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Return to Kathmandu…

18th November 2011

side note, I believe I have been writing 2012 on some of my posts, oops, ignore that and imagine 2011 when you read it… Thanks! (of course I guess I could always go back and change them, I could…)

Bus Ride number 3

Returning to Kathmandu would involve another 6+hr bus trip, luckily this time I had booked in advance and had ensured I would have one of the very front seats. So after checking out and saying a sad farewell to my new sister, Laxmi, I grabbed a taxi and headed to the bus station. As luck would have it, the driver didn’t have change, but one enterprising young lad selling baked goods quickly took advantage of the situation:
“Lady, lady, I can make change if you buy something…”
Well I did need something for breakfast. I told him he was a bright lad and would go far and he seemed to like this. Now that I think about it maybe the two were in cahoots… But either way it meant I didn’t overpay the driver and got something to eat at the same time.
I felt a little bad for another chap who had tried to sell me something but I had said no, he just sort of looked on in shock. Am guessing he learnt a valuable lesson.

The front seat I had so hoped for ended up being almost jammed into the glass behind the driver giving no room to put my legs up and the seat was too high to put my feet down, for those who don’t know I am barely 5ft/1.5m tall, you can pretty much use me as measurement. My seat mate was a local travel agent and was kind enough to ask the driver for one of the little stools people use in the aisle when the bus is overcrowded, and I had an instant foot rest. It only got better when the people booked into the row behind us never showed up and the agent moved to that row, providing ample space for me to stretch out.

The bus ride still took over 7 1/2 hrs and I was utterly exhausted at the end of it.

Without much warning and in an area completely unfamiliar the bus stopped mid traffic flow and the driver yelled “Thamel! Last Stop”. All of us piled out of the vehicle rather confused and disoriented, we grabbed our bags as they were unloaded, with the bus still moving with the traffic, and then hurriedly got out of the road.

Luckily a couple of folks were heading my way so I was completely left to fend for myself and in no time I recognised a street corner and knew where to turn. My friend, Buddha, had promised to meet me, but when I called he said he had been invited to participate in a bartending competition and if I could make it back to Hotel Silver Home the owner, Yogi, would come and pick me up and take me to where he was.

Competitions

I had hoped to have time to shower and grab something to eat, but it sounded like we had to go asap. So after they showed me to my 4th floor room (I have always had a severe dislike of stairs, especially after a long bus drive), I washed my face and headed back down. Unfortunately Yogi got side tracked with some duties at the hotel, and Buddha called twice to find out where we were before we finally left.

I was tired, famished and dressed in wonderfully touristy Nepali clothing when we pulled into this rather fancy looking bar hosting the event. A local bartending school was using it as a way to prepare bartenders from around Kathmandu for international competition, with a rather nice sum of over $100 for 1st place. Buddha works as a bartender on the MSC cruise lines, and has for the last 5yrs, he is a natural when it came to that.

He was excited to see me and gave me a big hug then lent on me as we watched some of the other bartenders take their turns. Unfortunately I was so light headed and tired I had to find somewhere to sit. It took almost 2 hrs before it was his turn and he was by far the best of the lot, I am not biased in any way…ok maybe a little.

He had wanted to make 3 cocktails in the 5minutes they had, the judges permitted 2, but with a severe shortage of glasses and then have a glass shatter mid pour and cutting his finger he ended with one… and still a minute to spare. It was called purple rain and I thought it was spectacular, as the 2 colors of alcohol turn a vivid purple when mixed. The judges were well impressed and the only negative comment was that perhaps he seemed too confident. We felt he was a shoo in for 1st.

Buddha doing what he does best

We waited for the results but the flaring competition which was very cool, ended up taking too long, so we headed out to Buddha’s friends place for dinner.

Bronco Billy’s

Bronco Billy’s is a western theme, cowboy type place ,with pics of John Wayne and other stars on the walls. There was a circle of chairs and a big drum for a fire pit. Buddha had arranged it all for me and a few friends, super sweet thought, if I hadn’t been so exhausted. But the food was amazing with chicken and beef ribs (or rather buffalo) all done on open flame and slathered in yummy sauce. The hot rum punch that was ordered for me was also fantastic, threatening to make me pass out then and there. After a great evening it was time to head home, almost falling asleep behind Buddha as we rode through an eerily quiet Kathmandu at 2am on his motorbike. Dropping me off at my hotel we planned to meet the next day for more sightseeing.

Bed oh glorious bed!!!!!

 
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Posted by on April 7, 2012 in Travel, Uncategorized

 

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Shopping Nepali Style

15th November 2012

Early Morning Taekwondo

Ever since I told Garaup about having a black belt in taekwondo, from my years living in Seoul Korea, he has begged me to come to his early morning class at 6am. So at 5.30am in the pitch dark I rolled out of bed threw on some clothes and headed out into the night. I knew round about where they would be having class, and headed in that direction. It was about an 30minutes before sunrise and a beautiful time of the morning. This mist was rising off Few Lake and creating an eery presence to the morning. I could hear the disembodied ki-aps of the students but could not find entrance to the field. As I wandered down a lane full of buses I came across a staircase leading over a wall to some houses. I was fairly certain they were over the wall, but didn’t want to be that tourist that merrily walks into peoples yards at 6am in the morning. Call me a scaredy cat, but growing up in South Africa certainly makes you more cautious. Around 6.20am I gave up and headed back to the hotel. As I turned to look back at the lake one more time the sun’s rays had just kissed it and it was stunning, for a brief second before the grey clouds realised they were being lackadaisical in their duties and quickly filled the hole. I fear it might be another dreary day, but hey at least there are momo’s in this country, maybe for breakfast after another few hours of sleep.

