Archive for travel

England Summer Trip 2013 – London (part 1)

This is the continuation of my summer 2013 trip to England that I started writing about in this post. Here are all of the posts. [update: I started writing this post months ago but I keep procrastinating. My goal is to complete this series of posts before the anniversary of the trip.]

London

When we last saw our intrepid traveler is was relaxing comfortably in the Park Lane hotel in London while a summer rainstorm thundered outside. OK, enough attempting to make this post novelized this. I am sincerely sorry that it has taken my lazy butt this long to get back to writing about my trip last August.

The first night

After my afternoon nap during the rainstorm I decided to chill in my hotel room for a while. There was no air conditioner in the suite which I thought was odd but maybe that is common in English hotels. The room was a bit stuff so I started to open the  windows hoping to get a nice breeze and fresh air. I then took some time to reorganize my luggage and photography gear. I also relaxed and surfed through the TV channels. I believe there were about 100 channels where the majority of them represented individual countries around the world. Around eight or so I started to get hungry and I figured I would just try the restaurant attached to the hotel named Citrus. I took a quick shower in the enormous bathroom (I should have taken a picture) and got dressed. When I arrived at what I thought was the entrance to Citrus it looked fairly busy but I was ignored for a good five minutes as I stood there. I caught the waitress’ attention and asked to be seated outside as the weather had cleared up and there looked to be prime people watching from the outdoor seating. The rain had cleared out but the temperature had dropped but I really wanted to enjoy the night air. I was again left alone for a while which I found quite odd. When the waitress finally addressed me I ordered an appetizer and dinner and enjoyed watching all of the people walking along the side-walk. The people seemed to come from all walks of life and culture. Many clusters of people who were probably heading out to a club or pub in the area. I would smile at anyone that made eye contact and most would smile back. I finally got my entrée around 9:30pm and it was good. After I finished eating I again had to wait quite a while for the waitress to bring my check. The temperature had either dropped more or the breeze had become more brisk as I started to get chilled and wanted to go inside. But as I waited a couple of women, I think of Mediterranean or Middle Eastern descent stopped and chatted with me. I had seen them earlier and smiled getting a smile in return. They asked if I wanted to go to a pub with them. I thought for a second and declined as I was tired. I failed to represent the WWGCD (What Would George Clooney Do?) philosophy. I should have taken them up on the offer and seen what the night had in store but I chickened out.

After paying I went back up to my room and was a bit stir crazy and a bit kicking myself for declining the offer to go out. I threw on a fleece and went for a walk along Park Lane. Not that I hadn’t done a ton of walking that day already. Anyway, I made my way all of the way to Piccadilly Circus at which point it was getting pretty late and I decided that the week was going to be long enough and I needed to get some rest. So back to the hotel I went and right to bed just after midnight.

Day #1

I woke up the next morning, after sleeping in a bit, and got my stuff together for a long day of sightseeing. My first stop was a chain named Pret A Manger which to me seems like a cross between Starbucks and Panera Bread. I had a Diet Coke and a chocolate croissant. The Breakfast of Champions! I had researched ahead of time but I consulted my handy-dandy guide-book and determined at least my first stop of the day which was the changing of the cavalry guards at the Horse Guards Parade. It was very difficult to get any “clean” shots of the guards without other tourists and their cameras getting in the way. It was amazing to watch the ceremony that happens twice daily and even more amazing how many people show up to watch the ceremony.

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I then started to meander through St. James Park. An asian girl who seemed very frantic was going to various people asking for help but it was apparent that she didn’t know English and had somehow lost her group. When she came to me I did my good deed for the day and I helped her to the best of my ability. She needed to go to Buckingham Palace and although it was very close I didn’t know exactly how to explain it to her so I pulled out my phone and showed her where we were and where the palace was on the map. She then frantically ran in the general direction of Buckingham Palace. I continued in that general direction taking my time to enjoy this amazing park with its abundance of birds and flowers.

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Buckingham Palace is a rather austere building on its own but with the large sculptures and the famous guards it stands out. There were a ton of tourists loitering around the statues and near the fence keeping the commoners away from the palace. As I was arriving so was the Calvary Guards on their horses. I didn’t realize that I would beat them to the palace but here’s the proof.

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And here are some other photos from the palace.

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After watching the guards march and stomp my stomach told me it was time to leave and grab lunch. I lucked upon a neat little pub that was set below street level called The Old Monk Exchange. I thought it was named The Old Monk but either the name changed or more likely I’m mis-remembering. Anyway, I sat in this small vaulted area which had skylights and it was pretty neat. The food was ok.

After lunch I considered hitting Churchill’s War Room but there was a long line. I then just decided to explore the area. Here’s Westminster Cathedral which is not the same as the Westminster Abbey, the former being Catholic while the latter being Anglican.

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I continued to explore and passed through many little parks such as Grosvenor Gardens where there were many interesting statues including “Alien” by David Breuer-Weil.

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I made my way back to the hotel and cleaned up a little and went to dinner at an Italian place called Spaghetti House which I couldn’t tell if it was a chain restaurant or not but seemed to be staffed by Italians. The food was good but a little expensive. After dinner I walked around a bit more but my feet were killing me so I made my way back to the hotel and to sleep.

day #2

I woke up refreshed and knew that today I was going to hit more sights. First stop was a little convenience store across from the British Museum where I bought a pastry and some water for the day. I ate my breakfast on the lawn in front of the British Museum and then I proceeded inside. All of my humanities classes came flooding back to me as I walked through history.

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This bird caught my attention as it’s the same type of bird that I saw in Kathmandu in 2011.

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Game of Thrones has nothing on this iron throne!

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I think I could easily spend days at this museum. If I was a London resident I would definitely have a membership. It is an amazing museum and I spent way too long in it including lunch which I purchased from the cafe in the atrium.

After a couple of more hours in this wonderful museum I struck out to hit the National Gallery. I guess I’m a glutton for punishment. When I got to the National Gallery I had very little time (I think less than an hour) so I flew through the halls trying to absorb as many works as I could. My body was fighting me as my legs and feet were done walking for the day so I had to stop often to rest. Luckily, in galleries there are typically places to sit. I was gently urged to move on as they closed each gallery hall. This is definitely worth another visit. Here are some photos I took after exiting the gallery.

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My feet and legs were killing me so I decided that I might as well get dinner before continuing back to the hotel. I saw a neat Thai place that seemed to be set up with seating meant for people watching which seemed very cool to me. Once I entered Busaba Eathai I realized that I was probably under-dressed for this trendy place but at that point I didn’t care. The food was really good and I found a plug to charge my phone :-) while I ate.

After dinner I choose to walk back to the hotel so that I could explore more but that was probably a bad choice because my feet and legs were already on fire. I had to stop in many squares and parks including Leichester Square, Chinatown, Soho Square, Golden Square, and Neal’s Yard (my mom asked me to visit this one). Finally, I made a hurried dash through Green Park after dark which was a little bit scary as I didn’t know if I was going to be mugged or not (it reminds me of Central Park in Manhattan). It seems like this park is used by couples to have some “time alone” in the big city.

And that ends my second whole day in London. Watch out for part 2 (hopefully sooner than later).

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Diving on the Cayman Aggressor IV

This is the most amazing dive experience I have ever had on the Cayman Aggressor IV. I could write up the whole adventure but the captain of the boat, Captain Alan Roberts, has already done that here. So I will just add my photos and videos here along with commentary.

Arrival

A nice trip over some Caribbean islands

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And here’s my welcoming committee

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My home for the next week

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Leaving the port and enjoying sunset

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Dive Day #1

I didn’t take my camera on the first dive which was the Doc Poulson. It was a little tugboat that was sunk in honor of a dive celebrity of the Caymans.

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The second dive was at Stingray City where we all fed and played with the stingrays.

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Kathy and Mike celebrated their anniversary on the boat.

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The last dive for the day was at Babylon. It was very beautiful although most of my photos didn’t come out.

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The amazing fans shoot out in all directions at Babylon

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Spearing a lion fish.

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After that dive we made the eight hour crossing from Grand Cayman to Little Cayman. We had some visitors during the crossing that were awesome.

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Dive Day #2

The first two dives were at Randy’s Gazebo in Bloody Bay.

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Hiding moray eel

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The rest of the day we spent at the Meadows.

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Here is a sponge at depth covered in brittlestars.

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Here’s the same sponge but with a better flash exposure.

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This is a weird invertebrate named a tiger’s tail.

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We also went on a night dive at this dive site but my photos just didn’t make the cut.

Dive Day #3

The first two dives on this day were at Leah Leah’s Lookout.

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This little gal is called a lettuce nudibranch.

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Amazing camouflage by this very dangerous fish.

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I loved these groupers that hung on to sponges or rocks with their pectoral fins.

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The second dive site for the day was the 3 Fathoms Wall. I skipped the fourth dive as my ears were giving me some trouble.

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Then we took a short crossing over to Cayman Brac in order to do our second night dive on the Captain Keith Tibbetts (aka the Russian Destroyer 356)

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Dive Day #4

The morning dive was also on the Russian Destroyer.

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This is Oscar the Goliath Grouper. He’s probably about five feet long and 80 or so pounds.

