Photo Of The Week: The Lukla Airport

Each Wednesday I’ll be spotlighting a different photo from my travels around the world.

This weeks photo is from Lukla, Nepal, the starting point for most treks to Everest Base Camp and home to “The Worlds Most Extreme Airport” as deemed by the History Channel due to the ever changing weather conditions as well as the incline of the runway, which on one end is capped by a solid rock wall and on the other by a sheer drop.  I can say, from first hand experience that the pilots who fly into this airport are truly skilled, a fact I am so grateful for.

 

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Photo Of The Week: Kanchanaburi + An Adventure!

 Photo of the Week, where each Wednesday I’ll be spotlighting a different photo from my travels around the world.

Yes, this week I’m a day late, I blame it on a poor internet connection here in Bolivia.  But better late than never!

This week my photo is from Erawan Waterfall just outside of Kanchanaburi, Thailand, one of my favorite places in the country!  Erawan Waterfall is made up of 7 different tiers, with the top tier being a decent 45 minute hike from the first one, but it’s totally worth it.  The pools of these waterfalls aren’t only known to be a great place to cool of, they’re also home to a species of sucker fish similar to the ones found in fish spas, that like to suck the dead skin from your body.  At first I’ll admit, it’s a little creepy, but if you let them do their work you’ll come out with some pretty smooth skin.

And now for the adventure part.  I’ve been living in Bolivia for less than a week, but thank’s to some adventurous co-volunteers, this weekend I’m going to be able to check something off from the top of my bucket list and I’m so excited!!!  Can you guess what if could be?

Could It Be Worse?: Flight Nightmares

Flying.  Depending on the traveler you talk to it’s either a necessary evil or a great adventure.

I grew up in the city of Boeing, but I didn’t fly for the first time until I was 14, when my family spent spring break on Maui.  I don’t remember much from that flight, just that my headphone jack didn’t work so I couldn’t watch the movie.  It went smoothly and we didn’t crash, I guess those are the important facts.

Since that first flight I’ve flown more than 50 times.  The excitement of flying soon wore off and I quickly became the “necessary evil” sort of traveler, looking forward to flights only because they would get me somewhere new and exciting.  Then I started traveling internationally.  The flights were longer, but in flight on demand entertainment?  Yes please!

However, all of my flight experiences haven’t been peaches and roses.  You talk to any long term traveler and I think they’ll have some sort of flight horror story to share with you.  The following are mine.

1.  Flight: Bangkok, Thailand to Kathmandu, Nepal via Dhaka
     Airline: Biman Bangladesh

My first year in Thailand some of my co-workers and I decided to spend our two week semester-break trekking in Nepal.  Because Thailand is geographically closer to Nepal than say the US we assumed flights to Katmandu would be cheaper, especially since Bangkok is a hub.  No such luck.  The cheapest Thai Airways flight we could find was for $1000!  Yikes!  We put our plight into the able hands of a travel agent and she was able to find us a flight to Nepal for $500 on the obscure Biman Bangladesh Airlines the national airlines of Bangladesh.  I’d never heard of it.  After a little research I learned that the airlines poor safety records caused it to be banned from flying into many western nations, including the US.  There is also a video on youtube of one of Bimans planes hitting a terminal in Dubai.  We booked it anyway, crossed our fingers and prayed we wouldn’t die.

The night of our departure the flight arrived three hours late. That there should have been a sign for what we were in for.  As we boarded the ancient Boeing 777 I noticed a few things immediately.  First, the interior hadn’t been updated since about 1971.  We’re talking floral wallpaper, neon green floral print chairs, a giant faded picture of women working in a field where the movie screen would typically be and about 2 inches of legroom.  Second, I was one of maybe 5 women on the packed plane, three of which were my friends.  Interesting.

Finally as the clock approached mid-night we were taxiing onto the runway.  Then a strange thing happened.  As we were speeding down the runway, the force of gravity pushing us back into our seats, a man somewhere on the plane yelled something in a foreign language and every other man on the plane replied.  I’m sure whatever they said had cultural or religious significance, but in my mind, at that moment I was convinced we were going down.  Thankfully we didn’t “go down,” that is unless you include that large man sitting in front of my who reclined his seat all the way into my lap, that was fun.

A few hours later we arrived in Dhaka where we had a 12 hour layover and, desperate to get away from the crowds we opted to pay a $20 “visa fee” so that we could stay for “free” in a hotel.

