Friday, January 30, 2015


Suddenly as the 7 train emerged from underground a ray of pink light shined on my book. I looked up and my heart jumped with the sight of the most brilliant sunset. It had cast a red tint on everything surrounding it. And above it, a vibrant light pillar. I thought, one doesn't have to travel for to see beauty. The scene lasted no more than two seconds as lifeless condos came into my vision. I wish I could have memorized the view.

A friend turned me to the show Everest, Beyond the Limit. I watched the first episode online and then started to watch a documentary film, Summit, about a disastrous expedition to K2 that took the lives of 11 climbers. I feel thankful that I didn't watch these before my trip to Nepal. It would have made me feel entirely different about the Himalayan range. The pure sense of admiration would have been tainted with thoughts of deadly summit attempts and the inhumanity shown by the climbers as they pushed on while leaving others to perish in the brutal elements. The thoughts left me feeling unsettled and even depressed.

I scanned my bookshelf for something uplifting to read on the train ride to Queens and immediately gravitated towards the little book, Lift, a mom's letter to her two daughters. The fact is that you can climb a mountain or write a book but none of that matters when you are gone. Underneath it all, we all know the only true legacy we leave on this planet is our children. Statistics have shown spikes in birth rate after an area was struck by isolated and temporary tragedy. There's a sense of hopefulness and healing in bringing new life into this world, however imperfect our world is and however fragile our children are.

I met a new friend at a Nepali restaurant in Jackson Heights. The food was awful like it was in Nepal, which explains why I had so much Chinese food while I was there. I reminisced about the trip. It made me feel fortunate and nostalgic. Afterwards I went to Flushing for Chinese groceries. I've always known that I could save a substantial amount if I made a trip there every couple of weeks. This year I'm making an effort to make these trips. On the way back I finished the book on the 7 train. It brought tears to my eyes. Someday I want to be like Meg, not the author but her friend who went to the sperm bank at 40.

I've seen sunsets over the Himalayas, lakes and oceans, corn fields and snow fields, yet the one I saw today was the most beautiful of them all. I wish I could close my eyes and see it again but I can't. It had already dissipated like the 8,500 photos uploaded on Flickr of places I've been but can no longer see. They serve as a reminder that every moment is fleeting. What a relief. The sun has to set so we can have a new day.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Monday, January 12, 2015

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Friday, January 9, 2015

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Day 6: Windy Valley

I can't remember how many times I had to get up and use the bathroom last night. I've been drinking lots of water and the Diamox is working. I haven't had any headache or nausea since 3,850m. It's a good thing because we're moving forward without an acclimatization day here at 4,410m. Our stop for today will be Lobuche at 4,910m. We're getting into some serious altitude from this point on, higher than anywhere I've been before. I felt comfortable and confident despite, again, the cold and wet shoes. When all this is done I will really have earned my bragging rights for trekking one of the most difficult trails in Nepal, in the middle of the winter, after an unexpected three-day snow storm, without snow gear and carrying my own pack. The prolonged exposure to cold is unimaginable, almost soul crushing. Still, I'm energized by the challenge.

We left the guesthouse at a reasonable hour, just before the Australian team. I handed the guy one of my cards so we could keep in touch when we get back into civilization. We hiked slowly and stopped for pictures. The guys caught up with us at a slightly lower level. We ended up spending most of the day in close proximity from each other. I was annoying with Ganga for a minute thinking that he was taking me on a longer route. I quickly got rid of that thought because he's the only guide I've got and I need to let him do the guiding and let myself do the following. Even though I enjoyed walking alone (with Ganga) for most of the trek, on this day I felt good to have the Australian guys around. Maybe it had something to do with the fact I saw one of their porters carrying a red medicine bag. I felt that since they're aware of my situation they would come to my rescue if something were to happen. I also wishfully thought maybe I could bump another charge from the guys if we stayed at the same guesthouse again. I asked Ganga where they were staying for the night and he told me their guide doesn't like us so he'll take his clients to wherever we're not staying. How pathetic, I thought. I'm not sure whose guide doesn't like who but I knew I won't be seeing the Australians for long.

I guess they don't call this the windy valley for nothing. The wind pushed from behind and to the side my pack for much of the morning. The sky was mostly clear and the scenery inexpressibly beautiful. The Japanese guy I met at Namche said this is the most beautiful time for the trek. I now understand why. There are no more trees at this altitude. For much of the year, this whole area is covered in brown dirt and becomes extremely dusty with any wind and movement. Ganga gave me the impression that it's more like trekking in a dust storm. That doesn't sound appealing to me at all.

