Keeping up with the Kardashians and Bear Grylls

Believe it or not, this was not the smallest plane we’ve been on. In Botswana, we actually had to charter two planes for our family because each flight to middle-of-nowhere Africa only seated only four passengers.  I think the model was closer to the Wright Brother’s plane than it was anything from this century.  The plane was so small that while boarding, we couldn’t stand upright without hitting our heads.  This did not make it convenient for the flight attendant to walk up and down the aisle, but I guess she was used to it.  The engine was so loud that she gave us earplugs along with a little piece of candy.

we got upgraded to business class

Earplugs and candy.  I realized this is a great one size fits all solution to many of my life problems.  My mom’s yelling at me?  Earplugs and candy.  Someone at work is bothering me? Earplugs and candy.  The Bears are losing by 20 and you’re surrounded by obnoxious Packer fans? I’m telling you, earplugs and candy will do the trick.

Despite my new trick, I still felt the need to reassure Deirdre that these planes are just as safe as the Boeing 747 we took from JFK to Delhi, if not more.  For starters, the flight attendant-to-passenger ratio was 1:10.  Aside from our group of eight (my family+Deirdre + Ramesh) there were only two other hikers on the plane.  Add a flight attendant and two pilots and you have yourself a cozy and intimate little flight.  When I look at it this way, this dinky plane is as close as I’ll ever get to flying a private jet. This must be how Barack Obama/Mitt Romney {trying to stay nonpartisan this week} must feel every day.

“Wait, are these planes not airtight?” Deirdre asked me, looking in the direction of the cabin door that was shut, but not really. There were very evident gaps between the door and the plane; you could see the morning’s clear sky peeping right through.

“Umm, I think it’s something about flying at a low enough altitude where you aren’t deprived of oxygen yet.”  I would have asked my dad for backup, but he was at the front of the plane, camera in tow ready to take as many pictures as he could of the mountains that would be pretty much above us. Yup, we were flying that low.  Or maybe it’s because the mountains are that high.  I don’t even know.

But the flight would only be 20 minutes, so you don’t even have that much time to take pictures/sleep/be scared for your life. Like a shot at the doctor’s office, it’ll be over before you know it, and you’ll forget why you were even nervous about it in the first place.

And it was.  The mountains, the original skyscrapers, were so striking I didn’t want to blink.  As I gazed out the window, past the plane’s wing and at the majestic green-covered mountains, I had to remind myself that I was going to be surrounded by these for two straight days.

But my favorite sight to see was Ramesh gazing out the window with the awe of a first-timer. He’s been a guide for 15 years, and yet he held his camera phone up to the window to snap pictures as avidly as my dad.

Tim was also ready. He had his camera video on ready to to tape the entire landing.  It was my dad’s idea.  “Think of how many YouTube hits you could get, Tim! You could title it, ‘Flying Into the World’s Deadliest Airport.”

How original.  I also thought taping it was a great idea, because when the plane crashed and we all died, Tim’s camera would help investigators figure out what happened.  I doubted the plane had a black box.

As we approached the 60-foot runway, Dad gave Tim the signal to start taping.  My heart skipped a beat.  I didn’t know what to expect.  I hadn’t seen pictures beforehand, but had mentally prepared for anything.  An upward-sloping strip of concrete cut right into the mountains may be a simple description, but it’s also the most accurate.  There’s a little cabin next to it that calls itself the “airport.”  That’s it.  Aside from the fact that the runway used to be simply gravel, it hasn’t changed much since Sir Edmund Hillary himself built it with the Sherpa people.

As we descended I gave a smile to my still-apprehensive seat buddy. Then I looked over at my Mom, who was amazingly sleeping.  I don’t have statistical evidence, but I think she is the only person to have been able to sleep on the loudest, shortest, most beautiful and most dangerous flight in the world.  Not judging though, just admiring.  My mom’s calm in what could have been the final moments of our life is something I aspire to attain.  After all, we had woken up at 4 that morning, and allow me to remind you that we were landing, getting off the plane and starting the hike.  There would be no baggage claim to wait for or hotel to check into, we had our backpacks and each other.  That was it.

After we landed we got off the plane and stood behind a fence about 150 feet from the runway to watch it take off again.  The plane left its engine on because while we were arriving at Lukla, there were people ready to go back down to Kathmandu.   There’s barely enough room on the runway for the plane to do a 180, but it somehow turns around, boards the returning passengers, revs up the engines several times (there isn’t enough room on the runway to accelerate to the speed it needs to take off) and is off on its way within 10 minutes.

