Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Tokomaru Mission

There are few things I love more than an exploratory adventure run with friends in the middle of summer, especially when unusually it only takes just over a few hours and everyone comes out warm and happy. We had an absolute pearler yesterday, which included part of the Te Araroa trail and the Tokomaru gorge.

A good gang of eleven of us started from Gordon Kear forest, where many of us have been orienteering for years and ran south along the new route. The route follows gravel roads and four wheel drive tracks until close to the high point where it veers into the bush. The bush track is fun, cruising along the ridge for a bit until dropping quickly into the river, great terrain running if you are confident enough with your feet.

Once we hit the river we just followed our noses, down through big pools, narrow canyons, good running on dry stones. There are lots of deer tracks in here and some amazing native forest; nikaus, ratas and totara were a few that I noticed. And right on time we turned a corner and found Horseshoe bend picnic area where we had left some cars. Special kudos as well to Mrs Flynn who had arrived with some cold beers, next time though she will be out running.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Back home

A quick Christmas message and update.

Firstly, I hope everyone that keeps an eye on this blog has a really great Christmas with family and friends. Chill out for a while, forget about the stuff you have to do and drink some good beer.

Penny and I have been back for a few weeks now in Aotearoa. The photo is from my folks deck in Arthurs Pass. We are furiously house hunting in Wellington but have plenty of awesome friends to stay with while we wait for the right place to pop up.

Penny is working Christmas, but I will fly back up from Chch to pick her up when she knocks off around 2300!
Never mind we have some holidays around Ohakune and Wanaka to look forward to this summer...

Hopefully I will get my mojo up to sort some photos out from Everest. Five months of travel makes for an intimidating photo collection! And get a blog up sometime soon.

Take care aye


Lamajura La

I just had to share this. Penny, Sam and GB staunching it up at the last guesthouse on the Lamajura La. We were walking into Everest from Jiri, most people were walking out as planes couldn't fly for over a week.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Back from the boohai

Back in Kathmandu- the sweet sounds of dogs barking, horns beeping and people hoiking onto the street. It is our last day here in Nepal after 3 months working and walking our way around the country.

We have spent the last month in the Solukumbu region, well known for being home to the highest mountain in the world. Jamie, Sam, GB and I caught a rickety bus to Shivalaya and started our walk in from there. One of the things about Nepal is that you can count the number of roads in the country on your hands, making access in to most places quite difficult (and out of them even harder).

My work started a little earlier than planned, on the walk in to the villages where we were to start work. Jamie spotted a man lying under some blankets at a tea house we had stopped in (I had actually just thought it was a pile of blankets). He was a young police officer who had been in the police hospital for a month, and despite the fact that he was obviously on deaths door with weight loss and fevers, the doctors decided that because they couldn't figure out what was wrong with him, he was suitable to be sent back to work. We recruited a few robust cops to carry him back to the nearest road end (as he was too weak to walk) and I suggested he try visiting a different hospital this time.

The first village we spent some time at was Deusa, a beautiful little village perched on a hill covered in rice and millet fields. The rather run down clinic was run by Dev Kumari and Kumala, who did a wonderful job of treating and entertaining their patients (I gathered it must of been one of the afternoons activities to come to the healthpost to gossip- actually in the room with whichever patient was being seen at the time!). Almost all the children had skin infections and I soon figured out why when I realised that the nearest tap was a 15 minute walk out of the village.

There's a baby in that basket (left) and GB's home in Sotang (right)

Our next stop was Sotang, the home of our friend GB (Gyan Bahadur Katuwal). He had convinced us to come and visit his village and do some training with the 8 nurse midwives and health assistant there. His family kindly had us to stay at their cosy home, where we were fed copious amounts of delicious dal baat, and entertained by his 2 year old niece. Sotang has recently had the addition of a new health post, with small inpatient unit, outpatient area, and a delivery unit (unfortunately still no running water). The health assistant Shreedoj Rai is very experienced and was previously employed by the Hillary Trust. My job there was to do training with the healthcare workers there on women and childrens' health.

Nurse midwives at Sotang practicing newborn resuscitation on a rather scary-looking plastic doll

The training went well, as the nurse midwives were intelligent and keen to learn heaps. I also managed to put myself in the firing line for questions about womens health with a mothers group run by a local teacher. Some of the questions were straightfoward, but others were a bit more curly : "I had my uterus removed with a dead baby inside, and then the doctor left a gauze swab inside, which I later had removed, but now I have ongoing abdominal pain- how do I cure that doctor?"

We also had a chance for some practical training, which came in the form of a rather stressful experience. A woman in her 40s came in, abruptly delivered a baby (in the rather revolting delivery room toilet), but failed to deliver the placenta and slowly started bleeding away. In NZ, this would mean a quick trip to the operating theatre and maybe a blood transfusion, but in Nepal these things are literally hundreds of kilometres away. We managed to slow the bleeding with the resources we had available, and 20 hours later when it got light again, her family started off with her on their shoulders for a 12 hour walk to the nearest 'hospital' where they at least had a lab where they could possibly give her a blood transfusion. We raised enough money for her to fly from this 'hospital' to Kathmandu for definitive treatment, but I haven't yet heard whether she survived the journey.

