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How our trek ended
Remember us, Kelly, Catherine, and Kelvin and the horror story in Nepal last April (99)? I thought you would find the whole story interesting and also let you know how it ended.
We had a fantastic time in the mountains. We were meant to fly to Lukla on April 2 but when we arrived at the airport at 6am we found out the flight was cancelled so we headed back to the trekking office to see if they could book us another flight. Cancellations are common for Kathmandu so we weren't too upset. We were told to wait at our hotel with our guide, Dorje, to hear if we had a flight that day. So Dorje took Kelly and Kelvin to his house to meet his wife and also to try and sell them socks and hats that his wife had made. He said we had to outfit the porters for the trek and that we would save a lot of money by buying his wife's clothing. The company was to outfit the porters, not us. Didn't buy any. Then he also said that he had purchased pots and pans for our trip and that we were to rent them from him for 80Rs/day.
We didn't say much but as the day wore on we thought about our contract with the trekking company. It stated that all camping equipment was already paid for so we brought this up with Dorje and said we shouldn't have to pay for it. He said the company did not give him enough money to pay for everything so we conferred with the trekking company and the company and the guide yelled a bit in Nepali and supposedly it was settled but this was only the beginning.
We were told we had a flight the next morning. The next day at the airport we got our flight fine but we were all carrying a little (ok, a tonne) of extra weight. Dorje asked us to carry 6 loaves of bread, 4 dozen eggs and a tonne of squishy tomatoes. The flight was interesting, a small 18 seater. Saw Everest from the flight and also got a very bumpy ride, Kelvin's altimeter watch showed that we dropped 200m in a second at one point, an roller coaster ride. The landing strip in Lukla is like no other we have seen, you drop over a mountain and it seems like you are heading straight down for the runway then at the last minute the pilot pulls up the plane and you land on a short gravel runway that is angled up.
Our porters met us at the airport, we had three, Kim, Bharat and Siva (Kim and Bharat were hired by the company and Siva we paid daily). We had tea in a lodge while the porters got the bags ready. One porter carried two large backpacks, another carried a backpack and two heavy tents and a third porter carried a basket full of food (teahouse trek remember). Many porters carry stuff in baskets that have a rope around the bottom and across their forehead, they carry the weight with their head and neck, none of these ergonomic backpacks. All along the way we saw porters carrying unbelievable loads, they are strong little guys, and they are little, I (Cath) was bigger than most.
So we were off onto our trek. About 1/2 hr into it we stopped and had to wait for one of the porters to catch up, this was to become typical. We only had a short day so we weren't too worried about rushing anywhere. The scenery was great, the valleys are so deep and we were only at 2800m at this point. Very dry since we are at the end of dry season, monsoon starts in May. There are tiny villages dotted in the hills, small housed built on the side of a steep mountain, the owners most likely walk up and down the mountain everyday to get water, food etc. To walk 1 hr up a hill here is nothing for the locals, just like walking a block to the 7-eleven for milk. Cows, chickens and children run wild. There is a definite difference between the peoples lives in the mountains and Kathmandu. They are both as grubby but the mountain people seem to have enough to live a "healthy life", no poverty is noticeable, less of a rat race.
After two days we made it to Namche, a very cool town built on the side of a mountain. We planned to spend three nights to acclimatize to 3450m. By this time Dorje had mentioned to us that we should change the route of our trek. We originally wanted to do Gokyo valley, then Kala Pattar then climb Island Peak. He said that because monsoon was coming early this year we should climb Island Peak first, we said ok since we thought he would know best. Our first mistake. So in Namche stayed at an ok lodge, the toilet/outhouse was outside with the cow's. Also got a bucket shower, a common way of bathing, you wash a part of your body at a time with a washcloth and a bucket.
The food in the lodges was very similar all along the way, fried rice, fried noodles, fried momos (like pyrogies filled with veggies or potatoes), soup and boiled potatoes, and dal bhaat (boiled lentils poured over curried potatoes and rice, very bland but a good source of protein and carbs, get as much as you can eat and easy to digest). As I found out, fried food is hard to digest at high altitude so my common meal was soup (Just like Ichiban) boiled potatoes or dal bhaat. Kelvin did not like any of these foods so he did not eat a tonne at the beginning of the trek. Kelly and I were ok with most of the food. You must remember we just came from India were every second meal I was sick. All of us were only sick for about 1 day each in the trek so we were lucky.
