The Home Stretch: Northern Vietnam & Hong Kong

When Kelsey and I first began traveling in Indonesia, our trip through northern Vietnam (which we’d debated even doing!) seemed ages away. But before we knew it, we were saying goodbye to our boyfriends and meeting up again for the tail end of the journey, through the North and Hong Kong. Our first stop was Hoi An, a charming beach town in central Vietnam known for its custom tailors and leather shops. We proved great customers, walking with a combined haul of two leather duffel bags, a messenger bag, two dresses, and five pairs of shoes. With all this and our yoga mats still in tow, we’re definitely pushing the limits of the term “carry-on.”

After Hoi An, we headed further north to Hanoi, a cultural gem of a city booming with art galleries, museums, and endless street food. Even with its cooler weather, Hanoi ended up being one of our favorite cities. The cuisine there was some of the best we’ve had in Vietnam–we were able to take a street food tour lasting a total of four hours and still had dishes to hunt down the next day. Some of our favorites were: vermicelli noodles with grilled pork, crab spring rolls, pho (classic beef noodle soup), fresh spring rolls with turmeric-fried fish, steamed buns (just plain, so pillowy!) banana flower salad, coconut rice wine, banh mi sandwiches with egg and green papaya, roasted duck, sweet rice cakes, local fruits, egg coffee (sweet and custardy–much better than it sounds!) and fresh rice paper with shrimp, fish sauce and herbs you just can’t find in the US. It’s safe to say we’ve officially undone all of the progress we made at yoga school in Indonesia.

From Hanoi, we took a side trip to Halong Bay, a must-see if you’re in the region. We spent the night on a junk boat with a great group of people. There were Robert and Kent, the fabulous gay couple from Bordeaux who had retired early to travel the world, some Spanish women who drank us all under the table, two handsome artists from Paris who charmed just about everyone, and the sweetest, friendliest old Canadian ladies we’ve ever met. In between meals (which were early & often), we went kayaking through the limestone peaks, visited a floating fishing village, and hiked through a gigantic cave with some very interesting rock formations. The weather was not ideal, but the fog hanging over the limestone peaks and on the water was eerily beautiful.

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Beautiful view from the cave in Halong Bay

Beautiful view from the cave in Halong Bay

Fishing villages in Halong Bay where people spend their entire lives in these floating houses

Fishing villages in Halong Bay where people spend their entire lives in these floating houses

Pelican Cave

Pelican Cave

Street food in Hanoi

Street food in Hanoi

Tian Tan Buddha on Lantau Island

Tian Tan Buddha on Lantau Island

View of Hong Kong from Kowloon

View of Hong Kong from Kowloon

After spending our last week in northern Vietnam, Kelsey and I have finally arrived at our final stop in Hong Kong, where we’ve initiated the re-Westernization process before heading home. Nearly two months of traveling through third-world countries has made four days in Hong Kong a blissful vacation from questionable food ingredients, frustrating language barriers and unspeakable toilet conditions. A perfect collide of Eastern and Western cultures, Hong Kong has been incredible; Kelsey and I have agreed that if we were single, we’d both be canceling our return flights home.

At times the transition has been startling: Public transportation?! Huh? Where are all of the crazy Vietnamese women dragging us into their shops? And why are there not entire families living in the back of the restaurants? Driving in from the airport, our mouths hung agape as we marveled at the beautiful buildings along the waterfront. “What are those luxurious structures?!” we asked our cab driver. “Government housing,” he replied. Projects! Yep, definitely been traveling for too long. Luckily we have a couple more days in Hong Kong to better prepare us for our release back into the Western world. America here we come!

The Gang’s All Here!

Last week we said goodbye to Indonesia and excitedly boarded a plane to Vietnam to meet Andrew, Ian and Michael… finally! As we stepped off the plane we were greeted by clear skies, a cool breeze and a giant sign that read ‘get Vietnamese Dong here’. I’d like to say we’ve all acted like the mature adults that we are towards the fact the the currency here is the dong, but it’s hard to hold back laughter at comments such as ‘I’m running low on dong, Ariel can I borrow some dong?, wow that’s way too much dong’. Aside from making a lot of dong jokes, we’ve explored the streets of Saigon, eaten some of the most incredible food (including a beating cobra heart!), visited the haunting Vietnam war museum and made our way to the beautiful coastal town of Mui Ne.

