It’s Over… I’m Going Home!

Well ladies and gents, this is it, my last blog post related to my travel. I’m running out of fresh material, and I’m feeling ready about tackling life back home. The travel bug is still in me, but it’s been eased into a dormant state… for now… I’ve had the time to vent, to get rid of my jet lag (whatever of it there was), and to prepare myself for an epic return! Haha!

So a couple of stats about my trip:

  • Number of countries visited: 4
  • Number of cities visited: 28
  • Number of bandannas lost: 4
  • Number of motorbike accidents: 2 (Although I wasn’t actually ON the bike for one of them. Nevertheless, the scooter still ended up in a ditch)
  • Number of times I avoided paying for ANY motorbike damage: 2
  • Number of times I thought I broke my camera: 3 (Both scooter accidents, and water damage when hiking the mountain on Koh Pangan, Thailand)
  • Number of times overcharged for products and/or services: WAY too many!
  • Number of missed ferry boats: 1
  • Cheapest beers: China – ~75 cents per beer (local)
  • Best massages: Thailand
  • Best metropolis: A tie between Chengdu, China and Bangkok, Thailand
  • Best rural village: Songpan, China
  • Best shopping: Bangkok, Thailand! Custom-tailored suits baby!
  • Best nightclub: Club 88, Chengdu, China
  • Best island: Koh Tao, Thailand
  • Best climate: No brainer: the paradise islands of Koh Tao. But, in a strange sense, the Thorung La Pass on the Annapurna Circuit is high up there too!
  • Best food: Hmm… really tough call between Japan and Thailand. I’ll just call it a tie!
  • Best girls: I’m going to have to go ahead and say Japan
  • Best boys: Thailand… I mean, they DO dress up like girls and can easily fool an untrained eye, which are NOT mine!
  • Nicest people: Japan
  • Best cultural experience: Nepal
  • Biggest culture shock: China
  • Best natural scenery: Nepal! Hands DOWN! I mean, Annapurna FTW!
  • Best man-made attraction: Rinnoji, Ryuku, and Chuzengi in Nikko, Japan

Hmm… maybe people can recommend a couple more categories in the comments here that I can later add on. As for this blog and Flickr, here’s what you guys delivered:

  • Total individual views: 8,722
  • Busiest month: July, all of you people slacking at work! Reader count dropped dramatically once September came around.
  • Posts: 104
  • Comments: 297
  • Flickr photo views: 11,956
  • Number of photos: 3,100 (Help me pick the top 100!!! Check them out here on my blog and on Flickr, here. Post a comment on the ones you think are the best!)
  • Number of videos: 29

Not too shabby if you ask me! Definitely a lot more reads than I was expecting, so thanks to all of my loyal readers!

I’m still set on the idea of going to work in Japan, but I’ll need something really creative to get me in there. It goes without saying that Japan is a country that I would definitely live in, Nepal is a country that I’d go back to over and over again to do some trekking, rafting, mountaineering, and so much more, I’d work in China temporarily, annnd I’d go back to Thailand to see what I missed, like the North, and then go chill out once again on the islands. Speaking of the islands (and ultimately scuba diving), I shopped around for some scuba diving here in Boynton Beach, Florida. The cheapest price: US$130 for TWO dives! Geez! That’s half of what I paid for my entire course in Thailand, and that was something like 6 dives! I didn’t bother going, considering the fact that, well, I’m broke! Flat broke! Damn traveling took all of my money away… But you know what? I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat! So instead, I went for a run across Boynton Beach, went for a swim in massive waves and tides (there’s a hurricane hitting Louisiana) that residents say they haven’t seen in a very long time, and just unwound in the nice, warm, sunny weather. Tomorrow, it’s golf time, and more beach time. I wouldn’t have any other way before going home!

I don’t want to stop writing this blog, it’s been a great part of this whole experience… but I’ll be cliché and say that life must go on, but this is something I have a lot of trouble letting go… I’m forcing words right now just so that this blog can keep going, and I think it’s pretty obvious. I’ll probably be coming back over and over again just to make some small updates just to satisfy my craving. I keep saying that I’m ready to go back home, but this will always be in the back of my mind, but it won’t make me sad, it’ll make me happy. I was fortunate to have these experiences, and I was a little depressed when I immediately got back home, but now I’m smiling!

I wish I had something bigger to go out on, but I feel as if I’ve already said everything that I had to say. Hell, some people might say that I said more than what I should have said, but like I’ve said before, I started writing this blog expecting to write about absolutely everything that came out of this trip, and that’s exactly what I tried to do. So, rather than force my content for this blog post, I’m going to cut it short and say one final goodbye to everyone (however, if you do need the urge to read about the travels of some of my fellow companions, you can check out Tony and Lindsay’s blog here or Max’s blog here). I can’t say it enough, I’ll never forget any of you, and once again, thank you. It won’t be long before I’m back on the road, and I hope to have all of my readers following me then as well. Give me about, say, one year! It’s only going to get better! Look forward to it as much as I am!

Sayonara, Bai-Bai, Sawatdee Krup, Namaste, Aurevoir… Goodbye… Actually, “see you later” is more like it!

-LL

P.S. To be continued…

What’s the Deal With North America? Geez…

I’m surprisingly not as jet lagged as I thought I would be. I’m tired, but not tired enough to go to sleep. Last night, after coming into the States, I immediately wanted to do one of two things: Go home, or go back to Japan. Why? The service I got here was sickening! It’s funny, throughout Asia, there’s the language barrier, but the staff genuinely wants to help you (or at least they make it seem as if they do). However, the minute I stepped on to the United 747 to Chicago, I was subject to an uncaring and despicable service. How the Hell did we end up getting accustomed to this crap? Rude tones and unpleasant characters. The flight crew would run down the aisle with trays of water, shouting “Water! Water!” and would sigh in annoyance if anyone would stop them to get the refreshment they were meant to disperse! I wasn’t in the mood for it, especially at the end of my trip where I would be flying for the next 17 hours after being on trains for 3.5 hours. I managed to subdue my escalating frustration by sleeping most of the way to Chicago, but unfortunately for me, America is full of sad and miserable people.

The border officer… what a character he was! After a 12 hour flight (with another five waiting), jet lagged to Hell, I really wasn’t in the mood for what was about to happen. In short, the border officer was using his oh-so ultimate power to threaten me about not letting me in the country since I didn’t have my paper tickets for my flight home on me. Arrogant prick… He went on and on with his insulting questions: “What were you doing in Japan, China, Thailand, and Nepal”, “Why would you even go there?”, “Are you traveling with a laptop?”, “Why would you take a laptop on a backpacking trip”, “How much money do you have?”, “If I brought you to buy a ticket home, you’d have the money to do that?”, “Why would you go on a trip without booking a return ticket? Weren’t you planning on going back home?”, “You have no intention to leave the United States do you?” (this one made me laugh because he asked this AFTER I told him that my plane ticket home was already booked),”What do your parents do?”, “Why do they spend the winter in Florida?”, “How do they manage to spend the winter in Florida?”, “Where did you get the money to finance your trip while being a student?”………. this crap went on for 20-25 minutes! Clearly, this man had the IQ of, let’s say, a turkey.Yeah, that works, they’re pretty dumb. It’s not as if this guy was being courteous or polite either. No! He was a straight up asshole getting off on his little border officer power trip, taking his frustration out on innocent travelers, just so that he can justify the meaning of his miserable life and feel like he’s making a difference in the world (I’m not making a generalization of all border officers, just this one… he’s the only one that ever gave me trouble)! It didn’t take long before my answers became sarcastic, blunt, and as friendly as his questions were. But hey, at least the guy was kind enough to give me a bit of advice before allowing me to enter the sacred land known as the United States of America. “Don’t forget your paper tickets next time, because most other border officers wouldn’t even let you into the country without them!” Yeah, thanks for doing me this huge favour… jerk… I NEVER had a return ticket, and NONE of the other countries I traveled to EVER gave me ANY trouble when I was coming in.

Ugh… I guess I’m a little irritable right now… I didn’t think coming home would be this hard. Right now, in Florida with my parents, I’m being smothered! I’m looking back at my whole trip, and I really can’t believe that it’s been five months! I still remember leaving Ottawa Airport as if it was yesterday… I still remember the dreams I had about waking up back home and being miserable! It’s funny, when I woke up this morning, it felt as though THAT was a dream, and I was desperately trying to wake up from it… Ugh, maybe it’s just the jet lag. I miss the world… How long will it take before I get over this thing? Will I ever? I need to come back home… see my friends… get my old life back…

-LL

P.S. What’s the deal with all the fat people in the States?! I mean… my GOD!