Anyway, the next day we did a day hike with our guide to get up to 3800m, saw a great view of Everest, Ama Dablam and Lhotse. We arrived in Khumjung village for lunch because we had heard about the good bakery. Our trip was organized such that we had paid for everything up front and the guide was given money by the company to pay for our food and lodging. So Dorje did not want to eat at the bakery since it was too expensive, we insisted on the bakery since it is our money. We ordered pizza which was fairly expensive, Dorje didn't say anything but he did make a big issue about the total cost of the bill, meanwhile he had ordered a beer with his lunch which cost more than any our lunches.
Once back in Namche our guide went out with friends and got drunk, not a big deal. Next day another hike to Thame, a nice town with a cool Buddhist monastery. While there we had to eat where he wanted us to and had to eat Dal Bhaat. OK. At the monastery, we all got silk scarves and bought some souvenirs. Even Dorje bought souvenirs and lots of them??? We left Dorje at 1 pm with some friends in a small village. He wanted to chat and we wanted to get back. We made it back to Namche at 2.30, he arrives at 4.30 totally pissed again.
We are leaving the next day for our next town so we need to rent climbing equipment for Island Peak. We ask Dorje to come with us to the rental store to sort stuff out. Once in the shop he seems to not really know what we need or what quality gear we need, tells me that since I have a strong man on either side of me when I climb, I (Cath) will not need an ice axe. I don't agree. Then he looks at ice screws and picks out two that would not cut into cotton wool they are so blunt, Kelly then says he will buy two new ones so we have good ones on the climb. Then Dorje picks up an ice axe and starts swinging it around in a tiny shop full of people. I leave at this point, don't want an axe in the foot. I see Dorje on the street trying to figure our his harness and crampons. He couldn't get the harness on, put on boots 4 sizes too big, and didn't know how to put the crampons on. Kelly then tells Dorje we have to talk.
Back at our hotel we tell him that he is too drunk, does not seem to know what he is doing and we don't feel comfortable with him taking us on the mountain. We want another guide. Dorje is angry/drunk. We call the trekking company and they tell us we can get another guide if we want but the best thing to do is to try and sort it out. We think we have got it sorted with Dorje and decide to give him another chance.
The next day we head for Tengboche at 9am. Should take us about 4 hours. By 11am we have only gone about 1 hour of the way. Dorje is really slow since he is hung over. We don't want to hike ahead since they are carrying our stuff and we don't trust them yet. One of the porters is complaining about the weight of his backpack, saying way to heavy. Anyway at 11, we stop at a lodge for some tea, Dorje dictates to us when to stop and when to go and where we stop and sleep and sometimes what we eat, we're not too happy about this arrangement. Dorje then says we are going to have lunch here, its only 11 in the morning and we only hiked for 45 min past Namche. Not happy about it but we order food anyway. Meanwhile Dorje has started drinking again. Kelly confronts him about this and he says that what and how much he drinks is his business and when we climb he will not drink.
At 12.30 we start off again, down a large hill. At the bottom we are all there except for Dorje and one of the porters who is complaining about the weight. We wait 10 min then all of us continue on up a large hill to Tengboche except for Kelly who goes to find them, they are 40 minutes back up the hill just sitting there. Kelly blows up at Dorje and tells him we don't want him for a guide and he can go back to Kathmandu, he sucks up and says he will not drink anymore. So they start hiking again. Dorje goes on to tell Kelly that tonight they will make us eggs and rice since the food in Tengboche is very expensive. That is why we are carrying so much food since he didn't want us eating the food in the lodges, it would be cheaper to make us food and then he can pocket any extra money. Kelly says no, we are not eating eggs that have spent 5 days in a black plastic bag in the hot sun, we paid for lodge food and that's what we will eat! So Dorje then makes a big show in starts jumping on the eggs in front of a large group of Germans. I didn't see any of this, I am 1 hour ahead with the porters. Dorje then threw the eggs over the edge, then thinks about what he did and goes looking for the eggs since then are worth money up here. He finds about 6 whole ones and tries to sell them to another porter who says he doesn't want them at all. So he throws them away again while yelling and screaming.