Our next flight to Kathmandu was uneventful and I thought possibly Biman was redeeming itself, but then came the flight back to Thailand.  The flight itself wasn’t bad except another $20 shelled out on a long layover in Dhaka.  This time my qualm and frustration actually came at the Kathmandu airport.

Like all good airline customers we waited in line to get our tickets.  We waited forever in a long, long line.  Finally we got to the front and were informed by the women working behind the computer that she didn’t have our reservation.  What do you mean you don’t have our reservation? We flew here 2 weeks ago!  She told us we would have to travel to the Biman office in downtown Kathmandu to get it worked out.  Unacceptable.  Our visas were expiring, we had to start work on Monday, we needed to be on that plane.  We waited, begged, pleaded and finally called for the manager who was no help at all.  Finally in a last ditch effort I pulled out my ticket from our flight to Kathmandu.  The woman looked at my ticket, punched in some numbers and viola!  Our reservations.  Hmmm.  Some system improvement is needed.

Lesson learned: Always hold on to your plane ticket until you have left the country and don’t fly Biman Bangladesh.

Biman

2.  Flight: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to Los Angeles, California via Guangzhou, China
      Airline: China Southern Airways

Maybe I’ve been spoiled in my international travels.  I’m flown on some pretty amazing airlines, Cathay Pacific, Qatar, Turkish, but China Southern Airlines I was thoroughly unimpressed by, and in the future, even if it is the cheapest flight available I will not fly on this airline.  Why?  Let me tell you.

The flight from Guangzhou to LA was about 12 hours, which is a pretty decent length in terms of flying.  I have no long and elaborate story for this flight like the Biman flight.  What sucked about this flight, was the details.  The stewardesses were grumpy and spoke next to no English, all of them. There was no leg room, which made sleeping, moving or even just sitting comfortably next to impossible.  There were individual screens in each chair, but they weren’t on demand.  Instead they showed a handful of Chinese movies and two English movies, both of which played once the entire night, and at the same time. But it didn’t even really matter because every time the person in the chair in front of me moved the screen shorted out.  So I gave up.  Once chairs were reclined I didn’t even have enough room to read a book on my Kindle.  Let’s just say 12 hours with no source of entertainment=awful!

But I haven’t even gotten to the worst part yet.  Out of the 12 hours in the flight, at least 9 of those were spent experiencing extreme turbulence.  Not just shaking, but the type of turbulence where if you aren’t wearing your seatbelt you’ll hit the ceiling.  As we flew across the Pacific my friends and I all had visions of LOST running through our minds.  In a large airplane turbulence like that just shouldn’t happen.

The one redeeming quality of the flight?  The food was surprisingly not the bad.  Who would have thought?

Lesson learned:  Don’t fly China Southern even if they are the cheapest.  We couldn’t even get them to give us air miles for the horrible flight.  A waste.

China Southern

3. Flight: Kathmandu to Lukla, Nepal
     Airline: Yeti Airline

A couple years ago the History channel did a special on the worlds most extreme airports.  Number 1 on their list?  The airport in Lukla, Nepal.

Built into the side of a mountain, Lukla is the starting off point for treks to Everest Base camp.  Because of it’s location the runway is both short and at a slope.  At one end of the runway is a rock wall and at the other end a steep drop-off.  Any mistakes here can be deadly.   Only one week before my friends and I flew to Nepal to begin our Everest Trek a Yeti Airlines flight crashed at the Lukla airport, killing all onboard but the pilot.  See, the airport isn’t only dangerous because of its precarious runway, pilots also have to battle cloud banks that roll in every afternoon.  That doomed flight got stuck in a cloudbank and crashed into a huge boulder at the end of the runway, causing the fateful accident..

I have to admit, boarding our flight that day made me nervous.  Normally airlines are so much safer to fly on after crashes because they’re really paying attention and cracking down, but in Lukla problems are attributed to atmosphere and fate.  Items you can’t control.  It also didn’t help that as we boarded the twenty-seater airplane our seats were glorified lawn chairs and there was no door into the cockpit so we could stare out the front window or even talk to the pilots if we wanted.  I was stressed from the first minute but my real stress came as we approached the runway in Lukla.  Sitting just behind the pilots I literally had a front row seat.  I saw where the runway dropped off.  I saw the giant boulder sitting on the edge and I saw the large rock wall at the other end, but thankfully there wasn’t a cloud in site.  We landed safely, and our flight back to Kathmandu at the end of our trek went without a hitch as well.  Thankfully accidents at Lukla are few and far between and I’m so grateful that I was a lucky one.

