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Meet the cast of The Red Rucksack

Just the other day I was thinking about all the fun and amazing people I have met on my journies, the cast of The Red Rucksack if you will. Many of these people would have been diagnosed and medicated in my past life. In my current life they were among the most colourful and exciting (yes sometimes weird) people I have met. If you get a mention below and are reading this you can decide which category you fit in to. I started jotting down a short best of list and thought I would share it with you.  I find that despite the landscapes being breathtaking and the customs and cities amazing it is often the people you meet who leave the strongest impression:

 

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Andy Chapman -The short, powerhouse, singing maniac I met in Nepal. He spends his life at altitude pulling clients up mountains. His choice of song leaves something to be desired but his patience and ability to laugh under duress is commendable.

Gav and Al -An English couple in their early forties whom I climbed with in Nepal. They made the life decision to pass on kids and to spend their time and energy traveling the world, scuba diving and complaining about the wine list. Great people and good fun.

Dowar -The mountain climbing demi-god I met in Nepal. He and his three brothers hold the guinness world record for family Mount Everest summits I believe at over thirty times. His brothers feature on the label of every Everest Lager bottle. He is the most modest and quiet man I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. He is so quiet and unassuming that for the first few days of the climb I thought he was a learner. It is rumored that once he ran off the summit of Cho Oyu with a sick climber on his shoulders, Cho Oyu is 8000 metres high.

Crazy Travel lady -The lady I met in Gokyo who has been traveling continuously for some twenty one years. She said she came into ‘some money’ at a young age and decided to go for a trip. She had some amazing stories to tell over a cup of tea and a yak steak.

Mark -Andrew Millen’s boss in Mongolia who was desperate for me to visit his favorite massage parlor with him. I didn’t. Otherwise he let us have company cars, helped us plan operation desert storm and was the perfect host.

Mongo -our guard and driver in Mongolia -A six foot tall monster who wears army fatigues and drove Andrew and I around. It turns out he had a wicked sense of humour and drove the Hilux around the Gobi like he was competing in the dakar rally.

Tv show host in Dalanzadgad – When she interviewed us for her travel show did she honestly think she would get sensible answers about travel in the Gobi Desert from two drunk Australians. Even she let out a chuckle as Andrew simulated performing oral sex on his pointer finger behind the camera. I fell off my chair laughing.

Shoulder dictionary -The young chap living on the shores of lake titicaca. I stayed with his family for a night. He spent the day happily perched on my shoulder as we walked around the farm reciting the Spanish word for things that I pointed at. A most agreeable way to learn new words.

‘Rio’ -Peru’s answer to ACDC, their most famous band. The lead singer was most interested in kangaroos. It was funny to see the shock on the black t-shirt wearing rocker’s face when I told him we eat kangaroo burgers in Australia.

Nasca Pilots -Sporting aviator sunglasses these guys are straight off the set from ‘top gun’. They flirt shamelessly with the girls and love to try and scare people by throwing their cessnas around under the guise of giving us a good look at the nasca lines.

Sophita and Nazia -Two law students I met in Miraflores. After dragging Sophita out of a fight we went on to become great friends. They enjoyed learning some choice English words and laughing at my bad salsa dancing. Me, I leant some Spanish and simply loved walking into clubs unshaven and wearing daggy t shirts with two stunning Peruvians on my arm.

Crazy cocaine dealer -Man who pounced every time I walked out of the hostel in Lima and offered me all sorts of mind altering substances. Do I look like some sort of bearded, drug taking hippy or something? (rhetorical)

Earthquake man in Pisco -Man who stopped me in the street and said I should not be out at this hour alone in Pisco. We went on to talk about the increasing crime since the devastating earthquake of 2007 and life in general.

Bus attendant -Yes they have bus attendants on long trips. She upgraded me to an executive seat and helped me throughout the night as I enjoyed a 12 hour bus ride suffering explosive gastroenteritis.

Whip Lady -Lady who makes tourists lie on the ground and then whips them with a vengeance in Chivay, all under the guise of a cultural show. She could get an even higher paid job in a dungeon somewhere I am sure.

