As I write this, I feel a bit like a kid on Christmas Eve.
Although we've been thinking about and planning this trek for a long time, now that we're due to leave tomorrow, it all seems a bit surreal! After spending much of the last month in India feeling like I was just waiting to go to Nepal, I can't quite believe we're finally here. And after two days of organising (and spending all our money), we're flying out tomorrow to start our ~16 day hike to Everest Base Camp!
But first, apologies. We've been so busy getting ourselves organised over here that we haven't had time to take any photos! Sadly, this will be a photo-less post. We promise we'll make up for it as much as we can while we're hiking. To help make things a tiny bit less boring, please enjoy this stock photo of Thamel, the backpacker district of Kathmandu:
Mission number 1: getting out of the airport
At the airport in Delhi, we tried to get cash out to exchange to USD so that we could pay for our visa on arrival to Nepal. We tried both ATMs that were available before going through security, and neither were willing to give us cash, so we exchanged the small amount of Indian rupees we had left and headed through, figuring we could sort it out on the other side.
Surprise surprise, there were no ATMs through security, and the single currency exchange desk was not able to give us cash out on our card. Shit. So we were stuck in the airport, about to board a flight to Nepal, with no way to pay for our visas when we got there. Shit shit shit.
Some quick internet detective work informed us that there was an ATM before immigration in Kathmandu, and that it was possible to pay the visa fee on cards - but that neither could be relied on to be working on any given day. We just had to cross our fingers...
Sadly, our seats for the flight from Delhi to Kathmandu were over the wing, so we didn't get much in the way of views, but regardless the flight was quick and painless. And it turns out we were lucky - we were able to pay for our visas by debit card, which was awesome. First, we queued for the terminals to enter our visa information. Then we queued to pay our visa fee. Then we queued to clear immigration and get our visas issued. Let me tell you, Kathmandu Airport gives LAX a run for it's money. 1 hour and 45 minutes after landing, we finally picked up our bags (which were sitting in the middle of the floor, since we were LITERALLY the last people through immigration), prepaid for a taxi, and hit the road.
The temperature was perfect. It was about 19 degrees, and was such a nice change from the 40 degrees we left behind in Delhi. Our taxi got us as close as he could to our guest house, and we walked a couple of blocks to check in.
Welcome to Kathmandu!
Our guest house (Hotel Bright Star) is amazing. The hosts are wonderful, and so so helpful. We were immediately shown to our room, and when we went back downstairs to go out in search of food, the owner walked with us to show us the way, pointing out good restaurants, ATMs, and the main landmarks of the area.
Cute little cobbled streets with little traffic, prayer flags fluttering in the breeze overhead, and outdoor stores as far as the eye can see - Kathmandu is my idea of heaven. I couldn't wait to go shopping!
We wandered the streets for a while, getting our bearings and taking it all in. We stopped to buy a couple of maps for route planning, then called in to a delicious Japanese restaurant for dinner before heading home to get a good night's sleep.
Spending all our money
Sadly, the good night's sleep was not to be. We have some incredibly rambunctious pigeons roosting outside our window, and they seem to be most active between 1 and 5am. Regardless, we still woke up excited to head out and tackle some logistics on our first real day in Kathmandu.
Our first stop was reception, where we organised our flights to Lukla. We left ourselves 2 days to sort everything out, and booked flights for Thursday. The flights were sphincter tighteningly expensive, at $179USDpp each way, but if we decide to bus back instead of fly, we can get a refund on our return tickets.
Starting the day by spending just over $700USD (what we'd usually spend on 7-10 days on the road) put a bit of a dampener on things, but regardless, we soldiered on. After fortifying ourselves with breakfast, we set out in search of Shona's Alpine Rental. Owned by a Nepalese woman and her British husband, this shop has an incredible reputation in Kathmandu. Basically every blog we've read about trekking to Everest Base Camp has steered us in the direction of Shona's. She has an honest and no nonsense approach that is much appreciated by travellers - she won't sell you a thing you don't need.
Stepping into Shona's was a bit of a nerve wracking experience. Despite being relatively experienced in outdoor pursuits (and I'm sure far more experienced than many others who come here to undertake similar hikes), I still feel a massive sense of imposter syndrome in shops like this. I hate asking for help, because I'm always afraid the staff will laugh at me for being a rookie and not knowing enough.
At Shona's, I needn't have worried. As soon as we started talking to one of the sales assistants, she was rattling off all the things we'd need, checking what we had and didn't have. Soon, an Australian guy in the shop was joining in, asking where we were heading and telling us that if we're going to buy anything, we should buy it at Shona's. She's honest about which of her stuff is real and which is a knock off, her prices are fair, and she won't upsell you (in fact, she was actively downselling people while we were there, telling them to buy cheaper versions of lots of items).
15 minutes later we were out the door. We'd bought:
- 1 x microfleece
- 2 x pairs overgloves
- 2 x pairs waterproof pants
- 1 x pair hiking pants
- 2 x nalgenes (one confirmed fake, one real)
- 3 x pairs of hiking socks
- 2 x thermal tops
The grand total? Exactly $100USD. In New Zealand, we wouldn't have got the hiking pants for $100. We were instructed to return the following day to pick up our rental sleeping bags, and off we went.
Our next stop was North Face. Sadly, Zev's shoes gave up the ghost the second we arrived in Nepal. In what you could either consider terrible or wonderful timing, depending on how you look at it, he wore through the back of his shoe, and now the hard plastic was rubbing on his heel. Given the importance of good footwear when you're about to embark on a 3 week hike, we thought it sensible to shell out for a good name brand pair of shoes, from the real North Face shop.
After stopping to pick up a couple more things for me (a sports bra and a pair of polarised sunglasses - $20 each), we refueled with some momos.
We spent the afternoon catching up with home, since we're not sure how easy that will be once we start hiking, and went back out for a nice dinner later in the evening. On the way home, we stopped at the supermarket to stock up on hiking snacks. We had to exercise some serious restraint, given the number of exotic goodies available...
Finishing up the organisation
Our day today started with a little more stress - once we leave Lukla, it's a cash only economy, so we need lots of cash to last us while we're gone. And none of our cards would work in any of the ATMs. After a significant amount of searching, we finally found ATMs that would accept our cards, which was a huge relief. We left the ATM feeling like drug dealers, our wallets bulging with literally thousands of dollars.
After breakfast, we finished off most of the last of our shopping - lip balm, batteries, a book, a notebook, playing cards... Tick, tick, tick... We stopped to buy a big knock off North Face duffel bag to leave our non-hiking gear in while we're gone, came home, and started sorting our gear out.
We went out again for lunch, then headed back to Shona's to pick up our sleeping bags and the very last of our gear. On our way back, we invested in 'sherpa' hats (woolen hats with ear flaps) and some woolen slippers for the tea houses.
And now, we're back in our room with all of our stuff, nearly ready to go.
And we still feel like kids on Christmas Eve! Our plan was initially to fly to Lukla tomorrow and spend the night, but honestly, we're so excited that we've decided to just get hiking. We're flying into Lukla just after 8am, and from there, we're going to try to hike the 5.5 or so hours to Monjo to spend our first real night on the trail.
We've done some pretty amazing stuff on this trip, but this is by far the most excited I've been. Somehow, I don't think it'll be the pigeons keeping me awake tonight...
Lots of love,
S & Z