Day Four – 14th April – Nyalam don’t make me sick
I reported last night from the border town of Zhangmu located at 2300m. Today we drove for one hour up the steep sides of the gorge to another small town named Nyalam, located at 3750m. We have stopped here to rest for two nights. It was a spectacular drive up the steep, narrow gorge as you can see from the photo below and a real engineering marvel to see how the road was literally chiseled into this inhospitable landscape.
People are beginning to feel the altitude already, especially with walking up the stairs to our hotel rooms on the 5th floor. For those kiwi’s reading this we are staying tonight at the approximate height as the summit of Aoraki/Mt Cook (New Zealand’s highest peak). This leaves us panting much more than useful. I started taking the acclimatisation drug called Diamox today. This aids in kick starting the physiological changes in the body to start the acclimatisation process. Side effects include needing to pee every 30 minutes which can be frustrating.
One of the keys to getting up Everest is surviving for as long as possible without getting sick. Climbers become extremely paranoid about their health, down to the point of wearing face masks around, using portable hand sanitizer regularly, only drinking bottled water and eating in a few select places, and making sure no one who is sick passes on their bugs to anyone else. Why is everyone so paranoid? Because once we get higher, generally above 5000m (where base-camp is located), your body cannot recover from any illness, even a cough or a small cut will not recover. Hence getting something serious like the flu or a respiratory infection can and often does spell the end of your Everest expedition! Already this morning one team member woke with a throat infection. The truth of the matter is – this place is so filthy that it is very difficult to stay healthy.
Nyalam is a tiny place that suits no purpose other than a stop off point to acclimatise as you get higher. Its one one main street is lined with feral looking restaurants and some basic hotels which charge an arm and a leg. Where we stay and where we eat here is all controlled by the Chinese Mountaineering Society (as with all expeditions that pass through). We have no say in the matter.
Pack’s of mangy dogs (and the occasional Yak) roam the streets and occasionally attack people, we are warned to walk in pairs. Small grubby children with snotty faces (but still cute nonetheless) get a great kick of saying ‘hello’ to us repeatedly. The air is thick with smoke from yak dung fires which is very hard on the throat.
My advice is don’t put Nyalam as your next holiday destination! For those of you reading this in 1st world countries, please enjoy the lifestyle and luxuries that this allows, because as I have seen today, the people here really do live in harsh and squalid conditions.