Sunday, 31 May 2009

Day 4, Trekking Day 3. Namchee Bazaar to Khumjung.

I wake up a little later than agreed, just in time to take pictures of the race from the window of our temple room. I hope they’re really careful. It’s David Kirtley (Richard ‘Kirt’ Kirtley-Wright’s cousin (I can see what it means to be a Kirtley. It’s in the nose shape)) and Mike Preston, (who’s smile can swallow darkness).

It looks like it’s Preston that’s won from where I’m stood. Why are the Hillarians cheering? God knows. Confused. The whole thing is farcical anyway and I hope that it doesn’t get shown. If Jordan wanted the thing to be less like ‘The Sound of Music’ then he should speak to the people at the rear of the train. There are enough of us there to get dramas out of.

My god. Namche is probably on a 65ยบ angle and heading up the steps of this hill towards Khumjung, we could see the layout of the town which basically on one leg of the mountain and curves down round the other, hugging the crotch, as it were. After stopping to regain my breath, I heard Dr Nick on the walkie-talkie who had stopped a few metres ahead of me radioing through instructions to the group behind us. Tom Sharland, who was nearby, stopped to listen intently, his ears focused and eyes trying to read Dr. Nick’s face. Someone wasn’t feeling well, someone who wasn’t feeling great last night was dizzy and light-headed. It was his younger brother Neil who was hit with AMS and was going to stay behind in Namchee with Dr. Ian to let his body catch up with the altitude. Tom with no more than a blink’s thought had disappeared down the mountain again to be with his brother. I was glad for that, I would like to think that I'd would have done the same for my brother. The Sharland’s are probably the fittest on the teams and had taken us through our training during the last 8 months and for one of them to be struck down with AMS just goes to show that it could be anyone. Perhaps Neil wasn’t taking it easy. Perhaps he was storming ahead. I was a little more than shaken to think that someone could get it at only, what, 3300 metres. I continue at an even slower pace up to the top of the stepped streets.

Eventually, the near vertical streets turn into a path that zig-zagged the rest of the way up the mountain. The trees seem to be more sparse on the hillside. I saw a helipad and a building on a mini plateau and then at the top of the mountain, the path turned into a tree-studded plateau. It was a lot more comfortable to walk there as it was flat, flatter than ‘Nepali flat’ which to us means a constant up and down but mainly staying at the same altitude over several miles. No, this was visibly flat. I found myself walking a little way behind Waters and Dr. Nick until they were no longer apparent as the trees grew ticker and closer together around the path. Still hilly, the terrain reminded me of a golf-course with bunkers (yes, bunkers) every so often. I got followed by someone who turned out to be one of our guides who eventually told me his name was Jitar and reminded me that it was okay to go slow with a reassuring 'bisari, bistari...'

Dr. Nick was up ahead and pointed to a bank of cloud and a mountain peering out from the right of it. ‘That lump of clouds next to the mountain is Everest, apparently.’ The one that you can see is Lhotse. (Jitar wasn’t entirely sure).

I really thought I was going to see Everest. Unexpected as it was, I was disappointed, but I thought I was going to see it. I was ready for it. Right at the top of the mountain is The Everest View Hotel. Famously this was the hotel that was built by a millionaire for other millionaires and was a fully pressured, fully oxygenated hotel with large windows facing Everest. On it’s opening day they helicoptered in some Japanese tourists who promptly collapsed on the trek from the helipad to the top as they weren’t acclimatised to the altitude. Jitar pointed out the hotel which looked like a Frank Lloyd-Wright building and I was heading up the steps to it when he motioned that we were carrying on ahead to Khumjung. Oh well.

The rest of the descent was easy enough. Through the trees I could see the low stone walls and the wooden buildings with their joblot green roofs which made a complete contrast to Namche’s joblot blue.

Waters and I decided to room together again as it was easier, we seemed to be the first bunch of people to get there. Really? I’m sure I was lagging behind.

The others have got here and at tea it’s announced that tonight was the Everest Factor rehearsal night and that we should be performing after dinner tomorrow. I’m glad that we’ve got 2 nights here. It just means that the Sharlands can catch up with us without losing a day’s travel and that the rest of us can acclimatise further. Hopefully they can get back to us in time for stuff.

