We woke up at 6:30 on our last morning at Lawudo. I felt much better, not quite 100% but nearly there. Ani La had predicted I would and she was right. We breakfasted on Tibetan bread and butter, and Frank's "luxury" cheese, which he had left stored at Namche and Norbu had brought back with him yesterday. It was wonderful. I took a photo of Ani La milking one of the yaks. When I asked Norbu if I could take his picture, he shook his head "no" but a couple of minutes later he linked arms with Frank in front of the gompa and asked for a photo. We went up the hill to pack. We came back down all ready to go and Norbu offered us another glass of tea. I can't say no to Norbu, he's too sweet.
While we drank our farewell glasses, Ani La rummaged through the boxes and pulled out two prayer scarves and put them around our necks. (Had Lama Zopa blessed them?) Norbu pointed out the way down the hill, which is fairly obvious from above, because you just follow the chortens. There was one tricky point, but Norbu said, "Just turn down the hill 10 M past the white cow." We were really sorry to go, and I think Ani La and Norbu had enjoyed having us. There was a lot of handshaking and "namaste"-ing and then we left. It was a fairly easy walk back except for the last killer hill. On the way, a Tibetan passed us. He was carrying a goat leg in his pack for dinner later, wrapped in a prayer shawl and with the hair still on it. Another Tibetan leading three yaks asked with hand signals if he could have my bandana, which I had been using as a handkerchief for far too long. I didn't know what to do. I tried to mime blowing my nose, but Tibetans use no such items, they just close one nostril and expel what's inside the other one on the ground. (Or in some cases the floor.) Paul gave the guy another bandana and he left with it tied around his neck. Paul figured we'd created good karma with our deed. Just before we got back into Namche, an old Tibetan woman asked us using signs (she pointed with her index fingers to imply horns) if yaks were up ahead. We nodded, and I felt like I was an extra in Dances With Wolves.
I was tired when we arrived back at the Panorama. We rested then had lunch in the dining room: chicken (garlic) noodle soup, finger "cheaps" and chiya. Jangbu, the owner, was finally back. Chungba had told Paul that Jangbu could use some computer help. They played computers while I worked on the journals.
There were four Germans in the dining room for dinner. I let them know I knew a little German by asking them what kind of soup they were having. They were a husband and wife, daughter and grandfather by the looks of them, although I don't know that they were related. They were nice though. We also met an older man with grey hair named Warren. He, his friend and a porter had just come down from an attempt at climbing Island Peak, right next to Mt. Everest, and the peak Sir Edmund Hilary used to practice on before he climbed Everest. Warren's friend had successfully done the climb once before, and Warren felt really bad because he was the reason they didn't succeed this time. They began the climb in the middle of the night with six headlamps between the three guys, one spare each. All six failed. They continued on in the dark. Warren was having trouble seeing, but it was night after all. When it got light, they realized they had more serious problems. Warren's eye was hemorrhaging from the altitude. Apparently, the blood vessels just leak. The team decided they couldn't put Warren in any more danger and abandoned the attempt. Warren felt terrible about it. He found out later that antihistamines block your body from properly adjusting to altitude and he'd been taking them.
I would have thought Warren would be a rarity on the Everest Trek, but in fact, there were dozens of older people making the climb. In some cases, they may even have a natural advantage, because they've already learned the value of taking things slow and easy. On the way up, we had seen a woman who mast have been 80 taking the trek one step at a time, with her guide holding her arm. I was quite inspired. There was also a group of Irish blind people whom we saw walking in the riverbed between Lukla and Monju. Imagine how empowering that kind of trip must be for them.
We were up at 6:30, packed and in the dining room for breakfast by 7:00 (hot chocolate and porridge). We were on the path back down the hill by 7:30. On the way through town, we met a black dog whom we named Shadow, because he followed us out of town and had the peculiar habit of trotting just behind our left knee so that every once in a while, when one of us misstepped, he bonked us with his nose and we knew he was still there. Our plan was to walk as far as we were able, Shadow's seemed to be to follow as long as we were in the lead for the day. The minute we were passed (by a very sporty German couple with ski pole walking sticks), Shadow ditched us. I saw the German guy later, resting on a boulder in the riverbed (or perhaps just waiting for his wife) and asked him in German what had happened to Shadow. He was very surprised an American would be able to speak German and told me I spoke quite well. (I love surprising Germans who presume too much!)
We came to the Sagarmatha Park entrance and walked by the guard. Only after we were by him did he signal that we were to go inside and be crossed off the list. We decided to get something to drink at one of the chai stalls and moved to sit down at one. A woman motioned us over to another table before we realized she was from a competing chai stall. We felt bad briefly, but never saw anyone from the other stall, so we got over it and ordered chai. The German couple waited for the rest of their group outside the park entrance -- for quite a long time. I don't know why they didn't just have a chai while they waited. I saw Shadow in the distance on a suspension bridge while we were sitting there, but never saw him again. I wonder if he had to walk all the way home again too. We were in Pakhding by lunchtime, it had taken a day and a half to walk up this same distance that had just taken us four hours to walk down. We suspected that we'd be spending the night in Lukla rather than somewhere in between. We had our lunch at the same place as before with two Austrians who were very exclusive and the really cool Germans from the night before. They had brought great German cheese and sausage with them and shared it with us. I never eat sausage anymore but it was still wonderful.
The last part of the walk was uphill and grueling . I found myself angry at I knew not what for no reason. But the air was so thick! We arrived back at Khumbu Lodge. The dorm room we'd shared with Trevor and John was all they had available and they gave it to us for 100 rs. I followed the guy back who was showing us to our room. On the way, he smacked a dog in the face with the key. I nearly jumped him. He said only that she (obviously a new mother) was a "bad dog."