Lesson Learned:  Take risks.  Don’t let fear of the possible hold you back.

Lukla

So those are my flight nightmares?  How about you?  What was your worst flight?  I know there are some crazy stories from some of the European airlines and I would love to hear them!

Monkenation

Monkenation (Munk-eh-nay-tion): A clever term used to describe the ceremony in which a person becomes a monk.

Once in a lifetime experiences, when they come along you have to take advantage of them.  So when I was invited to go to a monk initiation ceremony for the father of one of my students I put religious differences aside and jumped at the chance.

We arrived at the temple late due to some taxi confusion.  Mai pen rai, this is Thailand afterall.  Nothing starts “on time,” so we weren’t to worried, in fact we were actually “early.”  After a two round tour around the temple given to us by six year old Bam, the only family member we could find, we finally bumped into a family friend who knew which direction to point us in.

Monkenation

All of a sudden things became crowded and chaotic.  The students mother beckoned us to come near her husband.  Thai people all around us were picking trays up off of a table.  Utterly confused and completely out of place we smiled but our minds were blank.  It wasn’t until the father, the initiate himself grabbed my arm and told me to pick up a tray that I  got any direction at all.  I picked up the silver tray, loaded with white roses, Kleenex, dishwashing soap and lotion and took my place in one

of two  long lines in front of the initiate.  Several pictures later we were commanded to move.  We marched around the temple 3 times with a few pauses so that the elders could catch up to us youngsters in the front.  The fact that we had no idea what was going on made this situation so much more amusing, and being nearly a head taller than those around me I was able to get a great view of everything.

When we had finished marching around the temple everyone then filed inside to set down their trays in front of an enormous golden Buddha.  The Thais around us kneeled and bowed as they set down their trays.  Feeling mildly uncomfortable I found myself doing an awkward squat with one knee on the ground solely to gain balance. Quickly everyone shuffled outside once again.  At this time the two initiates (another one had joined behind our group), robed in white were led in a prayer and chant by and elder monk on the temple steps.  They little a candle and then, with a surge were nearly birthed inside the central temple door.  It was at this point that we realized we were on the side of the temple for the wrong initiate.  With some ducking, weaving and some pretty fantastic acrobatic moves we were able to get to where we needed to be.

Inside the temple doors people sat and kneeled to watch the proceedings.  Space was limited.  The only free area of carpet was a roped off space leading to a grandfather clock.  My student, Am, tried to explain the significance of this to me but with her 8 year old knowledge of english the meaning was somehow lost.  The initiates kneeled in front of what resembled a jury of monks.  The elder spoke and read for many, many minutes, so long in fact that my feet reached a severe point of sleep and

I was forced to stand outside the door just to recover.  After nearly an hour of talk the initiates were allowed to leave and exchange their pure white robes for the saffron robes of a monk.  With that the conversion was official.  For the next one to two months this man will serve as a Buddhist monk.  Unlike catholic monks the conversion does not have to be for a lifetime and the men are allowed to get married and hold other jobs but this act will mark as good merit in their future.

If you want to learn more about Buddhist Monks you can look here.

Rainy Bangkok

The Return of the Long Lost Monsoon Season

I was starting to get worried.  It was beginning to look a lot like April around here, hot and dry but without the cool relief of the Songkran Festival.  Where were the rains?  I kept insisting to the new teachers that it was indeed monsoon season but I was beginning to doubt it myself, after all a monsoon season without the monsoons is just a dry season right?

So June and July went by.  We had a few sprinkles here and there but nothing of monsoon class.  I reminisced about this same time last year when we were being prepared for the second coming of the great flood.  I had enough food and water stored in my bedroom to keep me alive for a good week or two if needed.  Now, the idea of a flood is far from anyones minds, or was…

Slowly the rains have returned.  I can once again hear the screams of fright from my second graders as they react to distant peels of thunder.  I actually quite enjoy these afternoon, and even evening thunder showers.  The 3 am Hurricanes are a completely different story.  Living on the top floor of a townhouse where the roof is questionable at best each drop of rain sounds like a tiny metal ball boring through the tiles, much like the sound my childhood Pachinko machine would make when I hit the jackpot.  Combine this with thunder and lightening, literally right outside my window and it makes for a pretty sleepless night.

