Monday, March 28, 2011

Lions, Cheetahs, and Giraffes...OH MY!

I SO regret not travelling with my zoom VR lens. For this very moment. What was I thinking? Just because I was travelling around the world and did not want the hassle. Stupid, stupid, stupid me. Thus, any zoomed in pics (and lower-quality-looking) are from our point and shoot.

We have just travelled around South and Central Kenya, going on game drives for a real life safari. Masai Mara is the famous game reserve here, which is essentially the Kenyan side of the Serengheti (in bordering Tanzania). Here, they have what they call the Big 5 because to kill those animals one must exert special effort and be courageous. They are the rhinocerous, elephant, lion, leopard, and the buffalo.

And WOW. To see a cheetah in the wild. That was a sleek and memorable sight. She (I think it was a she because of the air of royalty with which she stepped.) was beautiful. And we saw oh so much more. The wildebeest (whose migration by the millions in July-September from nearby Serengheti makes Masai Mara famous), the giraffe, the topi, the hyena, the wharthog, the Thompson gazelle, the waterbuck, the cape buffalo, the eland, the baboon, the impala, the lion, the zebra, the crocodile, and the rare sighting of a black rhinoceros (only 47 remain in Masai).

We also took time to visit a Masai village. Kenya has 42 distinct tribes, and one of the famous ones is the Masai. They are known for never straying from their traditional way of living no matter the land on which they call home. We were greeted by the Chief's sons, and Wilson gave us our tour. Their village has 200 people among only 6 families, with 6 different entrances. Each family has an entrance at which they bury their dead. The village has a medicine man and a midwife for medical care. In fact, the two most common diseases that they must treat are malaria and upset stomach. For that, they use a special tree. The bark is stripped and soaked in water, and the solution is a malaria treatment. The leaves are spicy (we even tasted them) and can be used for stomach issues. The best part? You know how we often talk about the Kenyans and their white teeth, sans Western dental care? Well, they chew on a special tree bark.

The Masai women build the homes while the men build the fences once setting out to create a new village. The homes last about 10 years, whereupon they must settle somewhere else. The reason is that as it rains, the women mix cow dung and water to create a cement-like paste to cover the roof. Over time, the roofs weigh down the home, and their lifespan comes to an end at ten years. The women later return to collect the wood (which forms the structural component) for fire. Oh yeah, speaking of fire. The Masai create fire using friction and wood-a soft and strong wood. They spin the long stick using their hands until the hay begins to smoke and catches fire. We decided Srin has not proven his Masai warrior-ness yet though.

One of the most fascinating traditions is the becoming of a warrior for the men and the skill that must be proven before one can marry. A Masai boy must kill a lion! And numerous men have died doing it. It is in this way that he shows he can take care of himself and his family. The ceremony is extravagant, and he comes through, if victorious, with the tail on a stick and the men following will bare other body parts of the lion as well.

If marriage is the next step, the family must pay a dowry of sorts. In Masai culture, money is in the form of cow ownership. To ask how many cows one has is like asking how rich one is in the West. To marry, it will cost the family around 10 cows. When they need to buy goods, they sell their cows in special Masai markets. And to invest their money, they buy cows. Dressed in their traditional color of red, the Masai were a welcoming host and to learn of their culture was one of my favorite parts of my African trip.

We then travelled to a city about 6 hours away called Nakaru, home to a lake bearing its same name with thousands of pink flamingos, pelicans, white rhinos, a plethora of baboons, and tree climbing lions!

First, the baboons. Those punks are such troublemakers. Five weeks ago, they set fire to the forest, burning acres of it down. Stupid baboons. Now the lions. We were disappointed to not see a leopard, which is apparently more likely to be sighted here than in Masai but really luck manages it all. In fact, we didn't see many animals at all in our two game drives in the national park, save for those silly baboons. But, on our way out, we ran into a pride of tree lions crossing the street to climb...yes a tree! The lions in Masai cannot climb trees (generally, only the leopard can in the cat family). But this is a different species that was born in Tanzania. It was a cool sight.

