And this is where I must abandon the chronology of my blog.. Events kind of overtook my ‘well-laid’ plans plus I had clearly not considered that the amount of time taken up by adventures and fun would leave me woefully short of time to chronicle it all. Maybe I was trying to cram in too many countries and exploits in too short a time? Central and Southern Vietnam, Cambodia, Nepal and some parts of Malaysia in the space of three months may have been a little ambitious. Not that I hadn’t allowed for restful periods: in Cambodia a whole week had been set aside for beach and island romps, a little respite before tackling the ruins and temples of Angkor Wat. However, as one of my sisters passed away quite suddenly in Belgium, I went on a hurried one week jaunt across the globe to attend the funeral, whilst Liz found her wings and ventured solo to the island of Koh Rong before completing the rest of ‘our’ Cambodia itinerary – Siem Reap and Angkor Wat – on her own. As plans go, it is my intention to catch up on the parts of Cambodia I missed before heading back to Vietnam early next year, so I will make a little detour via Siem Reap and its famous and fabulous ‘city of temples’. Blog posts about Cambodia to follow then.. In the meantime, on to Nepal..
It is early October and I stay in a hostel in Pokhara. Being a traveler on my own, finding company once in a while is a must and hostels are usually friendly places full of friendly, like-minded people who are often interested in similar experiences. In Nepal, chats about completed and impending treks fill the air over breakfast, mid-morning coffees and dinner. It’s a comfortable place to be, no one queries the sanity of my planned endeavour – reaching Everest Base Camp before my creaky bones and knees give out. It is not necessary, we understand each other, we dream the same dream. We know it is going to be tough and arduous and maybe we will not succeed, but the pull to test our limits in one of the world’s highest mountain ranges is irresistible.
‘You can see the Himalayas and Mount Everest on the TV,’ my brother-in-law pointed out just a few weeks ago; he does not get it and I struggle to explain the difference. One evening in Pokhara, over bowls of ramen in a Japanese restaurant, on the eve of her Annapurna Base Camp trek, a Dutch girl sighs, ‘Why are we doing this? The cold, the exhaustion, the headaches at high altitude? It’s going to be sooo tough…’ There are only smiles because we all share her sentiment and, still, none of us waver in our resolve to answer the call of the mountains. It is a compulsion, as necessary as the air we breathe.
I cannot honestly pinpoint the exact moment I decided to attempt trekking to Everest Base Camp, but the seed was planted in my mind quite some time ago. Almost 10 years ago, I joined a Charity Challenge, trekking through the Lares Valley of Peru and visiting Machu Picchu. At the time, the five – or was it six – day trek did not seem challenging enough; there was discomfort, don’t get me wrong, but as a ‘challenge’, it did not match my expectations.. I did not feel challenged!! Kilimanjaro beckoned… Maybe a summit at just under 6000m would be more taxing.
Somehow Tanzania and Mount Kilimanjaro remained a fantasy as so often life gets in the way and plans needed to be adapted to reality… Kids at uni, job uncertainty all took priority. But my life and options changed dramatically when in 2014 I embarked on my ‘5-year gap year’ and ended up working in South East Asia. Suddenly the master of my own destiny, Everest Base Camp – rather than reaching the peak of Kilimanjaro – moved into the realms of possibility. It was just a case of finding the right time between contracts to coincide with the most opportune trekking weather: spring time in March or April or the autumn months of October or November… Neither period fitted particularly well with the normal school year, and with the window of opportunity shrinking each year (I have noticed, I am not getting any younger.. what went wrong??), I knew I needed to plan for an extended travel period around any EBC venture… My contract in Vietnam coming to an end early September, and a promise to the kids to be in the UK for Christmas, there seemed no better time than now…
Reaching Everest Base Camp is not an easy feat, but with the right preparation and mindset, and of course the right footwear, it is not impossible to achieve. Many people with fewer and many people with more grey hairs than me have proven this.. Good, well-worn boots are essential though… Just a year or so ago, I owned a lovely pair of snug, warm walking boots bought in China to keep my feet warm in the minus-20 January temperatures of Harbin. But in the cull of possessions that inevitable accompanies a move to a different country (from China to Vietnam in this instance), they did not make it into my suitcase when I slipped away… Surely, it would not be that difficult to replace them in Vietnam, the country of good quality (?) counterfeit brand names, I had reasoned. And although I’d had the opportunity to purchase a new pair in February during my last UK visit, there were too many things to cram into the two-week holiday, so I dispensed with such errands, focusing instead on quality time with the kids. On my return to Vietnam, I scoured the shops in Quang Ngai, I traipsed recommended stores in Hanoi, I even tried my luck in the many hiking gear shops in Sapa but a pair of decent-looking, reliable boots that would stand a chance of taking me blister-free to EBC and back again appeared elusive.