King -A Malaysian doctor with a brilliant sense of humour and no fear. A formidable combination. He tried to get us into a high security prison in La Paz by saying that he wanted to visit his cousin inside. He went on to wrestle anacondas in the jungle. His talents are wasted in a small consulting room.

Lonesome George -The famous galapagos turtle who is the last of his species. He produces no sperm so will definitely be the last. The kindly park rangers have put two female turtles from a different species in his pen for ‘companionship, no need for birth control. Not so lonesome George.

Jette and Ann -Two hilarious Danish girls I met on the Galapagos. Never have I laughed so consistently for ten days. Jette came along to Bolivia with me, I popped over to visit her in Denmark. We continued stalking each other around the globe and recently got married in an intimate ceremony in the Tasmanian bush (wearing hiking boots).

American salsa guy -A ponytailed American man in his mid fifties who comes to Quito annually to salsa dance with the locals and to get a break from his wife. The way he was talking about his dancing partners it was more than salsa going on.

Lebanese consul in Ecuador – She filled me with camomile tea as she begged me over the flickering candlelight for money to buy her way out of gaol. I spend a night in Quilatoa with her and her family playing Beatles collector edition monopoly. A most agreeable and random night just when I was starting to feel a little lonely.

Dr Ricardo -The insane Chilean psychiatrist who loves both whiskey and the white powder. He enjoys psychoanalyzing everyone in sight, is intensely intelligent but has a few screws loose. Great fun.

Heavy metal midget -The midget Ozzy Osborne clone who persisted in trying to wrestle with me in a shady biker bar in Quito. He even picked up a chair and threatened to bash me (around the knees) with it if I would not wrestle him. I won.

Ando -The gay flight attendant who lived where I did a language home stay. He kept on asking me if I liked to ‘party’. He never worked out how to say platypus properly.

The Nun -The head nun how was unsure whether to let a hairy Australian into her orphanage under the guise of donating clothes. Her and her team look after some 80 abandoned babies. She has the patience of, well, a nun.

Marcus -The loud surfing Australian I climbed Cotopaxi with. He works as a commercial diver, his stories of accidents and close calls made me convinced that initially I chose the right profession.

Elderly Peruvian man on bus -The man who I gave my seat to, only for him to be promptly vomited on by a small child. Without any words we laughed at the beautiful irony of this moment.

Shaman Alberto -The skinny Iowaska drinking shaman who claims it gives him the ability to see into people’s health like an x-ray machine. I think it just gives him a lovely buzz.

Try hard Gangster people -The cocaine snorting, reggae loving gangsters who kept me up all night with their music and wrestling in Guayaquil. Revenge; putting my ringing alarm clock on their windowsill as I had a 5 am shower on my way to an early flight, genius.

The farmer and his wife -The nice farmer and his wife who let me camp near their home whilst trekking the Huayhuash. They caught and shared fresh trout from the nearby river. They were two of the happiest people I know but only own a few sheep, some basic cooking/fishing gear and one set of clothes. I am glad I left before washing day.

Psychotic French walkers -Three dreadlocked and tattooed French people who got caught high in the mountains of Peru without good equipment or food. They had to endure a forced march out. They went on to join in the riots in Huaraz and took some amazing photos which they sold to the media.

David -My ten year old guide who gave me a tour of his town for the price of a chocolate bar. He even showed me his secret fishing place on the promise that I did not tell anyone. I think in my travels he was the most patient with my Spanish. Good kid.

Mark -The psychotic potato truck driver who gave me a lift into Chiquian after busses were stopped by rioting. He loved getting his bald tyre truck sideways around precipitous corners and scaring the absolute hell out of me while all the time mimicking my accent.

Rosweldt -The rock climbing guide in Huaraz who had a very casual approach to belaying. He managed to both eat a museli bar and answer a phone call whilst I was climbing. The rest of the time I climbed he just enjoyed the views.

Justin -A very eccentric, cross eyed English man who studies language. I first saw him singing at the top of his lungs to an audience of Quechua speaking locals in the Chiquan plaza. He has spent ten months in the highlands of Peru learning and documenting Quechuan and it sure showed.

