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 – 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.

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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.

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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?

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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 7 – April 26th, 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 around 5 to 5:30am due to a strong urge to evacuate my bladder. I got clothed enough to brave the morning’s cool air. We camped in a valley gorge so we the sun was still hidden this morning and I had to use my headlamp to navigate to the toilet tent. Thus far at every stop we had the use of the facilities attached to the guest house that was adjacent to our campsite but this campsite in Bamboo was different. I guess the sherpas hadn’t made the agreement with the property owners to let us use those facilities or the sherpas thought that the walk to the restrooms were too far. Anyway, they erected a toilet tent. Basically they dug a hole in the ground and then erected a slender but tall privacy tent over the hole. It was an interesting experience.

I returned to my tent and started to pack my gear and get ready for the day. The sun came up quickly and the tent had plenty of light. I was stuffing my sleeping bag into its stuff sack when I caught the sight of something in the corner of my eye. I gave it my attention and I noticed that it was moving like an inchworm across the top of one of the duffels. Except that it wasn’t an inchworm it was a leech. I was awestruck as I don’t recall ever seeing a leech in the wild and especially seeing it move over dry goods. It was move very quickly straight for me. I used my little notebook to pick up the creature and flung it outside of my tent. Not a second later I thought to myself “Why didn’t I take a photo?”

We were served morning tea around 6:30am and I was being very laxidasical and taking my time while I packed. I guess I spent too much time writing in my notebook or listening to music. I finished packing just after the call to breakfast. I actually didn’t hear anyone tell me that breakfast was on the table. It was between 7 and 7:30am and I ate toast and a fried egg. I guess I wasn’t super hungry that morning.

After breakfast we mulled around campsite as the sherpas and porters broke down the camp and got organized.

Dawa and the porters

We struck out on our hike for the day between 8 and 8:30am. Today’s theme was waterfalls. The entire day was in a mountain valley with the Modi Khola river below us on the right. The terrain started out as very rainforest like up until about lunch time.

IMG 4299 forest trail a common bridge

waterfall in bamboo

Everything was really green from the abundance of water. Some points of the trail had a lot of hanging moss on old trees and I felt like I was Indiana Jones in search of a small golden statue. The terrain wasn’t that difficult to navigate nor was it easy but at least the vertical climbing wasn’t too bad in the beginning. I was expecting a lot more climbing but I guess that would come later.

As I stated before there were tons of waterfalls and streams crossing the path. At one point we were crossing streams about every 10 meters or so. All of these small streams fed the waterfalls that fell to the river below. Now and then the path would descend a little bit so that we could cross a much more substantial stream across a rickety bridge like the one pictured above.

As there was only one trail to and from the Annapurna Base Camp (ABC) there was a lot of traffic heading in both directions. This caused quite a bit of frustration as the path was not suited for bidirectional traversal. This meant that groups going in either direction had to stop a lot and in particular those going towards ABC had to stop more often. Sometimes it was a nice respite but many times it was just annoying.

A stream crossing the river below

Modi Khola river The path ahead

Even with this stopping and starting we were making great time to our lunch destination. We arrived at the Himalayan Hotel, 2900m, around 11 to 11:30am. Our sherpas had attempted to get us a table that was in a shaded area but there were many other trekkers and trekking groups and the choice spots for lunch were taken. We were sat at a table directly in the sun and the sun was high in the sky and unrelenting. As you can see from the previous picture the vegetation was a little more sparse and starting to brown out a little and therefore the sun had already been cooking us for a while. Lunch was served and we ate beans, bow-tie pasta, julienned vegetables, rice (which I did not eat), and Spam®.

After completing the meal I decided to explore the “hotel”. The Himalayan Hotel was just an oversized guest house with many rooms. The sky became overcast and I decided to attempt to take a short nap on a small patch of grass. I wasn’t really able to get any sleep but I rested my eyes and listened to the cacophony of chatter between all of the other trekkers that were giving the “hotel” their patronage mixed with the Nepali workers chatting and washing dishes. I wasn’t resting for 5 minutes when I felt a droplet hit my arm. After the second one hit me I got up and hurried to my gear to take it under cover and also get out my rain jacket.

As the rain picked up, although it did not turn into a full out downpour,  I became acutely aware of the international representation of all of the trekkers as they all donned their rain gear and huddled under whatever cover could be found. There was one huge group of either Japanese or Koreans. There were also many small groups of Europeans and Americans.

The rain stopped almost as quickly as it started. That was our cue to start hiking again. We all still wore our rain gear as the weather seemed to be rather unpredictable. One problem with rain gear is that it is typically good at keeping in heat. So as we hiked I started to get a little bit overheated. I think the rest of my fellow trekkers came to the same realization and we started to shed our outerwear.

The terrain above the Himalayan Hotel was much rockier but there was also a lot less traffic coming down the the path. My assumption is that the trekkers coming down from ABC or Machhapuchhare Base Camp (MBC)  had already traversed this section earlier in the day. The ups and downs were a lot more numerous and there was very little “level” walking in between them. In fact it was mostly ups. I was trailing in the back of the group with Chris and Karma again. The altitude and climbing were definitely not being friendly to me but I was better suited to this kind of activity than I was just a few days earlier.

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As you can tell from the above photos it was overcast and a bit foggy. Also the trees were barely surviving. I guess during monsoon season this area will green up a bit. Here’s one with Chris talking about the area while Karma took the video.

Chris and Karma

At one point Karma pointed out some buildings off in the distance and stated that they were our destination for the day. This gave me a little boost until I saw what laid between our position and the destination. There was a huge climb up to a landmark named Hinku Cave followed by a descent and another big climb before reaching our destination at Deurali. Regardless I had a couple of goals set in my mind and I took one step at a time to conquer those goals.

