Friday, August 23, 2013

Nepal Journey

Long time no see amigos! Here comes a long one. You better sit down and get a snack and something to drink too. This is going to be your comprehensive guide to my Nepal trip, and if I'm not totally exhausted after that, maybe I'll talk about Korea too! So Nepal came about as so: Abby, one of my best best friends from the Toronto days, had been living in India this summer. Our vacation times happened to coincide and we said "let's meet somewhere on this great continent!" Abby suggested Nepal and I was like "sounds awesome!" and so it was. Now, for the daily recap of this trip:

Day 1: August 7

A Wednesday. I made my way to the airport. I try to get a boarding pass. I am denied a boarding pass because I will be in China for 48 hours and do not have a visa. How could I be so ill prepared?? WELL, let me tell you. This airline CHANGED my itinerary without so much as an email by an entire 24 hours. So instead of one overnight layover in my favourite country I had 2, and now had an illegal trip planned. Great, wonderful. So on Day 1 I spent 2 hours at

the airport talking to the ticketing agent debating whether it was their fault or my fault or the website I booked through's fault. Eventually she booked me a new ticket to leave the NEXT day, with my original itinerary. So I was a day late getting to Nepal. Annoying, but whatever. I left the airport and went downtown to find my friend Steph, have some drinks, and go back to the airport the next day.

Day 2: August 8

This day I DO get on a plane going to China. Horray! Everybody knows I love China. This day is uneventful though. I WAS on the same plane as a minor K pop group that had about 10 eager fans waiting for them in China haha.

Day 3: August 9

2 more flights this day. No problem. Arrive to Kathmandu with 1 million Chinese tourists. When I got to the airport Abby was waiting for me!! YAY! We jumped in the van that the hostel sent to pick us up and started catching up. We didn't know at the time, but the hostel staff guy who had come along to do the pick up was to become a BFF by the end of our stay. As we drove through the streets of Kathmandu I was struggling to take everything in and focus on the conversation. Since Abby had been living in India she was used to all the action, colours and cows on the streets, but I was overwhelmed for a couple days haha. While we were driving, Om, our soon to be BFF was telling us about a tour that he was going to be leading starting tomorrow. There were 2 Saudi Arabian men who were also in Nepal for a short time and had booked a private jeep to drive them to all the major sites. These happened to be all of the places we had hoped to see. AND, the offer was that we wouldn't have to pay the transportation. At all. Abby and I contemplated the pros and cons. Pros- CHEAP Cons- strange men, in a jeep, in an unfamiliar country, for 6 days and 5 nights. Someone else's schedule. Obviously the pros outweighed the cons so we agreed to tag along. We spent the night drinking beer and chatting with locals and guests in the hostel bar.

View from Bandipur
Day 4: August 10

We woke up in time for a nice breakfast, then packed up our stuff and got in the jeep to set off on our unexpected adventure. We picked up the Saudi guys at their FANCY hotel (it had a god damned fountain I tell you) and were on our way. Only one of them could really speak English. At certain points during this trip, Om and the driver would be speaking Nepali, the 4 Saudis would be speaking Arabic, and me and Abby would look at each other and be like "TRIPPING OUT" hahaha. ANYWAY, we set off for our first stop, Bandipur. Bandipur is a TINY little village at the top of a mountain about halfway between Kathmandu and Pokhara. It takes maybe 40 minutes just to drive up the mountain.The drive there was of course beautiful, bumpy and tiring. But it was worth it when we got there. Unfortunately, these Saudi guys were a little high maintenance. The wifi in the hotel wasn't working and they insisted that a better hotel be found for them. Abby and I were like "well we've already killed two roaches so we're pretty invested in this place". Abby and I busted out the cards and beer, and when Om came back him and then also the guy working at the hotel joined in. I taught them speed, cheat and spoons. So much success. So much beer. When we turned in for the night, Abby found a big roach on her pillow and slept in my bed with me even though I killed it with my shoe.

