It's 10AM Alaska time. I got home early evening after multiple flights. It feels good to be back. I'm a bit sad that my cat died while I was away, but glad that Melissa was with him and took care of him to the end.
I'm enjoying a hot cup of coffee and looking out my window at little mountains that I know so well.
I did a post-trip weigh in. I'm down to 155lbs. I lost 8lbs over the last 5 weeks. I probably lost 16 lbs in Nepal and gained 8 back in Bhutan.
Time to download some photos and get some laundry done. Mission Accomplished....
4 November 2016
Trying the local cuisine in Guangzhou. Mixed seafood soup. Only one mysterious shell fish that I think is Albone (?)
I like how the late passenger aisle is lucky number 13.
Hmmm....what to have for lunch?
The buckets eels and turtles are live....
Brief stop in China....
I have an 8 hour layover in Guangzhou today. Again the airline offered me a complimentary hotel room for the afternoon. This time I took them up on it.
I was expecting an airport hotel right beside the airport, but I swear we drove for nearly an hour away. The check in took another 45 minutes to get through the line of travelers. That left about three hours of very nice hotel time that included a buffet room service of Chinese food (unexpected). They came to my door with a buffet cart. I filled a bucket of things and then was handed chop sticks.
I'm feeling very sleepy after my shower. I can't fall asleep and miss my bus back to the airport. Wish I had coffee.
I'm in Kathmandu now. I had a travel visa for the day so I went into the city to kill some time.
I'm back at the airport now. I had a tense moment with security when they asked to see the Yak cheese. They looked at it and asked if it was for dogs back home. I guess I'm not the first American to bring a big bag back to the US.
My pack and Yak is checked all the way back to Anchorage. I am guessing I will have one more hurdle with customs in LA before I can be sure the Yak will make it home. Wish me luck.
I'm not sure which day I get back. November 3rd is almost over and I have 30 some hours of travel ahead. I think I get back on the 4th?
Mount Everest as seen from my plane window
Only 8 pounds to spare....
My backpack ended up weighing 18.8 kilos (42lbs). 50 pounds is the weight that would have triggered increased baggage costs. I probably have 5-8 pounds of dried Yak cheese in my pack.
I made both my guide and driver honorary Alaskans as a reward for their great service to me. This is a photo of my driver proudly displaying his Alaska flag pin.
Good bye Bhutan....
Hoping a plane to Kathmandu this morning. Starting the long journey back. The photo is a view from my hotel in Paro. You can see the Paro fortress on the right side across the valley.
2 November 2016
Nothing like a traditional hot stone bath after a trek. The tub was full of medicinal plants. It was at least as hot as my hot tub. A bit scary when you see the hot rocks bring the water to a boil on the back side of the tub.
Tigers Nest Monastery ......
We got here on the second day of our trek. Breathtaking approach views. Inside was just as impressive but photos are not allowed.
Yak Cheese Nirvana!...
I just bought a strand of 20 slices of smoked Yak cheese directly from nomadic farmers in the highlands. We came across them on our trek. I have photos of them with the strand.
Melissa will be thrilled. The cost was a fraction of what I paid in the markets the day before. The string that holds it together is made from Yak hair.
1 November 2016
Trekking day toward Tigers Nest
31 October 2016
Fortress at Night, Paro
Farms and Farming...
I learned some interesting things about the way that Bhutan manages their natural landscape. Their constitution requires that 60% of their natural landscape remain undisturbed. Disturbed land includes farms, roads, and any other kind of development. Right now they are maintaining 70% of their land in its natural state.
To achieve this goal, they are forward thinking in many ways. The government now provides an allowance of power to each farmer and remote person so that they can cook and heat and their homes without harvesting any wood. If a farmer exceeds that allowance, then they pay the overage. They have also stopped using animals to plow fields. They now use diesel powered hand tools. By eliminating the need for animal labor, they eliminate the acreage required to grow food for these animals. The harvest is still done by hand labor.
Khamsum Yulley Namgyel
Most amazing work of architecture I have seen on this journey.
30 October 2016
One of the great things about being Alaskan is that no matter where I am in the world, I can see our flags in the nights sky and know which way is home.
My Lodge tonight....
So now I know how rich people vacation. My lodge tonight is up on a hill. I've got a bedroom as big as one floor of my house and I have a bathroom that is twice as big any hotel room I stayed in in Nepal. My deck overlooks a 15th century fort. I'm enjoying the view while sipping a glass of homemade Ara (?) - the Bhutan version of Sake. It's peaceful here and everything in view is pleasing - the mountains, the trees and the architecture. I wish I could beam Melissa and Macie here so that they could enjoy this with me.
Village Houses and Monastery at Chime Lhakhang.
Phallusophy in Bhutan....
The restroom sign is a keeper....
Negotiating Yak Cheese...
Lovesong went a few rounds of negotiation with the farmer at the market. In the end I got 5 long strands of Paro Yak Cheese, 5 strands of the top shelf cubes from central Bhutan, and 10 fat squares of the smoked Yak cheese (size of a slice of bread each).
29 October 2016
Where East meets West.....
My guide told me I should stop by a club by my hotel to see the local music scene here. I had no idea that Coldplay and the Cranberries were Bhutan based bands:). It was all British and American music. Everyone knew the words and better yet most were dressed up for Halloween. I came dressed as a geeky western tourist. My costume was spot on :).
I think these folks are required to wear traditional clothes for school and work, but you can get your 'western' on after hours.
Tashi Chho Dzong Fortress...
This is both the kings executive offices and a monastery. The parliament building is on the other side of the river. The kings house is right below the fortress, but no pictures are allowed in that direction.
The fort was built in the 1700's as a defensive stronghold. Many additions to it and in it over time. All parts are seamless with each other. Truly amazing works of architecture. Details are so beautifully proportioned at all different scale. All the woodwork is heavy timber joinery. No nails.
