Monthly Archives: December 2013

Happily Homeward


We flew back to Istanbul from Selcuk in 1 hour rather than the 12 hour bus ride and it only cost $17.00 more (combined). Imagine!

We left our small, friendly hostel with its postage-stamp sized room (not even kidding-you had to step into the shower-where the sink was-to close the bathroom door-to sit on the toilet) this morning and took the metro and tramway to the airport.

Within hours we will be winging our way home. AND we are wearing almost clean clothes that we’ve saved. Very excited!

Soon we will empty our pockets of the supplies that we have learned to hoard at every opportunity – the crumpled up piece of toilet paper, a hand wipe, things like that. The habit will die hard; maybe only after having toilet paper complete with a sink and running water whenever we need it repeatedly.

I am nearly delirious with anticipation at seeing the kids. Colin says everything is fine but slowly falling apart. I don’t know what that means but I do know it makes me want to be home.

Jim is salivating over the thought of roast venison with mashed potatoes and gravy. It’s hard to believe Christmas is right around the corner to look forward to! There is no sign of Christmas merriment here.

We have been incredibly lucky in all ways on this trip and it has been a great adventure but if I know one irrefutable truth about travel – the best thing about going away is getting back home. See you soon.

Avoiding the Turkish Prison


The most bizarre thing happened this afternoon. It was late in the day and we were alone at the ruins of St. Johns Basilica, the place where John the Baptist wrote his gospel and is buried.

We were surreptitiously approached by someone who digs at the excavation sites. He had three coins from approximately 1500 years ago. Truly, if you had seen them, you would know that they were authentic. They were silver, one had the engraved face of Constantine on it, and the other two had very, very old markings. I held them in my hand and felt a tingle down my spine. I was spellbound and entranced. It was like I was swept into another world. Jim immediately said no thanks but I wasn’t quick to dismiss it. I desperately wanted one. For a history lover like myself, to actually hold the coins from another age and be faced with the real option of owning one – well, the temptation was almost irresistible. I decided against it because 1: I knew that Jim was very against it and 2: I thought that it would be bad mojo and bad karma. Jim was against it because it was illegal and he said that if we were caught leaving Turkey with illegal coins we would likely be thrown into a Turkish prison. I took out my camera to take a picture and the man snapped his hand away and said “very clever lady”. As we were leaving, he told Jim to be very careful in a sort of veiled threat and disappeared.

st johns basilica

Back in our room, Jim looked up in our lonely planet book and read that if someone approaches you in a place like Ephesus and offers to sell you coins DON’T DO IT – it is punishable by a long prison term. The seller gets the money from you and then often tips off the police and also gets reward money from them. Jim is adamant that he has saved me from being thrown in a Turkish prison as I write. He looked up Turkish prisons and that is one adventure I can do without. Note to self: never buy illegal antiquities no matter how tempting.

the Best of the Bust


When I was a small girl my family moved to the North West Territories where my Dad was hired as a school teacher. There were no roads into the small community of Aklavik where we would be living. We arrived by water plane or helicopter (I don’t remember which); my mother had proudly dressed my sister, Lori, and me in little matching short suits. I’m sure we looked adorable but it was snowing when we stepped off the plane. All this to say that I was reminded of that experience when Jim and I stepped off the plane in Istanbul. My little runners and short sleeves didn’t cut it. It had been snowing for two days.

In my mind’s eye, the week in Turkey following our trek was filled with olives, feta, and warm Mediterranean sand. The visions dancing in my head were of a well-earned breather in the sun. Silly me!

Last night, after our first day, I was struck with some stomach thing that had me violently throwing up for hours. The idea of eating anything, let alone my much-loved olives and feta, was unthinkable. Regardless, we wandered around seeing the sights but it’s hard to feel fond of any city while puking in the cold, wet and gray. At the moment we are waiting in a bus terminal for an overnight bus to Selcuk to see the ruins of Ephesus. It’s a leap of faith. Apparently, the bus stops every three hours but there are no bathrooms on board for the 12 hour journey. I hope I feel better tomorrow.

The next day

Yay!!! The sun is shining, my stomach is feeling much better and with substantial pharmaceutical help I made it through the night. Selcuk is a fine provincial Turkish town, we found a little pensione first thing, got settled in, went straight to the Saturday market where we bought fresh oranges, peanuts, figs, feta, olives, halva, fish, bread, and a variety of other vegetables. We will dine like ancient ottoman kings tonight. But I will be moderate – it was only yesterday I never wanted to eat again. This afternoon we are hiking up to the ruins of a castle we see on the hill. Tomorrow – Ephesus!

