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 – Kathmandu to Pokhara

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

I awoke at around 4:30am and then again around 5:30am. I couldn’t get back to sleep so I just laid there and waited until an appropriate breakfast time. It was probably around 7am when I roused and headed downstairs for breakfast with Damion. Most of the group showed up within 30 minutes or so except for a couple that had come down with some illness.

After breakfast we had a lot of time to kill before we had to go to the airport for our flight to Pokhara. I guess I should explain that. When the plans changed from Tibet to Annapurna it was decided that based on our schedules that we would fly to Pokhara. Then we would spend one night there and the next morning we would take a bus to the trailhead for the Annapurna Base Camp (ABC) trek. The flight on this day was going to be around 2-2:30pm and we were going to leave for the airport around 1pm. So like I said we had some time to kill.

At some point Ben mentioned that he had to go to Thamel to get some extra trekking pants due to the fact that we were going to be spending more time trekking than originally planned. Also Jon had asked him to purchase one of the cheap knock off duffels that all of the gear dealers sold. Since I also had so business to attend to in Thamel I asked if I could join him. We grabbed a taxi and headed to Thamel.

The streets of Thamel

Once we arrived in that district we walked by a few shops but finally stopped at a little corner shop that had “North Face” gear. Although it should have really been called “North Farce”. Anyway, Ben tried on and bought some pants as well as a small duffel for Jon. I also bought a duffel as I knew my purple bag was just too difficult to pack with everything in it. So for 300 rupees (about $4.50) I had another bag to throw stuff in to. So mission one was accomplished.

My second mission was to find the Thamel TB Hotel geocache. I enjoy geocaching and I absolutely had to log at least one in Nepal. I had planned ahead and grabbed four Travel Bugs (TBs) from a geocache in Orlando. A travel bug is a special kind of item that has a unique code associated to it and it can be placed inside a geocache with the express purpose of moving from geocache to geocache and being tracked along its journey.

So I dragged Ben with me as we went on a search for a very specific trekking company that was the keeper of this special geocache. I recalled from the description that we would have to go down a dark hallway and then up some narrow, dark steps to a second floor. The description was spot on and we made it to the office of the trekking company. There were four men in the office having a discussion so I quietly made my presence known and when they acknowledged me I then asked for the geocache which they handed over to me with a smile and then continued their discussion. I quickly signed the log and traded the TBs that I had for a fresh set of TBs to take home with me. Ben dropped in a business card. I then sealed the geocache, handed it back to the men in the office and thanked them. Ben and I then exited the building and continued to walk around Thamel.

Small Hindu shrine

As we walked around I tried to find interesting things to take pictures of. The following building is an example of the architecture in Kathmandu. Basically wherever there is a space in between two buildings a third building will be built. You can see that in the building sandwich below. You can also see a rather mild example of the way they handle the power grid a.k.a. wires everywhere. I should have taken a picture of where all of the wires in one area connect. It’s such a rat’s nest that I don’t know how it would ever work.

Building sandwiched between two others

Ben mentioned that he wanted to get one last good cup of coffee before starting our trek so he suggested that we do this at the New Orleans Cafe. I guess we were becoming regulars.

New Orleans Cafe

It was starting to sprinkle when we arrived at the restaurant so we choose one of the covered booths. Ben had a coffee and a chocolate brownie. I had a banana lassi and a chocolate brownie. The lassi and brownie were ok but not great. The rain came down a bit harder but we were safe under the eaves. Our short snack lasted just long enough for the rain to come and go. We finished, paid, and re-entered Thamel in order to grab a taxi back to the hotel.

Upon returning to the hotel I packed my bags and prepared myself for the upcoming travel. By preparing myself I mean that I sat around and waited and killed time the best that I could. I recall that I was having significant trouble gaining use of the hotel’s wifi. Anyway, the time passed and the group started to congregate in the lobby. Our bags congregated too…

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Our bus finally arrived with Sonam Sherpa and we piled ourselves and our gear in for the trip to the airport. The ride was as uneventful as all other rides around Kathmandu. In other words you are scared to the point of being numb every time there is a need to merge or cross traffic. We survived this trip and arrived at the domestic terminal of the Kathmandu airport.

