On stable ground in Thailand.

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I made it to Bangkok.  My last night in Kathmandu was a sleepless one. I was awoken by more earthquake tremors.  After doing my walking tour of the devastation around Kathmandu and seeing the war zone, my mind was racing.  Following the shaking of my bed and room, I was left with many “what if” and “should I” thoughts.  What if this building collapses? Should I sleep in my clothes?  Maybe put something more appropiate on for a quick getaway or rescue. I don’t really want to be found naked in a pile of rubble or running through the streets in my birthday suit covered in dust. Should I at least get everything prepared for a quick getaway? Maybe pack my stuff and leave the door unlocked? In reality the shakes happen so fast without warning that there is not really enough time to react.  The traumatization of being barraged by constant earthquakes and aftershocks will be with me for a while.  Even the turbulence on the plane yesterday gave me earthquake flashbacks and sent my mind into survival mode. I am defiinitely happy to be on stable ground in Thailand now. 

My perception of the current situation in Kathmandu including the Thamel area is that it is up and running. There are UN tent cities and relief efforts going in full swing.  For many businesses, it is business as usual. Not every building is crushed but signs of earthquake damage seems to be around every corner.  The planes and buses are back to running as usual. The typical Kathmandu traffic and the cacophony of blairing horns are still everywhere. I would say maybe 20 percent or more of the shops and restaurants in Thamel are open.  Food and water is available.  Power is still shotty but that is normal for Nepal.  They sell their power to India so it seems to be out half the time anyways. Hotels not damaged are still taking in tourists.  Nepal relies on tourism to survive. It is their major source of revenue.  My hotel owner at Karma Travellers wanted me to be sure to share with everyone that they are open for business and travelers are very welcome.

So I am currently safe in Bangkok and will be heading to Myanmar for month in a few days.  Questional internet connections may make it more difficult to update the blog but I will try as much as possible.

How to spot fake yelp and tripadvisor reviews

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Figured I would share a tip on how to spot real verses fake online reviews.

With more and more businesses understanding the importance of online advertising, they are willing to spend money and try to bump up their reviews anyway possible.  These reviews can be created by relatives, friends, companies, or even the business owner.  So they may not be 100% accurate.  It may just be someone trying to do a friend a favor.  Yelp seemed more popular back in Colorado and TripAdvisor for travel destinations.

Here’s what I look for spotting real and fake reviews.

1) Number of reviews – but beware these can be pumped up.

2) Number of traveler photos – I really don’t care about the professional photos.  I look at the user photos.  If a restaurant has 280 reviews but 3 traveler photos then probably they are fake reviews. You see people snapping phone pics of their food all the time. If it is their favorite restaurant and they return time and time again….wouldn’t they post pictures online and shouldn’t the number of pictures to number of reviews ratio make sense?

3) What type of photos are online?  Is it all photos of the building or are people uploading pictures of their meals?  Some places are more for atmosphere and some are more for food.  What would you prefer?

4) Look at the profile of the reviewer.  How many reviews has this person done?  2? Probably not real or I would have a hard time believing it.  I like the serial reviewers that tend to review every place they go to.  You can easily check and see their other reviews.

Hope this helps.  Just another traveling tip.

Trek to Mt. Everest Base Camp

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3L3A1913Perfect view of Everest.  Having a view of Everest this clear seemed very uncommon at this time of the year.  I took this photo from Kalla Phattar (18,373 feet).  This is a day hike from Gorak Shep which is the last village before Everest Base Camp.  The lip on the right side is the famous Hillary step.  It is a precarious exposed ridge that when the mountain was first being summited by Hillary and Tenzing they sat at the top scratching their head on which way to go.  Hillary then said I think we can go over that ledge which is now known as the famous Hillary’s Step.  It is actually where the climbers get bottlenecked and have to wait sometimes using valuable oxygen.

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Everest Base Camp 17,598 feet

3L3A1847Gorak Shep (16,942 feet) – The last village before Everest Base Camp.  I took this photo while climbing up Kala Phattar.

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3L3A1691Loboche (16,210 feet) – This is where I had slight symptoms of altitude sickness and injested the sherpa remedy of garlic soup and ginger lemon honey tea.  I have to say it worked really well but I decided to stay an extra night anyways to acclimatize.  I saw a lot of people being airlifted out from this destination.

wpid-20150416_135302.jpgA garlic lovers dish!

