Dedicated to Mara's travel and hiking adventure journals as well as her words of wisdom and suggested resources for hikers and travelers.
China and Nepal - Traveling and trekking from September to December, 1997Long before I had a web site, I kept hand-written journals while traveling. In March of 2006 and I finally decided to transcribe my 1997 journal from my trip to China and Nepal. - Enjoy!
(9/97) In late 1995, my good friend, Michele Gordon, told me that she and her friend, Andy, were applying to a number of service organizations together. They hoped to spend a year or two doing volunteer work somewhere in the world. Not surprisingly, given their credentials (she, a recent Masters from Harvard in International Education and a world traveler, he a successful volunteer with VSO from a few years earlier in life), they were accepted at more than one organization. They eventually decided to take a position with Voluntary Services Overseas (VSO), an organization based in England (Andy, being a British citizen).
They were told about four potential countries where they might serve. Three were in Africa and the last, China. Their first two choices were in Africa so given that I had always been fascinated by the nature in Africa ever since reading books by Wilbur Smith and seeing countless nature shows on TV, I told them I would visit them wherever they ended up. As it turned out, they were assigned to China. I, not anticipating ever having anyone else to visit in China, started making plans...
(3/06) By the time of my visit in the fall of 1997, Michele was there alone as Andy had left after one year of service.
Also, there are times when the journal may not make sense or seem to have missing information. This occurs primarily when I couldn't read my own handwriting as I transcribed my journal or I hadn't filled out place names in my journal. I can't find my maps right now so can't fill in those details yet. I did not write everyday so some days have no entries and some days have entries that encompass as much as a week.
Monday, September 22 - New York to Vancouver
Tuesday, September 23 - Vancouver to Hong Kong
Wednesday, September 24 - Hong Kong
Thursday, September 25 - Hong Kong
10:00AM - Just a bit of catching up to do on my journal before I go track down a plane ticket to Kunming...
I left the U.S. on a flight out of JFK airport in New York at ~10:15pm on Monday, September 22. Five hours later, we landed in Vancouver, B.C. at 12:30AM. We then left Vancouver at ~2:00AM for a thirteen hour flight to Hong Kong. We crossed the dateline along the way and eventually landed at 6:45AM on September 24 - that was yesterday.
I had no problems making my way through the airport, changing money, and finding the A1 Airbus to Chung King Mansions in Tsim Sha Tsui on the Kowloon Peninsula. I made my way, with the help of a tout up to the C block but the dorm room he promised was nowhere to be found. After looking at quite a few guesthouses, I finally found a dorm room on the sixth floor of the B block. The place was disgusting with barely functioning plumbing, cockroaches, and the occasional rat scurrying by outside the grated windows (thankfully not inside).
I took a bed there for HK$50, about $7 US/night. I could certainly afford more and would have preferred one of the cleaner guest houses, but this was the first place I saw where people seemed to be hanging out and friendly.
It was a good place to spend my first day. I was too tired and my stomach was acting up too much to walk around a lot so after applying for my visa to (mainland) China, for the most part, I hung around the hostel talking with the other travelers. As long as I had someone to talk with, I was able to stay awake so I managed to stay up until 6pm. I woke up at 9pm when one of the people vacated her bed and then I stayed up talking again until 1:00am.
[Giardiasis, contracted on the Long Trail in Vermont a month earlier, had not responded to antibiotics available in the U.S. so I was plagued with stomach problems throughout the China portion of the trip.]
While talking, we realized there was an incredible representation of countries staying there: Scotland; Singapore; Wales; Japan; Australia; Cambia [sic: Cambodia?]; Poland; Germany; Spain; Israel; Korea; U.S.; and I've probably missed some. Also, incredibly, my trip of ten weeks seems to be the shortest trip of the represented travelers.
After a quiet, uneventful day, there was a bit of an uproar at 4:00AM. One of the men woke up as a thief stole his pants. This morning, we got the full story. His pants were hanging on his bed near the door. He tried chasing the thief but tripped and fell. Figuring that the thief was after money, he wandered the stairs and found his pants, albeit with his money gone. Thankfully, he only had ~$19US in them and his other papers were elsewhere. No damage done but a lot of concern about repeat performances and talk of alternative housing.
Friday, September 26 - Victoria's Peak, Hong Kong
12:30AM - I had spent the rest of the day on Thursday tracking down a plane ticket to Kunming, the capital of the Yunnan Province. Unfortunately, I was supposed to pick it up between 5:00 and 6:00 but I fell asleep and didn't wake up until 6:30. Ooops! I hope the tickets are waiting for me tomorrow (or later?).
In the evening, I took a walk up to the Temple Street Night Market where I found an amazing variety of cheap junk. My stomach has not been cooperative so I'm constantly on the lookout for the next bathroom. This does not bode well for finding a place to eat at the night market. I didn't, so I stopped at the 7-Eleven and bought some water. I then made my way to McDonalds where I used the bathroom, bought a Sprite, and sat in the wonderfully air-conditioned restaurant for an hour or so. Then, feeling a little better, I made my way to the Promenade and saw the view across the harbor. As is typical for many cities, it was much better looking at night than during the day.
Back at the hostel, the news about the International Monetary Fund was on. The news announced to the world about the economic situation in Hong Kong is sugar-coated at best. The reason why this hostel is so cheap is that the number of people looking for accomodation has plummeted since reunification. Apparently, the people on the street feel differently about the economic situation than the politicians. Many of the places I looked at for housing were cheaper now than listed in my guide book.
Having not been here before unification, I can't see the changes. I do see the dirty streets, the bad plumbing, the homeless beggars on the street, and the men hawking their wares - trying to get you to come into whatever establishment they work for.
1:00pm - This morning, I successfully picked up my hand-written plane ticket to go from Hong Kong to Kunming. I then spent the next hour or so in McDonalds, first with diarrhea, then with an Egg McMuffin, hash browns, and juice for <$2 U.S. (McDonalds just happens to be one of the cheapest places to buy food in Hong Kong. It's much cheaper than in the U.S. Extra Value meals are all of HK$17.50 or less than US$2.50. Amazing!) I then did a bit of food shopping and tried to get across the harbor. While heading for the ferry, I stopped in the Chinese Arts and Crafts, Hong Kong Ltd. Store (CAC), a store with beautiful artwork, amazing carved stone, ivory, and other materials. Globes made from semiprecious stones, Chinese Inside Painted Bottles, and more. I got some great ideas for things to look for and bring home: cut paper ornaments for everyone at work; fans; silk wall hangings; traditional outfits; etc.
Unfortunately, while I was there, I once again needed the bathroom. This time, I took my third Imodium of the day. With any luck, this stuff will start working soon and I can make it to Hong Kong Island this afternoon and up Victoria's Peak. I'm really tired of hanging around this hell-hole of a hostel. I'm also getting very concerned about my ability to get well on the trip. I'm also very concerned about my ability to trek if I don't get well. Only time will tell.
Well, it's getting on 2:00pm (I must be hanging around Brits and Aussies) and I'll be picking up my visa for China at the CTS office across the street. Once I get that, I'm all set to leave Hong Kong and just need to hang out until my flight leaves on Sunday. With any luck, I'll be able to get more than five minutes from a bathroom by then. Oy!
Saturday, September 27 - Kowloon Park, Hong Kong
Yesterday's Imodium sure did the trick. After picking up my visa, yesterday, I was feeling much better so I made my way across the harbor and up Victoria's Peak by way of the tram. Not trusting my body, I got a return (round trip) ticket rather than one-way. It was so pleasant and cool on the peak that I stayed there until the wind picked up and it got a bit cool. While up there, I met the head of security of the IMF meeting and his wife. They, too, had an interesting perspective on life in Hong Kong. He had been there since the first of September and of course they have been staying in a different class of hotel and frequently a different class of establishment than I.
While I have been staying in the likely cheapest accommodations in Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon, they have been staying in a moderately expensive hotel in downtown Hong Kong Island. They frequent great restaurants and attend high-level meetings high in the skyscrapers in Central district. Some of what they described to me as decor in these buildings seems fantastic. Multistory murals spanning many floors up near the top of the building. With the IMF meeting gearing up, hotel space has been tight for the type of hotel those playing a part in the meeting would use.
After first marveling at how the majority of construction on Hong Kong Island really is along just the edge (and perhaps previously reclaimed land) of the island, I then marveled at the huge reclamation project near harbor City, across the way in Tsim Sha Tsui on Kowloon. I then wandered this great little shopping mall across from the Peak Tram. There was a great store selling marvelous holographic images. One was an image of a puzzle cube. Moving from right to left, there were about five separate images of the puzzle in various stages of completion. Others included images where you had to look through holographic binoculars or telescopes to see yet another magnified holographic image.
While returning to Tsim Sha Tsui on the Star ferry, I wondered at the seeming chaos among the boats in the harbor. There was little space left between boats and it was unclear whether "normal" rights-of-way were being honored. My observations apparently are an issue. That evening, on the news, there was a report of four drowned men whose boat sank after colliding with a tanker or other large boat.
This morning, I ate a good breakfast at Oliver's. Perhaps it was too good. My stomach was once again not feeling right but a visit to the bathroom didn't help and I didn't dare take more Imodium quite yet so rather than a trip to Lamma, I spent a few hours in the Museum of Hong Kong, learning all about local history. I also realized that Kowloon Park is where I should have been hanging out. It's beautiful up there - tropical vegetation and lots of birds, relatively clean, and well maintained.
I then visited Oliver's again for a baked potato, went shopping at the Wellcome next door and back to the dorm where I realized I was sick again, not just with diarrhea, but with a sore throat and body aches and pains. Well, I could treat the first problem so I took more Imodium and a nap and woke up feeling much better.
Sunday, September 28 - Kunming
8:30pm - Once again, I spent the evening, last night, hanging out at the dorm. I did take a small break to get a sandwich on white toast (yes, three times in one day) and then back to watch A Few Good Men on TV. Today was a travel day. Getting to Kunming was totally uneventful. I did manage to meet someone at the airport in Hong Kong who was going to be met by her uncle at the Kunming Airport. She suggested, and he agreed, to give me a ride to the Kunhu Hotel. How lucky!
I had no problems checking in and only a few problems finding my room. I had my first experience with a Chinese toilet. It wasn't all that bad and it was certainly cleaner than the hostel in Hong Kong. Actually, for about half what I was paying in Hong Kong, I feel like I'm living in the lap of luxury. Only three beds in a room - no bunks - and a lock on the door. What more could I want?
Kunming seems like it will provide a good, albeit mild, introduction to China. The traffic patterns are crazy with cars, bicycles, and pedestrians all vying for the right of way.
Sunday, September 29 - Kunming
Tuesday, September 30 - Bamboo Temple, Kunming
7:00am - Yesterday, got up, had breakfast with my Japanese roommate. Couldn't eat much as my stomach was still problematic. Made plans for the Bamboo Temple and Stone Forest. Tried to fix the computer in the backpacker tourist office.
Serendipity struck again as I was heading out of the hotel lobby looking for the bus to the Bamboo Temple. I heard a very familiar "Mara!" I looked towards the counter to see a stranger with long hair. No stranger, it was Michele with over a year's growth of hair checking in two days early. We got her settled into the remaining empty bed in my room and proceeded to catch each other up on over a year's worth of news.
[Michele had found out about a school holiday that gave her a couple of extra days off only after I had started traveling. Given that there were only two hotels in Kunming where I was likely to be staying, she knew she had a good chance of finding me.]
Heading out of the hotel, we met an American couple from LA, Amy and Steve and then had lunch with them. After lunch, we went our separate ways. Michele and I on what ended up being a successful all-day mission to get her plane tickets from a VSO friend and colleague, Sam Walker, who teaches here in Kunming. We also successfully got her stolen traveler's checks replaced with a 1.5 hour marathon session at the Bank of China.
Back at the hotel, Michele got to look at all the goodies I had brought her. There was the mundane flypaper, to the marvelous delicacies of falafel mix, Nature's Burger Mix, and Nutella.
A few memorable events of the day: Vocabulary: go means stop; jew means pork; Lotus root is quite good; got woken up to "normal" city noises of cars and horns as well as roosters and horses. Leaving food not eaten on the floor or table is OK. Spittoons in hotel are disgusting.
Wednesday, October 1 - Shilin/Stone Forest, Kunming
9:45pm - Still playing catch up with this journal... Yesterday, Michele and I made our way (not without some difficulty) to the Bamboo Temple. It is apparently a Buddhist temple and surprisingly, I recognized a few of the gods and goddesses from having read the Tibetan Book of the Dead. The main draw of this temple, however, are the "realistic and surrealistic" statues of people in all sorts of poses. From the mundane - someone reading a book, to the bizarre - some with an arm that extends to great length towards the ceiling (the figure is 4-5' high and the arm ~15'). Of course, as these tours go, there was not enough time at the temple to examine everything or even take a relaxing break from the hustle and bustle of the city.
Today, I finally made it to the Stone Forest. Unfortunately, I was the only westerner on the bus so I could communicate very little with anyone. A delay and blocked road on the way along with stops for jewelry and lunch made our arrival at 1:15 very late and only left an hour and forty-five minutes to see the place. I never did find the elephant but I was fascinated at the formations and the work done to make the place accessible to anyone who can handle stairs.
Parts reminded me of Paria Canyon, with the tall rocks split top to bottom and water running (or puddling) through. Other parts very definitely reminded me of the Havasu Indian Reservation with the limestone karst formations. I also thought of Betsy and Ken, some friend who are cavers who would enjoy winding their way through the rocks. They (or Ken) would hate the spiders though - not quite as large as the dock spider but on large webs. Blech!
The way back was eventful - a flat tire, a fruit stop, and a roast duck stop. We didn't have time to eat at the restaurant so people bought whole ducks and ate them, dripping fat, on the bus.
Observations: China really is dirty. Nobody thinks anything of throwing trash on the ground. It goes further than that, though. While eating, if you need to spit something out, just do it - on the table or floor. Blech! While on the bus, trash goes out the window as do duck bones, apple peels, etc. It's not just while eating that people spit. They spit everywhere - even while walking down the street. It's gross.
Once they have a reason to believe you're human, the Chinese will warm up to you. The bus ride was pretty lonely until we came to the road block and had to turn back. The few people near me looked at me wondering if I knew what was going on. I signaled my understanding by drawing on my hand with my finger, the direction the bus would have to go. Shortly afterwards, we stopped for lunch and everyone had a good time using my phrasebook to figure out what to eat. By then, the ice was broken, my seatmate paid for lunch and we were off to the Stone Forest.
About traffic, it's horrible, and this from a Boston driver. I'm glad I'm flying a lot and not driving. Today alone, we saw the aftermath of four bad accidents - trucks off the road, horse carts destroyed, tourist buses colliding. Also the streets are in horrible condition, reminding me of Vassar Street in Cambridge. I was often airborne when the bus hit a bump. Oy!
About health - only ate Chinese today and I'm feeling good. We'll see how I make it through (or not) the night.
Tuesday, October 2 - Lijiang
Wednesday, October 3 - Qiaotou, Tiger Leaping Gorge
Thursday, October 4 - Lijiang
Sunday, October 5 - Lijiang
11:30am - I am finally able to relax and not worry about when, where, or how I'm getting to the next place. On Thursday, I made my way to the airport in Kunming and flew to Lijiang. At the airport, I met someone who only needed two of their three reservations. I could have their extra. When I realized they were staying at the Grand Lijiang Hotel for 500 yuan per night, I declined and eventually made my way to the Lijiang Hotel where for a mere 12 yuan, I could get a dorm room with five beds or, as I opted, for 17 yuan, a room with three beds. Of course, at this rate, you get a disgusting toilet down the hall and hot water in the showers downstairs just between the hours of 7:30 and 10:00pm.
[The hotel comprised multiple buildings. The lobby was in the traditional hotel-type part of the establishment and the hostel rooms in a different building. I soon found the bathrooms off the lobby of the hotel portion of the hotel were clean and didn't smell all that bad. I developed the habit of using that bathroom instead of the one in the dorm building even though it meant I had to go outside to a different building to get to it. I would stop in at the lobby to use the bathrooms on the way back to the room each evening and again on my way out each morning. One evening, I walked into the bathroom and much to my amusement, one of the hotel workers was squatting over the toilet and reading a newspaper, much like a westerner might sit and read a book in the bathroom. Most bathrooms didn't have individual doors for each stall, hence being able to see the paper.]
After checking in, I spent the afternoon scouting the backpacker hangouts in both the new and the old town. All were decidedly empty of foreigners and only Peters had any useful info in the (register-like) books left on the tables.
