Thursday, 30 April 2009
Day 4 of trip, day 3 of trekking! - not...
Same routine as ever. Breakfast, airport, security, bags weighed, more security and entrance to the departure hall. Overfilled with fed up trekkers who've been delayed for longer than they'd wished.
Another disappointing day sat in the airport departure hall at KTM being told our 8.30am flight was 'closed' again due to more bad weather at Lukla!!! Aaaarrrggghhh, I could scream. We sat on the now familiar metal seats a little bit more uncomfortable than previous days. We were close to the wee shop and Internet room this time though so folks were off doing various things. We'd set off for the airport a bit later today as we knew we weren't anywhere near a first phase flight! Today I'm not sure which flight number we were on but it wasn't or going anywhere anytime soon. There were a few glimmers of hope but alas no flying for the time being.
As we sat there more and more groups were entering through the security 'curtain'. Again lots of very interesting people were appearing like they'd been magicked there by Paul Daniels performing an illusion and opening the curtain. Among the people I noticed was a tall rather handsome looking bloke. Mousey brown hair, tall, lean, very handsome, wearing all the gear and looking very much like a professional. My beady eyes caught some sponsors logos on his Haglofs jacket and I made a mental note - UNDP, Glaxo... He must be a somebody! (I'll come to to Handsome Man in later posts!!) Then there were the various muscly, sporty looking men and women wearing marathon numbers. They were heading for a mountain marathon so were catching a flight to Pokhara - they'd be flying today for sure. Pokhara flights didn't seem to get cancelled.
After a few hours people watching, visiting the 'interesting' drop squat toilets, eating Lays crisps and chatting Emma decided to call 'the company' back in the UK. It would be 6am in the morning but we were at our wits end feeling so helpless at not being able to do something about the predicament we were in. She didn't get through to the right person - emergency phone contact number was switched off!! But however she did manage to speak to the main man, head boy, gaffer - Simon! Because of the mobile signal they couldn't really hear what each other was saying so she decided to text him. We've been stuck for 2 days so far, no chance of flying today, can he look into a helicopter for us? We'd discussed it after seeing a guy hold a sign up to say he needed a few people to fly our at $600 a pop. Andy went and had a word with him. He was definitely flying today. After discussions Andy reported that we could get a 5 seater helicopter for around $2800 each. We'd likely need 2 as there was 8 of us. This meant a few hundred pounds each. Were we willing to pay that? I decided yes as did a few others, some weren't so sure. All I knew was this was the rip of a lifetime and I'd probably never come back so I would do anything I could to get to those mountains!!
Simon and Emma exchanged a few texts back and forth. He'd said 'the company' wold pay $200 each towards the cos of a helicopter if we needed to get one. This eased us somewhat as meant we'd be paying about £370 each. Not too bad. We kind of settled ourselves and then games master extraordinaire Andy came up with some great games for us to play. Doc even contributed with a game of 7up. Fun fun fun. Best of all was our game of Charades that went on for over an hour I think! It was fab we even had a few locals and various trekkers stopping with quizzical looks on their faces wondering what the heck was going on. You could tell some of them so wanted to join in! Films guessed correctly were - Slumdog Millionaire, PS I Love You, Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone, X Men and Braveheart! What a laugh and it certainly took our mind of things for a while.
I noticed that the aiport seemed to be getting emptier as the afternoon was going on and then a large group of professional looking people passed back through the security curtain and Saran said that one of the men was an 18 times Everest summitteer - Apa Sherpa. We jumped up and tried to see but they were on their way out of the aiport. What my beady eyes didn't miss was the tall handsome bloke from earlier on was with that group - hhmmm interesting!! Shortly afterr this we were told that flights had been officially cancelled for today so at about 3.30pm we headed off back on the very familiar journey back to the hotel. We had been promised 200% by Banu that we would fly today too! Damn it.
Another night in this hotel -albeit a very nice hotel. But surprise! when we got back to the hotel we fidn out that Apa Sherpa and his team are there in the lobby. The team are in fact the Eco Everest Expedition team 2009 and they're on a mission to summit Everest and at the same time clean up rubbish from Everest and Base Camp. Apa Sherpa isn't staying at our hotel but we grab a few words and of course a group photo. Brilliant. He's a very nice man who now lives in Salt Lake City USA. This will be his 19th Everest summit if successful. I'm sure they will be. Handsome man was nowhere to be seen much to my disappointment.
