Up at 05:30 today to drive the potentially risky process of getting our flight. The kitchens look closed first thing which is a bit of a worry, but then we can see a young chap beavering away in there and we have a wonderfully typical chat in there at 6am "'Breakfast 6am, yes?', 'Yes', ' Now 6am.', 'Yes, 6am. Breakfast in 15 minutes'" And so at about 06:20 breakfast for five appears.
In fact, and unsurprisingly, this delay is not that relevant as neither our guide not the hotel agent arrives as promised. I knock back my cheese and tomato omelette and head off to find them - I bump into the Liaison Officer (not sure why he is up this early as he is not coming with us) and get him to call our trekking guide who, it turns out, is at the airport. So I head over there to find him with the agent and it is completely unclear what they are up to. Nevertheless, this gives me the chance to confirm that everything is ok for the day and reconfirm our plans.
First up is to get our tickets cancelled; for some reason this cannot be done but I cannot understand why so we move on from that, contact the 'big boss' back in Kathmandu who says it is not a problem. He will reimburse us the $100 anyway and the tickets can be cancelled by our guide tomorrow. So we head back to the hotel to sort out the final payments. Whilst we have been dealing with the tickets a 'discussion' over who pays for the teahouse and meals has started. The teahouse, despite being the sister teahouse to where we were last night, knows that our guide has no cash but has for some reason forgotten that the agency has an arrangement for settling the account. We resolve that, make the final payments for the flights and then with everything seemingly in hand sit down and wait for the first wave of flights to be completed before heading to the airport for our flight in the second wave.
The airport check in moves as smoothly as one can expect out here, but we are told that some weather has come in at Kathmandu and that there are not going to be any flights for a while - maybe 1 or 2 hours, but that our plane will be in the next batch coming over.
Whilst sitting in the departure lounge, the hotel agent comes running in saying that security want to look in our checked in bags but they are locked. We give keys and combinations to one of the group who goes out to watch the inspection. They chose one stuff sac from each bag to go through and our colleague helps them somewhat. It seems that they are looking for lighters which they then chuck in a bin. When it comes to my stuff sac, he opens it and finds a small plastic bag which emits a cloud of white powder when opened which he hurriedly and worriedly puts it back in before security can see it! He is rather convened at what happened until the inspection is over and he is back in the departure lounge, where I can reassure him that it is only talcum powder! Otherwise, as yesterday, we spend the morning waiting in the airport as other groups get onto their plane and are whisked off to Kathmandu.Again, after four planes in the second wave, they stop arriving as it is apparently too windy. We ask a number of people for some information about this as it is not really that windy here. Eventually, we are told that it is not too windy here or in Kathmandu for landing or taking off, but that it is too windy in the middle for flying. This causes quite a bit of laughter from people in the departure lounge who know that this is rubbish - it always appears to become windy from about 12 until 2 when presumably everyone connected to domestic flights heads off for lunch. The again at about 2pm we are let out onto the tarmac as we have got pretty cold waiting for the past 6 hours and at about 3pm are ushered back into the waiting room to great cheers as we are told that the planes are coming. The problem is that there are bout 5 or 6 planes of people waiting and it appears that only three planes are coming - 2 plane loads have already been told that their flights are cancelled, so there is a lot of nervous chatter abut what will happen and what people have been told by various airport officials. I manage to talk to three such officials and they all seem pretty certain that our plane is on its way here but other passengers seem equally certain that their planes are coming as well / instead. But it seems as though the people on the waitlist for today are not going anywhere today and it makes you wonder when they might actually get on a plane as given the long lunch break each day not all the flights for that day get off let alone the waitlisted ones - there is quite a continual departure of helicopters to Kathmandu (presumably where the airline owners make their real money) but it turns out that we probably have too much baggage for them.
Anyway and finally, our plane is the first of the batch to come. Our relief is quite pathetic really as we were coming to realise just how hard it was going to be for us to get back to Kathmandu and we weren't that keen on spending more days waiting in the airport at Lukla!
There is quite a bit of cloud so we can't see a great deal on the way back - until one of the other aircraft heading for Lukla shoots out of some clouds overhead and can't miss us by that much - queue some very relieved laughter from the cockpit! Then on landing the pilot tries to take a short cut to the domestic terminal only to end up in a game of chicken with a jumbo jet that is taxiing for take off. We can see the pilots calculating whether we could fit under their wings and probably the answer is yes but this was too much even for Nepali Health and Safety and there is a vey loud blast of officialdom over the radio. We do a three point turn - fairly sure that the pilot is gunning for a hand brake turn - and then squeeze in between the various landing aircraft to head up the runway to the other end of the airport.
Still, there was more to come. Instead of being met by a mini bus, a yute arrives so we pile into the back with the luggage for the transfer to the terminal which is actually rather pleasant given the heat. And, lastly to cap an interesting day off, there is no transfer to meet us at the airport so we had to get a taxi back into town. Not normally too much of an issue but, there were five of us with a lot of luggage and we had used all of our cash in Lukla. Finally, we managed to get a medium sized estate car with our luggage everywhere and our knees round our ears which turned out to be pretty painful given the bumpy roads of Kathmandu. Nevertheless, this got us back to our hotel in one piece.
There, we showered, shaved, organised flights and sorted out the cash with the local agent before heading out to the Everest Steak House to sate our appetites for meat
followed by a few beers in one of the rather stereotypical backpacker / foreigner bars there before flying out early next morning.
Next up: Antarctica for the whole of December! Climbing Mount Vinson and skiing to the South Pole.