Hello again… this will be my last posting from Kathmandu. Tomorrow morning, we leave for Everest. We are all excited and anxious. Ah, yes, I am no longer alone. My teammates have arrived. For the first week (Jiri to Phakding) it will be myself and two guys in their mid-40s from Buffalo. They were Ski Patrol members together in upstate NY and have remained best friends. One is a construction worker, the other an out-of-work aluminum worker. They seem very fit and really cool. I figure they can drag my ass out of the mountains when I collapse…
Today we met with our sherpas, to make final preparations. Pemba Sherpa will be our sirdar (leader) for the Jiri leg, then we’ll hook up with 13 more trekkers, our American guide, and Lakba Sherpa, who will be the Sirdar to Base Camp. They will all fly to Lukla, to meet us. We will have one week of extra acclimatization, which means we’ll be less likely than they to suffer altitude sickness, but we’ll also have one extra week of grueling up and downhill exhaustion, so we’ll just have to see who’s better off!
We spent the afternoon with Lakba today, visiting the Monkey Temple, Patan Durbar Square, and Pashupatinath, the holiest Hindu site. Back to that in a moment. Lakba was a climbing Sherpa on the ill-fated ’96 expedition, and says it was ridiculously crowded. He says it “was very bad, and very sad” for Scott Fischer, Doug Hansen, Rob Hall and the other people he met on the mountain that year who died. He has already been to base camp this year, having escorted Chris Boskoff and the summit team in, a few weeks ago, and says this year is even MORE crowded! I feel bad being part of the commercialization and congestion of Everest. I’ll just keep telling myself I’m here as a journalist, but let’s face it, I’m just another ugly American tourist… which brings me back to the temple.
There are dogs and monkeys everywhere here, not to mention the sacred cows that sleep in the middle of the insane traffic. At the Monkey Temple, I was trying not to step into the middle of someone’s Kodak moment, so I veered around a group photo, not really watching where I was going. I accidentally stepped on a sleeping dog, tried to jump off to keep from hurting him, stumbled over the dog, stepped on another dog, fell on top of a monkey and went crashing into some steps. It was extremely embarrassing. I smashed my shin on the steps and wiped out a whole family of Buddhist pilgrims. I’m lucky I didn’t drop my camera or tape recorder, or get bitten by any of the animals! They were remarkably mellow, but it caused quite a stir among the humans. I’m sure the tale of the spastic American is getting a big laugh over many bowls of dal tonight, all over town. I didn’t break anything, but I have a huge welt on my leg and a scrape on my hand, not the best way to begin the trek.
At Pashupatinath, we witnessed a cremation, which was bizarre. The widow was wailing and weeping forever, while her husband went up in flames on a pyre on the edge of a holy river. All of this, before dozens of camera-clicking tourists. I took one or two photos, late in the game, and did not record her crying. It all felt rather intrusive and strange. Can you imagine a family funeral in the states, with tourists pointing and taking pictures? No one seemed to mind though… Americans always get the worst rap for being insensitive louts, but, in my limited experience, the Europeans are often much worse. The people I’ve traveled with have been sensitive to local cultural concerns, but some of these French and German tourists are stunningly oblivious. They stroll around in short shorts and tank tops, flashing cameras and watches and bankrolls thick enough to choke a sacred cow. Maybe they don’t read the same politically correct guidebooks that we do. On the other hand, I’M the one who went sprawling at one of Tibetan Buddhism’s most holy shrines, so I guess the gods are mad at me, not them.
… Perhaps for lusting after all the achingly beautiful Nepalese women, including the one who runs this Internet shop… Oh, by the way, that stringed instrument I mentioned yesterday is called a sarangi.
There’s been a change of plans regarding our trek to Everest. The government has decided to close the Lukla airstrip on May 15th, for a year of remodeling. This will severely curtail action to Everest, since every expedition either flies in or out of Lukla, often both. We are scheduled to fly back, out of Lukla, May 16th. Now we will have to leave there by the 14th or 15th, which means instead of spending four glorious nights and three exciting days at Base Camp, it’ll probably be only two stunning nights and one thrilling day.
This is not so bad, because I was trying to imagine what in the world we would DO for four nights at base camp, besides shivering, feeling sick and being bored. I need a few hours there, at most, to do interviews and hike to the Khumbu Ice Fall, so shortening the stay should be okay. On the other hand, we learned today that the earlier support trekking team, which hiked into camp and then left, had lots of altitude trouble, and only five of the fourteen trekkers made it all the way to camp. So, I might not even have to worry about the length of the stay, since I might be retching and heaving a few thousand feet below! Hope I have the problem of being disappointed with a shorter visit…
The change also means we will have four days in Kathmandu after trekking, instead of two. This opens up some new possibilities: whitewater rafting, a jungle safari, bungee jumping or mountain biking. The rafting is on a raging Tibetan river with Cat 4 and 5 rapids, and since I have not done any whitewater in years, I’m inclined to skip that! The safari takes you down to Chitwan, where you ride elephants and see Bengal tigers, but that’s the lowlands and I did not take any malaria pills this time, since there are no mosquitoes in Kathmandu or the mountains. So that becomes problematic. That leaves bungee jumping… on the longest bungee cord in the world, over the third deepest river gorge on earth…which worries me because of my back trouble. If all goes well on the trek, and I am assured it’s a smooth jump, I might finally try that sport for the first time!
The leading candidate, though, has to be the mountain biking. The idea of biking in the Himalayas, up to 8 or 9000 feet, is extremely appealing. I bet the descent is incredible! Not to mention the scenery. I, of course, brought none of my biking gear, but I could probably rent enough to carry me through… All of this is very much up in the air (pardon the pun), of course, dependent on what happens on Everest… Ah well, time to go. Hope you’ve enjoyed these missives from halfway around the world. There should be occasional satellite phones, perhaps every 5 or 6 days, on the way up the mountain, but probably no more computer access, so don’t expect another email for 3 weeks!