Tuesday, May 20, 2008

I had a great time with the NASA Everest Team, but it's also great to be back!

I created a website to share some of my personal experiences and pictures. If you are interested, you can find the link at luciejohannes.com or here.


Saturday, May 17, 2008

Pictures and Video added to Blog

It was difficult to bring you all pictures and video during our trek as the internet access was pretty limited, which was unfortunate. However, pictures add a 1000 words so I decided to go back and add them to the previous blogs. In some cases I edited or added to the blog as indicated in blue text.

I hope you find this interesting enough to explore some of the older posts to get a better sense of what we were experiencing during our trek. Enjoy!


Home Sweet USA

Thursday - Friday, May 15-16
After near 40 hours of traveling most of us are back at home. All of us left Kathmandu together for Delhi (except for DJ who left the day earlier to get back for a family wedding), but several were staying a little while longer (from one day to one week) in India for various reasons. Those heading straight back to the states had a 14 hour lay over in Delhi waiting for our departure back to Newark.

Our trip back to Newark was on a new Boeing 777 complete with individual video screens and 100's of movies to choose from which passed the time nicely (between naps). Back on US soil it was not long before we searched the airport for Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, and even A&W (some were cravin' burgers at 5:00 am!).

And then there were 5. Jeff Ashby departed for Denver, Jason Coyle departed for Minneapolis -leaving 5 out of our group of 17 on the flight to Houston. It was a little sad saying goodbye to folks we wouldn't see in a while, but promising we would stay in touch and making plans for visits.

Arriving home was nice. We were all excited to see our friends, family and pets we had not seen in three weeks. Sleeping in our own beds after weeks of sleeping bags was a comfort. It is benefit to arrive home on the weekend and give our bodies a few days to recover from the long travel in order to be refreshed for the coming work week as well.



Tuesday-Wednesday, May 13-14
Well, back to the crazy city life! It didn't take more than the bus ride back to the hotel from the airport to remember the chaotic life style in the city. The traffic laws are more than confusing, so it was nice to know none of us would have to go behind the wheel and find our way around.

We went back to the same hotel we stayed in at the beginning of our adventure - Hotel Manaslu. It is nicely situated a few blocks from the main streets of Kathmandu so it was a nice secluded area void of car horns and traffic. Since we arrived back in the morning, we had the rest of the day as well as the next day (a contingent day not needed) to unwind from the trek. It was good to have these days to take it easy. Several spent time by the pool reading a book, venturing out for those last minute gifts, or scheduling a massage to unwind. Much of what was needed was within walking distance from the hotel which was convenient.

On the last night we went to Tamal, a hip district in the city, for a bit of something we had all been craving - pizza! Tamal is a tourist area in Kathmandu that caters to travelers - from every kind of gift imaginable to the bar and restaurant variety fit for anyone. The pizza was fantastic and we finished it off with a bit of ice cream also available. It was a nice way to end the trip.

While we were all hesitant to end the trip, we knew we had a very early morning coming to catch the airplane back to Delhi. Some headed back to the hotel to pack and prepare; others stayed for one last San Miguel beer.


Friday, May 16, 2008

Namche to Phakding to Lukla

Sunday-Monday, May 11-12
The final two days of trekking brought us back to Phakding from Namche where we spent the night in another tea house, and then finally to Lukla where we would fly out of to end our trek.

Descending from Namche to Phakding we quickly passed many locations I remember the group stopping on the way up the second day of our trek to catch our breath. It was much faster heading down although a little harder on the knees. We crossed at least four suspension bridges again reminding me that there more suspension bridges on this day than the other days of the trek. We arrived in Phakding before lunch ending our trek for the day.

During lunch, we noticed our Sherpa serving one of our guides, Baldev, a cloudy white drink. Soon after we asked what it was we found ourselves being served the drink to quell our curiosity. The drink is called "chang" and is a Sherpa beer made from rice. It certainly was interesting to taste but hard to describe. Needless to say, it did not meet the palate of the group majority - I guess it is an acquired taste that we did not have the time for:)

After lunch we crossed the trail to a neighboring tea house for their touted apple pie. The owners were more than happy to take a few orders and begin making them from scratch - peeling the apples and kneading the dough. They welcomed us in the kitchen to watch and smiled as we were quizitive on how they prepared and fried the pies. The turnovers were very delicious and we enjoyed them to the fullest extent.

