The night before we left for Nepal, we went out to dinner with and said goodbye to the Thalananys in Delhi. My mom gave a heartfelt toast to Rosemary, Sebastian and Elizabeth. We all agreed how invaluable it was to see the country through their eyes. I’ll skip the eloquent jargon and cut to the chase: bDear Thals, you rock and we’d be screwed without you.
“Are you sure you guys don’t want to come with us to Nepal?” I asked Elizabeth.
“Ha! No thank you,” Elizabeth declined without hesitation. “But have fun!”she said, only half-seriously. Elizabeth is much too sweet to mock us to our faces.
“I hope something happens to me so I don’t have to go either,” My mom told Elizabeth. “You know I’d rather stay here with you guys.”
She wasn’t kidding. My mom had flown to India a week before the rest of us to hang out with Rosemary. Though initially hesitant about being gone for more than three weeks, she was glad she did, since that was the original point of the trip until the rest of the Andersons decided to tag along. Or as my Grandma put it, “I am just so glad that your mother is able to go and enjoy India before you kids and your father come out and crash it.” Well said, Grandma.
We kind of said goodbye to the Thals, but our departing flight to return to the U.S. was out of Delhi, so if we made it back from Nepal alive and on time, we technically should have one more day with the them in India. However, aside from my dad and I, no one else really knew that returning alive and/or on time was not guaranteed.
We couldn’t stay out too late either, because we had a 6:25 a.m. flight to Kathmandu the next morning. Since it’s an international flight we had to be there two hours early, at 4:25. But according to Jet Airways, the check-in closes two hours before departure time, so technically we needed to get there at 4:24 at the very latest. The airport was about 40 minutes away, meaning we had to leave by 3:34. This requires a wake-up call somewhere between 2:44 and 3:00 a.m.
“Wait a minute, who booked such a dumb flight?” Tim asked upon hearing the flight’s dirty details.
Everyone seemed to know the answer to this question except Tim because the rest of the table immediately nodded in my direction with a glare.
“Oh yeah Amanda, isn’t this the flight that you tried to book and got Dad’s credit card shut down by Visa?” Kevin chided.
“Why yes, as a matter of fact it is,” I sassed back.
As second commander-in-chief of Anderson trip logistics, I search for flights and book them to help out my dad. Since I am ⅓ vampire, I complete much of my to-do list at night, or whatever part of the day 3 a.m. is. I’d booked flights after midnight plenty of times before, so I didn’t see why this attempt should be any different. After typing in all the information and triple checking it before putting such a hefty transaction on my Dad’s credit card, I clicked “Purchase.” Then the additional security, Verified by Visa, asked me the secret password, which I sort of guessed on but was correct. I thought I was through, but Visa was still sketched out, so it threw me a curveball by asking a follow-up question, demanding my dad’s social security number, which I did not know. Normally being a time zone ahead allows me to call home later at night, but 2 a.m. Central Time wasn’t much better than 3 a.m. Eastern. I was done.
But not quite. I then tried to buy the tickets on my own credit card, which is really only used for gas and the occasional Target splurge. It’s new and shiny and even though I am employed, there’s a limit on it because according to Visa I am a high risk consumer (read: 23-year old that never had a real job). But I figured the purchase could potentially still go through since I have my dad as a guarantor. I am not sure guarantors exist for me to book flights to Nepal, but was going to bank on this potential loophole anyway. Once again, I typed in all the tedious information: seven passport numbers, seven birthdays, seven first, last and middle names. Make that 9 middle names since Kevin and Tim have two (“Everyone who ever did anything with their lives have more than one middle name,” my mom likes to say. George Herbert Walker Bush and Prince William Arthur Philip Louis to name a few. This explains why she expects so little out of Morgan and me). But again, I was flat-out rejected, and this time I didn’t even get a chance to prove myself with Verified by Visa. I had to give up. I went to bed feeling insulted and defeated. I didn’t tell my dad about my failed attempts, especially the part about trying to put it on my own credit card.
But as parents always do, they found out anyway. The next day, Visa called our house to let my dad know that some foreign national had stolen his credit card information to book 7 one-way tickets from Delhi to Kathmandu in the wee hours of the night.