Sleep didn’t last too long as I received a call from Raj, one of our drinking mates in Kathmandu. He is hilarious that guy, but not at 7am, I mumbled some kind of greeting and put the phone down. Oh well I was due to meet the German folks from Dresden at 8.15am anyway, may as well just get up. Headed over to Few Restaurant and got settled, unfortunately there was a misunderstanding on time and they had been there about 20min earlier. Oh well, all good though as Fewa has decent wifi, so I was able to sit and work on my blog. Been there so many times I pretty much have a table and they know how I like my coffee, one of my favorite things about stopping in one place for longer than a few days.

Walking Fewa Lake

As I could tell the sun was desperately attempting to break through the impenetrable barrier of clouds I decided to enjoy what little sun, or rather glare, there was and go for a walk. For weeks before I had arrived here I had dreamed of talking a daily walk around part of Fewa lake, relaxing perhaps sitting with my singing bowl I was yet to buy, and I was looking forward to it. I put on my MP3 and headed out. After some interesting criss cross maneuvers along the path and field that were saturated with the rain I finally made it to the path around the lake. EXCELLENT!!!!

The path turned out to be all of 500m long, it just stopped at the edge of the lake to the left and at the boats you could rent to go on the lake to the right. I was gutted to discover the only way around the lake, other than by boat, was to walk through town. As much fun as that can be it was not the relaxing, zen like hike, I had been imagining all this time. Oh well if you can’t beat ’em may as well walk and explore the main drag, luckily I had forgotten my money at the hotel so had an excuse everytime a seller approached me. I wish I had more money to be able to sit and bargain and interact with all of them, as it is one of the most enjoyable and occasionally frustrating things to do when traveling.

Rent-a-boat

Shopping Trip!

Popped in at Laxmi’s for tea and she said she was going to go to town to get some supplies and look for some cloth for me if I want a traditional outfit. I asked to join and we decided to leave in an hour. Went to get changed and take a rest and then headed back.

We hopped on the local bus and squeezed into a seat. Then enjoyed the 20 minute ride out of the tourist center and into the local shopping center. When we got to our destination we hopped off with barely enough time for both feet to hit the pavement before the bus hurtled off in search of more passengers. Laxmi uses one shop to buy material and the fabric was all absolutely stunning, the colors amazing and the embroidery beyond description. Unfortunately, even with the owner giving me the friend of local discount, it was still too much to pay for an outfit I might never wear. In hindsight I kind of wish I had, but when you are in backpacker penny pincher mode its often hard to see hindsight…

We walked around a bit and she bought us some peanuts to share. They are roasted out in the open, in their shells. Very yummy!!! She also chose some Indian style bracelets and bought us each a set, “a gift for my sister”. Explored some of the local produce and then caught the bus back home.

Prickly Cucumbers…


Fresh Produce on Every Corner

As we boarded the bus and squeezed into the front seat we were rewarded with this, some of the best word art on a vehicle yet… I am still not sure what to make of it!

Ummm… well I guess it’s better than two pieces…

To Stay or To Go

Back in Pokhara I went to my usual wifi spot at Fewa Restaurant to check emails and chat to friends. Chatted a bit with my mate who had been in Pokhara a year before in January about staying or going. He said the weather would clear if I wait another day. But considering the weather reports keep pushing the sun out another day, I am seriously doubting that. I will give it a few more days, but am leaning towards heading back early. At least in Kathmandu I have a great friend who can take me to many places on his bike and show me all the nooks and crannies with yummy local food. Staying in Pokhara is going to result in a serious dip in my bank account as I am just not motivated to go out sightseeing when it threatens, and often succeeds, in pouring with rain each day.

Around 6pm I headed over to the family and helped Gaurab with his homework. He told me that I should come and stay and teach, he would talk to his teacher and get something sorted for me. In his words:
‘Cause you’ve got skill Kathy, you’ve got skill!” Well at least I know I have skills somewhere. Laxmi is just amazed at how he listens to me. Unfortunately she was brought up very traditional and Gaurab, being a boy, barely has to disagree with her decision before she gives in. She changes significantly when her husband gets back, I don’t think he is mean in any way, but she just becomes quieter and more deferential.

I am a little concerned because she has developed a bad cough and was vomiting last night. I wish there was something more I could do, she is so sweet and am so blessed that she adopted me as her sister. Luckily Gaurab has facebook so we can stay in touch a little at least when I leave.

Back “home” involved curling up in bed with the movie channel…

 
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Posted by on March 11, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Hi Ho Hi Ho to Pokhara we shall go…

12th November 2011

Riding the local bus

After a quick breakfast and settling the bill we headed off to catch our bus. As we drove through town we saw one of the normal forms of transport, an elephant. I love different ways of looking at normal.

local traffic

You also never know what you might find half way around the world in a tiny corner store.

Flip Flops from South Africa's Fifa World Cup

This time it was the local bus and it lived up to its expectations. The other couple were in the 2 front seats and I was behind them but they were willing to switch so I could have the very front one by the door. This was in the attempt to minimize any form of bus sickness and after effects. Turns out our friendly German, Jens, was also heading to Pokhara and he had the seat next to me. At least the seats were comfy, which was good as the shock absorbers were a little on the worn side.

Jens’ Curse Strikes Again

Barely 1hr into the drive we were joking about how every mechanical form of transport seemed to break down when Jens was on it. Then we had a pit stop, or so we assumed. In truth the wheel had gone flat so we spent an hour as the guys tried to figure out how to change it. We all looked at Jens the minute it happened…

How do we change a wheel again????

While we waited, all debating if there was time to hunt down a bathroom or buy a cup of tea or safe to leave our bags, some local kids showed up and looked cute…always a sucker for that. I make it a rule never to give money to cute kids as then they never grow up to help themselves. However when you have two cute kids stare at you just as you have a chocolate digestive cookie half way to your mouth, it just seems rude not to share.

sharing cookies

Finally we were back on the road again and heading in the direction of Pokhara. But as this was a local bus we stopped to pick up people along the way. No worries really, until we stopped in front of a rather large group of young men all heading our way and they all tried to shove in, I had one almost in my lap as he perched on the bar in front of me at the door. Definitely an experience, but one with tons of laughter.

