Thursday, November 22, 2012

England

I've been in England for a week and it's gone by pretty quickly. I met Isaac (a friend form NM who lives in England now) in London and we went to the British Library and the British Museum on Thursday and Friday. Then Isaac's wife Faith joined us for the Science Museum on saturday and St. Paul's Cathedral on Sunday. I didn't take many pictures, but there are a couple from London.

video
A neat piece of art in the the British library.
I'm just walking past the painting, it's not actually moving.
Millennium Bridge and St. Pauls.
Not surprisingly I took the most pictures in the Science Museum. This is a very early steam turbine. 
The Apollo 10 capsule. 
The Tower Bridge. 
An awesome seesaw in Sheffield. 
I've spent the last few days in Sheffield visiting Isaac and Faith. Tonight we're making a small Thanksgiving dinner including turkey drumsticks and homemade pumpkin pie. It should be good and I feel pretty thankful to be here. Happy Thanksgiving everyone.


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Leaving Nepal

I have about 5 hours left here in Kathmandu before I board the plane for London. It's mostly been a good visit here, but I feel ready to move on now. I figured I would post a few pictures of the last few days before I leave.

After days of watching them fly over the lake I decided to try paragliding in Pokhara. Somehow our departure snuck up on me, so I booked a 30 minute tandem flight for the last morning there. 
Yeah, tiny ropes, synthetic cloth, and Bernoulli are the only thing keeping me in the air. I'm way more comfortable with this than I should be... 
The down side of waiting until the last minute was I ended up flying on a hazy day. The haze ruined the view of Pokhara and the Himalayas' but more importantly it reduces the thermals and shortens the flight... 
We arrived back in Kathmandu to a rock concert... 
...in the middle of these temples. 
It seemed a bit odd but, but also fitting for Kathmandu.


Monday, November 12, 2012

Ordering food in Nepal

According to one guide I talked with, 95% of Nepal's population eats Dal Baht for two meals a day. It's the only meal I ever saw a guide or porter eating while trekking. It was good everywhere I tried it and usually not too spicy for me.  Since it's mostly rice you would think it would be dirt cheap; and it is if you are Nepali. However, the lodges must have realized at some point that trekkers would pay more for the authentic local food experience. Now Dal Baht is usually one of the more expensive things on the menu. 
Dal Baht - All the rice you can eat. 
If you don't want to pay 2 or 3 times the local price for Dal Baht or if you're just looking for a change of pace the lodges all serve exactly the same western options. At least that's what the menus offer... Almost every place had reasonably good food and I really appreciate that the menus were in English. However, the wide variety of definitions for the same menu items really amused me.
"Apple Pie" - "You keep using that wordI do not think it means what you think it means."
A few of the more random definitions:

A "Large" pot of tea - Any where form a pot containing 4-5 small cups to a half gallon thermos. 
A "Small" pot of tea - Any where from 2 small cups to a quart of tea. 
*Note: Price is not a good indicator of size. Elevation seemed to be, but ironically the pots got larger rather than smaller with higher elevation. 
"Apple Pie" - Anything from excellent deep dish apple pie to something that resembled a hotpocket apple pastry. Even the one pictured above tasted good, but i was really hungry and that's been known to skew my taste buds. 
"Hash Browns" - Anything involving potatoes served at breakfast. Once there were bell peppers and curry in my hash browns... It was surprisingly good, but not at all what I was picturing when I ordered them. 
"Lasagna" - Usually involves noodles of some kind and usually baking it is involved, may include tomato sause. The best one came served in a sizzling cast iron pan like you might expect a steak in. The most surprising one did not include noodles, but was really good anyway.
"Macaroni" - See lasagna but without the baking. 
"Spagetti" - See macaroni, but it's safe to assume spagetti noodles will be used. 
*Note sometimes a menu will include all three pastas with exactly the same options. 
"Cheese Burger" - Okay, this one actually makes sense. A cheese burger is based on patty of random mixed stuff and cheese and does not involve a hamburger patty at all.
"Fried Rice" - This is a safe bet, it will include rice, whatever vegetables are available, and which ever protein option you ask for. 
"Tuna" - I'm 17000 feet high in the Himalaya... Why is the one source of protein guaranteed to be available an ocean dwelling fish? Every lodge offered tuna.
"Mo:mos" - Another local dish, these are a kind of dumpling filled with whatever is offered. They might be either steamed or fried and usually you can request one or the other. But in either case you might get between 8 and 12 depending on the lodge. Eight is really disappointing when you are really hungry... 
"Porridge" - The higher you climb the more water and less oatmeal there is in a bowl. Yesterday I tried some that had lots of salt and black pepper in it. That was really strange. 
"Garlic Pepper Yak Steak" - Cook/server, "no yak now, so I make you chicken... this okay for you?" Me, "um, sure that looks good." To be fair, it did look excellent and it tasted great... But I never would have guessed you could just substitute chicken for yak on a whim...

I can't really complain about the food; on the whole it's pretty good and reasonably cheap. Most of the time I found the random surprises more amusing than anything else. Also, there is a place here Kathmandu called K-too that serves awesome steaks for 5 dollars. I think I'll go have one tonight. Probably it won't be chicken...

