Hiking in Nepal: To My Turning Point – Deboche (Day 4)

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After a restful and relaxing day in Namche Bazaar, it was time to hit the road for the last leg of my trek before turning back.  As I explained in an earlier post, I was shy a few days in my vacation bank so I would not be going all the way to Everest Base Camp this time.  Day 4 would take me past Tengboche with its beautiful monastery to tiny Deboche.  This day would represent the highest altitude I would reach in this trek, a hundred or so meters under 4,000 m (or some hundred or two feet under 13,000 ft.).

The day would start climbing up out of the half bowl that is Namche Bazaar past the museums and great viewing point I described on the Day 3 post.  And we could also see in the distance the two hanging bridges we had passed on our way to Namche Bazaar.

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Looking back at the spot from Day 3 from here we saw Everest

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The hanging bridges

Then we skirted the side of mountains on a beautiful and changing trail that offered us a new and closer view of Mt. Everest and Mt. Lhotse than the prior day’s.  We passed a stupa/chorten honoring the sherpas of Everest.

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Headed towards the stupa with the best backdrop!

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Detail of the stupa

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Beautiful and colorful detail of the stupa

Later on we had the best view of my favorite mountain in the area:  Ama Dablam.  It looks like it is a person with two arms and flowing robes!  Pretty darn cool.

Ama Dablam, Nepal, Himalayas, mountain, peak, Everest Base Camp, majestic, Samsung Galaxy

Ama Dablam!

Of course, as we did every day, we stopped for tea at a tea house.  Mint tea or lemon tea – I could never decide which was my favorite.  Sometimes one, sometimes the other!

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Loved admiring typical Tibetan architecture during tea time!

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Lemon tea, anyone?

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Typical outdoor area of a tea house

The team guides and our lead discussed whether to make the push for Tengboche (which involved a serious climb) for lunch or to stop short of the climb to have lunch and rest.  They decided to eat before the climb.  I was torn.  On the one hand, the sooner we got to Tengboche, the sooner the hardest part of the day would be behind us and then lunch would feel more lackadaisical.   I also would not be doing the hardest part of the hike on a full stomach.  But, on the other hand, it would delay eating lunch by a good bit.  So, I didn’t mind which way they decided.  Now having seen Tengboche, I think the spot by the water where we stopped for lunch was perfect for rest and recovery prior to the climb.

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Part of our lunch – soup and rice!

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Toilet in a very scenic place at lunch (you can thank me later for not putting a photo of the inside…)

Overall, that day we would cover about 4 miles (6.5 km) and were expected to be on the trail for about 6.5 hrs.  The most exciting part of the day was when we came to the top of a slope to find ourselves in fairly flat ground looking at the Tibetan Tengboche Monastery through the foggy afternoon.  It was not only a beautiful sight but very surreal.

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Entrance to the monastery (more pix on the next post)

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Lots of color and detail

Tengboche, monastery, Himalayas, Nepal, Tibetan, color, Samsung Galaxy

We entered the main prayer room but no photos allows – and I respect that

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You better follow these rules – especially no kiss!

Right past it, we stopped at a tea/coffee house before embarking on the short last hour (or less) to our stopping point for the night in Deboche.  With the hardest part of the hike for the day over, it was very enjoyable to kick back and sip away!

Once we got to Deboche, the teahouse was one of the sparsest, most austere of the teahouses I stayed at in this trek.  Being that we were higher, it was colder and the place had one tiny stove in the center of the dining/living room (as do most teahouses).  I definitely stayed more warmly dressed, even through dinner, as I tried to keep by body heat in me.

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View towards the trail from our room

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The rooms were basic but who needs more? Except heat…

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Yeah… heating was very limited and crowds formed

The evening was nothing short of frigid.  There were two toilet rooms, one upstairs and one downstairs. But the one upstairs was a Western toilet with a tank that would not fill.  I found it more effort to flush it so, in the middle of the night, I would walk down the very steep staircase to the non-Western toilet room, though by doing so I had to walk further in the cold of the night.  All indoors but, trust me, it was FRIGID; not sure there was much of a difference between inside and outside.  Thank goodness, I had the slight sleepwear and, more importantly, the right sleeping bag!!