Swimming! That's our boat
Day 5: August 11

We had to wake up kind of early on this day, or so I remember. Had a nice breakfast and paid our bill which should have been small, but ended up being huge because of all the beer we bought haha. Then we left to go find the Saudi guys at their other hotel further up the hill. Then we were off! To Pokhara! On the way there we could tell Om was stressed out, and eventually it was revealed that there was a problem at the hotel the Saudi guys were staying at. They had booked 4 separate deluxe rooms, but the hotel only had two available. Two of them would have to sleep in regular rooms (which still had TVs and AC and hot showers). This caused a bit of a problem, and when we got to their hotel it took them like, and hour and a half or something crazy like that to sort it all out. Abby and I found a tree by the lake and chilled out for the duration. Then, when everything appeared to be ok, we went to OUR much more affordable and much less air conditioned guest house. We reconvened that afternoon, rented a purple paddle boat and went for a swim in the lake. The water was so so so lovely and we had A LOT of fun. Later that night we ditched the Saudi guys and headed to a local bar. Pokhara is Om's (the guide) hometown so he knew a good spot to go. Then we taught the cheat game to Om's uncle (who was also the guesthouse owner) and did the same thing we did the night before but also we had wine this time. There were no roaches this time and Abby and I slept in separate beds haha.

Day 6: August 12

Om's nephew and the stupa
Devi's Falls
Woke up early again. Why did we drink the night before getting up early? We don't know. It was stupid. First thing in the morning we were able to see the mountains from the rooftop of the guesthouse, and that was really exciting because I think we had resigned ourselves to the grim reality that is monsoon clouds. We drove up one of the mountains beside the lake to see a Buddhist stupa that was on the top. On the way we stopped at the side of the road and without saying anything Om got out of the jeep and went into a house. We were like "what?" and then a minute later he was walking towards holding the hand of this 5 year old. The kids mom was waving goodbye. Me and Abby thought he stole a kid. It turned out to be his nephew haha. So we drove up the mountain with this kid, and then walked the rest of the way to the stupa. The road got a little scary up close calls, hairpin turns, waterfalls over the road etc. Getting to the stupa made it all worth it though. Beautiful view of the lake and the city. We came down from that mountain, dropped the little guy off at school and went to see a waterfall called Devi's Falls. Some missionary named David fell into them and died, and now it's named after him. That was really pretty. We threw some coins into a wishing well and succeeded in landing them on the figure! YAY! After the waterfall we drove up another mountain because the Saudi guys thought the wanted to go paragliding off the top of it. Abby and I didn't even entertain the idea haha...we were like "nope nope nope". So we drove up there, got to the top, and watched a few maniacs jump off the mountain. Once we got up there they didn't look so keen, and there was rain on the way. So they didn't go, and we drove back down. THEN we drove out of the city to the countryside for lunch. We drove to this little isolated shack type thing and Om was like "we're here!" We were like "where is here?" He'd taken us to some local hangout spot and all the guys hanging out there were his hometown friends and they were going to cook some authentic Nepali food for us. Before we ate, there was swimming in the river. Swimming progressed quickly into a mud fight and we had mud in our hair for a couple days after that. After swimming was the eating, and the eating was very very delicious. Probably one of my favourite meals the whole time we were there. Post meal, we drove to the bottom of one of the mountains so Om could say hi to his family, who live on the top of the mountain. The though of living on top of a mountain boggles my brain. Absolutely confounds me. I couldn't even begin to imagine it. At night we again went for some drinks. We managed to convince one of the younger Saudi guys to come to the bar with us and taught him how to play spoons even though he didn't speak a single word of English. SUCCESS! We couldn't convince him to drink though haha. We met another one of Om's friends and continued to play cards and drink beer, and then somebody decided to buy some whiskey...a really bad idea haha. That turned into another late night before an early morning. No regrets though!
Where we ate lunch
Playing cards

Day 7: August 13

The Saudi guys went in these little tiny planes flying around the mountains super early this day. Abby and I slept. We did nothing. We meant to go shopping and we didn't even do that. When they were done it was time to get on the road again. We were headed to Chitwan National Park. For elephants.I think the drive there was uneventful. Everybody was asleep...there were three of us hungover and exhausted haha. Om convinced Abby to jump under a roadside waterfall and she fell and got TOTALLY soaked. That was eventful. Then I had to sit next to her in the cramped Jeep and I got wet too :( We eventually made our way out of the mountains. The change was practically instant. All of a sudden is was flat as a prairie. We got to our resort at Chitwan and were SO excited. It was so so so beautiful. The Saudi guys OF COURSE had a problem...they only had 2 rooms booked for them instead of 4 separate rooms. It eventually got sorted out and we left for our first walk around the village. We saw some elephants, and a crocodile infested river.That night was uneventful, we were all soooooo exhausted from the day/night before and had a busy day the next day.

