Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Up and Up

Finally got a flight to Lukla the other day. Not one I would recommend for anyone with a fear of flying, it was pretty intense landing on a 400 meter runway. I've been trekking with a woman from the US and a guy from Germany for the past few days. The first day from Lukla we hiked to Benkar, a small village with a good teahouse to stay in. The next day we did the crazy slog to Namche, which was one of the toughest climbs I've done. The net vertical gain is about 700 meters, but the total net gain/loss is around 1000 meters. It's a tough climb, and a little frustrating when you realize you're not gaining anything on the peaks above, they just get higher and higher. The views here are incredible, and are only supposed to get better as you get higher up, which we will do tomorrow. I've felt a little of the altitude in the form of a slight headache, but overall I'm holding up pretty well. Hopefully tomorrow the headache will be gone and I'll be good to keep going up.

Saturday, September 25, 2010


After waking up at 5am this morning and my flight being delayed for 5 1/2 hours, they finally cancelled all flights to Lukla due to bad weather. During the monsoon the airport, which is on the side of a mountain, can get socked in with cloud and becomes unable to run flights. So now I'm back in Kathmandu waiting to try again at 0830 tomorrow morning. This last 24 hours has essentially been pretty shitty, delays at the Indian embassy (I got my visa!), last night I had a giant spider run by my face in the bathroom (thanks for jinxing me, Cassandra), and I woke up at 4am to a cockroach the size of my ring finger in my room. Hopefully this is the end of my bad luck streak and good times from here on. I'm going out now to have a beer, I can't think much can go wrong with that...

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Temples Galore!

Ok, I got such a good deal yesterday, I have to brag. A lady outside the Pashupantinath Temples was trying to sell me some jewelry, and after her hounding me and being firm on my price, we settled on 220 Rupees. She wanted 2500. The normal amount you can usually barter down the price is about 30-60%. I knocked off 91%. I am good.

On to Pashupantinath. This is the temple complex that has mainly to do with the life and death cycle. In word word: Deep. People come here to cremate their family members and deposit their remains in the Bagmati River, Nepal's holy river that flows into the Ganges. This continues the cycle of life to death, death to life. The only people that don't get cremated are the holy men, who are instead buried, stopping the cycle. It was pretty powerful watching the cremations, and a Buddhist family performing a ritual on the one year anniversary of their family members cremation. I finally caved and hired a guide for this one.

Today I made a trip to Patan, to go see the Durbar Square there. To avoid confusion, Durbar Square is a universal term, there are many of them around the Kathmandu Valley. It was a pretty cool, medieval looking place. Lot's of old architecture and an impressive array of temples in the square. I was hoping for a clear day to shoot some good pictures, but no such luck. The sun here is so intense and the clouds are so gray it's difficult to shoot against, and a lot of my pictures don't end up being as nice as they should be.

I'm typing this on a computer at an internet cafe, the internet at my guest house has been down for a day so I am unable to post any pictures, but hopefully soon. Tomorrow I go finalize my Indian Visa and get the last minute things ready for my trek on Saturday.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Stupa'd and Durbar'd

Acting on advice given by one of the hotel staff, I headed back to Durbar Square to see the Indra Jatra Festival today (NOTE: In an earlier post at the start of my Nepal trip I posted about going to the Indra Jatra Festival. This was incorrect, that festival was Teej, the Women's Festival. Indra Jatra started today). It really was a waste of money. I'm not sure if I showed up too late or too early, but it wasn't anything exciting and I found myself bored out of my skull at all the Temples I've already seen, hence the lack of pictures taken. I can also now say I've been to a third world gym! I went to one near my guest house today to exercise the shoulder a little. Pretty basic I must say, and it was pretty hilarious lifting and seeing people lift weights without shoes on.

The ball is rolling for my trek, which I will be departing for on Saturday. I had to hang around Kathmandu for most of this week waiting for my Indian Visa to push through, due to Indian beauracracy. I picked up some layers for the cold weather today, and found a decent travel agent to handle my flight and paperwork.