After dinner we pile into respective groups’ rooms and rehearse. Before we left we chose to sing ‘Summer Lovin’ from Grease, ‘500 Miles’ and a toss up between a Queen song and something else, which I can't remember. A fun time rehearsing the songs and huddling up to get warm

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Day 3: Trek Day 2 Phakding to Namche Bazaar

It’s the solo walking that keeps me thinking about the other things like illness and such the like. When I’m travelling with people it’s fine but I often find myself trailing behind being not the strongest of people on the trek. I’m not comfortable with a raised heart rate… it keeps on making me think about my pre-existing condition as it sometimes sends clicking through my head along the scar line. Not an entirely comforting thought. I guess I wouldn’t have thought much about it had it not been for the call about 2 days before we left London from Dr Ian about my brain haemorrhage and subsequent operation that really got me thinking ‘Have I made the right choice in coming on this trip? Has the neurosurgeon I saw a year ago not thought it through?’ I knew that when I was given the ‘All Clear’ by the specialist last April that I had no recurring symptoms of my arteriovenous malformation (that resulted in my bleeding at age 12) I was on top of the world. 25 years of being in the clear. I wanted to celebrate by doing something amazing, something I’d never expected myself to ever do, but wanted to. When Kirt asked me to photograph a meeting between him, his friends and some people about a project he was starting I didn’t think much about it. By the end of the meeting and the spiel that Kirt and Charlie Campbell gave I was hooked, I knew that this was going to be the thing that I was going to do.

What happens with Altitude Sickness (AMS – Acute Mountain Sickness), or how it was described to me, how I remember it, is that something chemical happens in your body because you’re over-breathing to compensate for the lack of oxygen and your brain produces a fluid to protect it (is that right? Even now I’m doubting this) and consequently starts to swell.

When Dr Ian calls me up at work and discusses the silver clip that’s in my head that stopping the vein from bleeding, it suddenly makes me think. The Sunderlandese doctor is concerned that this swelling possibly might affect the silver clip. Somehow. I don’t want to think about it much more than that. He asks 'Has your insurance got a pre-existing condition clause.' No. 'Well, it might be a good idea to get one in case we need to get you off the mountain by airlift.' Immediately after I get off the phone I research a higher insurance package than my bank can guarantee. One that has helicopter rescue. F*ck it. It’s only £25 more than I’d have had to have got anyway.

Back on the trail from Phakding I really hope I don’t have to use it. It is a constant worry. I'm aware that I'm alone much of the time and that it's not that healthy for me to be walking by myself.

The teahouses are very much like my Grandmother’s in Malaysia, except her house was half on stilts. And we were given beds. Twin beds. I was semi expecting, like my Grandmother’s house, to be sleeping on the raised floor of the main room, all of us, farting and snoring and having to deal with couples copulating in the corner. Not that that happened at my Gran’s.

I end up walking next to a guide called Lannam who asked me where I was from. I usually get asked this in London so I say “Aldershot is where I was born, Malaysia is where I grew up.” This time I said “I live in London but my father is Malay, my mother is from London”. He got all excited about this fact and was really happy. Lannam, it turns out, lived in Malaysia for two years and speaks a smattering of Malay. Joy of joys. I’m always one for learning a bit of the language before I get to places and beyond ‘Namaste’ and ‘dhanyabad’ I was getting bored of my vocabulary already. It was nice to be able to connect on some level with Lannam and speak with him. Malaysia and Nepal used to have work agreements and allowed the Nepali a certain amount of work visas, I believe, from what he was saying. He really had a good time over there and was able to earn a bit of savings. He was pleased that I could speak Malay to and for the rest of the trip called me ‘Abang’ (which means big brother. I am a year older than he is. He must have had a hard paper round).

Before we left that morning, we're told that this is gong to be one of the hardest walks of the trek and says that the 800 metre climb in 2 hours after having walked up and down for 6 hours will be the hardest thing that we’re going to be doing on this trek. (I have my doubts at this point, about so many things, but I don’t voice them).