I then started asking any obviously western people if they were going, or if they had already gone on the Tiger Leaping Gorge hike. I met quite a few that had already been and became quite well informed. Unfortunately, I had all sorts of info but nobody to hike with. That evening, I met up with two couples who were contemplating the hike. They were hopelessly uninformed - which I was able to remedy, and I was still alone, which they would remedy. We spent the evening with them having dinner, us getting to know each other, and me giving them information.
The next morning, Friday, Robin, Andrew, and I were at the bus station by 6:50am only to find out that there was only one seat left on the bus to Qiaotou - time for plan B. We took a taxi for 200 yuan and got a much earlier start than if we had gotten on the bus. We even managed a breakfast in Qiaotou before we got going. Armed with a couple of sketchy maps and a few earfuls of information, we were ready.
Tiger Leaping GorgeTiger Leaping Gorge, through which the Yangtze River flows, is one of the deepest gorges in the world measuring 16km long and 3900 meters from water to mountaintops.
The gorge hike started just as we expected. All the little hints on the map were accurate and we had no problem finding the yellow markings so conveniently leading to Sean's place in Walnut Grove. We paid the 20 yuan toll. Those starting early in the morning may pass before the toll is open for the day.
Everything was going great for the first 1.5 hours. We were on a trail leading higher and higher with the river dropping off below us. My companions set a good pace - a bit faster that I would go on my own, but not dissimilar than my hiking companions back home.
We found the first village in good time but then we couldn't figure out how to leave it. Thinking we must have missed the right path because we saw no yellow markings, we went back down quite a ways. Then, a local woman indicated to follow her. Knowing that we weren't supposed to trust the directions of the locals we were skeptical - especially when she brought us right back to the same village. She did, however, point us to the right path and shortly thereafter, we saw a yellow marker. Perhaps the townspeople wouldn't allow the markings in their town. We probably wasted 1.5 hours figuring out how to get through that town and lots of energy was wasted as well.
We got lost a couple of more times because junctions were not clearly marked and probably wasted yet another hour total. We had decided to go back to the last junction at one point and maybe give it up because we wouldn't have enough time to get to our destination if we continued to get lost. Just when we were about to head back down, we spotted a couple of hikers above us.
We decided to give it one more try and catch up with the other couple, Graham and Connie. As it turned out, they had gotten a much later start having taken the bus, but they hadn't gotten lost.
At about this time, I started slowing down and feeling both hot and cold. Not a great time to be getting sick - we were just starting up the area of 24 bends. These bends (switchbacks) were even numbered so you could judge your progress. Going slowly, I made it most of the way and then looking back at the two men and their packhorses that had been following us, I asked if I could put my pack on a horse. They agreed - no doubt hoping I would then be able to go faster. I handed my water to Graham, one of the people we had just met on the trail. What a saint. He carried my water and walked with me up the bends. There was relief when we got to 24 until we kept going past 25, 26, 27, and more. We finally got to the pass at which point the locals took my pack off the horse to give it back to me. They weren't expecting anything in return but I gave them a little packet of stamps I had been carrying. That was perfect - they were happy - and I was happy.
Right as we stopped to let the packers give back my pack, Andrew and Robin stopped to insist that we swap packs. I took Robin's small water bag, Robin took Andrews, and Andrew took mine. More saviors. What a bunch of people I found.
Immediately after the pass, the going was much easier and I could go reasonably fast downhill and flat. The five of us ended up hiking somewhat together for the rest of the day.
At this point, we felt a lot more comfortable with the path and we could start enjoying the view and the hike. It was also at this point that we could start to see the gorge with the Jade Dragon Snow Mountains above and the river below. Spectacular!
Without too much more difficulty (some wet cement and a herd of goats), we made it to the Halfway Guesthouse, a wonderful little guesthouse high above the river where you feel like you are part of the family.
We sat on a porch above the courtyard. On the other side of the courtyard was the barn and above the barn, the most magnificent view of the mountains.
At the guesthouse, we met up with another hiker, Trevor. The six of us nearly fill up the seven-bed house. Together, we relaxed, traded stories of our current travels, ate, and got ready for bed.
My usual middle-of-the-night toilet run resulted in the most magnificent view of the stars. With my light off, there was enough light to move around. Amazing!
Saturday morning, we were up around 7:00am and probably woke the family. (Roosters, by the way, start crowing at the crack of 3:30am, not dawn. Argh!)
After a breakfast of naxi bobo bread and boiled potatoes, we were off amidst the much too frequent crack of dynamite and the rumble of man-made landslides. Fortunately, we realized they seemed to be well below us in the gorge. The Chinese are building a road through this beautiful area. I'm so glad I got to see it before the tour buses start running.
After an hour or so, we head down to what used to be the low path. Now it's a dusty road with frequent landslides. The view of the gorge and the river makes it worthwhile but all of us would have preferred the upper trail as a travel medium. C'est la vie.
Along the way, we had views of some mines across the gorge. The Chinese would probably say copper. In reality, they are probably gold mines.
It took us just under five hours to walk out. It had taken us 8.5 hours to walk in.
Catching an early bus back to Lijiang was not meant to be. Both the 2:00 and 3:00 buses past by without stopping - they were full. Rather than wait, four of us hired a minibus taxi for 225 yuan. What a hair-raising journey! At one point, we almost got into a head-on collision when our driver decided to pass on a blind curve. Oy!
I spent the evening showering, putting on clean clothes - Yeah!, and having dinner with a bunch of women I had met in the shower.
Today, having decided not to go to Dali, but just to get a plane ticket back to Kunming, I found the CITS office (basically across the street from my hotel) and in about five minutes, I was booked on a Tuesday flight. I could finally relax because I had nowhere to be and nothing to worry about. I spent the morning at a cafe in the Old Town Marketplace and the afternoon at a cafe that had doors in the hopes of finding a quiet place to write this journal entry.
Monday, October 6 - Lijiang
Tuesday, October 7 - Kunming
Wednesday, October 8 - Zhaotong
Thursday, October 9 - Zhaotong
Friday, October 10 - Zhaotong
Saturday, October 11 - Zhaotong
10:50am - The Naxi music concert was very interesting. The music was quite good and not nearly as discordant as I had expected. The narrator did as much talking as the musicians played. He repeated everything in both English and Chinese. The general ideas he espoused was that Naxi music is a dying art form. The majority of the 30+ musicians are old and dying. Young people are not interested because of horrible karaoke music. Proceeds from both the concerts and sales of tapes go towards a new school which was started to train young Naxi musicians. There are currently 120 students. I bought a tape both to support the effort to preserve the culture and as a nice souvenir.
On Monday, October 6, I spent the day writing postcards and buying some souvenirs - a tie-dyed cloth, two plates, and a big scroll. I also managed to trade a few stamps with an opportunity to take a picture of a hunting falcon. The Naxi men use falcons to hunt and they carry them around the Old Town for all to see. Then man did not want his picture taken but did allow me to get a picture of the bird on his arm.
The Naxi and the Old Town
The area around Lijian is a traditional Naxi area. The Naxi, unlike the Chinese (Han?), are friendly and do not stare. In the touristy sections of the Old Town, they can get a bit annoying as they hawk their wares. When you move out of the touristy areas and walk through the areas where they live, they are likely to look up at you, smile, nod, and/or say "ni hao" or "hello" and then go back to their business. They are a welcome relief from the blank-faced stares given by the Han Chinese.
Given the history of the Naxi matriarchal society, it may not be surprising, but it was certainly refreshing to see basic functional equality between the sexes.
I was just as likely to see women carrying heavy loads of coal as I was to see men taking care of babies and small children.
More often though, I was likely to see grandparents taking care of the children during the day while both parents supported the multi-generational family.
The town was situated above a network of waterways that provided a common meeting place as people would use the water to wash clothes, prepare meals, etc. The same waterways also provided a way to separate houses.
Because these waterways were part of daily, even hourly life, there were no fences. In the U.S., it would be considered totally unsafe. Then again, the whole sanitary situation would be outlawed. At one point, I was watching a woman cleaning a fish at one of the areas where there are steps leading down to water level in the canal. With a "yelp!", She started running toward the next set of cut steps. She had dropped the fish that she had been cleaning into the water. Luckily, she was able to fish is out at the next set of steps about 15 meters away.
[For any future visitors to Lijiang, the best toilets in town are the western toilets with toilet paper in the Grand Lijiang Hotel at the entrance to the Old Town. Also, Mama Fu's is moving into the Old Town, just across the street from the music hall. The #2 guesthouse no longer exists and I heard many mixed reviews about the Red Sun Hotel. The Lijiang looks like it sustained damage in the earthquake - also the bathrooms are disgusting as is the shower for which hot-water is available only between 7:30 and 10:00pm. The west bus station is down the same road as the Lijiang Hotel - walk to the next big intersection and the bus leaves from a parking lot on the far right corner. Watch where the taxis go to drop people off. Mama Fu's pizzas and apple pies are not to be missed.]
Sunday, October 12 - Zhaotong
11:30am - Last Tuesday (10/7), I woke up at 6:00am to leave the hotel at 6:30 and catch the bus to the airport at 7:00am. It was kind of scary walking in the darkness to find a bus station that I had never been to. I found myself counting steps because I knew the bus station was only 500m further west from the Lijiang hotel. The sidewalk soon gave out and I wished I was wearing reflective clothing as I walked in the street. I soon realized that most of the cars passing me were taxis. Hoping they were going to the same bus station, I kept an eye on them as I walked. I soon came to a large intersection. Taxis seemed to be going across the intersection and then stopping. I watched some human forms getting out laden with luggage and following them, as they went up a dark driveway just to the right of the far side of the intersection. A quick "fay-jee-jung" to a man standing there confirmed that I had found the bus that for 10 yuan (~$1.25) would take me on the 1.5 hour ride to the airport. I was there early enough to get a seat that actually had a bit of leg room. Others weren't so lucky. We ended up with about eight people standing up for the ride, two of whom were standing in the well by the door. Oy!
The trip to Kunming was uneventful and I arrived to find it raining. I made my way across the flooded parking lot (thankfully, I was wearing my boots), fending off cabbies charging 30-50yuan to the metered cabs. Got to the Kunhu Hotel checked in and then went for a very large lunch of fried rice, chicken and tomato, and banana-chocolate pancakes with ice cream. I spent the rest of the afternoon writing and mailing postcards, and reading.
My Japanese roommates were very considerate and did not smoke when I was in the room.
I met Graham from the Tiger Leaping Gorge hike in the hotel lobby at 6:30 and we walked to Wei's Pizzeria. It was the first restaurant I had been to in China that could have come from a western country. They had a true brick oven, it was large and airy, and it was very clean. They also played good music and had a true bar. It had been set up by an Italian who was forced out after only six weeks or so. It is currently run by a German.
We spent three hours talking. It's amazing what you'll say to a complete stranger when you're traveling. In another time and another place, we could probably be friends - our interests overlap quite a bit. I'll send him some email and pictures once I get home. I'll wonder if he'll respond.
On Wednesday morning, I had breakfast with a retired couple in their 40s or 50s. They spend months each year traveling in Asia. What a life! I also learned that they had been the tenants of Dr. Shlim's parents when they lived in Portland. [Doctor Shlim is an American doctor working in a Canadian clinic in Kathmandu. I have a referral from my doctors in Cambridge, MA to see him if my stomach is still bothering me when I get to Nepal.] They weren't surprised the doctor lived on another continent.
After a very early lunch at Yue Lei's, I had a very uneventful trip to Zhaotong where I was very happy to have Michele meet me at the airport. As we drove down the muddy road to the college where she teaches, I realized we were in a very different part of China. Everywhere else I had been, there were at least a few tourists. Here, the only westerners were Michele, myself, and one or two foreign businessmen who come with interpreters to do business with the people in the tobacco industry here. These other westerners stay in the one western style hotel, ate in the hotel restaurant, and don't visit parts of town that aren't related to their lodging or business.
Michele is here to teach teachers how to teach English. The students who should have a reasonable command of English before getting to the college, can barely speak a word. The concept of "saving face" or not embarrassing one's self, often prevents them from speaking up on the chance they may say something wrong. But, if they are going to be teaching others in a couple of years, they had to get over the potential embarrassment and start speaking.
We spent the rest of Wednesday with Michele running errands and me relaxing and doing laundry in Michele's place. We had dinner with Charles and Tim, two of her students, in a restaurant by the college gate. Then a quick stop in all grades 1 and 2 for Q & A (identical questions). All students learning English take western names. I don't think it's a requirement, but it helps them learn typical western names.
Then we stopped by Charles and Tim's dorm room. Eight people in one room with one table, no chairs, and small cubby holes. The room was probably not even twice the size of the double rooms I had at college. I can't imagine how they function in there. The students, and most of the teachers, too, go to "the baths" once a week. The teacher's apartment, at least do have toilets though Michele, and only one other teacher on campus, are the only ones with hot water heater/showers in their apartments. Michele does have a clothes washer. To use it, she must move it and attach it to the sink to get a cold water fill. To wash anything in warm or hot water, she must use buckets to bring water from the hot water heater in her bathroom to dump in the washer.
Even here at the college level, the students' life is almost completely regimented. They study almost all the time. Their day is divided up by the bell which rings on campus 10 minutes before every class, at the start of every class, and at the end of every class. It also rings at the beginning and end of breaks, lunch time, dinner, and bedtime/lights out. They are expected to be in their classroom Sunday through Thursday evenings. They have Friday night and Saturday nights to themselves and they often go to the dance on campus. For the most part, it is same sex couples on the dance floor. There was one mixed couple (established boyfriend/girlfriend) on the floor when I was there.
The students do not change classrooms. Rather, the teachers do. It seems very much more like an American elementary school than any college I had ever visited.
Thursday morning (10/9), I slept in, showered, and relaxed while Michele taught her lessons. Then we went out to lunch and took a walk through town. We were stared at and followed everywhere we went. I can see why it is so annoying to get that everywhere you turn in town. We ate gogofan (rice with yummy stuff baked in hot pots so the rice softens but gets crunchy along the sides of the pot and the meat is fully cooked.). Afterwards, we went to English corner where the students studying English go to practice. Then we visited Barbara, one of the other (Chinese) teachers and got to see her paintings. She paints scrolls for a hobby.
On Friday, I attended classes with Michele. She taught a speaking lesson to two different classes. The disparity between the top students and bottom of each class is astounding. It must be so difficult to work with a class of students whose range of abilities are so broad.
Friday afternoon, after attending the grade two speaking class, we went to the carpet factory for a tour. We saw as many as four people working on just half of one huge, round, rug. That makes a total of eight people working on one rug at one time. Both Michele and I bought wool rugs for wall hangings. They are very densely woven rugs which took one person three months to make. We spent 480 yuan each for our rugs. That's less than $60 for three months work, not to mention cost of materials. Beryl, another (Chinese) teacher friend of Michele's and her husband who manages or owns the factory brought us on the tour.
That evening, we met Sophie, a friend of Michele's at the Post Office and then we stopped by her place. She fed us the traditional peeled apple, we saw her room, and then we moved on to her uncle's place to celebrate her father's birthday. There we munched on fruit, seeds, and eventually bean cake and jowdze (wontons). Karaoke played on the huge entertainment center they had playing the entire time and I managed to avoid singing all evening. We stayed for an absolutely horrible birthday cake with frosting that tasted like nothing but fat. We picked at the cake with chopsticks out of bowls as the culture doesn't have much use for plates and no use for forks.
Their apartment had no bathroom. A trip to the communal bathroom required leaving the apartment, going down four flights or so to the ground floor, across the courtyard, and into the most disgusting multiple cubby, overflowing, bathrooms. I decided I could hold it.
Shortly thereafter, we left with Sophie and her father. We caught a cab, dropped them off and then went back to the college - courtesy of Sophie's father who had paid our cab fare. We got back to the college just as it started to rain, poked our head into the dance to see what it was like, and then got back to the apartment just before it started to pour. That night, as we went to sleep, it was thundering and lightning.
Yesterday (Saturday), we had hoped to go on a class outing but given the weather of the night before, we slept late assuming the conditions would not be good enough for the outing. We spent the morning lazing around the house and then did some shopping and went to the movies. It's alwasy potluck for starting times at the theater so we walked in halfway through Anaconda (horrible movie) and then we sat through the entire showing of Liar, Liar with a horrible sound system. That too was a really bad movie. But, it wasted a couple of hours. Then we had gogofan for dinner again. Yum! While delicious, it sure does horrible things to my stomach. Starting today (Sunday), it's back to the BRAT (bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast) diet.