Day 8: August 14

Tiger foot print
Woke up as early as possible to go on a boat ride/jungle walk. The Saudi guys opted out of the jungle walk due to being queasy about leeches. First we got in a tiny, shaky, old looking canoe and set off down the crocodile infested river. Our boat rose only maybe 10 cm out of the water. We survived though. When we got to the jungle, our guide was doing his best to find us a rhino. At one point we were sneaking up on a sleeping rhino, and I was like "Abby, why are we sneaking up on a sleeping rhino? I don't want to do this!" We DID see lots of deer, tiger footprints, and several leeches. The leeches, by the way, were tiny. Like 4 cm long and as thin as a paper clip. I've seen way worse in Canada. I only freaked out when one got under my shirt somehow haha. We then proceeded to the elephant breeding center, and then proceeded to the elephant bathing spot. Here they let you actually get in the water with the elephants. You put on a life jacket and scramble up onto the back of one of these magnificent beasts with the help of their handlers.Then you hold on for dear life while she lumbers around for a bit and eventually dips her nose into the river, aims it back at you and showers you with elephant nose water. It was the COOLEST THING EVER. Until, this part. I watched this happen to Abby first before it happened to me, and panicked the tiniest bit. The elephant sat down. No problem. THEN, the elephant started to roll over. ROLL OVER!! WHAT!?!?! IT'S GONNA CRUSH HER!!!!! Abby did what any sane person would do, she jumped ship. It's what I did several moments later when the same thing happened to me. Those things are HUGE! Then the Nepali handlers would laugh at us, because they were still standing on the back of the animals as if nothing had happened, and you had to scramble back up on her again. It was fun, but eventually I had to say "ok, no more, I'm genuinely afraid that this elephant is going to kill me. Let me off this ride!" The Saudi guys didn't go swimming with the elephants either, because the water was too dirty.

Elephant bath
After this we we had lunch, and then we went on our elephant back jungle safari. They put 4 people in the carrier thing on the back of the elephant and one handler. These elephants were BIG. Abby and I ended up with a nice Italian couple, which was totally lucky. On the same safari as us were a large group of young Chinese tourist, who, I'm not saying are loud and not really interested in nature...that's not what I'm saying. What I'm saying is that I've been to several places where locals told me they have a reputation for being loud and inappropriate in natural settings. It's just what I've heard is all. And on this particular day, these particular Chinese tourists were being REAL loud and obnoxious. So our driver took us and our quiet elephant as far away from the others as he could, which was nice. We saw some deer, and a rhino and her baby, and we DEFINITELY heard a tiger growl. We are both 100% sure of this fact. It literally could not be mistaken for any other sound. And our elephant stopped dead in her tracks when she heard it too and wouldn't move for like 10 seconds. It was real scary. If we'd actually seen a tiger I think both Abby and I would've had heart attacks for sure.
Our elephant

After the safari, we were back at the guesthouse. The Saudi guys had decided to buy a local goat and slaughter it Halal style and cook it up for dinner. I fully admit to being a eater of animals but not a killer. Dirty hypocrite. I watched them skin it, but as soon as the started cutting it up I was like "see ya!" We went to a cultural performance held by the villagers. The Saudi guys skipped that one too. It was really amazing. It was rhythmic stick dancing...? Like 12-15 people, all with sticks, then they'd dance in a circle and do these complex stick hitting patterns. Our minds were blown. So much practice and coordination. Then we went home and ate the goat. Post goat we busted out the cards and the spoons and got EVERYBODY in on a game of spoons, even the guys from the national park. It was the last night of our little tour and it went out with a bang.Of course infidels busted out some beer to go along with it haha.

Day 9 August 15

The three of us suffering from hangovers AGAIN, we loafed around a bit in the morning, but finally got our shit together and got on the road back to Kathmandu. This was a really really uneventful day. We ended up stuck in an 8 hour traffic jam. It's supposed to take like 4 hours to get from Chitwan to Kathmandu but it took 10. It was like 7 hours to go 25 km. I tried to sleep for as much as it as possible and Abby busted out her book. We were ready for some alone time at that point. We got back to Kathmandu, ate some pizza, and PASSED OUT.

