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Thursday, April 30, 2015

An Extra Long Day

22 April 2015 (flashback to the last week on the trek)

Day 21: We have been in the mountains for 21 days now after deciding to continue the trek to the Annapurna Sanctuary. Looking back over the last few weeks I am blown away by the vistas we have been graced to see. The Himalayas are so massive and every way we look is another giant peak. The trail follows a milky glacial river through the Himalayan valley of vertical rice terraces and bamboo forests. Our goal is Annapurna Base Camp, the starting point for serious climbers attempting Annapurna I, the worlds 10th highest peak and the highest fatality rate of all the Himalayan mountains at 32% fatality to sumit ratio, but at 4130 meters, the base camp is a destination in itself.

The trail to the Annapurna Basecamp offers up varied terrain

A milky glacial river cuts a passible canyon to the Sanctuary

Sunrise at Annapurna Bascamp

After days and days of climbing under a 42-liter pack we begin to wonder if we're ever going to reach our destination. Fueling our bodies with the traditional Nepali dish of rice, lentils and curry, it is the perfect combination of carbs and protein to fuel us for the long haul. Unfortunatly after eating the same grub for days and days on end, it does little to wet the appetite at the end of a long day.

Enter the "famous chocolate cake" located in the village of Chhomrong. Nearly a legend on the Annapurna trail, this cake is whispered about between trekkers who are days away from a proper dessert.

After being on the trail for three weeks, trust me when I say we would do ANYTHING for a piece of that cake. In fact, we did just that. When we heard about this cake, we decided we wanted it so much that instead of doing a regular day of walking we would do whatever it took to get there. We walked for 9 hours with off and on jogging through (i'm not kidding you) a monsoon and hail storm, and ending the day walking UP 1902 stairs (this doesn't include the fortress of stairs we had to climb earlier in the day) totaling over 30 kilometers.. now THAT'S what I call desire.

We finally made it to Chhomrong; feet aching, bodies sore, we collapse in our guest house for a moment before venturing back out to find "the cake."

We walk around the village a bit and finally find the guest house of Didi, who makes the infamous  dessert. The cake is delivered on a simple plate and is enjoyed briskly between groans of appreciation and slurps of tea. The sugar rushes into our bloodstream while the day's exhausting work fades from our memory and we sit peacefully watching the clouds part and the majestic Himalayas popping out into full view.

We are happy.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Earthquake Devastation in Nepal- Interview with WGN Radio, Chicago

"A massive earthquake hit Nepal on Saturday with at  least 3,617 people known to have died. More than 6,500 people have been injured, according to the National Emergency Operation Centre.  Former WGN staffer, LeAnn Morris, joined Roe Conn to discuss the magnitude of the destruction and the ongoing rescue efforts."

LINK to radio interview--http://wgnradio.com/2015/04/27/leann-morris-discusses-the-devastation-in-nepal/

Three Days After Disaster Struck

28 April 2015

How do I even begin to describe what Brandon and I experienced the day the earthquake hit? I've already been interviewed three times about it and after each interview I stop and think, I wish there was a way to really explain the fear we experienced, the helplessness we felt as we stood in terror on the mountain while the earth below and above us tossed and turned.

We stood frozen, for a moment listening to what sounded like thunder and then an avalanche, grow nearer; louder and louder it became until we felt the trembling. Having never felt this before I was confused. What is happening? I clench on to Brandon and he pulls us away from the side of the shear cliff above, putting us in a position to dodge any rocks or debris that might fall. "I think it's an earthquake," he said.

We look around and watch as the village people run out of their huts, cheering and jumping around as if they are celebrating. I was more and more confused. Should I not be worried? Everyone seems to think this is normal, something to be excited about. Until all grew quiet after the earth continued to shake violently. Then we knew, this was something we had no control over and all we could do was stay alert and hope for the best. The churning continued for more than a minute, I squeeze Brandon, and watch, as the huts shake back and forth, the tin roofs bounce up and down, and the trees and rocks vibrate all around us. I was scared.

Finally, it was over, or so we thought. We were so close to being done with our trek, I just wanted to be back civilization. Little did I know, we were actually in one of the safest places we could have been. We continued walking on the trail and about 10 minutes later we felt it again. At this point, I already had time to contemplate what had just happened, and I was even more scared the second time around. On we pushed, to get out of the mountains as we felt the tremors come and go. All smaller than the first but none the less scary.

We made it down the mountain, (5 hours later) and found a bus to take us to Pokhara, where we would be able to relax after nearly a month in the mountains.

Still not realizing the magnitude of what happened, we met a local who told us the earthquake was felt across the country. It was a 7.9 on the Richter scale and thousands are thought to have died in Kathmandu and in the mountains.
One of the Historic Dubar Square, Kathmandu sites that has now been destroyed

With the combination of being exhausted from trekking and the shock of the earthquake we didn't think this was something that would make it back to the US (we must have been delirious.) We decided it wasn't important to call the family and worry them because they probably hadn't even heard about the earthquake (sorry Mom and Dad).

It wasn't until we were eating dinner and we heard a group next to us talking about their family thinking they didn't make it and we knew we needed to make contact home. I pulled my phone out and realized I had it on airport mode this whole time. When I turned it on I had dozens of texts come through. I called my sister and she answered, bawling. So glad to hear from me; that I was alive, I was safe, and I was talking to her. At this point we still hadn't seen any news-- she definitely knew more than me because I remember saying "what are you crying about?" I understand now, Sarah. <3 She explained to me that my brother had been on the phone with the Embassy all morning trying to find out information. Krista, my sister in law had called me over and over but could never get through (hence airplane mode), and both my family and Brandon's were on the phone with each other just hoping that someone had made contact with us.

