Goodbye Nepal. Again. For now: Was it all a dream?

I stood at the airport, saying goodbye to my friend Sagar, similar to my goodbye about 11 years ago. This time his English is better. He now has a wife and a beautiful young daughter. He was in his late teens the last time I saw him. Now a grown man with responsibilities. The main one being working in Dubai to help support his family. He made the supreme effort to get emergency leave to at least get one night to connect with me.

It was surreal. Spending time wth him and his family seem so normal. Like I see them everyday. It did not help me avoid a tearful goodbye to his parents, yet I was slightly more stoic with Sagar and his wife and daughter. I can’t believe it will be eleven more years until I see him again. Some solace.

Nepal continues to give me more than I can imagine. Did i really retrace steps from 17 years ago and complete a grueling 20 day trek to visit Namche Bazaar and the highest mountains in the world? Did I really get to connect wth the Nepalese people in the carefree manner they connect with people? Did I really get to play music with Sherpas? Did I really get the most mind blowing epic sunset over Everest and the Gokyo valley? Did I really get to revisit temples and holy places? Some I remember. Some I forget?

Was i able to explore rural and wild Nepal, by myself, with a just a belief I could pull it off? Again?

Was I really able to spend five days with Sagar’s family, connecting wth them the best way I know how? Language gap and all?

Did i really walk through Thamel, reliving old memories, yet feeling detached with reality? So many hopes and desires for a Nepal that serves all? Not just a few?

Was I pensive knowing that no, you can’t step in the same river twice? But yes, you can be forced to re-learn that many times in your life.

Did I remember the value of living in the moment, staying present and valuing what I have? Of course.

If you can step away from your travel goals. Your photo goals. Your fun goals. Nepal continues to affect you in a deep way. Slowly seeping into your soul when you’re not paying attention. It could be the laugh and smile of the gold toothed Sherpa shop owner, or the gentle kiss from Sagar’s daughter to say goodbye.

Strip away changes and growth and earthquakes and tourism and mountains and pictures and pain and struggle and confusion and despair and wanting and hoping for a better life for all.

Strip all of that away and zero in on the amazing spirit of the Nepalese people and the deep love I have for this place and how it affects me. How Namche’s ashes will always be here and no matter what, a huge piece of my heart will always remain here. And THAT is not a dream. Goodbye Nepal. For now…..

The Everest Region: Then and now

As I ready to fly out of Lukla back to Kathmandu I remember an old adage “be careful flying in the clouds in Nepal. There are rocks in them!” The little airport that allows people to shorten their trip to the Khumbu by as much as two weeks looks newer.

The airport is paved now and no longer is a horn blown to shoo the cows off the runway. Sir Edmund Hillary lamented building it before he died because of the environmental and cultural impact it had on the Sherpa people.

They’ve done a nice job with Namche Bazaar. Not too much over growth. Mainly locally owned. Water and waste systems finally addressed. But the Sherpa people continue to be the richest in Nepal. Snagging tourist dollars as they venture to visit the worlds highest mountain.

The teahouses are better. The food? Well you’ll eat just about anything after schlepping your pack up a mountain all day.

Years ago the majority of people were solo or paired trekkers. Carrying their own pack. Winging it a bit. Seeing a guide was rare as, well, there is only one trail going up. Kinda hard to get lost. This is a Destination now so people don’t pick up a guide book. They book from the US and show up expecting a local guide to get them up high for their pictures. Gokyo at 15000 feet looks like a Mediterranean resort!

50,000 people a year means major impact. The trees are all gone in the upper Khumbu and have been for years. Teahouse kitchens where we eat are warmed by collecting and burning yak dung wth kerosene. Same as before but in some cases SUPER warm. Propane is carted up on yaks and mules for cooking at big villages. Still the incredible porters trek goods between villages with backbreaking loads.

Whereas it’s fine to have someone carry your pack if that is the only way up for you, at least be reasonable what you bring. The number of strapping young college students having a 5 foot 2, 120 pound Sherpa porter lug their multiple outfits and pairs of boots and large cameras up the mountain seems a tad absurd.

The people seem less into the spirituality of the place and more about climbing and hiking. I mean it might be in page 1 of the guide book that your circle ALL religious monuments (prayer wheels, temples, stupas, mani walls) clockwise.

It’s easy. It’s important to the people here. It’s seems 20 years of education STILL has people just buying plastic bottled water the whole trek. Wtf? They burn that shit! Yes I have a coke once in awhile. But I purify my water with a steripen.

Older crowd for sure. Humility in bunches. Other than being humbled by the assortment of high passes and viewpoints, there is the odd Octogenarian dragging her own pack to Everest Base Camp. True story.

The scenery is still incredible.

The kids are still adorable.

