Sat, Sept 14, 2013
There was a huge lightning storm at 2am this morning. The flashes were so bright and frequent – I haven’t seen many storms like that before.
I enjoyed my last breakfast of sweet lassi (a yogurt drink), fried potatoes, and masala omelet at the hotel which has been my home for the last 6 nights. Before checking out, I went to the roof for one last view and for the first time in Kathmandu, the air was so clean I could see the top of the Himalayas.
We met at 7:00 and walked over to the place where the truck was parked. This was the first time we saw the truck which would be taking us all the way to Istanbul. Our guides gave us a mini tour of the truck, which is named “Calypso”, we took a group “before” photo and we loaded up for what was supposed to be a 4 hour drive to The Last Resort.
A bit about Calypso truck since many of you were curious about the “bus” I will be taking from Kathmandu to Istanbul – On the roof is storage for tents. On the outside of the back, there’s a rack for firewood and 4 spare tires. Inside is 22 seats. Most are forward facing, but there are two tables surrounded by 4 seats each for being social. There are also 4 seats at the back were people can poke their heads out of the roof if the weather and roads allow. There is a library of books – both guidebooks and for reading pleasure that we can borrow. At the back is basically a large closet, where all of our luggage, sleeping bags, roll mats, etc is stored. Around the outside of the truck is a series of lockers. These lockers are for truck tools, cooking gear, a pantry, etc.
Our first problems happened just outside of Kathmandu. For some reason, all traffic was being detoured from the main highway to a two lane street. People walking the street were moving faster than us. Then we took a wrong turn in Bahktapur which took us into the old town. By the time we realized the street wasn’t big enough for our big truck, it was too late to turn around, so we had to back up about 6 blocks.
Just outside of Bahktapur, we pulled over at a gas station for what I thought was a bathroom stop. But we were told that the truck had an acceleration problem. The driver tinkered with the engine and I walked to a small combo Hindu temple/Buddist statue at the top of a nearby hill.
Back near the truck, we saw a lean man running with a Nepalese flag and a support vehicle in the form of a motorbike, bag, and extra water. It turns out he was a famous Nepalese long distance runner. He stopped to take a water break and showed us copies of numerous articles about his running. On this trip, he was attempting to run 4 marathon distances in 2 days.
After a bit, we were back on the road. But at noon, we stopped in a dusty town. The truck was still having the problem and the driver thought they might have gotten some dirty gas that needed to be emptied. We were told to get lunch while they worked on the truck. At 2:00 we found out that emptying the gas didn’t help and further diagnostics would be needed. A local bus had been rented for us but we had longer to wait. Working on the truck was quite the attraction in that town. A couple dozen locals gathered to watch.
Around 3:00, the replacement bus arrived. We loaded all of our gear on the top and said goodbye to Calypso with the hopes that we would see her soon.
In the late afternoon, we drove thru beautiful countryside. About every 3 miles there seemed to be another police checkpoint. Usually this involved a policeman to board the bus and look around a bit and then send us on our way. There were numerous waterfalls from the surrounding hills. We also saw the long distance runner around 4:30, nearly 40 Kms since the last time we had seen him.
Finally we arrived at The Last Resort just before dark. We had to take all of our bags across a suspension bridge that’s 160 meters (about 500 feet) above the river below. The Last Resort is a tented camp for all kinds of adventure actitivies – white water rafting, canyoning, bungy jumping, canyon swinging, hiking. It also has a spa, sauna, massages, and plunge pool.
Our “tent” is very posh – a canvas army tent the size of a hotel room with a slanted tin roof build overhead. There is a full and a twin bed, luggage rack, and table. Outside is a cement veranda with a couple lounge chairs.
It’s great to be in the countryside. I can already feel that my sinuses have cleared and I haven’t hardly coughed at all today. Just before dinner, our truck arrived. There was a bit of plastic in the gas and once that was cleared, the truck was now good to go. We had a very nice buffet dinner at the Last Resort – lots of vegetables and really yummy mutton. Not exactly Nepali food, but finally some really healthy food.
