I travel because I love to travel. I love planes and trains. I even love airports.
I am a travel blogger because I love to write. Hopefully you love to read what I write. That is the only reason I have a blog at all, because I really like the idea that someone, somewhere is reading what I write. I do not sell ads on my blog and never will. If you want commercials, go watch TV.
In the course of my travels, some of the adventures I have been on were so unusual, or so adventurous, that I actually earned a “diploma” for taking the trip. I was cleaning up my office for the first time since the invention of the internet and I ran across these four diplomas. I want to share them with my faithful readers, and of course tell you a short story about each one. So grab a beer and read on, please.
Prudhoe Bay is 250 miles above the Arctic Circle. I spent 13 wildly prosperous months there. Yes, I was working for an oil company. I was young, I was greedy and I needed to make money to pay for my University education. It was a place of extremes. Not only an extreme salary, but depending on the season, either 24 hours of complete darkness or complete sunlight. I worked 84 hour weeks, 40 at my normally high wage, 40 at time and a half and 4 at double time. I lived in a construction camp where every thing was provided and I had no expenses. The money in my savings account piled up like the snow drifts in January. In the summer, after work, I fished the Sagavanirtok river and caught very large Arctic Char. In the winter I saw wild polar bears. In the spring I watched a three day migration of caribou. The tundra was alive with birds and flowers, or dead with ice and snow. And the Aurora Borealis, wow. When you are 250 miles inside the arctic, the northern lights do not appear on the horizon oh no. They are right above your head and they fill the sky. They make special patterns and the colors seem to chase each other across the your complete field of vision.
But the most amazing thing I saw there was TWO SUNS. One spring morning I was driving between sites when the sun rose about 10:30. I was pleased to see it, because there had been no sun for months that winter. Then, slightly to the west, rose a second sun. I was flabbergasted enough to come to a quick stop and stare. Just to be sure I was not completely losing my mind, I got on the radio and asked “ahh, does anyone else see two suns right now?” The answer I got was “Get off the radio Cheechako, that is a sundog” A cheechako is not nice term for a tenderfoot in the arctic, and a sundog is an atmospheric phenomenon that reflects the sunlight. But for a brief moment, I thought the world had changed forever.
In short it was a great choice I made to go there.
The Nasca lines are, as far as I am concerned, proof that ancient civilizations were visited by extra-terrestrials. These lines cannot be seen from ground level. They are very large. The only way ancients could have made them is if they were guided from the air. The only reason to make them is to guide or welcome ETs upon arrival.
This was an extremely magnificent experience. It is the first one I was able to blog about, and if you go back in my blog and choose Nepal, (or just clickhere) you can find many photos of this flight. I will forgo any further descriptions here. Go back and read the post. Suffice to say the flight is worth the trip to Kathmandu!
Again, I covered this adventure in my blog. In fact, I made 7 posts and put up many photos. You can see them here. So, no need to say more here, navigate to the proper posts and get as good a vicarious experience as you can.
Thanks for reading and letting me brag. These diplomas mean more to me than My University degree. Tell a freind, and share on FB!
Everyone should see Nepal.
My bonafides for saying that are simple. I have done my share of traveling (not enough yet mind you) and a lot of that has been in back water bizarre places. I have been all over the Altiplanos of Peru and Bolivia. I have been on an island in the middle of Lake Titicaca. I’ve been to Machu Picchu three times. I’ve been so far south in Chile I can almost say I have been in Antarctica. I have walked in the Atacama Desert in a place with zero rainfall ever. I have walked on the Chilean/ Argentine border at 18,000 feet in what I learned afterwards was a mine field. I have been deep in the Amazon jungle, where I swam with pink dolphins and fished for piranhas. I have driven through all of Central America. I spent a year in the Arctic and seen herds of caribou that took hours to walk past me. I lived on a tropical island for four years with hundreds of species of birds. I have hiked where there are no trails and fished where no white man ever did before me. I have been to an Eskimo village and have seen Polar Bears in the wild. I once drove a truck over a bridge on a major river before it was open for business. I have walked on the Hopi Mesas. I have taken a train ride across an Asian country and driven across America. I have even lived in Los Angeles. To top it off I now live in the Arabian Desert.
