Meet the cast of The Red Rucksack

Just the other day I was thinking about all the fun and amazing people I have met on my journies, the cast of The Red Rucksack if you will. Many of these people would have been diagnosed and medicated in my past life. In my current life they were among the most colourful and exciting (yes sometimes weird) people I have met. If you get a mention below and are reading this you can decide which category you fit in to. I started jotting down a short best of list and thought I would share it with you.  I find that despite the landscapes being breathtaking and the customs and cities amazing it is often the people you meet who leave the strongest impression:

 

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Andy Chapman -The short, powerhouse, singing maniac I met in Nepal. He spends his life at altitude pulling clients up mountains. His choice of song leaves something to be desired but his patience and ability to laugh under duress is commendable.

Gav and Al -An English couple in their early forties whom I climbed with in Nepal. They made the life decision to pass on kids and to spend their time and energy traveling the world, scuba diving and complaining about the wine list. Great people and good fun.

Dowar -The mountain climbing demi-god I met in Nepal. He and his three brothers hold the guinness world record for family Mount Everest summits I believe at over thirty times. His brothers feature on the label of every Everest Lager bottle. He is the most modest and quiet man I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. He is so quiet and unassuming that for the first few days of the climb I thought he was a learner. It is rumored that once he ran off the summit of Cho Oyu with a sick climber on his shoulders, Cho Oyu is 8000 metres high.

Crazy Travel lady -The lady I met in Gokyo who has been traveling continuously for some twenty one years. She said she came into ‘some money’ at a young age and decided to go for a trip. She had some amazing stories to tell over a cup of tea and a yak steak.

Mark -Andrew Millen’s boss in Mongolia who was desperate for me to visit his favorite massage parlor with him. I didn’t. Otherwise he let us have company cars, helped us plan operation desert storm and was the perfect host.

Mongo -our guard and driver in Mongolia -A six foot tall monster who wears army fatigues and drove Andrew and I around. It turns out he had a wicked sense of humour and drove the Hilux around the Gobi like he was competing in the dakar rally.

Tv show host in Dalanzadgad – When she interviewed us for her travel show did she honestly think she would get sensible answers about travel in the Gobi Desert from two drunk Australians. Even she let out a chuckle as Andrew simulated performing oral sex on his pointer finger behind the camera. I fell off my chair laughing.

Shoulder dictionary -The young chap living on the shores of lake titicaca. I stayed with his family for a night. He spent the day happily perched on my shoulder as we walked around the farm reciting the Spanish word for things that I pointed at. A most agreeable way to learn new words.

‘Rio’ -Peru’s answer to ACDC, their most famous band. The lead singer was most interested in kangaroos. It was funny to see the shock on the black t-shirt wearing rocker’s face when I told him we eat kangaroo burgers in Australia.

Nasca Pilots -Sporting aviator sunglasses these guys are straight off the set from ‘top gun’. They flirt shamelessly with the girls and love to try and scare people by throwing their cessnas around under the guise of giving us a good look at the nasca lines.

Sophita and Nazia -Two law students I met in Miraflores. After dragging Sophita out of a fight we went on to become great friends. They enjoyed learning some choice English words and laughing at my bad salsa dancing. Me, I leant some Spanish and simply loved walking into clubs unshaven and wearing daggy t shirts with two stunning Peruvians on my arm.

Crazy cocaine dealer -Man who pounced every time I walked out of the hostel in Lima and offered me all sorts of mind altering substances. Do I look like some sort of bearded, drug taking hippy or something? (rhetorical)

Earthquake man in Pisco -Man who stopped me in the street and said I should not be out at this hour alone in Pisco. We went on to talk about the increasing crime since the devastating earthquake of 2007 and life in general.

Bus attendant -Yes they have bus attendants on long trips. She upgraded me to an executive seat and helped me throughout the night as I enjoyed a 12 hour bus ride suffering explosive gastroenteritis.

Whip Lady -Lady who makes tourists lie on the ground and then whips them with a vengeance in Chivay, all under the guise of a cultural show. She could get an even higher paid job in a dungeon somewhere I am sure.

King -A Malaysian doctor with a brilliant sense of humour and no fear. A formidable combination. He tried to get us into a high security prison in La Paz by saying that he wanted to visit his cousin inside. He went on to wrestle anacondas in the jungle. His talents are wasted in a small consulting room.

Lonesome George -The famous galapagos turtle who is the last of his species. He produces no sperm so will definitely be the last. The kindly park rangers have put two female turtles from a different species in his pen for ‘companionship, no need for birth control. Not so lonesome George.

Jette and Ann -Two hilarious Danish girls I met on the Galapagos. Never have I laughed so consistently for ten days. Jette came along to Bolivia with me, I popped over to visit her in Denmark. We continued stalking each other around the globe and recently got married in an intimate ceremony in the Tasmanian bush (wearing hiking boots).

