Blog: Adventures and hearing loss – Travel to Nepal

I have never been a solo traveller, but life circumstances changed and suddenly the opportunity to go to Nepal came up. There were a lot of firsts involved such as international travel by myself with a transfer at one of the biggest airports in the world and joining a group of people who I had not met before. I was also in a country with a different culture, trekking for 2 weeks culminating at trekking to Thorong La Pass at 5,416 meters. Not to mention, the also not so small matter of potential altitude sickness.

Despite being a nervous tube traveller on the London underground, it was not any of the travel things that concerned me the most. It was the advice that three pairs of underpants were more than sufficient for the trek that got me most worried! It’s all about the small things in life.

My hearing loss

I have had a moderate/severe hearing since childhood and wear two NHS hearing aids, the most powerful ones. Being able to hear conversation especially in groups is my biggest challenge.

I joined a Hearing Link Self Management programme in 2014 (which is now known as a LinkUp Support Group). I was 52 years old as I was finding it increasingly difficult to cope at work and in social situations. That programme it gave me the skills and confidence to try group activities again. It is still hard work. But I am much more open to trying new things and finding a way around the hurdles. With hindsight, it has been invaluable to me as sadly my husband who had been an enormous support with my hearing challenges died a few years ago. If I had not started to become more socially active when I did and less reliant on him being my ‘ears’, I would not have had the great group of friends and activities to help me build a new life.       

The idea of the trek

The idea for the trip came from Phillipa Wilson of Oakwood Yoga, who I had kept in touch with through Facebook. I knew she was already inclusive to deaf people in her yoga class and a seasoned trekker.

The usual worries about being able to hear and finding my way round definitely took a back seat for the first time ever because of Phillipa’s approach right from the start. She did all the organisation with Sacred Himalya (who we would use in Nepal), and I had the utmost faith that they would help me in every way possible.

We would have Zoom calls with Binay Lama, the trek owner. He would stay up late into the night to join us – which was an amazing support to us all. It’s so much easier when you can put a name to a face by seeing people online before the trip. And Phillipa transcribed everything so again I did not miss out. She sent me copious notes about what to expect and the relationship she had developed with the trek company made a huge difference. It was like being part of a family.

Travelling with hearing loss

I knew, as with any group activity, there might be times when I would miss out on the conversations and banter. I would need to let my fellow travellers know that I could not hear. Especially if they were walking behind me. And there were moments. You know those moments you bluff after you have asked someone to repeat what they said a few times in the hope that your brain will work out what they said? There were moments when I did think I had heard everything. But it became obvious later that I had only heard part of the conversation. And there were moments when I walked on my own more often because that was perhaps easier at times than trying to hear! But the beautiful, wonderful moments of fun, laughter and camaraderie far outweighed any of those.

Sharing a room is not something I would favour in the past as I am always self-conscious about being tired from listening and lipreading all day. But my roomie was such a wonderful person. I am now totally converted to room sharing! She is a naturally caring person and without me asking, she made sure I knew exactly what was needed and where to be and at what time.

Inclusivity and challenges

Everyone made so much effort to include me and explain things. In addition, Phillipa had set up the WhatsApp group, so we knew where to meet and when. This meant there was never any uncertainty about what was happening. It was totally inclusive. And as mentioned, the anxiety of managing with those three pairs of underpants for a fortnight, kept my mind focussed elsewhere.

I survived all the misunderstandings. I was kind to myself and would sometimes take a backseat when I could have been chattier. Giving myself some downtime when my ears were sore and tired also helped, and nobody in the group minded. To be fair, everyone had their own set of challenges with a trek of this magnitude and the altitude too.

The guides and porters had to converse with us in English. But that had a hidden advantage as they keep sentences short and clear, so they were easy to follow. A fellow German trekker also wore hearing aids, found his too uncomfortable whilst trekking, so he just left them out. He had the added challenge of having to converse in English too. He did have trouble with his hearing aids. This could have been due to the batteries getting very cold overnight and being exposed to high humidity during the day. Mine were fine, although they did feel uncomfortable by the end of the day. I kept my hearing aids in my sleeping bag at night as it got very cold, even in the Tea Lodges.

I never felt alone. And this is the great thing. You are only alone if you try to pretend you are managing when you are not. If you are not prepared to let people know what will help, then it is going to be so much harder. And you know no one really minds. Everyone had their own set of challenges as this trek was not for the faint hearted. But everyone checked in with each other every day. I felt totally looked after by the team and I would highly recommend them for the personal touch and care they took.

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A life-changing experience

It was a life-changing experience for me. I feel so much more confident. My hearing loss paled into insignificance with the wonderful approach by everyone involved. I was never left out. The people of Nepal who have so little, and yet are so generous and kind to strangers, made it all worthwhile. They rely on trekking for employment. So I really would encourage you to give it a go and help these wonderful people. Or if you want to make a donation to their local village, head to their website.

Things I missed but didn’t matter!

I know we can all read articles like these and think well that all sounds too easy. So, to put it a little in perspective from a hearing loss point of view, here is a list of things I didn’t always hear on the trip:

  • Announcements on the plane or in the boarding queue about which group to join. (It didn’t really matter in the end. And I chose not to wear the sunflower lanyard which could have helped)
  • Whatever the stewardess said about the food and drink on offer I could not decipher. (It was always a surprise what I got as I just used to say I’ll have the first one please!)
  • What my fellow passengers next to me were saying.
  • Sometimes I misheard where we were visiting that day, place names and other things along the way.
  • Maybe I did not hear when they said, ‘don’t take photos’ or ‘watch out for this and that’.
  • What the others were choosing to drink or eat but if I asked the guides, they would help me. Arrangements sometimes change but we used WhatsApp so I always knew where we had to meet and when.
  • People knocking on my door!
  • Chatting/banter when travelling in a vehicle.
  • Chatting with my roomie once the lights were out and hearing aids were off (but she did not mind)
  • Going out for meals in a group is always a challenge but no different experiencing the same thing at home.

Sacred Himalya

Finally, if you are ever thinking of taking a trek to Nepal, please get in touch with Sacred Himalya. There are many good companies out there. But the personal touch that I experienced, and the happiness of that team made the whole experience one I can’t wait to repeat.

I have made new friends and even met a few ladies who wear hearing aids that stayed at the same hotel in Nepal. They have since come along to a Hearing Support Sessions at Worcester hospital! And it was true, three pairs of underpants were more than sufficient, but that is a story for another day!

Disclaimer: Any views or opinions represented in this blog are personal and belong solely to the blog owner and do not represent those of Hearing Link Services or Hearing Dogs for Deaf People unless explicitly stated.

Shona HudsonShona has struggled with hearing loss since birth and in April 2014 she first came to Hearing Link Services for support. Since taking part in what is now known as a LinkUp, Shona has gone on to become a Peer Support Volunteer, helping others via our Helpdesk service as well as attending Community Days.