Monday, June 18, 2012

The final leg of the trip :-(

You are probably sick of hearing about Nepal, but I want to finish writing about my time there, since it had such a large impact on me. I also wanted to take the time to write about my time in the Philippines and my last few weeks in Australia. After I finished my few days at EBC, I trekked down with Simon from Australia. We laughed a lot and we hiked really well together – he was faster on the downhills and I was faster on the uphill and the flat sections. We spent the first night on the way down in Pheriche, where we caught up with 4 other people from the climb. We gossiped, laughed, and had our first beer in nearly 3 weeks – such a nice way to relax! We also spent some time with the sherpa carrying our bags. He is a superman, because we probably had over 40 kilograms between the two of us. I had been complaining because my bag weighed around 10 kilos, but he put me to shame. Simon decided he should try to pick the bags up – he struggled to hold them for 30 seconds while our Sherpa just laughed at him! Then, just to show off, our Sherpa picked Simon up. Hilarious!

We spent the next night in Namche, the biggest town of the whole trip. You have more than 2 choices of teahouses, internet and bakeries – it’s so luxurious! We splurged and spent $25 for our accommodation that night and it was worth every penny. I hadn’t had a shower for 10 days, the longest I’ve EVER gone without one! At that point baby wipes, deodorant and hats are definitely your friend. We had a “fresh fruit salad” which consisted of apples, apples and apples – not quite what I was looking for, but after weeks of potatoes and sardines, I definitely couldn’t complain! 

Our final day we trekked down to Lukla and it was sad to be done. I don’t know what the future holds, whether I will ever return to this country or not. I am so drawn to it and I would love to return tomorrow, but I don’t know if climbing is in my blood. I struggle while I am there, but the second I leave it, I feel such a strong urge to go back and do another climb. I want do more, go higher, meet more people who understand this crazy pull. No matter what happens in the future, I feel so blessed to have experienced Everest. The end of the climb was very bittersweet. 

After I moved on from Nepal, I was able to continue watching my friends online to see how their climbs went. I was so proud to see that Mia, Grace and our leader Arnold successfully summited Lhotse on May 21st. On the same day the people from Summit Climb were attempting Everest, but bad weather rolled in and caused a tragedy where 6 people died. Our team assisted a few people from other teams who were in danger, but the obviously had to abort their summit attempt to do this. After they were all back to safety, they had to decide whether to try again. They were very lucky to have this option, as most of the time a missed summit attempt is the end of the season. Some people decided they were done, whether it was due to what they saw or whether they were no longer strong enough to continue climbing. However, 4 of the members decided to try again and on May 26th they successfully summited Everest. Congratulations to Sandra from Canada, Steve the Australian living in the US, Richie from the UK and Jon from lovely Colorado!

After I finished my climb in Nepal, I was completely exhausted. I loved everything about Nepal and the Himalayas, but I felt the overwhelming need to go somewhere completely different. I spent a couple days in Kathmandu researching my different options and finally booked a trip to the Philippines. I had never intended to go there, but I knew I wanted to go somewhere with beaches and good diving and this seemed to fit the bill. I really did no research other than pricing flights and bought my tickets to leave in about a week. I ended up having about a week in Kathmandu to just relax, which was way too long. Kathmandu, especially Thamel, is so crowded and intense, it’s difficult to be there for more than 2 or 3 days at a time. Luckily there are lots of really good restaurants there, so I spent my days getting massages and pedicures and the nights trying new cute restaurants. Simon was there to hang out with me for the first few days, then Rob from the UK came down from a successful climb to Camp III, and finally a couple of the guys from the Tibetan climb were there for me to hang out with. I also got to see a bit more of the local Kathmandu when Deha, who worked for the climbing company, showed me around on the back of his motorbike. The streets there are small and dangerous, but it was so much fun to zoom around them on the back of the bike! With all of the different friends rolling through, it was definitely a fun end to my second trip to Nepal. 