As we walked through the parking lot to the entrance of the domestic terminal I noticed that there was a tribe of monkeys sitting or running along one of the walls and the trees that crossed the wall. This was just interesting although it was probably really a nuisance but it made me smile.

The security at the airport was interesting. Only passengers were allowed to enter the terminal so Sonam had provided each of us with a printed out “ticket” with our names but the security guard didn’t even look at them. To pass from the ticketing area to the departure lounge required us to go through a screening area where the security guards basically asked us if we had any knives or sharp objects, any flammable liquids or lighters, or any weapons. I had two “hand luggages” and they only asked me to open one of them and they looked inside without much care.

Before we went through security Sonam had collected our paper “tickets” and talked with the ticket agent and returned with boarding passes for Agni Air [“Fly the Friendly Sky”]. He had also collected our large duffels that would be checked through to Pokhara. After we passed through security we found out that our flight was delayed and so we had more time that needed to be wasted. As with many locations, that is pretty much all locations, in the area there was no air conditioning so the room was quite warm and stifling. I proceeded over to an area where there were working overhead fans as I assumed that moving air would help the a little. A few others of the group joined me and we either talked or sat in silence while waiting for the flight. Some sat a little more silently than others.

Ben dozing

Poor Ben was starting to get sick around this time.

I was a bit bored so I attempted to take some pictures around the departure lounge with my point-and-shoot but almost nothing came out. Here are the Himalayas in the distant.

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[and this was one of my better pictures :-( ]

Jon came around at one point and handed out snickers bars as a preflight snack. I decided to save mine for a later time and I ended up carrying that candy bar with me on the whole trek and then tossing it out when we returned to civilization. I was never in a snickers mood I guess.

Eventually someone called for the Agni Air flight to Pokhara and the group collected our bags and assembled at the “gate”. After we handed our boarding pass to the gate agent we went through another security check. This time they asked the exact same questions about our carry-ons but then proceeded to give everyone a quick pat down. We walked on the tarmac to our plane and boarded. The seating was basically a free-for-all but it seemed to work. I ended up in an aisle seat next to an American who I believe was doing missionary work. He was helping to build a school in the area around Pokhara.

As soon as we were seated the flight attendant came through the plane with candies and cotton balls. The latter was useful because we were on a turbo prop plane. Even before she was finished with this pre-flight distribution we were taxiing in preparation for take-off. As we were taking off the flight attendant came over the speaker system to tell us that we should have our seat belts buckled. After we were in the air for about five minutes the flight attendant passed through the plane with a plastic bottle of Pepsi and small cups, about the volume of two shot glasses. Her second pass was with a bottle of Coke. Her final pass was with a bottle of water. And that was about the time we started to descend into Pokhara. It was a very short flight.

The plane quickly taxied to the arrival terminal and we deplaned and headed to baggage claim area. It was a little chaotic but Sonam helped us grab our bags and we lugged them outside to the awaiting van. We got onto the bus and we had a relatively quick drive to our hotel just off the lakeside tourist area. Although this area had the same sort of touristy feel as Thamel it was a lot cleaner and seemed more laid back. Our hotel was the Candle Inn, “The hotel with a heart”.

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It was attractive from the outside with a nice garden area. The stairs inside were kind of neat.

