28 October 2016. Friday.
The Nest at Namche.
Namche Bazaar, Khumbu, Nepal. 3,440m asl.
Yesterday was supposed to be the worst trekking day. Until today. When I had to heave my worn-out self up Namche Bazaar for our acclimatization trek.
I woke up today with a sore upper back and a pounding heart. I hoped it was the kind of pounding when you’re in love but it’s not.
Earlier at around 4:00am, I was jolted by a dream about a dead relative, my heart thumping like I just did 25 burpees. I thought I was having a heart attack and dying! My upper back was aching and my heart rate, reported by the heart rate monitor app on my phone, was between 104-109 beats per minute (bpm). My usual waking heart rate was somewhere between 59 to 67 bpm. I could only pray that the symptoms would go away. And I pleaded to God to not let me die here because the repatriation of my remains would inconvenience my already-inconvenienced relatives. Worse, they could just let me be buried here; not that I mind being interred among great alpinists in the Himalayas. Anyway. At the same time, I kept reminding myself that my heart was very much fine. I was assessed by my cardiologist before the trip and told me I was fit enough to do this trek.
All these anxious thoughts plagued me last night but I was also so spent from the trek that I drifted off before the next wave of what-if’s kicked in.
Good thing it’s a rest day today. Errrr, but not really. Rest days on the trail just meant a shorter, usually half-day, trek to higher elevation to help our bodies keep up with the altitude gain and acclimatize properly. Acclimatize. At first I thought it had something to do with getting used to the climate of a certain place (climate, acclimatize, got the connection?) but there’s more to it than adapting to cold weather, especially in high altitude trekking.
The general rule for acclimatization is to climb high, sleep low, like what we had been doing since our arrival in the Khumbu region. We didn’t stay overnight at the highest elevation we reached for that day. Instead, we descended a few hundred meters to where the villages were aptly located. It is also recommended to ascend no more than 500m in a day, preferably just around 300m per day. In cases like the Phakding-Namche Bazaar trek, where we gained about 790m of elevation, staying an extra night in Namche would compensate for that big altitude leap. Hence, our “rest day” today.
This morning, as part of our rest day, we hiked 2.30 kilometers with an elevation gain of about 200m to another Everest viewpoint, where the monument of Tenzing Norgay also stood. Tenzing Norgay was the first Sherpa to reach the summit of Everest with Sir Edmund Hillary in 1953.
I was struggling and dragging myself up the stone steps of Namche Bazaar on our way to the Tenzing Norgay memorial. I was probably taking a break after two or three steps and it wasn’t even that steep. Old ladies passed me. Other guests in our teahouse who left later than we did passed me. Was my heart failing? Or was this the onset of altitude sickness? Was the trek slowly killing me? I shook off my worries and convinced myself I was fine, that I was just tired from yesterday’s trek and didn’t get a good quality sleep.
And seeing Everest for the third time revived all lost energy in me. It was also the first time I was introduced to one of the most recognizable peaks in the Himalayas—Ama Dablam.
I didn’t look around much nor went inside the small museums and visitor center near the monument. Instead, I picked a spot where I could get an unobstructed view of Thamserku, Everest, Nuptse, Lhotse and Ama Dablam. I sat there, gazed at and took photos of these mountains and enjoyed my quiet time probably for 20 minutes before going back down to our teahouse.
And that’s where things got interesting between me and my American group mate, Leo.
Over lunch, Leo asked if “we were okay” and before I could open my mouth to speak he continued on to apologize for anything offensive he might have said or done. Pretty sure he noticed my silence during our trek since yesterday and how I would excitedly talk to some of the trekkers on the trail but not to him.
I assured him he said nothing bad at all, that I was fine and only wanted a quiet trek. It was hard to explain why I wasn’t up for his chitchats and to say it without sounding so rude or deranged. If I wasn’t already. It’s a classic (but lousy) it’s not you, it’s me excuse. But, really, I felt bad sometimes that I wasn’t talking to him as much as I should as his trek buddy.
Leo asked a lot about me. But the funny thing was he’d tell more stories about himself after I gave him my short answer. I never got to talk much in our conversations which was actually good because that way I wouldn’t have to fabricate exaggerated and outrageous answers to his queries. I know, I could just say pass or the question was too personal. And record it and play it whenever he asked something about me.
Uhm, what happened to my social skills?
I could recommend a pho restaurant in Saigon and rave about the artsy vibe of Melbourne but not detail why I got hooked on traveling. Or how my now-defunct family celebrated my fur brother’s birthday. There has to be something, some sort of connection (not necessarily romantic!), with a person before I could volunteer information or stories about myself.
And I just couldn’t find that connection with Leo.