Mount Everest Base Camp Trek, Day 14: Pangboche – Namche Bazar

We slept like roses. That was to be expected after such a beautiful evening in an even more beautiful company. Last night, while our hostess was stirring in her pots and pans to provide us with a delicious supper, a nice little lady of a thousand years old put two chairs next to the stove. We were the only guests and she gestured that we had to come and sit with her. She did not speak one word of English. The lady was very tiny and she had a crooked back. Yet she chose for herself the most uncomfortable seat: a round bamboo stool of less than thirty centimeters high, which was worn down to a nub. There was no point in proposing her to sit down on one of our chairs because we could read from her face that she was very attached to that fussy stool of hers. She tried to lit the stove and broke large pieces of yak-poo in flammable pieces with her bare hands. She doused everything with a kind of spirit and then set it on fire like a real “firestarter”. She was smiling and giggling all the time. Using body language she tried to tell us all kinds of things. To add to her body language she made funny moaning and puffing sounds. Without saying one word, we kept our conversation going. We burst into laughter countless times.

We “talked” about the terrible cold. And that it would soon become much warmer thanks to the stove. But actually it was not getting any warmer at all. Our “firestarter” failed to keep the stove burning. The low-hanging fog caused the chimney to refuse service. But our dear grandmother didn’t gave in. She threw a whole bag of yak feces in the stove and this time she was anything but economical with the spirit. Determined she nodded her head. She was certain she would succeed this time. But despite her strong confidence, the stove remained cold. Slightly frustrated she went to seek help from her son. But just when she was stumbling to the door the stove said “woof” and lit up. Our enthusiastic cheers and applause were answered with a big smile. With eyes full of proud our little Grandma sat back down on her stool.

When our hostess brought us our supper, we wanted to burst into cheers and applause again. It looked delicious. Together with her husband she joined us at the stove. While we were enjoying our meal a Swiss man came in. He wanted to spend the night here as well. He put an extra seat by the stove and laid his gloves on the stool of Grandma, who went out for a minute. When Grandma came back in and noticed his gloves on her stool, she looked upset. The Swiss guy immediately understood that he had made a big mistake and apologized in a thousand languages. I struggled not to start laughing out loud and just managed not to choke in my food.

I didn’t manage to do the latter when I learned that the owner of the lodge had climbed Mount Everest twelve times successfully. Twelve times! In all, he even ventured fifteen times to the world’s highest. He couldn’t reach the top three times. Full of admiration we looked at the photos against the wall. He remembered the name and nationality of every climber whom he accompanied to the top as sherpa. He looked very proud of his impressive Everest CV. And if it were up to him, that CV would have been even a few pages longer. But today he isn’t climbing anymore. Stopped when he met his wife, he explained to us as he gestured to her and put his arm around her shoulders. She smiled shyly and stroked his leg with her hand. “Far too dangerous,” she said. He smiled at her and shrugged his shoulders.

We decided to order an alcoholic beverage for the first time in almost two weeks time. Our glass of beer and wine were accompanied with a bowl of home-made shrimp crackers, we shared with the Swiss guy. Around the stove hundreds of heroic stories were told. Especially the Swiss guy was well on the move. And although some of his stories sounded more like legends and myths, we were still hanging on to his every word. He was a bit odd, that Swiss man. In real life he was a physiotherapist. But here he wore a worn down jacket which was being kept together with tape. He came across as woolly and dreamy. His stories were unstructured and incoherent. Although we might never have a click with this strange man at home, we were very grateful that we had met him here. And apparently he thinks so too. Because the farewell this morning feels very warm and sincere. When we shake hands with each other, he barely lets go of mine. He even follows us twice when we prepare ourselves to leave. At the third and final handshake we say goodbye and we start our second last day of this unforgettable adventure.

A few wild dogs lie lazing around the temple near the lodge. They don’t move a finger (or toe) when we pass them with our big backpacks. It is a real search to get back on the path. A few Nepalis who are working outside see the hesitation in our eyes and spontaneously point us in the right direction.

We have a long descent ahead of us. When we arrive at the end of the descent, we have to show our permit to a soldier again. While Wim neatly fulfills all the formalities, I try to look at what the soldier writes down in his thick handwritten book of his. I don’t get any wiser. He writes everything down in an incomprehensible Nepali language.

We have to climb another hour. We treat ourselves to a sandwich with fried eggs in the primitive bar that stands alongside the soldier’s cabin. We see a woman who is accompanied by a sherpa. We suspect that she had to turn around due to altitude sickness and that this sherpa is escorting her safely back down. The lady in question looks hard to please. She’s ordering “her” sherpa around continuously. And apparently he is tired of that behavior. At one point he makes a sarcastic remark, which isn’t to the taste of the lady. To ours all the more, which we make clear to the sherpa with a smile and a wink. When we leave him alone with his slave driver we wish him strength. He rolls his eyes and laughs. The woman (fortunately?) does’t get it why we’re laughing.

I am delighted that we can climb again. Although I always start with a scary heart – after all, you know that it is going to hurt – I still prefer climbing to descending. Every climb is a challenge. A test for your body. So this time too I want to test my body. Far ahead of me I see a woman with a small backpack climbing at a nice pace. Wim sighs behind me. He has quickly realized that I have entered into a competition with this woman in my head again. I must and will arrive on the mountain top before her. I drag, pull and push to reduce the distance between us. The sweat trickles down my forehead. What am I actually trying to prove here…? This unofficial competition of course does not make any sense at all. But when I am the first to reach the top I still feel very excited. Wim smiles. “How typical you,” he says.

We follow a narrow path back down. The pace is steady. Two men with empty carrying baskets pass us by. Their pace is even higher than ours. They are just like us on their way to Namche Bazar. Our host yesterday said that today is market day in Namche Bazar. The market must be so popular it attracts people from near and far. It is so difficult to grasp that the locals here have to walk for at least two days every week to buy some meat, fruit and vegetables on the market. Where we live, the groceries are already delivered at home. While the store is less than 2 kilometers away…! We are so spoiled. Or lazy. You can fill it in yourself…

Just before arriving at Namche Bazar we decide to have another beer in a lodge, which is located in a beautiful hidden paradise in the forest. The owner of the lodge looks particularly happy with our visit, and doesn’t hesitate for a second to invite himself at our table. Although our journey is almost finished, he warns us for thieves. Apparently shoes and other material are sometimes stolen from the awning of hikers at night. We are surprised to hear this. Because in the past two weeks we have always felt very safe.

We say goodbye and get ready for the last hiking hour of the day. We immediately feel the beer in our legs. But it does not bother us, because we are in good spirits. When Namche Bazar appears on the horizon, we share memories of our trip. We realize that we are living a wonderful life. And we are grateful that we can do all of this together. There is still a full day of hiking in front of us before our trip is finally over, but already we are dreaming out loud about our next adventure…

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