Posts Tagged ‘ travel ’

The day I almost died or how I learned to never give up.

In 2006, I was inspired the team who went up Mt. Everest with the Philippine Everest Expedition and wanted to go there too. When they came back, they said it was the most amazing place they have every seen.

Abner Mercado and Val Cuenca at Everest Base Camp

Photo by Val Cuenca

So in 2011, after I learned I got accepted into ITP, my father and fellow photographer Patrick Uy decided to make it happen. We had been aware of the expedition in 2006 and 2007 since we were involved in it one way or another. Patrick contacted the same trekking company the expedition used.

Henry and Emma Pariyar of International Adventures Treks and Expeditions handled the entire journey. We took a Cathay Pacific flight from Manila to Hong Kong and switched to a Dragon Air flight from Hong Kong to Kathmandu via Dhaka. The plane trip took almost the entire day and we arrived in Nepal at midnight.

We were greeted by Henry and Emma at the airport. We got our visa upon arrival and headed to the hotel. During the dry season, Nepal undergoes 8 hour power interruptions. Meaning the city was very dark and I do mean very dark. Bull mastiffs run free through the streets and it seemed that a map would actually be useless in navigating the streets.

Essential things to bring to Nepal. A flashlight, which my father lost 2 days later 😦 so we had to buy a new one. There is excellent mobile signal in the city but up in the mountains, you’ll only get them in big towns. I’ll get to that later.

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Our journey took us 7 days over the Annapurna range of the Himalayas. It may not be Everest Base Camp (that takes at least 10 days) but enough to take pictures.

We rode a van from Kathmandu to Bandipur and stayed overnight. It gave us a glimpse on what was to come.

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Our camera setup

From Bandipur we headed to the lakeside town of Pokhara where we would leave our belongings before heading to the mountains.

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It was another van ride to the start of the trek at Nayapul. Here we met with our guides and porters and set off just before 9am.

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Mule train of of Nayapul

It’s here in Birethanti (elev. 1065m)  where supplies are replenished and brought up the mountains on the backs of mules. You need to step aside when they pass since they have a tendency to bump you off the cliff if you’re in the way.

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This is also the last part where vehicular traffic can pass since the roads are still being built.

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Since electricity is something of a rare commodity up in the mountains, I had a solar panel on my backpack as I went on the trail slowly charging my iPod or iPhone. It wasn’t much but enough to help me have some touch with civilization with my playlist.

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Don’t fall into the water. There are leeches.

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Just beyond the structures up there is where we would be staying for the night.

We arrived at Tikhedhunga (elevation 1525m) a little past five and had dinner and slept.

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Traditional Nepali dish.

The following day was going to be the killer. But we didn’t know it then. We set off at 6am for Ghorepani (elevation 2775m).

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The trek to the next town was tough. Ulleri was a steep acent of 1,300m.

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We had only hit part of Ulleri by lunchtime and it would be difficult to make it to Ghorepani by sunset. Our trek was not made any easier by the afternoon rainshowers. We were getting really tired. By 5pm we were still at least an hour away from Ghorepani and we were basically out of energy bars, water, eletrolytes and warm clothing. It was hot in humid during the day and it started to snow as the sun went down. Our guides were worried that I might be suffering from altitude sickness. But I wasn’t. Each step was painful and my body was telling me to stop. Stop here for the night. It’ll be ok. Apparently we were all in the same predicament. We were all just waiting for someone to say it. But nobody did.

As the sun went down the rain slowly turned into snow and at this point we didn’t have flashlight. There was nothing else in my mind but the next step. Each step was closer to a hot meal and a bed. During the trek, all sorts of things could fill your mind. There was the view, the odd thing that you would see along the path and checking on how much water we had left. But not at 6pm in the snow. We finally reached Ghorepani just before the sun went completely down.

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Last photo for the day. Entrance to Ghorepani.

Then I learned that it was another 30-45 minutes uphill to reach the lodge for the night. Crap.

