(DISCLAIMER- DESPITE MY WRITING, WE WERE NEVER IN ANY SERIOUS DANGER! I DO LIKE ADVENTURE AND ALSO LIKE TO RECAP IN AN EXCITING MANNOR....)
So I learned today that Kathmandu airport is rated the worst airport in the world and Lukla, where we are waiting to go, is the most dangerous and most scary airport in the world- although this I think I figured out in 2010 when I last landed in the 460 meter long runway that ended in the side of the mountain and when taking off, you literally fly off a cliff. There is no navigation tower or radar, pilots rely on sight. Therefor the combination of conditions has to be just right in order to get here or leave here.
So Here we wait- in the insanely crowded and loud Kathmandu airport, with hundreds of other Trekkers just like us, all dressed and ready to hike, leaning on our backpacks and duffles, waiting for the good word from our guide that we can check in and for the conditions to be in our favor. Everyone is in good spirits non the less and maintaining a commendable amount of patience. Equanimity is the chosen state of mind. I am grateful for my iPod. It's been two weeks since I've listened to my music and boy I didn't realize how much I missed it until I plugged in and disconnected.
A bunch of us are still hacking away, sharing one in the same cold, (thank you Ram) and a woman from Canada is in a sling with a broken clavicle- which was the result of her fainting from a fever in her hotel room bathroom (she has low blood pressure so she often faints when she gets sick) yet all are hopeful that we will start walking sometime this afternoon.
Yes we have an adventurous and brave group! We have been together for 10 days already- walked miles around the worst parts of the city visiting HIO children and schools, traipsing through villages learning about the culture of Nepal and what the face of poverty looks like here.
This is the month for harvesting rice. Woman everywhere are sifting through huge quantities that are spread out wherever they find room to lay their 15x15' plastic tarps. This is just one of many examples portraying how different their lives are from ours.
Seven hours later, still waiting for flight 13 (yea- when I heard that I knew this was not good) to get clearance to head to Lukla. It was fog in the am that delayed all flights, and now it was wind. Karsang, our Sherpa guide had been running around at every turn trying to get another plan in place in case our flight was canceled. Sure enough, we got the word that Lukla was finally closed for the day and the 30 or so flights remaining would be rescheduled for tomorrow or the next day.
Then, out of nowhere, Karsang comes running up to our fading group and hands us tickets and tells us to HURRY! Run! We have two helicopters waiting. A flurry of commotion and off we ran, jumping into the back of a truck and to an area where copters take off. The first five left with Karsang, and our group waited for our turn. Andrea (my dear friend and college roommate-and I squeezed into the co-pilot seat and fastened our chest belts- two couples squished in the back. Our pilot looked all of 22 years, but told us he had been flying for 5 years- because of course I asked... (I later found out that the pilots who fly in the Himalayans are THE BEST TRAINED IN THE WORLD! They train in switzerland, and to become a Nepali pilot is a very high ranking profession! I wish I knew this at the time...)
The next hour was like a movie - specifically Apocalypse Now. We flew over mountain terrain, though in the distance, a haze hid the Himalayan's and the sky did not look all that bright. Night was also falling. Below were stretches of terraced farm plots and small houses with blue metal roofs spotting the valleys and hilltops. No cars- but paths of dirt connecting the dwellings. I was enjoying the spectacular scenery up until I noticed the fast approaching dark clouds. So quickly they hid the peaks that our captain began to rattle off to his headset and fiddle with all the dashboard dials. We dropped under the clouds. Andrea and I tightened our locked arms. I focused on my breath - though with this horrible cold, that really didn't help. The pilot also took a deep breath which is about the time I began to study his every move. I was nearly sitting on top of him anyway. His expression never altered, but his eyes darted every which way looking at the weather. It began to drizzle. He started biting his nails on his left hand. This did not help my anxiety whatsoever. I was starting to imagine that we would land in some field safely, sleep in the helicopter or some farmhouse and figure out our next move then. I even attempted to point down - signaling that it would all right with me if he landed ANYWHERE- NOW. But he was already changing corse to approach Lukla from a different direction. About another 15 minutes passed which seemed like forever and my mind was comparing the fright factor with the time I descended over the edge of a 150' glacier crevasse in Alaska in 2007. My first and maybe last ice climbing experience. I began praying now just like I did then. I then heard the word "LUKLA!" load and clear, and below, the small mountain village appeared below us.
We were of course the last group of the day to land, and there was Karsang waiting, his Buddhist Mala beads in hand and a huge smile in his adorable Sherpa face. My mouth had never been so dry in my life.
In case you are wondering how the group in the back seat fared, I found out after that they couldn't see out the front and they were not nervous at all!
We had a lovely tea house for the night , and it was one of those moments that you are ever so grateful to be alive.
Tihar mandala, rice piles in background-
Our Sherpa team! Left- Karsang, Nema, Kancha and Pasang!!! All smiles as we have arrived safe in Lukla.
Leaving KTM - Monday
Tea house in Lukla
Tuesday - FINALLY TREKKING
Wednesday, Namche Bazar, Zop- yak