Wednesday, January 30, 2013

it's not the destination that counts...

We journeyed by bus to Bandipur, a five hour ride from Bhaktapur. Our departure was set for 6am, Nepali time. Meaning, we sat in a cold empty bus and watched other passengers slowly file in, as darkness turned to light. My toes went numb from the chill by the time the bus engine was finally turned on.

Our first rest stop came a few hours in. It was a needed bathroom break for most on the bus, along with the subsequent buses in the makeshift lot. My mom and I lined up with the rest of the women in front of a tent that was placed at the edge of a ravine, leading to a river below. Each time a woman went in, she would come out with the exact scrunched up face of disgust as the woman prior.

"Oh my gosh, that was awful!" my mother told me as she walked out of the tent opening.

I handed her a baby wipe for her hands. "Well, a hole in the ground is a hole in the ground."

"It's not even that!" she spat.

I pushed the plastic door aside and walked in. The tent was long and narrow. A shallow ditch, like a gutter, lined the back wall. That was where bodily excrements were to be relieved. Instead feces dotted the muddy ground. I praised myself for having rolled up my jeans beforehand, and then walked to the furthest corner.

The entire way the roads were packed. Mostly with bright, multi-colored trucks, with words like "See You" or "God Loves You" written across them and a portrait or landscape design painted on the back.

The ride was too bumpy and the landscape too beautiful to read a book. So most of the travel was spent staring out the window. One set of  windows provided front-seat, cliff-side views, since the roads are built on the mountain instead of the valley below. The opposite windows, beyond the roadside stands on the remaining bit of flat earth, gave way to views of rushing clear blue waters towered over by lush mountains -considered mere molehills in the land of the Himalayas. Suspension bridges stretched across the valley, providing roadside stand workers easy access to their villages located on the opposite hill.

Bandipur is a small village high on a hilltop. It was also a location the bus did not go. Instead, the last forty minutes of our journey was by utility vehicle. We were first motioned over to a small flatbed truck. In the back were two metal benches, one of which was broken. The driver, upon seeing five of us, called another man over. The man ran to the truck with a welding torch and began fixing the broken bench. But that was soon abandoned when another SUV was found.  The inside was nearly gutted and the flooring had holes, (every car could use extra ventilation or quick trash removal), but the seats were intact and it made the journey up the switchbacks, into Bandipur, without a hitch.

Friday, January 25, 2013


Night watchmen walk the streets in the evening hours with the aid of a walking stick. Every couple steps are accompanied by the sound of wood hitting and skimming the cobblestone streets. The tap and scratching sound echo off walls and reverberate inside buildings as well as out, making it hard to determine where the sound is actually coming from. Not knowing what generated the sound until the following morning and thinking someone was in the hall just outside our door, my mind, already filled with pointless (never sought after) scary filth, went wild with panic-inducing scenarios of what would happen if we so much as moved a muscle or breathed just a bit too loud.

Which is why relief came in hearing daily life begin early. 4:30 in the morning early. Replacing unfamiliar sounds with the familiar. I stepped outside where the sky was still dark and the air crisp enough to see my breath in. A woman wrapped tightly in a shawl swept the streets with a broom made of twigs. Two men filled the baskets of their bikes so high with greenery and root vegetables, it was impossible for them to hop on and ride. Instead they covered the mounds with burlap, secured it tightly with twine, and walked to the street market where the produce was to be sold the moment the sun began to rise. Individuals walked quietly across town, stopping at every wall enclave housing a candle to perform a ceremonial ritual. Their destination reached at the door of a temple, where they would sound the gong of a bell advising the gods of their presence. Others congregated at the corner of a building to smoke and get an early start on the daily gossip.

The sight of it all was serene, but too chilly to be enjoyed. So the outside world was quickly abandoned, and not returned to until the streets were full of tourists.

Women fighting over fresh water. The limited quantities of fresh water come in long, sporadic intervals

temple worship

steaming momos - a Himalayan dumpling

Sunday, January 20, 2013

initial observations

"Nepal is a little India," a friend told me before I left.  Driving from the airport to Bhaktapur as dusk settled in, I could already see what he meant. From all the photographs and movies I had seen of India, the roads we were traveling on looked identical. Two lanes were made into five.  Headlights were often seen coming straight towards us. Cows meandered down the streets. Shared motorcycles wandered in, out and around any available space. Horns honked at such frequency it was if all the drivers were a part of a grand automotive orchestra. I sat enraptured.

Forty-five minutes later we made it to the World Heritage site of Bhaktapur where fields and the occasional cement building turned into tall wooden buildings dominating narrow weaving roads. Men, woman and children in bright textiles passed alongside us as they browsed the night markets. An occasional shop would house a single light bulb to display its merchandise, but other than that, only the headlights on our car and various dim candlelights illuminated our path.