I was feeling much better now that we reached the town and our goal for the day was within reach. But going through a town in almost total darkness with the exception of the moonshine that guided our path from time to time while it hid behind the clouds. Since it was really dark I stepped on crap. Literally. Oh well, washed my shoes before heading indoors. But it was something to laugh at and bring my mood up as I was already physically drained.

I reached the inn by 7pm and immediately went for my winter gear. I then suggested that we stay an extra day in Ghorepani since it was very evident on our very tired faces that there was no way we could climb another 1k M the following day.
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Sunrise showed us exactly where we were. Annapurna South filled our window and it was spectacular.

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Our living conditions for the past few days have been sparse but I was confortable enough. Though it was plywood, sleeping bag then me. This was one of the few places where we had a thin cushion.

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Annapurna South

The rest day did us a lot of good and set back on the path the next day. This time it would take us along the mountain range which was a little easier than the day before but not that easy.

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Highest point on this journey. My father in the background.

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As you pass, put another stone for the next traveller.

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Hot in the morning, freezing in the afternoon until the night.

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We’re suppposed to trekking somewhere here.

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Solar water heaters up in the mountains.

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Up and down the mountains and edges.

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Going through the forest isn’t easy especially when the path you’ve been walking on suddenly ends in a cliff. Look on the far end of this photo and see the steps that we still have to climb. Essentially we have to climb down to the river, cross the river and climb back up over 1000 steps.

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Over the river

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Up and up again.

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Find a way around this boulder.

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More steps.

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I’d say the walls were really paper thin. I could hear everything that was going on on our floor. Seriously. But we were gifted by this view the next day.

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Breakfast was always simple for me in the morning. Cup of coffee, toast and peanut butter. No eggs for me. Allergies. Peanut butter I carried all the way from Manila.

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The guy brought up apples from the city and is selling them to our innkeeper in red. The other ladies in black jackets are from the Three Sisters Trekking company.

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Wild bull mastiffs just lounging under the sun.

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This is is a short trek to Ghandruk.

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Holy cows.

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We spent the past few days going up, now it’s all the way down.

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Entering the town of Ghandruk was a bit of a shock. It is the most developed town in all of Nepal. It’s home to the Ghurka warriors who are known for their fearless and vicious fighting skills. Just recently, a Ghurka warrior on vacation took on a gang of 10 train robbers in India with a knife and won.

The town has it’s own hydroelectric plant which means there are no power interruptions here.

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Amazing! There’s still light and we made it to our inn!

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Best inn on the trek by far.

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They purify their own water. Bring your own bottle, no bottled water. Up in the basket next to it are around 5-6 iPods and iPhones. This is the most amazing inn ever.

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The innkeeper is well educated and very modern. All the trash you bring up must go down with you if it’s not biodegradable.
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Later that afternoon a mule fell in an accident. Vultures were circling above waiting for it to die.

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Note the solar panels, it’s just for the hot water. That means no hot water at night.

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View of the fishtail mountain at dawn.

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Mailbox in Ghandruk.

This was our last day on the mountain and it was all downhill. Like 3km downhill.

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Mules taking a detour so they don’t have to pass by us.

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This is how chickens are brought up.

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The one cat we see up in the mountains.

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Road being paved. I wonder how long will it take to build?

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Almost feels like a painting.

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Mule train back to Nayapul

Mule train

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This river is significant.
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Looks familiar.

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OMG! It’s the bridge where we started all of this!

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The last mile.

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You need to check back in to make sure you went down the mountain.

No more space inside

Fellow Belgian trekker had to ride above their bus since there was no more space inside.
Korean restaurant in Pokhara

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Taking the plane back to Kathmandu.

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Luggage waiting for the plane

Luggage at the tarmac.

Luggage being loaded

Luggage loaded.

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Back in Pokhara and having a Korean meal.

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Back in Kathmandu.

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bike share?

