I've always wanted to go to Patagonia. Some of the most amazing mountains in the world are found there. I've read Eric Shipton's book about exploring Patagonia. I've read books about climbs on famous peaks like Cerro Torre and Cerro Fitzroy. It's a beautiful and distant part of the world that I have never visited.
Sandy and I were really interested in a trip run by Mountain Travel/Sobek. Last year we looked at it, but to go that far we would need an extended period of time. The only way to do that was to go over Sandy's Christmas holidays break from U of I. By the time we looked into it, that trip was already fully booked. This year I was determined to go. I wasn't taking any chance of the trip filling up. I contacted MTS early in the year. We were the first ones to sign up for the Christmas trip. I was really excited about going.
That was when we started to run into problems. MTS was unwilling to confirm that the trip was going for sure, so we couldn't book our air travel. The closer we got to the trip the more the air fares went up in cost. It's prime season for visiting Patagonia. Added to that was the fact that the trip itself was expensive. There was even a supplemental fee for taking the trip over the Christmas holidays. When we added up all the costs, the trip was really getting expensive. I would have still gone for it, but Sandy was feeling uncomfortable with the costs. Since we're old retired folks at this point without a lot of income, eventually I had to agree that we should probably cancel out.
Sandy knew that I was really disappointed so she suggested that I should substitute some other trip. I thought about possibilities but pretty quickly settled on a destination. I wanted to go back to Nepal again. She was not interested in going along but was happy for me to go.
I have been to Nepal three times before. In 1990 I spent two months on a trekking/climbing trip in the Solu/Khumbu region, near Mt. Everest. That trip was with a large group. While we were in Singapore, Nepal was not that far away and I took advantage of the proximity to make two trips there. In 2008 I spent two weeks trekking to the Annapurna Sanctuary and in 2009 I spent two weeks trekking in the Langtang region. On both of those trips I went by myself. I was the only trekker, along with a guide and one or more porters. I really enjoyed the freedom and flexibility on those solo trips so wanted to do that again rather than go with a larger group organized by someone like Mountain Travel or REI Adventures.
I started by emailing my friend Tenzing Sherpa. He owns Hiuchuli Treks in Nepal. They had done a good job organizing my two trips to Nepal from Singapore. Since then I have stayed in touch with him on Facebook. He replied that he had retired and referred me to his son, who was running the company now. He also said that my friend Tasi Tamang, who had been the guide on my last two trips, wasn't working for them anymore.
Next I contacted Tasi directly. He said that he was working for another trekking agency, Himalaya Odyssey Nepal Trek. I asked if he was available if I came in the fall and he said yes, he could do a trip with me. That was good enough for me and we started to work on the details of the trip.
The trip that I wanted to do was the Manaslu trek. The scenery is spectacular. It's a part of Nepal I had never been to. I haven't even seen Manaslu, one of the fourteen peaks in the world that is over the magic number of 8000 meters high. The area has only been opened up to trekking in recent years so it is less developed than some of the regions like Everest or Annapurna, where trekking has been popular for fifty years now. Unfortunately I found out that the Nepal government requires at least two trekkers in a party before they will issue a permit for the Manaslu circuit. I preferred trekking solo which meant that I had to pick another trip.
I finally settled on going back to the Everest region, where I had gone on my first trip to Nepal. Although I had been there before it was twenty seven years ago. And I remembered that it was an incredible trip. It would certainly be fun to go back again.
Tasi and I arranged dates for the trip. I was going to overlap with a week of a trip Sandy was making to Montana for her quilting certification. A friend would stay with Abby while we were both gone. I got my airline tickets. I sent pictures to Nepal for my trekking permit. I started to collect my gear for the trip.
When the day came I got up early, took Abby for a walk, and then my friend Ivan came by and gave me a ride to the airport. I started by flying to Seattle. I had a window seat and it was a beautiful clear day. I had a great view of Mt. Adams and Mt. Rainier. Seeing those mountains got me even more psyched about getting to Nepal and getting into the Himalayas.