The Bhutan People have a thing about the phallus. The museum tour guide explained that the symbol is used to keep bad spirits away from the house. They often hang a winged phallus from the eave of a house.
Thimphu street scenes....
I learned a few more things about Bhutan today. Parents don't name their kids. They bring the baby to a monastery where monks decide the name.
They are a mineral rich and timber rich country but protect the trees because they bring fresh air and enjoyment to the people. They protect the ground for the enjoyment and health of the land. They say it is unwise to sell off such things so that they could be rich for one lifetime.
Outsiders can not buy land in Bhutan.
Options for Melissa's store.
I can get it soft, hard, or hard smoked.
We started our day with a hike up on a hillside where they are nearing completion of the biggest Buddha statue/temple in the world. The temple space inside was really impressive, but no photography was allowed. On our hike I learned about the different types of prayer flags. I am most familiar with the winged horse flags, but was introduced to the the white vertical mantra flags that are placed when someone dies. 108 flags are planted to celebrate the reincarnation of that soul.
I also visited a Takin Preserve, which is the national animal of Bhutan. It looks like a goats head on a cows body.
Also made a few laps around a popular local Stupa.
Graffiti in Bhutan
My hotel in Thimphu.
Prayer wheels out in front.
28 October 2016
Me and my scarf and my palatial hotel room.
Kuzu zang po Bhutan
I'm on the ground in Bhutan now. This place seems oddly dreamy. The air is as crisp and cool as Alaskan summer. The landscape is immaculate. The buildings are uniquely their own.
I was presented a white scarf by my guide who showed up in a dress. He and the driver look like they are wearing plaid Girl Scout uniforms (traditional clothes). Better yet his name is something like "love song". For a moment it was all looking a bit gay.
These guys are wicked smart and very proud that they, as a country, will be waste free and all organic for farming by 2030. They recycle everything and generate all their power from Hydro. They use 20% of the energy they produce and sell the rest to India. The sale of power is the biggest part of their economy. Tourism is second. The money I pay daily is used to keep education free here through college.
They love their king. I like that the king has the power to overrule the the new democratic process. If Obama had this .....
My airplane has a dragon on it. How cool is that?
I had no problem getting my carry on approved. Hope it goes that way in China too. I also scored a window seat on the left side of the plane. My guide company says that's best for views.
I did take quick photo of my pack before they dragged it away. That might be helpful if my bag gets lost. When I was having trouble finding my pack on my way into Nepal, I realized that it is hard to explain the color "teal".
My Nepali visa runs out tomorrow. I checked to make sure I won't have a problem when I fly back out of here on the 3rd. Sounds like I am okay as long as I am gone the same day.
I learned my first Bhutan word from a local while in line for my ticket. kuzu zang po means hello.
Off to Bhutan
Pack on back. Store on front. All good. Off I go
27 October 2016
Nepali Street Dogs
They sleep away most of the day and then roam and fight other dogs for food at night.
Not too many gentrified house dogs around here. Mostly wild.
Final Day in Nepal
Today is my last in Nepal. I'm at Dunbar Square for the afternoon. On my way there this morning, I stumbled on some colorful wool balls and a wool doxan dog with a scarf - all for Melissa's store. My carry on duffle is now full. I still have some room in my main pack in case I stumble on more goodies in Bhutan.
I did find a pedestrian street this afternoon where the locals shop. This street had stone pavers, so it was dust-free. It was extremely crowded, but nice since no cars are permitted, only motor bikes and foot traffic.
Looking forward Bhutan now. I feel done with Nepal.
26 October 2016
Monkey Temple, Revisit
I'm two days ahead of schedule and I've visited everything that I really wanted to see. I had a moment of uncertainty this AM when I had no plan, and then it hit me that I should take further advantage of two great cultural spot right here - The Monkey Temple and Dunbar Square. I probably won't get the chance to see either ever again.
For starters, I had a slow morning and decided to nurse my sore back with a 90 minute massage at the spa by my hotel. Funny that my back feels a little sore now - days after I shed my pack.
Then I grabbed a lunch and headed back to the Monkey Temple. My goal today was no photos, just eyes, but the light was so good, I couldn't help myself.
I have also been wearing a mask since my return to Kathmandu. My lungs are so much happier now. I always thought these things were a joke until I realized the difference it makes in a dusty and polluted third world environment. I stopped coughing not long after I started wearing it.
25 October 2016
Monkey Temple, Kathmandu
This morning I had a good western breakfast and then spent some time wandering Thamel. I was killing time until late day, when the monkey temple is best to see.
I got up to the temple around 4pm when the light was softening. The steps to the top get steeper and steeper as you go. No landings to stop on.
The Stupa itself was great. It was capped with shimmering gold which came ablaze in the late day light. I really enjoy these Buddhist spaces. They help center me. For a moment I softened my drive to crush the person that damaged my home and threatened the safety of my girlfriend. I'm a starter Buddhist. It conflicts with the Jersey in me.
This temple is appropriately nicknamed. There were monkeys everywhere. At times it seemed there were more of them then there were people.
The view of a sprawling Kathmandu is impressive in all direction.
Tonight I am back at an outdoor cafe with live local/fusion music. Mellow sounds here.
24 October 2016
Back in Kathmandu.
Heading to Monkey Temple later today.
23 October 2016
22 October 2016
I'm having breakfast along the water edge again this morning. It doesn't seem like anyone is an early riser around here. It's nearly 9AM and still hard to find a cafe that is open for breakfast.
I am reeling a bit from the drama on the home front last night. One of the trash renters at my condo complex tried to break into my house last night. Melissa was home alone and had to experience a drunk piece of renter trash breaking the glass on my front door. The police removed this person. I will pursue this to the full extent of the law when I return.
