After flying in from Lukla, we drove to the Kathmandu Guesthouse, where I took a deliciously long shower and washed away the last of the trekking grime. When I got dressed in city clothes again, I noticed that my normally snug jeans were sagging terribly. I figured that I’d lost some weight, but I was astonished when I stepped on the scale and discovered that I’d dropped 10 lbs! Oops. That wasn’t good! The combination of altitude sickness, a vegetarian diet and constant physical activity really did a number on me.
That afternoon, our head guide took us on a tour of the Thamel market. Walking in the streets in Kathmandu is terrifying for an inexperienced Westerner. The incredibly narrow roads are shared by pedestrians, cars, buses, taxis and hundreds of motorbikes. The honking is relentless and there are frequent near-collisions. I bought a bag of hot peppers for a (brave!) friend and some Masala tea. I was thrilled to make it back to the guesthouse without suffering any more calamities!
We had one final group dinner at The Rum Doodle, where Everest summiters like our head guide can eat for free and where trekkers can leave their mark. We signed and hung up a giant footprint to add to the thousands of footprints dangling from the ceiling and covering the walls. Our guide also showed us where he and other summiters had signed the wall.
The next morning, I woke up early and had a giant breakfast. It was fantastic to feel ravenous again! Since my flight to Dubai was at 10:00 p.m., I had an entire day to relax. The cold and cough that I’d picked up at the end of the trek were in full gear, so I wasn’t in the mood for any serious sightseeing.
My trek roommate and I visited the head guide at his office in the guesthouse. He kindly made us tea and showed us amazing pictures from his Everest climb. He also showed us interesting photos from his training courses. In one of the group shots, he pointed out a number of young men who had died in mountaineering accidents. There is no doubt that mountain climbing has resulted in a tremendous boom to the Nepalese economy, but at times it has come at an unbearably heavy price.
I visited Swayambhunath, the Monkey Temple, with two friends from the trek. We climbed 365 steps (piece of cake!) for a beautiful view of the city, and saw dozens of monkeys scampering about.
That night, I had an excellent 90-minute “trekker’s massage” and ate one last fabulous steak dinner before taking a taxi to the airport. The Kathmandu airport has quite the security process. Before even checking in for my flight, I had to pass my bag through an x-ray machine and get my first of many friskings. There are designated frisking spots for males and females, and the man directing people sent me to the “male” spot. The lady doing the frisking pulled me over to the correct place, and I saw the man smirking at me. I am never one to make a scene, especially at an airport, but that kind of joke really turns my stomach. I shot him my nastiest look, then avoided eye contact as I grabbed my bag and walked away. I was still feeling flustered from that experience when I was checking in for my flight to Dubai, and I failed to notice something wrong with my luggage tag. More on that later.
I went through security and found a seat in the departure lounge. A fellow Westerner plopped down next to me. Out of the blue, he asked “What happened to your leg?” He had noticed the giant dressing on my motorcycle burn from Dubai. I love it when someone opens a conversation like that. I enjoy meeting people when I travel, but I find it very difficult at times to start a chat. I live in perpetual fear of being a bother. If I’m feeling sociable, I usually just smile at people and hope that someone will talk to me. This guy was a 20-year-old from Colorado who had spent the last few months volunteering in Nepal, and he was headed to Uganda via Dubai. We spent the next half hour comparing our experiences in Nepal and talking about how much we loved the country.
After one final frisking, we boarded the plane. My new friend was seated far from me, so we said goodbye for the time being. I originally had an aisle seat next to two other people. I tried to make myself comfortable, but I couldn’t stop coughing and sniffling. I wouldn’t have wanted to sit next to me! I noticed that the row behind me was completely empty, so I asked a flight attendant if I could move, and she said yes. Sweet! I blew up my inflatable pillow and lay across the seats. All the lights were off in the plane, and everything was quiet. There was no turbulence. We were gliding through the air. This was it. I was going to sleep on a plane.