The place is still magical. But some of it is unfortunately lost on some people in their goal oriented approach to the mountain. The focus is more about tourism “bagged the peak. Bought the t shirt” than the rich cultural history here you can tap into if you just hang around a bit after the crowds scamper to their next destination. And you just sit and ask questions. And listen.

You still fall in love with the 50, 60, 70, and 80 year old men and women as their fingers slowly glide over their mala, chanting Om manĂ­ padme hum while doing their daily work. Always a smile or a laugh.

The first time I came here I spent a total of two days in Kathmandu during the first 8 weeks of trekking and rafting. You get a certain amount of satisfaction coming back here and feeling like you connected with that part of Nepal. Like you belong now. And I will relish that feeling for the next few days.

Something hits you AFTER you leave the mountains. You realize you can’t ft into the surreal lives of people there. The romanticism of it increases daily, as does the respect for the agrarian lifestyle most don’t choose to live, but live with abundance and what seems like happiness. The simplicity of their lifestyle is what brings me back, knowing full well I don’t see the backbreaking work, long days and constant stress to meet basic needs. But after a lifetime in the US and many visits here, I am still not sure which life is more desirable. You can’t have both. And it is hard to go back to a life like that (or for the first time) once you’ve experienced our creature comforts. But I’m damn certain our culture provides our own set of hardships that the people from here would likely not trade for if they really knew.

It’s taken a bit longer this time, but the strong feeling of not really wanting to say goodbye yet is here. One is almost always arms length here. Even when I taught. Maybe it’s the constant drum of impermanence reinforced once again? I wish I could say I wasn’t in my head a lot as I was counting my 50 steps up Gokyo Ri before each break. Constantly rolling life choices and options and hopes around my brain. I wish I was always in the moment as Pandora has helped me remember is the best spot. I wasn’t. But at certain times, when I was, it was magic.

Namche and I

For me Namche Bazaar has had multiple impacts on my life. I have the most incredible story of running into a Swiss buddy, Thomas, in Namche in 1995. I won’t bore you with all the details, but with no internet invented and him never getting any of my messages and letters, we ran into each other on the exact day in the exact town I had written him about. Coming from different directions in Nepal. We traveled together for three months after and became good friends.

In 1996 I continued my travels in the US after my dad died suddenly and ventured to Alaska to see my sis in an old jeep. On the first day of my life I could have a dog, a litter of puppies showed up at my hostel/campground in Haines, Alaska.

I grabbed one as I was leaving and named what I thought was a boy dog Jack. After my dad.

Well after a few hours of singing along to the Band’s “The Weight” bellowing the line “if you’ll take Jack my dog!” And being in love with my puppy, we stopped for a pee break and lo and behold the little squatter was a girl!

As we continued on, I pondered her name. Jack didn’t work. I wasn’t trading her in. Finally I landed on Namche. The center of the Sherpa culture that so deeply impacted me on my travels.

For those of you that don’t know, Namche was attached to me for 12 years. And we went EVERYWHERE. It’s been almost ten years since I had my heart broken to make the call to put her down. It’s not unique in the world. But the relationship certainly was for me.

So as I walked up the stairs to Namche Bazaar, having visited once since I had gotten her, so many feelings washed over me. A time in my life of great awakening and experience in Nepal. One that would put me on the path to Buddhism. One that would have me addicted to the outdoors as a necessary part of my life to survive a culture I reluctantly participate in. A longing for a simpler path I have been unable to sustain for long. A feeling or a wish that we all could be motivated by at least the thought that all sentient beings have value and it’s in all of our interests to always keep our eye on that ball. And not only play for ourselves. However you may do it.

And of course, the feelings came over me like a tidal wave remembering my best friend. Only a few of my friends and family really understood what it meant for me to have someone rely on me and for me to take seriously her health and wellbeing. Many people judge animal lovers and truly, some of us are crazy. But she was the closest thing to a child I’ve ever had and she, along with my study of Buddhism, reminded me daily how fleeting our lives are. I KNEW I would have to say goodbye to her. From Day 1. And thus i treated every single day as a gift and as though it would be her last. She was my living breathing loving reminder of impermanence. And it played out that way.

After she died, I couldn’t even go to the beach without sobbing for a year. Every time I went to a place we had visited, I brought some of her ashes. Even to places I WANTED to go with her. I only backpacked National Parks for years as she couldn’t go there when she was alive. So it made it easier. I put some of her ashes in a sealed locket I got in India that I wore. I NEEDED that. It helped me cope and still feel close to her. Too much? I didn’t care.