The trail was pleasant at first but turned snowy and icy just before our midday rest stop. After passing by a mostly frozen stream we watched a small herd of yaks skating though ice. Since it was too early to have lunch and I had no appetite anyways, I had a cup of tea with the Australians while hoping my socks would dry in the wind, the same pair I washed the day before, they didn't.

The trek became more difficult in the afternoon. We first hiked up a rocky hill through a pass that honored Sherpas who have perished in the mountains. Strings of prayer flag moved violently in the wind. The next section followed along the side of hills with snow up to my knees in parts of the trail. I struggled a bit and wish I had crampons and gaiters. Instead I had to make the best use out of my trekking poles. I fell to my side a couple of times only to startle Ganga. At one point I switched to a side step facing the mountain since I felt it was so easy to slide off the slope facing forward. I wondered how other people were handling this part but realized quickly it was a useless thought. I'm better off focusing on my own next step. I survived.

When we finally came to a flatter valley the scenery looked more like what I imagined to be Siberia, vast rocky frozen tundra with distinct mountains in the distance. I felt like I was in a Discovery Channel documentary titled: How Not to Hike in the Himalayas. The wind and snow was unbelievable. I wondered if I should have listened to my mom and went somewhere more relaxing for vacation. The answer is no because I'm tough as a nail and slightly insane. I've been in mission mode ever since that first night of frozen hotel. We're doing this fucking trek and we're going to finish it.

With that thought in mind, we moved forward with in the direction of Pumori, Lingtren and Khumbutse, or more importantly, the China boarder. Somehow knowing China is on the other side of those mountains brought a tear to my eyes. So close yet so far. I started to fantasize about Chinese food, hot, fresh, flavorful Chinese food. I thought to myself, when I get back to NYC, I'm going to take myself to Flushing and binge eat Chinese food. I also want a giant juicy burger, maybe one from Five Napkins and greasy fries with loads of ketchup. God, I'm hungry. My weight rarely fluctuate but I bit I've lost a few pounds on this trip. I can't wait to go run in Central Park again. Even though it'll be cold in New York too I'll at least have indoor heating and be able to take a hot shower afterwards. There will be hot beverages, warm bed and cuddly kitties. Oh, how I miss home. Obviously I don't suffer enough in my daily life that I needed to come here to suffer constant starvation and freezing my ass off. This is not the coldest place I've ever been by a wide margin. Perhaps growing up without indoor heating and a winter in TRF have prepared me for this but for the ten thousandth time, this prolonged cold and hunger is taking a toll on me.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Day 5: A Change of Plan

I woke up with a headache this morning. 3800 meters up, it's time for that altitude to kick in. My spirit was further crashed by how visibly cold it was in our room. Everything was frozen solid. Without anticipating the condensation I had left things out of my pack overnight. Thankfully, most of my clothes are in waterproof plastic packing bags. The outside of the bags are now covered in a thin layer of ice. My wipes were frozen. My lotion was frozen. The thick layer of frost on the inside of the window prevented us from seeing what the weather was like outside. The thought of another colder and snowier day on the trail was debilitating. Ganga got up, jumped around and said his daily prayers. He left the room and came back to check on me. I refused to get out of bed. He threw himself on top of all the clothes I had meticulously arranged on top of my blanket the night before and said, "come on! It's time to get up!" I reluctantly poked my head out of my sleeping bag and gave him a furtive glance. "Is it nice outside today? How many more days do we have left until the base camp? 3, 4, 5?" I asked in desperation. I buried my face back into my sleeping bag before he could see the tear that just rolled down my cheek. "It's a beautiful day outside! No clouds!" he responded with a level of excitement proportional to my despair and it brought a smile to my face. "Ok, I'll get up" I said. From that moment on, I switched to mission mode. I combed my hair, put my hat back on, pealed a face wipe off the icy block, cleaned my face, lathered on a layer of sunscreen, squeezed air out each of my plastic packs as I organized them into my pack. I walked to the front door and watched a group of trekkers go by. Ganga was right, the sky was intensely blue, without a cloud. The sunlight reflecting off the adjacent mountain was almost blinding. I refused to eat breakfast because I was feeling nauseous. Ganga ordered a bowl of noodle soup anyways, informing me that the room charge would be double if we don't order breakfast. Neither of us ate anything.
When I got back to our room I promptly took two 125mg Diamox pills. Even though I had agreed with Ganga that we would have a discussion before I take them I didn't feel like discussing anything. I just felt it was the right time. Nausea is where I draw the line because after that comes vomiting and there is no turning back once I started vomiting. When Ganga came to the room I felt slightly embarrassed to tell him what I just did so I explained that I was extremely nauseous. Finally he asked, you want to take Diamox. Yes, I responded, feeling relieved at his suggestion. "Once you start you're going to have to take that everyday" he said, "and drink a lot of water." I nodded as I stuffed a coca candy in my mouth.

