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New Delhi, India


permalink written by  Alex Basaraba on April 22, 2011 from New Delhi, India
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You Know You're in India When...

Varanasi, India

You Know You're in India When.....

...you experience the easiest border crossing into any country over land yet?!?!?!?!?!? Really?!!?!?!
...men hold hands and sleep around and on each other comfortably and its normal
...you are engulfed by the stench of sweet diarrhea, bitter vomit, sour piss, destructive and rancid body odor, sewage, spice and curries, cooking roti, as well as diesel and burning ash all in the same breath.
...you are engulfed in the heat, drenched in sweat again as you step out of the shower.
...you are allowed to urinate anywhere. Literally, anywhere.
...you can eat the most unbelievable meal of butter roti, jeera aloo (spiced potatoes), cucumber raita (my favorite), and a coke for under $1.50 US and be STUFFED.
...you witness multiple children (or not so much children anymore, 10-15 years old), with their pants around the ankles in the Asian squat, shitting on the sidewalk.
...you cant move 10 feet without being asked if you want tuk-tuk, taxi, or where your from.
...criquet is life. You know you're in India when you walk by a park in the middle of the afternoon in one hundred degree heat and 20-25 grown men in their work clothes are playing an "official" criquet game in their long sleeve pants and work shirts. Refs and everything..."No! He was out!!!"
...you walk by a man lying in the road, splayed and not moving a muscle. Nor does he appear to be breathing, and not single person notices. Not even the policeman sitting nearby on the concrete divider.
...you've been waiting in line to get a train ticket for 15 minutes, and 2, then 3, then 4 people step in front of you because they can. There are no lines here, its about pushing in front and getting your hand in the tellers window so that you can be helped. After you finally force your way into your respected spot in the madness, and wait for 30 minutes you are told to go to the line next door. Repeat...As you approach that teller, you are told to go to the next line on the other side...Repeat...As you approach this teller, you are told to go back to the first line you were in. Repeat...As you get to the original line, you are told to come back at midnight, when they will sell you your foreigner train ticket.
...dogs, cows, know better than to wander in the middle of the road without looking or running. They have survival skills that far surpass any animal Ive seen at home. Im sorry to say, I'm not quite sure Juneau would survive long here...
...you can witness cremations 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year where the remains are then sloughed into a river that also collects the sewage from the nearby toilet and serves as bath water for people to "clean themselves" and wash their clothes daily.
...you are completely and utterly overwhelmed in every sense of the word in smell, sights, colors, sounds, heat, physical personal space and discomfort, yet you wish you were still there when you leave. Theres just something about it.
...you finally think you've met a local that is not actually selling you something for once. He asks why most foreigners seem rude and unwilling to carry on a conversation with him, and after 10 minutes of talking to him about traveling and all of the places he's been, he asks if you would like to make $15,000 in three days of work. Didnt bother asking what service I may be providing.
...you arrive at a McDonalds and not a single beef item is on the menu. The Maharajah Mac??? A bright orange chicken patty substitutes the Big Mac. Not bad....
...the sun appears bright red, and stunningly large. No sunrises compare to those in this part of the world.
...it takes 15 tries, literally 15 tries to find shoes that may match your size and purpose.
...you notice a group of men or women that have been staring at you for the last 2 minutes. You look over, they notice, but still can't quite force themselves to look away.
...you wear the same clothes for 2 weeks because its not worth ruining more than one set.
...you can see Bengal tigers uninhibited (even without radio collars) in the wild. There is not a lot that can compare.
...you cant hear your friend that is standing next to you in the street, as the loud speakers playing the Bollywood tunes on the sidewalk BLASTS at unimaginable volumes. No one seems to mind.
...people break out in uncomfortably but entertaining volumes and fits of singing.
...you can walk down the streets and 75% of the men have mustaches. Serious business.
...you are taken by the severity and devotion to religion as well as the intense and loaded history.
...diarrhea becomes a way of life. It's unusual when you don't have it.
...you feel like you've taken a step back to the '70's. The pleather and brightly colored shirts and jackets, jeans that are too tight, the gelled and slicked back hair and mustaches. Top that off with aviator sunglasses, and voila, its 1973 once again.
...the colors of the womens' saris have the ability to blind you. They are truly captivating.
...you are asked to show your passport and flight ticket 8 different TIMES before you can enter the aircraft to assure the government you are allowed to fly there!!!!
...you witness your tuk-tuk driver being screamed at by another driver, neither of them flinch, in order to express displeasure at the way he attained your business.
...you have to bargain so much that it loses its appeal. It just becomes work. And you can guarantee you are still being overcharged even though you have worked the price down to a third of what their original quote was.
...you offer what you think is fair for a service, the local names their price, and when you wont come down, they dont run after your sale. Its their way or no way.
...18 different languages are officialy recognized, yet 90 are named with even thousands of dialects noted.
...you can spend 2 weeks there, get fed up with it but cant wait to go back.
...you can spend 2 years there and have not even touched the tip of the iceberg in culture, language, sights, history, religion or cuisine.

permalink written by  Alex Basaraba on April 18, 2011 from Varanasi, India
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The Scientifically Advanced Examination of the Top 5 Johns Of the Northeast Region of the Himalayan Mountains Encountered Along the Ardous Hiking Journey From Jiri to Gokyo and Everest Following the Dudh Kosi River in the Royal Country of Nepal

Kathmandu, Nepal

Well folks, here it is. The contestants aforementioned were judged on a scale by one single and knowlegable proctor. His years of experience and critical nature in this subject allow for credit in the prized and rightly evaluated subjects. The competition was thick this year, and only the best survived the cut. Heres the breakdown. Each john was judged on a basis of 3 things; 1st and foremost, functionality. Secondly, every toilet was judged on its environment and surroundings. And thirdly, accessibility.

5th prize goes to a beauty in Dragnag, a town just after the Ngozumpa Glacier and a short hike from Gokyo. This satiatingly salient shitter sits near one of the finest tea houses in the area, the only we witnessed with carpet. In category 1, this john scored an 2. All signs point to mediocrity in functionality, whilst lacking only advanced amenities like a toilet bowl, and therefore a toilet seat, insulation and toilet paper. Category 2 is where this pot made up some ground. We'll give it an 3. Overlooking the wall of scree separating the town of Dragnag and Gokyo, the sheer cliffs are seen glistening in white on a clear and beautiful Nepali day in the Himalayas. If your lucky, Cho Oyu can be seen from the window slot. Lastly, accessibility reamins an issue for this callously contemplative crapper, as a short, yet challenging 3 hour hike ensues from Gokyo (about 2 weeks from the Jiri) for a score of 2. Better catch your breath before this one folks, we're squatting at about 4700 m.

4th place goes to the outstandingly obstinate outhouse high on a cliff overlooking the deep valleys of the lower foothills of the Himalayas. For functionality, we give this shiner a 3. Sitting three quarters of the way on the cliff, proper disposal is had through distance to the ground, and innately farmable land is fertilized. Its structure is a bit touch and go, but it does the trick. This beauty picks up a little resolve in its asthetic appeal and the rustic look it portrays; therefore, a 2 is justified. Peeking through the slats, the deep gorges of the valley demand respect as they pick their way through the low lying foothills of the legendary mountains. As for accessibility, a mere 2.5 hours from beaufiul Kharikola, steep altitude is gained, yet the highest point is reached early in the morning allowing for a relatively soft and gentle afternoon, therefore recieving a 3. This treacherously teetering toilet is a welcome respite from the steeps. Just be sure you place your feet in the correct places, as the consequences would be regretful.