Back to business. We all headed to mine and Emma's room as we were expecting a call from Simon in the UK. As we gathered the room was hot and there was a certain tension in the air. I hoped he wold miraculously come up with a plan and we'd all follow it. The phone call came through and we'd written down some points for Emma to raise. After about 20 minutes of conversation the phone call ended and she relayed info to us. Yes they were wililng to put $200 each towards the cost of a helicopter if needed; they would try to arrange alternative flights home for us on Sunday 19th April which would mean we'd only be 1 day behind on the trek; he would get a representative from Himalaya Expeditions (HimEx - our company in Kathmandu) to come along and speak to us to explain the situation of Lukla flights. This would be Sushil aka The Godfather! He arrived about 20 minutes later and we spoke to him in the hotel gardens. This was not a happy conversation, rather quite a frustrating one. He was a businessman who didn't quite grasp the efforts and expense each of us had gone through in order to fund the treks. He didn't understand the meaning of trekking to Everst Base Camp had to certain members of the team. He laughed off the suggestion that we should have been on first phase flights on that first morning. Apparently you need to book those fisrt phase flights a year in advance - contrary to what we were told at the airport! hhmmmmm. He's a fly guy were my thoughts. We didn't seem to be getting anywhere so it was left that we gave hom our passports and e-tickets and he'd try to get us on later Gulf Air flights home. Please make this work!
Saran suggested we get away from the talk of flights and helicopters as he still had hope that we'd fly tomorrow - for sure. We'd met 3 English guys at the airport who were also with HimEx and a trek guide called Kamal (who was meant to be our guide). They were heading to Rum Doodles at 6.30pm so we would head with them. Unfortunately our meeting wit Sushil had gone on and it was 7pm by the time we left the hotel. We made our way to the restaurant and ordered our drinks and food. The place was covered in large wooden/paper Yeti feet, each decorated individually by teams or people who'd trekked all over Nepal - mostly EBC. Traditionally done after a safe return back to Kathmandu from the mountains. Saran went a got us one and he'd written on it - Charity Challenge, Frequent Non-Flyers, April 2009 (an excellent name choice for our team). We each wrote our own wee messages on it. Mine's being 'Aw naw we're no there yet!... I'm starving! Angela (Braveheart)'. I'd been teased about this for a few days now. We had such fun decorating the yeti foot and the night was successful in taking our minds off the whole airport business. Well done Saran! We had even more fun trying to nail it to the only empty piece of wall we could find.
It was then back to the hotel. We headed for bed and the talk in our room was that we hoped and prayed the weather would hold and there'd be no need for that helicopter!! We can only hope...
'No, it is not remarkable that Everest did not yield to the first few attempts; indeed, it would have been a little sad if it had, for that is not the way of great mountains. Perhaps we had become a little arrogant with our fine new technique of ice-claw and rubber slipper, our age of easy mechanical conquest. We had forgotten that the mountain still holds the master card, that it will grant success only in it's own good time. Why else does mountaineering retain it's deep fascination'.
Eric Shipton, 1938 - Upon That Mountain.
'The road goes ever on and on down from the door where it began. Now far ahead the road has gone and I must follow if I can. Pursuing it with cougar feet, until it meets some larger way, where many paths and errands meet, and whither then I cannot say...'
'It is only the first step that is difficult'.
Marie De Vichy-Chaconne, Marquise Du Defend, letter to Defend, 1763.
'I've learned that everyone wants to live on top of the mountain, but all the happiness and growth occurs while you're climbing it'.
'What would life be if we had no courage to attempt anything?'
