Monday, 19 November 2012

Namche Bazar - Hospital

It's been a week now and my back is still a problem and, to make matters worse, the pain has spread to my hips.

So this morning I headed up to Namche Hospital. Frustratingly the clinic is at the top of a very steep incline although there are other paths there that are less steep but not as direct. Evidently if you are really ill you must either be carried up the hill or a home visit arranged.

Anyhow, Sushila and I took the more roundabout approach, stopping at the Yeti Mountain Home hotel en route to enjoy the views with a pot of tea and some fresh butter cookies. I was then given a tour of the hotel - one of the nicest and most expensive here in Namche. Rooms are like a proper hotel and include en suite bathrooms with western toilets and the beds have electric blankets.

Anyway, we eventually crept our way to the clinic where, for a charge of $50 I saw a doctor and got some muscle relaxants prescribed.

I'm beginning to doubt whether I will have healed enough in the next few days to attempt to hike out and I certainly don't want to chance another fall and injury so I may have to make arrangements to helicopter out. I'll keep y'all posted.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Namche - continued

The feast last night was great. Hitherto I had thought that I didn't like the local food. Wrong! I just don't like shitty local food.

The starter was a lentil/garlic soup that was very tasty while the main course(s) were a spicy buffalo dish and a twce-cooked pork dish accompanied by rice and lentils and some sort of pickle. The dessert was a revelation and I must get the recipe from Sushila.

Oh wait - actually after asking her it turns out that my fave dishes were chinese and middle eastern.

Anyway, I've confirmed that whenever I'm in Namche I can stay at the bar. MUCH better than the local lodges/hotels who really have to up their game.

So at the party last night all of the great and the good of Namche attended but as in any culture the men stayed in the main room drinking and playing pool and the women convened in the kitchen to cook and gossip until they'd decided that men had had enough fun at which time they collected their menfolk.

The chanting of the monks woke me up at dawn this morning and after flirting over coffee with some trekkers I attended a small ceremony to the household god and then we were off to the market to get supplies. Today is fairly casual as we are all recovering from the party but tomorrow we'll take a walk up to the Everest View Hotel for lunch.

Friday, 16 November 2012

Managing from the Mountaintop - Needs Improvement

Sometimes even the best laid plans must bow to the power of mother nature. While the weather was beautiful yesterday morning - enough that I was actually able to skin down, take a hot shower and get into some clean duds, by noon the wind was picking up and by 3pm had gotten boisterous enough that just as I was getting patched in for the morning meeting connectivity died entirely. Since then connectivity has been hugely unreliable although it seems to have steadied enough now that I can post this. ::fingers crossed::

At least I was sent an update from th team so I know the results of the meeting I was unable to attend.

Sushila got me up early this morning (well, 7:30) and we walked up to see the local holy man. He and his wife were born and raised here and their home is enchantingly traditional, down to the supply of winter fuel in the ground floor - dried yak dung.

We then walked over to the Gompa (monastery) to make a donation and then visited the museum there before walking across town to the Sherpa market to get fresh meat and produce to prepare for the feast/party tonight. So with that said, I'm going to end this post now so I can go help in the kitchen.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Diwali in Namche

It's interesting how Hindu and Buddhist beliefs happily coexist here. Anyway it's Diwali and children of all ages (even grown men) have been going around town in groups and dancing. In exchange they are given money. The meaning/symbolism of the holiday is lost on me. When I ask I'm just told that it's the Festival of Lights. As a notional Jew this only confuses me further. I do see that candles are lit and fried foods eaten so the similarities just add to the confusion.

Ah well. In any case we had a very late and very raucous time in the bar last night. And I have been invited to one of the Sherpa's homes for his family's Diwali party tomorrow night. Plus my hostess has invited me to help her tomorrow to cook Newari food including roti and then climb up to visit the local holy man and bring him food. Obviously I am honoured to accept her generous invitation.

Meanwhile, today is Bhai Tika - when sisters mark their brother's foreheads with a mark like a bindi and brothers give their sisters money. Dunno why (again my questions are met with shrugs) but I can only support the sentiment.

I guess that at some point I will have to do some research unless a willing volunteer cares to enlighten me.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Namche Bazar

So I think I left off shortly after my rather messianic entry to Namche - on horseback, in the driving snow, one hand clasping my phone to my ear as I participated in the morning meeting and the other clutching a cigarette (of course).