Maybe I'll rent a boat today and paddle this out of my system.
Tea Time, Lakeside
I'm on to my third cup of tea today. Today is just a rest day.
I walked the promenade this morning - as far as it went. I am seeing that I am staying in the nicest part.
I might consider doing a tandem paraglide if I stay another day. I can see them overtop of the lake from here. Not cheap, but might be fun.
21 October 2016
Time to chill out. I made it Pokhara early this afternoon. This place is big. Lakeside, the tourist center, stretches across a long stretch of shoreline. It was hard to know where to start looking for a hotel. A few travelers pointed me in a good direction and gave me a sense of room values here. Looks like $10 is the baseline for decent. When checking around I heard $6 @ one place, $30 @ another and $100 at another. Quite a spread. I settled for a $10 room. It has two large beds a small sitting area and an attached bathroom with a pedestal toilet. Can't tell you how much I appreciate a toilet room that does not require me to bucket flush a hole in the floor.
I made my first pass along the shoreline at sunset. There are a number of restaurants along a promenade. I finally settled on one and ordered some grilled lake fish. Let's hope they get this fish from the middle of this huge pond. I saw people washing their clothes in the water, right next to the promenade.
20 October 2016
Birethanti to Naya Pul and then onto Pokhara by bus.
The circuit ends for me today. I'll hike down to Naya Pul and then catch a bus to Pokhara.
Pokhara is supposed to be a nice start or end point to the circuit with lots of amenities.
I will not settle for anything less than a nice room with an attached bathroom, good wifi, and a gas fired shower - even if it costs me $10 a night.
Poon Hill (10,360ft) to Birethanti (3,340ft)
I'm exhausted. I dropped 7,000ft today. My day started at 4AM. I was up and ready to head to Poon Hill by 5AM. Lolly accompanied me on the way up. The climb was an easy 1,000ft of vertical. Most of it was stone steps.
The trail and top was very crowded. I get the sense that this hill serves as a mini-Annapurna excursion. There were large groups of people there that could never do the circuit. The sunrise hike is like the sunrise thing they do on Haleakala on Maui.
The panorama was impressive. The weather even cooperated for a mostly clear sunrise view.
After an hour at the top, we headed back down and prepared to head separate ways. Lolly was a good porter. I thanked him and then we headed off in separate direction. My direction was mostly steep stone steps for hours. The trail finally leveled out into foot trail along the riverbank for the last hour or so.
I grabbed one of the first hotel on my way into Birethanti.
Poon Hill (10,360ft)
19 October 2016
Today went so much better than expected. I was having breakfast this morning when the hotel owner said his porter was on his way to meet me. I had already given up on the idea, but it was worth sticking around a few minutes to see what turns up. The porter, Lolly, seemed like a really nice guy and seemed to have a decent grasp on some English. The price was the going rate of $20 per day. One day for the ascent and one day for him to get back to Tatopani. It seemed like a cheap way to save my back and increase my enjoyment of the climb ahead. I decided to go for it.
Lolly was great. Always in sight. Kept a manageable pace and had knowledge of the area and the local people to share. I enjoyed his company. When we reached Ghorepani I made him an honorary Alaskan by giving him one of our flag pins.
We are going to meet at 5AM for the 1000ft climb to Poon Hill so that I can see sunrise on some famed Himalayan peaks. This will be my last ascent by headlamp.
Porters and Portering
It's amazing what these people carry up and down these mountains.
Notice that the man in the last photo has no shoes.
Traditional slate roofs
These slates are typically 2'x3'x1/2" to 1" thick. It's like roofing your house with stone countertops. Most all the new roof are corrugated metal now.
Tatopani (3900ft) to Ghorepani (9020ft)
First wood cable bridge I have crossed.
18 October 2016
It's dark now in Tatopani. I passed the day away with hot spring dips, good food, and a $12 massage (1 hour). The power is out here right now as it often is. I'm sitting by candlelight in the courtyard of my motel. I feel peaceful, relaxed.
The lodge owner is going to bring a porter by tonight for consideration. I am thinking I might hire one for Poon Hill.
If he shows, I will consider it. If not, I will go on my own. It's all good either way.
17 October 2016
Tatopani Rest Day
The hot springs were awesome last night. They were definitely a couple degrees hotter than my hot tub can go. I am guessing 108F.
Everyone who talked to me at the hot springs wanted to know who I was voting for. A group of Nepali college students rejoiced and 'high fived' when I said Hilary. It's amazing how much of the world watches our politics like it's a reality TV show. I can't name a leader in most of their countries
Its sad that our leadership is such a clown show. We are capable of so much more and yet this is what we are down to.
Today is my day to rest and relax.
The last photo is Nepali Raska (?) whiskey. Had a few of those last night.
Finally made it to Tatopani.
The bus driver was able to borrow a jack from another bus. The setback was a nice relief from the road.
When reboarding I could see that they were missing some lug nuts. Good grief!
A short time later the bus dipped toward the gorge edge in a rough spot. Even the locals were screaming. You know it's bad when you get a reaction out them.
Fortunately I am here safe and sound and eager to hit the hot springs.
I was hoping to find a room in Tatopani with an attached bathroom, but looks like those are in short supply already. I settled for a standard room for $2.
On the ride down I was second guessing bypassing some of the scenery after it got beyond the desert rain shadow, but I'm sure Poon Hill will have plenty of lush forrest to enjoy.
At this point I am thinking that I'll finish that last 6,000ft of vertical solo (no porter). My pack is a bit heavy, but my back feels good. I think I'm up for it. The consequences seem minimal now.