Altitude is also known to give people a serious hack.  Many of the locals especially the guy cooking the food would have these 5 minute enthusiastic hacks that you would think they were being scored on.  I had the pleasurable experience of hearing a 10 plus hack coming from the kitchen where my food was being prepared.  Eager to see who was doing this impressive hack, I noticed it was the guy preparing my food.  After his stomach churning hack, he blew his nose by pressing one finger to the nostril and shooting what is known as a snot rocket with crazy force out.  He then proceeded to wipe his nose with his fingers.  It gets even better.  I then watched him literally stir my stir-fry with those same filthy fingers and realized there is nothing I can do about it.  On the mountain you can’t send anything back and you are more hungry than you can imagine. Food is precious resource up when it has to be carried in.  I was absolutely starving I did my best to get it out of my mind. Needless to say I never looked into the kitchen again. Lesson learned!

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Here a rescue helicopter is shuttling a person off of the mountain.  I saw a lot of people in bad shape up there.  Often times these people were with tour groups and that had strict itineraries.  One of the advantages I had traveling solo with no guide is that I could stop anytime I wanted and acclimatize. It is important to listen to the body  My extra day for acclimatization in Lobuche made me miss a blizzard and get sunny views of Everest.  So I lucked out there!

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DSC00674The memorial for Scott Fischer who died on Everest.  His sad story was documented in John Krakuaer’s “Into Thin Air”.  Unfortunately there are lot of bodies up on Everest.  Even the hike to Everest Base Camp had signs of missing hikers that never showed up to their next destination.

DSC00683DSC00705DSC00757Prayer wheels.  When you passed them by you were suppose to spin them to keep the prayers going.

DSC00450The yaks and porters carried a majority of supplies up the mountain.  A porter can carry up to 100 kilos which is over 200 pounds on their neck/back.  The sherpas are strong people but you could still see the pain on their face. I heard there were talks of building a road to everest but the sherpa union kiboshed it, saying they would be out of work.

The yaks, mules, and any other pack animal always had these chimes on their necks.  You would hear a beautiful percussion of friendly wind chimes singing around a corner followed by a sherpa driving his herd with the most ferocious yell I have ever heard.  “HEY AY YA YA YA AHAH YA HAAA YEHAAAW!!!”  These sherpas are the most friendly laid back people but they drive their animals with militant force.  I had the pleasure of being on a hanging suspension bridge 1000s of feet high once when I heard the chimes and the sherpa.  He sent his army of yaks across the suspension bridge with his dominating commands right at me.  I was left in the middle of the bridge using my hiking poles to defend each pointy horn from goring me. Thankfully at this time, I was over my fear of heights and wasn’t worried about the bridge supporting all of our weight.

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Here the sherpas are juggling down hundreds of pounds of rebar on the steep mountain slope to Namche Bazaar.  Notice the sandals.

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I absolutely loved these suspension bridges.  At first they were a little nerve wracking until you see herds of yaks going across.  I got over my fear of heights and felt pretty safe on them.  On my way down, I would see some person walking across their first one and I would start jumping up and down which made the whole thing bounce.  They would immediately grab the cables with both hands to prepare for fall down.  hahaha I’m so immature.  They would then laugh and be like “don’t do that…”

3L3A1818These yaks would give you these crazy stares and felt very humanlike.

DSC00540Who needs power bars when there were bakeries along the way.  I always stopped and grabbed a chocolate donut while hiking.

DSC00499This was the typical store while on the trek.  A mountain 7-11.

 

Kathmandu to Lukla – World’s most dangerous airport

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Figured it was time to post something positive online.  Here’s a video of my recent flight from Kathmandu to Lukla which is where I started my Mt. Everest Base Camp trek.  The Lukla airport is known for being the most dangerous airport in the world as it is built on the side of the mountain.  It is a beautiful scenic roller coaster of a ride where people start clapping once the plane lands and comes to a complete stop.  Unfortunately I was too exciting clapping after the landing to film that part.

Pokhara update

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I awoke to another tremor this morning at 5 AM.  I think at this point everyone was sleeping or too tired to react. I didn’t see the hoards of people rushing outside like every other time.  My room has been showing cracks but I’m not sure if those are new or old.  Nevertheless, it sure doesn’t make me feel good.  My senses are definitely heightened right now and I am much more observant to any cracks at this point.

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My visa runs out for the 5th of May.  At one point, I considered extending it and hiking the Annapurna but it doesn’t feel right at this point.  I am not sure even what the conditions are up there currently.  I know here in Pokhara, they are running jeep services with supplies and checking on the mountain villages.  I don’t think anyone knows the true damage or to what extent it is up there.  Many of these little abodes are built on steep inclines or even stilts.  I can only imagine what the devastation is up there.

