Sunday, January 13, 2013

Baby It's Cold Outside

Like I did for Kilimanjaro, I am going to post my journal entries on my blog. Again, apologies for the poor grammar, thoughts that should be kept on paper, abrupt change in subjects and crude writing style.


I arrived in Kathmandu yesterday after saying goodbye to Ethiopia for the foreseeable future. The week leading up to my departure felt so normal. Sure there were last meals and the nice office coffee ceremony and gifts, but it was all the same people in all the same places. I tried to feel different. I tried to be sad and I tried to cry, but nothing. Even on the plane I felt nothing. As we left Bole Airport I had flashbacks of my entire service, the people, the places, the memories, but they were just images, not emotions. I actually didn't even feel excitement for my travels. The only thing I felt at all was a craving for McDonalds - which I ate twice at the Dubai Airport. The 12 hour layover wasn't too bad, I used the wifi to check-in with family and chatted a bit with friends. I napped for a few hours and then proceeded to the gate. I met a few US expats. One was a police trainer with the UN. He is based in Liberia, seems strange that he was sent to Nepal for work. His education is in education, but police work paid better. He was given a 1 year assignment in Liberia, then upon returning home  he found himself bored and has been working overseas since. He laughed when I said I thought I was over living abroad. Now that I'm out of Ethiopia and on a new adventure, I think he may be right. I'm loving the excitement of a new place!

When I landed in Kathmandu, immigration and the visa process was simple. Ram (my guide) was waiting outside with a cab. He put a white scarf around my neck as a welcome and good luck. Ram is an adorable, tiny old man with 35 years of trekking experience. I also think he is Vulcan. No joke he looks like Spock if he were from Nepal.

The cab took roundabout routes that 3 years ago would have made me incredibly nervous. We ended up at Hotel Yambu for $15 a night. Clean, private bath and wifi. Not sure about hot water because I've been too cold to shower.

For dinner last night I went to Thamel House to try some local flavor. I ordered mo mo (dumplings) and a mushroom curry over rice. The waiter came over with a jug I assumed was to wash my hands. Nope! It was to pour a wooden bowl of rice wine. Not in Ethiopia any more! The food was wonderful and made me jealous of the PCVs in this delicious country. It took me over a year to adapt to injera!

Walking through Thamel is like walking through a maze - a very busy, beautiful maze. There are endless shops selling trekking gear, cashmere, pashmina and silks of brilliant colors, paintings, gold, gems, hats, gloves, bongs and other handmade goods. There are carts selling mo mo, apples and oranges and men asking me if I need hashish.

Today Ram picked me up at a little western breakfast place to take me to his office to settle the bill, to the Vipassana office to confirm my participation and to get acquainted with the area. We walked through a bit of the old local Asan Market and I wanted to buy everything! Jewelry  hippie clothes, hats, boots in all colors. The roads are crowded with traffic and exacerbated by motorbikes. It's loud, noisy chaotic and a bit overwhelming. I think if I lived here, though, I would get used to it.

Once I got back to the hotel to drop off my apples (!) and valuables I went out to find the Garden of Dreams that we passed earlier. I was a little insulted how worried Ram was about me getting lost, but within 5 minutes of being alone I was hopelessly disoriented. I only went straight and still couldn't find my way back. The streets were so busy I couldn't pull over to sort myself out so I found a sidewalk and didn't leave it. Lo and behold I actually stumbled upon my destination! Imagine my surprise. I can almost count it as a victory but it was a mistake that I found it, and I approached from the opposite way I expected to.

The Garden of Dreams is an old garden from the monarchy days. It was restored in the 90s and is a place of respite in the middle of the city. Dad sent me a link about it a while back, pretty cool that I stumbled upon it on my first day! I don't think I could find anything here on purpose. I may need a guided tour after my trek. This garden is a cute little place full of tourists and young lovers. A good spot to write! I may even grab a cake and tea. I'm overall quite happy here in Nepal. It's a new place and a very different adventure. Like Tanzania, it's reminding me that I love new experiences and I'm a nomad at heart.

One other thing worth mentioning is the abundance of Buddhist temples. We came across a bigger one in Asan, but most are tiny like Asian telephone booths. Around these temples is relative silence. No horns, hushed voices and a bit of space. Quite bizarre considering the cacophonous setting. Also, quite amazing that people respect these places even though the area is overwhelmingly Hindu.

When I left the Garden I walked the way I thought I should have arrived from. After about a minute I actually started recognizing things and I made it back to the hotel quicker than I thought possible. When I arrived I remember Ram mentioning the view from the roof so I went to take a look. The roof was nicer than I expected with rows of potted flowers and a tented seating area. The whole place was surrounded my multi colored prayer flags and pointsetta flowers which reminded me of Mom. I spent some time up there reading about the people and religion of Nepal and watching the city from above. A lot of people were on their roofs tending to gardens or doing laundry, one man was just sitting on a chair doing nothing. The streets were bustling amid a backdrop of colorful multi-story buildings in front of the still, strong mountains (actually hills, but mountains by my definition).

Now I'm at Yeti Cafe (chosen because I like the idea of the Yeti) awaiting more mo mo and vegetable curry.

I need to say something about the cold. It's so surprising to me to be wearing a jacket in the day time and seeing people bundled up even at noon. Instead of oscillating fans, people are sitting in front of oscillating space heaters. There is a heater by my table and space heaters on the wall for people to stand in front of. I'm not sure why this is so fascinating to me, but it is. Also, at the Gardens I ordered tea and they kept the pot under an insulator to keep it hot. Crazy!

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