November 2006 Archives

Jetlag insomnia!

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Chaz and I were wide awake at 3am in Dallas. The flight home from Bangkok to Dallas was long but easy, but we're paying the price now. It's about time to watch the sun set in Phuket, but at 5am here, we're rattling about working on web pages and doing laundry. Some melatonin tonight should help get things back on track. We got upgrades on the flight to business class, but honestly, the service on AA stunk. The extra room was nice though.

After 30 days gone, a plain hamburger with some chips and hot sauce was a good dinner, and having some TV to watch is a nice diversion. I'll miss the beach and the pool and the orchids everywhere.

Off to work on photos.

Enjoying the last of Thailand vacation

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Since Charles arrived here in Phuket, its been a whirlwind of relaxation. The Banyan Tree Phuket and our private pool has been nice, the beaches have been pristine, and the Andaman Sea has been tranquil and warm. We spent 2 days cruising the Gulf of Thailand on a 40 ft yacht, and I did a night dive and 2 reef dives. We've eaten excellent Thai cuisine, and enjoyed a champagne brunch at the hotel time and again. I've had a couple of good massage treatments, and its hard to believe tomorrow I have to leave to head back. We go to Bangkok tomorrow for an overnight stay, then Charles and I head to Tokyo and Dallas. Here's a few photos for the record.

Franz boarding our yacht.

Me in front of James Bond island in the Gulf of Thailand

Charles at Maya Bay at Ko Phi Phi Leigh

Coral in shallow water at Maya Bay

Exhale... and surprise after surprise..

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So from the 16th through the 19th, I was in Kathmandu, and had a nasty bout of a cold that had gone from our tour leader to Franz to me.
While sick, we had a couple of fascinating trips around the Kathmandu valley where we saw the Bouddha Stupa, the Pashipatan temples where Hindus are cremated (saw one take place - the eldest son feeding the father the fire and everything), Patan, which was a neighboring kingdom, and Bhakpatur, another neighboring kingdom. The 19th we packed, and spent the day flying to Phuket for the WARM part of our vacation. 17K feet in the air on a mountain to a paradise at sea level.
Franz hadn't let me know what our hotel in Phuket was - it was to be a surprise. Indeed it surpassed all my expectations. It's the Banyan Tree Phuket. We were greeted with a bracelet of fragrant orchids to wear, a juice drink, and a cold peppermint towel into this grand open air lobby filled with fire and water and stone. Quite an amazing first impression. We have a 2 bedroom villa with outdoor showers, a private pool with jaccuzzi, amazing air conditioning, fluffy pillows and towels, and a complimentary internet connection. This is luxury on a scale I hadn't experienced before, and even now on the second day I'm not sure what to think.
The surprises kept coming, however. After an excellent night's sleep, and a delightfully decadent pan-asian breakfast buffet, back at the villa a familiar whistle and smile greeted me at the door. Franz had Charles fly out here from Dallas to enjoy the Thanksgiving week in the sun with us. Somehow, I don't know how, as I manage to keep pretty close tabs on things at home, he managed to keep this a secret since June; flight and schedule changes were coordinated, and Chaz managed to get some extra time in at work so he could get away.

Look who showed up! [new window]

I feigned some indignation at having done all the work in the trek and having him get to enjoy all the spoils of the relaxing, but this is all really too much not to share with him. He's really gotten into it as well, and I'm really lucky that he's able to enjoy it as well. We spent the 20th on the beach, and today, the 21st in the villa and at the pool basking in the sun. Tonight we're going to go into Phuket town, and then we've got 3 days of Thai adventures lined up. This is the real vacation now.


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A blessing, and return to civilization

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At our hotel in Namche, Panorama Lodge, we had quite an introduction to true Sherpa life. The night of the 14th, we were one of only 3 sets of guests at the lodge, and the night before, the owner's first grandson was born. One of the traditions of the region is for the family to celebrate such an event, and since it was being held in the only heated room of the lodge, the dining room, we got to be a part of it.
During our dinner, the owner treated us to some wine, and we had the opportunity to eat some of their traditional meal that was served later. The liquor flowed freely among the men at one table and the women at another, with kids running about between both. We bought our drinks for the most part, but they kept some wine coming as well. The following morning, both our Sherpa and our guide were a bit hungover; we had turned in early, but they were able to keep up with the family and friends in the celebration until 1 in the morning. We got to sign one of the empty bottles of wine that they're keeping to commemerate the occassion. "Health and Happiness" I wrote.
Franz settled the bill before we left, leaving a pretty generous tip to the lodge, and then to the owner, an addition 500 rupees 'for junior'. Our guide was touched, and the owner honored us in return with a 'kada' (not sure of the spelling) - a traditional Sherpa/tibetan blessing scarf to wear along our journey. Of all the well wishes and honors that I've ever received, the simple gesture from the owner felt most honest and heartfelt. We were truly honored to be part of the evening, and I think the memory of that cold morning where a Sherpa woman gave us a wordless blessing will live with me for years to come.

