Saturday, March 21, 2015

Traveling Teacher Everest Expedition

Photo by Luca Galuzzi -

It stands 29,029 feet (8,848 meters) above sea level, making it the highest mountain on earth. Thousands have risked their lives to reach the top. More than 200 died trying. For decades, I've wanted to visit Mount Everest. Now, I've finally got my chance to both see it and climb it.

Don't worry. I'm not heading to the top. That requires a couple of months and costs upwards of $65,000, neither of which I can afford. Instead, I'm venturing to the Everest base camp, a mere 17,598 feet (5,364 meters) high. It's the same camp where those journeying to the summit acclimatize for several weeks before making their final push.

At the end of March over spring break, I'll fly to Nepal to participate in the 12-day hike.


I guess everyone has a different set of reasons for doing it. For me, it isn't the challenge, although the challenges are many. Instead, I'm after the experience - soaking in the beauty of one of the world's most famous mountains, visiting the monasteries and the tea houses along the way, walking in the path of Sir Edmund Hillary. I'm not scared of dying one day; however, I 'm terrified at the thought of never having lived, hence Everest, hence seeking out adventures around the world.

I'm not taking the trek lightly. Since November, I've been doing everything I can to get into shape. Each morning, I spend 35 minutes on an inclined treadmill and afterward climb the 30 floors of stairs in my apartment building, as well as any other steps I find in Singapore, before walking 25 minutes to and from school. Each weekend, I do a four-to-five-hour hike in the grueling heat and humidity, and I've been laying off all of my favorite libations. My stamina is near an all-time high, especially after months of sweating through tens of thousands of stairs.

I feel confident about the trip, except for a couple of factors. One, I worry about my ankle. Back in college, I ended up in two casts over a four-year period, so, despite strengthening exercises, my ankle has always been weak. I'm not sure how it will hold up hiking 5-6 hours a day.

Two, it's unpredictable how I'll react to the altitude. It's not a question of one's physical conditioning. A world class athlete could be wiped out by altitude sickness, while a couch potato might suffer no ill effects.

Back in 2009, I visited Peru, reaching altitudes as much as 15,800 feet (4,800 meters) with only minor problems. At the beginning of my trip, I flew directly to the Andes without time to acclimatize, suffering a bit of altitude sickness in the form of headaches, nausea, exhaustion, and dizziness, but it went away after a few days.

So, I should be fine, right. Well, actually, each trip to a high altitude is different. Past events are not necessarily an indicator of future ones.

According to The Merck Manual of Diagnosis and Therapy, about 20% of those journeying above 8,000 feet will experience some sort of altitude sickness. The number jumps to 40% if one goes above 10,000.

I've read that older people tend to suffer less from altitude sickness because they take the threat seriously and ascend less slowly, thereby giving their bodies more time to acclimatize. Score one in my favour.

Acute altitude sickness is to be expected, but hikers can also experience life-threatening forms of altitude sickness: cerebral edema and pulmonary edema. In those situations, the person has to get to a lower altitude immediately. Fortunately, such reactions only occur in about one percent of the population.

The difficulty is distinguishing between routine and severe altitude sickness. That's one of the reasons I chose a highly-regarded Nepalese outfitter known for its emphasis on safety, including carrying a portable hyperbaric bag to deal with altitude emergencies. I even had to sign a form saying that the company reserves the right to make me stop hiking if they feel that I could be endangering my health.

As a 49-year old, I'd like to think that I'd be wise enough to turn back if I were experiencing major problems, but I know myself well enough that I might not. Several years ago, I broke two ribs during a caving trip. A few weeks later, I had an opportunity to participate in another trip to a rather challenging, multi-drop cave that would have involved a lot of intricate rappelling and climbing, as well as crawling through hundreds of feet of passage.

When I contacted the trip leader, he refused to take me along, saying he wouldn't accept the responsibility of me possibly puncturing a lung hours into the cave. He was right. Had that occurred, I would have died long before someone could have extricated me. Caves are not the place to be seriously injured.

At the time, I was quite angry. Looking back, I'm grateful he ignored my poor judgement and made the right call. It's reassuring knowing on Everest that experienced guides will be on hand to make such hard decisions on my behalf, if I'm waffling.

With all that being said, I am expecting good things, and I would appreciate you all sending out positive vibes/prayers into the universe on my behalf.

Although some internet service is available on Everest, I'm not going to lug a laptop to 17,000 feet. As always, I'll share my journey on the blog, but I'll do it after I return. My plan is to daily record all of my thoughts in a journal and then transfer them directly to my blog. Even if I don't make it to the top, I'll share my unedited reflections. What I wrote on the page at the time is what you'll see on the blog.

If the weather cooperates, I'll begin hiking on March 30 and return to Singapore on April 12.

I'm prepared. I'm excited, and I'm raring to get started. I hope you'll join me on my expedition.

Note: The photo of Mount Everest is being used with permission from Wikimedia Commons, a free photo sharing site.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Life Has Its Own Time Schedule

A 35-year-old with three kids isn't supposed to die.

