Camels in the Sahara

7 05 2020

We’d all been looking forward to being in the Sahara Desert – by far the biggest in the world. Riding camels, and seeing stars. We’d be spending the night at a glamping campsite on the edge of the Erg Chebbi dunes. It’d been a long day on the road getting out there, across the arid steppe. But in the late afternoon, the dunes rose above the village of Merzouga.

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We were to ride camels into the desert and stick around until sunset. It was a really epic experience being out there. Not long after arriving at an auberge (lodge) we began suiting up for the ride.

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Aditi and Mohamed

We brought along minimal supplies such as water, cameras, and jackets for after sunset.

While we waited, a truck drove up to me and the driver asked me in French, “Where can we get water, is there a natural water source around here?” I was like, “Dude we are in the Sahara!” Anyway, it wasn’t long before we found our camels. They all seemed to know what was coming up.

 

Our guides assisted us getting into the saddle and getting the camel to stand up.

David gets his camel to rise! Well done! When the camel stands up, you’d better hang on! And trust the camel knows what it’s doing.

With everybody on their camels, it was time for a group shot before we set off.

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We entered the dunes in a “camel train,” with lines connecting each beast. Since they have done this thousands of times, the camels all know what to do. The sand seems bottomless, but the camels feet are quite wide and don’t sink in very much. Still, it’s a very bouncy ride, and when climbing, descending and turning on a dune, it’s pretty unsettling for a newbie like me! Add to that trying to take a photo!

Before long, the timeless view of the rusty colored desert in the late afternoon brings up awe and emotion. I’ll never forget the endless sea of dunes.

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We reached a spot where we could explore the dunes under our own power. There was something about the setting that made me just take in the wonder. How many millions of years have these sands been here, shifting, moving, changing shape.

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Once the sun set, we rode to our glamorous camping site. I’m used to roughing it, but this was something else! It had rooms with blankets and beds. A bathroom with flush toilet. But still, it had a spot with a campfire for music and conversation. Katie and I were hoping for a sea of stars. Instead, it was a full moon, which blocked out the sky for much of the night. I was able to rise an hour before dawn, just as the moon set. But I only got 20 minutes of Milky Way Galaxy viewing.

Dinner time with a toast!

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CHEERS! No shortage of wine tonight!

 

 

 

 

 





Marin Headlands, CA Hike with my Annapurna Sanctuary Trek-Mates!

5 02 2020
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Rod, Cathy Ann, Annette, and Uli!

In early January 2020, I spent a weekend in the San Francisco Bay area. My college roommate Michael Matthews lives there, as does Cathy Ann Taylor, who was my guide on treks in Bhutan, Peru, and Nepal.

I contacted Cathy Ann and we decided to do a nice hour-or-so hike up in the Marin Headlands. Also joining on the hike were two of my Nepal trekking-mates! Annette Brinton and Ulrike (Uli) Koehne. In Nepal, we hiked about 38,000 vertical feet on the Annapurna Sanctuary Trek!

We met at the Tennessee Valley trailhead. It is in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. The hike wound up the hills and, once over the saddles, we could see all the Bay area! I could see container ships coming in from the ocean, the Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco and all the way to Oakland. There was no fog! Cathy Ann said at our highest point we were about 1,000ft above the ocean.

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Cathy Ann kept up a brisk pace. I sweated a bit, but the breeze and my quick dry apparel made quick work of the wetness and by the end of the hike I was dry all over again.

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With Uli!

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Adrian, Annette, Rod, Michael, Amala, Thupten, and Cathy Ann

Following the hike, we met Michael at a dockside restaurant in Sausalito. There were other guests and one total surprise! Cathy Ann’s husband Thupten was with us, as was Annette’s husband. The surprise guest was Amala, Thupten’s mom! I met her in Nepal!

What a perfect day.





Nepal Annapurna Sanctuary Trek: Hike Out and then Back to Pokhara

10 01 2019

Our string of wonderful mornings continued, with the Himalayas beyond our campsite bathed in early morning orange alpenglow. The weather was nice enough that we took our breakfast outside.

From Campsite to Road to Boutique Resort, An Extended Day

This day was going to be a LONG one. We’d hike out, walking through Ghandruk, a village, then down to a road at Syaulebhatti where we would meet some 4X4s which would ferry us along the rough roads down, to the Modi Khola river, then on “paved” roads to Pokhara. We’d have lunch at Phewa Lake in Pokhara, and then overnight in the very posh boutique Temple Tree Resort, which for us would be a first-class oasis following our trek! Due to my challenges with perspiration and clothes issues a hotel with some laundry opportunities was in my mind for a few days!