Yesterday I headed to Swayambhunath, aka the Monkey Temple, due to the sheer amount of monkeys that call it home. It is definitely a must-see of Kathmandu, with it's incredible views of the city, the giant Stupa, all the cool temples, and of course, the monkeys.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Back to Kathmandu, Part I

Nearly thirteen hours spent on a non-air conditioned bus in the humid, tropical heat today. I finally arrived in Kathmandu at 7:45 pm tired, hungry and probably not smelling the freshest. They had finally cleared a landslide off the highway this morning, which allowed the buses to run, only to have another one hit when we were en-route. We had to wait for over three hours for them to finally clear the road and allow traffic to move.

My five days in Pokhara could have been better, between being sick and all the rain, but it was a beautiful place and I can imagine a visit there in the dry season would be ten times better. I'm sure the owners of Hotel Crown will be happy that at night they can finally listen to the peaceful sound of the insects chirping without being punctuated by my violently loud bowel movements.

Now I'm back in the hustle and bustle of Kathmandu. Things are noticeably busier now, the streets are crazy and the restaurants are full. What a difference one week closer to the dry season makes. I'm hoping to have my Indian Visa process underway tomorrow so I can start trekking right away and get it when I get back. If everything goes without a hitch tomorrow and I get lucky enough to score a last minute flight, I could be trekking by Tuesday. Right now Wednesday looks more realistic though.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

To the Bat Cave!

Excellent day today. I recovered from my sickness, my bowels finally worked properly, the weather cleared up, had a conversation with a North American, and went caving for my first time.

I hadn't talked to anyone from North America in almost two weeks, and it was a great relief to finally have a fluid conversation with someone where I wasn't breaking through language or accent barriers. When I arrive in Kathmandu tomorrow I'll have to start my quest to find a decent trekking partner for my journey to Everest Base Camp. I'm thinking it'll be a great asset to have someone around to watch each others backs and belongings.

I took a taxi up to the Bat Cave today to test out my claustrophobia. Good news, I don't have any. I hooked up with a few other Nepali people, crawling around the wet muddy rock and squeezing through spaces I didn't think I'd fit. I saw one damn bat the whole time, and didn't even manage to get a picture of it. It was fun as hell though, I'd definitely recommend it. An expensive cab ride (almost $10 there and back), but at 20 Rupees (about 30 cents), it was worth it.

Tonight I'll hit up the Old Blues Bar for a beer and pack my bag for the bus ride to Kathmandu tomorrow. That's if the mudslide that hit the highway is cleared by then. Cross your fingers for me.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Under the Weather

Well the past two days I've been fighting a lingering sickness that seems to come and go, sort of a half assed flu. After a fitful sleep and running a temperature, I feel like crap today so I think I'm going to veg out in my room and down fruit juice until I become diabetic. I'm seriously hoping I get better fast, I'm not far away from my Everest trek and it would be very risky to do it sick.

I'm sure the hike to the Peace Pagoda yesterday didn't help things. It was my first taste of hiking in the rainforest, I got poured on the entire way up. Luckily it stopped when I got to the top so I was able to take some pictures. I also went to Devi's Falls, which was pretty cool. It plunges around some cool rock formations into a chasm where it disappears underground, unfortunately the way the footpaths are set up doesn't really offer a really good picture opportunity.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


Well after some issues with finding a good wifi connection I was finally able to post. I'm sure outside the major cities are times when my posting will be infrequent, but I will do my best. I think uploading pictures is going to be near impossible until I get back to Kathmandu.

Caught the 0700 bus to Pokhara in the morning, quite the experience taking a public bus cross country in Nepal. It really shows a person a lot of the problems with the infrastructure here, partly due to the civil war that ended a few years ago, weak government and poverty. The road we took is the major one between Kathmandu and Pokhara, a city of lower elevation near the Annapurna Mountain and gateway to the Annapurna circuit trek. What they consider their highway would be a semi-paved forestry road in Canada, complete with tons of buses, trucks, broke-down trucks, people and motorcycles. Life here in Pokhara seems way more laid back than in Kathmandu, and thankfully there's less pollution and noise here.

