Tag Archives: nepal

Scribbles from 9 Months Ago

19 Jun
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Yes, there is a cow scratching its head on a downed tree… in the street.

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I began this journey — “my one year escape from the real world,” if you will — on September 4, 2012 with a one-way solo plane ticket to Kathmandu, Nepal. That was only nine months ago, and I’m already doing that thing you do a decade later. You know, the “What was I thinking?! Geez, I was so young and dumb. How did I ever survive.”

I just found a scribbled note from those early days. It made me laugh and dusted me with a light coat of wonder. Maybe it’ll do the same for you.

“9/9/2012

Observations from Kathmandu

Problems in my life right now:

  • No visa for this country. I could go to jail.
  • Brushed my teeth with tap water this AM. Creepy shit is swimming around in my gut.

People pee in the street.

Internet is very slow, goes off sometimes. Cannot stream YouTube video in all of Nepal, too slow.

Rubble on the streets.

Coffee with our landlord. He brought us coffee. Then he bought us some kind of chicken salad sandwiches. Then chocolate cake. Then some kind of shortbread soaked in syrup. I ate it all with great appreciation. Especially since he was dressed in rags. 5 minutes we sit there, have 20 second conversation, watch dog fight, look at guy selling stuff, then 5 mins sit there.

Stray dogs.

Rubble in the streets. Feel like I am in sarajevo.

Bumpy roads: next time, note to self: wear sports bra, full-body airbag, and back brace.

Problems in my life right now:

  • Need SIM card. I have no phone
  • roads here… all this crap on the road
  • I am the tallest and fattest person all up in here country”

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My Dad Was a Fighter Pilot, Okay?!

5 Feb

Does anyone remember the huge-ass, incredibly-scary suspension bridge that I crossed when I was all by myself on the freaking Tibet-Nepal border?

The one that stretched over a 200-meter gorge?!

And was strung with prayer flags so the Nepalese people would dare cross it?!

In case you need a refresher:

For the record: I crossed this bridge on my first attempt.

See the bridge in the distance?  That gorge is pretty deep, huh.

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Sure glad we have those prayer flags.

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For the record, I crossed this bridge on my first attempt.

Okay, well I spent this past December in New Zealand, where my Dad joined me for a 16-day, >3,000 kilometer road trip.  At one point, we stopped at a teeny-weeny little swing bridge.  And this is what happened:

After the tape stopped rolling, things got even funnier.  A guy behind me, who was waiting to get on the bridge,  asked me what was going on.  Of course, I helpfully was like, “Oh sorry, my Dad is just scared of the bridge.  This is his third attempted crossing.  I’m hoping he makes it by Christmas.”

To which my Dad puffs up his chest, looks him straight in the eyeballs, and gruffly — and entirely seriously – snarls at him: “I was a fighter pilot, okay?!”

Ahahahahahahahhahhahahahhahahahahaha.

I then fell overboard.

Proof that my Dad was a fighter pilot.

Proof that my Dad was a fighter pilot, okay.

My Dad (far right) in Desert Storm.  Note the sign on the chalkboard: "Do not eat any ham slice MRE.  No Good."

Additional proof from Desert Storm.  The blue note on the chalkboard, left by “Carbo” says: “Do not eat any ham slice MRE. No Good.”  Sounds like an important part of the mission brief.

P.S. As I’m writing this post, I mention it to my Dad across the room.  He is now ranting about the consequences if I “skewer [him] as some farcical character in [my] stupid-dog-ass blog.”  Oops.

Engaged!

29 Nov

Surprise!

Chuck from last fall’s kickball team.

Just kidding.  But for real, my trekking guide from Nepal – Som – just got engaged.  Here’s his engagement photo:

As you may recall, Som guided my friend Timmy and I on a trek in the Annapurna region of Nepal two months ago.

He’s 27, the same age as me.  And he told us, back in September, that when he returned home to Gorkha around this time, he was to be married.

“To who?,” we asked.

“We have no love marriage.  My parents decide.” he said.

“Whoaaa.  Can you veto their selection?”

“Veto?”

