Siem Raep, Cambodia: the magic continues. Day 2

14.03 Morning: Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom

Mountain biking (hurts)

After yesterday’s crash course in ‘temple basics’ and today’s eagerness to burn some calories (an Everest after effect?) I went Deep Dutch; I rented a push bike so that I could extend my explorations, this time free of group mates and charges. I found out that 8 years in Dubai detrimentally affect memory, in this case of ‘biking essentials’. Fifteen minutes in the saddle and I realised it was too damn narrow!  I spent half the trip standing on the pedals, my bum simply could not take it anymore, and I had to add some ehhmm ‘recovery stops’.

Banteay Kdei Temple
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Ta Prohm Temple; known as the ‘Tomb Raider’ temple (yes, with Lara)
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Ta Keo Temple – my major recuperation point. Behold skeptics and witness the evidence; the bike really existed!

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Angkor  Tom Temple – my favorite! I even bought a painting of Bayon (the face)

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15. 03 Morning: Angkor Wat

There was no way that I wanted another day on the mountIn bike. I switched it for a normal push bike where my major selection criteria was ‘an as big as possible saddle’. I found one and off I went on my comfy new bike. Grande finale: Angkor Wat temple. Awesome!!

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15.03 Afternoon: Saving a life (really!)

Lonely planet wrote that Cambodia has a major shortage of blood (in hospitals) so I went to the local children’s hospital to donate. It only takes an hour and it can save a life. The technician told me that they had a US team on-site that had scheduled one more open heart surgery on the next day, but that it could not happen due to blood shortage. He jumped with joy when he found that I had the matching blood type and he arranged to meet with the family and the docs.

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It was very emotional meeting. They were soooo happy. I have not often felt so good in my life! I have tried to motivate all my fellow tourists to do the same and I hope that, if you ever visit here, you will remember this fantastic story and will do the same!

15.03: Royal Mail Cambodia and the Knight Bus (in Dutch: de Collectebus)

Two noteworthy events today…  Firstly, I had excess luggage and souveneers that really needed downsizing so I mailed some home. The clerk told me to expect delivery in 3 months (seriously?) so I took a picture of the package and told him that I suspected this would be the last time that I would see the package and this was a pic to remember. The clerk laughed out so loud that he made me worry – does he have the same low expectations or did he just think ‘crazy tourists’??

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In the evening, I took my first bus on this trip. It was a night bus (a sleeper) and I had booked a VIP ticket meaning that I would have my own single bed. It felt as if I had entered the Knight Bus of Harry Potter and the wizardry world. So funny! That is, it was funny until I found out that I had to share my single bed. I was one of the last persons boarding and The bus was packed with local Cambodians (guys). Now it is getting interesting, right, with a tiny bed?. Luckily, my bunk mate was a lovely Irish lady, so my latest first -compulsory spooning with an stranger on a bus- wasn’t too awkward. LOL!

 

Siem Raep, Cambodia: the magic begins… Day 1

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14.03: A [potentially surprising] 'first'

After leaving my expedition friends in Kathmandu, it was time to travel to Cambodia. Yes, I was supposed to go to Vietnam, so this was a last minute change, because I struggled to get my Vietnamese e-visa confirmation (on a Sunday...) and when I could finally book my flight it proved pretty senseless; the best flight available was 30h (instead of 5h) at 6x the original rate. Its stopover -in Abu Dhabi of all places- would have been nice for a quick hi-n-bye to friends, but not exactly according to plan. So, the 'Captain's log, star date 11016.1' states "1st attempt to enter Vietnam failed".

I then did something sensible, and for the skepticals, yes, I can (occasionally). Someone mentioned that Laos lacks railways, so my plan to enter China via Laos (after Vietnam and Cambodia) was officially off the rails. Debugging was rather easy; I would skip Laos and travel in opposite direction, thus from Cambodia to Vietnam from South to North. No problemo, and hence I jumped on a plane to Siem Raep in Cambodia.

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Confession of my 'first'

So, here you go, this was the first time in my life that I traveled to an unknown country alone. It sounds almost rediculous; age 38, former director in a large company, visited 35+ countries... yet never solo. Always accompanied by friends and loved ones, or for studies or business purpose. Before I went on my Corners of my World marathon, I had spent 1 (one!) holiday day in a foreign country alone. Pretty pathetic, and hence subject to urgent change. Cambodia is down in the books as my 'first'.

