Never Ending Stairs in Nepal

OKAY, LETS TALK ABOUT NEPAL.

We got to the boarder early and hopped off the horrendous 12 hour bus at Chitwan National Park which has the largest population of Greater One-Horned Rhinos.

Our introduction to Nepal was listening to Akon booming from taxi speakers while whizzing down tiny villages on the way to the National Park. Dustin had briefly asked me, before booking our hotel, if an ecolodge was alright. Now, my last eco lodge was that sketchy place with the man in short orange shorts in India so I was slightly apprehensive. We arrived to see tiny, circular huts on stilts, 15 ft in the air. Okaaaaaaaay.

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Terrible quality photo because I was trying to sneakily take it and pretend huts in the air didn't freak me out

Eventually we were checked in and lead to our room which was a much more normal version of a hut and significantly nicer than the little cottage we had called home in Gokarna. One set back was that our attached “bathroom” was only seperated by a curtain. The comfort level you have to get to while traveling with a significant other astounds me.  Although it appeared to be a normal toilet, it really was a toilet seat over a bucket that was filled with sawdust. A dry, compost toilet.

The purpose of a compost toilet is two fold: not contaminate the ground water table and not waste the tons of water that go into flushing and filling a toilet. Fair enough, but… my eco-friendly comfort level is still in the infant stages. I can get on with reusable shopping bags and turning the tap off while you brush your teeth but I’m just not ready to do things into a bucket and then scoop sawdust to cover it.

My problems with the curtain and bucket did not end there. The first night there, I got up in the middle of the night to use the sawdust bucket and went to grab the toilet paper that was resting on a ledge on the wall beside me when I noticed the MASSIVE SPIDER.

ON THE WALL.

RIGHT NEXT TO MY HAND.

It was a blur.

I moved so quickly in terror that I clearly also frightened the spider that probably could have eaten a small rodent and it moved quickly across the wall which only deepened my fear as I still had yet to scoop saw dust into the bucket. I finished everything and returned to bed where I continued to picture the spider just lurking  behind the curtain, waiting. It was clearly not full grown to me and looked like it was still a baby, (although it looked like it had already gone through its puberty growth spurt) and I feared it meant momma spider was nearby.  Does anyone know if spiders have a maternal instinct?

I told Dustin about it the next morning and he thought it was terrifying. That night, when the visitor reappeared on the wall, I begged him to enter the ‘bathroom’ to look. He refused but eventually the urge to urinate was too strong to resist and he was forced to enter the spider’s domain. While he was keeping a close eye on the spider, he noticed, out of the corner of his eye, a second figure on the opposite wall. There were two spiders.

We were in a nest.

Abort. Abort. Abort.

I tucked the mosquito netting around the mattress that night to close up any gaps just in case spiders ever feel the need to cuddle.

While in Chitwan, we did a walking jungle safari. There are three options for safaris in Chitwan: jeep, elephant back or walking. Obviously the most appealing sounded like it would be the elephant back because it would be the least intrusive to wildlife and I also be on the back of a massive animal in case a sloth bear appeared or something equally ferocious. However, I was skeptical about how that experience would be for the elephant so we ended up settling on walking because it would be alot more flexible for where you could go to see the animals (following tracks, etc.).

Although we walked about 12 km through various terrains, while that is not normally something I would be stoked about, it was an unforgettable experience. Our guides were excellent and seemed to have the eyesight of a…….animal with really good eyesight (animal species are just not jumping into my head right now). We were given a “safety” talk before we set out in order to prepare ourselves for any close encounters with the various wildlife. For Rhinos, who have poor eyesight but a good sense of smell and hearing, you should either climb a tree, stand behind it or run in a zig-zag pattern in case of no trees nearby. I wanted to ask how big of a zig-zag I should be running in because the information seemed a little vague but I refrained in case I had to demonstrate what I meant.

Throughout the day I learned alot about animal poo. Yes, and I am going to tell you about it. The first poop we saw, the guide knelt next to it to closely inspect it. I thought was slightly ridiculous because it looked like dog shit and even I could identify that. However, he informed us it was from a peacock. The confusion in the group was evident and it began to display itself by fits of giggles – led by yours truly.

There was no way that was a peacock. Unless it was literally the biggest peacock to roam the planet.

Later, one of the guys in our group identified the same poo, this time in a tree. He dragged one of the guides over to identify it and again we were told it was peacock.

This still blows my mind. It is like half the size of the bird itself.