Friday, November 9, 2012

The Annapurna Circuit, Down

I found going down Thorung Pass a little more difficult than going up. It's more than a mile of vertical drop to get the town of Muktinath. It was all down hill for the next three days after that. I soon decided that I liked uphill a lot better. 

Almost  down to Muktinath.
Hotel room view in Muktinath. 
Looking back up at Muktinath
A little oasis of green in the high dessert rocks
The braided glacier river felt out of place to me in the desert. It looked like an Alaskan river was dropped suddenly in a New Mexico valley. 
The view in Jomson. A lot of people fly out or take the bus from here now so the trail is much less crowed below Jomson.
Looking up at Nilgi leaving Jomson.
At the time his was the sketchiest bridge I had crossed in Nepal. I guess that's what happens when you follow the local trail.
Much longer but less sketchy bridge. 

The view in Tatopani. Also there are nice hot springs in town. 
New winner for sketchy bridge. This one scared me as every other step the boards would flex noticeably under my weight. 
Leaving Tatopani I was happy to be climbing again. It is a 6500 foot climb to the top of poon hill but the views were totally worth it.

The following photos were from the final climb to the to of Poon Hill for sunset. Once again I ignored the normal plan of going up for sunrise and won my gamble on the weather being good. The sunset was really amazing and there were very few people on the hill. 







Tony and David in Ghodedani. It was really nice to keep running into the same friends over the trek. That's probably the best reason for going at the standard pace. They climbed poon hill in the morning and said the view was nice but there was no color without any clouds.

The Annapurna took long enough and had such a variety that I was beginning to forget the start by the end. It really is amazing to walk through so many different kinds of terrain in only two weeks. I think I could come back and do the whole thing again some time. Well I might skip walking on the road between Jomson and Tatopani and use the time to explore more in the Manang area.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Annapurna Circuit, Up

After 13 days of trekking covering130 miles and a couple of rest days, I've finished the Annapurna circuit. It was a very different experience from the trek to Everest Base Camp and definitely worth it. One defining difference was my circuit trek started a full 2000 meters lower which completely altered the feel of the first few days. It was also nearly twice as long and I hiked it at a much faster pace.

The trip started with a taxi to the wrong bus station and a couple of rides on busses that seemed to be going the right direction. Eventually I made it to Besisahar where I checked in with the trekking permit office and was told to just follow the road out of town. 

This looks like a trail, I think I'll go this way... It was that kind of first day. 


I started the trek during the Dashain festival with apparently includes building giant bamboo swings. 

I spent the first couple of days hiking past terraced rice patties in a lush tropical valley. I had lunch on top that hill in the center of the valley on my first full day of hiking. 

Monkeys? For some reason I was not expecting to see monkeys in Nepal. 
A micro hydro station I asked to take a look at on the third morning. Problems with electrical shortages in Nepal baffle me a bit with as much hydro potential as there is. Most the locals I talked to blamed government bureaucracy or apathy. 

The line at the top of that cliff is where they cut the road in last year. You can now cut several days off the trek with a Jeep. I think it would take away from the trek as a whole to do so though. 
This isn't normally what is mean by "safety factor".  Obviously the bridge held fine... 

Yes, the road goes all but through that water fall. The foot crossing on the rocks was a bit intimidating since there is another shear drop on this side and they were all wet from the spray.

Yeah, this looks like a good place for a house...

Day 4: first actual view of one of the Annapurna mountains. 

The kitchen in Chame, smokey, but warm. It was cold in the dining hall, but Chame turned out to be a good place to meet people. I met Tony and David from England and their guide Dawa. We passed each other and shared lodges on and off for the rest of the trek. One of the nice things about the Annapurna circuit is that almost everyone goes the same direction and there is more time to make new friends. 

Big water falls became scarce as I climbed higher and the terrain became arid. 
This part of the road isn't quite finished yet, there was blasting equipment just around the corner. 

Annapurna II (i think) above Pisang.

Another shot of Annapurna II from higher up the valley. 

Some fall colors on the way to Manang.

No, I didn't fly back to NM to take this... One of the really neat things about the trek was mix of landscapes. I'd feel like i was hiking through the northern Rockies one morning and that afternoon I'd think I was in the dessert southwest.
Annapurna III and Gangapurna.
Annapurna III and Gangapurna on the way up Thorung Pass at dawn.
High on Thorung Pass is one of the most barren pieces of ground I've ever hiked across. Buzz Aldrin's lunar description of "magnificent desolation" came to mind several times. 
But, the top of the pass looks like a ski lodge without the skis... 

I found climbing the pass much easier than advertised. I had already acclimated on the everest trek and I passed a lot of people who were struggling in the thin air. 

I'll post pictures from the second half of the trek in a couple days. Pokhara is not as bad as Kathmandu, but it's still a bit of system shock to be back in the city. I've been asked repeatedly if I would like my shoes shined... I'm considering taking someone up on the offer just to see exactly what they would do to trail shoes with hundreds of miles worth of dust from three continents worked into them...