That evening we heard from the locals that another tremor was "scheduled" to occur around midnight. We decided it was best to stay up, but nothing happened and we tucked ourselves into bed after what seemed like the longest day of my life.

Around 5am Brandon jumped out of bed, grabbed me and we were out the door, along with everyone else in the city. The aftershock everyone thought would happen at midnight came late. It was powerful again, shaking our hotel window and walls violently. Thankfully no damage to the city of Pokhara was done, but unfortunately the same could not be said for the city of Kathmandu. For the second time, buildings toppled, people were buried, lives were lost and it still wasn't over. That afternoon another large aftershock occurred, this time 6.4 magnitude and more disaster. For the next day to come Brandon and I would be on edge at any tremble or loud noise we would hear, jumping out of our seats at restaurants, and running out of shops-- we were not alone.

Overall, I have felt a total of 15 - 20 small aftershocks, but it doesn't get any easier. I wake up in the middle of the night feeling the tremble and wondering if I should run outside or not. From what we've heard the worst is over, but I will forever remember the day(s) the earth shook below.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Let the Trekking Begin

15 April, 2015

We are now midway through our trek. 14 days in and I am the dirtiest I have ever been in my life. Somehow, it doesn't really bother me. We trek for 5-7 hours a day through hot sun, wind, rain, and/or snow, and at the end of the day a freezing cold shower just doesn't tempt me as it is also very cold outside. Do you blame me? Brandon on the other hand, he has gotten good at cold showers... it must be his short hair, or the fact that he is smellier than me (although he may beg to differ).

The beginning of the trek got the best of me. After only one day I was down sick for a full day- the sickest I have ever been in my life. While I don't need to go into detail, I was eternally grateful that we had a plethora of medicine with us in which I took multiple pills. Whether it was something in the food or water, I was the lucky one that got the bug. Thankfully, the medicine I did take worked within a day and by morning I was (almost) back to normal and we walked for 10 miles to make up for lost time.

Other than the fact that we miss our hot showers and my one sick day, the trekking has been incredible. I had no idea what my body could endure, and everyday I feel a sense of accomplishment. I am proud of what we are doing and I am excited for what is to come. We have been backpacking through the himalayas now for 14 days and we have many more to go, we're even thinking about extending our route.

The trek itself is not all that difficult, however we are constantly cold, and at night we even sleep in our down jackets. The "tea houses" we stay at rarely have electricity, but every once in a while we get lucky and can re-charge our electronics and and maybe even make a post or two to Facebook when we find wifi. While we don't have the typical, everyday amenities, these "simple" accommodations are just adding to the experience making this trek one of the most incredible experience Brandon and I have ever had.

I'm not sure where the name tea house came from, I can only imagine because tea is the most commonly consumed beverage. Brandon and I have grown to love black tea, we get it every night, and sometimes even splurge on ginger tea at 70 rupees (70 cents) a cup. 

A Tea House in the alpine 

Prices here are also something that I didn't expect. Along the trek the locals want you to stay at their place so much that rooms are free as long as you eat dinner and breakfast there. My normal breakfast is a plain omelet (100 rupees) wrapped in chapatti bread, which is something along the line of a thick tortilla, however it is made fresh every time it is ordered and it is DE-lish! 

One of many suspension bridges along the trek 

Approaching Upper Pisang
Trekking towards Manang
Unpolluted night skies, Manang
High mountain transportation, via local and mule
Nearly to high camp

Currently, the route we are trekking is called the Annapurna Circuit. This is a 220 kilometer trek that includes walking over a pass at 5416 meters (or just under 18,000 feet for my colorado friends). This is the highest pass in the world and it deserves the utmost respect. Just under a year ago a snowstorm came along (which happens often) and 20 people died because they couldn't find their way back down. The morning we were taking the pass we got up at 4 am to begin at 4:30 and of course it was snowing. I asked my guide if this was okay and he didn't seem bothered by it. I kept my mouth shut but can now admit to being somewhat terrified. We continue up the pass with light snow and as soon as we got to the top, only 4 hours later, the clouds lifted and we had the most magnificent views. I know people say this often but the pictures just do not do it justice. My breath was taken away, not because there is 50% less oxygen, but because I felt like I was on top of the world. Brandon and I were able to accomplish something that only a few months ago would have been out of our dreams. We are in Nepal, we're travelers, we are seeing things and experiencing things that is a once in a lifetime opportunity, and we are grateful.  

Nearly to the Highest Pass in the world (Thorong-La 5416m) thats 17,769 ft.

Yaks in their element
Top of the pass

Mountain makers
Descending pass

Kathmandu, Nepal

April 1, 2015

It hasn't set in yet that we are not on a vacation; that we are traveling for an extended period of time and living out of a backpack. It seems like it won't be too hard to keep up what we're doing, especially if we stay in a hotel more than a few nights in a row. So far we have been on the go this whole time. I am looking forward to when we decide to relax.

Arriving in Nepal has been literally insane. It is the busiest place I have ever been to in my life; I am already exhausted and we've only spent one full day here. Not exhausted in a bad way though. There is just so much going on all the time. The hustle bustle of the cars honking their way through the roads, street vendors trying to coerce you to "just come inside and take a look", the motorbikes-- don't even get me started on those, are EVERYWHERE. I don't know how I haven't seen a head on collision yet. No wonder the leading cause of death in Nepal is pedestrian accidents; if your not paying attention, you could be a goner.

The Nepali people are the kindest people we have ever met, however I am hopeful that we find this everywhere we go.

 Taking a Rickshaw ride back to our hotel