With Light Hearts We Say Goodbye to Guides, Kitchen Staff and Porters

Being our last day and hike out, it was time to thank and reward our trekking staff! Tips! On this trek we had more staff than any other I’d been a part of. About 45 staff total! That is because of the Nepalese steps. On my other treks, such as The Chomolhari Trek in Bhutan or The Cordillera Huayhuash Trek in Peru, horses, mules or Lamas carried the tents, duffel bags, kitchen equipment and so forth. But in this part of Nepal, with steps, only humans could navigate. So human porters carried these loads. On our days walking, the call of “Porters coming” was heard many times!

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Porters lined up and we gave each their tip individually.

It is a big deal. The evening prior, each of us put together our tip and gave that to Cathy Ann. Cathy Ann then spent time the night before preparing the tips for each group of staff – Porters, Kitchen Staff and Guides. Each group lined up and we doled out the tips one by one!

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Our deeply talented kitchen staff, and a couple of guides.

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Our world class guides, including Cathy Ann! OK the mountains behind are cute.

Then it was time to hike out. The trail, completely paved with stones and steps, wound right through the town of Ghandruk. Those folks have a beautiful view every day!

 

Leaving Ghandruk behind, we descended, finally dropping to a dirt road. A mile or two later we arrived at the point where we met up with our 4x4s which would ferry us to Pokhara.

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We had 3 4X4s, and I volunteered to take the spare seat in the lead Indian Jeep with Mingma and Cathy Ann. Cathy Ann and I are both susceptible to falling asleep with the rocking motions of trains and 4X4s, and we both succumbed to the motions!

The Annapurna area is one where tourists need visas to enter/exit, and these were prepared for us in advance of our trip. These seem to be surrendered on the way out. Here is my visa…

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I imagine the fees help fund the Conservation Area. Well, I hope! Looks to be about $30.

Off the Trail, the Realities of Nepalese Life Hit Hard

Being that we were in Nepal and that schedules melt away with the daily machinations, this day was no different. Along the bumpy road, we encountered a guy operating a piece of equipment which was re-leveling the road. There was no angry honking of horns. Instead, an understanding that this guy was doing his job and that we’d just have to patiently wait.

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And wait we did, for at least an hour whilst he went about his work leveling the road.

There was nothing to do but wait and allow him time to do his job.

But the traffic built. And built. And built. And built and built and built.

When he was ready to take his break, there were dozens of 4X4s and even buses ready to pass!

We passed within inches of vehicles going the other way.

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Behind us was a bus, and I wondered how they would negotiate passing all the 4X4s headed up hill.

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I’ve definitely been on more precarious roads. In Peru, one-vehicle only roads with a cliff face above and below, sometimes traveled underneath overhanging boulders…and many times we encountered trucks coming the other way, forcing us to back down to a spot wide enough to pass.

Nevertheless, these roads really need a 4×4 and make the Americans driving their often-blinged out shiny 4x4s seem absolutely ridiculous. Most of them never see anything beyond a trip to the soccer match!

Over the Top Opulence Well Deserved

In Pokhara we settled in at the Temple Tree Resort. It is a superbly beautiful oasis. Rooms are in smaller buildings sprinkled throughout the property. Opening the door of your room you see a verdant garden, through which you walk, and pass by a meandering swimming pool, fire pit and outdoor restaurant and bar. How wonderful!

Lunch by the Lake

I was part of the lead group to make it to a restaurant on Lake Phewa. With some time to spare I walked along the lakeside promenade. There, Indian and Nepalese tourists were enjoying boat rides on the lake.

Cute, right? These boats do need some upkeep!

Ah, the rest of the group shows up! Our group plus Migma and Sonam enjoy a sumptuous and well-deserved Indian-style lunch. YUM! All Aboard!

Bellies satisfied, we walked back to the Temple Tree Resort. This left us with about two hours before gathering for happy hour. For us guys, Don, Kevin and I, after 10 days trekking, the obvious choice was to fill the gap with pampering! For Don, Kevin and I, that meant something like a single edge shave, a hair cut, a beard trim, maybe a shoulder massage!

Continuing a Tradition

I have a tradition of getting a hair cut on overseas trips. In Thailand, or Bali, or Cambodia, of Bhutan, etc. Even if I am bald. So what! It’s fun getting a hair cut.

Only here, I got the total package. Hair cut, single blade shave, head massage, arm massage, shoulder massage.

This is my “Bollywood Shave” video in Bhutan…

And with no delay, Pokhara Nepal!