We happened upon a Rhino just before lunch time. He was quite close and our guide immediately ushered myself and another girl on the tour up into a tree, closest to its current location. Slowly, the massive, armored animal munched his way closer to our perch and Emma and I began to get nervous about how long we would be stuck in the tree. As it got closer, the guides hastily put the rest of our tour group into surrounding trees which freaked me out slightly because it meant that the Rhino was too close to be safe on the ground. Being perched in a tree, afraid to move in case a Rhino gets scared and charges the tree, is not a comfortable position to be in. The lack of comfort was only intensified when Emma and I noticed the line of red ants marching up the tree trunk and on the various branches surrounding us. We were at a crossroads. Be attacked by alot of tiny creatures or one big one.

Every little while, the Rhino must have got a whiff of us 7 humans perched in the trees or heard us when shifted to try shake the firey ants off of our limbs and would look in our direction. I half wished he could see us with his tiny eyes and/or had a sense of humor because all 7 of us perched in various trees must have looked ridiculous. He could have definitely taken out the tree I was sitting in, though, and never was I more aware of this fact than right in this moment. At one point he was less than 30 feet from us!

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At the relief of all of our legs and the ants who did not appreciate their homes being invaded, the Rhino changed direction and allowed us to come out from our hiding spots. I’m still in awe of how incredible that experience was.

As the sun was setting, after several more Rhinos, a couple elephants and like 700 deer, we finally got back to the ecolodge.

The next morning, we hopped on a 7 hour bus headed for Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital. For the most part, from simply looking at it, Nepal is quite similar to India. Garbage. Noise. Chaos. The biggest difference is that Nepal seems to really get it when it comes to tourism in the country (and the locals are significantly more shy) . The tourist part of Kathmandu, Thamel, was really cute. Cobblestone streets, super clean, lovely cafes and restaurants, etc.  We spent an easy four days there.

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One night in Kathmandu, Dustin discovered that there was a casino nearby. There is only a couple casinos in India and they are all on boats, floating offshore because casinos are not allowed in India (so naturally they just bend the rules. Did I mention how well India does with rules?). Dustin was disappointed we had skipped the experience of a floating Indian casino so I decided to humor him with a visit to the Kathmandu casino.

Plus I heard they gave away free wine and food if you gambled. Hello.

Both of us tried to clean up and look less like grungy backpackers and headed to the casino.

I do not have the stomach for gambling. When it comes to gambling, I have the emotional/mental strength of a gold fish. Dustin handed over the cash to be exchanged for chips and I was surprised to see him handing over two bills of 1000 Indian rupees! ($40 CAD) I know, I know. It’s realistically not that much but when you’ve been in a country where $40 is an entire day of spending, it feels like alot. 

He finally decided to play blackjack which I politely refused to participate in. The dealer destroyed him in less than 10 minutes (THIS IS WHY I DON’T GAMBLE) and I was completely deflated. We hadn’t even had time to drink our free glass of wine. Suddenly Dustin’s luck turned and he was back up to holding $40 worth of chips. I begged him to walk away. We were up one glass of wine and as far as I was concerned, that was enough.

After every hand, I would begin to beg. He continued to win and I continued plead.  Finally he was holding $100 worth of chips and got annoyed enough of my begging to stop.

The casino itself was really weird. All the equipment in there looked like it was at least 60 years old. The lights were extemely bright and florescent (the kind of lighting nobody looks good in, yes, you know that lighting) and they had female “dancers”. But they actually danced. Like boy band style; routines, with back up dancers. I can only assume they were the Nepali version of burlesque or something risqué because the girls were dressed quite immodest by Nepali standards.

It was hilariously entertaining. I may have been a couple wines deep but I was really getting into it.

We finished off the night by losing a few dollars to slots. I got irrationally excited everytime the machine spat out more than 20 coins, even if it was equal to 20 cents. The casino manager had a serious gambling problem and would prowl after the people playing slots and anytime they left one machine, he would start playing it ferociously. Sometimes he would have multiple machines going at once. I won 110 coins at one point and started cheering (3 glasses of wine) and he rushed over to see what I had won. I excitedly reported my winnings and he immediately got flustered and annoyed and said, “that’s nothing. I could give you that.”

OK,  Mr.  Buzzkill.

From Kathmandu, we headed to Pokhara which is nestled in the foothills of the Himalayas to meet up with our favourite British couple that we had met in Sri Lanka and now were in Nepal. We had been in communication with them since Sri Lanka and had planned to do a five day trek with them up to the summit of Poon Hill from Pokhara.