Monday, October 13 - Zhaotong
Tuesday, October 14 - Zhaotong
Wednesday, October 15 - Zhaotong
Thursday, October 16 - Zhaotong
Friday, October 17 - Zhaotong
Saturday, October 18 - Kunming
7:00pm - Last Sunday we had plans to play Mah Jongg which we aborted at the last minute. Given that the weather had finally cleared up, we decided, instead, to take a walk around the reservoir, halfway there, after walking through all sorts of fields (corn, cabbage, pepper, tobacco, etc.) we gave up on that idea as well. The road through the field was still much too muddy after the rains of the previous days.
With my bland diet, we ate in that evening, me having a wonderful dish of rice with salt and Michele pasta with cheese sauce. It was a special meal for her as cheese is very hard to come by in China and she must hoard every morsel that comes her way. Any cheese she gets she must carry from Beijing. She does not serve it to her Chinese friends (they wouldn't like it) or her short term visitors (like me) as I'll get it soon enough at home, anyway.
Milk is the only dairy Michele gets regularly. She leaves a small pot out on her windowsill each day and when she comes home, it's been filled with milk. Michele must boil it to pasteurize it before drinking it. Cheese and yogurt are only available in larger towns or cities such as Kunming or Beijing. Each time Michele goes through Kunming, she always stops and buys one or more yogurts from the street vendors and downs them right then and there. The vendors do expect you to eat it there as you must give back the container, but they don't expect you to wolf it down or buy more than one.
On Monday, I attended both grade 3 listening classes. We did Q&A first and it was so very apparent that these people were ahead of the other two grades. More people were comfortable speaking and they asked much more interesting questions. For the second half, we went to the listening lab, a room with individual headsets and tape recorders for each person as well as a primary station for the teacher. In this case, Michele played "Leaving on a Jet Plane" by John Denver and they all listened through their headsets. Then, Michele distributed the words without the correct verb tense for them to complete.
In the afternoon, we went back to the market. It's apparent that her year in China has paid off. She is able to haggle with the best of them and completes all her purchases in Chinese without resorting to charades. I'm impressed.
On Tuesday, Michele taught in both the morning and afternoon, her only afternoon lessons this term. So, after lunch together, (had boiled eggs, tuna, carrots (red), and weird bread), she taught a class and I made my way to the main Bank of China in Zhaotong. When I got there, they were unable to cash my traveler's checks regardless of the exchange rate sign and without any good English, tried to point me down the street.
Unable to fully explain the directions, one woman came out from behind the counter and beckoned me to follow her. I ended up following her for perhaps a kilometer, down the street, around the corner, and down another street. There, we entered another branch of the Bank of China which I realized was a much larger branch and most likely the primary Bank of China in Zhaotong. As I suspected, Michele was very surprised to find out that there was a bigger branch than the one near the theater.
When I returned from the bank, Michele was still teaching so I started dinner. What we had bought the previous day was going to make a nice chicken dinner. I cleaned the chicken legs and potatoes and put them in the rice cooker to boil.
Sunday, October 19 - Zhaotong
(... Continued from 10/18) After dinner, we went to Li Jing's to play Mah Jong with Li Jing and Gulf. the game is fairly simple once you can identify the tiles and the sequences of tiles. It did become apparent to me that there is some very complex strategy involved. I would like to play more. Perhaps at home, more people will learn. Unfortunately, mah jongg sets are very heavy, otherwise I would bring one home with me.
On Wednesday, I took Michele out to lunch at the new hotel in town. It has western items on the menu but none were available when Michele ordered them. We ate Chinese there and had one good dish and one not-so-good dish. Very disappointing given the hope of western food.
After lunch, we checked out a couple of new shops in the same complex as the hotel. A food store that had quite a few western items. Michele bought self-rising flour in the hope her bread will improve. She also bought spinach noodles and margarine. (In a country with so little dairy, there's no butter.) With my sweet tooth, I bought Digestives (Keebler), Trakinas, chocolate sandwich cookies, (Nabisco), and Pringles.
The new department store yielded butter knives for Michele - something she hadn't seen before in Zhaotong and something I had actually commented on a few days earlier.
Later that afternoon, Siedi and Tracy, Michele's students, came by to cook us dinner. Michele went with them to the college's dining room kitchen to buy the ingredients. When they came back, Michele left them on their own to cook while I did puzzles and she worked on lesson plans.
Many of the students and teachers take American names. Sometimes, Michele has to come up with a list of names to give to her students. Likewise, Michele too a Chinese name, Mizhao, a combination of hte first syllables from her American name and the town name, Zhaotong.
An hour or so later, we were treated to a scrumptious dinner of pork, chilis, and some white vegetable with a name that Michele still has not managed to translate, sweet and sour eggplant, and yummy greens in soup. All of this was served with rice and was delicious.
After the students left for their evening study, Michele and I played Backgammon, a game we had often played while sharing an apartment in Boston. We had a curious time as every single game was close enough to be decided by only one roll of the dice. Amazing! We have always been fairly evenly matched but that was still pretty unusual.
On Thursday, Michele usually has only two lessons and is usually free by by 10:00am. This week, she had her Chinese lessons at 10:30 and had to give a make-up exam at 11:30. With the power out, she had to give the exam in her office at home on her battery powered boombox. The poor student must have been so nervous.
After cold left-over chicken for lunch, we gathered a bunch of grade 3 students together and hired a taxi for the afternoon (50 yuan). Our original plan was to go to Big Dragon Cave was scrapped because the weather wasn't cooperating. Instead we went to Jing Fong Park, a pretty little area around a reservoir with a pagoda on a hilltop and viewpoints peppered throughout. This park also has both enclosed and open areas with seating for snacking or playing games.
The students we were with, Lisa, Celia (glasses), and Julie (short), as well as out taxi driver and ourselves went up the steps to the pagoda for a good view of the surrounding hills. Then we introduced the students to the wonders of western junk food - Pringles, Digestives, Oreos, etc. They seemed to like the chips but that was about all.
Our taxi driver then said he would row us around the lake but when we got back down to the lake, there was noone to rent us a boat. Instead, we sat down at a pretty table and Michele and I taught everyone rummy. The driver, by now, had gone back to his taxi for a nap so there were five of us which was still a bit much for a rummy game with only one decks of cards. We had to continuously shuffle and reuse the discard stack. After an hour or so, we got up to go for another little walk before we left. As we stood up, a women rushed at us and insisted we pay 3 yuan for the hours use of the table. What a scam!
While on our last little walk to a couple of more viewpoints around the lake, we saw a group of boys, perhaps middle school age, splashing or washing in the water - very strange. On the way back to the park entrance, we saw those same boys praying (standing, kneeling, and touching their foreheads to the ground). Perhaps they are Muslim. We also noticed someone swimming in the lake. Kind of surprising given the weather. While quite warm in the sun, it was cool and a bit breezy in the shade - not what I would consider swimming weather.
Back at the taxi, we woke up the driver and headed back to Zhaotong. I managed to get quite a few photos from the moving car. The driver even helped by slowing down each time he realized I had my camera out the window. I hope the pictures come out.
Back at the school, we had an hour or so before heading to Richard's for a hot pot dinner. Both Michele and I napped a bit.
At dinner, Richard's family including his cousin, Katherine, and the next door neighbors, had twin hot pots with all preparation happening in Richard's house. It was quite similar to the hot pot I had in Boston but the broth had this weird spice flavoring it. Some rice would have cut it but the rice had been forgotten and was not done until after I had my fill.
The Chinese are horrible conversationalists so not surprisingly, the TV ended up holding much of our attention even though neither Michele not I could understand what was spoken. We might have been watching the National Games in Shanghai. In any case, the sport was Ping Pong.
Dinners in homes do not last long, or at least, people do not hang out for long. So, after watching Richard's daughter and the boy next door play hide and seek for a while, we took our leave and went home. As usual, it is impossible to turn in early because someone was sure to knock. This evening was no exception and we were both surprised when a student, Julia, came by with gifts for me - not Michele! They were three beautiful statues about 8" high, made from sugar. They weighed a ton. I am attempting to bring the pair of lions home but I used the little girl as a present for Terry, with whom I had lunch on Saturday, 10/18).
On Friday (10/17), after a leisurely lunch of yummy potato pancakes, Michele and I grabbed three more students, Alice, Jane, and Emma, for a trip to Big Dragon Cave, the area we hadn't visited the day before. Like the previous day, we hired a taxi and driver for both legs of the trip (40 yuan). This time, he did not accompany us and agreed to meet us by the gate at 5:15.
Getting to the cave required a bit of a walk. Once there, it was interesting to see what the Chinese do to their natural surroundings. A beautiful cavern, naturally formed in the hillside, had been transformed into a religious shrine, complete with Buddhas, dragons, and other statues. There was beautiful, clear water in the pools that nobody thought anything about tossing garbage into and horrible trinkets to buy which, of course, the students bought for Michele and me.
We also paid a bit for a handful of fen coins (now obsolete) to put in a pot of water in the hopes that they would land in the frogs mouth for good luck.
We then wandered around the grounds for a bit. At one point, my stomach acted up and I left the group to find the toilet.
After rejoining the group, we climbed a hillside to a beautiful pagoda and then continued to a peaceful sunny spot where we snacked on cookies. (We had already stopped on the way into the park so the students could eat spicy noodles). A short while later, is was time to return to the cab where we ended up taking the direct route back to Zhaotong, but the slowest roundabout way to the college.
Michele and I napped again before meeting a couple of teacher friends, Dana and Julia, and Julia's boyfriend, at the college gate. We hopped into a taxi for a quick ride to a barbecue place.
Chinese barbecue is very different from American. We sat around a low table with a .5 cm wire mesh center. We ordered the ingredients, in our case, bamboo shoots, greens, tofu, beef, mantou (steamed bread), rice pancake squares, sausage, and potato. Each person gets a dish of peanut sauce, a glass of tea, and the they lift the entire table up and put a clay pot of flaming hot coals and wood under the table positioned under the mesh grill. They lower the table and wipe oil onto the grill and then bring your food.
Whatever food is near you, you put on the grill. Everyone watches whatever food is in front of them, turning it as necessary to prevent burning and when done, moving it to the outside of the mesh where it is less hot, or even into someone's peanut bowl - their own or someone else's. Unbelievably, we finished nearly everything brought to our table, an unusual occurrence in China where there seems to be so much food waste.
The total bill came to 33 yuan, about $4. They only charged us 30 yuan though. Perhaps because of the plethora of problems we endured - a barbecue that wasn't hot enough, even after putting salt on the fire. Once they changed the pot of coals, the outside of the pot caught fire so they poured soy sauce (?) over it to stop the unintentional fire. Then the awning over us came down. Finally, we moved to an entirely different table inside the restaurant where we finished our meal without further ado.
During the meal, I realized that we were an interesting mix of people: one Chinese who spoke no English; two Chinese who spoke English; one American who spoke Chinese; and one American who spoke no Chinese. After dinner, we went for a walk and Dana left us to visit her mother. On the leisurely walk back to the college, I spoke exclusively with Julia, and Michele exclusively with Julia's boyfriend. Julia's boyfriend is the only Chinese person I've heard who could actually speak slowly. Both Michele and I were able to communicate quite well with our conversation partners. I thought Julia's English was superb.
Saturday morning, I finished packing while Michele slept and at 10:30, when Terri, came, we walked the ten minutes or so to her father's car, a Peugot. Terri is a 15 year old friend of Michele's whose English is much better than many of the college students Michele is teaching. Michele knew Terri's family was relatively well-to-do and this ride was just a taste of things to come. On the way back to their apartment, we stopped so that Terri's father could buy a fish - a whole, live fish, swimming in what seemed to be a normal supermarket plastic bag. I could not tell if the bag was leaking.
It was not far to the brand new apartment that they had moved into three weeks earlier. It was so new that the work was still going on on the exterior of the building, and adjacent buildings, the grounds, and as we found out as soon as we got inside, the adjacent units in the same building.
On the way in, there was no real indication that the apartments in this building were different from all the other apartments we had visited in other buildings. The stairs were concrete, the bottom half of the walls were painted green, and the top white. The lights were cued by sounds, too. Once we got inside the door, however, it was immediately apparent that Terri's family was exceptionally well-to-do.
Michele, knowing they were well off (he was a party official and ran the Bank of China in Zhaotong or something like that), thought that while everyone else had concrete floors, perhaps they would have linoleum. Well, theirs was marble, and beautiful, too. Where everyone else has green and white walls, they have wood molding and beautiful wallpaper with an iridescent floral pattern. They had screens on their windows, hardwood floors in the bedrooms, a western toilet and a bathtub, a 2,000 yuan carpet in the bedroom (it was like one Michele's parents had bought so she knew), recessed lighting in a multilevel ceiling, an extra bedroom (unusual in a country that prohibits or discourages multiple children), a reading room, a water cooler with both hot and cold options. This apartment would be luxurious in the west yet there seems to be little in between industrial strength apartments and luxury. Something about 10% of the population having 90% of the wealth comes to mind when seeing apartments like this one.
Lunch was eventually served and we were treated to real french fries with ketchup packets from McDonalds and KFC. We also had chicken nugget equivalents, bamboo shoots with pork, chicken feet, fish, tofu/pork balls, and greens. It was a chore but I managed to prevent any of them from putting chicken feet (considered a delicacy) into my rice bowl.
After lunch, Terri peeled us an apple. This is always a show. The Chinese do not eat the skin as there's some concern over the pesticides used at the orchards. But when they peel the apple, they do not allow themselves to waste any of the meat. The peel is paper thin and narrow, and is often peeled in one long strip.
Then we hung out and watched gymnastics and swimming at the National Games. At 1:15, we all piled into the car, took Terri to her school for her afternoon contest, and then Terri's parents brought us to the airport where they waited for Michele while Michele helped me check in. I then said goodbye and now I won't see her again until she's back in the U.S. next year.
After yet another uneventful flight (the best kind, of course), I arrived in Kunming and found no ticket counter where I could buy an ongoing ticket for my trip to Nepal. I hopped a taxi to the Kunhu Hotel (which for the first time understood when I spoke Chinese "Beijing Lo Kunhu Fengdian") and before I checked in, I stopped at the travel agency on the off chance they could help me right then. They couldn't so I checked in, dropped off my stuff, and went in search of travel agencies. I found plenty that could book me to Bangkok or Shanghai or Hong Kong, but none that could get me from there to Kathmandu. The general consensus was that Thai Airlines could do it. They were closed so I gave up for the day and decided to try again the next day (Sunday).
I went to Wei's for lasagna, watched the people exercising across the street, and wrote in my journal for the first time in a week. (I am continually surprised that I have written as much as I have.)
Back at the hotel, I wrote some more and then met my roommates, Zed from Portugal and ?? from Israel. We got along great and spent a couple of hours talking before bed.
This morning, Sunday (10/19), I was up early, ate, and hit the pavement by 8:00am in search of airplane tickets. It seemed too early for the Thai place so I tried the CITS, the Golden Dragon, and any other likely place I saw.
Eventually, I found out that Thai Airlines is closed on Sundays and it was too late to grab a tour to the Western Hills, so I headed back to the hotel.
I ended up talking with my roomies for a while longer. They then checked out, putting their luggage into storage, and I paid for another night and headed for Yue Lai's. Just after I ordered, my roomies came to join me, having given up on the idea of walking around.
We spent a very enjoyable afternoon talking about anything and everything, often about Judaism in the world. We eventually left together, they for the train to Guilin, and me back to the hotel for a nap.
After dinner at the Happy Cafe, I went back to Wei's for dessert. There I spent some time talking with a Danish couple from Odense (Hans Christian Anderson's hometown which was celebrating its 1000th anniversary when I was there in 1987) who were on their way to Vietnam. Back at the hotel, I spoke on the phone (dial 8) to Graham and gave him Michele's number. (Turns out he's a likely travel companion for Michele during vacations.) He will call her some evening. It is now 10:30 and I seem to be alone for the evening. With any luck, it'll stay that way.
Monday, October 20 - Kunming
Tuesday, October 21 - Bangkok
Wednesday, October 22 Kathmandu
Thursday, October 23 - Kathmandu
6:00pm - On Monday, I woke up early and despite the worst intentions of my stomach, with a bit of Immodium, I was able to eat a bit of breakfast and get to Thai Airlines just after 9:00 when they opened. Without much ado, they said I could get to Bangkok on Tuesday and be wait listed on a flight to Kathmandu on Wednesday. They would also confirm a flight for me on Saturday, October 25. That sounded reasonable, especially as I knew that flights out of Bangkok to Kathmandu were hard to come by in October and November, prime trekking season on Nepal.
