Monday, June 2, 2008

Hiking in Nepal: Annapurna, Dhampus, Pothana, Deurali, Ghandruk, Kmrong Pana, Chomrong, Kulditigar (Part I)

Thursday, March 7

The adventure begins! Our flight is scheduled to depart Newark Airport at 5:40 PM. The weather forecast is for sleet, freezing rain, and possible snow accumulations of 4-12 inches by midnight. This winter has inundated us with record snowfall and it appears to be continuing. At noon the freezing rain began and the building we work in was closed at 1:30 PM. We picked up Sean from school at 2:30 to get a head start to the airport. The roads were very slick and we couldn't afford getting stuck behind or in an accident. Sean didn't get a chance to say good-bye to his classmates, since he was taken out of school during Music class. The Express Coach limo arrived at 2:45 and we headed to Plainfield to pick up Gene Fowler, our trekking companion.

We got to the airport at 4:00 PM. After we checked in and got to our gate, the 5:40 PM flight was canceled. We switched our tickets to the 6:20 PM flight, which was already delayed. Every half hour the plane was further delayed. Due to the freezing rain only one runway was operational at Newark airport and 2 planes per hour were allowed to depart! It wasn't clear that we would get to Los Angeles, CA by tomorrow morning. If this flight didn't get out, the only other option was getting to JFK Airport for a 7:00 AM flight. We would just make our 11:30 AM Thai Airlines flight! But all the area airports started canceling their morning flights as well.

Sean was very restless and confused as to why we weren't leaving - especially since the freezing rain had stopped by 8:00. He was also very tired. At 10:00 PM they announced we could board the plane. After de-icing we took off at 11:21 PM. We should have already been in LA - but at least we will make our next connection!

Sean slept through the whole flight, which wasn't surprising considering it was well past his bedtime of 7:00 PM. He awoke at 5:00 AM (NJ time) and wondered when he would get dinner (which was served at 12:30 AM). The LA Airport wasn't crowded at 3:00 AM (LA time), so we had no problem getting our luggage. The TravelLodge ($58) shuttle picked us up at the airport. Our room was in the farthest building from the lobby. It was difficult lugging our 3 duffel bags, 2 backpacks, and an exhausted Sean.

Friday & Saturday, March 8-9

Sleep was difficult for everyone except Sean, who shared a bed with Gene. We got up when the first light appeared (6:30 AM LA time) - far too early to be refreshed. Sean was amused by Gene's snoring during the night. A Denny's restaurant was within walking distance. After breakfast we toured the hotel grounds. The gardens were well manicured and there was an interesting variety of plants and flowers. It was considerably warmer in LA than Newark!

There were no problems boarding the Thai Airlines 747. We took off a half hour late, but a strong tail wind (up to 60 mph) got us to Seoul, South Korea an hour early. A navigational chart was on display during the flight showing the outside air temperature (-60 degrees F), altitude (33,000 feet), local time, the nearest airport, the number of miles remaining until we reach our destination, and the relative position of the airplane on the map. It took 12 hours to fly across the Pacific Ocean and we crossed the International Date Line which advanced the calendar to the next day. As a result it took 2 days to get to Seoul, South Korea!

The meals were excellent and so was the service. The flight attendants provided Sean with some great toys: a foam Tangoes puzzle, reusable stickers and a book to put them in, and a flight pin. Sean enjoyed listening to the music best. Twelve hours is a long time to sit on a plane! They showed 3 movies (plus several shorts) and served 2 meals plus a snack. Sean made up his own card game - Wild Jokers, which is a form of Rummy (with 2 card matches instead of 3 or 4 card matches) using wild cards. Little did we know that we (and lots of other unsuspecting Nepalese) would spend countless hours playing his new game.

We landed at Kimpo Airport in Seoul at 17:00 local time and had an hour and a half to roam the small international terminal while the plane refueled. The sun set over a small hill and you could see part of the city. It looked like any other city - especially since almost every billboard was in English.

The only casualty so far has been High Hopper, Sean's rabbit puppet. Sean dropped him in the toilet at the Seoul airport. With no soap or paper towels, Bill attempted to clean him, but the rabbit was drenched. High Hopper left a trail of water all over the airport. When Bill stowed his backpack overhead on the flight to Bangkok, High Hopper began dripping on Bill's head. The rabbit got a thorough bath and blow-dry in Bangkok and recovered nicely.

The flight to Bangkok, Thailand took 6 hours - due to a 150 mph head wind. The Bangkok airport is huge and very well organized. We stayed at the Amari Airport Hotel ($150) right inside the airport. While waiting to check-in, we were able to step outside the hotel. Thailand was quite warm, even at midnight. The first room they gave us was occupied. Luckily the occupants did not get too disgruntled when we repeatedly attempted to gain access. We had to make several trips through the hotel (which was huge) before we got a vacant room. Sean got to watch the clock change from 23:59 to 0:00 and was quite impressed. He informed us that "big boys like Sean get to stay up until 00:09". He has been great on all these flights - only 1 more to go!

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