Wednesday, 30 May 2012

England's green and pleasant land

I am home!!!
I can't quite believe that I am writing this blog post back on home soil and I also can't believe that I am so jammy that I am doing it in the front room of a £1m+ house in Chelsea, my temporary residence!!!
(Greg and Isla, you guys are the best, cheers for putting us up, or is it putting up with us?)

There really isn't much else to tell you about on the travel front but I will fill you in on my final few days.
As you know, after finishing our unbelievable trek up to Everest Base Camp and getting back down to Kathmandu we Googled the cheapest fights out of Nepal and 2 days later found ourselves in a very hot and humid Bangkok - for the third time on this trip!
Of all the places I have been to on my adventures Bangkok is the city I know least about, I have literally used it as a drunken stop over transit location and this time would be no different.
Upon arriving we were on high alert regarding thieving taxi drivers and bless them, they didn't let us down. The taxi driver stood by idly as we questioned the taxi coordinator about the expected cost of the cab to which she gave us an overinflated approximate figure but told us that all of their cabs would use their meter so it would be fair price!
As we departed the taxi driver turned his meter off and we just looked at each other in a sort of "for f*cks sake, why can't it just be easy?".
We asked him why the meter wasn't on and all he would quote back to us was the coordinator's high price. Well we were having none of this so we took down all of his details and when we arrived at our location we blackmailed him into giving us a fair price or else we would report him.
To say that he was angry would be an understatement and he slammed his boot shut with enough force to cause some serious damage (especially if my head was in the way) but in the end he left cursing us, but with a lot less in his pocket than he thought he would have.
A small victory for the westerners!!!!
Why can't people just be honest?

We checked into a hotel that I knew and then we went out into the familiar debaucherous surroundings of Khao San Road. Visit number 3 for me but visit number 8 to Thailand for Arancha!

The next day was a very easy day:
1) Decide on an island to visit
2) Book the travel
3) Eat
4) Arancha shops
5) Eat, drink and sleep

Of all the beautiful Thai islands on offer we chose to travel to Koh Samet for one simple reason, it was the closest to Bangkok and would only take 4 hours to get to.
We looked back over our previous 4/5 months travel and apart from 5 days with Arancha's father in Shanghai we had pretty much been continuously on the move for all of that time and quite frankly we were knackered.
All we wanted to do for the next 10 days was absolutely nothing.

Early on our second morning in Thailand we were sat on a tourist coach heading in a south-easterly direction to the coast and then it was only a 4 hour journey to the coast followed by a short 30 minute boat ride over to the Koh Samet.
We hadn't booked any accommodation on the island and planned to do it in the usual fashion ie. wander around until we found the right thing. However, we didn't realise that this was a public holiday weekend in Thailand and that Koh Samet was the Thai people's holiday island, so it was packed.
Add to the mix that it was 35+ degrees, humid and we were carrying over 30kgs each in weight, it was not pretty and our tempers were frayed!
Eventually we did find a place to stay that was suitable ie. it was not next to the chicken coup or the rubbish bins, so we paid for just the one night; it wasn't that suitable!

What to say about Koh Samet as an island destination? Erm, if I was you I wouldn't come. When the sun is out it has the required squeaky white beaches, blue ocean with a green jungle backdrop but the island is general was run down and there was far too much litter on show for it to be a dreamy destination. If I was you I would keep heading south to the 'real' Thai islands of Koh Tao, Samui or Phi Phi.

I am very particular when it comes to restaurants meaning that I expect good food and good service. I don't give a sh*t if it is a beach bar, customer service is free and very easy to deliver, or should be. Well, after a below par lunch and some bad attitude I had already crossed off my first restaurant and I had only been on the island for 2 hours. My relaxing island retreat wasn't delivering so far!
For the rest of the afternoon our only mission was to find a new place to stay that had a more idyllic setting than where we were currently residing. At the opposite end of the main beach on Koh Samet we found what we were looking for and as of the next day we would be living out of a beach side bungalow that was perfect for our simple requirements.
It was a good job that we would be moving the next day as our current bungalow was set back amongst the jungle foliage and the mosquitoes were destroying me!

In the evening Koh Samet is lovely and you can walk along the beach bare foot and choose which restaurant it is you wish to eat at among the many that have table and floor cushioned seating areas littering the beach itself where you could sit back, drink and enjoy the evening fire shows.
The setting was beautiful but unfortunately the service and food was rubbish. The food came at different times, it was delivered within 5 minutes of ordering (evening dinner should be an enjoyable event, not a race) and it was just bad food.
2 restaurants frequented and now another that I would not be going back to.

The move next day was painful. It was midday, hot and sunny and we must've looked a right sight as we walked down a packed beach with our huge backpacks.
Still, it was all good and we were now the proud inhabitants of a blue and white bungalow that was very swish compared to what we had been used to.

Life for the next 9 days in the bungalow followed a very standard pattern:
1) Wake up very late after listening to the very early thunder storms that seem to hit on a daily basis
2) Sit on the balcony and look out to sea as we slowly 'wake up'
3) Walk 100 metres to the local restaurant on the beach front and order pretty much the same thing every day so that all I had to say was "the usual please"
4) Walk back to the bungalow and mince around
5) Maybe go back down to the beach to swim in a very warm ocean or to play Bat 'n' Ball if we could muster up the energy (some days we did and we broke the 100 barrier)
6) Read and talk on the balcony of the bungalow
7) Shower and head out for dinner
8) Drinks or an early night in to watch a movie

That was literally our life for 9 days and I have to admit that it was great. Not once did I get bored by our lack of activity and now that we had found the local village street away from the beach we could enjoy good quality restaurants in which to eat and stop me from being a 'whinging pom'.

However, underlying my life as a spoilt Tom Hanks from Castaway was the ever nagging presence of that little voice in my head repeating, "this is the end, its all over, you will be home in, 4, 3, 2 days...".
The only way for me not to sink into an oblivion of reminiscence was to not think about the previous 19 months and when I sum up my trip at the end of this post it will be the first time since I have returned that I will really think about it all.
I think if I dwell on it for too long I will cry at the life I am not living anymore, which is daft as I have got so much planned for the coming few months in the UK and someone great to share it all with.

All too quickly our time on Koh Samet came to an end and I can't say that I was that upset to be leaving it. To sum up the island we left sitting opposite a dirty old American man (who you could tell loves his whores) and he had no underwear on. So myself and Arancha sat there staring at his very bald and smooth testicles that there displayed on either side of the crease trying to take photos of them without getting caught! (I am really not sure why)

We spent one last night in Bangkok before heading off to the airport and my highly anticipated return to England (only by my Mum).
We were flying Air India back to the UK because they were by far the cheapest airline but I was wary as I had already experienced their poor service when I was delayed in India back in Nov 2010 (post about missing a flight whilst being badly sunburnt if you would like to refresh yourselves).
They managed to keep up their great reputation by delaying us for 4.5 hours so I was forced to bring my reunion with my mother to a more southern location by asking her to drive down to north London to pick us up as we would miss our pre-booked trains up to the Shire.
Cheers Suzy.

At approximately 21:00pm on 9th May 2012, 19 months to the day since I had departed for Delhi, I landed back on England's green and pleasant land.
It was dark and rainy and very English. Was nice to be home? No f*cking way was it, but was I looking forward to seeing mum, dad, family and friends? Yes of course.

I am not sure what I expected when I passed through immigration, maybe a "Welcome Home", but it was not to be as I passed through an electronic gate so I didn't even get to speak to someone!

At approximately 23:30pm we emerged from the tube and in the distance I could see a familiar shade of orange; it was obvious that mum still had the same fleece jacket but that was a good thing as far as I was concerned.
Well done to Suzy, there were no floods of tears or hysterics, just a nice big hug and kiss from my mummy. And well done Dad who couldn't be arsed to come and meet me (not really he was sick).
So that was it, come 1:30am I was home and Arancha was in the bedroom that I grew up in since the day I was brought back from the hospital! Weird when you consider where we met and where we have been together!

What followed over the next few days was catching up with my grandparents, my mates and other family members, attending a great wedding for Bob and Steph (congrats again) and doing other key things such as going to Alton Towers theme park before moving back down to London to find that all important job!