Now for the medal winners. 3rd prize is rewarded to a real beaute...In the high hills of this uninhabited territory of toilets rests a gentle but lucid structure, a pile of rocks picked and placed with utmost care atop a high ridge of 3500 m Lamjura La pass in order to withstand strong winds and heavy snows. What this pristinely pallid potty lacks in amenities, it makes up in structure and asthetic appeal. Category 1? A four. Functionality in structural support and care taken through mother nature to provide bitter winds and cold to depreciate smell allow this languid and laxadasical lavatory to score a decent mark. As for Category 2? A four. This prize sits atop the Lamjura La pass, a beautiful stretch of uninhabited trail frequented by mostly local porters and villagers. And why you might ask does this toilet sit so low in the charts???? Accesibility. Arguably one of the toughest days in all 3 weeks, Lamjura La took a solid 9 hours to reach from Kinja and a total altitude of 1, 900m was gained. A doozie of a day and all we could squeeze out of the judge was a one. Saddle up and make it quick as the legs dont take kindly to the squat after a day like that.

Well here it is folks. Arguably the highest official john in the world, this cantankerously culpable can sits at 5,140m in the town of Gorek Shep and recieves the silver medal. Previously used as the base camp of Mount Everest this porcelain prize (it is wood really) has seen some of the mountaineering legends of old; Edward Hillary, the first to climb Everest with Tenzing Norgay Sherpa in his later expeditions as well as Ed Viesturs, Rob Hall and of course, the world's most famous climber Reinhold Messner, the first man to climb all 8000 m peaks. One can only wonder....I regret to inform you that I did not have the pleasure of using this magnificently average structure but admired its boldness in the treachery of the high hills. Functionality is average here, and deserves a 3. Yet, asthetic appeal make up for solid points...If you were to ignore the Nepali embarrassment for nudity and privacy by opening the outhouse door, you would be ecstatic to witness the beautiful Primo Ri (7,165m) in clear view, with Nuptse (7,864m), Lhotse (8,501m) and the big cheese to be seen through the slats of wood. A mere 2.5 hour walk will bring you to the base of the highest point in the world, Mount Everest (8,848m). We'll give ole johnny it's well deserved five. As for accessibility, again we struggle here a bit folks, as at 5,140m, it is apparent that some effort was indeed required to get to this beauty, but well worth it. A two....

And for the grand prize....The moment you have all been waiting for, the majestic boisterously bombarding bathroom of lower Namche. The numbers add up here folks. Arguably one of the best views from a toilet in all of the Himalayas, this john has it all. Lets break it down. Category 1, functionality. This tenaciously thriving throne boasts large numbers here for a few reasons. After crawling through a gate that appears to fit a small goat, privacy is surely had as it takes considerable effort to attend...A solid locking mechanism allows for a peaceful party and "when the door is a closin, dont come a nosin." Most notably, a pile of scrap wood shaving surrounds the feet platforms in the entirety of the interior for an especially sanitary and pleasant "cover-up." How thoughtful. A four. Peering out the perfectly placed jail-style window, (although its not an 8000 meter peak), Kongde at 6,091m boasts a steep and inviting face recieving the sun early in the morning and allowing for a stunning sunset at night. A 300 meter frozen waterfall is seen on the climbers left and looks terrifying to say the least. A four again...As for accessibility, the climb to Namche is steep and challenging, yet only lasts a mere 3 hours. Accessibility? A three.

Well there you have it. Your all inclusive, everything-you-need-to-know guide to the johns of the "Northeast Region of the Himalayan Mountains Encountered Along the Ardous Hiking Journey From Jiri to Gokyo and Everest Following the Dudh Kosi River in the Royal Country of Nepal." You're Welcome...

permalink written by  Alex Basaraba on April 1, 2011 from Kathmandu, Nepal
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A Day of Reflection in Order to Celebrate the Holiday: Obesity Day #1

Kathmandu, Nepal

It is apparently a well known holiday by my trekking companions in Australia and is required in Celebration of the breaking of refrain from spending money on decent meals, or abstinence from good food of any sort for any extended period of time. We have been talking about it since Day 3 on the trail, and it is finally here. Obesity Day as its better known, consisted of the things we have been craving for the entirety of the 3 weeks. The famous Bhagwati Bakery is one of my favorites and a must eat on Obesity Day. As I have been without decent cinnamon rolls, garlic rolls, and frosted cookies for most of Southeast Asia, this is surely a hotspot in my books, especially since they feature half off after 8pm. Honestly a bag full costs 140 Nepali Rupees (2 dollars) if you buy more than you can eat, which is just not fair. I agreed to help fulfill a friends dream of "the bucket." KFC does exist in Kathmandu along with Pizza Hut and both are considered upscale dining. As Felix ordered the 12 piece bucket of chicken, the guy at the counter asked for the next customer after us 3, not realizing that that was simply for Felix and Felix alone. I only conquered the 8 piece, but that was still a task in and of itself. Its tough on a body to fill it with meat after being vegetarian for 3 weeks (meat has to be carried up the mountain and 3 months old has been considered fresh). Spent the longest Ive ever spent at a KFC playing cards and going back for multiple Cookies and Cream Ice Cream Krushers. Not only were we the only Westerners in the restaurant, but we had a bucket each. Stares ensued from the restaurant and without shame...Next was the supermarket. Chips, candy, chocolate, juice, gummy bears, pistachios, and more candy. Sitting in front of the much missed TV, we ate until we could no longer move, which didnt take long. Movies were enjoyed all day and another trip to the bakery ensued. Great to be back....A bit overindulgent, and not good for the budget, but I'll be the first to say Obesity Day #1=Success.

permalink written by  Alex Basaraba on March 27, 2011 from Kathmandu, Nepal
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21 Days.....Part 3

Lukla, Nepal

Day 14: Gokyo (4790 m)--3 hrs--Almost 5th Lake but not quite because of a mini panic attack--2 hrs--Gokyo (4790 m)

Had a bit of a mini-panic attack today. To give myself credit, I held it together with the help of Felix and Krishna, but it was still a mini-panic attack. Gaining another significant amount of altitude, we showed up in Gokyo in the late morning. Deciding to summit Gokyo Ri the next morning due to clouds, we decided to continue on to the 5th lake past Gokyo, a mere 5 hours hike to Cho Oyu Base Camp. At this point, we could supposedly see Everest in clear sight off towards the east and agreed it would be a nice ascent and subsequent descent to further assist our acclimatization. We followed alongside the glacier for the few hours it took to get past 4th lake and on towards the 5th. At this point, I was heading downhill. I was running out of energy, was really tired, had a headache that wouldn't quit, and was feeling a bit out of it. I let the other 2 know I wasn't feeling so hot and that that was all I had for the day. Mini-panic attack ensues, I consider the 5-7 hours it would take to drop the 1000m, inevitably in the cold and dark towards the tail end of that hike and start to worry a bit. With Felix being a medical student, and Krishna having experience in the high mountains, they calmed me down, settled some of the worry and we began our way back, a bit disappointed of having not made it to the lake. It became apparent that the lack of sleep the last couple of nights and only having consumed 1 liter of water (Ive been pretty good at chugging down that water up to this point) at that point were most likely the culprits of my symptoms and that I was in no state to worry. Once we got back to the tea house, I ate lunch, drank some water, read for a bit and napped, and was back to myself. Its no surprise to me that worry runs in my blood. Wonder where I got that from???

