I'm almost home - now in Hong Kong where I've been at our Convention for the past few days ... I feel it took me several days to process everything and get back to "regular" life (although Hong Kong is still far from what I'm used to!)
The final two days of trekking to get back to Lukla where we would fly to Kathmandu took the last morsel of energy we had. The last day we trekked all the way from Namche to Lukla in 1 long day - the same route took us 2 days coming up (but I can say it was not easy coming down either ... I had to keep remembering that comng down was not, in fact, just downhill .... but as everything else it was down, then up, then down, then up, then down ... and up (AGAIN!) ... and so on.
When we arrived in Lukla it felt like a celebration - such an unbelievable accomplishment for everyone. A few of us spent the evening with a well-deserved beer and playing left-right-center (a dice game) with the local porters and guides.
We had one evening in Lukla and then flights (on the small 17 passenger plane) were booked to leave Lukla early the next morning. I woke up at 5am the next morning to see a thick fog outside my window. Since I and 13 others were on the first flight out, our small group hiked the 10 minutes to the small airport in Lukla. However, it never happened - we were stuck for the day in Lukla as no planes were going in or out due to the fog. We were told it was a very "technical flight" out of this airport, one of the most dangerous airports in the word, and that perfect weather is needed to fly. Two people missed their connecting flights out of Kathmandu and the rest of us were just praying for good weather the next day or we would also be in the same situation.
The next morning? More fog. It didn't look good so the vast majority elected to pay the extra $500 for a helicopter (praying for some luck). Well, with only 5-6 people per helicopter, many trips had to be organized or another option arranged (Trust me, this was no easy task). The first group of 5 got out quickly in the morning ... then the second group got out about 3 hours later. We had been told that a 24 (!) seater helicopter was available to take the rest of us. The day before we were told there was no pilot to fly it ... but apparently one was located for today. YAY! Except then I found out it's an old Russian military helicopter (one that they no longer make spare parts for) and I would "have the ride of my life on it." Someone gave me a pill for the flight ... I was not the only one who needed it. At 9am we were told it had left and was heading for Lukla airport. We were all peering out the windows anticipating this monstrosity roaring in on this tiny runway. It never came ... and around 12pm we were told it was not coming.
I learned something interesting about the Nepalese culture around this time ... Throughout the day, we were constantly told helicopters were coming, then not, leaving but never left. During our trek, we were often told it's an easy downhill (see above - it was not easy and not even downhill!) Apparently the Nepalese hate giving bad news so we were constantly told good news ... you can imagine what this feels like after hanging around this tiny airport with no food for 2 days!
- Passing time at Lukla airport
So back to our day .... finally around 1:30, two 6-seater helicopters came drfiting in through a break in the clouds. 12 of us ran out to get on, our bags were stuffed in the side compartments ... it took only 5 minutes, and then the worst fog we had seen all day rolled in. We were grounded. We all sat on the ledge of the helicopter (I think we would have chained ourselves to it if we could have!). All we needed was a little break in the clouds. After an hour on the runway, the rain started and we all got worried when the pilot got out to go to the local teahouse for lunch, saying "it doesn't look good." It was about 2:30 by this time and no helicoptor can leave after about 4pm.
Just as I was coming to peace with the idea that I would miss my flight to Hong Kong that evening, miracle of miracles - around 3:30pm, a small break in the clouds and we were able to leave!!! Athough I was gripping onto the people on either side of me and had my eyes squeezed shut most of the way, I occasionally peeked out. Wow, what an ending to the trip! We passed through these amazing valleys and approached rising cliffs head-on, almost as if we were going to fly right through them!
Once in Kathmandu, I had about 2 hours before leaving for Hong Kong. I had a quick shower at the hotel and I laughed at myself as I think I forgot how to use it! I have a number of bruises from that shower experience ... more than on the entire trip!
Although I've been in Hong Kong now for several days, I'm finding it hard to imagine where I was just a few short days ago. The massive skyscrapers and craziness of Honk Kong are in such contrast to the mountain ranges and small villages I just left. My time there was so momentous on so many levels that I will write a final entry when I get back to share some of those impressions with you. And, yes, those photos will come then too.