Bus Lady -The well groomed, neat lady who did not bat an eyelid when I fell asleep on her shoulder and proceeded to drool all over her on a long bus ride through Peru

Lindsay -The bar owning anthropologist who loved studying Bolivian people so much that he married one! Drinks like a fish and has some brilliant tall tales about his exploits in the jungle.

Benjamin - The farmer on the isle del sol who let Jette and I camp on his beach to see in the new year. That night we enjoyed a lake titicaca sunset, each others company and lots of red wine.

Australians in La Paz – With white powder still in their nose hairs they would ask questions rapid fire, not wait for a answer, then ask the next question.  They had been traveling for many months and had not seen the outside of a hostel bar.

Fabio and Sammie - These guys come as a pair. They work as paragliding instructors and own a business doing stunts for the movie industry. They do an amazing dance on the wind and are very laid back guys.

Art – an eighty something year old grandfather who decided that learning to paraglide would be fun.  Art drunk almost a bottle of wine each night, joined in the parties with gusto and actively encorouged our aerial paintball idea. The world needs more Arts.

Martin - Belgium tandem paragliding pilot. He agrees wholeheartedly with passengers when they say he is awesome. Wears an inca style vest and never once helped with the washing up.

Gay motorbike riding-paraglider man from Germany with the hash - No real story here, he was just hilarious.

It is these guys, and many, many more who have made my journey so very full of colorful memories. If you have travelled with me and didn’t get a mention, Sorry!!

Get the full story here (click on book):

grey Meet the cast of The Red Rucksack

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Curious? Get the full story here (click on book):

grey Meet the cast of The Red Rucksack

 

Pashupatani

grey PashupataniSitting here in the lobby of the Hotel Marshyangdi, surrounded by fellow westerners all plugged into various high tech gizmos it is astounding how damn disconnected we have become. To get to the hotel lobby I walked less than one kilometer from Fire and Ice, the Pizzeria where the team met to eat dinner and get to know each other.

grey PashupataniOn they way I was Namaste-d by numerous people, sure most wanted to sell me hash or singing bowls, but some genuinely wanted to say, ‘hi’. The young chap who sold me a shirt yesterday said, ‘G’day’ (he knows my nationality) so I sat next to him on the gutter and we had a brief but pleasant chat about the unusual weather. All the time he was connected with a friend by holding hands. In Nepal this is a sign of friendship, not homosexuality. The guard at the hotel gate saluted me with a wide grin before asking how I was and telling me that Thamel will be really busy tomorrow with a festival. Walking inside the hotel to my favourite couch (with the good wifi signal) I automatically said a friendly, ‘Hello‘ to some Swedish men sitting nearby. They looked at me as though I had thrown glitter over them.

grey PashupataniUs westerners have truly become disconnected. Lost in our own personal ecosystems, sheltered from awkward conversations by music players, iPhone fiddling or dark sunglasses. The same goes for death, we desperately hide from it, we hide from it’s ominous march behind age defying skin creams and shiny new sports cars … when the inevitable happens we efficiently deal with death by dressing it in fine clothes, lathering it with makeup, then quickly burying it. We are desperate to hide from the fact that death is something we all have to deal with someday.

Not so the Nepalese.

After visiting Boudhanath, Bish and I went to visit Pashupatinath, a temple by the river in Kathmandu where locals cremate their loved ones. This was incredibly confronting. Not only were we faced with the sight of bodies being cremated, but we were hit with the smell and the sound, along with the uncomfortable thought that we should have skipped this sight. It is after all a very personal time for mourners. The Nepalese do not grey Pashupataniseem to mind the intrusion though. They seem totally at ease living out their most private moments in public, sharing such a small space with 4 million other people will do that. Not only do they seem okay with visitors, but they actively encourage us. Tickets are sold at the entrance, guides are placed around to shunt tourists to the right viewing places and, not surprisingly, touts line the walls.