UPDATE: So a lot of my readers only look at the photos I put up on Facebook, therefore, you have only seen a FRACTION of my photos. You know, they’re all on Flickr here, but for your convenience, I’ll be putting them all up on Facebook, one city per day. Enjoy!

Where It All Began, It Shall Also End…

Well, this is it. I’m back at Narita Airport, where my entire trip began, and where it shall also end. I don’t know what to think, say, or feel! I know that this will all be part of what I call post-travel depression, but I know that, with time, I’ll get back to my old exciting lifestyle that I had back home. I’m only 23, I have loads of time left to travel and visit friends that I’ve made on this trip.

Looking at it now, things look to be promising when I go back home. I’m making a lot of options for myself so that I don’t end up stuck in limbo, waiting for something to happen. I’m going to continue studying Japanese with OJLS, I’m going to take a photography course (not that I want to make a career out of it, but something to do as a hobby), I will broaden my technical skills by teaching myself about Adobe CS4, and maybe go back to school, either to study law or to become better with numbers. I still have an interview with Interac Network when I get back, and if all fails back home, I may very well take the teachig position available in Japan. Like I said, I need to make some options…

Even though my trip ends today, this won’t be my last blog post. There are elements to discuss regarding a homecoming after 5 months of traveling abroad, and I want to share those feelings with you. I’ll try to keep the material as interesting as it was when I was on the road.

With this blog post, however, I want to say my goodbyes to everyone that have made my trip so grand. I can’t thank any of you enough for all that you have done for me. Goodbye Zin and Jumi, your hostel remains one of the highlights on this trip; Goodbye Pilar (David, Knut, Diogo, and Justin), I’ll see you all at the next flight competition; Goodbye Ella, Baimei, Sabrina, and Nancy, Sims’ would not have been the same without your sparkling personalities! Goodbye Sim and Maki, your hostel is on the top of my list, and your service and hospitality remains unmatched! Goodbye Daniel, your drive and motivation will surely lead you to success. Always work hard and aim high! Goodbye to everyone I met at Club 88 and Babi Club, thanks for ALL the free drinks! Haha! Goodbye Martin, I’ll pop in next time I’m in Japan. Goodbye PADI crew (Loes, Linda, Margheritta, Hannes, and David), best PADI crew of life! Goodbye Anne and Ning, thanks for the wild nights on Samui! Goodbye A, I will see you again one day. Goodbye Bovi, may your sadness only last a day as it had in the past. =P Goodbye Nozomi, think of me when you’re sailig around Antarctica! Goodbye Samita, thanks for making life in Kathmandu a little easier for me. Goodbye Pierre and Geneviève, Montreal’s not too far away, expect a pop-in! Goodbye Rob, thanks for the mind-busting strikes to the brain!

Now, there has to be some special shoutouts here. Maz, my first real travel friend. Our meeting was pure coincidence, seeing as how when we met, you were supposed to be trekking in the Japanese Alps, but we ended up meeting in a small Takayama Temple instead. I consider myself fortunate though, you’ve seen so much of the world and I’m glad to have been part of some of your adventures. You stuck with me through the best and worst: missing my boat to Shanghai, my unbelievable sickness on Tiger Leapig Gorge and pretty much all of Yunnan, etc. There’s so much, and it’s all been great. Good luck with your future, I’ll see you on the Gold Coast.

Max, what can I say. It’s always good to meet some fellow Canadians when traveling, and a privilage to meet one such as yourself. What haven’t we been through? Pain, diving, expensive dinners, nice suits, wild nights, improper dress (I.e. Sandals), frustrations, drama (oh, the god damned drama), but all of it makes for some solid memories that we’ll have to go over one day over a beer in the ski lodges of Kicking Horse! Count on it buddy!

Tony and Lindsay, geez… I’m completely speechless! Some of the funniest times on my trip were spent with you two. Honestly, is there such a thing as an unfunny British person?I’m going to miss the witty, sarcastic, and intellectual puns, jokes, and comments. Tony, you made me fall for soccer, which I shall forever call football. Lindsay, you put up with Tony and I’s shenanigans, when most other women would surely lose all hope and faith in men. Brokeback? Oh yeah, we went there! Haha! I can go on and on, but I have to save some stuff for the wedding speech! 😉 Good luck with eveything you two, I’ll see you both in July!

Finally, Megumi and the Okabe family in Nagoya, Japan. You took me in your home without even knowing me! Your hospitality was second to none, Akiko-san’s food was divine, and Nagoya ended up not sucking as much as I had originally thought! Megumi, thanks for everything. You ended up being not so boring and weird after all (well… Maybe still weird! =P). Don’t forget to say goodbye to Anko for me. As much as I WON’T miss her, she still provided some entertainment. Oh, I wasn’t able to tell you this in person, but I wanted you to know… I’m fucking Matt Damon!

This trip would not have been the same without all of you. So, one last time, thanks to all of you. You have been immortalized in my memory (and on this blog).

Time to fly… Sayonara, Bai-Bai, Sawatdee Krup, Namaste!

-LL

P.S. It’s almost time for my flight………… BACK THROUGH TIME!!!

Mixed Feelings

The day is fast approaching… the day that I finally return to North America, but not to Canada… Not yet anyways. I got another couple of days to chill out, get rid of my jet lag, get back in shape (or start to), in sunny Boynton Beach, Florida! However, I really don’t know how to feel about going back home…

Yesterday I woke up with a huge reality check… I only had 3 days before going back. This morning, it was worse… I was pretty excited to go back home a couple of days ago, but now I’m feeling nervous, anxious, excited, and a little bit sad all at the same time! Sure, seeing my family and friends will be a blast; I mean, I have been gone for five months after all, but going back home means entering the real world. Although I’m excited to do that too, I’m afraid of failure. I guess all I need is a little boost in confidence… Or maybe it’s because I’ve already started my post-travel depression.

I’ve developed new aspirations out of life. Everyone was right, traveling is now engraved into me. I want to see more… scratch that, I NEED to see more! Now all I need is a self-sustaining business idea that’ll more than provide for my choice of lifestyle. I’ve already started planning my next trip! Although it won’t be as long as this one, it’ll be just as exciting! Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, and then do a little tour of the Serengeti! I think that’ll be easily manageable with whatever job I’ll have at the time. If the finances can allow for it, then you can count on me being gone for another 3-4 weeks next year.

The truth, however, is that Japan is a country I can really see myself living in. No, it’s not the yellow fever (as some of you may think); Japan is just a fantastic country. Innovation, infrastructure, culture, environment, safety,… Japan has it all! And it’s a great entry point for all of South-East Asia. I know actually getting here won’t be an easy task, and whether I actually do anything about coming here remains to be seen, but it’s an idea that’s in my head now, and if I know anything about myself, it’s that I’m pretty good at carrying out ideas and at marketing myself. I’ll star here: if anyone has any tips about getting into Japan with a solid job, either with a small start-up or with an international tech corporation, let me know! Hehe!

I’m going to make the most of my time left here in Japan. I’m really thankful for the hospitality that I’ve gotten at the Okabe residence. Akiko-san makes some AMAZING food. The other day I attempted at helping out to make dumplings, but they didn’t end up looking like what I had in mind. At least they still tasted good (according to me anyways).

The days are going by quickly, I’ll be back home before I know it, and before you know it too!

Ja!

-LL

P.S. Funny how Anko really looks like a Japanese cat…

A Little Bit of This, A Little Bit of That… And A Lot of Awkward!

Only one week left before I head back to North America… The last four months flew by so quickly… Not much has been going on in Japan for the past little while; mostly chilling out and visiting friends. Going back to Kyoto brought back some memories that, in all fairness, should not have come back… but I won’t be going into detail…

Two nights ago, I FINALLY did some pure Japanese Karaoke! First time for me, but Megumi was already a big fan! We sang a LOT of songs, and I even broke out some classic BSB and JT, but I ended up totally butchering the songs. Let’s just say that I don’t exactly have the voice of a siren… Haha! We ended up staying there for about 3.5 hours! Not too bad for my first attempt, but I have to admit, near the end, my voice was completely dead. Nevertheless, I couldn’t stop! The mighty ultra cheesy music videos filmed back in the 1980s that went along with the lyrics on the screen were just too priceless! For example, in one video (I was singing James Blunt), a man walks up to woman lying on a sun chair next to a pool. He smiles, but the woman ignores him by putting her sunglasses, continuing to read some 80s fashion magazine (Note: You should’ve seen this woman’s hair! WILD!) So the man, sad and disgruntled, walks away… to hide behind a fence and some bushes so that he can stare at the girl from a distance in a peeping-tom like fashion! Creeeeeeeeeeper! The woman catches him, but finds it oh-so romantic and funny! If only it were that easy, eh? Anyways, the rest of the video is those two walking down a beach at sunset, where the man is showering the woman with… seashells… really large seashells… The end? The woman’s hat blows off in the wind when the man was walking off. The man picked up the hat, brought it to the woman, and started making out! Entertainment at its best wouldn’t you say?! LOL!