Day 15: Gokyo (4790 m)--3 hrs--Gokyo Ri Summit (5463 m)--1 hr--Gokyo (4790 m)--2 hrs--Dragnag (4700 m)

Comparing my nights sleep to the previous two, only have gotten up to use the toilet 3 times, it was a fantastic snooze. Got up early to inspect the weather and determine if we were going to make the hike to the top of Gokyo Ri. Tough climb, really feeling the altitude and every 4 or 5 steps we were huffing and puffing, but everyone felt good. On one of our breaks, we passed an older German lady, around 65 we estimated who was resting on a rock. We had encountered her before a time or two and upon hearing her ever-lasting complaints about this and that, we deemed her the "wicked witch of the west." Speaking in broken English, she told us that she had made it about 200 m from the summit but was so cold that she turned her guide around and headed back down. Now she was near the bottom and looking to head back up. She attempted to pass us while we were resting, something Felix (The Dutch and the Germans kind of have "a thing" as I call it, a rivalry of sorts) simply couldnt allow. Having stripped our down coats at that point, our backpacks were half open (my coat not yet inside) he realized that she was going to step by and around us, and grabbed his half unpacked bag and coat and sped ahead. All I could do was follow. Once we got to the top, it was worth the laugh, "Could not let that older lady pass us, let alone that German older lady."

Absolutely incredible!!!!! This is one of the 4 points on our checklist, and turned out to be one of the best. Perfect weather, the mountains completely surrounding us, Everest in front, Nuptse and Lhotse in tow, with Cho Oyu down the glacier on the left and Gokyo town and lake far below. Having bought enough candy bars in Namche to have one on Gokyo Ri, Kala Pathar and Base Camp, we enjoyed the Snickers, the best Ive ever had (especially since it was partly frozen). Snapped tons of photos, and Krishna insisted in getting one with the mountains in the background and him in his skivvies.

Not only do the Germans have a stereotype of being "too serious," but the Dutch (claimed by Felix and he has a right to I suppose) have a tendency to be a bit cheap. We laughed at a Dutch man's comment that he was on a 4000 Rupee budget a day, about 4 times as much as we were on, and that he was having a tough time maintaining that. He also was surprised that their was no Wi-fi at Gokyo!!!! What kind of world is this turning into?

Day 16: Dragnag (4700 m)--3 hrs--Cho La Pass (5368 m)--2 hrs--Dzonglha (4830 m)--3 hrs--Lobuche (4910 m)

After getting a later start than we hoped for at about 6:20, we began the slow ascent up the valley above Dragnag to the base of the Cho La Pass, goal number two on the list. As their had been some snow 2 nights ago, I was a bit nervous about how much snow would be on the pass. Following suit of Felixe's Useless Random Fact of the Day, originally a joke, but became a daily requirement, I presented Alex's Limited Avalanche Safety Facts, which in turn became useless as well. There was little residual snow on top of the pass, a fact that didnt lessen the intensity of the climb necessarily, but made me feel better. Afterall, I was hiking in my Merrell Trainers, the same shoes I have been traveling Asia with for the last 5 months (exactly 5 months as of today by the way), and wasn't too keen on "booters" in the snow (what the Canadians apparently call stepping in 2-3 feet of snow and getting it in your shoes and soaking your socks) at this point. The rock face was steep and the boulder field looked pretty intense a few hundred meters above (with some rocks not looking like they were happy with the position they were in, some the size of small cars sitting on the edge) and we were tired. It was a tough climb, but upon reaching the top, we played the highest card game Krishna (and us of course but more notable for a Nepali that had done the climb 20 plus times) had ever played, (an Israeli card game called Yanif but the Nepalis have adapted it as well, and we just call it Krishna because we cant ever remember the actual name) a little celebration for making it over the pass. If the snow would have been too thick, we would have had quite the detour ahead of us.

Today was the longest and hardest day for me yet. The number of hours seemed endless and the altitude was tough on such a steep section. We decided to push on to Lobuche to avoid the one single lodge in the village before, as the sleeping situation was testy at best.

Day 17: Lobuche (4910 m)--2 hrs--Gorek Shep (5140 m)--2 hrs--Kala Pathar (5550 m)--1 hr--Gorek Shep (5140 m)

Making it to Gorek Shep early in the morning, we decided to hike the Kala Pathar summit today, assuming the weather held up. This was goal number 3 on the checklist and I can't believe it has been 2 and a half weeks. Surely my beard and BO tell the tale well, as I have not changed out of my long johns in about a week and a half, and that includes both night and day. This is a trip of personal records and they increase by the day. More on that later. After a light rest, we pack our bags with all of the clothes we own, a sleeping bag each and start up the slope to the summit of Kala Pathar in order to make it before sunset. As so much time is spent hiking, you can find a personal rhythm to the steps and breathing. Again, feeling the altitude and again, the path seems steep, but the steps are getting more and more fluid and the breaks are shorter and less frequent. We are trucking at this point. Upon reaching the top at 18, 204 feet in 2 hours, a record for Krishna in his 20 plus times, we feel great. I can believe the view, the closest yet Ive been to Everest and Nuptse, the beautiful beast just in front and to the right of Everest is breath-taking. As we get to the top, the wind is howling. I climb on my hands and knees to the little rock pile to mark the "summit" and realize that on the other side is a 400 m drop to the bottom. The wind doesnt make things any better and as Krishna attempts to snap a few photos of me, I question the necessity to do so. Krishna has a tendency to put everything he's got into snapping photos, something I respect, but when he is standing 2 feet from the edge of a 400 m drop, and is looking through the view finder focusing and re-focusing trying to get me in frame, I realize a picture isnt worth the trouble of informing his family of his fateful fall. But in that kind of wind, its somewhat difficult to express your concern, and I rush it along. In making such good time, we had time to kill before sunset, and it was spent huddling under the rock face trying to stay warm and out of the wind. Cant believe Im finally here....Enjoy the Mars bar, only fitting as its the highest point we will reach, the best Mars Ive ever had, and enjoyed the view. The sunset was spectacular, and not something I will even try and describe in words. The pictures are great but still don't do it justice. What a day. We finish the descent with our headlights, laugh at the unexpected ringing of Krishnas phone and call (at about 5300 meters) from Kaline to inform us she was back in Kathmandu and enjoy the massive double helping Daal Baht meal we order upon our return to the lodge.

Day 18: Gorek Shep (5140 m)--2 hrs--Everest Base Camp (5364 m)--1.5 hrs--Gorek Shep (5140 m)--1 hr--Thokla (4630 m)--1.5 hrs--Dingboche (4410 m)

Well today is the day. We finally reached base camp. And yes, it is a pile of rocks, something I had expected and heard over and over again. It was a pretty easy climb over the Khumbu Glacier and we reached the base in around 2 hours. Goal number 4, check. Amazing to see the camps being constructed, the porters (a common misconception is that Sherpas are the people that carry all of the gear for the expeditions. Sherpa is a tribe of people, and its apparently offensive to refer to all "porters" as Sherpas) hard at work with massive loads of crevasse ladders, wood and yak bags. We enjoy our grand slam candy bar, a Twix this time snap some photos, climb around on part of the Khumbu Ice Fall and revel in the fact that there really isnt much to see here. Nuptse towers above the icefield, and you can see the start of the whole infamous Khumbu Icefall leading to Camp 1, but Everest is shrouded by peaks in the front and clouds on top. There are few camps here so far, as we are a bit early for the expeditions quite yet but, as we head back down the trail, we are passed by about 60 yaks carrying huge loads for subsequent expeditions. Apparently yaks are highly defensive of the gear the contain, as Felix reached out to try and feel the weight of one bag not once but twice, to be "swiped at" by the yaks horns not once, but twice.

