It’s Saturday the 22nd, and the center of activity for the region is down in Namche this morning. Pema and Mingma both are anxious to get there early to catch the best selection in the weekly market, but all we want is to enjoy a leisurely schedule. Pema wanted to take us down by 7 a.m., but our counter-proposal was that we wake up with the sun and hike down ourselves. I for one didn’t feel an urgency to rush down to the bottom of the hill again after all the hiking I’ve done in the last few days. But by the morning I was really well rested and kind of enthused about enjoying the “big city” for the day. We got out hopelessly late for Pema’s needs, so I think he gave up on his good deals for the day. We took the main path leading down to Namche, and it was amazing to see the route with the fog cleared away. As we got close to Namche and we wound ourselves into the narrow alleys leading to the center of the market we found ourselves in a traffic jam. The main Saturday market is mostly grocery store items laid out on tarps. There was nothing really for tourists, and we were disappointed to learn that the (from my understanding) Nepali soldiers around Namche had begun to exclude the Tibetans from selling in the market for security reasons. They add some very interesting variety to the selection, the best in knock-off apparel. Otherwise I could tell there were other merchants from outside of the area, probably the lowland below Lukla. This market is where people shop for their groceries one or two weeks at a time. Pema is amazed at some Americans who keep food storage, and we tried to explain to him that it’s for emergency preparedness. If there was a natural or economic disaster a family would need something to fall back on. To Pema that doesn’t make sense because the Sherpa people are so self-sufficient. He knows that no one will ever mess with the Namche market and enough people grow their own vegetables. We in the U.S. are set up to rely on a lot of outside factors.
As I slipped out of the crowded market (literally, the rocks were slippery) I found myself at a familiar landmark, Hermann Helmers German Bakery. I mentioned this place before and I thought I should try it out as a comparison to the Everest Bakery. It was a comfortable and quiet place. I had a cheese Danish, made with Nak cheese, and took a moment to reacquaint myself with the comforts. I soon realized how inexpensived evertying was compared to higher up on the trail. Bottle of water and sodas were only 50 Rupees, compared to 300 in Gorak Shep. I felt like buying armfulls of junk like that, but I came to my senses and remembered it was just junk. I did indulge in the luxury of some crystal clear mineral water though, because we’ve been getting boiled water every day with inert grey floaties in it. Back outside the alleys were now lined with the more familiar tourist items – yak bone and tourquoise jewelry, yak bells, t-shirts, and perverted Hindu artwork. I kept it all in mind (not the perverted artwork) as I made my way to the computer center. I wanted to do some shopping, but I had to think about what would really hold meaning for me. Actually I decided to stay away from the yak bells because they had been keeping me up every night with all the grass grazing racket.
I made my way up the wooden stairs to the Everest Bakery, made sure they had another whole apple pie ready for our group, then I went right next door to the Namche Cyber Cafe, which is run by Santosh, a very sensible and knowledgeable guy. I guess it was obvious he’s not Sherpa because he’s too cynical. He studied physics in Kathmandu, but now he makes residenceup here in the Khumbu. It’s a mystery what he’s doing up here, except for the fact that his business must bring in a lot of money. I was impressed with his proficiency in handing issues with the network, and he was slapping himself on the head trying to circumvent the Windows XP nuissances. He was really helpful to me and he let my plug this laptop directly into his network. He runs on a 128k satellite connection to an ISP in Singapore. The only issue was that the laptop was engaged in some kind of automatic update that was downloading a little too much for his network, which doesn’t have a lot of extra bandwith. Anyway, thanks again to him for being so accomodating and good natured. On the bulletin board just outside was a notice from “HEAT” for the headache study. Remeber we met a few doctors back in Pheriche who signed some of us up to participate in that study. I asked Santosh if I could make a photocopy of the notice, but he said I should just take it. He had developed a bad opinion of them somehow and he just wanted to take the notice down. Part of the association with that study besides the Stanford Medical School was the Himalayan Rescue Association (HRA). He believed that it’s kind of a scam how the HRA is quick to recommend helicopter medevacs to patients with even milder altitude symptoms. He claims that the HRA gets a significant referral commission from the helicopter company. I think it’s good to have the help of those organizations in such a precarious place, but I hope that no one is allowing any abuse of that valuable resource.
For the rest of the group it was a tremendous shopping day. Richard decided on yak bells as the piece of Nepal he’ll share with everyone back home. For those of you who will be receiving one of these items as a gift I won’t disclose the price or other details, just that he didn’t do very well at haggling on the price for such a volume purchase. I got a nice little brass bell with a mandala design on it and with a wool strap. It’s actually only goat sized, but I’m no longer enamoured with the regular bells. There are too many vivid memories associated with them now. Richard’s son Matthew got a cool drum (more of the syle of India, actually), and John C. got a cool knife and some “om mani..” cds. He thinks it’s funny that listening to that song on endless loop gave me mental trauma. John Strange bought a big bag of beads that he can string himself for cheap. After all the apple pie and the shopping we had quite an extra load to carry back up to Khumjung. Gaye realized that compared to this trip to the Namche Market she didn’t have so much to complain about when she has to buckle the boys into the minivan and drive to Wal*Mart. The path is very steep, but the view down into the terraced village of Namche is remarkable. It takes between 60 and 90 minutes to make it up, but it feels very much worth the work. Khumjung is a very nice, prosperous and scenic place and it feel especially like home for our group because Pema, Mingma, and the whole crew have made us feel very welcome. Since we’ve been back here we feel like everything’s alright and we’re even thinking about our trip home. Richard and Gaye briefly contemplated trying to get back home a day or so early, partly to have fun with halloween, but we’re really locked into our itinerary now. We booked the flight with a discount agency and we have reservations with the Yak & Yeti and with the Amari back in Bangkok. We should do our best to enjoy our remaining time and collect our thought about the experience.