Welcome to a new year!
Our last day in Kathmandu and we caved. For the record, Carmela was the only one who tried to stop me. “We have come this far, what’s one more day? We came here to rough it Mom!” But no, I just really needed a hot shower. I really needed to pee in a toilet that was not about to overflow with revenge. I really needed the electricity to come on so I would have heat. Call me weak, but at that vulnerable moment last night it’s what I felt I really needed.
Fine, fine… not needed, but wanted.
It is morning now and as always, things look better in the daylight. The electricity came back on sometime during the night. Although the toilet is still on the brink of Armageddon, I WAS able to dance in the cold steel tub with mostly hot water coming out of the sprinkling apparatus. Things do look brighter, but it is too late. I cannot cancel the fancy hotel reservation that I made for our last night here. I call it fancy due to the price, but to be quite honest we have not seen it yet and Expedia pictures can be oh so deceiving.
So, for our last day in Kathmandu we shall shop for a few souvenirs and hopefully take an actual hot shower for the first time in over a week. The toilet might even flush and if we are lucky we might get to watch TV together for a bit. I must say that the intermittent WIFI on this trip has been quite entertaining. I believe the girls now understand that WIFI is a gift and a privilege not to be taken for granted. If you are experiencing WIFI here for more than one minute without constant streaming interruptions, you are just plain lucky. Actually, I think the same can be said for electricity.
I have loved every minute of our time here in Nepal. I even think it has been the best trip we have taken, and that’s saying a lot. Perhaps we all know that we are getting older and we only have a few years left where we all live together. Everything seems a bit more precious now. Regardless, we were all very present on this trip and really enjoyed our time together. We have so much to be thankful for.
Tomorrow we head back to lovely, warm Malaysia.
Update: The hotel is fantastic, the shower is hot and has amazing pressure, the toilet flushes, and we all feel terribly spoiled. The TV shows nothing but Bollywood and the wifi works without interruptions. Needless to say, I am wrought with guilt and very happy.
We left at 5am this morning and took a taxi to see the sunrise outside of Kathmandu at a place called Nagarkot. The taxi ride ranked up there as one of the top 5 scariest in my lifetime. Climbing up a one-lane pothole laden partial dirt road in the dark with no side rails and a straight shot down was indeed a tad sketchy. Throw in the oncoming traffic of busses and motorcycles who leave their brights on and you have one heck of a ride. We even saw a gigantic wild boar run in front of our car. We made it safe and sound however, and the sunrise over the Himalayas was simply spectacular. It was so cold my feet went numb, but it was well worth it.
We made it back to the hotel by 10:30am and napped until the afternoon. After our coffee shop art time we meandered around The Garden of Dreams and played with selfies and the local chipmunks. Fun times.
A few thoughts from my coffee shop journal:
Nepal – Our seventh day here and I start to see more clearly. I see more clearly how people suffer everyday, how trash and pollution is completely choking our planet and the life that resides on it. In ‘developed’ countries we can easily push it to the back of our minds because it’s not something we constantly see. In ‘3rd world’ countries it slaps you in the face every minute of the day. For the people who live here, each moment is about survival. The truth is that luxuries like clean air and water just aren’t on their list of priorities. I am saddened, disgusted, humbled, and empathetic. Once again I find myself in a place where it is easy to pass judgment as an outsider. Seriously, how can climate control and the plastic crisis take any precedence at all when one struggles daily for basic needs such as food, clothing, and shelter? How do we as a human race even begin to fix that? It is if we are on an irreversible course set forth by history, circumstance, ignorance and power. It diminishes any optimism for our future and leaves me feeling hopeless. I personally can stop using plastic straws, use my own cup, etc., but the problem will continue to grow until we are left with the irreversible destruction of our home and ultimately ourselves.
Here I sit in Kathmandu, Nepal drinking my expensive café latte and eating french fries. I look out a giant glass window upon an ancient Hindu temple, polluted air, trash, and traffic. I will leave this place in two days and return to my ‘posh to me’ life in Malaysia. After a few weeks I will probably not even think twice about the poverty I see around me today. The fact is, by being born in the United States I was born into privilege. I was born in a country where all I have every known is clean air and water. I was given a good, free education that allowed me the opportunity to have more if I wanted it. I have chosen a life of seeing the world and obtaining knowledge about people and places foreign to me. But the truth is, I really don’t do anything with this knowledge and this might make me worse than a wealthy person who hoards away their riches while those around him or her suffer.