A cornerstone of the Buddhist faith is the belief in Karma and re-incarnation. When someone dies their soul leaves the body to be reincarnated as another human (or a cockroach depending on how much good karma they have accrued). This is a massively watered down version, but for now it will do. The body becomes an empty vessel which can be invaded by evil spirits, so it is important to destroy the body as soon as practical after death. Fire is the best way achieve this.

grey PashupataniAfter a death the cremation ceremony begins within minutes or hours. The body is shrouded, adorned with money or flowers then taken to the edge of the river. It is dipped three times in the holy river to purify it then placed gently on a pyr of wood. More wood is added, along with straw, before the first born male lights the fire. It is important that the fire start around the mouth as this is where it is believed evil spirits enter. The rest is a matter of time. After a few hours the body is considered cremated enough. The charred body (called an Astu) is taken by the first born son and released into the holy river. A caretaker sweeps the remains into the river so the soul is free from the physical world. It is customary for the son to then wash himself in the river to purify after the ceremony.

We watched a ceremony from the very start, this is a multi-sensory experience to say the least. Bish and I were uncharacteristically solemn while watching. On the drive back to the hotel I was thinking to myself that maybe I need some time alone, with my iPhone plugged in, to rationalise what I have just seen…

Boudhanath – Kathmandu’s most sacred site

grey Boudhanath   Kathmandus most sacred siteWith a second day to fill in before the rest of the expedition crew arrive, Bish and I met Arnil at 10am with plans to visit Boudhanath, the largest Stupa in Asia. Following another frenetic drive we pull up in a cloud of dust near Boudhanath.

Boudhanath is the largest Stupa in Aisa. When you view Stupas from above the layout is the same as the Mandala paintings (like Bish bought yesterday) that act as a roadmap of reincarnation. Boudhanath is teeming with Monks in orange robes turning prayer wheels as tourists poke telephoto lenses in their faces and touts try to sell hash, paintings or handicrafts. It is Mecca for Buddhists and a town unto itself, monasteries radiate out from the Stupa in all directions.

grey Boudhanath   Kathmandus most sacred siteWe took a short stroll to the biggest monastery which unfortunately was closed for tourists. However, as a consellation prize we were able to climb a stairwell to gain an amazing view over the whole area. Feeling like a sniper through my camera lens I witnessed a tourist shoving his camera right into the monks’ faces whilst the Monk was praying and turning the prayer wheel, later on I saw him walk right in the front of a group of about 40 monks who were chanting to take a photo…clearly he has not read my Travel Guide Book!

After some more poking around and soaking up the atmosphere Bish and I climbed onto the Stupa itself (yes we checked, it is quite okay to do so) fortunately the monks were still praying and we spent a blissful time on the top, listening to the hypnotic chantings and humming of people preparing for an upcoming festival, which sadly we will miss due to climbing commitments.

grey Boudhanath   Kathmandus most sacred site grey Boudhanath   Kathmandus most sacred site  
grey Boudhanath   Kathmandus most sacred site grey Boudhanath   Kathmandus most sacred site

 

 

 

Bhaktapur temple in Nepal

grey Bhaktapur temple in NepalWith all our shopping done Bish and I were driving to visit a major tourist attraction near Kathmandu called Bhaktupur in the Kathmandu Valley. I should properly introduce Bish, because we are spending the next 40 days in close proximity he will pop up again. Bish, (Andrew Bishop) and I went to University together, in that we spent a year at the same residential college along with 200 other horny, drunk university students. He has a warped sense of humour, one ‘must-have’ item on extended high altitude sufferings. Bish is a geologist who describes himself as a bipolar.

 

grey Bhaktapur temple in NepalHe takes tours at both the arctic and the antarctic where he explains the geology of the regions to camera toting guests, while stopping them from kicking Penguins. As I alluded to in my last post, Bish is a big guy. At 6 foot 4, he wears size 50 boots that have to be ordered specially and he looks ridiculous folded into the back of a Suzuki swift Thamel-taxi.

Our driver Arnil was happily chatting away while swopping in and around trucks, motorbikes buzzed around our little Suzuki swift like flies. Bish and I were hanging out the window giggling like little school girls and filming the chaos of Nepali traffic.

Pulling into the car park outside Bhaktapur Arnil introduced us to his ‘friend’ Robbie who fortuitously also happened to be a tour guide. I remember this trick from my 2010 visit here. Without much ado, grey Bhaktapur temple in Nepalwe thought ‘bugger it, when in Rome…’ Robbie gave us a wonderful 3 hour tour of Bhaktupur, explaining the significance of each temple and so forth. $5 aus saved us having to refer to Lonely Planet all day and provided us with a very thorough tour.

