Our second attempt to get out of Lukla. The day dawns with blue sky but a little mist in the valley. The runway at least is completely clear of mist, which is much better than yesterday.
I pack up my bag and then join the others for a quick breakfast downstairs. They have managed to find seats for all of us except Dan in the first wave of planes from Kathmandu. Dan will follow in the second wave. While our luggage is taken to the airport building, we wait here until called. When the call finally does come, we say goodbye to Ramkrishna, Purba, and Arjen, and then walk over to the terminal building.
We are herded like cattle through security (fortunately they don’t spot my penknife, which I forgot to transfer to my trekking bag) and we sit down in the cold and smelly waiting room and wait.
The unofficial word seems to be that although it is clear here, the planes are unable to take off from Kathmandu because of fog there. The wait for planes or news seems interminable, but just as I am beginning to think we will be spending another night in Lukla, there is the very welcome sound of an incoming aircraft. Two planes arrive in quick succession and pandemonium breaks out.
The first plane is on the ground for only ten minutes before it hurtles back down the runway with its new set of passengers. The second is here only slightly longer as it must wait for a third incoming plane to pull off the runway before it too hurtles away.
After the third plane is gone there is a short but anxious lull in proceedings. Then a Dornier arrives – this one is ours. We are on board very quickly. There is a slight wait for two more planes to land and then we taxi onto the runway. With a roar of engines launch ourselves down the steep incline, pulling up sharply just before the tarmac turns to grass.
It is a quick flight back. Flying low over the foothills as we approach Kathmandu, the terraces look like a great contour map.
We are back at the Shanker by half past nine to shower and repack. I have my first shave for about a week and a half (since I gave up shaving on the trail). John and Marg are there to meet us. John is much better. He was diagnosed as having had a potassium deficiency, which upset the regulation of his heart rate. A combination of bananas and mineral supplements has put him back in good shape. From what we hear, he seems to have enjoyed his helicopter ride and short stay in hospital.
There is a general strike in Nepal today and the streets of Thamel are eerily empty, most of the shops closed. Crossing the road was never supposed to be this easy. There is quite a heavy military presence, but it is more reassuring than intimidating and they are happy to respond to a smile and a ‘Namaste’. I go with Terry into one of the few shops that is open, where he finds a couple of stylistically tall and slender metal figures. The store keeper tells us that this strike is severely hurting his trade and that he needs to make some sales just to turn over stock. Although I am normally very suspicious of sales talk, I find myself feeling some sympathy for him.
We meet back at the hotel. Dan has made it safely back and we walk back to Rum Doodles for a delicious and huge steak lunch. While there we fill in a yeti foot to join the others on the walls and ceilings. Marg has made a yeti-foot template, which we each draw around onto the main yeti foot and then sign.
It is a bit of a rush back to the Shanker in order to be away on the bus at 3.30 pm to return to the airport. But we arrive and check in through the tortuous system of security checks and airport tax in plenty of time.
Outside, the sky is heavy and the lights in the terminal building flicker occasionally, and at one point go out completely for a few seconds. We get through the gate an hour before our departure time. The rain outside is torrential and the apron is covered by an inch of water. I wonder if we will need a submarine rather than an aeroplane to get out…
Finally we do leave, a little later than scheduled. At check-in I requested seats near the front. We got row three, but sadly it turns out not to be an upgrade to business class. There is generous legroom nevertheless. I try to keep awake so that I will be more likely to sleep on the second leg, but it is a struggle.