Wednesday, 21 Dec 2016
We open Christmas presents early, finish packing up, then the adventure begins! We boarded the plane in Amsterdam, along with our family friends the Turners, and after touching down in Abu Dhabi, we arrived in Kathmandu.
The next day, we boarded a much smaller plane that took us to Pokhara airport, (West of Kathmandu, from where we were able to catch the first up close views of the Himalayas. The most prominent mountain was called Machapuchare, or “Fish Tail”. The mountain is off limits to climbers, because it is declared sacred in reverence to the God Shiva. We spent the evening explore and feasting in Kathmandu.
We began our trek by crowding in a rickety van to cheat and take us part of the way up the mountain, passing a few hikers without the luxury. Eventually, however, the van could no longer manage the steep trails, and so we got out and began walking. Along the way there were dozens of Nepalese porters strolling up and down the paths with massive loads on their backs. Nathan tried one of the packs and failed to walk even a few metres; some of the porters carry loads up to twice their body weight. Pretty crazy. We got our first taste of Nepalese mountain life, passing farms and huts on the way. That night, after a 4 hour 'warm up' hike, we stayed at a basic but much appreciated lodge with hot water that worked… usually. Free, consistent wi-fi was a more common commodity than free, consistent hot water.
The next was probably the hardest hiking day; we spent it walking mostly up thousands of stairs, taking in the splendor of the Himalayas in the distance and taking frequent water/picture breaks. We finally arrived at the next lodge; The Mountain View lodge at the base of Poon Hill, and were told that when the clouds cleared we would be able to see Dhaulagiri, the 7th highest mountain in the world. (Some of us went up, others didn't). It being Christmas Eve, we acted out the Nativity scene; it took a few times to get it spiritual, as per usual.
We dragged ourselves out of bed early early Christmas morning to a stunning view of Dhaulagiri and the Annapurna range. Then, with different levels of enthusiasm, we hiked Poon Hill: the popular lookout point about a steep 30 minute hike away from our lodge and our destination. Unfortunately, the hikers we passed who were on their way down told us that the view was basically obscured totally by clouds. Half of us turned back, and half kept climbing. At the top, there were lingering clouds for a few minutes, but they cleared and unveiled a spectacular view. (for those who continued, it has been an accomplishment of lingering bragging rights)
Back at the lodge we took family pictures, and then continued hiking. We wished every other tourist we met a merry Christmas to keep up the spirit when there wasn't exactly another way. At one point, we stopped to hike up some waterfalls, and we passed a riverbank where hundreds of previous hikers had made rock towers, so of course we stopped and left our mark. Many of them, to be precise. We hiked all the way around Annapurna South’s base, and enjoyed a view of the other side and of a mountain right next to it, Hiunchuli. At the lodge, the power went out, and the staff pulled out candles and flashlights from convenient places. About 5 minutes later the backup generator came on and everything was fine. We got the feeling that that happened a lot.
Mom broke her ankle! She was taking an early morning walk, and missed a step walking down some stairs. Luckily that was also something that happened a lot, and we were able to hire a donkey to transport mom while the rest of us hiked. Finally, the trail was noticeably more downhill than uphill. Eventually we met up with the vans again, and drove down the rest of the mountain, back to Pokhara, and took a plane back to Kathmandu. Busy day.
We spent the day exploring Kathmandu, and saw many tourist destinations, including Darbur square, Boudhnath Stupa, and the Swayambhunath temple. While we were driving in our taxi van, on the crowded, potholed, crazy streets of Kathmandu, our guide was playing Nepali music on his iPhone through the van speakers. Imagine driving alongside cinder block buildings, some crumbled from the earthquake, with chicken, goats and cows walking amongst the locals, with lots of horns and tractors, dusty cars, and pedestrians. Lots of very local sounds. The roads are paved, but so full of potholes and dirt, that you hardly know when the asphalt stops, and the dirt starts. This is in the capital city, downtown, where live millions of people, with no stoplights in the entire city.
Then, the next song we hear on his iPhone is the Piano Guys!! It was such a funny juxtaposition. Such wonderfully familiar music, in such an unfamiliar place..
After a few more tourist stops, we visited to a shop where they sold Nepalese handmade “singing bowls”, which were ridiculously overpriced. Emily left today, back to Utah. We were sad she couldn’t joins for the second week of adventures, but were glad she joined for at least the first.
Tonight we stayed in a hotel in Kathmandu and met up with a few other families from the kids’ school, American School of the Hague, to join us for the second week; service at a local school in a small mountain village: Nagarkot, famous for its beautiful views and treks.
Today we arrived at “the farmhouse”, a large lodge at the top of a hill with a beautiful view of the Langtang Himalaya range. Our bedrooms opened up to an amazing sunrise view, and we took full advantage of this. After some research we were able to pick out a peak in the distance that we were almost sure was actually Mount Everest, although it was extremely far away.
31/12 - 5/1
We spent the week teaching kids aged 6-13 at a local Nepali school. Most mornings we woke up to a beautiful view if there were no clouds, ate the same breakfast (roti, rice, eggs and pancakes) and hiked about an hour down the mountain to the school. We brought whatever teaching supplies we would need for the activities of the day, which included paper to make paper airplanes, crafts, speed stacks, picture books, small musical instruments, beanbags with numbers on them, and colouring pages. We divided up our group and each took an age level - 2nd grade, 3rd grade, etc. We had translators with us to communicate, although some of the older kids could speak a little bit of English. We also had fun telling and acting out stories, such as the 3 little pigs and the Billy Goats Gruff. After a few hours we would take a lunch break, and then back to teaching, and playing with the kids. Then we would trudge back up the hill to the farmhouse and the food, comfort and warmth offered abundantly. Erik, Norty (the oldest Turner) and Nathan often raced up, trying to beat each other and their previous times. Back at the farmhouse the day finished with dinner, tea and games around the fire stoves.
One night our group was visited by Sir Peter Dalglish, a Canadian UN representative who was very influential in Nepalese humanitarian projects. He told stories and joined us at the school for a day - we were very honoured.
Before return to the Netherlands, we stopped off in the UAE for some warmer weather.