Wishful thinking, of course. I kept drifting off, then coughing myself awake. I asked a flight attendant for some water to clear my throat. She asked me what was wrong, and I explained that I had a cold. She offered to make me some tea, which sounded lovely. However, as I stood up to take the cup, I kicked out my leg too fast and triggered a massive cramp (calamity #8). I ended up sprawled out on the floor in front of the toilets, moaning in pain, trying to explain what was wrong to the poor flight attendants. They advised me to slowly stretch out my leg, which thankfully was not the leg with the burn!*
Eventually I was able to hoist myself up from the floor, and I was reluctant to sit back down in case my leg cramped up again. The flight attendants invited me to hang out with them in the galley. It was awesome! We spent the entire flight talking about the places that we’d travelled, the weird food that we’d eaten, and the joys and terrors of bungy jumping and skydiving. They were all from different countries (Italy, Romania and Moldova), and they had very entertaining stories and wonderful senses of humour. I can honestly say that I have never had so much fun on a flight. To make it even more amazing, when they microwaved some plates of food for themselves to share, they handed me a fork and invited me to dig in. I kept eating long after they had stopped, since the food was going to be thrown out anyway. My appetite was back with a vengeance!
We landed at the Dubai airport at about 2:00 a.m. My travel agent had told me that my Kathmandu to Dubai flight was booked separately from my Dubai – London – Ottawa ticket, and that I needed to clear customs, pick up my bag, then take a shuttle to Terminal 3 to check in for my next flight. This was not a problem, since I had six hours to kill in Dubai. As I entered Terminal 2 of the airport, I glanced down at my luggage tag for the first time.
Wait a second. London??? How did that happen??? I wasn’t even aware that FlyDubai knew that I was going on to London. I had to sort this out. Actually, I should have sorted it out in Kathmandu, but there’s no need to dwell on that!
Instead of going through customs, I went to the internal Emirates transfer desk and smiled hopefully at the nice lady behind the counter as I handed her my passport. She printed out my boarding pass for London, which was good, but then we had the following conversation:
Me: Umm…is my bag going to London?
Nice lady: Yes, it’s checked through to London.
Me: Oh. I see. But my final destination is actually Ottawa.
Nice lady: Well you will have to sort that out in London.
Me: But there’s no time! I only have an hour and a half in London, and I have to change terminals!
Nice lady: Okay, let’s see your itinerary.
I handed her my flight information. She typed away at her computer, then handed me a boarding pass for my London – Ottawa flight.
Me: But what about my bag? Is it also checked through?
Nice lady: Um…yes.
Well that was noncommittal. I looked at her with my eyebrows WAY up. I had been through the luggage dance before in Dubai on my way to Ukraine, with poor results.
Me: Are you sure?
Nice lady: Yes.
She giggled nervously.
Me: But what about my luggage tag? It still says London.
Nice lady: It doesn’t matter. You can still use it.
Me: I don’t get a new one?
Nice lady: No.
Okee dokee then. I had no confidence at all that I’d be seeing my bag in Ottawa, or even that the bag would make it out of Dubai. But there was nothing more that I could do at this point except hope for the best.
I met up again with my friend from the Kathmandu departure lounge, and we took an internal airport shuttle to Terminal 3. The Dubai airport is gigantic and luxurious. There are hundreds of stores, and dozens of bars and restaurants. Even in the middle of the night, the place was humming with activity. We found some seats and connected to the Internet. We had half an hour of free wifi, which I used to send a quick message home. We probably could have found another way to get online, but we decided against it. Instead, we spent the next few hours wandering up and down the terminal, talking nonstop. We discussed all the places that we had visited and our travel dreams for the future. We talked extensively about our mutual passions for healthy living. I bought some cold medicine, and he grabbed a bite to eat (I was still full from the plane!) We stopped chatting only because it was time for him to catch his flight to Uganda.
I imagine that if we’d had unlimited wifi, we both would have become engrossed in our devices and dead to the world around us. I would have missed out on an incredible conversation and on making a wonderful connection. That is definitely worth thinking about.
After my friend left, I decided to have some frozen yogurt at Pinkberry before heading to my gate. Breakfast of champions! I made myself a tasty sundae, and sat down at the last free table. A guy grabbed a seat at my table, and I found myself engaged in yet another fascinating conversation. He was a British-Iranian man who had made a career out of organizing ski trips. He was planning on coming skiing in Canada, and I advised him to go straight to Alberta and British Columbia for the good stuff.
I flew on an Airbus A380, currently the world’s largest passenger plane, from Dubai to London. I love this plane so much. It is so quiet and smooth that you feel like you are floating on a cloud. And nothing beats Emirates, that’s for sure. The food is divine. There are two types of soap in the bathroom. The movie selection is exquisite. My legs don’t get squished when the person in front of me jerks their seat back. It is very hard to fly any other airline right after Emirates!