I spread her ashes in our backyard, in the Eel River where she loved to swim. In the Pacific Ocean. All over the Lost Coast where we wandered and had our last backpacking trip. Took them to India with me. Twice. I finally took some back to Haines, Alaska in 2013 and made a little memorial for her in the Pet Cemetery that was coincidentally behind the campground where I got her. In Bolivia the next year the locket melted open in a natural hot springs so her ashes are on the Altiplano. I thought it was a sign that it was time to let go, got a new pendant with a new significance, and felt I was done with that practice.

Though in the back of my mind, I never really thought I would get back to Namche Bazaar. Well…Not with my physical problems and certainly because I had already been there twice. I had always wanted to take her trekking with me here as crazy as that sounds. She would have gorged herself on yak shit and gotten her ass kicked by some mountain dog.

So I brought some of her ashes with me. Just in case. I mean you can’t just buzz up to Namche Bazaar.

Even while in Bhutan just a month ago I was unsure. Would I trek? Could I trek? What does this mean?

As I left Tumlingtar and again leaving Lukla I said “me and you Nammie, one last time.”

So as I climbed into town, I sobbed. For Namche the town and Namche my best friend.

I was told there was a place up above Namche Bazaar with views of Everest and the Khumbu. And some mani walls and prayer flags.

Yesterday, I took her ashes, a khata I got in Bhutan as well as a little prayer flag and hiked up to the top of the hill.

I tied the prayer flag and the khata to the stone mani wall and waited for the right wind to say goodbye and send her ashes into the Himalayas one final time.

This will be her final resting place. I can’t do it again and of course there is nowhere else.

Except in my heart.

Now you know why this was so important to me. And it didn’t disappoint.

Chronic pain and disease. Words of encouragement.

Some of my friends and family have suffered from chronic pain and disease. I wanted to offer some hope for those that are afflicted. My story. 2 1/2 years ago when I returned from volunteering in Guatemala I was hit with a very unusual and inexplicable head rushing. Major neck pain. Ulnar neuropathy. Knee pain as I’ve mentioned. Horrible fatigue. Arthritis in both thumbs. Depression. It all hit over 3 months. In October of 2015 I was diagnosed with Lyme disease (even though I had two negative tests) as I had been bitten many times by ticks and my symptoms presented themselves as classic Lyme. I was started on what ended up being a full year of heavy antibiotics (doxycycline) and other antibiotics, probiotics and supplements. I took north of 60 pills a day. I tried every practitioner imaginable. Acupuncture. Chinese medicine. CT scans. MRIs. Counseling. Body work. Rolfing. Meditation. Just sitting on my ass.

About August of last year I hurt my back so badly that I went to the ER and spent a week in bed and on painkillers. I was planning on quitting my job and traveling Italy with my best friends Joe and Jenny and my god daughter Elena. All was put on hold. I was really in crisis with no where to go.

I stayed positive with the support of friends and family. I examined auto immune clinics etc. Once I hurt my back I went radical and did 26 days (of a normally 12 day) elimination diet. Just to get a baseline.

I learned tons about my body, our food systems, and the lack of nutritional knowledge in mainstream medicine.

I got to see what it was like to be in our health care system. Spent over $40,000 out of pocket but felt lucky I had health insurance, a job, and no dependents. Not sure I would have survived.

When I went on the Elimination diet I (correctly) determined I didn’t have Lyme. I stopped the Antibiotics. Some of my friends are not as fortunate and still battling Lyme. It’s a very controversial diagnosis. Once you are diagnosed, it’s like a red letter on your charts. No one wants to see you.

The reason I’m writing all of this is to give folks in that space some hope. A year ago I had hand surgery, a PRP injection in my knee (another controversial procedure) and was basically told “over 50, your knees have no hope.” After the surgery and PRP, it was November, I could do nothing. Rock bottom. I canceled South America and again didn’t quit my job! Haha.

I went to Baja to repair. And did. I also met Pandora right before and, as I mentioned, she helped me figure the last nagging piece. My knee.

So as i continue on the second half of this incredible trip up to Everest Base Camp, just remember one thing. Do NOT think practitioners know it all. Seek help. Seek support from WHOMEVER you can. Reach out to me. Politic for a sane and fair health care system for all. And do not give up. Your body, with the right care and nutrition, has the ability to heal itself. And I am so grateful for every single person that has helped me. I attacked each affliction individually and won most of the battles. I’m living proof you can do it. Never in a million years, even as recently as four months ago, did I comprehend I could pull this off.

And the next two weeks will blow your mind if you haven’t been up here. Hope my pics do it justice!

Namaste!

Chronic pain and disease. Words of encouragement.