Having decided that I couldn't possibly go on without damaging my back more and/or being a drag on the group, I popped over to Danphe's Bar to have a decent cup of coffee and a chat with fellow ex-pat New Yorker Sushila about where I should stay in Namche. Well, after a bit of discussion, she said "You know, I have a spare room here. You could have that in exchange for a few hours behind the bar each night.". So I asked to see the room and the deal was struck.

Personally I'm delighted. What better way to get to know the community than by working in the very heart of it?

And thus last night found me behind the bar on my trial run.

And this morning I bid farewell to my group and moved myself into the bar. Which, by the way, also offers massage and sauna. So I've had an awesome hot stone massage this morning which has helped my back enormously and my first decent meal in a week (penne with homemade pesto) and a few propositions from mountaineers fresh off of Ama Dablam (those poor guys haven't seen a woman in a month so they can be excused for throwing themselves at me).

Plus I have access to the fastest internet in Namche (not that that is saying much) which should help with managing the team.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Kathmandu - Lukla - Phakding

So I've been generally off comms for the past 2 days other than keeping up with work. That side of things has been fine and I'm pleased with th remote working aspect. I've been able to partake in the morning meetings and get updates from JIRA and check my work email without any problems.

The trekking side of things has been problematic though.

Assembling to go to the airport - in broad daylight.

Ania P. and Anna B.

The Three Anias

 First off, just getting to Lukla was a megillah. Normally you get to the airport ~6am and try to get on the first available flight possible. The weather window opens and closes all the time so the earlier you get the the higher you are on the list for a flight. So by the time we got to the airport at 10:30 there was already quite a queue. In the end we spent most of the day there with all of our bags in a pile in the centre of the hall and taking it in turns to sleep on the baggage and/or guard it. In the end the group and its baggage were separated over 3 flights with the last few just squeaking into Lukla on the last flight of the day at about 6pm. By then the sun was setting and we were fairly shattered from the stress of it all.

Getting bussed out to the plane

Now most people would have just accepted the inevitable, spent the night in Lukla and adjusted the itinerary accordingly. But no, what actually happened is that we undertook a dangerous night hike from Lukla to Phakding. I'm not sure that the other trekkers understood the dangers. The group rapidly separated into fast, medium and slow hikers. There were points when the path split and none of the hikers knew which way to go and had to wait until one of the guides got there to point the way. I took 2 nasty falls, gashing my knee pretty badly and exacerbating my already dodgy back (from sleeping on the baggage at the airport).

All things considered, it was a miracle that only 1 of us was injured and fortunate that that was all that went wrong. Many trekkers are unaware of this but there are other dangers - there are people living wild in those mountains and they do come out to rob the unwary, particularly at night. Worse than that, every year trekkers go missing. Sometimes the bodies are found, and sometimes they are still intact.

In fact, I heard later that a trekker had gone missing from that stretch of trail just the night before.

So the next morning, even after taking some painkillers, I could barely move. Our guides did not offer me any advice/guidance/suggestions. In the absence of any help from the guides, I was initially going to just stay in Phakding and let the rest of the group go on without me until I had an idea - rent a horse! This way I could at least get to Namche where there are massages and, if needed, medical facilities. And it had to be better than being abandoned in Phakding where there is absolutely nothing. The cost was only $100 which, frankly, is what I spend on taxis on a Saturday night out so the call went out out get me a horse.

And so Rocky was procured. I have to say that I was slightly worried by the fact that I've never actually sat on a horse before (although I have ridden camels and elephants). As a New York Jew  I've never even been on a pony ride in Central Park (Horses? Feh! Filthy beasts and they bite - for what do you want to sit on a horse?). But as luck would have it, it turns out that I'm a rather good horsewoman and was able to keep my seat on even the steepest gradients. There were times, however, when I thought it might be best to get off the beast and hobble my way up or down - put it this way, if Rocky was getting fractious I figured it was a good bet to let him have his head rather than stay seated. I'm sure he knew better than me). I even rode him across bridges!

