a pretty serious endeavor, permanently covered in snow and requiring ropes and harnesses, etc), and Richard (Vet, 55) whose Bronchitis had got to such a state that he felt unable to continue; and the 9 or so gap-year students, including the physio (not a gap-year student). (we were all really impressed with Richard – despite coughing up all manner of shit overnight, and clearly operating on a significantly reduced lung volume, he stayed with the group all the way up. He was great company too, and didn’t mind losing at ShitHead!)

The trek back down to Lukla (2950m ish) was done in two further days, about 12 miles each. These were long and arduous, despite being mostly downhill, especially considering we were all nursing diarrhoea and vomiting, and unable to eat. Needless to say, we all lost quite a bit of weight. In fact, we are thinking of writing it up and selling it to OK or HELLO as the Khumbu Diet!

All in all an interesting experience, some amazing views, great company, good exercise and an experience of the effects of altitude. I know it doesn’t sound like it, but I did enjoy myself. I would be hesitant, though, to recommend it to others with no experience of altitude about 4000m, and anyone but the extremely fit!

Sorry this has been a bit of a rant, and not really a step-by-step account, but I didn’t write a diary while out there and now all I can remember is the rant!

More maybe later…

Nx – sore and tired!