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We crossed back to Little Cayman and dove on The Great Wall in Bloody Bay. The wall was amazing as it was shear and dropped from about 20 feet below surface to what seemed like infinity (or at least further than light would penetrate). I accidentally slept through the second dive and I’m not blaming anyone in particular but SOMEONE should have woken me up :-)

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This turtle is hugging a sponge. Also, this is a special type of turtle as the Caymans have a facility where they create a hybrid turtle that mixes a hawksbill with a green turtle.

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The last two dives, including a dusk dive, were at the Bus Stop. And the sharks returned.

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The elusive Sailfin Blenny did not want to show me his fin.

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Those who were done diving for the day decided to watch us surface.

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Or maybe they were watching this.

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Dive Day #5

The first two dives of the day were at Nancy’s Cup of Tea including a very early morning (5:30am) dive. It was amazing to see the reef come to life as the sun’s light began to hit the reef.

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My little turtle buddy. He popped out from out of nowhere and came and swam a few circles around me within arm reach and then slowly swam off.

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My dive buddy completely missed it but he found a friendly grouper.

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Our next dive site was Sara’s Set.

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Our final dive location for the day was Donna’s Delight which was the location of our 100 minute challenge. I failed the challenge and I also got myself stung by something growing on a buoy ball. But that’s what I get for being stupid.

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The fish with the spots was brilliant and very active. The spots almost looked like LEDs. I tried many times to get a photo and I don’t think I saw a fish like this anywhere else.

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Here are some of the other 100 minute challenge takers. They all passed but I was close. I think this is Sara.

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This is Magic Mike.

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This is definitely Rob.

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This is Kathy.

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We then made the crossing back to Grand Cayman from Little Cayman. A few of us watched Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World during the crossing which really helped pass the time. No dolphins this time. Here are some of the photos while people passed the time away.

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Here are the women on the boat.

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And the guys (minus Rodel who was driving the boat).

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This is the last dinner on the boat. I was so hungry that I forgot to take a picture of the main course which was just as awesome as the salad and the dessert.

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Dive Day #6

On our last dive day we got two dives, including another very early morning (5:30am) dive, on the Kittiwake wreck. The wreck is very new and so had very little encrustation.

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Parrotfish always look happy to me.

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Here’s four different types of crabs.

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You can almost make out the boat’s name.

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The sun’s rays finally poking into the deep.

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A couple of pictures of me.

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I’m not sure why the anchor is out as the boat isn’t going anywhere.

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Our very last dive was at the Devil’s Grotto which was really cool and had tons of wildlife. There were a ton of tarpon here.

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And another fish trying to blend in.

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My dive buddy David and the tarpon just outside of the grotto.

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We had a nice cocktail ceremony on the sun deck after the Aggressor was back in dock. Afterward we ventured out and ate at a decent Italian restaurant a few blocks away from the boat dock.

Departure

There really was not much going on during the last day in the Caymans. I got up early and said our final goodbyes to the crew. We piled into vans and headed to the airport. My flight wasn’t for something like six hours so I was going to settle into being bored for a day. Most of our group went to the airport restaurant where I had a pretty decent cuban sandwich and free wifi. As we broke up most of the group, because they were on the same flight, went through security. I went to check my bag and found out that I could get on an earlier flight home. I took it and the travel went easily and I got home with no issues about two hours earlier than I had estimated.

This was an awesome trip and I would do it again.

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Grab bag update and other random stuff

Ok, I haven’t written for a bit and there have been many events and what not in my life. Each of these are too small to warrant their own post (in my opinion) but I figured I would write anyway.

General Update

Over the past six months or so I have decided to get my life more organized and work on tasks to improve myself and my home. I have attempted to adopt the 43 folders method to organize my tasks and I’m using Evernote to store everything. Basically, Evernote has become my second brain and keeps everything I need to work on. This has been a slow process and I’m not exactly the best at keeping up with it as I get distracted too easily (more about that later). This has gotten me to the point of doing some stuff around my house like getting my roof replaced and other home improvement tasks. I have also been working on reducing my email and fixing my passwords. I have also been trying to scan all new documents that I might need so that I can toss the paper versions. I strive to keep using this process and getting better at it.

Diving

I’m getting back into scuba diving. I just went on a trip to Boyton Beach, FL with the Orlando Reef Divers for a weekend of diving. The weather was unpredictable and I didn’t end up going diving on Sunday but I got two dives in and had a great time. I got back into the water and I tried out some new gear. This is all in preparation for heading down to Grand Cayman for a week-long of diving which I hope to blog about as well. Here are some pictures from the Boyton Beach trip.

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Running

So I have made a couple of short posts of my previous 5K runs this year. Well here is the one I ran yesterday (5/10/2014) which was the Operation Giveback. Here are my results. But for those too lazy to hit that link I finished the 5K with a time of 39:22.293 with a pace of 12:42 minutes per mile. Yes I walked and ran it. Again I think I had more energy I could have put towards the run but I have a mental block that I need to break through. Anyway, here is the obligatory shirt, bib, and bling photo.

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Work

All is good on that front but I was working on a certification package for the last few months. And by “working” I mean that I was procrastinating and working on it ever now and then. But I used that as an excuse for not getting other personal stuff done including updating this blog. Anyway, I submitted a workaround on the certificate package that’ll give me some more time to work on my full certification package. In other words, I figured out a way to procrastinate more.

Health, Exercise, and Diet

So I have been really good at getting in my 10,000 steps a day in with only a handful of exceptions. With that said I’m going to switch to averaging 70,000 steps a week so that I will do more steps on any particular day but it will allow me to have rest days or just some lee way when I miss my numbers on a particular day. I’ll make this switch at the beginning of June. Also, at the beginning of June I’ll start tracking my food intake. I’ve gained too much weight over the past few years and I need to start dropping pounds. My exercise regime has not accomplished this so I’m going to have to start watching what I eat and tracking it all.

What’s next?

Well, I need to finally write up my trip to England from last year. I’ve been procrastinating a bunch on that front but I will knock those out. I have a couple of projects that I want to complete around the house including a couple of ones that should pay off years down the line.

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England Summer Trip 2013 – Liverpool

It is August 2013 and I have just returned from a long week across the pond. So here is my quick summary of what I did and saw while I was in England. The impetus for me flying over to the United Kingdom was part photography workshops run by Chris Marquardt and part my desire to explore more of what Europe has to offer. I’m approaching 37 and my world traveling has not met the quota I thought it would have hit by now. I didn’t intend this to be a series of posts but it seems that I haven’t given myself enough time to write as much as I wanted to convey in a single post. So, continue to watch my blog for the rest of the posts.

Liverpool

I landed at London Heathrow on August 2nd and proceeded to navigate my various choices of mass transit to transport myself to Liverpool where my first photo workshop was to be held. Heathrow Express to Paddington Station and then on to Euston Station in order to board a Virgin Train to Liverpool’s Lime St. Station. England was quite a bit warmer and sunnier than I expected and it took about an hour on the train before I was done sweating. Anyway, after a couple of hours of train travel I arrived in Liverpool and since the weather was still relatively nice I decided to walk to the Elegant House B&B that I was reserved at. John, the owner/operator, is an extremely friendly man and allowed me to take my room a little earlier than typical. After resting for a bit and taking a shower (which felt wonderful after what felt like a week of traveling) I went to meet others that were part of the workshop at a popular pub at Albert Dock called The Pump House. There I met up with Chris and John Arnold, the host of this workshop, as well as Matt “Ravsitar” Armstead, Mark Carline, Terry Maltman with his wife Linda, and Bob Griffus (I probably misspelled his last name, Sorry Bob). We had a wonderful discussion and I had fish and chips with mushy peas. I was excusably tired and so I called it an early night and walked back to my lodging.

workshop day #1

The first Liverpool workshop day began with me heading downstairs to partake in the second “B” of B&B. John baked a fresh loaf of bread, made a fresh pot of hot tea, and had laid out a nice spread of food stuffs. It was definitely different from what I would expect for a breakfast but I ate it and it was delicious and filling. I was then introduced to Mr. Wendy (the cat) who decided to come down to visit and to watch the birds in the garden. At one point Mr. Wendy sauntered over to where I was sitting and stretched and kneaded his paws against my leg. John told me of a previous tenant that used to feed Mr. Wendy scraps of ham and thus Mr. Wendy tries to receive the same from just about all other guests.

After breakfast I packed up my gear and walked to the Camp & Furnace to begin the workshop. Our room was in the basement and was antechamber to the gallery. It seemed like a dressing room or some such as there was a full wall mirror surrounded in lights. Chris began with the agenda and then gave us our first assignment and kicked us out of the room (basically). When we returned we reviewed the assignment and then Chris proceeded to lecture us on lighting and street photography. I had heard some of this before on my previous Chris Marquardt photo workshop but a refresher is always welcome and there was some content that I either forgot or was brand new. I tried to take notes as I knew that a lot of this knowledge would slip in and out of my head as soon as the workshop was over. Here are some photos around the Camp & Furnace.

Camp & Furnace entrance

Yarn bomb

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yarn_bombing

The furnace with a caravan

Furnace room

Bar/Lounge/Cafe/Eatery

Around 11 we left the Camp & Furnace to journey to a location along the Liverpool Pride march. We took tons of pictures and here are some of my favorites of the ones I took.

