So maybe you’ve been wondering what we’ve been up to. Maybe not.
There were some setbacks for Riki as its not possible to buy many things in Switzerland that he uses for his art. However, after much trial and error, and some importing thanks to family and friends in the States, he has found a combination that he likes enough and is now able to finish some of his pieces. All are on wood that we found or were given, which was also a tough task, as there is no abundance of dumpsters here as there is in New Orleans.
Here are some of the latest pieces, mostly by Riki. Most are incomplete, either lacking the final coat, or completely in progress. Enjoy!
On the plane from KL to KTM – they don’t have any more beer so they bring me half a cup of vodka (barely any ice)…. Hmmm, thank you I guess?
Nepal First Impressions (Kathmandu):
– Flying into the city was awesome (at 10pm), with colorful flashing lights dotting and blinking all about the skyline (we got lucky with our timing, because we came during the midst of Tihar, festival of lights (the Nepali equivalent of Diwali)
Airport is old school and crazy, lucky we didn’t arrive when it was too busy, otherwise I dunno…
At the baggage carousel, people be thinking, if I push my cart right up there then I will have so much space to get my bags and it won’t be in anybody’s way… not
Dusty drive in. Couldn’t see much but the blinking, colorful lights draped from the buildings. DUI checkpoints everywhere (instead of breathalyzers, the driver just kind of spits in the cops face, or says something in such a way that if you’ve been drinking the cop can definitely smell/feel it…
The egg yolks are yellow again!!! They were more neon orange in Thailand and Vietnam
Super dusty main streets make for cool pictures
These stray dogs are great at crossing the street without getting killed, they must have a lot of practice
The shopping (or potential to buy stuff) is the best I’ve ever seen. I want to buy everything, but I don’t have the money, or even a place to put the stuff if I did (here or anywhere)
Tihar (Dipwali) evening observations – colored powder, marigolds, candles (wax and oil), firecrackers, kids going door to door singing for money, lights everywhere…
Nepalese people are amazingly diverse, the kids are really cute, the women are beautiful, and the young men are all “cool dudes”
In general, the cars and bikes in KTM are the worst we’ve seen (most old school and full of awful drivers). Julie was almost hit more times in 4 hours of walking around Thamel than during the rest of our entire trip (and we’ve been around a lot of cars/bikes in Vietnam & Thailand)
Bus trip on the way to Pokhara
This bus is crazy bad @ not causing a traffic jam, along with the other 50 buses trying to get gas at the one gas station on the busiest street around
Back seat – we got air at least 10 times (air: whole body lifting off the seat by an inch or more…)
They were playing 50 Cent @ a lunch spot, great food, but weird vibe with the music
Saw a hemp plant growing on the side of the road, somebody in the bus shouts out “marijuana!”
Festival in Pokhara – great music, and people dancing all day and night (alone, in groups large and small, brother and sisters, etc…)
Cow in the Road – really can do whatever they like – tourists taking photos – one big old German guy tells another, of course, “Holy Cow!”
Me “I think all the dust is finally out of my mouth.” – Julie “They have paved roads here.”
On walk up to Peace Pagoda – we saw monkeys, a whole tribe of them (also we got lost again…) the baby’s were really cute, but there was a moment when we were surrounded, and a couple of the big guys were chasing each other, and it was pretty scary (like the gorillas in that movie Congo), but then I realized I was being a baby…
5 day Poon Hill Trek
Brutal if you don’t have a good pack (and shoes cause it gets “slippy”) and if you have a wicked cold (literally woke up in Ghorepani @ 2874M and my lungs hurt when I took deep breaths)
Sapa don’t have nothing on the rice terraces here… Btw, I love rice terraces
Little kids in towns we pass asking “chocolate” or “photos (for money)” is a little cute, til you think of how many people must be actually giving them chocolate… But when a kid says “medicine?” and is pointing at a lil infection on his leg, it’s a little depressing (we didn’t have any medicine… left it all in Pokhara)
So many porters, or just random teenagers/young adults were the friendliest people I have ever encountered (!!), just asking where you were from, how long in Nepal, etc… w/ huge smile, super friendly. Wish I could hang out w/ them more than just a pass on the trek
Water Features! Everywhere, just walking up and down little streams that have taken over the paths, must get awful during the monsoon.
