Now we were all suitably acclimatised to being at altitudes our blood oxygen levels generally wouldn’t approve of we clambered back up the steps to the prayer wheel and carried on going before descending into the valley. Yep. Descending. Oh man, there are few things more soul destroying walking downwards when you know your ultimate destination is a couple of thousand metres above you, apart from maybe job hunting or doing laundry or realising there’s no cheesecake left in the fridge. It’s a lovely walk along cliff hugging paths, past stupas and pine trees. At one point we walked past a couple who flagged down trekkers to make a donation towards maintaining the path so we all chucked a few rupees in, and as we were saying namaste to them, Sonam told us that in the Sherpa language it was tashi delek. It’s actually Tibetan. I shall try to use this but let’s face it, it takes me days to learn one word in a foreign language, by the time I’ve made it stick in my head we’ll be back in Kathmandu and people will look at me funny if I try and use it. Also, a Sherpa isn’t someone who carries shit up hills, contrary to popular belief. Sherpas are an ethic group of people living in this region. Some Sherpas carry shit up hills, they’re porters. Some run tea houses, some farm yaks, some help climbers summit Everest. They have a whole range of professions, not just making sure foreigners always have an appropriate supply of toilet paper and Snickers bars.
Tell you what though, I swear I was pissing more than I was drinking. Every litre I drank reappeared so quickly it probably still tasted like the powdered cordial I was using to mask the taste of the chlorine tablets. There are toilets all along the way at this stage, either the ones built by the local authorities where you have a choice to pay for a western toilet or use a porcelain squatter for free, then there are a the toilets at the villages which kinda make you want to submerge yourself in a sheep dip after you’ve used them. They’re generally wooden slats positioned above short drops where you balance over the hole and pray to whatever god is listening that you don’t slip. Some have a pile of leaves in the corner for covering your shit, the posher ones have a box in the corner full of ripped up cardboard for wiping your arse. And some of them have discs of dried yak or dzopkyo shit piled up on each side. I guess it’s used for fuel and the shitter is a convenient and dry place to stash it.
Clearly there ain’t always a toilet to piss in which results in scrambling up dirt embankments in search of a place to empty your poor, abused bladder. Trouble is, you won’t be the only one who’s used it. Sarah managed to step in a pile of shit at one toilet stop and I managed to step in one at another. It fucking stank. Though to be fair, it wouldn’t have been much worse than the actual smell of my feet which were probably toxic enough by the end of the day to maim small animals. I’d pretty much resigned myself to the fact I was going to be as feral as a bush pig by the end of the trek, the only washing I was getting was smearing myself in whatever chemicals baby wipes contained and I figured as we got higher and higher and I got more and more loathe to take my clothes off and apply wet, cold substances to my skin even that would cease.
Anyway, eventually we started walking upwards again, heading to Tengboche at 3867 metres. At this stage it wasn’t too cold as long as you kept moving, it was the breaks that made us cold again but most of us needed them which frustrated the fitter people in the group. I certainly needed them. I’m about as fit as a chain smoking sloth. I can’t walk too far up a hill before my legs decide that they don’t like this game any more and demand that I stop for a few minutes. Bistari bistari we headed up and up and up, through pine forests until we rocked up to Tengboche with plenty of time for a nice cuppa tea and a slice of cake dry enough to absorb the aftermath of a tsunami. I passed on the cake but I tried a bit of Sarah’s rum ball and wow, mate, so full of alcohol, if you ate enough of those bad boys you could probably light your shit and use it as a lantern! Oh, and in a completely unrelated note, maybe don’t try playing tag at altitude. It’s hard not to. When someone runs up to you, touches your arm and calls you “it” and you’re like, no way am I running around at 3867 metres, my lungs will hate me forever. But you’re it, and you don’t want to be it, and this might require a short sprint to the nearest person to pass on the it-ness. Fortunately everyone’s running skills are stunted at this altitude and it doesn’t take long for everyone to realise that tag is not an appropriate game at anything above 1000 metres.
So I had a bit of a headache by this stage at the base of my skull and the top of my neck. It felt like a tension headache but Nat reckoned it could be a little bit altitude related. She got me doing head rolls to loosen my neck muscles up and I massaged red Tiger Balm into the painful bit which seemed to do the job. Seriously, Tiger Balm is the shit. I didn’t know anything about it until I was hanging out with Joe and Jessica in Cherrapunji, they swear by it and now so do I. I’ll probably spend the remainder of my trip reeking of the stuff because I’ve either rubbed the red stuff into my aching muscles after a trek, or because I’ve been savaged by mosquitoes and subsequently doused myself in the white stuff. It’s amazing though and really does the job. Thanks, hippies! You’ve changed my life.
Tengboche, Khumbu, Nepal
Altitude: 3867 metres
Activity: Trekking with Adventure Club Trek & Expedition