After over 24 hours of travel, the words of my colleague could not have been further from my mind. The lights of theKathmanduValleywere just beginning to twinkle in the early evening light, and the tingle of excitement kept us from feeling the fatigue of our journey. The passengers from our plane fromDubaicomposed the only visitors in the arrival terminal and we were lulled into believing that we had arrived at a small provincial airport. Obtaining a visa meant filling out a short form and producing our $40 in cash. We were waived through customs with our duffel bags, past a score of men offering taxi rides to our first glimpse of the outdoors.
Night had descended during our brief time in the airport, suddenly reminding me that we had indeed traveled a long way. A sea of men in dark clothing and cars created a visual as well as aural cacophony and I searched for a familiar name amongst the greeters. Almost immediately I spotted it; Grand Asian Journeys, held by a man who was searching our faces as anxiously as we were searching theirs. To be fair, I did not notice any other western mother/daughter pairs arriving when we did, nor did I see any as we exited the terminal, and in this moment I was appreciating that we stuck out like the obvious tourists that we were.
“Meg and Kate?” Ram asked. I could see the relief in his kind face as he introduced himself and ushered us quickly to a car waiting nearby. He introduced our driver as well and they piled our bags into the trunk. I hadn’t realized thatNepalhas left side drive, and was momentarily disoriented when the driver entered from the right.
As we exited the airport into the end of rush hour the only thing that was obvious was that we would never make it to the hotel. I didn’t know how far it was, but I could see no safe way to navigate the crowd of cars, people, bikes and the unflappable cows that populated the streets. Our driver seemed calm as he swerved around pedestrians, tooting the horn when turning around corners that were too narrow for more than one car, which was most of them. It was a maze that somehow ended at our hotel.
It was not until the next night that I thought ruefully of my colleague’s words: “You’ll get sick inKathmanduand watch out for avalanches on the trek.” After a day of touring and depositing Kate, my 17 year old daughter at the monastery where she would study meditation and Buddhism, we had dinner with a woman who owns a clothing shop inKathmandu. My friend Lisa, who had arrived fromHong Kongin order to trek with me, knew of her. She took us to a local restaurant where we dined mostly by candlelight, as the capricious electricity did not come back until we were finishing our meal. This is typical in the overloaded city where the population has vastly outpaced the infrastructure in every way. People flocked from the valley into the city itself in hopes of finding greater opportunity. This was explained to us during another chaotic ride from our hotel to dinner on our first night.
We carefully packed our bags with what was absolutely necessary for the trek, leaving behind the few items that would remain clean for the next ten days. Most of the choices had been made prior to our departure from home, but still it was important to review what was in each Ziploc bag before heading out.
At1 ammy stomach started to rumble, and my usual ironclad lining must have given way to something foreign and unexpected. I searched my uncharacteristically crowded pharmacopeia that inhabited one bag and found PB, not peanut butter, but Pepto Bismol. This had the disappointing effect of insisting that my dinner make a rudely quick exit and I thought about how this trip was the first social time Lisa and I had ever spent together. We had taken a two year course as part of a group and had remained in touch through a smaller group for a few years since, but I was now spending the first night that we would be sharing a room draped unceremoniously around the toilet.
Our flight out in the morning left at eight, which meant a5:30 amdeparture from the hotel. I didn’t have time to consider what had produced this effect on my system, but needed to make sure it was fixed before we boarded our flight. Fortunately it was a short day as far as trekking went; only an hour and half or so, as we continued to acclimate to the altitude, which was around 5,000 feet in Kathmandu, and a little higher when we left Pokara, where our short flight landed.
Not long after walking we stopped at a lodge for lunch, and the second of my colleague’s warnings took shape. There was a group of trekkers who were returning from base camp. “We were literally running from the avalanche,” one woman cried. She relayed stories while I half listened in my sleep deprived and foodless state and Lisa asked questions and gathered information.
I gazed at the terraces ahead of me, and took a breath. Set into the mountainside with the snow capped mountains beyond, goats dotting the way on and off the trail it was clear there was nowhere I would rather be. Though we were heading to 14,000 feet, it was all a downhill glide from here.