I have decided to keep my blog going in the UK as I have plenty arranged during my time here such as a stag do in Latvia next weekend, watching England play in the Ukraine in mid June as well as loads of other fun stuff such as the Olympics before we will hopefully set off again after Xmas.

Oh one thing I forgot to tell you. Ayden Irmak, the man we hung out with at the beginning of our trek and who was attempting to take his bicycle to the summit of Mt Everest was found dying at the top of Everest last week in the pitch black minus any oxygen, flashlight, backpack and the all important bicycle! How crazy is that? You can read the article by clicking this link below:

So the 'trip' is over. Without sounding like a cliche I don't know how I can put into words what a life changing and all round brilliant experience this past 19 months has been but it was. I loved every single day of my life, met some fantastic people and such interesting characters and saw some unforgettable things.
I hope that this blog has gone some way to letting you get a glimpse into what my world has been like and it also saves me having to bore you with the details if ever we should speak!
I think the best way to sum it up is as follows:

Trail taken:
India - Nepal - Thailand - Laos - Thailand - Malaysia - Singapore - Australia - China - Hong Kong- China - Nepal - Thailand

Seen in the wild:
Rhinoceros, Sea Lion, Penguin, Dolphin, Kangaroo, Wallaby, Snake, Monitor Lizard, Scorpion, Bird Eating Spider, Deer, Tortoise, Koala, Dingo, Brumby, Eagle, Monkey, Turtle, Himalayan Wildcat, Himalayan Pheasant, Stingrays, Giant Panda (not wild but needs a mention), and best of all, Crocodile, Tiger, Great White Shark

Modes of transport:
Plane, Train, Automobile, Tuk-Tuk, Boat, Scooter, Elephant, Camel and Dominus!

Stand out sights:
Taj Mahal, Udaipur, Great Wall of China, Tiger Leaping Gorge, the view from Gokyo Peak, Turtles laying eggs on the beach, A man with a skeletal foot being eaten away by flies, The Great Barrier Reef, Meteor Crater, the Milky Way at numerous locations incl from the Gingin Obervatory, The entire Western Australia coastline, The Himalayan Mountains from every angle, Mount Everest and Dominus in a ditch!
Frankly, every day was a stand out.

31 years old - Darjeeling, India - playing a 7-a-side football match in the mountains followed by the zoo and Harry Potter at the cinema
32 years old - The Whitsunday Islands - sailing around the turquoise ocean with 2 of my best mates

2010 - Pokhara, Nepal - spending the day and night with 4 hot Aussie girls
2011 - Sydney, Australia - spending the day with a certain Aussie girl and her mother

New Years Eve:
2010/11 - Kathmandu, Nepal - smashed with 4 hot Aussie girls, 1 hot American chick and randoms
2011/12 - Sydney Harbour Bridge, Australia - watching the greatest firework display on Earth

Key travelling buddies:
Arancha Joulian - Nepal, Australia, China, Hong Kong, Thailand
Rachael Moore - India, Nepal, Thailand, Laos, Australia

Live sporting events:
Commonwealth Games - Delhi, India
A League football matches - Melbourne Victory FC x 2
Aussie Rules Football - Play-off Semi Final at the MCG, Melbourne
Derby Day - horse racing at Flemington, Melbourne
Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race - Hobart, Tasmania

My sporting events:
Melbourne Marathon, Australia
Sri Chinmoy Half Marathon, Melbourne, Australia
Playing for Ashburton United FC, Melbourne, Australia
Skiing x 2, Victoria, Australia

Jungles/Rainforests visited:
Bandhavgarh, India
Chitwan, Nepal
Chiang Mai, Thailand
Taman Negara, Malaysia
Mekong, Laos
Blue Mountains, Australia

Mountains/Passes conquered:
Mt Kosciuszko, 2,228 metres - Australia   
Annapurna Base Camp, 4,130 metres - Nepal
Thoroung La Pass, 5,416 metres - Nepal
Gokyo Peak, 5,483 metres - Nepal
Kalar Patthar, 5,545 metres - Nepal
Mt Everest Base Camp, 5,350 metres - Nepal
Cho La Pass, 5,420 metres - Nepal
Tai Shan,1,533 metres - China
Hua Shan, 2,160 metres - China
Huang Shan, 1,864 metres - China
Tiger Leaping Gorge, 2,700 metres - China

Top parties:
2 days sailing down the Mekong River - Laos
Tubing - Vang Viang, Laos 
5 days in Chiang Mai - Thailand
Full Moon Party - Koh Phangan, Thailand
Walking Street - Pattaya, Thailand
2 weeks in Byron Bay - Australia
Rodeo - Rockhampton, Australia
Arancha's Art Exhibition - Melbourne, Australia
Arancha & Nadia's 40th birthday party - Melbourne Australia

Live music & entertainment:
Reggae Festival - Chiang Mai, Thailand
Falls Festival incl Arctic Monkeys - Marion Bay, Tasmania
Eskimo Joe - Melbourne, Australia
Mark Seymour - Melbourne, Australia
The Ballet - Melbourne, Australia
Various galleries / exhibitions

I have nothing more to add, what else is there to say?
I don't think your travels ever truly end once they have begun. Take last night for example, I was out for dinner in Convent Garden and in walks a lad who I spent 2 weeks traveling with in Thailand and Laos!
I cannot wait to see what our adventures through Canada and South America will bring.

Life is one big adventure and I am well up for it!

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Walking to the top of the world

I cannot believe it but this is the penultimate blog post of this leg of the world travels. I shall not dwell on it as I can do that in the final post and I have much to tell you of our trek in to the Himalayas; Mt Everest Base Camp the destination.
Ps. I am typing this from my beach hut on the Thai island of Koh Samet. Surely you can’t begrudge me some r&r after such a trek???

I am well aware that the last post was far too long and I am afraid this one is quite long as well. You had better make a pot of tea before you begin.

After the negative experiences of China it was nice to be back in familiar territory but before I could truly relax and enjoy being back in the surroundings of Nepal I had to go through one more ‘Chinese’ test as a man leaned over the top of me to change his currency in to Nepalese rupees. Following a verbal blast of expletives he tried to tell me that he didn’t know that I was changing my money. It seems funny now but at the time I was seriously over it and their liberty taking.

Once in the taxi the sounds, sights and smells of the organised chaos that is Nepali life mixed with a hint of the Indian sub-continent immediately set us both at ease; we were both back in our favourite of countries.
We got the driver to drop us off in the touristy area of Thamel and we set about finding some accommodation for the next couple of days whilst we made ready for our trek.
I was somewhat disappointed to see so many white faces milling around but April and October are the peak trekking months so it was to be expected.
On our third attempt of trying we found a suitable place to stay which happened to be just a few doors up the road from where myself and Arancha had stayed with the other girls in December 2010 / January 2011.
Before venturing out for some food and to shop for some trekking gear a shower was required and it was then that Nepal’s inconsistent power problems came flooding back. I had totally forgotten that in Nepal different areas are allocated power at different times of the day and our particular area would be without electricity and therefore hot water until later on so we would have to remain stinky for the immediate future.

When you have had a great time on a previous visit to a destination you are always apprehensive about going back in case that place has changed and your memories are tarnished; well in the case of Kathmandu we could take a deep sigh of relief. Nothing had changed at all, the restaurants and cafes are still the same, the same staff still work within and the same hawkers are still selling the same of crap on the streets – it was like we had never left. The only change was that my longer hair and somewhat shabbier appearance made me even more of a target for the local drug dealers and I was offered something at every turn!

After some lunch at a ‘local’ place we spent the afternoon shopping for the little bits that we needed in order to get on our way and back in to the mountains. We are both travelling with 65 litre backpacks so our main task was to find smaller packs and we wanted to be travelling as lightly as possible. It seemed like we had visited every mountaineering shop in Thamel but as usual it was the final shop that had all that we needed and by buying in bulk we were able to barter him down to what he claimed was his cost price – yeah right! We were happy with the deal and we were now the proud owners of his and her bags as well as some new trekking socks, gloves and water bottles.
With little else to do with the rest of our day we went for dinner at another local for a seriously good Mexican burrito and then went out to one of our favourite bars in Kathmandu to get quite drunk and take in the local band scene which is really good in Nepal.
Whilst supping on Ghurka Beer and shots of Sambucca everyone had a laugh at the expense of a very drunk Indian girl who made the band sing ‘I want to break free’ by Queen, twice in a matter of minutes as to quote her “I am getting married tomorrow and instead of being free I will be in prison!”. Trust me, it was very funny in her strong Indian English accent, but maybe you had to be there?