Jomsom to Tatopani
My 7AM bus to Tatopani has come to a screeching halt somewhere in a pine forrest. We've got a flat. It's no surprise with the the endless route of bowling ball boulders we've been rolling over. What does surprise me, however is that no one appears to be doing anything about it. I see finger pointing and cell phone calls in progress, but I don't see anyone trying the spare tire or acting like they are actually going to do something with the tire iron. I suspect I might be here for a while....
16 October 2016
Thak Khola Lodge
I had planned to make Thak Khola Lodge my first stop in Jonsom. Jimi Hendrix stayed there in 1967. He wrote on the dining room wall "If I don't see you in this world, I'll see you in the next one. Don't be late". He bunked in Room #6. Many composers have since made a pilgrimage to stay in that room in hopes to gain inspiration from their hero. Well it turns out the hotel was destroyed in the earthquake. Only the name lives on in a new lodge up the hill.
In your own words Jimi: "And so castles made of sand slips into the sea eventually."
How do you think the Chinese would handle this sign?
In Jomsom now. I think I found their bingo hall :)
Kagbeni to Jomsom
No sleeping in this morning. I was awakened by Nepali throat singing at 6AM. What I mean by that was the local Nepali boys were going through their morning ritual of snorting and spitting snot balls in the sink outside my bedroom door. That seems to be a national pastime here. Even the ladies do it. So gross. I skipped breakfast there and grabbed a bite elsewhere while wandering town.
I went back to the Buddhist monastery this morning. I just missed morning prayers. I did however meet one of the older monks in the courtyard. I told him that I wanted to be a Buddhist. He arranged for one of the young monks to take me on a tour of the temple. The young monk taught me the proper way to conduct myself when I enter and leave the temple. You clasp hands at your far head, then throat, then heart. Then you kneel to the floor and touch your head to the floor. You do this three times.
It was a beautiful, peaceful space.
15 October 2016
Looking back at the Annapurna Thorang-La pass in the background.
I slept in a bit this morning and got some well deserved rest.
After a good breakfast I pinned an Alaska state flag pin on one of the hotels Bob Marley images and then set off to explore the Muktinath Temple complex.
This complex is centered around a mountain spring that they believe has spiritual origins. Hindus bring baskets with coconuts, prayer cloths, and other things to the site.
At the springs they plunge into two different pools of ice cold spring water and then run through a series of 180 ice cold fountains. Looks a lot like a Hindu version of a polar bear plunge.
14 October 2016
In Mukinath at Bob Marley Hotel. (12,140ft)
I am enjoying all the benefits of the modernized world tonight. I had a steamy hot shower and I'm nursing a local beer on their rooftop deck.
Big news here is that I laid off my porter. I gave him bus fare back to Kathmandu and wished him well. (What an F'in tool). He did leave High Camp this morning without telling me. Jerk.... I was keeping an eye out for him all day wondering if I was going to get my pack back.
I'll take it from here. I'm in the lowlands now. No more altitude and most everything is downhill toward Pokhara. My back feels good.
I always bring Melissa a heart shaped rock from my adventures. This one was hard to find at Thorang-La. The rocks here don't seem to like that shape.
The climb to Thorang-La
The decision to overnight at High Camp resulted in likely consequences. Shortly after laying down, I could feel my brain swelling in my skull. The altitude headache was coming on fast and strong. I was worried, but rode it out. It finally subsided around 3AM.
I was up and out around 3:30AM. Breakfast never sounds good that early in the morning. I was able to eat my apple porrage, but just poked at my eggs.
Uman asked if I was ready to go. I said soon. He grabbed my pack and walked away. 20 minutes later there was no sign of him. I just assumed he left. I clicked on my headlamp and hit the trail. It was 5AM; pitch dark.
The route up was easy to follow in the dark and not demanding except for the altitude.
Sunrise came around 6AM. The pass came at 8AM. The sky was crystal clear and temperatures perfect for my heavy gear. Only my fingers were cold. Heavier gloves would have been good.
I got my victory photos and enjoyed a very expensive cup of tea
Thorang-La Pass........check! (17,768ft)
13 October 2016
This is my last stop before the pass. I am just below 16,000ft - the highest altitude I will have ever slept.
I feel good. The hike up wasn't that demanding except for the altitude. I am breathing 50% less air than I do in Anchorage. That really limits your pace. Pole' Pole' (Slow Slow) That is what the African's say. It's good advice. You'll gain nothing by pushing hard at this altitude.
Accommodations in the high camp are limited. I'm in a bunk room with 8 other stinky trekkers tonight. As usual, I am twice their age.
Wish me luck tomorrow. I feel good. I feel strong.
Hike to Thorong Pedi
Pushing on to High Camp
Blue Sheep skull at Lettar
Uman pointed them out on the hillside, but I couldnt see them.
10,000 rupees of Yak cheese. That's $100. Most expensive thing I have seen on this mountain.
12 October 2016
Tonight I am staying in Yak Kharaka. I choose my hotel based on Yak menu options.
This stuff is addictive stuff. I have to confess I spent part of this day thinking about Yak burgers. There just aren't words to fully explain the experience. A patty of this meat topped with some melted yak cheese and drizzled with ketchup is simply Nirvana on a bun. You eat slow just to prolong the pleasure.
When I got here tonight I was thinking about going with the Yak mo mos just to branch out a little, but mo mos just aren't enough of a celebration. I'm sticking with the burger.
I'll add a photo of it before I take a bite. If it's not in this post yet, please check back later.
Today was a fairly easy day that was made more difficult by my grumpy porter.
I was ready to go by 7:30AM. He was no where to be found. By 8:30 I asked the hotel if they saw him. They said they saw him at 6AM and not since. I checked his room. It was open and empty. I assumed he took off back to Kathmandu. I couldn't get in touch with his office. So I started the process to get a new porter. But as a last resort the hotel let me connect to their weak wifi for free so I could try to call him. The call barely connected. He was still there but just nowhere that that was easy to see.
