Monday, 24 May 2010

We got our own private cab from ubud to lovina. He took us into the mountains where we could see the rice paddies and also views across the island to the volcano. My camera was still being slightly temperamental from the rain in Ubud. You can take photos on it, but cant turn the flash on or zoom in. Visiblity on was limited all day anyway due to the rain. It was drizzling much of the day. The cab pulled into the drive of the Billibo Beach Cottages. Unsurprisingly (as the rain began again) it was low season so we were the only people staying in the place - also meaning the cafe wasnt open so we had to walk half an hour into town. On the plus side, the cottages were only about 10 metres from the black sands of the beach. On the negetive side, because of the rains, the many rivers that ran into the sea had filled it with debris that had now washed up on shore - light bulbs and underwear to name a few of the items. As we settled in, the storm continued into the evening and pelted the resort. Thunder lightening, the whole shebang. It calmed down around 8ish enough for us to find a cheap restaraunt that did dinner.

In Lovina for 4 days, and the last 2 it didnt rain as much as in ubud and kuta. One of the staff said it was now turning into the dry season so the rains were easing off. Just in tiem for us to go dolphin watching. The tiny longboat picked us up from the beach at 6am, and together with what seem like much of Bali, made our way out a mile from the shore to see the hundreds of dolphins do their daily swim around the island. The boats of sunburtn westerners sat in large clusters, until movement was spotted on the surface of the water. All the boats charged into life and stalked the group of dolphins until they disappeared again. It went on like this for about half an hour and saw a few dolphin jumps, before the boat went back in.

I also tried my hand at Balinese cooking. I signed up for a cooking course, learnt all about the healing effects of various plants and herbs (more stuff for my mum to add to the shopping listr when i try my hand at cooking back at home), and also learnt how the make chicken satay sticks, snapper satay sticks, banana and palm sugar desert, and a coconut, chilli and water spinach concotion which all went down surprisingly well.

As our time in Lovina came to an end, we decided to try our hand as swimming in the, previously ominously opaque sea. A few days of little rain meant the waters were now crystal. This and with no waves whatsoever, it was like swimming in glass - with a perfect reflection of the sky above. First thing in the morning we left Lovina and headed back into Kuta where we would catch our plane, bright an early at 3am for Kuala Lumpur.

We arrived in Kuala Lumpur and tracked down a bus that took us into china town. After settling in, armed with my ipod and a map i began my usual wander around this new place. Walked to little india, through china town again (taking note of the locations all the 24 hour fast food eateries) before making my way over to the petronas towers where I would meet Terence, a friend from Nottingham. Leaving the KLCC LRT station, the towers loomed directly above me - some of the finest piece of architecture I have ever seen. I wandered through the parks and round the lakes at the foot of the towers, before meeting terence at the entrance to the tube station. He took me to one of the hawker stalls a short monorail ride away -then we moved across the street and ate in another hawker stall. Monorail back the KL, he showed me his flat then we ate in another hawker stall before taking the obligatory arty photos in front of the illuminated Petronas Towers. As it got late, We said our goodbyes and I made my way back to china town.

Next day, we visited colonial square. A random but much appreictaed square of grass in the middle of the city, surrounded by low, fake tudor houses. There were speakers and flags advertsigin 'colours of 1 malaysia 2010' everywhere and the view from groundlevel of KL skyline, looked as artificial as Las Vegas with its replicas of the pyramids, new york and the eiffel tower side by side. In the forgeround stood an ornate almost indian style, arched colonade that spanned the length of the square. A clock tower stood in the middle of this. Behind the clock tower, tudor houses and further back stood the business district with the telecoms tower, and the large neon signs of all the banks. I planned on coming back at night to take some photos of the illuminated skyline.