This is our second day with the plastic bag routine: liner socks (or toe socks in my case), plastic bags, outer socks and then shoes. The plastic bags are somewhat effective if they don't fall apart inside the shoes, which turned out to be a problem for me. Another problem is that the bags are not breathable so they create wet feet problem from sweat accumulation. Still, this was the best we could do without waterproof boots. Ganga filled up two bottles of boiled water for me and carried the big bottle. We left my Christmas branch in the room. It's go time and carrying a branch severely violates ultralight backpacking rules.

I asked Ganga to review the itinerary with me one more time not to figure out where I was but to be reassured that this trek will end at some point. By now we were both sold on the quicker progression without the acclimatization day: Dingboche, Loboche, Gorekshep, Kala Patthar, EBC, and back. Ganga also mentioned the possibility of doing part of the Annapurna circuit afterwards for relaxation. I was intrigued but decided to parking lot the idea for a later day.

It's amazing how big of a difference a clear day makes. I couldn't get over how beautifully the blue sky contrasted with the white snow. I felt warm under the sunlight, if not literally then at least in spirit. The crystal clear air provided perfect visibility. Mountain ranges and snowy peaks appeared where clouds were the day before. We made our way out of the valley following a black dog as our guide. We crossed the Dudh Kosi river for the last time and started gaining altitude again. It didn't take long before my day turned into how many times I can pee in the snow while looking at Mt. Everest, hands down the best peeing view ever. This wasn't much of a problem since we ran into very few trekkers along the way. Now I'm starting to understand why they call this the off season.

We stopped at Panboche for lunch. The midday sun was very strong by this point. I had vegetarian dal bhat outside with Ganga and took the opportunity to take out all the damp stuff out from my pack to air dry. I also dried off my shoes and socks. It was a very productive lunch stop. Afterwards I posed for a couple of pictures with the most adorable little girl, one of three kids belonging to the restaurant owner. She was very shy at first but later she held my hand and showed me where the bathroom was when I asked.
A small group of Japanese tourists stopped by the same restaurant as we did and sat inside. Their guide ran after us just as we were about to leave and asked if I had any extra Diamox. I knew I had enough considering I had just started taking them so I gave him six pills and instructed him to give to his clients two at a time with plenty of water. I hope they're doing ok since 4,000m is still a long ways from our destination.

The sky was covered with helicopters today I felt like I was in a Bond movie every time one zooms by. Ganga informed me that some of the helicopters are for sightseeing and some rescue missions. Most of them are operated by Germans and other Europeans. Out of the rescues, a good portion of them are for trekkers who simply have given up on the trek after reaching EBC or some other final destination. Since they have travel insurance, the cost of the ride is drastically reduced. I didn't understand that at first but now as each step gets more difficult with the increase in altitude I'm starting to feel more sympathetic. This is an out-and-back trek so with each step forward, I'll have to take the same step back. The thought was dreadful. Ganga repeatedly reassured me that it will be so much easier going back. I don't know if I trust his judgment on these kinds of things anymore after noticing sometimes when he estimate a hike to be 30 minutes and it turns out to be more like 40. Still, I don't have travel insurance and even if I did I think I would resort to crawling out of the Himalayas before flagging down a helicopter.

The day went on and so did our trek. Our evening respite was nowhere to be found. Finally I asked Ganga, where the heck is Dingboche? It's coming. We just can't see it from here. Well, not seeing the damn thing just wasn't all that encouraging. I was, however, very relieved when a small cluster of guesthouses came into my field of view. It was still sunny when we checked in so Ganga took our shoes outside to dry. You can still tell the place was freezing because the toilet was frozen. The bucket of water next to the toilet was also frozen but not completely. I scoped out some ice water with chunks of ice floating and washed a pair of socks. I couldn't feel my fingers for ten minutes afterwards. I brought five pairs of socks for this trek. I alternated between two sets of two starting at Namche and used a pair of wool socks for at night or inside of the guesthouses. The system works except for when things don't completely dry overnight and the fact they are starting to smell.