Hotel Miracle

It took another 6hr journey to reach our destination and as we pulled into Pokhara the rain started falling. Our hotels were all in different directions but we decided to meet for dinner around 5pm. My driver took me just a hop skip and a jump down the road and then up a long alley to my hotel. I was staying in what was known as South Pokhara, the touristy section was North Pokhara (where the others were staying).

I checked in and other than a “welcome” got no other info about the place. I was on the 4th floor and all I wanted was a hot shower after that bus trip. The room was nice and clean and I looked forward to relaxing. However, there was no hot water, the towel was still damp, the internet didn’t work, it would take 2 days to do my laundry which I was on the 3rd go around of wearing and I was getting grumpy. Luckily a self pity text to my friend Buddha in Kathmandu had a nice reply that boost my spirits and explained how to remedy the situation.

Welcome My Sister

I “bathed” as best I could and headed out to look around. As I wandered down the alley I met all sorts of wonderful people and poked my head into many different shops. I wasn’t really in the mood to buy anything, but as I walked past one shop called The Golden Yak, the lady there called me over. “Sister, sister come over and look, you are welcome”. With a start like that you just have to go and look at her wares. This is how I met Laxmi, soon to become my sister and adoptive family. I decided to buy a shirt and a few other things and then she offered laundry services. I was super excited when she said it could be ready by the morning. I ran back immediately to pick up pretty much everything I had brought with me, changing into the new clothes as they were the closest to clean.

After grabbing my clothes I headed back down the dark alley that led to my hotel and was at first enthusiastically greeted by a dog. Then sort of nipped at by said dog and another, then it got a little scary, but the owner called them off, then asked if I needed laundry done. I wonder if he lets his dogs catch unsuspecting tourists. I headed back to Laxmi’s shop and she seemed rather surprised that I had returned. She offered me tea and before I knew it I was sitting in her back room chatting about life. She had one son named Garaup, and had had 3 miscarriages. She was very sad about this, as you would expect, and seemed afraid to try again as the last time very nearly took her as well. Of course her husband would like more kids and her son always asks for a little brother or sister.

Garaup, 11yrs old, returned from school and after initially acting shy was soon telling me all about school and his dream to be a civil engineer and that he was learning taekwondo… to lose weight as he was too fat. I told him I had learnt it when I lived in Korea and was a black belt. He was really excited about this and soon was asking me to teach him things and come to his class to meet his teacher. Very sweet kid. Laxmi asked me to stay for dinner but declined as I had plans to meet the others on the North side of the lake. She offered to call her husband to take me there, turned out to be a bit of a walk and it was dark already.

Meeting Or Rather Missing Friends…

I hopped onto the back of the motorbike and headed off to the North of town. We had planned to meet at the Canadian couples hostel and as I walked in I passed a couple heading out. They seemed familiar but as none of us showed recognition I assumed it wasn’t them. And in truth I do have a terrible memory for faces (I worry when I have kids, might take the wrong one home). But my excuse was that it was dark and I couldn’t see their faces clearly. I looked around and then someone who worked there asked who I was looking for. When I explained he said you just walked passed them. Oh Shite!!! So it was them. I ran out and down the street, but they had disappeared into the crowds of tourists. I returned thinking maybe that truly wasn’t them, but as there was no answer at their door all I could assume is that we missed each other. Oh well that sucks.

I waited around a bit longer to see if Jens would show up and finally decided it was a lost cause and went to find some place to eat…alone. I sent Jens a text just in case (the other’s didn’t have a phone). I found a place that looked decent with a nice vibe and a table near the open area. I was craving red meat so decided on a steak, medium. As I waited Jens texted back and came to meet me. His skype chat with family had gone long and he hadn’t got my message till then. It was good to have someone to hang out with, traveling sure can make you lonely sometimes. When my steak arrived looking delicious covered in veggies and on a steaming hot plate I dug in. Or should I say “sawed in”. The piece of steak was so tough I could barely cut through it, add to that the steaming hot plate cooking it to the point of it being exceptionally dead and very well done. I ate the chips and veggies and when the waiter came over I mentioned that the steak was too tough and very overcooked.
me: “everything is very good, but my steak is too tough and overcooked”
waiter: “I can cook it some more”
me: “no no it is over cooked, its ok, I don’t want it”
waiter: “but it looks undercooked, we can cook it again”
me: “really thank you , but I don’t want it it is already cooked too much”.

It was rather amusing and after you saw him with the other waiters looking at it and trying to cut it. I wasn’t complaining I was simply saying I didn’t want it and that it was too tough and overcooked. There wasn’t a hint of pink in it anywhere, in fact it had a rather brown grey consistency, kind of like rubber. But he seemed so intent in cooking it some more to make it better. We did get a free shot at the end of the meal, not sure if it was always part of the experience or if it was a sorry for serving me a piece of tire. Oh well no complaining here when it comes to anything free.

Jens and I walked around and looked into some of the stores. Then we had another drink. I was really exhausted and as it was 11pm and some of the bars seemed to be shutting we said cheers and I got into a taxi to go back to my hotel. Even the taxi driver had no idea where the place was. Another sign this was not the place to stay.

A Slight Problem

I paid the taxi driver and walked through the open gate. When I got to the door that closed off the reception area and led to the rooms on the upper floors I discovered it was locked. There was no note, I had not been warned about this, there was no night porter… I WAS LOCKED OUT!!! At 11.12pm.

I knocked and walked around and knocked again, getting very annoyed and not sure what to do. Finally I remembered I had their card and just as I tried to call, someone came out of the room nearby. The man was wrapped in a towel and unlocked the door. I was not impressed and tripping over the door as I entered made me feel even worse, because it gave the guy the impression, I am sure, of a bloody drunk tourist coming back at a ridiculous hour! Did I mention it was, by now, only 11.30pm. That was the last straw, new digs would be looked for in the morning.