As it started getting dark I made my way back to the square to see what wasa going on. There was a band on the stage playing some 'local' music and throwing peace signs everywhere, tented stalls surrounded the square, and a whole load of seating had been set up opposite the large clock tower. As people started to slowly file into these seats, i thought i too would take my chance. After all the worst they could say was 'you have no ticket now leave'. So with that i filed in and claimed a front row seat to what ever was going on that night. As it turned out, 'colours of 1 Malaysia' was a celebration of the ethnic diversites of Malaysia. It was consist of a 2 hour parade made up of over 5,500 people dnacing in costumes representing different aspects of Malaysia - well worth leaving the hostel for. The ministry of tourism arrived at the beginning and worked her way down the front row shaking the hands of obviously foreign looking visitors. Obviously I looked foreign enough as she approached me and asked where i was from - remarking that next week she is visiting the chelsea flower shower - as you do. Marth stewart showed up soon after that (obviously) followed by the Malaysian king and queen. After 20 mins of tedious speeches, spoken in a series of languages none of which i understood, the dancves ran in and took their places. The event was began with fireowrks shooting from the colonades oand the top of the clocktowers. The dancers were all amateur from local schools and universities - all wearing costumes local to different parts of malaysia. It was a rush of colour and fantastic music - which sods law, my camera decided it no longer like to take videos that night so the random Mumbai woman next to me said she would email me whatever photos and videos she took. Dance were dedicated to the Chinese population, India, natives, to the homestay schemes, to the beachs of malaysia - complete with dancing fish, and also food - complete with kids dressed as bananas. Tribal dances celebrated the rainforest regions of Borneo. It was a mass of peacock feathers, waving fabric, bells, fur, make up, and tassles. The entire evening the audience was leant as far over as they can, understandbaly to get photos of the event. All the dancers were smiling and obviously happy, and the atmoshphere was electric - one of the best nights I have had so far during the last few months. As the parade came to an end, all 5,500 dancers gathered in front of the audience and broke the guniess world record for the largest synchornised dance routine. After further fireworks, sped up dance routines, more flashes of colour ans strobes, confetti and streamers raining down on the audience and dancers alike, and fireworks sprinting away from every building around the square, the parade came to an end. The audience were then given a go. The dancers went amongst the seating and dragged westerners down onto the parade ground and taught them to dance the native dance. With 5 12 year old grabbing my t shirt, who was I to disappoint - I danced the Malaysia can-can with the best of em. They danced around the westerners, involved them in line dances, and refused to let me leave te bundle. I just stayed and danced with the dragons and lions a bit more, before FINALLY managing to escape. Its easy to see why the Malaysians are said to be one of the most friendly nations in the world. I had a smile on my face the rest of the night, and much of the following day - that was until we really got stuck into the shopping buying shorts i dont need, t shirts i dont need, and a wallet which i dont need (but equally is a very nice wallet). After a day or so more in KL we left. Despite the fact our hotel was also a brothel (with small groups of foreign woman outside, asking passers by for massages - and then seeing those same passers by being accompanied by those foriegn woman into the hotel - normally the room next door to us...... and then us being made fully aware just how thin the walls in this hotel were) we were saw to leave KL. Our next destination was Penang. We would stay in Georgetown for 3 days before heading to the Perhentian islands on the east coast. Unfortunately we couldnt go to langkawi which other travellers have been raving about because of the recently starting monsoons. But hopefully the perhentian islands will be just as good.

Saturday, 15 May 2010

The sun rose over Bali that morning, and with it, big hopes of blue skies, white beaches and turquoise waters. Instead of sunbathing though I decided to have a wander round, see if theres more to Kuta than 24 hour fast food places and clubs that seem to pump out the same mix of heavy R'n'B followed by repeated renditions of black eyed peas 'I gotta feeling'. Unfortunately Kuta has very little more than that, though thats not to say one still cant find ways to fill the day. Away from the main roads, the 2 main tourist roads are poppies 1 and poppies 2. These and most of the other roads in bali are very narrow and are filled mostly with bikes ridden by over confident (and more than likely pissed) westerners wearing ridiculous novelty helmets. However, outside many of the shops, the streets are littered with offerings that the locals have made to the gods - these normally consist of small palm leaf baskets filled with odds and ends of food, flowers and incense sticks. Its a strange touch of religion amongst the hundreds of souvenier shops selling amongst other things, big wooden penis' (that have a bottle opener on one end), and t shirts which feature either well known brand names slightly adjusted to spell the words 'pussy' or 'fuck', or else describing some chauvanistic activity which a woman must do to 'serve' the man. Either way, few things sold in these shops one would feel comfortable displaying in the UK alone, let alone on the reserved and high class streets of edgware.

Anyhoo, i diverge. I walked up the beach, and took some photos just as the storm clouds rolled in. Unknown to us at the time, Bali would be the wettest and stormiest location yet on our travels. That night we ended up drinking heavily, hunting down happy hours bars which lined the streets of kuta. After spending an amount of money i still havent quite had the nerve to work out, we headed for home. It was around 2ish, everything was obviously shut and few of the streets had street lights. Me Alec and Emily al got seperated and whilst emily found her way back, me and alec (mainly me) got hopelessly lost walking the same road 4 times trying to find the turning. To cut the story short, i found it and went to bed, end of night. Done :D.