Stairs at Candle Inn

But the best were the views but the clouds did not want to cooperate on this day. I did see a cute little owl land into a tree on the backside of the hotel but he didn’t want to cooperate either and let me take a picture of his face. See if you can find him in this photo…

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[Not exactly my finest photography attempt]

We all just relaxed around the hotel for the rest of the day. Except for Ben who progressively got worse as the hours passed. A small group of us went down the street to the lakeside strip where there were places like

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And various interesting scenes such as a snake charmer with a cobra. Of course he wanted us to take a picture of him so that he could get a donation to feed his cobra. I passed on that opportunity and instead took a picture of a dog sleeping on a bed…

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Shortly after Damion and I returned to our room Ben came in to our room sweating profusely and looking weak and asked us to track down Jon. I snapped up out of bed and scurried along the hall until I came to Jon’s room and I let him know how bad Ben looked. Jon immediately walked to Ben and Thilo’s room and started to take care of Ben. There was nothing else I could do so I got out of the way. It’s always bad to see someone who is not feeling well.

Not long after this the group (minus Ben, Sonam, and Jon) convened in the hotel restaurant for dinner. I believe we had Dal Bhat which is affectionately referred to as Sherpa Fuel. I could be mistaken on what we ate that evening because I wasn’t really interested in food. I guess I wasn’t feeling 100% either. Anyway, Dal Bhat consists of a large portion of rice (bhat) with lentil soup (dal) poured over the rice. It is usually accompanied by some curried vegetables (mostly cauliflower from my experiences) and sometimes with meat such as chicken. The reason it is called Sherpa Fuel is because it is basically the main dish that is eaten by the Sherpas and porters while trekking and I assume while not trekking as well. During dinner Jon and Sonam would be in and out as they were returning to help Ben out.

The mood was somber during dinner and afterwards we all just retired to our rooms. The bathroom that Damion and I shared was relatively disgusting. Well that’s probably too strong of a word but I did not want to spend any time in there. There seemed to be a leak in the toilet tank somewhere and the water was all over the floor and was slowly dripping down a drain hole. Drip…drip…drip…The shower curtain was rolled up and the bathtub/shower did not look inviting at all. There were no towels or even working lights in the bathroom.

I did not sleep well through the night. At some point I realized that the dripping had stopped. But that is a story for the next day.

People: Chris Marquardt

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Chris is the second trip leader as well as the primary instructor. He is a professional photographer and photography instructor. He also has a couple of podcasts, including Tips from the Top Floor, and this is where I found out about him and about the Himalayan Workshops. Chris and I seemed to gel quite quickly on the trip. I’m not certain if it was our similar sense of humor or the fact that many times we were stuck at the back of the pack because we were “taking our time”. I learned a lot about photography from Chris in both the formal workshop sessions and random questions as we trekked. Chris’s personality and charisma really helped the journey go smoothly and added a lot of laughs. Even goats liked him…

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[ok, maybe not enough to eat from his hand as Chris is trying to force here]
Chris’s twitter and flickr accounts.

Gear: The North Face Base Camp Duffel – large & “Power Purple”

This bag served me very well. I was able to transport everything on my gear list except for my travel pillow, my camera and my laptop which I carried in my backpack. I was able to pack about 45lbs worth of densely packed clothing and gear. Even my trekking poles fit which I was extremely happy about. The zipper was pretty difficult to shut once I was getting the duffel to capacity but I was able to force it without the zipper breaking. This bag held up to all of the abuse from the airlines and the porters. There was only one wear mark on the bag and that was due to the trekking poles pushing on the side of the bag and then the bag being dragged on that pressure point. That was definitely my fault and I made sure it didn’t happen after I noticed it. That wear mark never spread or opened up a real hole during the rest of the trek so the material can really hold up to abuse.

After seeing the size of the over trekkers’ duffels I kind of wished I had gotten one size larger (XL) just to have a little breathing room inside the bag. I ended up having to buy a really cheap canvas duffel because trying to stuff everything back into the Purple Monster everyday would have been a pain. Having the second bag worked out nicely but would have been unnecessary if my original duffel was slightly larger.

My conclusion is that this is an awesome duffel.