The price was a bit steep at ~$700US but it was a sure thing so I told them I would take the reservation and I would come back with the money in a little while. I went to the bank, changed another $550 into yuan and returned to Thai Airlines. Much to my chagrin, they said I was waitlisted on Saturday's flight and the earliest flight they could confirm would be on Tuesday, October 28. Argh! I wanted to get to Kathmandu early enough to see Dr. Shlim.
They ended up wait listing me on the Wednesday and Saturday flights was well as confirming me on the Tuesday flight. It now looked like I might have as much as a week in Bangkok without knowing a thing about the city or country. Thankfully, I already knew that a visa was unnecessary for visits of less than 30 days.
I started asking every westerner I saw if they had any information about Bangkok - where to go, where to stay, how to move around town, etc. I was willing to trade my Lonely Planet China book for anything on Thailand.
Everyone who had been to Bangkok all had the same suggestion. Take the route 2 bus from the airport to Khao San Road. The bus is 70 bhat and rooms can be had for less than 200 bhat. At 39 bhat to the dollar (and climbing daily since it was floated), this was a reasonable deal. I could cash one $20 traveler's check, get to town from the airport, pay for a room, get breakfast, get back to the airport, store my luggage, and pay the departure tax. Not bad for $20. I figured if I got to the airport and I didn't get on the flight, I would still have 250 bhat to get me back to Khao San Road and find a bank to get enough money to last until I tried the next flight. Everyone said that Bangkok was "easy." You do not need a guide book, everyone spoke English, etc.
As it turned out, they were right. I had no problems getting to Khao San Road, finding a room at the Lek Guesthouse (a double for 150 bhat), etc.
I was surprised, however, by the heat and humidity. I realized as soon as I got off the place that I would not need a jacket and that I wished I had shorts. As it turns out, the yearly low in Bangkok is in the mid 70s and humidity ranges from 60% up. Blech! I was also surprised to find that Bangkok is a very modern city. Driving along the highway that night, the buildings looked new and modern - many companies with names I knew from America. Khao San Road, of course, was more eastern than modern, but you get what you pay for. At least the sheets seemed clean (it was too hot to wear anything to sleep in) and the bathroom was clean - even if you did have to use a bucket to flush.
To finish China...
Monday night, I had dinner with Graham again at an interesting Italian restaurant on Green Lake. Both the meal and the conversation were good and we spent about three hours talking. Back at the hotel, I realized I had left my camera there. I got in touch with Graham and he didn't have it (I had left him in a cab at the restaurant) so I would have to go back to the restaurant the next day.
Tuesday morning at breakfast, I met some Israelis with which to share a cab to the airport later in the day. Afterwards, I made my way back to the restaurant only to find that my camera was not there and none of the staff from the previous evening had seen it. Argh! (There had only been one other party in the restaurant while we were there and we left late enough that there were unlikely to have been any other parties after us.)
I walked back to the Golden Dragon Hotel and called Michele and gave her the info in case I couldn't get Graham (she might send her camera to me), and had the hotel staff help me call the cab company in case it was turned in. I also talked with Graham because if it turns up, they will call him and he can send it to me in Kathmandu.
I was in an extraordinarily foul mood (my camera was new and had an almost fully exposed roll of film in it already) when I went back to Yue Lai's for my last time. One last time I ordered Fried sliced peanuts with Chicken and as before, they served it without peppers. I also had pancakes with Chocolate and Bananas and Jian Li Biao.
My bill came to 33 yuan and as I was about to pay it, the manager called something out and I was charged only 30 yuan. The previous day, they had given me and my companions bananas. I think they appreciated my repeat business and my bringing others to eat there as well. After eating there many times over the previous month, I said my good-byes to the proprietors, explaining that I was leaving for good.
Back at the hotel, I met my Israeli friends and we had yet another uneventful trip, this time to Chiang Mai, Thailand where they got off while I continued to Bangkok.
Back to Thailand
When I got the Bangkok Tuesday night, I checked with a Thai airlines booth and was told that I was no longer on the wait list but that I was "pending." This was very good news. They told me to be back at the airport and check in by 8:30am. Apparently, there was a good chance that I would get on the next morning's flight.
I then had no problems whatsoever retrieving my luggage, getting through customs and immigration, finding the left-luggage counter (there was no way I would need my bag overnight and I was not going to haul it in the heat), changing $20, and finding the bus to Khao San Road. Once there, I found a bustling and loud road with as many (or more?) westerners as locals. It was not quite a sight for sore eyes but it was certainly a change of pace from travel in China.
In China, westerners almost always acknowledge each others presence, if not to stop to greet each other and exchange some pleasantries. Khao San Road was the first place I had been since Hong Kong where I felt anonymous (other than my hotel rooms).
Once on Khao San Road, I stopped a lone woman to ask for a guest house recommendation. I intended to look at a couple and then pick one but I took a look at the one she recommended. It was spartan but clean. They had no singles but had a double for 150 bhat (~$2.75), so I took it. When I had looked at the room and decided to take it, I started the fan before I went to pay for the room.
When I went back upstairs and went into the room, the breeze from the fan caused the door to slam behind me. A moment or two later, there was a knock on the door and I opened it to find an irate man in his underwear. He told me not to slam the door and when I tried to apologize, he started in about how it disturbs everyone, blah, blah, blah. At this point, I just wanted to close the door and go to sleep rather than listen to his tirade. When I tried to close the door, I couldn't believe it when he tried to push the door back open. With a bit more leverage and perhaps more body weight, I was able to get the door closed and latched although he did keep trying for a few seconds. After a few minutes to calm down, I decided that I really did not need to brush my teeth and risk another encounter with the madman. I set my watch alarm for 6:45 and in the oppressive heat, stripped and went to sleep.
After an uneasy night, tossing and turning, worrying about waking up in time, finding the bus, and getting on the plane, I finally got up and out about an hour early. Being somewhat wired due to lack of sleep, I wandered a bit looking for the bus stop and finally settled into a cafe for a baguette and an orange juice. I also bought a seat on a minibus heading for the airport at 7:00am.
The minibus was much less comfortable than the A1 bus and took and hour and fifteen minutes. By 8:20, I had checked in at the counter and was told to return, with my luggage, at 9:50am - just 40 minutes before the flight was supposed to depart.
With an hour and a half to kill, I familiarized myself with the airport so I would know where and when to be in different places. I found the arrivals area and the fast food area. I found the quiet corridor where I should have crashed with a couple of other folks. I then very carefully reviewed my cash situation and got the most food, drink, and ice cream for my buck by getting a Whopper Jr. Meal and a small Swenson's ice cream cone. Who cares if it was only 9:00am? I then refrained from sending email and slowly made my way to the left luggage area, retrieved my luggage, and got to the ticket counter, a bit early at 9:35.
Friday, October 24 - Kathmandu
Saturday, October 25 - Kathmandu
10:30pm (continuation) - There, I met another person on the waiting list and over the next 15 minutes or so, we realized that there was quite a crowd waiting for that one flight. At 9:50, they called my companion's name and I wondered why if I had been the first name on the list, they hadn't called my name. I then noticed that the woman at the ticket counter had a handful of boarding passes. I inched my way closer and managed to see my name printed on one of them. Somewhat relieved, I stopped getting panicky and resigned myself to waiting. It wasn't long - they called my name next. I checked my luggage and made my way to the plane which was already being boarded.
I had a horrible seat but it, at least, had the one empty seat on the plane next to it. I asked the attendant if anyone would switch with me and much to my amazement, someone in an exit row aisle seat did - bless her soul. With a 38" inseam, I freqently have problems fitting in standard airplane rows. In China, the rows were placed even closer than on western planes and I couldn't even sit down unless in the front, bulkhead, row.
Sunday, October 26 - Kathmandu
7:00am (continuation) - After an uneventful flight (uneventful flights are always what you hope for but they make for lousy stories) to Kathmandu where I caught my first (only?) glimpse of Everest, we landed to easy administration but very long and time consuming lines. I changed money at the airport and met a couple with whom to share a taxi to Thamel. They were headed for the Kathmandu Guest House and I to the Himalayan Explorer's Club (HEC) office. Of course, the driver knew the KGH but with the map on my HEC card, we found that first to the surprise of the driver. I gave 100 rupees to the other couple which was half the usual fare and more than enough (I hoped) to cover the "extra" fare for two destinations.
In the HEC office, I took off my shoes and collapsed with my bag into a very comfortable chair. I met a few folks that worked there and found a few emails from Zach, mostly to ourselves, but one for me about Dr. Shlim's availability - just walk in.
I relaxed a bit, separated my souvenirs from the stuff that I wanted with me. As a member of the HEC, they were willing to store stuff for me. Based on a suggestion from Connie, I then made my way across the courtyard to the Hotel White Lotus.
While crossing the courtyard, I saw some men playing some very traditional sounding music. As I got closer, I realized that they were snake charmers. There were a couple of snakes (cobras, likely) slithering slowly on the ground that they had dropped out of bags. The snakes did not seem to be particularly charmed, but then, what did I know?
After checking into the spartan but adequate guest house, I went back to the HEC for a 4:00 showing of a slideshow of the conservation efforts of the Langtang area. It was given by Wendy Lama, originally from the U.S., but now married to a Nepali and living and working in Nepal.
Monday, October 27 - Kathmandu
4:00pm - The slideshow made me want to scrap our Annapurna plans in favor of Langtang, an area where the conservation efforts have made some tangible progress in getting the locals to take charge of conservations programs, trail cleanup, and general smart tourist management. For example, since many people want to open lodges, some towns have not restricted the number of lodges, but rather the size to hold no more than six or so trekkers. Other programs get just the women together who are otherwise overshadowed by the men. They've organized their own programs, present them to the tourist association (and men) of their villages, and have earned quite a bit of respect from the men.
I met a woman, Erika, there and together with a friend of hers, we went to the New Orleans cafe so they could get a drink, and I could get something to eat. It was a beautiful setting in a courtyard which, I was soon to find out, is not that unusual in Kathmandu.
On Thursday, I sent an email to the group in the hopes of finding out when Zach was to arrive. Also, to give my friends a taste of my trip so far. For some reason, that occupied all morning and it was after 1:30 before I made my way to the CIWEC clinic where I was able to make an appointment with Dr. Shlim for the next morning. After doing a bit of Thanka and other souvenir perusing on the way back to Thamel, I found that I used up the entire day.
I stopped at Helena's that night for a great piece of mushroom quiche. Anyone sitting alone at a table (or even with at least one empty seat) is likely to be joined by others eating alone or others who can't find a table for themselves. In this case, I was joined by an interesting man and we kept each other company for the better part of two or three hours when we said goodnight and went back to our respective hotels.
On Friday, in the morning, there was still no word from or of Zach's intended arrival time. I had my appointment with Dr. Shlim just before I checked in at HEC. (My doctors in Cambridge, MA had given me a referral to see Dr. Shlim in Kathmandu even before I had left the U.S. on the chance I was still dealing with a bad stomach when I got to Nepal.)
Dr. Shlim was so encouraging. He did find evidence of a bacterial infection and put me on a three day regimen of Norfloxacin. Finally, it looked like I might kick this thing that had been plaguing me since mid-August.
After checking HEC at 1:00 and finding no word of Zach, I ate lunch at Alice's Restaurant (delicious pizza), did some shopping, and checked back at HEC. Zach had arrived and would meet me there at 4:00, just a half an hour away. He had already gone to check in at the same hotel I was staying in. After he arrived, we checked email - none - and went back to the hotel where he gave me my care package. Yeah! After dealing with Nepal bought, Chinese toilet paper for a day, I was very happy to see all three rolls of soft, western toilet paper.
We ate dinner at the Third Eye and were joined by two men from the Netherlands. How such flatlanders learn to hike in the Himalayas is beyond me except for the fact that they get at least five weeks vacation every year and have plenty of time to get to more mountainous areas for training. The food was OK but not as flavorful as we are used to in the Boston. Once again, I find the conversations with strangers at mealtimes to be the highlight of the trip.
Once dinner ends in Kathmandu, it seems to be the end of the day in Thamel. Most businesses close until 8 or 9:00am the next day. We went back to out hotel and made plans for the next day before going to sleep.
On Saturday, many of our plans for the day were stymied as that is the "normal" day off. We had breakfast at the Pumpernickel Bakery after changing hotels to the Marco Polo and doing laundry. A quick trip to Durbar Marg told us everything was closed so we went back to HEC to email Barb a message about Zach's ticket. I resigned myself to another day without knowing how I was going to get back to Hong Kong. Then we left for lunch and sightseeing. We first stopped at Mike's Breakfast for a delicious lunch of enchiladas. I took a chance and ate the delicious salad, too. Then, we walked to Pashupatinath to see the temple and the cremation area. In one sense I was glad there were no cremations as I would feel funny about being a tourist at a funeral. We refused the services of a guide which was unfortunate. I think I'll go back again.
We then went looking for Namita's (a friend of Zach's) family who lived not far away. With the help of a couple of strangers who made a phone call for us, we met up with Devu, one of Namita's brothers at a gas station. A short walk away, and we were in Namita's childhood home, meeting her mother, Nina, Mrs. Kiran, and one of her sisters, Bonita. Zach left them with wedding pictures of Namita and Thomas's wedding as well as a supply of stuff for Bonita's pregnancy.
Hmm, if customs had searched Zach's luggage, I wonder if they would have even raised and eyebrow at my underwear and Bonito's pregnancy supplies. Probably not - they must see everything.
We excused ourselves after promising to come for dinner when we got back from our trek and walked back to Thamel where we had dinner at La Dolce Vita. The pizza was OK but not nearly as good as Alice's. We spent the evening writing postcards.
On Sunday, we were in line at the Immigration Office by 8:30am or so. We took turns in line, Zach so he could get his pictures, and me so I could get breakfast and have something to drink to swallow my pill. Without too much effort, I got both my visa extension and my trekking permit. Zach got just his trekking permit but will need a visa extension in Pokhara if not before we leave Kathmandu.
We then got Zach's ticket to Hong Kong straightened out and since I could not get on that same flight, started working on my own flight plans. Neither HEC or KEP had recommendations for travel agents but the director of KEEP had a friend at one we had heard about in the US. He also said they were all on the up and up so we left to look for any agencies that had multiple airlines or signs pictured in the windows.
The first one I asked got me a direct flight on Royal Nepal Airlines direct to Hong Kong on November 29 for $310. What a deal! I took it right away.
Then, at Zach's insistence, we did some sightseeing in Durbar Square. Once again, a guide would have been nice but we didn't have much time.
The much touted "supermarket" on New Road did in fact, have an escalator, however, it was like a western mall, not a food store.
We then made our way to Freak Street, the street where the hippies hung out and did drugs in the 70s. We were looking for a place to eat so I asked the first group of westerners I saw if they had any recommendations. They were on their wasy to a restaurant and we should follow them.
I don't remember the name of the place but the food was disappointing. We were running late for our permits which were ready at 3:00 so we just paid and went back to the immigration office. There, we picked up our passports and permits and then went across the street to pay for our ACAP (Annapurna Conservation and Protection) fee.
Back at the Marco Polo, I sorted my pack out and repacked given the stuff that Zach had brought. Zach relaxed and then we went for dinner at the Northfield where we had chips, salsa, and dinner. The Northfield, associated with Mike's Breakfast, served a great salad but the burrito was ruined with the inclusion of yak cheese. Now I know.
That night, I woke up in the most horrible pain. It felt like someone was turning a knife in my stomach. I was up all night, chilled, tossing and turning, visiting the bathroom. Why was this happening? Just hours before, I would have sworn that the drug regimen I was on was working.
In the morning, Zach found his own breakfast and then took me to the doctor for my follow-up appointment. Food poisoning was the prognosis for the latest round of stomach problems. Chances are the drug had been working on the other illness. The treatment for food poisoning is the same so he gave me a couple more days worth of drugs for right now. He also gave me two more regimens in case I have any other instances of violent diarrhea whose onset time is well established. For giardia, the onset time is gradual and I should not be able to pinpoint the start.
By the time I got back to the hotel, I was much worse - body aches, ear aches, etc. I crawled into bed and let Zach deal with all the stuff that needed dealing with. (U.S. Embassy, HEC, bus tickets, etc.) He even found me the handkerchief that I wanted (with a map of Annapurna).
After a call to the doctor, I took some Tylenol and was soon feeling quite a bit better, still lousy, but better. I sat up for a while with Zach after the firecrackers that the hotel proprietors kids had been setting off in the courtyard stopped. Soon, I decided I could eat out and walk a bit. It was also obvious that my strength was coming back. Earlier, I could barely lift my hairbrush and now I was making my bed.