Lannam’s two years working in Johor Bahru meant that we could exchange a few words about family and work and life and journeys. He’d worked in a plastic factory out there. I didn’t realise that Malaysia had foreign labour other than Indonesians. It is the hardest walk we have done so far and (ok, it’s only lunch) and I’m thinking we’ve not done the hard bit yet. I’ve really found my pace (or lack of) so having company in one of the rear guides was helpful. By the time we get to lunch, the fact that I’m Malaysian gets through to the other guides and I sit opposite Bil for lunch who says a few words in Malay. More surprises. It’s really overwhelming. Bil intended to go and work there so he learnt how to speak Malay. With learning anything, I more you practise the better you become at it. With the recession happening, the work agreements suddenly dried up and Bil never actually got to go and work there. Maybe one day.

The rest of the walk we were still under the tree line which was quite good as the weather was very hot. It looks like that the trees are in bloom. I wish I could take a photo of the blossoms to ask my mum what they were as all the trees on the way seemed to be in bloom. It was a forest of green and pink in clumps (JZ: I later find out that we were walking in a forest of rhododendron. I always thought that rhododendron were a bush and not trees). It’s been good weather so far. And not cold either. Crossing many metal rope bridges (some to the tune of Indiana Jones) we seemed to be going up to go down. That was the disappointing thing about the trek, the fact that once you seemed to climb to the top of one hill, you saw the route ahead which seemed to be going down again. Didn’t we just climb 300 metres? Why are we going down another 150? Where was this 800 metre climb? Was that it? What do you mean that was only 150 metres.

At lunch, it’s become apparently that Jameau Pederskin has the runs and has been suffering badly, poor fella. After lunch I worry that I might be suffering from the same thing. Perhaps it was the chillies that I have in my meal. We’ll see. Let’s just temper the diet as an experiment. Thankfully I only have to go twice at the lunch break. It was slightly comedy as it was the first time I’ve had to do anything in a squatty toilet for years. And then to suddenly feel you can let loose is somehow liberating but also worrying. And then there’s the unsatisfactory poo.

The unsatisfactory poo.
Just before a performance I usually like to have, what I call, a ‘satisfactory poo’. You know, one that leaves you feeling that you can let go on-stage (emotionally) and not worry about whether you’re going to ‘let-go’ anything else. When we were doing The Nightingale on tour for Yellow Earth, I introduced the concept to my Japanese friend Haruka who seemed to think that it was as important as I did. As we opened the show, we’d just check with each other with a quick, ‘Satisfactory poo?’ And whether it was a positive or a negative we knew as to whether each other were going to have a good performance or a slightly ‘held in’ performance. I wonder if Ralph Fiennes has the same discussion with his co-stars?

(Ok enough about that.)

Now that the knees are starting to hurt and the backpack is becoming a burden I must say that this portion of the journey is getting to me. Paola Fudakowska (who signs off her emails with Mini-P, or P-Fud, to differentiate between her and the taller sister Alexandra Fudakowska who was also on the trek) was usually within my sights as we’re both not the fastest on the trek. I also must point out that as one of the photographers, I am one of the few that get my pack carried and all I have to do is carry my daypack along with my photographic equipment. The rear guides were wondering why we were the slowest and I’m sure they were talking about us amongst themselves (the paranoia of the British traveler). They were also carrying daypacks but theirs were considerably much smaller than mine. Or flatter, at least. Halfway up the route to Namche Bazaar was a welcome sight of the group I was in sitting on a low wall in a cleared area where 2 orange women had set up shop. Now these had nothing to do with Restoration period Orange Women. As far as I know they weren’t prostitutes. What they offered was just as good. Fresh oranges for 80 rupees. I bought two. And lapped up the juices from my dusty hands with gusto.

While we were sat down with our packs leaning against the wall, resting our legs. One of the guides picked up my daypack with his hand. He looked over at another and nodded and something tacit was exchanged. Did they say that they were going to carry my pack? I suspect not. I suspect they were just wondering what was keeping me back. Their investigation seemed to satisfy them.

Goonit (ok his name isn’t really Goonit, it’s Gareth but prefers the name G-Unit. As I already have a friend who calls himself G-Unit, I call him Goonit. It makes sense in my head) tries to carry a pack that one of our porters is carrying. They place it gingerly on his head and it nearly snaps his neck off until they re-place it on the part of the head that the strap is meant to be placed at (I’m not sure where that is, I don’t try and find out).