"Nepal has a lot of electricity," I heard a guide tell his group later that night at the hotel, "just not enough for the whole country." Our allotment came between the hours of 9pm to 2am. During those hours every ounce of that precious electricity in our room was used by a space heater on the highest setting. The nights were cold. Bitter cold. Our little hotel room was poorly insulated. My bed had one single blanket, whereas my mom had a blanket and featherbed, giving me ample justification to point the space heater in my direction. But I couldn't warm up. Neither could my mom for that matter.

It didn't take long before my mom and I shared two blankets, a feather bed and a heater while squeezed together in a single bed. We then fell fast asleep.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

broken resolutions

A while back I put a cap on the amount of times my mother and I would travel together. The limit being once a year. Not that I don't love her. (I do mom, I promise). It stems more from the fact that traveling with my mother can, at times, be... more of an adventure than it is worth.

Come August, we had blown that once a year rule out of the water. So it only seemed fitting that she and I would go off on a private Christmas holiday together. Not that I really had a choice in the matter.
Skype call- November 4, 2012 
Mom: Well, Claire, I just heard from your brother that he is not joining me for Christmas. That means you are. 
Me: uhm... okay?
Mom: So where are we going?
Anywhere warm, came my response. As beautiful as Germany is over Christmas, if you've seen it 3 times, you've seen it enough.  And I hate the cold.

A list of options came spewing out of her mouth. Spain, Portugal, the Canary Islands. I had visions of Christmas planning's past and had to put a stop to it before things got out of control. So I suggested Oman.

She contacted me a day later, after looking up images of the country, and explained that she didn't want to visit Oman since it wasn't Christmas-y enough. She then suggested we travel to either Egypt or Morocco.

Yeah. I don't get it either.

In the end, we agreed on a place that was better than any option we had previously discussed.


Friday, January 11, 2013

pocket sized

There aren't many countries in the world where spending a solid 24 hours visiting is being generous. (Then again, I'm sure if I had gone into the countryside, I could have stretched it out to 48 hours).

That said, Luxembourg wins the prize for the only capital city to have tourist information representatives suggests shopping as the number one item on the to do list.

Scandinavian tradition of letting your child nap outside extends as far south as Luxembourg

Upon entering, my friend mumbles that cathedrals like this feel creepy to her.  Unable to understand, because I think they're beautiful, I asked why.  She replied, pointing to a statue, 'well... that is one example'.  (see below)

Sunday, January 6, 2013

a late night, deep-fried, treat

Before my departure to Edinburgh, a colleague asked me if I was going to have a fried mars bars during my visit. After querying the validity of his question and being assured it is a near delicacy in  Scottish world views, I added it alongside haggis as a list of foods I needed to try.

Upon arriving at the doorstep of my friends' apartment, which they had moved into from the US two weeks prior, I asked if they had heard of fried mars bars. Although intrigued, neither Travis nor Natalie had heard of such a delight in their short amount of time in the country. And then, we subsequently forgot all about it.

That is until the last few hours of my last night in the city. For, while browsing through a store, on the wall was a poster-sized recipe to create your own fried mars bar. I immediately turned to an attendant and asked where we could eat such a thing.

In his thick Scottish accent, the same accent the three of us had spent the weekend imitating, I heard him say "at a chipchop".

"A what?" I asked.

"A chipchop," I again heard him say. He went on to explain the location of said 'chipchop' on the neighboring street.

We wandered the street to no avail, but before desisting went into a hotel to ask an all-knowing concierge. The concierge was knowledgable in all things... except fried mars bars. After consulting with a few other colleagues, he came to the conclusion that we should go to a 'chipchop' (his words) around the corner.

Baffled as to what a 'chipchop' was and the lengths we were going just to find a grease laden candy bar, I was ready to abandon the entire mission. But Travis' peaked curiosity urged me to soldier on. I wandered into every food establishment we passed. Three fast food venues in a row I was told they didn't serve such things, but to go to a 'chipchop'.

If only I knew what a 'chipchop' was!

My answer came by way of a convenience store owner after I asked, once more, where I might find a fried mars bar.

"Well, love," he said, "you'll find one at a fish and chip shop."

Chip shop! A fish and chip shop! Of course.

We hopped into the next 'chipchop' we found. The smell of oil permeated the air. It was so strong, we agreed, the men behind the counter must have it oozing out of their pours once they go home each night.

Nevermind, I thought, it's about the artery clogging dessert that I came to try, not what my clothes will smell like once I leave. I reached the counter and asked for a fried mars bar.

"We don't have any," the employee stated.

"What?! No fried mars bar?? This is a 'chipchop', right?" I inquired.

"You didn't let me finish," he replied. "We don't have them, but if you bring me some, I'll fry them up for you."

My eyes widened in excitement.

"And if you smile nice, I'll fry them for free," he added.

I flashed him my best cheesy smile and together with Travis and Natalie, flew across the street to the grocery store, seconds away from closing for the night.  I purchased two mars bars to be battered and fried... in undoubtedly weeks old oil.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013