Tuesday, October 28 - Kathmandu
Wednesday, October 29 - Dumre/Besi Sehar
After going to sleep at 8:00pm on Monday, I was surprised to find that the first time I woke up on Tuesday was 3:30am, a full seven and a half hours later. It was probably the longest sleep I had since arriving in Kathmandu. I even managed to go back to sleep and get up at a reasonable hour.
We ate at Mike's Breakfast for breakfast and we both avoided the Huevos Rancheros due to the refried beans. I couldn't finish my meal and should have ordered the half portion. We then hopped another taxi and found a bank where we changed money and got a bunch of small bills (what stacks of money!) for our trek. After a slow walk to HEC, Zach went back to the Immigration Office to get an extension on his visa and I found a nice card for his birthday at one of the local paper stores. We then tried lunch at KC's where I, once again, barely touched my food. (Well, I ate almost half the main dish, a pasta with meat in cream sauce). We went to Helena's for dessert where Zach had some lemon cheese pie which I just tasted. (Not eating... Can you tell something is wrong with me?)
I hung out and wrote postcards while Zach recovered his visa and did a bit more wandering about the city and HEC. He then relaxed a bit in the hotel while I slowly wandered Thamel, eventually ducking into the Pumpernickel Bakery for a jellyless jelly donut. I met some interesting folks there who informed me that there are government buses from the main bus station that go direct from Kathmandu to Besi Sehar for 100 rupees. Live and learn.
After dinner at Alice's Restaurant where Zach shared a bit of his pizza, we wrote a couple of more postcards, repacked for the trek, and went to sleep early.
Today, we woke up at 5:30am to finish packing and catch the bus to Dumre. Nothing eventful about that portion of the trip except the two hours it took just to get out of the city. There was some disagreement about who should get what seats and we ended up with people standing up for the ride. Oy! There was a great view of Manaslu along the way.
We stopped once for breakfast, twice to let off river rafters, and once for lunch in Mughi before finally arriving in Dumre.
There the bus situation seemed uncertain and the truck situation seemed impossible so we managed to hook up with four other people looking for two more to fill out a Land Cruiser. 500 rupees was relatively steep relative to the bus but it was a bargain in both U.S. dollars and piece of mind, not to mention speed. The road was horrible, much like the Chinese roads with a few spots that required the 4x4 capabilities. Passing buses made for interesting stories. One passed with just an inch or two to spare - after the driver pulled in his side-view mirror. One passing was hairy enough we got out to let the Cruiser pass before getting back in. Once we got to Besi Sehar, many of the truck and bus riders were jealous and indicated they would never do the truck/bus again.
We checked into the Tehuche Peak Hotel for 60 rupees a night, started on a walk, and quickly headed back after I started feeling lightheaded. We joined two people sitting at an outdoors table at our hotel and both had delicious vegetable curry with rice - my rice fried, his steamed. An interesting conversation about Africa ensued with an English couple who had been traveling for 20 months.
After they turned in, we sat a short spell for bad jokes with Brad and Jay, and three men they had met on their airplane. Zach turned in to read and I returned to the table after having a run-in with a humongous black beetle, approximately 2" long, 1" wide, and 3/4" high. Blech! It blocked the entrance to the bathroom, walked into a friends' room (the three guys), and was kicked out only to ricochet directly to me at which point I let out a "Yelp!" After a short blackout and a finished journal entry, it was time for bed.
Thursday, October 30 - Bahundanda
Friday, October 31 - Chamje
3:30pm - Yesterday morning in Besi Sehar, we awoke to the early morning hustle and bustle of perhaps 50+ trekkers and their porters and guides. It was about 6:00am and shortly thereafter, everyone was trying to get breakfast and leave by 7 or 7:30am. Our bill for dinner, the hotel, and breakfast was 480 rupees, about $8.
As we started through town, we quickly met up with Ann and Marc with their guide/porter Bharat. For a while, we stuck together. Then Zach and Marc walked ahead for awhile and Ann and I followed. Some hours later, it was too early to stop for lunch so Zach and I continued past Bhulbhule and its police checkpoint and oranges and went to Ngadi for lunch. We were very surprised to receive our dhal bhat almost as soon as we ordered it. Usually, you have to wait a long time to receive a meal while trekking (1/2->1 hour) The other trekkers sitting nearby were as surprised as we were. They had gotten there first and were still waiting when we were served. I had a very strange Fanta with lunch. It tasted almost fermented. Very strange. While I was eating, I put my grossly misshapen Snickers bar, carried from China, into the fridge. By the time we were done with lunch, the candy was just the right consistency if not the right shape.
A relatively short walk after lunch brought us to Bahundanda, where we checked into an interesting guest house. We walked through the dining room and back room, out the door and up the stairs to the top of the barn. Underneath, were the shower and toilet. Next to the toilet, was the pig sty and across from this auxilliary hostel, were the goats and chickens. I'm not sure why, but according to Bharat, Bahun means Burmese and danda means hill. Apparently some Burmese had settled the area.
After showering, we ordered dinner and then tried to stay awake as long as possible. Zach gave up at the first black out (electricity is rarely reliable throughout the country, and only available for a few hours a day in many of the trekking towns), and I held out through a few blackouts until 9:00pm. During the evening, they were starting the celebration to the sisters where the boys honor and give gifts to their sisters.
There were candles lining the front stoops and upper floors of each of the buildings. The kids were lighting fire crackers.
The sky was fairly clear early on so I went star gazing for a while. Eventually, I sat down with my start chart to try to orient myself. I think I was used to looking at a more northerly sky. By the time I had gotten my bearings, is had clouded over. C'es la vie.
This morning, the uproar started shortly before 6:00 so in anticipation of the breakfast rush, I got ready quickly and ordered our breakfast. Compared with yesterday, there was no rush. We ate with Ann and Marc who were in the room next to ours and eventually got going just ahead of them. (Checkout cost 460 rupees).
With the early downhill and flat areas, I was cruising ahead of the flotilla of trekkers leaving just behind us. For the most part, I was feeling just fine but for a few minutes, things weren't going so well so when we got to Kani Gaun, we stopped for soda and a candy bar. Ann and Marc were very quick to join us.
We were all very surprised to get to Sange even before 10:00am. It represented the half-way point of the day and would otherwise have meant lunch. We gave it barely a passing glance before continuing on to Jagat for lunch. There, we ordered something other than Dal bhat and were very sorry when it took 1.5 hours to get and finish lunch.
It was seemingly a long walk after lunch because we had some ups and downs in and out of the sun. Once we got to Chamje at 4,560', we gave up any idea of continuing to Tal, a town that sounds very nice about 1.5 hours further up the trail.
We checked into the Lhasa Guesthouse where Ann and Marc got two beds together and Zach and I got quite a nicely appointed room with separate beds (the norm). As usual, we hung out in the dining room, waiting for it to be late enough to go to sleep. Bharat gave us some interesting information. The six-pointed star (Star of David) represents the six stages of the life cycle as normally represented by the mandala. The swastika, in the context we had seen it, represents a political party. Ohm manu padme hum is the Buddhist mantra. The Hindu equivalent is Ohm Na Ma Shi Ba Aye.
Saturday, November 1 - Bagarchap
5:10pm - Up early with alarms going off every few minutes since 4:15am. We finally got up at 6:00 and were ordering breakfast with Marc and Ann shortly after 6:30. Without much ado, we settled our bill (425 rupees) and got on our way.
It was evident to me very quickly that things were not going well today. I was slow not only on the uphills, but on the flats and downhills as well. We were taking much longer to get from place to place than we should, and shortly before lunch, I had to stop and give a significant portion of my weight to Zach. We then made it to Karte in a reasonable period of time, stopped at the Dorchester for lunch, and then continued at a much better pace through Dhorapani to Bagarchap. 6,750'.
Two years ago, in 1995, Bagarchap was the site of a massive landslide. At least five westerners (three Canadian, one Polish, and one English) died and there is evidence that many houses and lodges were also destroyed. I'm sure many Nepali also lost their lives. The strange thing was that the town didn't seem to be built on much of a hill and yet the slide was large enough to wipe out a good portion of the town. Scary.
Sunday, November 2 - Chame
3:15pm - Stopped writing yesterday when it got too dark and too cold to stay outside. Went inside to the relative warmth of lots of bodies in the dining room as well as a pot of hot lemon (hot water with lemon). Once again, though my dinner of rice and potatoes tasted good, I could barely eat half. For dessert, I ordered the chocolate pudding and was pleasantly surprised when it tasted good (though perhaps not chocolately), warm, and went down easily. Dinner was over and done with early and everyone vacated the dining room by 8:00pm. Argh! Nothing like waking up at 4:00am only to have to stay in bed until 6:00am (when it gets light and breakfast is available.)
This morning, after a 5:00am trip to the latrine and a few minutes of star-gazing (Orion was spectacular), limited by the cold, we got up at 6:00am. Packing went quickly for me and I was soon waiting for breakfast. I ate all of the eggs and about half of the tibetan bread.
My porter, hired the previous evening for 600 rupees per day, showed up early and helped a bit in the dining room until it was time to leave. He picked up my pack, put it on his back, and then stopped at his lodge to get his own pack, a small day pack that he wore on his front. Tek (sp?), the porter, wasn't living in Bagarchap at the time of the landslide but he knew that ~28 people died. I don't know if that was only Nepali or everyone.
Today's hike was almost all uphill and went very quickly. We were in Chame, our final destination, for lunch. After lunch, Zach explored the local hot spring while I showered in warm water, and washed clothes. When Zach returned, he also managed to grab a shower and do laundry. It was nice sitting in the hot sun even though the sun effectively set behind Annapurna II at 3:15pm. As the sun was about to set, everyone vacated the warm outdoor picnic table to go pile on the warm clothes. [In this high Himalayan desert, there's very little humidity so as with all deserts, it gets very cold as soon as there's no direct sun to keep us warm.]
Thankfully, the trails to date have basically been what I expected. They are fairly easy going with good footing overall. There are quite a few areas with steps but nothing so prolonged that I would worry about getting down if going in the other direction.
There are a few small stream crossings each day. I've noticed that Zach and I have few problems but others seemed to need more time to find their footing. I guess, like I've noted in the past, there really are many reasons why hiking in New England really is as hard or harder than hiking in areas with much larger mountains.
We would continue to find this to be true (the comparison with others) as we hike in muddy areas, through landslides, and I expect, when and if we hike through snow.
While we are basically hiking along a river, we encounter many hills that we must climb and then descend. In the villages we pass, the trail is often "paved" with large, flat stones. It must help keep the dust down as we get into the drier areas of the Himal.
The trail is never steep enough to need hands. Burros, horses, ponies, and yaks ply the same trails. I am very glad to have my hiking poles, though.
We started hiking in very tropical conditions. There were cactus sprinkled throughout the vegetations and we saw bananas, oranges, lemons, rice, spinach, marijuana, and more growing in the more southerly lowlands. Many of the rich hillsides were terraced to form fields. As we got higher, there was more bamboo and rhododendron.
Today, we moved into pine forest with very tall, old-growth pine evident. It was also evident that there is much cutting of wood for fuel. Hopefully ACAP will help more people transition to kerosene usage before the rest of the forest is destroyed.
The views of the mountains have been getting more spectacular as we hike further north and now west. At first, we would be hiking in "hills" and have occasional views of lesser peaks that had a bit of snow on them. Those views got more and more frequent as we climbed.
Today, we finally got views of the big ones. As we hiked out of Bagarchap, behind us were views of Manaslu. A short while later, around a shoulder loomed Annapurna II. With few exceptions because of the ins and outs of the trail, it would dominate the sky for the hike. Of course, once we pulled into Chame, we could no longer see Annapurna II, but we could finally, get a spectacular view of the Lamjung Himal.
Monday, November 3 - Chame
Tuesday, November 4 - Pisang
3:00pm - Sunday evening was a very cold evening spent with other cold people in the dining room. Once the sun had set at 3:15 behind the mountain, the temperature dropped very rapidly and most people headed to their rooms to stay warm. Zach and I read in the dining room.
For dinner, we had quite a blah to horrible meal. Zach ordered apple pie and while we were waiting, a bunch of drunken Nepali men came by, some with painted face, singing for the holiday D_____. It was kind of ruined the effect I was looking for when I delivered Zach's birthday card with his pie. I had wanted everyone to sing the Happy Birthday song in their own language. As many people were outside we ended up with just Hebrew and Danish in addition to English. The evening ended shortly thereafter.
On Monday, we took a day off in the hopes of clearing up Zach's cough that had been hanging on for almost a week. I brought Zach breakfast in bed so he wouldn't have to leave the warmth of his sleeping bag. There was frost on the outside tables that morning. After bringing Zach his breakfast, I joined the others for breakfast in the dining room. I then hung outside for a while as a sliver of morning sun warmed things up a bit. When the sun went behind the mountains again I rejoined Zach in our room and read in bed for a while.
Once the sun came out again, I once again went outside to warm up in the sun. Once again, like in the desert, I am continually amazed at how warm it can be in the sun and how cold in the shade when in a very dry climate. I saw off the Israelis who got a late start in order to stop at the bank which opened at 10:00am.
It did not seem to be too much later that Zach came down and we met a few people stopping for lunch. They were going from Donaque to Pisang in one day. Oy!
We took a walk at noon, back to the main part of town where cough drops were available by the piece for 1 or 2 rupees, and we saw everything from Pringles to Chocolate Digestives (a form of British cookie) in the shops. I resisted the urge to buy scarves, socks, and other assorted local handicrafts.
We met up with Marc and Ann in the town. They had spent two nights in Donaque in order to let Ann recover from some dehydration. We pointed them in the direction of our hotel and continued on take some pictures of the water wheel and prayer wheels. We also got a few shots of the local air hockey/flour/pool game.
A short while later, after Zach bought some Chocolate Digestives and I bought a couple of different Cadbury bars to sample, we returned to the hotel and had lunch with Ann and Marc. [Cadbury chocolate here tastes like wax and is apparently imported from India where they use a different formulation to help prevent the chocolate from melting.]
We spent the sunny part of the afternoon staying warm in the sun and then was all crowded into our sleeping bags to read for a couple of hours before dinner. I think this may be the way to spend the cold part of the afternoon from now on.
Dinner was uneventful. We finally got a picture of a typical dinner table. Some without places, some with dinner, some with dessert, etc. We read until at least 9:00pm before nodding off to sleep.
This morning started off as usual, up at 6:00, breakfast, paid 1605 rupees for two days worth of meals and lodging, and on the trail again sometime around 7:45. We walked, more or less, with Ann and Marc for the rest of the day.
After the last break, Zach and Marc walked ahead to Pisang and Ann and I followed. The walk into Pisang ended with a fairly flat area which included a helicopter landing pad made of white stones (painted?) on a flat area above the river.
The villages here are very different from those below. Below, they were primarily wooden structures. The lodging structures had very low ceilings with doors low enough to have to duck. Here, the hotels are made of stone and were obviously built to cater to western bodies.
As noted in the guide books, the houses higher up are built much closer to one another. The entrances and exits to each village are marked by series of prayer wheels and/or mani stones built into long walls. In at least one case, there was a water wheel built expressly to turn a prayer wheel. If possible, it would be nice to get a rubbing of a mani stone.
Wednesday, November 5 - Manang
4:15pm - Spent yesterday afternoon and evening mostly reading and waiting for dinner. Zach was continually frustrated at the dining room door which refused to stay closed to the cold weather outside and needed to be locked and unlocked each time someone left or came in.
This morning, Zach hooked up with the Kiwi father/daughter teams to hike the high route to Manang. I paid at the hotel (630 rupees) and joined Ann and Marc for the "low" walk to Manang. While the walk was fairly easy, we were moving very slow and I suspect the elevation was beginning to play a significant part in our ability to walk.
Today, we walked through a fairly wide valley, surrounded by snow covered moutains. The path in the sun was mostly packed mud. In areas where the path received little to no sun, the path was often snowy and icy. In the sun, it was very hot while hiking, but as soon as we rested, if we were not sheltered from the wind, it was very cold.
Once in Manang, we checked into the Yak for a whopping 120 rupees per night. After a disappointing potato rosti, I had a fairly good shower and then hung out until 2:30 in the sun. Then, I left to (hopefully) meet Zach at the HRA AMD lecture.
The lecture was wonderful and Zach showed up close to the end. Back at the hotel, we spent the evening, alternatively annoyed with the smoke that bothered our eyes, and freezing when we opened windows to try to get rid of the burning smoke. With Marc not feeling so well, Ann and Marc ate in their room and we had dinner with Heidi (food poisoning), Tim (traveling for more than a year already), and Nina (5'10"). Conversation ground to a halt around 8:30 and it was time to head back to the room to warm up the bed and read a while.