After clearing customs, I jumped on a remork-moto (similar to a tuk-tuk) and whilst rejoicing my major milestone I let myself be escorted to my hotel. Abbreviated as 'S hotel' with all branding in Sheraton style, they had fooled me into believing it was one... After Nepal's Hill-ten, I guess this is one of those national word plays. Luckily, they charged much less then Sheraton and had excellent services.

Siem Raep town thrives on their proximity to the temples. Consequently, it is touristy; need I say more then that it had its own 'pub street' (Lisa/Sarita/Dave/Karen et al: forget Phuket, come here :) ). Nontheless, I loved its ambiance and, wow, the food is YUMMY!

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Siem Raep town impressions

And then the magic began... The temples of Angkor

To let your experience magic through a blog may be a mission impossible but it never hurts to try. I was in awe; never have I seen anything like this, the sheer magnitude and cultural richness topped with the scent and sounds of the surrounding jungle was in one word astonishing! I highly recommend to go and see for yourself.

On my first exploration day, I joined a guided tour with 2 Aussies and 2 Americans and we headed for the less know, hidden and most distant temples. Choosing from over 100 pics was tough, I took loads of footage that I will post soon - that will probably give a better impression.

Our group...
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Pre Rub temple
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Ta Som temple

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Ta Som temple impressions

Nature, people and animals at the Angkor World Heritage site

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Itsy bitsy spider climbed up the temple... This one is for you, Priscilla

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Bovines are again favored once more

Banteay Prei Temple
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...and I WILL get that tree on film...

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Linda in action

Yes, maybe lame but we are trying really hard to imitate the lovely ladies that are above our heads.. Mental note to self: must add stretching to daily routine... image

And finally, one of the most important archeological sites in Angkor; the Banteay Srei temple. It is highly preserved in colors and details

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Banteay Srei

Tomorrow, I will visit the top attractions; Angkor Wat and Angkor Tom. These are large and attract many (Chinese) tourists, so I better not oversleep..

D11-13: returning to Lukla

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Day 11-13: ‘shouldn’t it be down-down-down’

Any mathematician would agree that if one goes from 6,000 to 2,500 meter, one should go down-down-down. Right?? Wrong! Not in the Himalaya. Its slogan says ‘a little bit up and a little bit down’, which I already relabeled as ‘ a hell of a lot up and a hell of a lot down’. Even on the way back!

Our expedition did not complain too much though, as we had become as fit as a fiddle. Ups were no longer a problem and, in fairness, there was significant more down then up. Did I already tell you how much I LOOOVE gravity? If not, then here you go; most wonderful concept of all times! There are three other amazing things of going down:

  1. inhaling increasingly oxygen-rich air. Especially not having nightly ‘gasps’ is a blessing. At altitude, one startles awake, realising that one was slightly choking followed by some gasping to replenish the oxygen. A bit scary, so very nice to get rid off
  2. increasing temperature. Surprisingly, even those places that we ‘froze’ on our way up, felt better on the way down. Probably we had adjusted, or the few days simply made a biggest difference for the season. Please don’t think that we switched to swim suits immediately… It was still down jackets plus heater in the evening, but no more gloves and no more fear to move from the heater to the table for diner. Swell!
  3. increasing appetite. Altitude normally supresses appetite. (Claire, be relieved; I actually found others that are not sensitive for this phenomenon…). Downwards, the food tasted better and I could eat a fork or two more ( 🙂 ). Plus we could finally indulge in a drink again. Whoop whoop, party time!

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imageThere are the yaks again…image

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image…and a goatimage… Plus a horseimage… And the first flowers of the SpringimageTea timeimage…and party timeimageBack in Kathmandu imageBaggage collected from ‘belt 1’ (= just directly of the airport trolley)imageAnd a final farewell drink…. I will miss you guys. I had been a pleasure and a privilege!!!!!image

D9-10: the big thing… Lobuche summit

Day 9: toughest day thusfar… Kala Platter peak (5550m)

Today, I suffered the most, really. We got up just after 4 AM to climb Kala Platter and reach the peak before sun rise. The climb is only 400m up but STEEP. I recommend the Oxford ditionary to use a picture of KP to visually  explain ‘steep’.

There were two more reasons for the suffering. Firstly, I had some light altitude disease and -I now can pledge for that- that makes things exponentially more difficult. Secondly, the cold. O myContinue reading

D7-8: Finally, we reach Everest Basecamp

Day 7: Lobuche summit could actually work!

