3rd November 2011 – Thursday – Day 03
We have been up since 3 am. Going to bed at 8 pm. was maybe not such a good idea! We have a flight booked for 11:00 am this morning. If this does not work out, our last chance would be to go by helicopter tomorrow…
Kent went downstairs for an Internet connection, and I lay in bed wishing I could sleep another hour. I got my computer out and edited a short video – a “trailer” of our adventure. Fun!
After breakfast, still making frequent short trips to the restroom, we settled in to wait for the word on the day’s travels. Ram called and informed us that there would be no flights to Lukla today. We had only one option now, and that was to go by helicopter the next day. This would entail an additional half-day hike just to get to Lukla, but we all enthusiastically voted YES for this option. This is why we were here. We came to go to Everest Base Camp, and nothing except the weather or serious health issues would stop us!
Ram called from the airport at 1 pm. He was in the helicopter company’s office, and they were quite certain they would be able to go and even land a Lukla, but he would call us to confirm. We constantly check our iPhones’ weather application, and it seemed there was about a three-hour window open over Lukla.
At 2:45 pm Ram called and said, “It is a go! Could you be ready in 15 minutes and the minibus will collect you in time to be at the airport for a very small takeoff window.”
Well, one would have thought we’d just won the Super Lotto! Everyone scrambled the four floors up to their rooms. Fortunately we did not really unpack last night. Kent was still under the weather and he was asleep in the room when the news came. I woke him and he jumped up, had his stuff ready and down the stairs faster than any of us, in spite of feeling quite miserable. He was a real trooper and insisted that he was fine. I was not feeling too hot myself, but the Imodium definitely at least stopped the diarrhea. I have been drinking lots of water, and thought I’d start the Cipro antibiotic I brought along if I didn’t get better soon. Adventurers who come to Kathmandu to fly to Lukla to start their expedition to Everest and other Himalayan treks often comment that one of the major challenges of such an adventure is getting out of Kathmandu healty enough to start the trek!
We all rushed to the front door of the Hotel Manang, and in frenzy loaded our backpacks and some extra food items Lama has brought along for the hike. A major positive: Ram had brought Kent’s backpack from the airport. This really gave Kent’s spirits a lift. Although he was feeling quite miserable, he sat in the back of the minibus and re-arranged his stuff. He offered the four pairs of socks I lent him back, but I really did not have room for them in my bags. And besides, I did have four pairs plus the pair I have been wearing. That should be plenty for the hike, provided one makes sure that they dry properly at night, and trade them out every other day. I sleep with my socks next to my body to allow the body heat in the sleeping bag to dry the socks.
The ride to the airport was beyond description. It was now getting close to rush hour, which means hardly anything moves any faster than a snail’s pace. By now we were getting a bit tired of this congestion, as we wheezed and sneezed, chests burning from the pollution.
The usual pandemonium at the airport with hundreds of motorcycles and cars in major chaos as porters and passengers try to push their way along the long walk from the “parking lot” to the domestic terminal. We franticly shoved our bags onto the security scanner conveyor, and subjected ourselves to the pat down for the third time in as many days. Everyone was excited as we were met by the helicopter company’s manager who assured us that the helicopter is waiting with engines running and the pilot in his seat. “We are just waiting for the air controller’s clearance,” he said.
And then we waited… We sat around on our bags since there were no chairs in this section of the airport. Kent crashed on one of the benches. We were moved around the room as the cleaners started mopping the floors for the end-of-day closing of the terminal, and we became suspicious that we may have a problem again.
At 4 pm. the manager informed us that the flight had been cancelled, but that we were priority for the next morning.
It was amazing what patience and constraint every single member of our group showed. The disappointment was great, since we were so close to going today. I could see the concern in every pair of eyes as we contemplated that tomorrow morning would be our last chance.
As we reloaded the mini-bus with our backpacks, Ram operated three cell phones at once, trying to find us accommodation for the night, since we gave up our rooms at the Hotel Manag. He called 18 hotels, and not one of them had a room.
“I called the 5-star, the 4-star, the 3-star and the 2-star hotels. They are all full.”
“What about the 1-star hotels?” I ask.
“They are also full.”
The problem was that with all the flights cancelled for the past three days, the city was filling up with folks coming in to climb, but they couldn’t get to Lukla to start their trek. We were told that there were over 2,000 trekkers currently stranded at Lukla, and there was also no accommodation available there, even if we were able to fly in tonight.
Ram continued to work his magic with his three phones, right there in the chaos of the Kathmandu airport’s crazy domestic terminal’s “parking lot”. Time and again he got off the phone, clearly disappointed, but he continued relentlessly.
He is quite a guy, this Ram Pahari! Finally he said, “I have found three rooms. But it is not a star hotel. It is just a regular hotel in the heart of Thamel.” We would have been happy to find a minibus in which to sleep!
So there we were, inching our way back to Thamel, the traffic excruciating! More than an hour to do the 15-minute drive. We arrived in front of the Hotel Kathmandu View, Ram signed us in and we carried our bags up the stairs to the very basic but clean rooms. There was a small problem here – Kent and my room had only a small three quarter bed. That is halfway between a twin-single and a double. Kent was not feeling too good, and neither was I, and I suggested that sharing a bed this small would probably not be conducive to a speedy recovery from our ailment. I decided to roll out my trusty Thermarest self-inflating mattress and my sleeping bag and sleep on the floor. However, Kathy came to the rescue and offered to swap rooms since their room had two twin-singles. I think both Kent and I were very relieved.
A quick dinner, and we all headed back to the hotel, since our pickup was at 6 am. for our 9 am. helicopter flight to Lukla. If we did not go tomorrow, we would have to abort the Everest Base Camp trek, since we would not have enough days left before our return to the USA to complete the trek. That would be a major disappointment for all of us. But we all agreed that safety came first, and that we would take no chances getting into Lukla. If we did not fly tomorrow, we would work out an alternate hike to another part of the Himalayas.
We were hopeful as we drifted off to sleep. I really felt that I needed to get out of the chaos of Kathmandu…
(Would have liked to post some video, but must get to bed for an early pickup, and hopefully to feel better tomorrow. Don’t know when the next internet may be available…)