Tuesday, April 1, 2008

NEPAL - Same Same, But Different

I am not bothering with pictures within the blog entry. Go to http://picasaweb.google.com/aashton to see my photos. The photos are not well organized yet. I had to get my freaking $20 photo CD from Snapfish in order to incorporate Cyncy's photos. I f-ing hate Snapfish. Save yourself the headache and cost and just use PICASA everyone!

Also, I must prominently recommend the tour company we used, Intrepid Travel. We did their Annapurna Sanctuary Trip. The price and sustainable tourism-slant got me initially interested in the company. Intrepid uses only local operators and locally owned hotels. The company ensured that our guides and porters were paid well and weren't overloaded or overwhelmed. Our guide made sure we all felt safe and comfortable and didn't drink bad water or eat improperly cooked food. TOP NOTCH all around. I will definitely use them again.

KATHMANDU (March 7-9)
You think of Kathmandu as some sort of mysterious place full of culture and historic sights. Maybe a few retired hippies to keep it interesting. But no, what a craphole. Sorry, but it is true. For me personally, it is hard to love a place where you can get Dahl Bhat, Chicken Enchiladas, Pizza, and Apple Pie - all at the same restaurant. Sort of like the Cheesecake Factory only you can't drink the water and there's no toilet paper in the bathroom (and no toilet seat either, for that matter).

The City is dirty and strikingly poor and choking with diesel fumes. Seriously, my snot was black after 2 days there. You cannot step into the street without being completely in the moment and completely aware - watching for cars, rickshaws, open sewers, kids, dogs, cows, people trying to sell you bits of junk and nick-knacks . Now I sound like a western, elitist snob - but this is a tourist town of the worst sort.

That being said, Kim, Cyndy and I found refuge in a few places. For example: our favorite breakfast spot for eggs, coffee, and cheese-toast, the local bookstore, the restaurant/bar overlooking the intense chaos of the main street, and the garden cafe next to the Hotel Marshyangdi where we stayed. It wasn't quite the cultural experience I was hoping for, but I knew that going in. I think I have seen my fill of Kathmandu. Once is enough.

BHAKTAPUR (March 9-10)
Cool little city outside of Kathmandu. The City is known for its preserved temples and medieval-looking, narrow streets. I thought the city was a nice break from Kathmandu. No traffic on the streets and lots of local crafts and cool stuff for us tourists (aka suckers) to buy.

TREK (March 11-22)
How do I even begin to describe 11 days of 4-6 hours hiking, temperature and weather variation from boiling hot to freezing cold and snowing (all in the same day), with the most fantastic vertigo-inducing views I have ever seen in my entire life. For anyone that doesn't know, I went with 2 friends on this trip, Cyndy Schafer from UCSB and Kim Potter from my triathlon club. We met three other AMAZING couples in Kathmandu for the trip, The Brits - Charlie & Helen from Leeds and Dai & Janna from Brighton, and the Aussies Matt & Jen from Melbourne. I cannot imagine a better group of traveling partners. We all got along so well, not a douchebag in the bunch.

A typical day would consist of a 6:15 am wake up for sunrise, followed by a 7:00am breakfast (porridge and black tea for me). We'd pack up and give our bags to the porters, then get started. This was some hard hiking, the "difficulty rating = 5" that the tour company. Nothing like the mellow Inca Trail business we did a few years ago. This was REALLY hard. OMG I have never gone up and down so many freakin steps. We'd take a break for a Fanta and Snickers at 10:00am then have lunch a few hours later. The usual meal was Noodles or Rice with veggies and egg, perhaps some dal bhat (the staple meal of Nepal, veggies with rice and lentils) . It was cheap, simple, filling food. Usually we'd hike for another hour after lunch then we'd arrive at the next "lodge".

Our afternoons of leisure after hiking were my favorite part of the trek! We'd all just sit around, play cards, drink beer, talk, read books, and watch the weather outside. You just never do that in your daily life, sit around and do NOTHING. I relished every moment of our downtime. Dinner was served early, pretty much the same fare as lunch - but with the occasional yak cheese pizza or Nepali-style chicken enchilada?!?!? Weird but good.

BANGKOK (March 24th-26th)
I loved everything about Bangkok! The chaos, the Pad Thai in the street for breakfast, the people, the markets, EVERYTHING. It makes me sad that anyone lives in sprawling USA-type suburbia, I truly believe that living like that is the major cause of depression in the states . It must be almost impossible to be depressed here, but then I am a big-city girl at heart. This trip made me more sure that I must live in NYC in my 40s. I know not everyone can handle all the people, the dirt and pollution, and general disorder - I feel alive in it.

Anywho, the picts tell the story. We saw a few monuments, temples, buddhas, blah blah blah - but the real fun is just wandering the streets and eating random things off the carts. I am going back to Thailand SOON for sure.

Cool peeps on the trek: A++++++++

Janna and Gen getting sick: F- But carrying on anyway: A+

Macchapucchre: A

Kim Asking the Scottish Guy, "So who are you?": B+

Golf: A-

Trash on the Trail: C

Bullshit: C+ (come on that game got old and Rabin couldn't lie)

HOLI paint fights: B+

Nine million freakin stairs up and down: C

Sunrises in the Mountains: A (not an A+ because it was too freakin early)

My Super-cute Porter Who Couldn't Hold His Liquor: B+

French Fries Topped with Fried Egg: A

Too Many Fantas: B-

http://www.intrepidtravel.com/: A+++

Missing Dave: D

Hail Storms: B+

Being Indoors During all the Rain Storms: A

Hot Springs: C (sorry but the old German guy in his tighty-whities ruined it for me)

Mules on the Trail: D

Doggies on the Trail: B+

Pit Toilets: C

Frozen Pit Toilets: D-

Solar Showers: B-

Porridge: A

Chocolate Porridge: C-

Incorporating "Posh" and "Dead Horse" into my American Vocabulary: C (sorry, my fake British and Aussie accents are really bad)

7 Habits of Highly Effective People: D-

Beer along the trek at the Teahouses: A

Matt's Hideous Hangover: D

Kim's Dancing on the Last Night at the Disco: A+

Janna's Hippie-style Glove Twirling: A-

Hot Climber at ABC: A (come on you know you saw him)

Amie's friend Ray: B+

Amie's friend Ray drunk: F-

Pad Thai for Breakfast in Bangkok: A

Ambien for the Plane: A

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