Today, we climbed to Lobuche at 4,900 meters. The scenery was spectacular, again. And again, there was a very steep incline, this time in the middle of the day.

Let me explain the secret of managing a steep incline. The magic word is ‘sherpa shuffle’; you put one foot in front of the other with a stride and pace that enables you to just keep your breath. Start gasping? Reduce the stride, the pace or both, and maybe hum a ‘mantra’ (mine is simply ‘la, la’, or ‘laaaaaa, laaaaa’ when it is really steep, lol). Ps: The most common Sherpa mantra is ‘ umani pathmeyum’ which is a prayer for safe travel.

Prem, our guide had predicted that we would run out of air on this climb, but guess what… I didn’t! For the first time I felt stong and good. I must admit that I had had my worries about being fit enough to do Lobuche peak, but after today… Maybe!

Night before: the three ladies in their climbing boots

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…and the harness.image

First view of the morning. Wowimageimage

Sacred place on top of the pass, where the villagers burry all those who died on the mountains

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Day 8: baaaassseeecamp

Finally, today’s hike had base camp on the menu. All of us were getting eager to write a tick on our bucket list, the last 7 days’ climbing and suffering had taken its toll. Unfortunately, Jody caught a bug overnight so she and Adrian decided to rest for a day. So, it was only Ian, Ash and me. Jalla!

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I raved about the landscape many times before, but this day was really, really amazing. Off the planet! Have a look for yourself and decideimageimageimage

Glacier below… One of the many in this area. Our walk on glaciers was short, only a few steps. Nevertheless, Ash managed to almost slip into a creveche and slipped on a rock. Awch. We also saw and heard 3 avalanches in the distance. No danger for us, though.imageimageimageimage

Almost there… Walking on the ridge to be safe from rolling stones and avalanchesimageAnd then… We were there… Basecamp!!!imageimageimageimage

After much excitement, we walked back to Gorak Shep at 5,170m.last night, I experienced some altitude problems, namely a light headache, but due to 1.5 diamox tablets and Ian’s supreme head/neck massage this subsided, luckily.

 

D4-6 Everest: keep on ‘dying’…

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Day 4: ‘Dying’ on the mountain… Part 1

Today, we hiked to the village Portse, at 3800m. It started with an amazing, flat-ish hike with truly unbelievable views, which one actually can enjoy because one doe not need to plough up the mountain or carefully jump from rock to rock down.

Then we started to climb. Up, up and up. And up! 500m without one single stretch of flat or down. My legs got so heavy that I could barely lift them up to step up to the next stair/rock. My breathing technique failed once or twice which made me run out of breath. Not good fun! I got a little worried because we were ‘only’ at 4000m, far from 6200m.

Then I noticed a trail lower on our mountain and when I asked Prem, our guide, why we hadn’t taken that one, he simply replied that this was a technical training day for us, Loboche summiters, and he promised to take the easier way on our way back. I could have hugged him 🙂

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Spot the yak below 🙂

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I added the picture below to show the characteristics of the Himalaya. The plateau in the far is Portse, our next accomodation. Unfortunately, most villages are situated halfway up the mountains with many valleys to cross (and suspension bridges are luxous…) so it is going down-down-down and then up-up-up… And again… Well, let’s  just say it is all for the greater purpose, pffff.

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We haven’t seen much wild life. The below mountain goats were a nice distraction. Ps. Define wild life; we saw hundreds of yaks, of course. Moreover, we concluded that Prem, our guide, is a Yeti…

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We reached our next lodge around 2 PM, just before the clouds came in and it started to snow. The temperature dropped by at least 10 degrees in a few minutes. We were inside but because the people have only limited energy supplies they only lit up the heater at 5.30 PM. So we sat again with our coats and gloves. This is becoming a normal procedure ?

Our accomodation with… and without clouds. 15 degrees difference!

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Day 5: Hot showers in freezing conditions

Today, we hiked to Dingboche village, at 4,350m. The path was simply amazing. Basically, out of this world, one could see miles and miles up, down, left, right, and mountains everywhere,  rivers and of course yak trains.

Our group appreciated that we arrived in the pre season. We barely had other hikers, so you could say we had the place to ourselves.

This came however at a price. As I already said, it is cold here, VERY cold. Without sun shine, life is really tough. We sat every evening waiting eagerly for the heater to be fired up, and stepping away more rhen two steps from the heater meant: down jacket on, beany on and gloves on.