Annointing the Dead

on the left of the photo there were four pyres burning and on the right were people bathing in the river. on the left of the photo there were four pyres burning and on the right were people bathing in the river.

During our sightseeing day in Bachtapur the temples were interesting but the cremations surpassed them in terms of amazement.

We were walking along a dirty river and across the way, we saw four burning pyres.

“They cremating people” our guide said.

“Real people”, I asked, “Right there, right now?” He seemed almost offended.

“This is very Holy River. Dead brought here to be anoint and cremated”, he replied.

Sure enough, we could see the outline of head, neck and body in the flames. Locals were milling around; some family, some just watching from across the river with a picnic, some going about their daily business and some bathing in the incredibly filthy holy river not paying any mind to the burnings on their left. And then four men appeared carrying a gauze-wrapped body on a plank of wood down to the water’s edge. They uncovered the feet and sprinkled them, then the genitals and then the head and mouth. Apparently, one’s last drink is from the holy river. Afterwards they started positioning wood on the concrete stand. We left before they laid the body on it and lit the pyre. Cremations are done 24/7.

I don’t know Hindu belief and our guide didn’t speak enough English to explain it, but clearly, there is no mystery or taboo surrounding the burning of their dead. It’s simply what happens at the end of life. And it’s public. It wasn’t viewed as offensive to watch or take pictures but the casual normality of it was alien to me. It was certainly an eye-opener for this westerner.

Another interesting place we visited in Bachtapur was the home of the living goddess, Kumari. The Kumari is a pre-pubescent girl that is chosen from select families when she is about 4 years old and is believed to be the reincarnation of the goddess Durga. She lives in isolation except a few times a year when she is carried out to festivals where she blesses multitudes of people by placing a red dot on their forehead. It is not allowable for her to bleed for any reason so she is carried everywhere. When she begins to menstruate it is believed that the goddess vacates her body. Once a day she appears at an open window and looks down into the public courtyard. We did not see her but it was fascinating for me to look up at the windows and know she was inside.

We finished the day at The Monkey Temple. No kidding, there were hundreds of monkeys. We had a bit of time to wander before meeting up with our group. Jim and I found some stairs and they led to a beautiful forested area away from people. Unfortuantley the trail wasn’t a loop as I thought. It ended and we had to bushwack at a run to get back to the group on time. Jim, the agile one, had to haul me up over a high stone fence. By the end of it, I had a shirt full of prickly things that I spent the next 2 hours trying to pick out.

Getting out of Dodge


ImageImageImageWe are on the last leg of our trek. Tonight we are sleeping in a small village called Phakding. Tomorrow we reach Lukla and fly out from there. Gratefully, we have had no injuries or serious issues of any kind. It has been a phenomenal trip and the realization of a dream fulfilled.

I will miss the stunning scenery, the melodious sound of yak bells on the trail. I will miss passing through peaceful pastoral villages on the lower slopes, seeing small children playing outside simple stone dwellings. I will miss the rhythm of trekking every day. BUT – I am looking forward to being able to pee in the night without getting dressed in sub-zero temperatures, navigating down a dark hall, squatting on frozen urine because the person or persons before you missed the hole. I am looking forward to waking up without my mouth feeling like every drop of moisture has been sucked from my body; of being able to breathe easy without headache, plugged nose and sore throat.

A couple of days later – Bhaktapur, Nepal

By the time we reached Lukla the temperature had dropped again. Definitely time to get out of Dodge.

The runway in Lukla is only 460 metres long and is rated the most dangerous airport in the world. It has a dramatic slope downwards to aid in speed during takeoff and help slow the aircraft during landings. In Lukla there are no second chances.  ( I was hoping that our tiny, toy plane wasn’t vibrating all its bolts loose. We didn’t so much “lift off” as we were simply airborne when the runway finished. We continued dipping down before the nose lifted and made a sharp left to avoid the mountain directly in front of us. Got the blood pumping. The flight attendant passed out cotton balls for our ears. Unfortunately, mine are still plugged due to the massive head cold that I have.

We are staying in the very old town of Bhaktapur tonight in a real hotel with a real porcelain throne of our very own. You can’t imagine how excited I am. AND – I got a facial today. The Nepalese lady who ran the little beauty school (of sorts) said I really, really, really needed it (if you saw me you would say so too) so I spent the $15.00 and treated myself. Tomorrow we tour the ancient city temples before returning to Kathmandu. Then, on to Turkey for Jim and me. Life is good and all is well except that I miss my kids.

Note: the first photo is en route, the second photo is at base camp, the third photo is the Lukla airport.