Began the long decent to Dingboche, down, down and down.

Day 19: Dingboche (4410 m)--3 hrs--(Tengboche (3860 m)--2 hrs--Namche Bazaar (3440 m)--4 hrs--Lukla (2840 m)

It was a day of epic proportions. And not in a good way necessarily. We hiked, and hiked and hiked some more. Steep downhill sections are hard on the knees and legs after 18 days of hiking, and mostly uphill. Upon a little misunderstanding and group tension when Krishna suggested we stay in Namche, Felix and I wanted to make it as far as possible to prevent getting stuck for 4 days in Lukla waiting for the weather to clear as some had done the previous days when talking to Kaline. We continued on, and on, and made it to Phakding, a mere 2 hours from Lukla. It would all have been okay, but this section was uphill, not something we were looking forward to after such a long day, and it began to get dark. Nobody spoke up that they were done, and we continued on. The sun went down, and out came the headlamps. At this point, I was hurting. I was dead tired and ready to call it quits for the day. I was honestly exhausted to the core, a point I havent reached often. The steep downhills and uphills after Tengboche and up to Namche, as well as up to Lukla had worn on my body and I was done. We walked on in the dark for about 30 minutes in silence, until we had a welcome respite from the quick and angered tempo Krishna held, a yak train of 8 followed by 2 old Nepali women, a man and a boy. We slowed in behind their pace, unwilling to try and pass in the dark as the path was not wide, and not sure what rested on the other side, some places with steep cliff edges. After 15 minutes of this, we came across a man, slumped over on the rock wall, and his little boy (around 8) perched next to him, with a clearly worried look on his face. It became apparent after a short sentence, the man was severely inebriated and couldn't stand, let alone walk the rest of the way to Lukla. Krishna helped him up, and the young boy followed in tow, with what appeared to be a full 70-80 liter backpack. The man, being assisted by Krishna, with his son, followed the yak train, and us shortly behind (me stumbling like I was drunk from exhaustion) for the remaining hike up the hill to Lukla appeared as a scene shot straight out of a movie. As we walked the streets through the outskirts of town, the people parted ways from the streets to let the yaks through. Everyone watched as the "motley crew" stumbled through the village. The drunk Dad and the boy exited off the path at some point, without a word, and we continued on to our guest house. It became apparent later, that if we had not come by, some locals eventually would have I assume, but the boy was clearly scared, the temperature dropping and he wasnt about to leave his passed out Dad on the path. The Dad had drank in Phakding and had made it about an hour and 15 minutes up the path to Lukla but had a fair deal to go to get there still. I barely managed a few bites of my Daal Baht before I retreated to the room and passed out myself. So happy the day is over.

Day 20: Lukla (2840 m)--1 hr flight--Kathmandu (1400 m)

Feeling much better today. Our flight is booked for 8, assuming the weather is good enough to fly. We show up to the airport at 7:30, and wait for someone, anyone to come to the single check in counter for our airline, Agni Air. The same rules dont apply here, especially when it comes to punctuality and getting things done. A small Nepalese man finally comes to the little counter, we hand him our tickets, and sticks our bags on the old school scale, to make sure they make the cut. Going through the "security checkpoint," which is simply a metal detector and 2 guards with machine guns, we continue on through to the "boarding area." 8 passes. So does 8:30 and at this point the clouds are starting to roll in a bit. All we can do is wait. Eventually after watching 3-4 planes land and takeoff again, our flight arrives, and we jump on board. The plane quickly spins around to the runway, turns a 180, to face the end cliff and turns up the engines. After the propellers reach maximum speed, the pilots release the brakes and we speed towards the end of the runway gathering air in what seems just in time. Clouds fill the sky around the mountains, and there is nothing to be seen, but still a great flight. After a short hour, we are back on the ground and the heat of Kathmandu. Maybe just me, but I dont think planes are supposed to be going that fast when they land, and Ive flown quite a bit. Doesnt help when the cockpit is clearly visible, and the co-pilot continuously adjusts and increases the throttle, and the pilot keeps adjusting lower than the co-pilot just set it at. Seems like home away from home.

Couple yet to come blogs.... Top 5 Johns with a View on the Trek, Obesity Day, Pokhara Paragliding and Puking (not me fortunately), and Chitwan National Park.

permalink written by  Alex Basaraba on March 26, 2011 from Lukla, Nepal
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21 Days.....Part 2

Namche Bazar, Nepal

Day 8: Surke (2575 m)--2 hrs--Lukla (2840 m)--2 hrs--Phakding (2610 m)--3 hrs--Chhumowa (2760 m)

Gained 700 m from Surke to Lukla in 2 hours. Not sure if we are getting stronger and more in shape but we're starting to make good time. Airplanes took off and landed over our heads, giving us a guage on how far we were to Lukla. Upon reaching the village, it felt great to be here, we met up with Krishna and all went as planned. Being without internet for a week and having had trouble booking my ticket from Delhi to Kuala Lumpur in order to get to New Zealand the night before we left, I had to try one more time before ticket prices went up too much. The first thing that popped up on the screen? ’Earthquake in Japan. Tens of thousands Dead or Missing’ Only days earlier, we discussed how we were oblivious to the world, and if some major disaster had occurred, we would have no idea. We couldn’t believe it…
In preparation for the trip, and going through all of our packing lists and things we needed, I was relentless in making fun of the “random things” that Felix was bringing…This included rope, shoe glue, clothespins, safety pins, 3 lighters as well as his jeans. Although he had a tough time leaving his jeans home, (seriously who packs jeans for a 3 week hiking trip in the mountains in March?), he thanked me later, as being unnecessary in weight and space. As for the other items, I ate my own words. Day 2, Kalines sleeping bag straps ripped off and her sleeping bag fell 200 feet down the mountainside, therefore using the rope. At 2 or 3 points during the trip, Felixes boots’ soles were ripping apart and therefore had to shoe glue them over and over. The safety pins were used by me to fix my sunglasses case to my bag, and the lighter was used to light candles in the lodges.
Keeping my mouth shut from here on out.

Day 9: Chumowa (2760 m)--1 hr--Monjo (2835 m)--2 hr--Namche Bazaar (3440 m)

It is Nick's 21st birthday, and Im thinking about home quite a bit. Missing family, friends and Juneau as well as the chance to buy Nick a "Prairie Fire" shot on his Bday (half tequila and half Tobasco), legally at a bar.

Lets talk about the Germans. It has become apparent that we are no longer alone on the trail, a luxury that I cherished over the last week. Hoardes of people, and mostly the package group tours of 12-15 people marched down the mountain at a quick pace, a strange feeling as we had 2 weeks of hiking left. A serious group of hikers, not one saying a word, dressed in long johns with board shorts over the top, their full polarized wraparound sunglasses, bucket hats and trekking poles came barreling down the mountain. Felix, in being from Holland, felt inclined to speak his mind about the German group on their way down. "Germans take life way too seriously, they even admit it themselves" he said with a bit of a chuckle and shake of his head. They were Germans no doubt and were on a mission. It was hard not to laugh at the severity in which they were hiking. Once we reached the bottom of the climb to Namche, the epicenter and main town in the Khumbu, we encountered another group, and we'll just assume they were German as well for the sake of the story. Upon chatting with them for a couple minutes, they pointed out that they "had a tough day today, so we knew we had to get an early start. We hiked from Monjo (about a 3 hour hike at their speed), so we left at 11 am." Not sure if its the previous week of tough hiking, but we were indeed feeling a little arrogant, and admonished their effort.