Next I flew from Seattle to Dubai. The flight went over Canada, the North Pole, Russia, then Kazakstan, Uzbekistan, Turkistan and Iran. I never have had much desire to visit those last few countries and flying over them didn't change that. They looked really desolate. The flight was fourteen and a half hours. That's a long time to sit in a middle seat. Fortunately it turned out that the guy next to me was a physics professor from the University of Capetown so we spent a lot of time discussing physics. He recommended some popular physics books for me to read. One of them is on my Christmas list for this year.
When I finally got to Dubai it was about 8 pm local time. That was 9 am Boise time. I had been up for more than twenty four hours straight and was ready to crash. I had checked my bag through to Kathmandu and had a change of clothes in my backpack so I didn't have to wait for luggage. I got through immigration and cutoms quickly and was anxious to get to my hotel. I had booked a room at the airport Holiday Inn Express. Other places I had been, when you book an "airport hotel", you just walk out of the terminal and the hotel is nearby, usually across the street. Not here. It took me a long time to find any info, and when I finally found someone they told me the hotel was too far to walk and I had to take a shuttle. Things were not well signed and it took me a long time to find the shuttle stop. Then when I did, I had to wait over half an hour for the shuttle to come. Even though it was night it was extremely hot and by the time I got to the hotel I was soaked in sweat, very tired, and quite irritable. Fortunately I got checked in ok, got to my room, and fell into bed.
My flight to Kathmandu the next day wasn't until late in the afternoon so I could sleep in as late as I wanted. That's actually hard to do when you have an eleven hour time change so I was up very early. I felt rested though and that was all that mattered. I thought about taking a quick trip into the center of Dubai since I had never been to the UAE before. I decided it was too much trouble. I'd have to change money. I'd have to get a map and figure out where I wanted to go. And there was the risk that I would get stuck in traffic or something and miss my flight. I decided that it wasn't worth it, especially since there wasn't anything that I was excited about seeing. I just took my time and had a leisurely breakfast at the hotel before taking the shuttle to the airport. I got there with over five hours to wait until my flight. Nothing like a little margin to reduce the stress of travel.
The Dubai airport is modern and very clean. It kind of reminded me of the Singapore airport. The terminal buildings were huge, so even though there were a lot of people it didn't seem crowded. But I had trouble finding my way around and the hotels and ground transportation weren't convenient. In the future it wouldn't be my preference for making a connection if I had another good choice. For this trip I didn't.
I spent most of the time waiting for my flight reading. It was also a good place for people watching. There was a lot of variety. There were a lot of men wearing local garb - a full length white robe (dress actually) with white headgear. Since I went to Catholic grade schools, to me they looked like they were wearing white habits like the nuns used to wear way back then. I'm sure that they were very proud of their traditional clothes but I had a hard time taking them seriously.
The flight from Dubai to Kathmandu was four hours long, nothing compared to the marathon flight from Seattle. I had a window seat and it was very pretty watching the sunset. Over India the land was a beautiful patchwork of city lights. There were thunderstorms over the Himalaya and the lightning flashes in the clouds were impressive.
When we finally landed the flight crew said that we needed to remain in our seats. We waited for a while and then several Nepali police came on and removed a Nepali man from the flight. He seemed to be drunk and I learned later from talking to other people that he had been causing trouble during the flight. He was putting up quite a fight with the police as they dragged him off. Unlike United Airlines, nobody took video of it. I certainly wasn't curious about what the law was in Nepal about confiscating video evidence.
When we finally got off the plane he was still outside and still struggling with the police, trying to hit and kick them. He finally landed a good solid kick on one of them. That was a mistake. They lost their patience and threw him down on the ground and four of them started to go after him. He was not going to feel good in the morning and not just because of his hangover.
