Wednesday, 20 April 2011
Friday, 11 February 2011
Friday, 14 January 2011
So it seems my 7 months of travelling have come to an end. In many ways, It’s quite saddening but I’ve been preparing myself for this point all along. Every place I’ve visited, I’ve reminded myself that this moment is likely to pass in a flash and the best I can do is make the most of my experiences and live this life to its fullest.
Along my travels, many of the people I met have asked me the standard question. ‘What made you decide to travel?’ At first I gave a response which I thought to be true – ‘I wanted to do a number of things in a number of different places and felt I deserved a gap year!’ At some stage I questioned this...and the real reason revealed itself. I decided to travel because I was in search of something and when people asked ‘what?’ – I told them ‘I’m not sure.’ I’m still not certain as to what I’ve been searching for but I’ve found a lot and much of it has been in myself.
I feel more fulfilled than I ever thought possible and I don’t think I’d feel this way without having visited each of the places I went to and having met each of the people I had the pleasure of coming into contact with. I found adventure in learning what my body and mind are capable of withstanding. I found power in knowledge of other cultures and human nature. I found purpose in influencing the lives of others. I found friendship in the form of people that I would never have otherwise come into contact with. I found love in it’s purest form. I found clarity in myself and my character.
I now return home with all the inevitabilities that I always knew: Many of which I’m quite excited about. I get to see my family after being away for the longest time ever. I begin my real training programme for the 2011 London Marathon. I will begin looking for work, having already set up a couple of interviews for freelance facilitation and sports coaching jobs. However, I also return home with a whole set of new prospects that I hadn’t banked on. I have a set of new friends from around the world to keep in contact with. I have a girlfriend who makes me very happy. I have the prospect of returning to America to work for 4 months this summer. I have an idea of what I hope to look for on a professional level from September onwards. Finally, I have self assurance of the person I hope to be from 2011 onwards.
I’ve found writing a blog to be really fulfilling. Not necessarily knowing that anyone was even reading it but having an outlet to articulate my thoughts and emotions through. I think this is something I’ll continue updating. Perhaps not as often as I have over the last 7-months but I plan on continuing to live a life that excites and challenges me and the hope is that it will continue to make for good reading. Coming up I have a trip with my father to Turkey, where we hope to uncover some of the Aboudara family history. Not long after, I have the London Marathon. Soon after that, I’ll be leaving for America again. I’m sure there will be plenty else that will crop over the next few months and I’ll look forward to writing about it at as and when it comes about.
Much love always!
Day 10 came around and we were all quite looking forward to trekking back down from Gorakshep. We were all in desperate need of some warmth, more oxygen and loss of altitude sickness symptoms. That day we trekked for around 7-hours and went down almost a kilometre in altitude. We stayed the night in Dingboche.
Day 11 we continued to trek down a further 600 metres. By now I was kind of bored of it. I’d already achieved my goal of reaching Base Camp. That was the hard bit. Trekking down was no challenge, it was just tedious! But, today was a little bit special for me since it was my 23rd Birthday. I’d say it was quite special to spend my birthday in the Himalayas. It was the first time that I’d had a birthday without my friends or family present (of course the other trekkers in my group have become my friends but you know what I mean). It was also the first birthday I’d experienced without technology. No phone calls, no facebook messages. In a way, it was quite liberating to turn 23 in this way and I spent the day absorbing the scenery and enjoying my surroundings. That night at Kengjuma, I celebrated my birthday in Nepalese style. We crowded around a wood fire and I was treated to a big apple pie and a traditional Nepali neck scarf to mark the occasion.
Day 12 saw us continue our trek down with a further 8-hours of trekking, descending another 800 metres to reach Monjo. That day was a bit of a panic for me. We had lunch in Namche Bazaar where I found an internet cafe for 30-minutes, hoping to read my birthday messages. Instead, I found out that my flight to India had been postponed, meaning that I would miss my connecting flight to London. All of a sudden, I needed to book onto another flight, and make sure that I wouldn’t get in trouble for not having an Indian visa. All of this with no phone or regular internet access. I managed to forward the email to my Father in the hope that he will sort it for me. I think he has, but I’m still not certain!
