Sunday, July 27, 2008

Trapped in the Himalayas

(Me hiking over a landslide with a strong head cold)
I've been home from Asia for a little over a week and I haven't really been able to convince myself that my trip wasn't just a dream. I miss the sounds of monks chanting, intense burning, and prayer flags waving in the distance. I miss always being on the move. I miss being a celebrity. I miss living simply. I miss bonding with people traveling your same way. I miss so much, and yet so little. I don't understand how countries like India and Nepal function, it's just one big chaotic mess.
Although I've recapped this story to many people in the past week, I think I'll put it here too while it's fresh on my mind.
Well you know those movies where the main characters go on a road trip and EVERYTHING that could possibly go wrong, goes wrong? Well that pretty much defines the last week of my trip. It all started in Jomsom, a small village. It is the only place in the Annapurna region where there is an airport. We heard that sometimes because of the windy weather, airplanes aren't able to land, so we gave ourselves three days to try and catch a plane. Saturday came, no planes. Sunday came, no planes. Monday came, no signs of planes. We had spent the weekend anxiously awaiting the sign of good weather with several sets of travelers. We all were forced together in the same oppressive circumstances and formed a bond. Monday morning came and we all waited in the airport courtyard, making plans to get out of the Himalayas without the planes, when we heard the roar of an engine. We looked up and there it was. The thing we had been praying for all week: a small 15 seater airplane. We jumped for joy, screamed and hugged each other as we leaped toward the check in area. Because the airplanes were so small and there were a bunch of different companies, we didn't all have tickets for the small airplane. The first couple grabbed their bags and boarded a plane. The next two couples got on the next plane, leaving me, my dad, and our guide sitting patiently in the airport. We shouted out to them that we would see them in Pokhara! We checked our bags, went through the security check and lined the runway, but alas fate was not as kind to us and did not bring us an airplane.
From that moment we began the hardest journey of my life.
With all of our friends gone, we somberly slid into a jeep, wiped away our tears and pulled out of Jomsom. This leg of the "Amazing Race" to get back to Kathmandu was fairly uneventful. We stopped for a random tea break, had to wait on the side of the road while they blasted the mountain, and had to stop while the police pulled a man sitting next to us who had robbed a hotel. We got out of the jeep and began walking due to landslides. We walked for 5 hours on a quiet trail. We reached the landslides and instead of taking a three mile detour decided to risk our lives and cross the ACTIVE landslide. Our guide, who was a short, plump sherpa who never walked faster than a leisurely stroll, turned to us and said, "We walk fast here" turned around and started sprinting over the rocks, he looked like some kind of mountain goat. But this was when I knew we were in trouble, so I took off after him, trying not to notice the cliff on one side of me and the falling rocks on the other. Our group barely missed 8 falling boulders, God must really like me because that's the only reason why I'm alive right now. Mental and emotional exhaustion captured me towards the end of the 5 hours and walked right off a footbridge and fell in the water.
The next day began at five. I had woken up with a head cold, lucky me. We were told that we could catch a jeep after a half an hour walk. When we got to the jeep stand they "didn't feel like driving today." Of course, typical Nepal, so we put on our packs and turned down the road to go to the next jeep stop, which just happened to be about TWO hours away. While walking in my exhausted state I moved to the side of the road to avoid pack mules. I wasn't fast enough and one hit me right in the ribs, knocking the wind out of me.
But alas, we made it and got in an old bus, packed with people. Did I mention that there weren't any roads?? Just a dirt, rock trail? So an intense drive. At one point we were driving STRAIGHT up a mountain covered in mud when we got stuck... of course! No worries, we pushed the bus out and were on our way.
We got to a real live city! After being in the mountains for so long, I was soooo happy to see civilization! But my brief joy and dismantled when we found out there was a transit strike and there were no buses or taxis going to Pokhara. We searched for someone who would take us, but there was no one. We put our packs back on and started walked down the street, when an old beat up car pulled over and we got in. Well the car lasted thirty seconds before it pulled over to change it's tire. It took 8 nepalese men ONE HOUR to change one little tire. Finally we got going. We made it to paved road and were actually making good time when the car sputtered to a stop. It had died, completely. Of course this would happen to us, heaven forbid something actually worked out!
We waited in the smeltering heat while our taxi driver hitchhiked into town. He brought a new car, which was almost as beat up. Well that was good news. We got in the car, only to realize that this new car was going to tow the old car, with a piece of rope. That's right, a flimsy piece of rope. We tried it for a minute. The rope broke, DUH! But they try it again with the now broken rope. Hello?! Seriously?!! Do they have minds??
Anyways we continue our drive, only to run into a group of angry strikers who surrounded our car, jumping on the roof, shouting things at us. I thought I was going to die, right there. SOOO scary.
We finally get to Pokhara to find the city lined with empty cars. I guess there was a fuel shortage. We had no idea how we were going to find someone to drive us... either they were on strike or they had no gas. So we went to the airport. They had flights to Kathmandu, but oh wait, they stopped flying an hour earlier because they were working on the runway. I personally think they just didn't want to fly us because that would be too easy.
We finally found a car who had stolen some gas and began to drive. Ooooof course there happens to be a monsoon. We held on to our seats as our driver drove through the small windy mountain roads through a monsoon for 6 hours. And I was coughing and sniffing like mad the entire time.
But alas we make it to Kathmandu after 48 hours of hell. Did I mention that the airplane ride was only 44 minutes. 44 FREAKIN' MINUTES.
From Kathmandu we flew to Delhi, slept overnight in the airport. From Delhi we went to Helsinki, Finland. Finland to Amsterdam( another night spent on the side of the runway). Amsterdam to Houston. Houston to SLC!!!
Being in the middle of the Himalayas fighting to get to civilization helped me come to know myself. I realized how silly and trivial all my problems back home were. I mean, HELLO, I have everything I could ever want in Salt lake, and yet I complain all the time. I now know the meaning of living life to the fullest and going out and making life an adventure. Never again am I going to let my emotions hinder my life, I have too much to live for!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008