Now that I know how quickly this process can go, it absolutely  kills me to think of how long I wait to take off sitting on a plane everywhere else in the world.  You’ve got your idiots who don’t put their trays up, your idiots who can’t fit their carry-ons in the overhead bins, and then the idiots who sit in the wrong seat because they can’t read the graphic that tells you that C is the seat by the window and A is the aisle seat.  Some people…

After we watched the plane take off for Kathmandu, we headed on our way.

“Ready to go?” Ramesh asked.  We had only been off the plane for 10 minutes but he was already hurrying us along. We could not get behind schedule; if we didn’t reach Namche Bazaar by sunset we would have to turn around and go back down without seeing Mount Everest.

“Totally!” My mom had woken up and seemed to have made peace with the fact that she wasn’t getting out of this trek.

“Are you sure you don’t want to hire a Sherpa to carry your bags?” he asked my mom and me.

We were insulted.  “Are you serious, Ramesh?” my mom asked.  He definitely didn’t mean to offend us, so we held off our feminist “We Can Do It” rants about how Morgan, Deirdre, my mom and I work out 50 times more than the males of our party.  Instead we simply assured him we would be fine.  Besides, on any given Friday my book bag in high school weighed 10 times what it did now.  Clearly they don’t assign as much homework in Nepal.

But I can never completely keep my mouth shut.  “Ramesh, how wimpy do you think we are?  Feel how light this bag is.”  I gave him my backpack.  I pride myself on being able to pack for any vacation in a carry-on sized bag, and considered packing for four days in a standard backpack a new accomplishment.

He lifted my backpack pumped it up and down like a free weight and gave me a look of only half-approval.

As he handed it back to me, he said “It seems okay.”

Seems okay? Are you kidding me? How much lighter could I have packed?   The most indulgent objects I had in there was a notebook and an extra pair of underwear.

Whatever, I thought to myself, I wasn’t going to worry about it.

One thing I think I was itching for the entire trek, especially in Nepal, was a pat on the back.  I was looking for someone to tell me how awesome I was for packing so lightly and how awesome my whole family was for doing a 48 hour trek that most people schedule 12 days for.  I wanted someone to tell me our survival skills rivaled those of Bear Grylls, “Andersons vs Wild” style.

So I pressed on, even though I knew that if I was looking for someone to validate me, it wasn’t going to be Ramesh.

“Do you get a lot of kid trekkers from America often, Ramesh?” I asked.

“Oh yes, lots” he said. Just last month we had a couple come with a 16-month old,” he said.

Ramesh spoke pretty good English, and I hate correcting people, but this was a major slip-up.

“Oh, sorry Ramesh you meant to say, a 16-year-old, right?”

“No, no,” he said. “It was a little baby.  They carried her in a backpack the whole time.”

What the *$#(*$#()@?

“I don’t believe you, Ramesh.  I’m pretty sure that’s not even legal.”

All I could think about was the time my parents went to Europe and took Kevin and me along as toddlers.  I was 4, Kevin was 2, and my mom was pregnant with Morgan.  Even though they were young, ambitious and outgoing 30-year-olds, everyone told them they were out of their minds to bring us along. (and they thought that was when my parents went off the deep end…).  Imagine if my parents had told everyone they were taking us to a remote part of Asia to hike. Someone would have called Child Protection Services on them immediately.

But I pressed on.“Okay Ramesh, that’s pretty crazy,” I conceded, “But what about kids our age?”  A 16-month-old has no choice to go to Nepal, but how many American parents dragged their spoiled teenagers and 20-year-olds to hike?

“Yup, we get a good amount of kids your age, too.”  He said.

So I abandoned my quest to feel special.  You see, the reason Prem and Ramesh weren’t impressed by our group’s endeavor was quite simple: they’ve never met the average American.  They take tourists around Nepal for a living, and the kind of people that go to Nepal to hike are of a certain breed.  So when you use a typical trekker from America as the rugged hippie equivalent of Obama’s Joe the Plumber, the Andersons are well-below average what they normally see.  I wish Prem and Ramesh could meet Joe the Plumber. Or the Kardashians.  Then they’d understand.

Ramesh didn’t say anything that suggested he was judging us, yet Morgan was attuned to our family’s very evident inferiority and jumped to defend us.

“Well, we’re a lot tougher than we look.” Morgan said. “You’ll see.”

“Okay,” Ramesh said with a smile as he led the way.

Morgan was right.   We were a lot tougher than we looked.  What she didn’t know was that we were even tougher than we thought we were.

2 thoughts on “Keeping up with the Kardashians and Bear Grylls

  1. Amanda,
    Great entertainment! You made me laugh, as usual. I like your comment “Clearly they don’t assign as much homework in Nepal.” I’m quite sure your Dad will agree candy and earplugs would have solved all our biggest problems growing up. I’m going to give that for Halloween next year. If anyone gives me any funny looks…well I probably won’t be able to tell because of the costumes…so I don’t care!

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