Day 13, was our final day of trekking. We were told it would be a 5-hour trek back to Lukla. After 2-hours, Hayden and I decided we were going to race ahead and get to Lukla early. We managed the final three hours in half the expected time.
It’s now 3:30pm on day 13 and I’m going to attempt to get internet in Lukla to find out whether I have a flight on Sunday. Hopefully I’ll be home in two days time!
Sleeping in Lobuche was horrendous! I regularly woke up gasping for air. It’s as though your body doesn’t realise that the Oxygen in the air is only at 60% of what it usually is at. Therefore, your lungs continue to ventilate at their usual rate until suddenly your body realises it’s deprived of oxygen and suddenly you’re hyperventilating to make up the oxygen that your body has been lacking. Still, it wasn’t worth focusing on too much, since it was only going to get worse!
Day 9 saw us wake really early, with 10 hours of trekking ahead of us. Firstly we stopped at Gorakshep for a late breakfast. Gorakshep is where we would be spending the next night at an altitude of 5180 metres (Officially, we were now at extreme high altitude). We all finished our food rather quickly in excitement for our next stop: Everest Base Camp!
The trek to Base Camp was pretty exciting. We were walking along the Khumbu glacier with some marvellous views of Mount Pumori, Lhotse and Nuptse. By now, everything around was snow capped and the true winter wonderland that I had originally envisioned when arriving in Nepal. At one stage we reached a peak height of 5550 metres above sea level, before arriving at Base Camp (5364 metres) completely exhausted. To be truthful, Base Camp itself was kind of underwhelming. There was one rock where someone had written ‘Everest Base Camp 5364m.’ I guess we’d all expected to see tents and radio towers and excitement like you get in the movies and documentaries. But we had to accept that it was January and no one in their right mind climbs Everest this time of year. The weather conditions are far too hostile. Most climbers wait until April or May. Despite this anticlimax, the feeling of reaching base camp was everything but underwhelming and we all rejoiced together over our achievement and took many photos.
That afternoon, we trekked back to Gorakshep where we spent the night, definitely the worst night’s sleep of my life!
Day 5 saw us continue trekking from Namche Bazaar to Tengboche, climbing over 500 metres to reach an altitude of 3980 metres. It was another long day involving 8-hours of trekking with a short lunch break in the middle. It’s worth me mentioning at this time that although I am trekking to Everest Base Camp, it’s not as straightforward as starting at the bottom of Mount Everest and climbing until we reach Base Camp. Instead, the Himalayas is the biggest mountain range in the world and Everest is actually rather inaccessible. In order to reach Base Camp, you need to trek along the Himalayas through a number of other mountains first. This is what makes it different to say, trekking up Mount Kilimanjaro (a single mountain peak), which by the way, I have already decided I will be climbing that one day too!
We arrived in Tengboche late in the afternoon with some spectacular views of Mount Everest, Lhotse and Amadablam peaks. Tengboche contains the oldest Buddhist monastery in Nepal and we were given the opportunity to visit it. It was a true marvel to see and certainly the most beautiful building I’ve experienced in Nepal. I learnt that while the country is mostly Hindu (approximately 65%), in the mountains, the majority of people are Buddhist. The most memorable thing about staying in Tengboche is that the tea lodge we slept in is owned by the family of Tenzing Norgay, the Sherpa who first reached the summit of Everest with Sir Edmund Hillary. It’s still argued today whether Norgay reached it before Hillary but that’s a whole different story. The lodge had an old scrap book with various photos of Tenzing and letters he had received from the Queen of England amongst others. The book was fascinating to look through and certainly something that most museums would pay a good price to get their hands on. However, I have no doubt the family of Tenzing Norgay will not part with this scrap book easily.