Forgot to mention, I’m in Nagoya right now staying with Megumi’s family. Actually, I started writing this blog post from Chukyo University in Nagoya but didn’t have enough material to post it the day of. I got the chance to meet a couple of Megumi’s professors, all of them very hospitable. I think there must have been a misunderstanding with one of the professors though… He set me up with an International Student Coordinator, thinking that I wanted to study at Chukyo… I picked this up a little too late though. I only caught it when the professor was escorting me to the International Center and then dropped: “You may be able to move the conversation forward if you can find something about Chukyo that really interests you.” Me: “WHAT?!” Needless to say, the conversation with the friendly Yuka Onishi was beyond awkward. She started asking me questions about my studies, about my jobs, etc. I knew this wasn’t going anywhere, but I made my best to make it seem like I had a genuine interest. I find that I made for some good conversation, but then again, there was a noticeable language barrier. AWKWARD! For both of us really… In the end, she gave me her card and told me to send her an e-mail whenever I had made up my mind about what I wanted to do… I thanked God when that conversation ended! Haha!

Afterward, Megumi introduced me to one of her other professors, Richard Morrison. THAT conversation went a LOT better than the one with Yuka. Richard, as you may have guessed, is not Japanese. In fact, he’s an American with a great personality that made for an enjoyable and comical conversation. I did feel as though I stole the conversation away from Megumi though, since she’s the one that wanted to meet him for herself in the first place! We ended up talking for two hours; about Megumi, about his uncaring of traveling, about his teachings, and about a few of the adventures he went on over his lifetime, including walks across America and Japan for peace and the end of nuclear weapons! The best part, however, is that he brought up his brother (who lives in Florida), who is about to launch an eco-friendly brand of sunscreen. I’m not exactly certain about the specifics of his product, but nevertheless, I mentioned Jennifer Lee Promotions, who works partly with the distribution of eco-friendly promotional products, and the next thing I knew, he told me to send him an e-mail once I’m back in North America so that he could arrange for me to contact his brother and possibly work out some business! Sweet deal (no pun intended)!

After a bit of dinner and some amazing dessert at Dessert Forest, we headed back for the night. Staying with Megumi’s family is rather enjoyable. The hospitality is unmatched, the food is delicious, and the cat’s not making my allergies go as mad as I would half expect! Really though, I can’t say anything but good things about them. Today, Akiko-san (Megumi’s mom), took me out to see Inuyama City while Megumi was working. Host to an impressive castle, and a modern temple, we spent about three hours touring the sites in the November cold (about 9 degrees today…) of Inuyama. In fact, today was the 56th anniversary of the temple, so there was some kind of celebration in the temple. Although the ceremony was interesting, I didn’t really understand anything, and my knees were going completely numb since I was kneeled for the entire time…  Megumi’s father is fun to drink with. Although the English is the household is limited, we manage to get through conversations with their limited English, and my ultra-limited Japanese. Plus Megumi makes for a good translator! LOL!

Hmm… what else… Halloween was alright, but rather quite when compared to the wild shenanigans that take place back in O-Town. No costumes this year; I sure do miss the 5th Year Super Heroes! We went out early to Shooters’, an American bar in Nagoya where 3,000 yen got you some not bad American food (including spaghetti, meatballs, fries, tempura, and salad), and best of all, unlimited drinks! Sure the drinks might have been a little weak, and the beer they were serving was… *ahem*… Foster’s, but did I mention it was ALL you can drink?! Haha! Nevertheless, that only lasted until 9:00pm or so, and after that, we had to change venues for another Halloween party. Admittedly though, the parties were kind of lame (where Megumi and I went anyways). The music wasn’t that great, and the bars were pretty empty (but we did get there pretty early though…). The costumes were typically Japanese, and by that I mean that Demons and Kitties tended to be the costume of choice for most. Nothing wrong with that, in fact, it was expected from a country that doesn’t really celebrate Halloween in the first place.

Hmm… Oh right! Random occurrence… On the Shinkansen from Kyoto to Nagoya, I took my seat and popped on episode 11 of season 6 of Entourage. I didn’t think it would be a big problem until a sex scene… a rather long sex scene came on. For those of you that watch Entourage, you know that it tends to have some scenes of nudity, and this episode was no exception. So there I was, on a train with an old Japanese woman to my right, and an old Japanese man to my left, both looking at my screen. I avoided eye contact… I was turning red… I wanted the scene to end, but it wasn’t! I doubt that Entourage is well known in Japan, so I must have looked like a porn addict or something… Oh well, it was definitely worth a good laugh after I had gotten off the train! LOL!

Sorry about not blogging for a while, but like I said, it’s been mostly chilled out ever since I got back to Japan. Got back into running, and found out that I still got it! Now I just have to lose the travel fat!

The photos from today can be found on Flickr, here!

Namas…. I mean… Ja!

-LL

P.S. THIS IS MY 100TH BLOG POST! THANKS TO EVERYONE, ONCE AGAIN, FOR BEING PART OF THIS AMAZING JOURNEY THROUGH ASIA! HOPE YOU ENJOYED WHAT I HAD TO OFFER!

Japan Sure Feels Different…

Well, I’m back in Japan. Strange, I was really excited to get back here, but turns out that I overhyped it. I already miss the simple life of Nepal and Thailand, but I guess it was only a matter of time before I had to get back to civilization and get things back on track before coming home (25 days, by the way).

My last night in Kathmandu was more quiet than I thought it would be, but we were all pretty beat. Tony, Lindsay, Sven, and I went to K-Too for my last dinner. Another fantastic steak, and dare I say, some of the best steaks I’ve ever had in my life! I had the steak provencale again, and I wasn’t disappointed. I couldn’t stay too late, Samita said she wanted to see me off before I got on the plane. After dinner, Tony, Lindsay, and I had our heartfelt goodbyes (I’m sure as Hell going to miss those two… that is until I reunite with them at their wedding! Shenanigans!!!). Afterward, I picked up my stuff, and Samita took me to her home, where her mother had prepared me some dal baht! I had already eaten, but I was up for a little bit more dal baht; the hospitality was so great that I would’ve felt bad if I hadn’t eaten any. Before I left, I was wrapped in a fabric, which is a Nepali custom to wish people farewell and safe travels. I was driven to the airport by Samita’s uncle, and once again, I was off to another country. Back to civilization and abundant technology.

The flight sucked, but I managed to get some sleep on it. In Guangzhou, I met another Nepali girl, Manju, who was moving to Tokyo with her father and sister. Since it was 5:30am, and there literally was nobody else in the airport, having someone to talk to definitely made time go by quickly. We talked a lot, fighting off our sleepless night, and ended exchanging contact info so that we could meet in Tokyo once I get there. We split up, going on different flights, and i eventually made it back to Kyoto, back at Sandal Wood. Japan is a Hell of a lot different after traveling through China, Thailand, and Nepal for the passed 4 months…

Anywyas, my last trekking day is up with this post today, so without further ado, here’s Day 10 – Muktinath to Jomsom via Lupra Trail! Enjoy!

October 18, 2009 – Day 10 – Muktinath to Jomsom via Lupra Trail – 5 hours + a few five minute breaks, 200 metre ascent + 1,190 metre descent)

Could it get any god damn windier?! What a somewhat shitty day… We (Pierre, Genevieve, and I) left Muktinath this morning later than usual. We got up at around 7:00am, which felt good after a long day of crossing over the Thorung La Pass (5,416 metres or 17,823 feet). We had our Muesli for breakfast, packed up, headed out, had a couple of momos before starting to trek, and then we finally set off.