He's supposed to watch his children grow up, attend graduations, walk his daughter down the aisle.

But a heart can malfunction, even in the chest of someone so young.

His death makes me think of the dreams he'll never achieve, perhaps because he assumed he'd have time to start achieving them after his kids finished college or after remodeling the house or in retirement.

What about our dreams?

What are we waiting for because who knows when our hearts will stop.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Fare Thee Well India

Sunrise in Singapore.

No cows.

No crime.

No chaos.

No antiquated eyesores clashing with the uniform,

Concrete and steel skyline.


A sanitized metropolis of progress, Chanel, and long faces

Yearning for what's been lost and what will never be found.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Living Large in Jaipur - Day 6 and 7

I might be one of the few tourists who gains weight in India, rather than losing it, thanks to another great couchsurfer.

Actually, my couchsurfer isn't even here because he's working in Delhi. Still, he allowed me to use his apartment, which just happens to be next to his mom's place.

Her mission seems to be stuffing my belly with some of the most delicious food I've ever tasted. This morning, she fixed handmade parathas. Nope, in her mind, two or three helpings is never enough, although I'm certainly not complaining.

To work off the calories, I've taken in many of Jaipur's sights: the palace/fort of Raja Man Singh,

an artistic gem

constructed in the late 1500s.

Dignitaries used to arrive by elephant, a tradition still in practice for tourists,

although there are reports the elephants are mistreated, which is why I


the Hawa Mahal, a pink, sandstone structure built so ladies of the royal court family could watch events in the city

.... tucked away safely behind shutters;

and Jantar Mantar, an 18th century

eclectic observatory.

It's easy to understand why Jaipur is known as the pink city.

Jaipur is also famous for blocks of emporiums selling everything from precious stones to pottery to fabrics.

It's a hectic city of more than two million people, but even commerce still slows down and steps aside for the bovines.

I'll leave you with my Good Samaritan story of the day. In addition to the Raja Man Singh fort, I also checked out another fort a few miles away. After catching a lift to the top, I decided to walk back down the long, winding, scenic road overlooking the city.

A few minutes into my journey an autorickshaw stopped. The driver said he already had a passenger, an innocent looking Japanese tourist, so he said he'd take me to the bottom of the mountain for free.

Nothing is free is India. There's always a catch. "Are you sure it's free?" I asked incredulously.  "Yes, get in, " he replied.

I agreed, waiting for the pitch: a trip to a souvenir shop that just happened to be owned by his uncle, a sob story for a few rupees, an offer to take me on a tour of Jaipur for a "good price".

I waited in suspense, not expecting what he was about to reveal.

The man said he'd heard of more than one tourist being mugged at knife point while walking along the isolated road and said he was worried I might fall victim to the same fate.

When we reached the bottom of the hill, he wished me a safe journey and before driving off, left me with these words - "My father once told me money is very important, but he said life is even more important."

No scam. No sob story, just a driver who wanted to assist a stranger on his journey through India.

Tomorrow, I'm taking a bus back to Delhi, where I hope to spend a little more time with my couchsurfer friend, Jeet, prior to returning to Singapore later than night.

India is a hard place: pollution, noise, poverty, overcrowding, crime, a lack of personal space, illness, but in spite of the chaos, it possesses a unique charm that slowly wins over those who make the effort to visit.

Note: I wrote all of these entrees on paper while traveling through India, but with a lack of internet services, I was not able to post them until I returned to Singapore. I'm happy to say that I'm safe and sound, and I even managed to avoid coming down with any gastrointestinal problems in India, which is no small feat.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Journey to Jaipur - Day 5

Most journeys involve some sort of adversity: a missed flight, delays, an illness. This morning, I feared I had created my own hurdle by refusing to forgo another helping of a spicy breakfast dish with beans and rice, meaning I found myself racing through the streets of Agra in the back of a 3-wheeled, motorcycle taxi called an autorickshaw.

The minutes until my train arrived vanished rapidly, and as I jumped out of the vehicle, I saw that I had only 2 minutes to spare, but my train number wasn't listed on the station monitor. Had I gone to the wrong station, or had the train already left?

One option remained - return to the dreaded service counter, where less than 48 hours earlier, a clerk had fired a projectile at my head.

A group of three men lingered in front of the window. In America, I would have waited anxiously for my turn. No time left. I set aside my Western manners and shamelessly pushed to the front, Indian style. I spied a slight opening.

"Which platform for Train No. 12403?" I shouted out. "Platform 5," he responded. I might make it.

Or maybe not. Platform 5 was the farthest from the station's entrance, and the train was already waiting.

I dashed toward it, my mind filled with visions of me having to leap through the doors as the train sped away. I should have known better. This is India. The departure was delayed by 45 minutes.

As I write this entry, I'm on my way to Jaipur, stretched out in a sleeper car. Forget planes. Trains are the only way to travel. A new Couchsurfer and new city awaits.