The Homeward Journey
We had arrived back at The Blue Sky Hotel in Skardu at 4:30pm on 27th July which was remarkably moreorless as our pre-trip schedule there were a lot of sighs of relief.
I couldn’t figure out how to turn on the shower but thankfully the owners were wise to the possibility of some stupid waisted Westerners checking in & had the forethought to also supply a bucket. This I duly filled & gave myself my first full body wash for 45 days, it felt quite simply wonderful despite the protruding bone like feel just about everywhere.
Back downstairs the news came in that Shariffe was on schedule to arrive with our luggage at 8/9:00pm, this despite half a dozen road closures due to flooding & landslides. Clearly his contacts in the Tourism Police helped him arrange a series of Jeep transfers to get around these obstacles.
Our Pakistani team who were staying at an alternative Hotel then turned up & Abdullah & Abbass joined me for Tea but they were unsure if they were joining us for the evening meal so I had a quiet word with David & the deal was done. It was a lavish feast, our second of the day to help turn the tide on my weight loss & energy levels.
Shariffe arrived as we finished eating, this allowed me to re-connect with my phone (should have kept this with me but in my packing haste in BC I’d made this schoolboy error), it was surprisingly well charged so up to my room to then re-connect with Dorina at last stressing that I was O.K., missing her & asking about the Exit Visa. She confirmed we had receipt of the application being received as well as receipt of payment but no Visa as yet. Think she also confirmed she was missing me too, strange Angel that one.
Lights out at 11:00pm & rose at 7:00am after a disappointing tossing & turning night. A good breakfast, final photo shots with Imran, Abdullah & Zakir & then into the minibus at 8:30am for the drive to the Airport. The weather which had seen rain hammering down in the early hours had broken so word on the street (well the Hotels Owner’s Son actually) was that the flight was on. Indeed it was, the plane took off at 11:00am landing at Islamabad Airport less than an hour later, by 1:00pm we were settled in the faded elegance of the Islamabad Hotel.
We had a night & a day here, a shower that I could operate, food a plenty for Breakfast & Lunch whilst deciding to eat out both evenings which included my first drop of Alcohol (a single bottle of Beer at the Hilton Hotel, the only bar in town) for 48 days, yes 48 is not a typo!
Luke & I also took a short excursion to see Islamabad’s main mosque the very impressive if not a little austere looking Faisal Mosque. We took a stroll around it but respected the Worshiper’s by not entering it.
Luke & My flights out were earlier than Rui’s so our transfer back to the Airport set-off at Midnight on 30th July local time. Security loomed, with no exit Visa I was directed to 5 different queues, here I took the ‘lets look dazed & beaten approach’, not hard in my emaciated & bearded state. The sympathy approach worked, Passport stamped, I was leaving Pakistan, very relieved despite the welcome & kindness I had been shown (apart from the Penis grabber & Merino Hoody thief that is). A final tap on the shoulder farewell to Luke before he boarded his flight but hope to re-acquaint at the Cafe at some point.
The two flights & transfer at Abu Dhabi were as tedious as ever but eventually some 12 hours or so later I landed at Heathrow T4 at 12:40pm. Security was a face recognition system, clearly it wasn’t working because it recognised me! Baggage collection was a bit slow but an hour later I walked out of Arrivals to be greeted by no one. In fairness Dorina & Ady had been expecting me to arrive at T3 only to be informed of the change once they arrived. They corrected quickly so by the time I’d figured out how to turn off my phones ‘Airplane Mode’ & put out the call for HELP they had me in their sights.
I fell into Dorina’s arms, whimpering in relief. Don’t think Ady welled or whimpered but he did take the baggage trolley & led us to his car before I directed him towards the M25 through the dustbowl of Southern England that greeted me (a bit Pakistan like in reality).
Very unlike me I bought two Ice Creams at the Oxford Services & a bag of Murray Mints at Shrewsbury, Dorina receiving this as confirmation that normality was going to take some time.
We arrived home at circa 7:00pm on Saturday 30th July, opened a bottle but it would be days before I could drink wine ‘properly’ again. The next morning I weighed Myself to find I’d lost 7.5 Kgs (16.5lbs) & now weighed well under 10 Stone for the first time since a Kentucky Fried Chicken Outlet in Bristol was kind enough to give me food poisoning when I was 18 years old. Had I weighed in Skardu I’m pretty sure I would have been 2/3 Kilos lighter if not more but subsequent banquets & in particular rehydration had begun the correction.
My beard lasted another 6 days as a Badge of Honour but finally I got fed up of the ‘keep it comments’ & Dorina removed it the following Friday.
I do need to reflect more but writing these blogs has swirled the emotions into a whirlwind so that should be delayed until a bit of dust settles. That leaves me for now to conclude by a thank you to:-
Abdullah – So kind & caring, a tireless worker in BC, My Minder on the walk out & now proud owner of My Arteryx jacket, not sure if the colour blue suits you though, you were simply a star at every turn.
Zakir – For our summit day together leading to a bond for the remainder of the trip but why didn’t you tell me to put my Down Jacket back on for the Summit photo pose?
Essan – Chief cook with a warm & gentle smile increasingly as we got to know & respect each other, you even got away with giving me a Milky Tea.
Yeossuf – For coming out to find me from Camp 3, carrying ridiculous loads at ridiculous pace & taking my Sleeping Bag off me when I needed it most, hope Layla Peak went well for you.
Abbass – Language between us was difficult but body language on the way out hopefully made up for this as much for you as it did me.
Shariffe – General humour, that warming hug at an early low point & similarly that jacket loan (both at Concordia).
Imran – A genuinely interested Liaison Officer rather than what we feared as a Jobs Worth. Your congratulation of my achievement when we met up back at Skardu meant a lot, don’t forget my summit Certificate though.
Hassan – A youth always smiling & in good cheer but maybe check on your Summit Day Job Description.
Furman – For that tap on the shoulder as I neared Camp 1 for the first time. I hope your shoulder is making a more rapid recovery than My Ankle. In truth though I’m sure your last exit through the Ice Fall was far more painful than mine, I wish you a speedy recovery & more Summits in the years ahead.
All the low level Porters & Mule Handlers – An unbelievably tough job which allow us to ‘enjoy’ the ride.
The Willy Grabber – for teaching me that I have 6 Children & 3 Wives but don’t tell My Angel.
If you got this far I thank you too but advise you to get a life & visit the Karakorum, well maybe not!