We woke up and re-packed our duffle bags for the last time. We had one of the first flights out of Lukla this morning and the weather was clear. I was groggy. I was tired of always being late, and this plane I did not want to be late for. Our porters walked with us to the airport, we send our awkward good-byes and thank-yous. Spending day in and day out with the same people on the trail, naturally you’d exchange information and keep in touch. But there was a politeness and a line that was drawn where as a westerner I was trying to respect that this was a “job” for each porter and that they were private about their personal lives. They never missed sharing a smile, but it was what the westerners were offering by way of story or expression.
I thanked the porters for carrying my excessive bag, but for my own comfort reassured them that I had used every thing I had asked them to carry. We got in line for security: which entails dropping your bag off to get weighed for them to keep track of how much weight will be loaded into the airplane. Then file into respective lines: male and female. A woman asked me what country I was from, I said “America”, she wrote with a pencil on a lined notebook “Amerika” and my name from my passport. This is how they keep track of who gets on each plane. Your ticket does not have your name on it. Just the plane number and airline name. No time, no boarding number, no seat, no personal designation. We walked out onto the tarmac, watched a few planes land, load, and take off…and now it was our turn.
At this point in the trip, the dynamics of our group and the tension I observed among our group left me exhausted. I was eager to get back to Kathmandu, but really was ready to depart to the States. We had to circle a few times before landing in Kathmandu due to clouds and the plane was starting to make me queasy. The plane cabins are not pressurized, and although I was just coming from altitude I was feeling uncomfortable with the plane motion. I think my motion had been slow and on my own two feet, exclusively…that my system was getting overloaded on the airplane. We landed and I bolted for a bathroom. Which, in Nepal, is not always easy to find. Martha saw the panic on my face, she grabbed my arm and started asking people where the bathroom was, she walked me there and stood guard as I walked past 3 men to a back-hut and an open door bathroom. Thank goodness for Martha, who was tuned into my quiet demeanor and picked up on my need for someone to act and help me out. I felt much more relaxed after my pit-stop and joined back up with Logan and Daniel. Martha did all the talking.
We made our way back to the Yak and Yeti, 5-star hotel in Kathmandu. We said goodbye to our oh-so-tolerant Nepalese guide Logan as he safely returned us to where we started. I thank-ed Logan, the nepalese guide who walked beside me silently, when I wasn’t feeling well and each step felt like more work than I wanted to be doing. He had shared about his family, where is lived, and his experience as a guide in the Khumbu region. I knew our lives were very different, and felt very lucky to have shared the trail with him.
We walked into the hotel and immediately reunited with Kathy, my same thread sister, who was big-eyed, sitting having breakfast for one. Kathy was med-evac’ed from Burke-Khang advanced base camp 2 days prior due to High Altitude Pulmonary Edema. She was congested, looking defeated, and really wide-eyed. This trip had the most ups and downs for Kathy. I was excited to see her, despite the circumstances, and we came together as a group to bring some life and laughter back to Kathy before she headed back to the States. After hugging her, holding her, listening to her account of progressing from Burke-Khang base camp, where I had left her, to the glacier climb to Advanced Base camp, to the helicopter ride out, to the medical treatment in Kathmandu, to the resting solo at the Yak and Yeti; I went for my first luxury shower in 20+ days. Martha and I had been talking about moving our flights up one day and having some time to tour in Hong Kong, so she went to town talking to the airline and finding out options for her and for me. I went into the shower.
I hadn’t seen myself since I left the Yak and Yeti in a full length mirror. I also was way to excited to shower and feel pressurized, warm water on my skin to think to look in the mirror before showering. I washed my hair 3 times, I shaved twice, and I left my face sit under the water spray for longer than I’ve ever done before. Afterwards, I stepped out of the shower and was shocked by what I saw in the mirror. All my bones were showing. My muscle mass looked dwindled. It wasn’t sickly but it was startling to me. After putting on my travel clothes that had been stored at the Yak and Yeti while we were trekking, I started working on hydrating. I boiled water, put my iodine pills in the water, and waited the hour until they were ready. I was jittery. I was unsure of what to do first. We then ventured out into Kathmandu with the same tour guide we saw before the trek.