 

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Himalayan Photography Trip – Day 3 continued

Since January when I posted this I have preparing to travel to Nepal and Tibet for a photography workshop. I plan on documenting my complete trip on here and you, the reader, can find all of the entries by following this link. The workshop starts in Kathmandu, Nepal and then works it’s way north and west into Tibet by vehicle (probably Land Cruisers or other rugged SUV) with a goal to trek clockwise around Mount Kailash for 3-4 days. Then we planned to return to Kathmandu the same way we came. The full details are at Himalayan Workshops in the Kailash 2011 trip.

On the stairs to my plane in Doha

So when we last left our intrepid hero he was about to board the plane to Kathmandu in Doha, Qatar on April 17th at approximately 1:45am. My flight had been delayed to 2:35am but the boarding process includes taking a bus to the steps entering the plane so it takes a little extra time to board. I was able to get onto an earlier flight to Kathmandu and therefore spare more than 12 hours of waiting around the Doha airport.

I boarded the plane and proceeded to my assigned seat which was a middle seat (arg) against a bulkhead (double arg). I quickly pulled out the entertainment gear that I needed to stay sane; iPhone, iPod, and earbuds and placed my bag in the overhead compartment. Shortly thereafter an attractive woman came and sat in the aisle seat next to me. Things were looking up. We exchanged pleasantries and she let me know that she was an off-duty flight attendant heading home to Kathmandu. She then asked if I would mind moving over so that her friend (I believe another flight attendant) could come take my seat. I didn’t mind at all but I didn’t know if the window seat was already assigned. It was but her friend worked out the logistics with the guy that should have been in the window seat. Anyway, I got the window seat which I typically prefer and I was next to two attractive women. Anyway, they pretty much chatted with each other until the plane took off and then promptly fell asleep but not before letting me know that I could wake them if I needed to get out.

The flight was delayed again when we were on the tarmac until about 3am. This still means that I was leaving about 12 hours before my scheduled departure time. So I was really ahead of the game. The flight was pretty uneventful. I was able to watch the last 15 minutes or so of True Grit although it was a pain in the neck to fast forward through the entire movie to get to that point. I also watched Solaris with George Clooney which I thought I hadn’t seen before but I definitely had. I still watched it through its entirety. I was then able to get a little sleep or maybe it was just a semi-conscious state similar to sleep.

We were given a meal that was almost identical to the one I had for “dinner” on my previous flight. I really have no clue when we got that meal. Anyway, I do recall the pilot coming on after we crossed into Nepal stating that we couldn’t land due to weather conditions and/or traffic and that we would have to circle for a bit. Then 20 minutes later he came on again stating that we would have to land somewhere else like India. I think this was the harbinger for my day. Luckily, within about 5 minutes the pilot came on and said we were landing with no explanation. I would like to think he just said “Damn the consequences, I’m putting this bird down!” but I’m pretty sure it was more civil than that.

first glimpse of the himalayan range from a dirty window

There was a little turbulence during final approach but it seemed rather mild. We landed at Kathmandu Airport and when I was able I collected my backpack and various electronic devices and deplaned. Again we went down the mobile stairs to an awaiting bus that drove us a whole 100 yards to the international arrival terminal. The time must have been something 11:30am.

After getting off the bus I shuffled down a hallway or three with a throng of other passengers until we came to the Passport Control/Customs room. I had to fill out two documents the first being an arrival slip and the second being a entrance visa application. Jon Miller had given me a heads up on a conversation (either on skype or email) we had that I would probably need extra passport photos and $40 in order to enter Nepal. So with my forms filled out, the picture ready, the money ready, and my passport handy I got to wait in line for 45 minutes to an hour until my turn. While I waited I noticed many of the other foreigners (in the same line) scrambling to get the necessary items. There was a man with a picture booth who was willing to create passport photos for you at a “good price”. I should have asked what the actual price was. There was also a money exchange booth where many people exchanged their native currency into Nepal Rupees even though the signs above the Visa Application staff stated that they only took foreign currency and preferred US Dollars. Something interesting and yet annoying was that the money exchanger staff would ring a desk bell anytime they did not have someone currently exchanging money. For the longest time I couldn’t tell where the ringing was coming from but I had the time and somewhat the attention span needed to solve that mystery. Anyway, when I got to the Visa application staff I handed everything over and they definitely had a system of taking money. I don’t believe they asked me any questions. One guy took my money and handed me a receipt and the second guy looked over the application and stamped/signed everything.