I say you must see Nepal because it is somehow more intriguing than any of that.
It is not the poverty you’ll find if you look, that is everywhere. It is certainly not the desire to separate a tourist from his money, which is a survival tactic which I admire. It is not the lack of essential services that leave garbage in the streets and cause random blackouts. It is not even the multitude of sacred cows wandering the streets like lost souls.
It isn’t the colorful garb of the people; most people here want to dress like westerners, except for women on ceremonial days and those sensible enough to wear Saris. It is not the maroon robes of the Buddhist monks that sparkle in the city streets and the countryside like so many Thanksgiving mums. It is not the preponderance of Holy Men drifting to and fro with their faces painted and wearing bright yellow silk.
Don’t come here just to relate with Tibetan refugees chased out of their homeland by the Chinese communists, and now doing beautiful weavings and rugs to survive. By the way, the Chicoms will be reincarnated as cockroaches. FREE TIBET!
It isn’t even the thousands of ancient temples of two religions, or the fact that, as old as they are, they are maintained and used for daily worship. It is not that the result of this hetero religious society leaves a wake of tranquility and contentment, no matter a Nepalese’ station in life.
You should not come here just to see the most magnificent mountain range in the world.
But you should make a pilgrimage here for all those reasons. I count my blessings that I am married to a woman who made Nepal possible.
The origin of name Nepal is disputable, and I do not possess enough knowledge to claim I know. Kathmandu is a word derived from “Temple from one tree”. Kathmandu was a stop on the trade routes from India to Tibet and China. The people in this valley traded with the Tibetans for salt mostly. They then traded with the Chinese for what they had. When they began to get prosperous, the King built a giant temple from one Thal tree. It still stands today.
Fast forward to today. Nepal was never colonized. However, being India’s neighbor, as well as China’s the Brits, big in both, decided that a presence in Nepal would be a good idea and opened a type of embassy there in maybe 1850. There is a bit of the colonial influence left over. For instance, they drink tea and drive on the wrong side of the road. The good thing is that English is the second language of Nepal, which is great for tourists.
Nepal has many different regional identities, each with its own culture and style of dress. They have fought each other in the past for domination. They have been united and separated more than a few times. There remains only one Kingdom inside the territorial boundaries of Nepal, a place called Mustang. Mustang sits at the base of the Himal, in the central to western part of the country. There are no roads or air travel to Mustang. You have to walk it. It is not that big on the trekkers list of places to go. You need special permits and Mustangese guides. I have seen photos of the village of Mustang and I could see myself getting into shape, breaking in a pair of hiking boots, and going there someday. But maybe not.
Back to Kathmandu. The area our hotel is in is called Themal. I have mentioned before that it is the trekkers Disneyland. You would only stay in a hotel outside Themal if you were a businessman staying at the Hyatt. The Hyatt is convenient to the airport, and nothing else.
Walking the streets of Themal (not the sidewalks, there are not any sidewalks in Themal) requires a constant effort to not get hit by a motorcycle or a rickshaw. You must do this while sidestepping Tiger balm vendors, flute vendors and little women selling little purses. It is a waste of time to be nice. You just learn to walk down the street muttering no,No,NO even when you are not being approached by a hawker. Learning to walk this gauntlet of cultural capitalism is an art form. Once you have perfected it in Themal, it will serve you in the rest of the world. Every once in a while you might see something in a store window or on a table in the street. If you stop to look at it, boy are you in trouble. The owner of the store will be upon you like a tiger on a lamb. Pick it up and admire it and the owner will consider it sold. The only thing left to do is negotiate the price. DO NOT start doing this unless you really want to buy it. Make that an unwritten rule to follow faithfully. There are no fixed prices, even if there is a price tag on it, which is rare. The vendor will start with “very good price.”