The climb up to Hinku Cave was a little more treacherous than I expected. The path consisted of quite a bit of loose gravel as well as oddly shaped rocks that didn’t provide nice stable or flat footfalls. I was constantly thinking of where I was stepping because one wrong step and I would have twisted the hell out of my ankle.

I eventually got to the top of the climb that ended at Hinku Cave. My breathing was labored and while I rested my body decided to take the opportunity to have a coughing fit. Hinku Cave wasn’t really a cave as much as it was a large rock outcropping. It looked and smelled like it had been used for many years as a rest stop for pony trains.

Tendi guarding Hinku Cave IMG 4324

We waited until we saw Chris and Karma coming up to the cave. After a short break we headed down to a snow pack that we had to cross. It was above a fast moving stream and about halfway across there was about a foot wide hole that showed the rocks and flowing water below my feet. Let’s just say that I had a little bit of trepidation walking on this crossing.

 

the snow pack

There was another stream with falls, sans snow pack, that we crossed before our climb up to Deurali, 3200m. We arrived a little bit earlier than we had estimated but I know I was very happy to arrive regardless of making good time by arriving around 3:20pm. That was just the icing on the cake.

The next stream stream crossing

Tea was set up for us rather quickly after arriving. The temperature up here was a bit chillier but bearable. After tea Monika gave us a demonstration on how to develop film at altitude. I had never seen anyone develop film except the scenes of a dark room in movies. So this was pretty interesting and it seemed to be relatively simple and straightforward. I don’t think I’ll get into analog photography or at least anytime soon but if I do I think I will probably develop my own pictures.

After the demonstration I retired to my tent for a nap. It was a rather short nap and when I got up I decided to take a stroll around Deurali. There wasn’t much different in this village than the others that we had come across. I just had time to kill before dinner which was served around 6:40pm.

Dinner consisted of mushroom soup (I think this was the second or third time on the trek) followed by the main course of chow mien with egg, mixed tuna spring roll, chicken sausage (which I skipped), and mixed vegetables. I had seconds of the vegetables. The cooks and sherpas love to give out seconds. In fact while I was distracted Karma decided to give me a third helping. He really is a funny guy. Desert was pears and mango pieces.

After dinner I didn’t stick around long. I excused myself and went to my tent and crashed.

People: Clarence Chiang

Clarence and Dogfella

 

[Clarence and his buddy, DogFella]

Clarence Chiang was our lone Chinese trekker on this adventure as he hails from Hong Kong. His photography is absolutely awesome as you can tell from his site. He aspires to becoming a professional photographer and in my opinion he is there. He had a great sense of humor with a quick smile. An avid runner and scuba diver he was in the best shape of anyone on the trail excluding the Nepalis that is. I really hope to keep in touch with Clarence even if he does shoot with a Nikon. You can also follow Clarence on twitter or check out his great photos, especially his HDR pictures, on his flickr account. Here are some photos of Clarence although I didn’t seem to have many with his face. I actually had quite a few with the back of his head but that’s because he was always in the front of the group.

The front of the pack

Clarence and Tendi must have become good buddies because Clarence was ALWAYS in the front of the group. I think he actually pushed Tendi to go faster.

The group at the top

[At the top of ABC]

Clarence and Damion after breakfast

[Before breakfast]

Clarence

Even the Super Athlete Clarence needs to rest some times.

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Himalayan Photography Trip – Trekking day 5 – April 24th, 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 the sun was already starting to rise to the point that it was already light outside. I decided that this would be a great opportunity to switch the clothes that I had been wearing for the last few days. Yes, that is correct that I had been wearing the same clothes for multiple days. That is just the way it is done when trekking or backpacking. You just don’t have space to carry a new outfit for every day.

I changed and it felt so nice to be in fresh clothes. The accumulation of sweat and dust on my previous clothes wasn’t horrible but it was definitely nice to change. They didn’t smell that bad either. Or maybe I just reeked so much that I couldn’t tell the difference. Either way no one had mentioned anything.

The assistant cooks came around to the tents at around 6:30 with morning tea and washing water. Somehow I messed up my drink request and I ended up with hot milk tea. But I drank it with the minimal of fuss. I then proceeded to pack my gear albeit slowly. I’m not certain why I was being lazy but I just didn’t rush into things this morning. While packing I found a little critter crawling around the tent.

tiny spider

I wasn’t sure what kind of spider or if it was poisonous so I just collected it on something or other and flung it outside of the tent.

Breakfast was around 7:30am. The sherpas had broken down the dining tent but set up the table for breakfast out on the lawn with a scenic view. Of course the sun was coming up from that direction so I decided to sit facing away from the view so as to not blind myself. The food served was pretty typical for the trek. We ate Spam® and potatoes with toast and curried vegetables. I ate a very decent amount. I guess all of the hiking from the previous day had increased my appetite. I had mustard on my spam and snack dressing (thin ketchup) on my potatoes.

After breakfast we milled around and chatted for a bit.

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[Ben, Jon, Clarence, Karma, and Chris]

Chris and Jon

[Chris showing Jon his analog camera]

Analog Camera up close

[Analog camera up close. You can see Jon’s face in the right top lens]

Chris then gathered us for the group photos since Jon and Ben had rejoined the party and we had everyone there. We took a few of all of the trekkers, the organizers and participants. Then we took a few with all of the trekkers and all of the staff; sherpas, porters, cooks, etc. Chris had us do different poses or facial expressions.

Afterward we broke apart and Ben, Jon, and Sonam said good bye as they were going to be heading back to Naya Pool in order to head back to Kathmandu. Ben’s health had deteriorated to the point where it did not make sense for him to go further. Their plan was to hang out in and around Kathmandu until we returned from the trek.

We left camp around 9:15am for what was determined to be an “easy” day.