American salsa guy -A ponytailed American man in his mid fifties who comes to Quito annually to salsa dance with the locals and to get a break from his wife. The way he was talking about his dancing partners it was more than salsa going on.

Lebanese consul in Ecuador – She filled me with camomile tea as she begged me over the flickering candlelight for money to buy her way out of gaol. I spend a night in Quilatoa with her and her family playing Beatles collector edition monopoly. A most agreeable and random night just when I was starting to feel a little lonely.

Dr Ricardo -The insane Chilean psychiatrist who loves both whiskey and the white powder. He enjoys psychoanalyzing everyone in sight, is intensely intelligent but has a few screws loose. Great fun.

Heavy metal midget -The midget Ozzy Osborne clone who persisted in trying to wrestle with me in a shady biker bar in Quito. He even picked up a chair and threatened to bash me (around the knees) with it if I would not wrestle him. I won.

Ando -The gay flight attendant who lived where I did a language home stay. He kept on asking me if I liked to ‘party’. He never worked out how to say platypus properly.

The Nun -The head nun how was unsure whether to let a hairy Australian into her orphanage under the guise of donating clothes. Her and her team look after some 80 abandoned babies. She has the patience of, well, a nun.

Marcus -The loud surfing Australian I climbed Cotopaxi with. He works as a commercial diver, his stories of accidents and close calls made me convinced that initially I chose the right profession.

Elderly Peruvian man on bus -The man who I gave my seat to, only for him to be promptly vomited on by a small child. Without any words we laughed at the beautiful irony of this moment.

Shaman Alberto -The skinny Iowaska drinking shaman who claims it gives him the ability to see into people’s health like an x-ray machine. I think it just gives him a lovely buzz.

Try hard Gangster people -The cocaine snorting, reggae loving gangsters who kept me up all night with their music and wrestling in Guayaquil. Revenge; putting my ringing alarm clock on their windowsill as I had a 5 am shower on my way to an early flight, genius.

The farmer and his wife -The nice farmer and his wife who let me camp near their home whilst trekking the Huayhuash. They caught and shared fresh trout from the nearby river. They were two of the happiest people I know but only own a few sheep, some basic cooking/fishing gear and one set of clothes. I am glad I left before washing day.

Psychotic French walkers -Three dreadlocked and tattooed French people who got caught high in the mountains of Peru without good equipment or food. They had to endure a forced march out. They went on to join in the riots in Huaraz and took some amazing photos which they sold to the media.

David -My ten year old guide who gave me a tour of his town for the price of a chocolate bar. He even showed me his secret fishing place on the promise that I did not tell anyone. I think in my travels he was the most patient with my Spanish. Good kid.

Mark -The psychotic potato truck driver who gave me a lift into Chiquian after busses were stopped by rioting. He loved getting his bald tyre truck sideways around precipitous corners and scaring the absolute hell out of me while all the time mimicking my accent.

Rosweldt -The rock climbing guide in Huaraz who had a very casual approach to belaying. He managed to both eat a museli bar and answer a phone call whilst I was climbing. The rest of the time I climbed he just enjoyed the views.

Justin -A very eccentric, cross eyed English man who studies language. I first saw him singing at the top of his lungs to an audience of Quechua speaking locals in the Chiquan plaza. He has spent ten months in the highlands of Peru learning and documenting Quechuan and it sure showed.

Bus Lady -The well groomed, neat lady who did not bat an eyelid when I fell asleep on her shoulder and proceeded to drool all over her on a long bus ride through Peru

Lindsay -The bar owning anthropologist who loved studying Bolivian people so much that he married one! Drinks like a fish and has some brilliant tall tales about his exploits in the jungle.

Benjamin - The farmer on the isle del sol who let Jette and I camp on his beach to see in the new year. That night we enjoyed a lake titicaca sunset, each others company and lots of red wine.

Australians in La Paz – With white powder still in their nose hairs they would ask questions rapid fire, not wait for a answer, then ask the next question.  They had been traveling for many months and had not seen the outside of a hostel bar.

Fabio and Sammie - These guys come as a pair. They work as paragliding instructors and own a business doing stunts for the movie industry. They do an amazing dance on the wind and are very laid back guys.

Art – an eighty something year old grandfather who decided that learning to paraglide would be fun.  Art drunk almost a bottle of wine each night, joined in the parties with gusto and actively encorouged our aerial paintball idea. The world needs more Arts.

Martin - Belgium tandem paragliding pilot. He agrees wholeheartedly with passengers when they say he is awesome. Wears an inca style vest and never once helped with the washing up.

Gay motorbike riding-paraglider man from Germany with the hash - No real story here, he was just hilarious.

It is these guys, and many, many more who have made my journey so very full of colorful memories. If you have travelled with me and didn’t get a mention, Sorry!!