Like most tourists I had to get my visa at the airport. I goofed and got in the wrong line so by the time I got to the right place I was at the very end. The flight was late. We had to wait before we got off the plane. Then I took forever to get my visa. It was quite late by the time I came out of the airport. I felt badly because I knew that Tasi and his son were waiting to pick me up. But when I came out I saw a guy I didn't recognize holding a sign with my name. Turned out that he was from my hotel, Kathmandu Guest House, and was there to give me a ride.
We were just loading my stuff in the van when Tasi and his son ran up. They were there too. I guess I must be important to have two people come to pick me up at the airport, even when I get in late at night. It was a good thing that they spotted me. I had just assumed that he was in sync with the hotel people. I would have felt terrible if he had waited a long time because he missed me.
We hadn't seen each other for eight years. Since we did two treks together, spending night and day together for two weeks each time, we had gotten to be good friends. It was good to see Tasi. We shook hands, then gave each other a big hug. He gave me a ceremonial scarf, the traditional Nepalese greeting. Since the hotel van was there, he said I could ride with them and he would meet me tomorrow.
My hotel was the Kathmandu Guest House. I had stayed there on my last two treks. It isn't the fanciest hotel in Kathmandu by any means. It is certainly clean and adequate. It's reasonably priced. It is located in the center of Thamel, the main tourist district. It has a long history. It was the first guest house to open in Thamel in 1967 when adventure tourism first started. Over the years it has become somewhat of an institution. Lots of famous people have stayed there, from the Beatles to former president Jimmy Carter. Many famous climbers have been guests as well. So I think it is fun to stay there.
I had one free day in Kathmandu before leaving for the trek. I had planned it that way so that if there was a problem with my international flights and I got to Nepal a day late, it wouldn't disrupt the timing for the trek. I used the extra day to take care of some last minute preparations. I hit the ATM to stock up on cash. I needed enough to last me for the next two and a half weeks in the mountains.
I also wanted to take the clothes that I had worn while traveling to the laundry so they would be clean when I got back to Kathmandu. That actually turned out to be difficult. Although there are lots of places in Thamel that do laundry, I arrived at the height of Dashain, the biggest festival of the year in Nepal. Almost nothing was open. I finally found one guy but when I asked the price he wanted 2000 rupees (20 USD) to do a small load of laundry. Most places were advertising 100 rupees/kg. Usually I don't barter too hard in Nepal. Most of the time you are arguing over a dollar or two with people who are very poor. But this guy was clearly trying to rip me off. After a lot of arguing I got him down to 1000 rupees. Still a rip off but I didn't have another choice.
I wandered around Thamel, remembering my way around, checking out what was in the shops. I was trying to get an idea of what I wanted to buy as souvenirs to take home after the trek. I would wait till after I got back to Kathmandu to buy anything but this gave me a chance to think about it for the next two weeks.
Mostly I stayed in the garden at Kathmandu Guest House. Thamel is very busy. In fact, it's a freakin' zoo. But the garden at the hotel is very isolated, quiet and peaceful. You would never know that you were in the middle of Thamel. It's filled with flowers and has a Buddist shrine. The weather was beautiful and it was nice sitting out, drinking a Coke Zero during the afternoon, a locally-brewed Everest beer in the evening. I was getting in the zone. Or maybe it was the Zen.
Gajendra, the owner of Himalaya Odyssey Nepal Trek, stopped by. I had to pay him for the trek. Since he was a very small operator he didn't have a good way to do an international money transfer so I just brought the cash along in US dollars. I was glad that I didn't have to carry that much cash anymore! That afternoon Tasi stopped by as well to drop off a duffel bag for the stuff I would take on the trek. A porter would carry it while I got to hike with just a day pack. Yes, trekking in Nepal is luxurious in some ways. That night I packed my duffel for the trek. I packed my own luggage with the stuff I wouldn't need till I got back to Kathmandu. Now I was ready to get into to the mountains.