Next I found my spot in the dinning hall and ordered a cup of tea. I think they're about a dollar a cup here. Definitely more expensive than at lower altitude but still affordable in dollar term. Ganga continued to get free water for me and now also filling a hot bottle for me to warm up my sleeping bag at night. I chimed in on a conversation between two guys happening next to me. Turned out they've been drinking water straight out of the rivers and not getting sick. Honestly, the water doesn't seem objectionable except for the fact that it's icy cold.

I spent the rest of the evening chatting with one of the guys and found out that he's from Australia and is doing the trek with his two teenage sons, one of which just graduated from high school. What an awesome idea, I thought, much better than going to Florida or the Caribbeans, like some Americans do. I briefed him on my gear/shoe/clothing situation, or lack thereof and my plan to move forward the next day without acclimatization. He just shook his head, probably feeling ridiculous and sympathetic at the same time. He turned to the people at the next table and said, she's hiking to EBC in seven days. They looked over in my direction and asked, why? Before I could respond, the guy said, "because she wants to get there and back with all her fingers and toes still intact." See, that's exactly my logic too.
I also explained to him that I packed light because I'm committed on carrying my own pack the whole way. Again, he looked at me in disbelief.
"Why would you do that? That's what you pay guides and porters for!"
"In my mind I'm not sure if it counts as trekking if you're not carrying your own gear."
The three guys are traveling with a guide and two porters, possibly averaging over 15kgs each, at minimum. I'm carrying half of that, including water supply for the day. But to be fair, I'm also half of their size so all my stuff is also much lighter. It also helps that I'm under-dressed and under-packed...but that's a different problem.
I looked over to the solar charging station he's got set up on the window and said, "I'm too cheap to pay for charging so I've been taking very few photos." Immediately he asked, you want to charge your stuff? Really? Sure! I could use a charge for my GoPro. The offer was a very generous one, so generous that when the sons came down for dinner one of them exclaimed, "you're charging other people's electronic?!" I'm not sure what their charging status was but I sensed the Australian guy felt bad for me and wanted to do something to help.

I ordered vegetarian momos for dinner and offered half of the plate to Ganga. Again, I was hungry and had no appetite. I watched the table of three big guys devour their dinner, dessert and cups of hot chocolate. Hmm, hot chocolate, why haven't I thought of that? I wondered. The stove is now burning in the middle of the room. A group of guides and porters gathered around it and carried on a lively conversation. For once on the trip I was not cold.

When I was on the Salkantay trek in Peru, the best moment was stargazing in Llactapata. I haven't even seen the nighttime sky since I came to Nepal either due to the weather or getting into my sleeping bag early. Tonight I made a point to step outside and look up. I was hoping to see stars and the milky way lighting up the sky but the moon was way too bright on this day. It was almost blinding. I took a couple of deep breathe and quickly returned inside.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Day 4: First Sight

Sleep last night consisted of two short naps. The headache caught up with me but it wasn't bad. By now I have made a conscious decision to not take any painkillers so I can better monitor how I'm feeling as we ascend to determine if/when I should start Diamox. I spent most of the night catching up on my emails, updating blog entries and uploading photos. I'm relieved that the sublet people have left my apartment in tact and the kitties are still alive. I sent a quick email to my parents just to check in. In an effort to not have them worry so much I typically don't tell them about my trips ahead of time.
This could be my last reliable and affordable wifi and charging place for a while. I'm warned that the costs for everything will go up as we trek further. After paying for all the traveling costs for not one, but three trips, and the uneventful sublet situation with the apartment, I'm on a very strict budget. Ganga, sensing my budget constraint, has taken the initiative to fill my water bottle at the hotel as his so I could get free water as the guides do. Otherwise, a bottle of boiled water can become quite costly.

The good news is that by daylight my headache had completely gone away. I also felt warm under two layers of thick blankets. Since I had two twin beds in my room, I invited Ganga to stay on one of them. There was no sense for him to sleep in the shared guides room while worrying about his belongings (or my trekking permit). We took our time to get ready in the morning and didn't get out until 10am. I guess that's just a bonus for being the only trekker. I assume Ganga knows what time we need to be out by so we can reach our next guesthouse.

Most guidebooks recommend people to be as active as possible prior to commencing the trek. I suppose my two-week voluntary confinement during finals period isn't quite the same but we will just count that as "tapering." At least I knew to rest up and eat as much as I could in Indiana, just before coming to Nepal. Although I don't feel any physical fatigue at this point, the trek is physically demanding. Just getting up all the steps to hike out of Namche is a challenge. I was really huffing and puffing but the time we got onto the actual trail but I assume that had more to do with the thinner air than me being out of shape. My body actually felt good. I read somewhere that said anyone in moderate health can complete this trek. I'm still glad to get this done while I'm still young and in shape.