The next morning, when I leave my house I expect to see the ravages from this monster storm. You know, downed limbs, a flooded klong, maybe an orphan roof or two.  Instead I find the sun shining brighter than ever before almost like it’s mocking me.  At this point I have to double check with others that the night before even happened.  Sleepless for them?  Check.

Before we know it the rains roll in again and we’re doing crazy things like using the first floor of our new academic building as a slip and slide, adults only.  Who knows what this monsoon season will bring if it’s just started and life’s already become so crazy.  Maybe we really will have a flood this year…. sure hope not, don’t want to carry my couch to the second floor, it’s a monster.

Rainy Bangkok

A little jump back to get a quick taste Part 2: Bali

I’m going to skip back a little in time to give you a look at some places I’ve visited in the last year.  Now keep in mind these blogs were written for a personal adudience and therefore are probably not up to “travel blogging” standards but it gives the feeling of the experience nontheless.   I also apologize for any spelling or gramatical problems.  Once I’ve written a LONG post I tend to not want to go back and read over it again…..  anyway….

5 days is simply not enough in Bali

 First I must point out that Bali is NOT a south pacific island like Tahiti or Fiji like I’m sure many of you think (I know at one time I did). Bali is actually part of Indonesia, a smaller island just east of the main island Java. I think part of the reason why so many people don’t recognize Bali as being part of Indonesia is because it has such a separate culture. While yes it shares government and money and all the other things that define a country the laid back surfer vibe seems much more like Hawaii than Jakarta. Another element that adds to this is that fact that Bali is primarily Hindu and Buddhist while the rest of the country is Muslim.

Our trip to Bali was unfortunately short. We left from Bangkok early Wednesday morning and got into Bali at about 11:30am. A van from the place we were staying came to pick us up and took us to the “hotel.” Now I put the word Hotel in quotes because I wouldn’t quite call it a hotel, it’s much better than that. The place is called “The Chillhouse” and the compound consists of two main houses the chillhouse and the surfer house and then several bungalows as well all surrounded by beautiful landscaping and even a pool. Because we had an odd number of people we were placed in the surfer house where single surfers usually stay. I wasn’t expecting it but the rooms were beautiful. Because of the nature of the surfer house each bedroom had a bunk bed draped with mosquito netting and each room also had its own outdoor bathroom. It was a little hard to get used to that at first but oh it was amazing. The owners also upgraded one of the rooms to a room they called the tree house. It took up the whole second floor of the building and then there was a ladder in the middle of the room which led up to a crows nest type thing. We let Heidi and Ann have that room because they were going to be there longer but we all spent time up in the crows nest just lounging and talking. The first day actually we had planned to go out that afternoon but we were so tired that we all actually fell asleep up there. It felt good.

Breakfasts and dinners were also included with our stay at the chillhouse. As if we hadn’t already loved everything else the food just put it over the top. Amazing organic meals every night and I’m usually a very picky eater but I loved it. I must say that if you ever go to Bali you should definitely stay at the chillhouse. Me and Lucy are thinking about going back for October break and we’ll probably stay there again.

As part of our package through the chillhouse we got a one day surf lesson. Because none of my friends had ever surfed before they sent us to the Rip Curl surf school in town. I decided that even though I’ve surfed before and know how to surf I would go to the lesson anyway because I wanted to be with my friends and also I’m terribly clumsy and therefore not very good at surfing I’ll admit so I wanted to learn some technique again.

The school gave us everything we needed right down to boardshorts and a rashguard. I was a little disappointed that they made us wear a helmet though. I know it’s safer but I just felt like a geek in it.

We went out in the water after they taught each concept just to try it out. The first time out was just catching a wave and riding it in on your stomach. Because they knew I had surfed before a couple of the instructors asked if I would try standing up. I gave them no promises but said I’d try and I did it! I actually got one of my best rides of the day because after that they taught everyone to stand up and with all the technical aspects refreshed in my brain I started to rethink EVERYTHING.

After that first day we had so much fun we decided to go back for a second lesson, this time the lesson was on paddling. Meaning the first day wasn’t paddling at all be just stood and when a wave was coming we jumped on the board, so sissy surfing. Now paddling is SOOOO much more work and I had some pretty decent wipe outs. All the other girls got pretty good. Heidi just looks like a surfer. It must come naturally to her. If me and Lucy go back in October we want to take the rest of the lessons.

