Saturday 4th 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...