None other than Jimmy Carter, the 39th president of America, slept in the lodge where we also spent the night tonight. A metal memorial on the wall should remind us of this great moment. But in addition to the president, many other notorious people have slept in this lodge, which was built at no less than 3500 meters above sea level. And with notorious people I mean countless renowned mountaineers who managed to claim one world record after another. When we take a seat at the breakfast table we feel – despite our incredible performance to reach Mount Everest Base Camp – in comparison to them very tiny and humble.
We ask the host for our stuff, which we had left behind here two weeks ago to save some weight in our backpacks. As a thank you, we give him our gas bottles and some freeze-dried meals. We can not use them anymore. The man is very happy with it. After we said goodbye to him and want to set off for our last day of hiking, we look at the many autographed pictures that hang in the entrance hall of the lodge. These are the photos of those renowned mountaineers and their impressive world records that have slept here. We rub our eyes with disbelief and respect as we look at them.
Along the newly built stupas, which were ceremonially inaugurated during our previous passage, we walk out of the village. The colorful prayer mills are constantly kept in motion by the water of a river.
Several yaks and donkeys are grazing just outside the village. They are the pack animals of the market vendors who were offering their products for sale along the streets of Namche Bazar yesterday. Today they will be back on the road again, off to the next market. We walk behind a market vendor for a while. He is already early on his way to take his donkeys back down the mountain. One of the donkeys looks a bit older and is lagging behind. The past few days we were more than once witness to how unfriendly locals deal with animals who can’t keep up the pace. Therefore I want to look after this old rascal and I tell him he must try to keep up, because otherwise he will probably have to pay the price for it. He looks at me with his sweet big eyes. I stroke his head with my hand. He lays his long ears back. And then stands still. He doesn’t move an inch. “No, move forward … Don’t stand still!” I whisper to the donkey. I look at Wim with anxious eyes. But he says it’s my fault. According to him, the animal has stopped because I was cuddling him. My encouraging words unfortunately don’t work. As the farmer comes towards my sweet donkey, I panic. As expected, he rages against my four legged friend and even throws stones at his head. I nearly start to cry. But in contrast to my tears, I can’t suppress my sense of guilt. Wim is right. I should have just let the poor animal be. Because of me, it now gets stones thrown at his head. My heart crumbles.
The whole event sets the atmosphere for the further descent. I can’t get the image out of my head. Without speaking a word we walk next to each other for miles. Until the point where some wild dogs come to greet us. As if I want to make up for my earlier mistake, we give the animals some biscuits. They accept them gratefully and continue to walk with us for a while.
The rest of the route goes in “fast forward”. After all, we are walking on the same track that brought us from Lukla to Namche Bazar two weeks ago. Again we walk past the bakery where we bought delicious bread, past the house where the child asked us for some chocolate and over the first suspension bridge, which will be the last one for us now. When Lukla comes into view, we are a bit worried. It’s a rainy day and we’re afraid it might throw a spanner in the works for our planned flight tomorrow morning. Since Lukla has such a dangerous airport with a very short runway, planes won’t take off when visibility is poor.
Our suspicion is being confirmed the next day. Without any information we are left waiting in an empty departure hall for hours. We have no other option than to book an extra night in a hotel in Lukla. The weather is getting worse and all the planes stay on the ground today.
A day later, the sky hasn’t cleared a bit. We therefore decide to go for the much more expensive alternative: a helicopter flight. Helicopters still take off in this weather and can safely take us to Kathmandu. It soon becomes clear that these helicopter flights are big business here in Lukla. The pilots also know that stranded hikers have no option but to book a helicopter flight when the other planes don’t take off. We as well, are subject to time pressure, because tomorrow we have take the aircraft to Belgium again. There is no other solution than to pay 400 euros per person to book us a seat in one of the helicopters.
But for those 400 euros we get good value for money. Because the 45-minute flight is what you could call “an experience in itself”. To say the least… Because suddenly I hear through my headphones over the radio: “Mayday, need to descent immediately”. I break out in a cold sweat.
From the panicked Nepalese and English gibberish on the radio, I think I can conclude that another plane has caught fire and needs to land urgently. The communication from the aircraft that is in trouble sounds very unclear. There is a lot of noise on the radio. But the panic in the pilot’s voice goes directly to the bone. Alternately I hear his fearful voice and that of a dead serious and focused lady in the tower, who is giving him instructions and permission to land. After a few minutes, which seem like hours, I suddenly hear a relieved “happy landing” over the radio. The pilot got his device safely on the ground. Our helicopter pilot looks at me. We are the only ones on board with headphones on. The four other passengers of the helicopter haven’t heard anything from the emergency call. “Are you ok”, he asks with a worried voice. I nod, while my stomach is actually completely messed up.
Later on we see on TV that a passenger plane has indeed gotten into trouble today. It hadn’t caught fire, but the window of the cockpit had cracked and one of the pilots was sucked half out of the airplane. Thanks to his safety belt, he survived. The other pilot was later honored as a hero, since he managed to get all 128 passengers safely on the ground. It is quite possible it was this emergency call that I heard over the radio. It would explain the enormous noise on the radio, which sounded like strong winds.
With still a knot in my stomach, our pilot lands the helicopter safely. From the landing platform we are asked to climb into the back of a jeep to be taken to the airport. We are kindly welcomed by stray wild monkeys.
Once we arrive at the hotel, we are promptly upgraded to a Superior room with gold colored faucets. But gold colored or not, it is above all the heavenly hot water that makes me reach cloud seven. What a divine feeling, after ten days of simmering in my own sweat. Freshened up, we conclude our unforgettable journey on the cozy terrace of the hotel with a delicious local dish. In which – for a last time – I choke again. Acclimatizing to the altitude might have been successful, but to get used to the Nepalese spicy peppers I would need another week of holiday. Or two … Well, make that three.