Sun, Sept 15
I got amazing sleep last night – slept nearly 11 hours with the sound of the roaring river, pounding rain, and sounds of the jungle. We had a really good buffet breakfast and I had 2 bowls of papaya, yogurt, and museli – lots of energy for a day of hiking with Mindy and Barb, who have become my regular hiking partners. We watched 3 of the guys bungy jump after breakfast. A couple people were goading me to jump to represent America, since the 3 jumpers were from UK, Australia, and NZ but I declined since I had Bungy jumped a couple times before, including from the Blokerans Bridge in South Africa, which is the highest in the world.
After watching the jumpers, we started off on our hike and started climbing the big hill behind the resort. We didn’t have any route or any destination, we just wanted to climb the hill. A few minutes into our hike, a couple of old local men passed us with huge heavy packages, including a jerry can filled with motor oil and other goods. We just kept on heading south and we noticed a gorge and some cliffs so we started to head this way. There was little cover from the sun, so we stopped at a couple small waterfalls to shower ourselves in the cool mountain water. Although the views were outstanding in every step, each time we turned a corner we were hoping for THE view – perhaps an amazing waterfall or gorge or something. Finally after 2.5 hours of traveling we rounded the bend and came to the most amazing view – a long waterfall with a couple landings, and a cut out gorge, with mountains and rice paddies totally surrounding us. The older men that had passed us were resting at the site and encouraged us not to get to close to the edge for fear of landslides.
After enjoying the view for a bit, we continued back down the hill. At one point was a viewpoint of the suspension bridge and we watched a couple people bungy and one person do the canyon swing.
And that’s when I got a bright idea…why don’t I do a canyon swing? There were several reasons I might want to do this: (1) Since the other 3 countries were represented, someone needed to represent the US (2) the 3 other jumpers were all men – someone needed to represent the women! (3) This was the highest canyon swing in the world, so now I can say I’ve done both the highest bungy and canyon swing (4) my motto is to try everything once, and (5) YOLO.
We returned to the resort and I inquired about getting on the canyon swing today. They said sure – and I could jump in 10 minutes. Without thinking about it too much, I signed a waiver form that said I had no heart conditions along with other disclaimers about what I was getting myself into. I handed my big camera off to someone on my trip and took my little hand/waterproof camera and strapped it on my watch. I walked out on the suspension bridge – 160 meters above the river (about 500 feet) and looked down. The bungy master put a climber’s harness on me and made sure it was really tight. They hooked the canyon swing onto me with 3 caribiners and checked them. The bungy master walked me out the “plank” and I hung my toes over the edge. He gave me a few last minute tips and then started the countdown…”3…2…1″ by the “2” I started to scream a little and at “1” I jumped off the edge. After 7 seconds of free fall, I eased into a swing, as I swang back and forth in the canyon. I took out my camera and took a few pictures, including some cute “selfies”. Eventually, a rope across the bottom was raised and I needed to grap ahold of it and pull myself to a ladder on the canyon side. As I pulled up to the ladder, my shorts got caught on a screw and I was stuck! I used one hand to hold onto the rope and the other to free my shorts.
The bottom of the gorge was great. I took some photos of the white water rapids below and then started the steep hike to the top. After all, if you swing 500 feet down, you need to hike the 500 feet back to the top! After such an adventurous day, it was time for a nice shower, followed by a dip in a chilly plunge pool at the resort.
We still have yet to find out if we will be able to go to Tibet on Tuesday or later. I’m also unsure what internet access might be like in China – rumor is that there will not be facebook, and I’m unsure if I’ll be able to update this blog either.
Another really good dinner at Last Resort – Fish Curry and lots of vegetables. I will miss the great healthy meals here.
Mon, Sept 16
Got up a little early to pack and get breakfast. Two of us were “canyoning” today and the others would take our packs down to Borderlands, another campground just a few miles down the hill from The Last Resort. After another breakfast of papaya, yogurt, museli, and tea, Rich and I were called to gear up for canyoning.