Day 6 was another early rise to start our trip to Dingboche, where we would reach an altitude of 4340 metres. It was another 8-hour trekking day with some incredible views of Mount Amadablam and Pumori. By now, the low oxygen levels in the air were becoming more noticeable. This was most apparent by us passing the final trees that we would see on our trek. From now on we would only be seeing rocks and ice. Many of the members of the group were now starting to suffer from the high altitude and low oxygen content. People started picking up mild headaches and finding it difficult to catch their breath even during the most unchallenging of tasks such as walking from one side of the room to the other. However we kept our spirits high by playing games and laughing in the evenings around a Yak poo fire.
Day 7 was another acclimatisation day. We followed the protocol of our previous acclimatisation day by once again training high and sleeping low, just as endurance runners do. We found a steep hill to climb up in the morning, reaching a height of 4750 metres above sea level before returning to Dingboche. The rest of that day was spent relaxing and recovering.
Day 8 saw us trekking 8-hours to Lobuche, reaching an altitude of 4980 metres above sea level. I was now at a greater height than when I skydived in New Zealand! However it’s hard to appreciate this when you’re in the Himalayas since while you continue to climb higher and higher the bottom of the valleys also increase in altitude so you never at anytime look down and think ‘Wow, I’m 5000 metres above the sea!’ This was by far the toughest day yet. Everyone in the group was ill by now with either a cold, headache, stomach ache or a combination of the three. I had even managed to pick up a slight headache from the high altitude and of course, I didn’t have any altitude medication so I just had to tough it out. That day, we passed through a memorial of climbers who had died while expediting to the summit of Everest. Amongst these I found a Jewish guy from Texas as well as the famous Babu Chiri Sherpa. Babu is an everest legend who holds the record for the fastest summit from Base Camp, as well as the longest time spent at the summit without any additional oxygen (21 hours!), which is pretty mental considering oxygen content is at 30% at Everest summit. He died on his 11th Everest expedition, falling through a 200 metre deep crevasse.
Just as we left the memorial we saw the clouds begin to descend upon us. It was incredible to be so high up that we were right in the middle of the clouds. Unfortunately, it did make the rest of the trek rather cold to bare. We arrived in Lobuche later on to have dinner in our tea lodge, which was rather basic indeed. The higher up you get, the more basic the tea houses become, which is even worse when it’s also getting colder and more oxygen deprived as well. On top of this, the food becomes more and more expensive since it has to be transported further.
Anyway, I’ll look forward to telling you more soon!
Day 2 was an early rise in order to leave the hotel at 6am to catch a flight to Lukla. The flight was an experience in itself! We were in a 20-seater plane which meant that we felt every single bump and bit of turbulence. The views of the Himalayas were spectacular and we even caught a glimpse of Everest along the way. After flying to Lukla, I have huge amounts of respect for the pilots on these planes and the skilled way in which they manoeuvre around the mountains. Lukla is a very small airport and the runway is only 200 metres long, with one end 60 metres higher than the other! I have no idea how our pilot managed to land this thing but he did and so very smoothly as well.
We got off the plane and pretty much began trekking! After maybe half an hour or so, we stopped for lunch and then headed to Phak Ding, where we would be spending our first night. At first, I found the pace ridiculously slow, but I soon found out that this was for our benefit, both to help us acclimatise and ensure that we don’t burn ourselves out. After 4 hours of trekking we arrived into Phak Ding and the tea lodge that we would be staying at. We were already at an altitude of 2,600m and many individuals could feel the effects. The trek had certainly tired me out but all in all, I felt good.
It was in Phak Ding that Maski spoke to us about eating and drinking throughout the trek. It was firstly advised to always ask for things to be well cooked and to avoid heavy spices and anything that might upset our stomachs. It was suggested that we should avoid eating meat. In the mountains, the only foods grown are spinach and potatoes so everything else has to be transported from Kathmandu by plane to Lukla and then on foot by porters. This firstly explains why things tend to cost more the higher up you climb, but it also demonstrated why steering clear of meat may not be a bad idea, since its freshness would be questionable. We were told that we should be drinking 3-4 litres of water per day to reduce the likelihood of altitude sickness as well as dehydration. Since we’re Westerners and our bodies are not adapted to the local water we had three options: Buying bottles of mineral water, buying boiled tap water, or using regular tap water and adding water purification tablets. I made a decision to simply drink the tap water just like the locals do. In the Philippines, we were told that the local tap water might upset your stomach but after drinking it for a few days, your body adapts to it. I hadn’t encountered any problems with the water, so I decided to do the same here and 2 days later, I’m happy to report that I have had no issues!