The next morning we headed for Lukla. In the end we would spend more time ascending this day since the elevation of Lukla is at least 1000 feet higher than Phakding. During this day we say many new groups on the trail heading out to trek where we where coming from. You could see the wondrous smiles on their faces and knew now from experience having spent the previous weeks on the trail that they were in for a trek of their lives and would not be disappointed in their expectations.

Arriving in Lukla was a little bittersweet. We were now at the end of our trek - somewhat exhausted but not quite willing to let the majestic peaks out of our view. At our tea house we all toasted over a beer the incredible trip we just finished and spent some time reflecting over our experiences.

After lunch we headed to the Monastery in Lukla - there was a festival being held where the monks put on a show of chant, music and dance. While we were there the "band" came out of the monetary and situated themselves in a balcony and began with chant and drums. This was followed by a fairly long program of cymbals and dance. It was a little hard to follow but there was certainly a pattern or format for which the monks were familiar with that kept them in sync.

In the evening we closed the trek with a large bonfire behind the tea house and broke out some more S'mores to enjoy.

Our flight out of Lukla was early the next morning. Five prop planes all landed back to back within 5 minutes of each other, and after quickly loading them with passengers and cargo, we all took off within 5 minutes of each other. My guess is that this time of the day was the most dependable and the airlines used this to maximize their productivity. After one last view of the mountains we stepped on the plane. It was fun to get back on the Yeti Airlines Fokker 100 and scream down the short 8 degree slope runway into the valleys of the Himalayas.

We didn't exceed 12,500 ft altitude during our flight back to Kathmandu and initially many of the "hill" peaks were above and right next to us. In about an hour we touched down in Kathmandu and we were all back to the city life with all hiking behind us.


Khumjung to Namche

Saturday, May 10
We had a pretty easy day going from Khumjung back to Namche. The towns are fairly close together and mostly required going downhill. The days trek lasted less than two hours and we were in Namche by 9:00 in the morning. This was the earliest we had arrived at any of our destinations and we had the rest of the day to ourselves.

Being a Saturday, Namche was hosting their weekly Bazaar. To try and describe the town a little better, it is nested between two adjoining "hills" and takes the shape of a horseshoe with many terraced levels. The Bazaar was located at one end of the horseshoe and took up about three tiers. It was a little smaller than I had originally imagined, but it was very interesting to walk through and see the local goods being sold and bartered. The items ranged from food to clothing - it was less of a Bazaar for tourist goods but more for the locals with the necessities for living in the region.

Most of the afternoon the group spent recovering from the last two long days of trekking. We all had an opportunity to take a hot shower again which was comforting. The village also afforded another good opportunity to visit the little shops for unique gifts to bring home, as well as a bakery with good snacks, coffee, and western style music.


Saturday, May 10, 2008

"I'm sorry, it can not be done!"

I have to recap a pretty funny scene on the trip when we were in Dingboche. As I mentioned on my previous entry, we were going to try to deep fry bite-sized Snickers bars as a surprise to Laurie and the rest of the team. I thought I had an agreement with the cooks that we would try to fry these suckers when I made my last entry, however I apparently wasn't talking to the head cook at the time.

We were confronted by a man (the real head cook) who simply refused to believe that we could fry anything other than potatoes. "It can not be done!" he told us (over and over). "The batter will never hold and you'll just make a mess in my kitchen!"

Pulling out every ounce of negotiation skills I have (which was tough since I had no idea if this would actually work), the head cook was finally convinced to try just one. We coated it with flour and water and dropped it in. The cook sat in the back shaking his head at first, but slowly started to inch his way to the pot for a closer look. The look on his face when we pulled out the sealed, golden brown chocolate nugget after 3-4 minutes was priceless. It was like he had witnessed a miracle. Needless to say, we later dropped the whole bag in and had enough to feed the team and the whole kitchen staff. I'm telling you, these guys in the kitchen were shocked. I can only imagine their reaction if they strolled through any carnival-town, USA.

I'm convinced that, if I pass through Dingboche in 10 years, this place will be frying everything under the sun. Tourists and locals will flock from afar to experience the "one of a kind" deep fried Snickers bars. This humble little tea house will tranform into an ostentatious, gold-plated, Vegas-style hotel with search lights and valet parking (for your yak).