Thursday, April 2, 2015

Iceland - Feb 2015

Here are a few videos from our recent trip to Iceland.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Fear and loathing in Mother India

Lately I have felt that I need to jot down the final legs of our journey. This blog ended rather abruptly with our conquest of the Himalayas in Nepal. Sadly for me, the trip lost its luster the moment I topped out on Gokyo Ri and pun definitely intended, everything was downhill from there for me.

I could not wait to get down from the mountain. Deep in my subconscious the whole trip was really about getting to that place and although I had deeply experienced the rest of the trip, I was finally ready to move forward and see what my new life had in store for me on the Big Island of Hawaii. I just had to get through the next few weeks and those were the weeks I was deftly afraid of.

In Nepal, we had attempted to forecast how long our money would last before we needed to finish our trip. We decided that it was almost time to go home so in Kathmandu we bought an onward ticket for the 18th of October with a destination of Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. The cost to fly to our new home from Kathmandu was insane and so we needed cheaper jumping off point. The new plan was that we would travel through northern India and leave from the chaotic city of New Delhi.

For years, Indian subcontinent was a place I swore I never wanted to visit. It also a place I knew my travel ego would eventually have lead me to, whether I felt I was ready to conquer it or not. Cindy and I had often talked about my unfounded fears of this country, and even now having survived the experience of travelling about in only a small part of it, the thought of returning causes me to constrict in unimaginable places. It’s weird I know. I'm a semi seasoned traveler. I have been to numerous places all over the world with no safety net. Most of my best travel memories are from developing countries and if you have been one of the few foolhardy enough to have read much of this blog over the years, you would know I have even attempted to live in eastern Africa. But the thought of traveling in this place, this country, this enormouse sub-continent, I was afraid of. Irrational I know, but still I was afraid. Worst of all, was the whopper of a lie I had told both Cindy and myself when we initially planned the trip. I had assured both of us that I was finally feeling ready to tackle my phobia of the place and would be willing to spend some time there. Now there was no going back. The only way home was to head south.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Topping Out

I was only two thirds of the way up to Gokyo Ri’s summit of 17,500 ft, and I was dead tired. It had taken us ten days to trek to Gokyo, the mountain village at the base of Gokyo Ri. We had hiked approximately 30 miles and had climbed over 8,000 feet one way. I was contemplating turning back. I felt like I was not getting enough air to fill my lungs and each step on the grinding uphill was getting more difficult. I thought “really, the view can’t be so spectacular to be worth this”. Going down would be so much easier … and warmer. And I would make it before the sun passed below the mountain range next to me, so I would not have to descend in the dark. (That was what was going to happen if we stayed on the top late enough to see sunset on Everest.) I thought: “I have seen sunsets before. Do I really need to see the mountain light up like a Christmas tree just to say that I’d seen it?” Clearly I did.

We had arrived in Kathmandu from Bangkok 12 days earlier and had a day to get our gear together and get ready for the trek. We still needed sleeping bags, misc cold weather gear, Nepalese Rupees, trekking poles and some smaller backpacks. My travel backpack weighs 6 pounds empty, and I didn’t want to haul any more weight up the mountain than I had to. The next day started early with a hair raising flight from Kathmandu to the small mountain town of Lukla. The views during the flight of the never ending snow capped mountain ranges were unforgettable, as was the fact that the plane dodged in and out of the valleys so close to the mountain sides that I could make out the individual trees.

Lukla has become the de-facto starting point for all trekking trips heading to the Himalayan mountain range that contains the highest place on earth: Everest. The runway there was never intended to ferry so many tourists to the area. Sir Edmund Hillary and Penba Sherpa’s Himalayan Trust Foundation built it as a way to convey supplies into the region from Kathmandu. It’s evilly short: 300 ft. It begins with a sheer drop off at one side and ends it solid rock wall on the other. The only planes that can take off and land there are small twin propeller jobbies that hold only 10 to 20 passengers and their gear. The planes have the decrepit look and feel of being very well used. The seats are small and not securely attached to the floor and you look right into the cockpit from the aisle. My only thought was that the pilots didn’t want to die any more than I did, so I hoped that the planes were well maintained. Hoping helped as I made it through 2 flights alive.