Touring the Mekong Delta

Touring the Mekong Delta

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Ian prepping for the beating snake heart!

Ian prepping for the beating snake heart!

Getting Michael drunk on his 30th birthday in Saigon!

Getting Michael drunk on his 30th birthday in Saigon!

Saigon sunset

Saigon sunset

The street food is incredible

The street food is incredible

Mui Ne has far surpassed any expectations I had. Other than a quarter mile of resorts along the Main Street it remains, for the most part, undeveloped. The Vietnamese people are so kind and accommodating, while the language barrier has been frustrating at times, we’ve felt surprisingly at home the past several days. A lot of our time has been spent relaxing and enjoying the beach. The sunsets and sunrises here have been some of the most beautiful we’ve ever seen and the coast is constantly brightened by the sails of kite surfers. We also took a day to explore the coast on our scooters, visit the surrounding sand dunes, kite surf, and go wine tasting. I think we officially saw and experienced all Mui Ne had to offer (I rode an ostrich!!!). If you’re planning a trip here I cannot recommend the Shades Hotel enough, I can confidently say that our experience in Mui Ne would not have been the same had we not stayed there. The staff was so helpful and friendly and with only several rooms it felt more like we were staying at a friends house for a few days than at a hotel.

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Fisherman village, Mui Ne

Fisherman village, Mui Ne

Exploring the coast via scooter

Exploring the coast via scooter

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Exploring the ‘poo’ river

Exploring the ‘poo’ river

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Sunset on the sand dunes

Sunset on the sand dunes

Sadly tonight is Andrew and Michaels last night with me. Right now were are in bed on the bus back to Saigon. Yes, I typed that correct, we have beds on the bus! I’m excited to be heading back to Saigon, I’ve surprisingly enjoyed the hustle and bustle of the city, but am not looking forward to saying goodbye to Andrew again. This week went by way too fast! Tomorrow we head to the airport together with him flying back to the states and myself heading to the North to continue my travels where apparently a little dong can get you beautiful custom tailored clothes! Sorry I couldn’t resist : )

Beasts of Flores

We’re at the airport preparing to leave Flores, and to say it exceeded our expectations is an understatement.

We arrived on Saturday in Labuan Bajo, a small town still largely undeveloped, with the exception of several dive shops. We reported to one of them early Sunday morning to begin a day’s worth of ocean exploring, joining a group of roughly 10 travelers on a rickety blue boat we could only hope would make the journey.

The marine park surrounding Flores is teeming with life–beautiful coral reefs with lazy currents to escort divers through, huge turtles, lobsters, puffer fish the size of cocker spaniels. The highlight of the trip was Manta point, where we came within inches of 14-foot manta rays patrolling the reef. It was amazing to see such alien creatures so close, and to sense their graceful, top-of-the-food-chain calm. Calm, that is, until we boarded the boat again and one of them performed a perfect backflip out of the water for us at top speed. We’re still unsure what motivated the manta to do this–practicing for Shoji, perhaps?

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After the snorkeling and diving, and a small feast of tempeh with peanut sauce–an Indonesian staple–we were off to Rinca, an island where it’s still possible to see Komodo dragons in their natural habitat. These beasts are the world’s largest lizards at up to 10 ft in length; they can run faster than 14 mph, and their venomous mouths pack a deadly punch. We’d heard of people getting air lifted out of the island after unprompted Komodo attacks, and our guide was quick to assure us that yes, they do bite and yes, it can kill you. Good thing he had a wooden fork to protect us with… But when in Rome, right? So we started off on the Komodo trek, all the while sweating profusely and looking forward to the celebratory Bintangs we’d guzzle on the other side. The trek proved successful in that we saw several of the beasts up close, yet no one fell prey to the dragons’ wrath. There was, however, a close call when a particularly hungry lizard scaled the steps to a park house where a worker was sleeping (!) but the team of rangers banded together to scare him off, and we got a great show.