Thursday, November 6 - Manang
Friday, November 7 - Yak Kharka
Yesterday, Thursday 11/6, I woke up at 2:00am with a bad headache and an inability to breath. After struggling with it for a while, I got up at 2:30am to take half a diamox and an ibuprofen. It took a awhile, but I think the diamox did work and I got a couple of more hour's sleep before a couple of bathroom runs at 5:30 and 6:30.
In the morning, my headache was still there so I decided against climbing up to the monastery and instead kept Ann company as she took it easy while Marc was in bed. Just before lunch, I took a quick walk to survey the local shopping. I thought I would have to buy a sweater for Tek, my porter. I found the prices standardized so I headed back to the hostel after a quick visit to the HRA clinic.
Back at the hotel, I met Zach who had just returned from a visit to a local gompa with Nina, Heidi, and Tim. We had lunch together with Ann, Marc, etc. This afternoon, Zach and Ann went to the AMS talk at 2:30 and I spent more time relaxing.
The evening was spent in the usual way, around the dinner table with friends, waiting for our dinner to appear. When Tek came in, he had bought himself some mittens as I had suggested he do. I decided to buy Tek a sweater in the morning. I hadn't wanted to buy him one further south and lower in elevation as he may have just turned around and sold it. Up here, it is now so cold that he will want to wear it.
This morning, after getting up twice overnight, we woke up a bit late and took our time getting started. We had our last breakfast with Ann and Marc as they were heading back down and planning on flying back to Kathmandu. Before we started in our respective directions, we took a group pictures together in the street in front of Yak Lodge.
Our walk up to Yak Kharka was slow but steady. We took a short break about halfway and then continued the rest of the way with only a couple of breaks for some water.
With my dubious state, we decided to stop here knowing that we could go to either Letdar or Thorung Pedi the next day.
The Ganga Purna Inn was noted for its cinnamon rolls so we checked in and sat down for lunch. The cinnamon rolls were OK - perhaps better than in Kathmandu, but I was not impressed and immediately craved a cinnabon. I rounded out lunch with a Hot Lemon and a noodle soup.
The toilet here is an adventure. Thankfully I was warned, but you need a safety rope in there. The hole in the wooden floor is plenty big enough for a grown person to fall through. My early morning visits to the latrine are bound to be an adventure. Yikes!
The family that runs this place seems very western. They speak, or rather, understand a good bit of English. The have a son who is developmentally disabled to some degree. You have to wonder what his problem really is and if it could have been prevented with access to western medicine - prenatally, postnatally, or even as a child.
At 3:00, the sun went behind the mountain and it got very cold. Zach was out on a walk so I moved into the dining room and was very pleasantly surprised to find that they put a stove with burning hot coals under the dining room table (reminiscent of the Chinese barbecue). The table has blankets attached all around to hold the heat in. When you sit down, you pull the blanket on top of your lap and keep your legs and feet warm. This must be the first time in a week that I've felt warm at a time other than when the bright sun has been beating down. I wish I could have a pot of hot coals under my bed tonight.
Saturday, November 8 - Yak Kharka
6:30pm - After one 2:00am trip to the latrine, I woke up around 5:00am with a bad headache and shortness of breath. I took a Tylenol but unfortunately, it didn't make my headache go away completely. We took a rest day and I took it very easy as I was still having periodic problems with my breathing. This trek has been very frustrating to me. First, having to hire a porter after day three to carry my pack and now, my seeming extreme problems adjusting to the elevation. Very few of the other trekkers have any symptoms and the few that do can usually do away with them after a few hours. My headache came and went for most of the morning.
In addition to Zach and myself, there were two Israelis hanging out here. They are the first I've encountered who consider themselves religious and try to keep kosher. Today, being shabbat, they were taking a day of rest.
A serendipitous stop by a group of people on their way to Letdar enabled me to trade Tom Clancy's "Without Remorse" for Pay Conroy's "The Prince of Tides". I'm surprised I was able to find a suitable book swap within the first couple of hours of my looking. Of course, the guy who swapped with me had to sit down and read the last few pages of his book before he could swap. This place, the Gangapurna, is a good place for a break as they make fresh cinnamon rolls each day.
The evening was topped off when we met one member of an English group who is moving to Boston in February. Surprise! Surprise! Simon will be working as a microbiologist at Massachusetts General Hospital and he already knows David Rubin, a friend of mine from winter hiking. I suspect he will be the newest member of the winternet hikers group (a small informal group of friends in the Boston area who all enjoy winter hiking and met on-line).
Sunday, November 9 - Yak Kharka
Monday, November 10 - Chame
5:00pm - Yesterday morning, I woke up feeling better than the previous day. No headache and no real problems breathing. I would only eat half of my set breakfast (2 eggs, toast, potatoes, and hot beverage) but I felt OK and decided to head for Letdar and hopefully, Thorung Phedi. (2,400 rupees)
We started out with me in the lead doing double time rest step - breath in with one foot, exhale with the other. We were making slow but steady progress and 45 minutes later, Letdar was in sight. We could have been there in less than one hour total from Yak Kharka, a perfectly reasonable time. Unfortunately, just ascending that 200m from Yak Kharka gave me both a headache and an earache on top of an impending crisis with diarrhea and a general ill feeling.
I could tell that Zach as impatient to move on and though we didn't discuss it, he didn't seem amenable to yet another rest day at Yak Kharka and he must have been feeling that each extra rest day was cutting into his chances to do the Sanctuary. I was very discouraged and knowing that he had plenty of people to hike with, I turned back. I realized later that day, that he had made no effort to make sure I had someone with whom to hike down with other than Tek, my porter, who would have been ineffectual if an emergency had come up.
That said, he did want me to ensure that I would go down, and not hang out and take extra time to try to get over the pass. At the time, I was feeling crappy and it didn't occur to me that I might not want to go all the way down. Eventually, I was sorry I had agreed. I had plenty of time on my trekking permit and with extra time, I might have either made it over the pass or could have had some fun hanging out in Menang and visiting some villages nearby that are rarely visited by westerners.
As it so happened, When I was deciding to turn around, another trekker and his porter were passing us heading down. A few minutes later, I had caught up with him and we started our descent together. I'm sure Tek was (or maybe not) because I immediately felt better and began moving at a more normal pace. I could even make conversation with my newfound hiking partner, Cliff.
Cliff, from Australia, on a four month break, was taking four weeks in Nepal before joining his girlfriend in Italy. They would then visit family in Italy and tour Mexico before returning to Australia. Cliff, a science teacher at a school for performing arts, would be returning to 14 and 15 year old students who must be introduced to computers. Not being trained for that, Cliff has a difficult time and is ambivalent about how useful they really are and whether or not "the world" needs to be computer literate.
As it turns out, we'll probably spend four days descending together. For our first day, we descended from Letdar, through Yak Kharka, Manang, and Braga. One of the most difficult parts was very early on when we went through Yak Kharka and I had to explain to all of my newfound acquaintances that my AMS was too severe and I was returning to Besi Sehar.
On our descent to Manang, a westerner recognized Tek and in the ensuing minutes, I realized that I was talking with Andrew Stevenson, the author of "Around Annapurna", a book I'll have to pick up in Kathmandu. He knew Tek because he had hired him to carry 22 kilograms worth of his books up to Manang for him. I now realized that Tek must have just gotten home from carrying the books at the point I hired him. Andrew seemed a nice guy and it only affirmed my desire to buy his book. If only he were a day later - I could have had him sign a book for me in Manang. In any case, we learned (or rather, confirmed), that he was working on an article on ACAP for National Geographic as a freelance writer. He had six more weeks to go to get around Annapurna. With that kind of time and an understanding hiking partner, even I could probably get around the circuit and over the pass.
A few minutes later we met the doctor from the HRA office that had given the AMS talk (Terry Good?). She's from Hawaii and volunteers for 2.5 months without pay. She was on her way to go camping with "a friend" and laughed when we mentioned that she might catch up with Andrew Stevenson. He's the friend she'll be meeting and she couldn't believe it when we told her she was only five minutes or so behind him. She recommended that we stick around Manang for some day hikes but I had told Zach I would go down, and I was tired of being cold and just plain tired so I decided to continue to descend as fast as I could and who cares if I had two weeks to putter around Pokhara and Kathmandu. Both sound like great places to do nothing if desired.
Cliff knew of a great bakery below Menang so regardless of our hungry stomachs, we made our was to the Brava Bakery and had delicious "Cream Cheese and Tomato on White Bread" sandwiches and Minestrone soup. This bakery, run by a Kathmandu trained baker, is better than most in Kathmandu. The cream cheese is not like Philly, but it had great consistency, a bit of tang, and was delicious.
After lunch, we traveled to Hongde, the town with the airport and checked into the Jullu Hotel. This town, not on any of the standard trekking itineraries, offered a taste of what trekking might have been like a few years earlier. We sat around the stove in the kitchen and watched as they cooked our food. As they use the stove for warmth, ordering the same or different meals doesn't save fuel, but does save time. Not hungry enough for Dal Bhat, I ordered noodle soup for dinner and couldn't finish it. Once again, I'm wondering what happened to my appetite. Shortly thereafter, they put on a horrible video for us to watch on their TV. I gave up after just a few minutes of Indian musical gangbuster movie, and rejoined the family in the warm kitchen to read. Cliff joined me a few minutes later but neither of us lasted long in the kitchen. We has spent the afternoon walking in snow, and neither of us had slept well at the altitude of the towns higher up so we both turned in around 8:00pm.
I slept surprisingly well and aside from one 1:00am trip to the field (I only needed to piss and the field was easier to get to than the latrine), I slept through the night with a minimum of tossing and turning. I woke up quite refreshed shortly after 6:00am. I waited for Cliff and ordered the same breakfast as him even though I wasn't hungry. I surprised myself by wolfing down the chapati and jam, my first for the trip. 230 rupees.
We finally got going just as a plane was landing. Cool! I can only imagine flying through those mountains. A few minutes later, after we had passed through town, we turned to watch the same plane take off again. As we watched, we realized it probably doesn't try to get above the mountains, but just flies around them.
We had a long walk to lunch in B______ after 1:00 and then left for Chame at 2:10. An hour later, and halfway there, it started drizzling. For the last hour, it drizzled and rained. Our lunch, by the way, was fantastic, the best fried rice with vegetables that I've had and wonderful potato chips, too. Cliff's noodles were great as well.
Once in Chame, we checked into the newest New Tibetan Hotel as the one we had stayed in previously was full. The rooms here are quite nice but moving around the premises is going to be treacherous. The toilet is down a stair ladder and my room is up one. My midnight run to the bathroom is not going to be pleasant especially if it is still wet and raining.
After snacking on a Snickers and a Fanta, I just wasn't hungry at dinner time and had a Hot Lemon and some french fries for dinner. A quick trip to the toilet confirmed that going down is harder than going up. Without so much as a single ache going up, my thighs were pretty sore as I navigated the steps down to the toilet. But, the ache is not debilitating and I expect it will get better over the next couple of days. At least my knees are cooperating so far.
Tuesday, November 11 - Tal
5:00pm - Only got up once last night and that wasn't until 5:00am. Thankfully, while the steps were a bit wet, they were not slippery and I had no problems getting to and from the toilet.
I finally got up at 6:20 and made it to the dining room in about half and hour. That was pretty good considering that I had changed clothes for the first time in six days. and I had to repack my bag because a bunch of stuff got damp yesterday.
Cliff got up early today and made it to the dining room shortly after 7:00am. Surprisingly, we got our stuff together and were paying by 8:00am. While we were in the kitchen yesterday, we noticed someone churning something. They were making Tibetan Tea (by churning yak butter into black tea). Cliff took a cup and gave me a taste. As much as I don't like tea as a general rule, I don't like Tibetan Tea. Many westerners find the stuff horrid but I don't think it was any worse than regular tea and if I was thirsty and someone gave me some to drink, I probably wouldn't have had a problem.
We were hiking by 8:15, early for Cliff, but just as well. This morning's hike to Bagarchap had many more ups and downs than I remembered and it took us almost a full four hours to get there. Once there, we ate lunch at Tek's family's lodge, the Pisang Lodge. After a rather long lunch break given the small size of their operation, we got on the trail again around 1:20. We then expected a three hour walk to Tal. Cliff took off like a bat out of hell and was soon far ahead of us. At one point, where we took a fun shortcut which required New England style hiking to get past a landslide, he stayed on the "real" trail which climbed high over the former slide. On the other side, we lost sight of him and for a while, didn't know if he was ahead or behind. I took a look across the river and caught a glimpse of him, still well ahead of us - and getting further ahead every second we delayed getting started again. I took off trying to catch Cliff while Tek stayed behind trying to get the attention of Reel, Cliff's porter who was getting worried about not being able to find Cliff and not knowing whether Cliff was ahead or behind. While it's common for groups with porters to hike separately from their porters, individuals who hire porters seem more likely to be accompanied by their porters. For the most part, Tek always stayed with me except when we pass other Nepali and he stops to gather and pass along the latest news. Likewise, Tek will go ahead when I stop to talk with other westerners. For Reel, it was uncharacteristic for Cliff to take off and he was not only worried about finding him again, but felt weird not hiking with him and worried that Cliff might be expecting him to keep up with him.
(All this, by the way, I was able to gather mostly by voice tone an gesture as both Tek's and Reel's English was almost non-existent. Not being able to talk, however, did not mean not being able to communicate, and we frequently enjoyed each others company along the way and at the hotels and lodges where we spent the night.)
We eventually caught up with Cliff just before recrossed the river. He has wanted to hike alone for a while. That's cool, but I mentioned that he should have said something to Reel who had been quite worried about him and didn't know why he had gone so far ahead and at such a fast pace. At the crossing, I realized we were only about half and hour away from Tal even though we had only been walking for a couple of hours. Actually, we had almost been running - as was evident with a single glance at Tek. He was dripping with sweat.
The Paradise Hotel is the first building we came to in Tal. The room is clean, and the view of the waterfall, fantastic. The shower was warmer than cold but I still couldn't do more than my hair. Perhaps tomorrow, I'll clean the rest of me.
Noodle soup and fries for dinner followed by a "trek famous" cinnamon roll which I couldn't finish and offered to the rest of the diners present. Those diners included a woman from Houston and her guide, an expat Coloradan living and working in Nepal for ten years. They are also on their way down after having circled Manaslu and gone over L____ at 5,200m. He's fluent in Nepali and after ten visits to Nepal, she's picked up enough to get the gist of a conversation. I suspect they are more than just guide and client but their relationship must be interesting.
Wednesday, November 12 - Ngadi
5:45pm - Started with a two hour descent from Tal to Chamje. Saw lots of lizards, some as long as a foot long with a body an inch wide. It was slow going for most of the morning with funky footing. Cliff and Reel soon went ahead and I did not expect to see them after that.
Tek and I stopped around 10:00 for our usual Fanta and Snickers break and again, one hour later so I could peel a layer off both my legs and body. For the first time in well over a week, I exposed the skin on my arms and legs to sunshine.
Stopped in Syange for a lunch of french fries and Fanta. The restaurant looked directly over the bridge. It is always fun watching pack animals or other herds crossing the bridge - especially if there are people (or better yet, tourists) going the other way. I was very surprised to have caught up with Reel and Cliff there.
After lunch, with much improved footing, my pace improved quite a bit and (much to the chagrin of Tek, I'm sure), we made it to Bahundanda in about one and a half hours. Not being ready to stop hiking, I used the toilet, drank yet another Fanta (#5 for the day), and ate a Snickers. We then made our way to Ngadi. Wouldn't you know it, the same place I had lunch was the same place Cliff had picked to stay. I just have to remember not to order a Fanta here - this was the place that served me the fermented Fanta - Yech!
I don't know why, but all day, groups of police have been passing us going down the mountains. They seem to be congregating here in Ngadi. Cliff suggested that there seemed to be some sort of trial happening in the middle of the street.
Thursday, November 13 - Pokhara
Friday, November 14 - Pokhara
11:30am - Yesterday was my last trekking day. I kept waking up from 1:00am on to the sound of rain. When I finally got up for a toilet run at 5:45, I realized is wasn't raining, after all. Rather, there was a tree with quaking leaves that reminded me of Aspen that sounded like rain every time the slightest breeze moved it.
Rather relieved that we wouldn't get soaked on the way to Besi Sehar, I got up and packed in time for my 6:45 breakfast. (For what it's worth, Tek has no rain gear to speak of and would have born the brunt of any bad weather.) We were hiking by 7:15 and remembering how brutal the sun had been on the way in, I pushed the pace a bit until the sun finally crept down into the valley.
