Friday, April 9, 2010

Into China

The next morning was a mad scramble because we were leaving early from the Yak & Yeti to head into Tibet and I didn't have any of my stuff organized. Surprise! So I basically stuffed everything I had into my two duffel bags and ran out the door. This was an intense moment because we were finally headed towards the base camp on the North side of Everest (although it will take us 6 days to get there by driving. We hit the usual traffic on the way out of Kathmandu but we had planned for that. Two and half hours later we hit the border town between Nepal and Tibet. For the most part this was a major traffic jam but it dispersed after about 45 minutes. We couldn't take our cars across the border so we paid some helpers to lug our gear to customs. Now it was our turn to cross the "Friendship Bridge" and enter into Tibet. What a misnomer. It all sounds pretty nice except the Chinese are a-holes. I tried taking pictures of the event and was mobbed by security. They made me go through my pictures and delete any picture of the bridge and crossing. As we went through customs they searched everything and were at liberty to take what they wanted. They tried to take Julio's spotting scope by calling it a gun and they tried to take my magazines. The customs Agent also wanted to see every picture on my camera to make sure the Dalai Lama wasn't on there. After the first 100 they finally told me to move on. It's all about control and power and they really like to try and show it. No I didn't do anything stupid. There is more that I would like to talk about but I can't since I am still here. When all of us were finally cleared through customs you get to walk out to this deck and get to see what the Chinese are famous for, garbage. Any box, wrapping or piece of paper had been thoughtfully thrown over the side and down the bank to the river. Such a beautiful sight. It's an enormous difference from the Nepalese who view nature as part of themselves and don't pollute like this. So now we were met by our Chinese drivers from the CMTA (Chinese Mountaineering & Trekking Assoc.) in a set of Land Rovers! It was nice except these cars each were rounding 200k in miles with transmissions that made me wonder if we were going to get up the hill. Our driver was kind of cool when we got into the car he put on some Chinese rap (if you can imagine). Either way, it was a decent beat to listen to. We were now meandering our way up the hill to a town called ZhangMu. This town is a good size and is built completely into the hillside. The drive up made me a bit nervous because we were cliff side the whole way up. The driver liked to hit the gas around the corners. I kept one hand on the seat in front of me to brace myself and the other on the door handle just in case I had to make a jump for it. Fortunately we made it there without any incidents. What you need to know is that the roads here are only 1 1/2 car lengths wide and there are a lot of trucks and parked cars along the way. It was pretty slow moving. We checked into the hotel which wasn't as bad as I had expected. We actually had a bathroom in our room! The toilet seat was disconnected and laying against the wall which was kind of funny. Julio and I were just glad we had a bathroom with a seat! Most places are just a hole in the ground. Now it was dinner time! A change of diet! The food was great. I'd have to say the rule of thumb out here is don't ask, don't tell and don't look and hope you don't get sick. It is tough when you look outside and see all the garbage and know that the water is polluted along with what they grow their vegetables in and that is what you are eating and drinking. But hey, the food tasted great and we aren't sick yet!!! I forgot to mention that we had lunch at the border town. This was a new experience because when I walked into this hole in the wall place and saw the food on the counter I promised myself I wouldn't eat it. Who knows how long it has been sitting there and what the hell it was. Plus, they only had 1 item to choose from. I always love mystery food. Next thing I know I was eating these whole fried fish, heads and all. I'd have to say they tasted like crunchy fish sticks but I didn't go back for seconds. I caught Julio feeding his to the cat and dog. They must have seen tourists like us coming a mile away. So let me get back to dinner and the new foods we tried. One of the best dishes was this spicy tofu dish. I'm not a tofu guy but this stuff was really good. All the other dishes had a spicy sauce with vegetables. Two dishes had what might be misconstrued as small morsels of pork but it was debatable. I didn't care, as it was filling and tasty. After a decent nights sleep, we had to leave early again as we heard the Chinese were going to shut down the road to do some work. What I forgot to tell you was that when we crossed the border into Tibet we instantly gained 2 hours and 15 minutes so getting up this time was a little more difficult. Now we were off to the next town called Nyalam. What is important to know at this point is that when Julio came through here 3 years ago this road was dirt and rocks. Now, almost all of it has been paved! This dramatically quickened our travel time. Quite often you hear the main complaint of coming to the North side is the hellish road to get there but so far it has been really good. As we drove into Nyalam, you notice that it is a small town with not much to it. There are 40 buildings that line two main streets and I would put the population here at approx. 