Next day none of us really felt up to much. It was a first of many beach days. We suncreamed up, got loungers and that was us for the day. Kuta boasts some of the best surfing waves this side of the world. The waves were higher than i have ever seen, but few were decent enough to surf on (in my humble yet very valid opinion). We waded out to the sea and let the waves simply rise us and drop us. Occasionally when a big waves came it broke over and on top of us but normally we just dived under those to stop us.....well... being drowned. Time went by fairly quickly as we rode the waves and we didnt even notice when it started raining. The day after went similar, except it was raining from the word go. It rained througout the day (didnt stop people claiming sun loungers and swimming in the sea), and we spent more valuable hours in the sea.

The time to leave the hedonistic paradise that was Kuta, had arrived. We were heading up to Ubud, which was in land and was aparently 'the real Bali'. I felt slightly relieved to be leaving Kuta, as the temptation for all the western food was very quickly becoming too much - and i didnt travel for christ knows how long on a plane and spend however much it was on tickets,, just to wake up to a mcdonalds cheese burger for lunch, shopping in marks and spencers and topman (yes those are here also) to waste the time before a pizza hut dinner.

Ubud was very much like luang probang in laos. None of the buildings were over 2 floors and many had thatched roofs. Many of the hostels were simply home stays and focussed around stunning green gardens filled with fountains and statues that made each one look like a shrine of some sort. We settled into the peaceful town and once again, i went for a wander. I found a lot of K marts (balis version of the 7/11) but no mcdonalds which I was slightly relieved for. We walked around the market, past shops selling hand carved bowels, wire elephants, every sort of necklace and bracelet, and more infamous wooden penis' - these ones were on keyrings and didnt even open bottles (shock). Ubud is apparently the art centre of Bali. Every other shop was an art gallery. Although most shops sold similar paintings, there were a few i picked out for when i am a big successful planner, which would sit happily in my central london apartment :D :D.

We went to the monkey forest, which is Balis biggest monkey reserve. We wandered around just as it started to rain, and rain, and pour. It had been raining and storming most aftenoons in Bali, but normally we were either on a beach or indoors. We were now fully equipped with bags and cameras walking through something similar to a rainforest. Emily went back taking much of our valuables with her, leaving me and Alec to see some of the most stunning tropical scenery to date. Vines hung low into the narrow valleys as rivers sped by below. Paths were built into the hillside so people and momkeys alike could wander round the area, but as the rain continued sheets of water poured everywhere. With the help of our map (the remains of) we found the main temple up a flight of stairs that looked more like a water feature at this point. The thick green canopoy did nothing to shield the rain and inches of water washed down the hills over our feet. We evevn got to see a group of monkeys who took advantage of the fact the guard was taking cover, to break open one of the banana cages and steel the contents.

We are heading to Lovina next, on the north of the island. Its got black sand, doplphin watching and diving. Its meant to be quiet and relaxing, a far cry from Kuta. Lets hope we dont bring the weather with us...

Sunday, 9 May 2010

After landing in kathmandu we had one day of relative freedom before the maoists strike shut down the city. The strikes lasted the entire 6 days we were in kathmandu. Cars were not allowed in the roads, so the only running transport was buses designated to take tourists to and from the airport. The maosists just seemed to sit for large periods of the day playing cars in the empty roads, spitting and making litter. For large parts of the day, most if not all shops and restraunts were closed and were forbidden from opening - the same all over Nepal though worst in kathmandu. The only sound on the streets was the occasional steel shop shutters being opened and closed to let staff in and out. The first day went passed with relative comfort. I set up camp on the sun terrace which overlooked the main road in Thamel. I met a few other lone travllers and we ended up sitting on the terrace for large parts (11 hours) of the day till the early morning. Shops and restraunts were allowed to open between 6-8 so there were mad rushes to the shop at the end of the road that sold western snacks and alcohol. Because there were no cars on the road, many restraunts simply did not open as they had no food to serve. In trhe bazaar across the road from our hotel, we found a nice cafe above street level. All the westerners were packed in. Around 7.45 we were told we had 10 mins left so we ordered milkshakes before we left. Then w eheard bangning on the back door and a large group of maoists shouting and yelling. The waiters looked incredibley panicked and told us we had to pay the bill and leave. As we did. The streets had an uneasy feeling about them - one which i had never felt before. There were shouting and chants coming from an unknown area, and bangs and the sound of smashng glass. We ran back to our hotel where the guard unlocked the gate (all hotels had gates locked after dark during the strikes).

A girl who was staying in our hotel was last to leave the cafe we were in. She was halfway through her burger when the staff forcibly removed her from the place. The maosists apparently charged in, and started screaming flipping tables and chairs over, threatening to trash the place unless they closes asap. Things like this happened all over Thamel. The bar next to our hotel had bricks thrown at it cos it was open slightly later than 8, and a chinese restraunt we were planning on going to had all its windows knocked out before we could. For obvious reasons the maosists didnt targe hotels, though there was obvious tension between them and the hotel staff, as threats were made to them whenever they went outside.