 
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Posted by on February 18, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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An Elephant Safari anyone??

11th November 2011

Today is 11-11-11, if I was in Korea this would be the ultimate Pepero day. 11-11 is traditionally a day of giving each other chocolate dipped cookie sticks called pepero, absolutely loved this day as a teacher there. I can only imagine the size made for 11-11-11.

mmmm pepero!

Elephant Safari

Waking up at dawn we shuffled to the truck and bounced our way through the town to the loading grounds. As we pulled in it looked more like an elephant airport than a safari staging grounds. Out of nowhere all 300+ tourists had shown up for the safari. Elephants were loaded up one after the other and moved on to the ticket stall.

waiting to load


tickets please!

As my fellow hotel mates and I took in the scene, we were tempted to say Sod it and head back to the hotel. But at the last minute we decided what the heck, we had already paid. So we waited our turn at the loading dock and met the 4th member of our group, Jens from Germany.

Now for those of you who never been on an elephant safari, you would be amazed at just how difficult it is to get into the little square box that serves as our seat. First the front people climb in, balancing on the top of the elephant and then lowering themselves down to a somewhat seated position. Your legs slipping either side of the corner post. Then come the two behind you slipping into their seats and facing backwards. All in all a pretty tight fit. As our mount heads off in the direction of the forest, I am amazed at how the gait of an elephant is just the right amount of movement as to make photos nigh impossible. You have to sit there with your finger on the buzzer in the hope that one rolling gait might be long enough to snap a shot. In the end you just wait till the “bus” stops, usually in a river to get itself a drink.

refilling the water tank


Heading into the forest

As you cross the river you enter a new realm, and the trees completely surround you. It is at this point that you assume the elephant train will scare any living creature away, but soon find your mahut leading your elephant in a completely different direction and pretty soon the forest envelopes you, and so do the spider webs.

The one important rule we had been given was not to drop anything, as it is nearly impossible to hop on down from an elephant (unless you are a mahut of course). Barely 10min into the safari we hear a thud… followed shortly after by an “ah oh”. Jens’ bag had come lose and fallen to the floor. We all looked sheepishly at the mahut, for some reason it made us all guilty, but with a word our fabulous elephant simply turned her head leaned over and picked it up with her trunk. The bag was triple tied at that point.

Our mahut spoke some English and told us a little about our Elephant. Her name is Galipoli and she is 30yrs old. He had been her mahut for 5yrs and 2mths. She had had 1 baby so far. Such a beautiful eley!

As we veered right away from the other elephants we immediately saw some spotted deer, monkeys and some birds. The jungle noises surrounded us completely and you were just amazed by everything you saw, smelt, heard. Jens and I chatted a bit as we rode and looked for tigers (there is always hope right?) or rhinos (a much more likely but still slim possibility). Jens had been in marketing in Germany and had recently quit his job to travel for a year, so we hit it off immediately as that was pretty much what I had done.

After almost an hour of avoiding branches and spider webs, on the most part unsuccessfully, our mahut pointed something out to us in the mud. We all ooh’d and ahh’d, I am fairly certain we were all too high to really see what he was pointing at. But there was a definate indentation and he said Rhino!!!, and off we went on the hunt.

As we neared a clearing the younger elephant that had been with us started rumbling and trumpeting softly. Galipoli for her part, also started rumbling and acting a little uneasy. And then there he was… just behind a small bush and out in the open. He was a prime specimen and even from that distance we could tell he was huge. Of course he got bigger the closer we got. The poor elephant to our right started trumpeting earnestly, apparently in fear as it is not uncommon for rhinos to charge them. Her mahut had to encourage her somewhat firmly, shall we say, to go closer.

This was an Indian Rhino, also known as a Greater One-Horned Rhino or Asian Rhino. They are considered a vulnerable species with around 3000 left in the wild.

The Rhino!

Now I have to mention this, in Africa our rhinos are pretty damn big, but they usually have small birds called oxpeckers merrily cleaning them of parasites. This bugger had, what appeared to be a bloomin CROW!

Rhino and crow

After that little bit of excitement we headed back to the elephant airport and disembarked. Then saying fairwell to our beautiful Galipoli we boarded our truck.

fairwell Galipoli


Namaste!

Jens joined us in the truck as we were going by his hotel. Barely 5mins after leaving we hit a bump and the truck came to a halt. Jens kind of chuckled and informed us that since arriving in Nepal every mechanical form of transport had broken down on him, oh joy we have the bane of motor vehicles with us. Luckily it was nothing serious and we were soon up and running. We all decided to meet up for drinks that evening.

After breakfast it was time for a much anticipated activity, watching the elephants bathing with the chance to join. I was still feeling the trip from the day before so wasn’t sure if I would join. Boy am I glad I did, as it was one of the most amazing things I have ever done in my life.

Our bathing partner was a hefty female named Laksimi. As we headed to the water our hotel guide said, just remember to keep your mouth closed, the water is not so clean
Entering the water we waded close to Laksimi and I climbed on first followed shortly by Caroline who sat behind me. Then the mahut got her to stand and climbed up her nose. She proceeded to douse us with water over and over again and as much as I tried to keep my mouth shut, I was just laughing to hard to care.

Laksimi heading to the river


settled in and awaiting bath time


here it comes!


bulls eye

When preparing the dismount during bath time it is vitally important to remember to push off away from the elephant. This is because the elephant will sit and then roll to the side, not a good idea to get caught under it.

preparing to dismount


the roll

We were allowed a second bath and promptly got back on, this time Caroline was in front. The mahut climbed up via the trunk and insisted I shift backwards. Now please note Laksimi had a fairly large hump and with my short legs this meant I had no way to hold on, gives new meaning to sitting on the fence.

how to mount an elephant the mahut way

As laksimi took one step I overbalanced and landed head first in the river, luckily we were deep enough to cushion my fall. But not deep enough to make it a short fall.

yup that splash is me

As i surfaced, spluttering with laughter I realised that another elephant had been walking in my direction just before I fell and was now awfully close. I guess I should have been nervous, but once again the laughter was more important. It was then time to say fairwell to Laksimi and head home for a shower.

fairwells

As we left we watched as Laksimi’s mahut allowed her to go and roll around in the water for a bit. However, she was in no mood to come out and we couldn’t help but laugh as she looked defiantly at her mahut and refused to come out. Eventually his insistence paid off, and you could almost see her sigh and think oh very well then.