Canyoning is a combination of abseiling/rappelling and sliding down waterfalls. I had never abseiled before so why not just abseil down waterfalls for my first time?!? The gear was pretty serious. First we put on a thermal suit. Then put on a wet suit. This was covered with a contraption that looked like half a yellow diaper in the back with harness in the front. They added a thick leather fingerless glove for our right (guiding hand) and a bright orange helmet. We were ready to go! We hiked about 10 minutes thru the village outside of the resort and got to a small set of waterfalls. The guide said “Let’s go swimming!” He had us slide down some small waterfalls on our butts. After a few minutes of walking thru the stream and sliding, we got to our first abseil spot. As one of our 3 guides set up the first rope, one of them gave us instructions:
* Hold one part of the rope loosely with your left hand
* Hold another part of the rope more loosely with your right hand.
* The right hand must be held behind the back. This would be my hand that controls the speed.
* If you fall, use your left hand to push off the wall
* Lean back
*DO ALL OF THE ABOVE AT THE SAME TIME.
Our first abseil was the shortest at 10 meters (just over 30 feet). The guides watched carefully on our first descent and gave me the tip that I needed to keep my right hand around my back. On the third abseil and the first big drop (30 meters) I fell and banged my arm on the rocks about half way down and the rope was on the wrong side so the guide had to lower me to the bottom. After that, I got much better and didn’t fall agian. In total, we descended 7 times with falls ranging from 10 meters to the last drop of 45 meters (about 150 feet!) By the time we stopped, we were at the bottom of the canyon. We had to walk us the big hill again (the one I had climbed the prior day after the canyon swing), but this time it was in the sun and we had on soaking wetsuits, weighing well over 10 lbs. Somewhere on the way from the canyon to the campground, I got a leech on my foot. I had never seen leeches before, but nearly everyone on the trip has had a leech in the last couple days.
After taking off all of our gear, we walked downhill the main highway from Nepal to Tibet for 4 Kms to our campsite for the night.
Upon arriving, we got the good news that we would be heading to Tibet tomorrow (not the day later or after like we had thought. All permits were apparently in place.
At the camp site, the guides showed us how to put up our tents and we set up our tents for the first of approximately 30 nights we will camp on the trip. We had a great lunch of chicken and vegetable curry along with daal baht and salad. This was followed by a free afternoon to relax at the campsite. There was a cool plunge pool, and I spent about 2 hours in the cool pool as dozens of beautiful butterflies floated overhead – amazing colors of black, navy blue, turquoise, yellows, and reds. I took my afternoon shower in an interesting courtyard looking communal shower and then just relaxed the rest of the afternoon. I had a “lemon soda” which is basically cold soda water with lemon squeezed in – very refreshing.
Dinner was chicken roasted on a spit, vegetable curry, spinach paneer, and salad. We were fed very well at Borderlands.
Tuesday, Sept 17
We had an 8:00 departure this morning but everyone was up by 6:00 as the roaring of the Bhote Koshi river next to the campground prevented a good night sleep for some. Apparently, this is one of the best white water rafting rivers in the world. After breakfast with vegetable curry along with the regulars (bacon, fried potatoes, eggs, toast, fruit, yogurt),
we left the campground, driving towards the border arriving around 10 am on the infamous “Friendship Highway” that links Kathmandu to Lhasa. This is really beautiful country side, with lots of waterfalls and hills on both sides of the “highway” which isn’t much more than a wide one-way road, sometimes gravel and sometimes driving thru streams.
We were all pretty quickly stamped out of Nepal and then we went onto the “Friendship Bridge” into “no man’s land” between Nepal and China. We changed our Rupees to Yeun and changed our watches by 2 hours and 15 minutes in anticipation of entering China (all of China is on the same time zone, therefore the big jump in time even though we are due north of Nepal). We had a facilitator and a Chinese and Tibetan guide waiting for us at the border. After a few hours of waiting with no clear sign that we’d be let in soon, the guides went into China and bought us a noodle lunch – spicy with vegetables and tofu. Our first Chinese meal. Then we waited more. And more. It was so frustrating to be so close to China (literally sitting on the back steps of immigration) yet not be able to enter. We could even see the hillside town where we were supposed to be staying that night. Finally, it got to be 5:00pm and the Chinese border was closing for the day, and ladies were sweeping up. The permit that we were hoping would arrive just didn’t come so we couldn’t enter China today. We headed back to Nepal and the friendly immigration officer understood and let us back in without having to issue us another visa with hopes that the required permit would come tomorrow. We would be staying in the border town of Tatopani tonight. We had the choice to take taxi or walk to the hotel about a 1/2 hour down the road and some of us decided to walk. The hotel was fairly nice and our guide offered to buy us a beer at 7:00 for our troubles of the day.