Some of my friends and family have suffered from chronic pain and disease. I wanted to offer some hope for those that are afflicted. My story. 2 1/2 years ago when I returned from volunteering in Guatemala I was hit with a very unusual and inexplicable head rushing. Major neck pain. Ulnar neuropathy. Knee pain as I’ve mentioned. Horrible fatigue. Arthritis in both thumbs. Depression. It all hit over 3 months. In October of 2015 I was diagnosed with Lyme disease (even though I had two negative tests) as I had been bitten many times by ticks and my symptoms presented themselves as classic Lyme. I was started on what ended up being a full year of heavy antibiotics (doxycycline) and other antibiotics, probiotics and supplements. I took north of 60 pills a day. I tried every practitioner imaginable. Acupuncture. Chinese medicine. CT scans. MRIs. Counseling. Body work. Rolfing. Meditation. Just sitting on my ass.

About August of last year I hurt my back so badly that I went to the ER and spent a week in bed and on painkillers. I was planning on quitting my job and traveling Italy with my best friends Joe and Jenny and my god daughter Elena. All was put on hold. I was really in crisis with no where to go.

I stayed positive with the support of friends and family. I examined auto immune clinics etc. Once I hurt my back I went radical and did 26 days (of a normally 12 day) elimination diet. Just to get a baseline.

I learned tons about my body, our food systems, and the lack of nutritional knowledge in mainstream medicine.

I got to see what it was like to be in our health care system. Spent over $40,000 out of pocket but felt lucky I had health insurance, a job, and no dependents. Not sure I would have survived.

When I went on the Elimination diet I (correctly) determined I didn’t have Lyme. I stopped the Antibiotics. Some of my friends are not as fortunate and still battling Lyme. It’s a very controversial diagnosis. Once you are diagnosed, it’s like a red letter on your charts. No one wants to see you.

The reason I’m writing all of this is to give folks in that space some hope. A year ago I had hand surgery, a PRP injection in my knee (another controversial procedure) and was basically told “over 50, you’re knees have no hope.” After the surgery and PRP, it was November, I could do nothing. Rock bottom. I canceled South America and again didn’t quit my job! Haha.

I went to Baja to repair. And did. I also met Pandora right before and, as I mentioned, she helped me figure the last nagging piece. My knee.

So as i continue on the second half of this incredible trip up to Everest Base Camp, just remember one thing. Do NOT think practitioners know it all. Seek help. Seek support from WHOMEVER you can. Reach out to me. Politic for a sane and fair health care system for all. And do not give up. Your body, with the right care and nutrition, has the ability to heal itself. And I am so grateful for every single person that has helped me. I attacked each affliction individually and won most of the battles. I’m living proof you can do it. Never on a million year, even as recently as four months ago, did I comprehend I could pull this off.

And the next two weeks will blow your mind if you haven’t been up here. Hope my pics do it justice!

Namaste!

Holy shit the Khumbu!!

Day 7 is in the books and I feel like I’m on some sort of Human Growth Hormone. Waiting for something to snap!

My body feels so good. On hour 8 today, the approximately 5000 feet of descent and 5000 feet of climbing were having me feel it a bit. But still, my body feels BETTER than before. I don’t get it. And I’m not complaining.

The villages and climbs are becoming more familiar but I get the views this time I missed last two times!

x

I’ve crossed over into the Solu Khumbu or Everest region and tonight will be the last night of no craziness. I shall encounter the masses seeking Everest. Or Sagarmartha as they call it here. I have seen a total of three trekkers. Crossed three very steep but relatively low (11000 feet plus) passes as the Himalayas go. But the climbs have been epic from river valleys to passes. I’ve made up some time and might shave a day off so I can spend more time up high next week. We will see.

I stayed in this place 22 years ago! I remember!

I can’t really say the places have changed very much. I can say in general the folks in the villages aren’t quite as friendly or hospitable as I remember. Now it’s a small sample size. It could be their fatigue of trekkers, just bad luck (I mean only like 50 to 100 solo trekkers come thru here without a guide each year I was told. 50,000 visit the Everest region!) Logically it’s just me. The bar has been set so high over the years with these wonderful Nepalese people that I just expect a super close connection and spiritual experience each time. Yeah. Spoiled. But the less they have the nicer they are it seems.

I can honestly say it’s pretty bare bones with creature comforts. I mean, I can’t even find Center Fruit gum the last few days Chhimi! WTF?

I did have my first beer tonight. It cost $6.50. They had to cart it up on some poor dudes back. I rarely drink up here as the bottles stay up here.

I had a crazy moment today as I humped it up the last 30 minutes of my trek. It was hot. I was tired. A tad whiny. Wearing my chacos as the downhill had started to fry my feet. In front of me was this enormous stack of grass/hay/something they use here. Slowly moving up the trail. Should have gotten a pic. I could barely make out a pair of woolen slipper-like shoes gingerly shuffling beneath the stack and climbing the hot, dusty hill.

As i caught up to it, the haystack slowly shifted clockwise so I could see the person who was carrying this stack bigger than themselves ( not uncommon here).