Bhaktapur is overrun with 300 year old temples covered in exquisitely detailed wood carvings all around the outside which hardly show their age. Clearly our favorite temple was the fertility temple which is covered in erotic carvings which would make Hugh Heffner blush.

grey Bhaktapur temple in NepalDespite the slightly pushy marketers, Bhaktapur is quite an amazing place. Robbie is a local to Bhaktapur as is his father and his father’s father. Taking us away from the  touristy part of town we saw locals drying their chick peas and beans on woven mats in the street. They have shady rest areas where people come to hang out, enjoy the quiet and share a game of cards. I was invited by a potter to try my hand on his wheel, literally a car wheel spun by hand, after attracting the attention of many fellow tourists I managed to make a little bowl which resembled a dropped pie.

Following this, Robbie took us to an art school. The paintings here are so detailed that most are done with one hair brushes. They mainly depict Buddha’s life and Samsara – the road map of reincarnation. Bish was quite taken by one particular painting and, following some half-assed bartering, he is now the proud owner of an authentic student-painted Samsara painting. These paintings are special, it takes between 3 and 30 months to complete one, from the detail in the paintings, you would believe it. The masters use actual melted gold in their painting and one mistake ruins the whole thing, start again!

Leaving Bhaktupur we struck out for the Monkey Temple, a tall Buddhist temple perched in the smog on a hill overlooking the Kathmandu Valley. The Monkey temple, in itself would be quite spectacular if you removed all the touts and the tourists sticking their big lenses in the Monk’s faces. Monkeys bounce from Stupa to Pagoda while orange-robed Buddhist monks bang gongs, or just sit and enjoy the view. We didn’t spend long here, just enough to enjoy the view, get sick of touts and become fearful of a rabid monkey attack. Tomorrow we are planning to spend our last free day visiting Boudhna and the cremation place. After this we will be out of civilization, away from showers, non-solar electricity and touts for forty days…and I cannot wait!

grey Bhaktapur temple in Nepal grey Bhaktapur temple in Nepal
grey Bhaktapur temple in Nepal grey Bhaktapur temple in Nepal
grey Bhaktapur temple in Nepal grey Bhaktapur temple in Nepal

Equipment for Mountaineering

grey Equipment for Mountaineering

Mountaineering gear

 

Recently I have been insanely busy with organising my book launch. Stupidly I have arranged it to be held a mere week after I return from Nepal. The last time I returned from an extended climb I spent one and a half months huddled in a corner of my Danish writing lair rocking backwards and forwards, being spoon fed energy rich food by my gorgeous (now) wifie and watching day time television… yup, those motivational poster photos come at a cost! (Note: I may have exaggerated a bit there…I mainly rocked forwards).

Anyway, so I have not gotten around to packing until last Sunday, which was a rainy day. I got a Skype message from Mal saying that, as I am arriving early, I will have to send my gear to Lukla ahead of the expedition. This sent me into a flurry of opening storage boxes, rifling through my outdoor gear, and trying not to dwell on how much money I have spent over the years on this stuff.

To give you an idea of the logistics involved in climbing, here is a quick summary of what’s going to happen with my gear:

  1. Arrive in Kathmandu
  2. Buy more gear and pack it into three different bags (Trekking&Kathmandu, Climbing Ama Dablam-more technical gear-and Climbing other mountains)
  3. I send my climbing Ama Dablam and climbing other gear to Lukla where someone (?) will look after it until we arrive.
  4. We fly to Lukla
  5. Climbing Ama Dablam gear is tied to a yak and sent up one valley to Ama Dablam base camp.
  6. Climbing other gear is tied to another yak who will follow us as we climb Mera Peak, Island peak, and then abseil down the Amphu Labsta pass towards Ama Dablam BASE camp (as they don’t have opposable thumbs, Yaks cannot abseil, he will have to go the long way!)
  7. Have a teary reunion with our Ama Dablam technical climbing gear.
  8. Climb Ama Dablam
  9. Have a cup of tea and a shower.
  10. Second teary reunion with wife in Australia grey Equipment for Mountaineering