Today I do see more clearly, but this is not something that makes me proud.
I find it truly fascinating that after an hour in any mall I am a complete mess. Walk for six hours through one of the most polluted, traffic-laden, loud, and overstimulating cities in the world and I am just fine. Go figure! Perhaps it is because all I have to do is follow Marty the human GPS and try not to get run over. Another good day!
As a general rule, Party Marty is quite the culinary adventurist when we travel. That being said, I frequently question his food choices. When he veered off of the beaten path on Thursday for some local snacks, I probably should have intervened. Or perhaps it was the free nuts at the upstairs bar that evening that according to him tasted oddly like butter. Whatever it was, Marty was struck down with Nepal’s version of ‘Montezuma’s Revenge’ yesterday and we spent the day inside being lazy. I told the girls I was perfectly capable of leading the way without their father, but for some odd reason they didn’t want to leave him behind. Personally, I don’t think they trust me, but luckily they eventually got hungry and I was able to prove that yes, I too can be an able-bodied tour guide.
Marty woke this morning feeling a tad better and was up for a bit of exploring. I wonder if he knew that exploring would take us on a hour-long hike into the non-touristy part of the city and then up 365 stairs to the oldest temple in Kathmandu. After a lovely breakfast at The Revolutionary Cafe, we were off.
The Swayambhunath Stupa is affectionately termed ‘Monkey Temple’ and when you finally reach the path that leads straight up it’s not difficult to see why. At first it is a bit alarming because it is hard to tell if they are friendly. There are so many monkeys of all sizes and degrees of healthiness that you just stand there frozen and stare. They nonchalantly come right up to you, but don’t seem to want anything or even care that you are there. After you quickly grow accustomed to them, you see that they co-exist with the abundance of visitors and street dogs. Other than a few squabbles over food, the monkeys and dogs just lay around in the sun… dogs sleeping, monkeys grooming.
We slowly made our way up the 365 steps to the oldest holy site in the Kathmandu Valley, which dates back to the 5th century. Hindus and Buddhists alike come here to worship and as you stand amongst the temples that overlook the vast valley surrounded by the Himalayas, it is hard not to be inspired. There were quite a few visitors and some of it was still under renovation from the 2015 earthquake, but it was pretty fantastic.
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As we made our way back down, it became apparent that Marty was in no shape to make the hour trek back to the hotel. I bartered with a taxi driver and got him down from 500 nr to 250. The girls were impressed with my skills, so chalk one up for Mom!!!
We plan on making our way out of the city soon to get a bit of reprieve from the noise and pollution. Marty and the girls want to catch a glimpse of Mount Everest and I am up for anything.
It always amazes me how one day of travel by plane can transport you to a completely different world. We left Singapore Changi Airport at eight in the morning and after six hours of travel, including a very brief layover in Bangkok where we barely made our connecting flight and one hour circling over Nepal, we finally touched down in Kathmandu. As we walked down the tarmac towards the airport the girls looked at each other and said, “This airport is different.” I suppose starting out in Singapore at the world’s fanciest airport and landing in a very small virtually open air airport made of bricks is enough to make one take notice. I said, “Oh, didn’t I mention that Nepal is one the poorest countries in the world and I chose it not only because I’ve always wanted to come here, but also because our Malaysian lifestyle is spoiling you.”
Kathmandu is truly a different world, an assault on the senses that causes immediate overload. After many different counters and figuring out how to get Nepal visas we finally walked outside and were smacked in the face with loud noises, pollution, and interesting smells. It was a flashback to India all over again. We found our hotel driver and as he honked his way through horrendous traffic I quickly accepted that this trip would be like playing Russian roulette with life and death. All I could see were scooters, motorcycles, cars, busses, rickshaws, bicycles, and pedestrians all competing to make their way in both directions down incredibly narrow shop-filled streets with no sidewalks. We finally made it to our hotel, a five-story brick building tucked into an alley off of a skinny street like the one described above. The hotel is old and filled with Buddhist art and artifacts. It is quite charming, but my initial reaction was that of a very tall cave… cold, dark, and dank. We opened the door to our family suite that consists of two rooms and a living area. I was wondering why it was so cold when I noticed that some of the ornate latticed window coverings actually had no glass behind them and were in fact open air. Things were beginning to look more bleak when I discovered that the cold metal bathtub only had a hose with luke-warm water and although one room had a modern AC unit with heat, the other room only had a dodgy space heater that could very well catch something on fire before our trip ends. Forget in-room entertainment, someone on the street apparently cut the TV wires, and for a touch of nature… there are large amounts of pigeons outside our windows that would like to come in and join us. But apart from that… it is great. (Perhaps I now know why my 4 flights and 9 night hotel stay was a mere $1500 total. :))
I have been traveling for thirty years and I will admit that at first I found myself wondering if I could do this. I told my daughters they were getting too spoiled, but in reality, I think I was too. I climbed into the springy, lumpy bed and buried myself under the blankets for a nap. After two hours of letting the heaters do their thing, I woke up rested and with a happy new outlook. How great that it only takes a couple of hours to leave behind normal comforts and embrace living in the moment.