Kelly catches up to me on the trail and we talk about the situation. None of us are having any fun at all, I am about ready to punch the man, we know we can have a much better time without a guide, just the porters, then we can trek the way we want to, even if we can't do the mountain. When we arrive in Tengboche, we all agree we are going to fire Dorje. Meanwhile, he has arrived and just ordered a beer and is setting up a tent so he can cook our dinner in there. And we were supposed to sleep there too. It took him from 9 - 4 to get here since he is so drunk, Namche to Tengboche. We tell him he is fired and he can go back to Kathmandu, he needs to give us all the money the trekking company gave him for our lodge and food so we can continue on without him. There is a police post there so we get them involved, they really aren't much help. We have also called the trekking company from a radio phone and they say he owes us about 80,000Rs ( US$1150). Dorje says he only has 16,000Rs and that he had called the company and more money is on the way, yeah right. Meanwhile, I have taken his bag into our room so he wouldn't run away.
The next day we search through the basket of food that the porter had carried up, there was over 60 kg of food in the basket, rice, sugar. Lentils, noodles, coffee, pots, stove, fuel, bread, tomatoes. We only needed food for 4 of us for 2 days of camping of the mountain, not 60 kg of food. We think the plan was to cook us food instead of eating in lodges for the entire trip even though we had paid for lodge food. We sold the food and pots to the lodge for 2600Rs. It was like a big auction where you couldn't speak the language and didn't know what things were worth. It was kinda fun and the villagers got some GREAT deals. I got mars bars. So Dorje left.
Then Kelly and two porters packed up the climbing gear and headed back to Namche. We couldn't climb the peak without a guide so we made the decision not to climb it and just trek. It took them 6 1/2 hrs to go to Namche and return, much less time than it took us just to get here the day before. Kelvin and I did laundry and showered and visited the monastery. That night it snowed, very beautiful. So we were on our own.
A few days later we reach Chukhung where we climb Chukhung Peak, ~5550m, our highest point yet. At the top, I get altitude sickness, dizzy and nauseous; the going is very slow but I make it. The views of Lhotse and Nuptse, are incredible, clear skies. Then back at the lodge one of the porters tells us that the two of them are running out of money, they only brought half of their money. This is where we met Jamie McGuinness. He helped up out a lot. There are no hard feelings between the porters and us, then just wanted to save some money. Problem is we didn't get the money from Dorje and our coke and beer money isn't enough for 5 of us for 3 weeks. So we leave for the next town which has a phone, meanwhile we have to pay the porters bill since they can't.
At Sonam Friendship lodge, Dingboche the owner speaks good English so he interprets for us. We tried to get money wired or get a loan for the company but no one would do it. We tell them we do not have enough money to pay them so they will have to go back to Kathmandu, we figure we have already paid for them once so we shouldn't have to again and we doubt we would see the money anyway. It was stupid of them not to bring enough money but we think they normally get the trekkers to pay them more money. After the issue with Dorje we were not getting ripped off again. We gave them money to get back to Lukla where they had tickets back. They left with hugs and smiles (no hard feelings).
Now we are us three plus Shiva. The company had only paid for two porters, we were paying the Shiva, so we had enough money for him. Kelly and Kelvin carried their bags and the porter helped me out with mine.
By this time we have been at ~4700m for about a week. The altitude does weird stuff to your body, during the night Kelvin and I would awaken because we were gasping for breath, its called periodic breathing. Your body breathing slows down till it stops for a few seconds then it starts gasping for air. Not a big deal as long as you don't panic, Kelly didn't get this. My appetite increased so much, I was the garberator, I finished off everyone's meals, eating way more than Kelly or Kelvin. Kelly got the Khumbu cough which is like a cold but its just due to cold air; sore throat and a cough and lots of snot. I got the snot thing too. The most annoying thing that affected me at high altitude was related to the change of ph of your blood; in order to get it back to normal your body produces more urine. So I got up to urinate at least three times a night, about every two hours you get out of a warm sleeping bag and huddles outside in the cold. And it was cold. We were wearing our touques, mitts and down jackets at night. Even though we were all eating well, we all lost weight, I think I have lost about 15 -20 lbs. We are very healthy though.