Namche to Lukla was an 8.25 hour hike, with a 1 hour break for lunch. Downhill most of the way, and sunny till about 2 in the afternoon, the trek went well. This was a busy section of trail, both with tourists heading up the mountain, and yaks going both ways with goods to Namche. My knees and quads were aching when we reached our lodge for the final night in the cold. No hot shower. As it was the last night, we sponsored dinner and a party for our porters and our sherpa. Dinner, beer, tips, leftovers that we weren't going to take out of the mountains - all went to the porters. Our guidelines for the tips to the porters said 2000 to the porters, 4000 to the local guide. We erred on the side of generousity and went with 3500 and 8000. The porters, both younger men probably in their late teens, accepted the envelopes quite graciously, and at some point excused themselves to the bathroom. When they came back, neither could contain their ear-to-ear grins; they'd checked out their tips, and we obviously took the right path. These guys schlepped our crap up and down mountains that I could barely get my fat ass up, so $50 each was well worth it, and it made all of them very, very happy, in the words of our Sherpa. He was pleased with his tip as well. We kept the beer and whiskey flowing for a few hours, which resulted in quite a strange scene of everyone dancing to Nepali folk music well beyond the point where we excused ourselves from the party to hit the rack. Mountain exhaustion and a bit of beer took its toll. The bill in the morning was about $120, again, well worth the effort they put in and the goodwill we wanted to leave behind.

Today we flew from Lukla to Kathmandu on Yeti Airlines. Our wakeup was early and cold, but we were both ready to go, as was our tour leader. The flight was fast and furious, with the plane running off the downhill runway and catching the air at the last moment. Kathmandu felt like returning to 'normal' with its exhaust fume-filled atmosphere and streets clotted with cows and trash and people on 125cc motorcycles running about. Its crazy how your perspective can change so quickly.
We've taken the day off at Dwarika's, defrosting ourselves and relaxing a bit. First order of business was enjoying an indoor seated toilet in a warm room, then a proper Hollywood shower of at least 30 minutes in hot water. Touched base with Charles, and my parents, letting them know that the vacation will start now. Repacking, cleaning, sorting laundry all took place, and I ordered a good 90 minute massage after lunch of surf & turf. As I write, I'm in the poolside bar having a cold beer and some salty snacks. The himalayas were incredible, but there's lots to be said for being clean and warm and comfortable... with the aches and pains of a long journey accomplished.

Day 9 of the Himalaya trek.. Namche

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I've survived for the most part - seen Everest, Lhotse, Cho Oya and nearly Tibet.
We're back in Namche Bazar on the way down for some souvenier shopping and then heading down to Lukla for plane out in 2 days.
Its been miserable and incredible. Have seen the night sky in utter darkness at 15K feet, hiked to Ama Dablam base camp, trekked up a mountain at Gokyo to 17K feet and change, froze my ass of for most of the trip, and had a diet of eggs, rice and potatoes mostly. My legs ache, and my feet are holding up. Lodge trekking has been hit and miss - I'll never again bitch about a Courtyard Marriott that hasn't been renovated.. at least they're heated.

Namche Bazar - quick post 11286 feet up

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Flight to Lukla was an adventure, even more so was getting to Phakding, our first stop, then 900meters (1800 feet) to Namche, which has an internet connection. 3 hour hike up. 2nd day of 11, I've got my doubts about it. The hiking trail is more an interstate commerce channel - cows and yaks and porters and japanese tour groups. Am sore, but ok. Its colder'n crap up here, food's ok. Trail smells of yak shit. I dont know that this was the best idea for me.. I'm beginning to really hate mountains.

Pre-trek in Bulletpoints

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  • Saturday I had a decent wakeup time, and a great breakfast. Crystal clear view of the Annapurna range - breathtaking. Am sending a photo of it to Charles. He told me on the phone he's posted what I sent on his gallery which is either at /photos or at /gallery. I can't remember which, so both links are here.

  • Paragliding was amazing. Running off the side of a mountain made my heart jump into my throat, but in moments I was up in the air with eagles, and a dozen other gliders. Bad news though.. I was the first down, as I thought it would be poor form to puke on the guy flying me around. Nausea caught up with me from the spinning and bumps and drops.

  • Landing was cool.. ran right out of the sky and stood on the ground. Had some tea before heading back to Kathmandu. It settled the stomach a little bit.

  • Five minutes into the drive nausea returned, mostly due to the bouncy road and the driving technique on the highway that resembles playing chicken.

  • Stopped one hour in for lunch. Didn't help the stomach any.

  • About six hours later, stomach still sloshing around, arrived at Dwarika's hotel. It's like being in one of the temples here. My room is wider than the Privthi highway!

  • Bought toilet paper for the trip, and now its time to repack the duffle with belongings, and stash the rest away.

  • Our flight on Yeti Air is at 8am, which means it might be off the ground by noon. Wake-up call is at 5:30am.

  • There's limited internet available up in Sagramatha, so probably am off the grid for 11 days. Talk about quitting cold turkey!

  • Namaste!