The view of the mountain ranges along the way is beautiful. We couldn't see Everest because of the clouds but we were always in sight of Ama Dablam, one of the most distinct peaks in the region. The trail was in good enough condition that I could even look up to take in the view. All this thanks to the work of the Namaste Man, who I'm told is an old man who collects donation from the trekkers to build and repair the trail. We also saw a family of mountain goats along the way. Just about everything is covered in snow now. The cold has made it difficult for me to stop for more than a minute at a time so we kept moving in a moderate pace.

Now I write this journal sitting in front of the stove in the kitchen of a rest stop/restaurant. A young girl had made my lunch for me. And again, this being the off season and me being the only guest, I decided to join Ganga and the girl in the kitchen, where it's warm by the stove. Ganga ate his lunch standing up, always chatting, always with a copious amount of rice, always with his hand, and I'm always disgusted no matter now many times I've seen him do it and how hard I try to be nonjudgmental. I have no problem eating with my hands at Ethiopian restaurants but I'd rather starve here than to touch my own food because I can't remember the last time I washed my hands with soap or put them under running water at all!

Ganga continued to talk to the girl and I continued to not understand them. Finally he said to me, she wants to say something to you. What? I was puzzled. They giggled as the girl tried to hide behind Ganga. He pushed her in front of him and said, "she thinks you're very nice because you are quiet and you look very kind. She wants to give you something." even more perplexed. She reached on the shelf and handed me a small dark green package.  What is it? I muttered. It's a cookie, Ganga explained. Thank you! I didn't know what to do except to feel like a total asshole. Just two days ago I had complained to the Canadian couple about the rampant commercialism and opportunistic business people on the trek. Now a girl, who probably has lessor than one of my cats, is giving me cookies?! Nicely played. Yep, I'm an asshole. In nowhere does Ray Jardine's lightweight packing book talks about gifts for local people so I was troubled by what to give her. I could have just given her some money but that seemed rude. The only thing I had that was not wore or about to be wore were granola bars and energy gels. I fetched out a RAW Brownie Bar and handed it to her with two hands as a sign of appreciation. She smiled as we bowed to each other and said our good byes.

As we went up the side of a hill, switch back after switch back, I realized why we had stopped there for lunch. The endless climb made me think about if I could do that for 3,000+ miles on the PCT. At least there wouldn't be altitude to content with, I thought to myself. We found a nice sitting spot for a water break and then it was back to more switch backs. Somewhere along the way it started to snow. We walked alone slowly through a pine forest. The smell was intoxicating and the snow made it even more magical. We joked, made animal sounds, knocked snow off branches to make avalanches like a couple of kids. Except we were adults and the scene felt like it was right out of a dream. I picked up a pine branch and tucked it into the side of my pack, happy as a dog with a stick. Days like this make me feel like my life is a fairytale.

It was just past 4pm when we reached Tengboche at the top of the hill. We had every intention to visit the monastery here but was told that it had already closed. I guess sitting with monks just isn't in the cards for me on this trip. We caught two monks skiing while lingering around the monastery entrance. I see why they are "closed" now. I waited around a bit to capture them going down the slope on my GoPro. We had a good laugh when they face-planted in the snow. We walked around the prayer wheel three times before heading down the hill ourselves, on foot, for the guesthouse 40m below. There's much more significant snow here, ankle level on the trial and at least knee deep off. The 40m descend seemed longer than I expected. I didn't mind since it was a lot easier than going up the switch backs earlier. Besides, I was motivated by Ganga's description of a large warm stove waiting for us at the guesthouse. The sky started to clear up as the sun begins to set. The pink lighting gave the surrounding a dreamy ambiance. When the guesthouse finally emerged from the snowy woods Ganga turned around, pointed to the distance directly ahead of us and said to me, "look!"I saw a golden triangle peaking through a small patch of blue sky, perfect as an Egyptian pyramid. Just as I waited for him to utter another name I didn't recognize, Ganga said, "that's Everest!" My heart jumped. I was caught completely off guard. I stopped in my track and stared into the distance as the last ray of sunlight disappeared from the peak. It was a perfectly unexpected ending to the day...except the day wasn't ending.

Check in at the guesthouse was followed by a very lengthy discussion between Ganga and the lady who worked there. I watched them from the large cold stove in the middle of the dinning hall and refused to believe what I had already realized. Reluctantly, Ganga informed me that due to the snow, all of the firewood outside is now wet and no good for making a fire. As a result, there will not be any warmth anywhere tonight. I knew it wasn't his fault. Still, I was majorly disappointed not only due to the cold but also the fact that my shoes and socks desperately needed to be dried. Ganga offered me a cup of hot tea. I insisted on getting into bed.
It's too early, he said.
I'm not tired or sleeping but I need to get into bed to warm up.