I was awoken the next morning by Arancha asking me what I was doing? Confused, I sat up to find that I had been asleep across the foot of the bed like a pet dog and like an untrained puppy the floor beyond the bed was suspiciously wet. Not again!!!!!! Arancha was cool about it and I think you have to be when the last time was on the mattress in the back of a van that you are both sharing. Don’t you agree?

We had planned to leave on our trek the following day, so day 2 in Kathmandu was all about getting our TIMS card, a sort of permit card that also acts as identification and your details are taken down at various army checkpoints along the trekking route to assist in locating you if you happen to disappear.
Breakfast was taken in the ‘Feed and Read’ café at the back of one of the best bookstores in the world (if you are in to that sort of thing) and then it was a short taxi ride out to the TIMS office.
Getting the card was easy enough but we would also need an actual permit to accompany this, which we would need to remember to purchase along the actual route as the office was working on Asian time ie. Come 2pm it is too late to work!!!
Next we purchased our bus tickets for the most painful part of our journey, a 7-hour bus trip to our starting point, the village of Jiri.
Most normal trekkers choose to take the 45 minute flight from Kathmandu airport into Lukla, the world’s most dangerous airport, and begin their walk from here. We had time on our hands, we love being in the mountains and so why not take the 7 hours bumpy bus ride to Jiri and then walk for 5 days just to get to the same point as those who flew for 45 minutes?
There were actually some bonuses to be had for our choice:
1)   We would be trekking for 5 days over pretty much deserted terrain in regards to white people
2)   Our route would take us up and down over 3,000 metres twice before we reached Lukla meaning that whereas the ‘fliers’ would need to spend 3 nights in the town of Namche acclimatising we could just spend 1 night and forget a rest day if we wished
3)   It would assist on our overall fitness for walking at altitude – which is bloody hard work

With everything packed and ready to go and the tickets and permits in our pockets the rest of day idled by in Kathmandu’s first ever pub for lunch, trading completed books for new ones (I love this about travelling in Asia) and then dinner at another fine restaurant.

The next day began far too early as we made our way over to the bus station. To gain an extra hour in bed we chose to take the later bus that was not in fact a bus but a minivan and we had 2 seats at the back, which were situated over the wheels that didn’t have any suspension. To add to our discomfort we had no leg room as we insisted on keeping our bags with us inside the vehicle and not tied to the roof where anybody could explore their contents (I had learnt from the last time that I trekked in Nepal). There were 16 of us squeezed inside the minivan including 1 other westerner who was also trekking from Jiri and he spent no time befriending us and would become the bane of our next 4 days!
10 minutes into a very bumpy ride at the back of the bus and re-reading the same line in my book 6 times I knew it was going to be a very long and painful journey.
In truth the day spent getting to Jiri was hard but we’ve both experienced worst. Driving up through the foothills was easy on the eye and the rare glimpses of the white peaks beyond were enough to quicken our pulses and raise the levels of expectation. I had even forgotten how much I enjoyed a good Dhal Bhat  (the Nepalese national dish taken 3 times a day, perfect fuel for trekking and worth it because it is cheap and they refill as many times as you like).
During this lunch we got to sit down with Andy for the first time and continue our chatting from the broken conversations had during the journey so far. At this point we liked Andy!

By late afternoon we had arrived and I gingerly stepped out of the bus in to the clean and crisp Himalayan air because my arse had slowly died over the harsh rattling of the wheel arch.
The only guesthouse owner sharp enough to come and advertise to those getting off the bus won our patronage and within 10 minutes of arriving we had a comfortable room and so had Andy just down the hallway from us.

With nothing else to do myself, Arancha and Andy sat in the communal area and rested ahead of the beginning of the trek the following morning.
And so we get to Andy and if by any chance you read this, sorry mate but it is what it is!
In our first few hours talking I discovered that Andy is a 40 year old Brit from Scunthorpe who moved to Canada in his early twenties and is a computer programmer with a Masters degree in Mathematics and has a very posh accent for a northerner. He loves tea way beyond what any person should and when the tea approaches he gets very excited and continually says “oh tea, tea, tea, milk tea” as it is being served, rubbing his hands in glee. The same can be said with his obsession of fried eggs. He is trekking in this region for the fifth time and had also been to every place that I mentioned during our chat and far more to add to that and seemed to have done it bigger and better than anyone else.
At this point we still both liked him and even though he talked a lot about what HE had done I put this down to our first meeting and just ‘setting out your stall’. I already got the impression that we would be seeing more of Andy than just this evening and that was fine apart from the fact he was too straight for me. His personality fit with his job and his qualifications – it was all about the rules and the logic and this attitude to ‘the rules’ was overwhelming when it came to his guidebook. He had read it cover to cover during the bus journey and continued to survey it relentlessly over our next 4 days together, relying on it completely to guide him to Namche (the first milestone of the trek). He observed where to lunch and where to sleep never wanting to venture away from its written truth.
We on the other hand had a map, we hadn’t researched a thing and figured that if we were hungry we would stop at a village for food and when we were knackered we would stop at a village to sleep.
Also, if this is his fifth time then why the need for a guidebook?

I thought of ourselves as quite maverick compared to Andy until Aydin arrived at the guesthouse. If Andy is at one end of the adventure scale then Aydin is at the opposite end with us two right of centre.
Aydin, a Turk national living in New York breezed in to the guesthouse on his mountain bike and plonked himself down at our table. There are many free spirits in this world but Aydin was the real deal – an artist, an author, a philosopher, a political fighter and one mad and crazy bastard. He had cycled 75 kilometres that day and do you know why he was here? Having cycled from Amsterdam across Europe and Asia he figured that the only place left to take his bicycle was to the top of Mt Everest and after 2 months of fighting the Nepalese authorities, involving the Nepalese and US embassies with claims of corruption and $50,000 later (the price for a permit to climb Everest) he was at the start of his epic battle to get to the top of the world. To date I have no idea how he is getting on but having lifted his bike and gear up (40kg) it will near enough kill him to climb without the aid of any Sherpa’s. Anyway, if he succeeds he will be the first man and bicycle to get to the summit and we were there at the beginning!!!
You couldn’t help but be swept over by the enthusiasm and completely different attitude to life that Aydin had and it was a pleasure to spend the evening conversing with him as it is very rare to meet people of this nature. However, he was too much for Andy and his encounter with Aydin was the first warning signs that maybe he was not for us.
Every mad thing that Aydin said, Andy’s face clouded with scorn. Andy had told us of his recent bicycle ride of 2,000kms around Cuba, Aydin has cycled over 10,000+kms. Andy has a Masters in Mathematics, Aydin has published a book on algorithms and chaos theory and applying them to real life. Andy had his Himalayan guidebook, Aydin has no book for his life but he will still go and try it.
In the end Andy got up abruptly and left the room with just a “good night”.

 And so the trek begins:

Day 1: Jiri – Derauli
The day began perfectly at 3:30am with a sharp gut pain that awoke me from my slumber and the next few hours confirmed that I probably had mild food poisoning.
We all ate breakfast together and prepared to leave on our separate routes. As we collected our bags I said to Andy “Are you leaving now?” and he said “Yes, are you ready?” I was too polite to say that what I meant was are you leaving now because if so we will hang on for a few minutes and let you get on your way.
I tried again by saying that I still had a bad tummy and needed to go to the loo but he assured me that it was ok and that he could wait.
We all wished Aydin the best of British and at 7:40am our fellowship of 3 was on the trail and heading up!
Being in the Himalayas is quite special for myself and Arancha as these mountains were where we first met and became friends. I was so happy that we had Andy to stand in the middle and hold both of our hands as we skipped merrily on our way.