After receiving my passport back I proceeded to the baggage claim. I looked high and low for my bag but it was nowhere to be found. I purposely bought a purple bag so that it would stand out and be easy to find. I started to get worried that it wasn’t there. I asked someone that looked like they worked there and they said that all of the bags from my flight were piled off to the side. Even though I had looked through this pile I looked again to no avail. This person then pointed me to the “complaints” desk. This desk was manned by two Nepali guys who both looked like they were in high school. The first guy, apparently the superior, immediately passed me off to the other guy. This second guy looked like a really young Nepali Mr. Magoo. From now on I’ll refer to him as Mr. Magoo because I didn’t catch his name and he didn’t have any sort of name badge.

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His English skills were worse than his eyesight and with my anxiety over losing my bag it wasn’t helpful that I couldn’t describe the word “duffel” to a man who should know what a duffel bag is. At least he understood “purple” or at least he didn’t let on that he didn’t understand that word. He brought me over to a chart showing pictures of luggage so that I could point one out that matched. There were probably 30 different shapes/types of luggage but nothing looked like a duffel. Maybe it was my lack of sleep or too much stress but I just could not pick one that looked even remotely like a duffel other than military style duffel but I didn’t want to pick that as it may have given the wrong idea. Also I looked at all of the other travelers passing by and none of them seemed to have duffels. This was not my day. Eventually, the superior called out some sort of id code and Mr. Magoo wrote it down.

Now this is just where the problems begin. I had no idea who I was supposed to meet at the airport, where I was staying, or any contact information in Nepal for anyone associated with the workshop. I had sent emails to Jon Miller informing him that I was going to be on an earlier flight but I had not gotten any responses. And now that I was in Nepal I had no internet access. So my stress level was skyrocketing! I had a stash of cash for emergencies but I was still trying to be optimistic. After filling out paperwork with as much information as I had (basically nothing) I asked if they could contact Qatar Airways and track down my bag. But apparently that is not their job. Their job is only to verify that the bag is missing and fill out this form. So not only am I anxious that my bag is lost and I have no one to contact but now I’m getting mad that they are basically useless at tracking down issues. When I stated to Mr. Magoo that maybe someone I was going to meet was outside waiting he decided to take me outside and help me look.

So we both walked out into what must be some sort of travelers’ circle of hell. Even before I left the room before the exit doors there were “information” peddlers trying to sell me hotel, trekking, misc information. And these were the sanctioned ones that were inside. Mr. Magoo and I exited and I was immediately asked by about 5 people if I needed a taxi. I had zero interest in getting into a taxi because frankly I had no idea where I was going. There were guys in uniform, I think security guards, with whistles that were trying to keep people from stopping on the sidewalks. across the street was a small covered platform with tons of Nepalis holding or waving paper signs for various trekking companies. I scanned across this sea of information and as my eyes scanned it seemed as if I was giving life to each and everyone of the people holding the signs. At this moment I seemed to have attracted the attention of a taxi driver who seemed to attach to me like a remora. I could not shake this guy and Mr. Magoo seemed to not care. After going back and forth through the trekking company touters and also scanning the arrival waiting room it seemed like I was going to be waiting for a while.

I decided to see if I had any information on my laptop that might help in communicating with someone…anyone…that I was in Kathmandu and stuck at the airport. After not finding anything on my laptop or within the paperwork that I had brought with me I was really getting mad at myself for letting this happen and I was getting a bit downtrodden. My remora kept by my side and attempted to help me but there was little that he could do. I resigned myself to waiting in the arrival waiting area for 8-10 hours until my original arrival time when there was supposed to be someone I could recognize to pick me up.