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All in all Flores turned out to be everything we hoped it would be. Secluded, undeveloped, great diving and endless natural beauty. We only had one minor hiccup when Cat crashed her scooter, but it was quickly remedied when she was placed on the back of Stefan, the cute German doctor who was along for the ride. And then completely forgotten when we reached our destination of a secluded waterfall then watched the sun set from a cliff overlooking the ocean.

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After the excitement of Flores we were all ready for a little R&R at ‘home’ in Ubud. Back to hippy paradise for now!

Onward and upward

I’d like to start out by saying that I realize it’s ridiculous to say that three weeks spent at yoga camp in Bali were some of the toughest of my life, but… The last three weeks at yoga camp in Bali have been so tough!!! But I’m happy to announce that I have officially completed my 200 hour yoga teaching certification. I’m not really sure how to explain what the past few weeks were like. They were some of the most stressful and exhausting, but at the same time rewarding weeks I have ever spent. We met some of the most incredible people that we will miss so much, but also cannot wait to visit!

To celebrate and exhaust our bodies even more, we decided to wake up at 2:30 in the morning to climb Mount Batur, an active volcano about an hour outside of Ubud! The trek was extremely difficult and thank god we couldn’t see the height we were about to scale because I think we would have all turned around. But as the sun rose over the lake it all became worth it.

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After coming down from the volcano we came to our hotel to find Cat waiting in the lobby! Yay! While Ubud has been our beloved home since we arrived in Bali, we are so excited to start traveling and get in some beach time. We have two weeks and an ambitious goal to make it to Flores, a beautiful paradise with some of the best snorkeling and diving, turquoise crater lakes and the main reason for going, Komodo dragons!

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As for now we are on the Gili Air, a tiny island in Nusa Tengara. The only way to get around is by donkey cart, no motorized vehicles allowed! The snorkeling has been incredible and we’ve been passing the days doing yoga, walking the island and meeting new friends. Tomorrow we head to Gili T for a few nights then begins our journey to the land of dragons!

Namaste

Three planes and an hour-long cab later, Kelsey and I finally arrived at our yoga school in Bali, a tiny island in Indonesia. I left Houston on Sunday morning putting me in Indonesia by 5 pm on Wednesday. By far the longest time I have ever traveled, but so worth it! Our first impression of Bali is incredible. We are staying inland in a tiny artists’ haven called Ubud. For the next three weeks we will be working toward our 200-hr yoga teacher training for Vinyasa flow. From what we can tell, it’s going to be anything but easy. Our day consists of 2.5-4 hours of rigorous asana practice followed by 6 hours of lecture covering Sanskrit, anatomy, philosophy, history, and of course proper alignment and assisting techniques. And of course, the occasional, improvised happy dance to Florence and the Machine.

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As much as we love it here, I must admit at first we felt a little out of our element. We met two fellow trainees during our layover in Taiwan, already contorting their bodies against the wall in splits, as one excitingly told us how she prepared for the flight all day by meditating by the hot springs and that it was “totally rad.” Most of these girls seem to be lean mean vinyasa machines but that’s ok, they will only push us to be better and stronger. And even though our group hails from countries across the globe, everyone in the program is so like minded it’s fun to sit around and have discussions and learn from each other. We’re gathering travel tips from everyone!

Ubud itself is a yogi paradise. With organic food advertised in every restaurant and soy ice cream on each corner, I can see why so many hippies are flocking here. Coming into this experience we were a little nervous it may compare to India, but so far it has proven to be the exact opposite. We’ve hardly been hassled at all, and the locals seem to be pretty accustomed to tourists. The Balinese culture is all about respect and kindness and you can feel the welcoming vibes as you walk down the streets. We are loving it. As for something we are not loving… The wildlife. We have seen spiders bigger than our faces, scorpions, snakes, you name it. We’re hoping the next three weeks of meditation and yoga will make us more zen and loving towards the bugs, but I’m personally not counting on it.

For now I am feeling incredibly optimistic about our time at the yoga school. We couldn’t have asked for better teachers or a better group. It is by no means going to be easy and I know there are going to be times where we want to quit, but I’m so excited to see the strength we gain from pushing ourselves both physically and mentally. Or at least this is our attitude after day four…

Namaste

**We are so swamped and it’s only getting harder, so the next blog might be in a couple of weeks after our training has finished!