As the days wore on and mroe and more restraunts remained closed, we began to simply accept we would probably die in the Potala hotel. Food in the hotel was running low though every now and then they managed to get a delivery. We would all sit on the sun terrace and eagerly wait fpr 6pm, when shops opened and we could safely go onto the streets to look for the few places open to eat. Every now and then the maosits gave us a little show though. For half an hour or so they rioted through the street carrying flaming torches screaming, and then the next they all had drums and were chanting. We were waiting for the unicycles and tight rope walkers but they never came. Obviously they dont know how to put on a good show. Anyhoo, we would get back to the hotel just before 8 and the same group of people would walk through the streets with whistels, which signified to the shop owners it was time to shut up shop. Within minutes the bustling, and brightly lit streets became merely ominious dark alleyways - devoid of any kind of life excpet maybe a dog and the single rickshaw driver who lived outside our hotel, and despite the fact NOTHING was opened, coninuted to insist we come down from the roof terrace and let him take us somewhere.

Our nights were spent drinking on the terrace and listening to music - it drowned out the noise of the chating and scremaming maosists.

One day we decided we werew bored of the potala hotel and decided to go to bhaktapur (or something similar to that name) where the open air cremations were happening. It was meant to be like Varanasi in India but to alesser extent. We walked through the crowds of red shirts, litter and past all the road blockades and armed polieman dressed in riot gear, and sauntered down to east kathmandu. After being told a way we could view the ceremonies without having to pay 10 quid, we ended up scaling down some rocky hills and cliffs, manouvering round barbed wire and sliding down some steep slopes, until we came to the bank of the river. The river was stagnant, blocked solid with waste and sewage yet still had people washing and drinking from it. Opposite us were 9 stone platforms with piles of wood on each. The bodies, wrapped in a coloured shroud, were 'cleaned' in the river, dried off and laid on the wood piles. The shrouds were removed so we could see the bodies, then they were covered in hay and burnt. There were 4 cremations happening when we view it, though the smell of the river covered the smell of the burning bodies. We then moved onto see the Budha stupor before making back for home.

Another night of drinking and lady gaga bought us to our final few hours in kathmandu. We left on the tourist bus and got to the airport for 11am. We were to fly kathmandu-delhi, delhi-madras, madras-kuala lumpur, then kuala lumpur- bali. Each flight had about 3 hours between, for room for delays, except the KL-bali flight that was on a different day, requring us to spend a night in KL. Good theory in practise, but what we didnt bank on was the general incompentance of jet airways. Without explanation, our flight kathmandu-delhin was cancelled. We were assured a place on a flght 3 hours later, but when we told a small nepalese airport man we had 2 other flights to catch, one of which was an international, he simply remarked 'well then your going to miss it then arent you'. After Jim (a guy from our hotel who was also off to madras) yelled a bit, emily yelled a bit, and me and alec just pushed in the crowd waving our tickets in the faces of the airport personal, we EVENTUALLY got on a 4pm plane. Of course delays meant we didnt take off till about 5 so missed our delhi-madras connection.

After making a scene to some more jet airways personel in delhi, we eventually managed to get put up in a nearby hotel. It did mean we got a free nights accomodation and free dinner and breakfast so it wasnt all bad. Our flights from delhi-madras and madras-KL were also with jet air so were easily rescheduled. At 5pm we caught or flight and landed in madras around 7. A 3 hour wait in what was basically a plane hangar, followed by a 4 hour flight, we arrived in KL local time 6am. 9 hours waiting here, and we boarded a 3pm plane to Bali. Of course EVERY plane without fail was delayed by more than an hour for reasons we were never told, but we EVENTUALLY arrived in Bali. At 9pm, outside temperataure was low 30's. 24 hour KFC'S mcdonalds, starbucks even a marks and spencer and topman. Bali is by far the most western place we have been to - thgouh still relatively cheap for food. Our hotel is next to some markets giving us the chance to buy some more relative shit i dont actually need, but will buy because of the novelty. When it gets light we will hopefully get our first glimpse of the Bali beaches. We are in Bali for 12 days, and plan to visit 3 cities - all near the coast so we can get some beach burning action in (maybe followed by a night of drinking and late night takeaway). Be jealous people. Be VERY jealous....

