Nepal: a head filled with emotions
Saturday evening 7.00 pm
As the Airbus A330 lowers itself onto the runway of Istanbul Atatürk Airport, I stare out of the small window of the aircraft. Airport lights are flashing by and I realize that our Himalayan adventure has come to an end.
Monday evening 7.00 pm
Only 48 hours later I find myself with my laptop on the couch. After an involuntary overnight in Istanbul, we finally made it home after a 36 hour journey. Involuntary because there is no fuel available in Nepal at the moment and there for, the airplane first had to fly to Delhi in India to refuel before being able to fly back to Europe. Because of this, we missed our connection to Amsterdam and were forced to spend the night in Turkey. I have to yawn. Last night I was in bed by 7.00 pm as I was completely exhausted. I woke up at 03.17 am in the morning again and couldn’t sleep anymore. At 06.30 the alarm clock went off and it was time to get up and get ready to get back to work.
My head is full and bursting. It’s full of emotions, memories and ideas. “Eat, sleep, walk, repeat.” That was all that I was supposed to do over the past couple of weeks. I’d walk through the Himalayas, I’d enjoy nature, would sleep and fully relax, surrounded by the highest mountains on the planet. If only I’d have known things were not exactly going to be that way…
On our third day at the Everest Base Camp trek I got food poisoning. Upon arrival at the next teahouse, one of the guides asked me if I was OK because, apparently, I looked like hell. I mumbled something like “hmm, I’m not exactly OK but it’s probably the altitude.” I spent the rest of the day in bed, feeling miserable. During the next days I had to find myself a rock or tree to squat behind pretty much every hour, as my bowels were completely messed up. It exhausted me because I had no energy left inside. I had no more power to walk and did not recognize myself anymore. Each step I had to take was a whole new journey and my self confidence got lower and lower by the minute. I had to drag myself from one place to the next, powerless and breathless. I was just a ghost instead of the normal me, who flies across the hiking trails full of energy and life.
After a week I’d had enough. I had taken three courses of antibiotics and as I arrived in the next teahouse, I was utterly exhausted again. As I sat down on the bed, tears started streaming down my face. The tears I had been holding back for days because I didn’t want my fellow hikers to see them. Big Girls Don’t Cry. By then, I gave up caring what other people would think about my failure and I was done dragging myself from one place to the next. Earlier that week I had dragged myself across the unrelenting Cho La Pass, with the help of our guides. They took my hand and helped me climb from one rock to the next, as I couldn’t do it by myself. In the pictures I’m smiling, but on the inside I was broken.
On the day I collapsed I was just one day away from Everest Base Camp. Only one day away from accomplishing my dream. MY dream. Before the start of our trip, we made an agreement. If one of us would not make it, the other would turn around, too. One team, two people. Martijn easily said “if we won’t make it, we will have a great adventure anyway.” No matter how much I wanted to agree with him, I couldn’t. I wanted to reach Everest Base Camp, without that I would not be satisfied. It’s the never-ending battle with myself of not giving up before I reach my goal. I was just one day away from reaching my dream. But I was done. My body had no more energy and yet I still wasn’t ready to give up.
27 November – the big day!
As the sun rises above the Himalayas and slowly lights up the world again, we leave the settlement of Lobuche. First it’s a three hour trek to Gorak Shep at 5.164 meters and from there it would be another 2.5 hours to Everst Base Camp. We trek through a wide valley between the yaks and carefully cross a glacier. After just 2.5 hours we reach Gorak Shep, a town that deserves a spot in my top 5 of most depressing places on the planet. It’s cold and abandoned and there’s not a whole lot to see. I sit down in the teahouse and mentally prepare for my second breakfast of the day. I order a Chapati with peanut butter and although I haven’t eaten properly in almost a week, I need the energy more than ever and finish my food within seconds. I repack my bag and leave everything I won’t be needing for the final stretch behind. I’m so close!
Just one and a half hour later, we finally reach Everest Base Camp. Martijn is walking behind me with his GoPro, I’ve already stepped onto the infamous Khumbu Glacier with our guide and sherpa. From far away I could already see the Tibetan prayer flags. That’s where it is! As I hike the last bit of the trek with caution, I finally get to Everest Base Camp. I get a lump in my throat and my head is spinning with emotions. I want to scream and cry of happiness at the same time. I made it!
We spent about 45 minutes around the spot that is called Everest Base Camp. We drank hot tea and ate chocolate we brought all the way from Holland and carried along the track. We took pictures and congratulated each other with making it all the way to this amazing place. A place that is really nothing more than a dot on the map and a bunch of prayer flags. After the devastating earthquake of last April, the Basecamp spot is not there anymore. Yet I’m still amazed by the landscape and can’t stop looking at the mountains. At the Khumbu Icefall that streams down from Mount Everest and eventually leads to the Western Cwm. I stare at the Nuptse and Lho La, the mountains that block the view on Everest. The liberating feeling that I’ve reached the end of the world nestles inside of me. Long ago the legendary Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norquay were in this same spot, before eventually reaching the top of Mount Everest on May 29th 1953, as the first ones ever.