Day 10 August 16

Woke up, still exhausted. The Saudi guys had invited us to go out sightseeing with them but we politely declined. When we finally got our asses moving we jumped in a taxi and headed to Bhaktapur City to see some old stuff. We were not disappointed. Lots of picturesque stuff going on. We walked around until we were exhausted. We did some shopping in the tourist district in Kathmandu, then chilled in the hostel, played cards and drank. I had tripped walking down some temple stairs and rolled my ankle, and by the night I could barely walk on it. Luckily it was just a temporary injury and I was fine the next day.

Bhaktapur Square
Day 11 August 17

Took forever to get our asses out of bed again. This time we headed to the Kathmandu Durbar Square to go see the living goddess. I forget her name but if you google "living goddess Nepal" I'm sure you'll get a tonne of hits. Anyway, it's this little like 8 year old girl that is a reincarnation of a goddess. You walk into her temple and she appears at the window and stares at you sullenly for like 10 seconds, drops some flowers on your head if that's what you're into and then she goes away again. The whole experience was super fast, and surreal. Abby and I needed some time to wrap our heads around what we had just witnessed. So we went into this museum that we could get into for free just because it was free. Turned out to be a museum dedicated to this old king. It was ALL of his things. His hats, his phone, his clothes, his toothbrush, his typewriter, every picture of him ever taken. And we couldn't get out. We were stuck in a maze of the King for like an hour. When we finally escaped we just chilled and enjoyed the view from one of the temples. Then it was time to go to the SPA!! We had met a guy named Manohj at our hostel a few nights before, and he worked at a spa where he could get us a discount! YAAAAAY!!! We each got hour long massages and then facials for like $20. I think we also both passed out during haha. It was fantastic and we felt like we really needed it. After the spa we met up with Manohj and went out to a bar. A bar called Purple Haze. You bet there was a band playing Rage Against the Machine and Metallica covers there. Oh yes. That was a lot of fun, and a lot of beer was consumed yet again.

Day 12 August 18

Leaving Day! OR IS IT!? I had this paranoia deep in my gut that only anxious people can understand. I called the website I booked my tickets to to re re confirm my flight. "Sorry, it's been canceled. But you still have your flight from China to Seoul!"  WHAT THE CRAP!?!? So Abby got on her flight and I was stranded in Kathmandu an extra day. I totally cried at the airport saying goodbye. I miss my friends in Canada, and I don't know when the next time I see Abby will be :( The Nepali guys were like "white people always cry, don't you know that is the life!?" Anyway, back to me, with no flight home. The airline offices aren't open on Sundays, so I couldn't even talk to them until the next day. So I spent the day shopping and mailing letters and hanging out at the hostel and trying not to stress.

Day 13 August 19

I woke up early to call the airline to get stuff sorted out. China Eastern is the MOST USELESS airline I have ever dealt with. Nobody could help me. Their advice was just to show up at the airport in time for the next flight leaving and they would sort it out. Those of you who've ever flown into or through China know that this is a bad idea. But I had no choice. I managed to get a boarding pass to China, but the guy, the guy who WORKS for the airline, couldn't tell me how I was getting the rest of the way to Korea. Wonderful, I'll just pass that along to the Chinese immigration authority shall I? I'm sure they'll be cool with that. So he gave me a letter. And against my better judgement I got on a plane to China without any proof of having a ticket out of China. Of course, of course of course, I get there, and it's a HUGE problem. I pleaded with them to please call the airline, and that if they didn't already have tickets for me out of China within 24 hours I would yell at them until they did.They managed to get ahold of my itinerary finally, and I discovered I had a flight to Shanghai the next morning, THEN a flight to Seoul. The airline "kindly" put me up in a hotel for free. This hotel was 30 -40 minutes from the airport, didn't have wifi, and didn't know how to call a taxi. And I was there for a total of only 4 hours.

Day 14 August 20

Mary is VERY disgruntled by this time. Gets on flight. Day passes uneventfully. Get to Seoul at about 6pm.