Since I booked my flight at the last minute, the trip to the Philippines was going to be quite round about. Kathmandu à Delhi à Hong Kong à Manila. Phew! Unfortunately, I had quite a long layover in Delhi and made the ill fated decision to eat McDonalds, since I thought it would be “safe” and clean, and since I hadn’t seen a chain restaurant in more than a month. That turned out to be a horrible decision, as I ended up getting food poisoning! I don’t know it the milk in the shake had not been refrigerated properly or it was the disgusting pink slime that they use to make the chicken nuggets, but either way it made for a miserable flight. Right as we were about to take off from Delhi, I could tell that I was going to throw up. I didn’t want to scare the guy next to me, so I told him I was a nervous flyer and that I had butterflies in my stomach. Then I threw up on the poor guy. Yes, it’s true! I have never thrown up on a flight in my life and I’m certainly not a nervous flyer, but it was better than admitting I had food poisoning. I tried to throw up in a bag I had, but some of it escaped from the handles on the side and got on the guys pants. I felt soooo bad for him! There is nothing worse than that. I felt horrible for the whole flight, even throwing up again (I made it to the bathroom the next time though!). It was definitely the worst flight I have ever been on. 

When I finally arrived in Manila, I went straight to my hotel and passed out for the next 2 days. I had only planned to stay for one night, but I was so sick there was no way I could move. Once I finally regained my strength and ate something besides water, I was ready to get out of the city. I took a bus and then a boat ferry to the island of Puerto Galera. It was a pretty little island that is supposed to have incredible diving. I had known for a while that I wanted to get my Advanced Open Water Certification, so I immediately went to the dive shop to get setup. The guys at the dive shop, Action Divers, were wonderful. I would highly recommend them if you ever get to Puerto Galera. They showed me a wide variety of incredible dive sites and they made me comfortable on every dive. We had a couple of interesting dives, including a deep dive where one of the guys disappeared. We were diving on a wreck at around 30 meters and this Czech guy was running out of air and decided to go back up, but he never told anyone. His buddy didn’t know where he was, neither did the instructor, so they worried that he had just disappear. They looked around for as long as they safely could, but eventually you have to go up or risk your own safety. We got lucky and he was sitting on the boat when we surfaced, but man it was scary. 

We also go to dive a great site called the Canyons. It consists of three canyons or small divots in the ocean floor, but on top of them there is a ripping current. You have to be very careful and drop down into each canyon to get some refuge from the current and you have to be extremely careful to stay with the other divers or you can just get grabbed by the current and moved apart so quickly. It was fun to challenge myself and do a more difficult dive. I felt like I learned a lot during my 10 days diving, and that I saw a lot of incredible marine life I had never seen before. I got to see a cuttlefish, a seahorse, tiny nudibranches, plenty of lion fish, a few sting rays and an awesome octopus.

The only negative part of the island was all the sex tourism. Since I hadn’t done much research before going to the Philippines, I didn’t really know what to expect. Puerto Galera, or specifically Sabang Beach where I stayed, is a lovely little tourist town. It consists of mostly dive shops, restaurants and hotels and has an incredibly relaxed feel to it. Definitely much better than all of the commercialized beaches in Mexico, Thailand, Australia, etc. However, there is also the sex tourism. If you’ve never heard of it, generally it is a location that men go to where they are able to pay to have a “girlfriend” for their holiday. You see many dirty, married, old men with gorgeous 18 – 24 year old girls. You know they only reason they are together is due to the fact that they men are paying the girls. It is really sad to see, but it’s everywhere you look. Many of the people there try to justify it and say that it is an honor for the girls and that they make way more money than they would at any other job, but I don’t buy it. I know this is a very poor country, but there is no way the girls could enjoy this. Women selling their bodies to make money to support their family is just sad and wrong, no matter how people try to make themselves feel better about it. While I enjoyed the diving in the Philippines, seeing this side of it really put a bad taste in my mouth.

After diving and relaxing in the Philippines, I made my final trip to Australia. It was really emotional because it meant the trip was nearly over. However, I was determined to have a great time while I was there. The great part about Australia, other than the fact that it is a beautiful country, is that I now know so many people there. I feel like everywhere I go, I have new friends to visit. How lucky is that?

First, I took a train up to Newcastle to visit my friends Scott & Dan, who I met in Southeast Asia. They were spending the night on a houseboat and invited me to join – of course I was excited for this! I loved seeing new cities in Australia as well. We spent the next day exploring the city, seeing the beaches and relaxing. My favorite part was the delicious dinner. We went to this amazing Italian restaurant, where I ordered a salad with arugula, pears, pine nuts, parmesan and balsamic vinaigrette. This may not sound incredible to you, but I hadn’t had salad for the 2 months I was in Asia, so this was such a treat for me! I didn’t even talk to the boys while I was eating my salad, I just wanted to savor every moment of it! I know, it sounds so silly, but until you have gone months with no completely fresh veggies, you couldn’t understand. Anyhow, I had a wonderful time seeing the boys.