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Yeah, that’s our ice-covered window in the morning…  Yes, it was THAT cold.

From this point out, the destination changed – back to Lukla for the flight back to Kathmandu!

Hiking in Nepal: Namche Bazaar and a View of Everest (Day 3)

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After the grueling climb to Namche Bazaar, it was REALLY nice to arrive at the Khumbu Lodge for a two-night stay as an acclimatization day for the group headed to Everest Base Camp.  I liked the Khumbu Lodge as it had all the amenities I “longed for” (sounds so dramatic!) and the staff and service were great.  I think the group as a whole liked it a lot.  Good start to our time in Namche!  (No, I did not get a free stay or perks for writing this.  I, like my companions, really liked this lodge!)

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The Khumbu Lodge in the center of the photo

We sat in the dining room catching up on Internet-based things and rested before showering and getting ready for dinner.  I loved the almost 270 degree view from the dining room and the spaciousness of the room.

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Namche Bazaar from the dining room

Namche Bazaar is the most sizable town on the route to Everest Base Camp.  It is nestled on the side of a mountain, carved on its sides sort of auditorium style.  Its alleys are covered with steps and unevenness so one better pay attention – no smooth sidewalk in sight!  (I exaggerate perhaps just a little…).  Of course, it is loaded with souvenir shops but also all the practical places needed for life as a local and as a trekker (drug stores, food markets, coffee shops, etc.).

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A typical ‘street’ in Namche Bazaar

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View over Namche Bazaar

Our schedule had us doing a short hike on the morning on day 3 to a point at the edge of the town, high up, with a fantastic view of Mt. Everest in the distance with Lhotse next to it (the world’s fourth tallest mountain).  We spent a good bit of time on photos and just enjoying the beautiful spot and sunny day.  The short hike was  steep so it was a good warmup for day 4 when we would exit past that same point.  There was a small museum at the top of the climb that was well worth the time to check out and learn more about the area.

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At the monument honoring Sherpa Tenzing Norgay

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Everest on the left and Lhotse on the right

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Everest, Lhotse and Ama Dablam on the right

Coming back down we made a stop at another local private museum, the Sherpa Culture Museum, at a place where Sir Edmund Hillary had camped on his way up and that he later visited a few times when a hotel was established.  It had a neat collection of household items from the region and also a short movie as well as a souvenir shop (the other one was a public museum with no shop).

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Ticket to the Sherpa Culture Museum

Sherpa Museum, Namche Bazaar, Nepal, EBC, Everest, trekking, Himalayas

Map on the Sherpa Museum ticket

Sherpa Culture Museum

Sherpa Culture Museum

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Typical Tibetan design in a window at Namche Bazaar

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Yep, this is the real thing. Good for burning in a stove…

Later that day, I was thrilled to discover Hermann Bakery where I ate a nice pastry and enjoyed a latte.  Plus, we got to used a very fast Internet connection (that I could also tap from my hotel room!) which always makes me happy.

This last photo will be the image of Namche Bazaar that sticks with me forever – a gorgeous spot in the Himalayas!

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View from the lodge’s dining room

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Read on:  Day 4 – To my turning point: Deboche

 

2015 – A Year in Review

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2015 is almost over and it is time for the year in review which, I think, is an exercise not just in writing but in re-living the many blessings the year bestowed on me.  Here it goes and share with me some of the travels in your 2015!

In the city of brotherly love – Philadelphia, USA

My first trip of the year was to Philadelphia where family and friends live.  It is a place I love to visit though I do not get to do so often.  I welcome the opportunity whenever it comes though as I greatly enjoy spending time with my aunt and uncle who make me feel so at home whenever I go.  Though I got to see many, I did not get to see all my relatives nor all my friends which was a bummer – but good reason to go back!  As usual, my uncle likes to show me around places historical to both country and family.  I had not visited Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell since the early 90s and I enjoyed my visit there.  We also went to Valley Forge which had a special look since it was winter-time (and was also very cold!).