Moab, Utah Part 1

I know my last post was all about Crested Butte and how much I adore it, but there is another town in my life, which goes by the name of Moab, UT; a top contender for my most beloved city.

I just returned from an incredible weekend spent in Moab and am already suffering from withdrawals. There is no way I could possibly cram everything into one post, thus here is part 1 of my series on Moab, Utah:

Ancient Art Tower Climb

Rock climbing has always been a sport I have been dying to get into. I grew up climbing anything and everything from the refrigerator in our house to trees in our front yard. Unfortunately these were the only things available living in the concrete jungle Houston, TX. However, once I got my first taste of ‘real’ climbing, I was hooked. Hence leading to my climb up Ancient Art!

Ancient Art is located in the Fisher Towers area. You may remember it from the Citi commercial aired last year… We climbed up the Stolen Chimney route, making this my first multi-pitch climb. I absolutely LOVED it!

Fisher Towers! You can see the corkscrew of Ancient Art sticking up in the middle.

View from the base of the tower.

Stolen Chimney Route.

Base of the Climb.

I never get sick of this view!

Getting ready to go!

Awesome view of the towers. The corkscrew of Ancient Art is so distinct!

Another couple getting ready for the summit.

Almost there!

I wish I could show y’all the view from up here.

Taking a break on the ‘diving board’

Some crazies even base jump off the summit! No freaking way.
-Photographer Keith Ladzinski

Want to check out climbing in Moab, but unsure if you have the skills to set off on your own? Hire a guide! I highly recommend going through Moab Desert Adventures. Or if you’re really feeling adventurous, hook up with the guys at Moab Base Adventures for tandem base jumping!

Not sure rock climbing is for you? Don’t worry, there is plenty more to come in the following weeks! Think backcountry flying, beautiful day hikes, camping, kayaking, dirt bikes…the list is endless.

Crested Butte, CO.

I’ve taken a bit of a hiatus from blogging, but now that I’m settled into a new city and re-adjusted to life in America I finally have some time to spare! I even got a few requests to start writing again! I’m so flattered!

So to kick off ‘The Variable Life’… errr again, I’m going to post about my favorite place in the world, Crested Butte Colorado!

With ski season coming up I’ve already started doing my snow dance. Last years snowfall was more than depressing so I’ve anxiously been awaiting the opening of ski season since last December.

Pick up a map at the lift ticket office or at most ski lift lines.

I’ve been going to Crested Butte since I was in the womb. I know the mountain like the back of my hand and never get bored of the endless back trails and ever changing terrain parks.

My favorite slopes? That’s hard to say, but if I had to list one, it would be the peak. It’s a bit of a trek to get up there, but it’s soooo worth it. You have to take the Silver Queen lift up, then the High Lift, then you have to hike the rest of the way up which can take 30 minutes to an hour! I said it was a trek…

If your not into working that hard, when you get to the top of the High lift head left instead of right and you’ll run into dozens of great runs, just be careful, some of them dead end at an area of the mountain you’ll have to hike out of. I’ve made that mistake at the end of the day and trust me it isn’t fun. I could go on and on about which runs you should go down, but you should get out there and explore for yourselves! That’s the best part of it anyway! Discovering new trails every season is my favorite thing to do.

Another one of my favorite slopes heading down the High Lift, Headwall.

Prettayyyy

The Aspens are so beautiful. Fun fact, back in the day they would use the white powder from Aspen Trees for sunscreen!

Crested Butte wouldn’t be the same without this lady. Our families have been going together forever!

Resident porcupine, Samson Mowgli who can usually be spotted off the East River lift.

Snowboarder waiting his turn at the terrain park off the Paradise lift.

Nothing beats a Crested Butte sunset.

The other reason I love going to Crested Butte is because of its charming town which is concentrated on one main street, Elk Avenue.

Elk Avenue

My favorite after ski spots, not to be missed are:

1.)  Ginger Cafe: The best Thai food you will ever have. Last time I was in town I ate there 3 times in a row.

2.)  Slogar’s: The best place to fill up after a long day of skiing. You get two options, steak or chicken. I can tell you now no one chooses the steak. The fried chicken is to die for and it comes with endless sides of mashed potatoes, creamed corn, biscuits and honey butter, and more.