Next, I headed back to Sydney to spend a couple of days there. One of the girls I had worked with before I left, Jen from Seattle, happened to be in Sydney at the same time. We spent our time exploring the royal gardens, eating at a delicious tapas restaurant and catching up on work gossip. It was so nice to see a friendly face from home! I also had the opportunity to meet up with a friend from Nepal while I was in Sydney. Simon, the guy who I wandered down from EBC with, came to visit me for an afternoon. He brought his girlfriend to meet me and we had an incredible seafood brunch. Unfortunately I had to spend that afternoon in the police station because my camera had been stolen earlier that day! I had made it through an entire year with no problems and in the last week of my trip, someone stole my camera. I couldn’t believe it, but I guess it’s better that it happened at the end instead of at the beginning.

The final city of my trip was Melbourne. I had always planned to go there, at one point I even thought I might spend a few months there, but as the clock ticked down, I didn’t think I was going to make it there. I woke up on Wednesday morning and realized I would be so disappointed if I left Australia without visiting Melbourne, so I bought a last minute ticket and left the next morning! I’m sooo glad I found the time to visit, because I loved Melbourne. There are so many adorable little restaurants and cafes, everywhere you look there is something new to try. On top of that, I was lucky enough to catch up with my friend Jodie who I met in Europe about 3 years ago. We met up for lunch one day in the city and the next day we went to St. Kilda. I absolutely loved the feel of St. Kilda and it was fun to walk around and see it with a friend.

All in all, my final stop in Australia was wonderful. I love the country and wish I could live there, but it’s just so far away from all of my friends and family. This was the perfect ending for my trip. I will be doing one more blog entry, a summary of my thoughts on the trip. I can’t believe it’s over!

Friday, May 18, 2012

My Climbing Friends

Hello again! I know it is surprising for me to post again so soon after my last post, but I want to post about the incredible people I met as they make their summit attempts. Yes, that’s correct, Everest summit attempts are occurring even as we speak. I am so excited to witness from afar how my friends manage this incredible time in their lives!

As I mentioned before, I was able to spend a week in Kathmandu before heading up to begin the trek. There were two other incredible women who arrived as early as I did, so I spent the week with them. The first is Mia from Finland. Mia has been climbing for the last few years and she originally started in the Glacier School that I attended. Mia is climbing Lhotse, which at 8,549 is the 4th tallest mountain in the world. It shares a route with Everest past Camp III, but Lhotse is a more technical and a more difficult climb than Everest. She is attempting to be the first Finnish woman ever to climb Lhotse, which I am sure she will complete successfully. She took a year off from work and has been climbing and enjoying herself – sound familiar? lol. Mia is one of the sweetest, kindest women I have met in a long time and I was so happy and proud to know her. 

The other women I spent quite a bit of time with before heading up the mountain was Sandra from Canada. Sandra is a lawyer who has travelled extensively for work. She spent the last two years in Afghanistan and will spend the next two years in Israel – I am so in awe of her! She went to Everest Base Camp 12 years ago and has been dreaming of climbing Everest ever since. She has spent years training and planning for the climb and I am so excited to hear all the details from her when she returns!

Since the three of us were the first to arrive, we were able to spend quite a bit of time with the leaders of the climb, Arnold Coster who would climb with us and Dan Mazur who would climb on the Tibet side. They were kind enough to take us with them when did their official climb meeting with Elizabeth Hawley. For those of you who have never heard of Miss Hawley, she is the queen of Everest. She was an American journalist who was in Nepal during the first summits of Everest and started keeping track. Now she is responsible for keeping all of the records of who has summited any of the peaks that are 7,000 meters or higher. She is currently 88 years old and feisty as ever! She has a nephew who lives in Evergreen, CO, so I felt I had a bit of a connection with her. She somehow knows the minute the leaders of each climb arrive in Kathmandu and she immediately calls them for a meeting. Dan did his best to provoke her and tease her and she just kept straight to the point. She was extremely close friends with Sir Edmund Hilary and she told stories about him, his apartment downstairs, and other climbers she had met over the years. She even told me my chair was the same chair Jon Krakauer had sat in weeks before when he was there chatting with her. She is an Everest legend and it was an incredible honor to meet her.