Laksimi the Elephant

After a rather squelchy walk back to the hotel, with huge grins on our faces, we all went and had a shower and a nap before lunch. While we had lunch we watched as one of the maintenance guys trimmed a hedge in true Nepali fashion.

hedge trimming

Around 3pm I manage to rouse myself enough to pop over to one of the bars and have a yoghurt lassi while I worked on my journal. Then we all gathered to walk to the sunset point with one of our hotel guides. On the way we swung by the bachelor stables to see the male elephants and what specimens they were. I never realised how big the tusks of an Asian Elephant could actually get.

The big boss

Some of them were a little less endowed, but made up for it in personality.

can you see me now?

We learned more about the history and conservation at an information site and stopped for a photo.

As the tour ended we came to the spot where we had bathed the elephants and were rather unnerved to discover this guy had been hanging out barely 200m from where we had been in the water. I am guessing he was 2m+ in length.

After dinner I was taken to the “cultural evening”, the others had decided on taking a chill out evening. I got there to discover that, although we had seen barely 20 tourists, every single one plus another 280 had decided to join the evening. The room was small and we were all cramped in. I watched the first dance from the very back, but could barely see anything and finally decided it was just too much and left early. Rather have a nap and pack. Then all 3 of us went for a drink at the pub and to meet up with Jens. Jens brought his other hotel mate, Cecelia from France, and I bumped into the American couple I had met on the bus. Pretty soon we looked liked the United Nations.

France, Germany, South Africa, Canada, Canada, USA, USA

All in all it was a great first half of the trip, even with the occasional misunderstandings, and I met a great group of people and got to take a bath with an elephant. What more could you want??
Tomorrow was another early rise and 6-7hr trip to Pokhara.

 
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Posted by on February 4, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Return to Lima – Day 101-104 – Bus Rides

April 17th to 20th 2011

Another Bus ride
Leaving Puerto Lopez at 4.30am I had a 4.5hr bus ride to Guayaquil bus station, where, I hoped, I would find an international bus to Lima. The problem is finding concrete schedules on the net, they just don’t exist. So you have to go off backpacker gossip, blog tales and general hope that you haven’t missed the last one for the next week.

As it turned out I was lucky and there was a bus on the Cruz Del Sur line that left at noon, only a 2hr wait. There was an internet cafe so I grabbed some coffee and headed to pass the time.

Below is a photographic diary of the trip:

I am in the top right window.

Waiting to leave.

Just made it through Ecuadorian Immigration no problems.

The road to Peruvian Immigration.

Another night on the bus.

But first Dinner.

Breakfast.


Almost there.

Made it. I have now clocked over 115hrs of bus travel in the past 3.5mths. That is more than the last 33yrs combined.

Lima
I didn’t do much in Lima except recover from the trip, repack bags, run a few errands and then prepare to leave again 36hrs after arriving.

The next leg is Australia with a brief stop of 8 days in the US of A. Stay tuned for more adventures…and a few surprises.

 
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Posted by on May 5, 2011 in RTW, Travel, Uncategorized

 

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Quito & Mindo – Days 91 – 94

April 7th to 10th 2011

Morning’s Catch
Woke up at 6.30am and went to watch the morning catch being brought in. There is something so beautiful and vibrant about standing on the beach, frigate birds and pelicans swirling overheard and the sounds of the fishermen bringing in their haul. At the same time it is often tragic what you might find within their catch. Today it happened to be a juvenile whale shark. The first time I have ever seen one and it has to be dead on the beach. I later found out that it was illegal to catch them, but when authorities arrived the guilty party was no where to be found. At the same time you have to understand that fishing is the sole source of income for most of these families, and often things get caught in the nets accidentally.

On the Road Again
Heading back to the hostel I saw Waka Waka (Jordan). His real name is Ayman but his nickname suits him perfectly. We went and grabbed some coffee and then he helped me with my bags to the bus. Another great friend to say farewell to.

It turned out Michi (volunteer from AmaZOOnico) was also on the bus and so we settled in for another long trip, this one totalling 11hrs. The trip was reasonably uneventful except for the fact that a mother / daughter team sat next to me, ending up with 3 of us sharing 2 seats. I didn’t mind too much but it did make comfort non existent. About half way through there appeared to be an issue with one of the passengers and the driver increased speed to the next town where an ambulance was waiting. A young woman was carried off the bus complaining of severe abdominal pain. Hopefully she will be ok. Then the bus pulled off and we continued on our way.

Eventually pulling into Quito at about 9pm. Michi and I shared a cab into town and I arrived at Tiffany and Jose’s apartment just before 10pm. It is great having friends all over the world, and I greatly appreciated having them there. Shortly after I arrived, Tiffany returned from the airport with Emily (a friend from Eugene, Oregon) and soon we were all chatting about jungle experiences and flight details.

A day in the city
Emily and I caught a cab the next day into town and spent the morning exploring Plaza Grande, around the presidential palace (where numerous late presidents had been murdered in a variety of ways – note to self don’t run for president in Ecuador). We grabbed a bite to eat with Jose during his lunch break and then continued to walk and marvel at the architecture. At the end of the day we met up with Tiffany and Jose and after a few errands headed back to the house for pizza and a movie.

