July, due to the bi-polar climate, is considered an offseason of sorts for tourists and climbers in Nepal. Indeed it was; we saw a whopping two other trekkers on the hill. In addition to the two Asian guys on our flight from Kathmandu to Lukla, we met a 15-year-old German boy and a 40-year-old Buddhist convert hippie dude from Florida. But in high season there are hundreds. Offseason is really just another way to say budget traveler season. It is also a euphemism for monsoon season. The rain continued to come down temperately but we hardly noticed after a while. But water couldn’t compete with all the other pains tormenting our bodies.
It was after dark, and each step I took as I approached the lodge went to the rhythmic mantra repeating in my head: AL. MOST. THERE. I could see the little town of Lukla in the distance.
When Deirdre, Tim and I finally reached the lodge I could barely walk up the ten wooden steps to the main room. But as soon as I arrived, I threw my backpack down with all the carelessness of a teenager. There were two other guys in the cabin, who I recognized as the two non-Anderson passengers who were on our flight to Lukla. That was yesterday, but it felt like centuries ago.
“Welcome to Namche Bazaar,” one said in broken English. While I don’t think they were judging us, they seemed to be enjoying watching each of us walk in and collapse on the dining room’s wooden benches one by one.
“Thanks” I said with a huff, trying to hide the how did you guys get up here so quickly? expression off my face. Deirdre, Tim and I made ourselves comfortable and waited for the others to trickle in.
If you were imagining the six of us crossing some sort of finish line holding hands being all koom-bay-yah, I am sorry to burst your bubble. While I’ve been comparing the trek to a marathon, reaching Namche was less climatic. At the end of a marathon, there are thousands of people cheering for you over some Top 40 Rihanna hit. Namche was pretty dead, after all it was after 8 p.m., and any Sherpa we encountered on the homestretch just looked at us funny and wondered why we were walking so slow. There was no medal, cape, bananas or Gatorade awaiting us; we were greeted with tea and a bizarre Nepalese take on mac and cheese. I was shaking from the cold rain.
But like all great moments of historic accomplishment (landing in Normandy and walking on the moon come to mind), we were tired and deliriously elated as we reached shelter. First Kevin, then Ramesh, who was hanging back to make sure Morgie and my dad made it. The Nepalese guys from our flight took a group picture for us in the lodge to commemorate.
But the finish line wasn’t really the end. We still had another hour climb to reach the official Everest viewpoint the next day. It was much too dark to see now. Our best chance of seeing the sacred Sagamartha peak (Mount Everest in Nepalese, duh) was first thing in the morning, and I mean first thing: 5 a.m. wakeup call. Wait too long and the clouds will steal Everest away.
Deirdre briefly entertained the idea of showering, but the offseason prevented us from even doing that. First, we learned that there was no hot water at the lodge in the offseason. We also missed the bring your own towels memo. We hadn’t showered in almost three days. Deirdre felt the need to distinguish this to Ramesh.
“You know Ramesh, we don’t really look like this in real life.” Deirdre pulled out her passport and showed him her picture and Morgan did the same. But Ramesh was sweet and said he didn’t see much of a difference. Until of course, I showed him mine.
I have a love-hate relationship with my passport. I was a junior in high school when I got it, which is cool because it was just after the start of the wacky Anderson international trips. It has logged stamps from all over the world. Even airport agents have commented how wrinkled and water damaged it is, and I had to have pages added to it in order to obtain visas for India and Nepal.
So I love my passport like an old and worn childhood blankie, but my picture is a little weird. I have not one but two lazy eyes. Quite frankly I look hungover, but I more than likely had a pre-calc test and didn’t sleep the night before. My smile is a struggling one and I have big chandelier earrings in. On the plus side, I am relatively tan and my hair is combed, two major accomplishments in their own right. But to be honest, it doesn’t look like me. My hair is also very dark. I change my hair quite impulsively, I think mostly out of boredom, but any psychiatrist would probably read into it. Or maybe I’m in the C.I.A. Interpret as you wish.
So when Ramesh told me he didn’t recognize me, and that I must have been much skinnier then, I couldn’t get too upset. I have been stopped for additional identification multiple times in airports, which is equal parts a thrill and a blow to my self-esteem. I’m still waiting for the chance to get taken into an empty dark room with one lamp on the table for a high-security background check. Then it will all be worth it.