We decided it was time to venture out and get the lay of the land. We bundled up (the weather now is about 49*/40*) and we headed out in search of food. We almost got hit several times by scooters, rickshaws, cars, and people, but we finally made it to a famous pizza place for dinner. (Don’t judge… one must ease in slowly!) Despite the real danger of getting hit by some form of transportation at any given moment, you quickly get used to the flow of things and begin to instinctively get the hell out of the way at the right time. After 24 hours, we now actually feel quite safe. Weird. Kathmandu has such an amazing energy: ancient ruins, temples, shops, the nicest people. It is hard not to fall in love with it straight away.
We woke up this morning loving our new hotel room and made our way a few feet down the street for an amazing breakfast at a hole in the wall diner where it appears only locals frequent. We then took a two-hour walk from the tourist/trekker area of Thamel to the famed UNESCO World Heritage site of Durbar Square. It was raining, cold, and incredibly stimulating in every way. We took a nice two hour break at a coffee shop to make some art and then meandered our way back to the hotel. We are having a wonderful time so far stopping off at various temples to pray for our friends and families and enjoying our time together. There are truly so many things to be thankful for. Namaste.
Before we moved to Malaysia, we were all quite excited about the prospect of visiting Singapore on a regular basis. After all, it is a mere 15-minute drive away. It’s so close we can even see it from just about anywhere in our part of the city. We became quickly disinterested, however, when we learned that because of the high congestion of Singaporeans and Malaysians commuting back and forth, it can take anywhere from one to five hours to cross the border. Therefore, our first real trip to the city was on New Year’s Day on a short layover before we headed to Nepal. We have also refrained from going because we have been in what is affectionately known as ‘tax jail’. If you are a foreigner living in Malaysia, you have to spend 185 consecutive days in the country, or you pay double the taxes. Needless to say, we have stayed put, thank you very much. Our jail time officially ended January 1st, so off on an adventure we went!
Our 17 hours in Singapore started with an hour and a half stop at the Malaysian checkpoint. There was very little traffic because of New Year’s Day and it looked as though we might make it through quickly. When we handed the immigration officer our passports at the drive through booth, things started to go awry. After ten minutes, the immigration officer told us there was a problem with one of our passports and she would be back. She then proceeded to leave her booth and walk to the main office. Fifteen minutes later she emerged and told us to pull over and wait. She gave us no indication of what was wrong and disappeared into the office once more. One hour later she emerged and told us that Marty had the wrong size ‘chop’. A chop is a stamp and apparently when Marty made a quick run with a hired driver last week to pick up our visiting friends from California, they gave him the wrong chop. Go figure. Long story short, they returned the passport and we were on our way over the bridge to Singapore.
We sat in the Singapore customs line for another 30 minutes. Finally, we were on the highway making our way to the hotel I had booked for the night. Our short visit to Singapore was quite fun. It was great to see people walking everywhere with lots of public transportation options. After dropping off our bags, we ate lunch at a hand-pulled noodle house we stumbled upon outside of our hotel. It was truly the best beef noodle soup I have ever eaten, which is saying a lot. We then caught a Grab (equivalent of Uber) to downtown Singapore to the Gardens by the Bay. These iconic outdoor gardens are famous and quite amazing. We spent a few hours walking around taking in the sights and ended up at the Marina Bay Hotel with the giant ‘boat’ perched on top. Singapore is crazy expensive and the wealth is astounding, but it’s nice to spend a few days and explore. We will certainly be back.
It was a lovely evening spent with my family and a great way to celebrate the first day of the New Year. I feel like I am getting more sentimental the closer I get to ‘losing my girls to adulthood’. I am starting to be more conscious of slowing down and enjoying each moment I have with them. Taking them on trips is the best way I know to give them life experience and knowledge, while at the same time stealing them away for a bit and spending time together.
Next stop… Kathmandu, Nepal.