The weather has been great, clear skies and it clouds over around 2 so our normal day would begin at 6, hike to were we wanted have lunch and that would be it for the day. If we were feeling warm enough we would wash clothes in an ice cold river or bath in a bucket of water. Several times we went 5-6 days before washing, just too cold. Much of our energy was spent keeping our body temperature warm or dealing with altitude.
Our next destination was Kala Pattar a viewing point of Everest at 5600m. It took me 3 hours to get to the top, I was so nauseous and dizzy, if I moved to quickly not enough blood would get to my stomach since it was needed elsewhere in my body and I would have to sit down and wait for the nausea to stop. Kelly and Kelvin were fine. I did make it, and it was worth it. A beautiful view of Everest, Lhotse and Nuptse. Took many pics, We were the last ones up since I took so long.
I was only hit with the nausea at altitudes above 5000m, we were sleeping below this so I felt fine at night. Then we went over the Cho La pass, 5450m on a glacier, awesome. Very tough for the guys since they were carrying their own bags, not too bad for me. A long 7 hr day. Then we were in the Gokyo valley. We rested here for a few days and this is were Kelly and I got sick. Just nauseous and tired, I think it was just after trekking so long, we were exhausted. I slept for two days and felt much better. The food here was the best in the whole trek, good soups, pizza and pasta. The town was by a lake, very similar to Lake Louise in Canada. We rented a tent and hiked up the fifth lake and camped in full view of Everest at sunset. That night I threw up and then couldn't fall asleep since I was too cold. In the morning we were all tired and dehydrated and I didn't thing I could make it up the peak we wanted to climb. Kelly convinced me to try so I did, funnily enough I had my best day of hiking at altitude, my body must be adjusting. We took many pictures on the peak with Everest in the background, then Kelly said we must pictures with the prayers flags that we had bought. He took them out and with it a t-shirt that said "Will you marry me?"
Yes, it has happened, Kelly and I are engaged and it couldn't have happened in a better spot, on a mountain top. I cried, said yes and we have it in pictures. He gave me a ring that Cory and Delaena had given us before we left Canada, a plastic ring that was for a joke. Another Canadian then arrived and we re-enacted the scene since he had a video machine, hopefully he will send us a copy. We are both ecstatic and the photos look great. Kelly said that he was planning to do it on Island Peak, then Chukhung Ri, but I was too sick and this peak called Knobby View, 5600m was his last chance to propose on a mountain top. So a very good ending to a great trip.
We were now in a hurry to get to Kathmandu. We hiked from Gokyo to Namche and Namche to Lukla the next day. We headed back to Kathmandu a few days early to sort out our money issues with the trekking company, surprising them by showing up a couple days early. They were just as shocked as we were about the whole deal. Dorje never returned and when they went looking, his entire family was gone as well. We talked about money and Kelly made some smart threats that Jamie told us about. We asked for 70% back and when they offered a little over 50% in cash right then we took it. Not knowing how the system (or lack there of) would work, we had earlier decided that 50% was fair. They were very accommodating and we took the cash and ran. We expressed our displeasure about the whole problem but also put in a good word for the porters. They just got caught up in the middle. And so with that money Kelly and I bought a ring for me yesterday, a semi precious aqua marine stone which Nepal is famous for. My engagement ring until we return to Canada for the real rock.
Out of this... Nepal was one of our most favourite countries in the entire years. We loved it, despite the problems. You know a place is special if you can have so much hell, and come out loving the place. The rest of the year was awesome. We went through Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Indonesia, Hungary, Czech, Egypt, Israel, and Jordan. The time of our lives.
Just thought you would like to hear how it ended!!
Thank-you Jamie for all your help, Cath and Kelly and Kelvin