While trying to fall asleep when it’s nearly freezing in our room: Julie: “Are you comfortable?” Me: “No! I’m wearing a f@#$ing leotard!”
Back to Pokhara
While having dinner, Busses full of students (or just lots of young people) pass us by & they are either singing or yelling happily. They do this as they pass each restaurant down the road.
Julie’s calves are wicked swoll right now after the trek
KABADDI (Wave World Kabaddi League)? – some crazy sport on Indian TV that looks like a mix between red rover and wrestling (w/ awfully depressed looking white cheerleaders)
Back to Kathmandu
These trucks are awesome – they just say whatever the drivers favorite thing is: Sports, Playboy, Lionel Messi, Bob Marley, Road King/Viking, Titanic (complete with Kate & Jack painting) – sometimes they have beautiful pictures painted on them (mountain scenery, gods & goddesses) and sometimes just kittens and puppies…
I’ve been offered Hash (in varying discrete ways) an average of 5 times a night every time we walk through Thamel (the touristy area)
The Three Durbar Squares around KTM:
Patan: coolest, most compact, pretty
Bhaktapur: old school, quietest, most quaint
Kathmandu: lived in, busy, most ornate decorations on certain buildings
This one song that is playing @ every music shop will now forever be in my head & Julie hates it (really just me singing it…). I find out later that it’s just Tibetan monks chanting for hours on end.
The dust is completely overwhelming, @ the end of the day, I use a tissue, and everything that comes out is grey/brown/black. TMI.
And the traffic is nuts here, no traffic lights, or even stop signs. These traffic cops must have balls of steel
Also, driving a car here (or bus) is like playing chicken (crazy scary chicken in the mountains), it’s all about who flinches first…
Bus Travel – one highway b/w the major cities, going through crazy steep hills (what we would call mountains, but they call them hills, because the mountains here are the real deal…)
-On the way to Chitwan, saw a bus with its front section completely blown out, no windows, nothing, and the top half of the bus was leaning @ a 45 degree angle, and they were driving this thing…
-From Chitwan to KTM, saw a minibus fall off the cliff (we didn’t see it actually happen just the aftermath), luckily some dense trees saved it from going all the way down. Also, Julie saw at least 1 almost accident and the others said they saw three
-@ least the busses (for an 8 hour trip) are more comfortable than all the airplanes I have taken this year, and those busses are old school
Scooters Vs. Motorbikes:
Nepal does it right when it comes to motorbikes, real motorcycles (Royal Enfields, apparently these are real cool) w/ protection for your legs & plenty of exhaust. But compared to SEA (where they have scooters or fancy new motorbikes) they are bad ass…
Pollution in Kathmandu:
The dust is intolerable! I love the city, but c’mon! these road widening projects & all the construction for the SAARC summit (which happens Nov 26 & is nowhere near ready) puts so much dust in the air you can’t breathe…
-and I haven’t even started on all the trash they burn (literally, all of it) and the smelly river…
Leaving for BKK @ KTM airport:
The airport is old, so old, like Cuba w/out the organization (especially the domestic terminal where we left for Pokhara)
In the departure terminal: I’m pretty sure it was 95% men in there (mostly Nepalese migrant workers, likely going to Malaysia or the Middle East to be exploited as cheap labor) & I’m pretty sure many of them were about to board their first airplane b/c they were like little boys @ the airport (faces pressed up to the glass, watching the planes go about their business)
Back to Kathmandu to meet up with my parents and friends. Nepal wasn’t on our original itinerary, but we are very glad we came and have had a great time with my parents – at least I did – and Riki would never say otherwise 🙂
The old folks (permission granted for use of this term) arrived a bit late due to some craziness in Doha, but we waited patiently at the hotel with some Gorkhas, our new favorite Nepali beer. We were then invited to an excellent dinner with an American/Irish family who has lived in Nepal for almost 30 years. They gave us a nice run down of how things work and the itinerary for the rest of the days in Nepal. The first morning in Kathmandu, we walked for about two hours, ending up in Thamel, the main tourist area. It isn’t terribly far from where we stayed, but there are no sidewalks and the roads are mostly dirt and not labeled on maps or signs. The taxis are pretty cheap, but you have to haggle, because the starting price is never what it should cost, like all things here. I don’t enjoy haggling, but I have been put in charge of arranging taxis because apparently I am good at it. I have no problem arguing over the rupee equivalent of $1, mostly because I know a Nepali would still be charged half as much as I am charged. And you can’t trust the meters because many of them have been altered to charge more than they should. Its a bizarre system. Everything is negotiable, except when its not.