I'm not sure why I was able to ride with my back like this when I couldn't walk but who am I to argue - it just worked. And this way I was able to avoid the hell that is Namche Hill. I may even do this next time unless I can source an elephant instead. ;-) Anyway, I'll be sure to insert photos when I get back (Update 27-11-12: Photos inserted).

As we approached Namche the weather closed in and it started to snow  We were all pretty damned grateful to get to our lodge - the Kongde View. I'll be staying in Namche for the next week or so while the rest of the group continue on to Gokyo to let my back heal while everyone else goes on. Not sure if I'll remain in this hotel or find a nicer one but after today's morning meeting I'll have a word with the proprietress of Danphe's Bar (a fellow New Yorker) to get her take on which is the nicest hotel in Namche. Yet again there has been no guidance or help from the trekking company. Not that I would trust any advice from these jokers but you would expect them to say something!

And I'll be honest with you, I'm not that disappointed to be "stuck" here. I wanted to spend more time in Namche - there's so much to see with local monasteries and nice day hikes. I've previously said that I think the Khumbu treks should allow more time to spend getting to know the communities and cultures, so now I get my chance!

And I promise to keep you all posted!

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Pre-Trek in Kathmandu

So I've been palling around in Kathmandu with Anna P and Anna K, doing loads of shopping and a bit of sight-seeing. Most of the group arrived last night so we did dinner at Rum Doodle while the rest of the troupe arrived today so I subjected everyone to dinner and folkdancing at Nepali Cholu.

Meanwhile I'm on the edge of collapse already between the jetlag and the noisiness of this hotel. My room at the Tibet Guest House seems to overlook a house where they only get their water from a well with a noisy handpump plus a screaming baby and a barking dog. So I've hardly slept for 3 nights but at least we fly to Lukla in the morning and then exhaustion will shepherd Morpheus to me.

On the plus side, working remotely seems to be working well. I've got my Nepali sim (which involved a ridiculous amount of red tape including scanning my passport and visa and fingerprinting plus passport photos!) so can get patched into audio conferences and my remote office is working fine if a bit awkward. The interface is a bit fiddly on the kindle because it's so tiny. JIRA and Confluence still working fine but Monday will be the real test of those as we will be doing our big weekly catch-up and planning.

Right, I've got to go now and pack up the bits that I want to stay at the hotel and the bits that I want to have laundered while I'm away.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Final beta testing

OK so we have confirmed that it is possible for someone to call me and then patch me on for the orning meetings. Clare ran the meeting this morning and Pam ran the board with only the teensiest of prompts from me.

The only problem is that the Hard Token issued to me just isn't working. This could be a crisis as without it I won't be able to access my work email and a vital component of my plan to work remotely goes down the pan.

UPDATE: Got the hard token to work at last! It took a stroll to the helpdesk to actually loom menacingly over someone but it was worth it as I can now check my email remotely. Excelsior!

So right now I'm assembling all of my tech and making sure it's all fully charged. Matching converters. Making sure I have all the right attachments. And Pam has been a star and lent me an unlocked phone so I can have one with Nepali SIM and my iPhone with UK SIM. I just need to remember to try to keep everythng charged when possible and to keep the wifi and bluetooth turned off as they just suck up all the juice.

Dare I say that I begin to have hope again that this mad plan may actually work?

Anyway will generally be off comms until I get to Kathmandu. My glight to Mumbai leaves Heathrow at 10am so I'll be up crazy early and my poor mom will pick me up to ferry me to the airport for a 7am check-in. I plan to try to stay up late watching the American election so it'll be easier to sleep on the 9 hour flight to India. And I've found the smoking lounges at Mumbai airport so that's alright for my 9 hour layover.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Last Minute Panic Repack

So there's been some confusion over itineraries for Gokyo Ri each of which has a knock-on affect to my planning and therefore my packing. At this point it's anyone's guess what the hell my kit list is comprised of. Have lost the will, you know? My living room is utterly festooned with colour coded and sized stuffed sacks.

Anyway, theoretically we go back to my original plan to drop caches of clothes along the way. Theoretically. Frankly I don't trust any itinerary that crosses my path right now and have probably overpacked in my resultant confusion.