Above is the view from my tent window. I thought it was incredible and was so inspired to wake up to that every morning. As the week rolled on, we met more of the climbers who would be going up with us. Since I am completely intrigued by many of the Everest/Lhotse climbers, here is a short description of some of those I got to know well.

Grace: A lawyer from Canada (I know, those Canadian lawyers sure do love to climb!), she is climbing Lhotse. She and Mia make up the 2 person, all woman team who will be climbing Lhotse. Grace discovered her love of climbing 3ish short years ago and has been participating in one or two climbs per year. Grace is about the same height as I am, but she has to be the fastest climber I’ve ever seen!

Eric: One of the many in our crew from Denmark, Eric is another one of the group who has been planning this climb for ages. I don’t know much about his climbing history, I do know that Eric spent about 2 years looking for sponsors for his climb. He is very dedicated in reporting his status back home and giving the details about how he is doing. He was lucky enough to have his brother accompany him in the trek up to Base Camp, which I’m sure gives him plenty of motivation as he climbs to the top.

Jon: A Colorado boy! I am so honored to say Jon is from Colorado, because he is so impressive. He has a PhD, slept on all the 14eers in Colorado last summer and has a book coming out this year about his experience. He is working on his next book and he was working on a study this year to improve the conditions in the Khumbu/ Everest region. Jon spent the first few climbing rounds at the front with the Sherpas, so I’m sure he’s going to just fly up the mountain!

Richie: One of the most hilariously inappropriate people I’ve ever met! He is from the UK and spent the last 5 years working in Iraq, which should tell you quite a bit about him. If you were feeling down about anything, Richie would be more than happy to tell you a story or a joke to pick you right back up again - definitely a great person to have around! Richie has taken a year off and spent pretty much the whole thing climbing. He is insanely prepared for Everest.

There are, of course, others who I didn’t get to know as well. There is Steve, the Australian who now lives in Iowa. He is a motivational speaker, so I’m sure his experiences on Everest will give him lots to talk about! Joost from Denmark, who reminds me a little bit of your friend’s dad – you know the one. He’s hip and funny and you really wish your dad could be that cool! Marlise from Denmark, who works in a school. She seems so prim and proper, not like this badass who goes off in her free time to climb Everest. From what I’ve heard, she had frostbite from a previous climb and had to abandon her attempt to summit this year, which is quite unfortunate. Finally, there is Dave. He has already achieved the summit from the North side (Tibet) and is here to claim it from the South side as well. He has this wild mane of curly blond hair and the longest climber legs I’ve ever seen, so I feel like he could swoop up to the peak in about 10 steps.

I’m sure the motley crew I’ve described above will have an amazing time in their journey to the summit. There are, of course, others like me who were along only for a portion of the trip. As I look back now, I am so in awe of the people doing this climb. As they reach their final stage of preparation and climbing, I wish them all the best. Prayers and motivation, luck and strength. Hopefully my next blog post will include information about their successful summits. Until then, please join me in sending positive thoughts their way. Good luck on Everest/Lhotse!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

EBC...all the details

Yes, Everest again! You knew this one was coming, so don’t act surprised. However, I do have to admit that I have been avoiding writing this blog post. It’s not because I had better things to do or because I have nothing to say. No, it’s quite the opposite. I don’t know how to even begin to describe to you how much this trip has impacted me. I knew when I choose to come back to this country that it had amazing things in store for me, but I didn’t know exactly what they would be. I learned so much and met so many incredible people, I guess it’s just best to get started!

I did absolutely no training for the climb at all. I had all kinds of plans of what I would do, but I was having so much fun in NZ and Australia that I just didn’t end up doing any of it. I did take the wonderful ice climbing course in Colorado and that did help me know what to expect with regards to my ice axe and my crampons. However, even without any training, the trek up just seemed so much easier this time. Don’t get me wrong, there was still huffing and puffing up some of the major hills, but I think knowing what to expect really prepared me mentally for the challenge. I knew where all the big hills where and what lay at the top of each one, so that helped propel me up them. I think the other major thing was being with these incredible climbers who were on their way up to climb Everest – if they could climb the tallest mountain in the world, I could certainly go up a few hundred meters without complaining. 