Get the full story here (click on book):

grey Meet the cast of The Red Rucksack

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Curious? Get the full story here (click on book):

grey Meet the cast of The Red Rucksack

 

Running of the Yaks

This one time, at Pangboche, Dave and I got the idea to make a running of the Bulls parody called Running of the Yaks.

This is how we spend our rest days up in the hills, immaturity abounds. Running at 3985 meters above sea level sure is a challenge though!

Yaks are really slow, dumb, and are only dangerous if you get in their way.

PS ‘Proper’ mountain videos coming soon.

 

Now to arrange a flight home.

grey Now to arrange a flight home.

Mountains up where jets cruise?!

Mal had decided to go to Pokhara for Paragliding as he had unrefundable tickets and Shaun was heading to Thailand to rock climb, but I had my heart set on getting home. My ever efficient travel consultant Mel Whtye told me that my flight was closed to changes and that I would have to go to the airport and beg – time for the puppy dog eyes and a good story. Andrew came along as well to try his luck.

Enter Binita Dahal, she must have sensed our desperation to get home as she pulled out all stops to try and help us, squinting at her screen and tapping away at the keyboard she told us, “Sorry sir we only have Business Class tickets open for the Kathmandu to Singapore leg”

“This is fine, done…oh, how much is that?”
“Ummm, $150 to upgrade sir, sorry”

“Seriously, I’ll take it…” I said quickly as Andrew stood beside me nodding and grinning.

Before making the change, Binita had to wait until the flight was closed for good, only fifteen minutes before take off. She then took our money and put it into a very non-offical looking bum-bag (Fanny-pack for American readers) and handed us our boarding passes. I paid the bag weighing man 500 rupees (about US$5) and he weighed my bag to be 10 kgs lighter than it was. This saved me a lot of overweight baggage charges, or over $160 postage if I couriered it home. Binita then efficiently whisked Andrew and myself through a very long customs line, shepherded us to a waiting, empty bus and made sure we were on the plane without issue. After finishing this post I will be writing a letter of commendation for her. Here is a video of Binita, if you get to Kathmandu Airport before I do, please give her a big hug from me:

The next thing I was sitting in a massive chair next to a lovely, chatty Singaporean Obstetrician who smelt like fresh laundry. I was drinking fine orange juice and watching the Himalayas slipping by. Landing in Singapore we were met by two lovely Singapore airlines employees who showed Andrew and I to an electric golf buggy thing and whisked us away to our next flight. I have always, always wanted a ride through an airport on one of these so I was excited, to say the least.

Like the little children we are, Andrew and I were making constant Dr Evil jokes and loving the whole experience. All the while the two Singapore Airlines Employees tried to keep a straight face, but they occasionally they laughed along with us. We decided to change flights to a later one (so we would arrive in Melbourne at the same time as our bags) so I asked the driver, “Would you mind taking us to MacDonalds drive through? Then maybe we could do a few Airport laps…”

The lady seemed keen but had other people to organise, “Sorry sir, this is as far as we can take you.” If, like me, you have always wondered what it is like to ride on one of these, here is a quick point of view video:

This left Andrew and I time to walk (sadly) to the Butterfly garden via Burger King and to have a bit of an explore around Singapore Airport, arguable the best in the world.

I had yet to tell Jette that I was on the way home but I did mention in my last email that if I went quiet, then I was likely on my way home.

Home home home!

Home is lovely, my wife is lovely, Australia is so civilised…time to wade through hours of video footage, then plan the next mountain challenge.

Oh no! I have a very exciting book launch to survive first.

Mountain porn videos coming soon, so watch this space icon smile Now to arrange a flight home.

Blue skies and Happy Feet

Ben

PS How did a cattle class cruising shmuck find the whole business class thing? Well, definitely the food and service was better, but after a few hours I was still squirming in my seat and wriggling like a pre-schooler needing the toilet. At the end of the day I am not much of a sitter-downer. It was a nice experience, but I would never pay what they normally charge for business class. Give me farty old economy seats and my dirty old red rucksack any day icon smile Now to arrange a flight home.

grey Now to arrange a flight home.

Singapore airlines Business class baby!

grey Now to arrange a flight home.

Singapore airlines Business class food

 

And here I am!

grey And here I am!

Lukla runway

Again, the twin otter pilots wait on the runway revving the engines hard before hurtling towards a sheer cliff face…for me it was a bumpy, nervous flight but Mal assured us all that he has had worse. I gave Mal my video camera so he could record the takeoff. Mal also managed to record Dave’s brilliant reaction to the short take off (and Dave’s trust in his lucky penguin)

We landed in Kathmandu soon afterwards having survived the rigours of Khumbu Valley trekking. Trekking in the Khumbu Valley is a very different experience to the type of trekking I am used to. In Tasmania (where I grew up) it is possible, and common, to go on overnight, or longer, trekking trips without seeing a single human; trail etiquitte, robbery and over crowding are hardly considered. Not so the Khumbu, as I said in a previous post this trail is teeming with every sort of person imaginable: the weary climber heading home, the excited, chatty first timer, twitchy guides trying to monitor their charges, tired porters and of course myriad people trying to get up to see Everest Base Camp.