400-600 people. The usual shops were present along with the various hotels. The Chinese separated us from our Sherpa's as the Chinese treat them differently. I won't elaborate because I am here on a restricted computer. We were put into a brand new hotel just down the way. The rooms were nice with the bathroom at the end of the hall. We are now at 12,000 feet and no the rooms don't have any heat. The highlight of the day was when Julio had mentioned he had been here before and knew of a place for us to get a hot shower!!! Not a trickle of water that would send us into hypothermia like the one we took in the Khumbu Valley. No, real hot water, what a treat! We all headed to lunch and surprise, it was the same as last nights dinner! No big deal as it was good food and the rice was going to help my stomach. The afternoon was spent here at the internet room. There are 10 computer terminals for use that look turn of the century but are effective. Somewhere they have to have a huge server because the kids come in here to watch movies and there aren't any delays. What you do find out is that I can't access my blog, facebook, twitter, youtube, hulu or any American tv shows. It took me 30 minutes to get to yahoo finance and that is only because I accessed it through the French website and then converted it to English. There are a ton of controls on this pc. So after some good internet hacking it was time for dinner. This dinner was different than the others as we are now starting to run into other teams that are on their way to Everest base camp or Cho Oyu. The topic of discussion turned towards the climb and summit day and its difficulties. Strangely enough the subject of all the dead bodies on Everest came up. Then Lapka Gelu told us this story about how Geljen used up all his oxygen to get a running start to jump over the legs of what has now become known as the "guy in the green suit" whose body is on the main pathway to the summit. For some reason we all started laughing and then Julio cracked a joke and then I cracked a joke and before we all knew it we were laughing hysterically at something that wasn't funny which only made it funnier. Maybe it's the altitude but it is one of those moments that you just have to be there to understand. Sorry if it offends anyone but death is very much a factor in climbing this mountain and this was our way of trying to alleviate the situation. What I have noticed is that our team is really starting to mold together. Lapka Gelu and Geljen are fantastic guides and leaders and we have found out that they can dish it out just like the rest of us. Lopsang smiles and laughs along with everyone as his English is a little more limited. Julio is definitely taking pole position as he usually is the first one out on trail and the strongest of us climbers. Hoshino has had a little trouble with the altitude over the last 2 days but we are hoping he will bounce back soon. Even though he doesn't speak any English he tells us jokes in a manner that just makes us all laugh. We are glad to have him along with us and are greatful for his experience. Something to know, Geljen speaks 5 languages fluently including Japanese. What I am trying to say is that I am not just climbing a mountain but on a journey. The relationships and experiences I am building are going to last a lifetime. Our team of 6 friends will always be in contact in the future because the bonds you build with someone while going through these types of events are life long and special. It doesn't always happen this way. A trip like this can also make enemies but that is definitely not our case. We have 6 very special people that each in their own way are contributing to the greater of the good. I am very lucky to be here and part of this team! Tomorrow we leave for Tingri. There is not supposed to be any access to the internet or phones in the town. If there is, I will update as usual but if there isn't it will be some time before I am able to make my next update. It is now time for dinner which I am sure will be the same as lunch! I wish you all the best, Bill


  1. Great observations...keep 'em coming!

  2. Just want you to know that the Siddon's clan is reading with relish each of your postings and we are glad to be members of such a strong group of cheerleaders. It is obvious you got your writing skills from your Mother...the reader feels like "they are there" with all the sights, sounds and relationships! God's Speed!

  3. How interesting, Bill! Wow, you are a trooper....I am not sure I would fare so well under the "primitive" circumstances you are dealing with, but it sure is fascinating to hear about your adventures! We look forward to more updates!!