This morning I woke up feeling pretty ill, I'm pretty sure the cause is a bottle of water I drank that had the seal tampered with. It was a brand I hadn't tried before and the seal wouldn't break in two places opposite from each other. I figured it might be just the brand but I bought another one today that unscrewed fine. Thankfully by afternoon, and after a good nap, I felt much better. I'm hoping this means I'm somewhat resistant to the bacteria here. On the good note, I found an awesome little blues bar last night, I'm definitely going to check that out tonight.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Visa Extension and Cockroach A La Carte

I can confidently say that I've now reached the point where I am in tune with the environment I'm in. I seem to be dealing with the people and situations here very well and can find my way around the city without too much trouble. Hopefully this is good training for what I'm sure will be a much more difficult time in India.

I headed to the Immigration Office today to get my Nepali visa extended, which went without a hitch. While I was waiting I cruised around the city and ended up in a nearby hole in the wall restaurant where I ended up meeting two other travelers and having lunch, a plate of chow mein complete with a small, dead cockroach on the side of it. I guess for less than a dollar you can't have high expectations. Thankfully I didn't get sick.

I have a bus ticket booked and tomorrow morning I will be off to Pokhara. Just in time I think, the pollution of Kathmandu is starting to get to me, I've developed a slight cough and sore throat that I'm sure isn't sickness related. I think in the long term sense, smoking would be a better choice than breathing in this smog.

Sunday, September 12, 2010


Today I ventured out to see the big Buddhist Stupa in Bodhnath. Instead of doing the typical tourist thing and take a taxi there, I took the adventurous route and caught a public bus there. What an experience. There are no normal North American style buses save for the tourist only buses, which I declined to take. Instead, they are more like travel style vans, and those are the big ones. The ones I didn't get to take. Instead I was crammed in the back of this mini-mini-van with ten other Nepali's, and two more in the front seat. It was probably big enough to fit four American-sized people. At one point one passenger was hanging off the side of the bus along with the fare collector. It was pretty comical.

The Bodhnath Stupa was very impressive, it stands about six or so stories tall and is draped with prayer flags. The best part of the day was when I stumbled upon a Tibetan Monastery and was invited in to watch their prayer ritual. And they actually let me take pictures! I consider this a major stroke of luck since I read everywhere that you're not supposed to. The prayer ritual was incredible, seeing the young Buddhist monks in the flesh doing what they devote their life to is something I will never forget. Hearing the the three foot long Tibetan horns and the deep sounding drums played in movies does not come close to doing them justice to what they sound like in real life.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Indra Jatra, baby!

A great day in Nepal! I was lucky enough to see the Indra Jatra Festival at Durbar Square today. The festival itself is focused on women, and thousands of them dress up in colorful clothing to pay respect to the living goddess, Kumari. Unfortunately I didn't get to see the procession she comes in on, but just being there among the crowds was cool enough. I was lucky enough to find a high temple step to people watch from, and I ended up having a pretty cool conversation with a Nepalese trekking guide. Coincidently enough I had stumbled upon some old hiking pictures from the Rocky Mountains that I showed him. It felt pretty good to talk to someone foreign without them trying to push some tour or trinket on me.

It was also pretty funny moving through the jam packed crowds, at 5'11" I'm a good head taller than everyone else, save for the occasional tourist, so I had the birds eye view of everything. It's quite the change of pace for me to be one of the tallest and heaviest people around.

As for food, banana pancakes could become my new favorite breakfast. Eating those while sitting on the rooftop garden terrace was definitely a great start to the day.

Friday, September 10, 2010

North to the Thirder World

First off, I have to say Asian airlines kick the hell out of North American airlines. I highly recommend anyone fly with Thai Airways if they can, it was the bomb. The service was incredible! For a two and a half hour flight to Kathmandu I had four drinks, one awesome meal, a hot towel, pillow and blanket, customs forms, peanuts, and lots of smiles given to me.