I truly do not understand the Everest Base Camp (EBC) thing. I have it on good authority that EBC is just the world’s highest rubbish bin, getting cleaner, but still it is just some rocks, a big mountain and holes where old toilets were dug. Why not trek to a similar height along a remote trail, enjoy some differtent mountain views and be original? Says the guy heading home from trying to climb one of the most visited mountains in Nepal.

So my ranting may be backfiring here but, oh, one more thing, only wear aviators if you are a 1960’s fighter pilot.

Okay to stay somewhat on track, Everest Base camp is around 5500 meters high. A few years ago I trekked part of the Peruvian Huayhuash Circuit which is at similar altitudes as the Everest Base Camp trek (more about this in my book *hint*). I enjoyed 6 days in the stunning Cordiella Huayhuash, was the only Westerner for miles, had the track to myself and the scenery was astounding. I made friends with two local farmers who caught trout and let me stay with them for two nights. The whole experience cost me nothing but food and a bit of altitdue sickness. There are so many, much more beautiful places to visit than shit ridden Mt Everest Base Camp, just ask me if you are ever stuck for ideas. icon smile And here I am!

Back at our original Hotel in Thamel the guard recognised me and saluted, I saluted back, grabbed my bags and ran to the shower.

Oh dear God. How good that first proper shower was.

Six weeks without a proper shower! The amount of hair that came out of my head was concerning, but shoulder length hair probably needs proper-washing more than six weekly. I will not detail the dead skin that came off my legs (as I wear merino tights on mountains -grr right?!), nor the colour of the water going into the drain. Suffice to say when I emerged I felt like a new man.

Now all I needed now was a flight home…

grey And here I am!

Yakdonalds – Lukla

 

Homeward bound

grey Homeward bound

Just after writing my last post we got word that all the climbing sherpas were going to wait about 4-7 days to finish fixing the mountain. Fixing the mountain involves securing communal safety lines on the tricky bits for all the expeditions to utilise. This wait was due to heavy snow on the Dablam bit of the mountain. Basically it was described as waist deep pellets of snow covered with a thin crust of solid snow – not ideal for climbing (read: deadly). News which, although sad for the boys keen to push on, kind of backed up my decision to bail on a summit attempt.

This delay sadly put our team out of the game and unable to make a summit attempt. On the plus side it meant that I would have some awesome company on the trek back to Lukla! We mooted the idea of making an attempt on Island Peak but everyone was feeling completely worn and ready to go so once the news settled in, we set about organising our retreat back to Kathmandu.

Our retreat involved changing flights from Lukla to Kathmandu and then trying to organise flights home. Some of the lads were thinking about going to Thailand for some rock climbing fun but as I said in my last post, I was ready for home. Flight changes were made extra difficult as Nima, our man on the ground in Kathmandu, had been in hospital for the last ten days (Jinxed-we are trying to figure out which one of our team killed a chinaman before coming here…)

grey Homeward bound

Relaxing at Base

On our third day at base camp, and having read everything in reach, including nutritional info on camp food packets, Dave, Brendan and I made the call to lash out and trek to Pangboche to stay in a nice, civilised tea house. The trek down took about one hour – a trip which on the way up was a high altitude ordeal of headaches, nausea and tirdness -  we were full of red blood cells and ready to demolish the trek towards Lukla. Our decision to spoil ourselves with a night at Pangboche proved a huge succes as we each ate a very tasty hashbrown with egg on top washed down with a Heneken beer.

A tall, thin sherpa with a long ponytail came over saying he remembers us from Ama Dablam Base camp. He went on to say he also left the mountain early as he believes that it cannot be fixed in less than two weeks. He was on the mushroom above camp one and described waist deep snow, sketchy anchoring possibilities and conditions which, again, justified our leaving the hill alone…this time.

Sometime the following day the rest of the boys arrived and we set sail for civilisation.

Four days of uneventful trekking later we arrived at Lukla and were packed into the rattly twin otter plane ready for home. News arrived that teams were still struggling to make any progress on the hill. Silently wishing them luck we flew back to Kathmandu and the promise of a proper hot shower, maybe some Thai food, more beers and an early return home.

To round up my series on this adventure I am currently working on a few video, photo and shorter posts about an average day in the life of an expedition, the joys of acclimitisation and other logistical, but hopefully interesting, things I have learnt along the way.

Please let me know if there is anything that you want to specifically know about.

Blue skies and happy feet.

Ben

grey Homeward bound

Ama Dablam from Pangboche

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