Shuttle: Thamel to Phaplu
October 23, 2018
Today was much longer than I'd been led to believe. It took 12.5 hours to get from Thamel to Phaplu, including all of the running around to pick up other riders. I set an alarm for 0400 but was wide awake at 0300 due to some impressive snoring from one of my hostel roommates. Met my escort downstairs at 0430, and we made our way to a street corner where I was scooped up by a Jeep at 0500. We spent the next hour and half zipping through narrow backroads throughout Kathmandu to pick up eight more people. We finally started out around 0630. I settled in as comfortably as I could - which really wasn't at all - given that the jeep was packed full and there was almost no leg room. I knew then that it would be a long ride.
I took a double dose of Dramamine to start my day and still felt like I was getting car sick just whipping around the city streets this morning. It's so chaotic here, everything happening so fast. Beeping and zigging and zagging and swerving. Many of the streets and buildings are broken from the 2015 earthquake. Given the devastation and the limited national resources, it's no surprise that recovery has been slow. Once we finally got out of the city, the first bit of the ride was predominantly on pavement, then the next third turned to predominantly dirt, and the final leg was again pavement. The whole ride was steep, rough, and bumpy - potholes and washboard everywhere. The road was always narrow, barely big enough for two cars to pass and sometimes not even that wide. Made a stop about every three hours, thank God. The Jeep was small and full of passengers. Not even enough space for me to put my knees straight in front of me, nevermind stretch out. I had about half as much room as an economy flight, no exaggeration. My knees are still sore from the brutality of the Long Trail, and today's ride didn't help.
I was surprised by how hot it was as we steeply ascended the valley toward Solari. I expected it to be much colder throughout Nepal, actually. I also thought it was odd that I didn't see a single other Westerner the whole drive up to Solari despite the many, many buses and jeeps making the trip. And I was getting a lot of stares from locals, both at stops and from passing vehicles. It felt like they were surprised to see me. I wonder if most visitors just make the flight into Lukla. Guess I thought more Everest trekkers would've been walking the approach, though I can understand the allure to just flying into the high country.
I was wondering early this morning whether I would've been better off just spending the few hundred dollars to fly into Lukla, but I started feeling better once we got out of the city. That Dramamine really helped, I think. And I enjoyed the more local experience. At first I got the impression that my driver was a total wild card, but as the day wore on I saw that wipping around this way and that is really just standard fare around here.
I finally arrived in Phaplu a little after 1730, totally exhausted. What was supposed to take nine hours actually took eleven, not including the extra hour and a half I spent in the jeep as we picked up other riders. It was another long travel day. I'm so psyched to finally be starting my trek tomorrow! Fortunately a local guy accosted me as soon as I got out of the jeep. He ushered me into his establishment, the New Shristha Lodge. For less than 1,000 rupees I got a room, internet, charging, and dinner. Considering I paid half that for a single bunk in a cramped hostel, I'd say I'm doing ok up here. Betting that things will get a bit more expensive as I get into the trek. As I understand it, there is a coalition in the remote parts of Saggarmatha that establish minimum rates. Anyways I'll appreciate the bargains while they last!
I met a handful of locals tonight at dinner. They're trekking to Everest Basecamp and assured me that I'm not crazy to try and get to Kharikola tomorrow and Lukla the day after, though the guidebook suggests taking four days for the approach to Lukla. They're English was pretty good, so I had a blast swapping stories and hearing about their other treks in Nepal. Seems pretty uncommon for locals to trek the Himalaya unless they're working as guides or porters.