We have finally arrived at Everest Base Camp, reuniting us with much of our kit including the laptop on which I had written a few days of my blog before the lorry crash. So here is a catch-up on an eventful week.
Day 11, Thursday 7 April
So we left the snowy wilderness and by 8am we had had breakfast, packed our stuff, dismantled the tents and were off down the mountain. The porters are amazing. I have brought far too much stuff and have two kit bags. I wouldn’t want to carry one of them very far, but both are crammed into a red carrying sack, two of these sacks are tied together, a few other things tied on for good measure and the whole thing amounts to a load I cannot lift. A porter weighing less than this load will carry this down the mountain. They have boots but once out of the snow they change into flip-flops.
Going down is easy and soon we had left the snow behind and the weather got warmer, the landscape changed and we were in a forest of rhododendron trees (not bushes as in England, but trees) which changed to a pine forest, which changed again to a mix of oak, pines and rhoddies.
Who said going down was easy?
It got hotter and hotter and the slope got steeper and steeper. The terrain was a nightmare and we were picking our way down a boulder-strewn trail often with steep drops to one side. We must have covered 10 or 15 km but we descended over 2,000 metres and by the end of the day we were totally exhausted. We were breathing thicker air, but instead of being breathless, our muscles were aching and I thought the journey would never end. As usual the “military” as Graham calls Duffy and Justin were streaking ahead, goose-stepping down the mountain. Graham has an interesting turn of phrase which keeps us in stitches. Justin is an ex paratrooper and now a fitness freak. Duffy was in the Red Arrows until recently and now serves in Afghanistan. If anyone gets to the top of Everest it will be these two.
Eventually, after eight hours, the campsite came into view. It was maybe 200 metres below us, down a vertical cliff face with a tortuous path carved into the mountainside. Talk about health and safety, one trip and you would fall to the bottom.
At the campsite I didn’t have the energy to do anything other than lie on the grass but, to our shame, the porters arrived about the same time and then had to start erecting tents and generally setting up the camp. The chef and the cook boys had done the same trek, but they had to start preparing dinner. The Sherpa chef sent down to the village below us for half a dozen chickens and proceeded to make a chicken curry.
Richard’s tent was next to mine, he came over with a mischievous look in his eye and produced a hip flask of whisky. As a virtual alcoholic, it was rare for me to go so long without a drink, but I had never even thought about it for the last week. I don’t like whisky but it never tasted so good. We were quite furtive about it as we didn’t want to share it with 10 other people but feeling guilty I persuaded one of the Sherpas to find some beer and that night we enjoyed a well earned dinner and a few bottles of Chinese beer.
Day 12, Friday 8 April
We awoke to a beautiful morning and for the first time took in our surroundings, which were truly spectacular. Everyone was stiff from the long day yesterday and after a leisurely breakfast we made our way over the last one and a half hours of torture trail down the mountain before waiting at the bottom. We were to spend the next two nights at Eco Lodge, recovering from our ordeal, before setting off to the Chinese border. Before boarding the bus, we risked buying a Coca Cola from a shack at the side of the road, thank God we had antiseptic baby wipes to sterilise the bottle neck, you wouldn’t believe what came off it. Whilst drinking we noticed some interesting plants growing at the side of the road – cannabis! If only we knew how to process it.
At this point, we said goodbye to Loxton, the dog, who had followed us faithfully. We left him with the porters and hoped he would find his way back to his village. We set off on the bus and the debate ensued, should we go straight to Eco Lodge or stop off first at some hot springs. Two of us wanted to go straight to the Lodge, but we were out-voted and set off for the springs. I knew everyone envisaged a steaming rock pool on the mountainside where we could soak our weary bodies, but I suggested they were delusional and it would be a sewer. “Ten minutes to look at it?” suggested Hempie. “If we don’t like it we can go to the Lodge”.
After half an hour of the worst roads so far, with buses passing us, crammed with people enough to win a place in the Guinness Book of Records, plus maybe an additional 20 people sitting on the roof, and two or three clinging to the ladder at the back, we arrived at a sign over the road saying “Welcome to Tatapani Hot Springs”. It was a gruesome quarter mile stretch of village along the roadside, heaving with people with shops, shacks and building works spilling onto the roadside. The bus pulled up and Nga Temba (our head Sherpa and tour leader) pointed to a gate with steps leading down to the “springs”. My heart sank – this was worse than I imagined - we were ushered through a queue and went down the steps to a sight that was beyond belief. Hundreds of people (this place was obviously very popular) were milling about in a small courtyard. To one side were two concrete cells each about five metres square, one for men, one for women, with six spouts of hot water coming out of the back wall. Each cell was packed with people, the men were in their underpants, the women’s modesty covered by saris, all scrubbing themselves (and each other) furiously in a froth of soap suds. To one side was a concrete tank filled with what looked like sewage with three men and a boy, happily splashing and swimming.
I suggested we make a run for it before we caught cholera.