A couple highlights: steep and jutting Kongde (4250 m) in plain stunning view, Krishna's statement to my joke as he pointed out Everest far off in the distance at a rare viewing point early on ("What is Everest?" I asked him with a straight face. Confused, he tried to explain what the mountain was, shocked that I "didn't know." Once he realized I was joking he told exclaimed "You must smile, actually......before you say that, you know. So I know you joke.")

Day 10: Namche Bazaar (3440 m)--1 hr--Everest Hill View Lodge (3880 m)--1 hr--Khumjung (3780 m)--1 hr--Namche

Acclimatization day in Namche. Took a couple side hikes to a couple of the view points. Beautiful day, the sun is shining, and I have never seen mountains like this. I am in awe and sound like an idiot merely repeating "Wow!" Some of the legends can be seen from here and we are surrounded by mountains, a number of them over 8000 meters. A number of mountains seen from here include Everest, Kusum Kungaru, Kumbila (the holy mountain), Lhotse, Nuptse, Tamserku, Kongde......Unbelievable.

But the real highlight resided in the small town of Khumjung. After an expensive lunch (its all relative here folks, but the food starts to sky rocket as you go further up the mountain as porters have to haul in the food on their backs or yaks), we made our way to the Khumjung monastery, famous for one thing. After depositing the 10 Nepali rupee donation to the monastery, the "guard" opened up the cabinet sitting in front of the prayer mats and candles. Not only did we get to support the monastery, but we got to see what I believe to be is the only Yeti scalp on display in the Himalayas. As the "guard" or (the "keeper of the Yeti skull" as I like to call him) opened the cabinet door, anticipation was palpable, as surely a bright shining light would explode from the cabinet, and the yeti face would glare back at me, its teeth clenched in a mid-roar, the skull about 4 times the size of a basketball..................Low and behold, there was no shining light (aside from the candles) and there was no "head" persay. All that remained was a slice of the top half of a skull with reddish and brown hair protruding from the bone. Sheer disappointment. For more information, and a chance to see the exact skull, search Wikipedia's information on Yeti, and a picture will pop right up.

Day 11: Namche Bazaar (3440 m)--2 hr--Mong La Pass (3975 m)--1 hr--Phortse Tenga (3675 m)--2 hrs--Dole (4100m)

Upon arriving in Mong La, after a tough uphill morning gaining about 500 meters (1, 754 feet) in 2 hours, Im starting to feel the altitude, with my feet not following orders and my steps a bit off(I suppose it could be the clumsiness of the size 14s as well, but a little more noticeable). Kaline decided to stay in Namche, the pain in her knee becoming too great and she would decide to hike back in a couple days, unable to go on and understandably disappointed. We stopped for lunch in Namche, clearly beating the crowd as we move into the bench of the tea house, as the table down from us contains 8 place settings, complete with a tea mug, hot thermos', chopsticks, napkin folds, plates and silver, and water glasses as well, surely more preparation than anything we've seen from a Nepalese tea house. The group showed their faces only a few minutes later, exhausted and happy it's lunch time (full catered rice and soup, tea, vegetables and fruit). 8 or so Japanese men and women stumble their way in, and plop down on the benches, a couple of them high-fiving, the leader clearly jovial and chatting away. Most noticeably, one older woman sits apart from the rest, with her head in her arms, and appears dead to the world. We thought about our recent news of the breaking story of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. We asked Krishna under hushed voices, whether or not their Nepalese guide thought they knew. Unconvinced about whether or not the information was conveyed correctly through the lines (kind of like a game of the elementary activity "telephone" I find in many instances), the guide didnt know what happened and we don't think the group knew either. It is completely feasible that they had landed in Lukla and had been without internet for the last 5 days as well, and it became something I thought about constantly. Would I want to know right away if that had happened in my home and would I want random foreigners to inform me? As we played tag with the same group over the next week at the occasional lodge every other night, it weighed heavily on my mind but decided against saying anything. Still to this day we are unsure if they had known the news already.

Day 12: Dole (4100 m)--2 hrs--Luza (4390 m)--1 hr--Machherma (4440m)

Wells its official. Today marks the highest altitude I have ever been in my life, previously Colorado's 14ers, Gray's Peak at 4,350 m(14, 270 feet) and Torrey's Peak 4,349 m(14, 267 feet). At this point, the distances of hiking become much shorter, a nice change in the long days we experienced in the first week of hiking. As opposed to distance, it becomes about how much altitude is gained in one day, the elevation at which you slept the night before and what elevation you plan to sleep that night. The rule of thumb is to ascend no more than 400 m of sleeping altitude in one day, especially once you reach 4000 meters. Felt like we were hiking in the Lord of the Rings Mountains today, the fog so thick you cant see around the next corner and the hills low, no trees in sight (somehow didn't notice our rising above tree-line in the last day or so), with bare yellow grass and rocks engulfing the hillside. It is starting to get rather cold and the mud became thick (you know your in slick terrain when you purposefully step on semi-frozen piles of yak shit in order to gain some traction).

Attended the daily Altitude talk in Machherma this afternoon, put on by 2 doctors from the UK and one from South Africa. They established the different types of altitude sickness and how to distinguish symptoms, as well as what to do when you start to feel sick. From here on out we are informed we will pee more, get headaches, start to feel more and more light headed and clumsy, things we have already begun to experience. We have now officially entered what is called "Death Valley." This area is frequented by many uneducated low-land porters, not experienced in high altitudes, and once altitude sickness hits (HAPE or HACE at much more of a risk), it is essential to descend the recommended 500-1000m as quickly as possible. In this area and higher up to Gokyo, it would take a considerable amount of time to descend that recommended altitude as the ascent up to Gokyo is slow and steady, a factor that is not encouraging as I have started to feel the effects. I have experienced the symptoms before, being from Colorado and I was just waiting for them to return, most likely being a bit over-sensitive, but it is something thats on your mind.

Other notables: From here on out, dried yak shit is used to fuel the stoves in all tea houses, a unique aroma but warm none-the-less. There are rats in the paper thin ceilings and walls, and a question arises. How the hell are they still living up here? Ive concluded that rats must acclimatize well and have supreme cold-withstanding capabilities.

Day 13: Machherma (4440 m)--1 hr--Phangaa (4480 m)--3 hr--Gokyo (4790 m)

After tossing and turning all night long, I resorted to the ipod. When I resort to the ipod to try and coax myself to sleep, I know I'm in for a long night. In trying to conserve batteries to allow for my occasional "downer days," I use it sparingly and it has become part of my "pseudo teddy bear," a concoction of necessary electronic and essential goods that I stuff into my mitt every night and sleep with in my sleeping bag in order to prevent freezing (including at this point 2 camera batteries, contact case with contacts, contact solution bottle, ipod, and my cell phone just in case). Having to use the toilet 4 times in the middle of the night is always a miserable experience, and I resent leaving the warmth of my sleeping bag every time. Getting up, I felt rough. Stiff, tired, and with a bit of a headache, I stumbled to the cold and uninviting dining room to find Krishna awake, dressed and packed already, with a big grin on his face. "Good morning, how'd you sleep?" he asked. "Not so hot Krishna, about 5 hours total I think, moving a bit slow this morning." Without showing any emotion whatsoever, as if that was normal, "5 hours? Thats fantastic!" Insult to injury......