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The first couple of hours were all downhill and I have a distinct feeling that the mountain was telling us something.

middle finger

The weather was nice and cool and a bit overcast. This made it really nice for hiking. Well for a little while at least. We had crossed over to the more arid side of the mountains and so we were not in the rainforest type of ecology. In fact it was mostly terraced with small villages and farms. For some reason Karma and Tendi had us break quite a bit as we were going downhill. One long break, seemed like fifteen minutes, was followed rather quickly by another long break with only about 10 minutes of walking in between. We don’t usually question the sherpas as they are the experts but this seemed excessive. I took some pictures while we were on break. There were a couple of teenagers hitting a volleyball back and forth on the lawn in front of the guesthouse that we were taking the break at. I guess you have to do something to break up the monotony during the days when there aren’t any people residing the rooms.

Fishtail

valley

landslide

[You can see the path way down below as well as the rockslide on the other side]

Bee Hive

[This is a bee hive in a hollow log]

Eagle and raven

[eagle and raven]

stupa on the path

[Buddhist stupa near our path]

The cloud cover started to become more sparse and the heat started to increase while we were on one of these breaks. And there was no real shade. We all urged the sherpas to continue and so down into the valley we went. It was really dusty as the trail going down was mostly a dirt path, in other words no stone stairs, and it was really dry. The descent into the valley didn’t take that long but the path was different than we were used to and it was the longest continuous downhill that we had happened upon. At the end my I was starting to get a slight twinge in my knee that I know from experience meant that I was not hiking downhill correctly.

We stopped for a break within sight of the bridge that would take us across the river at the bottom of the valley. There were stone stairs on the opposite side that meant we were going to be climbing a lot.

We got going again and we saw some porters with another group traveling in the opposite direction with colorful balloons attached to their backpacks. It took me a while to figure out what the significance of this was. Apparently it was Easter Sunday and someone had decided to decorate the porters. I’m not certain they were happy about it.

porter with balloons

Here’s the bridge that we had to cross.

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After the bridge we started climbing the stairs. We passed through a few clusters of homes without the obligatory guesthouses. There were women out beating some sort of grain from whatever they harvested out on the stone areas outside of their homes. This was in the path that we were walking on so we didn’t have much room between the grains and falling off the ledge going down the hill. I’m not certain what kind of grain it was as I’m not versed in what different grains grow in different regions of the world. It looked similar to wheat but was the seeds were black while the stalks were gold.

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After seeing these women at work we came upon a really shocking surprise. A volleyball court! Granted it was just a flat dirt area but it had a large bamboo cage around the field used to keep the ball from rolling down the mountain side.

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This one threw me for a loop. I just never expected volleyball to be a popular sport in the mountains. I guess this explains the kids hitting the ball around earlier. They were practicing. As the trek continued up to higher altitudes we came across other volleyball courts with lot’s of off-duty Nepali playing. By the way, the trail went right through the volleyball court. I guess it’s similar to playing street hockey or stick ball in a street. It’s more about the convenience of the location than the intermittent interruption by car or in our case trekking group.

We stopped for lunch a short while after passing through the volleyball court. Lunch consisted of bow-tie pasta, rice, beans, and this canned fish in a red sauce. I ate everything but the fish. They just did not look good in the least. I’m usually a pretty adventurous foodie but I just didn’t feeling like pressing my luck while on this trek. We took a rather long break after lunch.

We struck out again on the way to Chommrong. Most of the next hour was uphill until we hit the outskirts of Chommrong. We took a nice break to allow Chris and Karma to catch up with the group before continuing on.

After the break as we were going along the path we came across a couple of water buffalos. I have no knowledge of the demeanor or temperament of these animals especially when encroaching on their personal space so I attempted to give them as wide a berth as possible. But I also decided that I needed so up close and personal photos.

Water Buffalo on the path

This buffalo decided to stand up and look agitated. Probably because he was resting on the path that we walking on.

Agitated buffalo

This buffalo didn’t mind us walking by as much.

lying buffalo

After another 30-45 minutes we were in Chommrong which is a huge collection of guest houses and supporting businesses. There were restaurants and bakeries as well as a clinic and some other government installations. This was by far the biggest village we had hit since we walked through Bharenthanti on the first day. We made our way through the myriad guest houses and to our campsite. The campsite was on a cliff ledge that overlooked a volleyball court and had Fishtail and two of the Annapurna peaks in the distance.

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I was in such a need to drink something other than tea or water that I purchased a cold Sprite. It was so good. I didn’t care that there was a little bit of an off taste due to the Diamox. My only problem was that it was too little.

We relaxed around camp until dinner. It started to threaten to rain and even sprinkled a little. It cleared up before dinner which was pizza with cauliflower, beans, and chow mien with mozzarella. We finished up with peaches. We chilled in the dining tent while the weather outside turned to light showers again.

People: Shaun Chemplavil

Shaun

It’s a small world after all. I wonder if Disney will come and attempt to sue me for saying that. Anyway there is a reason I bring that saying up and that reason is named Shaun Chemplavil. A Las Vegas native he moved to Florida and in particular to Orlando. That’s right he lives within minutes from where I reside. I don’t know exactly how many minutes as I don’t know exactly where in Orlando he lives but having someone from the same metropolis on the trip was a big coincidence. But wait there’s more…[I think I can get sued for that too]. He is a member of a photography meetup group that I am a member of and we had actually met at one event. I know, crazy, right? He’s a great guy with a great sense of humor. And he definitely looked out for me along the trek.

Check out his flickr account to see his great photos.

Here’s Shaun prepping for a shot.

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Here’s Shaun at the only sign signifying the Annapurna Base Camp. He wanted proof that he was there.

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On our return trek Shaun was nearby with his blue trekking poles.

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Some days just take the smile away.

tired Shaun

But then it returns.

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[I had to make blurry subjects in my pictures as part of an assignment]

Gear: Various Head Coverings

I brought a wide variety of head coverings for everything from sun protection to keeping my noggin warm. I also brought items that I was going to try in order to keep the dry dusty air from bothering me too much. I’ll go through all of the items.

