Saturday, October 25, 2014

No Pain No Gain

So you like the outdoors and have a sense of adventure, adrenalin and risk. You are looking for something to do during your next period of annual leave. Everest Base Camp is on your bucket list.

Here are some things to consider before booking.

1.     Choose your route

Apparently there is more than one way to skin a cat, similarly there are different trekking routes available. Vie Gokyo Lakes and Chola Pass is the hardest route and all the more difficult if you go through the pass on the way up. Although physically more demanding is it the path less travelled. A quieter path can be much less painful, away from all the loud, obnoxious and slow tourists.

2.     Catering
Markets - Namche Bazaar
Trekking in Nepal is not the time to be on a no-carb diet, regardless of your reasons. Carbs will help with the energy levels and the altitude, besides that it is really all that is available. Rice, potatoes and bread. Be warned Nepali bread is not the same the sliced bread you will find in a suburban western supermarket. Toasted it has the texture of cooked glue. The rice is carried up on the backs of Sherpas, in baskets, 150kg at a time and the potatoes are farmed locally using nothing more than hand tools. So although the food is plentiful consider the pain endured by locals to provide it before you get too picky and leave large potions uneaten on your plate.

Trekking in the Himalayas is also the time to become vegetarian. Meat is available, chicken, goat, yak. However the butcher shops/markets in Kathmadu do not use refrigeration, the carcasses are just sitting outon wooden slabs ready for purchase with the butchers using their knives to swat away the flies. That’s in Kathmadu. On the mountain the meat you eat will have been bought in Kathmandu and then carried up the mountain on the back of a Sherpa, in a basket, for days at a time.

On the mountain the only thing that changes about the menu is the colour of the cardboard on which it is printed.

3.     Amenities

Again keep in mind all of the components making up the amenities for tourists have been carried up on someone’s back and built or put in place by hand. The dining rooms, the toilets, the showers the bedrooms including the beds and mattresses. Lets just describe them as basic. The dining rooms are reminiscent of a school camp dining hall.

The toilets will vary from a western style toilet with seat and cistern/bidet that flushes to western toilets that do not flush to a hole in the ground. Showers
will have as many variants. A bucket of water – with no guarantees of being hot – may be available to scoop over your head with a small container. This may be the same container used to scoop water into a toilet by way of flushing.

The important of toilet facilities will change as your digestive system cycles through interchanging period of constipation and diarrhoea.

The rooms will be dry and protect occupants from the wind. They do not have heating. They may be moulding. The mattress might be hard or soft or lumpy or threadbare. It might even be clean. Regardless of its condition it will be less painful laying on it than carrying it up the mountain.

Electricity, running water and heating will all be controlled by the manager of the property and generally will not be turned on until the evening, unless specifically requested and paid for by guests. Pay for it. Considering the exchange rate there is very little pain to the hip pocket for a substantial gain in comfort.

4.     Up is exhausting
Pumori Mountain, Nepal

At its most basic there are 15 days of up, across varying terrain including scrambling up rock falls, tramping through snowfields and trudging along endless stony paths. The weariness and muscle fatigue create a battle for the mind just to keep going. The ever thinning air can lead feelings of being strangled by the planet as your lungs scream for oxygen.

Altitude sickness may also hit, regardless of age, gender, fitness or previous experience at altitude. Starting with the small but persistent headache across the back of the head that grows in intensity before the nausea dizziness and incoherence set in. At its beginning stages, stop and rest over night before continuing, if it gets worse start heading back down the mountain.

Drinking a lot of water will help with altitude sickness and dehydration. Don’t let the colder weather confuse you are your need to constant fluid. The challenge in drinking at altitude is trying to coordinate inhaling and swallowing. Simple, right? Wrong. The respiratory system kicks into overdrive like a dog panting after a game of fetch on a hot day. Basic human physiology the air and water although travelling at least in part down the same pipe should not end up in the same place. This coordination does not necessarily occur automatically resulting in great hilarity for the rest of the travelling party as a fully grown adult coughs and spits up water.

If you struggle to climb the single flight of stairs at work it is not recommended that you start improving your fitness in the Himalayas. Just because you have seen extreme fitness regimes work on shows like The Biggest Loser it is not that easy. It is also not fair of everyone else you meet on the mountain to have to endure your whinging. It is also not the guide or porter’s fault that you are not fit enough or that the mountains are steep and difficult to traverse.

On the upside your utter state of exhaustion helps you forget that you have not showered and in gore the quality of the mattress.

The promise of spectacular view and the intrinsic sense of achievement will motivate you to get started again each morning.

5.     Down is worse

Whilst up is exhausting, going down batters the body. The constant pounding causes blisters, calluses and general swelling to the feet. Ankles, knees and hips are also in for a battering. Keep in mind 12-18 days up and 3-5 days down depending on the route.

The longer term recovery required following this trek will be related to the down. Your lungs will thank you as the air carries increasing amounts of oxygen.