“Can you say no to who your parents pick?”

“Oh.  I have 1 hour to decide.”

Timmy and I are silent.  I mean, where do you go from there?

A picture I took of Som on our trek.

People say you travel to understand other cultures.  So far, I think that’s bull.  I haven’t even scratched the surface of understanding.  All I can say is that I’m now at least aware of the existence of other cultures.

And I’m thankful, and I’m awed.  I could be Som, and Som could be me.  He’s the oldest son of a schoolteacher, and — luckily for him — was born into the highest order of the Brahmin caste.  Still, that hardly guaranteed him a silver spoon.  He worked as porter for several years, carrying trekkers’ crap over terrain that a mule couldn’t manage.  Along the way, he picked up enough English to go to the 6-month-long guiding school and become a trekking guide, which he’s been doing for the last 10 years.  He’s never left Nepal, nor he will likely ever.

We spent a lot of time together and, to this day – despite the fact that we exchange regular Facebook messages – I have no idea how he feels about me.  Envy?  Pity?  Ambivalence?  Has he even thought about it?

I look into his eyes and can’t help but feel that he is so much wiser than me — and yet, in a way, he’ll never know as much as me.  Am I sacrificing Shangri-La at the altar of knowledge?  Le sigh.

So Som will be married before the year’s out.  And I as well, all too soon, will make the pilgrimage home to find my mate.  But, groan, my Dad won’t have him waiting there draped with an orange lei.  I’m expected to scour the freaking earth for him.  But hey, maybe I’ll look a little happier in our engagement photo.

Speaking of which, if you’re looking for a New Year’s kiss to ring in 2013, yours truly may just be available for a limited engagement.  Please note that while I am amenable to wearing this dress again:

Ringing in 2012.

I will look more like this:

Okay, maybe I’ll leave the MRI at home.

Life’s a Trek

8 Oct

Timmy and I went trekking for three days in the Annapurna region of Nepal.  I loved it.  It stirred something deep inside of me, and I couldn’t help but think of my good friend’s dad Steve, who is headed off on the Appalachian Trail by himself for a few months.

The more I walked, the more it struck me: trekking is a great metaphor for life.

You get to the top of one hill… and realize there’s just another hill on top of that one to climb.

You step on a rock with invisible moss and fall on your butt… and then you get up and step on a thousand more rocks, any one of which could be covered with invisible moss.

The emotional vulnerability that you feel in life — the fear of rejection, the haunt of loneliness, the ethereal sense of isolation — becomes tangible, as if it may as well be strapped on your back.  For you have a very real appreciation for the fact that you are hours upon hours, by foot, from a doctor or any other modern convenience.

I figure that most of life, like most of trekking, is just plain hard.  You’ve gotta find your rhythm in the march and live for the small moments of joy in life — when the mountain silhouettes peak through through the clouds and expose their splendor.  Or when a little Nepalese kid pokes your chub and calls you fat in Nepali (I think that’s a compliment ’cause it means you’ve got food to eat?!).

Okay, I’ll shut my trap now and let the photos speak for themselves:

A candid shot of Timmy and I getting ready for the start of our trek.

Lots of little bridges.

Hmmm, it’s a marijuana plant.

Annapurna South (7,219 meters).

Amidst the world’s highest mountains: the Himalayas.

Rice paddies are a photographer’s dream.

The Morning News in Nepal

4 Oct

Presumably because half of Nepalis are illiterate, the morning news in Nepal consists of a guy just reading the newspaper, article by article.  See:

Then sometimes the cameraman, shakily, zooms in on the page:

The Nature Walk from Hell

29 Sep

*Note: this blog post contains foul language, for which I apologize.  It was used in an extraordinary situation, and I certainly don’t mean to offend.*

Now is time to discuss my really stressful day in the jungle.  It started with a terrifying canoe ride… through crocodile-infested waters.  I started really stressing out about 1 minute into the boat ride, when I absent-mindedly touched my hand to the water.  The guide said, “don’t do that; crocodiles come.”  Are you sh*tting me right now?