Hi Ho Hi Ho its off to Mindo we go
Saturday we had an outing planned to a town 2hrs north of Quito. Mindo is located in the cloud forest and is reputed to be very beautiful and have stunning bird life. Due to a change in plans, Tiffany ended up being able to join us after classes had to be canceled. A friend of Jose’s, Marco, was our taxi driver, and with Jose, Emily, Franklin and me squished in the back and Tiffany in the front we headed to first do some errands.

I had decided on a course of action for the final week in Ecuador and had bought an air ticket to Manta where I could catch a bus back to Puerto Lopez, the beach and friends just sounded too good to pass up.
So with a short stop to pick up my ticket at the mall and pick up some coffee we were off.

The road to Mindo is through the mountains and it was particularly windy, I think this made Marco a wee bit too happy and it felt like we were on a roller coaster ride. According to Tiffany he actually behaved himself and the ride was not as crazy as one her parents had endured. But as I was feeling a little down (too many farewells start weighing on you) the squished rollercoaster ride started to make me feel a bit car sick, and it took a lot of concentration (and prayer) to make it through the ride.

Mindo was strikingly beautiful, with green hills and lots of waterfalls. Apparently a tornado had tore up the town just a few days before (apparently tornadoes in Ecuador are non-existent, the weather appears to be a changing). We grabbed some pizza for lunch and picked up a ride into the forest where we could hike to a waterfall. A short way down there was a short cut rope and the boys leaped on that in a heart beat.

Half way down there was a zipline option and again the boys were more than willing to give it a try. Although on the video there appeared to be a lot of hesitation by some of the parties. I continued down the path thinking the others were behind me and only realised later that they had stopped to do the zipline. But I got to see some hummingbirds and interesting plants that I might not have seen had we been in a large group.

At the end of the trail there was a magnificent set of pools and a chance to go down a slide into the rushing river below. As the water was freezing and the only thing stopping you from plummeting down the waterfall was a single rope, I declined, but the others were up for the challenge. We enjoyed ourselves at the pools and I played paparazzi for everyone going down the slides and jumping off the ledges. Then we dried off and prepared for the long trek back up the gorge. Thats the only problem with going down, you have to go back up again afterwards.

Back in town we chowed down on some left over pizza and all collapsed into bed feeling very refreshed but exhausted after the day out.

Market Day
The plan for Sunday had been to go to the town of Otovalo, which is famous for its markets. But due to cost of the trip and working around Tiffany’s work schedule we opted for the markets of Quito. It was probably the right decision as Quito’s markets can be overwhelming and are only a 10th of the size of Otovalo, add to that my inability to make decisions and I would most likely still be in amongst the stalls.

I was able to pick up numerous wonderful gifts, chocolate, coffee and even came across a store with beads and stocked up.

In the evening I made dinner for everyone and while Jose watched football (soccer) in the bedroom the girls broke out an appropriately girly movie. Another great day.

Transport Gods foil my plans again
My plans for Monday were fool proof. Take the 2.30pm flight from Quito to Manta, arriving around 3.30pm. That gave me more than enough time to take a bus back to Puerto Lopez and arrive by 6pm in time for dinner. However, this was not to be. I got a call at 10am saying that the 2.30pm flight was cancelled and I was moved to the 6.30pm flight. This meant that I was 1) stuck in the apartment all day (luckily with Emily), as I had no key and 2) there would be no bus after 6pm and I would either have to spend the night in Manta or take a taxi (working out to about the same cost).

I had some choice words for the transport Gods, but I guess it just makes you appreciate it more when you finally reach your destination. Everything went off without any issues and I arrived in Puerto Lopez at 9pm, almost on the dot much to the pride of the taxi driver, and in time to have a beer with my friends.

Ahhh its good to be back at the beach!

 
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Posted by on May 3, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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Baños to Rio Bamba to Guayaquil – Day 85

April 1st 2011

The Transport gods’ April Fools Joke
As much as I loved Baños and as much as Asef tried to convince me to stay, mainly to be his paparazzi on a bungee jump, I headed off on the 11.15am bus to Rio Bamba, a 3 hour drive. The plan was to meet up with Flavio and Iho (Kichwa volunteers from AmaZOOnico) at the bus station, hang out for the afternoon and then take the overnight bus to Guayaquil and onto Puerto Lopez.

The Transport gods apparently have a great sense of humor, for when I got to the station they all said there was no bus at that time and the next one only left at noon. Please note I had double checked the times yesterday. So I bought my ticket, found an internet cafe and sent a message. Then I wondered around watching the candy makers pulling their taffy type candy and picking up a few delicious treats. One guy even gave me a taste of the hot gooey taffy he was pulling.

Finally it was time to board and as the bus pulled away I figured out I had scored and got a row to myself. Even if the guy in front had reclined his seat so far I could almost see his middle parting. Before we got out of the parking lot though, 3 people jumped on and wouldn’t you know it one sat next to me. I must admit that even though the Transport gods seem to be having a blast they did give me a little compensation this time, as my seat mate turned out to be a very handsome young backpacker from Israel. He made me guess his home and was very impressed when I guessed correctly. Then we mulled away the time talking about everything from travel writing and volunteering to the political situation in Israel. You never know who you are going to meet and what interesting conversations the meetings may lead to.

All to soon the bus pulled into Rio Bamba and I was deposited on the sidewalk. I figured waiting inside the bus station was the best option but after an hour of waiting I became concerned. Eventually I saw Flavio walking up. Turns out there are 2 bus stations in Rio Bamba and the initial bus I was supposed to be on went to the other bus station. This day just keeps on getting better and better.

It was great hanging out with Flavio all day, we walked around, went to a small craft market and then met up with his friends in time to see the parade celebrating the city’s anniversary. It was fantastic fun with dancers performing all forms of traditional and modern dancing.

At the end of the parade we went and had pizza and beer and then headed back to the bus station. My bus only left in 3hrs but I didn’t mind waiting and they had some others to meet up with. The ticket lady allowed me to come in the back and I was able to squeeze in a quick nap.