We wanted to skip the jeep road since it tends to be dusty and miserable, especially for trekking, so we opted to take the Lupra trail (a small trail that leads to a very non-touristy village). The weather in the morning was great! It’s been a few days since I could start trekking with just a t-shirt on. There was a light breeze, a few clouds, and more great views of the surrounding mountains wrapping the valley below. My legs and feet were pretty sore from the 1,700 metre (5,610 feet) descent I had to do from Thorung La yesterday, and my blisters were still bothering me, but it’s not like I had any other choice but to trek on. I was excited to take on the Lupra side trail, that is until the weather turned for the worse…

The beginning of the trail was pretty standard. We climbed another 200 metres to a great view of the Himalayan Chains, including the worlds’ seventh highest mountain Dhaulagiri, at 8,167 metres (26,794 feet). At the peak of the hill we had climbed, the weather had turned for the worst. Winds picked up, and when I say “picked up”, I mean that they began to be violently strong in an unnecessary way! No lie, they must have been 50 km/h+! For the time being, it was fine; it was damn cold again, but it didn’t affect our ability to trek all that much… Until we got sort of lost…

We had taken a wrong turn. Rather than take a right where the trail continued (we thought it was taking us on a long detour), we took a left onto hills that had no trail and were steep. Once we noticed a trail on the opposite side, we realized that it wasn’t really passable, and the original trail we were on actually went the right way. Rather than going back to our initial location where we diverted off the trail, we decided to take a short cut and go down the face of the mountain… A descent that was as steep, if not steeper, than the descent from Thorung La. Sure, it wasn’t as long as that descent, but with the gusty winds and my weak thighs and knees, it sure felt as long. We eventually met up with the original trail, but that didn’t mean that things were about to get better…

We went down all the way to the Panda Khola River, where the winds really, REALLY picked up! Trekking across rock and stone didn’t help with practicality, and the fact that there was no marked trail didn’t help our current predicament. I was getting frustrated, mostly at the fact that my legs were preventing me from keeping up with Genevieve and Pierre, but I wasn’t about to shout to them to slow down. I wasn’t going to be THAT guy, so I trekked on as best as I could, using my poles as efficiently as possible to make my pack less noticeable. At one point, we had to cross the river, but that pretty much involved hopping to one stone in the middle of the river, and then hopping over to the other side. Bear in mind that this river isn’t really wide, but it has a strong current. Pierre went first with a giant step, and made it seem easier than it was for a person of my stature. Genevieve, on the other hand, made it across with a little bit more hesitation. It didn’t look that bad until I was on the leaping stone myself. I handed my poles and camera to Pierre, but the jump still made me feel a little nervous, and my heavy pack wasn’t making it feel any better. After a few seconds, I leaped on the stone in the middle of the river, but the weight of my pack made me fall over to the front, only to have me clutch both sides of the stone. Thankfully, I made it without getting wet. The other jump was easier… If I slipped and fell, I had a pool of rocks to break my fall!

We continued on down a little further until we came to a point where we had to make a decision… Either go up to Lupra to ask what the best way to get to our destination (the jeep road) was or continue trekking across the river, hoping to eventually end up on the jeep road eventually. Since we were kind of lost, we opted to head uphill to Lupra. I still don’t know if that was the right call or not (we had to go back down to the river later on), but thinking about it wasn’t going to change anything.

I was really tired at this point. When we started trekking this morning, I thought “Well, This is cool! We’re doing a “trail” that not many people usually attempt!”. A little later on, I thought “Well, with my heavy pack, this makes for one Hell of a training session!”, but after, when I was thirsty, hungry, and was losing sensation in my thighs, I was just plain irritated! Pierre asked me if I wanted him to carry my pack for a bit, but I politely declined. To be honest, that question insulted me… I know I probably over-reacted, but I’ve been carrying this pack for ten days now, and it’s not as it I was going to have someone else carry it for me now! It would go against my beliefs, even though I desperately wanted to drop it…

We kept going in the direction given to us by one of the locals in Lupra. Lupra, hidden in the side valley of Panga Khola, was a really cool village, untouched by any touristy attractions. There were no lodges or hotels and no restaurants. It was just pure, genuine, and traditional Nepalese culture at its best. IT’s too bad that I was way too exhausted to fully appreciate what I was passing through…

From the suspension bridge that we had to cross, we could see the jeep road to the distance. It was so close, yet so very far. The wind just kept picking up, and the “trail” wasn’t a trail at all! It was just a steep and rocky mountain face. Looking down, you could see death, that is, if you slipped and fell off the narrow foot path that we were making, you would be falling over a cliff to what would be certain death, and with the loose stones and strong winds, we really had to be careful. There was very little room for error. There were several occasions where we had to jump over tricky crevices in order to keep going, and the wobbly rocks were making things really difficult. Every step had to be predetermined, and the wind was so strong at that point, that we had to make an effort to walk in a straight line, and when the cliff right beside spelled doom, I made damn sure that my steps landed where I wanted them to. Eventually, we safely ended up back by the river, where we eventually ended up by the jeep road. This, again, didn’t mean things were going to get any easier…

The jeep road being a wide open valley meant that winds were as strong as ever, and since we were on the “jeep road”, that also meant insane amounts of dust and sand blowing straight in our faces. Everyone kept at their own pace because everyone was extremely eager to arrive in Jomsom, our sanctuary. I’ve never had so much dust and sand in my mouth, nose, eyes, and on my skin! It went all over my camera, which will need a thorough cleaning once I return home. We could see Jomsom at distance, but it was still about one hour away; one hour of blowing dust, runny noses, tearing eyes, and steady paces. My legs were so tired, but stopping for a break had more cons than pros, so I had to keep going. The road went uphill into a pass sheltered by a mountain cliff side, but the wind still managed to blow dust in our faces. We walked and walked, eventually ending up back by the river, when we finally reached Jomsom, the famed village where Mick Jagger and Jimi Hendrix stayed as they trekked through this circuit a long time ago. It was such a relief, but this village was the biggest village I had seen on this entire trek! And by “biggest village”, I mean that it had more than one road, and that it was actually possible to get lost! I was supposed to head to Ghorepani today, but I wasn’t going to be able to catch the last jeep, so I decided to spend the night in Jomsom…

We were all pretty hungry, so we stopped by one of the local bakeries for some food. I orderd my snack and went off to get some information about the jeeps leaving tomorrow and find an ATM for the extra cash that I would need, but not before I scrubbed my face clean. The mixture of dry sweat, dust, and sand made for a very sexy combination on my face… Ugh… It was disgusting, and all over my body! Anyways, as I walked in the streets, even without my pack, my legs were absolutely dead. My thighs were so stiff that bending them to walk felt like a chore. My blisters weren’t getting any better either. Although they were clean since I’ve been cleaning them rather thoroughly since they appeared, they’ve also been getting deeper. Think about it, eight days with blistered heels (with new ones just waiting to pop), yet I still trekked on to 5,416 metres. I walked to the ATM, only to find out that it wasn’t working. I walked to the jeep stand, only to find out that it was closed. So, I had no money to continue the trek, dead legs, and unforgiving pack… Stick a fork in me… I was done… I booked a flight back to Pokhara for $79, which is about what I would spend if I had chosen to talk down the rest of the circuit. I feel a little disappointed in myself, but I pushed myself really hard for the pass ten days; not pacing myself properly, always trying to get from village to village in a good time (or beating the Lonely Planet times), going to an altitude that I’ve never been to in my life, the cold that’s plaguing me, the worsening blisters, and my bitch of a heavy pack. You may be thinking that I’m making excuses, and you’re probably right, but nevertheless, I didn’t properly prepare for this trek, and the end result is that I’m simply tired… This is the longest trek I’ve ever done in my life, and I’m tired now. The trek back down wouldn’t be pleasant anyways; a long and dusty road (not many people go passed Muktinath; they take a jeep or plane down). I think today really wore me out with more steep downhills, rocky and slippery cliff sides, and violent winds…

Turns out that Genevieve is a physiotherapist, and she gave me a thorough treatment once we checking into our hotel, the Xanadu Guesthouse. She noticed that my leg muscles were really stiff, and that some of them had been torn. Taking a few days off wouldn’t be a bad idea after all. I mean, I can head back to Pokhara for a few days, recuperate, leave some (read: a lot) of excess baggage there, and head back out to do the Annapurna Sanctuary, but for now, doing the Sanctuary isn’t the best idea for the plain and simple reason that, given my current physical state, I just wouldn’t enjoy it the way that it deserves to be enjoyed. I’ll have to come back… I WILL come back…

The rest of the night was pretty relaxed. At 7:00pm, the ten year old girl that seemed to run the guesthouse came into our room and told us to order dinner (you pay more for your room if you don’t eat at the place where you’re staying… It’s normal, don’t worry). Really cute kid; I’m astonished at how well they can speak English at such a young age in such a remote village. It was time to treat myself, and by that, I mean order a beer! Jomsom is at 2,700 metres (8,910 feet) in altitude, and therefore, I was no longer considered “in altitude”, which is anything above 3,500 metres (11,550 feet), so having a beer was perfectly alright. It was good! Damn good! The Tuborg beer fantastically complemented the Xanadu Special Pizza that I ate. And I even got dessert (Yes… Again… You can’t eat enough when you’re trekking), a hot chocolate apple crumble (but the one I had at Bob Marley Guesthouse was better). It felt good to have one last meal on this Himalayan trek with Pierre and Genevieve. It’s definitely a place that I’ll be coming to visit again someday, either to see some of the spectacular treks, or maybe even summit one of the mountains!

