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Kathmandu, Nepal

Not wanting to impose on Krishna, I moved to a guest house just outside of Thamel (the main backpackers tourist area) for the remaining week and a half that I spent in Kathmandu attempting to prepare for the long planned trekking trip. I was also waiting to here from a friend, Felix, a Dutch guy I met in Vietnam whether or not he was actually going to show up to Nepal and if he had similar interests in the hike I wanted to do. Getting as much information from people as possible about which area to trek in, how to do it cheaper than expected, and what gear I needed exactly was an adventure in itself. Trekking companies are everywhere here, independent salesman trying to sell their services on the street are an uncomfortable inconvenience as you try to make it from point A to point B anywhere within Thamel. I found myself gravitating towards all of the bookshops in the areas, as well as some of the trekking shops to look for cheap outdoor gear. Over the next week or two, Felix showed up with his Canadian travel partner Kaline, and we sorted out everyones interests for what the “trek” entailed. Wanting to escape the normal trekking route, and being overambitious as I am, I pushed for not doing it with a organized company (as much as hot tea in bed, hot washing water in the morning and completely cooked and catered meals sounds nice, Im going to the mountains for 3 weeks for Christs sake), for bussing into a little town called Jiri and hiking a week into where most people fly to (Lukla) as well as including a loop called Gokyo that most don’t choose to do. The normal trek is about 12-14 days and people fly in and out of Lukla, only going to Everest Base Camp and down. This sounded to cliché for me and I wanted a bit of an adventure, trying to avoid the crowds while doing so. Kaline and Felix agreed all of this sounded great, but also admitting that they had not spent a ton of time in the outdoors or hiking. We eventually worked out a way to hire Krishna on as our “Guide/Friend” but only after the first week as he had prior engagements. He would fly into Lukla and after hiking the week from Jiri, we would meet him there. The next 4-5 days consisted of finishing touches on the preparation stage as well as buying or renting all of the necessary gear to do this. Turns out growing up in Colorado is at least good for having an idea of whats in store in the mountains in March and considering we have all been traveling in tropical places (SE Asia for me and Felix and Australia for Kaline and Felix the previous 3 months), we were extremely unprepared in terms of clothing and supplies. In addition to the abundance of trekking companies, the guideshops and merchandise for mountain hardwear and clothes riddles the Thamel area. Its all about finding the right price for decent enough quality. Everything is marked North Face, Mountain Hardwear etc… but it is well known that most of it is fake, or reproduced. Some of the coats, clothes and backpacks are of decent quality but you have to know what to look for, something I cant claim much success in. But we did our best, found decent deals and bought everything we needed from talking to people that had done the trek already, consulting Krishna and doing our own reading. As well as preparing for the hike, I enjoyed spending my time playing around with my new camera, parusing the different bookshops and eating well. A couple favorites included the Tibetan Water Buffalo steamed or fried Mo-Mo (similar to a Russian perogie or Ukranian pedihedh), Buffalo Chowmein, the local staple Daal Baht (rice, potatoes, veggies, curry and lentil goulash that you mix together and devour, as well as the Tibetan soup Thukpa. 2nds are expected upon ordering Daal Baaht and remains one of the only dishes that can fully fill me up, so you can guess, thats where my stomach mostly took me. (My appetite constantly conflicts with my budget, but what can you do?) Power cuts are the norm here. It is said that Nepal exports more power to India than it can produce for its own use and therefore performs what is known as “Load Cutting” where a random and seemingly haphazard power cut schedule ensues daily.  It is common to be eating a meal in the lights, when the power shuts off unexpectedly, and waiting for the owner to come around with candles to light the tables. Some places use generators, but even then, the light is less than sufficient. Walking through the city back to the guest house in almost complete darkness is something I have never quite gotten used to, the dogs becoming a little more bold and the shadows appearing a little darker. Carrying my headlight with me at all times is generally necessary when enjoying a dinner out, as well as planning around the power cuts when charging your electronic devices like your camera battery, phone or ipod. It surely adds a whole new aspect to doing anything in Kathmandu, and amazes me that this has been life for the locals for almost 10 years now.

I had an exciting little adventure just before I left on the trip….As I walked out of my guest house, and proceeded down the alley, I was quickly made aware that it was time to wake up a bit. About ten kids ages 7-12 had strung up a rope across the entirety of the alley and were standing in front of the rope, waiting for people to pass by. As I had heard many stories in Cambodia about the street kids surprising Westerners by jumping and holding onto them, as another came by with a knife and cut the straps of their bags and stripped their pockets, my mind instantly took a trip to that scenario. They wanted money and I decided rather quickly to try and push past them. As I went to one side, they all tried to congregate around me and I quickly switched to the other side and ducked the rope as the kids tried to grab ahold of my bag and shirt. I managed to get through rather easily, but was shocked to say the least. I continued on through and a local man walking up the street nodded to me to turn around. As I turned, the kid that had been following me realized I saw him and snuck back away to his “team.” I found out later that it had been a local festival that day, a day to celebrate the Hindu God of Destruction, Shiva, and it is one day the kids are allowed to beg openly, a fact that explained my encounter, but still left me a bit surprised. After completing our Trekking permit (TIMS) and our Sagarmatha National Park Pass as well as the bus ticket, we were close to ready for the trip. We managed to eat well before we left in anticipation of the upcoming weeks and Felix insisted on a Mars Bars, KFC and Pizza Hut diet to "put some weight on this skin and bones."

Felix, flexing his new gloves and gear (didn't realize they were bright hot pink due to the power being out in the store and not getting a sufficient look at the color)...

More on this later. Getting the pics updated as well as the hike itself but is clearly taking awhile. Stay tuned.

permalink written by  Alex Basaraba on March 6, 2011 from Kathmandu, Nepal
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