The shopping trip
When we were in Katmandu there was no way to avoid buying our supplies for the trip. All I needed was a sleeping bag, thermal underwear, gloves, a hat, a warm coat, and wind pants to complete my inventory. Aside from some socks, underwear, two t-shirts and a toothbrush, that is all anyone needs to trek the full length of the Everest Base Camp trail.
Shopping should never last over two hours. You go into one or two stores, buy what you need and leave. I don’t squabble and bargain, I just take what I get with whatever reasonable price I can. For camping equipment, I know what I need, and I made my purchases for about 100 USD in about a half an hour. Some people look at shopping as a hobby or a passion. They love it and do it whenever they can. Some people love to shop—I like it about as much as a serving of lima beans that my mother used to force me to eat.
The group I was with had a different definition of shopping. Since I was trying to hone my team player skills, I stuck with them as they spent four hours going from shop to shop to get the best price for all the items they could have bought in the first store.
I like efficiency. Going to five or six shops and bantering over the price of the same items when you can do that in one shop makes little sense to me. I was proud of my patience as I stumbled from one small shop to the next in a torrential rainstorm.
The Kathmandu and Lukla Airports
I like third world cities about as much as I like shopping and lima beans, so it was a relief to find myself at the airport early the next morning. From what I could decipher, we were going to be waiting for a while. I held twin babies, conversed with people from all over the world, and soaked in the scene. I chatted with two bright Nepalese boys on their way home from boarding school for the holidays.
Hiking gear clogged the crowded floor and provided people with backrests, people who shared the same anticipation as I did. Finally, we got the signal to go. Everything we owned, including our bodies, was weighed. Then we stepped over the baggage scale, grabbed our stuff, and made our way to waiting room two—a holding tank of eager trekkers and people journeying home.
A man sat next to me and proceeded to yell into his cell phone so loudly that I wanted to burst out laughing. I looked across the way at an Israeli man who was raising his eyebrows and grinning at the whole affair. His name was Elbenar, and I quickly joined him and his girlfriend Noah. I would continue to bump into them over the course of the trek.
Then 16 of us were loaded onto a tin bus and driven out to the runway where several two prop planes waited. “Twenty minutes,” the lady in charge told us, “stay on the bus.” It wasn’t Malaysian heat, but it was pretty close. Soon we leaked off the bus like fried eggs, eager to hop into the frying pan. I quickly found a place to pee amidst some broken down airplanes, and this would probably be my most luxurious toilet experience over the course of my journey.
On the plane, I sat across from two Nepalese girls of about six or seven years of age traveling alone, and delighted to cash in on the sweets that were passed out along with the cotton they gave us to stuff in our ears.
There were two Germans sporting bow ties. One wore wool-blend stretchy light blue pants held up high above his waist with suspenders and a matching coat. The other sported a wool scarf. I break into a sweat, simply describing them. I pegged them for teachers. I ran into them later on the trail at one of the earlier stops. I am not sure they had any idea what they were getting themselves into.
The flight was very Antoine de Saint-Exupery if you have ever read Wind Sand and Stars. The airstrip at Lukla is 450 meters long and 20 meters wide, ending with a large stone wall and a chain-link fence. We landed on the steep uphill runway and halted within two meters of this wall, which probably would not have done much to stop us.
We started hiking immediately from the airport. We wound our way through Lukla, the starting point of the cobblestone base camp trail past Starbucks. Within a few hours, we arrived at our first tea-house where we would spend one night.