It’s only after that we got to Jomsom that we decided to consult the Lonely Planet to check out what it had to say about that trail we had just done.  It basically said that it’s a good idea to take a guide for this trail because the walking path is very hard to discern. Also, it recommends leaving early in the morning to avoid the strong headwinds that pick up after 11:00am (we left at 10:00am… oops). Finally, it says that the road to Jomsom can be quite tedious if the winds are strong… Man, it wasn’t kidding!

I know today sounded harder than climbing to Thorung La, and in some ways, it was. It was a Hell of a lot more dangerous if you ask me, but I made it through, and that makes me feel good, but my body needs a rest. I’m an amateur, I know that, but this is just the beginning. I have an addiction this kind of thing, and I’ll definitely need a solid fix every once in a while, and every next time will be a bigger challenge. Who wants to do Mount Kilimanjaro with me next year (apparently, the Annapurna Circuit is harder though…)?

So that’s it! This was the last big thing I had to do on this trip. Maybe I’ll do the Annapurna Sanctuary, but to be honest, I don’t think that I’ll have the time, and quite frankly, I just want to relax. Maybe I’ll rent a boat or go paragliding in Pokhara. We’ll see what the budget allows… I’m heading back to Japan soon too, couch surfing to save money, but once I’m there, it’ll be mostly business. Get a few things prepped before coming home, getting back in shape, but I’ll also be eating some delicious sushi that I’ve been missing so much!

I am ready to come home now… After Thailand, I wasn’t, but now I am. I’m ready to tackle some of the new challenges that await me back home. It will be difficult since there have been many changes since I left, but I’ll adapt. Adaptation is definitely something I’ve improved on this trip, and it’s something that I’ll be using back home as well. I’ll be home soon everyone! Look forward to it!

The photos from Day 10 can be found on Flickr, here. The photos from the plane ride down to Pokhara on the following day can be found on Flickr, here.

Namaste!

-LL

P.S. Happy Nepalese New Year! It’s a wild night here on the Jomsom streets. Fireworks and singing can be heard, and… Gunshots? Maybe… There is an “Army School for Mountain Warfare” here…

Could I Make Myself Look Any Worse?

Well, this is it… my last night in Nepal! Tonight, I head to Japan, but first, I have to go through one Hell of a shitty flight:

  • Depart Kathmandu: Wednesday, October 28, 2009 at 23:15
  • Arrive in shitty Guangzhou, China Airport: Thursday, October 29, 2009 at 05:45
  • Depart shitty Guangzhou, China Airport: Thursday, October 29, 2009 at 10:30
  • Arrive in Osaka, Japan: Thursday, October 29, 2009 at 15:00

To think… I only have 12 more days before I head back to North America to visit my parents in Florida. In a sense, it kind of makes me nervous. The passed 4 months have just flown by!

Anyways, last night I ended up having dinner with a local family at a Newari restaurant in Kathmandu, but not before having several complications. My friend, Samita, asked me to meet her at the restaurant, but I would have to take a taxi to get there. I left at 6:00pm, expecting to be at the restaurant by 6:15pm, the time she had asked me to meet her. I told the taxi driver to take me to Kumari Ghar, expecting him to know where to go. After some unavoidable price negotiations where I still got screwed (I payed 500 Rupees whereas I shouldn’t have paid more than 300 Rupees), we set off. He told me it was very far away, to which I thought: “Great… I’m going to be late…” Traffic was abundant, and the smell of car fumes and the sound of car horns were driving me insane, especially after 30 minutes, and we still hadn’t reached my destination. After 45 minutes, the driver stopped to get directions… 6:45pm… 30 minutes late… this wasn’t going to bode too well. I was getting frustrated as we drove through narrow alleyways using evasive maneuvers to get around pedestrians, cyclists, and other parked vehicles. We were in Patan! To be fair, I didn’t know where I was supposed to go so it’s not like I could say much… “How close are we?” I asked. “Not close, very far away!”. WTF?! It had already been one hour! So I told the drive to find a place that had a phone so that I could call Samita and get her to talk to the driver. Once we did (at 7:15pm… one hour late), Samita spoke to the driver, and turns out that I didn’t give him the right directions! Dammit… It was Gori Ghar, and NOT Kumari Ghar. Silly me… how could I make such a stupid mistake, eh? We had another 10 minute drive, and I finally made it to the restaurant. Then, things got a little awkward…

Everyone had already eaten and were about to leave when I showed up, but they insisted that I order food and eat. I ordered one small plate and said that it was enough (I didn’t want to make them wait any longer), but once again, they insisted that I order something else because I hadn’t eaten enough. I felt pretty bad, but ended up ordering some momos! Everything went well; Nice family, but Samita was the only one that really spoke English. Her uncle ended paying for dinner, which I was really grateful for, but also felt really bad given everything that had happened that night.

Afterward, I headed to Tom and Jerry Pub to meet up with Tony, Lindsay, Rob, and a few others. An Irish girl that Tony and Lindsay had met at the Indian Embassy that morning was passed out sitting for nearly an hour! It was pretty odd to walk into that. A rude French man came by and inconsiderately tucked her hair a few times… As much as this didn’t help my stereotyping of the French people so far (there hasn’t been much good from them on this trip so far), it was still a little funny that the Irish girl didn’t budge. When she woke up, she was reallly confused to say the least, not understanding that we were leaving for another bar and that she had to pay her bill. She kept saying things like: “Don’t worry, I’m with you!” to the waiter, and to us, she would say: “I’ll try to come with you guys, but you’re moving too fast!” Confusing stuff… We did end up meeting her at Reggae Bar (surprising she actually remembered us telling her that). The night winded down after that (plus it was chilly in Kathmandu), and we ended up calling it a night. A good last night with everyone. I will miss traveling with Tony and Lindsay, it’s definitely been an amazing month. Hands down, I will miss Tony’s witty, intellectual, and sarcastic comments on just about everything. He is a science teacher after all!

Anyways, now I’m just waiting for my departure, but you guys get to keep on reading on! Without further ado, here is Day 9 – High Camp to Muktinath, which includes my triumphant ascent to the Thorung La Pass at 5,416 metres (17,873 feet). Enjoy!

October 17, 2009 – Day 9 – High Camp to Muktinath – 5.5 Hours + ~45 minute break total)

I did it!!! I’ve been at the highest point that I’ve ever been in my life, as close to the Heavens, in an area where air is scarce… the Thorung La Pass on the Annapurna Circuit at 5,416 metres (17,873 feet) in altitude! Another 500 metres and I would’ve been at the top of Mount Kilimanjaro, but that will have to wait until next year…

Today was an early morning, the earliest morning yet in fact, 4:30am wake up. It’s really hard to get up that early, knowing that it’s still dark outside, but then again, I did see some people starting to trek at around 3:00am this morning when I had to use the outhouse. When I looked up at the sky in the early hours of the morning, it was flooded with stars. I’ve never seen so many of them, so bright and shimmering, in my life. It was nice to wake up to, but the cold wind forced me back into my room. Probably for the best, Pierre was meeting me at 5:00am-ish and I still had to pack (I knew the trek was going to be dreadful with that thing on my back). He showed up a little earlier than expected, so I wasn’t exactly ready. Geneviève couldn’t wait for me because if she stopped, she would get way too cold. I strapped the flash light on my wrist, slapped the pack on my back, grabbed my poles, and started my way to Thorung La. No time for breakfast… I was running a little late… Something that I would regret later on…

It wasn’t long before I started breathing heavily. Climbing steep so early in the morning with limited amounts of air made for a rude awakening, but the thought of getting to the Pass was motivation enough to keep me going. Pierre had a quicker pace than mine, after all, he’s taller than me, has a much lighter pack, more experience in altitudes, and… had breakfast, so it was a little hard to keep up, and as dark as it was, it wasn’t long before I completely lost him and ended up on my own. It wasn’t a big deal though; there were plenty of other trekkers on the trail, some of them being extremely sick. The trail was narrow, and at one point, I ended up stuck behind a group of Chinese climbers, with one of them violently throwing up over the edge. I was forced to watch until he was done, and made my way around him (and his spew) and his group once he was finished. The sight of vomit stains in the snow was a little common for the initial part of the trail. Understandable, the trail was demanding enough, and the lack of air didn’t help.

The trail seemed to go on forever with its many switchbacks and false summits. After about an hour or so, the sun was rising over some of the peaks behind me. It’s a display that I’ll never forget. With my pumping music in one ear, I kept pushing, breathing heavily, getting a mild headache from the altitude, but I was so close, so I kept pushing.