We just relaxed in the hotel restaurant and a lady from the restaurant pointed out a mother and young deer on a ledge across the river. I took a short nap and then joined the group at 7:00. Here we heard the bad news. One of the multiple required permits was not in place to enter China. There was no way we could enter China without it. There are multiple people working frantically to get this permit, and there is a small chance it might arrive tomorrow. If not tomorrow, there is the Chinese Moon Cake festival starting so offices that issue these permits will be closed and so if we can’t enter tomorrrow, it might be 4 days before we will have another chance. This means we will need to stay in Nepal for extra days and possibly have to extend our Nepali visas. Plus, most of us had already exchanged to Chinese money, so we’d have to take a cut changing back to rupees. The possible good side of staying in Nepal would mean we could do more trekking and the weather is nice and warm here, whereas I will start to get much cooler once we get into China/Tibet and further north and higher elevations.
On the plus side, I had a really nice Nepali Thali Set dinner, with rice, daal baht, and curry vegetables alot with the Lhasa brand beer provided to the group.
Wed, Sept 18
It poured really hard last night so I was really glad we were in a hotel rather than camping. I woke up hoping to hear good news. It was still too early for breakfast so I walked down the road to see a great waterfall from the “Friendship Viewpoint”. Apparently, they like to call everything “friendship” around here since it is close to the Friendship Highway.
Getting breakfast for a group our size took forever. We were the only people staying in this huge hotel – must have been a great boon for them, but they were ill prepared to service 24 people. Our next update was going to come at 11:30 am – at that time we would decide if the paperwork had come in to Lhasa and we could try to cross, or if we would have to go back to Borderlands campground to wait out a few days. We would try to cook our own meals there to save money and the guides had purchased meat and other food that would need to be used up in the next few days (that we were going to eat while bush camping the first few days in Tibet).
Since I had a few hours to kill, I walked up thru the village and up some uneven steps to a monestary on a hill. The monestary was pretty small and the view wasn’t great. Back at the hotel, everyone was waiting and I joined in on a dice game called “Farkle.”
At 11:30 we found out that our papers had arrived in Lhasa first thing in the morning. They were “overnighted” – literally, someone drove our original paperwork from the border to Lhasa (750 Kms) overnight. By 11:30 Nepali time, it was 1:45 in China but the official still had not faxed them back to the border to let us cross. The group agreed to meet again at 1:00pm to see if the papers were back. If not, we would go to the truck and get our things for one more night at this border town (we had been wearing the same clothes for 2 days and no deodorant, toothpaste, and other things we had packed in our large bags that were locked on the truck). By 1:00 pm there was no new news and the Chinese officials were at lunch, so this would mean another night in Nepal. We walked up the hill to the truck and got the things we needed for the night (clean underwear, toothpaste, etc) and returned to our hotel in Tatopani.
“Tatopani” means “hot water” in Nepali, so there was a hot springs just a couple miles down the road. A few of us donned our swimsuits and headed down for a soak. We also thought this would be a good alternative to the ice cold showers of our hotel. I walked paste the waterfall & viewpoint I had visited before breakfast – really awe inspiring.
When we arrived at the hot springs, we paid 50 cents to enter and bathe for 1 hour. This was the tourist rate – the locals could go for even cheaper. There was a separate changing area for men and women. Then there was a separate shower area for men and women. Each had hot water pouring out of 3 cement Hindu animal (shower) heads. Several local women were showering here and washing some clothes at the same time. Then there was a separate bathing area for men and women. The men’s bath was double the size of the women’s. Both had another hot water shower pouring in. The baths were about 3 feet deep with no chairs in the bath itself. The water temperature was lovely, but after 45 minutes we had enough heat. We took another hot shower and dressed for the 2 mile walk up the hill. Time at the hot springs was a great way to spend a waiting day.