Sunday, 26 April 2009
Day 3 of trip, (and what should be) day 2 of trek
So here I find myself again doing the whole bus to the airport, escapade through security - no I've no matches or lighters and yes i did pack my bag myself. Back to the dingy departure hall where countless trekkers are again lining the seats waiting patiently for the flight to Lukla. There's quite an interesting mix of organised groups, independent travellers and Everest Expedition teams. Love it! We meet Rooster and Pasang again and have the familiar talk of think positive, we will fly today!! We are on flight Q today with Yeti airlines but... we're on the 3rd phase. Now to explain. Day one we were on the 2nd phase of flights. In each phase there are 4 flights (Yeti), the first flight goes at approx 6.20am if on time and then every half hour after that. This means that we should expect to fly at around 8.30-9am. Since we were on the 2nd phase flight yesterday and we did not land then we are pushed back to the 3rd phase today (or whatever flights are available) as people are already booked onto the 2nd phase flights. Anyway we all became experts in the art of timings and the flying of flight phases to Lukla.
Today we wait for a while and then are hopeful when we get called to the gate..... but nope, Lukla is closed is the message that comes through again. We grab a seat again before anyone else and sit there trying to be positive about flying out of Kathmandu today. Alas after much twitching and nervous looks by Saran, he tells us it's very unlikely that we'll fly - it's raining heavily in Lukla, but we have to wait until the flights are officially cancelled by Yeti and this will be at about 1pm - another 1 and a half hours away. Oh well, here we go again!
I wonder if we'll ever get out of this god damn departure hall?? What will Lukla be like when we eventually get there? How come Chris Bonnington and his gang flew today?? Cos hey were on first phase flights of course!! I get the drift now... to be sure of flying you really must be on the first phase of flights, you have the best chance of taking off and even better one of landing in Lukla.
We take the now familiar drive back to the hotel and Saran asks us if we want to visit the monkey temple. We all agree except Andy who has come down with some nasty bug. When divvying up the new rooms at the hotel we agree to let Peter and Andy take one of the suites as it has bigger beds.
About an hour later we set off for the monkey temple walking into the Thamel area of Kathmandu again and then getting into these two tiny Suzuki taxis!!! This was an adventure in itself. I'd sussed from our walks around the city and from driving in the bus that the road laws aren't exactly adhered too if there are any at all. Kate, Ruth and I got into the back of its little car with Daljit in the front. We bounced our way along the road which at times resembled a dirt track. Got stopped about half way with a truck that appeared to have been abandoned and cars and bikes were coming from all directions. I couldn't move for laughing. I mused to the girls that the law of the road appears to be whoever gets in front first has the right of way! Oh how we laughed...
As we were driving along you could tell we were going up higher and the views of the city were becoming fantastic. It was quite hazy - probably smog but the scene was lovely. The soundtrack to our city tours and drives was a constant beep beeping of car horns and the huck-tooing of people trying to clear their throats from the pollution. In fact I should have bought one of those medical masks a few people were wearing - maybe my cough wouldn't have got as bad. We eventually arrive at the monkey temple which is at the top of a very steep flight of steps. This is a test I thought to myself. Ok I'm up for it! We head up the steps which are covered in the prayer flags that have become a familiar sight now too. Scattered down each side of the flight of steps were some people selling their wares and then we come upon two little kids sliding down the concrete on a flattened plastic bottle - it's the simple things eh! We head up the steps stopping every now and again to take in the sights and capture the moments on camera. Then we reach the top. Wow - what a view!
It was quite peaceful at the top even though there were a lot of people milling around. We hung around for a while soaking up the atmosphere and taking lots of pictures then it's time to head back down those steps. Strangely they look steeper from the top. Time also too for another taxi ride back into town. This one doesn't seem too bad. During a walk around the city we decide to buy some maps of the trek and head into a map shop. The guy seems pleased that he's sold 3 maps in the space of 5 minutes. We head back to the hotel and decide to eat in tonight. Can't face another walk around Kathmandu in the dark.
After a half hour we gather at the table for our dinner. The hotel doesn't appear to be that busy but there are a few tables of groups in tonight. A team of teenagers who are heading to Annapurna and a group of older people and I ask the group is that us in 30 years time? We have a laugh. Andy has now recovered from his tummy bug and joins us for dinner, although i notice he only eats some soup. Hope he's feeling better tomorrow. There is some debate about how or when we are paying the bill for this dinner. The calls to just split it 8 ways falls on deaf ears and after much toing and froing it's decided to be put on each of our rooms. We call it a night not long after our dinner but the seats seem so comfy i can hardly bring myself to get up. I do and me and Emma make our way to the room.