We spent the afternoon in Patan’s Durbar Square, one of the oldest known Buddhist cities. Lots of brick buildings with cool wood windows. It is a UNESCO site and has many small streets and alleys. We ate a rooftop dinner with fried crunchy sizzling mo:mos (yes that is properly spelled). They are usually just like steamed dumplings and come in veg, chicken or buff (the menus verbatim).
The next day we went to Baktipur, a large old capital from the 1700s mostly. It is also a UNESCO site, but cars are not allowed on many streets, so it is a nice change from the chaos of the rest of the city. They also have a Durbar Square. It is rice harvesting time and the women have loads of rice spread out on tarps on every available flat space. They constantly rake it flat and then pile it up in order to dry it, all day. Then they pile it back up, cover it and do the same the next day.
Our third day, we went shopping. My parents are taking a suitcase back home for us, so for the first time, we are able to buy things! But we didn’t this day. We just looked. We went to a Tibetan handicraft center and watched women sit in dingy rooms knotting rugs on giant looms. There were some great patterns, but it did not look like fun. That afternoon, we took a short tour of a school and an intro to Nepali class. We can now say thank you, left, right, straight and water pretty well. Oh, and tasty. Luckily, many people speak English. We also met with two contacts of Riki’s family, one in a development organization and one who is a former ambassador. Both offered great insight on their country. Feeling adventurous, we stopped at the New Orleans Cafe for dinner. My dad ordered the New Orleans Chicken Basket (fried chicken with french fries) and another travel companion ordered Jambalaya (I didn’t try it, but it looked like rice with chicken in a reddish-brown sauce). Those were the only New Orleans referenced dishes, not counting the New Orleans cocktail (vodka with some type of juice). Riki had the Mongolian BBQ. I think I had curry. No Abita, and no discount for New Orleanians. We even tried to show them Riki’s driver’s license. No luck.
The next three days we had free while the old folks helped at a local school with activities and then painting. We wandered back to Patan on foot and did a little shopping. We managed to find our way back, despite there being no road signs and the maps are generally terrible. We had dinner in Thamel at a lively place called Friends Restaurant where we were entertained by some local instruments. Our third and final Durbar Square trip was in the center of Kathmandu. It was not as impressive as Baktipur, but had a lot more people (and pigeons). There is a great courtyard where the “living goddess” stays (and sometimes appears). She doesn’t walk outside of her quarters. She is carried by others. Once she reaches puberty, she is replaced by a younger girl. On our way to Thamel we stopped in a secluded Stupa square, surrounded by little art shops and some crafts stores. Riki disappeared for awhile to look at Thanka paintings and I was granted use of the camera to stalk an adorable small girl.
Best picture of the day, in my opinion. Having been in about a hundred stores selling Thanka (a form of art very common here that shows the path to nirvana mostly and lots of Buddhas), I was glad Riki had finally found one he liked enough to buy that day. We then walked to the Garden of Dreams. It is a tranquil walled space in the midst of loads of traffic and honking.
Saturday we met up with another Nepali connection, this time an artist from a remote area in the mountains. He showed us his gallery set right next to a large stupa, Boudhanath (another UNESCO site). He was then gracious enough to take us 10 minutes walking to his studio so we could see some work in progress. His work is unlike anything else we have seen in Nepal, full of movement and expression. Most paintings we’ve seen are sedentary Buddhas. We learned alot about his village and his personal goals to educate its people. It takes over a week to reach his village, it is so remote. From there we walked about 30 minutes to Pashupatinath. This is another UNESCO site, where many cremations occur on the ghats. We came in from above and could smell the burning very well. It was a bit disconcerting to see the ashes flying all around and think about what was burning below. It is all done out in the open and then the ashes are scattered in the river. We saw tons of monkeys on our way here and all over the buildings.
