Trip Start Sep 19, 2007
71Trip End Jan 19, 2008
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Our driver speaks quite a bit of English, but is the silent type. We try to get him to open up by addressing him in the few words of Tibetan the travelguide has listed, but don't get much more than dutiful answers. As conversation stalls our attention is drawn outwards once more and we stare at the landscape.
There are some occasional villages in this barren land, but it's hard to imagine what they subsist on. There are yaks that graze on the few hardy sprigs of vegetation that come up between the dust and rocks and I've seen a few small birds, but there are no signs of land that might sustain agriculture. Apparently, the Tibetan diet mostly is made up of yak meat and butter with millet and barley as supporting cereals. The millet is fermented to produce Chang beer (Tongba in Nepal) which is drunk warm , and the barley is ground into flour and mixed into salty yak butter tea to produce a nutty paste that I personally wouldn't even consider to plug holes in my wall with. Simply put, life is hard here.
We stop at the Lhakpa La Pass at a record 5220 meters height. It's sunny and the snowy mountaincaps loom in the distance. I jump out of the jeep to have a look around. A brisk walk to where a group of fellow travellers is taking pictures leads to imminent dizziness and I have to stop and inhale deeply in order to regain my breath. The air is thin, cold and very dry. There are several piles of rocks around that are supposed to bring good luck and me and Javier make some of our own to pass the time.
From the corner of my eye I spot Patrick from Barcelona. He's touring the world on bicycle and rumours have started spreading about him already. Now, he's running towards the mountains and pulling at his clothes. The jumper comes off, as several travelbags are dropped unceremoniously to the ground. He's pulling at his shoes, dancing on 1 leg, lifting his t-shirt, shouting, turning, the pants come off, he moons us, and then the underwear is at his ankles. A shivering group of tourists in Gore-tex watches his primal scream at the Himalayas and laughs. The Tibetan drivers and guides, their arms crossed over their chests, shake their heads, mumble some words and walk off. Patrick is now the King of the Bus.
Our tour continues towards Tingri, a little town at 4342m with good views of Mount Everest. We take over several horsecarts and mini-tractors steered from the carts they pull with long handles like custommade choppers. Lunch is in a charming farmhouse, the centrepiece of the room a woodfired stove on which large pots of water are kept near boilingpoint. Several momos (tibetan ravioli) and some filling vegetable-noodle soup later I decide that the time has come to try out the infamous Tibetan Butter Tea.
Before taking off we are confronted with one more authentic Tibetan experience. The hole-in-the-ground toilet. A slit in the floor offers a view of this months deposits piled up some 2 meters below. The question how the pile keeps from filling up all the space below the shithouse is answered a little later when a pale-faced Caroline comes running and shouting. Apparently, a cow appeared below her squatting position and happily started munching on the freshly delivered snacks.
We sleep in Lhatse (4050m) where me and Raquel get a double bedroom. The bathroom is outside though, past an outdoor corridor which proves too long in this temperature to contemplate showering. It's enough of a challenge to change socks here. We've ordered tea (the butterless kind) three times and still there's no sign of it, so a group of us gives up on the hotel for dinner and decide to explore the town. Which is almost as quickly said as done, since it's only the one street. At the far end of the road a posh hotel draws attention. They could have put us up in that place, you can see everyone thinking. Must have heating and bathrooms... Anyway, a sign in part English promises good food in the restaurant next to it.
Sergio, Patrick, Javier, Jerka, Caroline and us two enter the restaurant and take a booth in the back. We pass a table filled with beercans at which 4 Chinese are loudly playing Mahjong. Otherwise, the place is empty. We are puzzled by the fact that immediately after our entrance all curtains are drawn (to exclude sunlight or people looking in?), but then we get menus and we are too hungry too care. There's a mixture of Western and local food available, Raquel tries tomatosoup and bread and I opt for soup of lamb and radish which is tasty. Everyone is too much under the influence of the altitude still to try any other stimulant, like the beer the other table is downing so enthusiastically, but we have a great laugh anyway drinking tea, playing cards, getting into linguistic misunderstandings with the staff and watching the asian music videos. When we leave we notice the policejeep outside. The guys that are still boozing in there (they've built pyramids out of the empty cans now) are the ones that are meant to keep this place safe...