I became increasingly alarmed when we started seeing crocodiles:

These crocodiles — gharials — are essentially unchanged for the past 110 million years.

Finally, we disembarked the canoe… and walked into the jungle.  And things got worse.

Let’s back up.  Chitwan — being in the lawless, crazy, government-less country of Nepal — is one of the very few wildlife parks in the world that you can explore on foot, when accompanied by a guide.  My Lonely Planet recommended the jungle walk for only the bravest of the brave, saying “jungle walks are a real risk” and that while “most people have a good experience . . . there’s a small but significant risk, such as being chased by a rhino, which seems a lot less funny when you consider the phrase ‘trampled to death.’”  The guide book also said that there must be 2 guides at all times, that larger groups are safer, and that you must be especially careful during times of the year when mothers are with young.

After reading this, I decided I did not want to go on a jungle walk, and I so informed our hotel guide.  He said “no problem; we go on nature walk after canoe ride.”  Okay, fine.

So I get off the canoe, and we walk into the jungle for our “nature walk,” and we come across a freaking rhino print:

For the second time in 1 hour: Are you sh*tting me right now?

I look around.  There are 5 of us (so much for large groups).  We have 1 guide, who is carrying a 4-foot bamboo stick for protection.  And it’s late September so all of the wild animals have couple-month-old babies with them.  For the third time: Are you sh*tting me right now?  

I rack my brain trying to remember the “jungle survival tips” from my guide book:

  • Rhino: Run in zig zag line.  Climb a large tree (it will knock down small ones).
  • Sloth Bear:  The most feared animal in the jungle due to its unpredictable temperament.  Stay perfectly still and huddle to appear more threatening.
  • Elephant: Run for dear life.
  • Tiger/Leopard: Don’t move.  Maybe climb a small tree (it will climb a big tree after you).

At this point, every noise, including the tiniest twig snapping, is making my heart race.  The guide creeps ahead and peers around the next bush, and then motions for the group to follow.  This pattern continues.  Note his 4-foot bamboo stick for protection:

The guide looks for rhinos and other wild jungle animals around the next bush.  I take this picture in an attempt to remain calm and pretend that this is fun.

I am spooked by some deer but try to remain calm.  And then there is a freaking roar from a bush.  I jump out of my skin.  The guide motions for us to be quiet.  I start shaking.  The guide whispers “sloth bear.”  I go ape shit.

He has us all hurry past the bush to a small clearing, at which point I look him straight in the eye and say, “fuck you; take me out of this jungle right now.”  He mumbles something.  I bluntly express my feeling that I have been misled about the nature of this nature walk.  Timmy unwisely pipes up.  I say, “fuck you, too, Timmy.”

And the story is (thankfully) pretty anticlimactic after that.  I make it out of the jungle safely, albeit after encountering “2 fighting elephants” (says the guide; I try not to look) on the way out.

The next morning at 7:00 AM, still not having seen an endangered One-Horned Indian Rhino, which apparently every tourist absolutely must see before leaving Chitwan, I found myself part of another elephant safari brigade:

I sent this photo to my Dad with the subject “Ridiculousness.” He wrote back: “What do you mean?  Looks like a 4-ship of fighter aircraft in line abreast formation going full afterburner to the merge.”

And what do you know…

So we chase him down.

And all is good.  We can now leave Chitwan happy.

Welcome to the Jungle

29 Sep

After an epic bus ride, Timmy and I arrived at Chitwan National Park in south central Nepal.  Despite a troubled history of poaching and human encroachment, Chitwan is one of Asia’s best spots for wildlife viewing.  Among other species, it is home to royal bengal tigers, spotted leopards, sloth bears, and two famous endangered species: the one-horned rhinoceros and the gharial crocodile.

It is also home to the indigenous Tharu people:

Tharu village homes.

Made of bamboo sticks plastered with a mixture of clay and cow dung.

The first jungle activity on tap was the elephant safari.  Our elephant had a name that sounded, to me, like “Choc-o-lee.”

Choc-o-lee pictured with his mahout.

Crossing the water on Choc-o-lee.

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