The lodges we stayed at along the way were simple affairs. They were sometimes made of wood and sometimes made of stone. The sleeping rooms were tiny with a window on one side and generally only contained two small wooden bed frames with a piece of foam on top of them to serve as a mattress. If we were lucky there were a few hooks in the room to hang our coats on. There was no insulation in the walls and only a piece of thin plywood separated you from the next room. Oddly, because the beds were usually pushed against the side walls with a narrow space in between, I was typically sleeping closer to the person snoring a few inches over on the other side of the wall than I was to Cindy. Halfway through the trip we finally got smart and started to push the beds together for warmth. Toilets were outside at the end of the halls. Because of the lack of insulation, any noise made in any of the other rooms echoed into your room. Often I could count how many times our nearest cellmates got up to use the loo (having to pee often being an unfortunate side effect of being at high altitude). There was also always a common room that varied in degrees of comfort. It was there that we spent our time eating, playing games to pass the time and just trying to stay warm.

The 13 day trek was spectacular. Each day the views of the surrounding mountains changed as I gained more altitude and more of the range was viewable. Our main concern with the altitude was Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS). It occurs only above 2400 meters (8000 feet). The percentage of oxygen in the air remains essentially constant with altitude (at 21%) up until 70,000 feet (21,330 m), but the air pressure (and therefore the number of oxygen molecules) drops as altitude increases — consequently, the available amount of oxygen to sustain mental and physical alertness decreases above 10,000 feet (3,050 m). There are many non life threatening symptoms such as headache, dizziness, fatigue and lack of appetite. In extreme cases it can kill by causing fluid in the lungs and swelling of the brain. Trekking is nothing to mess around with, and we were advised not to climb higher than 300 to 500 meters (1000 to 1600 feet) per day. The only reliable cure for AMS is to descend as quickly as possible. We heard half-a-dozen helicopter runs daily ferrying dying trekkers out of the valley for $1000 USD a pop. The weird thing about AMS is that just because you’ve climbed at altitude before and not had any symptoms does not mean that you won’t have them now. Physical ability also has nothing to do with whether you will get it or not. Basically it can strike anyone at any time and you can go from feeling fine to barfing in as little as 15 minutes. Needless to say, we were very watchful of each other and spent a few extra days at different elevations in an effort to make sure we were acclimatizing properly.

It was an interesting experience to see how my body handled the altitude, and I am now convinced that choosing not to be a mountaineer for a living was a correct decision. I was constantly cold, often on the verge of dehydration, my sinuses were always blocked, my throat was continuously sore because of the dry air. I had a persistent cough, I tired easily, I slept 11 hours a night, and I found the whole experience generally uncomfortable.

I mentally spanked myself and pushed through the last 800 feet or so and reached the summit. The reward was one of the most spectacular mountain views I have ever seen or experienced. I had a 360 degree view of the Himalaya mountain range and Mt Everest looked like I could reach out and touch it. We stayed until after sunset snapping pictures that will never come close to the astounding beauty of the real view.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Top Two

November 8, 2009

The food on this trip has been amazing, but the Thai food has been the best. North to south it’s sweet, spicy, sour and bitter; usually all in one bit. In Nepal, I’ve been reminiscing about some of the great food I’ve had. These are my two favorite recipes so far. Well, recipe might me too strong a word. This is my best guess at how these dishes are made.

Tropicana Rice Salad

2 egg yolks – hard boiled
2 tbps cooking oil
2 tbps white vinegar
¼ tsp sugar
½ tsp soy sauce
1 garlic clove - minced
½ tsp yellow curry
1 cup rice – cooked and cooled
¼ white onion – chopped into large pieces
¼ cup raisons
1 carrot – cut into matchsticks
1 tomato – cut into 1/8ths
¼ cup pineapple – cut into ¼” cubes
2 green onion – cut into 1” lengths
¼ chicken breast – cooked and cubed

1. Place egg yolks, vinegar, sugar, and oil into a bowl. Blend thoroughly
2. Add soy sauce, garlic, and yellow curry powder
3. Add all other ingredients and blend thoroughly
4. Serve