It didn’t take long to come across another trekker with his guide and this Aussie dude would be a regular sight on our trek as we played cat and mouse over the next 3 days until we broke away.

It is hard to talk about the distances and altitudes we made because we walked east for the first 4 days before turning north to head towards Everest on day 5 and these first 5 days were all about climbing up to then head down before climbing back to swear and curse as we had to head down yet again.
I found the first day hard. I had to squat in a bush and had terrible stomach cramps all day that did not lend themselves well to trekking up and down the hills.
We stopped for lunch where our guide and guidebook told us to and then made a steep ascent up to 2,710 metres from 1,770 metres to stay on a pass between 2 mountains in the village of Derauli.
It was great to be back in the mountains and the incredible sense of freedom that they give you came flooding back. The only negative aside from our companion, who to be fair was absolutely fine at this point, were the new bags that we had both brought. They were cheap and badly made and the metal frame at the back of the bag has now appeared from nowhere to cause us both a large amount of grief and discomfort. Fortunately, in 5 days time we would be in Namche, the launch pad for all treks in to the Everest region and we would be able to trade and buy new bags here.
At Derauli I tried to negotiate over the room price and was shocked to find that the villagers would not budge and were just plain rude about it. I would later find out that the Everest region is so populated with tourists that the villagers take you completely for granted and charge astronomical prices when compared to other trekking regions in Nepal such as Annapurna.

We soon found a more willing and smiley landlady and passed a very enjoyable evening in the lodge kitchen eating freshly cooked food along with the entire family and Elka, a German lady who has taken 3 years off to travel and was to spend 3 months in the mountains completing the trek in an almost horizontal fashion ie. On our way down after 2 weeks she had made it to a point that we had passed after only 5 days.
We were only at 2,710 metres but Andy already had his first ‘altitude’ headache but he soon felt better once the ‘tea, tea, ooohh milk tea’ had turned up.

Day2: Derauli – Dakachu
It rained quite heavily during the night but come morning the sun made a spectacular appearance at it broke through the clouds over the top of the distant mountains. Upon entering the kitchen Andy was sat there with a cup of milk tea, guidebook in hand confirming with the owner where WE would lunch today.
It had only been 24 hours but his nanny ways were grating on us.

The first part of the day was a 600 metre descent to the village of Bandar and on the way down I managed to slip over in the mud at the worst possible moment  - in front of a group of Nepalese guys. It was not a graceful slip and Arancha said that I missed a rock with my head by inches but my only concern was scrambling to my feet and laughing it off so as not to look like too much of a tourist in front of the locals.
From this village we veered off to the left and took a 2 hour walk along the narrow edge of a huge ravine and it was here that we made a conscious decision that we needed to ditch Andy and have some ‘us’ time. It came about because he got into a panic as the guidebook had told us to take a right and the locals had told us to take a left because this was the better route. Slowly but surely he became more agitated and his voice rose in pitch as he convinced himself that we were lost and I think it was at this moment that we also named him ‘The Oracle’ because he knew best at all times. I told him that I was much more inclined to follow the advice of the locals and not the book and the fact that we were following a Nepalese family to the village that we wanted to go to should suffice.
2.5 hours later following a tough and steep descent down into the base of the ravine we were closing in on OUR lunch destination.

Just before the village we heard a disturbance up to our right and before we knew what was happening we all stood there open mouthed as a rare Himalayan wild cat sprang along the side of the hill to snare a chicken, killed it and then drag it off to its lair. It was brilliant, my first witnessing of a ‘wild’ kill. The Oracle then pipes up, “Did you see that fox?”
Me: “It wasn’t a fox, it looked like a cat of sorts and it was brown with a black and white tail”
Oracle: “My eyes aren’t great but I am sure it was a fox”
Me: “It wasn’t a fox”
Oracle: “I think it was”
Me: “It wasn’t”, I muttered

When I had previously trekked in the Himalayas I liked to order a quick lunch such as egg, chilli and noodle soup with some Tibetan bread and waste no more than 45 minutes before getting on my way to cover as much ground as possible before late afternoon.
The Oracle did things differently from me, which is his prerogative, but I really did not want to sit down for 1.5+hours drinking tea, gulping coke (and making sexual noises as you swallow it) and waiting for my food to be served because you chose a time consuming dish to eat and want to sit down and enjoy lunch like an ‘adult’.

We had a bitch of an afternoon ahead of us as we would need to ascend by 1,300 metres and I was still feeling the effects of my dodgy stomach. As The Oracle set the pace (I will give him his due, he is a bloody fit guy) we slowly began to let him widen the gap between us hoping that he would continue to walk on and away from us. No such luck! He would sit and wait for us and it became apparent that he was actually very nervous to be trekking alone. The guy that has been everywhere and trekked through this region 4 times previously was letting his nanny ways dictate him and so we now swung between The Oracle and The Leech as pet names.

I am aware that we are sounding cruel and petty but you were not there, you do not know what it was like!

Because Plan A has not succeeded I came up with Plan B, to push on an extra 300 metres, about an extra hours hard walking uphill to the next village, which was not part of the ‘schedule’ in the book.
I told Andy that we were going to climb on, he thought about it, nodded his head and declared that this was a great idea to get some of tomorrow’s climb out of the way. Sh*t!

So the 3 of us stayed in a run down little village on the side of the mountain in a small little guesthouse run by a very young but very polite family of mum and dad who were in their very early twenties and 2 kids. I had forgotten how young people in Nepal and India marry.
Myself and Arancha were still in the habit of showering every day (this would soon stop as we got into higher and colder territory) and it was at this village that we had our most memorable one.
Essentially we had to carry a bucket of hot water down a hill to a stone cavern and then whilst stood there naked and shivering we took it in turns to use a jug to pour the water over us, all the time being aware that the goats and a calf wanted to get in to have a peek.

Back in the kitchen The Oracle still hadn’t washed for 3 days, he told us he couldn’t believe how badly his feet were beginning to smell and so I wondered to myself why he persisted in keeping his boots off?

Day 3: Dakachu – Junbesi

It was raining when we awoke meaning that it would be snowing at the 3,500 metre pass that we would need to cross after an immediate tough 2 hour walk up. The Oracle was worried and declared that he couldn’t walk in the rain and get wet so he would wait for it to stop.
I shook my head at his gayness but was elated that we may break away.
However, it didn’t matter that we packed as quickly as we could to get on our way as by the time we had the sun was shining and the 3 of us were walking!!

We also did our good deed for the day and left some medication behind for the son who had a chest infection. See, we aren’t all bad!

The morning was quite warm so I found myself walking in just a pair of shorts and a t-shirt, which did strike me as quite odd when at 3,500 metres I found myself trudging through 4 inches of snow!
The Oracle was dressed for an expedition to the South Pole.

There were a few guesthouse and lodges along the pass and all of the local kids were out either sledging in the snow with plastic bags on their bare feet for protection or chasing around the many newborn kids, calves and chicks that littered the trek.
Arancha was loving the amount of baby animals along the route and I lost count of the number of times I had to stop and wait for her to pick them up and squeeze them half to death. On one occasion she scratched the chin of a calf so well that we didn’t know what to do when it then began to follow her like a puppy and was bucking up and down all excitedly wanting more attention. I felt a little guilty when I directed it into an open doorway to then see it bolt out when chased away by the family inside!
If Arancha and the baby animals was cute then The Oracle and the baby animals was not! Fair enough if you like baby animals but do not walk up to each one and say “Hello doggy” or “Hello puppy” in a Yogi the Bear voice.

Coming down from the pass I fell over on the ice and it hurt. A little further down I fell over again. Once we had descended below the snow line and hit the sludge and mud I fell over again and this time I was covered in wet mud down my bag, shorts and legs. Arancha laughed a lot and I did not.
At the bottom of the mountain we found a lodge to lunch in and whilst Arancha assisted me in cleaning myself up The Oracle enquired within. We knew that Andy was hell bent on staying in the village of Junbesi that night and to this day I am still convinced that he manipulated us to his will so that he would get his own way and stop where he wanted to. He came out to tell us that the Dhal Bhat could be easily made and was the best option for us all to have.
Being assured that it was going to be easy we agreed to go with his decision.