One word to describe Kathmandu: Heavy. The air is humid and there is quite a bit of pollution, which makes it a little thick to breath. There's sound everywhere, honking (lots of honking), people talking, motorcycles, animals, birds, you name it. The streets are very narrow, roughly the size of our alleys back home, and they're full of people. It all sounds like a bit much, and it sometimes is, but it's still a really cool environment. There's never a shortage of things to catch your eye.

And thankfully the touts are not nearly as bad or as plentiful here as they were in Bangkok, that makes me really happy.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

More Miles On the Flip Flops

Today I hoofed it around Bangkok again, this time to see the Democracy Monument, which was not really all that exciting, then hopped on a canal boat to Siam Square, home of Bangkok’s best shopping. The canal boat was a really cheap and easy way to get around, 9 Baht each way (about 20 cents CAD). Don’t dare touch the water though. Spending a few hours around Siam Square was a good break from all the touts constantly trying to rip me off. The mall was pretty much a typical North American mall save for the huge area of small private shops packed in like sardines. I’ve never seen so many watch stores in one area, Thai’s must have a hard on for watches.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Bangkok Day One

I learned a couple hard lessons about Thailand today. First, I am not used to this heat. Carrying a backpack to the Grand Palace was a huge mistake, one I’m not going to repeat again. Another lesson is anytime a conversation with a Thai starts with a handshake and “Sir, where are you from?”, it’s not in your best interest to talk to this person. I thought Mexico was bad for people trying to sell you tours or lure you into their shops, but Thais make Mexicans look like pre-school. It’s downright devious, on the walk to the Grand Palace, which is about 3 km from my guesthouse, I encountered about six people who tried swaying me from my destination. It goes like this: “Today big Thai Expo, you go see Standing Buddha first, 50 meter tall! Then Sitting Buddha next, any other day 40 Baht, today no Baht. Special day. Grand Palace closed sir, Thai’s having ceremony. You come back in two hours when done, after you go see Standing and Sitting Buddha. Tuk Tuk cheap.” Then he hails a tuk tuk for you, and now you’re arguing with two people. It’s plainly obvious that the informative tout is making commission from the tuk tuk drivers for giving them business, and the 40 Baht you’re promised will likely turn into 400. Fortunately for me, I’m smart and can see past their bullshit. Unfortunately for me, I’m a solo tourist, which is an easy target for these fuckers.

The Grand Palace was amazing, so much beautiful Thai architecture in the Buddhist Temples, and amazing rich, golden colours. It was pretty cool going inside the temples and seeing the Thai’s praying, as well as the young monks in training. Tip: Pack cheap shoes, you are not allowed to bring shoes inside the temple, and I did not want to leave my expensive North Face shoes outside (the only reason I was glad I brought a backpack).

Tuesday, September 7, 2010


Well, after 3 airplane meals, a couple quick naps and a couple stamps in the passport, I'm in Thailand. The flights were actually not as bad as I was expecting for an airline of a developing nation. The food was actually the best I've ever had on an airplane surprisingly, pulled pork and rice for one meal, teryiaki chicken and rice for another, and finally the last one was a fish fillet and rice.

The humidity here in Thailand is insane. I've been to Mexico and Dominican Republic, but nothing compares to this Monsoonal humidity. Hopefully I adjust soon or I'll sweat out my will to live.

Monday, September 6, 2010

The Beginning

Here I am, the first leg of the journey: Vancouver. Had a great last day and a half of hanging out with old friends, checking out my friend's parent's yacht at Twassen, eating great sushi and seeing Machete (which was awesome, and totally exploded the violence portion of my brain). Tomorrow afternoon I catch my flight to my first time visiting another continent. I won't lie, I am a little nervous, but I'm ready for the onslaught of Asian people, spicy food and good times.