Stopping for my usual Fanta and Snickers break, I was dismayed that there were no Snickers available. This was made worse by the fact that I had only had a small breakfast of a single chapati. I decided I would have one at the next stop. Unfortunately, there were no candy bars to be had between Khodi (?) and Besi Sihar. I was very hungry when I got to Besi Sihar.
Along the way, I realized the worst bridge along the entire route had been on that first day. The decking was made of bamboo and though the bridge was constructed in a manner similar to the other suspension bridges we had crossed, it was much "looser" and hung much lower. That meant it was like descending a steep little hill and then ascending again. I also found out later that for those who wanted to avoid this bridge, or who had pack animals along, there was a better bridge about half a mile upstream. For trekkers though, that would have added an extra mile.
I also realized how glad I was to have done the final steep bit from Bahundanda the day before. Starting out with that would have been a tough way to start the day. It also meant that it was possible to get to Besi Sihar in the morning.
We arrived at 10:45 and after going the wrong way for a couple of minutes, finally made our way to the bank. I was a bit dubious at first. All of the other banks I had done business with had their signs in English, at least one travelers check counter, and a table of exchange rates. Here, none of that occurred. I would have walked right by it if nobody had been there to point it out to me.
Thankfully, they accepted travelers checks but didn't believe I had written both signatures on the check. In a back office, I asked for a piece of paper and signed my name about ten times so they could see that while they were all different, they were also comparatively the same. Half an hour later, they gave me back my passport along with my money. Of course, they didn't have the receipt and that took another ten minutes or so. Tek waited patiently and then carried my pack to the Tekuche Peak Hotel at the other end of town. There, I paid him off (600 rupees for the day, 600 to get home, and 1000 and the sweater for baksheesh).
After a leisurely lunch of fried rice and vegetable curry with two lemon Fantas and a Snickers, I reorganized my stuff and made my way to the bus that I had vowed I would not take. The driver tried to charge me 200 rupees but after spotting the bus ticket counter, I bought a ticket for only 100 rupees and climbed into the front seat next to the bus driver (the door being behind the front seats). There was no room to stretch my legs but at least my knees would survive intact.
The road from Besi Sihar to Dumre is 40km long. it is neither the road to or from hell. It is hell. There are incredible potholes along the unpaved route and rocks that threaten to send the bus over the edge not to mention the numerous washes whose character can change from one trip to the next. Just last year, 50 people died when one bus went over the edge somewhere along the route. You have to wonder where you start seeing signs like "Turture 5k." To me it just seemed like a really bad joke. Turture however is just one of the very small towns between Besi Sihar and Dumre.
On the bus there were three men traveling together, one of whom, Douglas, was a westerner from Scotland. As it turns out, they work for (or founded in the case of Douglas), a children's welfare group out of Pokhara. They took me under their collective wing and in Dumre, where I had expected to have to find a room for the night before catching the bus to Pokhara the next day, they got us a "private" taxi for 100 rupees each to Pokhara that afternoon/evening. It was a cramped trip with the four of us squeezed into the back seat of the Carolla. We stopped for samosas en route and once in Pokhara, they brought me right to their lodge which they run to help finance their cause.
It's a nice place with beautiful rooms and a theoretical hot shower. When they tried turning it on, it blew a fuse and the electricity went out. I gave up on the hot shower for the evening. and just went to sleep early, after reading through a booklet about their cause.
Child Welfare Scheme Nepal, is the name of their program and Nature's Grace is the name of the lodge. Douglas had started it after his first visit to Nepal when he had taken some time to go off a typical trekking route and found himself in a small town. Being a westerner, the locals will ask you to try to cure their ills because they have heard of the "miracle" drugs some westerners carry. Apparently, someone had brought a very sick child to him and put the child in his arms only to have the child die. They hadn't blamed him for the child's death. Everyone realized it had been too late for anyone to do anything, but he decided at that point, to establish his NGO to help those towns off trekking routes get health clinics, schools, and training so that they could benefit as the trekking towns had benefited.
This morning, I woke up at my usual 5:something, used the bathroom, and went back to sleep. I mostly tossed and turned until 7:00 and then got partially up and tried to sort through and organize some of my stuff. Finally, at 8:00, I asked about some wash basins, was shown where to look, and then made my way to breakfast.
A place right at the end of my street looked interesting, but I took a left and eventually went into the Bean Bean Restaurant. Their set breakfast had caught my eye until I saw the price at around 600 rupees. I ended up ordering a la carte and got two eggs, toast, cornflakes with fruit, and fresh squeezed orange juice for 140 rupees. The only thing missing from the set breakfast were hash browns and coffee or tea - definitely not worth $8.
On my way back to the hotel, I stopped at one of the many juice stands for a huge orange banana juice for 120 rupees. A Twix rounded out my breakfast and I was back at the hotel around 9:30. I did a ton of wash and set it out on the lines in the courtyard and up on the roof. In this dry air, I knew they would dry fast. I was hoping that the woman who was doing the laundry service was not offended however, I could not chance my delicates to the concrete and scrub brush that are the typical laundry trademark here.
I then relaxed for a while on the beautiful but sunny roof and for the first time, had the opportunity to try the pool-like Nepali game (Kirdan (?)) that I had been observing throughout the city and the trek. Unlike mah jong, I will not be able to play it at home but I still think it's fun to have learned yet another game during my travels.
For lunch, I made my way back to the lake area and stopped a group of westerners on the street. Two were headed for the place at the end of my street and invited me to join them. I had a great (thin) pizza and a dry chocolate cake smothered in a good chocolate pudding. I would order the pizza again, but not the cake. For dinner, I could have joined them at the Paramount Hotel but that being relatively far away, I'm joining the Irish group from my hotel.
Saturday, November 15 - Pokhara
9:30pm - After a late (8:30pm) dinner at the Elegant View last night, I bid my Irish companions, Robert, Patrick, and Majella "good night" and made my way back to the hotel where I got to sleep sometime after 10:00pm.
This morning, I awoke at a very reasonable hour of 7:00am. I started the day on the roof with a cheese and tomato toastie, the local (or perhaps British) version of a grilled cheese sandwich.
After spending a couple of hours on the roof, I made my way to the Boomerang where I had a great view of the lake and an OK breakfast. (The Bean Bean definitely has them beat.)
A bit of shopping and then a nap prior to lunch at the Ganeja. Then, I met the Israeli and there were meeting Amar Marc for dinner at the Mama Mia restaurant at 7:00. More shopping and another inferior chocolate cake at the Elegant View and I met the Wp [sic} state folks at their hotel, the Pushpa.
I left them as they went for an early dinner and went back to the hotel to relax before meeting Ann and Marc. I finished the "Prince of Tides" and attempted an exchange in a local bookstore on the way to dinner. I'll have to try again tomorrow.
It was great to see Ann and Marc. Their various ailments are being seen to at the local hospital and they are on penicillin. We ate a substandard meal at the "Once Upon a Time" restaurant. They offered free popcorn, though. After a post dinner photo session, I left them to run back to my hotel. My stomach is acting up again. Argh!
Sunday, November 16 - Pokhara
5:30pm - After a horrible night with that seems like another case of food poisoning, I spent the day eating very little (toast, Power Bar) and drinking Gatorade. I also plowed through Mark Shaid's "Travels on my Elephant". Feeling a might bit better, I ventured out for a bit of shopping, ordered a pair of pants, and eventually ended up at Nirula's, the local fast food place for chicken soup and fries. If the food makes me feel better, I might have ice cream afterwards. Ootherwise, I'll wait until a better day. Ice cream is their specialty.
Monday, November 17 - Pokhara
9:45pm - After sleeping through the night (thank god), I woke up feeling much better except for one strange pain in my gut. HUNGER PANGS!
I pointed myself in the direction of the Pumpernickel Bakery in the hopes of meeting up with the Seattleites. Fortunately, I did see them - waiting for the bus to Kathmandu, though. They had their plane ticket out of Kathmandu moved up a bit so they were leaving a bit early. I must admit, I too, was thinking about trying to get out a bit early but the logistics seemed daunting and that would leave Zach stranded in New York.
After seeing off the Seattleites a few minutes later, I ventured into the Pumpernickel Bakery and after a bagel and garlic cheese spread, Marc and Ann joined me as I had a chocolate croissant. We visited for a while, stopped for t-shirts together (hmm, 130 rupees for printer, 220 for embroidered) and as my stomach rumbled, we said our good-byes - they to the airport on their way back to Kathmandu, and me to the toilet at my hotel.
Walking around before lunch, [switched from blue pen to red] I managed to exchange my "Prince of Tides" book for ICON by Frederick Forsyth. I also ran into Simon who said that Zach, in fact, did get over the pass on Monday and could therefore be in Pokhara anytime from now on. I had made one unsuccessful attempt to call Kathmandu HEC already. I would try again after lunch.
After lunch at the F___ Beach, I had a hell of a time picking up my oversized Nepali pants at "Lovely Embroidery", a shop to avoid in the future. They had to be taken in twice before I would accept them and they are still very big. I then had a make your own sundae at Nirula's for 100 rupees and made my way back to the hotel to make a call to HEC.
Finally, at 2:05, I got through and left a message for Zach. I also found that for $65, I could get three days and two nights in Chitwan, a deal that sounds pretty good considering that each trip (elephant safari, canoe, hike, birding, etc.) comes with a naturalist. I think I'll do it but just need to figure out when.
Off shopping for shorts (needed for Chitwan), I ordered another pair of pants and then heard from the Israelis that Zach had checked into my hotel. I beat a hasty retreat to the hotel where Zach had left me a message about him being checked into the Alka Hotel at 6:00pm.
At it was only 5:00, I had plenty of time to shower, change into my new pants, and get to the Alka before 6:00. There, I met up with Zach and his roommate, one of the Aussie fathers. Together with Shoki, the Israeli, and the other Aussie father, we went to the Everest Steakhouse where I had the best veggie burger I've ever had. Go figure!
Zach will have to decide what he wants to do but chances are that we will meet back in Kathmandu sometime next week. He might hike some more, or relax here a while and do Chitwan later. I may ask him not to join me if he seems to be leaning in that direction.
I'm a bit frustrated that Zach won't be sharing hotel expenses with me now that we are in the same place at the same time as that's one primary reason for having a travel partner. But at least with my current room which is expensive at about $6US a night, it's still cheap by any western standards and profits go to a good cause. That said, it's also pretty clear that while Zach and I were good hiking partners back home, we aren't necessarily the best of travel partners.
Back at the ranch, err, hotel, I noticed that I am well ahead of two pages of journal per day on average, and my blue pen, used almost exclusively on the journal, ran out of ink after about 100 pages [it was 137 pages to be exact] of journal writing. It is probably the first time I have ever used up the ink of one pen in one place.
Tuesday, November 18 - Pokhara
10:00pm - Woke up at 4:20 with an urgent trip to the toilet. Every hour on the 20 minutes thereafter for the next five hours, had me visiting th toilet. Though I tried to make it to the Bean Bean Restaurant around 8:00, I had to turn around and beat a hasty retreat to the hotel.
There I had another plain toast with honey for breakfast and retired to my room to read. At almost 10:00, I was feeling a bit better so I ventured out in search of Zach and the pants I had already ordered. Having found both, I went back to the hotel to build up my strength with Gatorade and Power Bars.
I sat on the roof reading for a while until I realized that I felt good and wanted lunch. Back to the Ganga for a Funghi (mushroom pizza) and then a walk in search of shorts and other souvenirs. I had found a cape in both grey and black and now had to make up my mind about which one to buy and where to buy it.
I wandered town, finally finding a good place for shorts, ordered a pair, and had the best apple country pie at the Fe___ fast food bakery while waiting for the shorts to be finished. The shorts were a fiasco and after one attempt to fix then that made them worse we agreed on a different fabric and style as a replacement. With any luck, I'll have a pair of shorts that fit tomorrow.
I left a message for Zach on the way back to my hotel to relax a bit before dinner. He never came by so I headed off to Mama Mia's and along the way, picked up two Belgian guys who had been staying at the same hotel as me. As it turns out, they are major contributors to CWSN and came to visit one of the centers. The had heard about CWSN on the radio in Belguim.
We had an interesting conversation over dinner. Among other things, we surmised that by giving the world electricity and tvs, we could solve the problem of the world's burgeoning populations. After all, look what happens after major blackouts in big western cities - baby boomlets, nine months later. With a boob tube to keep themselves busy, they are less likely to have sex. ;-) Perhaps that's why we aren't politicians.
Wednesday, November 19 - Pokhara
8:15pm - I woke up feeling mostly better today. Ate a Power Bar and did laundry before venturing to the Fewa Lake Restaurant for a set breakfast. The potatoes reminded me of China - just a bit undercooked.
After breakfast, I picked up my shorts and dropped off my too tight pants to be fixed. After hearing from Mike that Chuckles and Zach were both laid up, I gave them a visit to find them both complaining about what was probably food poisoning. I promised to check in occasionally.
Then, I bought the black cape for 1200 rupees, down from the asking price of 1400 rupees. After a nap, I booked my Chitwan trip for Friday and checked in again with Zach. Mike was there so we went to lunch at Monsoon - horrible experience and mediocre food. Mike was watching for his daughter Sara and I wanted something light to eat. We kept company chatting and reading and eventually gave up our seats - me to go pick up my pants, and him to wherever.
I then went back to the hotel to repack my backpack to see whether or not I should buy more souvenirs. Don't buy if they don't fit... Surprisingly, I still have a bit of space. Maybe I'll buy t-shirts tomorrow.
After getting a clue from a couple of women who knew where Mike's daughter, Sara, was, I found Mike, Chuckles, and Sara back at the Monsoon. I didn't stay long before working my way to the Fewa Bakery for more Apple Crumble Pie. Read for a while and then had a wonderful conversation with an adorable Israeli man, Aphir. Then, unable to find anyone I knew at Moondance, back to the hotel.
Thursday, November 20 - Pokhara
9:20pm - Still feeling weird but definitely mobile and able to eat whatever appeals to me, I had breakfast after seeing Zach et al were already out and about. Then another orange banana juice where I met a nice couple from Denmark. I then bought a beautiful wall hanging from the store that finally opened after two days of closure.
Back at the hotel, I read on the roof for a while and got a headache. Thinking I was hungry, I went to lunch at the Elegant View (hmm, just remembered, I had bought the wall hanging on the way to lunch). My headache not relieved, I went back to the hotel, took two Tylenol, and took a nap. (Before lunch, I had finished Forsyth's "ICON" and bought Maurice Herzog's "Annapurna".)
I settled my account with the hotel for about $35 and the Chitwan trip for $65 and went into town for more Apple Crumble Pie. Saw Paula who told me to be at the Amsterdam at 7:00. While reading after pie, I met the Montana couple introduced by the Seattleites. They are guides and have worked for NOLS and teach mountaineering. They introduced me to peanut cookies. Not bad.
Back at the hotel, I got a note from Zach re: Amsterdam but no time. His morning note left no time, either. Is this a hint? I showered and met them anyway. It seemed amicable enough. We had dinner at Tea Time, an OK place with a huge menu that included a Japanese section. Then, back to the hotel for a reasonably early night.
Friday, November 21 - Sarauha/Chitwan
Saturday, November 22 - Sarauha/Chitwan
Yesterday morning, I woke up early to have time to pack and get breakfast before leaving for Chitwan. I was surprised to find my favorite juice place open before 7:00am so I ordered my usual orange banana and while waiting, got some baked goods at the German Bakery two doors down to go with the juice. I was surprised to see Zach and the two Kiwi dads strolling down the street. Zach seemed to be in a rush but crossed the street to say 'bye' once again. They were on their way to rent bicycles for the day.
At 7:30, I was one of the first people to board the bus. It was a minibus and there was plenty of leg room in all of the seats. What was lacking was hip and elbow room. I ended up sharing my seat with a really nice Chilean guy. Perhaps we'll meet again in Kathmandu.
When we finally arrived in Sauraha, the "gateway" town to Royal Chitwan National Park, RCNP, I was so glad to have booked a tour; the touts greeting the bus were horribly annoying - even when I could tell them that I already had a room.
When I finally arrived at Jungle Tourist Camp, I was a bit disappointed with the accommodations given the photos I had seen, but what they did have was perfectly adequate. I had a double bed to myself and a private bathroom with a western toilet. The bed had clean linens and mosquito netting, and a towel was provided.