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Liberty Bell with Independence Hall behind it

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Independence Hall across the mall

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Valley Forge in winter – reminder of the cost of our freedom

Now, those places are not where the family history comes from :) instead this building served as their home right after they moved up there from Miami.

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House where my parents and relatives lived

My first hike of the year – Blood Mountain, Georgia, USA

My first hike of the year was a training hike as I was going on a trek to Patagonia with Trekking for Kids.  My friend Phil who also enjoys hiking and I decided to do a hike near Blood Mountain that ended up -accidentally- in a climb of Blood Mountain.  While it was unplanned, it was a fortunate ‘accident’ as it all ended well and we enjoyed great vistas and trails.

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Entering Freeman Trail from the Appalachian Trail

Jarrard Gap, Appalachian Trail, Georgia, photo, hiking, winter, outdoors

Along Jarrard Gap, the start of our hike

An amazing metropolis – Buenos Aires, Argentina

The orphanage work related to my trek to Patagonia was going to take place on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, capital of Argentina.  So I knew I was going to be spending time in this great city – and more importantly, eating the best beef in the world paired with great wine!  I enjoyed walking about town and having nice meals with my fellow trekkers (some which I knew already and some which I met there).

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The parrillada at Campo Bravo

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Don’t forget dessert: this beauty courtesy of Cabaña Las Lilas

But the best part was meeting the children and staff of the two homes we worked with on our projects which included repairing a very leaky roof and damaged walls and furniture.  Much as I loved spending time in BB.AA., this work was the highlight of my time there!

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Painting new furniture with the kids was an adventure onto itself!

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These kids were hard workers and also great with the soccer ball!

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At Temaiken, Buenos Aires’ zoo

Back in time – Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay

When planning my Buenos Aires travel, I decided to add an extra day to cross the river by ferry and spend half a day exploring a town that was a good throwback to the colonial period of the region:  Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay.  I sold three other trekkers on doing this short trip with me and we had a great time walking the streets of this easy-going town.  I highly recommend making the crossing if you ever have time in Buenos Aires!

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One of the MANY vintage vehicles in town – an Austin

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Basilica del Sagrado Sacramento

My favorite spot on Earth – Chile’s Patagonia

As I wrote earlier this year, I loved Patagonia when I first visited the Perito Moreno glacier and Chile‘s amazing Patagonia in 2010.  I’d always hoped I could return some day and that did happen… in 2015, much sooner than I’d ever thought possible.  I returned to hike around Fitz Roy in Argentina, re-visit the Perito Moreno glacier, and then trek through the Torres del Paine National Park – which I had not done in 2010.  And it was a rewarding effort for sure with great vistas and a glacier hike to boot.  Memorable is not a good enough word for the experience.  And, secretly, I hope I get to return a second time for my third visit!!  (click on the hyperlinks above to see more photos from each of the visits)

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Grey glacier, where we hiked

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On the trail to Fitz Roy

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The Torres del Paine massif

The great northwest – Portland, Oregon

Thanks to work, I spent five days in Portland, Oregon.  I had never been to Oregon so it was cool that I got to go there.  I arrived at mid-day on a Sunday and decided to take a walking tour of Portland as it would be the most effective way to see the highlights of the town while enjoying the great weather.

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Portland street

Mercifully, daylight went on late so I got to take advantage of it to take a drive along the Columbia River to see the waterfalls that dot the riverside.   I also got to enjoy dinners in establishments along either side of the river which was a phenomenal day to end the workday.

Family, friends and food fest (4 F’s) – Spain, olé!

Friends of mine were going to hike the Camino de Santiago, a hike I did in 2014.  I thought it would be cool to combine my wish to meet relatives I had not met who live in the outskirts of Santiago with my friends’ arrival in Santiago de Compostela.  My grandmother has two surviving cousins she never met in person who live in Bastavales.  I had met one of them last year when I finished the Camino walk but I had not met the other.  So I met María and her son, grandkids and great-grandkids for the first time and enjoyed their warmth and sharing special memories and photos of the family.  I also visited time with Flora, the cousin I had met last year.  It was really cool.