A real life safari. I think all families should do one. It's hands on learning at any age. And, one of my most shocking moments was entering Nairobi. There is so much talk about it being unsafe and whatnot. But, I felt comfortable the moment I got here. And once you leave Nairobi, it is tourist land. Safety is NOT a concern. And in Nairobi, just use your head. Common sense tells you not to pull money out of your wallet by the wad, don't wear your diamond engagement ring, and just be aware. It is no different than any other place I have traveled. Sure, luck dictates. So I am sure you know someone who knows someone who heard from their uncle about how he got robbed. But, I am pretty sure walking in NYC could give you a similar story.

Isn't this just how you picture Africa, with giraffes lining the horizon?

Other things about Africa. The Kenyans are a good looking population. Seriously. And well dressed. You know how in general people say the Brits are not blessed aesthetically. Well, the Kenyans are. Beautiful, white teeth bared all in earnest, heartwarming laughs. They are happy with a great sense of humor. Also, Kenya is so clean. I was pleasantly surprised to breathe clean air and see no garbage. Oh gosh. How could I forget to tell you about the 5 kgs of weight we must have put on at the safari lodges. First off, they are gorgeous lodges. Secondly, the food was in sheer abundance. And, they are so aware of vegetarianism. They keep the meat separate, and when they say the soup is vegetarian, it means they also do not use meat stock. In fact, at the Lion Hill Lodge in Nakuru, we were introduced to the vegetarian chef in case we needed anything else. If only other countries would get on board. It was fantastic to be able to eat so well!  Lastly, we attempted to do a tour of Nairobi, only to be hindered by the worst traffic we have ever been through.  Due to a comedy of errors (like the Masai Market apparently being closed), we only saw one thing but it was totally worth it!  It is called the Bomas of Kenya, where they show you dances from the 42 different Kenyan tribes.  It was SO cool.

All in all, I hope people forget their pre-conceived notions about safety, etc and just GO TO AFRICA! Well, at least Kenya. So much of Africa is well traveled and tourism (as sad and wonderful as it is) has shaped up much of the continent.

Stepping in two different countries at one time.  Tanzania on the left and Kenya on the right!

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Friday, March 25, 2011

We are back!

Back on American soil. Feels great. More blogging soon!

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Location:The US of A

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Actually Turkiye...

We don't care to buy any carpets. Double knot or not. Yes, we get it. "Our" country (India) does single stitch. No good...I get it. But we still do not want to buy a carpet or rug or whatever.

Apparently that is the big market here...carpet.

I prefer me some yummy baklava. Gobble gobble.

We are in Turkey and cannot believe the history in front of us. From 3000 B.C. forward to WWI. It may be freakin' freezin' but the sights are great. I owe you two countries on this blog: Kenya and Turkey. Apparently blogspot has been deemed incredibly block-worthy as Turkey has made my blog unreachable. I am posting using my app which still won't let me post pics. And no way am I telling you about my safari and 30th century B.C. history without the work of my fab Nikon. So you will have to wait until I get home for the conclusion of my around the world Odyssey. Pun intended.

In the meantime, we cannot believe in three days time we will be States-bound. Ahh home.

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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Her Majesty...

Sagamartha-Goddess of the Sky.  Mount Everest in all her glory.  We maintained a journal that I will publish after this to anyone interested.  We had a most fabulous guide if you are also interested.  His rates are spectacular for what you get.  We had a most "out of our element" time, pushing ourselves in ways we had never done.  

 The Himalayas...My Nikon found its heaven.

Enjoying the view of Ama Dablam...

 Ahhh...Base Camp.  Finally.  We greet you.

 Look at that horrific weather...Most people go to Everest Base Camp in April and May when Expeditions (those crazy enough to climb the thing) set up camp.  But I chose not to...partially because of the timing of my travels.  But it all worked out because the trail was ours to enjoy almost entirely on our own.

The beauty herself.... (the back peak)...