It's so hot tonight. I write in my journal about the past few days experiences and head to sleep. The corridors are noisy with the teenagers all around us but I soon fall asleep...
Friday, 24 April 2009
Day 3 of the trip - day 1 of trekking!
We get up at what seems like the crack of dawn. Get a quick shower and ready ourselves for the exciting day ahead. I've just shared a room with Emma and we had a nice wee chat before we fell asleep last night. We all gather for breakfast in the 2nd floor restaurant. Breakfast is from a buffet and I select toast, some egg, a fruit juice and a cup of tea. Yum.
We eat breakfast and Saran arrives to take us to the airport. We mill around and set off for our journey to the airport in our nice bus. I remember looking out of the windows at other very over-packed buses and thinking how lucky we were to have two seats each on this bus! We make a quick stop for the Doc to pick up some last minute medicines for the first aid kit (or plastic Tupperware box!) and we head off to the airport once more. This takes only about 20 minutes at most and when we get there our bags are taken off the bus by a band of porters. They take them straight to the door of the domestic airport and then you hear 'tips, tips'. We are told we do not need to tip them so i think most of us didn't. We load our bags onto the security screening belt where they are checked and we are frisked too behind a curtain then we are through to a holding area. It feels like some sort of market! Strange to say that but it was really busy, full of noise, bags everywhere, food packages and a whole bunch of trekkers anxiously waiting to have their boarding passes. There's an array of airlines 'desks' or should that be stalls? Yeti airlines, AGNI air, Cosmic air, Buddha air, and Sati air.
Our time soon comes and Banu ushers us to put our bags on these massive Avery scales to be weighed and we are then issued with our golden tickets!!! The Yeti Airlines boarding passes!!!!! Yay.... We are next told to go through another security check which in reality is some sort of official woman in uniform asking if I've packed any matches, lighters etc and she undid one of the clips on my rucksack decides it's too full, re-does the clip and stamps my boarding pass - security checked. (I would soon come to love this process!)
Hooray!!!! we are finally in the departure lounge. It's just one huge hall with a low ceiling, hardly any light with rows of seats. In one corner there's a cyber cafe and a wee shop. In another there's the toilets!! and at the far end are the departure gates... la la la - our way to the mountains!!! We grab a few empty seats near the departure gates and patiently wait for our flight. I can't remember how long we wait until we are told that Lukla has been temporarily closed due to bad weather. What??? This hadn't even entered my thoughts when booking my trek. Oh well a temporary set-back, we'll soon be on our way I think to myself.
Saran looks a bit worried some times. I soon came to read his thoughts with his various twitches and nuances. Poor guy! We meet a guy called Paul Roose (aka The Rooster!!!) who is going to climb Mt Everest. He's very friendly with Banu - 'he's like my brother' he tells us. We listening with a certain fascination about his tales of attempting a summit of Everest and that he's entirely self-funded (no more holidays for a year of three for him!). He's a policeman from Hampshire and is using up annual leave for the next two years for this trip. I get the feeling he's a bit lonely - not sure why, I just get that from him. Nice guy.
We hang around for another little while and... then comes the call!! There's no official announcement it's really just people in Yeti airlines shirts shouting 'Lukla, Lukla' flight X'. That's us. We rush through security onto the hallowed piece of tarmac just outside the departure gate. By now we are well anxious and it's been about 2 hours since we were scheduled to fly. Apparently the weather can turn in a few minutes at Lukla as the airstrip is in such a precarious spot high in the Himalayas - understandable really. While standing on the tarmac 3 Yeti buses turn up and we still aren't on one of them. They shout 'A, A' and we realise it's not our turn just quite yet! 'X, X' we shout back trying in vain to get on one of those buses. Finally we are ushered onto a bus and we're on our way out to the group of little planes waiting on us. We get on the plane and OMG, it's so small inside. There's about 19 seats but only about 15 of us on the flight - the 10 of us and few other trekkers. There's a fight for the left hand side seats (the Everest View seats!). I don't get one - oh well Kate will take some pictures for me.
