Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Tall Girl in...Nepal

I found there were highs and lows to lankiness on the spectacular Everest Base Camp trek in Nepal. On the plus side, having a long stride enabled me to cover maximum distance with minimum effort, allowing plenty of time to gawp at the world's highest peaks. Thanks to my 36" inside leg measurement, I could keep up with my companions even when drained of energy and wheezing in the thin air at 5000metres.

On the downside, doorways were an issue. Dashing to the long-drop loo during the long and freezing nights, I would crack my head on the doorframe as I shot into the outside dunny - which registered a mere minus eight degrees - then crack it again on the way out. This happened regularly and painfully and it was difficult to tell if headaches were caused by altitude or dwarf-sized doorframes.

It was slightly embarassing to be knocking 6ft and carrying a small daysack while diminuitive porters lugged three large backpacks each, weighing up to 60kg. Our porters did seem particularly tiny - barely 5ft tall but strong and tough as yaks. They sprang up the steep steps with indomitable determination while we gasped like fish out of water and slowed to the pace of a sloth. Even after Day One we were all in awe of their incredible strength and cheerful, friendly dispositions.

Summiting the 5545m Kala Pattar peak at 7am, I wished I were porter-sized. After a strenuous , high altitude climb in temperatures of approx -10 degrees, I found myself perched on a prayer-flag covered Pride Rock. Only, unlike the Lion King, this was supposed to be the best place to see the sunrise over Everest. I didn't wait to find out. In danger of losing all ten fingers and all ten toes, I was so cold I didn't give a damn that if I stood up I could be buffeted by the wind and fall several hundred vertical metres, off the narrow rock. At that stage I was in a kamikaze state and could only think of getting down and getting warm. I stood on the rock and wobbled in the wind like a giant skittle veering towards a strike, then shot down the mountain before the sun had a chance to rise.

The porters were just getting up when we got back to our lodge. Still warm from sleep and well rested, their smiling faces looked with interest at our group of lanky, shivering Europeans. It was clear that our foreheads had "AMATEURS" written all over them.

After the Base Ca
mp trek I took a five hour public bus to the Chitwan National Park. As is the tradition of public transport space saving, 3" of leg room had been sacrificed between the seats. I had to sit diagonally, taking up more than my share of the seats, and as the bus filled up, another three people crammed in beside me. Feeling very guilty for taking up so much room, I tried to demonstrate to the small teenage boy next to me that my knees physically didn't fit. I didn't mean to be a selfish foreigner hogging all the space, it was simply a case of poor ergonomics. He looked pained but uninterested and after thirty minutes I tried offering round Polos by means of compensation.

Teenage Boy studiously kept his eyes shut as I proffered the packet, so I moved on to the Nepalese lady beside him. She made a lunge for a sick-bag and revisited her breakfast as we swung round a corner and I abandoned my compensation policy. Thereafter, Teenage Boy studiously examined the back of his eyelids, his skinny knees jammed next to mine and discomfort all over his face. Meanwhile I developed a severely numb bum and nursed my bruised knees for a week.

To add insult to injury, a two-hour "rhino spotting" elephant ride in the National Park resulted in zero rhinos and two dead-legs. Maybe the jungle and I were just never meant to meet.

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