There was no stopping my as I practically ran back to our room. I sat in my sleeping bag and once again refused to get out for dinner. I was starving but I had no interest to eat anything. At Ganga's insistence I agreed to have a bowl of tomato egg drop soup. Minutes later he brought a bowl of what appeared to be the regurgitation of a tomato soup, a pile of pink goo. The thing didn't look appetizing and the taste didn't help. Still, I tried my best to consume the thing without seeing or tasting it, knowing I need to get something into my stomach. For the rest of the evening I stay crawled up in my sleeping bag in fetal position, alone, in silence and cold. Once again, we were the only guests here (which is probably the real reason for lack of heat source). The pine branch I carried for most of the day stood at the head of my bed. The faint smell was my only consolation.

Ganga came back to the room later that night and happily informed me that he was able to dry my shoes and socks by a small fire they made out of cardboard waste. I didn't feel like talking but made an effort to thank him. I asked Ganga what the commotion in the hallway was. He said, there are two monks at the guesthouse drinking with two young girls, maybe 17 or 18. What? I was confused. The noise persisted late into the night. They were staying at the same guesthouse.

Since either of us could sleep I asked Ganga about the road ahead. He explained to me that we will be hiking to Dingboche the next day at 4,400m. However, instead of taking an acclimatization day there we might want to keep going forward. The ice and snow on the trail has made the conditions more dangerous, or at least more difficult, for us considering we have no snow gear and at least one of us (moi) was under-dressed for the cold. There was absolutely no reason for us to take an extra hike on acclimatization day only to subject ourselves to unnecessary risks. Ganga paused for a second and then said, the only small problem is that the weather can be unpredictable in the mountains. If we go into bad weather in high altitude there will be lesser chance for a rescue helicopter to reach us.
I listened in silence, slowly absorbing the information but had no response of my own. I wondered how my altitude sickness or lack thereof will hold up. If I'm ok so far, will I continue to be ok trekking on without acclimatization? A shorter exposure in the cold sounded good. Finally I said, "we should do it."

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Day 3: Zero Day

In long distance hiking a day of rest is called zero day since no distance is covered. Today we took a zero day to acclimatize to the altitude at 3440m. This is a crucial spot for me as this is the same altitude as Cusco, where I got very ill on my two previous trips there. I didn't sleep much last night because of a stomach problem but it's nothing seriously. 

Food and water sanitation is a major concern. Forget about shower and hot water, the hotel had no running water last night at all due to frozen pipes. The antibiotic hand sanitizer is all I've got and I certainly can't force the cooks to use them. I've never been a germaphobe, nor have I had the slightest hesitation in eating from street vendors, even ones local people shy away from. Yet everything here worries me, from the food, water, to forks and dishes. The concern is justified since a bad stomach could mean the end of the trek for me. I avoid fresh veggies and salads like a plague. If you can't drink the tab water here you should refrain from eating anything uncooked. Last night I saw my guide stick his finger into my tea to see if it's hot. I nearly had a heart attack. I drank the tea anyways.

When I finally got up this morning I had a barely discernible headache. I didn't want to aggravate my stomach any further so I had a granola bar I brought with me and tea (untouched by my guide, as far as I can tell) for breakfast. I also caught up with an older couple I met last night. They live on Vancouver Island. The woman is from Montreal; the man closely resembled Robin Williams in both look and mannerism. We got off in the wrong foot last night when I complained about the commercialism in the villages and people. He's on the way to finish his third trek here, two EBC and one Annapurna, needless to say, his a fan. This is yet another cool traveling couple I've met on the road. The guy have been just about everywhere on this planet, traveling and hiking. They seem to be doing a year-long trip around the world. They just finished the 60-day Camino de Santiago and traveled through Greece and Turkey. They are about to finish their trek here to head to India, Malaysia, and take a cruise from Japan. See, some people go on vacations and sightseeing tours. These people travel. They travel hard.

The rest day turned out to be quite enjoyable, especially since I'm the only tourist on the tour and my impression of the guide has improved considerably since Lukla. It was liberating to have no schedule to keep or destination to reach. We literally could have done anything I wanted and that's a rare luxury on a guided tour.

