In January, it was brought to my attention I was going to lose a lot of my vacation time I had saved if I did not use it by the end of the year. I was not about to let that happen. A few months earlier, my friend Micaela and Anne had invited me on a trek and I didn’t think it would be possible. Given my new discovery of potentially losing vacation time, I immediately contacted my friend Micaela to see if it was too late to join the trek. I didn’t ask for details about the trip or do any research. I just blindly signed up in order to avoid losing the vacation days. I knew we were trekking to Mt. Everest Base Camp. I had no idea I would go 14 days without showering. I didn’t realize I would not be able to eat meat for 20 days. I didn’t consider the fact I don’t tolerate cold weather. I hadn’t thought about not having cell phone connection or internet connection. I didn’t think about the physical expectations or the impact of altitude. And most of all …. I had no idea I would fall in love with the Nepali people.
Our adventure started with three girls flying from NYC to Doha Qatar to Kathmandu Nepal. Twenty-four hours of traveling later we arrived in Kathmandu. We were told we would be picked up from the airport by a guide who would have a sign with our names and would be wearing a red polo with the company’s “Experience the Himalayas” logo on it. Upon arriving in Kathmandu, we were picked up from the airport by a man with our names on a sign but with a navy polo and no logo. This didn’t seem like a big deal until about 15 Nepali men swarmed us with instructions on where to go, wanting to take our bags and demanding tips. We immediately began to freak out and turned on our crisis mode instincts. I began interrogating the gentleman with the navy blue polo about what company he was with and where we were going. Anne immediately pulled out her GPS to verify we were in route to the hotel address previously provided. Micaela turned on her phone to notify her husband of what was going on. Come to find out, this is the common deceptive practice used at the airport on tourists. Our guide was not able to say anything to the men because it could induce a fight coming from another Nepali.
After safely arriving at our hotel in Kathmandu, we spent the following day exploring. Walking around Kathmandu was an experience of its own. I cannot even begin to describe the chaos on the streets of Kathmandu. Sidewalks are not existent. You walk on the same road as the cars, motorcycles, and bicycles all while getting swarmed with Nepalis trying to sell their goods. I am still baffled by the madness and pollution. People wore masks while walking around because the air quality was so poor.
We visited Swayambhunath or Monkey Temple, which is a Buddhist complex with temples and shrines and real live monkeys running around everywhere.
After our day of exploring, we were taken out to eat by the trekking company and introduced to our first taste of Nepalese cuisine. The most common dish is Dal Bhat, which is staple that consists of rice, a lentil soup, pickled vegetables, and curried potatoes. Nepalis eat this dish for breakfast, lunch and dinner. A common saying is “Dal Bhat Power 24 Hour”. I was pleasantly surprised with how much I enjoyed the meal.
After dinner we returned to the hotel and prepped our bags for trekking. Each passenger’s luggage is limited to 15 kg (33 pounds) for domestic flights. Our goal was to get our rucksacks to 12 kg and backs to 3 kg and leave the rest at the hotel in Kathmandu. After getting our bags all prepped we weighed them on a scale right outside the hotel. Of course, we had to make multiple trips upstairs to remove items and adjust and back down to the scale. We had been given advice of wearing our heaviest clothes on the flight and wearing multiple pairs of pants if needed. Luckily, we didn’t need to go to those extremes. We did shove some small but heavy items in our pockets to shed the last couple of kgs.
The following morning we set out for our adventure. Almost all trekkers going to Everest Base Camp fly from Kathmandu to the infamous Lukla airport (it is worth a Google search). October begins one of the two primary seasons for trekking. However, this year the monsoon season had lasted longer than normal. Our flight along with all others were delayed due to weather. Our guide instructed us to sit and we did as we were told. We had no information about which airline or flight we were on or what was happening in general. The announcements weren’t helpful either as they were in Nepalese. We just sat clueless and overwhelmed with anticipation while our guide stood near the various airline booths and lines. The airport was a mad house with trekkers everywhere. Many people had been waiting three days to get out. Suddenly, our guide gestured to go over to him. He was throwing our bags on a scale and handing us tickets. He rushed us through security (if you can call it security) and the next thing you know we were waiting on the runway for our plane. When we asked our guide if he bribed them to let us on the flight, he smiled his huge smile and said “yes”. Luckily he did because we later learned it would be another three days before flights began routinely making it out.
The minute I stepped off of the plane in Lukla I took a deep breath of the mountain air and was in aww of the views. I walked to the baggage area where are rucksacks had been dumped in a pile and a Nepali man tried to help with my rucksack. You can’t fool me twice! I refused his help but he persisted and tried to get my bag off my back. Finally, my guide came over and told me to give it to him. Turns out he was one of our porters legitimately trying to help. Whoops!
The only thing in between us and trekking through the Himalayas was breakfast.