Vince Velasco was all smiles when we interviewed him last April for a feature on him as one of our Lifestyle Hotshots. A few days prior, he received a confirmation that he would be going to the basecamp of Mt. Everest on May 13. It was a done deal. Not even his hectic schedule (Vince had two out-of-town trips prior to his Nepal expedition) worn him out enough. He was about to fulfill one of his childhood dreams.
But on May 21, three days shy of reaching the basecamp, something unexpected happened. Vince had to be airlifted to the hospital due to Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS), a condition when the body struggles adjusting to lower levels of oxygen and decreased air pressure in high altitude hikes. It’s considered to be life-threatening if not treated immediately.
As an online influencer, Vince could have easily documented what happened. Instead, he waited until his return back home to disclose what came out of his trip. But while he was sad that he did not made it to the basecamp, the ever-smiley Vince remained thankful he had survived a “close call” along the way.
“Hard work and the right attitude will always help you in reaching and achieving your goals, but maybe just not at the time you always choose for it to happen.”
It’s been back to business for Vince, keeping himself busy in Manila with his hosting gigs and boxing instructor duties at Flyweight. Yet, the memories of his Nepal expedition left him with a boatload of insights. He tells us exclusively about the experience here.
"The week leading up to the trip, I was extremely excited. I was constantly checking if I had enough stuff to bring and gear for the trip. I stopped by a hardware store and convenience store at least twice a week. The excitement was tremendous.
I have friends who were very experienced hikers like Enzo Cruz and Javy Cang to name a few. They gave me the best advice they could. Javy, one of my friends, said: 'It will be the most beautiful place your eyes have seen.' Enzo often encouraged me to take my time and just enjoy the entirety of the trip. He said not to just focus on making it as the environment itself would be beautiful.
Regarding weather conditions, they just told me to prepare for the quick changes in temperature and altitude, because when you are at a standstill, resting, or aren’t moving as much for whatever reason, things get cold fast. But the moment you start moving heat kicks in; I had to be mindful of what I am wearing, and how easy it would be to 'remove and put on stuff again. As per the altitude, that was the biggest thing they warned me about: AMS can hit anyone due to how thin the air gets and how dry the air may be.
There is no direct flight to Kathmandu, Nepal, so you have to fly from Manila to Kuala Lumpur, then KL to Kathmandu. Then Kathmandu to Lukla, which is known as the most dangerous airport in the world. Flights from Manila to Kuala Lumpur (KL) are often at a decent price, and amenities at KL are great. There are lots of food and there are good hotels nearby to rest and sleep I,n depending on how long your layover is. Flights are also very comfortable; as a person who commutes and doesn’t mind cheap forms of transportation, it’s hard to complain.
Airlines don’t fly to Kathmandu everyday, so you really have to time it. You have to take in account that you’ll be on the plane for at least eight and a half hours: the MNL to KL flight is four hours, the KL to Kathamandu flight is four hours, and the Kathmandu flight to Lukla is 30 minutes. Since the weather in the mountains is unpredictable, your flights can keep getting delayed or cancelled since only small planes can fly to Lukla airport. Lukla airport is very small, so all flights have to be coordinated properly.
The city itself has a different kind of energy. From the Baguio meets New Orleans meets India kind of feel, to the people there, it was just different. There really was a lot of culture there and history. The brave and friendly people were also recovering very well from the earthquake.
As for the mountains and the mountain life, it was absolutely beautiful, the most beautiful place I have ever been to. From walking from one town to the next, the stories I heard from travelers and locals alike, to the people you encounter simply walking from one town to the next to get home from school, to the winding rivers, hanging bridges, and the first glimpse of the Himalayas, I could go on and on.
I had trouble sleeping on Friday night, May 19. I rarely get sick in general but we were told there was a high chance that we would either feel sick or get sick, as our bodies would be adjusting to the altitude. That night, I couldn’t sleep. I had nausea, head pains, trouble breathing, coughs, colds, and by around 2 AM, I had a high fever. But by the time I woke up, I felt better and we carried on. That Saturday morning (May 20), my oxygen levels dropped to the 60’s, and the high 50’s by lunch.
I started suffering from shortness of breath. I had trouble walking, and experienced intense head pain, nausea, and all the symptoms mentioned earlier aside from fever. I was advised by my guide to take a day to rest at Pangboche and we would join the team the next day. As the day progressed, things got worse. I couldn’t eat, I had trouble making it up even a flight of steps, my breathing worsened, and my head pain got worse.
As the night progressed, my coughing intensified. By the morning of May 21 I was coughing blood and my vision started blurring the more I walked. This led to the call for me to be airlifted and be brought straight to the ICU of CIWEW Hospital. I was diagnosed also with high pulmonary edema, probable chest infection as well as probably high altitude cerebral edema, along with lungs bilateral crepitation. My lungs were severely bruised and I had fluid in them as well. It was a good thing my guide helped me decide to be airlifted out or I probably would have pushed to make it to basecamp.
It is no secret to those close to me that I can be pretty hard on myself. I love working. I also keep thinking about my future and how each decision I make helps so that I can provide for the family I want to have in the future. That also leads me to always thinking about what more I can do to improve instead of taking a few moments to appreciate the right decisions I’ve made and how far I’ve come. From barely making it through college financially, to having my own place, to going out of the country again for the first time in three years, you tend to forget you already have quite a lot around you.
No one is going to be perfect. I’m certainly not going to be perfect by a long shot, and nothing ever will be. We already live in a country so small and in an age where crazy things can happen, both good and bad. Nonetheless, always remember what is important. Block out all unnecessary noise, appreciate the decisions you’ve made that led you here, appreciate the people around you. Realize that even with all you’ve accomplished and want to accomplish that the most important thing in this world and most important currency there is the positive effect you have on others.
I plan to go back by the end of the year or next year. I’ve always prided myself in being a person who, when he starts something, will always do his best to finish it. I’ll always want to do better and I’m in love with progress. People tend to know me as very level headed but also incredibly passionate. The level headed thing to do is get better then go back. The passionate person in me just fell in love with traveling more. There’s just something about it from the people to the culture to the scenery, the bonding—just everything about it. They say it is a once in a lifetime trip and experience. If that’s true and I get to experience it twice then I’m one lucky guy. I came from nothing so everything going forward is already a win for me."
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Photographs from Vince Velasco's Instagram page