The promise of getting off the mountain is the only motivation you will need to pull your boots on each morning despite the intense and immediate pain.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Taxis and Traffic

New York, USA

My experience, travelling with locals, is that it is compulsory to argue with the cab driver from the moment you open the door. Before you get in. The assumption is that the driver is definitely trying to rip off his or her passengers. Passengers therefore need to be aggressive just to get a fair. Deal. What-ever route they take, regardless of actual traffic conditions, must clearly be the longest, out of the way roads possible just to build up their fare. They are also intentionally going slow. The traffic could literally be at a standstill, 5 lanes deep, but the passenger seems to be in their rights to yell at the driver for not finding a way to move through traffic.

Traffic does come to a standstill. As a passenger in a private vehicle coming off the New Jersey turnpike into New York the traffic stopped dead before creeping forward only centimetres at a time. You could get out and walk faster. I did. With my camera walking ahead to take photos of the traffic getting back into the car 300m and 30minutes later. When they caught up to me.

America does this weird thing of driving on the other side of the road, which at first is unnerving. Round a-bouts are insane. Sitting in the passenger seat entering a roundabout in the wrong direction the brain is certain this manoeuvrer will lead to immediate death. The brain, however, can not determine from which direction the vehicle will come that is sure to end your life. The resulting feeling is that you will be hit by cars – at  speed – from every direction.

Windhoek, Namibia

When I was visiting the city of Windhoek was preparing to introduce its first roundabout. Like an Aussie in New York, the entire population believed these circular traffic island were engineering death devices. The paper published articles to educate the driving public. Basic rules.
  1. Enter to the left (because they drive on the correct side of the road America!)
  2. Drive in a clockwise direction
  3. Give way to vehicles on the right, already on the roundabout

Easy, common sense rules. Then there were added instructions for a population who had never seen let alone used a roundabout before.

  1. Do not stop on the roundabout.
  2. Do not change directions on the roundabout.
  3. Do not drive straight over the top of the roundabout.

Taxis in Namibia, during my visit, did exist but were not marked. So it really felt like the population were quite friendly and drivers just stopped and gave people lifts. It looked like some sort of structure hitchhiker program, but it worked.

Lima, Peru

In Peru the taxis are 12-seater mini vans. One of those seats contains the driver. The front passenger seat has another employee whose job appears to be to hang out of the window yelling at people on the side of the road in the hope this will encourage them to get in the taxi. Unlike other cities, Peruvian taxis do not limit themselves to a single fare per trip. The one time I caught a taxi the remaining 10 seats were taken up by 17 adults three children, a breast feeding infant, two dogs and a chicken. The fare per ride appeared to be the same regardless of the length of the journey. It was the smallest note you were carrying. Do not give them coins.

Traffic in Lima is chaotic. And loud. Not just the unregulated mufflers and the taxis yelling at potential customers. Horns. Drivers literally drive with one hand on the wheel and the other hand on the horn. They beep at everything. When they pass a car, in case the other vehicle was thinking of changing lanes. When being passed, in case the faster vehicle was thinking of changing lanes too soon after passing. If passing people on the sidewalk in case they were thinking of suddenly jumping out into the traffic. Vehicles that are to fast, slow, big, small, old, new, red… I am not convinced there actually had to be a reason. They just beeped there horn, and there was a lot of traffic. Over the top of this the traffic police blew whistles, for reasons as obvious as to why drivers beep their horns.

Kathmandu, Nepal

There are two sets of traffic lights in Kathmandu, and neither of them work. There is only one definite road rule, give ways to cows. Otherwise it is just keep left…ish. It is accepted to go right, if there is a gap where your vehicle will fit, or almost fit. A gap where your vehicle will fit once everyone else jiggles and shuffles around a bit. What appears to be single lane, one way road will always have at least two lanes of traffic in each direction. I use the word “lane” loosely, as it implies that the vehicles are all travelling in orderly lines one behind the other. In reality the traffic is more like some sort of intricate indigenous weaving pattern. The trick is to never come to a complete stop.

Crossing the road as a pedestrian is an adrenalin rush. Like George Costanza in “The Frogger” episode of Seinfeld.

For a extra level of complexity the man-hole covers (I know this sounds sexist but person-hole just sounds silly) sit approximately 20cm higher than the road. A little obastacle just to add some bonus fun to the driving experience.

Kathmandu does have regular taxis, but why use these when there are bicycle rickshaws? What could be more fun than weaving through traffic, dodging cows and manholes than sitting in a cage on the back of a bicycle? Being a pedestrian, that’s what. Trying to survive this vehicular onslaught on streets without footpaths/sidewalks. Just like vehicles the general rule is stick to the left, on the edge of the road. But sometimes the easiest and safest area to be was walking down the middle of the road.

Zurich, Switzerland.

As expected the traffic is very orderly in Switzerland. Everything moves, well, like Swiss clockwork.

Taxis can be opportunistic. I needed a taxi from my hotel to the main railway station. It should have been two roads. Approximately 700m on the road my hotel was situated and then 1.4km on the road parallel to Bahnhofstrasse. As the meerkat would say, “simples”. The 2 road, 10 minute journey took 40 minutes and included all of the sights of downtown Zurich.