Saturday, 1 May 2010

We arrived in Gorak Shep in time for lunch. It was here our guide assured us that the next few days would get MUCH harder and longer, as we were tackling base camp and the peaks. We settled into our lodge, grabbed some lunch and set off to base camp. Base camp was only 5360metres. We trekked along the worlds longest glacier over large scree and moraine piles (some terminology for you natural geographers out there). The mounds of rock and rubble dwarfed us and rarely could we get a true perspective of the landscape. In the distance we could see the rock piles we had to climb up and round, but in no way could we tell how tall or wide any of these piles were...... until we saw the little black dots of people wearing horrifically bright jackets, trying to scale them. O well - a long day it was. The trek to base camp was just under 2 hours as we struggled over loose rocks and then ice. After a final push up some loose stone steps, overtaking a bundle of yaks on the way, we arrived at base camp. The views here were pretty minimal. We saw the start of one of the large glaciers leaning down the mountain, and as the climbing season started to pick up, the first few tents were pitched from people intending to reach everest summit. We also saw the most expensive accommodation in the area - a heated dome complete with cinema and reclining arm chairs at a modest 35,000 pounds for the full package (not bad considering it only costs 10,000 pounds for the permit to climb to the everest summit :S). After some arty poses and photos in front of rocks, we made our way back to the hostel and settled in for an early night, as tomorrow we would be tackling kalapathar - a small peak that would give us a panoramic view of everest and its neighbours.

Up at 4.30am, armed with a torch, primark trousers, charity shop fleece and jacket, and a purple pashmina I bought for a friend but forgot to unpack from my sack before the trek, we tackled kalapathar. Steep, dusty and rocky, we had to break every 10 mins. At an altitude of 5200metres and climbing we grew very quickly out of breath and exhausted. Just when we thought the peak was in sight, more of the mountain reveals itself and ridge after ridge we climbed. As the sky started to lighten we could see how high we were getting, yet the sheer lack of scale in the landscape made it quite tricky.

As the landscape became steeper and the rocks became bigger, we soon found ourselves having to haul ourselves over icy boulders and rocks until...... the final peak was in sight. With a final push we reached the 5550metre rocky summit and waited for the sun to rise from behind everest. It was here the cold hit us. The tchibo snow boots failed their task at keeping my feet warm and the 2.50 pound gloves let in a draft. The water in our bottles froze and still we waited. As the crowd on the summit grew, we were given cups of tea from one of the other guides.

And then came the sun. It peaked round everest and shot one of those light beams across the valley - the kind of beams you see in movies that implies a 'heavenly force'. The line of light moved slowly across the valley and climbed up the mountain towards us with far more ease than we could ever attempt. The minute the sun hit us we could feel its warmth. After another small photo session, finishing our cup of tea that too was turning icy, we made back for the hostel for a watery (and definitely not oats as originally promised) porridge.

From Gorak Shep, with Kalapathar and Base Camp safely under our belts and stored eternally on our camera memory cards, we were Gokyo bound. However, first there was the little matter of the Chola Pass, which was the point at which 2 mountains joint. It was one of the only ways out of the valley to get to Gokyo. We left the frosty Gorak Shep and continued down the valley, walking alongside a meltwater stream for most of the way until lunch. After a 5 hour trek over 'flat' (or what the guide assured us was flat) land, over, under and round mountains and hilly rock outcrops, we arrived at our stopping place for the night - Dzong La. Although shown on the map, it was little more than 2 hostels (though one was as our guide put it 'out of order'). The hostel was small with only 10 rooms. We were aptly placed in wooden box room 101 - good times. The toilet was in a tin hut outside and was 4 wooden planks over a ditch. Lets just say the torch saved my life here on a number of occasions - electricity and running water? Who needs em!?

We had another early start the next day as we were to scale up to the Chola Pass. Our guide informed us that to do the pass later in the day meant having to contend with high winds which create rock falls, so its safer to do in the morning. It was only after finishing the pass he also tells us 2 guides died the week before and for all anyone knows they are more bodies buried underneath the rocks *sigh* and with that we began our climb.

A steep but stable ground at first, dropped into massive boulders which we had to use as stepping stones up the valley. Large boulders of scree and general debris that had slid down the mountain from the glacier above. Every step we had to test the rocks to make sure they were stable and wouldn't slide down the mountain, taking us with it. After many short breaks and back at a height of around 5200metres, we saw the peak of the pass. Without a set in stone path to follow round, we scaled the steep scree sides, holding onto the larger rocks for support as we tried to place our feet away from ice and unstable rocks. After a few slips and grazes, we eventually slide down and stepped off the scree pile, onto the actual glacier (more kodak monents here). A large pool had recently opened up in the glacier, so we climbed up the opposite mountain side around this, and dropped down onto the rocky peak (further photo moments and assuring people coming up the other side, that the climb going down will not be as bad as it was for us coming up).