By the time the sun had fully risen, I still hadn’t reached the Pass. I kept going, but I was getting frustrated at my slow pace. Maybe it was for the best though, with my headache building, too quick of an ascent might have made things a lot worse. The porters looked exhausted as I walked by them… I complain about my pack being too heavy, but I really shouldn’t after looking at their packs, some of them being at least twice as big (and that’s still relatively small). I wonder if for them, the Pass is becoming more of an annoyance. I mean, they do go over it several times a year and see the same things, some of them being very ill-equipped as well… The porters and I kept passing each other over and over again as we took small breaks at different points in the trail. I kept looking for the set of prayer flags that indicated that I was a mere 15 minutes away from the Thorung La Pass, my ultimate destination. I couldn’t help but admire the peaks that towered over me with the morning sunlight beaming on their faces. The very same sunlight, however, was making the hard-packed snow icy and slippery, forcing me to use my poles carefully and make sure of every step I took.

Finally, I spotted the set of prayer flags. A big smile came upon my face; “15 minutes to go and I’ll be at the Pass!” Although those last 15 minutes did seem much longer, step by step, I had made it to the biggest pass in the world, the Thorung La Pass.

A multitude of coloured prayer flags surrounded the congratulatory sigh. 5,416 metres (17,823 feet)!!! It was cold! Damn cold! And the man I was following who I thought was Pierre, turned out not to be. Oh well… I had some mixed emotions at the Pass. The lack of air was getting to me a little bit I think, and so was my insane hunger. My legs were tired, and my head was beginning to throb a little bit (I knew that I couldn’t stay up there for very long because of the headache). I was looking around, but I just wasn’t feeling as astonished as I thought I would have. I had just accomplished an amazing feat, but wasn’t sure how to feel… The view was stunning, but my head was blank… Maybe I was sicker than I thought… I popped into the tea house to warm myself up and have a bit to eat. Nothing beats a good ol’ Snickers bar and some trail mix to satisfy hunger at 5,416 metres! Back outside, the wind was blowing hard and was bone-chilling! I got someone to take my picture with the sign, which was a necessity for where I was, took in the view a little bit more as the morning sun shone brightly on the mountain faces, and little by little, my emotions started to surge. I was at 5,416 metres! I was now a mountaineer, and at that very moment, I wanted to go higher. Plans were already starting to form in my head: Why stop at Kilimanjaro? Why not do the seven Summits of the World? It’s a crazy thought, but what an accomplishment that would be, no? I smiled as I took one last gaze in wonderment around me, thinking that one day, I’ll go higher than this, after which I grabbed my pack, and started my descent of nearly 1,700 metres (5,610 feet) down to Muktinath.

The descent was steep, snowy, icy, and slippery… at least for the first 800 metres (2,640 feet). Everyone was slipping and falling, even the porters! I felt bad for them… They carry so much weight on their back; the descent must not have been an easy task. Hell, I fell four times, and my heart stopped every time because my camera was around my neck, and smashed to the ground several times! Luckily though, it kept on working (gotta hand it to Canon for making such durable products). After the fourth time, I got really frustrated. My pole had bent, and I was getting really tired. I still had a bit of trouble catching my breath, my head was still hurting, and I really wanted to get to Muktinath down at 3,700 metres (12,210 feet) in altitude, but it was taking longer than I had thought (or maybe it just seemed longer). The downhill portion of the trek was proving more difficult than the uphill.

Once I got passed the snow-covered trail, I could feel the air getting thicker, the temperature getting warmer, and my energy level rising. The only problem was that that my headache wasn’t going away. I took a small break to strip down from my toque, mits, and jacket because it was getting fairly warm. My thighs and knees were getting worn out. Going downhill took a much bigger toll on them, despite the poles. After all, when going downhill, the pressure on your knees is equivalent to three times your body weight. Considering that my pack was close to 50 pounds, my total weight equalled 220 pounds, meaning that I had 660 pounds of pressure on my knees with every step. Once I got to the teashop in Chabarbu (4,190 metres or 13,827 feet in altitude), I knew that I was only one hour away from Muktinath. Again, I felt reenergized. I had the trail to myself since most of the other trekkers were taking frequent breaks. More air, more energy, but despite that, I was still tired. I thought about the Annapurna Sanctuary and whether or not I should do it or not, and then I thought about home, which seemed so comfortable at that moment… To the distance I saw a helicopter land down in Muktinath, which I would later learn that it was the Nepal Prime Minister visiting the villages to discuss tourism.

I crossed a rather long suspension bridge, took a couple more steps, and finally, I was in Muktinath, where the air is thick and plentiful at 3,700 metres (12,210 feet)! Although I felt like I was going slow, I still beat the Lonely Planet estimated time by 30 minutes, so I guess that was a little something to be proud of. I walked through the village, eagerly looking for a place to eat and sleep, when I heard my name being called by Pierre and Geneviève, who were staying at the Bob Marley Guesthouse, a very chilled out Guesthouse to say the least. I got a room, treated myself to a delicious yak burger, and then passed out for about two hours.

When I awoke at 4:00pm, my headache was worse than ever. I knew I was going to be fine though, since I had considerably gone down in altitude. I popped two Advils, had some delicious yak curry for dinner (this is the most protein that I’ve had in a the pass 10 days!), and now, I’m in bed… very contentedly! This is probably the latest that I’ve gone to bed actually (9:30pm). Geneviève, Pierre, and I ended up talking for a while in the evening about whatever. They’ve been traveling for a year, but like me, they have but a few weeks left before going home to Montreal.

Tomorrow should be an easy day. Walk to Jomsom, skip the roads by taking a jeep to Ghorepani, and then finally start the Annapurna Sanctuary… if I’m up for it… I may need a few days break first…

The photos from Day 9 can be found on Flickr, here.

Namaste!

-LL

P.S. Sorry Tony… I broke the trekking rule and had a shower… I couldn’t help it! They had an electric water heater! Actual hot water! Please forgive me…

I Miss Pokhara Already…

So sorry about not blogging yesterday. It was actually a very long day… Woke up at 6:30am, took a bus all the way to Kathmandu, which took about seven hours. I wanted to blog, but a delicious steak was calling my name at the K-Too restaurant, and then some delicious rum and cokes and Tom and Jerry’s.

Anyways, I won’t be posting two days today because that’d just be really long, so today, you get Day 8 – Ledar to High Camp. So, without further ado, here it is!

Oh, but before you get to that… I just have one thing to say: “Say NO to Malaria! Say YES to life!” Hahahahahahahahaha! Has anyone ever said “yes” to malaria and “no” to life? Great advert…

October 16, 2009 – Day 8 – Ledar to Thorung Phedi (230 metre ascent – 1.5 hours, no breaks)

9:30am:

Ledar to Thorung Phedi (5,540 metres or 14,982 feet)… 1.5 hours… it’s only 9:30am, I have loads of energy, no signs of altitude sickness… I’m going to High Camp (4,850 metres or 16,005 feet)!!!

3:41pm (Thorung Phedi to High Camp – 33 minutes, no breaks):

It took me a while to leave Thorung Phedi. I met Geneviève and Pierre again and we chatted up for a while. I had taken too long of a break because I had gotten too comfortable and getting up to go trek the hardest part of the Annapurna Circuit (the bit between Thorung Phedi and High, a 400 metre steep ascent) didn’t seem to appealing. Nevertheless, I pushed myself and climbed that son of a bitch. Geneviève and Pierre came along, but this was the acclimatization climb; they didn’t have their packs, and I was envious as Hell. I never appreciated the poles more than I did today. The trail was barren and covered in rock; no more vegetation at this altitude! I took it slow… REAL slow, but in the end, I still managed to beat the estimated time of one hour given by the Lonely Planet. I made it from Thorung Phedi to High Camp in 33 minutes! I didn’t realize that we were going that fast, and I was worried that I climbed too fast and that the altitude would become a problem, but other than a very light headache, everything was fine.