After our time in Sotang, we headed off for Everest, for a last blast in the mountains before our return home... but I'll leave that to Jamie to write about.Here's a few photos though.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Off again

Ok, well I didn't quite manage to get that last blog finished, or hardly even started, and we are off again.

Just Sam, Penny and me now, bussing to Jiri today (as the weather isn't letting anyone fly to Lukla ). We will spend the first couple of weeks in Deusa and Sprang, isolated villages in the Solu Khumbu, before trekking in the Everest region for a bit. We plan to do the three pass trip: Kongma la, Cho la and Renjo la.

For a better blog, with lots of photos of our travels check out www.stew.geek.nz

Take care


Friday, October 28, 2011

Stewart Family Holiday: Lower Mustang

We are now back in Pokhara living the good life of cheap momos and chilli chicken.The last two weeks or so has been a great adventure, so much has happened that I really don't know how to begin with this blog, so I will just select the best photos I have and try to piece together some narrative as I go..

  We set out from Pokhara to explore the wilds of the Annapurna region, one of the most popular trekking routes in the world. What made this area famous was the Annapurna Circuit, a 20 odd day mission circumnavigating the entire Annapurna massif. However new roads, particularly that up the Kali Gandaki river in the western part have changed the dynamics of tourism in the area, perhaps as some say spoiling the classic trek, but also opening up new opportunities that we aimed to make the most of. We headed straight for the dry lands of Mustang, in the rain shadow of the Annapurnas where the hills are big and brown and the people use spring water to create green oases of crops and fruit trees amongst the eroded hills.

A creative route choice saw a family ford of the Kali Gandaki

Mum was starting to stride out up the braided river bed

  We caught the bus from Pokhara to Jomsom, with a one night stop over in Ghasa. Not quite as easy as it sounds as this road as well as being controversial is just a little dodgy. Jomsom is a great little hub with an airport, fresh apples and plenty of places to spend money. We got out of there quickly heading upriver to the amazing old fortified village of Kagbeni on the border of the Upper Mustang restricted area.

The Kagbeni monastery with rock strata behind
The Orchards of Kagbeni and towards Muktinath
 It was amazing to stand in, on and around this fort admiring the light on the rooftops, the crazy strata in the rocks and thinking of the times not so long ago when maurauding Kham pa's hunted and haunted this isolated place.

Nilgiri rose snow capped above layers of brown hills to the south. 

 The next day we rather ambitiously headed cross-country towards our destination of Jhong, an ancient village at the head of the valley. The more famous stop-over in these parts is the pilgrimage mecca of Muktinath, but we were trying to avoid the crowds. It proved an inspired, if not slightly hot and dry choice. We saw some amazing landscapes with autumn colours as we climbed up the valley.

Troglodytes once lived here

Autumn colours - Little monastery on hill

Approaching the walled village of Putak

The Stewart family in Putak
Our destination for the day Jhong threw us up a great little surprise of a guesthouse located between a monastery and an abandoned fort. And in the midst of this very authentic, relic(?), village, we were served the most delicious spring rolls.

View from guesthouse - with mountain we later climbed

View back down to Jhong after evening stroll - looking as much as it has for the last thousand years
The next day, Penny, Sam and I were let loose on an extension adventure, climbing the rocky knob that towers behind Jhong. This hill tops out at about 5300, a big effort for Sam with minimal acclimatisation. We left before the crack of dawn, catching an amazing sunrise and moon set. Dhaulagiri just floated, as it does, down valley and when we gained the ridge the view into the mysterious land of Mustang was just awesome. The day was so clear we could see right over Mustang and into Tibet, strange lonely snowy mountains crept onto the horizon in some far off land beyond our comprehension.

Dhaulagiri on right above gap of the Kali Gandaki

First light hits Jharkot - Jhong in foreground


Nearly time to go down

We also saw a flock of blue sheep, the first since Kanchenjanga, they were still there when we went down and we watched then scuttling around the steep terrain. They always stay close to cliffs so they can escape any snow leopard attacks. I can't really emphasise enough the beauty and photogenicness of this little area. There are so many things going on. Here are a few more photos to perhaps make the point.

A New Monastery near Muktinath

Kids play
Water boils
 After the relaxing days in Jhong we gathered our energy for a wander over to the little village of Lubra several hours away in a smaller side creek of the Kali Gandaki. We had heard there was a new guesthouse there (the first in the village) which provided good digs and kai. Big landscapes is how I would sum up this day.

The Stewart family leaves Jhong

Lubra is near the orchard in the distance

Rock walls that make you feel tiny.

The village was fantastic. It was harvest time and it smelt like rain. The "Super-organism" of the Tibetan village was burning energy. All around the landscape there were massive bundles of grass moving around, supported by little bandy legs. Ladybirds is not perhaps the right analogy, but you can probably understand where I am coming from.