I was lucky that the schedule called for me to trek with the Everest & Lhotse climbers for the first 8 days. I got to know them and I have so much admiration for what they are doing. I have already written a post dedicated to introducing them to you – I’ll be posting that tomorrow, but I wanted to post my impressions first.  One of the things I wanted to clarify before I write too much is the difference between trekking and climbing. Trekking is the hike up to base camp, where you just wear normal boots and walk. Climbing requires much more gear and skill. It’s where you strap your crampons on, grab your ice axe and attach yourself to the fixed ropes on the mountain. Climbing is much more technical and dangerous than trekking, and I will try to refer to them appropriately here.

One of the things everyone here does is get blessed by a lama before going climbing. You get the blessing to keep you safe on the climb – it’s not about making it to the top of your climb, it’s just about returning home safely. We stopped at the monastery in Pangbouche one of the first few mornings of the trek. We all crammed into a tiny little room around the lama, who had to be approaching 80 years. There was incense burning as a part of the blessing. He immediately started chanting and throwing rice – I have absolutely no idea what he was saying, but you could just feel the peacefulness in the room. Even though everyone was a different religion, you’re all respectful of their traditions and appreciate the opportunity to be a part of this. After he did the group blessing, he tied a string around each of our necks and gave us an individual blessing. I was very comforted by it and thought it was a very moving moment.  

One of the things that really astounds me about this area is the people who work here. Everyone just works so stinkin hard. First you’ve got the porters, the people who physically carry everything from climbing gear to beer to toilets. They are loaded with up to 60 kg and then they make the trek, while I carry my 8 kg bag and complain about it. You look at them and can’t believe they could possibly walk at all. There are absolutely no roads or airports along any of the 62 kilometers that we trek, so every single thing you see has been carried in. These men break their backs for $3 US per day. 

When we separated from the Everest/Lhotse group, my climbing group got much smaller. There were 6 of us participating in the Everest View Glacier School, as well as 3 climbing sherpas, a cook, 2 kitchen boys and 5ish porters. Yes, the support staff was more than double the size of the climbing team. There is just so much stuff that you need – a kitchen tent, a dining tent, a toilet tent, a shower tent, food, as well as individual tents for each person, plus all of our climbing gear (I had about 25 kg by myself). Our training and our climb were pretty spectacular. I learned so much about jumars, moving up & down the fixed line, crampons, as well as how insanely difficult it is to be doing all of that exertion above 5,000 meters. It was really challenging, but I had a great time. After the climb finished, 2 of the people went down as planned, but 3 of the people had to go down early due to sickness. Since I had my heart set on making it back up to base camp, I was left on my own.

After I left everyone in Lobouche, I was on my own with the cook. I felt so bad – he is supposed to be cooking, and here he was carrying my bag and playing tour guide for me. He was all smiles, I was glad to have him with me! I spent a night in Gorakshep, which is just a couple of buildings in the midst of a bunch of rocks. It’s a horribly inhospitable town that pretty much everyone hates. However, you stay there because you get up at 4 the next morning to go up to the top of Kala Patthar. It’s this looming black hill that takes about an hour and a half to go up, but from the top you have an incredible view of Everest & Lhotse (especially during sunrise). I wasn’t feeling well when I was here the last time so I didn’t go up it, and it was one of the things I felt like I HAD to do this time – and I made it with no problems. I was so proud to conquer the challenge that beat me the last time I was here!

Finally, it was time to return to base camp. I was so excited for the opportunity to stay the night in base camp, it was another huge draw for returning to Nepal. It was also wonderful to know I had friends there to visit – I have friends climbing Everest! When I was here in the fall we looked at the tents and climbers sort of like you would look at animals in a zoo – now I am part of the exhibit :)

The day I arrived, the entire team was up at Camp I, so it was a quiet day to get setup in my tent and find my way around. Base Camp is incredible – there are hundreds of tents setup on top of a glacier. It’s constantly moving and changing – a lake one day may be gone the next, ice structures will melt and collapse, it’s an ever changing landscape. When you’re lying there at night, you can heat it creaking and popping underneath you – you just hope your tent stays in place. Also, I’m sure this is implied, but sleeping on a glacier is darn cold! I was sleeping on a foam mattress and an air mattress in a -20C bag, but I still got really cold every night. One of the tricks though is to have your Nalgene filled during dinner with hot water, then you put it on your feet to keep them warm – it works wonders! Some people also cuddle with their pee bottles (yes, you have a pee bottle. You don’t want to leave the freezing cold tent in the middle of the night for any of your 3 diamox pees!), but that was a little too intense for me. 