I didn’t think that the mountain views could get any better, but once again, I was proven wrong. Up here at High Camp at 4,850 metres (16,005 feet) in altitude, the views are simply spectacular. After Geneviève and Pierre made their way back down to Thorung Phedi, I climbed up a small hill that went up to 4,914 metres (16,216 feet), as high as the highest mountain in Europe, Mont Blanc. It gave me a great panoramic view of all the mountains surrounding me, including Thorung Peak (6,201 metres or 20,463 feet), Khatung Kang (6,484 metres or 21,397 feet), and Shel Kang (6,026 metres or 19,886 feet) to the South, and Purkhung (6,126 metres or 20,216 feet), Putrung Himal (6,500 metres or 21,450 feet), and Jinjang (6,111 metres or 20,166 feet) to the North. On the other side of the hill was a straight drop, and to the bottom, you could see Thorung Phedi, which had become a tiny-looking village from where I was standing. Want to see what it looked like? Check out the video I took:

The locals who were at the peak with me shouted at me to be careful… It was a long way down after all. Once again, I was mesmerized by my surrounding. I could see the ultimate destination, the Thorung La Pass, from the peak where I was standing, and it got me just a tad bit excited. I stayed up there for a while, daydreaming away, until clouds started to cover the sky. The poles came in handy for the way back down; the packed snow made it an awfully slippery descent.

Tomorrow’s the big day! Finally, Thorung La Pass! By climbing up to High Camp today, I covered the most difficult part of the final ascent. It’s about a 2 hour trek up to the Pass, and it’ll be a very early morning… 4:30am wake up time is the plan in order to be able to catch some extravagant views just after the sunrise. The mountains I saw today will surely be awe in its purest form come tomorrow morning.

Dinner time now… Bed time right after… I think this is the first time that I willingly go to bed at 5:00pm…

The photos from Day 8 can be found on Flickr, here.

Namaste!

-LL

P.S. If I was climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, I’d be finished by now… Just saying…

 

Waking Up in the Skies of Pokhara

It’s good to wake up over the skies of Pokhara, floating down to the ground while enjoying a mountain view and a panoramic view of the entire city. This morning, I went paragliding with Paranova Nepal, and it was great! We climbed up to Sarangkot where our departure spot was, ran off a cliff only to be taken higher by the thermals.

I was a little worried this morning when I saw that the sky was covered in clouds, but as the day went on, the clouds disappeared. The heat did create a haze over the city, but the sensation of floating about 3,500 feet in the air was a reward in itself. Clouds still covered some of the mountains that wrap the city, but a few breaks allowed me to catch glimpses of the snowy peaks, including Machhapuchre (Fish Tail), the holy mountain of Nepal closed off to climbers. It wasn’t an adrenaline rush, but just a state of peace for 30 minutes. That is until we powered through the last 1,000 metres of altitude to get down to our landing zone.

My pilot, Charles from Aspen, Colorado, took the liberty to perform some adrenaline pumping acrobatics before setting down, and what a rush it was; twirling quickly almost horizontally to lower ourselves for about 1,000 metres. I have to admit though, when we stopped, I did feel a little dizzy, but no vomiting for me. That’s more than I can say for one of the Chinese girls that was paragliding as well. She unfortunately threw up twice, leaving her sleeve rather soggy. I just hope that nobody down below got the end of it. Just the thought of being thrown up on from vomit falling from 3,500 feet in the air makes me a little queasy! Once down, we were driven to the office where we were given a cheesy certificate congratulating for our successful glide… Guess I’ll add it with the rest of my mementos.

The rest of the day has been pretty lazy… I’m unusually tired, and ended taking a two hour nap (as a matter of fact, I just woke up, so this blog might be a little dull). Anyways, there’s more foot ball on tonight, so Tony, Lindsay, and I will be heading to Club Amsterdam to catch a bit of that. It’ll be an early night since tomorrow we have to wake up at 6:30am to head out to Kathmandu.

So, without further ado, here’s Day 7 – Manang to Ledar, of my Himalayan Sojourn across the Annapurna Circuit. Enjoy!

The photos from the paragliding can be seen on Flickr, here. I have videos (mostly all videos), but they’ll have to wait until I get to Japan to upload them…

October 15, 2009 – Day 7 – Manang to Ledar (3 hours + 1 hour break)

Well, I’ve finally gone solo… The rest day definitely did me good and me feel completely reenergized! The blisters are dried up, and the chaffing is mostly gone! I headed up to Ledar, and Tony and Lindsay headed the other way, back down the trail, to Pokhara. I have to admit though, hiking alone does have its benefits; I get to go at my own pace (Hell, I made it from Manang to Ledar in three hours whereas the Lonely Planet said it would take four!), I have nothing to listen to but nature and music, and it just feels as though the entire trail is mine (there weren’t many other trekkers on the trail). However, it’s getting DAMN cold! I’m at an altitude where snow partially covers the ground, and some of the water streams are frozen solid. All of that means that I’m getting closer and closer to Thorung La!

Last night, I saw a man stricken with what seemed like altitude sickness in the dining room of Hotel Yeti, as Tony, Lindsay, and I were having dinner and playing cards. Putting it simply, the man looked like shit. He had his head in his hands, and he had isolated himself from the rest of his peers. I couldn’t help but feel bad for him. Back in Pokhara, Rob had told me about his experience with altitude sickness in Namche on the Everest (Khumbu) trek, and it’s definitely something I don’t want to experience. A blinding headache, diarrhoea, and complete disorientation. There are worse symptoms, like, umm… death, but you have to really be ignoring the earlier symptoms to get to that severity. Luckily for me though, I haven’t felt any of the symptoms, and I’m currently at 4,230 metres (13,959 feet) in altitude! My hunger remains the same (if not increased from all the work I do during the day), no headaches, normal bowel movements (did you want to know that one?), and no death! I am taking normal precautions though; drinking loads of water (around five litres a day), eating lots, and climbing somewhat slowly in order to allow my body to acclimatize. I just hope that my body can keep this up…

The path from Manang to Ledar was as scenic as the other days. Not far out of Manang, after the village of Tengi (the last permanently inhabited village in the Manang Valley), I came across the small village of Gunsang. The views of Annapurna II (7,937 metres or 26,192 feet) and IV (7,525 metres or 24,833 feet) were some of the best that I had seen yet, and required me to stop to take a few photos. With the perfect morning weather that I had once again, it was easy enough to capture the serene beauty of the towering mountains. I met a woman that was staying at one of the lodges in Gunsang who told me to appreciate the views and take as many photos as I could, because as I passed through the village, I was also leaving all the beautiful mountains behind. She was staying in Gunsang for the sole reasonof getting more of the spectacular views, but I think I got my fill in Manang and was ready to move on. Besides, I needed to get to higher altitudes so that I could better acclimatize for the Thorung La Pass (5,416 metres or 17,873 feet). However, if I would’ve known that there were no restaurants at the village I was planning to have breakfast in, Gyanchang, I would’ve eaten in Gunsang with the view rather than walk in hunger to Yak Kharka (also known as Koche), which was about another 45 minutes away.

Two bridge crossings later, and the lands were getting much more barren; diminishing vegetation with only scrub junipers and alpine grass remaining, and an increasing number of rock and stone. There were no shortages of yaks though! I felt really good about the pace I was going at, and it might be because of the walking poles. Yes, I finally took them out! When I first started using them back before Syange on the first day, I found them absolutely annoying and inconvenient, but today, Day 7, where the air is getting thinner with every step and the inclines are about to get really steep, I figured I’d take the poles out for one more spin. They felt annoying again at first, but I persisted, and once I got the hang of them and got them in sync with my steps, they made one Hell of a difference! I immediately noticed my pace increase (and I was able to hold it for much longer), my legs were working much less (the poles take about 30% of your weight off your knees) making my heels much happier, and my overall mood had increased as well! I wasn’t as tired after long slopes, despite the thinning air. Anyways, all I want to say about the poles to those sceptical about them is to give them a chance. Apparently, for serious trekkers, they can take 10 years off your knees! Definitely something worth considering. Plus, I loaded myself up with baby powder! No more chaffing for me! Haha!

Back to the trekking… I made it to Yak Kharka at 9:39am! I was pretty impressed with my time, having left Manang at exactly 7:01am. I was starving at this point, and the apple porridge was calling my name. Yak Kharka was nice, and the Lonely Planet did mention that the lodges there are much better than the ones at Ledar, but I wanted to go as high as allowable to get the most out of acclimatization. I met some fellow Canadians from Montreal, Quebec, as I finished my breakfast, Geneviève  and Pierre, who were staying in Yak Kharka for the day (they had come from Manang as well). However, I’ll most likely be meeting them in Thorung Phedi, as it’s the base for most attempts to Thorung La Pass.