I dusted off my packing list from Manaslu, made some adjustments, and came up with this comprehensive gear list for climbing Ama Dablam :

grey Equipment for Mountaineering

Mountaineering gear

Ben Gear List: 

Climbing:

  • La Sportiva Spantik boots
  • Crampons
  • Orange helmet
  • Harness (light)
  • Mitts
  • Ascender on short ropes
  • 2x Slings
  • 4x Prussic loops
  • Figure eight
  • Locking carabiner x3
  • Snap link Carabiners x3
  • Goggles
  • Socks – thick wool x2
  • Fleece balaclava
  • polyprop balaclava
  • Nalgene bottle (yellow-pee)
  • Nalgene bottle (clear – drink)
  • Toothbrush!
  • Petzal Reverso Belay Device.

Sleeping:

  • Therma-rest Pro-light
  • Therma-rest neo light (basecamp)
  • Sherpa brand 4 seasons sleeping bag
  • Sherpa brand 3 seasons sleeping bag
  • Polyprop liner (reactor)

Trekking (+/- climbing):

  • Big rucksack (Red!)
  • Gor-tec jacket
  • Waterproof pants (light)
  • Bib and brace pants (gor-tec)
  • Soft shell jacket
  • Primaloft jacket
  • Trekking shorts
  • Trekking shirt – quick drying
  • T-shirt or 2
  • Merino legs (200 and light)
  • Fleece pants
  • Softshell pants
  • Fleece Beanie
  • Gloves – Polyprop contact x 2
  • Sunglasses
  • Sun hat
  • Sunscreen
  • Head torch
  • Waterproof liner for rucksack
  • Merino underpants x5
  • Toiletries
  • Swiss army knife
  • Para-cord
  • 3 mtrs of 4mm climbing rope
  • Trekking poles
  • Towel
  • Coupla stuff sacks

grey Equipment for Mountaineering

Misc:

We will have the option of both 12v and 240v on the trek and then using the same system at BC as Manaslu + goal zero system at AD BC

  • Pelican case
  • Camera (+charger)
  • Memory cards
  • Go-pro (+spare battery)
  • Steripen (+batteries)
  • Solar monkey (USB charger)
  • Music player + earphones
  • USB battery charger (AA + AAA)
  • SPOT (+batteries)
  • Cables
  • Mac-book
  • Leatherman tool (small)
  • First aid kit (basic)
  • Aquaseal
  • Duct tape (Or Mal bringing?)
  • Drugs (See below)

Drugs:

(As the token pharmacist I bring a lot of drugs)

  • Azithromycin 500mg x 2
  • Metronidazole 200mg x 21
  • Ciproflox 750mg x 14
  • Ciprofloxacin 500mg x 14
  • Paracetamol/codeine x 8
  • Amoxycillin875mg/Clav125mg x 10
  • Chlorpheniramine 2mg x 6
  • Diclofenac 25mg x 18
  • Diclofenac 50mg x 50
  • Ibuprofen 200mg x 14
  • Metoclopramine 10mg x 25
  • Temazepam 10mg 25
  • Cold and Flu, Day/night – 1 box 
  • Diamox x 90
  • Fucidin 2% Crm – 1 tube
  • Menthol foot powder
  • Clotrimazole crm
  • Throat lozenges
  • Gastrolyte
  • Alcohol hand wash

To buy:

Kathmandu:

  • Black diamond guide gloves from Shona’s like Mals
  • Ice ace
  • Venom Ice hammer
  • Lip balm
  • Sunscreen
  • Sleeping mat – foam
  • 6x Barrels for Mal
  • Poly-prop socks x3
  • Trekking, mid-warm socks x 5
  • Codeine (cough suppress)
  • Dexamethasone  (oral + intramuscular – AD kit)
  • Locking Carabiner x 1 more

Australia:

  • Batteries for steri-pen
  • Batteries for SPOT
  • Batteries for headlamp
  • Suduko book

Now, did you see how many electronic gadgets I am bringing? This is purely so that I can blog from the  wilds of Nepal, so, I would hugely appreciate any sharing, link-love or comments as we go.

 

grey Equipment for Mountaineering

 

 

 

 

 

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This business partnership has expired.” Ben has no idea what adventures are in store when he sets out to discover what lies over that next mountain.

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