Halfway up the steps to the exit, I met Hempie who informed me that the bus had gone and would be back in an hour. An hour in this hellhole of thieving humanity was more than I could stand, I could feel a tantrum coming on. I met Nga Temba outside clutching a bunch of tickets for all of us to have a bath, he looked crestfallen when I told him we wanted to leave, he just couldn’t understand the problem.
It turned out that the bus we were using was a school bus doing our trip as a job on the side and had now gone to pick up the school kids, so we were trapped. Graham was feeling guilty that his planning had gone to pot and within minutes he had organised a taxi to take Richard and myself to Eco Lodge. He was coming with us and the others were to follow as soon as taxis became available. The ageing Toyota bounced over the road for 45 minutes back the way we came and eventually turned into Borderlands – the lodge where we had stopped for lunch a week ago! This wasn’t Eco Lodge – we were lost. Richard and I went to bar for a beer, and left Graham to sort things out. The bar man told us Eco lodge had closed down a year ago. This lodge looked OK a week ago, but now it looked like paradise! Richard was determined that come what may we would stay here.
Two beers later, Graham still hadn’t appeared so Richard and I had lunch from the buffet. It turned out that Borderlands was also called “Borderland Eco Lodge” and eventually after the management had called Kathmandu we realised that we were indeed booked in under the name of Iceland. Eventually the rest of the team arrived after spending time themselves looking for the non-existent lodge and then, a miracle - Loxton strolled in, God knows how he had found us.
Later I was sunbathing on the grass when a wobbly Richard and Justin sent over a Tequila. They had had a drinking competition and six or seven shots later Richard was delighted to see Justin lying face down unconscious in his underpants dribbling into a pillow. Richard is half the size of Justin and it worried me that his constitution was such that he could drink Justin under the table. Later that evening we had dinner and copious amounts of red wine. The lodge was full of students from Kathmandu business school and gradually the evening degenerated into a riotous party.
Richard is an amazing dancer and held the floor with everyone looking on in amazement as if he was John Travolta. The Nepalese were well impressed and everyone joined in including Justin and myself from our party. Justin and Richard were as daft as each other and then Justin decided we should all drink Vodka shots. He decided his role in life was as a barman and bought shot after shot, the real barman gave up. At what I thought was a convenient point when no-one would notice I slipped off to bed and left them to it. I was convinced there would be some serious hangovers in the morning.
Day 13, Saturday 9 April
Everyone seemed OK at breakfast and we had a relaxing day.
Day 14, Sunday 10 April
I woke up to my last day in paradise. The sun was shining, all was well with the world and then I went for breakfast. Hempie was already there loading a camera card into his lap top. The picture was of what was left of a lorry at the bottom of a ravine with all our blue barrels strewn down the mountainside.
Most of the kit for base camp had been decanted from the boxes and packing cases it came in and packed into blue plastic barrels for easier transport by yak later on. We had three lorry loads of kit and they were travelling overnight to the Tibetan border ahead of us. Last night was a foul night with a rainstorm and thunder and one of the lorries went over the side of the road and crashed down the ravine. Why anyone would travel at night on these roads is a mystery anyway. Mud roads, no lights or cats eyes, hairpin bends with steep drops and no actual certainty as to which side of the road you drive on.
Anyway, this looked catastrophic. Months of shopping for specialist climbing gear wasn't going to be replicated here.
Hempie and Graham dashed off to the scene and we packed up and waited for our transport to take us to the Tibetan border. The Chinese close the border at 3pm and we had a group permit which meant we all had to go through together. If we missed the slot we would have to wait and apply for another permit, which could take weeks. We were under strict instructions not to be late and our transport was due to arrive at 9am. At 10am we were still waiting and eventually two Chinese jeeps arrived with four seats each for 12 people. Our mountain of luggage was loaded onto the roof which made the jeeps top heavy to start with. There was no possibility we could all fit into the vehicles and I wouldn't want to anyway. After about 45 minutes’ debate someone came up with the brilliant idea of making two trips!
I went first and after about half an hour we arrived at the scene of the accident. How on earth anyone survived is a miracle but all three passengers jumped out as it went over the edge. The lorry was unrecognisable as a vehicle. The two drivers were injured but alive, our climbing Sherpa was uninjured. One of my barrels was under the wheels of the vehicle and squashed flat. The accident had happened at 9pm the previous night but a team of Sherpas had worked through the night carrying everything out of the ravine and stacking it at the side of the road. Another lorry was on its way and we decided just to carry on, get through the border and sort everything out on the other side.
The border town in Nepal, Kadari, was as bad as anything I've experienced. After all the rushing we had to wait a couple of hours for everyone to arrive, and the lorries, so that we could all go through together. A couple of the guys had lunch but Richard and I gave it a miss. No point getting ill at this stage!
However bad the litter was in Kathmandu, here it was 100 times worse. The "restaurant" where we waited and some had lunch was by the side of the road perched high on a cliff over the river. All the rubbish was just lobbed out of the window and down the ravine where hundreds of tons of the accumulated stuff rotted and polluted the river. That seemed to be the norm.