When we’d rested up enough we’d started our way up the mountain again. One of the orange women (it sounds so rude to call them that, they weren’t sluts at all) asked me what we were doing so I told her about the cricket on Everest thing and then she asked if we were going to Khumjung and I said yes, tomorrow and that we’ll be teaching the kids cricket there. She hoped to come along.

Miles Nathan, one of Kirt’s friends who wasn’t a cricketer and one of the cameramen on the trip (there is a film being made of this, a docu-style film. Wes is the other cameraman and ‘director’.) is struggling with his pack and is being gently encouraged by Lucy Brooks, the Trektator team leader. He’s clearly exhausted and I hand him some nuts and chocolate from my scroggin pack, just to help him along. They carry on ahead while I keep at my slow pace. I’m equalled by one young Mongol-looking porter, who couldn’t have been more than 16 and who gets as tired as I do, mainly because his pack weighed a ton.

For much of this trek I am by myself with the occasional sighting of people ahead or below me. A couple of times I have to stop just to admire the view. I keep on forgetting that we were in the most amazing landscapes on Earth. Most of the time, however, is spent looking at the ground as it’s uneven - sometimes it’s steps of rough hewn rock, sometimes it’s dusty path rising zig-zaggedly upwards. I remember looking up once to see where I was going and then being surprised by Wes scolding me with a rather inappropriate ‘If you see me holding the camera, don’t look directly at it.’ ‘What?’ I respond, rather incredulously, being insulted by this. 'If you see me holding the camera, don't look directly at it.' Right. I’ll remember that next time I want to see where I’m going, I’ll try to telepathically be aware of where you are in case you’re holding a camera in my face. Or when you're a director, paying me, you can talk to me like that, when you've had as many years in front of the camera as I have. Otherwise, you just come across as a c*nt. I’m wearing sunglasses FFS, and you’re standing in the bushes, I didn’t even realise you were there, you twat. Of course, I’m writing this hours after this happens and my sense of humour bypass has just about rerouted. But it still irks. The narrator in 'The Great Gatsby' was right. You never will have had the same experience as anyone else in life. It's funny how that bubbled up after not having read it for nearly 20 years.

I get to a ‘Nepali flat’ part of the track and round the corner is a wooden shack with chocolate and drinks. I think I bought a Mars Bar or Snickers, it was only a few hours ago but I don’t remember. Lucy and Miles are there, resting. He’s been in a bad way, struggling with the climb. This has been the hard bit. According to the shop owner it isn’t long until Namche. About 30 minutes, Miles and Lucy assure me. They leave and I’m left sat on the wooden bench looking over the valley. Why am I here? What the fuck am I doing? I feel drained. I’m glad for my little scroggin pack which consisted of mixed dried fruit, mixed nuts – including brazils which were my favourite, and peanut M&Ms.

True enough, it was up a bend in the next hill when there were more houses and the dusty track become more rocky road. I was stopped on the way by a policeman, telling me that I couldn’t go ahead, that I had to hang a right through a gate in a fenced area. We get talking about what we were doing, he’d seen the posters, one of which was on the blue police shack opposite the gate. He was married with 2 kids and that his daughter loved chocolate. Yes, she really liked chocolate and nuts. What’s that you’re eating? Badam (almonds) and kismis (raisins) and chocolate. Yes, my daughter likes chocolate. I laugh and give him the rest of my bag of scroggin. I’ve got another 3 quarter bags left somewhere. He says she really likes chocolate and leaves. No, she doesn’t like leaves. Well, I don't think so.

I see Mark Jordan on a platform by a shop doing a few takes of his report to camera. The words ‘eccentric and English’ was what I heard. Nothing about being in Asia. Yes. Sense of humour bypass kicking in nicely. I’m going to start getting angry if he mentions that phrase again. There are non-English people on the trip too.

Walking through Namche it looks like one of those places you seen in dungeons & dragons storybooks, it doesn’t look real. Through the dark streets only lit by the shop’s fluorescent lamps and kerosene from burners, I see shops on either side of the softly cobbled passages selling trekking gear, woolly yak-hair hats and last minute climbing equipment.