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More sightseeing in Kathmandu

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Coca-Cola ad.

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Let sleeping dogs lie.

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Pots for drying.

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Yes. Weed grows like weed.
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Waiting for our Dragon Air flight to Hong Kong.

This trip was amazing and I wish I could do it again to Everest Base Camp. Really big thanks to everyone my dad, Patrick, Evelyn and Timmy, Henry and Emma, Dipendra and Nim. I promise I’ll come back. I’ll just need to train going uphill.

35,000 feet with 5 hours to go

I knew I had to try the inflight wifi while going to New York. For this trip, the wifi was free. I quickly checked in foursquare and got the Mile High badge. Gogoinflight provides the service on this Delta flight who also services other airlines such as Virgin America and American Airlines.

Internet is provided in the air via two ways. One is via satellite as the signal is sent to receivers on the aircraft while the most common method is via cellular towers on the ground. This is the reason why inflight wifi is only available over land.

I will be tweeting more in the next four hours to see if Internet is better than television at 30,000 ft.

Japanese washing machine and bidet

I’ve been able to do my share of laundry and seen all sorts of laundromats during my time but this takes the cake. I can assume that this is a large heavy duty washing machine where you can select the load on the left side and adjust for time and temperature of the water and start it off on the right. Is that correct?

The toilet is fairly straight forward. I’ve never had much problems with Japanese toilets. But what is the LCD screen for?

Seen in Macau: Granite sidewalks

The old sidewalks of Macau are covered in these black and white
granite tiles. It’s quite fascinating to look at but what heppens when
it rains? Doesn’t it get all slippery and you fall down? Especially on
the downward slope of the hills?

Seen in Macau: Ruins of St. Paul

We took a taxi from the hotel to one of the major landmarks of the
city which is the ruins of St. Paul’s Cathedral. According to
Wikipedia, the Jesuit cathedral was built in 1582 and was then the
largest Catholic church in Asia. It was destroyed by a fire and
typhoon in 1835. All that remains is the facade.

I didn’t take this picture during this trip but last year. Not much
has changed since then.

Seen in Macau: LED Billboards

Seen in Macau: LED Billboards, originally uploaded by mdelamerced.

Not too far from the Ruins of St. Paul’s Cathedral is this LED

Going home

Going home, originally uploaded by mdelamerced.

Ah yes. It’s been a glorious 3 days of vacation in Macau but all good
things must come to an end. I will be mass posting as much as I can
before I board that plane to go back to Manila. University classes
start on Tuesday so this vacation was well timed.

WiFi does belong in the sky

Google sponsors free Wi-Fi on Virgin’s US flights | Electronista

Starting on Virgin America flights on November 15 to January 15, passengers will experience free inflight wifi courtesy of Google. Google sees wifi as a way of easing stress during the holiday seasons. Normally, passengers would have to pay $8 – $13 for wifi on the planes with rates depending on the device to be connected and the duration of the flight.

I think this is great news for US domestic travelers. I flew on Virgin America for the first time last year from San Francisco to New York with my family. Everything from booking the flight to boarding was great. Check in was hassle free and they even played music while you were boarding the plane. Overhead compartments were spacious enough to accommodate my mom’s trolley and there’s power in every seat. The infight entertainment was provided by the Dish Network by beaming satellite TV programming live to the plane. Ordering meals from your seat was also simple. Instead of pushing the food cart up and down the aisle, you just input your order on their linux based entertainment system, be it just water or beer, swipe your credit card and the flight attendant hands the beverage to you. There are also USB and power sockets in almost every seat so you can run your ipod or laptop throughout the flight. The only gripe I have with the flight was the passenger behind you keeps pushing the buttons on the touch screen right behind your head which makes it very annoying especially through a six hour flight. But other than that it’s a really nice flight. You check in the international terminal which means you don’t see the terribly long lines through check in and airport security and baggage claim.

The wifi wasn’t available yet when I flew but I do hope that other companies will continue to “sponsor” free wifi on airplanes.