It turns out it was about a seventy year old woman hauling this huge stack of whatever up the hot hillside. There was a enough room to pass, I slid by, said Namaste, she smiled and responded in kind.

My heart melted.

A beautiful sunset capped the night as I discussed our juvenile president with a really nice German couple sharing my tea house. I’m in Sherpa country.

Day 5. Taking it easy

For some reason this original didn’t post. So I won’t go too deep into the details, but the love of my life, Pandora, is a physical therapist. I have had so many people look at my knee over the last two and half years, including surgery. Pandora finally said “let me look at it.” “Your left gluts are weak.” With her help and confidence, I just completed five brutal days in the foothills of the Himalayas. For the last two years, I thought I was done. Inexplicable pain and swelling. 5 backpacking trips in 2.5 years and four of them were this summer after she helped me. I had accepted I could do this no more. Her help and support gave me the confidence to take this on. That’s right. So many amazing people tried to help me. But, I’m here because of her. It’s ironic. And I miss her.

I am retracing steps I took in 1995 (solo) and 2000 (with a friend) hiking a little used route to the Everest region (solo khumbu). It crosses three river valleys and three passes of about 11000 feet before I hit the kumbu. The hard part is you go from river valley to pass and back down again. It’s crushing. It’s old Nepal.

First two times the weather was not stellar. Nor the views. This time! Sweet! So clear!

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I’ve done the Everest trek 2 times. (Hopefully three). There is no comparison. The altitude makes it stickier up there but it’s a tourist Hiway with many creature comforts. And the trails are good. I tell you this not to toot my own horn or disparage those who do the Everest trek, but to simply draw a comparison for you. Alright maybe a little ego. Remember, these routes are here for communities to move goods and services around. Not to indulge us with recreation. Until Everest.

So starting off along the Arun Valley (I thank the late Dave Allderdice in 1995 for pulling a salesman on me and convincing me to do the Sun Kosi river trip, have my pack sent with the pickup bus and commence the trek from the end of the river. Changed my life.) Trekking snob is born!

Day 1 was short and hot. I stopped early. I was tired. But so happy to be the only trekker in a village of locals. Using my 20 words of Nepalese I secured a bed and food. Dal bhat. Rice. Lentils. Some veggie. Now that has been my food for 5 days. There is nothing else but tea, an occasional egg, and instant Wai wai soup masterfully blended with said veggies. Over and over. Tonight there might be a “menu”. I can’t wait.

As I mentioned, the kitchens are rustic, basically an open fire. The squat toilets make it a challenge with sore knee if you’re not locked and loaded so to speak. I’ve mastered the half squat. Desperate times.

Strangely, I don’t remember much of the trek from before (except for yesterday’s crushing uphill) and not surprisingly, the locals both can’t understand me nor do they care.

“I come here seventeen years ago.” “You trek seventeen days?” “No, i come HERE (with the accompanied finger pointing). “Seventeen hours from Tumlingtar?” Forget it. “Yes” I nod, and move on. No one really cares.

A day consists of a series of 25 min of walking and 5 of resting. For 6-8 hours. The heat hurts me (as do the hills) but with a full belly of Dal bhat I sail up the mountain (well not exactly) until I hit empty.

The trail is cut into ancient stone steps. Forcing you to pay attention or fall on your hands. If going downhill and you fall, it’s a trip ender for sure.

The majority so far are like this massive stair master soaring into the heavens! Making you pant, curse and be in ecstasy all at once. The hike times get shorter and the breaks longer as I get higher. Thank god for Biskoots (cookies or cracker) to get me over the hump. Exhausted and struggling to find the pass yesterday, a bag of biskoot, a few calming breaths, a look at the map, and common sense got me back on track. The old woman in the tea shack (likely my age) saved me with her Wai wai and a coke.

The day ends around 2 or three. Depending on what’s in front of me as the villages are anywhere from 30 min to three hours apart. Caught between them is a no no.

My night consists of a little journaling. Some Advil. A Percocet. Dal bhat and usually an extremely hard sleeping surface. I can safely say my body feels better than last time (lighter pack. Better mental preparation?) Ask me tomorrow about that one.

So yesterday and today were the testers. High steep climb. High steep descent. If I wake up in one piece, I am rewarded with having to climb Surke La (that’s the good decision I referred to). I am in the town of Bung and was determined to hike a few more hours up to break it up. Stay at the monastery. Everyone was telling me 2-3 hours. It was hot. I was fried. There is wifi. Likely beer. My first real town. I’ve stayed here before. Last time (actually last two times) I shit in a pig pen. Progress. The other towns were simply a house and store and kitchen. And ive had no real contact with outside world. It’s market day here. Should be interesting.

