Friday, May 9, 2008

Nepal - 2nd day of trek and onwards.

Okay, where was I?

Nepal, second day of trek. We were woken up early in order to catch the sunrise over the
Annapurnas. It was chilly out so I wrapped up before heading to the hill above the guest
house. The sunrise was pink on the snowy peaks. Absolutely beautiful.

Breakfast was served and soon we headed back down the hill towards Pokhara.
Going down was not particularly easier than going up. Every moment I was concerned I'd take
a tumble. My shoes were not exactly the best suited for hiking and gravity pushed my toes
deep into the shoes where they rubbed and blistered. My legs trembled and grew weak. It did
not help when our guide pointed out that the path had been wiped out a year ago by a
landslide that killed 9 people.
Today was election day and the locals were jubilant.


Many passed us on their way up or down
the mountain to vote. As I cautiously took each step down the hill, suddenly a family
passed me. Mother, father, son and daughter. The daughter was in jeans and flip flops and
texting on her mobile phone as she hopped down the mountain side like a sure-footed, teenage
girl mountain goat. I was reminded that many families have two homes -- one in the village
and one in the mountains and were washing the chemicals off their finger so they could vote


When we finally reached level ground, I pulled out my flip flops -- my feet were on fire.
We plodded our way back into Pokhara. I haven't been that tired in a long time. When we
reached the hotel, Markus and I planned to meet for dinner after we showered and took naps.
However, the moment I got to my room, I lay down on my bed -- all dirty and sweaty -- and
passed out for three hours.
We finally met (after a little internet time) and went for pizza! I had hawaiian. It
wasn't too bad actually.
The next day, I was due to leave for Chitwan National Park. It was a little sketchy, my
travel, due to the election but I was able to find a bus. Some time during my trip, a
mother gestured at me and then at her child. I didn't understand. She said something to me
and I shrugged the international, "What are you talking about, lady?" sign at her. The man
next to me understood her and took the child and put him on his lap. Oh. Well, I
don't really want a four year old in my lap for 2 hours, I think a local can take this one
for the team.
The bus reached the end of the line in no time. It was an enjoyable ride - great scenery
and the bus boys (?) were really nimble and quick with the jumping out the door and
clamboring onto the roof while the bus was in motion. At one point, the bus was so full, a
couple of school boys hung off the side of the bus as we raced top speed down a mountain
Unfortunately, because we'd had to take a local bus, another woman and I who were going to
Chitwan, didn't have anyone meeting us to take us to our respective resorts. We were, of
course, greeted by touts wanting to give us rides. "I have someone picking me up," I told
one of them. He continued to pester me and then when I brushed him off, he told me I was
rude. Oh okay, so getting in my face when I am saying I already have a ride ISN'T rude? My
ride showed up and looked at me with dismay. Or rather, looked at my STUFF with dismay.
He'd come on motorbike. Oh boy. Perching one of my bags in front of him, my big bag on my
back and my important bag (with camera etc) in between us, we carefully made our way to the
resort, which luckily was only a few minutes away. I hadn't been on the back of a
motorcycle in ten years so I was fairly nervous.
We arrived at the resort and I was shown to my room. I noticed a number of staff sitting
around listening to the radio about the election but no other guests. I asked my guide,
Sam, where everyone was. "You're the only guest" he told me. Huh. I came down to sit in
the yard and read for a bit with a pot of coffee (all the coffee or tea I could drink was
free). Sam sat with me. I noticed that he always sat with me -- I guess he thought I might
get lonely even though I was reading. A bit later, we went out for a walk through a local
village and along the river. He showed me that the village was surrounded by electric
fencing to keep the rhinos out. Or... as he called them: "Rhinosaurs". Throughout the next
few days I thought "rhinosaurs" was a mispronunciation until I picked up some postcards and
saw that that was the pronunciation for them. And why not? They are pretty prehistoric-
We walked back and dinner was prepared and served. It was very strange to eat in a rather
large dining hall all by myself. Sam sat with me but didn't speak. I read. Eventually I
went off to bed as I had a pretty full day ahead of me.
Sam stopped by pretty early to get me up. I told him that I'd like two pots of coffee with
my breakfast. As was typical throughout India (and still here in Thailand), coffee was
Nescafe. I can drink a pot of coffee which is really 2.5 very small cups of coffee but I
wanted to take coffee to go on my Elephant ride. I'd specifically kept an empty water
bottle for the occasion. But I didn't get my second pot of coffee which I found rather
infuriating -- after all, I'm the only guest! Sam walked me down the road to where the
elephant rides into the jungle departed. My elephant arrived and there were already three
people on it: and Indian guy and a British woman and her son. The top of the elephant has a
wooden railing in the shape of a square. We are seated each straddling a corner. Which
means that the Indian man and British woman are more or less facing forward and the boy and
I are facing backwards.
This was not a fun experience actually. An elephant is a pretty lumbering beast which means
I was rocking wildly back and forth, my thighs slapping the wooden post repeatedly. I
bruise like a peach as it is, so I could only imagine the size of bruises that awaited me
(about peach-sized actually). We blundered forward into the jungle, the guide pointing out
beasts (mostly deer) to us, causing me to strain my neck to look around for. At one point,
the Indian fellow decided to make a phone call. In the jungle. From on top of an elephant.
"Hello!!!" He yelled into the phone and continued in Indian. I could not believe it. We
were supposed to be seeing wild animals but with this guy practically screaming, we would be
lucky if we saw a couple of beetles. I poked him in the back, "Excuse me, could you make
your phone call another time?" He looked at me sullenly and hung up. And I thought cell
phones in restaurants were annoying. Then he and the guide started having a long, loud
conversation. Again, I prodded him...hard. "We're supposed to be looking for animals and
you are being very loud!" He shut up after that.
I was pretty disappointed for most of the ride. Then the guide took the elephant out into
the river and pointed out a large rock to us. Only the rock was actually the head of an
alligator. Excellent.
We moved back into the brush when the guide brought the elephant to a halt. He pointed into
the bushes. About twelve feet in front of us -- a rhino and her baby.
IMG_4721 (135)