After our first day of surfing (Thursday) we got back to the chillhouse just in time to make a trip they had planned to a temple. Originally we had thought he would take us to a temple that was pretty close to the chillhouse but we ended up going to one that was about an hour away. Before we could enter if you were wearing shorts that made you wear this hideous purple sarong thing. Oh it looked terrible but I got to wear it all night 🙂

Like every other Hindu temple I’ve been to (except Mammallapuram in India) there were monkeys EVERYWHERE and they were sneaking little buggers. One monkey actually stole Lucy’s wallet from right around her neck. She finally got it back after some kids chased it down and threw candy at it but it was a scary few minutes there. Lesson learned, Monkeys will steal ANYTHING. They even tried to steal the glittery pieces right out of my hair. That was my cue to exit.

We were at the temple right around sunset and apparently, conveniently (wink wink) we were there at the same time a big show was starting up and for only 50,000 rupia (about $5) we could go see it. Initially we all said no because the show was billed as a fire dance and we see our fair share of fire dances in Thailand, but then all the other people in our group were going to see it so we decided that instead of waiting around of an hour doing nothing we might as well see it. Well… they shouldn’t bill it as a fire dance because it’s not. It’s actually several different scenes from the Ramayana acted out by people in costume. It starts out with this huge group of men coming out chanting, singing and waving their arms. Then those men actually remain on the stage chanting for the rest of the show while the actors come out and act and dance. I actually quite enjoyed it. I’m glad we went.

On our last full day in Bali (Saturday) we went on a Volcano/Culture trip which had been part of our deal with the Chillhouse. Our first stop was yet another show but this one was more traditionally balinese. It told the story of a prince and a Barong, which is a mythical good luck monster and how the Barong helps the prince when he is attacked by another mythical creature which I forget the name of 🙂 Again I liked the show and I went a little picture happy, I took a lot but the lighting was awesome 🙂 

After the show we drove for about another hour into Ubud until we came to this amazing overlook where we could see two volcanoes and a lake. The one volcano had just erupted in 1992. As I looked at the lava flow, right at the bottom were a bunch of houses. All I could think was are these people crazy? I personally would never build my house at the base of a volcano.

After that I thought we could continue on to at least the base of a volcano but our driver turned around and started heading back. That was a little disappointing. I have ACTUALLY visiting a volcano on my list of things to do when I go back to Bali.

We ate lunch at an overpriced restaurant right on some beautiful rice terraces and then we got to do some shopping in Ubud. Oh goodness shopping is my vice. I might like shopping in Bali more than I liked shopping in any of the other countries I’ve been to. They have these beautiful painted woven boxes. I bought 6 and getting them back to Bangkok was quite a feat, and even more I was able to get 5 of them back to America with me. I was impressed.

On our last morning Heidi, Heidi and I woke up early so that we could walk to the beach that’s closest to the chillhouse since we hadn’t been to a beach our whole time there except to surf. It was about a half hour walk to the beach. By the time we got there the water was already filled with surfers. We sat and watched them for a little while but we didn’t have a lot of time since we had to leave for our flight at 9.

A little jump back to get a quick taste Part 1: Nepal

I’m going to skip back a little in time to give you a look at some places I’ve visited in the last year.  Now keep in mind these blogs were written for a personal adudience and therefore are probably not up to “travel blogging” standards but it give the feeling of the experience nontheless.   I also apologize for any spelling or gramatical problems.  Once I’ve written a LONG post I tend to not want to go back and read over it again…..  anyway….

Amidst the Himalayas, my adventures in Nepal

 

 First let me say the 9 days I spent hiking the Everest Trail were the hardest of my life so far. By the end of each day I wanted to just collapse on my bed and sleep for a month. My toes ached and my muscles hurt and my forearms got sooooo burned but every second of it was worth it 🙂

 Ok so now I guess I’ll start at the beginning. When we decided to go to Nepal we booked with Biman Bangladesh Airlines, the national airline of Bangladesh because it was half the price of all other flights. The curse of flying with Biman is long delays and nasty layovers because of their small fleet. Our flight was 3 hours late and we arrived in Dhaka at 1:30 am. We went to the Biman transit counter and they gave us a chip for a hotel then we had to pay $20 to leave the airport and sleep. This process took FOREVER and we finally arrived at the hotel at 3am so exhausted. The hotel wasn’t as bad as I expected but it wouldn’t even match up to a roach motel in the states. Good news was we got to sleep… until 8 and then we had to go back to the airport. This time our flight to Kathmandu was actually on time.