Baseball Cap

I had a standard baseball cap that I had bought at a UCF football game because I had forgotten to where one and the sun was killing me. This cap had served me well for a couple of years and so it deserved to be brought to the ends of the world as well. Overall it worked well protecting from the sun and helping to keep the sweat from my face. After a while the cap became saturated with sweat and stopped it’s function of keeping sweat out of my eyes. It also became hot and uncomfortable after extended use. One other negative is that the brim gets in the way when taking pictures so the hat must be turned, lifted or removed which can be annoying.

OC Goretex brimmed hat

I have had this hat for quite a few years but rarely wear it in Florida because it gets hot really quickly. It provides the most sun protection of everything I brought and folds up nicely. The lining would tend to get saturated with sweat and always stayed quite warm. I think I only wore this one day and it worked well but then I ended up shoving it into my backpack.

Buff®

This is one of those things from Survivor® that the contestants have. It’s basically a tube of cloth that can be used for many different types of clothing but mostly on the head. I initially purchased this to be one of the things that I tried for a dust guard to cover my mouth and nose while in Tibet. I ended up using it as a headband or just some sort of head covering. It did an awesome job of sopping up sweat and when one end of the tube would be saturated I could reverse it and use the other end of the tube. Now that I have written that out I have realized that it probably doesn’t make much sense. Oh well. I really like this item and when using other head covers I would sometimes switch them out for this. I usually kept it tied to my backpack in an easy to reach location so that it could dry out but be handy. One negative is that it didn’t provide any sun protection for my face.

Bandanas

I brought along two bandanas and I used them just about as much as I used the buff. I had brought these along as general purpose gear as well as having the special purpose of dust guard as I described for the buff. I never did use them for that purpose. They weren’t as versatile as the buff nor did they sop up as much sweat but they did well for a while and then were swapped out. Just like the buff these did not protect my face from the sun.

Skullcap beanie

By far my favorite cold weather headgear. This maroon beanie I always keep with my winter clothes for when I’m traveling outside of Florida. I don’t think I have had much use for it in Florida. It’s soft and comfortable and keeps my head warm. It does tend to soak up the sweat over time and definitely had that issue on this trip. I wore this anytime it was chilly enough or my ears were too cold.

Fleece headband

I brought a fleece headband that I had bought when skiing, because I had forgotten my aforementioned beanie. I wore this one time when we were on our way back from ABC and my beanie was too wet from sweat and rain. Everyone seemed to think it was funny. But it kept my ears warm and that made me happy.

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Himalayan Photography Trip – Trekking day 3 – April 22nd 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 by the assistant cooks knocking at the door of our room with tea around 7:30am. They also brought wash water to the room was was a nice touch. I was feeling better than the day before because I wasn’t completed stopped up. Anyway, I washed my torso and brushed my teeth and then started to re-organize and pack my gear. We were told the previous evening that today was going to be a rather short 2-3 hours of hiking and would basically be a rest day. Basically we would be heading to and stopping at the destination that we should have hit the evening before.

We had a relaxing breakfast around 8-8:30am although I know I ate well I don’t recall what we had. As we ate a local merchant displayed his jewelry and knick knacks for our shopping pleasure.

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Apparently anything you buy will bring good luck.

Right around 9am we got ready and hit the trail. We were still in the temperate jungle area but it was a rather cool morning. I’m not certain exactly what altitude we were at but my guess is that it was around 2500-2600m.

Something that I have been asked a couple of times is what are the colorful banners that seem to appear strung all over the place. These are Buddhist prayer flags. My understanding is that the idea is that there are prayers and blessings written on the cloth flags. The flags are hung across breezy areas and as the flags flutter in the wind their messages float along in the air and spread the prosperity. The flags stay strung up until the cloth deteriorates on its own.

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This area of Nepal isn’t very Buddhist. Most of the people in this area are Hindu but many of the people that come to this area are Buddhist and bring along and hang the flags. Typically I saw them around the bridges and in the villages.There were some locations where the flags were so numerous that they couldn’t flap in the breeze. I’m not certain what that means but I guess the intentions were valid.

While we were at the lower altitudes in this jungle like ecosystem we would see these weird snake looking plants. They almost looked alien as they just popped out of the ground without any leaves other than the main stalk. Here is a picture of a couple of them.

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Sometimes there would be a cluster of them and sometimes there would be a solitary plant. At first we thought they might be a pitcher plant but it doesn’t seem to have the same look as the family of pitcher plants that I found while searching. I have no idea what it is but it was neat and eery at the same time.

As we continued our hike I kept noticing that many of the trees and plants were blooming and new growth was budding on some of the plants. I wasn’t the only one to notice the pretty rhododendron flowers.

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As we walked we came across this interesting creation.

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It’s some sort of Hindu shrine as I assume based on the trident on one of the wooden posts. The trident is a symbol for Shiva. I took this picture because I found it interesting that a religious shrine would have an empty Coke® bottle hiding behind the tablet. It just struck me funny. Here’s a photo without the bottle.

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As we approached Lower Ghorepani I just happened to look up at one of the hilltops nearby and to my surprise there was a huge communications tower.

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You’ll also notice that there are a ton of prayer flags up there as well. I guess maybe they believe that the prayers will catch a ride on the microwave signals and travel even further. Just a little aside, I pass within feet of this tower the next morning.

We reach Lower Ghorepani and take a rest on the outside of one of the guest houses. Thilo decides to pull out of the super bounce balls that he had brought and play catch with a young Nepali boy. They would bounce the ball back and forth but most of the time the boy wouldn’t catch it and then he would have to chase it all over the stone walkways and sometimes down the hillside if it bounced wrong. The boy was probably four years old and his little sister was probably a year or two his junior. The sister was just happy to watch. Here they are.