John & Chris seem lost

The streets are calm…for now

He is here to protect

And the parade begins

Putin looks

The colors

Pride!

The march continues

I think we have hit bizarro world

Jesus returns

Not mild mannered at all

There's a storm a brewing

Flamboyance!

Make your own caption

I think you're right!

Dancing while marching must be hard

Percussion time!

Now the whistles

Thumbs up for equality!

What's the crop for?

Right in beat

Lego superman?

Lego Captain America (in Liverpool)

No phone booths nearby

Laura Croft under water!

Even the Riddler takes calls!

We returned after 1 in the afternoon and decided that since almost no one ate while we were out, as we were expected to do, then we grabbed lunch at the Camp & Furnace. I had some sort of burger with beef brisket and ham on it. It was satisfactory. After concluding lunch, we went back into our cave and continued the exercises and lessons including learning how to use grey cards. I was paired up with Jon for some of the exercises and with Matt for the rest. Here are some pictures from the grey card exercises.

Whatcha scratchin'?

OK, look unimpressed!

That is whack!

Be one with the camera!

Natural lighting is good!

We ran over the allotted time a little but everyone was fine with that. I believe that if Chris allowed it we would stay there all day and night absorbing Chris’s photography knowledge. We closed the session for the day by recording an episode of Tips From the Top Floor (this is the episode). I usually hate the sound of my recorded voice but this didn’t sound too bad.

I ended the evening by walking back to the Elegant House and crashing pretty quickly. I skipped dinner but I made sure that I plugged in everything so that it could be charged for the next day. I then fell asleep to the sounds of the occasional auto on the street.

workshop day #2

The next morning I had to be at the workshop an hour earlier therefore I had to get up earlier. This wasn’t a big problem because I went to sleep around 10pm which is way earlier than my typical bedtime. I woke, showered, and went downstairs to the breakfast area. John was his usual charming and friendly self but there was another guest waiting in the entertainment room. We were introduced but for the life of me I can’t remember her name. She was a friend of John’s who was in town for some sort of event. As breakfast was being served a third guest arrived who was a charming lad of twenty something that was in a college choir that was slated to perform at the local cathedral. The three Brits chatted away and I just sat, ate, and listened. I didn’t feel the need to inject myself in their various conversations. Anyway, I realized that I had to get a move on so I excused myself and finished packing. I returned the key to John and said goodbye and then I lugged my bag to the Camp & Furnace.

We continued our lessons in the Camp & Furnace’s gallery room which mostly dealt with portraiture, lighting and “the strobist” setup. I learned some really interesting techniques. We then packed up and walked up to Albert Dock to do some street photography and grab lunch. I was partnered up with Mark and we had a good time walking around the docks taking pictures. Here are some of the pictures that I deemed worthy of sharing.

John relaxing with his tea

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Mark through stairs

Me being artistic

Mark being goofy

Bob and Terry in my frame

ground level

Bee in flight

Billy Fury

Self portrait

Mark and I ate lunch at a decent enough restaurant called Pan Am. I don’t recall being overly impressed with the food but the company was good. Mark and I then continued our journey around Albert Dock and the surrounding buildings (including a stop for ice cream) and then made our way back to the regrouping area. Here are some more photos from the excursion.

The Oh Face

Cleaning up the Pride

Under the Rainbow

Science and Tolerance

cloning Mark

handprints

The wheel

As a group we ventured back to the Camp & Furnace where Chris and John finished with a couple of more lessons. We all said our goodbyes and I helped to clean up a bit before I packed up and trekked to the train station. It had actually rained a bit while we were inside but I was lucky enough to not get rained on until right before I got to the station and then it was only a bit of a sprinkle.

I went to one of the little convenience stores and bought a couple of sodas and some snacks for my trip back and then I hopped on the next train for London. By this point I was pretty tired but I really tried to stay awake for the train ride. The English countryside is pretty nice and I enjoyed seeing it all and how it changed as we got closer to London. When I finally reached Euston Station I had to figure out how to navigate the London Underground (The Tube) in order to get me as close to my hotel as possible. It didn’t help that I was tired from all of the travel and a bunch of walking. But I figured it out as well as figuring out the Oyster Card system. It’s fantastic!

I made my way to the Green Park Station and then I proceeded to my hotel which took me a bit to find as I had no real sense of direction. But luckily with my trusty iPhone I was able to get in the general area and lucked into finding my hotel, The Park Lane. After I checked in I went directly up to my room and fell asleep. It was about 3pm. When I woke up around 6pm or so it was raining pretty hard outside so I decided to just relax in my room for a while.

And that concludes the Liverpool segment of my England trip. One last thing, Chris created a video for the Liverpool event which is here. Stay tuned for my continuing adventure in England as I set out to explore London.

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Himalayan Photography Trip – The return trip and conclusion

This is part of a series that document my trip to Nepal. You can find all of the blog posts here.

I awoke around 6am as the sun had risen to the point where it was shining directly through the separation in the drapes and landing squarely in my eyes. The power had shut off during the early morning hours and therefore the air conditioner had turned off. I took the time to listen to music and write in my journal. I also organized some of my stuff but I limited my movements as to not wake Shaun by being noisy. Around 8am Shaun stirred and we both got up and headed down to the garden for breakfast. Thilo was sitting at a table with Pemba Sherpa who was another member of the Mountain Tribes trekking organization that had been on the previous year’s trek.

For breakfast I enjoyed a fried egg, croissant, potatoes, and some sausage. After breakfast we hung out in the garden using the hotel’s wi-fi and just enjoying the pleasant weather. After a short while I broke from the group and headed up to the room to get a quick shower and finish packing. We all regrouped downstairs and headed to the New Orleans cafe. We knew that they had power, wi-fi, and of course decent food. I had a banana lassi prior to lunch. For lunch I had fried chicken and french fries which were both pretty good. We were under a time crunch as both Shaun and Thilo were flying out in the early afternoon. Due to this Murphy’s Law kicked in and the service became very slow and we didn’t get our food for over an hour. We ate and then said our goodbyes to Thilo and Shaun.

After they left we stuck around the cafe for a few more Fantas. When we final decided to head out and got the bill it was all messed up. It was as if the waiter just decided to randomize what was on the bill. It took a while to sort it all out but we did just that and bid adieu to the cafe. I needed to do one more shopping stop after lunch and so we all went to one of the local stores owned by some friends of Monika and Chris. The first store location didn’t have the owners in residence so we walked a short while in Thamel to their other location and I proceeded to do my shopping with the proprietor’s assistance. One of the owners was originally from Longwood,FL which is just a stone’s throw from my home. It’s just odd how you travel halfway around the world and run into someone from your area of residence. I wonder if there have been any statistical studies of such coincidences?

After concluding the shopping excursion we headed back to the hotel and relaxed in the garden again. Activities in the garden include surfing the internet, watching the garden cats, and writing in my journal. The sky threatened to open up and dump water on us so we moved our activities of killing time to the lobby area of the hotel which had some rather old and broken in couches. While in the lobby Chris introduced me to two iPhone games You Don’t Know Jack and Disc Drivin’ which I’m thoroughly addicted to now.

Eventually we decided to my last meal in Kathmandu. Monika suggested a place that they had been to the year before and so we made our way to the Northfield Cafe. I had the chicken tikka masala with regular and garlic nan. There was a cricket match on the large television and a “band” started to play music on a nearby stage. Also our waiter sort of sounded like Yoda. I thoroughly enjoyed the entire experience and meal and we promptly finished up and headed back to the hotel. I was supposed to meet someone from Mountain Tribes who would then escort me to the airport.

We returned to the hotel and chilled in the lobby awaiting my escort. Depen showed up with about 10 minutes and introduced me to the taxi driver that had the responsibility of taking me to the airport. I said my goodbyes to Chris, Monika and Depen. As I was getting into the car Depen handed me a Mountain Tribes baseball cap. I had mentioned to I would really like to buy one but he just gave it to me. Babu had made sure to get one for me after I had mentioned that I was interested in having one. I thanked him and hopped into cab on the passenger side (the left side of the car) after almost making the mistake of getting in on the driver’s side (the right side).

The ride to the airport was just as harrowing if not more than any of the other trips in vehicles I have been in Nepal. As we darted around town it always seemed like we were going to hit some car, bike, or pedestrian. At one point the taxi driver took us off the main streets and down some small back streets with rather large potholes the latter made me feel like I would be helping to change a tire in my near future. This only got better as we filed behind a police truck that shortly stopped completely and a group of cops piled out on to the street with batons and assault rifles. They then started down another street and we followed the police truck out to a larger road. The rest of the trip to the airport was uneventful. At the curb the cab driver pulled my luggage out and I said goodbye and headed into the airport.

I hefted my bags and waddled into the ticket agent area and searched for the Qatar Airways. I found the line that was forming and queued up. There wasn’t any ticket agents attending to the desk yet so the line of travelers was growing. I started to make small talk with the guy next to me in line. I found out that he was a Swiss man who was volunteering at a leper colony in southeast Nepal. We talked for a while about leprosy and the stigma that the local cultures. I learned a lot about not only the disease but the difficulties in completely eradicating it.