So when I look at it I sometimes long for my high school days, but now I merely longed for a bar of soap. It’s all about perspective. This trip had caused me to age 15 more years: my back ached, my skin wrinkly, my eyes tired. And to top this sunade off was another night in a wooden bed and a 5 a.m. wakeup call.
But really, would it have been any other way?
So we went to bed mad early and I had what could have potentially been the best sleep of my life had it been longer. My head hit the pillow and again, what felt like moments later I heard a knock at the door.
“Good morning,” a soft voice whispered at our door. It was Ramesh. “I let you sleep in.”
False, Ramesh. It was 6 a.m.
But without too much of a fight, we all got out of bed, threw some clothes on and trekked upward in hopes of catching a glimpse of Everest.
As we ascended, I could tell it was overcast. Was climbing up another hour or going to change anything? Probably not, but whatever. We didn’t even care. The only reason we were even going up was for my dad.
When we finally saw a sign pointing to “Everest Viewpoint” we knew we were done climbing, and that we were supposed to see something.
Ramesh pointed out where it should be along with the other neighboring sacred peaks that were slightly more decipherable. “Looks like it’s still too cloudy,” Ramesh said. “Oh well,” I said, sarcastically snapping empty pictures of a cloudy sky. There was a bakery and a small wooden “museum” at the lookout, which was closed (Why?It’s the offseason). But Ramesh had a key to the musty museum, so we went in and had a look at pictures of Sir Edmund and Tenzing, the Sherpa who accompanied him on his famous climb. We looked at pictures of Mount Everest. But Deirdre summed it up perfectly. “Come on guys, pictures will never beat us not seeing Mount Everest in person.”
“You know, I can see the outline,” my dad said enthusiastically as he snapped away with his Nikon. He attempted to show us his outline, but I wasn’t really paying attention to where he was pointing. I felt like a jerk for not sharing in his awe. I wasn’t even trying to see. Dad really really really wanted to believe he saw the world’s highest peak. Maybe it was like the bell from the Polar Express, where you had to believe to see and hear it. Dad had the faith of a child and I was the cranky nonbelieving adult who is plain, boring and works all the time. I loathe myself sometimes.
After staring in almost-awe for about a half hour it was time to descend, get my mom and fly back down the mountains to Kathmandu.
“You know guys, more people die on the way down from Everest,” Kevin reminded us. He’d really gotten into that “Into Thin Air” book.
Going down takes significantly less time than going up the same distance. There was still plenty of up and down climbing to do, but it was easier. This did, however, mean that we had less time to figure out how the heck we were going to get my mom down the mountain with only one functioning leg.
I wondered how Mom was doing. I imagined her still sitting miserably on the bench we left her on, with the ripped up undershirt wrapped around her ankle, with no one to talk to and nothing to do. No Real Simple, People, or Oprah magazines. No cell phone. Heck, who knew if they were even feeding her? What if her foot had gotten worse? What if it was so infected that it had to be amputated?
Meanwhile, Ramesh seemed to be on the phone the entire time we were walking back. His reception was incredible for being in the middle of the Himalayas. At first I thought he was just sick of us and wanted to talk to someone other than us, but then realized he was trying to arrange a way down for my mom via horse.
That’s right, apparently a horse was the preferred mode of transport for ailing white tourists in stuck in the Himalayas. We began making occasional detours so that he could inquire to random people along the way about renting one, but nothing seemed to be working out. Each person Ramesh talked to seemed to point further and further along the path. None of the places that normally had horses were open, as it was, you guessed it, the offseason. So we were on a wild goose chase, or rather, horse chase.
Finally someone Ramesh contacted had a horse. The only problem was that it was not at the owner’s lodge, it was currently grazing at an elevation much higher up the hill. Why? You know why. There’s no need for horses in the offseason! Ramesh told us that the horse would make it’s way down the mountains and meet us.
By itself? How does it know where to find us? How is the horse going to get up and down all the stone rocks? There were so many questions I needed answered.
“Twenty bucks says this “offseason” horse is a three-legged donkey,” Kevin bet.
The way this trip was going, I would not be the least surprised.