After washing my shorts in a stream The Oracle told me where I should sit and how I should dry my shorts and then I sat and waited for my lunch, and waited.
After 2 hours it was ready! 2 f*cking hours to wait for Dhal, rice and some potato curry! I was fuming at this point and told him that this was a complete waste of our time and I would never be sitting down for that long at lunch again.
Still very annoyed we walked on for 1.5 hours to reach the village of Junbesi and by the time we had arrived our total walking time for that day had been only 4 hours – as far as I was concerned we had lost at least 2 to 3 hours of good walking and the next 2 days would be even harder as a result of The Oracle wanting to do things ‘by the book’.

Although I didn’t want to stay there Junbesi was in an idyllic location and was a lovely place to stay.
Once I has calmed down we went to sit outside with Andy who was chatting to a lady from Portugal who would every now and then completely forget herself and slip into a meditative state and chant!
It was at this table that my mind was made up and tomorrow would be the day that we left The Leech once and for all. I was thinking back on the discussions that we had both had with Andy and there was not one occasion when I could recall him making us laugh, every chat had been serious and dull and that is not have I roll.
I couldn’t help but snigger as Andy asked the Portuguese lady, “Do you drink tea in Portugal?”
Lady: “Yes”
Andy: “What type?”
Lady: “I like Earl Grey”
Me to Arancha: “Are they talking about tea when we are in Nepal in the Himalayas?”

After dinner that evening I asked a guide about the wild cat that we had seen the day before to find out what it actually was. The guide said that it was a jackal (Google confirmed it was a wild cat) and all I heard was the loud clap of hands, a click of the fingers and Andy pointing at me with a knowing look on his face declaring, “A jackal, of course!”
I just rolled my eyes and remembered him swearing it was a fox.

That night we made a plan – we would get up extra early because he spent every morning mincing around and we would get on our way.

Day 4: Junbesi – Kharikola

Up earlier than usual we rushed down to get breakfast and couldn’t believe it when we saw Andy sitting there with his bag waiting for us! Had he been listening at our door the night before?
He was ready to go but it was raining so nature had come to save the day. Like the wicked witch of the west Andy could not get water on him.
Wouldn’t you know it, just as we left the sun came out again and the 3 of us were back on the road. Joy of joys.

20 minutes into the walk Arancha was taking a photo of the steam rising up from out of the mountains when The Oracle told her that she was using her camera in the wrong way. I had to turn my face away as Arancha exploded on him telling him that she did a degree in photography and knew “how to use my own f*cking camera.”

Come 10:30pm Andy was desperate for some milk tea and declared that he was stopping for 10 minutes at a particular lodge. This was the opening that we were after and we were finally going to break free.
We told him to catch us up and we made a mad dash around the mountain and tried to make as much distance as possible.
For the next 3 hours we enjoyed a strenuous but fun walk/jog as we covered the kilometres always looking behind us for The Leech.
We pushed ourselves as hard as we could and made it in good time up to the next 3,000 metre pass. As I stood waiting for Arancha to finish her lady’s business in the bushes I heard some seriously heavy breathing from behind. I was absolutely gutted to see The Oracle coming up the mountain at a ferocious pace and he had undoubtedly climbed as fast as he could possibly go in order to catch us. It was obvious that we now had a battle on our hands – we wanted to get rid of him, he knew it but he wanted to use us for company until we would part ways at Namche in 2 days time.
But, we were still holding the joker in the pack!!

It had been a long morning and come early afternoon we were nearing the ‘designated’ lunch spot. The Oracle eats more than any man should and we knew that he needed his lunch and we were prepared to skip food for freedom.
As we approached the village we ran in to a really nice couple heading the same way and I was so proud of Arancha when she purposely slowed us all down to ensure that we would enter the village as a group of 5 people chatting and not a 2 and a 3. We all stopped outside a lodge together and let the other 3 declare their need for lunch to which we replied that Arancha still had stomach issues and we would walk on and they should catch us up.
Arancha, you are a devious woman and I like it!

It was the 4th day of our trek and like the 4th day of July it was going to be remembered as ‘Independence Day’.
We skipped down the mountain feeling very sorry for Dan and Angela and laughing at the fact that we were so hungry but had refused to stop for food. It was 2pm and we hadn’t eaten since 6:30pm – half a Bounty each would suffice.

I was still annoyed with The Oracle because of our previously short walking day and by the time this day ended we had walked for over 9 hours. We were shattered but it didn’t matter because finally it was just the 2 of us.

We staggered in to the fairly large village of Kharikola and no sooner had we found a suitable place to stay my bag decided to destroy itself. I couldn’t believe that it had only lasted for 4 days of trekking but at the same time I couldn’t believe my good fortune that it broke in my room and not out on the mountains during the previous 9 hours of that day and I was in the only village to date that had a shop with backpacks for sale!
It soon became apparent that the bag couldn’t be fixed by the local seamstress so I was left with no choice but to purchase a new bag and was content to trade my own sh*tty bag in for a value of only £2.50 less than what it was bought for!

With comfy new bag (Arancha was unimpressed as hers was still hurting her) I enjoyed the evening watching classic WWF with some Nepalese porters in the guesthouse dining room.

Day 5: Kharikola – Chaurikharka

How sweet the bird song sounded and how warm the sun was on our faces as we set out. It was Adam, Arancha and nobody else. It was day 5 of the trek and we were very happy! It is amazing how the presence of somebody else can completely alter your experiences if that somebody is not you ‘cup of milk tea, oooh milk tea’!

The day was another 9 hour walking day but today would be different. Apart from the obvious it was also the first day we would be walking due north and heading towards the real mountains.
Once again we found ourselves climbing above 3,000 metres to only descend again but it was a boost to find ourselves standing at eye-level with the planes that were approaching Lukla airport, only 1 day walk away.

This day was also a reminder of how large these mountains actually are. At one point we looked out over an abyss to the village on the other side knowing that a linking suspension bride would see us there in 15 minutes but instead it took us over 2 hours to walk along the ridge of one mountain to the point where it met the other and back around.

Later that afternoon we witnessed the first of many sightseeing helicopters that ferry the rich around the Everest region and knowing what I had to look at I can only imagine how good it looked from their perspective. There was a great moment when I was stood in the middle of a suspension bridge with a huge glacial waterfall cascading down to my right and the helicopter hovering directly above. All of a sudden it titled its nose and dived down over my head giving the tourists in the back a great view of my dumfounded expression.

This day was also another day of endless mule and yak trains. The human porters in Nepal have so much strength and you can often find them marching along the trekking route carrying loads of soft drinks and beer to huge lengths of timber for building. When there is too much for the humans it is left to the mules and yaks to carry the load and quite often you find yourself scrambling up the side of the cliffs to avoid a 20 strong team trotting at you head on and it is either move the right way or slip off the edge. It is always a welcome break from the walking when you hear the telltale bells of the train but the stench of mule urine and the uncontrollably gagging it causes me is something that I wont forget in a hurry.

After passing through the very scary village of Muse with its dark caverns and people seemingly moving in the rain amongst the shadows we arrived at the village of Chaurikharka and our final night on the less popular Jiri to Namche trek. Tomorrow we would join with the Lukla trail and it would be tour group hell. So far the most tourists we had seen on the trail in any one day was 1 or 2 on their way home.
Dinner was had on a valley edge with views down to the river a thousand or so metres below and jagged mountains on all sides.

Day 6: Chauikharka to Namche

We knew today would be frustrating as we had been conditioning ourselves for 5 days for mountain life and we would now be sharing the trail with tour groups fresh from the easy life of Kathmandu.
The first hour was fine and we passed through an amazing little village called Cheplung that was home to a monastery built into the cliff face and an arrangement of Buddhist monuments and prayer wheels all set off with the mountainous backdrop.