The ticket agents finally arrived and the line moved quickly and I acquired my boarding passes and checked my duffels. I then headed up the stairs to the pre-security departure lounge. I went through passport control after filling out a departure from and continued on my way. I had a couple of hours to kill so I tried to chill in this lounge area and listen to some podcasts. I was antsy and couldn’t get comfortable so I decided to go through security. On the other side of security was another departure lounge that was considerably more populated with people waiting for their planes to be ready to board. I spent about another hour or two sitting around, listening to podcasts, writing in my journal, people watching, and walking to and from the restroom.

Finally one of airline’s agents announced my flight and I proceeded through to the pre-boarding lounge after handing over my boarding pass. This room quickly filled up with passengers and we all waited for about 10 minutes before there was another announcement that we needed to split into male and female lines. We then went through another security check and pat-down and exited on to the tarmac where we were directed to one of the two staircases leading up to the plane. So right about 11:15pm I was on the plane and in my seat. We took off shortly afterward and I was dead to the world just after takeoff.

I awoke just before landing in Doha which almost a solid five hours of sleep. I was still a bit drowsy but I felt somewhat rested. In Doha we followed the same pattern of deplaning and moving around the terminal as I did on my voyage to Kathmandu so I won’t revisit it here. Once I got into the departure terminal I went to the power kiosk and plugged in as many devices as I could as much of my electronics were low on juice. I sat and listened to podcasts and people watched as my devices charged. Basically I killed the next 5 hours walking around the terminal. I did buy some TCBY “frozen yogurt” and a soda for what came out to be about $10. Here are some photos of the sun rising in the desert of Qatar.

Qatar sunrise 1

Qatar sunrise 2

When it came time to get on my flight I had to enter the American Flight area which was a cordoned off section of the terminal with extra security. I wasn’t expecting this but I guess I should have. After passing through that, having my boarding pass and passport checked, waiting for and then riding the shuttle bus I finally got on to my plane to JFK. Frankly I don’t remember much about my flight. I believe I watched a bunch of television and movies but I don’t recall which ones. I also ate the meals but I just didn’t feel they were worthy to write down. I didn’t get much sleep as I had slept the five hours on the previous flight.

Due to the lack of sleep on the very long flight I was basically in a fog when I deplaned at JFK. It was late afternoon when I passed through passport control and customs. I didn’t have any problems or major delays during this process or if I did I didn’t care because I was a walking zombie. Once I exited customs I checked my bag back in at the airlines bag check desk and proceeded back through security and back into the terminal. I had a lot of time to kill, about four hours, so my first order of business was to acquire some caffeine in the form of Diet Coke. I found a Burger King and order the largest Diet Coke I could. I then found a place to rest and suck down my sweet sweet nectar.

I took out my phone and surfed around on Facebook and other sites to attempt to catch up to what I had missed in the last three weeks. The lack of sleep was hitting me hard and I had a real hard time concentrating so I put my phone away and just people watched. I decided that I needed to walk around a bit before heading to my gate and as I got up and started to leave the dining area I saw this little guy just hanging out.

lonely dog

It caught me completely off-guard as a cute little puppy loose in the airport. I took a few more steps around the bend was the dog’s owner was present but it just caught me by surprise enough that I had to take a picture.

The rest of the trip home was basically a blur. I made it to my gate with plenty of time to kill so I ended up buying a FitBit from a Best Buy vending machine adjacent to my gate. This was an impulse purchase but I figured I earned it. Not that I hadn’t spent enough money on this trip. My flight from New York to Orlando was uneventful and I did sleep a bit on the relatively short flight home. I landed in Orlando, around 11:20pm, and dragged myself through the airport and down to the baggage claim. My purple duffel and knock-off duffel survived the trip and popped out on to the baggage carousel. I had previously arranged for my good friend Erin to come pick me up and shortly after exiting the airport’s baggage claim area she arrived to chauffeur me back to my home. After she dropped me off I thanked her profusely and entered my home. I took a quick, hot shower and immediately went to bed.

The next day I awoke really early and refreshed. And that concluded my journey to the Himalaya!

Conclusions

This was by far an amazing trip! Nepal is a great country with wonderful people. I’m a tad disappointed that I didn’t get to go over to Tibet but I doubt it’s going anywhere soon so there is always another time. I’ve made some good friends all around the world. I’ve seen ancient cultures that have survived into modern times. I’ve seen dogs, chickens, cows, and monkeys on the same street. The sights, sounds, and people were awesome. Kathmandu was interesting. I preferred the other areas of Nepal a bit more.

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Himalayan Photography Trip – Pokhara and the end of the trek

This is part of a series that document my trip to Nepal. You can find all of the blog posts here.

I was awakened around 5:30am. I guess I just got used to waking up really early. I stayed in bed and wrote in my journal and listened to music for about an hour. Once I roused from my bed I started to empty my bags with the intent of reorganizing and repacking. I attempted to get everything back into my large purple duffel but I was failing miserably at getting the zipper to close. I resigned myself to place a fair bit of clothing into my secondary duffel after which I was pretty satisfied with the distribution of my gear between the two bags. At around 8:15am I grabbed a shower and attempted to wash my hair again. I then headed down to the dining room to join my fellow trekkers for breakfast. We ate and chatted for about an hour. During the course of the conversation I mentioned that the water must be hard or something because I wasn’t feeling like my hair was getting clean. Damion then made a comment about the fact that I had conditioner. Of course I was a bit embarrassed but it provided a good chuckle for the rest of the group and I have to admit I laughed a bit myself. In my rush to buy something that looked recognizable I didn’t take the time to read the label. I had indeed purchased conditioner instead of shampoo. Oh well, you live and learn.

I excused myself as I needed to run a few errands. I was in need of a stamp for the postcard that I had purchased approximately a week prior in the middle of the trek. I walked to some nearby stores as they were opening for business and asked around. I finally found what seemed to be a book store/newsstand and the proprietor sold me a stamp that would work to send a postcard to the States. I dropped the stamped postcard off at the front office of the hotel and I returned to my room to put the finishing touches on my packing before staging my gear for the trip to the airport.

As I was sitting in my room Shaun busted into the room exclaiming that the U.S. had killed Osama bin Laden. This was approximately 10:10am local time. I was in absolute disbelief as Damion and I left our room and shuffled over to Shaun and Thilo’s room to watch the news coverage on CNN. The coverage was mostly of the crowd that was assembled in front of the White House celebrating the fact that we had killed the person responsible for the September 11th attacks. After 10 years of war in Afghanistan the for this elusive man was over. The CNN correspondents speculated on what this meant and so did the occupants of this hotel room in Western Nepal. I was still in disbelief but at the time all I could think of were thoughts like this.

After a good 15 minutes or so of watching and discussing we had to shift back to packing and leaving the hotel. I lugged my bags downstairs and stacked them with the others then I went into the hotel’s lobby/waiting area. The television was tuned to some (we assumed) Nepali soap opera with an unfortunate girl with huge ears that seemed to cry way too much. We made many jokes in bad taste at this poor girl’s expense as we killed time awaiting the arrival of the bus to take us to the airport.

Out shuttle bus arrived and we all piled in with our gear. The ride to Pokhara airport took just over five minutes and we again disembarked from the vehicle. We trundled into the airport with our bags and Karma dealt with the ticket agent. We dropped our bags and stood around twiddling our thumbs.

The gang at the airport

Karma returned to our group with another man and suggested that we adjourn to the restaurant above the terminal while we wait for our departure time. I guess at small airports like this there isn’t a really strict schedule. The departure time is more of a guideline than set in stone. Frankly, I guess that’s the way all airports are anyway.

We moved our bags over to the ticket counter and then proceeded upstairs and ordered a round of Fantas. Karma joined us and let us know that our flight was about an hour delayed. Delayed flights is the story of my life. Our flight was now scheduled to depart at 11:40am and just a few minutes before that mark a man entered the restaurant and announced that the flight would be ready for boarding soon. We gathered our “carry-on” bags and headed back downstairs and through security. Security consisted of a security guard asking if you were carrying any knives, weapons or lighters in your “hand baggage” and the proceeding to take a cursory look in the bags (well he only took a look in one of my two bags) followed by a quick pat down. We then waited in the “departure lounge” for 5-10 minutes until our plane arrived. At that time a ticket agent called for our flight and we handed over our boarding pass and walked out toward the plane. Our group sort of hung out on the tarmac for a few minutes to allow the other passengers time to get on the plane before us and then we boarded and got situated. By the time I got seated, I barely had enough time to get my seatbelt fastened before the plane lurched forward and was rolling down the runway. Within a couple of minutes we were airborne at which point the flight attendant came of the PA to let us know that we should buckle our safety belts.