Flying into Nepal I fell in love. Looking out of the plane window I could see green hills terraced with fields, rivers and mountains in the distance. It was such a beautiful sight. Our tour company picked us up from the the airport and we spent the rest of that first afternoon checking into our hotel and then in Thamel (the tourist area) renting down jackets, sleeping bags, and getting everything else we needed for the trip that we didn’t have. Let me say my trekking pole and the “North Face” zipper pants I bought were quite possibly my best investments ever (after my Mac and my Camera, and maybe college of course 🙂 )

We had to wake up early for our flight to Lukla. I was a little, ok no a lot nervous about the flight because the Lukla is one of the highest and most dangerous airports in the world. It is built on the side of a mountain and the runway is very short and slants uphill. What added to the nervousness also was that a plane had crashed there just 2 weeks before killing 18 people and the plane was the same model with the same airline. The flight was a little bumpy but it went well. The landing was incredible. With such a short runway they had to slam on the brakes and it looked like we were going to hit a brick wall at the end but our pilots had mad skills. Another thing that impressed me was the turn around. The rushed us out of the plane, hurried the next people on and 5 minutes later they plane was taking back off for Kathmandu.

After we got out of the airport our guide Ras (who was amazing) hired porters to carry our bags and then we started on the Trail. Or first days hike wasn’t that long, only about 3 hours but we were already entranced by the scenery. Snow capped mountains, a rushing river, waterfalls, lots of trees! We were constantly passing trains of Yaks and we crossed over our first of many cable bridges. We spent our first night in Pakding where it got cold but not to cold, cold enough that we were wearing tons of layers though.

Our second day was the grand daddy of all our hiking days. We new that day would be bad when we started since the end was going to be an upwards ascent of several hundred meters into Namche Bazar but I didn’t actually imagine it as bad as it was. The morning we did a lot of up hills and then back down. We all complained because we felt it was so counter productive to have to hike all the way up a hill on to have to walk down again. We stopped for lunch in a village called Jorsale and after lunch we walked along the White River, pretty easy. So we were walking along and all of a sudden I look ahead and see a big cable bridge suspended across the river about 3 hundred feet up. My first thought was I have to cross that bridge and I’m going to have to climb all the way up to it. Then I thought oh no after the bridge it’s uphill forever and ever! (we had looked at a map). Well there was a HUGE climb to get to the bridge. I had no problems crossing it. It was actually pretty beautiful laden with prayer flags flying in the wind.

After the bridge, like I expected was the climb of death to Namche Bazaar. Seriously I felt like the trail never ended. I would reach one corner expecting to see civilization only to see more stairs I was going to have to climb. Now there was some people I was with (cough cough, Heidi and Aaron) who had no problems because they are part mountain goat and can climb anything with the ease and grace of a ballerina, but the rest of us must take ages to trek up the hill going step by step. I must say I wasn’t very encouraged once I did reach Namche Bazaar to find out I still had A LOT of climbing to do. But here is where one of our porters stepped in. We had 3 porters, 2 young guys and one older man. Now our porters would always go ahead of us to book our guest house for us. This time the older porter (I can’t remember his name) came back to see us and he took my backpack from me to carry. Maybe it was because he could see I was about ready to crawl all the way to our guest house, but I thought it was very kind of him.

Because we were in Nepal during the high tourist season many of the guest houses were running out of rooms so Anna, Heidi and I were put in the upstairs prayer room of our guesthouse in Namche Bazaar. It was beautiful, very colorful and highly decorated, and we had huge windows looking out into the town and mountains. We all got a little altitude sick while we were there, but thankfully we had another day in town to acclimatize.

I don’t know what got into me our second day in Namche Bazaar, it had to have been pure desire to see Mt. Everest because I choose to climb to the top of the rest of the mountain to get my first view of Everest. It took a long time. Lorrie wasn’t feeling well so she didn’t come and Anna turned back half way. Heidi and Aaron flew up to the top, but our faithful guide Ras stayed back with me the little slow poke to get up the mountain, and oh it was so worth it. First there was Ama Dablam, then Lhotse and Everest in the distance. It was such an exciting moment to see it. I wanted to just soak it in. We stayed at the view point for awhile and then we hiked on to the Everest View Hotel to get hot chocolate because it is “very expensive.” Seriously though, it’s a Japanese owned hotel and Japanese people get like helicopter into it. I don’t see how anyone is crazy enough to actually hike there to spend the night….. While we were up there is when I learned how truly skilled the mountain yaks are. They were able to eat and chill on the sloped of this super steep mountain. It was crazy!