3.)  Lil’s: If your craving seafood, nothing beats a trip to Lil’s.

4.) Talk of the Town: I’ve been sneaking into Talk of the Town since I was 15. I love this bar. Downstairs is always packed with locals and sometimes you can find a dance party going on upstairs.

5.) Eldo: You can always find live music at Eldo. They also have a great outdoor deck overlooking Elk Avenue.

Love this place!

Favorite time to go? Hands down is for Spring Skiing. It’s not as cold and most of the days are clear and sunny. If you make it out in mid March, once a year they have an event, Big Air on Elk, when Elk Avenue is shut down for several blocks to allow for a giant “kicker” to be built right in the middle of downtown!  Skiers and snowboarders are towed behind snowmobiles and launch high into the air to show their stuff. And stuff they have, I usually sit there with my mouth agape while the incredibly gifted skiers and snowboarders sail through the air right in the middle of town.

What a freaking BADASS

I can’t say enough about the town of Crested Butte. Sometimes it feels more like home to me than Houston. I hope you have the chance to get out there and check it out for yourself. It is not to be missed!

Best of India

Well, I am officially home and I’d have to say I’ve had a bit of trouble re-adjusting to life in the States. There are a few quirks I picked up while in India that will hopefully not last too much longer.  After spending such a long time in a chauvinistic country, I’ve developed a bit of an attitude when it comes to men. Hopefully this will fade with time, but I feel very sorry for the first guy that takes me out, I apologize in advance. Among other things, I still can’t eat a raw vegetable without feeling like I’m doing something wrong and I still expect cows to jump out in front of me while driving.

But, aside from my posttraumatic stress, as a few of my friends have dubbed it, I am so incredibly happy to be back. I could sing America’s praises all freaking daylong. I’m sure that’s the last thing any of you want to read while reading a blog about India though, so for my last India post I wanted to share my favorite photos…

Street Meat

Village

Bikaner City View

Camel Research Center!!!

The Rat Temple

Fetching Water

Thar Desert

Holy Cow

Sari

Color!

The Blue City – Jodhpur

Monkey Temple – Jaipur

Holy Man

The Taj!!!

Bathing in the Ghats

Valley of Flowers

Dharamsala

Pushkar!!!

Henna

City Market

Monsoon Season

Jaipur City View

Orphanage Project

Himalayas

Peek through the Clouds!

Base Camp

Everest!

Cremations

Kathmandu, Nepal

Play Time

Elephants at the Red Fort

Typical Street Scene

Mom came to visit!!!

Camel Safari in Jodhpur

Udaipur

Sunset Boat Ride

Block Printing

Train

GREAT INDIA

The first thing most people asked when I returned was, “would you ever go back?” That is a very hard question for me to answer. While my experience in India was absolutely unforgettable and I would not change a thing, in all honesty, this was hard. It was one of the most challenging things I have ever done and the experiences and things I was exposed to have both changed me and completely transformed my outlook on life. If I had known how many times I would have to put on my brave face over the course of the past two months, I may not have come at all. I’m so glad I did. But that doesn’t necessarily mean I want to do it again.

So to answer everyone’s question, yeah I probably will go back someday. But I can assure you it will not be as a back packer and most definitely not as a solo female traveler!

NAMASTE

Udaipur

As I took in my first few sights of Udaipur it was nearly impossible to wipe the expression of disbelief off my face as I beheld the view of the idyllic lake and beautiful rolling hills surrounding Lake Pichola. Before our arrival in Udaipur I had heard it described as a ‘quintessentially romantic and magical city’. As much as I was hoping to find such an unheard of diamond in the rough, I had my doubts. Udaipur 100% took me by surprise. While it wasn’t completely absent from all of India’s…how shall I say it, unique qualities; it was unquestionably the most picturesque and peaceful place I have visited thus far.

Now this could very well be related to the fact that I am now travelling with my mom, staying in nice hotels and being chauffeured around by a driver, but I truly believe these convictions would hold if I were still haggling with tuk-tuks and staying in hostels. But I’ll let you be the judge and let the pictures speak for themselves…

The view at sunset was amazing!