The flight in this turbo prop lasted only about 40 minutes and we landed safely at the Kathmandu airport. We exited the plane and entered a shuttle bus that moved us over to the domestic arrival area (aka an outdoor zone with a gate). We regrouped while waiting for our luggage to be delivered. Karma made a deal with a couple of guys who seemed to be very attached to their luggage carts to help us transport our bags from the arrival area to the parking lot. They attempted to get extra tips from us but Karma shooed them away as we awaited our transportation. The heat was beating down on us as we waited in the parking lot. Luckily we didn’t have to wait too long. Our ride through Kathmandu was typical and our first stop was at the Manaslu Hotel (where we had stayed before the trek which seemed like eons ago) where people could pick up any items that they might have left. I had not left anything so I took the opportunity to whip out my iPhone and connect to the hotel’s free wi-fi connection and surf Facebook and check email.

Nirvana Garden Hotel

We departed from the Manaslu and headed over to our new residence at the Nirvana Garden Hotel. We got our keys and a bellman carried our bags, two huge duffels at a time, up the five floors of steep steps and delivered them outside our doors. I used the facilities in the room that I was sharing with Shaun (Damion and Thilo both got single rooms) and then I went back downstairs to where the group was gathering. Clarence had rejoined us so we all went to the garden to get something to eat.

The service in the garden was severely lacking. This was very unusual as the service in almost every other respect while being in Nepal was prompt and friendly. We ordered drinks and a bit later I was able to order some fried rice and pork spring rolls. This was around 1 or 1:30pm and we knew that we would be having an early team dinner as Clarence was going to be leaving in the evening. The food took over an hour to be served. The food was alright but we were all very hungry.

After “lunch”; Shaun, Damion and I walked around Thamel as Shaun intended to purchasing gifts for friends and family back home. Damion and I just hung around looking around the stores and getting proportioned to buy all sorts of knick knacks and “smoke”. The latter happened about five times. I guess the scruffy beard and trekking looking gear labeled me as some sort of neo-hippy and therefore I was on the lookout for some “smoke”. We walked around for about an hour and then returned to the hotel.

We had a reservation at Rum Doodle for 5pm and we left about 10 minutes before that so that we could walk there in time. As we were leaving the hotel we ran into Jill who was a member of a previous “Rest of Everest” workshop. She could definitely talk a lot. We ended up talking with her for about 15 minutes before someone realized that we were already late and that we should get a move on. Jill decided to accompany us on our walk to Rum Doodle. We made our way through the streets of Kathmandu and arrived at our destination and were immediately seated on the rooftop patio. Rum Doodle is a huge landmark for trekkers in Nepal. It’s an institution. There are painted boards in the shape of stylized footprints that trekkers that had visited this restaurant and decorated and signed and then the restaurant had plastered these all over the restaurant. During our time at the restaurant we also filled out one of the footprint boards so that it could be hung up for display somewhere in the restaurant.

Rum Doodle coaster

I ordered the steak stroganoff and garlic nan for dinner although it was alright it was not what I expected. Babu, Karma, & Depen ate with us which was nice because we hadn’t seen Babu since before we left Kathmandu. Chris gave another short speech and handed out our customized t-shirts for the workshop. After which Clarence and Karma said their goodbyes as they left to take Clarence to the airport. Shortly afterward Jill rejoined us at the restaurant and brought along a very cute German woman named Sophie that she was attempting to hook Thilo up with. I need to check with Thilo if that ever came to fruition. After another drink or two the group split up and headed back to the hotel.

I made a bee line directly for my room and prepped for bed. Sleep didn’t come immediately so Shaun and I chatted for a bit. Eventually we did go quiet and then to sleep.

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Himalayan Photography Trip – Trekking day 12 – May 1st, 2011

This is part of a series that document my trip to Nepal. You can find all of the blog posts here.

I slept well through the night and didn’t even wake up before the morning tea was being served at around 6am. I roused and began the morning ritual of cleaning and packing before breakfast. Breakfast was served around 7am and it consisted of omelets, toast (which I skipped) potatoes and spam. After breakfast I snapped a few pictures.

Annapurna Mountain

Here Tendi is getting his day started with some hot tea.

Tendi and tea

A dog patiently awaiting whatever scraps are leftover.

Dog looking for scraps

We geared up and headed on the path again around 7:30 am. The morning was relatively cool and overcast but was really humid. We had stayed in a village called New Bridge so this must be the Old Bridge.

Old bridge

The porters passed us quickly and here they are ahead of me on the trail.

Porters on the trail

Here is just an interesting set of air plants attached to a dying tree.

Air plants

And here’s Thilo crossing a small creek.

Thilo crossing the creek

This was almost a vertical wall with trees and grass growing out of it. The photo doesn’t do it justice as to how steep it was.

Grassy cliffside

I thought these shoes would make an interesting photo. Although I probably should have removed the yellow leaf. What do you think?

Green on gree

Our first stop was at Kyumi, ~1330m, and we took a nice break there. Upon heading out from there we went through a handful of small agricultural villages. The path was nice and either well maintained or well used but probably the latter. The cloud cover disappeared and we were mostly trekking on a path that cut through large fields of grain, probably corn and wheat. So now the sun’s heat was beating down on us and the humidity became stifling. Now and then we would experience a short gust of breeze but the lack of shade  made the breeze ineffective in cooling us down. We kept coming across baby animals, such as goats, that were way too cute.

Here Damion is attempting to photograph one of those really cute baby goats but I think I caused it to run back to mommy.

Damion and the kid

Here is my last mountain shot (well at least for the day). I can’t recall if the clouds were just clearing away or rolling in.

Cloudy mountains

We made it to Sylan Bhat but we didn’t stop. Tendi got way ahead of Thilo, Damien and myself and this almost got us lost as we were traversing through a small village that seemed to have multiple paths in and out of it. Luckily we worked out the correct path and were rewarded by seeing Tendi on the path about 200m in front of us. I have no idea what we would have done if we took the wrong trail.

The way became even more open and the heat became more oppressive but we endured. The path curved around the edge of the mountain and we came to a rockslide area. The path here was very faint as we had to hop from rock to rock. It was like playing a real life version of Qbert.

This isn’t the slide area as it was much more treacherous but this might give you an idea of what it looked like.

Rocky Trail

After the slide area the trail joined into a road. I doubt there has ever been any cars on it but it seemed to be the right size. A goat herder passed in the opposite direction and I got lots of shots of goats but this little black kid with really floppy ears was my favorite.

Floppy eared kid

We continued on this road until we hit a small village. There were a ton of people constructing a new guest house using materials they were creating right there. There was one person whose job was smashing small rocks into smaller rocks to be used in the cement. There must have been 50 people in and around this worksite although most seemed to be having lunch. Tendi directed us down some steps where we took a short break away from the throng of people. While we were just sitting there resting I noticed this little swarm of insects on a rock. Not only was it interesting but I think the picture came out pretty neat.

insect swarm?

After the break, we took a “short cut” which involved taken a huge quantity of stairs down almost to the level of the river. Once at that altitude, we pretty much didn’t change elevation in relation to the river for the rest of the day. We continued down on the lower trail until we got to a crossroad with a small snack shop/restaurant. We took another break and chatted with other Trekkers.

There was a group of Trekkers just starting off that seemed to be way out their league. They didn’t seem to have the proper clothing, were not carrying water or any gear that would be recognizable as pertaining to hiking, and they were already having issues with the heat and exertion based on the tone of their conversations. I couldn’t understand what they were saying but I was chuckling inwardly at what lies ahead for them. Not that I was thinking mean thoughts, it’s that I was knowledgable about what they were about to encounter.

Anyway, we hung out in the shade attempting to relax a little from the oppressive heat. I enjoyed a cold Fanta as did a few of my fellow trekkers. Once we felt rested enough to continue we loaded up and made our way to Birenthanti. The way was relatively level and traversed through various guest houses and snack stands. At one point we passed a small creek that the road passed over but a cow decided that this was a good place to drink.

IMG 4573

As with a horse that smells it’s stable after a long journey I quickened my pace knowing that the trek was almost over. I also became very focused on getting to the destination and all of the sights around me blurred in my memory. As we continued on there were more pedestrians going in both directions. Sometimes there would be groups of men or women, not mixed groups that is, that seemed to be all cleaned up and dressed nicely. I never quite figured out what they were up to but my assumption is that was some sort of social gathering like a wedding.

Short while later we arrived in Birenthanti. We crossed the pedestrian bridge that we had crossed 11 days earlier and met up with the sherpas and porters. They were starting the preparation of lunch so we all relaxed in a small blue dining building between a rather large guest house and the river. I had just run out of water and I was rather thirsty so I attempted to purchase a liter of water from the shop underneath the guest house. The problem was that I only had large denominations of Nepali rupees and the proprietor of the shop didn’t have enough change. So I had to wait while he had a family member run around the area to get change. While I was waiting he got into an argument with one of his patrons. It was entertaining but I just wasn’t in the right mind to stand around while this escalated. Luckily the family member returned with my change and I rejoined my group in the blue building.

The dining building had windows on all of the walls but for some reason even though they were open there was little to no air circulation. It was really stuffy in there. We all enjoyed the cool (not quite cold) Fantas that were purchased for us and we attempted to relax. Lunch was served shortly after we finished off the Fantas and it consisted of beans with garlic, corn, french toast, french fries, and sausage. I think this was what was left of what the porters were carrying around for the entire trek. Anyway, we ate and when we were done we watched the local construction workers create cement, pass the cement on metal platters, and then splash the cement into place on a new bridge that was being built. This new bridge seemed like it was built to allow vehicular traffic to cross it but there was a problem that I could see. One side of the bride butted right up to the rock cliffside and atop that cliffside was the rather large guest adjacent to the blue dining hall we were in. There was no way a small car let alone a truck would be able to maneuver around the cliffside onto the bridge. Maybe motorcycles and scooters could do it but it seems kind of crazy to build such a strong bridge for two wheeled vehicles.