The streets were bustling as it was the dawn before a festival. In Kathmandu, a festival is always on the horizon. There are so many buddhist god’s that they are always
celebrating. The gas shortage was still extreme, but some petrol had made it to the streets and cars and buses were stacked up in traffic jams. It was all very overwhelming after the silence on the trail and the only congestion was letting a yak train go by to ensure your own safety of not being accidentally bumped off the side of the trail. We went to the Monkey temple and walked around being tourists, which was much less tolerable after being on
the trail for so many days. Kathy and I stayed polite, but shared our disinterest. We went to Durbar square, which I learned there are many Durbar squares; it just means city center. We had lunch in a building I felt as though was unregulated and ready to crumble at any moment, and we sat on the patio on the 3rd level. I was still sticking to my vegetarian diet and careful to drink only bottled liquids.
After saying goodbye to our tour-guide and bidding Kathy farewell as she headed to the airport, we decided to walk the streets of Kathmandu and feel the energy of the city prepping for a festival. I wanted to buy a sleeping bag, which had come recommended for use on the trail by Garrett, Martha wanted to go to a bookstore, and Daniel was up for the cultural immersion. I was happy to be back in Kathmandu, it meant I was heading home soon. I was not phased by the friction among personalities of our trekking group at this point. I was happy to be walking slowly, taking in the streets, and stepping out of storefronts for a breath of air as needed. We wanted to see the famous Durbar square we’ve been seeing in the media since the earthquake with all the destruction. It was a 45 minute walk, but we all agreed to it over a taxi or bus ride without a nepalese tour-guide or guide caring for the details. As we went to walk in, we were stopped and asked to pay a tax as tourists. This was the last thing I was in the mood for. To be shuffled around an open air city-center gawking at ruined buildings, and pay to do so as a tourist. I talked Daniel and Martha out of it. My head was full, the busy streets, walking shoulder to shoulder and brushing through the motorcycles was getting to me. I wanted to go back to the hotel…, I wanted to sit and eat. We had been plucked out of the Khumbu this morning and now were around more 3.5 million people negotiating for food, colored chalk, and candy offerings. I was over-stimulated.
We found a quaint, quiet restaurant near the hotel and sat down for a “fancy” meal. I knew this would be pushing my fragile stomach’s limit. I was craving food outside of my vegetable fried rice, veggie Ra-Ra, hard-boiled eggs, oatmeal, and grilled cheese sandwiches. I ordered a veggie pasta. It tasted delicious. It was made with oils and had seasoning on it. AND that was the end of my stomach. I tried to ease it in nicely to more nutritious food, but it let me know it was in charge. That night, I had a hotel room to myself. The first time in Nepal I slept without a roommate. I made the room as dark as possible, I tucked myself in tightly to the sheets and put all the pillows around me, and I slept like a rock. At first I didn’t know what to do with the quietness. I had come accustomed to my bear of a snoring roommate, and kept searching for the sounds that had become familiar. Once I fell asleep, I was asleep.
It was ironic that I left (unintentionally) Mary’s letter as the last to be opened. She was the one who lifted me up when my feet fell out from underneath me. She complimented me sincerely and in a way that touched me deeply. SHe made me feel special and celebrated. She shared 2 quotes from her favorite books:
‘A Prayer for Owen Meany:
If you care about something,
Your have to protect it.
If you’re lucky enough to find a
way of life you love, you have to find
the courage to live it.’
‘Tell your heart that fear of suffering is
worse than suffering itself. And that
no heart has ever suffered when it
goes in search of its dream’
From Shelly: ‘I Have found that if you love life, life will love you back.’