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With Maria, my grandmother’s cousin

I then welcomed my friends and their fellow trekkers as they arrived in Santiago at the end of their Camino.  It was wonderful seeing them glow in joy as they wrapped their long walk.  After they got their Compostela and going to Pilgrim’s Mass, it was time to celebrate with some cañas (beer) and tapas in one of the many beautiful old streets of this phenomenal city.  We also took a day trip to Finisterre on the Atlantic coast, a nice place.

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Beer and tapas in Santiago de Compostela

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The left side of the Cathedral

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With friends Phil and Tommy at Finisterre

The visit with my friends continued in Madrid and, after they left, I got to spend time with madrileños friend of mine, enjoying good drinks, food, and atmosphere around town.  It was fun spending more time in Madrid (check out “6 Cool Things to Do in Madrid“!).  I love Spain but I loved more the opportunity to be there with friends!

Reuniting with dear friends – California

In late May, dear friends left Atlanta to head to California due to a job opportunity.  It was hard to see them go as I spent many a Friday night over ten years hanging out with them pre-kids and after-kids.  So, it was great when work offered me the opportunity to go to San Francisco so I could spend the weekend after the conference with them in their home outside of San Jose.  They took me to two great Mexican restaurants, one of them right by where they live.  I enjoyed a drive down Pebble Beach on the famous 17-mile drive (which I still have to write about!).  And we visited the charming coastal town of Carmel – and its impressive mission.

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Glorious skies at the Carmel Mission

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Waters along the 17-Mile drive

Up-north (WAY up north) – Duluth, Minnesota

Work took me for a brief business trip up north, to a small town 45 mins north of Duluth, Minnesota.  Driving along the coast of Lake Superior was very nice and peaceful.  We only had one night in Duluth but enjoyed a nice breakfast at a mom-and-pop type of place and dinner at a pub.  Of course, being the traveler that I am, never having gone to Wisconsin, and realizing I was just a bridge-crossing, I just had to do it… We had mostly an open morning so, along with a colleague, I drove across the water to a coffee shop I found online in the town of Superior, Wisconsin!  A coffee later, we crossed the bridge again and back in Minnesota!

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Wisconsin, here we come!

Returning to one my favorites – Chicago, Illinois

I first went to Chicago in a bitterly cold January in 1991 with company for training.  And I kept returning over the years mainly in winter.  This year I got to go in August for pleasure, after spending a few days in Minnesota for work.  I got to enjoy walking everywhere, getting to the lake, which I had never done.  I also explored new parts of town thanks to friends (including little gems in terms of eateries).   Overall, what I enjoyed most about this trip was a first for me in Chicago:  going to a museum!  The Art Institute of Chicago was right up my alley as very much an amateur in terms of art.  It made it all approachable and enjoyable without overwhelming.  I highly recommend it.  I look forward to returning to Chicago and having more time to see all the friends who live there (this was practically a day-and-a-half visit) – and explore a new museum or two!Chicago, Illinois, skyscraper, cityscape, photo, glass. buildings, architecture

An epic trek to close the year – on the route to Everest Base Camp, Nepal

I was not planning any other hike on 2015 after having done Patagonia earlier in the year.  However, I found out that several folks I knew from prior treks were going to do the trek to Everest Base Camp and I started wondering if I could go…  I was generally fit even if not well-trained, it was a generally good time to go from a work standpoint, and though I did not have vacation time to be able to go to base camp, the trek offered a shorter itinerary.  So, I went for it.  I had a great time and was thrilled to having seen the Himalayas, Mt. Everest, and the hamlets and people of the highlands of Nepal.  I am still writing about the trek so I will just point you to a couple of the writings:  flying into scary Lukla airport to begin the hike, day one of the hike (you can keep going from there to later days), and one of the neat sites I saw in Kathmandu.  The best part of the trek was the work done before the trek in the village of Kumari.  Check out the work we did with Trekking for Kids here.