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These two were both cute. Everyone was taking pictures of the action including Karma who had Jon’s video camera.

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At one point the siblings’ older brother, probably 8 or 10 years old, came by and seemed a little bit jealous that he couldn’t play. He was in the middle of doing chores.

I took the rest period time to look around for interesting and creative shots. This is what I found.

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After our short break Tendi and Karma both said that we just a little while longer in order to get to our stopping point. About 30 minutes of hiking (climbing stairs mostly) and we made it to Upper Ghorepani (Ghorepani proper) and our camp. It wasn’t even 11:30am.

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Here’s one of the dogs around our campsite when we arrived.

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Shortly after we arrived at camp the weather started to turn for the worse. The breeze picked up and the temperature dropped. Then it started to mist. It had been overcast for almost the whole day but now it seemed as if the clouds were dropping to our elevation. It started to drizzle and we quickly stowed our gear as well as grabbed some coats and ducked into a meeting/dining room. The assistant cooks provided us with tea to warm us up as the room that we were using was not well insulated at all. It did keep us dry and kept most of the wind out but it still got rather cold. The sherpas brought in a propane lantern to attempt to provide some heat to the room but I don’t think it was all that affective. It started to rain pretty hard and then it turned into sleet. Finally it decided to snow. It wasn’t the flaky kind of snow because it was still raining. Also the snow didn’t stick on the ground but it was there.

Around 12:30pm we had a very surprising lunch. It was pizza. The cooks have figured out a way to cook pizza at altitude and it was pretty good.

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We also had chicken and rice but the main item on everyone’s mind and fork was the pizza.

The rain and cold weather continued throughout lunch so Chris decided that we should have a workshop session on exposure. We talked about the basic concepts of exposure and then we got into the details of the zone system and how it can be used with our digital cameras. The rain stopped for a bit and it got a little bit lighter out. We decided to do a practical lesson based on the exposure session.

It was still very chilly out but after a short while it started to drizzle again. We all took shelter back in the meeting room again except for a few that decided that it would be a good time to take a nap in their tents. The rest of the afternoon was spent conversing over various interesting topics ranging from music, television, computers, and whatever else we could geek out about. We were able to watch Himalayan TV, a.k.a. looking out the big windows on one wall of the meeting room. That’s where we saw hit show’s like the “Chicken Confuser” and the “Chicken Confuser Confuser”. We also discussed the “Big Fart” which was an extremely serious topic for the Himalayan Plateau. I can’t really go into details about the plots of these shows or else they would just become banal. Although if you ask nicely then I’ll describe each. We became masters of trivial discussion and we killed time quite easily.

At one of the lulls in the precipitation, Damion and I ventured out into the village of Ghorepani. This village was much larger than the previous ones that we had visited. There were quite a few foreigners huddled under overhangs or inside dining areas of the guest houses. We went to one shop and I bought a postcard for my mom and a Fanta®. Apparently Fanta and Coke or the only soft drinks that make their way up the mountain paths. It tasted very weird but that is one of the effects of Diamox® apparently.

Since I mentioned ®, the brand name for Acetazolamide, I’ll tell you about this drug that I was taking in order to help reduce the possibility or effects of altitude sickness. Basically any time that you increase your altitude rather quickly you become susceptible to altitude (or mountain) sickness. Your body over time will get adjusted to the altitude and change the way that your blood handles the decrease in oxygen but if you ascend quickly you can get really sick. This drug helps your body adjust faster and therefore reducing the risk of getting sick. But of course there are side effects. One is that for some reason it changes the taste of carbonated beverages such as Coke. This is an annoyance but nothing indicative of something gone wrong. Another side effect is that you get “Diamox Tingles”. I would describe this as something like a mild case of “pins and needles” that a limb gets if it has fallen asleep and it is being moved again. These tingles aren’t just in the limbs. They can be anywhere on the body. For me they tended to hit right after we stopped hiking for 10 minutes or so and usually in my fingertips and heels. It’s a really odd sensation but again it’s nothing bad just annoying.

After wasting the day away we finally had tea followed shortly by dinner. The supper consisted of chow mien with some sort of red sauce. We also had veggies and probably chicken sausage but that last one is just a guess. The food was ok but we were all still full from lunch as we all overloaded on pizza.

After dinner we were informed by Karma that we would be getting up at 4am in order to hike up to Poon Hill for the sunrise. He told us that it would be chilly and that all we would need is our camera. Karma also told us that if the weather was bad in the morning that we would be allowed to sleep in. We hung around the table for a bit but then all turned in early due to the early morning. It was quite a bit chilly so I actually made some use of my sleeping bag instead of just using it as a blanket. I spent some time listening to an audio book until I passed out.

People: Damion Wilson

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Damion hails from Maryland and this is his second trip to the Himalayas. He was my roommate/tent-mate for the majority of the trip and I thank him for dealing with my B.S. and snoring. His recently acquired addiction to Angry Birds was only fueled by my assistance when he asked for it (and sometimes when he didn’t). He was very popular as we trekked because he had a bunch of interesting technology within plain view of anyone passing by on the trail.

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Here you can see his GoPro camera strapped to his forehead that took a picture every 30 seconds and that is connected to a battery pack and a solar panel that you see just behind his right shoulder. Everyone wondered what the device attached to his head was and would accost him and make him explain. To us he seemed like RoboCop or some other cyborg with all of this equipment. Damion also had a desire to get a really good water/waterfall shot.

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He’s a very good guy and I hope to keep in touch with him as we both made it to the top of Annapurna Base Camp.

He typically posts his awesome photos on his flickr account.

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Himalayan Photography Trip – Trekking day 2 – April 21st, 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 by the sherpas around 6am. They were providing morning tea. Tea as I described before could be any number of hot drinks and I think I had hot chocolate on this particular morning. We also got hot wash water in a bowl which I used to brush my teeth.