We stepped over the edge of the pass and made our way down the few hundred metres to the valley floor. This side was far FAR worse than it was on the other side (and we were very grateful to our guide for taking us up the other side and down this side, and not the other way round). The drop was steep, the rocks all moved beneath our feet, and paths that had been carved out were so coated in dust even the best of walking boots (let alone the finest tchibo quality foot wear) slid down. I found myself having to grab on just to steady myself from tumbling down. Of course the porters wearing flip flops made little work of these walk, but to us uncultured westerners, we managed to make quite a meal of it. Weaving our way down the uneven hill, we soon understood why Sonam insisted we came early. Every so often the silence was disrupted by the sound of tumbling rock and dust coming from further up the hill. Another valuable word of his advice was to move QUICKLY and not stay on the same spot for too long - again we soon saw why.

We survived the Chola Pass (evidently) but the day was not over yet. Sonam said there would be a short 10 minute up hill walk followed by mostly flat until we reached the glacier. An hour of harsh up hill walking later, followed by some comfortable flat land walking (as flat as a former glacier valley can be) we eventually saw our destination - Gokyo, and the neighboring hill of Gokyo Ri. But first we had to cross the glacier. It was covered in rocks and general debris carved out from mountains, and the only sign there was ice beneath it, was where water had worked its way up to the surface in pools and exposed ice face - in reality the glacier was tens of metres deep. We stood on the valley edge surveying what we had to cross. Again the scaleless landscape distorted our view. The glacier could have been miles across or only metres. We had no idea until.... once again.... we saw a series of tiny little black dots scaling the wall on the other side. Shit!

We descended a 100 or so metres down onto the glacier and weaved our way round towering piles of ice and rock debris. A good hour on the glacier and then the painful and tedious walk out. The entire length of this journey we were being followed closely by an indian salesmen - carrying a bag of goodies on his back bigger than him'. He seemed to spit constantly throughout the journey, to a point where we were very tempted to push him back into the glacier as we left it - we saw this wandering salesmen in most of the places we ended up, until we reached Namche again days later (still spitting his little heart out and making a great deal of noise about it in the process).

Gokyo was a very expensive place and our hostel overlooked a 'holy lake'. Staggeringly blue reflecting the mountains around it. We settled in for the night, just as a party started to play out in the dining room. The songs which were blasted at 4am on the night bus from india to katmandu came back to haunt us, as it seemed the same cd provided the party. The 2 blonde western girls, understandably were the main attraction for the slightly old and overweight porters and guides who were stopped up in the hostel. Me and Alec were tired (and far too reserved/sober for a party) so went to bed early.

Sonam insisted we had a short lie in, so....up at 5am, up we went to Gokyo Ri to see the sunrise. Halfway up the mountain the sun rose, so we decided to start taking it slowly. Far more decieving than Kalapathar, ridge after ridge convinced us to summit was near, but after 2 hours of climbing did we eventually reach the top where we flopped down on the rocks and surveyed the view. Everest was a hazy shape on the horizon, the glacier we crossed, once again looked deceptively narrow, and sonam pointed out to us the names of all the surrounding peaks. After an hour of photos and poses, we descended down the mountain, took our last glimpse of everest, and began the hardest day of the trek - the 10 hour trek BACK to Namche. We were heading down the valley.

From 4800m to 3600m we arrived in Namche. We caught back up with the river we left far behind days earlier, we saw trees, green shrubs and yes...... RUNNING WATER (showers were still 3 quid so no this was not on the agenda). Blisters, aches, scratches and general pain were the norm as we walked round the mountains edge to get to Namche. Every corner we expected to see the town, but to no avail until around 5ish when we saw the first signs of life (and then we got stuck behind a party of yaks that sounded like an orchestra of jingle bells).

The natural deodrant I bought from katmandu earlier was now starting to fail me (its a green rock you need to moisten before you use and has only 3 ingredients.... it was also only a quid understandably). We got back to the Namche hostel and slumped down in the dining room. There was about 15 minutes of 'sitting and doing nothing staring into space' (the calm after the storm) before we headed to our room. After 12 hours of trekking, off came the boots (and much of the inner lining) and the socks and we surveyed our foot damage. On went the plasters and blister cream, and we staggered (literally) to dinner to have a large serving of yak steak and chips.

We had another lie in (though this was actually a lie in as we got up at 9am), had breakfast and wandered off to the bakery to get an apple danish. Later on in the day after lunch, we began the tedious journey back to Phakding, then back to Lukla. Our trek was coming to an end. The walk back to Lukla seemed to be far more up hill than i ever remembered, and the need for me to take a shower (its been 13 days at this point) was not only overwhelming me, but also Alec who walked metres ahead. We arrived at Lukla around 11ish, where our guide told us we would eb staying the night as there were no more 'Agni air' flights back to Kathmandu. Fecking fantastic!!.