A day of precipitation in the form of snow has made Namche an exceptionally beautiful place but also a treacherous one with all of its rocky steps. I officially renamed the place a death trap. I don't know what's worse, a stomach problem or a twisted ankle, either of those could take me off the trek. Basically, trekking has turned me, the risk taker, into an all-accident-avoid-er. Naturally, when Ganga suggested that we walk up to the Sherpa Museum in the morning, I took one look at the icy stairs and accused him of trying to put me into my early grave. Instead, we wondered over to the Buddhist monastery in the opposite direction, which wasn't open, despite our persistent knocking. The sky had opened by late morning and the view from the hill top was breathtaking.

Next we visited the weekly market, where locals purchase food and common household supplies brought here from Kathmandu. The selection is limited and I imagine prices high. According to Wiki, Namche is one of the most expensive places in Nepal, probably due to high volume of visiting trekkers. I also saw the meat market, a room where men held big butcher knifes and sold buff meat. I was warned at the beginning of the trip to avoid meat since we're in a no-kill zone and any meat served has to be brought here from lower altitude, which meant days of traveling without refrigeration. I knew about this from my other travel experiences. Besides, it's also good to avoid meat considering the reduced digestive function at high altitude. For lunch I had sauteed greens and tomato soup with eggs. It was the first good meal I've had since the beginning of the trip. I was happy.

The itinerary had planned a more extensive hike to a local airstrip and Everest View Hotel for the "rest day." Of course, I never looked at it closely. I thought that was the whole reason to hire a guide, so I don't have to figure out where to go. All I have to do is to put one foot in front of the other.  There's something unexplainable satisfying about that. However, I was pretty content on slacking off for a day,  even though we've only been trekking for two days (probably covering what could have been done in one day's distance). Ganga was happy to goofy off with me but being a responsible guide, he also felt it was his duty to show me more of Namche. So after lunch, he convinced me to pay a visit to the Sherpa museum. He had also figured out the "rock monument" I asked about in the morning. The couple from Canada mentioned a small monument from Israel displaying a rock from the lowest elevation on land, the Dead Sea, and the highest place, Mt. Everest. Ganga wasn't sure what I was talking about but he eventually figured out the spot. It turned out to be next to the Statue of Tenzing Norgay, which was erected just last October on the100th anniversary of his birth. I posed for a few photos with the statue of the legendary climber, who, along with Sr. Edward Hilary, reached the top of Mt. Everest in 1953.

The view from this vantage point is unbelievable even on a cloudy day. The statue is surrounded by snowy peaks behind and endless valleys in front. I stood on a bench overlooking the valleys for a while trying to take it all in: the silence, the stillness, the wind, the tear that rolled down my face. Moments like this I wish I could remember forever. What was it like for all those who came before, on their way to EBC and ultimately Everest? If one is to feel small next to the ocean, the mountains make me feel grounded. There is no other place I would rather be.

Afterwards we went over to the Sherpa museum to see tools, photos, and other artifacts collected from Sherpas and climbers of the Everest region. Again, this being the off season, we were the only visitors and Ganga gave me a private tour of the place. We played around with oxygen tanks, rocks from Everest, and common household items used in Sherpa residences. Despite the fun visit, I was getting eager to leave as my shoes became completely soaked from the snow. I felt throbbing pain from my feet. Just to show how quickly the weather can change in the mountains, the place was enveloped in a dense fog/cloud when we stepped out of the museum. A couple of meters of visibility would have posed a serious problem for climbers but this being Namche we had no problem finding our way back down to the guesthouse, the Nest. I promptly changed into dry socks and tucked myself into bed. I was so determined to stay warm I refused to get out of my sleeping bag for dinner. Ganga brought me my tomato soup as room service.

Day 2: 6-Hour Trek to Namche

With the first day spent on soul cleansing, it's only natural to cleanse the rest of the body the day after. 

Waking up to the sound of rain falling in tin roof would have been a romantic notion on any other day, except for when you're about to embark on a six-hour trek.

I had pan fried potatoes and eggs for dinner last night, the same things for breakfast expect with a pancake. It was supposed to have come with toasts but this being the off season many items on the menu are not available. This was also the reason for lack of wifi. I was the only guest at the hotel last night. 

We trekked in the cold rain for most part of the day. I stepped on slippery rocks, mud, and tried my best to avoid yak poop, which are ubiquitous as yaks are the primary mode of transportation in this part of the world. They wear yak bells that make delightful sounds like wind chimes as a herd of them passes by. They seem beautiful and graceful. I became more cautious around them after I saw they ran a bunch of trekkers off the path yesterday after they got startled. Fortunately the trekkers were not near a tall cliff. The incident also taught me to stay on the mountain side when letting a herd of yaks go by.

