Road Queen…again

Another one of my posts was published on diwyy.com yesterday! It’s one I wrote last year on this blog entitled Road Queen, so you may have already read it. If you haven’t checked it out already, then you need to read it right now!! Seriously, follow the link below and read it immediately.

http://www.diwyy.com/new-blog/reader-perspective-road-queen/

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A 3AM Letter From My Stomach

Dear Danielle,

Hi there. Remember me?

I was starting to think you’d forgotten about me. We haven’t had that much time to talk to each other since you left Thailand. I was starting to miss you cursing at me. I think we lost contact because once you left Thailand you stopped forcing me to try to process MSG constantly. I’m surprised you didn’t figure out sooner that we’re probably allergic to MSG. I mean, I would think you can only blame those many consistent and painful wake-up calls like this one on chili peppers for so long before you start to think that it might be caused by something else, right? I guess not, though, since you didn’t realize MSG allergies existed until your last week in Thailand. Silly girl.

I have been nice to you since you’ve been in Nepal, don’t you think? I sent you back to the bathroom on your last trek because I thought I would prove to you that your suspicions about MSG were right. All those instant-noodle soups loaded with MSG caught up with you (you’re a little slower than I would like to think sometimes) and you finally looked at the ingredients on the noodle package only to find MSG listed.

Now you are probably wondering why I woke you up so early this morning and what you did to deserve more torture. You know what you did, but if I have to spell it out for you I will. You ate too much Dal Bhat at lunch yesterday to be polite to your guide’s wife. You know dal bhat doesn’t sit well with us! Silly girl. I let you know instantly afterwards that you’d done us wrong by bloating you to twice your size and sending you to bed.

I do think a thanks is in order, though. Yesterday, and a few times before, I have been so angry with you that I’ve almost made you throw up, but in the past six months I never once actually made you vomit. I know how much you hate hurling, so I’ve been kind and left it out of the torture package. But, if you continue to treat me poorly, I will reconsider this and throw in a little cookie tossing for a reminder.

A few years ago you named me The Destroyer because of the loud noises I make after you eat or when you haven’t fed me yet. Well let me tell you this, I can be more than the destroyer of food you consume. I will ruin your fun if you disrespect me. I can take a day that’s a 10 and bring it down to a zero so fast it will have you spinning. And I can even choose to do it in inconvenient locations if you are particularly unkind to me!

I am writing this to make sure you are aware that I am punishing you when I send you to the bathroom; don’t think that it’s that I want to educate you on the variety of bathroom styles around the world. And yes, I do think it’s funny when you end up in a bathroom with swarms of mosquitoes. So curse me if you like, I know you will, but remember this: I don’t care what you think about me. Continue to consume unworthy food and I have no problem keeping you locked hovering over a smelly squatter toilet for more time than you find comfortable.

Yours always,

Your Stomach AKA The Destroyer AKA @##!@*F!@%$

P.S. Please send some Cipro my way and I’ll calm down.

I think I can. I think I can. I think I can…

Why a person who has had rotten knees since birth would look at a map and decide that they would buy a ticket to Nepal and go trekking is beyond me, but that’s what I did for some reason. It didn’t really occur to me until a few days into my first trek that it was an odd decision. As I slowly descended down some massive granite steps on the side of a very steep hillside, I paused for a moment to analyze the situation. I was bracing myself with my two bamboo hiking sticks, deciding whether it felt like someone was hammering a four inch nail into my knees every time I bent them or whether it was more like my cartilage had been replaced with barbed wire, and I started to question how the hell I ended up there.

I made my mom, our guide, and our porter walk ahead in hopes that if nobody saw my struggle, then maybe it wouldn’t feel as difficult. I felt weak and pissed off at myself. Who the hell did I think I was? I should know better than this. I know my knees and I should therefore know my limits, shouldn’t I??

My knees have always been fickle and I know that, yet there I was, halfway down a massive hill somewhere between two small mountain towns and the only option was to keep going down. I felt so stupid for thinking that I could do a six day trek. Tears were starting to well up in my eyes, which made me even more frustrated with myself. We all should know what we can and can’t handle. But although I may know my limits, I seem to like to push them, I guess because if I don’t then I’ll never know what I’m really capable of, which I suppose is how I ended up on the side of a steep hill in Nepal.

