Saturday, June 7, 2008

Namche Bazaar -> Kathmandu, 27 May 2008

Woke up at 03:15 to a knock knock knock on the door, and we were both out of bed like a shot with the goal being Lukla in time for a morning flight back to Kathmandu. Given the sketchy weather over the last few afternoons, we didn't want to leave anything to chance. We packed, I threw half a roll of athletic tape onto my feet and after a quick team breakfast, off we went. The entire team headed off together from Namche with the streets quiet and completely dark, shrouded only in gentle glow of the occasional street lamp.

After no time, we were at the outskirts of town, headed down to the valley floor. Close to 1,000' separates Namche from the Dudh Kosi River, so we took our time, walking carefully on the gravelly and rocky path that became slippery with dew after a little while. Finally, the team made the river as dawn was breaking and encountered our first river crossing of the day.

Over the next several hours, the trail crossed over the Dudh Kosi River at least five times and meandered through villages as life again began to slowly emerge from the closed up shops and sleeping roosters that we passed.
Finally, after close to three hours we arrived back at the site of our very first night on the trip- Phakding. Looking much different now from when we first stayed here, the hotel was awash in green leaves, blooming flowers and open patios overflowing with lawn chairs and umbrellas. How different it looks now, and how glad we are to finally be back, passing through on our way home.
The final leg was finally upon us, and we all knew it. And to drive that point home, we passed a last sign as we were about to leave town: "Way to Lukla". Almost there..

Within 30 more minutes, we started to see signs of how close we actually were- finer, more complex houses made with finer supplies, actual cinder blocks, and store upon store selling various sundries.

Unfortunately for us though, the last portion of the out trek- the trail leading from Phakding to Lukla- is largely uphill and steep at several points. How wonderful. I thought of this last particular leg leading to Lukla to be one last little insult before wrapping up. Great. 80km of out trek, descending from 17,500' and then the last several kilometers have to be uphill. Give me a break, how frustrating. Up, up, up we wind. From the river floor, it must have been close to another 500 or 600 vertical feet back up to Lukla, and along the way we then began to see the flights taking off as the morning flights began to arrive and depart. Man, we better not miss our plane out.

Within 1km of the city limits, we also began to pass trekkers from the planes that had just arrived. How nice they smell! How clean they are! How funny the expressions that they give us, almost as if we were a homeless guy on a street corner. Then again, we probably look like a homeless guy on a street corner, so fair enough. They would zip by in the opposite direction, all new trekking gear, clothes that look like they just pulled the sales tag off, with an uncomfortable glance thrown our direction. Oh well, we are on our way HOME! Assuming we are just a bunch of ratty trekkers, I chuckle and keep on moving since they have no idea of the adventure we have just been on.

And then we are there- Lukla. Finally! We drag ourselves to the airport departures area and relax for a few minutes.. our plane- the last one of the day- is about to arrive and take us to Kathmandu. Only Willie, myself and Bridie have made it on time to make the flight- the rest of the team is spread too far along the trail and well back from Lukla, so when the plane does arrive and boarding kicks off, they aren't even in the city yet. Their flight, they will learn, will come tomorrow.

While at the airport, we had two amusing experiences and thought that at least it was comical that we couldn't get out of town without more stories. One was that despite the helicopter ride to Lukla, Francisco and Lhakpa weren't able to get a flight out yesterday thanks to crappy weather. So they had departed Lukla earlier that morning, meaning that the helo ride had actually only saved them about 3 hours. Then, as we were about to head into the Departures Terminal for our flight, I remembered that I still had a knife attached to my pack. Asking one of the reps at the airport about it, he said "give it to me" and then ten minutes later, after security and inside the secured part of the airport he reappeared and gave me my knife back. I quickly threw it in my pocket but thought for a second about how that was the very first time I had ever been given a knife right before boarding a plane.

Off we shot down the runway. The plane took about five seconds to gain speed thanks to light weight and a downhill angled runway and before we knew it, buildings, the river, trees, and farms were all below us. The plane was loaded to the gills with Sherpa, climbing gear and the three of us, so our Flight Attendant must have been going out of her mind about the smell.. and judging from her behavior, I think I'm right on the money with that assumption.

After 45 minutes of flying between ridges, valleys and then in what can only be compared to a combat landing, we were wheels down at Kathmandu International Airport. We were home! We taxiied, and then finally stopped. When the propellers feathered down and a desperate Flight Attendant quickly opened the rear door for fresh air, we all gave a whoop and clapped. We were back, in almost the same parking spot as the one that we were in at the beginning of our Odyssey.
Now safe, we grabbed our bags, gave an enormous smile to each other, and once again began to move forward. Because while one adventure had just completed, another one was about to begin. It's all about looking ahead, understanding that while the past makes you who you are, the future is what defines an individual through challenge and optimism.

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