The order of things in the morning is wake up with tea and wash water. Followed by about an hour to get ready for the day and pack your gear. Then breakfast while camp is broken down. Then after everything is ready to go we don our trekking gear and head off for the day.

This morning it didn’t take me too much time to get my gear packed. I guess I was just ready to get going with the knowledge that it was going to be a long and difficult day. After I packed I had some time to take some pictures. This picture shows the camp being broken down before we sat down for breakfast.

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Also, a local Nepali brought out a bunch of jewelry and accessories for purchase.

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I purchased a yak wool belt (the very bottom right) because I needed a belt as my pants liked to ride downward as I walked. It’s really neat in that it can be tied in many different sizes although untying can be a pain in you are urgent to use the restroom.

We broke fast at around 7am. I wasn’t hungry at all but I knew I had to eat something. I consumed a fried egg, some chopped potatoes, and half a piece of toast slathered in Nutella. I didn’t really finish anything but I had my fill. I was still full from the previous night’s dinner.

We started hiking around 8am and it started out pretty easy. We walked through a couple of small villages/guest house clusters. I guess I should explain this a little bit better as this is something that comes up often along the trip. The villages weren’t typically a cluster of houses together. They were more of a generalized area that didn’t have any type of defined borders. There were houses all around the hills in these areas and along the trekking path there were small clusters of guest houses. These were typically two story structures with about 6 rooms for rent, an associated dinning area/restaurant, a little store with drinks (soft and hard) and other sundry items. The guest houses were typically white and blue with blue roofs and they had a central water faucet that seemed to be fed from some mountain spring uphill from the village. Most of the time the path going to/through the guest house cluster was paved with nice flat stones and stairs. Here is an example that I saw shortly after leaving our campsite.

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After passing through this guest house cluster we started to climb lot’s of stairs. I always seemed to be out of breathe. At our first break I gave my spare water bottle to Tendi, the sherpa at the front of our group, in order to help lighten my load. We continued our trek. I rather quickly dropped to the rear of the group with Chris and Karma as we were taking our time. Taking our time was the only way to keep moving without being out of breathe every 2 minutes. I felt so slow but it worked.

Well, there was one good thing about being slow. Sometimes you see stuff that the rest of the group missed out on. For instance can you tell what I took a picture of here?

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Give up? Here’s a little bit of a better picture.

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And then he launched…

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And he was gone.

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I asked Karma, the sherpa at the back of the group, what they call that type of monkey and he said “dil-do”. I did a double take as I thought I misheard him. I asked again and he repeated the name. You have to understand that Nepali people when speaking English tend to speak the syllables rather quickly so I thought I might have still misheard him. So I asked Chris if I heard right and he said that Karma said “dil-der-do” and not “dil-do”. And so that is how I referred to this monkey for many days on the trek.

We continued to climb stairs for the next couple of hours. In this picture you can see the terraced farms as well as some paths. We hiked on the lower path earlier in the day. I hope that gives some idea of how much altitude we had gained.

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The blue building to the bottom left was a school and we heard the children doing some sort of drills out in the courtyard as we were going along. The sound just travelled throughout the mountains.

I started to see stairs as being evil. Every time we hit a new set of stairs I was thinking to myself that these were stairs to hell except that they went up. Chris was also having a tough time but he still had concern for my health and would check up on me quite often. He also provided some trekking hints which I graciously accepted. Well as graciously as I could concerning the state of mind I was in. He also kept telling me to take my time which did help out.

One of my thighs decided that it had enough climbing stairs and started to cramp on me. It wasn’t serious but it was annoying. During our next break I mentioned my condition to Karma and Chris and Chris provided me with a packet of salts and minerals (electrolytes)  to mix with some water to drink. I drink about half a cup of warm water with the “strawberry” flavored mix. It went down but not easily. After resting for a couple of minutes we decided to continue our stair climbing activity. I took about 4 steps and then my stomach told me that it had had enough. I proceeded to spew for everything from my stomach. Luckily I had the presence of mind to move my camera to the side or else it would have been covered in vomit. I coughed up everything that I had eaten that morning and I think most of what I ate the night before. That ruined my taste for Nutella for the rest of the trip. In the process of bracing myself for a set of heaves I stuck my hand into a thistle weed. So I was hot, out of breath, constipated, vomiting, cramping and now I had sharp pains in my left hand. This just wasn’t my day.

After I stopped heaving I was actually feeling somewhat better. After a little bit more of a break I told Karma and Chris that I was ready to continue on. We ascended another 50m or so and everyone was waiting in a shaded patio at a guest house. Shaun bought me a warm mango juice which I gratefully drank although I can now say that I am not a fan of warm mango juice.

We continued on up the path for a very short while, maybe 20-30 minutes, and then we stopped at the next guest house and had lunch. I drank plenty of the “juice” that was provided but I barely touched the food. Although my stomach was feeling a bit better, I had zero appetite and when I attempted to eat something I just felt like I was forcing myself. I don’t even recall what we had but I do know that mine was relatively untouched.

As we relaxed and had tea after lunch the sky began to darken and it started to rain. Lightly at first and steadily increasing in intensity all of the way to having small hail stones falling from the sky. The porters and sherpas scrambled to get tarps to cover the bags and gear. Our group just stayed dry in the dining area. I decided to take some pictures.

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Almost every guest house cluster had some sort of variation on the following map. Most were hand-painted and didn’t look anywhere close to as nice as this one.

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Karma and Tendi came to us after the rain had basically stopped and informed us that because of the weather that we had to change our plans. I think it was mostly because we had slow people (me) in the group and we wouldn’t make it to our original destination before nightfall. So we continued on our way after donning our backpacks.