We agreed to check in Gyanchang before heading to Yak Kharka. Unfortunately I was most of the way to Yak Kharka when I realized I overshot the meeting spot. I had to back track more than a mile to get to a nondescript place without buildings or a sign. He wasn't there. I found him even further back dragging his way down the trail. His tip has officially zeroed out today.
11 October 2016
Watching Seven Years in Tibet at a theater in Manang. Great way to pass the time on your acclimatization day
Rest day in Manang
I'm being a good Trekker and taking a one day layover in Manang so that my body can adjust to this altitude befor pushing higher. I'm only at 12,000ft which is no big deal, but I will be at 18,000 in three days. That's a big jump.
This morning I started my day at Braga where I visited a Tibetan Buddhist monastery. I sat through about an hour of services which included a meal of Tibetan bread and pickled radish with chilis. It was ok. The Yak butter tea was not ok. Salty. Nasty. However the service was wonderful. Lots of singing and candles and incense.
Then it was time to head to Manang. Manang was just a short hike up the road. When getting my hotel, my porter got miffed and said he wanted to go back to Kathmandu. I was feeling done with him and his attitude at that point so I said I'd call his boss and make it happen. I could easily get a porter here in Manang. His boss was insistent that he should carry on. I was clear that he was not honoring our agreement.
In the end I said I'd let him stay on if he adjusted his attitude. Our deal (from the start) is that I decide how far I hike, I decide where we I stay, and no more comments on the weight of my pack. His boss had another talk with him and he agreed. I'd really rather fire him at this point, but I will take people at their word and and will adjust their tip and review accordingly. Fortunately I rarely ever see him. He is the legs under my backpack that I find in the next village. I spend my days enjoying the conversations I have with solo trekkers from all over the world.
Today I tried pure Yak cheese that is made right here in Manang. It's delicious. Word is that the yak cheese at lower elevations is cut with cow milk. I threw a chunk in my pack for Macie. Uman won't know...
10 October 2016
Upper Pisang to Braga
I'm in Braga tonight. I was shooting for Manang, but got here right as it was getting dark. Not a good idea to push further. I did 9 hours on trail and a shitload of steep vertical today.
It was all well worth it. The Himalayas were out crystal clear. There was not a bad view to be had today. The first steep hike up was to a village called Gyru where I sat in theater seating eating simosas and taking in the sights of Annapurna II. Then traversing several other small villages that are at this moment still untouched by jeep roads. Then on to Braga by way of an unexpected high mountain route that kicked my but and had me fearing for my life in slide areas.
Saw a lot of Yaks today. Somewhere I crossed the line between cow country and Yak country. I only see Yaks now. I got some video of them fighting with each other. These creatures can be fierce.
In Braga I got a room and a Yak burger. Man oh man that Yak burger was so,so good.
9 October 2016
Upper Pisang Buddhist Temple
I got into Upper Pisang early (2:30) so I had a good cup of lemon ginger tea and then set out to find the Buddhist temple high on the hill. Uman said they were having services this afternoon.
The temple was wonderful and the service peaceful. The chanting took me to a place of reflection and contemplation.
Afterward I spent time on the steps of the temple hoping for a momentary glimpse of one of the Annapurnas. I would get pieces and parts that clearly blow Denali away, but this was just not going to be my day to see it all.
I moved down the hill to a tea house with a great (and likely unsafe) deck view. I see a patch of blue on its way. Fingers are crossed.
This morning I was up and out on trail by 7:30. It was raining lightly. I could see my breath.
I discovered a plinth on the far end of town that was capped with carved and painted rocks. It's some kind of prayer tradition. Further down the road, I found another set of these just carved. They're quite beautiful.
The rain tapered off by mid morning. It was barely warm enough to keep hiking in shorts and a Tshirt. I think I'll be breaking out the heavier layers tomorrow.
Most of the day continued through the pine forrest with glimpses of Yosemite-like granites faces on the opposite side of the river.
We continued past Pisang and called it quits at Upper Pisang at a hotel with an all too familiar name: Yak and Yeti.
8 October 2016
Tal to Chame continued...
The French couple was correct. The cable bridge to the next village was 5 minutes further. Glad I didn't turn back.
I met a growing group of travels on my way to the next village. Represented was Germany, France, England and a couple from Oregon. The couple from Oregon knew one of the teachers I had met on Diomede. Small world.
I enjoyed conversations with each of them and basically tagged along their growing caravan. I thought it was all good until it came time to picking a hotel in Chame. Then I remembered why I travel alone.
I still like there company.
Uman was a little miffed that I pushed so far today (14 miles). I seriously got a talking to by a porter. That doesn't happen in Africa. (Suck it up man. This is what you signed up for)
I got my first real view of Hymalayan moumntain today. Preciousl
Tal to Chame
I started the morning with a big breakfast. The weather was looking great. We were up and out by 7:30AM. I could see my breath. The cold felt good.
My first photo is of Uman on the hike out of Tal. We did our regular series of cable bridge crossings and small village traverses.
Originally I intended to stop at Dangaya, but I got there by noon. It seemed silly to stop. I only had 7.5 miles behind me. I told Uman I'd push on to the next village which was a long steep uphill grind through a pine forrest.
I was glad to get underway. The temperature was more like Alaska autumn now. I felt energized by it. I climbed and climbed. It was like the forrest version of Bird Ridge. At some point I crossed a couple of jeep trails but continued across and up the other side. There were no trail markers.
Shortly after I decided I might be on the wrong trail. I had just started to backtrack when I ran into a French couple that told me with confidence that I was heading the right way.
7 October 2016
Bunking at Father and Sons Bunkhouse tonight.
Hard to say no. The place is brand new. The cost of the room with attached bathroom was $1. Better yet the bathroom didn't smell. (I am the only stinky thing in this place.)