At dinner, we saw that the cool Germans were also staying with us. Their porters had made them a farewell cake with "Happy New Year 1999" written on it. The Germans were too full to eat it all and gave some to Paul and me, which we ate before our dinner. Then the porters brought out a drum and sang and danced in front of the fire. It was wild, hypnotic, repetitive and uninhibited, wonderful stuff. The porters pulled the Germans up to dance (the other German group was spending the night as well) and they tried to have the same easy, artless grace, but were too stiff and careful. The Nepalis asked the Germans to sing a song, which they did, "Das Wandern ist des Muellers Lust," and which until that night I thought had only one verse. Turns out I only knew the chorus. Compared to the Nepalis, their song was sober and dignified, lacking any fire. But then, the Germans drink with a mug of beer, and the Nepalis dance and sing to keep warm. I know Paul was hoping the Americans would be asked to sing a song too, but we weren't. I was just as glad. I didn't want us to sound as pathetic as the Germans. He made do with spoons on the table.
Chungba came to tell us that someone from Yeti Air had brought a letter for us. They had transposed the numbers on the credit card slip when they'd sold us the tickets, in our favor. We'd noticed but not done anything about it. Yeti had sent a very nice handwritten letter up to Lukla, asking us to come and fix the problem and wishing us a very nice trek. It was pure luck that P.G., the Lukla Yeti representative, was a friend of Chungba's, otherwise he might not have found us. No one had ever asked us for our names. The only reason Chungba knew Paul's is because of the computers. Paul went up to talk to P.G., who wanted Paul to hand over his passport as a sign of good faith that he'd come in and settle the bill. Paul agreed to do this but I was upset because we hadn't done anything wrong, that it was the company's fault, so we shouldn't be penalized. But it was Paul's passport, and he could do what he wanted.
We went to bed early but had no chance of sleep because the porters stayed in front of the fire outside, singing and dancing into the wee hours. After they finished, a sick puppy, whom we'd met earlier in the day, cried pitifully all night.
This was our loaf day in Lukla and if all went well and we got our flight out the next morning, our only day. Otherwise we might be forced to do a lot of loafing while we waited. After breakfast, we walked over to the Yeti office, to find out when and where we should drop off Paul's passport. No one there seemed to have any idea what was going on and finally we let them off the hook by suggesting we go to the office at the airport. With much relief, they agreed that's exactly what we should do. At the airport, P.G. told us to bring Paul's passport with us when we went to catch our RNAC flight the next morning. He'd give it to the Yeti pilot, who'd drop it off at the Yeti office, where we could pick it up when we arrived to pay the balance of the bill.
We also picked up 15 kg. of incense from one of the guest houses, where Norbu had arranged to have it sent from Namche Bazar. (Presumably, he'd carried it down the hill from Lawudo.) We had told Ani La and Norbu that we'd take it to Kathmandu with us and drop it off at Himalaya House for them, where it gets sold. Fifteen kg. of incense is a lot of incense. We went for lunch at the Garden Lodge, a beautiful sunny spot we'd already walked by a couple of times longingly. Service was extremely slow. We found out about an hour after ordering that the kitchen had no kerosine for cooking. No explanations about the lack of food were even offered though. A couple of Boulderites with whom we started talking went into the kitchen to find out the story. They were pretty cynical about Lukla. He'd been on this trek several times and always hated coming back to Lukla. He was pre-med and apparently felt this qualified him to prescribe antibiotics to Tibetans coming over the mountains. Our PBJ sandwiches on Tibetan bread finally arrived and tasted like heaven.
We walked to the Post Office to mail some postcards, but it appeared to be closed, or at least the front door was locked. So we walked down to the end of the runway instead. I had thought the dropoff would just drop off, but there was a grassy gradual slope and then the plunge. The walk back up the runway was like some of the trek we'd just done. We hadn't had a shower yet because we figured our chances for hot water were greater in the afternoon. When we got back to Khumbu though, there was someone already in the shower, taking a long time, and if I was hearing correctly, he or she also seemed to be washing clothes. This was an outrage. Paul gave up and went to the dining room with Tamino and showed the boys pictures of our trek and I was amazed by how much of it they recognized by sight. I insisted on fuming the whole 40 minutes of the wait for the shower, striding back and forth and periodically knocking on the door. (No one answered.) We found out from one of the boys that Chungba's daughter was flying to Kathmandu the next morning, and it was she who had used up all the hot water. Paul had a nice chilly shower, and I at first declined, but then I decided I really needed some soap and water at any temperature, but I wasn't happy about it.
We sat in the dining room where the fire made it nice and cozy. An extremely rude American woman came in with her three friends, who hopefully were all very embarrassed to be seen with her. She complained that the rooms were too expensive (at $1.20 per person?) and was upset because the exchange rate at the Lodge was bad. She spoke belligerently right in front of the guy checking her in, as if he couldn't understand, but of course his English is great. I hoped that I hadn't looked that bad when I was grousing about the shower. Since it was our last night (we hoped), we splurged on dinner and ordered tomato egg drop soup, veg. momos, and some very excellent spring rolls. We still couldn't afford beer, but I really didn't want anything between me and this wonderful air.
Paul and Chungba retired to the office to play computers, and after they'd been gone three hours, I started feeling neglected and went up to our room. (We'd switched to a double so the three friends and the wicked woman could have the dorm, although I don't know where the extra room came from.) The poor puppy was still crying. Paul came up a little later, all apologetic about deserting me, and we went to bed.