The hot bath and uphill walk really tired me out so I took a short nap. At 7:00 pm we met in the hotel restaurant to hear the latest news and have dinner. The official in Lhasa had faxed the papers back to the border just 10 minutes before closing time. Unfortunately, he also asked for a $1000 bond for our group. With 10 minutes, there wasn’t enough time to provide this bond before closing and the moon cake festival is tomorrow, so now we will not be able to enter China until Sunday. There is apparently another large group staying at Borderlands, so we will get to stay at the posh covered permanent tents at The Last Resort until Sunday morning. When I arrived on the 7th, I got the 15 day visa for Nepal under the impression that we would only be spending a week in Nepal. It now looks like I and a few other on the trip will be overstaying by a day. However, our group leaders have spoken to the Nepali officials and we think this will be OK to overstay for a day without a fine (we now have a cancelled departure sticker from a couple days ago to prove that we have been trying to leave before the 15 days were up). For dinner, I had Chili Buffalo (fried Buffalo meat with vegetables in a Chili sauce) for dinner. This is the most popular Nepali snack food.
Thurs, Sept 19
It was cloudy when I woke up this morning. This has been the first cloudy day in Nepal. Even though we are at the end of the Monsoon season, we have had beautiful sunny days with the rain coming overnight. I was up before the rest of the group and there was over any hour to wait for breakfast, so I had my morning tea and caught up on my journal as I overlooked the beautiful tropical scenery and raging river below.
After breakfast, I asked if I could walk downhill and get picked up by the truck on the way to The Last Resort. The sun had started to shine by the time I started my walk and the truck picked me up a few miles down the road.
We drove on to The Last Resort. The Borderlands campground, where we were going to stay to save money from the kitty payment, was full with a group of 40 who were in the same situation as us – waiting to get into Tibet so we really were at “The Last Resort”. I guess if we are going to be “stuck” somewhere waiting, it’s great it’s at TLR. Some great things about TLR:
* Really great tin roof covered permanent tents mean we’ll stay dry
* Awesome food – the dinners are great and healthy
* Lots of great hikes nearby
* Comfy Bar area
* Options for activities – bungy jumping, canyoning, etc. I found out that if I do another canyon swing or bungy jump, the cost is less than 1/2 price of the first canyon swing I did so I’m slightly debating this.
Most of the group stayed at the resort bar, but 4 of us decided to hike on the road since it was now raining lightly and the trails were sure to be slippery. We walked towards the Chinese border thru a couple of cute little villages. We stopped to see some boys playing a game that is similar to billiards but is played on a chalked board and uses disks rather than balls. There is a larger disk that is flicked with the finger that has to knock the other disks into holes at the 4 corners of the boards. We continued down the road to a nice panoramic viewpoint then walked back to the resort in the rain.
Back at the resort, our group was really having a good time (drinking beers all afternoon might do that). They were having a fun game of Jenga and then there was a game that measured our flexibility – the goal was to pick up a box with your mouth without touching the ground with your knees or hands. There were several rounds – each time cutting about another 2 inches off the box until eventually there was just a piece of cardboard on the floor. I did the first round but was wearing jeans that limited my mobility.
I talked to some people who were on a G Adventures tour from Lhasa to Kathmandu and got some tips about things to do in Tibet. We had another great dinner with delicious mushroom buffalo dish, eggplant salad, lots of veggies, and custard desert.
Fri, Sept 20
Lots of rain last night but it was totally sunny by morning. I woke up to crashing sounds on the tin roof above. A monkey had entered the campground/resort and was running across our roof! The guards were trying to shoo the monkey out, as they cause havoc.
Breakfast is always the same at TLR, so I always have papaya, yogurt, museli, and sometimes a little bit of sausage. They also have really nice flavors of tea, so I usually drink a few cups before setting off for my daily activities.
Today 6 of us set off on a hike down river to a suspension bridge. We were hoping to get a great view of the waterfall we had seen a few days earlier. The easiest part of the hike was the walk along the Friendship Highway to the point at which we needed to climb down to the bridge. Things got very steep thereafter. A steep walk down where a local took our picture.
