It took another two days of hiking to get down to Lukla. I remember on our way up we all remarked how beat down and broken the people coming down looked compared to the eager faces of those on their way up. We were now the shattered souls, slowly making our way down the same way we had come, for most of us, the goal accomplished. Past yaks and porters with their loads, goat herders, stone houses, and suspension bridges. Up and down the rocky slopes, step by step. On one of the long uphill sections, I stopped to take a picture of some mani stones, iPod blasting, oblivious to my surroundings, and I looked up to see several mountain goats grazing just a few inches above my head. I watched them a while, unbothered by my presence, then continued on.
We perked up a bit in Lukla, where I went out with two of the girls to Starbucks, where we lounged all afternoon then had Everest beers at the highest Irish pub in the world. Sting had been to this pub as well, as his photo & an autographed shirt were hanging on the wall. The bartender had the best music on her iPod and the Red Hot Chili Peppers blared through the speakers as we played pool. After that we had a little party at the lodge, where the sherpas put on some funky Indian rap music and got up and danced, even the old man, or especially the old man, I should say, who turned out to be quite the firecracker on the dance floor.
We were awakened early to catch our flight out of Lukla, but no planes were going in or out because of bad weather. It looked like we would be stuck there another day, but after a 5 hour wait, the buzzing of propellers could be heard in the distance and the planes all zoomed in one after another. It was the worst flight I have ever had. Hands down. There was so much turbulence it was like a carnival ride the entire time and I got so, so sick. I just closed my eyes and waited for it to be over, trying not to heave. My friends said I turned a yellow color and they took some pictures. I remained very sick for the whole car ride into Kathmandu but recovered quickly once my feet were on solid ground. Back in the city there was political unrest because the military commander had just been fired. People were demonstrating in the streets and by the afternoon the major roads were shut down. This might make it difficult if not impossible to get back to the airport tomorrow for our flight to Bangkok.
That night we had another party, this time at Rumdoodle, where all the treks end. The ritual is for each expedition team to decorate a cardboard foot, and thousands of these feet adorn the walls of the place. We decorated our own foot with all of our names on it and it was hung amidst all the others. This was a final farewell for the three of us leaving for Bangkok in the morning. We got to the airport via sidestreets without incident, Kara, Kate, and I brimming with excitement in anticipation of our night out.
And what a night it was. Khao San Road was amazing - hoards of people at all hours, dirt cheap shopping, all kinds of food. The three of us had drinks at one of the bars and I ate the most succulent fried prawns and snapper. The Thai chili sauce was absolutely divine. We then hit the streets for a shopping spree and I went nuts over the Ed Hardy knock offs. They look just like the real thing & 100 Baht (~$2.80) for the plain T-shirts and 500 for the intricately jeweled ones. I bought several tank tops & shirts & then found a stall with bikinis for 200 Baht. Sweet. I shopped until I was sure I could not fit anything else into my bags, then we had more drinks and wandered the streets for a while more, taking in the sights, sounds, and smells of Bangkok. I got to my $20/night resort spa way to late to get my massage as I planned, but was very pleased with all my purchases. Then off for an early morning series of three flights to get back to Honolulu, to my waiting daughter who cut school to meet me.
Overall, I have to say that the trek was much, much harder than I expected. I'm not sure what I thought it would be like, but I definitely didn't realize how all the various factors would magnify the exhaustion - altitude, terribly steep ascents, bitter cold, sickness, and a complete change in diet and lifestyle. There was no technical climbing, but it was so much more than just a long hike. Roughly 140 km in total and I completed about 125, turning back without completing the last day. I will stand by my decision, but can't help but feel just a tinge of regret. The trek also fell short for me in other ways. I have several friends that have hiked in the Himalayas, none of which know each other, and on separate occasions they all told me the same thing about their journey - that they saw God. I did not see God on my trek. I did not have any mind-blowing epiphanies, did not find myself or find anything that I was looking for, for that matter. It was an incredible experience nonetheless and though I won't ever do it again, am glad to have done it once. And I really want to say that I am so grateful for all your support and encouragement along the way. It's so good to be home.