With the luxury of running water (stone cold, but running nonethless) I washed my face and underarms, and prepared for a night in Lukla. Early start though as we headed to the airport to catch our plane. We checked in (the guards prodded our bags, nodded then threw them aside) and waited.....and waited......more....waited. A tea stall on the corner tempted us slightly, until they said the pringles were 4 quid...... we waited a bit more. Agni air has about 3 planes, and we were the 3rd flight - meaning the planes had to go from the city to Lukla and back, city to Lukla and back and on the 3rd return was our flight. However, due to lack of sufficient radar, and the fact the planes were tiny, any sign of bad weather and planes wouldnt run.

The clouds bunched slowly around the tops of the mountains and fell around the airport. After 4 hours of waiting in the airport for our flight, a guard told us the airport was closed. We went back to the hostel and waited for a further 2 hours before the rain began. A call later from the aiport told us no more flights would be coming. We settled in for ANOTHER night in Lukla.

Early start, we ran for the airport, checked in an waited. The sky was patchy, yet planes still flew (just). We waited and waited......and waited a bit more. We saw the second round of Agni air planes leaves for Kathmandu. Sods law, there was now bad weather in Kathmandu. So again we waited. We were SO close. Whenever a plane was heard, everyone would get up and rush to the window to see what flight it was. Some people were lucky. We..... were not. The following day were strikes so if we missed this flight we would be stuck in Lukla for 3 more days (minimum) and without a guide (Sonam was only paid till today). 2 hours after we were meant to be on the plane we heard it. Sonam grabbed our arms and dragged us down the stairs to the runway area. The agni air plane parked up and unloaded its cargo of wood and (broken) glass planes before we boarded. We werent safe yet. The clouds were getting thicker and we heard stories of planes being turned back midflight as it was not safe to land. The plane took off and we began our bumpy 30 min journey back to Kathmandu. After some tight turns and corners where we were all convinced we were heading back to Lukla, we saw our first sign of civilization - tarmac roads and CARS!! We landed in Kathmandu and got a cab to Thamel. The air was thick with pollution, horns and people spitting. As much as I would never plan on moving out of the city, for that instant I would have done anything to be out of it and back in the clean and quiet of the mountains. Stuck in traffic behind cows and rickshaws, we FINALLY made it back to the tour place, where we got our stuff together, said goodbye to Sonam and met back up with Emily in a nearby hotel.

Next day were the strikes and protests. Shops closed, people chanting, trains and buses not running. Hotel bound, I managed to find a small shop in which to buy some digestive biscuits and sat watching tv working my way slowly through. The next few days would be days of treats, chocolate and steaks (assuming the protests dont shut down the steak places).

In hindsight, it seems that political instability follows Alec and Emily and I around. As far as we know, Brits are still advised to steer clear of Bangkok due to the red shirt protests (which turned violent days after we left). Delhi is now on a red alert for a terror attack so we have been advised to steer clear (not that we need telling twice), and the strikes and protests in Kathmandu are to go on indefinitely. *sigh* watch out Malaysia here we come (if the airports are open in 6 days). Our mission now is to find an open tour place that will send us on our way on a white water rafting trip. We have 6 days left in Nepal, and there are only so many boxes of digestive biscuits one can eat through....
Its Himalayas time!!! We were due at the tour office for 5.45 prompt as the taxi had to take us to the airport to catch our plane. At 6am i was awoken by emily who said alec's alarm didnt go off. With that, on went the boots and the shorts and we ran with our packs across Thamel, the short distance to the office. Our guide, Sonam (whose grandpa was a true ghurka) was waiting for us. We got in a cab and off to the airport we went. We waited for an hour or so for the next plane and boarded. It was a small propeller plane with no more than ten seats or so. The flight was about half an hour where we got our first glimpse of some snowy peaks, before landing in lukla airport. The runway was no more than about 100 metres, with a mountain on one side and a sheer drop on the other. The plane landed and skidded into place alongside the small warehouse/airport.

After we got our bags together and had our breakfast (all food included in the price of the trek) we began our first day of walking. Lukla - Phakding. From the noise and rush of kathmandu, the mountains were strangely surreal. The houses were all made from dry stone walls and corrugated metal and it dawned on us (once the trek was over) that we went for 14 days without ever seeing a car or motorised vehicle.

