When asked “what was the best part of the trip”, I don’t have to hesitate before answering “the people”. Our guide and porters made the trip for me. They put everything into making sure the trip was perfect for us.
Some trekkers are like us and prearrange their trip with a company who provides a guide and porters. Others trekkers arrange their guide and/or porter in Lukla upon arriving. Some trekkers do it on their own without a guide or porter. If I did it again, I would unquestionably go with a company again. To point out the obvious, I physically would struggle to carry my own bag. The trek was hard enough on its own and I am not sure I would be able to enjoy as much if I was struggling under the weight of my rucksack. Second, the amount I learned from our guide was well worth every penny we paid. Hiring guides and trekkers provides jobs to people who need jobs. We asked questions about anything we saw whether it was about the plants we saw, animals, people, religion, culture, etc. I would have missed out on a lot of details I didn’t know have our guide’s wealth of knowledge to lean on.
We loved our guide, Shyam. He was introduced as shy but we were told he would warm up with time. It was not immediately clear how good or bad Shyam’s English was but we immediately noticed his huge unending smile. The best example of this is when Anne asked him if the flight from Kathmandu to Lukla was scary and he said “yes” while smiling ear to ear. This infectious smile won our trust instantly. By the end we were convinced we had the best guide. It is impossible to explain the amount of care he put into making sure we enjoyed the trip. If we wanted anything Shyam would find it. If we had a question, Shyam likely know the answer or would go find the answer. Micaela asked Shyam to point out a snow leopard and koala on our trek. Of course Shyam couldn’t make these animals appear but you could tell he was trying to spot something because he then pointed out a herd of tahr (wild goats).
Shyam comes from a large family in the Everest region. He began as a porter and worked his way up to becoming a guide. To be a guide in Nepal you must pass a government administered course. In addition, Shyam explained they added a new rule of guides must have a high school education, which he does not have. I was told becoming a guide is very dependent on learning English.
Our porters were Shyam’s younger brother and cousin. In the morning, they would tie up our rucksacks and put them on their back. Sometimes the porters trekked with us but most the time they did not. No matter what, we would run into them at least a couple times during a day’s trek due to rest breaks. They would always get to the next teahouses ahead of us to reserve a room. Our rucksacks would be waiting for us in our rooms in the next teahouse when we arrived. They were able to go on one acclimation hike with us and we loved having them. On the day of one of the other acclimation hikes they were picking potatoes in the local village.
We struggled with the amount our guide and porters catered to us. They wanted to carry our bags even when not trekking. When climbing on an acclimation day, one of our porters (who had a break from carrying two rucksacks for the day) asked if he could carry my backpack. Don’t worry I didn’t let him. Our guide served us all of our meals and cleaned up our plates. If he saw us get up he would quickly rush to us to make sure everything was okay. Our guide and porters never ate with us and rarely even sat with us. All Nepalis would eat together once the trekkers had eaten. One day we sat down for lunch in a village we were passing through and our porter asked if we wanted to eat outside or inside. When we answered outside, a group of Nepali men sitting at the nearby table quickly scattered. We were in awe because there was more than plenty of room at the table for them and us. We were informed “trekkers are important to Nepalis.” It was hard to balance letting them know we don’t need served and respecting their culture.
It didn’t take us long to realize Nepalis have different genes than us Americans. The altitude did not appear to have any effect on them whatsoever. It was rare to see our guide drink water and the only time he breathed hard was when he was mocking us. While we were watching our every step and struggling to breathe they might be walking while texting on their phone. We learned they have a marathon every year from Everest Base Camp to Namche on the day Mt. Everest was first summited by Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay. The marathon winner finished in 3.5 hours and our guide did it in 5 hours. This puts our 3 days to shame. Shyam can do our entire 14 day trek in 3 days (2 days up and 1 day down). The cold temperatures didn’t affect the Nepalis either. While we sat bundled up in the teahouses with our stocking caps, gloves and coats on, the Nepalis would be outside with short sleeves and sandals. The thing that stood out the most was they seemed to always be happy. No matter their circumstances it seemed like every Nepali we encountered was happy. I could take a lesson or two or five.
The trip was definitely life changing and opened my heart in ways I couldn’t imagine. But I must admit after 20 days in Nepal, I was I was overly glad to return home to my American luxuries. I looked forward to being able to sit on the toilet, showering, eating meat and so much more. Twenty days of vacation anywhere is just too long.