On a long bus ride from Kathmandu to Pokhara, I decided to stick with my old habits and found myself in the luggage compartment. Except this time the luggage compartment happened to be just a few bars on the roof of the bus. I had had enough of the hot sweaty crowded bus, so I ventured onto the roof. Unlike the last time I tried to use a luggage compartment as a seat, this was the best seat I've ever had! It was like I was flying through the green Himalayas. Granted the road wasn't really finished so I had to hold on pretty tight when we went around corners and passed other vehicles, but I don't think I've ever felt so free, like I was soaring. It was almost like a super hard core version of the Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland. It was such a wonderful experience, but I don't think I'll ever be content with the interior of a bus again.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Greetings from the Himalayas!

Well folks, I am so sore that I can barely walk. They told us that we would be going on a trek through the Himalayas, but they lied. It is a trek UP the Himalayas. I'm not lying when I say that pretty much all we've done is gone up one big giant staircase. They even built stairs.
SOOOOO painful.
But all that pain was worth it last night when the clouds cleared and we finally got a view of Annapurna, the third highest mountain in the world, a football field short of Everest. So beautiful, actually it was beyond words.
Every day consists of a 7 to 9 hike up these mountains, so I have about 30 miles under my belt, and I think we are only half way through. It's quite a journey, but there are quaint little guesthouses alongside the road that make for great resting spots. Although they are void of most comforts, like electricity for example. But in all reality what is more poetic than reading Jane Austen's words or Sherlock Holmes adventure by candlelight in a cottage guesthouse in the Himalayas?

Friday, July 4, 2008

Kathmandu, I'll be watching you

On the day of our country's independence I'm here in a country that recently gained their own independence, Nepal. This country couldn't be more opposite than ours, a communist like rebel group in charge, and the richest of the rich couldn't even come close to our middle class. But it's such a cool place with such a cool vibe. If I told you that I thought this place was clean, quiet, peaceful, and happy you would think that I'm out of my mind. But that's how I feel about it. I mean compared to Delhi this place is paradise. So what if the streets aren't really paved or that people use the streets as a trash can? At least it's not humid and horrible and crowded and just awful.
The whole time I've been here I've had that Cat Stevens song, Kathmandu (hence the title of this post) stuck in my head. There is this Buddhist temple with these blue eyes painted on everyside, so it seems like they are staring you down where ever you go. It's so neat and covered in prayer flags! love it!
Oh the streets are lined with every REI lovers dream. Northface climbing equiment stores. But unlike our dear REI back in the states, people can actually afford to buy these clothes. Tonight I bought a jacket which I saw at REI a few months back which was priced well over a hundred dollars for about $7. I was told afterwards that I paid way too much for it. It's heaven here and I have to practice extreme self control as to not to run into the stores and buy everything I see. If anyone wants me to buy them anything, let me know!
Has anyone heard of MC Hammer? He wrote the Hammertime song... and invented Hammerpants. Hammerpants are like diapers, the pant legs are so wide that you would think that it was a skirt, but then you see the elastic at the bottom and then the diaper like way the legs separate. well apparantly they are back in style here in Nepal. Every store has them and almost all of the hippy foreigners wear them... although none of the natives sport them. I think it's hillarious.
Tomorrow I'm going trekking in the Himalayas with a sherpa! Totally tight! If the weather is clear I'll be able to see Everest! Woot woot!
Happy Fourth of July! I don't think I'll ever complain about America again.... after all they do have toliets that work unlike so much of the rest of the world!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

All roads lead to Tibet!

Since reading 7 years in Tibet I've dreamt of one day strolling the streets of Lhasa. This dream came true for my brother two years ago, and I thought it would for me too. After we got our plane tickets to India, the uprisings occurred in protest of the Olympic torch running through Tibet. Monks were killed or put in prison and China put Tibet in lock down mode. I lost hope of retracing my brother's steps and soon tried to make myself content with a tour of India, with an emphasis on Tibetan resettlements. I've actually rather enjoyed seeing the Tibetan culture alive and thriving here in India. But everyone here informs me that this lush green village is nothing like the real Tibet. My heart wasn't really settled. We are so close to Tibet, but we just couldn't get across the border.
Well today the borders opened because the torch has passed through and we have booked our bus tickets. WE'RE GOING TO TIBET! If the Chinese give us visas I will be in Tibet on Saturday. My whole being shakes with excitement! We'll probably be some of the first tourists back into the broken up nation. The journey won't be easy by any means, I think it'll involve, crowded trains and buses, airplane and taxi rides. But it's worth it!
Thank you McLeod Ganj for the good times, but Tibet here I come!

Good times in the clouds