Thursday, May 31, 2012

Namche

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Suspension bridge 100 ft over a roaring river.
Halfway to Namche, my first glimpse of Mt Everest!
Just another day living in the clouds :)
Namche...after climbing straight up for 2.5 hours - from 2800 meters to
3440 meters - we finally made it!
Entering Namche
Panorama at Namche
Tibetan script & Buddhist prayer flags adorn the mountainside
Looking down the the illy (imported Italian coffee) cafe, I check my
emails and watch baby yaks playing in the yard.
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Mini Trek: Lukla to Pema Choling Monastery

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We came upon some little Sherpa kids, all under the age of five, sitting
at the side of the road, looking after themselves and an infant. We played
with them for about 15 minutes, during which time we never saw an adult.
Oh, and did I mention that there was a giant cliff no more than 50 feet away?
Prayer flags line the village. Can you spot the monastery built into the
rocky cliff? It's right under the lower of the two lines of prayer flags.
The Sherpa lodge owners seem to know what Western
tourists want :)
Almost halfway to Pema Choling! Am I mistaken, or is this heaven?
Tibetan script covers a giant rock at the entrance to a farming village.
These beautiful carved and painted rocks dot the countryside in the
Khumbu (Everest) region where Tibetan Buddhism is widely practiced.
A little yak action! I haven't gotten to ride one YET, but my day will come.
After being nearly knocked off the trail into a 2,000 foot ravine by a passing
yak, I concluded that these guys aren't aware how wide they become when
loaded up with barrels and bags.
Yaks grazing. A typical Sherpa field.
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Journey to a New Home at the Top of the World

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Nate, Emma, Joanna & I leave Kathmandu on the ONLY flight that left to
Lukla in now the past two weeks.  Pilots have to land by sight in Lukla,
so when it's too cloudy it's dangerous & almost impossible.  Everyone we
meet on the trail says, "Oh, so you guys were on THAT flight." We're
practically famous in the Everest region now.
 
Our plane! Landing in Lukla was literally a crash landing - we hit so hard
and bounced a few times.  This was my "I'm so happy to be alive!" photo.
We had two porters for our four big 45-pound backpacks.
The porters were both smaller than me in size and were
13 & 16 years old. They each tied 2 packs together and
carried them that way for 6 hours - all the way to the
monastery!  Adorable little Emma tried to pick up the now
100-pound pack, unsuccessfully. We felt like little girls
as we panted up the mountain trails with our 10-pound
little backpacks while our tiny porters basically jogged
with 10 times as much weight!
Lukla landing strip. A 12% grade!
Lukla: The last place in the world I thought I'd find a
Starbucks.  And they have free wifi! But apparently it's
not actually owned by the real Starbucks corp. Possibly
a knock-off, like all the $10 North Face, Columbia, and Hard
Ware trekking gear you get up here. 
Little Babu (our 13-year-old porter) chats with Emma & Joanna during our
first rest-stop near the outskirts of Lukla.  Babu & Simba (the 16-year-old)
made the whole 6-hour trek in little foam sandals! I can't even put into
words how much respect and admiration I have for these little guys.
Sherpa kids gather around Nate, so enamoured with such a big person.
He's a collegiate football and rugby player back in Minnesota, and much
bigger than any person I've seen in Nepal so far.  Back in Kathmandu some
of the neighborhood kids in Kalanki - by our hostel - befriended Joanna &
then told her, "There is a big, fat white man who lives in that hostel. We
call him Moto."  Moto is the Nepali word for "fat."  Once in Pema Choling, the
little monks smiled so big and told him, "You are very fat. This is good thing!" 
 
 
About an hour from my home in Pema Choling monastery. You can almost
see it way up high on the hill!
Halfway to Pema Choling, we dropped off Emma and had lunch with her
host family in the village of Ghat.  Emma will be teaching English there at the
local school. The yak meat curry soup was incredible!
Just some more incredible scenery.  I love this place so much.
I took this photo my first morning at Pema Choling. It's the view from my room!
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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Trekking to Everest

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Dipak convinced me that it would be crazy to go up to Lukla for 11 weeks and not trek to Everest Base Camp. "You're halfway there!  This is once lifetime opportunity - you must do it."
He was so excited about it himself, and I had such a good time listening to his stories of the Sherpas that I just couldn't resist.  Most people pay upwards of $1,300 for the trip, but since I'll already be on the road from Lukla (where the trek starts) to Base Camp, and since I already have all the gear needed for the summertime trek and will be acclimatized to the altitude, and since I have such good connections with Nepali people, the price of the 10-day trek is only $479 for me.  There are four of us going together - all volunteers with RCDP* who I've met in the hostel here in Kathmandu. We've spent the week together in intensive language courses.  On Monday I'll be flying with Joanna from Singapore, Nate from Minnesota, and Emma from Hong Kong to Lukla. From there Joanna, Nate and I will walk an hour and a half uphill to the monastery, and Emma will walk downhill a half hour to her host family and the school in which she'll be teaching.

After about four weeks, Emma will have finished her project and Dawa, the RCDP Coordinator in Lukla, will walk with her up to the monastery, where we'll join them to continue up the mountain.  Dawa will be our guide all the way to Base Camp.  Having summited Mt Everest before and guided many other groups up to Base Camp, he's well qualified to do so.  We'll also have two porters - Sherpas who will carry our baggage.  All we'll carry is a day pack with water, snacks and a camera. Along the way we'll sleep and take meals in tea houses scattered all the way up to Base Camp 3 (we're only going to Base Camp 1).  This lessens the burden on our porters, who won't have to carry tents and cooking equipment.  Nevertheless, I'll still be bringing a sleeping bag because the temperature inside the tea houses is the temperature outside. There are no heating systems, besides perhaps the cooking fire.  What the tea house does offer is a shelter from the wind.  Even so, it only gets down to just above freezing in the summer - even at 6,000 meters (about 19,700 feet) - the approximate altitude of Base Camp 1.