After finishing lunch we were just relaxing in the building when the wind began to howl and the sky grew darker. Tendi gathered us up and had us don our gear to finish out our hike to where the bus was going to rendezvous with us on the far side of Naya Pul. This was supposed to be about a twenty minute walk through the shops and housing areas around Naya Pul. We had to dodge taxi drivers that were dropping off trekkers and were touting their taxis to us in order to gain our business. We diverted off the main road and traversed a twisty walkway through the residential area with a lot of pedestrian traffic going in both directions. We then crossed a short foot bridge and emerged back onto another road that was lined with shops of all types. We had been walking for about fifteen minutes when the skies completely opened up and we had a mini monsoon. Luckily we were near a small building or shed with a sheet metal roof that had enough of an overhang for us to take shelter. The rain got steadily heavier and then hail started to fall. Hail is extremely loud when smacking into a tin roof. After a few minutes of us all huddled under the loud banging the rain let up and almost completely stopped. Chris got brave and stepped out from the shelter and stood in the street. A couple of minutes later I joined him and sat on a small wall on the opposite side of the street. Not seconds later there was a huge ominous crack in the sky. Then we heard a thud somewhere to my left. Chris was in the middle of saying something like “I think a piece of ice just fell from the sky” when there was another big thud. This time I saw the hailstone that was just a bit smaller than a golf ball. I sprinted back to the shelter of the tin roof overhang just in time to not get hit by the barrage of hail that rained down. This new wave of large hail lasted for a good five minutes and it littered the street with chunks of ice. There were two dogs that had just come to realize that they should be seeking out shelter like the people around them and they started to run around. I was admiring how they weren’t getting hit by any of the hail when one of the dogs got pegged squarely on the head. Luckily the hail had gotten smaller and the dog shook it off and darted underneath an empty parked bus.

The storm ended but we were all hesitant of exiting the shelter of the overhang until we knew the coast was clear. A couple of minutes later Dawa and his assistant cooks were walking up the road that we came from. Then from the direction we were heading we saw Karma beaconing us to get back on the road and follow him. We all piled out from the shelter and hurried after him hoping that we wouldn’t get caught in another storm. In another five minutes or so we were standing outside of our bus as the porters and sherpas got all of the bags and gear in or on the bus. All of the porters loaded into the bus as they were going to be driven back to Kathmandu after dropping us off at Pokkra. Then we got on the bus and the real journey began.

Let’s just say that the rules of the road are negotiable at best in this area of the world. The road itself is typically barely wide enough for one bus but utilizing the pot hole covered shoulders can pass each other by basically dancing around each other and hoping that the road doesn’t give way. The ride lasted about an hour and there wasn’t one single accident.

We arrived at our new hotel, Hotel Trek-o-tel, which looked to be a significant improvement over the last stay in Pohkra. We quickly dismounted from the bus, acquired our room keys, used the facilities and then ran back down to the hotel’s garden for a farewell ceremony for the porters and most of the sherpas. Chris made a speech and thanked all of the staff for their awesome service. He then handed over a nice wad of cash in order for the sherpas to distribute the tips across the porters and staff. This was followed by a lot of applause and laughter and then the group disbanded. I said my goodbyes to Tendi and Dawa as they were also going to be taking the bus back to Kathmandu.

I went up to my room to relax and get clean. My first shower in over eleven days was awesome. The dirt, sweat, dust, grime, and general nastiness washed off with relative ease. The hot water was exactly what my body needed and it refreshed and relaxed me. I emerged a new man except for one thing. Back before the trek began, while we were in Kathmandu, I had purchased a small bottle of shampoo in anticipation of having clean hair after the trek as I didn’t know if I would be able to purchase any while on the trail. So while I was showering I washed my hair three times. I figured that it would take at least two to get all of the sweat and dirt out of my hair and I was really surprised when even the third attempt didn’t lather up that much. I ignored it and after donning some clean clothes I relaxed on my bed and wrote in my journal for a bit.

After a while we all met in the hotel’s dining room and Karma joined us for a team dinner. The food was so so but the company was excellent. We laughed a lot. I was able to get back into my one habit.

IMG 0039

I ended up eating sweet and sour chicken and a vegetable spring roll.

After dinner a small group of us went out and stopped at a local t-shirt shop and then we went on the hunt for an internet connection somewhere. We decided on a small outdoor Korean restaurant and all four of us (Damion, Shaun, Thilo, and myself) all got out our smart phones and connected to facebook, twitter, and email while enjoying cold beverages and the nice evening. We were all very quiet as we were engrossed in technology and catching up on what our friends and family on the other side of the world were up to.

At around 10pm the Korean restaurant closed and we paid and headed back to the hotel which was about a block away. As soon as I got to the room I hit my bed and was asleep in minutes.


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Himalayan Photography Trip – Trekking day 11 – April 30th, 2011

This is part of a series that document my trip to Nepal. You can find all of the blog posts here.

I awoke the next morning in Chhomrong around 5:30am. I hadn’t slept well the night before but I wasn’t able to go back to sleep after I awoke this time. As I lay in my sleeping bag I heard sniffing sounds outside my tent and although I didn’t unzip the door to take a look I made the assumption that it was one of the local dogs looking for some food that may have dropped outside of the tent. When I did finally crack open my tent it was sprinkling outside. This did not bode well for the hiking the rest of the day. When the rain let up some I exited my fabric cave and used the facilities. When I returned to the tent the morning tea was being served. This was about 7am and it marked the beginning of the morning routine.

Sunrise from Chhmorong

Thilo in the morning

At around 8am breakfast was served which consisted of chocolate/cinnamon crescent rolls, scrambled eggs, corn, and toast but I didn’t have either of the last two. The crescent rolls were purchased at a local bakery. I guess that’ s an advantage to being in Chhomrong.

Breakfast time

There had been a group discussion sometime the previous day to determine the path we were going to take to finish the trek. There were two choices with one being the longer and more difficult and the other being shorter and easier but also leaving us with extra downtime. The majority of us picked the shorter route. It was also determined that Clarence would leave us in order to get back to Pohkara and Kathmandu a day earlier to ensure that he was prepared to return to Hong Kong. The majority of us then chose the shorter, easier route because we were pretty much done with the trekking. I think sherpas were glad that we made the easy choice.

We departed from camp around 9am. We began by climbing stairs up to Chhomrong proper and passing through the guest houses and other businesses that cater to the trekking hordes. Once we crested the top of the city and started downhill we had a view of our destination, New Bridge, which seemed very far away and very far below us. Which way do we go? Maybe this sign will help.

This way

We took a short break mostly to gather the group together and then we headed down the path which consisted mostly of stone steps. We passed through a couple of small villages and the path crossed what would be considered the front porch of a handful of homes. We really didn’t see many of the residents of these homes.

more terracing

Remember that marathon that we witnessed the start of?

IMG 4476

A couple of junior DogFellas:

mini-DogFellas

Our next real stop was at a guest house labeled Jhino. It was very well decorated with all types of flowering plants and it’s claim to fame was that it was the closest guest house to the hot springs. Just a 15 minute walk down (and probably 45 minute walk back up) to see the hot springs. I think if we had planned it better we would have stopped here and made a detour to see the hot springs. Instead we had quite a long break in Jhino. I think it was extra long because the sherpas were inside the guest house catching up on Nepali tv. Our group’s entertainment was a goat that was standing on a bench nearby eating some twigs and other vegetation.

resting in Jhino

Jhino

a goat on a bench

A goat and Chris

After a long while we hinted to the sherpas that we were ready to continue on and we continued our descent down to a river crossing. At this altitude the river was flowing very briskly and the bridge didn’t look all that solid but surprisingly it was.

This is the New Bridge?

After crossing the river there was very little tree cover and the temperature and humidity had gone up. The path led back up the hillside and the elevation gain at the beginning made the trekking difficult. There weren’t as many stairs but it always felt like we were climbing.

Finally we turned a corner around a jutting of the hillside and our climbing stopped, for the most part, and the path leveled out. This was a welcome reprieve from climbing. After a short while we were starting to descend and we reached our destination at New Bridge, ~1500m, just before lunch. We dumped our gear in a pile and sat down at a table under the roof of a small pavilion. We were served “juice” and teas and lunch came shortly after. Lunch consisted of cauliflower salad with a warm dressing, spam, salami, rice, mac & cheese, and curried vegetables.

garden with

overcast skies

I don’t recall if it was before or after lunch but Clarence left the group with Sonam and a porter to head down to Naya Pul so that Clarence could catch an earlier flight to Kathmandu the following day and not be too rushed. We said our goodbyes just in case we didn’t meet up with him again in Kathmandu before he went back to Hong Kong.