Shaves and hair cuts completed, the men were ready to head back to our resort and enjoy a happy hour and a supremely festive end-of-trek dinner! And indulge we did. What happened will just have to be part of our collective memories….hmmmm.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 





Nepal Annapurna Sanctuary Trek: Chomrong to Ghandruk

31 12 2018

We had an outside breakfast with glorious views of the mountains (see previous post). Whilst packing up before setting off, we were visited by a random water buffalo and its keeper. And, our porters packed up their enormous loads to carry on to Ghandruk, our last camp.

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Amee and Cathy Ann enjoying apples at a rest stop.

Today’s hike would find us once again climbing and descending steps, with terrific views, through hamlets, and then crossing a river followed by a steep forested trail to a mountain saddle where we’d have our lunch. Morning was fairly cool with passing clouds. Good for me, comfortable!

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This was the day my 10-year-old Vasque hiking boots finally showed their life was pretty much done. The soles, very worn, finally began to come off. These boots never gave me a blister. Never leaked. Stood by me. They did last one more hike out – even with the soles starting to come off!

Lunch was in a dining hall at a tea house atop the mountain saddle. They had some surprises for us. They made some perfect french fries! And a kind of “hamburger sandwich.” They baked their own buns. The sandwich was SPAM, mustard, cucumber and tomato. Completely scrumptious and unexpected! The soup was also incredible. And juice – I drank lots and lots of juice.

Following lunch we had a comparatively easy hike down to Ghandruk, which is at about 6,000′ elevation. Along the way we heard the delightful sounds of singing bells – which turned out to be probably 75 horses in a freight train across the valley!

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An empty freight train of horses

 

 

 

These trains of horses were commanded by a shepherd who would shout “left!” or “right!” in Nepalese and for those animals out of line, a strike with a wicket does the trick.

Our camping spot at Ghandruk was on a flat plateau, like the others, but with no tea house and shared with beasts of burden.

We arrived in advance of our porters, so we passed the time while we waited for them to catch up and set up our tents/kitchen/camp.

Just outside, there was some carpentry going on. This is an example of local woodworking tools.

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Mama water buffalo and calf

This spot was some kind of resting/gathering for various farm animals. There were more than a dozen water buffalo when we arrived. At one point, some signal told them it was time to go home. They all seemed to rise at once and go their separate ways. And just as suddenly, a group of horses, without any gear, showed up and took their place, using the loose dirt to roll around and relax.

Our staff started to make things for dinner. And we could eventually see the remaining porters across the valley, coming from the saddle where we had lunch. With our tents pitched, they set up the shower tent. This was great. One by one we took our turns in the shower. Amee and Uli hiked out to the nearby town – came back with some nice stuff like greeting cards.

This night’s dinner was our farewell extravaganza and the kitchen staff stepped it way up. For starters, they served homemade chicken soup with papadums and prawn crackers.  We had a heart-shaped fresh salad, roasted potatoes, ceremonial rice, broccoli, cauliflower, locally sourced green beans, roasted chicken (fried), beef with carrots, potatoes and vermicelli noodles, sushi, among many other things.  Dessert? A fruit salad in a spun caramelized sugar baseket, and a vanilla and chocolate marble cake. WOW.

Tomorrow morning would be our last trail breakfast! And time to tip the 40+ staff members, each and every one well deserving!

 

 

 

xx

 

 





Deurali to Chomrong, The Stairway to Heaven and Views A Plenty

23 12 2018
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Wow! A panoramic with Chomrong clinging to the slope, Annapurna South (23,680′), Hinchiuli (21,132′), Machapuchare, and our tents!

A Total Day’s Descent Means Lots of Climbing

Today’s hike would take us from 10,670′ down to 6,759′ but descent is not the whole story. For in between there would be some of the hardest climbs done in a day on this trek. We’d end the day back at Chomrong – where’d we’d been a few days prior. But this time, we’d be climbing two of the longest sets of stairs instead of descending them!

The day started cool and comfortable. It was partly cloudy, and I assumed the clouds would burn off, which they eventually did. Being a bit cooler was a real benefit. I used the drying technique again last night of sleeping with wet clothes in my sleeping bag – they were dry in the morning!

More In The Present Time

After one of the break stops, I found myself starting behind the group because I was talking with another hiker when the group just took off. Yet I wasn’t the last guest, as somehow it turned out Madeleine was behind. Before I even knew she was behind I just happily walked my own way and tuned in to the sounds of the Modi Khola River, the breeze and the birds. It was only when I heard Mingma calling from behind that I knew they were there!

