Garlic Me


This blog entry about the events of Friday, October 15, 2004 was originally posted on October 22, 2004.

DAY 363:  Altitude sickness, or mountain sickness, occurs when you are at a high altitude where the oxygen in the air is thinner.  The human body can adjust to the change in oxygen percentage by creating more red blood vessels to bring oxygen to the brain — it simply takes time.  Most people who get altitude sickness get it when they ascend too fast.

The only proven method to cure altitude sickness is to simply descend to a lower altitude; however, there does exist medical and natural remedies to promote more oxygen to the brain.  In the Trekker’s Lodge in Tengboche I heard people talking about the drug Diamox, but I try to stay away from those kinds of drugs unless I really need it.  Tilak said the way I’d been behaving I’d be fine without Diamox and so, I just stuck to the natural remedies that the Nepalis use, one main one being garlic.

“Whoa, that’s a lot of garlic in the morning,” I said when my garlic toast arrived at breakfast.  I was expecting a light sprinkle of garlic powder or something, but I should have known better with the other Sherpa dishes I’d had; they just love using garlic in the mountains, and plenty of it.  Crushed garlic was spread on my toast, giving my mouth a pungent odor that could make a yak keel over.

THE SUN ROSE IN THE EAST, slowly reflecting the snow on the peaks to the west of Tengboche.  While Nariko would go back down (Tengboche was the farthest she’d go on her first trek) and Manchester Paul and Maria would go east, I continued the trek northbound and upwards with my trusty guide Tilak.  The start of the ascent actually started downhill, through a forested tree area.

“Are you okay?” Tilak asked.

“Slight headache, same as yesterday, but it’ll go away if I drink water.”  The water and garlic must have kicked in shortly after because for most of the day I kept an energetic pace on the undulating path, over more wooden bridges (some replaced by sturdier steel ones).  The trail hugged the Dudh Kosi River through a valley with an awesome view of the Ama Dablam peak (HiRes 1632x1224), which I swear is the inspiration for the Paramount Pictures logoAma Dablam is actually (arguably) the most stunning of the peaks in the Everest region — Everest is just tall, not particularly pretty — and word around the trails was that about a dozen teams were at Ama Dablam Base Camp at that very moment, waiting their turn to scale it.

Tilak and I trekked on following the trail that hugged the river (picture above), under the crows flying above and the yaks beside us.  By late morning we arrived at Shomare, a little village at 4070m. ASL, at the end of the tree line.  From that point on the environment changed to semi-desert, with sand, short grass and tiny shrubs.  Without trees to slow the winds down, I prepared myself with a nice bowl of spicy garlic rara (ramen) soup.  My breath went from “pungent” to “explosive,” and I’m sure it could have made a whole village keel over.

Tilak and I continued on towards the village of Pheriche, along with the dozens of other trekkers going at different paces.  I concentrated on my breathing, the way I did up Mount Kilimanjaro and kept a steady pace.  Mind you, the trail wasn’t entirely uphill all the way. 

“You should be able to make it to Gorak Shep with no problem,” Tilak told me. 

BY 1:30 IN THE AFTERNOON, we reached our goal of the day ahead of schedule, the village of Pheriche at 4200m. ASL. 

“[What, are you guiding a Nepali?]” the hotel clerk asked Tilak.

“We look like brothers, don’t we?” I interjected.

My Nepali brother brought me down the corridor to my single room, Room #18, which was more like Closet #18 with a bed in it.  The claustrophobic space was surrounded by thin sound-traveling walls that let you hear the person breathing behind.  No much privacy in that respect, but at least the lodge had an indoor toilet — an important selling point around those parts.

PHERICHE (PRONOUNCED “PERICHAY”) WAS THE LOCATION of the Himalayan Rescue Association Clinic, a totally volunteer medical facility run by British and Canadian doctors to provide aid to trekkers in medical peril.  Everyday at three they held a free lecture on altitude sickness and seeing as there was nothing else to do in a town like Pheriche, I dropped in.  Dr. Mike, an English doctor who had spent a lot of time in North America (thus obscuring his accent), was already in the middle of the talk — although there were only two other people there when I arrived, an English couple, Kenny and Julia.  Dr. Mike explained in an informal way, the different kinds of altitude sickness, its symptoms — the first sign usually a severe headache, caused by the brain swelling up against the skull — and its solutions.  The bottom line of the lecture:  if you feel you are getting altitude sickness, descend and let your body acclimatize at a lower altitude naturally.

I asked Dr. Mike about Diamox and he said it’s perfectly safe; it triggers something in the body that makes it breath more than normal, taking in more oxygen for the brain.  I was intrigued.  “The only side effects,” he said, “is a tingly feeling in the toes and fingertips.  Oh, and soda and beer will taste flat.”

“Oh forget it then!” I joked.  Well, Tilak said I wouldn’t need it anyway.

The Himalayan Rescue Association was conducting a study along with other scientists in the world on the effects of altitude sickness in different people — it is a very variable thing and isn’t exactly an exact science.  Dr. Mike asked the three of us if we’d be willing to enroll in the study, with a questionnaire and a donation of a DNA sample.  Kenny, Julia and I all accepted.

Dr. Mike passed around some forms to fill out.  The second page was a disclaimer about donating our DNA to the international research community.

“So basically this says that you can clone us,” I said.

“Yeah, but it’s anonymous,” the doctor answered.  “Don’t worry, it’s only for research.”

“Actually, I’m quite excited about the prospect of you cloning me.”

“So you could run into yourself?  You might not like yourself,” he joked.

The DNA collection procedure was simple.  I simply had to rub a flat cotton swab thing on both my inner checks and under my tongue.  “I have to warn you,” I said.  “I’ve had lots of garlic for breakfast and lunch.”