As we started hiking again I was feeling a bit better but my legs were still sore especially the one that had been cramping. I stayed at the back of the group with Chris and Karma but we were able to keep a decent pace. Frankly I don’t remember the terrain between lunch and our stop for the night but I do know that I was extremely happy to reach our destination.

We stopped for the night at a guest house and we were informed that we would be staying in a room and not in a tent. Before we grabbed rooms we relaxed in the dining area. Karma and Dawa were working out the details with the guest house owner so we just relaxed and had tea. Eventually we were told to determine which room we wanted and our bags were brought up. We had a short rest period where we were able to get settled into our rooms before we were called to dinner.

Dinner was dal bhat, also known as “Sherpa Fuel”, with curried vegetables and chicken. I don’t think I ate much as I was still constipated.

After dinner I think everyone was pretty wiped out from the day’s activity and we all retired to our rooms. The night was still pretty warm so I used my sleeping bag as a blanket. As the night continued the temperature dropped so I used more of my “blanket” to cover myself. I also woke up in the middle of the night and used the toilet for my first semi-success. After that I went back to bed and slept through the night.

People: The Sherpas

The word sherpa is a lot of things. It is a job description, a last name, a tribe, and a caste. On this particular trip we had a handful of sherpas helping us out from the Mountain Tribes trekking company.

The big man at Mountain Tribes, at least that I met, was Babu Sherpa. He organized the trip with Jon and provided the pre-trip logistics. He worked magic when the Chinese closed the Tibetan border and created the Annapurna trip within hours of the other trip being canceled. Babu was great and I wish I had spent more time to get to know him. I highly recommend his company to anyone wanting to trek or just explore Nepal and the surrounding areas. Babu is on twitter.

Babu’s assistant in Kathmandu was Depan. Depan helped with things like attempting to get our Chinese visas and making sure that we got to where we needed to go. He was also the last sherpa to communicate with me has he handed me off to a taxi driver for my trip back to the airport (and back home).

The first trekking sherpa that I met was Sonam. He met us in Kathmandu and flew with us over to Pokhara and stayed at our hotel. I believe he assisted Babu in planning the Annapurna trek. Sonam stayed with Jon and Ben when they had to leave the group on the first day of trekking. He also helped Jon and Ben to catch up to us a few days into the trip and then helped them back to the start of the trek when Ben’s illness relapsed. Sonam was always quiet when he was around the group so I didn’t have much interaction with him.

The next two trekking sherpas were Tendi and Karma. I’m writing about them together because they were always with us with Tendi leading the group and Karma tailing the group. I spent a bit more time with Karma as I was typically at the back of the pack but I had plenty of time to speak with both of them. They were both happy and had great sense of humor. Anyway, I got a few good pictures of these two.

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Karma on the left. Tendi on the right.

The final sherpa that I met on the trek was Dawa. He was the head chef and also made arrangements for our campsites. He was also in front of our group and typically is was way in the distant front. He always had a great big smile on his face and he surprised us a few times on the trek which I’ll explain later.

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He’s the one in the grey ball cap. I guess he wasn’t smiling as he was dealing with the porters this morning.

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Himalayan Photography Trip – Pokhara and the trek begins

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

I awoke around 5am. Although I woke up easily I did not feel rested and I couldn’t go back to sleep. I took the opportunity as the sun was coming up to snap some pictures around the hotel. I think this first one is Annapurna South, which is one of the smaller of the Annapurna peaks.

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This next two I believe are Machapucchre (Fishtail)

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Around 7am we had breakfast in the hotel restaurant which I think consisted of eggs and toast and maybe some sausage. I don’t recall but I also don’t believe I was all that hungry. Sometime while we were in the restaurant Ben joined us and we found out that he had a crazy night. Basically his illness got to the point where Jon and Sonam took him to the hospital and the doctor their immediately put him on an IV drip. He also got a stack of prescriptions (wrapped in folded newspaper). He seemed in a little bit better spirits than the last time I saw him the day before but he definitely wasn’t 100%.

After breakfast I packed whatever I hadn’t packed earlier in the morning and brought my bags down to the lobby and waited as everyone else filtered in.

Trekkers gathering before the bus ride

Just after 8am our bus arrived and we started to migrate towards it. I saw something really neat in the garden right before hopping onto the bus so I took a quick snap. Can you see what I saw?

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It’s not the flowers, or the buildings, or even the wrought iron fence. Let’s zoom in a little.

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I have no idea how I saw this guy but he is pretty awesome. It seems to be an Oriental Garden Lizard but as I didn’t get a profile picture I can’t be sure. Anyway, I hopped on the bus and away we went.

The ride was pretty much what we had come to expect of driving in Nepal. It was rather early when we left so there wasn’t much auto or pedestrian traffic but that didn’t mean the driver hesitated to use his horn whenever he did come across another vehicle or person near our path. As we got outside of Pokhara the streets became bumpier and narrower which means that passing vehicles that are traveling in the opposite direction becomes even more perilous.

At some point early during the trip, Jon made his way to the back of the bus, re-arranged the duffels into a make-shift bed and immediately passed out. I guess he had had a long night hanging out with Ben at the hospital.

I lost track of time as we traveled to the trailhead at Naya Pool. I snapped a dozen or so pictures along the way attempting to capture something interesting but most came as a blurry mess. Here are some that survived the cut.

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The bus finally made it to what seemed to be a very popular area for trekking. There were lots of foreigners either getting into or out of vehicles. But our bus ride was not over yet. We continued down a rather narrow road crowded with people, parked vehicles, and loose animals. We made it down to a turn and the assistant driver (a.k.a. the guy banging the side of the bus) stepped out and attempted to help navigate the bus through the tight space. At some point a dog decided to duck under the bus and everything was halted until the dog ran out. We continued down a bit further and then we stopped to greet our sherpas, Tendi and Karma, and our pack of porters. We got off the bus and quickly all of our gear was unloaded and assigned out. By assigning out I mean to say that the porters discussed, argued (with smiles), and finally to what looks like compromises.

