Monday, August 13, 2012

EBC TREK: Acclimatization in Dingboche (Day 6)

End of day 5:

           We approached like cowboys riding in on a nearly dead town. It was silent except for the wind whipping against the prayer flags. The town should've had an Old West name like Misery or Tombstone but instead it was called Dingboche. Dingboche is small and simple. There are couple general shops, a bakery (there's always a bakery), two obnoxiously overpriced “internet cafes”, and a few teahouses.
Welcome to Dingboche
Population: 201
Elevation: 4530 m/ 14800 ft
           We settled on the first one we came to, creatively named Dingboche Guesthouse and Restaurant. Again, we negotiated free accommodation for buying all our meals here. It was a plain guesthouse. The bed rooms were small and smelled of their thin plywood walls. No running water and no electricity. The common room was a good size. It consisted of a small stove-heater in the center. Each wall was lined with a pillow-covered bench. Each bench had a table in front of it. If this were an Old West town there'd of been a big bear or bull skull on the wall, but we were in Nepal so instead they hung the skull of a yak. 
 The common room at Dingboche Guesthouse 
 If I was a cowboy, the Sherpas would be the Indians acting as friendly guides and liaisons to their native land. Sherpa people lead simple but not easy lives. It's always cold but the Sherpas never look bothered by it. Perhaps it's because they've inhabited the eastern Khumbu region for hundreds of years. Although most Sherpas don't get much of a formal education, they all speak English (a valuable and necessary skill for the tourism industry). After generations of living at and adapting to high elevation, the Sherpas have the ability to perform strenuous labor with less oxygen, making them the best mountain climbers and guides in the world. Generally, they're short in stature, but noticeably strong. They have a unique ethnic look, not obviously east-Asian or Indian. The visibly genetic traits are uniquely their own. Friendly sun-squinted eyes decorate a weathered face with rosy cheeks. Every Sherpa has rosy cheeks.
Big Momma Sherpa... ran the guesthouse
Day 6 (2nd mandatory acclimatization and rest day):

          The extreme elevation does something to a person's bladder. On average I would have to wake up four times every night to pee like a race horse. This was not fun. An hour or so after finally falling asleep I'd get an uncomfortable urge. I'd pull off the large wool blanket that was the only thing keeping in the warm bubble my body heat created. At night, it felt just as cold inside as it felt outside, minus the wind. It would take a minute for me to rub my eyes and find my head lamp and turn it on. Then, I would trade the wool booties for my hiking boots as to not soak them in the other people's urine that covered the bathroom floor. There always seemed to be a small puddle or stream surrounding the toilet where prior pissers' flash lights or aim or both had failed them. It was like a moat. A pee moat. It became like a game to me and I got pretty good at it. Standing on one side of the moat and peeing into the toilet on the other. I thought of it more like the 3-point line in basketball. Having to go really bad at that elevation, there's already a decent amount of pressure allowing you to shoot from a good distance. Combine that with a slight backward lean and you get a beautiful golden arch. If need be you can pinch a bit towards the end to create the garden hose effect. This, along with a few well-placed grunts are essential for sinking the last few drops. After this, I would return to my room and form a new cocoon in my blanket, only to sleep another hour and a half before having to wake up and repeat the process.

          The next day greeted me with my usual morning headache and cough. I dressed and went into the common room for some apple porridge. After eating I walked around the town to see what it had to offer. I saw smoke coming from a small establishment with beer signs in the window and a Sherpa man welcomed me inside. He handed me a cold beer and led me to a backroom where a man-on-man game of Russian Roulette was taking place. Old Sherpas were cheering and smoking cigarettes and taking shots of Himalayan moonshine as they placed their lowly bets on which contender would pull the trigger for his last time. And then I... okay, okay... none of this last paragraph really happened. The truth is, when I went out to find what the town had to offer, I quickly discovered that the answer was absolutely nothing.  It was a ghost-town.  I saw a few yaks, some rocks, and a tumbleweed.  Sorry, no gambling Sherpas with pistols.
view of Dingboche from a hill top... not much to it.
          Only 10 am and already bored, I returned to the guesthouse and paid for a hot shower-- my second shower since the trek began. The further along the EBC trek you go, the higher the price is for a shower, especially a hot one. I paid 400 NRS (about $5 USD)-- later on I saw prices get as high as $20 USD! Many people go the entire trek without taking a single shower. The shower that I used was in a small outside shack. It consisted of an electric water-heater with a hose that was rigged to a pail with several holes drilled in the bottom serving as the shower head. I washed my body and washed my clothes. Steam filled the shack and cleared my sinuses and for a minute I felt normal again. I would have happily paid twice as much. 
keeping warm
          The rest of the day was spent in the common room. I rotated between reading, eating, sleeping. The temporary sinus relief from the hot shower was short lived and my head began producing surprising amounts of green and yellow mucus. It was pretty impressive actually. I blew my nose every three minutes and the pile of Kleenex on the table in front of me grew larger as the hours went by. Other than my book, the only entertainment was watching the two year-old Sherpa baby named Lokba. He waddled around the common room and make faces at us while his mother broke up “yak chips” for the furnace with her bare hands. I hope she washed them before making my dinner but I doubt it.
Lokba Sherpa
          At night the common room filled with other travelers. I watch through the window as a thick fog rolled in and visibility outside was reduced to less than 10 feet. Sitting at the table next to us, was a middle-aged Japanese trekker and his guide. Mr. Roboto kept to himself and didn't speak to anyone, unlike his guide who, like most Sherpas, was friendly and talkative. The guide and my group made small talk and we asked some questions about the upcoming days of the trek and what to expect. He told us that our next destination, the town of Lobuche, only had a few guesthouses and that they filled quickly so we should get an early start in the morning to beat the large guided groups of trekkers. Waking up early meant going to bed early so I took his advice and, already exhausted from a day of doing nothing, I went to bed.

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