Phakding, Nepal

Shorter dispatch today because of our battery conservation measures…

We had a wonderful, mostly downhill hike today for about five hours from Namche to Phakding. When the hills had to be climbed, we also noticed that we had a lot more energy for them—must be the oxygen saturation in our bloodstreams increasing. Bruce informed us that for about two weeks after we get back, we’ll have “big lung.” That would be the time to run a marathon and amaze our friends.

We left Sagamartha Park today and had to have our permits validated at the entrance. It’s the only place we’ve seen soldiers with guns—friendly though they are. The presence of the government of Nepal in this area is very slight.

At Phakding, the teahouse common room contained nothing but Americans: three going up and two (Dave and me) on the way down. It was very cordial—we were able to help one couple who was having camera problems. We gave them my two extra camera batteries as well as one of our backup disposable cameras. They had forgotten to pack extra batteries, and her camera had been exposed to moisture and the electronics weren’t working right. David gave her some advice on how to acclimate her camera. She is a nurse practitioner, he is a lawyer-who-recently-quit-lawyering and is taking a year tour around the world. Upon his return, he wants to consider another line of work—maybe a dot com startup (shudder).

The other traveler was by now a familiar character—yet another sufferer of corporate burnout who has simplified his life and moved to a small town. I don’t want to say too much about him, but the generics of his case are very familiar; we’ve seen a lot of it on the trail. Many people convinced that the high work demands and motivation to acquire material goods in ever-greater numbers in the end is not only empty, but also debilitating. Looking for answers, perhaps from Buddhism or New Age philosophy, but all sure of one thing: a huge change in the American outlook on materialism is coming and the need to find personal happiness and balance is paramount. Indeed, without it, the promise of America is empty.

The funny thing is, on the trail, you can’t tell the CEOs from the clerks, as the patina of dust and grime is an equalizer. Okay, so you don’t come to the Khumbu without some bucks—you’re probably at least middle class, a hard core sports enthusiast, or sponsored (like us lucky editors), so the differences in classes are maybe not so large as what we see in the Nepalese support staff. But, though it’s tempting to dismiss these CEO illnesses as yet another way of playing with too much money, I’m convinced in the sincerity of the condition. Something is definitely up. Maybe it is time to scale back. So I think I’ll work a 30-hour week when I return.

Now about our wonderful yak driver, Nawanz. He was full of many pleasant surprises today. First, he’s still coughing a little, but the new pills did the trick—he’s obviously a lot better. Just outside of the park is a little town called Monja. He stopped us there to give us some lemon tea, and there was his wife! It turns out they own a little teahouse there, with a terraced garden where he is growing tsampa and cauliflower.

At the teahouse, he suddenly appeared with two scarves, called Katas, which are used to bless travelers. He placed a yellow one on David’s neck and a white one on mine and told us it was for our safe journey. He was so authentic and the gesture was incredibly touching. When David and I recovered a bit, we took photos of all of us together, wearing our scarves (film photos, so you’ll have to wait to see them).

Then we asked Nawanz to write down his address so we could send him copies of the pictures. Turns out that Nawanz is a Sherpa! Very industrious, reliable guy, he even surprised us by returning the 300 rupees he had asked for last night for expenses on his day off.

So when we got to Phakding, David and I had a little conference over some small gift we could make to this industrious yak driver/tea house owner/gardener. We noticed that he uses frayed rope for the yak loads, the loops attached by carabiners. So we called him up to our room and gave him each of our 30-foot lengths of perlon rope—good, strong rope we were going to use on Island Peak, and I gave him three of my carabiners. He seemed to beam with elation at the gift. David and I will keep the Katas as perhaps the most precious momento of our trip.

More tomorrow.
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Mike Jackman is an editor in chief of TechProGuild, an editor of PC Troubleshooter and Windows Support Professional, and also works as a freelance Web designer and consultant. Together with his co-editor in chief David Bard, he is traveling to Nepal to report on high-altitude technology and to climb 20,285-foot Imja Tse. In his spare time (when he can find some), Mike’s an avid devourer and writer of science fiction, parent to two perpetually adolescent cats, and a hiking enthusiast.