One of the other challenges of living on a glacier is that, of course, it’s not flat. Our camp was situated on a part of the glacier that was quite steep, so I would have a 10 minute walk from the dining tent in “low town” up to my tent in “high town”. My friend Sandra has a hilarious post about the layout of the camp – you can check it out at if you have a minute. In the picture below, can you see the small tent in blue at the bottom of the hill? That is the distance from my tent to the dining tent. Since I was only there for 3 nights, I was still getting out of breath every time I had to go up to my tent, ugh! 

Another aspect of living at base camp is the avalanches. You hear them constantly – some are really quick while others might go on for a minute or two. You learn quickly how to tell which direction they come from, as well as whether they’re just rock or snow & ice. One of the mornings we were sitting at breakfast when everyone suddenly ran outside. Literally, chairs were crashing over and people were just jumping over them. The second we got outside, everyone’s eyes were on the Khumbu Icefall – an avalanche had occurred and spread it’s remains about halfway down the icefall. It was huge and there was just profound silence throughout camp. Nobody was talking because we all realized there was a large chance people had been killed. Our team had just come down through the icefall 24 hours before and they could have been there. It was a very somber moment. It took a few hours for news to filter down, but we heard that the avalanche had taken out half of the tents at Camp I. A cook had broken his back when he was thrown into a crevice, but luckily nobody was killed. It could have been so much worse…

There are so many other unique challenges to living at base camp. Electricity is a big one – the teams have lots of off days between their forays up the mountain, so they have lots of electronics to entertain themselves on the off days. There is a huge solar charger there, but it is only on for 2 hours a day. Some people have 3 cameras and computers and ipods – there are definitely fights about who gets to plug what in! The bathrooms is, well, interesting. It is a tall skinny tent perched on top of a pile of rocks built up around a plastic drum. #2 goes in the drum but #1 can’t or it gets to heavy, so the rocks are wet & it smells terrible – it’s somewhere I avoided visiting if at all possible!

The dining tent was the hub of all major activity. You could sit around drinking tea or hot lemon and playing cards for hours. It’s where people gathered when they were bored, went for meals, or my personal favorite, movie night! We had some guys who are quite techie, so they setup a project and movie screen and we got to watch movies at night. I think “Taken” was definitely a more thrilling movie when watching it at 5,340 meters J Our camp was situated right next to the helipad, so every morning you would get woken up by one or two helicopters picking sick people up to transport them back down. Hearing a helicopter zip just 15 meters above your tent will wake up even the most peaceful sleeper!  

All in all, my time at base camp and back in Nepal was incredible. I hope I’ve done a fair job at describing to you what it’s like to live in this crazy atmosphere. I only have a small picture compared to the people who live in base camp for 2 months to climb one of the big mountains, and I am constantly putting myself in their shoes and imagining how they must feel about this place. Tomorrow I’ll introduce you to a few of my friends who are climbing… Have a great night!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Nepal? Again? Really?

Yes, it's true, I've returned to Nepal! I absolutely fell in love with the country and the people the last time I was here, and I just felt truly called to come back here. In all the places I saw this year, this is the one that pulled me back. I couldn't ignore that feeling, so here I am.

I enjoyed the trek I did to Everest Base Camp last time, but this time I wanted to do something more challenging. However, not surprisingly, I don't have the skills necessary to climb on glaciers and ice faces. The solution? Attend a glacier climbing school. I know, I never thought I would be going to school in the middle of my year off, but here we are! I am doing a school that will take 22 days and we will end it by summiting a peak called Lobuche East (not to be confused with the city of Lobouche). The peak is 6,119 meters high (or 20,065 for you Americans), which will make a new high for me personally. It will be a week of sleeping in snow and on glaciers and working my tail off, but I am so excited for it!
After we finish the school, I will be heading up to Everest Base Camp again. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, the last time I went there I was feeling pretty sick, so I was unable to climb the hill of Kala Pattar. This has one of the best views of Everest and I was really disappointed that I missed it, so I wanted to try again. Second, I spent a week in Kathmandu and I am doing the first week of the trek with some people who are attempting to summit Everest and Lhotse. Their stories just fascinate me - how they started climbing, what influenced them to attempt such high peaks, what they are hoping to gain from this experience. I will be able to catch up with them at base camp and see how they are acclimatizing, how their trips up to camp I and II went, and just generally see what it's like to actually be part of an expedition that lives in base camp for two months. I think it will be a wonderful experience!