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Currently the vibe here is for tourist to contribute in any supplies possible (tents, sleeping bags, jackets, water, food, or $$$) not human resources. I donated money for the cause.  I don’t think they want a bunch of tourists marching the hills for survivors but I can’t help to feel a little helpless in the situation.  The devastation that some are feeling is sympathized by all of us visitors.  Our experiences can’t compare to losing loved ones or homes.

As I have been scouring the internet and news feeds, I am noticing that I recognize some of the people from Everest Base Camp.  It is a small community up there and as in any small community of 500 everyone is familiar.  I have reached out to some of the people that I met but I haven’t heard anything back.

I am going to stay in Pokhara for another week but I think may grab a flight to Myanmar with a layover in Thailand after that.

 

 

 

Pokhara, Nepal – Another tremor last night

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We had another aftermath tremor last night.  I was on the third flood of my hotel and felt the shake.  Like times before you could hear a rush of people screaming and running outside.  I immediately got dressed and hurried downstairs.  I am in what I think is a new construction building so I think I’m in better shape than some. There is definitely some unsettling nerves about it though. One can only wonder how much more shaking these buildings can handle.  Someone told me that part of a building fell from that shake but I didn’t go exploring. At that point, we were all exhausted and standing in the streets discussing the latest hearsay.  Any restaurants that were open at that moment quickly closed for the night. Many locals and tourists moved to one story establishments and made makeshift pallets to sleep on the floor.  Lots of people were camping along the beach as well.  For those of you who don’t know, Pokhara is a mountain city that is on a lake.

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I have a feeling that we have felt the worst of it but by no means are we experiencing what the folks in Kathmandu are.  The streets of Kathmandu are more like alleyways and there is no close place to escape to.  The old brick buildings in Kathmandu are tight and very close to each other. Where I was staying in Kathmandu, it was probably a 20 minute walk to get to a spot that I would deem safe from falling buildings.  Even the main road out of Thamel (area most tourist stay in Kathmandu) had a fallen light post that destroyed a car.

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Thamel – As you can see there is no place to really escape.

 

 

Nepal Earthquake – I am okay!

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I am okay.  Luckily yesterday morning at 7:30 am I left Kathmandu on a bus for Pokhara.  It is typically a 6 hour drive between the two and I think we were closer to the epicenter of the quake during the drive.  The earthquake happened shortly before lunch time while I was en route to Pokhara.  We were on the bus and it started shaking violently like something playing with the bus as a toy.  I don’t think anybody at that time knew exactly what was going on. We were all kind of looking around scratching our heads.  Then parts of the mountains started sliding down with loud thunderous roars. It was the kind of sound that you can feel.  There were landslides happening all around us and large plumes of dust shooting upwards.  Everyone then just started bolting off the bus to a nearby empty field.  We sat there waiting for a while after the tremors stopped and eventually got back on the bus. That is when a second earthquake hit and everyone scurried off the bus again.  We waited again and finally got back on the bus.  Some of the people were too freaked out to get back on and decided to stay at that location.

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The drive and aftermath to Pokhara looked apocalyptic with fallen earth and huge boulders on the road.  The curvy road hugs the mountain sides and there were dozen of cars with smashed windshields and crunched fronts along the roadside.  We zigzagged around the obstacles and rubbernecked at each piece of destruction.   It was pretty surreal seeing all that.

When we finally got to Pokhara, we learned of the devastation in Kathmandu.  It was definitely crazy to think I was just there and escaped just in time.  Seeing on Facebook that one of my buddies that I met on the Mount Everest hike was in Pokhara, I met up with him last night.  He actually just got out the shower when it happened.  He said he was panicked and couldn’t find his key to unlock his door.  A lot of doors in Nepal require a key to lock and unlock on the inside and outside.   When he finally opened it, he stood in the doorway and braced for a building collapse.  I can imagine how terrifying that was.  As the tremors stopped, he ran outside where everyone was screaming and gathering.  It was pure chaos.

A lot of shops were closed when we pulled into town and there was a somber melancholy feel here.  Many of the places that were open last night, ended up closing early. Everybody seemed pretty freaked out.