This is the way to fly.

On the A380

My friends and I were fortunate enough to get the upper deck. Sadly we were not in business class whose seats were incredible. Now those are really wide seats. So here I was stuck in largest airplane in the world for the next 11 hours and here goes the experience.

My  mother had made it clear that she would never ride this plane in her entire life. I had always called it the flight from hell due to its large size. The upper deck is significantly quiet since it’s mostly business class and just 1/3 is dedicated to economy class.

Gate A5 in Changi ariport was renovated to accommodate the A380. I thought that it would take forever to board but for real it didn’t. It doesn’t take much longer than a 747 to board the plane completely.

Upon clearing the gate and into the tube, it split into three. The first is course for first class and the other two are for the main cabin and upper deck. It’s a slight incline to the get to the upper deck and you are welcomed into business class…which wasn’t our seat.

Once we got to our seats, the first thing we noticed is that the upper luggage bins are small. In short, insufficient. I had admired Virgin America for it’s large overhead bins but these were small. It reminded me of that American Airlines 747 from Dallas to San Francisco.

Luckily my stuff fit into the overhead and the seat in front of me. The seats are indeed more comfortable than any economy class I’ve seated in. The next thing I noticed was that I was sandwiched between two rows of children. Ouch.

The screen is impressive even in economy. It’s a ten inch screen with a cup holder, USB port, ethernet jack, telephone, qwerty keyboard and coat hanger. The remote is conveniently located in front instead than the side which provides easy access and no accidental button pushing which is nice.

The inflight selection of movies and tv shows is the largest collection in any plane. With the usual latest releases and Hollywood hits, there’s also a wide selection of Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Indian and other Asian films. Each TV episode not only has one but two episodes each.

You can even plug in your USB thumb drive and access your files via a PC suite. I still have to try if my iPod works on this.

The seat reclines to an acceptable amount. The tray table though is something else. The table splits into two since the entertainment system takes up quiet a lot of space.

The initial fold reveals a slide mirror and another cup holder and the usual sliding tray action. However if you try to work on it. I wouldn’t recommend it. As I was typing this away while the plane was in motion. The Mac Book Pro is too big for the table and when the seat in front reclines, it becomes very difficult to work. The power in the seat isn’t always on. Only when my battery was about to shut down did the power kick in. It allowed me an hour of charge before shutting down again. The table is only meant for the netbooks and probably the air. But definitely not the mac book pro. Hint hint, I should travel in business class.

My friend’s console kept rebooting it’s Red Hat Linux software and wouldn’t run so they transferred him to another seat. Which gave me and my other travelling companion a little more room to work with.

The plane runs quiet. Although I’m not sure if it’s the same on the main deck. The wings are enormous. There are multiple flaps to provide the pilot with complete control over the plane.

The service of Singapore Airlines is as always impressive and something to be modeled after. Their attentiveness and smile makes the trip bearable despite the kinks on the plane. Upon take off, the safety guide had to be done manually instead of the instructional video due to a glitch in the system.

This is truly a feat of engineering but I had hoped for more space. In fact, I think the Singapre airlines version is already the “roomier” version of the aircraft. I just hoped that there would be something more to do on board.

It’s already half way to London with another 6 hours to go. I’ll stand up and figure out something to do while on board. I’ll see if I can get a snack.

Baggage handling was pretty quick or we were very lucky. Our luggage came right on the heels of the business class people so that was a very lucky thing for us.

All in all this trip was very nice. I was able to sleep which is surprising. I usually don’t sleep on planes in economy class or when I’m travelling without my family. If I were given a choice to travel to London again. I would book it on this plane.

It’s hard to blog while on vacation

Yes being at home in the Bay Area makes blogging a lot difficult. With the clean air and the warm weather (at least until the weekend), one can easily forget what to do for the day. Not to mention that my RSS feed is now 2000 unread and counting. Will try to post something later.