Before my trip I asked myself if I would be satisfied reaching Base Camp or if I’d want more. If the desire of eventually climbing Mount Everest would appear once I’d be standing at the base of it. I feared it would, but am relieved that I never felt the urge to go beyond the point I reached. I don’t feel the need to risk my life to climb the highest mountain in the world. Hiking on this altitude taught me that my body is not made to hike at high altitudes. At 5.000 meters my body was exhausted with every single step I took. Reaching Everest Base Camp was a dream come true but that’s where I draw the line.
We needed twelve days to walk up and only three to get down. During those fifteen days I have talked a lot. To our guides, fellow trekkers, locals and sherpas. My head is filled with stories that I want to tell and share with the rest of the world. Once we came back in Kathmandu, we planned to spend our last three days relaxing and doing nothing. Unfortunately, that’s not exactly what happened. We ended up in a local hospital and having sleepless nights. We only made it to the Monkey Temple and the Garden of Dreams, the rest of our time we were forced to spend in our hotel room. By then, all I wanted was to go home. Back to the comfort of my own bed and my own environment. We weren’t exactly looking forward to our 36 hour journey home but once we started it, it was over before we knew.
Today the first questions came. And I told everyone who wanted to hear it, that it was a pretty exhausting trip. That I’m still exhausted and that my body has a hard time dealing with the antibiotics. That I can’t memorize my trip across Cho La Pass and that it was probably not the smartest idea to continue walking at all after I got sick. That the docter I visited in Machhermo actually said that it would be better not to do Cho La, meaning that I would not reach EBC. But that our guide had enough confidence so that we still continued. While I’m telling my stories to those who asked about my trip, the disappointment in myself slowly transforms into pride. I end my stories by saying “it was a very special happening and I wouldn’t want to have missed it.”
Nepal stole my heart. Not just the mountains, but also the people. The roof of the world has made an incredible impression on me. The breathtaking altitudes we reached, still make my heart beat faster when I think of them. The pink squatting toilets I befriended will always be in my mind. Kathmandu is horrible yet amazing at the same time. And the Nepalese, they just keep smiling, even despite all the misery they have gone and are still going through. We could all learn from them how to stay positive and keep on smiling!
There are numerous stories I want to tell. About the sleepless nights of the locals, about the girl playing with tiny cars while she never saw one in real life before and about the things nobody tells you before you start trekking through the Himalayas. There is a time for everything, but for me the time has come to take it easy and let my body recover from this great adventure…
Want to read more? You will like the following blogs, too!
– Nepal is safe!
– Off to Nepal and Everest Base Camp
– Nepal Now: 5 Things that I’m worried about when trekking
– Travel without social media: this is how you do it!
Thank you for sharing!
Anto, I literally had tears in my eyes reading the account of your quest to reach EBC. I can imagine it’s heartbreaking to have a goal in mind only to feel like you have a million more hurdles to overcome than you ever imagined. But YOU DID IT! I’m so proud of you… you continue to inspire me with your adventures!!
Awww thanks dear, means so much to me. Wishing you a great time back home with your family! xox
Edith | [travel.create.repeat]
Wow, big respect to you! I was moved when reading your account. I am absolutely sure that I could not have done it myself. Congratulations!
Thank you for sharing your amazing trip. I’m hoping some day to trek to EBC. Any idea how you got food poisoning? Anything you’d do differently?
You’re welcome, thanks for stopping by Adam! I hope you can make it one day. I most likely got it at a bakery in Namche Bazar, it’s actually a mistake that a lot of people make when there. It’s “western” and they have free wifi, so lots of travellers hang out there. They had a huge variety in food, but as we heard later, not everything is fresh. The day after I felt sick. Are you planning on trekking by yourself or with a guide?
Totally understandable you have mixed feelings about Nepal and your trip. But in weeks, months and years from now when you think of the trip, I’m absolutely sure you will be glad you pushed through the pain. I went through that as well during mountain bike marathon. I was physically and mentally drained, ready to quit. I didn’t want to fail so I pushed through and finished it. When I think of it now, it’s one of my biggest accomplishments on bike and I’m proud of myself.
You should be proud of yourself,too!!
I’m looking forward to read more stories with locals.
Take care Anto.
You are so right! It’s already much better and my negativity has changed into positivity all the way. I’m happy I got to experience something like this (15 days is a lot though 😉 ) and then see that in the end, it will be alright. Thanks for sharing your inspiring story!
That was amazingly written. I don’t know how many times I’ve been to the base camp of Everest but while I was reading it my mind was filled with excitement, curious. Your story made me new to the Everest again. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, experiences.
Thanks Uzzol, much appreciated! Loved that we got to say “hi” at Cho-La! Enjoy all your treks and travels, love to follow you on Instagram!