Dustin had originally proposed to me that we climb to the Everest Base Camp on our visit to Nepal but those dreams quickly faded when we realized some tours were 20 days long. And we just did not have that much time (nor was I that motivated to make time for 20 days of climbing to something that isn’t even the actual top…).

The first day really tested to physical limits of my non-existant leg muscles. We climbed over 3000 stairs for several hours. Steep stairs. Straight up a massive Nepali slope. Possibly the only thing motivating me up the hill, aside from the fact that I would be heading back to Pokhara alone, was the several cute animals we saw long the way. There were so many people that lived at various points during our trek, in places only accessible by walking or possibly by donkey. Which meant that everytime they needed something that they could not grow, they had to make a long journey on foot.

And I sometimes think Sobeys, a block away, is too far. I would live off grass and leaves if I had to all the way up there to avoid taking those stairs regularly. 

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Obviously I am trailing the pack

Luckily, the first day certainly was the hardest as it was about a 6 hour day (and all those stairs that I hardly mentioned at all haha). Our first stop was basic but more than satisfactory with blistering hot showers. We were in the off-season for trekking in Nepal so it wasn’t very busy on the trek which was nice. Our second day was easier with only 4 hours of trekking. Our second destination for the night, however, was absolutely freezing. I had messaged Lucy before the trek and asked her about the temperature in Pokhara and whether it was “regular cold” or “Canada cold”. Up until this point it has been chilly, but Ghorepani was cold. “Pani” means water in Hindi and Nepalese and I’m not sure what “Ghore” means, but I’m going to guess it means “frozen”. I have been in India for 3 months (4? I can’t do math right now) and have left most of my Canadian Cold genes at home. As well as my appropriate cold weather gear.

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We look happy but in the inside we are frozen

We spent the evening huddled around the wood-burning furnace and hoping to somehow survive the night in the detached heat-less cottages. The next morning, at 5:30am, we set out in the dark to summit Poon Hill for sunrise. A million more stairs. This time in the dark, racing against the rising sun. The summit felt so amazing after two days of straight up, despite the icy wind blowing from the Himalayas. We had an excellent view of the Annapurna range of the Himalayas as the sun began to light up the sky.

Unfortunately, nothing ruins beautiful sights like your blood freezing in your veins.

After we had taken the classic pictures, we anxiously waited for the sun to actually get its ass up so we could go back down. Lucy and I were approached to take a picture with a Korean tourist which we both thought was super comical.

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With Bel, our main man

Eventually we headed back down the same stairs and my legs felt somewhat like stumps as I completely lost feeling in my feet. The slate steps were extra slippery from the frost which made for an excellent combination with my stump legs. We had breakfast back in Ghorepani and then began our “descent”. I quickly realized our descent didn’t feel like much of one at all as we began climbing up and up. The trek trail was in a circle so we were not going back down the way we came up. After a 5 am wake up, frozen limbs and a million stairs, this brought out the ugliest side yet in my motivation to continue. “Why don’t we just go back the way we came.” “This is stupid.” “I’m tired.” Somehow Dustin listened to all this and still likes me? (I haven’t actually confirmed this with him, it’s just the power of positive thinking and the fact that he hasn’t put my ass back on a plane to Canada).

Eventually I snapped out if my psychosis and fashioned a walking stick out of a fallen branch. I am easily pleased clearly. We did begin to go downhill which I realized is significantly more tedious than going up.  And I never thought I would admit that. Going down stairs for hours is exhausting.

We spent our third night in a cute place with paper thin walls where Dustin and I spent most of the night awake thanks to the Dutch couple next to us who thought 3am (and every hour after that) was a good time to discuss things…loudly. 

Our fourth day was short (only 2 or 3 hours) and mostly downhill. It did rain quite heavily when we were stopped for lunch and the four of us wanted to spend extra time playing cards and drinking tea while the rain subsided but Bel (our guide) forced us to march on. Slave driver.

So much momentum is lost emotionally once you’ve already reached the top. We really just wanted to reach the bottom at this point. We spent one more night in a hillside village and had most of the day to relax and recover our sore muscles a bit. On our final day, we woke early to head back down to our point of origin. It felt crazy good to reach the original spot we had started. We had a quick lunch before all deciding we didn’t want to deal with a public bus and opted for a private jeep instead.

We arrived back in Pokhara and celebrated our successful hike with a hot shower, a couple games of pool and a few very strong cocktails.