So there I sat waiting. After about twenty minutes or so my remora decided that there were better fish to attach to and left me. I was surprised that he stayed with me as long as he did. Whether out of genuine concern or selfish monetary interest it was interesting. From time to time I would get up and go out and scan the crowd to see if I recognized anything/anyone and then I would return to my seat. There were tons of “kids” waiting around in the same area and smoking. I don’t think they were there to pick someone up. I think it was people watching entertainment for them. After being in that hot stuffy room for about an hour or more I finally noticed someone that had potential to be someone I recognized. This had burned me earlier but I got up and walked to the exit. The I recognized the icons on his shirt and immediately knew it was Jon Miller. He was thinner than I expected but I immediately got up to him and introduced myself. He was very surprised to see me and he hadn’t received my emails because he was also traveling. That is when Babu Sherpa of Mountain Tribes arrived and greeted Jon and I. Jon and Babu have known each other for many years. I filled them both in on my situation and Babu gave me a card which I took back inside to Mr. Magoo and his superior so that they could add Babu’s phone number as the contact when my bag arrived.

I then rejoined Jon and Babu outside and we got into his car and headed to the hotel. My first experience on Nepal streets was a bit hair-raising but after all of the stress and lack of sleep I just attempted to relax. The traffic was crazy. There didn’t seem to be any rules of the road but I’ll get into that more another day. I saw monkeys, cows, chickens, and dogs along the way and in the road.

We made it to the Hotel Manaslu. Babu said that he would help get my luggage so I wrote him a letter so that he could pick up my luggage without me. I got my room key and I headed up to my room to rest. Jon let me know that he would collect me after he ran a few errands. So I rested.

I think I got about 3 hours of rest/sleep when Jon came knocking at my door. I collected myself and then we left the hotel and grabbed a cab to meet up with the rest of the group. We traveled to Thamel, which is historically the tourist area of Kathmandu, and we ventured into the New Orleans Cafe. The group had already been there for a while so I was introduced to everyone else. Chris, Monika, Thilo, Ben, Clarence, and Shaun had been hanging out at this restaurant for a bit having beers and lassi (a yoghurt smoothy type drink). I sat and ordered a diet coke and perused the menu. Everyone seemed very nice and we started to gel rather quickly and there were many laughs.

After a couple or three hours we rolled out of the hotel and grabbed taxis to return us to the hotel. My luggage had not arrived and this did not make me very happy. I returned to my room and got comfortable and tried to get some more rest. I was informed earlier that my roommate, Damion, would be arriving late in the night and I was hoping that with him my luggage would also be arriving.

At around midnight there was a knock at my door and I answered it while clumsily trying to get some clothes on. I opened the door to find Damion and Depen (Babu’s helper) standing outside the door. I greeted them both (I actually thought Depen was named Babu until I was corrected the next day). I asked about my luggage and he said that it had not arrived. Apparently Damion also did not have his luggage. After Depen left, Damion and I chit chatted for a short time before we both went to sleep.

People: Jon Miller

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Jon is the main logistical coordinator of the workshop. He created the concept of bringing people from all over the world to the regions of Tibet and Nepal after a life-changing expedition to an Everest Base Camp in 2003. He then worked with Chris Marquardt to craft the Himalayan Workshops to create the “Highest Photographic Workshop in the World”.

Jon’s focus is to capture video of the experiences on the trek in order to create his podcast The Rest of Everest. Coming from a career in tv and video production his podcasts are extremely high quality and show a side of the Himalayan people and culture and the trekking experience that you just can’t get without being there.

Due to some circumstances that were out of anyone’s control Jon was only available for a few days on the trip. It’s too bad because we didn’t get to spend that much time to get to know each other. I’ll go into more detail about what happened at the appropriate time.

You can follow Jon on Twitter (@restofjonmiller) or on Facebook restofjonmiller.

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Don’t worry, he wasn’t kicking the dog. They were playing tug of war with his pants!

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