“Hmm,” my dad paused, “you know, I think that actually is an approved transaction, that must have been my daughter that tried that,” my dad told the agent.
The agent probably wanted to press with further questions, like, “What do you mean you think? Isn’t your name on this credit card?” Or maybe, “Is your daughter a crack head?” (**Actually, many bad kids get sent to hike Mount Everest to overcome their drug addiction. But I guess in that case, this would make us a family of seven highly functioning crackheads.)
But it must be in their training to not question people’s weird purchases. “Uhhh, okay, well in that case, I’ll let it go through if you try and book it again.”
“Thank you, it’s great to know you guys are watching these things! I never thought you guys did anything over there,” my dad said.
“Uhh, thank you, sir,” The agent said before hanging up.
It’s funny how a quick little mental recap could have prevented me from being so shocked that my purchase was rejected. It fit the scam profile perfectly:
- The transaction occurred at 2 a.m. Central Time (but it’s 11:45 a.m. in Kathmandu)
- it’s a one-way international flight
- It’s from Delhi to Kathmandu
- 7 travelers with no checked baggage (CALL THE AIR MARSHAL NOW!)
Unlike the rest of my family, I drink right from my father’s pitcher of rash-spiked Kool-Aid, which is why I booked the first flight of the day, drunk off the adventure the trip increasingly promised with each day we planned. I told my dad that the 6:25 was our best option, because the sooner we got to Kathmandu the better our chances would be of completing the second leg, which wasn’t guaranteed at all.
A minor detail I left out to both readers of the FF Blog and my family. Surprise! After we fly from Delhi to Kathmandu, we are flying to the middle of the Himalayas, specifically the small town of Lukla, home of the Sherpa people and world’s most dangerous airport, Tenzing-Hillary Airport, as crowned by the History Channel in 2010 (I really recommend you click and watch a few snippets).
I broke the news to everyone on our way back from the restaurant. I figured since everyone was tired they wouldn’t completely process what I was saying. Everyone was ticked off and cranky because we had to wake up in 150 minutes, so I tried to lighten the mood by telling everyone about the Lukla airport.
“Hey guys, guess what? Did you know that Lukla is the world’s most dangerous airport?”
“Awesome!” my dad said.
“How fitting.” Kevin said. His sarcasm did little to get anyone to laugh. “Well, I guess maybe dying there is better than being stuck there for a month.”
This fun nugget failed to materialize earlier because despite all my research, it wasn’t until the night before I left that I learned this useful bit of knowledge, compliments of my work friend, Andrés.
“Yeah, you’re flying into Lukla right?“ Andrés asked.
“Yes we are! How do you know Lukla?” I asked surprisedly.
“My friend’s been there. He said that it’s the most dangerous airport in the world.”
“Why is that?” I asked. I managed to smile, but felt like Miss South Carolina responding to a geography question, I was panicking. HOW DID I NOT READ ABOUT THIS? Umm Iraq? Maps? What?
“Apparently it’s the only one where you have to land on a runway that’s on an incline,” he said.
“Hmm, I wonder why our guide left that detail out. Well that’s good to know.” As with everything, I tried to brush it off with a laugh.
Flights in and out of Lukla are tricky (read: deadly). At more than 9,300 ft., it is one of the world’s highest airports. There is low visibility. The runway is just 1600 ft long. To give you some context, the runways at O’Hare are around 3.5 miles. Lukla’s one runway slopes upward 12 degrees, the equivalent of a 10 story building. If you overshoot it, you crash into the mountains. It is literally a point of no return.
Because you are flying in such dangerous conditions, the unpredictable weather has to be perfect in order to be allowed to take off. The morning is your best bet to get out, because by the afternoon it is too cloudy. Every single day the weather is the determining factor of your entire trip. It’s just too dangerous to try otherwise, and even when the weather is clear, it’s still turbulent. Allow me to refresh your memory of the 2008 Yeti Airlines flight 103 and the 2010 Agni Air Flight 101. You don’t have to click on the links, but you can infer the outcome if you consider any other plane you know by its flight number.
