Isn’t life swell?

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Jiri, Nepal
By Bear Falugo

All between Jiri and Lukla is in Maoist control more or less. I was warned in by a few people that the village of Kinja was particularly loaded with Maoists. I decided to use 50 percent of my ninja skills to cross the commie gauntlet. I ran. I ran and I didn’t stop till I was way out of town. I used Tommy Boys technique (you’d have to see the movie to understand). I ran screaming “BEES! THERE EVERYWHERE! SAVE YOURSELF! YOUR FIREARMS ARE USELESS AGAINST THEM! Not really, but I did run.

There are only fourteen 8,000 meter peaks in the whole world and Nepal has 10 of them. 4 of those are in Sagurmatha (what Nepalis call Everest) National Park. Sagurmatha is also the highest National Park in the world thanks to Evererst. From the park enterance it’s a few hours to Namche Bazaar, where they have everything from bakery’s to bars and Internet cafe’s (even though it’s around 12,000 feet high). I entered the park on my B-day, so continued on to Namche to celebrate, which I did with nice cold beer and a surprisingly good pizza.

Namche is also a good place to take an acclimatisation day (a day off) to give your body time to adjust to the altitude. You’re supposed to “walk high and sleep low”, so I walked around the U shaped ridge that is over and around Namche. While I was walking, I saw some smoke and heard singing, so I wanted to know what was going on. I started climbing towards it and finally saw a bunch of Sherpa dudes partying up there and they waved me up so of course I went. They immediately showered me with snacks and Roksi (there local homemade wine/whiskey). I sat down because I had to much stuff in my hands. One guy told me it was a ceremony and a minute later another guy told me his cousin had “expired”. Then I realized it was a cremation ceremony and I crashed it. Wooops. There outlook on death is totally different than ours, it’s amazing.

Death is simply a part of life that everyone has to go through and is just a means to an end for them and nothing to fear or worry about. To them, there cousin will be back again within 40 days, that’s why they do the ceremony, to help him find his way back. It definitely beats the hell out of our funerals!

While I was in Namche I heard some people talking about Gokyo lake and the Cho La pass. It sounded cool, so I decided to try it out. Gokyo lake runs pretty much parallel with Everest Base Camp, but about 20 K west, it’s linked to the east by Cho La Pass (5,420 meters or 17,777 feet high) which joins the trail to Everest. In Gokyo, I woke up early and climbed Gokyo Ri peak in time to watch the sun rise
over the Himalaya (that turned into a habit of mine). That was something special to see! I can’t describe the beauty of the sun rising over the largest mountain chain on earth. I could see Everest from there and spin 360 degrees and watch the rising sun warm mountain faces in all directions. I’m gettin all emotional about it – somebody hold me.

Later that day I crossed a glacier (which looked like moon landscape) to the only Tea house at the edge of Cho La pass. The glacier was covered with dirt and rocks, so the only ice you could see was when streams under the glacier melt it away, and make a big sink whole, which is an instant lake or pond.

I crossed the Pass in the morning with a nice, really old American guy I met. He was a real climber and taught me alot about climbing. He had a guide and porter with him, I had neither, so it was cool of him to invite me along with them. It was a good thing too, because I would have had a hard time following the collapsed trail (sink holes) alone. The top of the pass was all ice and it was slightly extreme (me likey), that was the first time I was cursing myself for wearing Teva’s. The Sherpa guide and porter were flipping out, because they’d never seen someone stupid enough to wear Teva’s across the pass. Don’t worry, I’m American, I do lots of stupid things!

Once I crossed the pass I was all pumped up and wanted to keep walking, so I went on and said good bye to those nice people who helped me out. I walked north for a few hours and stopped about six hours south of base camp. In the tea houses I expected to bump into some ego’s and find a few rowdy people (especially that tea house so near to Base Camp), but I didn’t.

People were really mellow the whole way and the tea houses felt more like a ski lodge than anything else. Everyone’s constantly cold out there, even in the tea houses, so that kinda zaps you of energy. Most people just sit there all bundled up holding there hot beverage with both hands and watching the steam rise, with a look in their eyes like “isn’t life swell”, but not actually saying so. It reminded me of a super long Folgers (coffee) commercial and I could hear the guy with the constipated voice singing his stupid song “The best paaart of waking up…”. That thought kept me up (that and the altitude) at night in my dorm and I would start cracking up at 1 in the morning. My dorm mates found out that I’m really psycho and didn’t say a word about my out bursts.

In the morning I climbed Kala Patar, the most famous and “best” spot to see Everest. I watched the whole thing again, this time I was right next to Everest, any closer and you can’t even see the mountain. That was over 18,000 feet, and I was cursing myself again about the Teva’s. It was all amazing though and I felt really lucky to be there. I stayed up there for a few hours and when my feet couldn’t take it anymore I ran back down and try to thaw out in the tea house, then I ran up to Everest Base Camp.

Everest Base Camp wasn’t much to look at. You’re to close to Everest to actually see it, but I was still excited about being there. Everest Base Camp is also on a glacier and the streams of melted water (that you can see) look like water slides! I also saw a crashed Russian helicopter right at Base camp as well. Two years ago they were dropping people off there and they crashed, three people died. I didn’t summit Everest, but still, just making it the the base camp of the highest mountain on earth feels good and the only way you can go further is if you pay between 30 and 60 thousand dollars!

I stopped off at a few more places, crossed the commie gauntlet again and took the bus back here Kathmandu, where I’m trying to fatten up for my last trek to Annapurna! From Jiri to Everest Base Camp and back is about 300 kilometers, so I’m taking a nice long break here in Kathmandu. The whole trek, including bus tickets, park entrance fees (1,000RS) food, lodging, and renting a sleeping bag, for 20 days totaled only 162 dollars.

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