I sat next to a guy from New Zealand who was on his first trip to Europe. He let me go on and on about how much I love New Zealand, and I gave him some Euro-travel tips. We eventually settled down to watch some movies, and out of the hundreds available, I picked my old favourite Mary Poppins. “Watch out,” my new Kiwi friend told me. “Those songs get stuck in your head!” Hmmm, smart man.
After we landed at Heathrow, I practically sprinted off the plane, coughing and wheezing as I followed the signs to Terminal 2. Sure enough, Mary Poppins was firmly planted in my brain.
STEP IN TIME STEP IN TIME COME ON HELENKA STEP IN TIME DO DO DO DO DO DO STEP IN TIME cough cough wheeze wheeze pant pant…
All my rushing was for naught, however. The signs and moving walkways led me straight to a shuttle bus stop, where I waited a good fifteen minutes. I wasn’t worried about making my (tight) connection, but I was terribly eager to get my bag situation sorted out. When I finally arrived at Terminal 2, I took off again.
SUPERCALIFRAGILISTICEXPIALIDOCIOUS SOMETHING SOMETHING SOMETHING SOMETHING SOMETHING QUITE ATROCIOUS sneeze sneeze…
I motored through security, not even pausing to tie my boots up properly after sending them through the machines. That could easily have turned into an additional calamity, but my capacity for logical thought was diminishing with every hour without sleep. I arrived at the Air Canada transfer counter huffing and puffing, and spoke to another nice lady.
Nice lady #2: Excuse me?
Me: My bag was originally checked through to London, but I’m actually going to Ottawa. The lady in Dubai said she’d changed it. Is it possible to make sure that it’s going to be transferred?
Nice lady #2: I’m sorry ma’am, but I can’t do anything about that now.
Nice lady #2: Well it says on the computer that it’s checked through. If it doesn’t arrive, you’ll have to fill out a form in Ottawa.
Oh goody. Filling in paperwork. Because that’s what I want to be doing instead of getting my bag off the carousel like the rest of my fellow Atlantic ocean hoppers.
I left the nice lady at the counter and walked dejectedly over to the giant departures screen. My flight was leaving in forty minutes, and to my surprise, my gate wasn’t listed yet. I overheard an airport employee saying that Air Canada usually left from 2B. It was a ten-minute walk to that section of the terminal, so there wasn’t much room for error. I decided to risk it, and hauled my poor sick self over another endless set of moving walkways. I arrived in 2B not entirely convinced that my gamble was worth it. But then, a beautiful thing happened. I was staring up at the departures screen, searching for my flight number, when I heard these magic words:
“The gate’s not up yet, eh?”
Ah, my people! I was definitely in the right place.
The gate went up soon after that, and I boarded the flight. I hadn’t slept in 36 hours, and I had another eight hours of flying ahead of me. Even though I had an aisle seat, I thought that maybe my body would practically force itself to doze off. But what do you know, my section of the plane came complete with two screaming babies. Plus, I was seated next to a guy from Kemptville (near Ottawa) who had visited 50-some countries to my 40-some. He’d done a “floating high school” program on a sailboat, so he’d increased his country count substantially with a bunch of tiny island nations. Naturally, we had plenty to talk about, although I stopped being able to speak in complete sentences about halfway across the ocean.
We landed in Ottawa, and I trotted as fast as my exhausted legs could carry me (not very fast) to customs and managed to make it through before the crowds. I headed to the baggage carousel and waited pessimistically for my bag. There was a glimmer of hope when I saw a familiar shape come into view, but I could see almost immediately that the bag was much too clean. Some other Mountain Equipment Co-op fan scooped it up and sauntered off to the arrivals gate. Lucky duck!
My bag didn’t come. I filled out a form.
But it did arrive two days later, and I was happily reunited with my beloved giant blue turtle shell and all its glorious contents.
*As a side note, the burn saga continued in Canada. About a week after I arrived home, I took the dressing off to see whether it would heal faster that way. I woke up in the middle of the night and my leg was killing me. By the morning, it looked like this (warning: gross!) It was definitely time to see a doctor! I was prescribed the motherload of cream, painkillers and antibiotics, and the infection cleared right up. As I’m writing this blog, my burn looks like this. Much better!