Summitting  Kala Patthar. At 5545 meters (18,192 feet), it was our highest ascent.  It is the peak from which the view of Everest is most grand.  Everyone who does Base Camp also climbs Kala Patthar since you cannot see Everest from Base Camp itself due to its own geography.

 Hooray!  We are heading home!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Her Highness

Srin and I have returned from two weeks of no showers, star gazing clearer than anything we have witnessed, and the majesty of Sagamartha (Everest) and her Himalayas.

I will post pictures when we arrive in Nairobi tomorrow (our time). We leave in the middle of our night but your afternoon today. Do not fear...we are safe and sound. After Africa, we will most definitely still skip Egypt and go to Turkey instead. Thus, we return in two weeks from now. Cannot believe it!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

EBC Trek Day 14...

And we are off!  We are airbound for Kathmandu now, flying through the majestic mountains that we just traversed.  WOW.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

EBC Trek Day 13...

We have been awake since 5:30AM today and at the airport since 6:30AM. The system is hilarious. Everyone stares out the window to see if the clouds have dispersed. Sooner or later, someone gets word that the airport is open and we should head there. Doesn't matter if our flight is at 7:00AM. We don't budge til someone tells us to!

Of course, we are still waiting as it seems the Kathmandu airport may be closed. We just met up with one of our trekking buddies who said he has tried to get out of Lukla for two days now. Lord help me if that happens to us. Not because of the cost of delaying our international flight but because I want a shower. Now. Badly. I had an awful dream about underarm hair. It was so weird. I know-too much. Well, it's my blog.

Update 1:
Flights have departed Kathmandu. HOORAY! 25 minutes until a landing. Cross your fingers!

Update 2:
Plane took off!

Update 3:
Planes turned around.

Update 4:
Stuck here. Winds awful.

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Tuesday, March 8, 2011

EBC Trek Day 12...

Our last day of trekking. I couldn't go very fast due to the pain in my toes. That is-until I changed into my guide's Teva's. Thank god for them. Starting off, my energy was high, but, unfortunately, my spirit was broken sometime in the morning. So I won't talk much today.

We entered the Lukla gates at 5PM, though it was not as life changing as I envisioned for 12 days. The entire trek was different than I imagined. In some ways good and other ways not so much. I trekked most of the days on my own, and for the most part, I thoroughly enjoyed the alone time with the Himalayas. But on this day, I really missed P. I knew that if she were here, she would have trekked right by my side, commiserating my toe pain and commending my ability to trek right through it. Just like in graduate school, even though those hikes were incomparable. But still. The principle remains. I really missed her today. Hi P:)

That's really it for today. Except to tell you that our dinner was amazing. We ate fresh veggies for the first time in weeks and the Nepalese bhaijya were fantastic.

Our daily stats:
Start Location: Namche Bazar
Time Started: 9:00 AM
Altitude: 3440m

Destination: Lukla
Time Reached: 5:24 PM
Final Altitude: 2860m

Total Distance: 24km

TOTAL ALTITUDE: 3KM up and back down

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Location:Lukla, Nepal

Monday, March 7, 2011

EBC Trek Day 11...

Day 2 of our descent. Today was more challenging and certainly longer. The trek was a combination of up and down and the toes were a bit in pain by the end. All I could think was how I had to get to Namche because then I could buy a hair brush. Why, you ask? Because I was stupid enough to travel without one. And imagine not washing curly hair for two weeks. Suffice it to say that I may have ruined my hair. Of course, I had found a brush on the way in Pangboche for 40 Rs. SO CHEAP! But of course, I tried to catch up with Srin to get the money and no amount of yelling or running led me to him fast enough. I wished I had turned around though once I got to him because all hair brushes were 10 times more expensive in Namche. So I passed. Maybe I will get rid of the knapsack in Lukla tomorrow.

Our daily stats:
Start Location: Pheriche
Time Started: 8:15 AM
Altitude: 4200m

Destination: Namche Bazar
Time Reached: 5:45 PM
Final Altitude: 3440m

Total Distance: 28km

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Sunday, March 6, 2011

EBC Trek Day 10...

