Sunday, Sept 22, 2013
We had our last breakfast at The Last Resort and set off a little after 8:00 for the border with hopes of entering China. First, we waited a couple hours on the Nepali side because we hadn’t gotten clearance from the China side yet. The Nepalis cheerfully stamped us out of Nepal and even let the fact that I had stayed a day too long on my 15-day visa slide and I avoided paying any fines. There were a few of us that had the same situation.
We lined up on the Friendship bridge and had our group visa and passports checked. We had gotten this far last week so we didn’t get too excited yet. Then the truck got across the mid-way point of the bridge. This hadn’t happened last week so this was good progress. Next, when the group was ready, we went through inspection – they checked our passports and scanned our bags for agricultural products. Next was a physical bag inspection but all they were really looking for was books that talk about Tibet – especially the Lonely Planet Tibet and China guides which talks as though Tibet is a separate country. The guards also tried to confiscate LP for Central Asia and Georgia and Armenia but after much arguing, we could keep these copies. Next, we passed immigration. Some of us, including me, got pulled aside to a second desk but we all cleared this and think it was because we had all been to China before. We cleared all of this by about 3:00 China time but now had to wait for the truck to clear. This was the worst part – as we had to wait at the dirty border. I don’t know which stench was worse – the smell of the rotting garbage or the smell of the trough that was known as the toilets. A customs official was supposed to come at 4:00 to check the truck but he was delayed due to a traffic jam on the hill. Around 5:30, people started getting hungry and alot of them were buying instant noodles. However, I walked down the road a little further and found a little restaurant where I got tea and homemade noodles with tomato and egg for $2. Some of the border guards helped me order. Very yummy and made all the people with the instant noodles jealous.
Finally, after 6:00 the custom official arrived and OK’ed the truck after only a few minutes of checking the truck.
We drove up many switchbacks to the Chinese border town of Zhangmu. We must have driven past 1000 transport trucks on the way up to town. We figure some of these trucks must wait for weeks to unload their goods in Nepal. It was dark and raining by the time we reached the town at 2,300 meters. I started taking my altitude sickness pills today since we will be at Everest Base Camp within 4 days.
Mon, Sept 23
The day started out very badly… at a meeting at 7:30 we found out that we will not be going to Everest Base Camp. Even though we were forced to enter China 6 days after we were supposed to, they did not extend our exit date. That means we were going to have to cut some days out of the China portion. Although it is possible to get up to EBC in a day or two, this is not safe and people die from altitude sickness from this so the decision was made to skip EBC. Also, just visiting EBC does not guarantee you will see the mountain, as the cloud level is often between the base camp and the summit. This was disappointing for all of us, and one of the top 5 reasons I had booked this trip in the first place. We were told to have some breakfast a pack for a 9:00 departure on our way to bush camp at higher altitudes. Several people wanted to stop at an ATM and we did on the way out of town. Unfortunately, the truck didn’t start after the stop. After more than 4 hours, they discovered it was the same problem we had had in Nepal. Plastic in the gas pump. We all just roamed around the town and everyone ate lots of junk food. I bought a necklace charm at a small jewelry shop. The pollution from the trucks in this town aggravated my congestion and I really wasn’t feeling well at all. I think the quick change in climate has caused a cold.
Finally, at 1:30 we departed the border town. The truck climbed and climbed up the amazingly engineered highway built by the Chinese.
There were lots of waterfalls and occasional spots were prayer flags were strewn across the highway. We stopped at a deserted highway checkpoint for lunch of cheese and veggie sandwiches – our first meal on the truck. The views from here were amazing – craggy peaks with some snow cover. Even though we were at 3800 meters, these mountains were much higher than we were. We continued to drive until about 4:30 and found a bush camp at 3900 meters, down the hill from the Friendship highway in a rock quarry – hopefully protected from the wind. It was noticeably chillier up here than it was in Nepal. I have changed from T-shirts, shorts, and flip flops to long pants, closed shoes and socks, and hooded jacket.
That night, we found out we had only traveled 40 kms from the border (about 15% of the way to our next spot). It has taken us the first 16 days of the trip to move only 100 miles from Kathmandu. It was really cold that evening and everyone pretty much just ate our dinner of Chili Con Carne, rice, and cooked cauliflower followed by some hot tea and then retreated to their tents.