Come 8:30am our worst fears were confirmed and it was terrible. There were hundreds of people littering the beautiful trails and quaint villages and it looked as though the mountain was sponsored by The North Face. Everyone was dressed in the same gear and they looked the same as each other as they followed the guide in single file moving in unison with their walking poles; that I do not see the point of using on flat terrain. If you have ever wondered where the French and American’s are in April then look no further than Mount Everest – every tour group seemed to be of these 2 nationalities. We were stuck between a rock and a hard place – it was either French arrogance or rudeness to your right or over enthusiastic “Oh my god, that’s amazing, that’s so cool, high five” because there was a bridge, to your left.
Ha ha, how miserable do I sound? I can’t help it, after 5 days on empty paths being confronted by the masses and hearing such tripe gets to you and we encountered groups that were 30 people strong!!! Where is the adventure in being told where to walk, where to sit, where to eat and where to sleep?
Hmm, maybe The Oracle should be a guide?
Also I do not agree with the way the porters are treated. I carry my own bag and always will do. I have no problem with people having someone to carry their bags for them but don’t load one guy up with 3 people’s bags because you are too tight to pay for one porter each.

With pushed on and overtook every group before getting to the army checkpoint to enter the last climb up to Namche and enter in to real Sherpa territory.
Remember earlier when I said that we would need to purchase our permit on the trek, well we forgot and found ourselves stuck at the checkpoint and they would not take a bribe. Annoyed and gutted that the tour groups were closing on us I had no choice but to drop my bag and run 2kms back to the permit office.

This day happened to be the day of the Everest Ultimate Race where a lot of crazy Nepalese and even crazier westerners complete a 65km race from Everest Base Camp down to Lukla – an absolutely crazy distance to run at altitude and over rough terrain.
Embarrassingly, as I ran back to the permit office a table of westerners at a café stood up to applaud me as I passed by. They were still there when I ran back 20 minutes later!

With the permits approved we made a difficult 2 hour climb up the Namche Bazar, a supposed rest day location for us to acclimatise and a 3 night stay for the tour groups!
Namche is a city in the sky and it is located in the basin of a valley 3,500 metres above sea level. It has everything you would expect of a normal city and is a cool place to acclimatise before climbing or relax in relative luxury after returning.

We had decided against taking a rest day in Namche as we had already climbed above 3,500 metres twice on the walk from Jiri, so we would be content with an afternoon of relaxing and eating fatty food before setting off again in the morning.
We had also decided that once finished we could not face the 5 day walk back to Jiri and subsequent 7 hour bus journey back to Kathmandu so instead we booked a flight out of Lukla whilst we were here.

Everything was going swimmingly until I heard “Adam!” shouted across the street. I will give him his due the guy is fast! Andy was in Namche and he wanted some company!!!
We said hello and then were sort of blunt and told him we were going to get some food so would see him around. 10 minutes later we were eating pizza and Andy was sat next to me on our table ordering his own! Jesus, can’t this guy take a hint?
All that was left to do was for Arancha to buy a comfy new backpack and to avoid a wandering yak in a market street; as you do.

Day 7: Namche – Phortse Thanga

This day started badly and it would get a lot worse before it got better.
Arancha had left her camera battery charging in the hallway overnight and come morning it had gone. We knew that the owners had taken it as you are supposed to pay for charging your stuff.
We went downstairs to collect it and begrudgingly pay but for some reason the battery had been taken offsite. The questioning of why it wasn’t on the premises soon turned into us being told that we were electricity thieves and it all got a little heated. I refrained from going into the reasons why they were the thieves such as charging for hot showers that run on solar power, charging for electricity when they are on the power grid and charging 3 times the normal cost for boiled eggs (eggs are an important trekking fuel which is why I mention them).
In the end we paid for the battery charging and left without having to buy breakfast from them – a condition of such a cheap room – so we won!

After avoiding Andy in the streets and having our breakfast we decided to make tracks and get out on to the ‘real’ trek. Because of the endless groups that were predominantly heading up to Everest Base Camp we decided that we would trek up to Gokyo Peak and then cross over the Cho La pass and down onto the Everest trail one village before base camp, therefore avoiding the crowds.

An hour in to a very tiring walk we came across a day tourist with his guide and we got talking about where we were headed. The guide looked confused and told us that we had been walking the wrong way and confirmed where we were on my map. We were gutted! We rushed back towards Namche really frustrated that we had just wasted 90 minutes there and back.
Imagine our frustration when we get to the fringes of Namche and the locals tell us the way is path we had just walked back along! At this point we were seething and when that particular guide came strolling along only to tell us that he had been mistaken and we had been going the correct way I had to tell him to keep on walking by me because I was really, really angry.
3 hours after leaving Namche we were back in a place that we had been in 2 hours earlier!

After that debacle the rest of what should have been a relatively short walking day ran smoothly except for a massively tough climb up to 4,000 metres before descending 600 metres to our destination. It was worth the climb though as we walked through Arancha’s home village of Mong!

We stayed in a nice little guesthouse, which was fairly busy by our standards. We got talking to a really nice Swiss couple who would we would hang out with over the next 3 days and there was also a fat, lazy pair of early twenty something English girls that were doing us proud. They continually moaned, apparently wouldn’t get out of bed until 10am every day (that’s 2 hours of good trekking time) and an Aussie woman who was in her late 50’s decided not to walk with them because of how ridiculously slow they were.

Day 8: Phortse Thanga – Lhabharma

As we had decided not to take a rest day this day and the next would be short 3 hour days so as not to ascend by too much too quickly.
As we left the skies were blue and the sun was shining down and by the time we had completed the first climb of the day the views told us that we were definitely on our way in to the heart of the mountains. It is amazing how you think that you remember how fantastic the towering rock peaks are but when you are looking at them with your own eyes you realise that you didn’t remember a thing – they are breathtaking and you are just a little ant in comparison.

After 2 hours we had reached the ‘major’ village of Dole, the recommended stopping point but we decided to walk on to the next little dot on the map. Aside from getting some more distance out of the way we also get to help out the smaller guesthouses that do not usually get the business and so we were doing a good thing in my eyes plus the added bonus of usually having the place to ourselves.
Along the way we passed an English couple coming back down and they told us of a solitary guesthouse sitting alone and facing out over the valley, so we decided that this would be our place. Just as we arrived the temperature dropped dramatically and the first flakes of snow began to fall.
Throughout that afternoon we sat in the cold dining room under our sleeping bags, drinking hot lemon tea watching everything outside including the resident yaks slowly turn white.

These guesthouses are always fascinating places because these people are the original Sherpa’s and the real mountain climbers. At this particular guesthouse there were pictures covering the walls of the husband on the summit of many mountains including Mt Everest itself.

Day 9: Lhabharma – Phang

There is nothing worse than waking up at 3am needing the loo and it being outside. The mountains are bloody cold at night and the last thing that you want to do it clamber out in to the freezing night for a wee. However, the bonus of doing this is that you once again get to witness what a real starry sky looks like at night and this also cheers you up because you know that the snow has now cleared.
We awoke to a gloriously warm sunny morning that lit up the pristine white landscape for as far as we could see.
Once again we would have a short day and we would bypass the popular stopover and walk on to a more reclusive location.

Our choice of guesthouse was in Phang and it was the only place at the foot of a mountain with its own fields for the grazing yaks. Phang was the location of an avalanche that occurred in 1995 and killed 24 people but luckily for us the hills were clear of any heavy snow at this time of year.
We had a whole afternoon and evening to waste and we shared our time with the father and young son who ran the guesthouse as well as the odd descending trekkers.
In the evening we sat around the yak dung fire to warm ourselves up, whilst we talked to the young boy about his schooling and the father about his life, Nepal in general and the avalanche – something you don’t really get the opportunity to do when in a busy place.

Day 10 – Phang – Gokyo

Today we would get to our second real target following Namche.
We left Phang after a good breakfast with a message in our pockets for the guesthouse owner’s wife who runs another of their places up in Gokyo.
Gokyo is a village sitting prettily by it 5 sacred glacial lakes at 4,790 metres and has a huge glacier running behind it separating it from the daunting Cho La pass on the other side.
The reason that trekkers visit Gokyo is to climb to the peak of Gokyo Re, which tops out at 5,485 metres for the commanding views of Mt Everest and surrounding ranges.
It was a tough walk up but after 2 hours we had reached lake number 1 and then it was just a case of ambling along for another hour, passing 2 other lakes to reach the village and stopping every 5 minutes to marvel at what we were seeing.