Earlier today, we had another earthquake.  I was actually eating lunch at a restaurant when all of the sudden people started screaming and running to the streets.  I joined my fellow sprinters and bolted out of the restaurant as well.  It was pretty scary because this time we knew exactly what was happening.  It was sheer pandemonium and everyone met in streets.  People were yelling at other people to get away from the buildings, trees, or other objects.  I was think everyone was pretty shaken at this point.  Many people have been camped out in the streets all day are staying out of the buildings.  A lot of shops that opened up this morning ended up closing their doors again.  Pieces of building and rubble were on the sidewalk and some of buildings look crooked and very sketchy from the earthquakes.  Pokhara itself has survived pretty well in the earthquakes but the villages around here are destroyed and have high death tolls.  Nobody knows to what extent the structural damage is on these Pokhara buildings or how much more they can handle.  I have to say I am a bit nervous about having a 3rd floor hotel room.

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The locals think there will be a bigger earthquake to follow today but who can know for sure.  My bottle of water on the table has ripples in it from the seemingly everlasting tremors.

Anyways, I wanted to let everyone know that I was okay.  Thank you for all the prayers, concerns, and thoughts!

 

 

Taste of Altitude sickness

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I made it to Lobuche 16,210 feet which is roughly 1500 feet below Everest Base Camp.  I was feeling really good here for the first couple of hours and then my first taste of altitude sickness hit me.  Seems like it is pretty common at this altitude.  For me at that moment, it was dizziness.  I then ordered a bowl of garlic soup followed by a cup of ginger honey tea.  That is the recommended sherpa altitude sickness cure and I must say I did start feeling better.  Talking with someone, they said everybody feels the altitude here.  One girl couldn’t even get up and was waiting on a helicopter which couldn’t arrive til the morning.  She looked in bad shape. I then noticed people walking around appearing half drunk. They said not to worry that it is no big deal but I am thinking people die from altitude sickness.  Seems contrary to what all the warning posters say around here.  After I chilled out in the common room and started to feel better, I decided to do a small hike to higher elevation and then come back down.  That is supposed to help you sleep better.  And I must say I slept great last night but I did get a splitting headache which is also a symptom of altitude sickness.  I took some advil last night but my thought was to play it by ear in the morning.

So in the morning, I still had a headache.  Not worse which is a good sign.  If symptoms were worse, I would have made my way down in elevation.  I decided to go get breakfast and coffee and make a game plan.  I actually started feeling better after my cup of joe but I was still on the fence to move forward or have an acclamitization day. 
During my breakfast, I chatted with other trekkers most of which didn’t get any sleep.  That is another symptom that comes from being so high up.  I was extremely lucky that I was able to sleep so well.  Many people I was talking to had really bad symptoms but they are with tour groups with set itineraries so they are made to play them down. They can’t say I need more time to acclimatize.  I watched a half dozen people air lifted out today so I would prefer to not be one of those people. Altitide sickness can be fatal and should be taken very serious. I have all the time in world and I am not traveling with tour group on a set itinerary.  So I thought to myself why be in such a hurry and enjoy this Himalayan experience for a little bit longer.  As I watched the conga line of half dazed tour group people who look like they had one too many march on to higher elevation, I decided to stay another day Lobuche and prepared for my photographic acclamitization day hike.  And I must say it was incredible.  I can’t wait to upload my photos from my dslr.

Tomorrow the plan is to push on!

By the way, I am feeling great today!  No symptoms what so ever.

Update on Everest Base Camp Hike

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At Dangboche 14,500 feet.  Two days of hiking in the snow from Namche which makes me feel like I am in my Colorado comfort zone.  I am feeling good and strong.  No problems with the elevation yet and I am confident I am going to make Everest base camp.  A sherpa told me it is chest deep snow at base camp now from the latest storm but I am sure it will be tracked out by the time I get there. Many of the other passes in the area are closed. Every step is breath taking and I am stuck with a goofy ear to ear smile.  This is a hiker’s fantasy land and I could definitely hangout here for a while. Todays hike was supposed to be a 6 to 6 1/2 half hour hike but I made it in 3 1/2.  I even stopped for lunch and photos. I think maybe the estimated time is based on most people struggling on the uphill. I actually enjoy the uphill grind. I am just so stoked to be here and hands down this is the best hike of my life.  Nepal is a wondrous place and the sherpas are inspiring people. They deserve a seperate post.  They are kind, generous, and the strongest hikers on earth.  The Himilayas are absolutely magnificent and bigger than anything that I have ever seen or could have imagined.  I really feel that I am on the top of world. 

Tomorrow I will stay here and do a couple of climitization hikes then move on from there.

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