We take off and i think to myself that this isn't too bad at all. I'm surprisingly not that scared. The air hostess (yes even these small flights have air hostesses!) comes up the plane with a basket of cotton wool and a Yeti airlines sweetie. I dive in too quickly and my sweetie has gone before we even hit any turbulence. But then we see it... actual Mt Everest!!!! Awesome!!! It looked like the view of the pictures you see - Everest peeking from behind Nuptse and Lhotse high above the clouds. According to Saran's watch we were flying at 4200m in an unpressurised cabin.
There are lots of clouds below but i don't give that a second thought, I'm just hoping Kate's getting me good photies. After a few minutes of creaking my neck to see I look out my right hand side window and see these mountains on my side. Still no clue. Then the pilot calls the air hostess, says a few words and she makes her way back up the plane. She tells Saran that we've turned around and are on our way back because the weather has turned again, too cloudy to land at Lukla. Damn it!
We get off the plane really disappointed but at the same time a bit buzzing from seeing Everest. A bonus i think. We head back into the departure lounge and it turns out the planes that left before us did turn around too and the place is now littered with trekkers and mountaineers. Perhaps this is what Base Camp is like? We're whisked back through security - the wrong way! (no frisking this time) and then wait on our bags to be brought back off the plane, then it was back onto the bus to the Hotel Mala. Rooster never made it to Lukla either.
It is decided that we do a city tour of Kathmandu and once back at the hotel and rooms settled again we head out into the dusty, noisy streets of Kathmandu. It was actually pretty good to see all of this and I can't help thinking that we may never have done this had we flown to Lukla. Of course, I'd much rather be on the trek and in Lukla just now. Lukla - we eventually referred to if affectionately as Un-Lukla. We head around to a place called Durbar Square with lots of different temples in it and a variety of weird and wonderful people. There was also come sort of celebration going on with a big tree thing (I'll try to find out what it was) but this small square was very busy and then I turn around and you'll never guess... there was a guy pushing an ice-cream cart!! I laughed out loud and thought it's the same the world over - where ever there's a crowd of people on a hot day there's sure to be an ice-cream man selling his wares!! So funny...
After a few hours sightseeing we head back to the hotel and Saran suggests we go for a traditional Nepali dinner and entertainment night. We get ready and head off about 7pm. What a place! The food was good but the entertainment - priceless. At one point a life size Yeti and Yak appear and weave their way in and out of us diners. By now Andy's had a pink mocktail, Ruth's ate something she said was disgusting (I refrained from that delicacy), Saran has been attacked by a peacock, and I've successfully avoided being seen by the men in the yeti and yak suits (of course they weren't real!). It was an enjoyable night and we headed the 10 minutes back to the hotel by foot in the pitch dark except for a few car or motorbike lights. Back in the hotel we gather in the lounge for some drinks where the topic turns to children's tv programmes - always a favourite topic and then Thundercats are discussed. What was the name of the lair??? This stumps everyone and it wasn't until a few days later Andy googles it and finds out it's not called Thunder Mountain or any of the other fab names we came up with. It's simply called Cat's Lair!!!
Soon we call it a night and head to bed with positive thoughts of flying tomorrow...
Wednesday, 22 April 2009
We landed in Kathmandu after 2 quite good Gulf Air flights. Me and Kate had amused ourselves by watching a very good Bollywood thriller movie. It was fab!
We disembarked from the flight made our way through passport control only to be called back as we hadn't filled in our disembarkation card! (I think that's what it was called). The wee guy at the desk was too busy chatting us girlies up and only noticed we hadn't filled them in when he quizzed Andy. Next stop was exchanging US dollars for Nepalese Rupee's. I think I changed $450 and got 26,000 rupee's - not sure if this was a good deal or not?!?
