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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Days 1 and 2 of the Supposed EBC Trek


DSCN3514
Source: lag66
The airport scene yesterday was worse. People were already sleeping on the floor.

A few weeks ago in India, I met some people who were initially planning to go to Nepal, some to do the Everest Base Camp (EBC) Trek. But news on the bad weather in Lukla (take-off point for the trek) have lead them to just stay put in India.

Almost a week ago, during our first dinner (pork chop Pinoy-style!!) in Kathmandu, the wonderful crew there kept on wishing us 'Good luck!'. And on our supposedly last night in Kathmandu pre-trek, their goodbyes were replaced with 'Hope we don't see you tomorrow!'. Same as with the hotel owners and staff.

Lukla Airport take-off
Lukla Airport
Source: amd300466

Two days prior to the flight, I bought a Lonely Planet book on 'Trekking in the Nepal Himalaya'. Which lead me to anxiety, excitement, and stress. I seriously felt like I was cramming for a final crucial exam. And then I gave in and googled "Nov 2011 Lukla". Apparently, thousands of passengers were stranded in Lukla from Oct 31 - Nov 7 due to bad weather. Fog and rainfall made it hard for planes to take-off/land in the Tenzing-Hillary (Lukla) Airport. You see, this airport is considered one of the most dangerous in the world given that it has a very short runway with a cliff at the end. There were efforts to rescue the stranded trekkers via helicopters, but attempts were futile. Given that Lukla is a relatively small village/town, feeding and providing shelter for thousands of trekkers resulted to a huge problem for the hotel and teahouses owners. And the number continued to increase every day. Prices also started to go up with 2 pieces of bread costing NPR300 (USD4.0) and people were missing their flights out of Nepal.

Despite all of these, I remained positive and hopeful. It might be due to my optimistic nature or just the fact that I was in denial of the weather problems.

Monday, I woke up around 3:45am to take a hot shower. Because hot showers are quite rare, if not non-existent or at least expensive in the trek. Imagine 18 days of no shower. So I had to have that shower despite the cold temperature. Arrived in the domestic airport at around 5:30 am. It’s a small airport with only a few decent seats spread around the whole small space. Check-in counters are just small ticketing booths. There’s just two 21-ins televisions up on the wall for the status of the flights. Updates are announced over the speaker every 30 minutes or so. First in Nepalese, then in English but it’s quite hard to understand given the noise. Even at 5:30 am, the place is almost full with trekkers, guides, luggages, and even the locals. Apparently, the first flight is at 6:15am and is going to Lukla. Our flight was scheduled to leave at 7:50am. There are flights almost every 15-30 minutes.

9:00am. As the hours passed by, only less than five flights were able to depart, but not to Lukla nor to Pokhara (take-off point for Annapurna Region). Slowly you get to memorize/coin names for some of the groups of people inside the airport. There were the (1) 6:15am flight people (2) TV Crew/Mountain Experts (3) Argentinian hot guys (:D) (4) Couples Group (5) Family Group (6) Couple from HongKong

9:30am. The old guy beside me told his guide “We’re going back here tomorrow, but it will be the last time.” I’m guessing this is their second or third, even fourth time already.

10:00am. I chatted with a German guy who was also on the same flight as ours. He told me that this was his second day of waiting. The first day his flight was supposed to leave at 6:15am. Got delayed one hour, which was fine. They were already inside the plane and it was starting to accelerate for take-off when the pilot decided to go back. Weather in Lukla changed again. Two hours after they were on their way back to the plane again. Just before boarding the plane, the pilot said that they had to delay the flight again. They finally made the cancellation official at 1:00pm. He told me that he was able to talk to a guy that does helicopter transfers to Surke (an hour trek from Lukla). He was willing to pay whatever price just to get out of Kathmandu. The reason, he said, was because he has already paid a huge amount of money for his trek and his guide is waiting in Lukla. I asked him if he can still cancel it. He said “I can, maybe… but I just really want to do the EBC Trek!” So he was hopeful until the guy came back to us and told him that they still have to check if it's possible. Because the two helicopters who left earlier had to go back halfway through. Eventually the guy came back again and said that they’ll be flying soon. I hope, by this time as I’m writing this, he’s already in Lukla. But who knows, right?

And so we waited for a few more hours. Slowly the ‘groups’ were starting to leave. At around 2:30pm I was really tired, hungry, and was developing a cold. We went up to the restaurant to eat late lunch. After five minutes, they made the cancellation official.

The couple from Hongkong who earlier borrowed my Lonely Planet book and was looking for an alternative option, told me that they’re gonna wait one more day just like us and probably half of the people there. She said “We came here to see the higher peaks of the Himalayas and glaciers. Annapurna is a different landscape all together.” I don’t want to be too proud, but I agreed with her. Maybe it’s ambitious, maybe.

But one more try tomorrow. Hopefully. You have to respect the mountains, it’s all up to them. It’s all up them.

And hopefully this cold doesn’t get worse.


Update: Day 2. Called the airport at around 10am to find out how the flights to Lukla were because we had a 12:30pm flight as well. The representative said that weather in Lukla is still bad and looks like flights are going to get cancelled again. So there. No EBC Trek this year. :(

But that’s traveling, we have to move on. Always have to move on. Had our tickets canceled and refunded. Booked a bus ride to Pokhara to do the Annapurna Sanctuary Trek.