Today, after 9 days of hiking 90km in distance and 3km in altitude, we began our descent down the Himalayas. Though, of course, we had to go uphill just to go down. So ludicrous. It was a pretty easy day, though, as the entire path after lunch was straight-a-way through a valley. We stayed in the fanciest place thus far, which was the Himalayan Lodge. The best part? No yak dung warmth and my appetite was back! What is yak dung warmth, you ask? Well, let me indulge. Yaks are mountainous animals much like mules in that they transport goods up and down the villages. Yak dung should be obvious. Now the warmth. Many of the village lodges have a furnace, for which I am thankful. However, as you get above the tree line, they use dung to burn for warmth. Now, I will say it is very efficient, using every bit of the yak for versatile needs. But, the smell, as I am sure you can imagine, is by far not worth it. Though, I am guilty for sitting near the furnace for the warmth. But if I cannot complain on my blog, where can I complain?

Our daily stats:
Start Location: Gorak Shep
Time Started: 8:15 AM
Altitude: 5140m

Destination: Pheriche
Time Reached: 3:15 AM
Final Altitude: 4200m

Total Distance: 24km

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Saturday, March 5, 2011

EBC Trek Day 9...

Today was the number 2 goal-Kala Patthar, the mountain (hill, actually, according to the rule I told you) from which the view of Everest is most grand and mesmerizing. Due to the geography of the mountain mass to which Everest claims the highest altitude, you cannot see the peak from Base Camp itself. On a clear day, you may see it from the path towards EBC. But not from the base. Thus, every trekker climbs Kala Patthar to see the monstrosity. And guess what? I DID IT! It is the only solace I have in this ridiculousy disheartening end to our uphill climb. Luckily, the weather was clear today, and I was certain we would have a spectacular view of the top of the world.

The climb was tough, seemingly never ending. We were tired, and I tried to quit at least three times, saying "Let's just take a picture and go home!" But, again, Srin wouldn't let me quit...or maybe he wouldn't let me let him quit. Who knows! Up and up we went, having to climb numerous meters before even being able to see the peak to which we aimed. Finally, God-willing, we summitted. 5555 meters. That's high. Over 18,000 feet. I couldn't believe I had made it and was staring at the top of the world. Sagarmatha-head of the sky-as they say in Nepalese. Although the gushing winds stole some of my enjoyment (the kinds of winds that could whip you off of the peak), nothing could take away this momentous feeling. 8 years I waited to accomplish this climb. And I had done it. After many pictures, we descended as I yelled over the gushing winds "We have to go now!".

The descent was mostly easy, save for the winds once again. They were so strong that one gush knocked me to the rocks, slamming me like a rag doll. I braced as I heard the next ones coming, sitting down and taking cover like we learned in school should a tornado roll through. As soon as we got low enough, the winds did not hinder us. We made it back, tired but fully satisfied at our accomplishment.

Our daily stats:
Start Location: Gorak Shep
Time Started: 7:30 AM
Altitude: 5140m

Destination: Kala Patthar
Time Reached: 11:45 AM
Final Altitude: 5555m

Time Back to Gorak Shep: 2:00 PM

Total Distance: 3km each way

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Friday, March 4, 2011

EBC Trek Day 8...

Finally. The day I had been waiting for since 2003 and moreover for 8 straight days of bitter cold. And guess what? I awoke for the first time on this trek not feeling "right". I noticed in my sleep that I could feel my heart racing. Not just beating fast but RACING. As I awoke, I tried to ignore it. I mean-finally I was going to get to EVEREST BASE CAMP! But, alas, I informed Srin, who said he would feel a similar heartbeat from simple things like picking up his shoes. The reason? Well, the thinner air means less oxygen. So it takes much more for our bodies to perform simple tasks since we are not exactly high altitude people. Think Texas.