You reply “oh yeah, how much?”
He says, for instance “1000 Rupees.”
You are now into a negotiation which culturally means a sale. You both lose face unless a transaction is completed. You lose face if you pay 1000 Rupees. You should first look surprised, aghast or even insulted by his asking price. Start to put the object down on the table and walk away. This is expected. He will follow you and say a variation of “How much is good price?”
You counter with ½. “500 Rupees”.
This of course will result in him giving you the same look you gave him when he said 1000. He will counter, you will counter, and before you know it you are at 750 Rupees. A sale has been made. Well, not quite. You pull out a 1000 Rupee note and he will invariably claim he has no change. He is counting on you or your partner having to get on your way to dinner, or to answer the call of Yeti’s revenge. You insist. You put the article back. He runs down the street and returns with change. All is well. When you get home you will have a souvenir and a memory. The memory will serve you well, the souvenir maybe not.
One thing you could do in Kathmandu, if so inclined, is to become a Bollywood fan. Bollywood makes movies in India that are immensely popular. Even at a few rupees admission fee they take in more money than most Hollywood productions. We get them on TV here in the UAE because of all the laborers from the sub-continent. In Kathmandu, they are playing in the theatres instead of the latest Hollywood cop movie. They are about 4 hours long. They are not subtitled. They really do not need to be. They are very graphic. Every few minutes, no matter what the plotline, they break into a huge song and dance number. Imagine watching this;
The movie opens with a man and woman obviously falling in love, and singing and dancing about it. They are co-workers and they sing and dance about that. But the woman is engaged to the boss, as revealed by song and dance. The boss is a crook, song and dance. The company is building a dam on the river going thru their town. The boss, instead of paying for concrete is using bat guano building the dam. Sing and dance. There is nothing our young heroes can do about their love or the corruption, so they sing and dance. Then the boss man falls into the cement mixer and becomes part of the damn, and our heroes get together, big song and dance. Then the heroin has a disfiguring accident, sad song and dance. The hero drops her. Sadder song and dance. The heroine disguises herself. The hero falls in love with her again, she then reveals herself and tells him to fuck off while singing and dancing. About this time the monsoons hit and torrential rain is falling. The river is rising and everyone is singing and dancing. Then the bat guano dam breaks, somehow everyone is singing and dancing as they get swept away by the river, but our two heroes hold on to the top of a Stupa and survive and sing and dance happily ever after.
That is Bollywood, the most popular form of entertainment in Kathmandu. Maybe the hash helps, I would not know.
In conclusion, I want to say that Nepal is the most intriguing place I have ever visited. I just began to scratch the top of the culture and religion that is so deep and old. There is really nothing else like it on earth. Nowhere has cultural and religious practices survived as long as they have in Nepal I am looking at opportunities to go back as more than a tourist. One is to go teach young monks to speak English. Live in a monastery and sing and dance the days away. Maybe.
Or maybe I will sell Yeti Tours. My guides and porters will take you deep into the Himal where Yeti sightings have happened, or at least Yeti footprints found. I will guarantee, 100% that you will NOT see a Yeti, even a footprint. If you do, your tour price is refunded.
No I have not been smoking hash.
Note: I am having technical difficulties making a proper presentation of the Kama Sutra post, but I promise it will come. Soon.
Remember when you were a kid (if you are my age) and your parents would drag you along to visit a neighbor who invited them over to see the slides of his trip to Akron, Ohio?
His narrative would go like this.
“This is the Best Western motel where I stayed, see how big the parking lot is?”
All you want to do at this point is go home a read a comic book.
Well folks, that is how I am starting to feel about blogging. I feel like the the intolerable neighbor. My readership has dropped like a Yak over a cliff. I will finish the Nepal posts, and then maybe throw away my slide projector, I dunno. So those of you still reading, thank you.
Back to Nepal
This is Nepal’s only true resort town. It sits on a beautiful lake. In the distance behind the lake the Annapurna section of Himal dominates the skyline.