Today Cho Oyu (8201 m) graced us with her snow blasted and craggy face. Thats almost 27,000 feet, and was one of my favorites. She sits at the end of the valley and a chain of lakes, at the end of the Ngozumba glacier past Gokyo, seemingly a dazzling show behind the curtain of clouds that parts every once in a while. It is the 6th tallest mountain in the world and according to Krishna has only been climbed 2 times from the Nepal side, as it is extremely technical and difficult. The Tibet side is the route taken and has been summited many times.

permalink written by  Alex Basaraba on March 15, 2011 from Namche Bazar, Nepal
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The 21 days of hiking: One small story a day

Jiri, Nepal

Day 1: Kathmandu (1400 m)--8 hours by bus--Jiri (1905 m)--4.5 hours--Shivalaya (1770 m)

Getting up at 4:20am after about 3 hours of sleep, we walked the half hour to the bus station in the dark and in silence. The 8 hours it took to travel the mere 200 km were filled with as much excitement as could be had on a bus ride over whats considered in a western country “untraveleable terrain.” Because of the fact that we had bought our bus ticket the day before the journey, and the fact that we had “picked” the front seats of the bus in order to avoid both constant jarring and seats that don’t accommodate a 6’3” person, it was assumed the bus ride would be quite uneventful. To start, I realized quickly it was ignorant to assume once again that requesting the front seat of the bus would actually get me that seat and that the locals followed the seating order. I staggered to the middle to latter half of the bus, plopped down by the window and tried to sleep for a few minutes. As we traveled through the city, crawling through the honking and chaos that is Kathmandu, we stopped again and again to let others on the bus, a man with his bundle of vegetables he had picked for transport crawling in next to the driver, and the little boy sitting next to his grandma that was holding his puppy wrapped in a blanket. As we left the city a particular scene caught my eye. Outside my window, in the block square houses that inhabit the outskirts of a Kathmandu, an older couple were sitting on the porch of there house. The woman, sitting in the chair in her traditional dress was holding the hind legs and tail of the white goat propped between her legs. The man, bent over the goat was holding its horn on one side as he raised the foot long machete in the other hand. I failed to catch the final blow as we sped past, but the imagination fills in the blanks rather quickly, a sight that alerted my senses at 5:15 in the morning. As we came closer and closer to Jiri, the Himalayas skirted in and out of view, literally TOWERING over any of the other landscape in sight. This sight was interrupted as commotion started towards the front of the bus. The 4 or 5 people surrounding the boy and the grandmother were nudging and kicking at something, voicing their opinion strongly about the situation. The dog had wandered off down the aisle and stepping over the many bags strewn on the floor, had attempted the dreaded squat. The attention of the grandma was gathered quickly as the dog was moved back to their feet where it proceeded to shit right on the floor. The bus slowed to a stop in order to allow the grandma to throw the turds out the opened door. She wrapped the bag she had used to remove the feces into a ball, threw that out the door and without a word, sat back down for the remainder of the ride to Jiri. Upon arriving to Jiri, we were informed we had missed our bus to Bandar, and were instructed to wait until the next day at that time, or begin the one day walk to make up lost time. The first day of hiking begins.

Day 2: Shivalaya (1770 m)--5.5 hours--Bandar (2190 m)--3 hours--Kinja (1630 m)

Upon our rise for the 4 hours up and over the Deurali Pass (2700 m), we were tracked down by a group of 7 or so kids all under the age of 12. They were extremely excited to see us and were eager to initiate conversation in order to practice their English. They were on their way to the village of Goli for a family wedding, about a 6 hours walk over the pass and near Bandar. “Smoke? You want smoke?” one of the boys (not more than 10 years old) asked, lighting his cigarette as he “ran” up a trail that we struggled to climb. I didn’t try hard to hide my chuckles, as surely it wasn’t apparent to them how much we were struggling up the mountain already. They hiked with us for about an hour and a half until they were tired of waiting for our much slower pace. Another group that passed us, heading the same way as the boys were the wedding party themselves. 7 or 8 people, the women beautifully dressed, and the “groom” unmistakeable as he hiked in what appeared to be his best dress clothes, (a suit jacket and pants, his traditional Nepali hat and bright necklace and lei decorations around his neck) moved past us with laughs and smiles, their fluid Nepali sentences covering up our gasps for air in the heat of the day. 2 more were in tow, a man with his phone out utilizing its’ mp3 feature, playing the distorted and static Nepali song over the loudspeaker, and the other with a strap around his forehead used to carry the suitcase on his back, what we assumed to be changes of clothes for the bride and groom for the “honeymoon.” Another long day, in hopes of making up some lost time by missing our bus in Jiri to Bandar in order to meet Krishna in Lukla on time.

Day 3: Kinja (1630 m)--3.5 hrs--Sete (2575 m)--1.5 hrs--Dakachu (2985 m)--4 hrs--Lamjura La (3530 m)

Toughest day yet. Hike for 9 hours and gained 1,900 m (6232 feet), a fact that worried us a bit, after hearing so much about concern for properly acclimatizing in this region. Yet there was not much choice. We saw our first snows today and a couple hours from the top of the Lamjura La pass that sits at 3520 m (11,546 feet), the weather took a turn for the worse. The wind picked up and the snow blew hard, requiring us to stop and put on all of the warm clothes we had, a bit nervous that we had to do this so early in the hike. Visibility was poor, we were all exhausted from such a huge increase in altitude and the steepness of the incline, as well as the time spent hiking, so we decided to stay put at a little homestay on top of the pass. It was a nice little family, a younger couple (the Dad speaking minimal English) and their little boy of the age of 6. As we entered the boy began mumbling to himself, clearly excited to see Westerners in his home, proceeded to rest his head on my lap and investigate everything about my hands and clothes, as well as begging for food from us as we ordered popcorn and Daal Baht for dinner. After watching for a bit, I expressed my concern that maybe the boy was “slow” or “special.” Both Kaline and Felix thought this was hilarious, as Felix explained that he was just like that as a kid. But as the night wore on and having witnessed the kid chasing a chicken by himself outside, whooping and screaming, as well as him forcefully attempting to follow Kaline into the bathroom, I wasn’t convinced. It became a running joke throughout the rest of the hike. The introduction to gaining so much altitude in one day and remaining there for sleep was quick. The lightheadedness begins, a headache, but the bathroom runs are the worst, especially in fresh new snow, especially when its 3-4 times a night. We were at a low enough altitude to not give it serious concern, but the recommended gain in altitude once you hit 3500m is gaining no more than 400 m of sleeping altitude. So inevitably, I was a bit worried already, and the bathroom stops didn’t help. Stumbling out of my sleeping bag with my headlight on, and full long johns to boot, I resented every second of attempting the climb down the stairs and outside to pee in the freezing of the night. I resented it even more when I found the doors to the sleeping house we were in were locked, the only bathroom being the wooden outhouse outside. A little caught off guard, I decided that I would have no choice but to pee in the corner of the room, but allowed one last effort to check the windows. Luckily (for the owners sake I guess) one window was open, and I jumped out in haste to take care of business. Turns out that we had spent the night with the families entire food store in sacks in the middle of the 1st floor room and they found it necessary to lock us in, or the thiefs out, so their food was safe. It was claimed that “Today was a good day for a shitty day.”

