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Help Needed: Haiti hit with massive quake.

Haiti was hit yesterday by what could be considered the worst natural disaster for the region in the last 200 years.

An earthquake with an estimated magnitude of 7.0, shocked the country just before 5 p.m. on Tuesday, collapsing buildings and cutting water and electricity services in Port-au-Prince and surrounding areas. Aftershocks of 4.5 magnitude or higher continued through the night and early Wednesday, thwarting immediate aid efforts for an estimated 3 million affected by the quake. Thousands are expected dead or injured and many more will be displaced with their homes reduced to rubble.

charity: water’s two local partners, Partners in Health and Concern Worldwide, are reacting to the disaster swiftly and comprehensively.*
We need your support. In the interest of immediate relief, we’re asking that donations be made straight to our partners.

To donate to Partners in Health’s efforts, click here.
To donate to Concern Worldwide’s efforts, click here.

Already one of the poorest and densely-populated countries in the Western Hemisphere, Haiti has struggled to overcome the effects of a slew of rough storms in 2008 before this week’s disaster. More than 4 million people (42% of the population) already lack access to safe drinking water. Disasters undercut development efforts tremendously.

*charity: water started working with PIH in 2007 and has since funded six freshwater projects with the organization to bring safe water to more than 25,000 people in rural Haiti (learn more here). Last year, we started partnering with Concern Worldwide in Haiti by funding eight spring protection systems, which will provide clean water for at least 6,000 people, once completed.

Lake Phewa, Nepal ~ © 2009 JDB

It’s time to revisit our travels.  The pictures from Pokhara, 6 hours west of Kathmandu by bus caught my eye today.  It’s a little respite from the chaos of Kathmandu but still delivers an overabundance of westernization like Thamel.  It’s really the gateway city to the Himalaya for most people.  Just over the mountain to the north you can see the tip of Fishtail.

Fishtail ~ © JDB

Fishtail ~ © 2009 JDB

Hotels are all over the place.  We were told it was high season, but Pokhara was a ghost town compared to Kathmandu.  Tours will pre-book hotels so some nicer places may be taken up.  We ended up liking Hotel Blue Heaven.  For $15 US/night we had a private balcony and a decent room with a really nice bathroom (western toilet).  We found the beds to be horrible everywhere in Kathmandu.  Pokhara is no exception.  I’m much better now at sleeping on my back thanks to the thin padding between my bones and a plywood surface.  If you want to stay at a hotel with benefits, go to Chhetri Sisters Guest House.  It is expensive but they train local women as trekking guides, empower local women’s groups and other local endeavors.  There are little secret places like a Buddhist meditation retreat.  Sometimes you just have to keep your ears open and you’ll pick up tips from other travelers.

Lake Phewa is the most predominant feature.  After spending time in the dry and polluted Kathmandu Valley, the lake is a true oasis. You can rent kayaks, sailboats or canoes by the hour or day.  There are secluded hotels and restaurants that you can only get to by boat.  Barahi Temple is on an island off South Lakeside, near the Royal Palace property.  We enjoyed drinking coffee and chai at Mike’s Restaurant.  It was the only place with tables right on the waterfront.

Rooftop of Hotel Blue Heaven ~ © 2009 JDB

The World Peace Pagoda sits atop on of the many high hills surrounding the lake.  We took a trip up the opposite side and gently paraglided back to earth.  From high above the Pokhara Valley you can see the Annapurna mountain range and the glacial rivers running through.  We spotted the Tibetan Village we visited the day before.  Great peaceful experience. We used Sunrise Paragliding which is the only outfit I’d recommend.

Back on land, it’s easy to stock up on supplies for an upcoming trek.  Pokhara has professional outfitters as well as designer fakes.  If you find a cheap down jacket or sleeping bag, it’s filled with chicken feathers.  Make you’re decisions wisely because chicken feathers probably don’t insulate as well as synthetics or goose down when wet or dry.  I doubt anyone would want to figure this out at Annapurna or Everest base camp.

Pokhara has plenty of ambiance, but if you find a good place to eat you should return and order the same thing over and over.  Any attempt to make decent food in Nepal seems to fail.  DO get your coffee and breakfast at Perky Beans in Central Lakeside.  Only place we really enjoyed in all of Pokhara.  Wish we found it on day 1!

Lake Phewa ~ 2009 JDB

We flew back from Pokhara because the bus we took to get there ended up being 9 hours.  Horrible.  I really enjoyed the 20 minute flight back to Kathmandu.  Some things are worth every penny.  Travel in Nepal is unpredictable so don’t feel bad about spending money if you have it.  Plus if you get in line early for the plane (first come, first serve) you’ll be happy if you score a seat on the north side of the plane (depending on which direction you’re flying obviously).  The Himalaya are stunning above cloud level.  Even better if your flight is around sunset.

Himalaya from the air ~ 2009 JDB