Today we treat ourselves to sleep in a bit. Well deserved after yesterday’s tough hiking day, if I may say so myself. When we leave Dzongla, the Spaniard, who was yelling about ice axes on the Cho-La pass yesterday, is sitting outside together with his friends. It turns out to be a congenial group of young men. They are having a rest day today. It seems as if they are having quite a good time here in the morning sun. It looks very tempting to put two extra chairs with the friendly lads, but luckily the landscape looks at least as tempting. We ignore the alluring chairs and allow us to be drawn deeper into the landscape.
We step over a stone wall to get back on the path. The route sends us across a river and brings us at the other bank on a small plateau. Although we aren’t even walking for half an hour yet, we decide to take a break anyway. Not because we are already tired, but simply because it is too beautiful here not to stop. We sit down on our backpacks. We say little. We just stare. Straight ahead. For an eternity. Or that’s how it feels. Because time doesn’t seem to exist at this place. No second passes. Everything is static and quiet. No bird whistling his most beautiful melodies. No tree waving its branches to the rhythm of the wind. Only rocks, sand and snow. A lifeless landscape. And it’s beautiful. It’s so – damn – beautiful …
Suddenly some hikers get us out of our daze. A guide calls his team to order. Apparently there are a few hikers lagging behind. That’s why he puts everyone neatly in a row until the other hikers are able to catch up. His approach looks a bit militaristic. But everyone seems to be fine with it. Meekly, they follow all his instructions. When the team is reunited again, they continue. They climb up a hill. We wait until the group has completely disappeared from our view, to continue our route to Lobouche.
The moon isn’t able to catch sleep today and is still wide awake in the sky. Her white color contrasts nicely with the bright blue sky, under which we continue to climb smoothly. The view only gets better. Behind the edge of the plateau a deep valley appears, in which a huge glacier has nestled.
A sherpa climbs up the mountain at high speed. When he passes, I have to look twice. Not because of his incredible speed, but because of the poor clothing in which he crosses this inhospitable landscape. Unlike us, he isn’t wearing a thick down jacket. And worse, his unbranded Allstars are so worn that both big toes come peeping. I am ashamed when I look at the expensive material I’m wearing to keep my body warm. Doubting whether I should have compassion or a towering respect for this sherpa, I continue walking, deep in thoughts. I can’t stop the feeling that it’s somehow a bit our fault that this sherpa walks around like this. After all, we choose to carry our own luggage, which means that the local population can’t make any money from us. But on the other hand, I would also have an indescribable difficulty in allowing someone else’s back to break under my heavy stuff. And it’s precisely because of the latter that we are respected here. Not only by the hikers who have their luggage carried, but especially by the sherpas themselves. Because every time they see me as a woman passing by with about 20 kilograms on my back I get enthusiastic reactions from them. The sherpas don’t see us as people who impede them to get food on the table. Quite the contrary. In their eyes we are one of them. And I have to admit, that’s a wonderful feeling.
When grazing yaks come into view, Lobouche suddenly turns up as well. It’s busier than we are used to in recent days. At least 25 sherpas in exactly the same red outfit with a print of “expeditions-something” give me the impression that they are part of a team that is going to climb Everest himself. They sit on walls on the the left and right in front of the “Mother Earth Lodge”. It’s like they form a guard of honour for us. I wonder if we will be getting flowers and kisses as well at the front door of the lodge.
Although Lobouche represents little else besides four lodges, we find Lobouche’s “best kept secret” in a cabin. We open the squeaking door and find the cosiest coffeehouse of the whole region behind it. They proudly state that they are the highest bakery on earth. We don’t have to think twice to order two small chocolate cakes with our latte macchiato and hot chocolate. The tarts are presented freshly baked on two small plates. When we poke our forks into it, a smooth, hot chocolate sauce comes running out. Heaven!
Helicopters fly in and out. For the umpteenth time we see with our own eyes how a hiker is being evacuated in one of the helicopters. When I break out in yet another coughing fit because of my pneumonia, Wim says he’s having doubts whether we are making the right decision to continue the trek. My five day antibiotic treatment hasn’t kicked in. I still cough quite severely. Not to mention my persistent throbbing head. Wim is clearly worried. But we are only one day – indeed, one day! – removed from Everest Base Camp and it feels so harsh to throw in the towel now. Our goal is almost literally within reach. I therefore answer Wim that I want to push through. It’s because there’s only one day of climbing left that he agrees, otherwise he would have started tonight already with the planning of a route back to the valley. Wim obliges me to measure the oxygen level in my blood, though. He has read that this can be done here in the lodge. At this altitude, my oxygen level should be at least 70% in order to continue. I hardly dare to look at the display of the device. I squeeze my eyes, hold my breath, count to three and then open my eyes … 72% says the device! Whew …! Just enough …! So Everest Base Camp, brace yourself. I’m on my way!