844 days, 20,256 hours, 1,215,360 minutes, or 72,921,600 seconds. That is the approximate duration of my world tour. I never wanted it to end and now, in a manner of speaking, I suppose it never has to. If you wish to go by country do so by clicking on one above. They are numbered in the order I visited them, more or less. If you enjoy reading about it even a tenth as much as I enjoyed living it then you will not have wasted your time. Grab a refreshing beverage, settle in a comfortable chair, and make a journey across the world, experiencing it as I did. Then get off your ass and check it out for yourself. You're not getting any younger.

Everest Base Camp (Three Passes Trek, Nepal ) Part V

March 27th, 2010 - I am going to make a slight departure from my Himalayan narrative to relay current events. As I walked the streets of Thamel, Kathmandu recently I was approached by a Nepali gentleman that appeared eager to speak with me. This is not out of the ordinary as trekking guides, travel agency employees, street hawkers, beggars, and even students wishing to engage those of the foreign persuasion often approach.

This guy was a little different as he failed to speak for moments after first approaching me. I thought this a little awkward but I am pretty used to awkward so no biggie. After the silent pause the conversation went like this (keep in mind this all occurs while I continue walking):

Strange Man: Namaste!

Me: Namaste.

(awkward pause)

Strange Man: How are you? (At this point I look at this man and realize his countenance is a little off. If I am to be honest he looked like some variation of an adult book store peep show degenerate. A bit harsh I know, but you can't help forming an impression, right?)

Me: I'm gooood…..How are you? (I am thinking he wants to me go on a trek with his agency or is selling something).

(awkward pause)

Strange Man: I am fine.

(awkward pause)

Me: What can I do for you?

(awkward pause)

Strange Man: I not work for travel agency. I am student. I like practice my English with you.

Me: Ooooookaaaay. English, huh?

Strange Man: Which country from? Germany?

Me: Nope. USA…America.

Strange Man: Ahh, America? Very nice country.

Me: Yeeeeah, it's not too bad. (At this point I make a left turn down an alley in the direction of a restaurant)

(awkward pause)

Strange Man: I like boyfriend. (I realize now that the 'look' he is giving me is somewhat akin to my reaction to a Colombian supermodel)

Me: Oh no. No. No. No. No boyfriend. Sorry. Bye, bye. (I walk faster. He stops in his tracks and continues to stare at me like a wolf does a baby caribou for a few moments longer. Did he think I would come to my senses and realize what opportunity I might be passing up? No way to know. It is not easy being so fargin irresistible. More of a curse really.)

I came back to my room the other night and found a cockroach (I'll call him Grendel) the size of my thumb scurrying about. It took me a good ten minutes to subdue the beast. It was more of a wrestling match than a chase. Grendel did not go quietly into that good night. Instead he continued thwarting my attempts to apprehend him. When I finally did capture the monster and propel him into the Porcelain Sea (i.e. toilet bowl) he still managed to fight the current for an impressive length of time. Putting the creature down was not the Buddhist way of handling the universe's creature but how could I sleep at night knowing that leviathan was out there? If I set him free he'd probably find me, like some twisted insect version of Lassie.

This morning was the proverbial cherry on the surrealistic sundae. As I came down the stairs I noticed a nearly naked man (donning only a pair of pink bikini briefs with black stripes) pissing into a potted plant right there in the stairwell. My reaction was as strange as his behavior. I just kept walking. All I can say is that my brain failed to fully comprehend what I was witnessing, as if to say, No Rich. That man is not pissing into a plant right in the hallway. That is ludicrous, ludicrous I say. And he certainly isn't wearing earplugs.

Earplugs? I suppose that might explain why he did not hear me coming. It is not like I was trying to sneak up on him. A swift kick in the jewels would not have been a disproportionate response to his behavior. Or at the very least some sort of verbal reprimand was in order. But to do nothing? I have no excuse. After an extremely pregnant pause and with what was probably a ridiculous look on my face I did mention the incident to the guy behind the front desk as I walked by. He went to check it out but I left before the conclusion of his investigation. I needed to keep walking. I felt dirty.

*********************************

Feeling a bit renewed (although not a 100%) I made my way from Lobuche to Gorak Shep, dropped my belongings at a lodge, and headed in the direction of Everest Base Camp South (EBC). By this time I could feel my veins once again filling with vitality. Eating two breakfasts and going to bed at 6:30 pm the night before may have had a hand in my revival.