How bizarre, I have
to admit. They moved towards and open field, completely unconcerned by the elephant with
three humans attached to it. We followed. Finally my bruising felt worth it. We headed
home. Sam picked me up and took me back to the hotel. I had some free time before my
"jungle trek" so I asked to be taken to an internet cafe. Sam drove me on his moped and I
got online -- to find several emails from friends telling me that i was "famous" -- or
rather infamous, I think. A well known New York based website had posted a picture taken by
my talented photographer friend... a picture he'd taken of me back in December that he'd
finally gotten around to posting on his own website -- but the owner of the popular website
had taken it to use on his site because apparently he likes pictures that are "very New
York." I like the picture but I did not like all the snarky comments left by readers of the
website and it upset me. Also, some of my friends who saw the picture were confused because
the website stated the photo had been taken on "Thursday"-- when I wasn't in the country. I
know it's stupid now, but I was pretty upset. I think I could normally take a bunch of
strangers taking potshots at me, but not when I was on the other side of the globe and
couldn't defend myself. I felt really alone all of a sudden. Went back to the resort and
tried to read and have coffee and not think about it, but it really bothered me. Eventually
it was time for my jungle trek.
Sam and some other resort guys took me to the river where we boarded a very narrow wooden


I suddenly wished I hadn't brought my camera with me. But we made it down river
without incident (except for the rather large alligator that HISSED at me!)
Not to be messed with.