I've really enjoyed listening to stories of the Sherpa people, and I'm looking forward to living with them for the next 11 weeks.  Though I haven't read any of the books published by Americans, Germans, Canadians and others who've summited Everest, I've certainly seen and heard of them.  I always imagined these had to be some of the toughest individuals on earth.  And no doubt they're fit.  But what I didn't know is that for every individual who writes a book about getting to the top, there's a team of guides and porters behind him or her who did the real work - carrying all the gear, setting up camp and navigating the route.  Most of these Sherpas have summited Everest 17, 18, 20 times. They bound up and down the mountain like gazelles - even when carrying three people's baggage - and porters are constantly going up ahead and then coming back down to check on the foreigners, then moving on up ahead, coming back down to see if anyone needs anything out of the bags. (The guide stays with the group the whole time.) One of the volunteers here is a French Canadian in med school and told me that Sherpas actually have more red blood cells than we do and are therefore able to take in more oxygen with each breath.  She said even after a week or two up there I'd start to produce more red blood cells, too!  

I'm glad I'll be spending about 4 weeks at 10,000 ft before moving up to 19,000 ft.  Hopefully my red blood cell count will increase sufficiently to ease the trek, and lower my chance of getting altitude sickness, which is really a serious concern as you can die if you don't descend to a safe altitude immediately.


*Real Community Development Projects

Monday, May 28, 2012

From Kathmandu to Lukla

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I'm set to leave today from the capital of Kathmandu to Lukla.  I'm not quite sure how my internet situation is going to be when I get there, so I've pre-scheduled a few things to post for you in the meantime.

Lukla is one of the most dangerous airports in the world, with the runway on a 12% grade - built into the side of a Himalayan peak. I'm sure I'll come out alive, though. There are 60-70 flights in and out of there per day!
Everyone who climbs Mt Everest from the Nepal side starts in Lukla.

It was confirmed the other day that - by at least one account - Kathmandu is the most polluted city in the world.  I'm so ready to be up in the mountains with clean air!

I'm sorry I haven't been able to send any photos yet. I promise I'm working on it!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

I Speak Nepalese!

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Namaste!
Mero naam Sita ho. Mero desh USA ho ki Nepalmaa Angreji padhaaune.
Sunnus ta - Thamel kasari jaane?  Malaai dudh chhiya man parchha ki daal bhaat man parchha tara malaai aaja bhok laageko chhaina. Mero laagi khaanaa napakaaunus. Ma pasal Thamelmaa jaadai chhu kapadaa kinna.

This means:

Hello!
My name is Sita. I am from the US and teaching English in Nepal. 
Listen - how do you get to Thamel?  I really like milk tea and lentil soup with rice, but I'm not very hungry today. Please don't cook for me tonight. I am going to the store in Thamel to buy some clothes. 

(No body can say "Shirah" because they don't have the "sh" sound in Nepalese. So Biplop gave me a Nepali name - "Sita," which means "queen." Nice, huh!)

Gramatically speaking, it's not a very difficult language. But it certainly takes a few days to get used to thinking in a different way because the sentence structure is very different from English.  For instance, the sentence -

Malaai dudh chhiya man parchha 
To me   milk    tea     very   good
ki daal bhaat man parchha 
and lentil rice  very good
tara malaai aaja bhok laageko chhaina.
but   to me  today hungry  feel    not.

The intensive language course has been extremely helpful.  We spend three hours a day - from 9 to 12 every morning - in Nepali class with our teacher Biplop, a 20-year old from Pokhara region who came to Kathmandu three years ago to attend a better high school and started teaching English for Real Community Development Projects (RCDP) two years ago.  20 or 21 is the normal age to complete grade 12 in Nepal, and Biplop hopes to attend a university. He says there are many in Kathmandu. 

** Just to clarify: in English we call Nepal's language "Nepalese". In Nepalese, they call their language "Nepali". Make sense?

Kathmandu in Photos - Part I

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View from the hostel roof
Looking down onto the 3rd floor deck & neighborhood
Looking up at the hostel - our "home" away from home!
Just a typical street....cows have right of way, small children look after
themselves, and chickens roam. 
Every gutter is a trash bin
  
Some cute little Nepali boys I met on a walk near the hostel
Nepali language class!
  
The most tame of my butcher shop photos
In the hostel, Will & Mariane plan their hiking trip in Pokhara
Forget the Caterpillars, Nepalis do road work by hand.
This man literally has a chisel & hammer in hand, and sits precariously
in the middle of traffic.  This day in particular was a lucky one for him,
because the strike meant that there was no traffic.
During a strike day kids don't have school, and turn the empty streets into
cricket and soccer fields.
The foulest smelling aroma I've ever encountered emanates from this river.
I can barely keep myself from fainting when walking over this bridge, and
my heart breaks for the families I see living on the banks,
under a few planks of wood that you can barely even call a shack.
A little boy chases pigeons in Durbar Square
Durbar Square - the old town
more trash
 
Emma from Hong Kong, Joanna from Singapore, me, and Mariane from Quebec
A buddhist temple near Durbar Square
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