Everything had to be unloaded from the lorries and physically carried across the border and up a hill on the other side to waiting Chinese lorries. About 100 porters were fighting for the privilege of doing this but the strange thing was that they were all women. Old women, women carrying babies and very young girls lined up to collect barrels weighing as much as 60 kilos, gas canisters and unidentifiable pieces of kit the size of a wardrobe wrapped in plastic. They put them on their backs and held them by a rope over their heads.
We watched in pity and silent admiration as they did this. We ourselves lined up for an hour of Chinese bureaucracy as we struggled to get past check after check by unsmiling Chinese soldiers, who went through our papers and searched our bags. It was strange as the porters went through unhindered - mindless security!
They call the border crossing Friendship Bridge: this is an oxymoron.
Apparently when the porters get paid they spend the money on Chinese goods to carry back to Nepal where they sell the stuff for twice the price.
We were then driven a short way to the Chinese border town of Zhangmu. It was grim. The place was bleak, cold and so dusty that everyone wore face masks. You would think that a town high in the Himalayas would enjoy pure air, but the pollution was incredible. Everywhere was the acrid smell of burning yak dung, the local cooking fuel. Our hotel was in the main street and had just been refurbished. There was no heating in any of the buildings and the reception staff looked smart behind their desk wearing thick coats and woolly hats! My room was sort of OK but freezing cold and no water came out of the hot tap. I enquired at reception and was told that hot water was only available between 7pm and midnight. When I did shower later the drain in the bathroom floor was at the highest point so all the water stayed in the bathroom like a paddling pool.
Dinner and breakfast was across the road in a fly-blown café. I had to eat something!
We spent half an hour in the local disco / night club which was a sad sight to behold.
Day 15, Monday 11 April
We were told we were leaving at 10am for a four hour drive to the next town, Nyalam, at an altitude of 3,700 metres. We were to spend two nights there to continue acclimatisation. All climbing trips to Tibet have to be organised through the TMA (Tibet Mountain Association.) Their representative was waiting for us at 9:00am and throwing a fit because we should have left by then. Why I have no idea as arriving in Nyalam at noon was of no benefit to anybody, but this guy had a timetable to keep.
We drove for three hours on one of the most impressive roads I have seen. A concrete piece of amazing engineering snaking its way though one of the deepest gorges in the world. The scenery was spectacular. Eventually we turned off the road and arrived at Nyalam. The armpit of the world. It made Kathmandu look like Chelsea.
We arrived at the hotel and were met by our Chinese liaison officer who told us we could not get involved in politics or religion but otherwise he was here to help. Any problems - ask him. Some guy then appeared from the hotel to tell us it was full - no rooms. Hempie explained we had booked three months ago and paid in full. The guy and the liaison officer were unimpressed - "it's full."
We argued for half an hour but only ever got one word in response. "Full, full." The point being this was the only hotel in town you'd let your dog sleep in. Graham stayed in another one years ago and shared his bed with a rat. Eventually we got two rooms with five beds. The others went over the road to the rat hole.
The town was cold, windy, bleak and miserable. I did comment to Richard that if I was told I had to spend the rest of my life here I'd top myself. The hotel was new - but no heating. The bedrooms had big windows single glazed. I've never been as cold anywhere in my life.
We had arrived too early but put the time to good use by getting all three of our kit lorries and unloading them and sorting out our gear. Luckily my high altitude suit and boots survived the squashing but some of the guys had clothes and sleeping bags soaked in kerosene. We did lose some kit but replacements are hopefully on there way from Kathmandu. The worst job was sorting out thousands of Loxton’s meal bags. Every barrel had to be emptied, the bags sorted and burst ones thrown away and the rest washed under the town hosepipe. We gathered quite an audience of unsmiling bystanders.
That night we ate in the climbers’ café.
I stuck to fried rice and we bought what looked like a bottle of Johnny Walker to sterilise the food. Of course it wasn't Johnny Walker but a rip-off probably made with meths. I slept with all my clothes on.
Beijing insists that Tibet keeps Beijing time so we are two hours ahead Nepal and seven hours ahead of the UK. This means that we are not in natural sync with nature. Midday, when the sun should be at its highest point, is mid-afternoon. It's weird.
Day 16, Tuesday 12 April
This morning we persuaded the climbers’ café to boil up a Loxton’s corned beef hash breakfast. Richard, Alan Hinkes and myself then went for a climb. We got to 4,070 metres. It was exhausting and the altitude really kicked in but I suppose it was good training.
I also found an infrared heater in a shop. I was so excited I paid the 800 yuan (80 pounds) without thinking and only later realised I'd been ripped off. It should have been maybe 10 pounds at most.
Anyway it's on in our room now at full belt emitting at least half a kilowatt, and should have raised the temperature by one degree.
|< Prev||Next >|
Copyright © Iceland Foods Ltd 2011.
All Rights Reserved.