At higher altitude, where there areno more trees, villagers burn yak poo (faeces, yes) in absence of any other flammable materials. Imagine all hikers sitting around a heater inhaling yak poo fumes. How funny!

What is also difficult in the cold, is taking showers. I already blogged about the ‘cold water hair wash’ but the next story is even better. After 6 days of no-shower/baby-wipe-wash-only, you would be quite desperate for a shower too right? Right!  So, you pay 5 usd for 2 (?) buckets of hot water and then you need to find a way to not freeze in the process… My tactics were: 0) pray for sufficient water (to be repeated in each of the below steps). 1) undress upper body. 2) wash hair and tie it up to prevent dripping. 3) stipp off completely. 4) wash upper body and try to keep legs somewhat warm. 5) quickly dry upper body and put on thermal top whilst holding the shower head between your knees to keep legs warm. 6) wash lower body. 7) dry body, starting with toes asap. 8) dress dress dress. Quickly.

Hehehe, the shower was a funny experience. Should have taken a pic of the shower booth but I forgot. However funny, I promised myself not to shower again until back in Lukla…

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 Day Day 6: second ‘rest day’… aaahhrrgg

I don’t think I like rest days, honestly! Our drill instructor, aka guide, aka Prem wanted us to climb Chukkung at 5000m… That was a hefty 700m quite vertically up. In one go.  We climbed and descended in snow and experienced how slippery this could be, especially on the way down. Wow. This climb took heaps of energy (chucking in some Aussie words for my hiking mates).

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Our expedition team… happy to have reached the summit. It is interesting to experience that everyone has their Ups and downs on a multiday event. I struggled on day 2, whereas Ian suffered from blisters at the start, Jody caught a bug the night before basecamp day, and Ashley was undercooled on summit day. I guess Adrian is our  ‘die hard’.

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What I like about hiking that it is as much a team sport as an individual effort. You, and only you, can pace yourself so that you can keep going for hours and hours. Go a tat too fast and you wear out. The team can motivate, distract and hence relief your personal battle. To non-hiking readers, try it once or twice… is a brilliant way to create some headroom to think and make decisions ☺️

Prem – the Yeti. Our guide and saviour

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Ian – the diesel. No stopping when he started. Half ironman veteran. Wow!image

Ashley – the turtle. Not because she is slow but because of the beany. Super globetrotterr, just got back from South America. Beany of course from Galapagos!image

 

Jody. Super hiker and a heart of gold. Xxximage

Adrian – the hero. Summitted Loboche and wants to do Everest summit at 8,848. Chappeau!image

 

D3 Everest: mummification & technical training


Day 2 night time:  mummyfication

Last night, I nearly strangled myself in my sleep. Now, I admit that I do crazy things when sleeping but self-inflicted injuries have been rare. I blame it on my sleeping bag, I suspect that this model was already in use by the old Egyptians for mummyfication purposes.

Let me explain; the bag is only 'two foot' wide at the bottom end, then gradually widens up to 'body width plus 10 cm' and ends in an integrated hood. It needs to accomodate me, but also my battaries, Iphone, etc, and my clothes for the next day because they get t oooo cold if one leaves them 'just' in the room (batteries run for example empty overnight due to cold and puting on freezing clothes is not much fun!).

In short, the bag has FAR too little space for a tosser-n-turner like me. The effect: total entrapment.  

I should actually not complain too much much... the bag should be suitable up to -20 degrees and even at our current altitude we already had close to zero degrees in our rooms. The bag has been reasonably warm, so I think I will just have to change my sleeping behaviour.

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Day 3: Everest: technical training on a rest day


Today, I realised that I had made a minor assumption error... We had our first 'rest day' and I thought, perhaps a little  naive ok, that that would mean that we would not hike (too much..).

Ehmm. No! Rest day is no synonym for 'relax day'. Prem, our guide, pushed us for some 1000-1500 height meters up and down. We saw a school and we walked on our first snow.

Now that think about it, we actually walked for 5hours just to have a cup of tea on the other side of the mountain. How cray is that, lol! We visited a small museum and a gorgeous monastery too.

Nonenetheless,  admittedly, a great day and inhonesty, I was happy for the opportunity to improve my fitness level before the altitude would really kick in...

Top of the hill, as usual market with a shrine, stupa and/or prayer flags

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The Tensing-Hilton school, the traditional prayer wall and our tea house in the far

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The looks of the town Namche Bazar when it is in the clouds... And our accomodation.

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