Anyhoo, the trek to Phakding was relatvely uneventful. A 2.5 hour down hill walk over uneven ground and mud. Still hard, but then I just wansnt used to it yet. Our room was a wooden box (one of many we stayed in) within the guest house. Most mornings we were up around 7.30, breakfast then out just after 8am. We headed to the Namche Bazaar, which is the main town in the solukhumbu area. We collected our permits and headed down into the valley. The river was pure blue and was bridged at a number of points by small suspension bridges. All over the valley were the coloured prayer flags, tied to the bridges, trees and buildings. The final leg of the day, we climbed an hour up hill to our final altitude of 3400 metres. Namche was a small town perched on the edge of a mountain in a horse shoe shape. As was the norm, our hostel was the highest and furthest away building in the town, and after 4.5 hours we settled into our wooden box. Acclimatisation day was the next day - where we climbed the short 300 metres to the viewpoint - saw the highest airport in the world and got our first glimpse of everest.

We were warned that from now on, we shouldnt order meat, and that anything we see has probably been bought up the mountain either by the yaks or by porters who carried more than double their body weight on their backs. As we walked from Namche to Pangboche, we saw the first large party of yaks. Every animal wore bells around their necks, and most had sacks of everything tied to them. Feeling sorry for the poor animals having to navigate the ridiculously bumpy and steep paths, we then saw porters carrying 2m x 3m squares of plywood on their backs, windows, metal and sacks of potatoes so our pity moved onto them instead. Indeed the further up the mountains we got, the more expensive everything was, obviously because this was the only method of food transportation in the mountains.

We had been walking alongside the river for a few days until we got to Pangboche. We had the hard 4 hour trek out of the valley to around 4000m, followed by a 3 hour walk the next day to Dingboche at the dizzying height of 4400metres above sea level. Reminding me very much of the stereotype of yorkshire, (just without the yaks and surrounding mountains) dry stone walls divided the land, buildings were low, and every hostel was called 'Everest view' 'Namaste Lodge' or 'Sherpa Hotel'. Acclimatisation day here required us to walk up 'sidstone peak' (named just because we were so great :D ) at 5100. This was by the far the hardest yet. The hill was steep and our guide Sonam seemed to have an aversion to taking breaks. After nearly falling off the mountain a few times, slipping on dusty paths and loose rocks, we clambered our way to the top and admired the view. We could see the river far below us, and by now at this height, all the vegetation was low lying grasses and most of it a browny grey in colour. Despite this the views were (and indeed continued to be throughout the trek) absolutely stunning. We perched on the rocks on the peak of 'sidstone' for half an hour or so. Prayer flags were wrapped around many of the rocky outcrops and flapped in the wind, yet there was little sound up there. After stumbling down the mountain (literally) we settled back into the Dingboche and bought some cookies from a local bakery - it wasnt a slice of lemon meringue pie that i saw (but didn't buy) in a bakery in the last town, but was still tasty nonetheless :D

O well, another day another 4 hour walk. We left running water far behind in Namche, so all toilets were squatters, and teeth were cleaned with bottles of water, whilst standing over the aforementioned squatter toilets. Showers were nothing more than tin boxes outside, rigged up with hoses to high windows into which large nepalese woman poured hot water. We arrived in Lobuche just in time for lunch, as always, though stuck a lot of the way behind a group of yaks. The temperature was dropping rapidly as we approached 5000 metres. Nights were cold so the hostels normally lit the gas stove in the dining room after dark. Failing to heat up anything within a 2 metre radius of the stove, everyone pulled up plastic chairs and sat until the stove died.

We also got a small amount of entertainment whilst in Lobuche - Nepalese woman v yak. A selection of unidentified foodstuffs were left outside on tarpaulin in the sun to dry out, when along comes the yak. He sniffs around, has a look, decides its safe, then runs up the stairs and starts gorging. Out runs a large group of guides and sherpas who start throwing rocks and the yak gets the point and leaves. Although....shortly after it came back. Hiding behind a towel hanging on the washing, it waits for its chance. It sneaks up to the stairs and..... along comes large Nepalese woman with a yellow stick (the same kind of stick security guards used to beat street kids with in India). After stones and sticks still dont work on the yak, ignoring all the heavier bricks and plastic chairs, the woman goes straight for a pile of yak shit and throws that. The yak (now knowing she means business) runs off and doesnt return again until later that day to munch on a selection of sun drying goodies. After seeing the same woman peeling potatoes, me and alec decided its probably best not to have chips in this particular hostel. The yaks, despite the shit throwing abuse, provide a lot for these communites - yak fur, yak meat, yak cheese, yak milk, and of course yak shit that goes into the heaters in the hostel.

We have now reached the halfway point of the trek. A further 3 hour trek and we reach Gorakshep at 5190 metres. From here we will make our way to everest base camp and up kalapathar where we will see the sunrise over everest. Its late however, so im off to bed. If you really want to know how my svelte and athletic physique handles those particularly dreadful climbs, then wait for my next update :D