     The next day was another doozy. We hiked along the side of the mountain and then all the way back down to the river where we ate lunch. Then we had to climb up ANOTHER mountain to get to Tengboche. Oh it was hard again. I though the town would never come. I was alone for most of the hike, keeping my own pace and I got up to the guesthouse like 45 minutes after everyone else. Tengboche really was a sparse town. There wasn’t much there. A couple guest houses, a cafe and a Monastery. It’s the Monastery the most people come to the town for, although the view of Everest wasn’t to shabby either, right outside our bedroom window.

That night it got so, so cold. I was wearing nearly every warm thing I had including the ghetto powder blue 1970’s down jacket I had rented. After dinner we saw that the sky was clear (something rare for Himalayan nights) so we went outside to look at the stars.

     I have never seen so many stars in my life. Like really, there were so many that we had trouble finding the big dipper, and you know those pictures of galaxies they show you in science class with all the clouds of different colors? Well we could really see the galaxy of the milky way galaxy. Now there were no purples are greens but we could see the “clouds” in all different shades of grays. It was incredible. God truly is amazing and the ultimate artist.

That night was the coldest night of my life hands down, SOOOOOOOOOOOOOO COLD!

     The next morning I was awoken to the sound of a gong being struck over and over and over again. I looked at my watch, 5:30. Who needs an alarm clock when you have a Monastery? Then came the horns and they blew and blew. I figured this would be a good time to put on my shoes and grab my camera to attempt sunrise pictures on Everest. Aaron was already outside when I got there, then Heidi came as well. Not long after a weird instrument which can only be described as sounding like a chorus of very out of tune kazoos started to be played. Now know this musical medley went on for at least half an hour. It was brutal to the ears but the sunrise was beautiful. When the “music” stopped playing we went into the Monastery to watch the monks at their morning prayers. I wanted to take pictures so badly, but when I walked in a monk saw my camera and motioned No, DANG IT! Aaron actually did take a picture and he got the evil glare from like the head monk. That’s the thing about SLRS, they have loud shutters.

     Because people were getting sick left and right we decided not to continue on to Dingboche like we had originally planned and decided to turn around and take our time on the way back. After breakfast Aaron and Anna headed down to the river to get to a lower elevation but Hiedi, Lorrie, Ras and I hiked a little more up the hill to a stupa, we wanted to break 4000 meters since we weren’t going to make it to Dingboche.

Going back down the mountain took about half the time it took to climb, but my toes and knees were killing me by the time we reached the bottom. Thankfully we were able to stop for lunch. Instead of hiking all the way back to Namche Bazaar we decided to stop in a small village called Tesing which you could literally walk from one side to the other in 2 minutes or less. The guesthouse we stayed in had 1 working light powered by sun panels, so it was a very dark as well as cold night. That was the night though that we had the joy of meeting little Monkashi Sherpa (people share their last name with the name of their people group, so in this case she was a sherpa). WE made some jewelry for her out of metallic colored pipe cleaners and after proclaiming, “I love you” she was ours for the rest of the night, always hanging around us. When we played cards she wanted to help. Then in the morning she wanted Heidi to do her hair, it was so cute 🙂

The next day we hiked back to Namche Bazaar. It was fairly quick since it was mostly flat. This time we stayed in a somewhat nicer place. We had blankets on our beds (to add to our sleeping bags, still no heat) and we had a bathroom in our room. I spent the day relaxing. Some of the others went to visit the Sherpa Museum, but I wasn’t about to walk up the hill again. WE got some pretty cool things shopping in town to. Overall I think Nepal had great shopping. Then that night I took a hot shower, my second of 2 in the 9 days and it was wonderful.

The next day we had to hike back down that awful mountain. It was hard on the legs again. Then after that we had a bunch of ups and downs, being counter productive once again with all our work walking up just to go down again. It was hard and I was tired, but then at lunch I had the brilliant idea to use my ipod and you know what? It worked! I listened to music the rest of the hike and somehow I just had energy and I was actually the FIRST one to reach our guesthouse in Pakding.