We had seen the Swiss couple on our walk every day for the previous 3 so we decided to stay at the same guesthouse as we all seemed to get along really well.
We took an early lunch and had the pleasure of sitting with and talking to Barney, an English doctor who was living out here as part of a team of 4 doctors treating foolish trekkers who get themselves into trouble and using that money to treat the locals for free. He was a great bloke and some of the stories he told about trekkers dying and getting sick were really scary in regards to how stupid some people actually are. It seems that even the educated one are dumb such as a French doctor who couldn’t find any research on the affects of altitude on an unborn foetus/baby so insisted that his pregnant wife join him on the Gokyo trek!!

Later that afternoon we took a walk north of the village up to the 4th lake and it was here that I came face to face with my first glacier. I have been close to glaciers before but this was the first time that I could stand on the side of the moraine and look out over one of nature’s most awesome sights. It was huge, the sheer size of it stretching down from the mountains in the distance, bypassing Gokyo and carrying on as far as we could see down in to the valley is quite indescribable. As far as I was concerned, at that point in time the view in front of me was the best thing I had ever seen and we sat for an hour just looking and listening as the glacier groaned and creaked as it shifted down the valley causing minor rock falls along the way.

Day 11: Gokyo – Gokyo Re – Thangnag

“F*ck me, will this ever end?” was how we began day 11 as we climbed almost 600 metres vertically up breaking through the 5,500 metre altitude barrier, that's over 18,000 feet and fighting for breath at every foot step.
After 1 hour and 45 minutes of very hard work I turned around to face out on a view that would eclipse the previous days tenfold and become the greatest sight I am ever likely to see. I am not ashamed to admit that it was so overwhelming that a couple of tears escaped from my eyes as I stood in absolute silence and smiled at being so fortunate to be here.
My 360 degree panorama took in the Ranjo La pass, a 5,500+ metre pass over to the next valley (heading away from Mt Everest), slowly turning to my right a collection of mountains that formed the origins of the glacier described yesterday that stretched out below us from the far left to the far right of this view and above this and straight ahead was an archetypical jagged razor sharp pointed mountain range that housed the Cho La pass that we would attempt to pass over the following morning and above this proudly rising up through the middle of it all was the highest point on our entire planet – my first real view of Mount Everest, the top of the world. We were stood at 5,500+ metres and it was hard to gauge what it must be like at the summit of Everest given that it was still a further 3,000 metres up from where we were and being acutely aware of our laboured breathing.
To complete my best ever view the mountain carried on in a circular manner around to the right with the village of Gokyo directly below next to its glacial lake that was showing the first signs of the spring melt revealing a sapphire blue pool of water.
There were approximately 30 people on the summit of Gokyo Re when we arrived and we all stood there and shared this very special place in our own way, but it was only myself, Arancha, Karen and Stefan (the Swiss couple) that remained long after the rest had descended.

Finally tearing ourselves away we descended for some well earned breakfast back at the guesthouse and continued to revel in what we had seen with everybody else.
We knew that we had to make tracks and get over the glacier to the next village to that we could make the pass the following day but the early morning climb had sucked all the energy from us.

Eventually we got ourselves sorted, said our goodbyes to the Swiss and Doc Barney and set out for the village of Thangnag. Just when I thought this best ever day could not improve it did! To get over to Thangnag we had to take a 2 hour zig-zagging route over the actual glacier and it was better than Bill and Ted’s excellent adventure. Crossing over the moraines and down into the glacial rock field was a little hairy as a glacier is in constant motion and it wasn’t long before we had to take care to avoid some falling dirt and rubble. There was one moment where we looked back at where we had come from as a boulder as big as a TV came hurtling down and over the path we had just taken!!
As we continued into the heart of the glacier it just got better and better as we confronted huge crevasses, ice cliffs and ice pools whilst all the time listening out for the deep groaning of this slowly waking beast.
After a couple of hours we had successfully crossed and we had made it to our very basic base for the night after an incredible day.

Apart from the day that I was born I can safely state that this was without doubt the greatest day of my existence so far. It was a good day to die – although I’m glad that I didn’t!

Day 12 – Thangnag – Cho La Pass – Lebouche

If the day before was the greatest day of my life then this day was physically the hardest. (Well this day and the last 5kms of the Melbourne Marathon – they both hurt, a lot)
After the worst breakfast so far we both set out with empty stomachs, which was not ideal on a day such as this. At least I had had a good nights sleep but poor Arancha had only managed to get a couple of hours in and it would take its toll over the next 10 hours of intense exercise.

Sleeping at altitude is hard. Some people wake up in a panic at the lack of oxygen, some do not sleep at all and must eventually descend. I can sleep at altitude but like many others I have some seriously messed up dreams and I think that I committed over 10 murders during my 2 week trek. It was happening so often that I became quite blasé about murder – how messed up is that?

So to the pass.
The day began with a steep ascent up to a plateau from which it was still difficult to see the actual pass. I was excited about the prospect of tackling the pass but still aware of the dangers it posed. All over the trek route there were missing posters for Igor, a guy that it was suspected disappeared when crossing the snow and ice fields of this particular pass but we cautious and there were enough people crossing over with us on this fine and sunny day to feel safe.
From the plateau we climbed another slope and it was then that we came face to face with what we were expected to climb and it was not pretty. Someone has told us that it was easier to cross from the other side and this was an understatement – we would literally be scrambling up a vertical wall for 300 metres. 300 metres does not sound like a lot but I can assure you that at altitude and with a 10kg bag on your back it is going to take you at best 1hr 20mins of brutal effort.

As usual there would be a steep descent to begin with and then we had to carefully negotiate a 20 minute clamber through a boulder field that was quite treacherous and I am sure many people have slipped and broken bones if not concentrating on what they are doing.
We were then at the base of the wall and looking straight up we cursed it with a volley of expletives.
By this stage in the trip we were well conditioned to trekking but this was all together different. The slope was so steep that we were using our hands and feet to climb up and when the rocks start to move out from under you it was really scary.
Fortunately, there were a number of porters shipping goods over the pass so for the price of a gulp of water one of them showed us the best path up to the top.

Eventually we made it and from the top we had commanding views back over the barren earth from which we had come and in front of us a massive snow field covering a dangerous glacier below littered with crevasses with ice sheets hanging precariously above.
We sat down to catch our breath, rest and gorge ourselves on some bread, eggs and yak cheese (we live it up!) before another gruelling walk over the ice and snow, all the time aware that if I slipped I would be in trouble, to the other side of the pass and the way down.

The way down was much easier than the way up and the views on this side were also out of this world. We took a lot of time in this area to stop, stare, take photos and absorb as much as we could as we gently strolled down and over some much needed flat ground. We also passed a camp where the real mountaineers were attempting to scale one of the peaks as training for an Everest attempt that would happen in mid May.

We decided we would push on to the village of Lebouche, one village before the Everest Base Camp ‘base village’ but we did not realise how far and tiring this would be. The problem was that once we had taken our particular route we had no choice but to reach our target or be stuck on the mountain. After 10 gruelling hours since setting off that morning we arrived in the desolate, mist infested village of Lebouche and we ate and drank as much as we could to replace the lost calories.

Day 13: Lebouche – Gorak Shep – EBC

Crossing the Cho La Pass took more out of us than we realised. Arancha had picked up a nasty chest infection for her efforts and our energy levels were low; but we pushed on the next morning and by 11am we made it to Gorak Shep, the base village from which you can make the pilgrimage to Everest Base Camp and here Mount Everest itself looms large over you.

This would be my first ever night spent sleeping over 5,000 metres and I wasn’t looking forward to it. We really were spent from the Cho La and every step was an effort. It was with blessed relief that after dumping our bags and setting out to visit base camp we had to stop abruptly so that Andy would not see us!!
We couldn’t believe it, he had told us that he definitely would not coming back to EBC as he had done it before but he later told us that on his route over a different pass he had made up some time – obviously I had to run into him later on in such a small place as the Himalayas.

