What was your best experience during this assignment?
I'm from Colorado, and sometimes I felt like I was at home when I was in Nepal, but with mountains twice as high. I made a point to climb higher than Colorado's tallest peak, but even then I was thousands and thousands of feet below Everest's summit. The mountains in this region are incredibly dramatic. They create a beautiful setting for the world's highest stage.
What was your worst experience during this assignment?
While the scenery in Nepal is gorgeous, the human situation is awful. This is a country that's fraught with violence and Maoist rebels. The people have a life expectancy of about 56 years and the per capita income is about $1,400. Everyone is desperately poor, and there's really no government, food, or money. The only people actually making any money in Nepal are the Sherpas.
Like many developing nations, the royal family also has a spectacularly lavish palace—surrounded by soldiers with M-16s—in the center of Kathmandu. But of course, the real threat to the royal family was inside the palace; a royal nephew murdered the king, queen, and several family members before I arrived.
So every day when I woke up in Nepal, I thought, man, it's so beautiful here, but it's just such a sad country.
What was the oddest experience that you encountered during this assignment?
I was trying to get to Kathmandu from Solu, so I decided to walk six miles to the Phaplu Airport. At about 6:30 a.m. I reached the airport, a grassy airstrip with a small control tower built out of rocks. A couple of guys standing around told me I had a good chance of catching a flight if I came back in three hours.
When I returned they said, "Oh, did we say 9:30?" Then told me I should go take a nap by the airstrip and wait a little longer. I didn't mind because it was an absolutely beautiful day under the warm Himalayan sun.
At 2:30 p.m. I heard a snarl and saw a small plane land. People who had been napping around me started getting up and then boom, everyone rushed the plane while I stood there wondering what had just happened. All six seats on the plane had been taken, including one by a man I had chatted with while lying on the airfield. As the doors started closing, I yelled to my buddy, "I'll give you $50 for your seat!" He took it. Domestic air travel in Nepal is interesting, to say the least.