The next day we did literally nothing. We spent a few long, lazy hours lounging in one of the restaurants, leeching their WiFi. Nepal has like 700 power cuts a day, somewhat due to the blockade their big neighbor, India, has created with regards to gas. From what I understand, Nepal’s gas comes into the land-locked country via northern India. Recently, Nepal made changes politically and introduced a new constitution and it is speculated that India is blockaiding the fuel headed for Nepal in response to how they feel about the changes. This is what I gathered from a very brief scan of the recent politics between the two countries. If anyone knows more or wants to clarify, I would be happy to listen. Regardless of the reasons,  the impact on Nepal is massive. There was not one day where we had 24 hour power and most days we were lucky if we got a couple hours while we were awake to enjoy it. The lines at gas stations were always hundreds of people long and they were limited to only a couple liters of fuel. And the people just have to live this way. I remember when I worked in a restaurant and the power went out for an hour and it was complete chaos. Nobody could pay bills, food was at risk of being spoiled, the kitchen staff were freaking out. And that was for maybe a couple hours. These people deal with it everyday.

We definitely needed that day for our aches. Does anyone realize how sore you can get from just going down stairs? My legs hurt more from going down than up. Clearly people are working out wrong. The key is to doooown the stairs, guys!

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Pokhara had been getting weird weather since we got back. Much like Calgary in the summer; beautiful days and then rain and thunderstorms in the evening. The 5th was Lucy’s birthday and we had this genius plan of renting out one of the large party paddle boats, grabbing some drinks and snacks at the grocery store and spending the afternoon on the boat. We thought we would have the rain beat if we headed out early as the rain normally arrived around 4 or 5. We loaded up on snacks, beer and a lychee wine and set out towards the docks. We argued with one boatman who refused to let us rent because of the “waves”.

This is seriously one of the most flat lakes I have ever seen in my life. I had never even seen the water lap the shore, that’s how still it was. Arguing was futile and we tried a couple other docks. No one would rent to us and suddenly the rain started to come down in big, heavy drops. Like,  they hurt. We made a break for our guest house and arrived just before we were completely soaked. We spent the afternoon on the covered patio, playing cards and hoping that lightning wouldn’t strike us. The lychee wine we had bought tasted more like vodka or moonshine. It’s not as light and fruity as one might have imagined.

That night we said goodbye to Lucy and Adam, as they were headed back to Kathmandu to catch their flight back to the UK and we were headed back to India. Traveling as a couple, you settle into a certain groove and going back to just being you two again, after traveling with others, always initially feels weird and lonely. Fortunately Dustin and I’s ‘loneliness’ didn’t last long because we got to spend 20 hours on a bus with a bunch of Nepalese!!! Yay!!! We will definitely be reunited with Adam and Lucy again; whether it’s the UK, Canada or San Fransisco.

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Obviously before we climbed 4000 stairs

At 1pm on Sunday, March 6th, Dustin and I loaded onto a 20 hour bus ride to the Western boarder of Nepal. No tourists spend time in Western Nepal, and Dustin and I had originally planned to break up the journey by exploring some of the Western plains, but our plans changed and we were stuck with a local bus for 20 hours. As soon as I located our seats, I moved into the window seat and sat down. As quickly as my ass had touched the seat, it immediately sprang out of it in shock. The seat was completely soaked. Interestingly, the locals often get motion sick on the bus (I imagined there would have been some sort of immunity built up over the years of these horrific busses). Motion sick bags are always available and we have seen them used on more than one occasion. Therefor,  you can imagine my horror at having a wet seat.

I immediately assumed the worst: my seat is soaked in vomit.

I was pretty much at a breaking point and my voice rose into a higher register as panic swelled in my chest. We were going to be on a bus for 20 hours while I sat in vomit. Dustin, sensing the internal crisis, immediately offered his sweater to cover the seat. Although I was touched by his selflessness, the panic did not give way to any other emotions and I quickly turned him down.  Thinking quickly, he left the bus in search of plastic bags. He came back with 7 small plastic bags and I began strategically placing them over the wettest portion of the seat. Little did I know, the wet seat was only the beginning of what I will call: the darkest night. (Haha)

We set out through twisting mountain roads, lined by sheer rock faces plunging into the valleys below. Although it does make me nervous, usually you can tell when a driver is experienced in handling these roads. This guy was and I wasn’t initially nervous. I sat looking out the window when suddenly there was a loud shattering noise as an oncoming bus passed us. Broken glass came flying through my window. Some landed on my lap and some made it way down my shirt. Completely shaken, I had no idea what had just happened. Quickly we realized the bus had side swiped us and shattered the side mirrors. My nerves were completely shot. I began picking the glass out of my shirt and bra and tried to hide the anxious tears that were now rolling down my cheeks. The driver got out to argue with the other driver and when he got back in, he was clearly wound up from the argument and accident and began taking the mountainous corners at twice the speed. I was worried the bus was going to roll.