After lunch we relaxed at the table. The weather was still humid but it was overcast and there was a slight breeze. I decided to take this opportunity to dry some of the clothes on the campsite’s clothesline as the weather had never been optimal for me to do this on previous days. After accomplishing that one chore I rejoined the team as they sat at the table. We had a ton of time on our hands and so we just chit chatted for a bit. Some members of our group decided to take the opportunity to go into their tents and take naps.

During conversation the idea of having photo assignments to stretch our creative sides came up. My assignment from Chris was to use completely manual mode and to make sure that the subject of the photo was out of focus. I took a dozen or so photos but it started to be difficult to find interesting subjects and I returned to Chris and he gave me a second assignment. I had to walk 50 steps and after that I couldn’t move until I took 50 photos. I really enjoyed both assignments although I really failed the second one as I only snapped 18 shots. It was fun and I plan on making more assignments for myself in the future. We reviewed our shots and critiqued each of the photos that were deemed worthy.

After that we continued to sit around the table and chat and laugh and just enjoy the day.

At around 4:30pm someone declared that it was beer time. This is very significant on a trekking expedition as it signifies that the affects of the Diamox (it changes the flavors of carbonated drinks) have diminished. It is also a celebration of a successful trek as this was our last night on the trail. Someone bought the first round of beers for everyone (a soda for me). I’m not certain who bought the round but it was cheered loudly. This was the first alcohol that many had consumed since Kathmandu. The second round was purchased by Karma and the other sherpas (I believe) including a Fanta for me. Finally we convinced Karma and Dawa to join us in toasting the successful trek. It was an enjoyable time for everyone.

Sometime around 6pm dinner was served which consisted of pea soup with garlic, pizza, green beans, spaghetti (which I declined), chicken sausage, and dessert was fruit salad and fresh bananas. After dinner we continued to converse around the table until people started to drop away and head to bed. Although the day had not been the most strenuous I was ready to hit the sack. I gathered up the clothing I had hung up to dry and entered my tent. Sleep came quickly.

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Himalayan Photography Trip – Trekking day 10 – April 29th, 2011

This is part of a series that document my trip to Nepal. You can find all of the blog posts here.

I awoke around 5:30am and I spent the next hour writing in my journal about the previous days’ events. Morning tea was served around 6:30am so I turned my focus from my journal to getting cleaned up and packing my gear. The call for breakfast was around 7:30am and the food served was rice pudding (which I did not partake), cheese omelets, and fresh bread (which was in the shape of a B or 8).

We loaded up and started walking on the trail around 9am. The terrain was pretty typical but surprising there was a lot more climbing than descending. There were also a good handful of fairly level sections that were a very welcome break from going up or down. That was until we hit the stairs from hell again. I just don’t recall descending this many stairs when we were heading in the opposite direction a few days before. I thought the stairs would never end. There would be a flight of stairs and what looked to be a plateau or maybe a descent at the crest but it would just be a short jot around a boulder or a change in direction before more stairs.

small shrine on the trail

waterfall

I was given a reprieve when we stopped at Dovan, ~2286m, for a short break. We just took a little time to catch our breath and suck down some water and then we were off again. We hit the section of the trail where we were crossing small streams and creeks every 10-20m. We were also getting into the more tropical forrest region as everything got really green. We made it to Bamboo, ~2190m, after a little while hiking and took another break. Chris purchased a bunch of different juices for all of the trekkers. I think I had a mango drink which was alright but not great. While we were sitting around a picnic table someone pointed out a monkey in a Chhomrong nearby.

monkey in a tree

monkey 2

monkey 3

After taking a bunch of pictures of the monkey I went over to Karma and asked again what the name of that particular monkey was and he responded “dil-do”. If you go back to the second day of my trek you will see where I had talked with Karma about another encounter with a similar monkey and I walked away from that conversation with the assumption that the monkey was named a “dil-der-do”. So now with the name corrected this caused many crude jokes.

I looked up this monkey when I returned home and it’s a gray langur.

Having enough of the monkey and the monkey jokes we geared up and headed back on down the trail. On our way to Sinuwa there was a lot of construction to improve the path. This included the stairs that were being constructed as that we had passed when hiking in the other direction. Here’s a guy moving some very heavy wood along the path.

Nepali carrying wood

Speaking of stairs, we hit a ton of them on and they all seemed to be going up. Just when you thought there were no more stairs another set would appear. I kept asking myself why we were gaining elevation when we were supposed to be going down. I guess this is a Nepali joke on trekkers.

tree with blossoms

Here’s Sinuwa from a distance.

Sinuwa in the distance

There was a bird that came up in discussion many times along the trip. Chris had a long name and story behind why he had named it thus but I’m not going to go into that here. I’ll just refer to it as Chris’s bird. The goal was to attempt to identify this bird as we could always here it but we never saw it. That is until I captured this one make it’s tell-tale song.

song bird

Now you can see why it is so difficult to find in the woods. Here is a neat light fixture that I saw hanging in a guest house at the edge of Sinuwa.

Budha eyes light

Eventually we made it to Sinuwa proper, ~2340m. This is where we stopped for lunch which consisted of beans, curried cauliflower, peas, french fries, slices of cheese, and chicken sausage. Lunch was alright but I think the cooks were running out food stuffs and were just unloading whatever they had on us. Not that it was bad just that it seemed like something I would eat when I haven’t gone to buy groceries for a while.

After our typical post-lunch rest we continued our journey to Chhomrong where we would be stopping for the evening. The next two hours were extremely arduous. I thought after all of the ups and downs on the way to Sinuwa were going to be the hard part of the day but boy was I wrong. There were a lot more climbs and descents and in particular there was one climb and descent in order to go around the side of one mountain that was just killer. After that we descended all of the way down to the bottom of a river gorge. Long periods of going down can be very difficult on the body. I wasn’t out of breathe but my muscles would definitely start to ache. Once we got to the bottom we crossed the neat bridge that we had crossed before.

porter on the bridge

That’s my purple bag on the porter’s back with a bunch of other gear. My bag probably weighed 45lbs alone so I have no doubt he was carrying about 100lbs worth of gear.

We rested near the bridge because we knew that there was a very long climb up the side of the mountain to get to our campsite in Chhomrong. The porters arrived just after us, it wasn’t typical of them to be behind us on the trail, but then many of them decided to go for a swim in the river. Although it was really warm I did not really want to go for a dip in the glacier fed river. I just wanted to do the huge stair climb between the bridge and the campsite and conclude this day of hiking. I was already very tired of climbing steps but I got up and continued at a relatively slow pace.

water buffalo tilling

Eventually our group split up as those with more energy seemed to race ahead which left me with Thilo. Frankly, I think he just stuck around me in order to keep an eye on me which I very much appreciate. About a quarter or halfway up the climb to the campsite we encountered…

The cute snotty girl

Thilo and I were passing by a house when a little a Nepali girl came out onto the path to greet us. She was cute but very dirty with dried snot congealing below her nostrils. Apparently the snot thing is common among Nepali children that I witnessed. When she made eye contact with us she repeated one word “sweets” and held out her hand in a very overdramatic child-like way in order to receive whatever sweets we had to offer. We attempted to explain, in English of course, that we did not have any sweets. I expected that this would discourage the little one and that she would go on her merry way. Instead she dropped one hand and held out her other hand to offer a piece of plastic like those that surround toys or other small items to keep people from stealing them in a store. Basically she was trying to give us a piece of trash. When we signaled to her that we didn’t want the trash she dropped that hand and raised the the and repeated the inquiry “Sweets?” After Thilo and I both replied “no sweets” she switched hands again. This went on for a couple of more iterations but then she got distracted by a colorful, braided charm that Thilo had hanging from his camera. She began to admire and fondle the charm and with the little girl distracted I made an attempt at a getaway leaving Thilo to deal with her. I know I’m a bad person. Thilo saw my escape attempt and quickly followed in an attempt to get away from the little girl as well. But alas she was quick and she caught up with us and she grabbed a hold of a couple of fingers on Thilo’s left hand. It was adorably cute but I could tell that Thilo was very uncomfortable. She only held on for a dozen steps before losing interest and running back down to the house. As soon as we turned a corner and were out of line of sight of the house Thilo whipped out his sanitizing gel and used a bunch on his hands and the braided charm. I just chuckled.

We continued up the steps. Between the climbing and the heat I was constantly sweating and out of breathe. Thilo and I cheered each other on. Well really Thilo was mostly cheering me on. It just seemed like these steps were never-ending. When we finally reached the outskirts of Chhomrong the steps became more manageable as they were shorter and deeper and well made. We saw our campsite as it was the same one we stayed at the last time we were in Chhomrong. This gave me a goal which helped but I was extremely tired so it didn’t help that much. And then I finished off the last of the water that I was carrying. Even though we were close I would still need water as Chhomrong is rather larger. Because of its size it has more amenities than most of the smaller villages and so I began to think of purchasing a very cold soft drink once I reached camp. This spurred me along.

steps counted

Yes, it says 1585 steps!