Day 4: Lamjura La Pass (3530 m)--3.5 hrs--Junbesi (2700 m)--5 hrs--Taksindu La (3071 m)

Its probably about time to inform you on how our eating schedule works. As Ive said before, having a budget does not coincide well with my appetite, especially since we’ve been hiking for 8-9 hours a day. Generally getting an early start at about 6 or 6:30, we pack up our sleeping bags, get dressed and have breakfast, generally hoping to be walking by 7 or 7:30 at the latest. The trail throughout the entirety of the hike is scattered by tea houses and little villages every few hours, an aspect that makes the experience comfortable and in some cases less exotic. But it turns out that we encountered only a few hikers the whole first week on the trail and never stayed in a tea house lodge with anyone else until almost to Lukla. With villages every few hours, we adopted a grand eating pattern. Breakfast at the lodge we slept in, and 2nd breakfast about 2-3 hours later. 2-3 hours after that was 1st lunch. If we had it in us and were hungry, 2nd lunch commenced a few hours after that and we finished with dinner at the place where we would decide to quit for the night. It surely fit my hunger schedule, and Felixes as well, and provided a nice little break from the steep uphill sections. Food options generally involved the local staple Daal Baht (rice, veggies, potatoes, curry and lentils), fried noodles and egg or veggies with Yak cheese, muesli with milk in the mornings and Tibetan Fried Bread for a snack…..Saw Everest for the 1st time on our trip. I was ecstatic! Until we realized that that wasn’t Everest, it was Mount Numbur. Then upon reaching a village called Phertung, THAT is Everest….Again, ecstatic! But which one is it? We never did pick it out, as knowone spoke English in the area we rested, but it was there somewhere according to the map, not clear as would be assumed since its the tallest in the world. Cant believe we are hiking all the way to it, it seems like lightyears away…. Enjoyed the stockpiles of hard candies we brought, as well as the conversations to pass the day. Dry foothills that look like home, to dry and bare slopes, to deep pine forests of the high hills at home to the dense woods that remind me of Oregon….The terrain changes are amazing and frequent.

Day 5: Taksindu La (3071 m)--2 hrs--Nunthalla (2390 m)--4.5 hrs--Kharikola (2040 m)

The Jiri part of the hike is known for its steep up and down sections, a constant movement, with little flat ground on the trail to enjoy. It became apparent after the first week that they weren’t lying. For the second time in two days, we slept in what we thought was the village we had planned on, but found out after walking half an hour the next morning we were not quite there. It plays tricks with your head and affects your mental being. 4th night in a row that the room (generally a dorm style) charge was 10 Nepali Rupees each, equivalent to about 7 cents American. Im not sure I will ever surpass this record. Lodging is cheap, but the food is where the lodge owners make their money…On average in the Jiri section of the hike, I spent about 800 NPR a day including the room ($11.50 USD), a shockingly low amount. Enjoyed my last shower (cold of course) for the next 3 weeks in Kharikola, a welcome respite from the increasing heat. Card games and books fill the late afternoons and evenings.

What I learned about Holland today: High school is considered grades 7-12 (combining our junior high and High school); assisted euthanasia (strict regulations) is legal upon two doctors recommendations if the patient is beyond improvement and in severe pain; legal heroin is provided at centers with clean needles for those that are addicted thereby decreasing drug-related crimes, transmission of HIV through dirty needles, and availability to kids by decreasing the black market for it; traditional Dutch cooking involves lots of bread (bread with butter and chocolate sprinkles or flakes), potatoes and meat; “real Dutch mayo cannot be compared to anything in the States,” (something I will have to confirm someday); meals are at 6, generally no sooner or later; that Queens Day is a mix between Saint Patricks Day and Mardi Gras and is a hell of a party that I need to someday visit; and Dutch ovens that we used as kids hunting in the mountains arent really Dutch.

Day 6: Kharikola (2040 m)--2.5 hrs--Kari La (3145 m)--2 hrs--Pai Ya (2730 m)--2.5 hrs--Surke (2290 m)

I read on a travel forum sight that the worst possible songs get stuck in your head on a long hike like this. I wondered before we started what those might be and I wasn’t (or was depending on how you look like it) disappointed. The terrible list included Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing,” Justin Biebers’ “Baby” (not sure why but this one wouldn’t leave), Eminem’s “Watch Me Burn” and The Beatles “All I Need is Love.” Quite the eclectic mix that inspired the Mount Every Dream’s Album, but more on that later.

Also, I kept track of the food that I craved every day, and compiled this list: McDonalds M&M and Oreo McFlurries, Dairy Queen “Snickers Blizzard” (noticing a trend here?), any and every fruit, KFC chicken, Cheeseburgers, Sharp Cheddar Cheese, Snickers, Twix, Mar Bars, Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwhiches, the Kathmandu Bakeries’ items, Fruit Loops, Baby Ruth candy bars, and Peanut Butter. Amazing the things you take for granted when you cant have them…

Day 7: Rest day in Surke….

Felix resented the rest day. After we had caught up with our “schedule” that Krishna made us in order to meet him on the planned day in Lukla, we were a mere 2 hours from Lukla, and had a day to spare. Clearly wanting to stay in a smaller and cheaper village than the touristic Lukla, we decided to screw around in Surke, but Felix confirmed that this was not acceptable. He couldn’t live with the fact that we weren’t hiking that day, just out of principle. Much to his dismay, neither of the rest of us wished to continue hiking for the sake of hiking. We have 2 more weeks of this. I enjoyed the much needed and deserved day off reading and playing cards.

permalink written by  Alex Basaraba on March 7, 2011 from Jiri, Nepal
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Kathmandu, Nepal