By the time I get to the lodge, I’d been told by someone that I was in the upper lodge but ‘I’m sure that there’d be a cup of tea in the first one, waiting for you'. I stumble into the lower lodge looking for friendly faces but before anyone says ‘Hello, you made it, have a cuppa tea,’ I get a ‘You’re in the wrong place. You’re in the upper lodge.’ Which promptly gets met with a ‘Shut the fuck up’ from me. I know that, you hairy twat. ‘You’re in the wrong place.’ he repeats. I’d heard him the first time. Perhaps he didn’t hear me. ‘Shut the fuck up.’ I snap even louder and leave.

Yep. Sense of humour completely bypassed by. (editors note: Sorry, Woodsy. I didn’t mean to snap. Hope I’m forgiven. You still have a hairy tw@t though.)

In the upper lodge I get ushered by the owner, who apologises and takes me to the prayer room which will be our makeshift bedroom. I’m not sure who it is that’s ushering me I barely know what my name is let alone care where I’m sleeping. Everything looks a little grey and I get put on a makeshift bed in the temple. I think it’s a temple and I’m sat down recovering slowly, eating chocolate, taking in the colourfully painted walls and drift off into the lying down position.

Once I slowly start feeling myself again I realise that James Butler, who, for the size of him, looks more arm than man, Neil Sharland who, this evening, looks more pale than ale and Jonathan Hill(s) who looks to the side of you endearingly, are also in the room. Jonathan asks me if I’d mind sharing with someone else as Curry hasn’t quite got a room yet. Probably the wrong time to ask me anything. No, I can barely move and I’ve sunken in the bed, weighed down by love of it. Bless him, I think he probably realises that it’s all too much for me and when Curry arrives, not only does he manage to get him a room but is able to make it sound better than the one we’re in, despite it being a shared double bed. Curry, thankfully, thinks this is great, or doesn’t know what he thinks and takes it anyway.

At dinner there is a pow-wow as Mark Jordan has decided that everyone is doing too well and that there is no drama on the event and that he wants something to happen. Toovey succinctly remarks that Jordan was ‘expecting a demolition derby but got the Earl’s Court Motor Show’ or words to that effect. (JZ: I note that he hasn’t quoted himself on his blog so I’ve quoted him here as I think it's very apt). What Jordan suggests is for two guys, one from each team, to hold a porter-race, i.e. to carry a porter’s load on his head and race up the stepped streets of Namche Bazaar. Absolutely stupid. It makes the groups feel a slight animosity towards our ITV cameraman as the idea is completely stupid, unsafe and risky. To me it’ll make the group look like we’re a bunch of rich eccentric English men having a laugh in amongst the foreigners in their own country. Please. They decided to sleep on it and consider how they feel in the morning, health-wise especially. I hope none of them agree to it. I can’t believe I’m still up (it’s about mmm 8.30pm).

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Day 2 – Kathmandu and Lukla. Trek Day 1


Well last night I couldn’t sleep. Perhaps it was the fact we’d arrived in the evening, perhaps it was due to the fact that there was so much going on in my head or perhaps it was the thoughts about this aeroplane ride from KTM to Lukla. Last October 18 people, the entire passenger and crew list of the flight, died in a crash. I am sitting outside on the veranda of the villa. Poor Waters having to share with me. I think I snore. Loudly. I don’t know how loudly but I know I do snore. Now I’m sitting outside having my final cigarette until I see Kathmandu again. Yes, I’m going to keep my packet of fags here, even though, really, they only cost about £2 a packet and I can afford to smoke them, I don’t really want to smoke while on the mountain. That’ll be my deal.

It's a full moon here in Kathmandu. The dogs on the hillside are just barking and barking, like they're fending off thieves. Hundreds of dogs in the darkness, scaring evil.