Obviously I survived that trek and believe it or not, I sent myself on a second one!

The first trek I went on was the Naya Pul and Ghorapani loop in the Annapurna region. Unfortunately, it’s getting close to the monsoon season so the views were pretty terrible, but we did get to see a few of the magnificent mountains one evening. I did the trek with my Mom, our guide Tika, and our 15 year old porter, who we nicknamed Ironman because he could carry our massive backpack with no problem at all.

Ironman (our porter), myself, Tika (our guide), and my Mom.

My second trek was in the Langtang Region bordering Tibet, which was absolutely stunning. The monsoon starts later there, so the views weren’t obstructed with clouds and haze. The hike was easier than the previous trek, but because I’d already spent six days torturing my knees the week before, I had a pretty hard time going downhill for two days out of the seven day trek. I also decided that I would buck up and carry my own bag, which my doctor would probably smack me upside the head for doing. Luckily once my knees started to fail me Tika (my wonderful guide) carried my backpack for me.

We had planned for one rest day in the middle of our trek where we would visit the local temple and yak cheese factory, but the Type A side of my personality kicked in again and I found myself climbing up to 4,700 meters for a better view of the mountains and glaciers. I was happy to find that I had no problems acclimating to the altitude, but my knees complained the whole way down.

The view from 4,700 meters.

When we returned to the teahouse after our little hike, we decided to go in search of some tumba (pronounced toomba). Tumba is made by boiling millet, adding a goats hoof, and storing the mixture in a plastic bag under your house for at least fifteen days, the good stuff is stored for about three months. Once you are ready to drink it, you scoop out the millet, scrape of the mold, and put it in a massive cup. To drink it, you pour hot water over the millet and sip up the alcoholic liquid. It’s fantastic for cold weather.

We had found some tumba the day before, so we knew we could find it again. It’s pretty difficult stuff to get this time of year because it is too warm outside to make it. We didn’t have anything else to do that day since the temple and yak cheese factory turned out to be closed, so we decided to take the rest of the day off and get drunk. Tika and I went to a tiny little teashop and each ordered our own tumba. The shop owner and her two friends were in the shop gossiping and eating dry flour and salt in between sips of salty Tibetan yak butter tea. After a few hours, it went from just being Tika and I drinking, to at least fifteen other guides, porters, and foreigners drinking tumba and roxy, eating dried then fried yak meat with timor (the most delicious peppercorn on earth), and singing all the songs we could think of. I couldn’t think of a better way to spend an afternoon.

Some guides and me drinking tumba.

The trekking was fantastic, despite the pain. Now I know that I am in fact capable of walking long distances,as long as I”m going up not down though, which makes all of the pain I experienced worth it. If any of you are planning on coming to Nepal to go trekking I have a few recommendations and guide book corrections.

The guide books are wrong about prices for almost everything. A good wage for a guide is around 15USD a day and for a porter it’s about 12USD per day. You can do treks on your own, but you’ll learn a lot more about culture and see a lot more wildlife if you hire a guide. I expected to do most of the trekking without a guide, but quickly came to realize that almost everyone here hires a guide and does so through a tour company. If you hire a porter, make sure that the company has a limit for how many bags one porter carries. More than two massive backpacks or duffel bags for someone around my size is cruel, so make sure to ask the tour company what their policy is before you book a tour with them. And lastly, if you need a good guide, my guide and new friend Tika is absolutely wonderful. He comes with my highest recommendations. He’s by far one of the most fantastic people I’ve met in the past six months and I feel like he is part of my family now. So please, please, please ask me for his information if you are planning on coming to Nepal.

I’m back in Kathmandu, which is where I’ll be for the next week. I’m booking a ticket today to go to South Korea on the 8th to see my friends Bobby and Will who are teaching English there. Words can’t even describe the high I get from being able to make a decision to jet over to another country a week before I want to leave. I feel so free! There will be at least one more post coming this week, so keep checking the blog. I’d also like to give a big thanks to my dad for publishing and editing my last blog post for me since the internet at my hotel is too slow.