Hysteria was building again internally. We had only been on the bus maybe 3 hours. It was still light out. What would happen if he drove like this when night fell? I felt sick to my stomach. I turned to Dustin and told him, “I have never wanted to be at home as much as I do right now.” Either he had already sensed this, or he felt equally uncomfortable about remaining on the bus because he already had thought of our possible options. We talked them through and realized, however shitty, this bus remained the easiest option. It was a tough pill to swallow. Speaking of pills, someone pass the anti-anxiety medication. 

5 hours in, it began to rain. And I learned the origin story of the wet seat. The roof leaked. Dustin had switched seats with me because he is the best human ever, but now he was subject to the never-ending stream of water coming through the roof. We tried to tell the bus conductor, expecting him to actually do something, but in true Nepalese fashion,  he shrugged it off. Now not only were my nerves strung as tight as they could be, I was ferociously angry.

Who decided this tin can should be allowed on the road? At $20 dollars dollars a ticket, how could they not afford to put some bloody duck tape on the roof to prevent the leaking????? If I knew where to direct this anger, I would have completely exploded. Instead the anger boiled below the surface and I sat sulking with my wet ass in my seat.

Darkness fell and the bus driver clearly stole my Ativan and calmed down. We stopped at a rest stop for a bathroom break. I realized the state of the bathroom was dismal at best and Dustin and I decided to sneak down a dark alley to relieve ourselves there. He kept an eye out while I peed behind him. Bonding?

The night was the ultimate struggle. Sleep was hard to come by and Dustin and I found ourselves wide awake, sitting side by side and completely stone faced in the dark bus in the middle of the night.  The entire nation of Nepal clearly has a narcolepsy problem because the entire bus was sleeping. And there’s no way it was because the bus was so comfortable.  The suspension was so bad on the bus I think we would have been better off without wheels at all. The entire thing vibrated and bumped along the entire 20 hours. So much so that my throat actually tickled from the constant vibration. HOW WERE PEOPLE SLEEPING?

I kept breaking into fits of giggles in the middle of the night because I was so frustrated and uncomfortable and tired. I had completely lost it by hour 14. At one point the man across the aisle began throwing up. Luckily he was able to stick his head out the window in time, but you can never quite trust a person who’s at risk of projectile vomit, can you? I kept a close peripheral eye on him.

By the time the sun came up, all hope was lost for my sanity. I was numb. I was half expecting to see a new driver who had taken over by now, allowing the psycho to take a break but no, at hour 16, the same bus driver was at the wheel.

That seems safe.

He was most likely worse off than I was in terms of tiredness and delusions, and I wasn’t operating a tin can with 50 people inside. We were told the bus was express which is just a blatant lie. I think that might be the biggest scam of all in India/Nepal. There. Is. No. Express. They may tell you they won’t stop to pick up random people on the side of the road, but they will. At 6 in the morning, I woke from my daze to see 5 giggling adolescent girls standing over me. One kept trying to sit on my arm rest to which I kept semi-aggressively shoving my elbow in her bum. I am not proud of who I was on that bus. For the last hour I watched a woman blatantly spit directly onto the bus floor….multiple times.

Towards the end, the road also ended and we began driving through ponds, which seemed fitting for how well this trip had gone so far. We might as well throw some offroading in there.

Then the tire blew. Dustin knew right away when he heard the loud flapping noise, as did I eventually, because I’ve had an above average number of flat tires in my life, but I was too delusional to start connecting dots. It was changed and somehow, by some miracle, we made it to the Western Nepal/India border.

I do apologize about the length of this beast, but Nepal was an exciting place and unfortunately I am way too lazy to update often enough to split it into 2 posts. All in all, Dustin and I did love Nepal. A gorgeous country and it was nice to exist in a cushy, tourist bubble for a couple weeks. However, with tourism comes cash and Nepal requires alot of that.

OK, I may be slightly exaggerating, but it was alot more expensive than India and Dustin and I are still crying over our bank accounts.

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Pokhara

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