2,000 Steps to End the Day

The most challenging steps of the day were our last. In mid afternoon, we rounded a bend to see across a valley to Chomrong. We’d climb steeply to cross the river via a suspension bridge, then ascend some 2,000 steps through the village to our lodge-side campsite. Once at the bottom of those steps, I dressed down to my T-shirt for the upcoming steps!

After much industry I make it up to camp maybe 30 seconds or so behind the main group. And after making home in my tent, Don and I headed to the restaurant for an early beer. And headed back after tea time….and we were joined by Uli, Kevin, and Annette for a couple of well deserved beers!

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Waiting to dig into breakfast.

The best views were in the morning. And those are featured on this blog post.





Annapurna Base Camp & Machupachare Base Camp

21 12 2018

The Annapurna Sanctuary. Photo: Wikimedia.org

A Cold and Starry Night

After dinner at MBC, the fog cleared and stars shined bright. It was so clear it seemed I could jump up and touch the stars. Being that now we were at over 12,000ft elevation, it got chilly quickly. It would dip to 29 degrees Fahrenheit. My clothes being wet, I pretty much committed to sticking around base camp and dry stuff – and planned on doing a 30-minute each way hike up and back toward Annapurna Base Camp in the morning.

A Perfect Day Dawns

I was up before dawn, and indeed the stars were to die for! I could see the outlines of some peaks in the starlight. Some trekkers could be seen already hiking to Annapurna. Then pink of dawn came, and gradually the sun bathed the peaks more and more!

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One by one, our group emerged from their tents, cameras in hand, to capture the unfolding spectacle!

Each peak was 21,000 ft or higher, with Annapurna I, hidden behind a nearby hill, 26,545 ft.

There was no wind. Just still perfection.

With mountains this big, it was enough to just stare at their magnificence.

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I had to get out some of the tutu gear for a last photo and evidence I got there!

All for one and one for all, I did it. WE did it. For Joani Carpenter, for Shari Roberts, and in memory of my brother John.

We’d have our breakfast, and then the group would hike up about 1,200 feet to Annapurna Base Camp.

I wasn’t the only one with wet gear!

 

 

 

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Frozen Clothes

Annette’s bandana had frozen completely stiff! It was my job to defrost and dry it!

I had experimented during the night with trying to use myself and my sleeping bag as a dryer for my synthetic and merino wool layers. It actually worked out pretty well. Still, I was reticent about hiking up and making myself/clothes wet again at the altitude/cold.

Morning at MBC

It worked out pretty well. As the others climbed, I went to one of the restaurants and wrote in my journal, had coffee, and visited with some trekkers from Germany, Holland and India. The German couple had already returned from Annapurna Base Camp, having captured images of the stars up there before dawn above the peaks! Wow such beautiful photos.

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A Short Hike Up

It turned out to be darn comfortable outside the restaurant that morning. Then I took my 30-minute walk up. In this video I mistakenly say all the mountains are above 25,000′. Not so. But they are above 21,000′ for sure! And as you can see, for the first time on this trek, we were 100% above tree line. This was something different for me, for on the Chomolhari Trek in Bhutan, and the Cordillera Huayhuash Trek in Peru, we were above tree line most of the time.

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Our Group At Annapurna Sanctuary

My trek-mates Annette, Tara, Madeline, Uli, Amee, Gerry, Cathy Ann, Kevin, and Don all made it up to Annapurna Base Camp and took in the Annapurna Sanctuary! The top of that ridge is 26,545′ Annapurna I.

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Left to right: Cathy Ann, Don, Amee, Madeleine, Uli, Annette, Gerry, Kevin and Tara! Annapurna I right above Gerry.

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Takar, Mingma and Sonam on the left!

Sometime after mid day, everybody returned and we had lunch. And then it was perhaps a 2.5 hour hike down and out to Hinku, where we had lunch yesterday. We arrived about 3 p.m. I think this was a good decision because there isn’t a whole lot to do at Machupachare Base Camp – and it shortened one of the hardest hikes on the way back.

The hike back to 10,650′ Hinku was mostly forested. And due to local showers in the valley, the steps were damp – and leaves had fallen on some of them. A recipe for slips and falls. And several of us, including myself, had spills. The hike down, down, down steep steps brought home why I was so beat up yesterday on the way up! And each and every step needed to be carefully placed, lest one sprain an ankle and get helicoptered out! Regardless of the gauntlet of challenges we got into Hinku safe and unhurt. And as was what seemed a regularity that week, fog rolled in mid afternoon making a bit moist.

So what! We unfolded our camping chairs and enjoyed the views!

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OK time for late afternoon tea/coffee and then dinner!