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The prayer wheels

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Kids from Kumari

Epilogue to a year that ends…

2015 was an epic year.  From great hiking experiences, time with family and friends, new destinations, and good food and drinks, it had it all.  I got to step in South America, North America, Asia, and Europe all in one year!  However, as the year came to a close, we lost my stepdad, Rubén.  It was a bittersweet time as he had been suffering from Alzheimer‘s and his last week was one full of suffering.  So his passing offered him rest that we were thankful for, sad as it was to not have him around us any more.  Rubén, as my Mom, loved to travel.  They traveled across Europe and other places many times.  I got to travel with them and my sister and her family in several cruises to the Caribbean, Alaska, and the Baltic Sea, as well as explore places like Copenhagen, Panama, and Paris (where they visited me in 1999 when I was living there).  Though we will sorely miss him in this final journey he has undertaken, I know I will see again at the final destination.  Until then, I will continuing journeying here.  Rest in peace, Rubén!

ilivetotravel, family

In Panama in 2009

Hiking in Nepal: On the Way to Namche Bazaar! (Day 2)

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On Day 2, we left our teahouse in the tiny spot of Tok Tok (9,000  ft / 2,800 m) at around 8:45AM to head, following the route to Everest Base Camp, to Namche Bazaar, a rather bigger town than most in the area (actually, THE biggest).  This would have us climb over 2,000 ft in the last 2.5 hours of the hike that day, a rather ambitious and challenging effort (except for the super fit and those used to the altitude, perhaps – I fell under neither success category…).

Leaving our spot in Tok Tok, we stood for a group photo as one of the trekkers was not continuing beyond Tok Tok.

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Group photo!

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Our first bridge of the day was right outside the teahouse – watch out for the pack animals!

On the trail to Everest Base Camp…

Soon thereafter, off we went walking on terrain that was becoming familiar to us:  rocks, dirt, steps, pack animals, farms, debris from the earthquake, reconstruction, and the river.  It is a rugged but peaceful terrain; except when the pack animals come – at that point you make a quick move towards the inside of the trail, not the side facing the steep dropoff!  On this day, we would cross the river four times if memory serves me right.

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Steep climbs every day!

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Pack animals: these were carrying a very light load

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Typical stop for trekkers

Entering the Sagarmatha National Park

Later that morning, we officially entered the Sagarmatha National Park (which is the park where Mt. Everest sits) via the Jorsalle gate (which is right outside of Monju on the way to Jorsalle).  There was signage offering good advice for trekkers in dealing with acute mountain sickness (there are always those who are unprepared…).  More importantly we passed a traditional kani gate which incorporates prayer wheels and colorful paintings on the walls and ceilings.  This gate marks our entrance in the sacred valley of the Sherpa (a term that refers to an ethnic group, not a job, as we learned…):  the Khumbu.  I loved the rules suggested to those who enter the valley (see photo).

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The kani gate marking the entrance to the sacred valley

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Ceiling painting

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Wall painting and the ever-present prayer wheels at the kani gate

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Warnings about acute mountain sickness

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Follow these rules!

Breaks from the trail:  tea and food

While the actual walk is rewarding despite the challenging parts, one of my favorite moments is when we stop :)  Yes, it is about getting a break from the effort.  But it is also about the camaraderie over that cup of tea, lemon or mint with the latter being my favorite.  As we all have different paces, non-walking time is when we get to share with those we don’t keep up pace with (or those who can’t slow down easily!).  After tackling the first mile (which was not a walk in the park), we made a restroom stop at Benkar but did not even sit-  this was not our morning break for tea.

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Brief stop to use the ‘facilities’ and take a snack out

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Resuming our hike with a nice downhill

So we trudged along and, after we entered the Sagarmatha NP, we later hit our morning break at Monju (or Monzo) at a place that I would stop at on the way back to Lukla.  The outdoor terrace was very spacious and comfortable (perhaps because we were the only ‘crowd’ there) and the temperature was great so we enjoyed sitting in the terrace sipping our tea!

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Tea time in Monju!

And then we proceeded to Jorsalle where, not 30 minutes later, we would have lunch outdoors by the river at a teahouse there.  It was a great stopping point right by the trail (as most are).  It was a good break before the final push, and I mean PUSH, to Namche Bazaar – we would be starting a serious vertical climb over a rather short horizontal distance.  Heaven help me!  We left our lunch ‘resting place’ at around 1 PM.