Now this is where the true April Fool’s Joke was performed, courtesy of a deity with a great sense of humor. I had been told by friends that the trip was 15hrs and so, in my great wisdom, I bought 2 seats allowing me to sleep. However, they overstuffed the bus and I wasn’t going to make the little old lady sit on the floor, I also, however, was not going to let her pay for her ticket as I had already bought that seat. She tried to pay me but I said to keep it. Then the trip turned out to be only 6hrs and the driver did it 4hrs, leaving me at the Guayaquil bus station at 2.30am…

Luckily my good karma with the old lady’s seat guided me towards two other foreigners. But again, the sense of humor of the powers that be prevailed, they were from Spain and spoke only Spanish… At least we were able to make ourselves understood and had company.

Some random pics of Baños:

Funny thing was there were nightly buses taking tourists to the top of the volcano in the hope that it would errupt. Maybe we were the sacrifices.

Some Pics from Rio Bamba:

 
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Posted by on April 28, 2011 in RTW, Travel, Uncategorized

 

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Tena to Baños – Day 81-82 – Farewells cont.

March 28 – 29 2011

The final hitch
As I stepped out of the canoe, the only one that had arrived on time and even early for me in 2mths, realisation that my time in the jungle was over set in. New adventures await but some adventures you wish could last longer.

Nora and Yvonne (Germany) had managed to get the day off and so were coming with me to Tena for my last night. We hoped to get hitch a ride but it was not to be. The only car that past was a small truck, these are always filled with stuff and so we didn’t even try. Go figure this time it was empty and by the look on the guys face he would have stopped for us. Oh well. The bus arrived after an hour and a half and we headed into Tena, for my last time.

Laundry Lady
For the last 2mths I have dropped my laundry off at the same lady. She even learnt my name by the 2nd load, much to the annoyance of a volunteer who had been going there for the past 5mths. On this occasion we showed up and she immediately admonished me for not showing up last week. (I had not come into Tena for my last 2weeks). She said she was worried something was wrong but was glad to see me back again. Then I had to explain that this would be my last load with her and thanked her profusely for her great service. She was very sad to hear that and gave me a hug goodbye. I do love living in an area where you get to know people to this point.

My old lady store
After checking into the hostel, A Welcome Break, and breaking the news to the owner that I would be leaving from tomorrow we headed down to have the traditional pizza and fanta. After dinner we headed up to pick up the weekly bottle of water and to do a final browse of the candy counter at my favorite little hole in the wall store. The Old Lady who runs it immediately gave me grief for not showing up last week, she was also worried something had happened. I explained that I had not come out of the jungle for 2 weeks and this was my last night in Tena. She threw up her hands in despair came out from behind the counter and gave me a huge hug. Then she took my hands and pronounced to everyone the following (luckily my friend was there to translate for me):
“This girl is so loving and caring and kind, she is beautiful and has a kind heart and I want her to marry my son”. Then she gave me another huge hug. Its times like this you wish you lived in this place. And to think all I did was buy 2 small bottles of water and browse the candy counter once a week. Imagine the farewell if I lived and visited her everyday.

We then headed for a final look at tradition, or rather drink of tradition. CocoRon is nectar from the gods and a weekly ritual for any and all AmaZOOnico volunteers. Essentially it is a coconut milkshake with rum in it and it is pure heaven. Its right up there on the top 5 things I will miss about being in the jungle, along with canoe rides, great friends, cool animals and relaxing in hammocks.

Final breakfast at Tortuga Cafe
Another regular stop during visits to Tena is the Tortuga Cafe (tortoise cafe). It is run by a woman from Switzerland and they have fantastic grub at decent prices (which is Ecuadorian speak for slightly expensive but ridiculously cheap by western standards). I will definately miss the yogurt, granola and fruit bowls that became a regular part of my morning routine.

Mail Glorious Mail
Friends and family had timed their mail perfectly. As I had received a package full of fantastical goodies from my mate, Deb, in Australia 3 days before leaving. There was also a package waiting for me at the post office that needed my ID. Deb’s package had been full of yummy goodies, a hand crank torch (perfect as my other one had just broken), a stubby cooler for my beer (ever practical for the hot forest) and many more goodies. I couldn’t wait to see who had sent and what had been sent.

When we got to the post office the lady found a package or letter for almost every other volunteer except me and I started to fear that my mystery package would lay in wait for ever. But luckily the regular showed up and found it almost immediately. Due to its weight I had to pay an extra $5. It turns out it was my easter package from my mummy. And it was full of the most delectable goodies. She had also modified a polar bear card so that it appeared the bear was wearing bunny ears, I think it was the best part of the package. I so love my mummy and I owe her lots of coffee and floor cleaning when I return for all her help and support during this trip.

Baños bound
So for those of you who don’t speak Spanish, the word Baños means bathrooms. So I was essentially heading for the town of bathrooms. But the name really exists because of the natural hot springs located in the area, and the healing properties found there. Then again saying you are heading to the bathrooms is kind of amusing too.

Of course, when you are heading to a new location it means you have to say farewell to the present location and the friends found within. This meant an emotional farewell to 2 of the most amazing girls I have met, Nora and Yvonne. Nora always had a calmness about her in crazy times and made the best jungle pizza ever. Yvonne was like a younger version of me and at times we wanted to kill each other, but her fun lookout on life also helped to make light of things when it was pissing with rain, hot and everyone was grumpy. I will miss both of them very much.

Police checks, ewwww and a great hostel
The bus ride from Tena to Baños was around 3hrs and half way through we had a police check. Everyone had to deboard, stand in a line and produce ID. I am rather certain one young gentleman did not have ID on him and could tell the cops were giving him a bit of a hard time, but in the end let him back on the bus with a warning or something along those lines.

Pulling into Baños around 6pm, feeling quite drained, I got my bag and discovered the one time I didn’t zip the straps up (have a cover that zips them up and protects them), they were lying in some foul smelling liquid and stank so bad. the only good thing is that I could tell it wasn’t some kind of human or animal waste. Just most likely very stagnant water. But the ewwwww factor was there in high levels.