Harvest transporters

Our hosts for the night

From Lubra, we headed back into the main valley of the Kali Gandaki, but stayed on the true left to avoid the metropolis of Jomsom. The track down the bank was interesting, up and over little ridges with great views of Nilgiri and its forested slopes. We even arrived in Marpha in time to watch the World Cup semi-final at a bus stop - but one that sold apple cider and dried fruit...superb. If you go to Martha stay in the old town which is off the main road, we fell for one of the outer places and there wasn't quite the vibe. Marpha is one of the towns that has been hard done by by the road as many trekkers now end their trip in Jomsom, its well worth a nosy though. I had big ambitions to get to 6000metres by heading up Dhamphus peak on our rest day but neither my fitness or the weather were conducive to action. The 6000 metre threshold will have to wait for another time.

Heading down river - Dhampus peak at centre
Watching the rugger

Me, Gem and Sam in Marpha
 I guess Marpha was the end of our arid adventure, after that we headed off downriver on a bus then into the Annapurna base camp. I will cover that in another post. This trip described is highly recommended for those looking to see some amazing sights, avoid the crowds and not do too much hard walking.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Heading to ABC

This view is towards Chromrong where we stayed last night. It was a fantastic guest house with perfect views of the Annapurnas.

With everyone going so well we have decided to attempt Annapurna Basecamp which will take us maybe 5 days.

Gemma has left us, taking the bus back yesterday from Naya Pul, back to teaching in just a few days time.

Take care.


Sunday, October 16, 2011

Marpha Stewarts


We are in Marpha in the Kali Gandaki valley having a rest day. Marpha is the beautiful apple capital of Nepal and we are enjoying the pies, crumbles and frittatas.

We had a terrific trip up valley staying in the villages of Kagbeni, Jhong and Lubra. Penny, Sam and I climbed to a 5200m viewpoint overlooking the Upper Mustang and Tibet.

Yesterday we hurried down valley under the shadow of Nilgiri pk to watch the All Blacks win their semi-final at the local bus station. It seemed fitting to replace chips and beer with dried apple and locally pressed juice.

Tomorrow we head downriver by bus as far as Tatopani where we will head up Poon hill for a look around Ghandruk and perhaps the Annapurna sanctuary.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Stewart Family Holiday: Part 1

Mum always used to say that if we won Lotto we would go trekking in Nepal, well here we are! Not quite trekking yet but it has been pretty much a week since Penny and I met the rest of the Stewart family in Kathmandu airport...

As this is Mum and Dads' first trip outside of New Zealand I was really looking forward to their first impressions. I was not disappointed seeing their dawning comprehension of the reality of Kathmandu on the short trip to the old town of Bhaktapur where we had booked to stay for the first few nights.

We chose Bhaktapur because it was supposed to be quiet and clean, but we hadn't counted on the Hindu festival of Dashain, which brings Nepal to a standstill as the victory of good (the gods) over evil (demons in the form of water buffalos) is celebrated. Everyone returns home to their villages, including Bhaktapur, and gives copious offerings to the gods often in the form of animal sacrifices. My brother Sam has posted some photos, but here is another one...instead of headless goats or ducks I give you a fair dinkum tractor worshipping photo, I have always named my cars and changed the old filter, but this is how you really appreciate an engine...

The old city of Bhaktapur really does justify its World Heritage listing, there are many amazing buildings most dating from the heyday of the city around 1700, but many from much earlier, we enjoyed many strolls through the various squares, shopping for handicrafts down the narrow lanes and plenty of teas in the cafes that oversee everything.

Some of the iconography is quite amusing, I like to think these carvers as well as been very religious also had a sense of humour.

We had one little outing from Bhaktapur, up the hill to Narakot which apparently has an amazing view of the himalayas on a good day...this wasn't one regrettably. We saw only a slither of the Langtang and perhaps the triangular face of Gaurasankar. However we did get to stretch our legs down the long ridge to Changu Narayan, via the local pie shops...

For a spot of luxury and some jungle we headed down to Chitwan National Park for a few day, staying at the super nice Sapana Village Lodge. We got out there into the jungle both on foot and by elephant, but by far the highlight was the elephant washing. Dad in particular really bonded with his elephant, they connected deeply, down even to the facial expressions...

We saw a bit of wildlife; the two types of crocodile, a couple of species of deer, some monkeys and plenty of cool birds, but for me the highlight has to be the elephants we were riding, what awesome creatures, riding one across a deep fast flowing river it seemed like they were built from stone, not flesh. Their big round footprints softly but heavily stamp a track perfectly flat, and from the foot up the animal is just so damn big and solid and heavy and old. So so cool.

Today we journeyed up from the heat of Chitwan to Pokhara, the gateway for the Annapurna. We will stay here for a couple of days getting permits etc (and shopping) before heading up by local bus and jeep hopefully as far as Muktinath (making the most of the new road) before slowly drifting back down. But yeah, what an experience, it is so amazing to have Mum, Dad, Gemma, and Sam here as well and be sharing it with them. Awesome.