My goal is Namche Bazaar. Retool. Reset. Check weather. Check body. If all good, race up the Everest valley. Gokyo Ri the second goal. But winter is coming …..

Day 5. A smart decision

So I won’t go too deep into the details, but the love of my life, Pandora, is a physical therapist. I have had so many people look at my knee over the last two and half years, including surgery. Pandora finally said “let me look at it.” “Your left gluts are weak.” With her help and confidence, I just completed five brutal days in the foothills of the Himalayas. For the last two years, I thought I was done. Inexplicable pain and swelling. 5 backpacking trips in 2.5 years and four of them were this summer after she helped me. I had accepted I could do this no more. Her help and support gave me the confidence to take this on. That’s right. So many amazing people tried to help me. But, I’m here because of her. It’s ironic. And I miss her.

I am retracing steps I took in 1995 (solo) and 2000 (with a friend) hiking a little used route to the Everest region (solo khumbu). It crosses three river valleys and three passes of about 11000 feet before I hit the kumbu. The hard part is you go from river valley to pass and back down again. It’s crushing. It’s old Nepal.

First two times the weather was not stellar. Nor the views. This time! Sweet! So clear!

placeholder://

I’ve done the Everest trek 2 times. (Hopefully three). There is no comparison. The altitude makes it stickier up there but it’s a tourist Hiway with many creature comforts. And the trails are good. I tell you this not to toot my own horn or disparage those who do the Everest trek, but to simply draw a comparison for you. Alright maybe a little ego. Remember, these routes are here for communities to move goods and services around. Not to indulge us with recreation. Until Everest.

So starting off along the Arun Valley (I thank the late Dave Allderdice in 1995 for pulling a salesman on me and convincing me to do the Sun Kosi river trip, have my pack sent with the pickup bus and commence the trek from the end of the river. Changed my life.) Trekking snob is born!

Day 1 was short and hot. I stopped early. I was tired. But so happy to be the only trekker in a village of locals. Using my 20 words of Nepalese I secured a bed and food. Dal bhat. Rice. Lentils. Some veggie. Now that has been my food for 5 days. There is nothing else but tea, an occasional egg, and instant Wai wai soup masterfully blended with said veggies. Over and over. Tonight there might be a “menu”. I can’t wait.

As I mentioned, the kitchens are rustic, basically an open fire. The squat toilets make it a challenge with sore knee if you’re not locked and loaded so to speak. I’ve mastered the half squat. Desperate times.

Strangely, I don’t remember much of the trek from before (except for yesterday’s crushing uphill) and not surprisingly, the locals both can’t understand me nor do they care.

“I come here seventeen years ago.” “You trek seventeen days?” “No, i come HERE (with the accompanied finger pointing). “Seventeen hours from Tumlingtar?” Forget it. “Yes” I nod, and move on. No one really cares.

A day consists of a series of 25 min of walking and 5 of resting. For 6-8 hours. The heat hurts me (as do the hills) but with a full belly of Dal bhat I sail up the mountain (well not exactly) until I hit empty.

The trail is cut into ancient stone steps. Forcing you to pay attention or fall on your hands. If going downhill and you fall, it’s a trip ender for sure.

The majority so far are like this massive stair master soaring into the heavens! Making you pant, curse and be in ecstasy all at once. The hike times get shorter and the breaks longer as I get higher. Thank god for Biskoots (cookies or cracker) to get me over the jump. Exhausted and struggling to find the pass yesterday, a bag of biskoot, a few calming breaths, a look at the map, and common sense got me back on track. The old woman in the tea shack (likely my age) saved me with her Wai wai and a coke.

The day ends around 2 or three. Depending on what’s in front of me as the villages are anywhere from 30 min to three hours apart. Caught between them is a no no.

My night consists of a little journaling. Some Advil. A Percocet. Dal bhat and usually an extremely hard sleeping surface. I can safely say my body feels better than last time (lighter pack. Better mental preparation?) Ask me tomorrow about that one.

So yesterday and today were the testers. High steep climb. High steep descent. If I wake up in one piece, I am rewarded with having to climb Surke La (that’s the good decision I referred to). I am in the town of Bung and was determined to hike a few more hours up to break it up. Stay at the monastery. Everyone was telling me 2-3 hours. It was hot. I was fried. There is wifi. Likely beer. My first real town. I’ve stayed here before. Last time (actually last two times) I shit in a pig pen. Progress. The other towns were simply a house and store and kitchen. And ive had no real contact with outside world. It’s market day here. Should be interesting.

My goal is Namche Bazaar. Retool. Reset. Check weather. Check body. If all good race up the Everest valley. Gokyo Ri the second goal. But winter is coming …..