Getting here was a six hour ride in an automobile. Our driver was young, and fearless. The road, the Pavatti highway, is congested with 70% cargo trucks belching diesel exhaust, 25% busses full to (and on) the roofs with Nepalis and thousands of motorcycles, and only a few automobiles. The road is narrow, and most of it has deep drop-offs into a rather wild river called the Trisuli.
It passes through numerous small towns. The towns are all bustling. Everyone seems to be out buying food. Nepal is not destitute, although it is one of the poorest nations on earth. There are no fights over care packages here.
Beside the road are many goats, buffalo and dogs And oh yeah, sacred cows.
The road is mountainous, up and down, up and down, and very twisty. If our driver did not nerves of steel, it would have been a 10 hour drive. We have decided to fly Buddha air back to Kathmandu. Once was plenty enough.
Our hotel is called The Base Camp. It is on the edge of the tourist area of Pokhara.
Today we set out to be tourists, visiting stuff we found in the Lonely Planet guide. We will see at least one Tibetan village, a museum dedicated to mountain climbers, and a waterfall that drops into a sink hole, never to be seen again.
We’re back. It is cloudy and overcast and the Annapurna range cannot be seen. I am truly glad we did the mountain flight on Buddha air or we would have left Nepal without seeing any mountains. Imagine going to Bocas and never seeing any water.
First we went to the International Mountain Museum. It is a large modern museum actually quite well done.
The restroom signs were a bit confusing. Yeah, I know I always post weird restroom signs. So what?
There was an excellent demonstration of how the continent of India collided with the continent of Asia and forced the Himal to pop up in between them. In geologic time this was a violent and fast collision. It only took 40 million years or so to form the mountains. It also explains to me why the Tibetans had conch shells to carve and to use for calling across valleys. The entirety of the Himal was under water in geologic pre history. I have passed on the carved conch shells when I see them, now I am considering buying one.
The museum paid due homage to Hillary, but hardly mentioned Mallory. To me, besides the tribute to the Yeti, the most memorable room was a display of the garbage brought back down of off Chomolungma. Climbing Chomolungma has become an industry now. Hundreds each year try and 100 or so summit. Every year. A Japanese climber who failed 3 times before he finally made it decided to spend the rest of his life raising funds and recruiting people to pick up the garbage left behind by the climbers. In the first season they took ten tons off the mountain.
Next stop was Davis falls. Like I said, this is a waterfall to nowhere. The water is simply swallowed up by the earth. This is a true class six rapid!
Lastly we went to a Tibetan refugee village where they are doing their industrious best. We bought three more rugs. Mary Ann tied a few knots in a rug,
Leaving Pokhara, which is pronounced by combining the k and the h like a German would, we decided to take a 1 P.M. flight instead of driving back on the diesel highway. We loaded our guide on an early bus and went to breakfast.
AT the café, we ran into a person Mary Ann had met the day before He is an American from Colorado who runs the Himalayan Healing center, basically a spa where she had a great massage. He originally came here as a Peace Corp volunteer. I will write his story for publication on other web sites. It is fascinating. He left the Peace Corp and came back to Nepal and now runs a healing center which trains women from the untouchable caste, to touch you all over. He was full of stories and I was sad to leave, but we had to catch our plane.
I am sitting with Mary Ann in the Pokhara airport restaurant. We were early, the flight is delayed. It is once again time to take it as it comes.
We are flying Buddha Air again. A Yeti Air plane just came and left. They have a cooler logo on the tail, a big Yeti footprint.
The airport, while not exactly modern, is large and comfortable. The restaurant even has Diet Coke, not something you can find everywhere in Nepal. It costs twice what a regular coke costs, because it has to be imported, from the UAE of all places. They have last minute souvenirs available, we have no space for anything. When we get back to Sharjah I am considering turning our apartment into a souvenir store. We must have a thousand chaztkas (sp?) from everywhere from the Amazon to now the Himal. It is practically embarrassing. When we went out for coffee this morning we both said “we aint buying no more shit”. Wrong. Fridge magnets and coolies (beer can holders) made from grass. JUNK, more JUNK.