We trekkers donned our packs and situated ourselves for the hiking for the day.

getting ready for the hike

A playful dog decided to interrupt our preparations and get some attention from Jon.

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Jon had a little fun playing back with the dog.

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Shortly after this we began our walk. Here is a parting shot of what we left behind including the playful dog.

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At the beginning of the hike our elevation was approximately 1030 meters. I’ll be pretty much doing everything in metric as that is how everything there was written. This one time I’ll say that the conversion rate between meters and feet is 1m = 3.3ft. Therefore my starting elevation of 1030m was approximately 3400ft.

As we hiked a little bit I noticed one of our first views of the peaks from the ground. This is Macchapuchhare (I know I spelled it differently, welcome to the wonderful world of Nepali/English transitions) again.

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I just liked how the picture had the Fish Tail peak along with the Fish Tail restaurant.

We quickly made it to Birenthanti and crossed the river on our first bridge of the trip. Here is one of the only times I was in the front of our trekking group.

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Of course I was still behind the porters (notice the one on the right has a purple duffle, mine, as well as other bags). The porters who were all relatively small but all carried about their body weight. I have much respect for them.

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As we hiked on the first day we were typically near a river. Here are some waterfalls.

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The day was hot and we didn’t have much cover.

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Our first stop was at a guest house right around noon. It’s the place with the orange tarp in the distance. This was such a welcome sight as all of us wanted to get out of the oppressive heat. Even though most of the hike so far had been on relatively flat land, it was extremely welcome to have a goal in sight.

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And even better was the fact that we were going to be fed. This was our first meal on the trek.

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That’s right, Mac & Cheese. Accompanying the Mac & Cheese were chicken sausages (hot dogs), potatoes, and broccoli in some sort of dressing (I think it was mayo). The process that was typical for lunch was that we would arrive at our lunch destination and we would immediately get “juice” which was a warm to hot concoction of some sort of sugary drink mix such as lemonade, tang, mango or grape. Within a short amount of time prepared plates of food would be passed out to each of the trekkers. After finishing the meal the plates would be cleared and then various teas and other hot drinks would be available.

Now to the bad news. Ben had a difficult time with the short hike that we had so far on that day. His illness was still affecting him too much and the heat and dehydration were taking its toll. After some discussion between the trip leaders it was decided that Ben would go no further today. Ben, Jon and Sonam would stay at the guest house that we were having lunch at and determine what to do the following day. This really sucks that Ben was being told to drop out but he was not doing well and we all felt for him.

As we got ready to continue our trip we said our goodbyes to Ben and Jon and we were hoping to see them all again at some point later in the trip or in Kathmandu. We had hiked for about an hour and half before stopping for lunch and now we had about two to three hours to finish for the day. So we started hiking again.

The rest of the trip that day was grueling. At least the temperature dropped a little and it became overcast. We started to climb and mostly on stairs…

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And more stairs…

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I was so happy when I saw the following sight…

The first campsite

The porters and Dawa’s team (Dawa is the sherpa in charge of cooking and camp logistics) had arrived and set up our tents and the dining tent. I was so glad that the end of the hiking for the day was over. We stopped at Tikhedhunga which was at approximately 1480m altitude. This means that we climbed about 450m in the four to five hours of hiking.

Now for camp procedure. Typically when we arrive at camp the tents are erected and we are served tea within 30 minutes of arriving. Tea consists of a choice of hot beverages including black tea, mint tea, hot chocolate, bourn vita++, or instant coffee. Dawa provides both hot water and hot milk to create the beverages. Bourn Vita++, two flavors original and “5 Star Magic”, is a Cadbury product that is a nutrient rich drink for children.

I don’t recall what I had for tea on this day but I do recall not feeling to great because I was constipated and I went to lay down in my tent. I ended up taking a nap for about an hour with my feet hanging out of the tent door. I awoke and rejoined the group in the dining tent.

Chris decided that we would review our Patan assignments and critique each other’s photos before dinner. Just to refresh your memory the assignments were to get a picture of something with a clear subject that was not a human and to take a picture of a stranger after asking permission in some fashion. I had failed latter assignment as I never asked permission. I still provided two pictures for review and had them critiqued. The two that I choose were…

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I’ve done some post processing to these now but at the time I had not. I love the story told by the player-less chess game as well as its colors. The sleeping boy with the pink cast was interesting too although I couldn’t adjust the white balance better than what is seen here. I guess it’s ok.

Our review session continued almost up until dinner time. Just to kill some time and to explore a little of my surroundings I grabbed my camera and tried to find subjects to shoot. I guess I was too tired to explore too much.

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Another trekker

Dinner consisted of chicken and a whole lot of mashed potatoes and gravy. There were also vegetables. Even though I wasn’t hungry I knew I had to eat because I knew we would be hiking quite a bit the next day. I ate what I could. As the meal wound down I did as well. I was having a really difficult time staying awake which was probably caused by my lack of sleep the night before. Anyway, I got up from the table, went to my tent, and promptly passed out.

In the middle of the night I got up to use the restroom and I was amazed at how bright the moon and the stars were. If it weren’t for the moon I probably would have attempted to get some night shots. Ok that was a fib, I was just too lazy and tired to get my camera out and fiddle with the settings. Back to bed I went.

People: Monika Andrae

Monika Andrae

[I didn’t have a good picture of her so I’m linking to this one.]

Monika rounds out the set of trip leaders. She brought a lot of knowledge in the creativity and composition areas of photography. She also demonstrated how to develop film at altitude. Her quick wit and humor were always welcome additions to the group’s conversations. Monika has a blog and podcast that are both in German. I confess that I have only looked at the pretty pictures on her blog without bothering to translate to English.

Monika’s twitter and flickr accounts. She mainly tweets in German.

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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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