Our last day before flying to Pokhara was spent painting at a local school just outside Kathmandu. We joined the old folks and rolled walls all day. The school is for very young children of migrant workers, who would otherwise have no one to watch them or have to go to work with their parents. The building is a large house, so the classrooms are just the bedrooms and must be very crowded when filled with a dozen 6 year olds. There was a bit of drama as the quality of the materials was not exactly up to par with what we are used to (wobbly ladders, deteriorating brushes, watered down paint – all brand new), but we made do with what we could buy and were able to get most of the house painted.
We spent our last few days in Bangkok researching about Nepal and wandering some neighborhoods we missed last time. We also switched hostels, from an interesting place on the water with a lot of character, but noisy toilets and questionable structural integrity to a place we had stayed before we went to Ayutthaya. We sacrificed windows and character for a/c and cleaner bathrooms.
We took the river ferry down to the skytrain and over to the commercial center full of shops and hotels. We didn’t have much success shopping for hats, but Riki found a smaller tripod so he can swap out his larger one when we meet up with my parents next week. The next day, we took the river ferry across to Wat Arun. The Thonburi neighborhood is one of the older ones and has lots of little side streets, as well as walkways along the water. And unlike Ayutthaya, the cats rule the streets here, not the dogs.
Good bread has been very hard to find and we have been craving it for awhile. Not far from the backpacker’s area in Bangkok, we found a great bakery with real bread run by ladyboys. And they have wifi. We went every day, even twice one day to eat fresh bread and research for Nepal.
On Wednesday we flew through Kuala Lumpur to Kathmandu. We were unimpressed with Malaysia Airlines, mostly because of the service. They ran out of chicken meals and brought me a vegetarian meal, but an hour later. And they brought Riki a tall glass of vodka when he asked for a beer, without anything to mix with it. So that was weird.
We arrived very late in the evening in Nepal and luckily the power was on and we got our visas pretty quickly. Getting our bags was a trip, just as we had heard. It is very hectic around the baggage claim. People with carts crowd the belt and it’s almost impossible to get to the front. But as soon as Riki had sent me off to check another belt, our bags arrived. We made it to our hostel and spent the next day wandering around Thamel looking for a trekking guide and supplies.
And this is where it gets awesome. Very conveniently, we arrived in the midst of Dewali/Tehar/Dipwali (known by a variety of names here), which is a big four day festival. For this festival, everyone decorates their buildings with lights. When we flew in, we could see all the lights, on almost every building. Incredible for a place known for its power outages. They must have saved up their power for this festival because we had no problems with power outages during these days. They also make incredible rice/sand pieces to invite the goddess of wealth into their homes. We walked around for hours looking at these and watching little kids go around from house to house asking for money.
Very early the next morning, we took a bus to Pokhara, the second largest city in Nepal. This 8 hour trip cost $7 and travelled along the highway, which was more high then way. It was barely two lanes (one each direction) and really bumpy. Sometimes we were very close to the edge. Other times, it was so bumpy we were actually bounced completely off our seats. Luckily they were soft and we didn’t hit any traffic jams. We have heard horror stories of people trapped on the highway for hours because of accidents. And it’s the only road.
We checked into a really nice family run place in Pokhara and spent the afternoon checking out the trekking agencies. That evening, still during the festival, the sidewalks were filled with people dancing. We stopped at numerous places to watch individuals and groups dance in front of the gathering crowds. Riki really enjoyed this and there are probably a hundred pictures from this night.
Because of the festival, the permit office was closed and we were not able to leave as early for our trek as we had hoped. This was fine by us, as we had plenty of time and wanted to see what the festival was all about. Saturday we did a short trek uphill for two hours to the World Peace Pagoda. We only got a little lost and ended up finding a troupe of monkeys. They were fascinating and we also probably have a hundred pictures of them. They were drinking from a small pond and had tiny babies with them. Eventually we made it to the top and had an excellent view of the city. The clouds even cleared a bit and we could see the Himalayas.
In August, there was a large landslide right under the pagoda and a few people died. The remnants are still very visible. We walked down a ton of steps (for practice for our trek) and found a boat at the bottom to take us back across the lake to Pokhara. That evening we found a ton more dancing on the sidewalks.
On Sunday, we returned to one of trekking agencies and arranged for a guided 5 day trek to Poon Hill for the next day. We spent the afternoon shopping for hats, gloves and provisions (including Snickers bars, which are big with trekkers).