“But it’s cool junk baby!”
“Where are we going to put it?”
“We can replace the Inca Sun God statue with it”
And so it goes.
Our flight left three hours late due to “technical difficulties”. That even makes me nervous. It was a ½ hour flight compared to a 7 hour bus ride. We really could not complain. Of course our driver was no longer at the airport, so we hired a taxi sponsored by the official tourist agency. The taxi was of indiscernible make, model age, or even color. It was small. The driver had someone with him, and they argued with each other half the way back to the hotel. Then, the car just died. It died on a busy narrow street. Mary Ann and I sat there for about a half hour while they frantically tried things to get it started, with horns blasting at us. When the driver reached into his ash tray and pulled out a fuse and some bubble gum, we decided to just get out and flag down any cab. So I did. About then a traffic cop showed up and chased my cab away. He recruited a couple of locals to try to push our cab UP HIL to get it started. I flagged down another cab. The cop told him to move on. I was starting to get pissed off. Finally I convinced the cop that the cab I had was “no good, no go” and he let me flag down another.
We got back to our now familiar hotel and the desk clerk said “you late”. I was afraid he was going to say our room was gone, but when I looked at him and said “Airplane broke down, taxi broke down, room broke down too?” He laughed and gave us a nice room where we collapsed.
It is what it is.
That’s it for today folks. Thanks for reading and stay tuned for the Kama Sutra post. I would appreciate it if you make a quick comment so I know who still tolerates the intolerable neighbor and his dumb slide shows.
We started the day with breakfast in the garden of the hotel. The only sounds other than our conversation were all the birds. It was quite peaceful.
Ravi showed up right on time and discussed our plans for the day. I had written him before we left and told him I wanted to visit the jail and give a care package to some bloke dumb enough to get busted on holiday. Then I wanted to go to a Tibetan “refugee camp” because that is where I wanted to buy a carpet. These were not the normal things his clients ask for, but he accommodated us. In fact, I think he likes us.
So the day started with me calling the US Embassy to try to get a name of an American rotting in a cell in Kathmandu. After being switched from one embassy employee to another I was finally told they could not give me a name because of “the privacy act”. I never heard of that, have you? So we just went to the jail. We never got in because we did not follow procedures, which we had no idea existed. We might try again next week. The jail, as you might expect is not in the best part of town. We got a lot of strange looks from the jailhouse staff as we waited for permission to enter. One definitely gets the idea that inside this place is not a way to pass the next half dozen years. I am not sure why I want to make this visit, but maybe because I am in a place where Karma was invented, I might as well get some, eh?
The next stop was a place where Tibetan refugees have built a nice capitalist existence after being kicked out of their home lands by the communist Chinese. They brought along their religion, a sect of Buhdism, and their skills. One of these skills is making high grade carpets. There are really only a handful of cultures that do this, Persians, Native Americans and Tibetans. The Tibetans have always had their own colors and styles, and still do. Nowadays they also make carpets with Persian and South Western styles, but not that many, at least that we saw.
Where we went does an export business. I Googled Tibetan carpets and found their work for sale in the US at outrageous prices. I was pleasantly surprised at the prices at the factory. It was a joy watching the women weave them. They work amazingly fast, the fastest I have ever seen anyone other than a pick pocket use their hands. They knit 100 knots per Sq inch. The rugs using traditional styles and dyes are just beautiful. I wanted one, we bought three. Getting them back to Dubai will be no problem because of the way they “bagged” them for us. I am afraid when I get home and cut the cord holding them together they will explode like a confetti bomb. They will add a lot of color to our apartment.