Ledar (4,230 metres or 13,959 feet in altitude) wasn’t too far from Yak Kharka; about another 45 minutes. As I got to the village, it seemed deserted. The Lonely Planet recommended staying at the Snowland Lodge, but a 400 Rupee charge (more than what I was paying in Manang!) and some rude service turned me away rather quickly. I kept walking and came across the second lodge, the Churi Lattar, which seemed to be a bit more bustling. They didn’t have any single rooms, only a dorm bed for 100 Rupees. I took it, dropped my stuff, but walked to the next (and last) lodge of the village, Jimi (as their menu reads) or Jimme (as their sign reads) Lodge and Restaurant, where I managed to get a private room (nobody else was staying there actually) for 100 Rupees. I went and got my stuff at the other lodge and moved on over to Jimi’s. A really basic lodge, but as long as it had good food (which it did, at really good prices too), and a comfy bed (within reason…These are traditional mountain villages after all), I was satisfied. The toddler walking about the lodge provided some good entertainment for a bit, until I went off for a little stroll to the river.

I can’t take my eyes off these mountains! Honestly, it’s some of the most beautiful scenery I’ve ever seen! Scratch that, it IS the most beautiful scenery I’ve ever seen! Although most of the mountains are now behind me, I still have good views of Annapurnas II and IV. Check out the video I took from a small hilltop near the Jimi Lodge:

I spent most of the afternoon just sitting, listening to music, and gazing out. Once back at the lodge, I planned the rest of my trekking from now until October 26. I’ll have some rough days, but at least I’ll be able to see all that I want to see (I hope). I put some music on my iPhone too, because odds are that my iPod Classic will stop working once I get close to the Pass (the old iPods use hard drives that tend to fail at higher altitudes. You don’t get that problem with flash drives like the ones found in iPhones or the iPod Touch – a little tech education for you), and God forbid that I should trek without music.

Tomorrow, I have a short trekking day, but it’s a big step to the Pass. I have an approximate 2 hour trek with only a 230 metre ascent to Thorung Phedi (by the way, “Phedi” means “foot of the hill” in Nepalese). I’ll take my time in the morning, have some breakfast, and probably head out at around 8:00am, so that I could arrive at around 10:00am, giving me plenty of time to hydrate and acclimatize! Two more days until the Pass, and I’ve heard that it’s completely open! Pray that it stays that way long enough for me to cross it! Now I’m hungry! Dinner time!

The photos from Day 7 can be found on Flickr, here.

Namaste!

-LL

P.S. Just to let you know, I am NOT the Shithead that will cross the Thorung La Pass. Lindsay has to bear that title as she walks back down to Pokhara and until we play again. Tony is honoured by the title of “Golden Head”, as he ranked first, and I, on the other hand, earned the title of “Stupid Head” for finishing second. Much rather have a stupid head than head of covered in feces! Sorry Lindsay! LOL!

This is Day 6, and Nothing But!

Well, I won’t bore you talking about things that didn’t happen yesterday. I’ve written about Pokhara long enough for you to know what it’s all about. I was supposed to go paragliding today, but it was sold out. So, tomorrow morning, I’m going up there at 9:00am to get some stunning views of the Himalayas from almost 3,500 feet in the air! I’ll have a bit more to talk about then.

Tonight, there’s some football on TV, so guess what I’m doing… Hehehehehhehe!

October 14, 2009 – Day 6- Rest Day in Manang

I can’t express the state that I’m in right now. Maybe it’s the lack of air, but I’ve never been in a state that’s more at peace than I am right now in Manang. This was the perfect rest day anyone could’ve asked for.

This morning, I didn’t sleep in like I had intended (I was in bed by 8:00pm after all) and was awake at 6:00am. Rather than stay in bed, I decided to go wander the streets of Eastern Manang. The weather was ideal; crisp, but warming up as the sun rose higher and higher. I took in the sights and sounds around the touristy part of Manang (the Eastern part): farmers harvesting their crops and porting them on their backs, fellow trekkers preparing for their hike up to Ledar some 720 metres higher in elevation (where I’ll be going tomorrow morning), campers enjoying their day off in Manang over an early morning breakfast, and donkeys being prepped for long journeys to neighbouring villages. Most of all, however, were the sights of the heavenly mountains surrounding the village. Honestly, I’ve never seen anything as inspiring as this in my life. To the North-West is Gangapurna Mountain (7,455 metres or 24,602 feet), with the frozen Gangapurna Glacier pouring into the aqua-coloured Gangapurna Lake. To its right stands the tall and snowy Annapurna III (7,555 metres or 24,932 feet) followed by Annapurnas IV (7,525 metres or 24,833 feet), and II(7,937 metres or 26,192 feet). To its left, you can see Tarke Kang (Glacier Dome) (7,069 metres or 23,328 feet) and Khangsar Kang (Rock Noir). It’s really hard to describe the beauty that surrounds me at this very moment. No picture can ever do these peaks any justice, because they cannot grasp the emotions that go along with seeing them. I couldn’t have picked a better way to start off my rest day. Check out the panoramic video that I took from the rooftop of Hotel Yeti (after I got my leg on the sheet metal that makes up the roof… yet another injury…):

Back at the hotel, Tony and Lindsay (they hadn’t slept in either), and I had our breakfast; a cinnamon roll and apple porridge for me, the perfect breakfast for a champion trekker! LOL! It was beans on toast for the other two. We played some games of Shithead, as it has become ritualistic for every breakfast, lunch, and dinner times, to determine who was going to be the “Morning Shithead”. Unfortunately for Lindsay, she had to bear the title for this fine morning. The rest of the morning was used to go shop and stock up on supplies that I would need for the rest of my trek. For me, I needed some more medical adhesive, more snacks, more toilet paper, and a Hell of a lot of baby powder to keep my feet and my chaffed groin nice and dry for my gruelling ascent to Thorung La (which I should reach by Saturday, October 17). After that, the sun was calling for us to relax on the rooftop of our hotel, to which we happily obliged. I finally started to read my book, “The Shock Doctrine” by Naomi Klein, but such a complicated and controversial read wasn’t appropriate for such a peaceful environment, so I finished the first chapter and chose to take in some rays (as I let my wounds air out) until lunch time.

It truly does seem like my stomach is bottomless right now, which I guess is a good thing because one of the altitude sickness’ symptoms is a reduced appetite. I ended up finished my enormous yak special club sandwich, along with both Lindsay and Tony’s leftovers, and a chocolate brownie from the bakery downstairs! I was certainly full for the rest of the afternoon, which we used to visit the Old Town (local area) of Manang, the Western area.

I’m completely amazed at how simple and traditional the lifestyle still remains here. Tony said that the villages on the Everest (Khumbu) trek were very similar, but seemed forced as though to attract tourists (and their money). In Manang (and the rest of the villages on the Annapurna Circuit), however, the look and feel is much more genuine. The homes are very medieval-ish, being built of large stones to protect against the harsh colds that come during the winter time. Near the center of the town was a school, where we had the opportunity to meet one of the science teachers, as classes were finishing up for the day. He spoke of the importance of science for the children of Manang, not only for working locally in the farmlands, but also for the outside world. We spoke to each other in front of the Gangapurna Glacier and Lake, which made for a really impressive setting. It really is a place that you can stay and gaze out in wonderment for hours for inspiration. The same could be said for the fields where yaks, donkeys, goats, and horses roamed. To the distance, you could see farmers butchering some yaks. Any other place in the world, this would be considered completely unsanitary, but for Manang, it seemed very fitting. Hey, I had the yak curry for dinner yesterday and it was delicious! There were plenty of photo opportunities everywhere, and I tried to capture the best that I could for all of you to get a taste of the experience that I’m going through as we speak. After our little trip down cultural lane, I split from Tony and Lindsay, only to be joined by our Nepalese friend, which we had met the previous night, for a trip down to Gangapurna Lake.

We talked about plenty of things: his studies of marketing, my studies of international commerce, the Nepalese cultures of Manang and Kathmandu, and to my surprise, how many of the Nepalese around here do NOT like Israelis (he wasn’t the first one to tell me that). He basically said that they have no respect for anything… As the chatter went on, we eventually arrived at the Lake, and it was definitely worth the trek. A beautiful glacier lake surrounded by high rock walls, indicating that the Lake used to be much higher than it is today. The science teacher I met earlier on said that in a few years, the Lake will probably be dry. I took in the sights for a few minutes, and headed back to the hotel as the temperature was dropping.

Now, I’m writing this blog from the rooftop of Hotel Yeti, looking upon Annapurna II, III, and IV, and the Gangapurna Glacier, as the sun sets in behind of them. It truly is an inspirational sight, and I wish that I could stay here longer… However, the Pass is calling me, and my journey must go on! Oh, and tonight, we determine if I have to bear the title of “Shithead” for my trek through the Pass, and ultimately until I meet Tony and Lindsay again… Wish me luck!

The photos of Day 6 can be found on Flickr, here.

Namaste!

-LL

P.S. I stopped writing this blog suddenly because I’m getting damn cold sitting up here on the rooftop! The wind is really bone-chilling and I’m not exactly dressed for it…

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