The deal was that the room would be $1 if I also ate here (which I thought was always required). The menu shows most meals around $5 to $6. Total score!
And yes, the bucket in the bathroom is Nepali TP. The hole is your commode.
I ran into a couple of cows on the trail. I am always cautious around beasts with horns. I almost got gored by a bull in Italy 25 years ago.
Syanje to Tal
Today went much better. The weather was hot, but I had enough moments of shade to give relief. I also felt it cooling as I gained elevation. More importantly, I got off the jeep trail for the first time. It was like steeping back in time, even though I could see the present across the gorge where the new road has been cut.
The elevation gain was a little quicker today, but still nothing to that was overly steep.
I took breaks at villages along the way for a cold soda. Can't say I don't appreciate the opportunity.
We made it to Tal pretty early. I was thinking of pushing on further, but this is a really cute little village, and I'm not racing to the end, so here we stay.
If you zoom in on the photo with the gravel bar, you can see Tal in the distance.
Was up and out by 8:30AM this morning. I saw a woman drying her laundry on a cable bridge at the end of town.
Room chagres (charges) in Syange: I went for the single room with the shared bathroom down the hall ($250). They haven't discovered plumbing vents here so having the toilet further away can be a good thing.
Word of the Day is: Kati
(How much). I think this is the shortest Nepalese word
View from my hotel window in Syajnge
6 October 2016
It's evening now in Syanje. We covered about 9 1/2 miles today. Sorry I have no pictures to share. My phone was dead. I was only shooting with my good camera which doesn't link to my phone. Now I've got both power and wifi at this hotel, so I am posting a shot of the Momo dinner that i am eating as I write this.
The trail today was mostly jeep roads - very muddy jeep roads. I had a spot or two where I feared overstepping my boots or bringing down the whole hillside with me surfing it all the way down.
The route so far is not hard. The uphills are pretty gentle. However, I think Uman was done one village before Syanje. He asked me a few times if we were going to lodge there. I told him I still had an hour left in me. I just didn't feel done. I was liking the air and the late day light on the mountains. The good thing about all these villages is you can pretty much call it quits on 20 minute intervals. I like that.
Tomorrow we head toward Tal (9.6 miles)
Since we arrived BesiSahar at 2AM last night, we just grabbed the first hotel that answered the door. It was raining. We were exhausted.
I was still up and out early enough this AM. I had a Nepali version of an American breakfast and then we headed out to find a local bus to Bhulbule'.
A bunch of independent trekkers were orbiting around the bus stop when we arrived. All were clueless on how to get a ride further north. Represented was Denmark, the Netherlands and Israel. Before long we were all on our way.
The "road" here is a continuous path of potholes and bowling ball size boulders. It's hard to believe a little bus can make it up this road - even harder to believe that buses manage to pass each other- coming so close that one was literally a 1/2" from hitting my window.
The view from the bus window was somewhat disappointing. This route has industrialized far beyond what I had anticipated.
At Bhulbule' we hopped out into the rain and headed down the trail.
Yesterday set a new low for me when it comes to bus rides in third world countries. I made the mistake of saying I wanted to ride with the locals. I should have asked more questions about what that might look like.
I didn't realize that would mean a seat so tight that I'd have to pull my knees close to my chest for the whole ride. I was all the way in the back so the backrest was dead vertical too.
Better yet, there was no more room for my pack below, so it got tossed up on top and strapped down with a tarp. It was raining and my boots were inside in a open plastic bag. I was fearing the start of my trek in soggy boots.
The air inside the bus was about 90% humidity and about 9% collective body perspiration. I could stand that until we got stuck for hours behind that landslide.
In the end my barely tolerable 8 hour bus ride tuned into an 18 hour hostage situation. The cost was $5. It's worst $5 I've ever spent.
I'm getting me a pimped out luxury bus for the way back.
5 October 2016
We've been hostage at this roadside village for more than 5 hours now. Uman says they cleared the landslide and then it let loose again.
We may be stuck here tonight.
It's getting dark now. The heat is finally tapering off. I must have sweated out several liters today.
Let's hope the government fixes this faster than the are fixing their monuments.
Word of the day....
I'm going to try to learn one new Nepali word each day. I find their language tough because it has so many syllables in a single word.
Today's word is: Dhan'yavada (Thank You)
Blocked by Landslide
Our cramped and steamy bus adventure has come to temporary halt. Something about a landslide.
We did have a stop earlier for some traditional dal bhat. Nepali's eat this multiple times a day - the first meal usually around 11. This was an all-you-can-eat deal for $2.50.
I was a bit taken back to see people kneading this stuff together with their right hand and then shoving it in their mouth (utensil free). Their left hand is reserved for other business.
I was the only white guy in the place and we (Uman and I ) were among the few using spoons.
While enroute I could see trash all along roadways. People on my bus added to the mess by tossing anything they were done with. Plastic water bottle chip bags and so one. It's hard to watch.
4 October 2016
All set to go.....
Got my survival supplies! I learned in Africa that a candy bar is pure heaven on a long trek. Especially if the local food sucks (which hasn't been the case so far).
Got some extra cash and a cheap duffle for storing all the items I have so far for Melissa's store.
Hoping my cough will settle down when I escape the haze of Kathmandu. I just started some heavy duty respiratory drugs just in case. They seemed to help me in Peru.
I don't want to jinx myself, but was just thinking that I haven't had any stomach troubles on this journey. I hope it stays that way.
It's dark now in Thamel. The sounds of bad cover bands fills the air here. I'm in my hotel room packing with my hearing aid off and it's just permeating the place. I got a bad feeling there's no curfew around here.
The wifi is pretty bad at this hotel. Not sure this entry will post.
This may be my last access to wifi for a week.