The first night was pretty chilly and I was very thankful for the sleeping bag I had decided to rent. Day 3 was a pretty early wake-up again. After eating breakfast, we began our 8-hour trek to Namche Bazaar, the next night stop. The trek provided some beautiful views of the Himalayan Mountains and along the way I was able to speak to the local guides and learn a bit more about the people who live on the mountains. I was curious to know why people chose to live up here if receiving food and resources was so difficult. I was told that many years ago there was a wide spread of malaria in the lower parts of Nepal, which led to people settling in the mountains, since the mosquitoes were not found in these areas. Malaria is no longer an issue in Nepal and as a result many people are moving away from the mountains, however, the mountain folk live a surprisingly luxurious lifestyle. During the summer they collect herbal plants and sell these lower down in the winter. From what I was told, they’re able to make quite a bit of money from this and live well. With the increase of tourism in the Himalayas, the local people have also managed to make quite a bit of money off running tea lodgings, restaurants and stores.
Half way through our trek, we stopped for lunch, where I decided to order the same dish that I had eaten the previous night, a traditional Nepalese dish called Dal Bhat. It consists of rice, fried spinach leaves in herbs and spices, vegetable curry, pickle (sort of like salsa) and boiled lentil soup. You basically mix it all together and enjoy this delicious feast. It’s healthy and rice is a great source of carbohydrate, which gives you energy to continue trekking. However, what I love the most about this dish is that the waiters will continue to serve you until you’re completely full, making it the best value for money, all you can eat buffet that I’ve ever experienced. So far it’s yet to cost me more than 350 rupees (£3 approx).
We arrived at Namche Bazaar by 5:30pm and were all pretty tired. We were now at 3,440 metres above sea level, which meant that we had climbed 800 metres that day. We spent the evening enjoying dinner, playing cards and getting an early night’s sleep (I think this will be a running theme for the trek).
Day 4 was an acclimatisation day in Namche Bazaar having climbed a fair amount in the previous day. Already, some of the group were starting to feel a little bit sick, unable to stomach food and suffering from headaches. Thankfully, I still felt good and was pretty pleased with my trekking ability during the days. Compared to the rest of the group I have very little mountain trekking experience, but I seemed to be one of the fittest, which surprised me. However, now that I think about it, I spent a month in New Zealand hiking almost every day, I did a lot of walking in Australia, I spent two months in the Philippines during which, I visited the gym 4-times a week for conditioning and I then completed three weeks of intense karate training in Japan, so really I shouldn’t be surprised that I’m coping well.
Though it was an acclimatisation day, we had the option of completing a 4-hour hike, firstly to Syangboche, the second highest airplane runway in the world and then to a further lookout point which provided a panoramic view of many Himalayan peaks including Everest’s. That hike saw us ascending 440 metres to reach an altitude of 3880 metres. The height is an exciting element for me because prior to coming to Nepal, I don’t think I’d ever been more than 2,000 metres above sea level. It’s pretty exhilarating to know that with each day that passes I’m reaching altitudes higher and higher than I’ve ever experienced before. The lookout point was magnificent. It was so peacefully quiet and the peaks were so clear to view. I realise that I’m going to spend the next 10 days in constant view of the Himalayas and their beautiful snow-capped peaks and winding valleys but I don’t think I’ll ever get bored of admiring the sheer vastness and natural magnificence of it all.
It’s now 6pm which means I should have a big helping of spaghetti waiting for me! Tomorrow, we continue our trek of course and I will look forward to filling you in on it all soon.