You are currently browsing the monthly archive for October 2009.

And to further complicate the ebb-and-flow of daily Nepali life and politics, we received an email from the US Embassy in Nepal:

Important Security Announcement for American Citizens in Nepal

This warden message is being issued to alert American citizens that the
Maoist Party (UCPN-Maoist) has announced a number of protest events to
be carried out in November.  In the past, some of these events have
materialized and some have not.  The Maoists announced that they intend
to conduct the following:

*   Nov 1, 2009          – Nationwide torch light rally

*   Nov 2, 2009          – Mass gatherings, picketing of local government offices

*   Nov 4-5, 2009       – Surrounding district administration offices

*   Nov 9, 2009          – Declaration of Autonomous regions

*   Nov 10, 2009        – Protesters will picket and block the main roads leading

into the Kathmandu valley and to the airport

*   Nov 12-13, 2009   – Mass gatherings around the Singh Durbar area

Please be cognizant and aware of your surroundings and what may
transpire. American citizens are strongly urged to avoid mass gatherings
and demonstrations.

So we thought about doing some more work with non-profits 8 hours west of Kathmandu, but this killed that idea.  Our original intent was to leave on November 10th.  Funny how that would be the day the Maoists block the airport.  We’ve heard these disruptions can be insignificant and then we’ve heard they can shut down every restaurant, business and petrol station for the entire time.  That would leave us high and dry.  Pushed our exodus to Tuesday the 3rd.  Heading out to Varanasi, India.  Thank you Maoists for helping us with our itinerary…

Annapurna I & Annapurna South

Annapurna I, Annapurna South & Fishtail ~ 2009 John David Becker

To think these beauties standing at 7,900m and above were once at the bottom of the sea.  We woke at 0430 on October 20th to ascend to 10,000 ft atop Pun Hill.  The sun cracked the early morning sky, painting it’s warmth on the mountain faces.  This was the blessing we earned for two hard days of trekking the Annapurna Circuit.  These mountains will continue their journey skyward long past our days on this planet.  We gain strength reflecting on their permanence.  We are modest and humble in the shadows of the Himalaya.

My thoughts and prayers go to my grandfather…

sue fan & jb ~ 2009 john david becker

sue fan & jb ~ 2009 John David Becker

October 22, 2009. 1415 hrs.  Cafe Zorba.  2nd floor.  Central Lakeside, Pokhara.  Protected from the hot sun.  We entered and Nora Jones was playing.  Not expected but instantly comforting.  We linger for a couple hours and the music has long since ended.  I say to Sue, “what happened to the music?” and suddenly Ben Harper’s “Walk Away” comes on.  We instantly stop our reading and enter our separate worlds of reflection.  Sue sings the words.  I stare out over the street scene and the mountains beyond.  A small tear wells in my eye.  At that single moment I felt at home.  I felt the pressure of travel and chaos lift.  I felt the burden of the unknown dissipate.  I felt whole.

Music can calm and transform but most importantly, music can heal.  It was during those three minutes of music that I realized we have entered a time where we truly live in the moment.  Travel can take you to that place.  There is no minute quite like the previous or the next.  Having been on the road and relatively homeless for five months already, we come to think of the place we inhabit at that moment as “home”.  Nomadic life.  We decided that in the past two years we have slept in more unfamiliar places and unfamiliar beds than most people will in their entire lives.  Each one was home that day.  Each place birthed the next moment for us to live in.  Without the pressures of home, the thoughts of bills to pay or the ordinary chores to tackle, all we have to do is survive.  Not a huge epiphany, but sometimes we fail to recognize and acknowledge “the moment” and Ben Harper brought me there.

The other significant and no less important thought at that time was also a slogan.  “Home is where the heart is.”  Sue sitting across from me but in her own space.  Lyrics flowing through her and bringing her to a special place.  I may ebb and flow with our travel adventures.  Anyone should.  But having your travel partner and lover by your side makes everything ok.   Struggles and triumphs all even out when you share true happiness regardless of the external world.  Sue is my home.