Landing in KTM yesterday evening was easy enough, I don’t really remember the flight being turbulent or whatever in fact, I slept through most of the journey from Doha. I know that at the start of the flight, once we’d reached altitude, there was this scuttling sound in the air vents like there was a sudden influx of rats in the system and that the plane as suddenly going to crash and there was a flash of panic through everyone. Ok, maybe just me and Hillsy, teacher and white-knuckle flyer. I appear cucumber-like next to him. No, I don’t mean turgid. I mean cool. That noise, it turns out, was just the vent system working. Probably clearing the rats out of it.

We woke up early to pack the two buses that were taking the two separate teams and (split) Trektators to KTM Domestic Airport, next to the International. I’m not an early morning man really, more a late night man.

Kathmandu Domestic Airport is next to the international airport. It kinda does remind me of what KL Railway station was like (before they did it up in the 90’s but with domesticated animals. Ok, I’m embellishing, there were no domesticated animals. I was expecting sheep or goats or something from ‘Romancing The Stone’). We shuffled through the metal detectors and put our luggage on the scales. Yes, ALL our luggage on giant scales until the man at the desk told us to stop and that we were heavy enough. Yep, total weight limit per plane. Why weigh items one by one when you have to add it all together on a calculator at the end? Just put them all on at the same time. Simples. This was the first time I’d met Russell De Beer. I didn't know who he was at first but we exchange a certain look. I didn’t recognise him as he looked different from the facebook photos. I think he’d given himself a grade 2 haircut or something. From the bus to the airstrip I see a selection of aeroplanes that get progressively smaller until we see our airline. Yeti Airlines. Doesn’t inspire much confidence.

Sitting in a compact tube with seats in rows of two and one, I note that we were all putting on brave faces, some of us knowing that in October last year all 18 passengers and crew died in a crash on the same route. I didn’t mention it to anyone in case they didn't know and wouldn't appreciate the knowledge. What was a little worrying was that you could see to the front of the plane into the cockpit (the door remained open throughout the flight, in fact) where you could see the pilot and the co-pilot reading off a check-list and scratching their respective heads.

I have never felt more in God’s hands than in that moment before take-off. I remembered to take out that prayer that Dad made me write down and repeat it several times under my breath, careful not to let the others see me praying in case they thought I had half a keg of Samsonite strapped to my middle, fingering the red button marked ‘detonate’. I miss you Dad. It’s only been a day since we got here.

Did I mention we had a stewardess? She was lovely. And perhaps a little pointless other than to look at. Ok, so she did hand out cotton wool and a boiled sweet. No gintonics, no warmed semi-tasty sandwich rolls.

Take-offs usually send me straight to sleep. I could see that one of our guides, a Sherpa called Nir (Or what I assumed to be a Sherpa, he might actually be a Lama) was asleep in minutes after take-off. Lucky bastard. From my seat, looking out of the window, I could see the ornate carpet of Kathmandu fall far below us turning into fields and lakes and quarries and striated hillsides.

A few minutes later and we were just above the clouds and looking out the window, not wanting to miss anything, to the left of the aeroplane I could see mountains, far, far in the distance. Snow covered peaks. Which one was Everest? I'm not sure but I wanted to see them. They were beautiful.
Which one is Everest?

Lukla is a hillside town with a ridiculously short airstrip stuck between two higher hills. It seems to have one major street with a view of a mountain rising at one end of it, and various trekking equipment shops on either side selling colourful woolly hats which I might buy on the way back. And I'm not sure that the Starbucks is quite the real thing but hey, it gave us a laugh while waiting.
They didn't do Caramel Lattes.
Prayer Wheel Gate
After a bit of a hold-up with the equipment arriving by plane and a speech by Kirt and Nir Lama (yes, he must be a Lama) we started Day 1 of our trek. As the website said, we start by descending. I don’t know what the track was going to be like but the first few hundred metres outside the town gate is roughly hewn paving.

We learnt that the prayer wheels (as described by Eddie Murphy in The Golden Child )would give us strength and courage for what we are looking for. We also were told to walk to the left hand side of mani stones as custom. The first time Brooksie told us this we saw her go off in a goose-chase of a direction so we followed her and joined the rest further down the track. Apparently, that’s what you have to do. I ask no questions, she read the guide before we left London.

Dave Christie and I as ‘the elder’ of the group found ourselves falling to the rear or ‘finding our pace’ which, speaking strictly for me, meant really slow steps up.