After some deep breathing and a bit of rest, my heart rate was in control. So off we went. The in-between stop was a three hour away destination called Gorak Shep, where we would eat lunch and take off! Except, well...about 30 minutes until we reached, Srin beckons me from up ahead saying I had to speed up. It was paralyzingly cold, and it was time to admit: "Srin...I think I should take something for my heart." It was at this point that I think he realized I was behind for a serious reason. I mean-I am most definitely not a hypochondriac, and I have enormous pride in my health and ability to handle almost anything. You see-my chest had just tightened when I said this to him (about 25 minutes prior) and it was a feeling unlike anything I have ever imagined. I described it to him as if someone were grabbing my heart and squeezing as hard as he could. There was pain, but completely due to the tightening. I had no other aches (no headache, no musclular pain, nothing at all but this deathly pressure in my most loved organ), and Govinda said it was a common reaction to altitude. Before I could mark it as altitude sickness, I had a breakdown. I was positive that this could be a sign of a heart attack to come. At the age of 31. How could I naively pushed myself like that? So I buried into Srin's chest and laid on the tears, mumbling something about not wanting to die and wanting to talk to "mom and dad, Daxaben, Clint, Pritty, Bhikhu, Hemben, and the girls." He said I couldn't think like that. I was only a short climb from rest and that would help. Sounds dramatic to you? Well, you weren't there. It was terrifying and the very first time in my life I thought I was going to need medical attention. Sights of EBC vanished from my head. At one point, I thought this tightening must have been what Dad felt that day of Christmas break of 1998. I soon realized that the pain I had could not compare to what he must have felt, and that made me sympathize with him all over again.

We reached Gorak Shep, and after a couple of hours of hot lemon water, soup, and rest, I was back to normal. It is with intense regret and a monumental swallow of pride that I admit to you that I told Srin to go ahead without me as he had to leave soon after we stopped in order to make it in daylight. I could not choose EBC over a potential "incident". So I didn't make it. I actually did not make it. I waited 8 years for this moment, planned this trip on my own, and trekked for 8 days for this opportunity. Something I had never done before. And I didn't make it. Although I know my health is more important (hence the conservative decision), getting within 3 hours of THAT moment was painful. Having to admit it here is again painful. I am happy to report, though, that Srin did make it. WHOO HOO! And it was not easy. I will let him describe it to you.

Take it away Official EBC Trekker.

After 4 hours of trekking to Gorak Shep, I was already exhausted, but knew this was our only chance to step foot on EBC given our tight schedule. Govinda basically told me to put on any warm clothes I had (including gators we had bought in Kathmandu for snow/ice) and we would head out at 11:45am. It started snowing ~15 min. into the trek and it was already cloudy and cold (-12 C) = no chance to see Sagarmatha (i.e. Everest). The trek took us along a ridge overlooking Nuptse and Khumbste mountains. The trail was quite challenging with loose rocks covered in snow/ice, and up/down terrain. The snow and wind made visibilty difficult at times. But when it did clear up, the Khumbu Glacier was spectacular... the bluest ice formations I've ever seen, perhaps only rivaled by Fiji's brilliant blue water. I don't think the pics we took could do justice to it.

I thought we had finally arrived at EBC when I saw this sign etched into a rock (Go Blue!). Nope. Govinda told me that we still had another ~2 km to get to the real BC. The terrain is a potpurri of small and large rocks that when combined with snow and ice make it quite difficult to traverse. We finally got to the real BC, and I was struck at how uncomfortable it would be to set up camp on these rocks. Though, I'm sure the expedition camps are quite elaborate. After taking some pics, I asked Govinda if we could head down to the glacier to see the ice formatons more closely. He obliged and it was "real and spectaular". We took a bunch of pics of these sheets of ice. it was pretty incredicle to be on the glacier that gets its water from Everest. The best part of the trip was that we had the entire BC and the glacier to ourselves. Absolutely no human around... we were the only stupid ones to visit EBC in that afteroon.

The trek back wasn't too bad as the snow had stopped and the sun was actually starting to peak out from the clouds. We made it back to the lodge as it was getting dark. Overall, exhausting, but a fantastic afternoon in front of the tallest structure in the world. Govinda likes to say that EBC is where earth ends and heaven begins. Can't say I disagree with him.