We continue to eat Nepali and Tibetan food, in clean inexpensive restaurants. Ravi knows where they all are, and everywhere we go he helps us choose tasty foods. We are hooked on Momos. They are like dumplings with different fillings. Tonight I had momos filled with Buffalo. Tasty
In the morning, very early, we are off on Buddha Air to fly over the roof of the world, Mount Everest. It is a small 17 person plane, and Mary Ann is nervous. I actually wanted to go on a helicopter, but that was so expensive I just dropped the idea.
Sorry, no photos today, technical difficulties. But stay tuned I have a few choice photos of the Himalaya for you in the next post. I’ll give you a teaser here.
We made it to Nepal. We are in Kathmandu. For me, this is a dream come true. I can’t thank my wife enough. We got here three days early because the University gvae mary Ann an extra three days paid leave, because EID started earlier than they thought it would, because the moon did something earlier than it should have. I don’t know nor care. It cost about $2 to change our flight, so we went for it.
We flew here on Air Arabia, or as the pilot pronounced it Air AHHRABEEEEAHH. It is the official airline of Sharjah, in fact it is owned by the Sharjah Government, which means the Ruler. The Ruler pays Mary Ann’s Salary, so it all works out. Air Arabia is the first and largest “low cost” airline in the Middle East. How low? $350 R/T. Wonderful comfortable flight. The airport in Sharjah is brand new and quite efficient. Air Arabia is not the only airline flying in and out of it, but probably the only one I will ever fly. AA flies brand new Airbus 320’s. The other airlines like say, Air Kenya, are pretty sketchy. I went to a couple web sites of the other airlines and they touted their “fleet of six DC9’s”. They sound like a CNN breaking news story waiting to happen.
The Sharjah airport is also a big cargo terminal, bringing in all the toys the Emirates want to spend petrodollars on. Most of the cargo planes are of Russian origin and boy are they ugly.
Our flight arrived right on time. Only thing is, in Nepal time is 45 minutes late. If in the rest of this time zone it is 1:00, in Nepal it is 12:15. No one seems to know why, it just is what it is.
My first impressions? The politically correct people of the world have stopped using the term “3rd world country” in favor of “developing nation.” Sorry folks, this is a 3rd world country, I have not seen anything I would call developing.
Don’t get me wrong. I like it here after one day. It is exciting. Heavy vibes. If that statement is too hippy for you, it is because I think this is where the hippies found their gestalt. Mind you, I am still a hippie at heart, so I am qualified to say that. If a Hollywood costume designer ever wants to find clothes for a crowd scene at a Grateful Dead concert, or a 60’s love-in, just come to Kathmandu. In the tourist area we are staying in, called Themal, every store sells the hippest stuff, a lot of it with peace symbols embroidered on it and great colors. After dinner tonight we took a walk and I was offered Hashish three times. The Haight-Ashbury LIVES! Lonely planet calls Themal the “Hippies Disneyland”.
The other thing you can’t help but find is serious trekking clothes. People set out from here for 7 day hikes to the Mount Everest Base camp. That is 7 days each way. From what I have read and heard, the base camp is a zoo. Hundreds of people go there to actually attempt to summit Everest, but thousands go just to say they have been there. ME? Oh noooo. I am going to take a flight over Everest in a smallish plane in a couple of days, on Buddha Air. That is not a joke.
It is a perfect 25 degrees. The air is fresh. The food we have found so far, including a Yak Cheese pizza has been excellent.
We ate that at the Rum Doodle restaurant where beer is free for the rest of your life if you have stood on top of Everest. And oh yeah, the beer is wonderful!
This is another country where they drive on the wrong side of the road, but that really does not seem to matter because the roads are not so wide that it makes any difference.
Before we left we hooked up with a guide who has set up everything for us. He has worked his way up from being a porter on the treks to the base camp, to being a guide on the treks, and now has his own company catering to people like us. So far he has been a gem. His name is Shankar, and he does not mind me calling him Ravi. You can take the Hippie out of the sixties, but you can’t take the sixties away from the Hippie.
Muchmore to come including our flight over Everest this morning. We saw the top of the world, and it was amazing!