April 5, 2008
Kathmandu, Nepal

Namaste from Kathmandu.

There has been much talk and worry about the economy in Kathmandu because of the recent political turmoil in the region. All that was erased when our plane touched down at the Kathmandu Airport. The emergence of Lori and Amy on the scene was a shot in the arm for the local merchants in Thamel that will undoubtedly carry them through the season.

Kathmandu has not changed a bit from last year. The traffic of machines and people on the streets of Thamel can only be described as chaotic. How motorists, motorcyclists, bicyclists, rickshaw drivers, pedestrians and animals survive is truly a Wonder of the World. When the narrow streets get too crowded, the motorcyclists just drive on the sidewalks, honking at pedestrians that get in their way. Everyone, I mean everyone, drives with their horns.

I love walking around and taking it all in. It was especially fun showing my daughters around. They love the shopping. Watching them ply their trade and negotiate with the merchants is a real treat as well as a study in contrasts. Lori takes the hard-nosed approach. Her favorite line is “No, that’s way too much.” (Shouting across the room at Amy) “Amy, are you done? I am ready to go.” The tactic almost always works. Amy’s approach is more soft and subtle. Her system works because she keeps the merchants constantly off balance, always thinking that, if they lower the price just another 100 rupees, they can cinch the deal. She is also a sophisticated negotiator. For example, all the merchants walk around with an electronic calculator in their hand, constantly running figures to show you how much you are saving. The first thing Amy did was to purchase her own calculator so as to level the playing field. It is so much fun watching Amy and the merchants duel with each other, using their calculators as weapons of choice.

A funny thing happened at one of the clothing stores. Lori couldn’t reach a deal with the merchant and she noticed a store across the street that sells the same product. She told the merchant that she would just walk across the street and buy the product from a merchant that would meet her price. He replied, “okay, I’ll be right over. I own that store too.” When another merchant was asked the price of a particular product, he said “whatever you want to pay. No matter what price I quote, you will say it is too high.”

We met with the owner of Asian Trekking and their staff and they seem like really nice people. I also met my personal sherpa, Mingma Sherpa, and I really like him. He reminds me of the famous Yankee relief pitcher, Mariano Rivera. Steely-eyed, young, strong, competent and somewhat shy. He has summited Mt. Everest 5 times. In an amazing coincidence, David Liano knows Mingma. When David summited Everest in 2005 with Alpine Ascents, Mingma was one of the sherpas hired by Alpine Ascents. David says he is super strong and I am lucky to have him as my personal sherpa.

We had breakfast this morning with the personal sherpa that will accompany us on the trek. His name is Puchhanga. We really like him. He is a Christian and speaks very good English. Lanny Anderson, who is trekking to Base Camp this year, joined us because he too is a Christian. Yesterday, poor Lanny was bending over to tie his shoe and a dog that was laying on the sidewalk bit him on the finger. He went to the hospital and now has to have the painful series of rabies shots. He still plans to trek to Base Camp and will get some of his shots along the way. I am so happy and comforted to know that Puchhanga will be traveling with Lori and Amy when I am not with them.

After breakfast, Puchhanga, Lori, Amy, Lanny and I visited some of the famous sites of Kathmandu. We went to the Swambhu Nath Temple (the “Monkey Temple”), site of the largest sitting Buddha in Nepal, the Boudhanath Temple, site of the largest Buddhist Stupa in Nepal, and the Pashupati Hindu Temple, where cremations take place. Lori was not particularly fond of the smoke and ash from the cremations. When we returned to the hotel, she immediately took a shower. She said that she has never felt so dirty. We had such a great time together, and it was nice to have Buchanan as our wonderful, informative and accommodating tour guide.

Our last event of the day was a trip to the Lhomi Kids Care Home, which is an orphanage. Puchhanga organized the visit. Lori and Amy brought several duffle bags full of gifts for the children. Many of the gifts were donated by friends, neighbors and churches in Newport Beach. The visit can only be described as once-in-a-lifetime and sacred in nature. I will let Lori and Amy fill in the details in a later post. I am so proud of them.

At 6 am tomorrow morning, we fly to Lukla to begin our 35-mile trek to Base Camp. That’s when the work and adventure really begins. I told Lori and Amy to enjoy their last good meal and shower for a long time.

God bless all of you.

Bill Burke