Oh yes, the surprise at Lukla was while I was writing my journal for this blog in the courtyard of the first teahouse where we ate a breakfast of pancakes and coffee, I heard a loud holler of my name. I look up and it’s Grizzly Adams. Who the hell? Of course, it’s Dane Cunningham, looking distinctly hairier than when I last saw him in London, going to Australia, about a year ago. He’d been in western Nepal doing the Annapurna circuit and looking well-travelled. A welcome sight.

By the early evening we reach the first teahouse on the trek in Phakding. It’s blue and white exterior and unpainted wooden interiors remind me of my grandma's. It’s bizarre that many things start to remind me of my childhood in Malaysia. It’s getting more and more intense. Little did I know that the next day the Malaysian upbringing would be a keystone to my Everest experience.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Day 1 – The Aeroplane, Doha and Kathmandu

Right, it’s twice now that my name has been spelt wrongly. On my passport it’s Jamie. Not James. Who on Earth does the checking for these things? On the insurance forms I note that someone, Woodsy, has put me down as a James. FFS. I hate the name James. It’s not on my passport. Am I being a bit moody?

It’s the lack of sleep I suspect. We’re in Doha reading the Tenzing Bible, a bit of fun dreamt up by Goonit and Toovey. We’re all slightly tired by the flight over even though I slept straight after the chicken rendang (mmm yes, a Malaysian recipe… might be a good omen to the rest of the trip, and they didn’t do it half bad either, even though, really, rendang is strictly beef.) It does feel like I’m on my way to Malaysia…. (Can’t we go there instead?) I certainly don’t feel like I’m a trip to Mt Everest.

I should perhaps mention the farce of the transfer lounge. Getting off the plane into a bus which seemed to drive us the length of Doha to the airport, we get shuffled to the transfer gates where we have to show passports, go through X-ray again and metal detectors. We’re all hot and sticky and people keep shoving and trying to take the velvet rope barriers down and create chaos out of this disorder.

Back on the plane now headed to Nepal, drifting in and out of sleep, all I can remember is people’s advice to me: ‘Climb, Bitch! Keep breathing’

I get waken up by the aeroplane coming into land at KTM airport. Passport control – signing those pieces of paper with ‘where we’re staying’ info on it, making sure we tell the police our whereabouts (do people do this? I’ve never done this on holiday. Ever.) People seem to think that I know where we’re staying so I tell them. Kathmandu Guest House. Okay, so I do know where we are staying, did no one else find this out before we left?

We’re greeted by friendly Nepali asking us to take our bags etc, offering to push our cart etc. Kirt warned us about this a few weeks ago. Don’t let them. We’ll be met at the airport by the people who are meant to meet us and they will help us load the vehicle. Whatever that vehicle that may be. We weren’t told. We’re then met by a different set of Nepali, wearing caps with our logo on it. Lei were handed out and given to the new honoured guests of…. Hang on a sec…

Ok. So why is EVERYONE given a lei and not me? What’s going on here? Is it because I is semi-Asian? It's a little joke that I have with myself throughout the trip. It doesn't end here.

Yes the different set of Nepali who are smiling and knowing what we’re about seem to be our hosts. They seem very helpful and showing us to two mini-buses. Oh, there’s a big banner with our (my) logo on it. They must know what we’re about.

Well, it’s the first night and we’ve landed in Kathmandu on time. The streets towards the hotel remind me of Kuala Lumpur that I remember as a kid. Much like the 70’s KL with lots of motorbikes and cyclists and trucks and cars all vying for space and speed and the accompanying discordant jazz orchestra. It's hot, dusty and the sun is a burnt orange in a lavender washed sky. I'm back in Asia. It feels great.

It would seem that the buses don’t take us to the Kathmandu Guest House but instead some other hotel with villa complexes set in a parkland. I get off the bus and immediately I get greeted by a Nepali who apologises profusely and presents me with probably the blingest lei ever with silver tassels and large extended flowers. I have to get a picture of it. We’ve been put into this other guest house (which really I quite luxury and has a pool) as the KGH has double booked us – (how do you forget that you’ve booked 55 people on a group booking?)