Recap- It was awesome. The flights were really really really messed up, but it couldn't be so bad as to ruin my whole trip...just the plane part. I think that's long enough for now, maybe in a couple weeks I'll do a one year reflection blog (cuz it's been a year how crazy is that OMG)

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

It's been a while...

Sorry!!! I often just assume that nobody reads these, but it turns out I'm wrong, says Robert. And since it's been so long I DO actually have updates!

In January I went to the Philippines for 10 days. This was amazing. I spent most of my time on Borocay, a tiny touristy island known for it's beautiful beach. I technically traveled by myself but managed to plan to meet up with a bunch of my friends from Korea there at the same time. We had a fantastic time...swimming, kayaking, boating, partying, eating, zorbing and adventuring. I also spent a few days on the island of Bohol, which has these tiny little tarsier monkeys. Unfortunately, towards the end of the trip, my camera stopped working :(. I was able to use my phone for some pictures, but it's not as good. So I need to look into buying a new one SOON!

What else...ahh! Before the Philippines, Dad and Robert came to visit. Unfortunately, their visit coincided with absolutely the COLDEST snap of the whole winter and also one of the most busiest times for me (I was planning two different English camps for the winter break). The last vacation Dad took was to Hawaii, so this was a little bit different haha. The two of them managed to see A LOT in just a week. I was able to join them in Seoul for a weekend, and we did more sightseeing then I had managed to do in the 4 months prior to that haha. Robert was brave enough to try out a Korean spa (jimjilbang) which is something I haven't worked up to yet (they are strictly NO CLOTHING spaces, men and women separated), though they are supposed to be absolutely marvelous. He said it was the only time during the whole trip he felt warm haha. Dad bit the bullet and tried his hand at using chopsticks and DID IT! Not well, mind you, but he picked up the food with the sticks and put it in his mouth, and that's really all that matters when you're eating in Korea.

What else...the new school year started at the beginning of March here. So all my 6th graders graduated and I got 3 new coteachers to work with. And my rowdy 5th graders have turned into too cool for school 6th graders with odd fascinations that I can only attribute to hormones. Puberty was hard wasn't it!? Poor kids haha. I've had to develop a "Game or lines" policy. They can behave in class and play the game well, or they get lines. They don't understand a word I say so this is the only way I really have to discipline them where they are still practicing English. Last week I caught this kid giving me a death glare in the cafeteria and I couldn't help but laugh at him. They take these things so seriously. I have been generally super busy at work the past month. There is a big English Festival coming up next month that consists of a speech competition, a reading comprehension test and a play competition. Extra work assigned to me has been: find a script AKA WRITE a script (luckily only one school is doing the play), judge the speeches from both of my schools to pick one winner, help speech winner improve their speech and prepare for interview questions that will be asked to them, judge play auditions, read the short stories used for the reading comprehension quiz and make 40 questions based on them, administer reading comprehension test, mark reading comprehension test (at 2 schools). I imagine I will also have to help the reading comprehension winner students prepare for the big district wide competition, and help the kids doing the play too. I hate this English Festival! Haha. I HAD been making pretty good progress on my Korean, but I haven't had any time to keep studying in the past few weeks :(. Oh well, at least the weather is getting nicer and spring seems firmly established.

I'm also pretty much decided on staying one more year. If I was finishing in August I would basically have to start arranging something for when I come home now...might even be too late. Mom is planning a trip for September. I won't be able to come home for a visit this summer just because there won't be enough time, but I should have time in the winter to do it.

I think that's about all that's interesting for now. Today is Labour Day, but hardly anyone gets it off. It's a Wednesday, first of all, because Koreans haven't figured out that having a holiday in the middle of the week is stupid. AND, I am the only person who didn't have to work at my school. All the students are there, all the other teachers are there. The banks and post offices are open. I think they should just go ahead and change the name of the holiday to something else, it's clearly failed as Labour Day. BUT, I have today off, and the weather is nice. So, I'm hoping for patio brunch and kayaking and a baseball game (the Daejeon hometeam is worse than the Blue Jays even haha).

If there is anything in particular that anyone would like to hear about, please let me know. I often don't write simply because I feel like I have nothing to write about that would be interesting to anyone.  You can tell me in the comments, or email me or something :)

Okay, bye for now! Missing everyone!