In desperation, I combed through the depths of the internet for the Vietnamese equivalent of Amazon… And, hey presto, I found them!! The perfect pair of boots, exactly the same as a pair I owned before, so they were sure to be a perfect fit. And at an excellent price… a bargain, indeed… until they were delivered. Being British, and still part of Europe’s free market, I was totally oblivious of the existence of ‘import duty’… What had seemed such a good buy at the time, turned out a rather expensive purchase as the import duty more or less equalled the cost of the boots… Still, I needed them. Everything else I could buy or hire in Katmandu, but comfortable boots were non-negotiable.. So I grumbled and grumbled even more, but with no alternative I chalked this one up to experience, an experience to avoid in future…
The rest of my pre-EBC groundwork mainly happened in the Quang Ngai gym. Every week, without fail, two hour-long sessions on the treadmill wearing in my new, clean boots on ever steeper inclines with temperatures rocketing to above 35 degrees Celsius… I wasn’t sure how effective it would be as preparation for high altitude trekking, but it was the best Quang Ngai had to offer and would have to do until I reached Pokhara in Nepal where I could practise on real hills and slopes…
Hi Lieve. Good luck with the quest to reach EBC. The biggest (by far) adventure I’ve had was in 1982. With a small group I trekked from the hills near Kathmandu to Kala Patar, wheich is about 7 miles from Everest. The views along the way are incredible. The high Himalayas!
Looking forward to your upcoming stories.
LikeLiked by 1 person
That would have been quite a trek, all the way from Kathmandu.. I admit to having taken a flight to Lukla. But Kala Patar is far more interesting than Base Camp itself, at least from there you can actually see Mount Everest. Still, for me, it was a case of ticking a box and, indeed, admiring the incredible views on the way…
LikeLiked by 1 person
This sounds so exciting. Good luck. I hope it’s challenging enough lol, and that it’s as amazing as you hope. For me it’s the Camino. I was given a book about it for my 50th birthday and have never been able to get it out of my mind. I turned 68 in August and promised myself that I will walk the Camino for my 70th birthday!
Have a great trek!
LikeLiked by 1 person
Thanks Alison. The Camino sounds an amazing trek too, but at the moment I am focusing on travel further afield, leaving Europe until I cannot face the long distance flights any more.. Good luck with doing the trek for your 70th birthday; I am sure you will make it!
LikeLiked by 1 person
Go go for it! Not many dream the dream, enjoy.
Yes,I am lucky to be able to make the dream come true; not everyone who dreams about it, gets the opportunity to at least try to climb to Everest Base Camp… It’s been an amazing experience – I have actually already completed the trek.. Did I make it?? You will find out in due course…
Dear Lieve, sorry to hear about the loss of your sister.
“You can see the Himalayas and Mount Everest on the TV.” Lemme guess, is your brother-in law Belgian by any chance? All kidding aside, I really enjoy reading about your adventures. I was in Pokhara with two friends in 2016 and loved it (especially the caves). Loved Vietnam, too. Keep sharing your stories, I’m traveling with you in my mind!
LikeLiked by 1 person
Thanks Elisabeth for reading my blog. Yes, you are right about my brother-in-law being Belgian… Although my main aim on this trip was to get to Base Camp Everest, I also visited Pokhara. I enjoy going there, it is much quieter than Kathmandu…