    For the first couple of days, I was having real problems being here. I was unsettled, angry and irrationally scared of everything. No common context was here for me, other than having a travel companion, but even he isn't someone that acts as an anchor for me. I think that the feeling is slowly passing, though. I'm more comfortable with the strangeness, especially having seen some patterns in the way the locals behave, and in the pulse of things around me. The streets which were crowded and filthy in the afternoon are broad, quiet and clean in the 5am darkness. The once imposing tiny storefronts harshly lit with a bare bulb and having 10 people loitering about, are now friendly, family businesses with a floor they keep clean, a well-stocked fridge, and a curiousity about who I am and what I think of their country. Its not so bad. Different and strange at times, but certainly not as threatening as I first felt. I may not have an anchor here, but I'm getting okay with being able to drift with the current a little bit.

    We had a relatively normal wakeup call today, although it was still too early for my tastes - I was in a bit of an ambien-induced haze for a while. (I hadn't slept well for a couple of days) Our excursion with our guide and our new Pokhara-based car driver was to Begnas lake, a quick stop before doing our adventures in the air. The drive to the lake was about 30 minutes, and our tour of the lake was aboard a small wooden boat with a 17-year-old girl at the paddle. It was a piece of work for her, I'm sure, paddling 3 men across the lake and then hiking up the hill with us. She and our guide got along well, and their nepalese banter was almost hypnotic along with the sound of the paddling and the warmth of the sun. I could have easily dozed off, but with a slow leak in the boat, I was a bit wary of getting my stuff wet. The lake would have been ideal for waterskiing, but the only motorboat available belongs to the royal family, and while our guide is good, he's not that good.
    When we finished the boat trip, we got a call that our paragliding had been postponed. While the weather here is mild and warm, the overcast conditions don't allow the thermals to form which are necessary for the gliding. We had lunch, and after lunch the word came that the gliding was off for today - though there's a chance it might be on tomorrow. To kill the time prior to our ultra-light flight, we went to a rooftop cafe for some tea and beer and dessert, and I knocked out a round of post-cards. Maybe they'll beat me to the states, but I'm not holding my breath.

    Getting to the "Avia Club" at the Pokhara airport for our ultra-light flight was interesting. Our driver wasn't allowed in the parking lot without a ticket, so he had to determine how to drop us off first. Once we got there, there was an issue of the airport tax to be paid. That got handled. Next was getting us to the hanger where the ultralights were stored. We got to go through security, which consisted of a line for women, and a line for men to a little curtained off area for each gender: no machines here, just a good old-fashioned feel-up. Having cleared security, we got to go through the departure lounge, and walk on down the taxiway to their hanger. Just 1 ultra-light was being run, and I got to go first. I was suited up with snow pants, a coat, scarf, head-liner, helmet and gloves, and moments thereafter I was in this tiny scooter-sized machine taxiing toward the runway. In these ultra-lights, the pilot controls the flight surface with a rod attached directly to it, and it seemed effortless when he tilted it at speed and the ground dropped away. The flight was outstanding, heading first out over Begnas lake, where we were earlier, and along the foothills of the cloud-wrapped himalayas. Only one snow-covered peak was visible for a while during our ascent. Above 2000 meters, the air whipping by was cold and chilled my exposed chin. When I didn't have the windscreen on my helmet down, pulling in a breath felt forced. After a while of flying over Begnas and the east part of the mountains, he descended a bit and the air was warmer and it was exhilarating soaring above the villages. At one point while heading north, we had sight of a rainbow off the wing as the clouds around the mountains opened up. Our flight went from the north part back toward Pokhara, around Sarangkot, where we had seen the sunrise, and then over the lake, where an eagle was flying around with us abover the water, and then the Shanti Stupa. Plenty of photos, as well as a video. The flight was about an hour, and when we pulled back into the hanger, Franz was suited up and ready for his flight after the craft refuelled. He came back just as excited as I think I was from the flight. As we were wrapping up money and photos, the sun set against the Annapurnas, and the clouds were breaking. Unfortunately, the tower was closed, so there wasn't going to be another flight up there to see it, at least today.
    Tomorrow we're going to try for the gliding again in the morning, but if its cloudy again, we've got a tourist stop to make near Gorka on the way back to Kathmandu. We're going back there for a night prior to going into the mountains.

    Watching CNN international, I just realized that although I voted already, I probably won't know the outcome of the elections until the 16th at the earliest, unless we encounter someone in Sagramatha that knows. We're trekking from the 5th through to the 16th.

    TV from India is hilarious, especially the pop-up video spin-off on MTV-India called Piddhu the Great. I don't understand it, but can tell they're playing with the language, with the mix of hindi and English in the pop-ups. The dancing is over the top.

    How early is too early?

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    I'm beginning to think that vacation with Franz is a series of challenges to find reasons to get up earlier and earlier. Anyone that knows me, knows that at the crack of 8:30am, I'm barely able to function. Yet, I went along with a 4:30am wakeup to see the sun rise over the himalayas.

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    Greetings from Nepal & Pokhara! The sun is setting against the himalaya, and I'm finally in a place with a connection, though not much of one. Right now, I can't get the photos uploaded, as I want to get text posted prior to getting images up. Am having an adventure like I never imagined, respecting what I have more and more, and am missing home every so often. Some daily notes below.

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