Kathmandu Part II

Once the emotional component wore off here, so did a little of the allure. I spent five days or so with Sagar’s family, enjoying his father’s amazing dal baht, playing with his adorable daughter and exploring local temples and some big ones too. Plus seeing some of the earthquake damaged Durbar square.

Unfortunately, during a day hike, we saw a young man dead by the river. I guess it was a selfie gone wrong. We left just as his distraught mother arrived. So sad.

It has been 19 years since I’ve been here during high season. Geez. What a zoo! I have spent more time in a taxi in five days than the rest of my trip combined. Traffic. Traffic. Traffic. But worth it.

After moving to a hotel today to hook up with a Humboldt friend and ready myself for my trek, I got to spend some more time walking around. At first, I was like, there aren’t any dudes selling cheap street stuff like Tiger Balm every five feet. After awhile I saw a few but it seems they have let less folks into Thamel to sell stuff on the street. Thamel is sanitized. Gone is the feeling of being in backpacker central. Now it’s a shopping destination. Remember I said 5000 shops. Adjust it up again. And I haven’t seen the Israeli mobs. Maybe they are rafting and trekking. Mainly an older clientele it seems. Not as old as Bhutan. But slightly more well-heeled dare I say.

I went into my favorite pizza place that has been here since 1995. Fire and Ice. Basically every meal between treks was me gorging myself on a mushroom pizza. Today I decided to do it before the trek.

At 3 PM it was PACKED with people. Many Chinese. It turns out there is a direct flight from Guangzhou now (my friends are on it tonight) and who knows from where else in China. It’s safe to say most Chinese I saw aren’t trekking or rafting. It seems this is a destination to spend their (more than they need) money.

That’s the impression I get from people I have spoken with. All of sudden (well using 1995 as a baseline) the Chinese have cash and don’t know what to do with it. Travel and show people they have gobs of it. Whatever gaudy shit Americans flaunt when traveling ? Well you ain’t seen nothing yet.

I was sitting in Fire and Ice and noticed a guy in a black shirt. Likely a manager. It was one of those time warp moments of seeing someone you know much older than when you met them. I asked the waiter, “how long has that guy worked here?” Since the beginning. 1995.

Damn. I remembered him as one of the young boys i used to chat with after ordering my usual Margerita pizza with Funghi. In fact, he might have even been the kid I gave my Telluride Wild Mushroom t shirt to when I left in 1995 because he loved it.

I introduced myself, told him I’ve come many times over the years, and had become friends with the Italian owner Anna Maria. And I remembered him.

As I looked into his eyes, there was this ever so slight twinkle, then it was gone. His eyes turned black again. His boyishness beat down by 22 years of restaurant work in Kathmandu dealing with tourists and protests and pollution. Who knows? But he really seemed to not give a shit that I remembered him. Maybe it happened every day. Maybe he doesn’t care. Maybe it’s not all about me. Haha.

I have searched far and wide to try and replace my failing hat. I cursed myself for both not buying two in Bhutan five years ago and missing the town where the shop was this trip in Bhutan. Mine was made in Kathmandu coincidentally and Chhimi assured me i would find one here. Chhimi!!!

Well, there are hats here. And there are hats that are kinda close. But if you’ve seen my now beaten down repaired in Guatemala too small for my head and ripped on top hat, well, you don’t just replace it with just any hat.

I’ve somehow not lost this one and it’s gonna make it on this trek with me. However, I’m not just buying any old hat. I mean, I’ve had maybe 7? In my life that I have become attached to? The Billabong ball cap that made it almost my whole first year of traveling in 1995 (while my hair went from zero to 60 in 9 months. Yeah. Ponytail) after I bought it in OZ, was ripped apart, ate and shat out by Namche and one of her San Fran playmates 1997.

I had this epic leather one from Peru that was just the shit and it got moldy when I stored it outside my house in Humboldt. I washed it and brilliantly hung it over the fireplace “just for a minute” to dry. Well you all know I get distracted easily. Shrunken head might be the best description of what it looked like. I found it’s replacement ( I bought THAT one in 2002!) in 2012 in Bhutan. Hats don’t come easily. The man makes the hat? Nope. Not always. Wish me luck.

Thamel is cool. But it’s like a gated community now. Tuk tuks and most motorized vehicles can’t come in. Less dogs (we will see tonight), less aggressive selling. It’s still a cool place. But I challenged my San Fran friend Donald years ago to name me ONE place that is better now than when he first visited. He couldn’t.

The fact is, in my experience, normally with growth and progress, people on the fringes are pushed out. And normally that’s where I’ve found the charm.

Kathmandu! First impressions

So the backstory is i visited Kathmandu towards the tail end of a year long adventure in 1995. Quite the highlight of my year. Three months. Trekking. Whitewater rafting. Drinking.