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Approaching Jorsalle, our lunch ‘town’

Jorsalle, Khumbu, Nepal, Himalayas, Everest Base Camp, trekking, trail, Dudh Koshi, river

Lunch time in the sun!

Bridges crossing the Dudh Kosi River

Before I get to the monster climb…  This day was made fun by the many bridges low and high, short and long we would cross.  If you are not a fan of suspension bridges, this may not be your favorite day but the most important thing to mind are the pack animals, not the height of the bridges!  Here are some images from the “day in bridges.”

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Pack animals have right of way – if you are smart!

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Lovely scenery from the bridge’s vantage point

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One of the smaller bridges we dealt with

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Beautiful spot (notice the prayer flags)!

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Loved walking this close to the Dudh Koshi River

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And then we got to this… (the bottom bridge is closed now)

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And we are about to walk across the highest one!

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View down from the highest suspension bridge

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View down from the highest suspension bridge

And our awesome endpoint:  Namche Bazaar

The route to Everest Base Camp is not a steady uphill.  No place ever is (even Mt. Kilimanjaro has its downhills as you climb) but this was as much going down as you have gone up in many stretches.

In fact, this day, on a 5.3-mile (8.5 km) route, our net climb was around 2,300 ft (about 800 m) – we climbed much more (upwards of 4,000 ft) and descended a good bit.  But after lunch what we faced was mostly a severe uphill, especially after the last suspension bridge (the highest one).  And the trail was very rugged to boot.  Hard stuff.  I didn’t know how I could finish it.  And remember, we were climbing to our end point at over 11,300 ft (3,400 m) so the thin air was having an impact (as a reference point, once in Namche Bazaar, we would be at 67% oxygen level vs. sea level!!).  I had to stop every now and then just to catch my breath especially after a stretch where the ‘steps’ (rocks) were higher. Not knowing how much more I really had was both a blessing and a curse.  Certainly I would not want to know how much more most of the way but maybe during the last 30 minutes I would have wanted to know that Namche was THAT close.

With the incredible climb at the end, Namche Bazaar could not have come sooner.   So, it was awesome when we rounded a corner about 2.5 hours after lunch and we saw this town incredibly nested in what looked like mother nature’s own amphitheater:  Namche Bazaar!  It was a photo op moment for sure and we had earned the rest day coming up on Day 3!

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I shall name this photo: “The first time I saw sweet Namche”

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The moment I stopped when I rounded the corner – best moment ever!

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My trek roommate and I celebrating we had survived

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Check out other related posts!

Hiking in Nepal: Lukla to Tok Tok (Day 1)

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My trek in the Himalayas followed the route to Everest Base Camp.  I only had two weeks’ vacation so I was short one week to make it all the way to “EBC” since my visit to Nepal included an extra number of days to help in the re-building of a school that was destroyed during the April 2015 earthquake in the village of Kumari.

However, I went on this trek with Trekking for Kids because I knew some of the folks going and it was not a bad time to be away from work (is there ever a good time??).  So my trek was going to be from Lukla to Deboche, past the Tengboche monastery.  As it turned out, that ended up being a good choice since my stepfather died back home the day before I left Nepal for home.  But, before that turn of events, I was already glad I had chosen to not go all the way.

Day 1 took us from Lukla (2,860 metres (9,383 ft)) to Tok Tok (2,760 metres (9,o55 ft)). While an overall descent, there were plenty of climbs and descents along the way!

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Our starting point and ending point for day 1

Starting the trek:  getting to Lukla

Starting the trek in Lukla required first getting to Lukla.  As I shared in an earlier post, either one does a local bus and then a few days’ hike to get to Lukla or one flies into one of the “most dangerous” airports in the world:  Lukla (LUA).  I did the latter for a couple of good reasons:  that was what was pre-planned by Trekking for Kids and I didn’t have enough vacation time anyway!

You can read the details in the earlier post but the short of it is:  I made it to Lukla alive and without too much suffering :)

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The Lukla airport – a very short and dramatic runway!