and climbed the embankment into the jungle. Before we went deeper into the forest, Sam turned to give me some ground rules to follow in case of a rhino or tiger attack.
In case of a charging rhino, one should run in a zig-zag pattern as rhinos are large and
can't move all that delicately. But they are fast! If you can't outrun it, throw an item
of clothing, a bag or a hat in another direction as sometimes the rhino will go off to
inspect it and you can get away. If one can't run fast enough or distract the rhino with a
shirt/bag/hat, one needs to climb a tree -- a thick tree, one that a rhino can't knock over.
And you have to climb high because rhinos will get up on their hind legs.
In case of an attacking tiger, one should run and throw a piece of clothing/bag/hat away and
if that doesn't work, climb a tree -- a thin tree because tigers can't climb thin trees
because their paws go all the way around it, which is awkward for them.
We start into the forest, the guide in front of me holding a club of some sort, meanwhile
I'm trying to remember which type of tree I'm supposed to be climbing. I'm not too worried
about running into a tiger as they're fairly scarce, but as I DID see a rhino and her baby
that morning, I was terrified we'd run into them again. And all the big trees around were
of the straight, branchless variety and I have NO idea how I was supposed to climb that.
We walked through the forest and realized that a terrific storm was approaching. The sky was a
very menacing black/green. We barely made it to the elephant training camp before the skies
opened up.
It was very dark and we huddled under a porch for awhile. Apparently this was a training
facility where elephants are taught commands that make them useful in doing work around
Nepal - building and carrying and such. Like living construction equipment. It was
interesting but rather sad as well, since the animals are taken away from their mother and
spend several years penned up with only a few feet of chain to move around. I didn't really
care to stick around. We headed back to the canoe and truck.
That night, I was due to see a traditional show of dances.
The drumming and dancing was
pretty amazing, but the interesting bit was the fact that when the dances called for ladies,
a man would dress up like a woman to play the part.
That was cute -- but illustrated to me
that even the women couldn't take part in the fun. However, Sam explained later that the
ladies had their own dance parties, if you will.
I was off to Kathmandu the next morning. Sam seemed sad to see me go and got suddenly very
flirty. It was the Nepalese New year, 2065. He told me I should come back next year. I
told him I'd try to come back in 2066 -- but I'd be an old, old lady. He took me to my bus
and waved goodbye.
There is something I don't understand about the bus system. So, we wait for twenty minutes
at the bus station, get on the bus... and then STOP 2 minutes later for more people to get
on. It's like people can't be bothered to go the extra half mile to a bus stop, but instead
flag down the bus at irregular intervals -- making bus rides go on FOREVER. I think I
mentioned this before, but it's very annoying. It's lazy and not fair to the people who
took care to go out of their way to get to the original bus station. The "four hour" bus
ride to Kathmandu took seven hours! I was really irritated by the time we got there. Then
a taxi driver tried to rip me off to take me to my hotel and suddenly I HATED KATHMANDU. I
found little to redeem it. When I got to the hotel that was pre-booked for me, they didn't
have any rooms because I was supposed to be there several hours earlier. They said this to
me like it was my fault. Oh yes, sorry my bus took almost twice as much time -- obviously
that was all my doing. Now I had very little time to do anything as I was due to leave the
next day. I was taken to another nearby hotel with a very smelly bathroom. I dumped my stuff
and headed out to see the monkey temple. I argued with a taxi driver AGAIn and made my way
to the temple, which was on top of a very steep hill. I was too tired to enjoy it by the
time I got to the top. Some little boys befriended me as I descended.. but of course, after
they were finished with all the questions they had for me, they just wanted "rupees?
chocolate? pens?" I was OVER Nepal.
I headed back to the hotel to get some dinner. I heard some rock and roll playing down the
street and headed in that direction but it turned out to be a very loud/smokey bar. I ended
up at The Yak Restaurant, where I had a strange dinner of Momos (Nepalese dumplings), apple
fritters, Everest beer and coffee. I went home and watched a little tv -- CNN was showing
some news on Obama and Clinton and the crawl on the bottom of the screen mentioned something
about a Lonely Planet author plagiarizing books -- but I never really found out what that
was about.
Super MOMO!!

The next a.m., I got up to buy souvenirs and get breakfast before my plane ride to Bangkok.
I got very irritated at all the touts in Kathmandu and when it was time to leave, I happily
boarded my taxi (who tried to gouge me, of course) to the airport.
Once at the airport, i got in line to pick up my ticket behind two very tall Germans.
Suddenly one of them realized we had to actually pay a departure tax BEFORE checking in and
raced off to another counter to do so. I asked the remaining German if she'd mind watching
my bag while I followed her boyfriend. It cost about 30 bucks to LEAVE Nepal. Ugh. We
raced back to the line where the German girl was holding her own. Apparently the people behind us were none too happy we'd left the line to pay the taxes (I can't say I don't blame them -- but we didn't hold them up, so relax). We checked in and proceeded the boarding area. I was
sad to leave without seeing Everest -- but I guess there's always another time... and I was
ready to leave Nepal and head for a new country/culture. Soon it was time to board the
GIGANTIC Thai Airways plane and I was on my way...

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