Thilo and I made one final push and we arrived at camp. I dropped my gear and fell to ground to gather some strength and get my breathe back. After a minute or two I returned to my backpack, snagged some rupees, and then went on a search for a cold soda. I didn’t have to go too far as the guest house that was adjacent to our campsite had a little store with a refrigerator. I purchased a Sprite™ and it was probably one of the most refreshing drinks I had quaffed in a long time. The taste was still obscured by the Diamox™ but it was so good. I took the bottle back to the campsite and sat back down in the grass. We all relaxed and watched as a group of Nepalis and some foreign trekkers played volleyball on a court below us. I savored every sip of my soda but the bottle was small and went quickly.

Tea was served around 5:30pm and followed by dinner around 6:30pm. Dinner consisted of mushroom soup, mashed potatoes with some sort of red sauce, chicken, egg fried rice, and vegetable chow mien. Dessert was a fresh apple pie that was purchased from a local bakery in Chhomrong. It was alright but it wasn’t like the apple pies that someone would get in the USA.

The weather had changed some from when we arrived at camp. There was a slight bit of rain that hit us between tea and dinner and then the clouds really rolled in after dinner. I didn’t hang out in the dining tent for long after dinner and I went back to my tent. Sleep came very quickly but was not very deep and I tossed and turned through the night.

I was awakened in the middle of the night when I heavy storm passed through. The rain and wind were really strong but the lightning was really impressive. Even with my eyes closed I could see the light produced by the lightning and sometimes I could make out its shape. I always expected the thunder to quickly arrive after each lightning strike but the rumble seemed to always arrive much later than anticipated.

For the rest of the night I was in and out of sleep even after the storm was long gone.

People: Thilo Schumann

Thilo (Pingu) Schumann

Thilo is a very funny guy from Germany although I must admit that I didn’t get all of his jokes. Maybe something was lost in translation. He is a veteran on these Himalayan treks and a great photographer. He carried a lot of extra gear with him including a full tripod but that didn’t seem to hinder his ability to make it up to ABC and back. He was going to be Ben’s tent mate for the trek but due to Ben’s illness Thilo ended up spending almost all of the nights on the trek in a tent by himself. I’m not bitter about that or anything ☺. Anyway here are some pictures I have of Thilo.

Thilo and bamboo man

Thilo at Chhomrong

Thilo crossing a gate

IMG 4550

Thilo maintains a few sites including a blog, one for photos, He is also on facebook, twitter, google+, and flickr.

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Himalayan Photography Trip – Trekking day 9 – April 28th, 2011

This is part of a series that document my trip to Nepal. You can find all of the blog posts here.

I was awakened around 4:30am by the assistant cooks with morning tea. It was really cold but the sky was crystal clear. The plan for the morning was to leave Machhapuchhare Base Camp (MBC) and to hike up to Annapurna Base Camp (ABC) before sunrise, take some pictures, then hike back down to camp to pack up and start back down the trail. I dressed as warm as I could as I knew that the trek up to ABC in the early morning, before sunrise, was going to be very cold and it’s easier to strip off layers than to put on more layers that are residing back at camp. We started our hike around 5:30am and the moon was highlighting the mountain peaks.

crossing the glacier

The beginning of the hike was along a small path that went over a couple of hills and then opened up to a great glacial plain. We only needed to gain about 400m of elevation so the trek was going to be about two and a half to three hours. The glacier area was just a huge field of snow and ice with a small but fast moving stream cutting through it. There were many areas where the stream dropped underneath the ice and popped out somewhere else. Our path stayed close to stream but sometimes it was easier to cross on fresh snow because the ice on the path turned into slush and was slippery.

Seeing ABC in the distance was a good boost to morale as I hiked along attempting to keep steady footing on the slush. The thinner air was getting to me as well as the difficulty in staying at a comfortable temperature with multiple layers on. The final hurdle was a huge set of almost vertical steps that led up to ABC. I took my time and even had to break in the middle as I climbed the steps. I reached ABC proper when I got to the top of the steps and I immediately needed to rest again and so I sat my ass down. I was so out of breath. There were a bunch of other trekkers milling around the three guest houses at ABC and probably giggling at me. Shaun was the only other one from our group around and I had no idea where the rest of the group was.

At some point Tendi came and found us and told us that we had to continue up the path. Yes, that’s right, we weren’t at the destination yet. So I struggled and got back up to my feet, found my breath, and traversed the last leg of this climb. The path up to the Annapurna Sanctuary, 4136m, was relatively short but it was still a climb. It passed through the guest houses that composed the base camp and then out the back side of the buildings. We hiked another 100m or so to the Annapurna Sanctuary and after I took a short breather I starting to take pictures.

sunrise in the mountains prayer flags at the sanctuary sanctuary sunburst damion and the mountains damions and flags

The proof I was at that altitude.

the proof Other treks at the top

On the far side of the sanctuary was a steep drop-off into this barren land.

IMG 4379 Nepali flag lines of flags The group

Here are the members of our group that made it to the top.

the survivors

Thanks to Thilo for providing this photo. Clockwise from the top left is Me, Clarence, Damion, Thilo, Tendi, Shaun, and Dawa.

We hung out at the sanctuary and took pictures for a while. We watched the sun crest over the mountain range. Dawa came up with hot drinks and snacks which we enjoyed as we took in our surroundings.

Just as we were preparing to leave Sanctuary we heard the starter pistol marking the start of the Annapurna downhill marathon. It was crazy to see people running at this altitude across such crazy terrain including glacial ice. Here are some of the 28 runners. The three in the lead are Nepali and the first one is carrying a Nepali flag.

the runners

I was especially amazed at the woman wearing a pink skirt in this chilly weather.

runnerette

We started back down to MBC leaving behind the Annapurna Sanctuary and ABC. As we crossed the glacier again I noticed that the morning’s sun was already softening up the snow making the trail relatively slushy. The trip back to our campsite was pretty uneventful and I concentrated on my footing. When we reached camp I was really tired and my tent was singing a siren’s song that tempted me back into comfort. I couldn’t resist but I also needed to pack prior to breakfast. In fact I was so slow packing that I was a bit late for breakfast which consisted of eggs and toast.

Very shortly after breakfast we mounted up and started our trek down to Deurali.

Starting back down

A moth

The trail down was almost all downhill. Our whole group seemed to be moving at an extremely fast pace except for Shaun and I. We were taking our time and trying to be careful. We crossed the river a few times over those wonderful rickety looking bridges. At one of the short inclines on the trail I stepped into a small hole and felt my ankle twisting. I didn’t hear a pop or have major pain but it was enough that it really pissed me off for not seeing the misstep. Of course this made me even more careful and therefore slowed me down even more.

Clear skies

After a while we arrived at Deurali and this is where we met up with Chris and Karma as well as where we stopped for lunch. The weather changed and the temperature dropped. When the wind picked up we all decided to move to an indoor dining room and that is where we were served lunch. I don’t recall being very hungry but I know I ate. Lunch was spaghetti with red sauce (not really marinara) and cheese, chicken sausage, sweet corn, and rice. As we relaxed after lunch the weather continued to be ugly and it started to spit rain. I had left my rain gear in my duffel so I just put on the fleece. We grabbed the rest of our gear and headed down to the Himalayan Hotel.

The first thing we had to do after we left Deurali was climb back up to Hinku Cave. At least I could look forward to the cave providing a short respite from the spitting rain. Just before we reached the cave the skies opened up and a full downpour started. I started to get soaked. The path that we were on turned a bit muddy and the rocks became a little slick but thankfully it did not turn into a stream of water to deal with. I was fully concentrating on where my next step was going to be placed except for when my water logged pants started to droop too low. These “trekking” pants, even with the assistance of a belt, definitely did not do well for me. They were a constant pain to deal with as I had to keep pulling them up.

weather souring

After leaving Hinku Cave we headed back down into the river valley. We came upon the snow/ice flow that bridged the stream that we had crossed the day before. When we had crossed it two days prior there was a small hole that let me see the fast moving water beneath the ice. Now that hole had grown to be humongous as it had undermined the ice. I had a lot of trepidation about crossing this again considering its change in size but Tendi tested it out and guided us all across by going a little higher up. We crossed without incident but I was still a little unnerved by the experience. Here you can see why.

The hole

The rain started to become a mix of rain and sleet and the latter was sticking to my fleece. We continued to trudge along until we reached camp, ~2870m. The tents were still being set up but luckily the sherpas had already set up the large dining tent and so we all gathered in there and removed our overly soaked outer clothing. The sherpas brought in hot drinks as well as a propane lantern in order to attempt to warm us up. The rain had calmed down but the temperature was still quite cold.

Once the rain had stopped we all piled out of the big tent, grabbed our duffels from where they had been stacked and covered with a tarpaulin, and took our duffels to our tents. I quickly changed into dry clothing including gloves and a head band and went back to the dining tent. My outfit led to many jokes about 80’s workout outfits. It also led Chris to pose me and take the following picture.

Master of the light

Thanks to Chris for this photo.

We all hung around in the big dining tent, trying to stay warm, until dinner was served and frankly I have no idea when we had dinner nor what dinner consisted of. I do know that we spent a lot of time gabbing away before finally retiring for the night.

I do recall waking up in the middle of the night to use the toilet tent and admiring the sky with the billions upon billions of stars that were visible. I just wish I had the wherewithal to get my camera out and photograph its splendor.

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