And so after another 90 minutes of effort I laid eyes on Everest Base Camp – we had made it! From Jiri I worked out that to this point because of the up and down nature of the trek we had actually climbed over 10,500 metres, 2000 metres above the summit of Everest as well as also descending over 5,000 metres – no wonder we were knackered!
I am not sure what I expected to see but it was not this. Base camp is huge and littered with tents sporting flags from all over the world (of course the USA camp is at the highest point and dead centre) and do you know what the most disappointing this is about MT EVEREST base camp? You can actually see Mt Everest from it, it is hidden from view, although behind a much more impressive mountain.
We took our photos but we were both knackered and wanted to go and lie down. However, I saw that a gallery was being advertised and it was situated at the far end of base camp so whilst Arancha went back to the guesthouse for some well earned rest I decided to push on and explore and I am really happy that I did.
Walking through base camp was a surreal experience. The entire camp is situated upon a glacier and there were so many ice spikes and columns poking up between tents that I felt as though I was walking through Superman’s house in the North Pole. Unfortunately all of the climbers were up on the mountain for acclimatisation, which takes 2 months a steady climbing before they are ready to attempt the summit, so I was left to wonder through a deserted camp except for the odd Sherpa.
As for the gallery it was sh*t and a waste of time but at least they had free biscuits and if it wasn’t there I never would’ve been able to say that I have explored Mt Everest Base Camp.

By the time I got back to the guesthouse it was mid afternoon and it was nice just to sit back and do nothing for a few hours.
The only problem with this place was the guests.
1)   Everybody was coughing – it was a symphony of coughs
2)   When you are in such a special place why would you sit there on your i-phones on the internet and concern yourself with the weather?

Day 14:  Gorak Shep – Kalar Pathar – Periche

Another early start and another bloody climb. Today we set out to get to the top of Kalar Pattar, a 300 metre peak that dominates the Gorek Shep area and delivers the closest possible view of Mt Everest without actually attempting to climb it. Still tired and irritable we climbed for an hour and did get some magnificent views before the cloud came in and obscured our view of Everest so we gave up and descended back to the guesthouse.
Regrettably now, we were over the altitude, Arancha sounded terrible and would have long coughing fits and we just wanted to get down the mountain and have a shower and wash our hair – it had so far been 7 days and I was getting dreadlocks.

We decided to push through and get half way back to Namche in one afternoon and I have to say that we had a great walk. After lunch at Lebouche we ran in to a couple we had met in China – we knew that they were coming here but it was still odd to see them, and then as we set out for our long walk down the temperature dropped again and for 4 hours we were walking snowmen (or snowpeople). It snowed and snowed and never before have I walked in a thunderstorm, heard the thunder and seen the lightning but be snowed on – it was very weird.
By 4pm we had made it to Periche and the guesthouse we stayed in was complete luxury. Laptops in a warm dining room, great food and carpet in the bedrooms – it is amazing what carpet means to you when you are in the mountains. It was still too expensive for a shower but we knew that tomorrow we would be in Namche so all was well.

Day 15: Periche – Namche

We left early knowing that a pizza and a hot shower was only a few hours walk away.
The regret of not hanging out at Everest for longer was already getting to me but it was what it was so I just focused on the walking.
Weather wise it was a splendid day and the previous days snow was glistening on the surrounding hills and mountains – a perfect world.
We had a choice of 2 routes and took the one that would take us via the village of Tengbouche, home to the most important monastery in the region.
We ran in to Karen and Stefan along the way and traded stories of our ‘pass’ experiences before making the arduous climb up.

If there is an ideal place to live in the Himalayas then Tengboche could be it. Set upon a lush green plateau with dramatic drops to the valleys below on all sides, it oozes charm and has views that although do not match that of Gokyo are spectacular in their own but much less raw way.
From the bakery we looked north up to the south face of Mt Everest as we sat down to devour some much needed chocolate cake.
Afterwards we explored the village and the monastery before standing in awe and watched as an avalanche occurred on a distant mountain to our left.

From Tengboche is was a 600 metre descent followed by a 300 metre ascent before a tiring 2 hour walk back in to the promised land of Namche. Along the way we passed a male Himalayan pheasant and I do not think that I have seen a more beautiful coloured bird. (Check it out Kim Matts)

The first thing we needed to do in Namche was to change our flight back to Kathmandu as we had been much quicker than anticipated and once this had been successfully done it was time for that long anticipated shower in the lovely $20 room that we treated ourselves to. I can’t tell you how good it was to wash in hot water after 8 days of sweat and tears!
Dinner was a very enjoyable affair that evening.

Day 16: Namche – Lukla

Tomorrow we would be back in the luxurious surrounding of Kathmandu so all that was for left for us to do was to descend from Namche before yet another tough but final climb to Lukla and its infamous airport.
Not much to tell you about the day except that we blitzed it and we cursed every slow virgin tourist in their massive groups who got in our way!

Once in Lukla I had to fight amongst the Nepalese guides to get us a decent flight out. The system for flights is ridiculous and given that so many people use this airport I would’ve thought that a paper and pencil system would have been long superseded by a computer system but I was wrong. Still, if it was not a paper system then how could the tour group leaders bribe the administrators to get their clients on the earliest flights? I guess this is one advantage to being in a tour group.
Along with a couple of Canadian women we left the office exasperated but assured that we would fly out in the morning – at some point.

What else to do but drink beer and eat?

I am not sure why we were so quick but we had completed our trek in 16 days from Jiri to Lukla whereas it takes a tour group 23 days including 3 rest days plus countless thousands of pounds more.

Day 17: Lukla – Kathmandu

It is 7am and all hell is breaking loose in Lukla airport. The Canadian’s have their bags on the scales and insist on checking in first as the law of queuing dictates. The Nepalese tour guide tries to remove their bags to put his own group’s bags on, which does not go down well with the Canadians. The tour guide gives up and so dumps the bags right up the back of my legs as though I am not there. What choice is there but to kick them away and have a word that I am not invisible?

Some obnoxious Englishman who has forgotten his manners and the fact that if he wasn’t in the tour group would be defending the laws of the queue decides to get involved and insults me. Arancha gets involved and the look on his face worries me for a split second – this guy is a wife beater. He tells Arancha to “F*ck off” and looks very angry.
I know I am dealing with an absolute tool when he comes back up to me pulls a spaz face and in a country accent insults me again by calling my “Curly!”.
I look shocked and pretend to cry, “I have curly hair? Oh no, nobody told me, please help me” is my response. Do people not think that if I have girly long hair that is curly that I may in fact like it? It is not an insult to me!
He then offers to meet me at Kathmandu airport for a fight. I laugh and give him some intelligent response. He doesn’t seem to like big words and proves this when he replies to Arancha’s well articulated insult, “Nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, is that English?”
I couldn’t quite believe this guy was in his late forties and how bad he was making the English look in front of us, the Canadians and a couple of other Europeans.

Anyway, that was check in at Lukla airport. Maybe it is the most dangerous for other reasons?

Lukla airport is the world’s most dangerous because its lies 2,800 metres up in the Himalayas, the clouds can descend in 30 seconds which is as a problem as landing is made on sight on a ridiculously short and steep runway – you land quickly and stop or else you hit a mountain face, you speed down the slope and take off or you plummet off the edge to your death.
We squeezed into the 16 seater biplane and as the engines revved up to maximum velocity preparing to release us at full speed I was caught between fear and the feeling that I was wheel spinning like Marty McFly hoping to hit 88mph to take me back to the future!
Before we knew it we were off and we were up, and before I knew it we were flying over 5 days of bitch-ass walking from Jiri to Lukla in about 15 minutes!
So that is why people choose to fly in?

Within 45 minutes we had touched down in a hot and humid Kathmandu with the memories of those raw and perilous mountains fading but certainly never to be forgotten.
What a truly memorable trek and once again Nepal had delivered where so many other countries fail – all you want to do is go back for more and more punishment.
What a very special place Nepal is and visiting Mt Everest can now be ticked off my very long list list of to do’s.

There was little left to do in Kathmandu but get onto Google and search out a final destination before England. So I leave you here because myself and Arancha need to get on to the Thai beach to break the 50 barrier at Bat ‘n’ Ball before we can have another beer!