People bathing in the Ghat. They better be carful, it’s not uncommon to sight crocs in the lake!

View of the shore from our hotel which was situated in the middle of the lake and only accessible by boat!

Udaipur is known as the Venice of Asia

The lake was surrounded by beautiful hills and forests.

View of the City Palace at night.

View from our hotel.

The courtyard of our hotel by night.

And by day!

View of the surrounding city and temple.

Our favorite breakfast nook where we had a panoramic view of the lake… A very welcome change from the hostels I had been staying in!

That is our hotel, The Lake Palace, was smack in the middle of the lake! The James Bond movie Octopussy was filmed here. The boat to the right was used in the movie and was built in the 1800s.

We only had one full day to take in the sights of Udaipur, but if any of you were considering a trip here I would advise spending at least a few days. The surrounding country side has so much to offer, I would even recommend putting aside a week to take it all in. And to maybe come to the ‘most romantic location in India’ with someone other than your Mom : )

Everest Base Camp

I have just returned back from my trek to Everest Base Camp in Nepal and OMG it was indescribably beautiful, wonderful and amazing!!! The mountains, little villages, valleys, flowers, history and local culture; everything about it was to die for and absolutely unforgettable. I have become a little more granola over the past two weeks than I would like to admit. I didn’t shower once, I have a raging teva tan, and my hair is starting to turn into dreads. But aside from all that, it was by far the best, most rewarding and challenging experience I have ever had in the mountains.

With the sign of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, my journey began in a tiny and rickety Pilatus Porter airplane heading for Lukla, the start of my trek to Everest and The Discovery Channel’s rated most dangerous airport in the world!!! For those of you who would prefer to not risk your life in a single engine plane flown through the highest mountains in the world, you can add another week to your trip by trekking in from Jiri.

I arrived in Lukla nearly at dawn on Saturday equipped with a 20 lb pack, a map of my route and a kindle full of books about Sir Edmond Hillary’s first trip up Everest and other harrowing stories of mountaineers conquering the Himalaya.

I landed in Lukla at about 7AM and wandered into one of the many lodges lining the streets outside of the Lukla airport to find a guide. Twenty minutes later I emerged with Pimba Sherpa! I lucked out immensely with Pimba. He is a local Sherpa who grew up on the mountain and has run the Everest marathon every year since he was 20 years old. Can you say bad ass?! He was helpful and informative and there is no way I would have made it up to base camp, then further up to to the peak of Kala Patthar (18,500 Ft!!!) without him.

According to another girl I met along the way I was pretty lucky with my choice in Pimba Sherpa. She had ditched her guide the night before after he decided to pump up MC Hammer on his phone and start stripping! Oh, the glories of being a solo female traveler…

Enough about that though. Time for the good stuff. THE PHOTOS!

The first 7 days of the trek were full of clouds. I was trekking in the middle of monsoon season so I was very lucky to have the few clear days that I ended up with!

An example of a house in the villages. They all had small gardens where they grew their own produce! Can you say organic?!

So many prayer flags along the way!

My first clear day! Below me is the Khumbu Glacier and Ice Fall.

Reaching the top of Kala Patthar, looking at EVEREST!!!

My favorite peak, Ama Dablam.

Mani Stones

The Tengboche Monastery.

The detail that went into the design for the monastery was incredible.

I couldn’t get enough of the prayer flags, stones and beautiful mountains!

By the time we reached the final 1,000 ft climb up to Kala Patthar I looked like the Bride of Frankenstein half dragging my limp body up to the top. I can’t say that the trek was by any means easy for me. I’m not the best at high altitudes and when we reached the summit at 18,500 ft I was delirious, exhausted and my world was spinning. To add the cherry on top, as I looked up to Everest, I perked up and got so excited I choked on my water then proceeded to trip down about 100 ft of the mountain…Typical!

I managed to crawl back up to the view point though, snap some photos then took off running back down to Lukla. I was more than ready to begin chipping away at the mountain woman exterior I had built up over the past couple of weeks and return to Kathmandu to meet my Mom and Laurie Foxx, who had decided to surprise me in Nepal for the last few weeks of my trip!!!