So now the new (and original) itinerary is:

Day 01: Arrival at Kathmandu airport and transfer to hotel. (8/9/10 November)
Day 02: Fly to Lukla (2804m) to Phakding (2610m) / 3 hr trek / overnight stay at lodge. (Subject to weather) (11 November)
Day 03: Phakding (2610m) to Namche Bazar (3441m) / 6hr trek / overnight at lodge.
Day 04: A day to acclimatise in Namche Bazar, overnight at lodge.
Day 05: Namche (3441m) to Thame (3800m) / 4hr trek / overnight at lodge.
Day 06: Thame (3800m) to Khumjung (3780 m) / 5hr trek / overnight at lodge.
Day 07: Khumjung (3780 m) to Dole (4040m) / 5hr trek / overnight at lodge.
Day 08: Dole (4040m) to Machhermo (4470m) / 4 ½hr trek / overnight at lodge.
Day 09: Machhermo (4470m) to Gokyo (4790m) / 5hr trek / overnight at lodge.
Day 10: Gokyo (4790m) to Gokyo Ri (5483m) / 5hr trek / retreat to Gokyo with overnight at lodge.
Day 11: Retreat to Dole (4040m) / 5hr trek / Overnight at lodge.
Day 12: Retreat to Namche (3441m) / 5hr trek / Overnight at lodge.
Day 13: Retreat to Lukla (2804) / 6hr trek / Overnight at lodge.
Day 14: Early morning flight to Kathmandu / Overnight at hotel. (Subject to weather) (23 November)
Day 15: Transfer to airport for departure from Nepal. (Departing 25 November)

I haven't had the heart to update my Outlook calendar but in that regard there's been something of a stroke of luck and the timings are less critical now. When I was over loast year it was summertime so the time difference was 4:45 which was what I had based my assumptions on for this trek (reasonably enough), HOWEVER it turns out that Nepal does not offset an hour between summer and winter SO the new time difference is 5:45 so there should be absolutely no problems with my being off the trail and available for the morning meeting and to connect for emails during the same time that my team is in the office.

Update: I've just weighed my rucksack and it's coming in at 12.7 kilos. which is awesome because I usually pack right up to my limit. So I will have weight allowance for shopping on the way home. My daysack, which will be my carry on, only currently has my first aid kit, tent mules and map but I will be adding all my tech kit to that so in the end I should have the two adding up to the 20 kilo limit advised by the trekking company. Success!

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Pre-trek Vital Statistics

I've measured and weighed myself in order to do a little exercise to see how much physical improvement the trek will impart.

Blood Pressure - 120/80 which is pretty damned good so not sure I'll see much improvement on this
Weight 143 lbs. :-(
Measurements - 40"x30"x38"

I don't expect to see much movement on the weight but I am hoping that my layer of fat will, in part, be transformed into more muscle as happened last year. That said, I don't expect as dramatic a change as last time because I'm fitter and thinner and this trek will be 4 days shorter. Nonetheless, should be interesting to track.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Island Peak?

Is it utterly mad that I'm now thinking about going back (yet again!) after next year's trek back to EBC to try doing Island Peak? Where/when will this madness end?!?!

And how will that fit in with my plans to do Mt. Elbrus and Kamchatka and Mustang and Macchu Pichu and Antarctica?

I really must get a will made. And work up a timeline.


Managing from the Mountaintop - Planning Handover

So I'm beginning to reach the panic point. I've been doing as much planning and risk mitigation as I think I can but the reality is starting to hit. Cause listen folks, this shit is gonna be hard.

I had a session today to explain my planning and processes for connectivity to upper management.

1. We've come up with a way for me to be called and then patched in to the morning standups. This will be cheaper and use less juice than skyping in via kindle.

2. I've added all the conference numbers to my skype account anyway

3. I've decided to bring my Macbook Air in addition to my kindle because it's hard to do any actual computing or labour intensive work on the kindle. I know, I'm a wuss

4. I've ordered a bluetooth headset to ease being on the phone while on laptop or kindle

5. I may get a second handset so that I have one for UK number and 1 for Nepali number

6. I've tested the RSA hard token to access my company's internal systems. Good thing because I need to get my password reset because of the switch from soft to hard token.

7. I will train Pam to run the Jira board and Clare will run the actual morning meetings. This is because, while I will be dialled in I may not be in a position to get wifi. I think it's better to set things up this way than to hope for the best.

8. I will produce a series of training recordings so that people can refer to them instead of me for the new functionality that has been created