After crossing the bridge we had a very steep walk up. Along the way, we were approached by a local who offered to give us a tour of the local school since he was a teacher there. Kids go to school 5.5 days per week, with Friday afternoon and Saturday off. Since they only had a half day today, some of the kids were absent but normally they have 50 children at this school for grades kindergarten to 5th grade. It was interesting to see the classrooms and types of things they were learning about – from the solar system (in Nepali), math, and English. The children were pretty shy. Even though the school was so close to the tourist site of The Last Resort, we don’t think many tourist get out that direction.
We kept climbing the hill waiting for a great viewpoint and it was steep! Yet, locals with large packages sometimes passed us. They were fascinated with us soaking ourselves in the local shared water faucets – really needed for such a hot day.
After climbing and climbing we found a HUGE tree at the top of the hill and a great rock beneath – a great spot to stop our rough, hot hike. Everyone agreed that they had reached their limit.
However, I got a second wind and really wanted to see the waterfall so they agreed to wait as I hiked a bit further. The additional hike I did took me on pretty flat trail, through the fields, past a small grotto.
The view of the falls was so-so but it was worth the additional walk. I returned to the big tree and after a drink of water, we headed back down the hill. We heard lots of thunder as we descended the hill, but luckily the rain stayed away. We would have hated walking down the hill if it were wet.
Back at the resort, it was a much more sedate day. Most people had just hung out at the resort today. I was going to jump in the plunge pool but it was just too cold after such a hot hike.
We ate another great dinner – spicy fried fish with chips, cole slaw, and veggies as we watched the nearly full moon rise from behind the mountains. I watched part of Django Unchained before bed.
That night, my roommate noticed a bag outside of the tent. It was a cookie bag and it was ripped. The only explanation we could come up with was that a monkey got into the tent and had a treat today. Edited to add: In packing on Saturday night, I discovered that a plastic bag that had some expensive super fiber crackers I bought in Kathmandu also has gone missing. Monkey, if you’re reading this – I hope you get explosive diahrea from all those fiber crackers you stole.
Sat, Sept 21
I woke up before the others so I decided to take a short walk down the road to see the interesting honeycombs in the rock cliff that we had seen the other day.
As I crossed the suspension bridge, I watched the moon set behind the mountains to the south.
Back at the resort, I enjoyed another breakfast with some really good herbal tea. I’ve been reprimanded by the Aussies on the trip that I should be pronouncing “herbal” with an “H”.
The others were wore out from yesterday’s hike so I set off in the late morning. Today’s hike was long but not very challenging. I walked up some very well constructed steps and then got to a road that ran parallel to the Friendship Highway. The road gently rolled past small villages, temples, and schools. Everyone wanted to say “Hello” or “Namaste” to me. There were 2 spectacular waterfalls.
I saw a stone building in the distance and decided to hike to that. The people were so lovely in that village. A couple old ladies wanted me to take their picture. One of them was trying to get me to pronounce some Nepali words.
The last 3 days of hiking have been FANTASTIC. What a great way to spend our waiting time in Nepal. I hiked in 3 different directions from the resort, each day with a new adventure.
Back at the resort, I played some cards and snacked on our daily popcorn before dinner.
Nepal has been great. Such friendly nice people. It’s amazing of the resourcefulness… every bit of land is used. Animals are kept in small mangers next to the homes and the ladies go to the fields and bring back fresh hay. Any little patch of land is a garden or a rice field. Corn is planted amongst the rice to double the crop. The military and border guards are all friendly and helpful. They stopped a couple guys on our trip and just asked them if they were OK and to contact them if we needed any help.
Hopefully we will enter China tomorrow. If this occurs, I might not have access to internet for about a week because we will be bush camping and acclimatizing on our way up to Mount Everest Base Camp. What is bush camping? It is finding an appropriate, free place to set up our camp for a night. Off the truck we are self sufficient for bush camping – we have tents, supplies to have a campfire for cooking, cooking gear, chairs, and a toilet tent. Bush camping is used when we are staying in areas that don’t have a decent hotel and also to save us kitty money.