Quick update.  We went on a nice but strenuous trek in the Annapurna region.  More on that later.  Just returned to Pokhara last night.  Very tired and very burnt out.  We are currently looking for the quickest way out of Nepal.  I am feeling sickly often and I think it has a lot to do with the horrendous levels of pollution.  Nepal has been a disappointment on many levels.  It’s not the people.  They are typically warm and helpful.  The vast majority of people that congregate in obvious tourist sectors are always looking for something.  Even friends-of-friends are really not helping you as much as they are attempting to make you believe they are able to get you whatever you want at a better price.  It is quite exhausting especially for people who are well traveled.  We find inexperienced travelers here rave about Nepal and the exact opposite from people who have more to compare it to.   I think we can safely say we are still enjoying ourselves, but I find our overall outlook to be negative.  It may have had to do with extended lingering in Kathmandu.  We’ll keep updating as we make decisions.  Still haven’t done one day of volunteering and that system seems plenty broken as well.

laughing little monks

laughing little monks

Joy is infectious.  I mentioned this monastery in an earlier post.  We had a great time.  You quickly realize that the monks are just kids like any other.  Filled with pranks and jokes.  Teasing and bullying each other.  I know there is time when their learning must be disciplined, but it’s also important to just let kids be kids…

my very own packing guide to light and stress-free living in not-so-developed countries:

  • nalgene 2oz bottles for all purpose biodegradable soap (dr. bronners)
  • wet wipes (for an insta-shower)
  • hand rolled toilet paper
  • emergency / basics kit (band aids, sting relief wipes, neosporin, advil, benadryl, pepto bismol, immodium, cough drops, antibiotics, nyquil, bug spray/anti itch cream, hand sanitizer)
  • nail file
  • travel towel
  • sleeping bag liner (for sketch sleep situations)
  • mosquito net
  • head lamp with extra batteries
  • notebook/pen
  • map (sometimes free at airports)
  • magazines (shed weight by leaving them at a local cafe)
  • a travel guide (you can do your research ahead of time, download and print out lonely planet pages instead of carrying the whole book)
  • surge protector if you plan on bringing a laptop (free wi-fi usually available in coffee shops and guest houses/hotels)
  • grounded power adapter
  • water bottle
  • emergen-c packets
  • steri-pen
  • snacks (from cliff bars to chocolate bars)
  • something to cover your face for a little relief from city pollution (scarves double as cover ups in holy places)
  • quick dry clothing (underwear to shirts and pants so you can wash and dry overnight)
  • flip flops (if you plan on braving the streets) and shoes (for the days you want to remain hepatitis free)
  • skype account (with all your contacts and emergency numbers – credit card/embassy/etc)
  • unlocked cell phone for local calls (get a sim card upon arrival)
  • pictures of your home town and loved ones to show your new friends
  • extra passport size photos for visas/tourist passes
  • a watch

chances are, if you forgot it, you can get it for cheap at the local market, on a side street, from a bike vendor.

bring only what you need, carry-on is the only way to go (check your airline for weight restrictions) –at least on your way there, don’t expect hot showers, be flexible, leave time for serendipity, and take in every moment.  it goes quickly.

Had a great day visiting the monastery where we will do our service work.  Promise to post pictures as soon as we can get online with our computer.  The kids were anywhere from 5 to 16 maybe.  We’re calling it a twofer because we get to spend our time living at the monastery teaching the monks English AND the majority are orphans.  Double the impact!  Not sure what the percentage of Tibetans vs Nepali’s yet.  We’ll learn as soon as we start the placement. I can sum it up in three words, a door able!

Swung by the international clinic on the way back so we could get the immunization for Japanese Encephalitis.  $500 beans and difficult to get in the states.  $30 bucks and walked right into the clinic in Nepal.  Got an extra ‘stick’ after the nurse threw in her two cents about rabies.  So many rabid monkeys and street dogs.  We figured we had no interest in getting near one, but the nurse said they go nuts and attack at random.  Dose 1 today and two more to go over the next month.  Much better than the alternative which is apparently a $1000 IV bag plus 5 injections if you get bit without it!  Also $30.  Next week when we go back for injection #2, we’ll be getting stuck again for Typhoid.  Didn’t know mine expired.  Supposedly it’s a bit of an epidemic right now so stick me baby one more time!