WE then collected our bags and headed outside into the dusky Kathmandu air. We spied a guy with a Charity Challenge sign who took us to a bus where we met Banu of Himalaya Expeditions. All seemed very good so far! The bags were flung on the bus and we were presented with a beautiful flower garland - 'this is what I'm talking about' i thought. We each got a seat to ourselves and the bus weaved and bumped it;s way through the busy streets of Kathmandu. It was about 5.30pm by now. The darkness was just about falling and I sat with my mouth wide open all the way to the hotel. I remember thinking this is another world altogether. People were selling stuff on the side of the road, some houses were like shacks, there was what i can only describe as a sub-standard football field with a group of guys at one end melting black stuff in to large metal drums. I soon realised that this was tar - for the roads perhaps? The stuff really did smell. We passed and were soon greeted by a mish mash of other smells, sounds and sights. I was blown away. After about 25 minutes we reached the Hotel Malla. It was like an oasis of calm off a busy street. Very nice I thought. We came in and were greeted by a drink of orange stuff. To this day I'm still not sure what flavour of drink it was - Mango?
(I can't quite remember if we went to our rooms and then came down to the lounge). But...We settled in a lounge area, pulled seats around and met our trek leader Saran. We all proceeded to call him Kamal for the first couple of days as this is what was on our information from Charity Challenge. He explained a bit about the trek and what we would do next and the arrangements for the next day. I was getting excited but this point. He then told us that Sir Chris Bonnington was in the hotel. I was well excited now!! Next thing I know he walks passed from reception. Emma there's Chris I said. 'Chris, Chris' she shouted. He came around and had a brief chat and then we got a few group photo's with him. His advice to us keen trekkers - 'remember to change your time on your camera's or your photo's will all be out of sync!'. Wow... that was great advice!! His son Joe then came along and had a wee chat too and then they were off. They weren't due to fly to Lukla for 2 days. We were due to fly the next morning...
We moved to the dining room and had a very nice buffet dinner. This was a nice way to start off our trek. I was well chuffed and excited and nervous and.... well couldn't wait to get started really.
Off to bed we went, get ready for the adventure ahead!!!...
Tuesday, 21 April 2009
Thursday 2nd April 2009:
I set off from Edinburgh airport mid afternoon and caught my BMI flight to LHR. I arrived at LHR within the hour and really early at about 4.20pm. I made my way to collect my bag and then onto terminal 3. Took me about 15 minutes to walk there. This was my first ever visit to London and so you can imagine me standing there in terminal 3 for a few hours trying to take everything in. I sent and received a few texts from various people and then proceeded to take part in my 4th favourite spectator sport - people watching. It's fab and there were certainly a huge variety of people to watch. The playboys waiting to check-in on business class Kuwait airlines, the huge families and boxes waiting to check-in on Ethiopian airlines amongst others. I hung around the Gulf Air desk and blagged a spot (not a seat though) where I could hang until our meeting time. Surprisingly two and a half hours seemed to pass in no time and I decided to move to the Gulf Air check-in area to see if anyone of my fellow trekkers had arrived. I got there and then I think Ruth was the first person to come along. Next followed Emma and Peter who said they too had been waiting about for a little while. then came Daljit, Carol, Andy and a wee while later Kate arrived. We got our tickets from the CC rep and proceeded to check our bags in. I remember thinking wow these are a good bunch of people - little did i know they would turn into a great bunch of friends!
We set off to the departure area and queued for ages through security and eventually we all made through. One last meal of the day was called for but all I could manage was some chips and a bottle of water. It was fair good. Was then time to go to the departure gate. Ooo i was getting nervous now. Never really flown such a long way away from home. I'm a bit of a home-girl but this was one journey to start many - hopefully.
We settled in on the flight and watched Yes Man which i thought was pretty good. Jim Carey wrapping sellotape around his face never fails to amuse me! The meal was fine too then we landed at Bahrain. It was raining!! Can you believe it? We headed to a cafe for a cup of tea (of sorts!) and then i suddenly realised I'd lost my new Oakley prescription sunglasses!!! Aaaaarrrggh. I ran all the way back through security and the guy told me to go to the Gulf Air desk (on the other side of security!). A grumpy guy was on the desk and i told him what had happened, my flight number and seat number. He made a call to someone called Ozzy and then said that yes they'd found the glasses on the seat and someone would bring them up soon. i sat down and began to wonder if the others would wait on me at the cafe or would they go to the next flight, how would they know where i was? I had an anxious 15 minute wait and then grumpy guy grunted at me and handed me the glasses - thank the lord! I thought and headed back to the cafe. The group were still there. It was then that I should have realised that losing the glasses might have been a sign of things to come...