Closing Time

And then just like that, it was over.

What seemed like a great adventure —time does go faster as you get older—that would last forever has now come to a close.

We had gone to Middle Earth and come back. And the two phrases that come repeatedly to mind are that was really fun and I’m glad we did that. And throughout the two years we were gone, I felt more alive than I had for many years. It was just plain fun to explore and experience a whole new area of the world, to meet new and different people, to learn new things, to see strange and different landscapes, and to get out of and away from the mindset of living in the United States.

The whole experience has also reinforced in me the sense that it is good to take chances, to do things new and different, to purposely get out of your comfort zone, to be an outsider, to not always know what you’re getting into. If you have the opportunity—and I guess we all do even in some small ways—it’s good to take chances. Always. It’s a cliché but life truly is short.

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Sick in a Strange City

There is nothing worse than being sick alone in a strange city.

Was it the ice I had in a drink in the New Dehli Airport? The ice at a McDonald’s in an airport should be safe, shouldn’t it? Or maybe it was one of the curried dishes served on the Virgin Atlantic flight as we soared high above the Middle East. Or maybe it was some strange bug I had picked up in Nepal finally catching up with me. In any case, it was my first time in London, and as I navigated my way out of Heathrow Airport and onto the Tube for the forty-minute ride to Earls Court Station where my hotel was I began to feel distinctly uncomfortable. Is it just the fumes or the jostling of the coach?

But soon while I starred at the passengers across from me while trying to keep control of my oversized suitcase, I began to feel most assuredly unwell. I felt like any moment I might gag and vomit spewing god-knows-what into the narrow space between my fellow travelers and me. Fortunately, my station arrived before any of this occurred, and I dragged my bag, one wheel on the suitcase not having survived the long travels, down the streets of what now seemed like not-so-merry-olde-London to my hotel passing people eating all manner of fried and cooked things which only added to my discomfort. How could they eat such things? How could people eat anything? I will never eat anything again in my life.

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London: Royal Observatory, Greenwich

From the Earl’s Court Underground Tube station, I took the District line to Westminster, then the Jubilee line to London Bridge. From there, I switched to the Southeastern Rail Line and arrived at the Greenwich Rail Station about 45 minutes after I had left my hotel.

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Earl’s Court Underground Tube Station, London.

A twenty-minute walk to the top of a large grassy hill brought me to the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, which overlooks London and the River Thames and is a famed location in the history of astronomy and navigation. It is a spring day in London, and today the green park expanse below the observatory is filled with both tourists and locals enjoying the sunshine.

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London: Kew Gardens

Containing the world’s largest collection of living plants (over 30,000 different species) and located on over three hundred acres of land, Kew Gardens is one of the premier botanical gardens in the world, and is also designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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Getting Around in Nepal

Certainly nothing in the United States (or New Zealand) can prepare you for the chaos that is traffic in the cities of Nepal.

Countless people walk on the sides of the roads. Bicycle wind their way past. Swarms of scooters and motorcycles surge in every direction. Cars and taxis dart and weave this way and that. Crowded local buses with every seat filled, the aisles filled, people hanging out the door, and often even people sitting on the roof, speed past. Brightly colored, giant trucks emblazoned with Hindu gods on their sides roar by. And all this is punctuated by vehicle horns in various pitches honking constantly. To add to the confusion, sometimes buffalo and cows wander down the center of the streets oblivious to the traffic. Traffic signals or signs are rare occurrences, and many of the roads are dirt, and all of them have a profusion of potholes.

Outside the cities, the chaos continues; huge trucks and buses pass with the narrowest of openings, on blind corners, blaring their horns, narrowly avoiding collisions with oncoming traffic. It is uncontrolled madness but at a higher rate of speed.

On the mountain trails and often in the cities, people carry enormous loads on their backs. Horses, ponies and mules are also used to carry burdens. And in the Chitwan region, it is not uncommon to see elephants being ridden down the streets.

I didn’t take as many photos and videos as I would have liked. Most of the time when walking, I was dodging this way or that to avoid being hit. When on a bus or taxi, I was just starring with wide-open eyes at everything that was going on all around me, and several times truly fearing for my life. Here is a short video that attempts to capture a little bit of what it is like.

 

Kathmandu, Nepal

Kathmandu, Nepal is the capital of Nepal and its largest city with a population of about one million residents, although the entire surrounding Kathmandu District has a population of closer to two million (the total population of Nepal if about 28 million). Kathmandu is a big, sprawling, noisy, dusty city of low buildings with continual bustling traffic of bicycles, motorcycles, scooters, taxis, cars, buses, and trucks on the streets, and endless streams of people walking on both sides of the roads. Nothing can quite prepare one for the chaos that is Kathmandu. Located in a bowl-shaped valley, it is also one of the more polluted cities in the world with dust, smog and other particulate matter in the air—many people wear surgical type masks daily for this reason—along with bad water. The place is dirty; trash is strewn everywhere. Electricity is rationed and there are daily blackouts. Despite all this, Kathmandu is strangely stimulating city and rich in sensory experience.

The Kathmandu airport is where most visitors first arrive in Nepal, and navigating one’s way out of the airport is one of the first signs that “You are no longer in Kansas, Dorothy.”

Most tourists opt to stay in Thamel, the city’s main tourist district, which is a warren of narrow streets and alleyways lined with guest houses (hotels), restaurants, and tiny shops. The shops are generally are about twelve feet in width, consisting of a corrugated metal door that is rolled open in the morning and closed at night. Because so many tourists come to Nepal to go trekking, in Thamel there are a plethora of shops selling trekking gear, generally all the same exact items. Most are cheaply made and many are knock-offs of major international brands with prominent labels such as North Face (commonly called “North Farce” in Thamel) and Columbia.

The Nepali currency is the Nepali rupee. At the current time one US dollar equals about 103 Nepali rupees. Except for the totally naïve, bargaining is expected on any purchase except for food items. A taxi ride from the airport which is initially quoted at 800 rupees can be obtained for 500 or less. A supposedly authentic Ghurka knife, which was offered at the equivalent of $55, I eventually obtained for about $15 and probably still paid too much. A t-shirt costs the equivalent of about $3.50.

But what strikes one about Nepal is the severe poverty and the hardship with which people struggle each day to survive, to scrape out a living each and every day, particularly once you get out of the Thamel area of the city.  Needless to say, we are so blessed in the United States and take so much for granted; so many people in the world couldn’t even fathom having a fraction of all that we have and to live in the relative luxury in which we live. A woman like someone’s aged grandmother makes her way down the street carrying a huge heavy basket of papayas on her back hoping to sell one for the equivalent of 30 cents. A shopkeeper sits in front of a tiny storefront selling a few pots and pans and a stack of plastic buckets. Another tiny store sells zippers and buttons. And despite all this, everyone seems fairly happy and content. They just get on with it.

Kathmandu is also home to countless religious shrines and temples. Unfortunately, many of these were severely damaged or destroyed by the 2015 earthquake.

Here are a number of photos of Kathmandu in no particular order showing a tiny fraction of this interesting city.

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Kathmandu from our hotel rooftop.

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