In 1998 I returned and my buddy Gary (a Canadian whitewater guide I met in 1995) introduced me to the family of Sunil, Bishnu, Sagar, Sabina and Korfina.

I spent many days with them in 1998, 2000 and most recently in 2006. So it’s been ten years. Our relationship has continued and my first goal was spending time with them. I arrived a few days ago. I am staying wth them a ten minute walk from Thamel. The irony is Sagar, Sabina, and Korfina are all living and working in other countries to make life work. But Sagar’s wife and two year old daughter are here.

Kathmandu continues to feel like a shit hole when you arrive. This might have been the first time I had a clear day landing. Even my first time here I was like WTF? Gross. But as you’ll see the place grows on you. And it changes you.

The population has exploded. Introduction of antibiotics years ago, lack of family planning, and migration to cities for jobs has Kathmandu being like the Mexico City of Nepal. But smaller scale. Nestled between soaring peaks at about 4500 feet, the pollution becomes apparent as you drop down from 35000 feet into the bowl. Whoa. I was warned.

It seems every single street is broken down except for the ones in the tourist area, Thamel, and the big ring road. It also seems like every single person now owns a moto, wears a mask when driving and, quite honestly, think walking would be a more efficient method of getting around. The traffic without any traffic lights (that I’ve seen) is like motocross on steroids. I mean I have NEVER seen that many motorcycles. Even in Beijing but that was 22 years ago.

I said back in 1995 never trust an overweight Nepali or one who wore jeans. Haha. Well, not too many overweight ones but jeans and smart phones and motos are ubiquitous (there’s that word again) and normally all three are combined.

The normal conservative dress down culture is gone. For the most part. Still there are men in traditional clothes and hats and women in saris. Now add to that stretchy pants, tons of makeup and new hair styles. Leather jackets.

I still think the Nepali people are the most visually stunning in the world and definitely the most friendly. From maybe 12-15 years old to around 40, they are striking. A mix of Indian, Tibetan, Chinese. All very different. Add in the sometimes jet black hair and high cheekbones and there are both men and women that are runway worthy. They rarely grey or lose their hair. And as they age they just become more regal. Get to 60 here and life makes you stunning again.

Namaste with hands pressed together. I salute the god in you. Incredible.

It’s mainly a subsistence economy here. Lots of corruption and bullshit. Tourism is massive as you can expect. Trekking and rafting and homestays. It keeps the economy afloat. The earthquake in 2015 broke my heart as I was helpless to do much but it didn’t break the spirit of these deeply spiritual people. Temples on every corner.

Walking through Thamel was like walking back in time for me. My old hotel, Hotel The Earth, has been closed for ten years but other mainstays are still here. The Kathmandu Guest house. Yin Yang restaurant. Ultimate Descents rafting though the owner died years ago. Fire and Ice Pizza. I am still expecting to just run into an old raft guide buddy, someone I bought hash from or an aging Sadhu that hung rocks from his dick. Yes. It used to happen.

In 1950, around the time Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay started dreaming of climbing Everest, the population stood at about 100,000.

Today it’s over 2 million for the valley. Go outside of the Thamel playland and it blows you away. The twisting turning roads of Thamel are just so cool still. I told Pandora there was probably 5000 shops here today when we spoke. Then I revised it down to 1000. I’m revising back up. You can get ANYTHING you want from the Himalaya regions here. Anything. And most people do. I could buy ten buddhas, ten tapestries, ten thankas. I mean the stuff is all gorgeous. The incense. The burning wood. The sewage. The fumes. You just can’t beat the place. Even though its idyllic veneer fails to address the massive inequality, poverty, child trafficking, drug trade (hash doesn’t count but for the record I don’t smoke anymore!) and dramatic environmental devastation (Sir Edmund Hillary said before he died he regretted building the airport in the Everest Region) that comes with both tourist consumption as well as the consumption associated with pleasing and carting said tourists and their shit up Everest and other trekking peaks. Yes. I’m a trekking snob. Big time. And I’m gonna carry my own shit up here by myself until I can’t carry it anymore. Or they carry me out. But I contribute to it just being here.

Google Maps sucks here. They can’t keep up with twisting turning roads (and likely some user error) and I kept failing trying to find where to get my trekking permit. So I succumbed to a rickshaw ride to get there. Yep. They are still here. Not the most crowded shot but you get it.

So i went ahead and said it. I’m going to trek to the Khumbu from Tumlingtar to Namche Bazaar (at least) on trails and through villages I’ve been many years before. More on that later but my heart is swelling with happiness to be able to do this. It just means so much to me. I’m not sure if I even realized it.

For the record I don’t need permits for my route. No one goes that route for some reason. Exactly.

My heart is so full and so emotional for this place finally. This place and these people have had such a profound influence on my life it’s hard to describe.

And i am so happy to be here.