To be honest my expectations concerning EBC were not altogether grandiose. I'd heard mixed reviews, none of even the positive ones being especially effulgent. The Lonely Planet basically recommends doing either Kala Pattar or EBC but warns that doing both is a bit much for most. I considered skipping base camp in favor of a longer stay on Kala Pattar and the immediate area. EBC felt a little like a tourist trap, a trip undertaken in order to obtain the signature rubber stamp been there, done that feel good emotion about standing at the gateway to the highest mountain on earth. It seems many people do it just for the sake of doing it. Well, as I often find 'many people' are idiots.



Lobuche



EBC is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. You may have to open your eyes past the mandatory squint required by the sun's reflection but if you do you will see something amazing, not the least of which is a glacial landscape courtesy of the Khumbu Glacier. And when you reach the base of the Khumbu Icefall at the end of the valley and the starting point for an Everest expedition you should be impressed. If not you might want to check your pulse and confirm that there is in fact blood coursing through your veins.

The walk from Gorak Shep to EBC first runs along the glacier, at least until you find yourself scampering along the top of the moraine itself. I had only expected to spend an hour or so in the area but when I reached the bottom of the icefall I knew I'd be lingering for a while. It almost did not happen. I had not read the guide book carefully and when I reached the rock cairns that announced the area as 'Everest Base Camp' I thought, I must be missing something.

I was. There was a gentleman sitting nearby (he looked knackered) with his guide. I was about to inquire when I noticed a group moving in the distance right at the end of the valley. Had I foolishly went no farther I would have missed one of the highlights of my trip. As it turns out the real base camp is another 30 to 40 minute walk along the moraine right to the bottom of the Khumbu Icefall. 

Although it was early in the season there was one expedition (American) setting up on the hottest real estate around, right beneath the icefall. There was already a cooking and dining tent set up with a few shiny new yellow North Face tents for good measure (they still had the tags). As I approached the dining tent from the rear I heard a familiar voice. When I saw a unicycle laying on the ground my suspicions were confirmed: Unicycle Steve made his way to Everest Base Camp. He had met some folks along the way and accompanied them on the trail. The couple he was with had the good fortune to be spending the night at base camp. They were friends with a member of the American expedition team that was assaulting Everest this year. None of the members were there, just a part of the Sherpa team sent in to begin preparations and provide the lucky couple with a tent and some food. Lucky pups.

So I just sat on the rocks and soaked it all up. What a place. What a friggin' place! It would have been interesting to have the area to myself (i.e. no tents, no people) but it was nice to have some folks around for a change. Having just a few tents around places photos in their proper perspective. I've read it is a three ring circus with all the camps set up. That would be a sight too but I preferred the situation just the way it was, subdued with just a smidge of humanity.

The Khumbu Icefall will bend your mind if you stare at it long enough. The mere thought of it is remarkable. All that ice constantly shifting around like some sort of super slow motion glacial tango. Creaking, shifting, cracking and doing all the things respectable glaciers should be doing. And even more mind blowing is the fact that every year lunatics traverse that bad boy in search of Himalayan glory. Can't say I would not like to give it a shot (theoretically anyway, although I do have philosophical issues with what the mountain has become) but I am about 30 grand shy. Anyone want to loan me some scratch?





Khumbu Icefall



















So after a couple hours staring into the glacial abyss and beyond I began making my way back to Gorak Shep. I was not alone. I decided to stalk Unicycle Steve on the way back. He wished his friends a fond farewell and we moved on. The trip back was slow going, not because we were tired, but because we kept stopping to take pictures of random ice formations, listen to an avalanche or two, and just examine the surreal terrain of the Khumbu Glacier. Much of it resembles one of those lacquered 3-D topographical maps, almost like you are looking at a really big representation of a larger mountain range. Absolutely magnificent.

Unicycle Steve (a Brit from Manchester) is an interesting dude. He only started his hobby about ten years ago after his wife bought him the cycle as a gift (I never asked his age but I think he is currently in his mid to late forties). The rest, as they say is history. He took to it like a fish to water. Now it seems he takes it everywhere. Unfortunately in the Khumbu Region of Nepal he is forced to carry it much of the way. That did not stop him from doing parts of the Kala Pattar trail. Trust me when I tell you that requires a great deal of skill.