Our daily stats:
Start Location: Lobouche
Time Started: 6:40 AM
Altitude: 4910m

Destination: Gorak Shep
Time Reached: 10:44 AM
Final Altitude: 5140m

Total Distance: 6km

Destination: Everest Base Camp
Time Started: 11:44 AM
Time Reached: 2:30 PM
Final Altitude: 5364m

Time Back to Gorak Shep: 5:45 PM

Total Distance: 6km each way

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Thursday, March 3, 2011

EBC Trek Day 7...

We made it to Lobouche today through some mud but more ice and snow. The toughest part was climbing straight up for an hour through rocks. The rest of the trek was not so bad, with pretty clear and sunny weather allowing for beautiful views of Ama Dablam, Kantega, Tomsherku, and Tabouche. Even Govinda (who has done EBC 53 times) remarked how rare the views of the Himalayas were.

Overall, I think both of us were really tired today, but as I write this, we seem to be much better. The only thing keeping us going is that tomorrow is our shot at Everest Base Camp. Yup-the Holy Grail. I cannot wait to reach so that I can head back home! Or in this case, Kathmandu.

Our daily stats:
Start Location: Dingboche
Time Started: 8:30 AM
Altitude: 4410m

Destination: Lobouche
Time Reached: 1:45 PM
Final Altitude: 4928m

Total Distance: 12km

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Wednesday, March 2, 2011

EBC Trek Day 6...

Boy-today was tough! We did the whole 'climb high, sleep low' climb today, and climb high we did! The path was straight up and back down, and if it were not for my "slow and steady wins the race" attitude, I may have died right then and there. Okay okay. That is a bit dramatic. But it was difficult, and certainly it is the highest Srin or I have ever climbed (~16,500 ft). And it was all in preparation for our bodies as we continue trekking up.

The weather was quite cloudy, making us wonder what our chances were of seeing Everest in a few days. Guess only time will tell. We ended the night by noticing the stars. I mean-you could not imagine the clarity with which we could see what seemed like every star in the universe. We couldn't believe we had not noticed it until tonight.

Tomorrow is Lobouche at 4900m.

Our daily stats:
Start Location: Dingboche
Time Started: 8:30 AM
Altitude: 4410

Destination: Nakharjum
Time Reached: 11:45 AM
Final Altitude: 5000m

Time Back to Dingboche: 2:00 PM

Total Distance: 1km each way

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Tuesday, March 1, 2011

EBC Trek Day 5...

Ahhh, I actually warmed up overnight and awoke refreshed. Well, as refreshing as -18 deg C can allow. We started earlier (well, we attempted) because Govinda had said the first hour was quite icy and slippery. He reasoned that if we started earlier, then it would not be as treacherous. I thought the man was nuts since earlier meant colder to my feeble mind. Then, I started trekking and realized what his experience had already told him. When the sun melts the ice, it gets wet and much more slippery than when frozen. And the frozen mud allowed for a much easier trek than I had anticipated. I couldn't believe that I, Mamta-the-Texas-snot, was trekking in below freezing weather and feeling just perfectly fine. It was a grand moment for me.

The trek was relatively easy only because we took it SLOW, up the gradually inclining routes. We made it to above 4000m which coincides with the tree line. We were officially in that part of the mountains that looks so daunting from a far. Who would think it would be possible to point to the snow-covered mountain face and think it possible that one could trek there. The weather was phenomenal and the sky so open and blue. I cannot wait to share pictures with you.

We arrived in Dingboche and retreated to our room for a bit of rest. I had my first slight headache so acclimating was very important. Govinda's advice of Snickers and water did the trick, and I feel much better as I write this. Tomorrow is another acclimation day here in Dingboche.

That's it for tonight so I will see you tomorrow as we trek to a ridiculously high "hill" nearby. It better be worth it as I still firmly believe climbing is not worth it if not towards your destination.

Our daily stats:
Start Location: Tengboche
Time Started: 8:15 AM
Altitude: 3900m

Destination: Dingboche
Time Reached: 3:30 PM
Final Altitude: 4410m

Total Distance: 18km

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