I made it to Bhaktapur today. Really glad I did. After Patan I was thinking I might be done with chaotic Dunbar Squares. Fortunately this one is the exception. It's peaceful, clean, the air is breathable and the weather tolerable. It's probably only 70 degrees in the shade here. Everywhere else was sweltering.
The earthquake took its toll here too, but not nearly as bad as Patan and Kathmandu. Restoration efforts are already underway. Some already complete.
I had fully intended to have a guideless adventure, but a college age guy offered a tour for $5. He seemed legit enough and the price was hard to pass up.
The tour was great - more than 2 hours. It culminated for me in Taumadhi Square, where I encountered the tallest and most magnificent Pagoda Temple I've seen in Nepal. It was rebuilt after an earthquake in the 30's and obviously rebuilt well. It appears unaffected by last years quake.
I've decided to ground myself in this square for a bit. Lunch time now.
It's 7:30AM. I'm sipping coffee at my hotel courtyard. My throat is sore. I think the air pollution has finally scratched its way into my lungs. Hopefully my trek will restore me. It's rainy this AM. It rained super hard last night. When the sky opens up here it is quite an event. Seems like raindrops the size of softballs come down rapid fire. So far it typically hits late afternoon. It hit hard last night well after dark.
I'm moving to Thamel this AM. I realized my hotel was gouging me. That's what you get for booking on line. I was paying $15 a night. My new hotel will be $10.50. That's the difference of a meal on this end of the world.
I was pleased with how everything worked out with pricing for the dog toys yesterday. I hauled the first load of them back to my hotel last night. I'll pick up the final load after my trek.
3 October 2016
Views of Patan
So many great buildings lost or badly damaged in the earthquake.
My Taxi passed an elephant on the way to Putan. How cool is that?
2 October 2016
This day was mostly a gift for Melissa, my love, who I am so proud of. She has worked so hard to make her pet boutique successful and I am so happy help her in that journey. Over the last couple days I have built associations with a few of the wool wholesalers that make hand made lamb wool dog toys, ornaments, and crafts. Today I hopped on the back of a motor bike of one of the wholesalers that took me out to his factory. The options are limitless there and the wholesale costs negligible. We came up with a number of custom designs they are fabricating for me while I trek. I will have them in hand when I leave Nepal. We are also working toward specific Alaskan animals as dog toys that will have Melissa store label on them.
I think these will be the next rage at her growing business.
You've only done this one time???
That was the WTF moment I had in my head during the first interview for my porter/guide this AM. It was a breakfast meeting with me and the biz owner and the 98lb kid that he thought was a good match for me and my backpack. It was all cordial, but it was over in my mind in two minutes. I thanked them both and excused myself.
Other options await.
I shouldered my day pack and headed north toward Thamel. I discover this amazing Stupa along the way. It was peacefully tucked away from the main drag.
I was so pleased to explore a Stupa that wasn't being restored. Buddhist really know how to rock a courtyard.
I ended that visit with a side trip to a spice shop where I refreshed Melissa's supply of saffron with top shelf Indian petals. I threw in a separate supply for my friends Mike and Kelly so that they can work on upping their game on their paella.
I also through in some local pink rock salt - all negotiated like a pro. Game on!
1 October 2016
The main role of this complex is the cremation of the dead. Immediately after death, bodies are brought here. They lay the dead on a sloping slab of stone with their feet in the water. Then family members put water from the river in their mouth.
The body is then taken to a platform where it is burned while family and friends watch. Up until the 1970's they used to make the wife jump onto the fire and sacrifice herself as well. They don't do that anymore.
The ashes are dumped in the river. My guide told me that the belly button survives the fire. That is taken by family members and planted in the river bed. Like I said....pretty intense.
I watched much this process unfold. It was a bittersweet moment.
This apps sucks that it cuts you off. Right in the middle of a literary moment It shuts you down. We are a culture of sound bites. It's one of the reasons we suck.
One of my first stops at this site was to a temple where they do both animal and human sacrifices. They seriously still kill people here. There is a tribunal of 5 priests who decide when its time to take you out of circulation. My guide mentioned repeated rape as one of the offenses. Once your number gets pulled they drag you here and chop your head off. The Nepali government turns a blind eye to the practice. These Hindus sure are intense. I'm definitely not a closet Hindu.
I visited the village of Buddha at the end of my day yesterday. Saddly this amazing Stupa is still covered in scaffolding as part of the post earthquake restoration efforts. At least it's still standing.
I joined in the crowd of Buddhists and tourists making clockwise laps around the base at sunset. You spin prayer wheels as you go.
I feel so peaceful in Buddhist spaces.
Just let go....
Yesterday was the start of an annual festival in Nepal where families reunite for several days of food and fun. Bamboo swings are a trademark activity associated with the event. Swings went up yesterday and will remain in use for the month. The swing is symbolic - a gesture of letting go of everything that holds you down in your life. It just looks like great fun to me. (Buddhists rock!)
No ones penis was harmed in this event (just sayin...)
Every dog must have his day...
I learned from my Hindu guide that a human will have 88 millions other animal lives before they are reincarnated again as mortal. The very next life after human is canine. Because of this the Hindu people have a strange (to me) affection for our furry friends. They don't take them as house pets. They regard them as benign wild creatures, much like we see squirrels. However, every so often they will celebrate one by bringing it into their house, coronating it with a necklace of flowers, placing a red Hindu dot between its eyes, and then feeding it with their finest food. They next day Rex (or probably Raj in this case) is sent back out into the wilds of Kathmandu to look for his next 'day'.
I try not to judge....
Today went great. I'm really getting my feet under me now. I feel peaceful, grounded, and brimming with curiosity for everything around me.
I started the morning with another spicy Nepali breakfast at my hotel.
