We woke up early to a foggy Lukla for the first flight to Kathmandu. As we had breakfast in the nearby bakery, Ang Dawa went out to check on the flight status and take care of checking us in. However, things were not looking too good. The fog was still lingering in the airfield with no sign of lifting. Our departure time passed and we were still hanging around in the dining area of our lodge waiting. We were still hoping for flights to resume later on in the day, similar to the day before when flights only resumed after lunch. We then got a call from Harka.
According to him, no flights are in operation for the day, which we were already aware of. He, along with other folks, were organizing a helicopter alternative to get us down to Kathmandu that would cost us around $500 (for 2 people). Now $500 is quite a sum of money and while I was considering the cost, I just wanted to get back to Kathmandu as soon as possible. Little did I know, this was because I was already experiencing symptoms of Giardiasis. Socs and I discussed this and we made a decision to take Harka up on his offer.
I was hoping that the helicopter would land in Lukla and get us out of there, but we were told to get our stuff ready for an hour’s trek down to where the helicopter can land. So after lunch, we reorganized our gear (as we were dressed for air travel and not trekking) and set off down the mountain. Ang Dawa took our other bag which Dill would have normally carried. It was a wet trek down and we could definitely see why no flights would be coming to Lukla anytime soon (in fact no flights were in operation until we were back in London nearly a week later). During the trek down, I started imagining that we were being evacuated from a conflict zone to the chopper’s LZ (coincidentally, Tears of the Sun was showing on the telly when we got back to our hotel). Our LZ turned out to be a clearing on the side of the mountain beside what I think were corn/rice fields.
Socs: For people like you and me, LZ = Landing Zone
At first there were 5 of us and wondered how big the chopper was. Then slowly more ‘evacuees’ started pouring in, soon there was a mass of people waiting for evacuation. I started wondering how big the helicopter was and what would happen once it landed, this was my first time being rescued after all. We waited for quite a while until finally we saw the chopper come in for a landing. And unsurprisingly, it was a small helicopter that could probably take 5 people maximum. I started to worry a bit, the Nepali guides started to storm the pilot holding cellphones talking to, I assume, someone of authority. Ang Dawa then told us that there would be 3 helicopters coming in, the second one would be ours and it was bigger capable of holding 8 passengers.
It arrived a few minutes later and we soon boarded it after saying our goodbyes to Ang Dawa (unfortunately there was not enough space for him). It was an hour’s flight from our LZ to the safe zone and the novelty of our first helicopter ride wore off after a while. I concentrated on not getting airsick and take my mind off the stomach problems I’ve been having. Unfortunately, I had to let go of my lunch a few feet from landing. I attribute this not only to the stomach bug, but due to the vibration of the chopper as it touched down.
As we were transported to the airport terminal, we saw our British friends again and swapped stories about this end of our adventure. We were met by Harka and brought to our hotel straight away. I highly commend him for his initiative and getting us that helicopter ride, he even said sorry for all the hassle (which was definitely out of his control)!
Socs: We found out on our return to London (and Dublin) that the flight cancellations continued well until we’ve left Nepal. It had gotten so bad it was all over the news. We took the chopper down on Nov 1, this article was dated Nov 7.
We started unpacking and getting cleaned up as soon as we got to our room. Then the lights went out and I started to smell something. Socs then told me there was a fire, and it was on the room beside ours. We quickly grabbed up our valuables/paperwork and headed down to the lobby. Luckily the staff got in under control and we were soon transferred to a new room. A perfect way to end the day.
Socs: I won’t let the fire incident go with just one paragraph, I just have to add to this….
When the lights went out, Allan said that he thought he saw a notice about scheduled electricity outages. We found the note but there was none scheduled at that time, so I looked out the window that was facing quite a busy street and another building. I thought I saw something flickering on the building across our hotel. The people at the street (I think one or two of them were tourists too) started shouting “Get out!” to me…and then it registered — what I thought was flickering light across were just flames reflected on the opposite window. It was a fire! I started telling Allan to get out, grabbed our bags with our passports and cash and at the same time, someone was knocking on our door. I opened the door to a hotel staff who I assumed was telling us to get out and we headed down to the hotel courtyard to what was a surprisingly calm surrounding. The hotel restaurant was in a room off the courtyard and the people inside were oblivious to what was going on. Staff were pouring into our hotel wing and the police (not firemen) came. After a few minutes, we figured they controlled the fire. Otherwise all hotel staff would be asking people to evacuate. Allan went up to the room to get our cameras (the only valuables I didn’t manage to grab on the way out) so he found which room it was (it was on our floor). We wandered over to the reception which was in the other building trying to figure out what to do next. Eventually they called us over and said they were moving us from our room on the first floor (thats second floor in the Philippines) to the fourth floor (fifth back home). I asked if there were smoke detectors in the building and surprise, surprise, there were none in our wing. It was the budget wing of the hotel. I couldn’t quite reconcile heading back to the same building, on a higher floor. What if it happens again? And what if it happens in the middle of the night? I asked the girl at reception this and she told me it was a “coincidence” (I take it she meant “accident”) and that it won’t happen again. She was looking at me like I was completely nuts. And I was helpless to do anything but to head back. I guess this is what we get for going to Nepal on a budget.
I went to bed that night hoping I could’ve stormed out of that hotel and demanded for a better, safer one. Or at least one with a smoke detector. Needless to say I didn’t sleep well that night. I woke up every now and then and stayed awake for a few minutes, listening for sounds of panic before heading back to sleep.