Remarkably, he also unicycled from Lhasa, Tibet to Kathmandu, Nepal as part of an effort to raise money for a Nepali NGO. When I was fifteen I rode my bike from my house to the mall with my friend Tim to see a showing of Batman (with Michael Keaton and Jack Nickolson). That was a good 20 miles so I know exactly where he is coming from. He has even got his sons in on the act (much to the chagrin of his wife). They've been at it since they were 3 years of age. You know what they say: A family that unicycles together, stays together.

You ask someone that does things like this why it is they do what they do and the answer is always the same and given in that matter of fact duuuuh tone: Because I love it. Keep on cycling you crazy bastard (Steve, if you read this I mean that in the nicest possible way. Remember, I'm American).

On our way back we had some interesting conversations. We were both bewildered by the idea that folks could go to EBC and fail to appreciate the natural magnificence surrounding them. The next time I hear a, 'Yeeeeaaah, it's okay' answer to the question of whether or not EBC is worth a visit I will no doubt cringe existentially. We had a couple of theories concerning this issue. First of all people vastly underestimate the physical exertion required to go tromping through the Himalayas. This is not entirely their fault. Travel agencies, guides, and anyone else associated with the tourist industry here tend to down play the requirements in order to encourage everyone and their mother to come visit. So it is not so surprising that after reaching the base camp region in a state of hypoxic exhaustion many folks (especially those of a mature ilk) would dismiss the grandeur out of hand with a 'Yes, yes. Very nice. Good. Great. Everest Base Camp? Awesome. Look at that. Wow! Can we go back to my lodge now so I can pass out and die….pleeease?'

Also, many of the folks you encounter on the trail are so much more concerned with ticking a natural wonder off their list that the actual experience is ancillary to the bragging rights. They just can't wait to get home and tell their friends even though they have only a vague recollection of even being there, never mind trying to appreciate it.

While making our way back we came across a curious fellow. He was a Canadian (the unmistakable 'ay', as in How's it going, ay? betrayed his origin) headed in the opposite direction (i.e. towards base camp) alone. He stopped to have a chat and told us he was headed to EBC. I thought this a bit queer (as in odd or strange). The time was around 4 pm. The sun, already playing hide and seek behind the clouds, would set around 6 pm and would disappear behind the valley much earlier than that. He was alone, lightly dressed, and appeared not to have water. I was trying to read Steve's face for signs of astonishment but I got nothing. For some reason the man's guide told him that due to the fact that he was 'pretty fast' he could get to EBC in two hours or less. Nuh-uh. Steve calmly explained to him that this was not possible, to which Team Canada responded with, "But you have a unicycle." Ummmmm…right. Steve, still clam, pointed out that he was actually carrying said unicycle on this particular trail as it was a bit too dodgy to play circus. Steve then made an attempt (with verbal support from yours truly) to dissuade our new friend from continuing on. He highlighted things like the inevitable drop in temperature, the tendency for small rocks to fall from the cliffs later in the day after the sun has had the chance to soften the frozen dirt, the fact that he was solo, the diminishing light, so on and so forth. 

Our efforts were in vain. As we watched him continue on we were both a bit dumbfounded. It was like he read a list of everything not to do while in the Himalayas and summarily gave each item a 'F*** thaaaaat!!!' while pressing on. We laughed the whole way back. That is not to say we were not concerned but what could we do, wrestle him to the ground, hogtie him to Steve's unicycle, and drag his misguided ass back to Gorak Shep? We figured there was a 50/50 chance we would be reading about a Canadian going astray in the next edition of the Lonely Planet. We crossed our fingers. (Side note: You will be happy to learn that I ran into our friend the next day on Kala Pattar. Amazingly, he heeded our advice and turned around. He made a point of saying, "I'm not an idiot, ya know?" Thought never crossed my mind, ay.)

I bid farewell to Steve in Gorak Shep with the weird feeling that perhaps we would meet again. Stranger things have happened. What a day. What…..a……day.

And on a sad note I am devastated to report that I lost my ridiculous hat on the return to Gorak Shep. Like an idiot I failed to secure it properly to my person and it slipped away. Purchased in Cusco, Peru I've had that hat for 10 years. End of an era. I must now search for another absurd piece of headgear. How do you replace the irreplaceable?











Expedition Camp Marker






Mt. Everest on the right






Unicycle Steve in action on the trail on Kala Pattar

"Don't part with your illusions. When they are gone you may still exist, but you have ceased to live."
 — Mark Twain

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