I needed a New Yorker with me to yell at the driver from journey’s beginning to end, just to keep him honest.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Getting the Band Back Together

Apparently all we ever want is a reunion, until it happens. Blues Brothers has given everyone false hope that getting the band back together is going to be a roaring success. In reality they are more police cars at the end of the most famous cinematic car chase.

Have we learned nothing from catching up with high school reunions. Despite all of the cliques and power struggles of our youth everyone has turned out pretty much the same. The high school athlete, the prettiest girl at school and the academic super star are all now middle aged, over weight and. slightly balding. Even the magic from your closest friends has gone. The rapport, the timing just isn’t quite there any more.

Despite this, the media and some fans are desperate for any former television show with either a cult following or high ratings in its prime consistently call for the cast to reunite.

Hey Hey It’s Saturday should be a warning to us all. It was a rating juggernaut in its day and every international celebrity gracing Australia with their presence would want to be book onto the show. Saturday nights did not start until 8.30pm.

Then after ten years off the air, the cast reunited for a series of shows in 2009…crickets and tumble weeds.

What was fast, improvised and sharp-witted was now awkward, forced and cringey.

The chemistry was right for its time. But times change and even with the greatest sense of nostalgic anticipation, the reboot is never quite like the original.

The latest call is for the cast of Married With Children to reunite after they all gathered to celebrate Katey Segal’s star on Hollywood’s walk of fame. Ed O’Neil whilst still a great comedic actor is now looking a lot older, heavier and balder. Would the politically incorrect, misogynistic and exploitative humour still get the same laughs from either the live audience or the laugh track? Or would it soon appear to be a bit worn and same-same.

I personally have wanted a Seinfeld reunion since the day the final episode first aired. I loved the mini reunion between Jerry Seinfeld and Jason Alexander/George Costanza for an episode of Jerry’s web series, Comedian’s in Cars Getting Coffee. It was great, very funny, but relationship was only a shadow of its former glory. The timing had slipped. In the show Jerry played himself, and Jason played George. In this reunion Jerry was playing Jerry playing himself and Jason was playing Jason
playing George. As desperate as I was for this to be one of the great moments in entertainment history, what I got was more like an impersonation of one of the great shows in sitcom history. Don’t get me wrong still it was still miles ahead of any sitcom being produced now

Along with being older Jason was also fatter and balder!

Arrested Development was ground breaking and won critical acclaim. The 2013 reboot series was critically dismissed.

Friends was a stalwart of television through the 90s into the early 2000s and is another show that regularly gets touted for a reunion   Depending on the timing of any reunion Matthew Perry will have either gained or lost a lot of weight.
series. This would raise the other awkward challenge of a television reunion. The casts careers and personal lives have taken vastly different trajectories. Apparently, for some of them, no-one told them that life was going to be this way.

At least the actors, if not their careers, are still alive. Unlike the cast of Golden Girls. Sophia, Dorothy and Blanche are now in the Golden Palace in the sky. On the upside they no longer have to worry bout their weight.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Baby news

Oh glee, rapture, excitement and wonder The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are expecting their second child. Oh happy days. The young couple living a life of privilege have had unprotected sex. Though I am not expecting the couple saved footage of the royal rogering on iCloud.

In case any of the general public cant work it out, the world’s media have gone on to say Prince George will have a baby brother or sister.

My grade five teacher was pregnant and referred to her unborn child as “Gonzo”. Let’s stick with that.

Gonzo will be the fourth in line for the throne, regardless of gender. It must be had for Prince Harry to be excited, knowing that each time his brother and sister-in-law get jiggy with it he drops in the ranks. On the upside has fewer reasons now to cub his partying lifestyle much like his great-step-aunt Margaret. Hew can also maintain his politically incorrect/racist ways following the example of his step-grandfather.

Will Gonzo be a boy or a girl. Gush. What will it be named? Coo. Will the birth be celebrated with a commemorative plate? Sigh.

The world will watch Gonzo grow, attend and graduate from school. Regardless of the level of education completed the world will be in awe. Whether it be no formal qualification like Great Grandma (A true queen needs no qualification) or be academically talented like Great Uncle Edward the Commonwealth will wait with baited breath for the exam results. Uncle Harry, with a B in Arts (assisted by his teacher) and D in geography is well qualified for doing the odd jobs he does in between socialising.

Gonzo is will join an ever growing list of people likely to never be Monarch of Australia. Grandpa Charles is first in line to be not-king. Gonzo could also be the first royal born in Good Britain. With the Scottish referendum only days away and the “yes” vote gaining momentum Scotland may succeed from Great Britain taking 1/3 of the land mass with it.

With Scotland cutting the umbilical chord would this leave the Union Jack just being “Jack”? This would seem appropriate as it would represent the sentiment of the Scots.

I would write more but I have to decorate my house in Jack flags and bunting and settle in for 6-7 months of speculating about when the baby bump is showing, Kate’s maternity fashion, the gender and official name of Gonzo, and how quickly Kate loses the baby weight.