I am now back in Kathmandu and sitting in an internet cafe in the busy Thamel district where I can hear salsa music playing from a bar, local musicians walking past playing traditional violins, bicycle bells from cycle rickshaws and the occasional hum of scooters passing causing people to jump out of the way. Coming back into Kathmandu the second time has been a bit more of an assault on the senses than my first time. By comparison with India it had seemed much calmer and tame, but after three weeks in the mountains it is feeling a little busy here!
However, I am glad to be back down from my trek and to have some time to relax and let my body recover. Since my last entry at Namche Bazar, it has been a pretty tough time.
Every day had a similar routine in that you generally get up at the crack of dawn, have a wash in a small basin, get dressed into your dirty and freezing clothes, have a big breakfast of eggs on toast and muesli and then start walking. Each place we stayed in generally involved a steep walk immediately after leaving and left you gasping for oxygen as your body struggled to adjust to the thin air. We would walk until lunchtime and then stop for lunch of usually soup followed by toasted cheese sandwiches and chips. I think it will be a long time before I can face a toasted cheese sandwich again.
Sometimes we arrived where we needed to be by lunchtime and in this case we would go for an acclimitisation walk to a higher position and enjoy the views on the way. At other times, we would just continue with our walk until we arrived at our designated spot. I had my first and the groups first fall (or 'stack' as the Aussie's all called it) when I slid down a slope onto my backside, much to everyone' amusement (and pleasure that it had not happened to them).
The scenery was absolutely stunning with huge forested valleys, usually with a river running through the bottom of it that you could always hear raging - even if you could not see it directly. We walked along stone paths made with roughly cut stones and which you had to watch your step on not to trip. Sometimes we walked along narrow cliff edge paths and again had to ensure you did not trip and end up at the bottom of the hills. As we trekked higher each day it became less lush green and more alpine in appearance. It also became considerably colder and being the woos I am, I generally had on about four or five layers, much to the disgust of my Canadian roomate Heidi in her shorts and Tshirt!
We stayed in tiny little villages and some places were no more than our guesthouse and a couple of other homes. The guesthouses were fairly similar in that the bedrooms are made of plywood and sometimes you don't even need to look out of a window to see the views! This also meant that when the person in the next room turned over in bed, they would sometimes nudge the wall and knock you in the process. The toilets were often outside and a few of us purposely dehydrated ourselves in the evening just to avoid having to climb out of your warm bed and go and brave the freezing cold, smelly squat toilet!
However, the dining room was generally a pretty sociable and warm place thanks to the yak dung furnaces burning all night and we chatted, played cards and listened to music each night. Our guide frequently played the guitar and sometimes this led to a singalong, at other times people listened to their Ipods. I discovered a bit of a talent for poker and took on the Aussie's a few nights. I don't think I've completely got the hang of it though as I just can't help but cheer in delight if I have bluffed. It just doesn't seem as much fun to keep it to yourself!
We were on strict instructions not to drink any alcohol and to be honest most of us would not have wanted to. The walking really tired you and anything that would make your heart and lungs need to work even harder seemed like a bad idea.
We eventually made our way up to the Gokyo Valley and saw the stunning still turquoise lakes. There are five in total and some are surrounded by snow capped mountains that you can see reflected in the water. Gokyo village itself is situated right on one of the biggest lakes and looks like a Swiss village in the Alps complete with little wooden blue houses. Whilst there, we trekked for just over two hours to get to the summit of Gokyo Ri mountain. It was our first really hard trek and you had to keep stopping to allow your lungs to adjust. I had my second 'stack' whilst crossing the frost covered stones in the lake and narrowly missed ending up in its freezing waters!
We had hoped to see the sunrise from the top, but the mists swirled around and we only got glimpses of the various mountains surrounding us. Still, it was an achievement and we celebrated with tea and biscuits on the top - whilst the strong lunged Sherpas all enjoyed a cigarette!
After Gokyo we returned back down the valley and crossed the river to then climb up to Tengboche where there is a really pretty monastery, great views of Everest and other mountains and (thank you God) a German Bakery! I heard my first avalanche from there which sounded like a train passing and I had to do a double take to realise what it was.
We continued up the main route towards Mount Everest gaining height each night. Then on the morning we set off from Lobuche to the Everest Base Camp it began to snow really heavily. The Aussie's were over the moon as some had never seen the snow before. However, it made a tough ascent and the bad cold that I had unfortunately developed caused me to suffer a bit. I did not wish to stop and continued with everyone else, but it did affect my enjoyment of the day somewhat.
We could not see too much on the way up, but when we arrived at Base Camp the sun came out and we had great views of the stunning enormous ice fall that the climbers have to traverse to reach Everest. The glacier is huge and has weird and wonderful shapes of waterfalls, tables and icicles.
The Base Camp had another German Bakery and I enjoyed their apple pie and tea. The camp is a cluster of tents filled with people waiting for the right weather to climb. I spoke to one of the climbers and he appeared so bored with waiting that he was more interested in my travels than talking about his own!
As the sun came up, the ice began to melt and we had to walk quickly down to avoid any falling blocks. The walk back revealed stunning views of lakes and mountains that we had not realised were hiding in the fog on the way up.
The day after the base camp trek we had another big day as we climbed up a mountain called Kala Patthar. This was the steepest mountain we had climbed and so was tough from that point of view. When we got to the top, my legs turned to jelly and I had to crawl up the final rocks to avoid falling over! However, we were rewarded with 360 degree stunning views of huge mountain ranges including Mount Everest and the Base Camp which now looked tiny below us. We sat on top and enjoyed the sun, the views and some refreshments before running down.
We then returned to Namche Bazar for a big night out, now that the drink ban was lifted and I think that pretty much everyone overindulged. The others enjoyed reminding me at breakfast of my great DJing the night before, when I had taken it upon myself to go behind the bar, serve drinks and be the DJ for the night! I'm not sure quite why or how it happened, but it seemed like a good idea at the time!
We had a few more heavy nights on the way down and I think this may account for my two further 'stacks' when I sprained my ankle....twice....in the space of about two minutes! I needed to wear a bandage on it after that as it blew up to elephant proportions and gave me my nickname of 'The Stack Queen' for signing our commemorative placard on the walls of a bar and restaurant!
I was sad to see the others go today, although there are still some of us here to go out tonight with and I will be meeting my new group for the overland tour tommorow morning.