Not wanting to impose on Krishna, I moved to a guest house just outside of Thamel (the main backpackers tourist area) for the remaining week and a half that I spent in Kathmandu attempting to prepare for the long planned trekking trip. I was also waiting to here from a friend, Felix, a Dutch guy I met in Vietnam whether or not he was actually going to show up to Nepal and if he had similar interests in the hike I wanted to do. Getting as much information from people as possible about which area to trek in, how to do it cheaper than expected, and what gear I needed exactly was an adventure in itself. Trekking companies are everywhere here, independent salesman trying to sell their services on the street are an uncomfortable inconvenience as you try to make it from point A to point B anywhere within Thamel. I found myself gravitating towards all of the bookshops in the areas, as well as some of the trekking shops to look for cheap outdoor gear. Over the next week or two, Felix showed up with his Canadian travel partner Kaline, and we sorted out everyones interests for what the “trek” entailed. Wanting to escape the normal trekking route, and being overambitious as I am, I pushed for not doing it with a organized company (as much as hot tea in bed, hot washing water in the morning and completely cooked and catered meals sounds nice, Im going to the mountains for 3 weeks for Christs sake), for bussing into a little town called Jiri and hiking a week into where most people fly to (Lukla) as well as including a loop called Gokyo that most don’t choose to do. The normal trek is about 12-14 days and people fly in and out of Lukla, only going to Everest Base Camp and down. This sounded to cliché for me and I wanted a bit of an adventure, trying to avoid the crowds while doing so. Kaline and Felix agreed all of this sounded great, but also admitting that they had not spent a ton of time in the outdoors or hiking. We eventually worked out a way to hire Krishna on as our “Guide/Friend” but only after the first week as he had prior engagements. He would fly into Lukla and after hiking the week from Jiri, we would meet him there. The next 4-5 days consisted of finishing touches on the preparation stage as well as buying or renting all of the necessary gear to do this. Turns out growing up in Colorado is at least good for having an idea of whats in store in the mountains in March and considering we have all been traveling in tropical places (SE Asia for me and Felix and Australia for Kaline and Felix the previous 3 months), we were extremely unprepared in terms of clothing and supplies. In addition to the abundance of trekking companies, the guideshops and merchandise for mountain hardwear and clothes riddles the Thamel area. Its all about finding the right price for decent enough quality. Everything is marked North Face, Mountain Hardwear etc… but it is well known that most of it is fake, or reproduced. Some of the coats, clothes and backpacks are of decent quality but you have to know what to look for, something I cant claim much success in. But we did our best, found decent deals and bought everything we needed from talking to people that had done the trek already, consulting Krishna and doing our own reading. As well as preparing for the hike, I enjoyed spending my time playing around with my new camera, parusing the different bookshops and eating well. A couple favorites included the Tibetan Water Buffalo steamed or fried Mo-Mo (similar to a Russian perogie or Ukranian pedihedh), Buffalo Chowmein, the local staple Daal Baht (rice, potatoes, veggies, curry and lentil goulash that you mix together and devour, as well as the Tibetan soup Thukpa. 2nds are expected upon ordering Daal Baaht and remains one of the only dishes that can fully fill me up, so you can guess, thats where my stomach mostly took me. (My appetite constantly conflicts with my budget, but what can you do?) Power cuts are the norm here. It is said that Nepal exports more power to India than it can produce for its own use and therefore performs what is known as “Load Cutting” where a random and seemingly haphazard power cut schedule ensues daily.  It is common to be eating a meal in the lights, when the power shuts off unexpectedly, and waiting for the owner to come around with candles to light the tables. Some places use generators, but even then, the light is less than sufficient. Walking through the city back to the guest house in almost complete darkness is something I have never quite gotten used to, the dogs becoming a little more bold and the shadows appearing a little darker. Carrying my headlight with me at all times is generally necessary when enjoying a dinner out, as well as planning around the power cuts when charging your electronic devices like your camera battery, phone or ipod. It surely adds a whole new aspect to doing anything in Kathmandu, and amazes me that this has been life for the locals for almost 10 years now.

I had an exciting little adventure just before I left on the trip….As I walked out of my guest house, and proceeded down the alley, I was quickly made aware that it was time to wake up a bit. About ten kids ages 7-12 had strung up a rope across the entirety of the alley and were standing in front of the rope, waiting for people to pass by. As I had heard many stories in Cambodia about the street kids surprising Westerners by jumping and holding onto them, as another came by with a knife and cut the straps of their bags and stripped their pockets, my mind instantly took a trip to that scenario. They wanted money and I decided rather quickly to try and push past them. As I went to one side, they all tried to congregate around me and I quickly switched to the other side and ducked the rope as the kids tried to grab ahold of my bag and shirt. I managed to get through rather easily, but was shocked to say the least. I continued on through and a local man walking up the street nodded to me to turn around. As I turned, the kid that had been following me realized I saw him and snuck back away to his “team.” I found out later that it had been a local festival that day, a day to celebrate the Hindu God of Destruction, Shiva, and it is one day the kids are allowed to beg openly, a fact that explained my encounter, but still left me a bit surprised. After completing our Trekking permit (TIMS) and our Sagarmatha National Park Pass as well as the bus ticket, we were close to ready for the trip. We managed to eat well before we left in anticipation of the upcoming weeks and Felix insisted on a Mars Bars, KFC and Pizza Hut diet to "put some weight on this skin and bones."

Felix, flexing his new gloves and gear (didn't realize they were bright hot pink due to the power being out in the store and not getting a sufficient look at the color)...

More on this later. Getting the pics updated as well as the hike itself but is clearly taking awhile. Stay tuned.

permalink written by  Alex Basaraba on March 6, 2011 from Kathmandu, Nepal
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Where do you come from, where do you go? Where do you come from Kathmandu?

Kathmandu, Nepal

Well it has been over a month since my last post, and how the time has flown. I will start from the beginning. Nepal is one place that I have wanted to visit from the start, when I first started thinking about this trip and with a little extra cash saved up, I was able to make that happen. Upon going to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to get my Indian visa so I could transfer through on my flight (most flights to Nepal are through India) I was shocked to find out that as of a year ago, the government mostly refuses giving Indian visas to non-locals. (I guess I should check the dates on those online forum posts a little closer) Slight panic ensued. The tickets were already booked and all I could think about was being turned around once I got to India and possibly even worse, being thrown in Indian jail for not having the proper visa (a bit dramatic I know). Upon doing more research, I decided to change my flight from Kuala Lumpur to Delhi so that there was only a 10 hour layover in Delhi rather than a 24 hour, emailed the US consulate in Delhi and asked there advice and hoped for the best….Only so much you can do right? I arrived at the airport in KL and upon waiting for an hour in the check in lines, the young man at the counter looked at me with a reserved indignance, exclaiming I had to show my Indian transit visa or I wouldn’t be allowed to board. This time a little more advanced stage of panic ensued…”There has to be someone I can speak with!” After much deliberation and careful debate with the manager of Asian Airlines at the ticket counter (so as not to make her angry, she looked a bit temperamental) as well as producing the torn itinerary of my flight from Delhi to Kathmandu, she stamped the ticket, marked my bag and let me through. This was only the beginning of a LONG 2 days. The flight to Delhi was relatively uneventful and didn’t take longer than a few hours. I informed one of the flight attendants of my issues with getting my checked bag in luggage (have to have a visa to pass immigration to get to baggage claim) and she helped me work things out. Apparently, this happens all of the time, but it sounds like they are trying to change the rules so that this is no longer normal procedure. Upon landing, I was escorted to the Transit area, an area with 30-40 seats mostly filled with other travelers in the same predicament, and told to wait until the morning. My flight wasn’t until about 8 am the next day and I spent the 12 hours reading and trying to doze a bit. After a long night of an hour or so of sleep, another attendant brought my new Itinerary and boarding passes and I was allowed to filter through to the main terminal, eat some much needed breakfast of Dominoes breadsticks (missed those) and waited the few hours until my plane. I arrived in the hustling bustling city of Kathmandu about midday and met up with the Nepali guy I was going to be couch surfing with, Krishna. I followed him to his apartment outside of the main touristic part of Kathmandu known as Thamel in order to shower and get some food. At this point, I have come to accept the fact that I will only get a hot shower one out of every ten showers I take as generally the facilities don’t offer a water heater, or because there is something wrong with it, and this was no different. Using a bucket of water that was stored in the bathroom from the morning when the running water is turned on for its short period of time, I “showered” with only minor difficulties,certainly much needed after the 35 plus hours of travel time. Exploring the city with Krishna a bit over the next few days was great, cuisine always one of my favorite aspects. We got along well and getting to see the “real side” of Kathmandu was amazing.

permalink written by  Alex Basaraba on March 3, 2011 from Kathmandu, Nepal
from the travel blog: What could possibly be next?
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Pics Update

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

The pics are almost done. Have some updates on Vietnam, Singapore and now Malaysia. Copy and paste the URL.


permalink written by  Alex Basaraba on February 17, 2011 from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
from the travel blog: What could possibly be next?
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