We followed the Dudh Kosi River for much of the day. I could almost feel the cold glacier water rushing down the valleys from the Himalayas near the base camp. There were many waterfalls along the way, some straight off a cliff like the Bridal Veil fall, others fall from a series of collecting pools made by big boulders. The clouds and fog moved quickly among the peaks. If I stand still and look at the top of the hills I could see it's in fact snowing up there. The pines are getting a light dusting like fine powdered sugar. Everything was breathtaking as if straight out of an ancient Chinese painting.

For lunch I had pan fried potatoes with eggs for the third time in a roll. Carb and protein, a marathoners diet. While talking to Kate, a girl from New Zealand, during lunch I realized I need a change of strategy if I want to get enough fluids in me. As the cost for bottled water goes up I should really switch to soup based meals. 

In the afternoon, the rain turned into snow. Naturally I "forgot" to bring waterproof gloves hoping the weather would hold up. My hands were cold from holding onto my lifesaving trekking poles but I made it through the day OK. The Gortex jacket kept everything out. To avoid cold I changed my under layers as soon as we stopped for lunch to make sure everything stays dry from sweat. The other change of strategy from this point forward is to dress cold for the trek, which will not be a problem since I really lacked warm clothing in my pack. The merino wool undershirt did exceedingly well to keep sweat away from my body. My water resisted shoes, pants, hat, and pack cover also performed well in the condition. I purchased a pair of waterproof boots before I left but I decided not to wear them here because they were not breathable. I'd rather suffer temporary wet feet from the weather than an entire trek soaked in my own sweat. So far I stand behind that decision.
We passed by the first point on the trek from where Mt. Everest is visible on a clear day. I wasn't disappointed for not seeing anything today due to the misty weather. I was more focused on getting to my destination for the day. This is a long trek and I'll certainly have plenty more chances in the next few days.
Later on the trek we heard a loud avalanche in the distance. Ganga was at the scene of the deadly avalanche just a few months ago that killed dozens of trekkers and guides in the Annapurna region. I don't think we'll be in risk of anything like that here but I really have no concept of the roads ahead.

We arrived in Namche cold and tired but in good spirit. And to end the day on an even higher note, the sky cleared up just as I checked into my room. I caught a glorious sunset view of Thamserku from my bed. Later in the evening I agreed to pay for two days of wifi for my stay here so I could caught up of some logistical things at home.

Day 1: 60 Meter Runway

"Did you time it this way?"
"No, it just worked out this way."

For the first day of the year, I took a flight from Kathmandu to Lukla for the official start of my 13-day trek to the Everest Base Camp (EBC).

So many people have asked, "what made you do it?"
Nothing in particular. I just heard other people have done it, looked it up online, and signed myself up.

You see, I don't have a bucket list. Life is too short and unpredictable for such things. A life lived is one where inklings are brought to reality.

The fight to Lukla is an experience in itself. Good visibility is required for pilots to clear the high mountain passes immediately surrounding the city. The dust and smog of the bustling and growing capital has made this increasingly difficult over the years. We booked the earliest flight out of Kathmandu at 6:15am. Once we finally left off I was amazed by just how close the surrounding mountains are. The smog have made them impossible to see even on a clear day. The city literally sits in a stretch of flat valley. The mountain ranges went in every direction for as far as the eyes can see.

Even though I've never had any reservations about flying, my heart jumped with every minute movement of the plane. The last five minutes of the flight was especially petrifying as the plane made its last desperate climb to gain altitude to clear a high pass and then descend to a perfect line up position to halt to a stop on the infamous 60-meter runway. The view from the side looked as if we were about to crash directly onto a mountain. The view from the cockpit looked as if we're trying to thread a needle in the sky. By some miracle we landed safely and smoothly. That's a thrill I don't need to experience too often. On the way out of the airport I watched planes take off like hangglides as they find their wings at the end of the cliff.

Sometimes it's easier to set the rules early. My guide, Ganga, said we'll have breakfast next to the airport. As it turned out, he was to have breakfast there while I waited for him. And by having breakfast he meant to socialize with every person who spoke the same language. Needless to say eventually my patience ran out and I made it known. 
When are we leaving? I don't like waiting. 
Then the most irritating thing of the day happened. He gave me a mocking laugh and said, oh, I'm so sorry. I can't remember when was the last time I rolled my eyes like that. Not exactly a great start with a long trekking partner. 

We walked mostly in silence. The trail to Phakding is lined with Buddhist manes and prayer wheels. The sign reads, "turn this mane to purify your soul." How fitting, I thought, soul cleansing for the new year.