That night Ras and our porters decided they would do a dance show for us. Now our porters dance was really just a joke, but Ras was totally serious and really into it and it was, well, HILARIOUS! Oh and it was so hard not to laugh. Then he got us to come up and dance with him (this was all taking place in the dining room during dinner) and we had so much fun. There are pictures but Heidi has them so those will have to come later. thankfully the only other foreigners in the room were a young Australian couple just starting their hike and they thought it was hilarious as well.

The next day was another hard day hiking back uphill into Lukla, but the good thing was I knew it was our last hiking day. Leaving the mountains I would miss the beauty but I wouldn’t miss non stop hiking. Once we got to Lukla we sat and ate and played cards it was wonderful. We also went to visit the wreckage of the plane that had crashed. It was incredible and so sad. I found burned pieces of maps, euros, even a burned boarding pass. The plane had hit this large boulder so hard that it actually knocked a piece of the boulder off. The plane was actually still there, just under a tarp.

The next day we flew back to Kathmandu. It was sad to leave the mountains behind, but we were so excited for free showers! After “freshening up” in the hotel and checking on our flights (crappy Biman) we went to Thamel to do some shopping as we waited for our cultural dinner that night. I got the most amazing hand made, hand painted box. It is beautiful. The dinner was good. There was cultural dancing and lots of Nepali food, Dal Baat (lintel soup, rice, and yellow curried vegetables) in particular.

On Tuesday Lorrie and Aaron went to stay with their friends while Heidi Anna and I stayed at the hotel for 2 more days. We slept in then went back to Thamel to do the last of our shopping which ended up taking all morning and then we got awesome Indian food for lunch. I love Naan. We we’re going to try to go to Lorrie and Aarons friends childrens home that afternoon but they said it would be better for us to come the next day so we went to Durbar Square instead.

Now we were in Nepal during one of their big festivals called Tihar, so the streets were crazy. Women were stringing bright orange flowers, the streets were full of people and christmas lights hung from all the buildings. Durbar Square was no exception to the craziness. Almost to crazy for my liking. The buildings were beautiful. The carvings on the sides were so intricate, especially in the home of the Kumari (Living Goddess). There were maybe 6 different pagodas and I think all the buildings are from around the 8th century. I could be wrong…

The next day we went to visit Aaron and Lorries friends Issac and Eva and their childrens home. It was so great to be with the kids. Such a different side of Nepali culture. We played Apples to apples and just talked and had fun. The next day Heidi and Anna actually left to go back to Thailand so I took a taxi by myself across Kathmandu to come stay at the house as well and it was great to be with them.

Issac and Eva took us to go see Pashupati, the biggest Hindu Temple in Nepal. AS soon as we entered the compound the air was thick with a smoke, the smoke from cremations which were just open air along the side of a river in the middle of the compound. Monkeys ran wild and several “holy men” sat and harassed you for pictures and money. I didn’t like it there, I felt very uncomfortable so I will move on now…. Afterwards they took us to the Boddenath Stupa. I liked it mostly because it was a great photo subject. I had a lot of fun taking pictures of it.

On our last day Issac took us to Durbar Square in Pattan (the section of KTM where they live) but we didn’t go in because the guard demanded 200 Rupees, so we just looked at it from the street. Then we went wild in a movie store. We bought several disks that have tons of movie on them. I got a disaster movies one and several kid movie disks. Now that I’m back in Thailand I’ve found that they arn’t amazing quality, but they work. And we went to a christian cafe for lunch and got excellent food.

On saturday morning we went to a Nepali church for a few minutes to check it out while we dropped of the kids (Nepalis have saturdays off work). I was amazed at how big it was. I was expecting maybe 30 people but there was well over 100 and that was for just one of the services.

Our flight back to Dhaka was fairly uneventful although we almost didn’t make it on because the airport is old school and because Biman didn’t give us a paper with our ticket numbers on it they just couldn’t handle it. If I hadn’t kept my boarding pass stub from our trip to Nepal then we might have had to of spent a few extra days there.

Our flight was delayed by 2 hours so we got to Dhaka around 5:30 and had an hour bus ride into the heart of Dhaka to get to our hotel. Although the hotel name was Imperial the room faired about the same as our first one in Dhaka. Oh well at least we were only sleeping there one night. Now I don’t ever have to go to Bangladesh again because I’ve already been there!