Getting the trek going:  leaving Lukla

After we landed in Lukla, getting our bags was a piece of cake (the airport is tiny, after all).  From there to our breakfast stop (at a hotel we would return to at the end of the trek) was a very short walk (Lukla is tiny, after all).  We got there and, as we had left Kathmandu at the literal crack of dawn, we proceeded to have some breakfast before heading out.  Our guides had to sort our things with the porters we were picking up in Lukla so we had ample time.  I can’t really recall what I had but nothing too heavy as we were leaving for a few hours’ hike.Everyone was itching to go and, when we finally did, I think we had a little bit of adrenaline flowing!  Close to leaving Lukla, we came to our first gate and prayer wheels and the backdrop was phenomenal in the deep blue sky ahead.  It was a sign of the great day ahead!

Though we started the hike at over 9,000 ft, we warmed up pretty quickly as the hike progressed.  It felt so good!  Hamlets in this part of Nepal are charming probably because of the color applied to the window and door frames and we started noticing this early on.

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Approaching a hamlet

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House along the trek route

We crossed our first hanging bridge on this day (one of two hanging bridges that day).  It was not too high (I am not afraid of heights, thankfully) and it was certainly long.  We would follow this river all the way to near Namche Bazaar.  We also crossed another bridge, a truss one, that day.  I noticed that some parts of the route, as it passed through small “hamlets,” were paved with stones while others were dirt paths.  It was nice to have the variation in the route – just like it was nice to have all the uphills and downhills mixed.

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Approaching the Dhudh Kosi River and the hanging bridge

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Beautiful waters, courtesy of glacierland!

Buddhist faith along the route

Along the way we passed different-sized prayer wheels and collections of Tibetan tablets (in sanskrit) that are so iconic and that speak to the concreteness of the faith in that region of Asia.  I tried to not miss spinning prayer wheels and we certainly made sure we passed the “monuments” on their left as tradition/faith requires.

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Sanskrit tablets and a stupa

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A prayer wheel asking to be spun

A hiker has to eat!

Along the way we stopped for lunch at a beautiful spot where the route made a 90-degree angle.  The place, the Wind Horse Lodge and Restaurant was a perfect spot, idyllic, for the stop.  We sat outside at tables on the small lawn, graced by marigolds along the edges.  Until clouds rolled over and it started getting cold.  We promptly found tables indoors and the lunch was pretty darn good:  fried noodles and rice along with fried mini empanadas (my Latin roots betray me as that is not what they call them there!).

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Lunch!

Ending our hike in Tok Tok

Bellies full and feet rested, we proceeded on our hike.  I try on these treks to not study the route we are going to take as I don’t want to be “expecting” the next stop or calculating how much longer we have to go – I want to enjoy the moment though, I admit, at times when I am feeling tired, I start trying to figure out how much longer I have to go :)

We arrived at our teahouse in Tok Tok (River View Lodge) and, as usual, it is a great feeling to hear the words “We are here” when we arrive at our resting place for the night!  It was a tiny spot nestled between a hill and the river.  I wish it had been a tad warmer to stay outside in the evening.

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My room at the teahouse

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The dining room (aka, hanging out room) at the teahouse

In the end, it was a spectacular first day trekking in the Himalayas and I slept well that night!  I leave you with one of my favorite views from that day!

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Just magnificent

 

Flying into Dangerous Lukla Airport in Nepal

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I recall seeing a few years ago a TV show about the world’s ten most dangerous airports. Tegucigalpa, St. Maarten and a few others made the list.  And so did Lukla, Nepal.  Lukla is the typical starting point for anyone trekking along the route to Everest Base Camp, or to other points in the Himalayas. The alternative to the 35-min flight to Lukla (LUA) from Kathmandu is a long bus ride plus a few days of trekking to reach Lukla. I was not thrilled at the prospect but there really was no realistic choice.