If you can’t take off, you can’t take off. This is why the Lonely Planet travel forum suggested scheduling a minimum of 3 buffer days in your trip, because the weather can delay you anywhere from a few hours to a few days. There is no getting around Mother Nature. She doesn’t care how important you are or how many days you have in Nepal. And she especially is not impressed by your United Gold Status.
Guess how many buffer days we had in the itinerary? One. And was only after our guide said we absolutely needed to in order to book with him, or to use my Dad’s words, it would be a “logistical impossibility.” [Enter stage right email from Paul]:
On May 21 at 2:48 p.m., Paul wrote:
I took some flack from Mom and Thals about not taking enough time to see India…they say we need to leave Chicago a day earlier on Thursday…blah, blah, blah. Then I have our guide, Prem, telling me the same for Nepal. You know I’m not easily swayed by anyone telling me I’m planning too much on a vacation. I heard the same about our trip to Europe when you were three. I only try to sort the emotional drain from the logistical impossibilities. To me a seat on a train is just as good as a hotel bed, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in the backseat of a car is even better than a four-star restaurant, and finding a couple apples on the ground is a blessing from God that we can delay lunch for another couple hours and do more touring!
Or in this case, more hiking. Joy. After we got back from the restaurant with the Thalananys, we had to pack all of our belongings and gear for 3 (probably rainy) days. Our hotel in Delhi was nice enough to offer to store the rest of our luggage until we got back from Nepal. Not sure what the backup plan was if they didn’t let us. Deirdre and I got most of our things together, while our other roommate, Morgan did a half-ass job with her stuff and went to sleep instead. While Deidre and I have a lot in common, she is not a night owl like myself. She wakes up at 6:30 a.m. even when she doesn’t have to. So I was surprised when she made this suggestion:
“I feel like we should have been doing push-ups or something this whole trip,” Deirdre said to me.
“What? Why would we do that? Haven’t you been exhausted at the end of every day so far? When have we had time to do push-ups?”
“Ya, but, I know we’ve been walking a lot and everything, but you just don’t want to lose all your tone, you know?”
Again, I started to worry that Deirdre still didn’t know what she was in for. If she did, she wouldn’t be suggesting push-ups. It was too late to say anything now. It’s not like there was much else I could say or tell her to pack to prepare. But then again, despite the countless packing lists, research and emails, still none of us were prepared.
We shoved what we needed for Nepal into our standard sized backpacks. It was then that I decided how dumb the “what three possessions would you bring with if you were stuck on a deserted island for the rest of your life?” icebreaker is. When asked this on the first day of high school, I told my new classmates that I would bring my dog, Diet Pepsi Twist and a Walkman with my OutKast CD. Now that I am no longer trying to seem cool and make friends, my list is much different: Kleenex, water-purifying tablets and a water bottle. But because we were allowed more than three items on the mountain, I also packed clothes, shampoo, rain gear, a toothbrush, water-purifying tablets, Kleenex, deodorant, a flashlight, some wipes, a water bottle, passport, and hand sanitizer.
The Andersons are such a paradox because we claim to be the Swiss Family Anderson but then we throw together whatever is in our basement for this “hardcore” trek into dinky school backpacks. I packed my Dad’s rain jacket that he won in some raffle, Morgan had some of my t-shirts and I’m pretty sure our flashlights came from a goodie-bag in 1998. And our hiking boots were brand new, a dead giveaway to all the other trekkers that we’re a bunch of posers. I was still ticked about the hiking boots I had to bring. Here is a transcript of texts between my mom and me:
Mom: Would you say that you have a wide foot?
Me: Ummm yes why
Mom: I ordered you two pairs of hiking boots from LL Bean. Try on both and return the ones that don’t fit.
Me: I refuse to wear hiking boots on this trip. My gym shoes will suffice. Don’t you know that we are not actually climbing to the top of this dumb hill?
Mom: What is wrong with you?
Me: If you’re going to spend $65 on something I’d rather you just give me the money.
It’s not just about the money. It’s about being right. I was the only one that had done any research for this stupid trip. As I often say, I couldn’t remember the last time I was wrong. Until now.