I think we have an open schedule for the next few days.  That will be nice.  Not sure what to do!?  Haven’t thought about anything for a week.  Any suggestions appreciated!

Day 3 and jetlag is subsiding.  We are very comfortable at the volunteer house for VCD Nepal.  It is truly a home away from home.  We are learning small bits of Nepali every day and I still lack a command for language learning.  Last night we visited the Swoyambu Temple which is perched high on the hill over Kathmandu Valley.  It was overrun with tourists but we plan to go back early some morning for photography.  Hoping to have a more organic experience.  It is a beautiful stupa and has lots of nooks to explore around the monastery.  Lots of rabid monkeys to avoid as well.  Very holy site for both Hindus and Buddhists alike.  Must have been thousands of prayer flags to take your breath away. Pictures to follow whenever we crack open our computer near an internet connection.

The Daal Bhat (lentils and rice)  is definitely a repetitive meal but it certainly keeps your options to a minimum.  It would certainly end the “I dunno, what do you want for dinner?” problem.  Our hosts at VCD have been incredible and try hard to bring us into the culture.  It is really a fantastic way to really begin to understand a place.  Otherwise we’d be another couple of tourists in the Thamel district!  Anyway, not a great post, but this keyboard is driving me nuts so I’ve got to move on!

Just turned around and my friend from NYC, Chris Villano was in the same internet cafe!  We’ve been waiting to run into someone we knew and it happened on day 3!   Namaste!

travel hiatus.  my favorite kind.

we’re in nepal and india for the next four months, volunteering for VCD Nepal, Pencils of Promise, shooting a lot, playing a lot, and testing out olfactory fatigue.

india has gotten more expensive, but really, the dollar is just not what it used to be.  not even since last spring.  good thing we’re in nepal now, where spending twelve dollars tonight seemed like an extravaganza.  great meals for a dollar or two.  hotels for less than ten a night.  had some delicious masala tea at the kathmandu guest house.  saw a breathtaking view of the himalayas on the flight in (travel tip#1: sit on the left side of the plane flying eastward, right westward).

i’m looking forward to hanging out in the mountains, rolling around a bit in greens and blues, shooting what makes me happiest, being encompassed by a new culture, and potentially learning to not gag while eating lentils every meal.

more to come!

Day two of our journey.  We’ve arrived in Kathmandu.  Flew into Delhi which was a bit of a mind trip.  13 hour flight that left Newark at 2000 hours and arrived in India at 2000 hours.  Basically missed a day, walked on and off the plane in the same light and lost 11.5 hours in the process.  Still trying to shake it off.

Assaulted by India soon after walking out the airport door.  Convo with cabbie: “Eurostar Hotel, you know where that is?”, Cabbie: “Yes, of course, get in, get in, get in…” Two minutes later, cabbie: “where are you going?”  Me: “Eurostar Hotel.”  Cabbie: “Do YOU know where that is?”   “Sure, it’s at blah blah blah.”  5 minutes later, cabbie:  “What is the name of the hotel again?  You give me big tip if I get you there!?”

Anyhow, the Eurostar was lovely with fake windows, no top sheet on the bed and a sweet RP’s 875 for the non-AC night.  Luckily Delhi is cooling down.  At least the hot water worked and I was able to watch Conan O’Brien for the first time in 10 years.   Had to force myself to sleep an additional 10 hours, which is harder than I thought.  All good now though.  Just a little rocky.

Arrived in the Thamel district this afternoon.  Escorted by our host from VCD Nepal, Bikram.  Meet again tomorrow to discuss our schedule.  He told us to eat well and eat western food.  It will be the last for a while.  Dal Bat (rice and lentils) twice a day from now on!  Can’t wait to see more of Nepal.  Most amazing view of Everest coming in on the plane.  The whole valley below was stunning green mountains and villages!  Didn’t think I’d be struck by the notion, but I’m glad we’re out of India for now…