Lunch was served a few minutes later and was quite good - soup and fried noodles. I then had a nature walk with Ramis, a nice guy but no naturalist. We stopped by the tourist center where a few of my questions were answered and finished off with sunset over the river. It was beautiful and I met some friends from Pokhara and the bus.
Dinner was an uninsprired soup, veggie burger, and chips. With no evening entertainment scheduled, It was great to be invited to participate in a local wedding. With men and women lining opposite sides of the street holding candles, it was a beautiful sight as the wedding party made it's way through the candle lined streets. The women in saris were especially beautiful. Only the officially invited guests were allowed inside the house for the ceremony so the rest of us hung out outside and caught glimpses. We gave up around 9:00pm and it was time for bed.
This morning, I woke up to the wedding band at 4:30am. Argh! The Nepali wedding is much like an Indian wedding, I think. Basically, the ceremony started yesterday at the bride's house. There was a reception during the day where all of the guests brought their presents. Only in the evening did the groom show up and they had the ceremony and more [sic] reception until all hours. This morning, the groom took the bride to his house followed by a truck of household goods (dowry, presents?).
After a 7:00am breakfast, it was time for an elephant safari. Four of us crowded into a howda, on the top of an elephant's back. It was not a comfortable experience especially as we had a two and a half hour tour. I started out the day by spotting an owl and we finished by finally seeing two white rhino, quite close to the park boundary. We also saw mongoose.
Then, after a Twix and Fanta break, we had a jungle walk with Ganga, a real naturalist who gave us a lot of information and was able to answer questions or look up answers upon our return to the village. As typed in previously for a separate web page on my site...
"I was on a guided jungle walk in the Terai in southern Nepal. I was just a few feet behind the guide and the rest of the group had fallen back a hundred feet or so. We had been "following" some rhesus monkeys in the trees in the hopes of finding some deer that tend to feed off whatever the monkeys drop. We were closing in on a group of deer only to realize that we weren't the only thing "stalking" the deer.
The guide and I heard the same thing at the same time. It was a cat, purring. Only this cat had the deepest purr I've ever heard. Basically, we were close enough to hear a Bengal tiger breathing as it stalked the deer. I almost laughed when the guide bent down to pick up a piece of fallen wood no larger than a baseball bat to use as protection.
Neither of us ever saw the tiger but just a few seconds later, the deer spooked and ran across (not away) from our field of vision. That cat must have circled around them a bit.
After that, we basically just headed back out to the edge of the forest. We were surprised again when we almost ran into a mother and baby rhino wallowing in some mud. I think they're more dangerous than bears in that they will charge and attack. But trees are good cover - only there weren't any trees larger than my wrist at the edge of the forest. :-)
We just waited a few minutes until a passing (domesticated) elephant "chased" the rhino away. Definitely cool footprints at that wallow (rhino, elephant, human, boar, deer, monkey, and tiger). WOW! "
Lunch of noodles and veggies followed with onion soup. And then we had a dugout canoe ride. Mugger crocodiles (x2) were the big catch here. A trip to the elephant breeding group yielded babies from three months to years old. We also saw elephant polo training going on. A slow ox cart ride later and we had an hour to kill before dinner of dhal bhat and chicken curry - buffet style. As usual, no dessert in sight - ever a disappointment for someone with a sweet tooth like mine.
After dinner, it was a short walk to the local cultural center for an excellent - male only - performance of Tharu Folk Dance. It was much different that the Tibetan dance I had seen in Cambridge. Back at the lodge, it was lizard watching followed by journal writing.
Sunday, November 23 - Kathmandu
8:30pm - Up early this morning for a 6:30 am bird-watching walk (see above list). All others at the camp were lazy and bagged out. I had Ganga, the naturalist so myself along with one other trainee(?). We walked for about an hour, past the helicopter pad, and along the river. We saw elephants being prepared for that day's safari and Ganga saw a hoopi - too bad I missed it. It is a bird that figures prominently in at least one Wilbur Smith novel.
Breakfast was vile oatmeal with too much milk (and ants in the sugar) along with fried eggs and toast. Then a jeep ride to the river, a walk across, and a long wait for the bus. While waiting, I met up with Ami, an Israeli I had had lunch with in Pokhara. Knowing he would soon be looking for a job in the US, I gave him my address in case I could help.
After a horrid bus ride, I found myself wandering the streets of Thamel looking for lodging. I met up with Ami once again and we got a room together at the Horizon Hotel.
Monday, November 24 - Kathmandu
9:15pm - I woke up with a splitting headache this morning. Argh! After two Tylenol and another hour in bed, I felt good enough to get up. I quickly dressed and headed out to the street where I painfully discovered that I had horrible body aches. These, I attributed to my helpful status the day before of catching backpacks being let down from the top of the bus from Chitwan.
During breakfast, my headache returned so I left Helena's and made my way - very slowly - to the HEC office where I got one message from Faten, and one from Lori. I had started feeling even worse so I eventually made my way back to the hotel for some ibuprofen and two hours of sleep. After a late lunch at New Orleans, I went back to the HEC office to borrow and photocopy pages from their Nepal book. There I caught up with computer talk with Alan Ward. We eventually had dinner together at Mama Mia's. Someone should buy him a Yak! Yak! Yak! t-shirt - Oy!
Tuesday, November 25 - Kathmandu
10:30pm - Tossed and turned all night feeling just as bad as ever. Took more ibuprofen at 5:30 when Ami got up to pack. After he left at 6:30, I surprisingly fell into a nice deep sleep until 8:30. Then, surprisingly, I realized I felt quite refreshed. Apparently, my fever broke. I still had a few residue aches, both head and body, but my general attitude was much improved.
After a great breakfast at the Garden Cafe, I had copies made of the relevant sections of the LP Nepal book and resolved to so some sightseeing. I then returned the Nepal book to HEC and having bought my new bedspread for 425 rupees and made my way back towards the hotel. En route, I tentatively ordered my little souvenir journal-type books for 450 rupees to be picked up tomorrow.
Back at the hotel, I relaxed a bit and then had Pad Thai at the Yin Yang, a delicious, though expensive, Thai restaurant. I then confirmed my earlier tentative order and grabbed a taxi to Swayambunath, the monkey temple.
Swayambunath is a humongous stupa sitting on the top of a very prominent hill just to the west of Kathmandu. The taxi dropped me off at the base of the eastern stairs - all 365 that reach to the top of the hill and the platform that the stupa sits upon. There are monkeys everywhere that steal any unguarded fruit. I spent two hours or more up there both with a guide and with my guidebook pages. I also found some great souvenirs including a mara/mandala wall hanging (Mara is the goddess of death), a bronze statue for myself, and a Ganesh Mask for my parents. On the way down the stairs, I watched one monkey's antics when, without regard for those that might be using the railing, he slid on all fours down the better portion of the hand rails. He did startle one tourist who had her hand on the rail. He just banged on through.
Back on the bottom, I stopped to turn the humongous (2 meters) prayer wheel. Then a taxi back to Thamel. A shower and I was ready for dinner.
Walking back towards the New Orleans, I heard my name being called. It was Paula from New Zealand with Zach and a bunch of others in Alice's restaurant. I joined them for dinner and then for drinks. It was also my opportunity to try the local weed.
Wednesday, November 26 - Kathmandu
10:30am - I woke up much too early to the heavy patter of the same rain that had put me to sleep. Tossed and turned and fought the mosquitoes for a while. Finally got up before 8:00 and organized my stuff given that Zach would be joining me tonight. I ordered new sheets for the other bed as soon as I got up.
The rain let up a bit and it was time to meet for breakfast at 9:30 and it was time to meet for breakfast at the Pumpernickel Bakery. I was surprised Zach hadn't said anything about the location. He doesn't think bread makes a good breakfast. What would he eat? When I got there, he was the only other one there - not eating any bakery food, just holding a table. He had already eaten elsewhere.
Brad, a friend of theirs, suggested a noontime trip to Patan. I knew that wouldn't leave enough time this morning so I suggested 1:30 or 2:00. Brad said 12:30. Sara said she would go so so did Zach - without regard for our previously laid plans. I bought prayer flags after breakfast and showed Zach my room which he decided to occupy. Then, we were off to the HEC office by way of my little souvenir books. Once at the office, Zach got off a quick message to Devu, telling him that tomorrow was our only free day so we were sorry not to be able to make dinner. While he was typing, I was helping to get my bag out of storage. We got off the computer to let someone else have a turn. That was a BIG mistake. He took forever so Zach took off at 11:30 to check out while I waited for the computer. It took, perhaps, an hour. I didn't get on until 12:10 and though it took me only 10 minutes, I couldn't get back to the hotel by 12:30. By then, Zach was long gone. I guess he didn't want to do our mutual shopping after all.
I had a great, but expensive, pizza at Fire and Ice. Their ice cream machine was broken, though. The afternoon was spent mostly unsuccessfully shopping for souvenirs. How come they don't know make batik t-shirts in size 48? Perhaps in the morning, I'll finish everything else. With no set breakfast plans, I can get out early and finish in a reasonable period of time - I hope.
Thursday, November 27 - Kathmandu
11:00pm - Happy Thanksgiving! Today, as usual, I woke up early and read until Zach got up at which time, I started repacking my stuff. What a pain! I know I'm going to curse getting all this stuff to Boston but I know I'll be glad to have it once I'm there.
Zach and I went to Helena's for breakfast where I practically lost it with our waiter. He continually called me "sir" even after I told him not to. I started calling him bokini (little sister) when calling him ma'am had no affect. Even Zach agreed that the situation was somewhat extreme.
Afterwards we stopped at HEC to find out that neither of our messages got out. These days, they need a comma delimited list - ours was space delimited before the trek. Argh! Also, the address we had for Devu was apparently incorrect. Argh! I then had to wait "just a minute" (~15 minutes) for Zach to finish his trip report.
Finally, we started our very productive shopping spree. I started with Andrew Stevenson's "Annapurna Circuit" and quickly followed with a totally unplanned t-shirt for myself. In all today, I bought 2 backpacks, 2 scarves, a duffel bag, and ordered t-shirts for my brothers-in-law. Zach and I bought a gift for Barbara and Zach got some jewelry for his Mom and a friend.
We dropped stuff off at the hotel, had lunch at the New Orleans, and hopped a cab to Patan Durbar Square. There, we surprisingly took in the sights in my style, using a guide, reading as we go, etc. At one point, we did have a guide who, before he left, mentioned a festival at a nearby temple. When we finished with Durbar Square, we went looking for a couple of more temples, found one, and then found another, both north of the square. The second one had the festival. The explanations we from the crowd were clear as mud. Young people coming to find partners, married people, women who want kids, etc. Who knows?
By the time we got back to the square, everyone was packing up and I missed my chance at buying a nice small brass Bagh Chat set (tigers and goats). Perhaps I can find one in Thamel tomorrow. We then hurried back to the Yak and Yeti and found the Thangka place where I had ordered a Thangka, I picked it up, and then met the Thanksgiving crowd at KC's. Just half of our crowd was American and celebrating Thanksgiving but everyone got into it.
Friday, November 28 - Kathmandu
10:00pm - Up early once again to read while waiting for Zach to wake up. Then repacked a bit to get a feel for reality. As it turns out, I've got plenty of space in my backpack.
We breakfasted at the Everest Steak House and did more shopping this morning. I bought some souvenir t-shirts and a sweater. I had no luck finding a small, flat Bagh Chat even though I was going into practically every shop and asking every street vendor. HEC had a couple of messages for me - from Benson and Uncle Joel.
Back at the hotel, I packed for real while Zach showered. I then changed more money - most of which to pay Zach back and pay for a taxi and airport departure tax. Zach then met Sara while I tracked down a bagh chat and had lunch. I dropped the game off at the hotel and made my way to Durbar Square where I was finally able to take the time to see the whole thing and understand what I was looking at.
I am curious though. One temple had many goats chained to it. Why? When are they used? Do they always live there or is there some sort of festival coming up? I did see a dead bovine's hair being burned off its body as I was walking from Thamel to Durbar Square. There was blood everywhere so it had obviously been quite recently slaughtered. I also saw these huge donut-like things being fried in huge vats of oil. I think they were the shape of some rendition of a mandala.
After two months of low doorways, without a single bump on the head, I managed to draw blood going into the child goddess' chowk. It left quite a bump and was soon throbbing.
I did manage to see the rest of Durbar Square but even though I had plenty of time, I gave up seeing Pasuputinath again. I just wanted to go back to the hotel, clean my head, take some ibuprofen, and go to sleep. Well, I managed everything but the sleep. I did go back out to pick up the kids t-shirts and met Zach on the way. He accompanied me to get the shirts and then back to the hotel where he packed and I showered (perhaps for the last time until Monday?).
Saturday, November 29 - Hong Kong
Sunday, November 30 - Hong Kong
Monday, December 1 - Boston
Tuesday, December 2 - Arlington
7:00am - Saturday morning, I woke up as planned and had no problems getting my stuff to the airport. There, I realized that there were no weight restrictions and checked both larger pieces through. Then made my way to the departure lounge where Broom Hilda was on TV. What a blast from the past! While waiting, I munched on Digestives left over from my Chitwan to Kathmandu bus ride. They were breakfast.
On the plane, I sat next to a woman and her mother. One thing led to another and we were talking about the unusual digestive ailments that strike in Asia. As it turns out, she had ulcerative colitis but wasn't diagnosed until two years ago after she had lost a lot of weight. What people will tell you on an airplane.
On arrival in Hong Kong, they snagged me for an inspection. What a pain. Wrapping and unwrapping everything. Getting the bus to Nathan Road and Mirador was easy and I soon found myself avoiding this tout and finding a decent looking dorm room with a bunch of friendly guys already there.
I dropped my stuff and went in search of dinner at McDonalds. After that, I took a walk, did some shopping at CAC and then went back to the dorm room to relax, read, and watch TV.
On Sunday, after breakfast at McDonalds, I walked to MongKok to see the Bird Market. It wasn't there. There seemed to be construction along the road where the market was so I found another road market and wandered a bit. Then I went shopping for real on the way back, had another McDonalds lunch and got some Surprise Eggs. I repacked in the dorm and due to the sprinkles, went to the meeting place (Mad Dog's) where I was to meet Zach. I paid $5US for a soda water. This is Hong Kong (and you can see why I frequent McDonalds).
We dropped Zach's stuff off at the dorm and went for a walk. Stopped at CAC to show him the artwork. Then crossed the harbor on the Star ferry to take the tram up Victoria's Peak. Had sandwiches for dinner and the most wonderful crepes at Movenpick for dessert. Yum! I think they were even worth the $4US that we paid. Went back down and walked back to the ferry as the brown bus was no longer ferrying people back and forth. We crossed back over to Tsim Sha Tsui and then walked along the promenade for a while.
Back at the dorm, watched Jungle Book while the guy in the bed below entertained his girlfriend. What a way to end a vacation. Reminds me of college.
Yesterday (Monday), breakfast at Oliver's and a sit and read on the promenade until it was time to leave. I won't miss Hong Kong.
I ended up bringing one last souvenir home with me from Asia. By the time I got to work the day after I got home, my arms itched. The itching only got worse over the next day and started to spread so a quick trip to the doctor got me a prescription for some cream. I had picked up scabies in the last hostel I had stayed at in Hong Kong. When I had asked for clean sheets for my bed, I got them but the guy who made my bed probably had scabies. Had I just taken a walk for a couple of hours, any bugs left on the sheets would have died and I would have been fine. But, I had crawled right up and the scabies found a good host so I brought them home with me. Argh!
One treatment of cream from head to toe and I was cured of that little problem. The idea of scabies is definitely worse than the cure. Blech!
Thoughts from spring, 2008
During a 2007/2008 trip to southeast Asia, I twice ran people who have been in Kunming recently. One traveler and one American ex-pat and his Chinese girlfriend who work there. The guy who lives there had been teaching English there for a few years but just resigned and is looking for other types of work but plans to stay in the area. He and his girlfriend were in Laos on vacation. I met them in Laos. This part of Laos was close to Yunnan - only 2 hours drive which is probably less than 100km.
Anyway, they gave me a bit of an update on Kunming. It's no surprise that Kunming has changed. But how much it has changed is a surprise. Not only are there four or five each of Carrefour and Walmart, but apparently the world's most profitable Walmart is in Kunming. Also, I remember Kunming as a working class city. Now the downtown has apparently gotten all glitzy with a lot of name brand stores, etc. I doubt I would recognize it.
It's likely to continue to change. Vietnam is supposed to be building a major road to Kunming from the border (and Hanoi). That's going to make it an easy trip to visit from a country with a lot of tourists. I can only imagine it getting bigger.
Last updated, February 19, 2012.
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