Once I finish my climb in early May, I am planning to volunteer for a few weeks back in Kathmandu, either teaching english or helping at an orphanage. I think it's going to be a wonderful experience! After that, it is back to Australia for a few days, then back home. Phew! What a great way to end the trip. Can't wait to tell you all the details!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Australia - East Coast

Australia, Australia, Australia. My hub of travel for the last few months, so of course I’m back again. However, this time it’s not just me – I’ve got my sisters in tow! I picked them up from the airport early in the morning and we spent the day exploring Sydney while I played tour guide. I think they were a little angry at me because I refused to let them go to sleep, but how would they ever get adjusted if they went to sleep straight away? See, I wasn’t being mean, I was looking out for them :-)

We only spent one night in Sydney, then we flew up to Cairns for a week. We spent the first day getting ourselves adjusted, figuring out what we wanted to do for our time in this lovely city. We wandered in and out of travel shops and hostels, chatting with people around us to figure out the best things to do. After we had everything booked, we went back to our amazing apartment. We had decided to rent an apartment instead of staying in a hotel and I’m so glad we did. It was so big and spacious and had a great view of the water. It was probably over a million dollar apartment, so we felt quite luxurious!

Of course, one of the first things we did was going scuba diving & snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef. I dived on the reef a few years ago but it was before I was certified, so I was really excited to head back there. I found a couple of guys to dive with – one was a pilot from Canada living in Luxembourg and the other was a lawyer from Miami and they were both really good looking, and I had a great couple of dives with them! We saw a manta ray and a sea turtle and heaps of amazing fish and coral. After our dives I went snorkeling with Gina and Sierra and we saw reef sharks and turtles there as well. It was a beautiful day out on the reef!

We also did a couple of different day trips. The first one was up to the Daintree Rainforest. I knew Gina was really looking forward to seeing the rainforest, so I’m happy our day up there worked out. I do have to say that it rained nearly the entire time we were in Australia. We were so frustrated by it, but there’s really nothing you can do but keep pushing on and finding fun things to do. Rain in the rainforest isn’t so bad, but on a beach day it can be pretty frustrating! Anyhow, our adventure to the rainforest was great. We saw some spiders that were the size of your palm (I think Sierra almost walked into one of them face first!), as well turtles, iguanas and in the afternoon we went on a crocodile search. We did see a croc sunning herself on the bank of the river – nice to look at but not to pet!

We spent a day with Uncle Brian’s adventures – what a fun day! It was a bunch of backpackers and they take you up around the tablelands. It’s a day centered around swimming and enjoying all of the trees and the landscape. The first place we went was a river with a huge rock in the middle of it. We asked what it was and the answer was “a natural waterslide!” Our guide said the water was quite high and just under the allowable swimming limit, but that if we were confident swimmers we could jump in and give it a try. A bunch of guys starting climbing in, so of course I had to jump in and represent the ladies! 

After a great lunch we went to a beautiful waterfall. Our guide had us all pose and do these shampoo commercials…you do a hair flip and they take the photo while the water is all flying off. I was not the most coordinated person in the world while taking the photos, but I think they came out pretty good anyway!

Finally, the best part of their trip out to visit me….finding out that Regina is pregnant! She and Andrew are expecting a baby in September! They haven’t found out yet if it is a boy or a girl, but they say that Gabe can’t wait to be a big brother. It will give me something to look forward to once I return to the monotony of regular life. Babies are always so much fun!

As expected, I had a wonderful time when Sierra and Gina came to visit. It was great to be a part of their first independent international travel experience. They flew out and back with no problems and had to learn to deal with some of the cultural differences. Hopefully this sparked something in them and that they might one day again have the ability to travel. I know I loved my time in Australia with them!