Heading to Lukla

The Lukla airport was built by none other than Sir Edmund Hillary himself in 1965 to facilitate developing the trekking business the local population needed; it was just a dirt airstrip until just 1999.  Flights in and out of Lukla (a town of a few thousand inhabitants perched high at around 2,840m / 9,300 ft above sea level) mainly fly in the morning when the weather and visibility are what they need to be for a successful flight (read: does not crash).  Only planes that can handle short takeoff and landings can operate from Lukla as the runway is only 1,500 ft long.  Flights can easily be canceled for the day if the conditions are not right which could be more than one day in a row, leaving hundreds stranded in this small hamlet.  So beyond the flight involving a “dangerous” airport, one gets to worry about will the flight even go and what happens to the rest of the itinerary if the day is bust…  In any case, there are several airlines that run flights continuously in the morning to and from Lukla.  It is like a bus service of sorts with planes making quick turnarounds at either airport to take advantage of the right weather.

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Boarding pass to Lukla

The domestic terminal in Kathmandu is small and easy once you get past the chaos of getting to the airline counter and checking in.  After being dropped off, we walk along a covered walkway to a building in the back past a new building under construction.  The old building was old indeed but it was functional.  Once the flight is called (other Lukla flights were called too), we stepped out and there were 2-3 buses awaiting to take people to their planes.  It was a bit confusing and finally someone pointed us to our bus based on our boarding pass.

The plane sat maybe 20 people and we were not full.  I got a seat on the left so I would be facing north (towards the Himalayas).  Unfortunately, the windows were very dirty which assured that photos would not be National Geographic material (that is my excuse anyway…).  Gosh, if they’d let us, I would have gotten off the plane pre-takeoff and cleaned my window!

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The taller Himalayas via dirty window

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At times, the ground was not far below us…

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Small village – one can see the local stupa left of center

Before taking off, the flight attendant (yes, there is one) checked our seat belts were fastened and handed out hard candy (to choke on when the plane jumped?? no, thanks) and cotton balls for our ears.  That and getting us in and out of the plane was all she had time to really do on such a short flight.

Dangerous Airport?

The danger reputation stems from the fact that the runway starts at the edge of the mountain and runs uphill (a 12% grade) until either the plane has stopped and turned or, it has met the wall.

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The full runway (control tower on the right)

I have read and was told by a pilot that part of the issue with landing is that the uphill nature of the runway (the far end being higher than the end nearer to the pilot) can trick the eye giving a false sense to the pilot of the aircraft’s vertical position before landing, potentially leading to accidents.

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A plane meets the wall

On the reverse (the takeoff), either the plane catches air at the end of the runway or it drops when the runway runs out until it catches lift.

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See what I mean about “up or drop” (Source: www.theaustralian.com)

Truthfully, and maybe naively, neither landing nor takeoff worried me. What worried me was the turbulence that can be encountered on the way to and from Lukla.  Not helping with things was the name of our airline:  Tara Air.  I was happy until someone pronounced it “terror” air which sent images flying all across my brain of a small plane jumping around due to high winds – a terror inducing ride ahead?  Tara Air, Lukla, Kathmandu, Nepal, flight, airline, airport, Himalayas, trekking

Upon boarding, I looked into the seat pocket in front of me and found the air sickness bag which left no doubt as to what its purpose was…Tara Air, Lukla, Nepal, air sickness bag, vomit bag

The flight into Lukla had gone very smoothly – no turbulence at all!  And then we started circling.  I was thinking to myself:  “so close and now we start circling” – was it weather-related, I wondered?  The delay turned out to not be about fog or weather issues and we experienced no turbulence. Lukla airport only has four parking spots for the planes so we had to wait for a plane to take off to get a spot.  The flight back from Lukla was also completely smooth giving me a 2-for-2 no-turbulence flights.

Back to landing in Lukla:  it was pretty darn cool as the small plane’s cockpit was open to us so we could see the runway ahead as we landed – or the mountains we were flying into before that!

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The view out of the cockpit

Leaving Lukla, the plane actually took off the ground before the runway ended so no drop was experienced, maybe to the chagrin of those in the plane who love roller-coasters – but not me!  Here is a video of my own takeoff – notice when we leave the runway before it ends (it is a noisy video so make sure you are not at max volume!).

In the end, as you may surmise, this was a far better choice than the bus and the walk :)  And now I can say I “survived” one of the world’s “most dangerous” airports!

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Happy flyer

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