One of the trekking companies called for me to set up a time to meet their guide. I set a breakfast interview at my hotel cafe tomorrow at 9am. Wonder if this will be my guide. I have two more interviews later that morning. What should I ask? Where do you see yourself in 5 years? :) how corny can I make this?
The hotel owner gave me a great list of destinations and fair cab rates to get there. Knowledge is power. I rocked it with my first ride. He was pushing hard for 500 rupees. I walked with 400 as my last offer. I held hard when he pursued me with 450. I got 400.
Off I went to Pashupatinath. This was an amazing cultural site. I picked up a guide at the gate and spent several hours exploring every detail of this amazing place.
Sadhus of Nepal
The Sadhus are an interesting bunch. I learned a lot about them today. I had been thinking that this was some form of chosen extreme religious affiliation. It's not. These men don't chose this. It's a decision made by parents and priests. Children who are sent this way are taken from their families and trained by other Sadhus to live a life without any possessions. They beg to survive in a culture that sees them as a necessary component of religious sustenance. At a young age they break their penises so that they will never have sexual distractions. After I heard that I thought...Dude. Can I help you out with some change? Sorry about your junk.
These guys are actually pretty fun to hang with. (No pun intended.) One gave me a weaved bracelet that he said would bring me luck.
Check out the guy who is fixing his make up in this photo.
30 September 2016
It was a great first day in Nepal. I spent the morning exploring the parts of Dunbar Square that did not collapse in the earthquake. I hired a guide to explain the highlights to me. I normally dread that kind of thing, but this was worth it. I learned a ton on the history and architecture and even more on Bhuddism. I'm starting to think I may be a closet Bhuddist. I feel so at peace in their temples. Their philosophic approach to living makes sense to me - at least what I hear so far.
Afterward I got my trekking documents and then headed to Thamel to find a porter guide and some trekking info. The porter guide process is going slow. Everyone want to sell you this service but no one has introduced me to potential candidates yet. I'm just not going in blind on this. Somehow it will work out.
I ended the day with some shopping and cab ride back to my hotel after the rain hit.
The streets of Thamel District
Exhale and squeeze your way through. Hope a motor bike doesn't run over your foot. Remember to stay left.
Got my papers! All I need is my Porter Guide and then I'm set to go
The Napalese are not a big fan of traffic lanes.
Kathmandu, Dunbar Square
Traditional Nepali breakfast. Can't believe I like spicy Indian food this early in the morning.
It's 7:45am. I'm up and out. Not sure what time my body thinks it is.
I was awoken by horns and pigeons this AM. Kath comes to life around 6:30.
I love the rawness of these third world places. They teem with visual surprises that take me from my familiar world and teach me that there are so many different concurrent journeys of life that are so much different from what I know. That never gets old.
Time for a Nepali Breakfast.
Good Morning Kathmandu....
After a final exhausting flight I landed in Kathmandu. I was ushered into a dusty airport and spent 20 minutes not seeing my backpack on the luggage carousel. Fortunately i found it tossed on the floor like so many others. It was all there. I'm good to go.
I got my visa. Glad I brought my own passport photos. That speeded up this chaotic process a bit.
I got $100 in the local script and went searching for my cab.
I've learned to quiz a few folks on fair cab costs before leaving the airport. That gives you "game" when it's time to negotiate. I still ended up getting my fair for one dollar less. I was too tired to try for more. The entire 20 minute ride was $9.
I am definitely back in the third world of transportation. Everyone drives like a maniac and horns are used for all traffic negotiations. There are no traffic lights. Better yet, they drive on the left which never stops freaking me out.
The photo is from a balcony at my hotel.
29 September 2016
I guess he's too short to see the warning sign.
When approaching a glass railing, please do not.....
When approaching a memorial, please do not....
Touring Guangzhou shopping district, 15th century Bhuddist temple, and
Touring modern Guangzhou. Went to see Zaha Hadid's Opera House, the new library, and new Art Museum. Also a quick stop at Canton Tower
Crammed in the subway in Guangzhou.
No shortage of rules here. These signs help u ride the metro and use an escalator. Hard to get out of hand here and act like you didn't know better.
Entering China was cake. Way easier than getting through LAX. I was through immigrations, got money, a day pass for the metro, and onto a train in about a half hour.
The metro was empty when I got on. I was thinking the Chinese crowd thing was overstated. I changed my mind after the first stop.
27 September 2016
One more pair of socks...
I've had my pack ready for weeks. Everything was on my list. Each shirt, each item in my first aid kit, everything. The list was at least 6 pages long. When it came to socks I held to my tried and true formula of three pairs for any length adventure. But this time I wasn't sure I could still be that same traveler. After all, I now had two pairs of reading glasses, one pair of distance glasses and a buffet of emergency meds. I didn't have any of that in my earlier life. Nor did I have electronics. I now have a phone, two charging cords, an altitude watch and a rechargeable UV water purifier. In 1989 I got by with a little plastic alarm clock and humble little wrist watch. Back then my pack was 28lbs. I traveled for months with that. I never thought I'd ever need more to go further.
But this morning I found myself looking at that fourth pair of socks, fully knowing I wasn't the traveler I once was. In it went. Maybe I can give them away and regain that self.
Worst bathroom selfie ever
Weight and see....
I decided to do a pre trip weigh-in. I haven't traveled with a full pack since I hurt my back in 2011. Days before my Africa trip, the flare up was so bad that I finally broke down and got a pack on wheels. It was a crushing turning point, but better than not going at all. Since then, I got used to sherpas and wheels, but I so badly wanted to shoulder my pack again. I didn't feel whole without it.
This trip I am going for it. My back has been great, more or less, since Peru.
I weighed in this AM to what I was getting myself into. I ended up at 163lbs. My heaviest ever. Me and the pack came in at 199.4lbs. Total pack is 36.4lbs. Heavier than I was hoping, but feeling manageable and feeling whole.