As I was adjusting straps and trying not to purge the contents of my stomach due to the smell, about 10 cabs drove past. As I stood up and moved to the curb its like they could smell my bag and all fled the scene. Luckily the info sheet I had on the hostel had directions, so I headed towards the general vicinity and hoped to come upon it. People were very helpful and most of them knew exactly which hostel I was most likely heading for. Eventually after walking almost 10 blocks with my huge bag (guess I am stronger after lugging buckets of yukka around the jungle), I found Hostel Plantas y Blanca (Hostel of plants and white). It is a fantastic hostel with great staff and a roof top terrace and morning cafe. The bed was comfy and as soon as I had consumed a dinner of bland, but good, quesedillas and nachos I past out for the night.

Till midnight when new people were brought to the room and the night staff put the lights on, then realised I was there so switched it off, but the girl behind him switched it on, then suddenly off, then her friend did the same. Eventually I just moaned “just leave it on will ya!”

Ahhh the joy of hostel living again…

Random pics from Tena:

 
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Posted by on April 28, 2011 in RTW, Travel, Uncategorized

 

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Lima to Quito – The written version

Jan 26th to 28th 2011

I survived!!!

It really does amaze me what we put ourselves through in the name of travel and volunteering. Before I arrived in Peru my longest bus trip was a whopping 3hrs. In preparation for my long haul to Ecuador I did 2 trips of 6hrs each in the span of 3 days from Cusco to Lake Titicaca and back.

Finally the day arrived to bus to Ecuador, it was an estimated 30 to 48 hrs (give or take a day I guess). My friend Fernando, from Lima, and I had looked at all the options and came up with 2 possibilities for the trip.
(A) take a bus that will run the entire distance (the downside is that it was a less known company and bus quality was a question)
or
(B) take a well known bus co. to Tumbes (Peru border town), get picked up by a shuttle and go through the border then dropped off at the Ecuador bus station. (This allowed some time to stretch and at least the first half guaranteed of a good bus).

We opted for option two… it might have been better to go with option 1!!!
Leaving at 4.30pm I had planned to go on the super first class section, with seats that go almost all the way down. Unfortunately this wasn’t an option but luckily I got the 2nd level seat at the very front for a panoramic view of the trip. I had no seat mate so I was able to “stretch” out and get some sleep. We were even given a small meal and a drink.

Section 1 on the comfy bus with the panoramic view took 20hrs and I pulled into the border town of Tumbes around noon to be accosted by hundreds of taxi drivers.
WTF
This is when things went downhill. There was supposed to be someone to meet me and shuttle me across the Peru and Ecuador border immigration depositing me at the Panamerica bus station for the next leg. Turns out there was no one to meet me, the phone number I had went to voicemail and the taxi drivers at the bus terminal were aggressive to say the least. Eventually the bus station clerk told me my ride was here, a taxi driver hired by the company. He said that his job was to take me through Peru immigration and then leave me at the border to take a taxi alone… Mmm this was the exact thing I had been hoping to avoid, as I had heard taxi drivers regularly take advantage of travelers.
Calling for help
Calling a friend in Peru he explained what i had already guessed from the driver but said the driver was willing to come with me if I was scared about crossing alone. I decided to take him up on his offer, not only to prevent being scammed but also because he was happy to carry my big bag. Peru immigration was a breeze and Ecuador wasn’t much different, just a longer wait. My Peru cabby left me at the bus station after he had got me checked in and made sure I knew where a good place to eat was. I gave him a tip and thanked him profusely.
Panamerica
With a 2hr wait I twiddled my thumbs and caught up with my diary. Finally it was boarding time and it turned out the good bus was being saved for special occasions. Our bus was cleaned with air freshner, am fairly certain had at least one roach and during the following 18 hr trip its bathroom was locked.

But I had no seat mate so I made the best of it and tried to sleep. Finally only 1hr from Quito at about 2am in the morning I started to relax and think it was almost over. Then we stopped! A landslide had blocked our way. Our choices were an 8hr detour or parking and sleeping it out. As no one spoke English I had to muddle my way through and I guessed when we pulled over that option 2 was decided upon. I started to cry and then realised I was too tired to even do that and just made myself as comfy as possible.
Quito, I could kiss you
We finally pulled in at 8am, I caught a taxi to my friends and finally was able to crash out. But first things first I had had to pee for the last 3hrs.

I have spent the last 2 days in Quito and after another 5hr bus trip (this one coming with complimentary S bends numbering in the 1000’s I am sure), I am in Tena. Tomorrow I will attempt to find the bus and head into the jungle. All I hope is that my canoe is there waiting for me.

Now the jungle adventures begin with biting sand flies, monkeys and wild tourists!

 
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Posted by on February 16, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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Lime to Quito Day 21 ->23 – A photo diary

Jan 26th 2011

Luckily I had the front window seat on the 2nd level so you get a panoramic view:

leaving Lima


Heading on the highway


Dinner: rice, chicken and some kind of drink


A view of the coastline


Driving along the coast


End of day 1 (total of 8hrs - 4pm to midnight)

Jan 27th 2011

Another 12hrs at least of driving today, before reaching the border town of Tumbes.

waking up from a decidedly strange angle


Breakfast....I think


rolling rolling rolling


rolling rolling rolling somewhere around hour 17


Pulling into Tumbes. Section 1 lasted a total of 20hrs

You are now entering Ecuador

waiting in the Ecuador Panamerica bus station


No panoramic seat this time, trying to get comfy


Entering the banana fields


the mountains, around hour 30 of trip


My bed for night 2

end of day 2

Jan 28th 2011
A landslide detained us a further 3hrs when we were only an hour from Quito…

I survived! Barely! total trip 42hrs!

 
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Posted by on February 16, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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