“I’m not going to sniff it.”

I rubbed the swab in my mouth for about a minute and then gave it back to Dr. Mike.  “That’s it?”

“That’s it.”

“That’s my DNA?”


What would happen from there I didn’t know.

THE MAIN ROOM IN THE PUMORI LODGE was full of people reading, writing, chatting, eating or sipping on hot tea or hot lemon.  I saw that Greg from Canada and George from Brazil had made it there too.  I loaded up on natural acclimatization preventatives:  garlic soup (with chunks of real garlic!), ginger curry (“Could there be any more ginger in this curry?”) and mint tea, which was no match for the overpowering odor now in my mouth.  My breath went from “explosive” to “atomic” and would have probably melted the polar ice caps. 

A familiar face sat next to me:  Wendy, one of the women from Team Portland who reminded me of Sex and the City actress Cynthia Nixon.  Due to her tight vacation schedule, she had branched off from the rest, who had all trekked to Ama Dablam Base Camp, to line up as one of the teams to climb to the summit.  Turns out they weren’t totally dependent on Sherpas after all; beyond Ama Dablam Base Camp they were on their own.

We had a long day ahead of us the next day — the trail would ascend 700m., the highest change in any day — and we prepared ourselves with over-hydration.  “The problem with all this hydration is you have to go to the bathroom all the time,” Wendy said.

She hit it right on the head because that night I must have run to the bathroom four times in the middle of the night to pee.  If my clone had been around, I would have gladly had him go for me, no matter how bad his breath was.

Next entry: Sand Trap

Previous entry: Like Warm Apple Pie

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Comments for “Garlic Me”


    The one thing about recuperating in your hotel room is you get a lot of writing done.  Here’s five in a row without commercial interruption for now… 

    More to come as they become available…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/21  at  07:53 PM

  • Don’t you just love the foreshadow?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/21  at  08:04 PM

  • so, uh, do you recommend the Diamox?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/21  at  08:19 PM

  • Wow, what an amazing trek!  This will stand out as the most amazing thing you have done so far!  What a chance of a lifetime to be able to do and see this and thanks for sharing with us.. who will never be able to see this.  From this entry and elevation you should have one or maybe two more entries before you hit your altitude sickness.  The pic’s are amazing!  Erik you have made a trek of a lifetime…I don’t think you can beat this one, or forget this one! LOL
    Question:  what are stupa’s and mami rocks for?  Takes lots of guts to even walk the trail and cross the bridges!  Hope you are feeling much better!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/21  at  10:03 PM

  • i love foreshoadowing! hope you’re doing well. looking forward to future stories smile so your around 12210 ft (which is like when we were at copper mountain) N smile

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/21  at  10:12 PM

  • Good to hear that your feeling better, & thanks for the posts. Awesome pics ! The HI-RES pic feels as if I can reach out & touch the mountain. BTW I was curous, did the travel agency provide the trekking gear?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/21  at  11:07 PM

  • Hey Erik, very glad that you’re coming around..  I know that these people are long gone, but you didn’t by chance get a photo of the “english couple - Kenny and Julia”, did you???  I worked with an English couple with those names when I was on cruise ships.. 
    The odds of the couple actually being them would be huge!!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/21  at  11:41 PM

  • Amazing pics!!!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/22  at  01:00 AM

  • Erik:  Glad to see that you are up and around, and back in true TGT form-excelent posts and really beautiful photos.  Sounds like your Nepal jouney has been amazing, except for one thing…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/22  at  01:44 AM

  • i’m pretty sure what happens in the next coming entries….foreshadowing rocks!.....

    wooden suspension bridges are the best!!...

    all we want is bistarai, bistarai

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/22  at  08:51 PM

  • I was thinking about the forshadowing as I was reading the entry… I can see English Lit class is paying off! Great work Erik!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/23  at  07:25 AM

  • TJW:  Well, I tried taking Diamox on Kilimanjaro, and I just threw it up.  (There are pictures too in the Tanzania section to prove it.)  Every situation is different.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/23  at  01:35 PM

  • ROSE:  Stupas originated as the resting mounds of relics of Buddha; nowadays they are sacred shrines alone the trail to ensure a safe and holy journey.  (Mani rocks explained to LIZ, a couple of entries back.)

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/23  at  01:37 PM

  • SIMF2P:  Die hard world trekkers have described trekking in Nepal as “being spoiled” because you don’t really need to carry much gear; all the trails in the Everest region and the Annapurna circuit have those “teahouses” on the way, so you don’t have to lug around a tent or food for that matter. 

    The only “gear” the agency provided for me was a sleeping bag (which I didn’t have), plus they would have thrown in a jacket if I needed one.  Everything else needed was simply just warm clothes and a pair of good hiking boots.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/23  at  01:41 PM

  • DARCY:  There’s a photo of Kenny and Julia in an upcoming entry—but they might be too small in the photo to distinguish though.  Kenny’s surname is “Atherton” if that rings a bell…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/23  at  01:43 PM

  • TD0T:  Everything I know about English lit. comes from Cliffs notes and Classics Illustrated (the comic book version of classic literature).

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/23  at  01:45 PM

  • Did you get to the point where the garlic came out your pores? I love garlic, but hate when that happens… happens with alcohol too… ew. smile

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/25  at  05:54 PM

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This blog post is one of over 500 travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip 2004: Sixteen Months Around The World (Or Until Money Runs Out, Whichever Comes First)," originally hosted by It chronicled a trip around the world from October 2003 to March 2005, which encompassed travel through thirty-seven countries in North America, South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. It was this blog that "started it all," where Erik evolved and honed his style of travel blogging — it starts to come into focus around the time he arrives in Africa.

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Next entry:
Sand Trap

Previous entry:
Like Warm Apple Pie


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