I absolutely loved reading about your journey to EBC. Although it didn’t go how I’m sure you envisioned, I am so impressed at your persistence in completing the climb! What a huge accomplishment!! Looking forward to reading more about your experiences in Nepal.
Thanks Jen! Am working on some more blogs, should be online early 2016 (after the annual lists, you know…)
AMAZING guys, love the photos and what an experience! We did the Annapurna circuit instead of EVC as we “only” had 14 days (we would have needed longer because we were too scared to take that flight to Lukla and would have done the trek in instead).
We’ll never forget the feeling of waking up in the early hours at 5,000 metres high, with headache, struggling with breath but being pushed on by the adrenaline (and a very patient guide!)
Thanks Stefan! I’d love to do Annapurna one day too. There are so many amazing treks in Nepal, we have a hard time deciding what our next one will be, either Annpurna or Manaslau I think…
Hats of for keeping at it even if you were sick. I am sure the conditions were not ideal. I understand the feeling. I hiked the Inca Trail with a bad throat infection (so bad that after finishing, I actually went to the clinic in Cusco and they advised to have my tonsils removed as soon as I got back home, which I did). I enjoyed it, but the pain wasn’t fun to deal with!
Thanks Claudia! Ahhh the Inca Trail was pretty hard too, it was our first big trek and I loved it but I hated it, especially the second day for all the big steps (thanks for bringing back the memories hahah). Pain is never fun, especially when you are doing such a demanding thing!
Beyond impressive. I loved reading your story. I love that you pushed on even with how sick you got. I’m not sure I could have made it. But then again, I can imagine standing that close to achieving a dream and how it must feel to almost not make it. I would hope to muster even half of the guts you showed. Thanks for the inspiration.
Thank for the kind words Jackie! I’m sure you could have done it too, somehow when you really want something, it will lift you up and make you more powerful!
I can only imagine what it’d be like hiking Everest. We all hear the stories of hardships and it is so inspiring to hear how you overcame yours and were able to experience something so many dream of! Congrats!
Congrats on making it as far as you did! Sounds like such a tough trip. I love Martijn outlook… “if we won’t make it, we will have a great adventure anyway.” Cheers to a great adventure!
Thanks Andrea! Yeah, he’s always like that, much more down to earth than me 🙂
Some of the best memories are the ones we fight hard to accomplish. I can see you never gave up, despite your lack of strength and good health, you persevered and eventually accomplished your dream. On the other hand, the people of Nepal, despite all they are currently facing still afford to smile, proving that sometimes as hard as it may be, it is still good to be alive.
So true, those are the best memories indeed!
So awesome! Congrats on making the trek! I did the trek to EBC back in 2010 and it was amazing! Thanks for recalling the great memories I had and congrats yet again on a mission accomplished and a goal achieved!
Thanks Joe! I’m curious what it was like in 2010 because it has become extremely popular!
Carolann - One Modern Couple
What an incredible journey and story! You should be so proud of yourself for making it to the base camp! It’s not an easy thing to do healthy. Hope you are taking time to recover and are feeling better!
Thank you Carolann! Am much better already, back up and running!
Everest basecamp, what an achievement! I guess the moment you saw the flags was such an amazing feeling, especially after your ill health just a few days before. You’re such a trooper!
Do you think Everest basecamp if just for the super fit? I would love to do it but i’m unsure if I could handle it.
Thanks Stephanie! I’m sure you can do it. It’s really about altitude, the trek itsels wasn’t too hard (I’d suggest to skip Cho-La Pass, that one was HARD and only for experienced hikers) but as long as you don’t get altitude sickness, you will be fine!
Thank you for sharing your great adventure! You are clearly an athlete that knows how to push yourself, well done. I’m headed on this very trek in February, getting sick is my biggest fear. What food would you have NOT eaten at the bakery? What should I stay away from?
Thanks for your kind words Melanie! From what I heard, it’s generally better to stay away from bakeries since most of their food isn’t fresh, which is what happened to me. I had a chocolate cake and got sick, Martijn had apple pie but he was fine. If you really want to go to a bakery, ask them when they prepared the cake and if it’s fresh. Keep an eye out on our blog because a ton of posts will be coming up. Good luck on your adventure, let us know how it went once you’re back!!!
That is an amazing story and I can very much relate to it. having Crohn’s disease, I always end up being sick at least once during my travels. I applaud you for making your dream come true and sticking with it. I hope you did not suffer from any consequences for pushing too far. Reaching EBC (tibet side) was one of my proudest moments, although I didn’t trek there. I can only imagine what it most feel like to actually walk up there. Well done!
Ahhh I’m so sorry to hear you get sick so often because you have Crohn’s … a friend of mine has it too and she always has to consider everything at least twice before actually doing it, I feel really bad for her. Congrats on making it to EBC on the Tibetan side, I’m really looking forward to exploring that area one day, too!
Hey – have loved your blog. Am recently single, 44 and a lover of the mountains…. where do I start on this journey to EBC?xx