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).