Dispatches from Everest


[Note from Sabrina: I just spoke with her this morning. She’s doing well, and is on her way down from Basecamp. Judging by the fact that she wrote this entire story on her cellphone, I think it’s safe to say her fingers are still intact)

My apologies for the disjointed mess of my last post. The internet, when available, here in the himalayas is sketchy at best. After writing it out a few times and losing it, I sacrificed any resemblance of style in my rush to send it off.

I am feeling weak and tired today. It is so much colder. We wake in the mornings, our water is frozen and the frost covering the ceiling and walls of our little plywood room give the impression of sleeping in an icebox. We are getting more remote every day.

I don’t know how anybody lives here. The mountains are spectacular but the weather and lack of oxygen make the land hostile and unforgiving. The Sherpa are a tough and resilient people. Porters carry loads three times their weight in huge baskets piled high, with a strap across thier forehead, sometimes wearing only flip flops on their feet. Still, we have been incredibly lucky as last week it was storming and snowing. And Govinda, our guide, has said sometimes it is not even this warm in September. There is nothing like doing without the basics of oxygen, warmth, showers, and clean clothes to fully appreciate them. You cannot imagine what my nails look like.

We have an awesome group. There is Alan and Chloe from England. They are in the middle of a year long trip around the world and add a lot of humour to our little team. Jack and Alix are from Australia. They are on their way back home after spending a year living in London. Jack is a chef and Alix is a science major who has been working as a nanny and is a real sweetheart. Shelly and Jamie are a super nice mother/daughter team from Seattle. Shelly is a nurse, her daughter Jamie is a crazy fit accountant. The last couple are Ashley and Liam. Ashley is a perky, young doctor, a first generation Canadian of Philipino decent and Liam is a civil engineer from Ireland. Everybody except for Jim, me and Shelly (who is 49) are in their twenties but we have all meshed together nicely.

Before I became so nauseous and lost my appetite I was craving meat. In one of the tea houses (correction – they do have limited electricity through solar and generator) cheezeburgers were offered. I was so excited. What came was a slab of yak cheese between two pieces of bread. Talk about disappointed ! The food is generally inconsistent except for the Dal Blat. Meat is scarce.

Another day

We make the final push to base camp today. It is like someone has flipped a switch on the group. There wasnt much talking at breakfast. Most of us are feeling pretty rough except Jack, Alan, and Jamie. Sadly, Alix has had to turn around and we will meet her a couple of camps down. She is being escorted by one of the porters. We have passed many memorials of people who have died on these mountains. A sobering sight.

Another day

We made base camp! It was an awesome feeling of accomplishment reaching our goal but base camp itself was a little underwhelming. It was a far smaller area than I imagined, rocky and uneven. BUT we saw the khumbu ice fall between base camp and camp one. I have read much about it but didn’t think we would see it from where we were. It was exciting for me. A large percentage of those who die on Everest perish there because it is notoriously unstable. We heard the roar of three avalanches and saw two very small landslides. It was surreal. On the the hours back to camp the world faded out for me. There was no past, no future, no place and no people. It was just the click of my poles and the sound of my feet hitting the earth, one after the other. Everything else disappeared.

The day after base camp the plan was to go up Kala Patthar. Unfortunately, we were in pretty bad shape. I was coughing badly and blowing blood out of my nose, Jim was dizzy and faint, and we both were heaving with bad headaches. We haven’t been able to stomach much for days. From the peak of Kala Patther you are face to face with the peak of Everest. Only Alan, Jamie and Jack were attempting it. Even 15 minutes before they set out, I couldn’t decide what to do. Jim wasnt going but I so badly wanted to look Everest in the eye. Base camp was the goal but for me, so was Kala Patthar. In the end, sense trumped sand. I have made my peace with it. There is no doubt in both of our minds that not going up was the right decition for us. Jack ended up coming down. Alan and Jamie made it. We have met Alix again. She toughed out another day but had to be airlifted to the hospital in Kathmandu where she is now. Jack went with her. Hopefully we will see them when we get back there. We are on our way down now. We should be there in four or five more days. Already we can breath better and the symptoms of altitude are fading. The air is warmer, our appetite is back. Ashley has managed a shower of sorts and has said “It is so nice, I don’t smell like vomit anymore”. I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror and there is no question that I have aged ten years. I hope it’s reversable. We are having a break today. We need it. I think that whether you are on a mountain or managing daily life, you can’t avoid the uphills. You soldier on and take a break when you can. For now, I am off to eat some Dal Blat. Tomorrow morning it will be Tibetan bread with honey before setting off back on the trail.