Road Queen

I have a love-hate relationship with buses in foreign countries. They can be infuriating, smelly, crowded, broken, too slow, too fast, and the list goes on. Despite all of the negative aspects, there is something highly entertaining about them, although half the time it’s only entertaining after you’ve recovered from the journey.

After teaching English in Northeastern Thailand for five months, I was starting to get a little stir crazy and decided that the solution was to mix things up a bit by venturing to Nepal. My Mom joined me for the first two weeks of travel which included several interesting bus rides much to her dismay. We didn’t quite see eye to eye on the concept that buses can be wonderful modes of transport. She wanted to go by plane between destinations because of the speed and ease, but in the end I convinced her to give buses a shot.

Our first bus experience in Nepal, from Kathmandu to Pokhara, was supposed to last six hours but turned into a 13-hour journey due to a truck accident which spurred a village strike. After leaving our original tourists-only minivan and hiking to a taxi that offered a reasonable price, we ended up in what turned out to be a Nepali clown car. In a vehicle that fits 15 people sort of comfortably, we squeezed four Frenchmen, one Canadian, two Americans, six Israelis, one Japanese, and 12 Nepalis. That’s 26 for those of you who don’t feel like doing the math. This number slowly increased as we got closer to Pokhara. Four people were on the roof, which looks comfortable because you get to sit/lie on the giant mound of backpacks and could be fun and scenic as long as you don’t mind the dust and holding on for dear life. Good luck to your poor broken body if the taxi or bus gets into an accident though.

Being in tight quarters with a skipping Aqua CD on repeat made this adventure feel like it would never end. The first time you hear Barbie Girl in a foreign country it’s exciting, but by the eighteenth time you are ready to kick the stereo in. By the time the Israeli on the roof started hurling and the taxi driver kept stopping to tighten the bolts on the wheel, I was over it. I only wanted a bed and if I was so lucky some BBC World News before the power went out (a frequent occurrence). I had been gone long enough that even hearing sports news, something that would typically bore me into a catatonic state, made me happy.

Our next bus ride was from Pokhara to Chitwan, and although it wasn’t nearly as long as the previous experience, it was equally annoying. The seats on the bus felt as though they were held in place by a few pieces of used chewing gum, making for the bumpiest five hours of my life. I think I can confidently say that I’ve been on better roads in Burma, which says a lot. The roads make you feel every gram of fat on your body jiggle and if you’ve ever wanted to test the quality of your bra, this is the most thorough way to do it.

It didn’t quite matter whether or not you wanted your seat to recline because they all do the moment you lean back in them, leaving very minimal personal space for the person behind you. My mom and I are lucky to have short legs in these situations.

This ride made me reminisce about that Disneyland ride the Matterhorn. The road winds close to cliffs and makes those sharp zig-zaggy moves along the road, only unlike Disneyland, the sharp wheel turns aren’t made to scare you but to make sure you aren’t run off the road by the trucks, buses, and cars that you are playing chicken with.

On our third bus ride, my Mom and I found ourselves with great front-seat views of the road ahead of us. We were aware of every near miss and the fact that the only things preventing us from flying off the road were a few stacks of bricks here and there. I came to the realization that I seem to have an almost unnerving lack of fear in these situations. My mom can’t even look at the oncoming traffic, let alone the cliffs, whereas I can’t even get my pulse to race the slightest bit. I would like to say that it’s some kind of weird adrenaline junkie thing, but I don’t get any kind of rush out of watching us nearly slam head on into a massive truck carrying a huge load of gravel.

I felt nothing throughout what should have been frightening bus rides. Which is interesting because while we were on our canoe trip in the Chitwan National Park I had a mini panic attack as our canoe hovered above a massive crocodile and my mom remained completely relaxed. I think that’s slightly justifiable, though. Our guide was a stoner who was perpetually baked out of his mind. As we got close to the first crocodile in our canoe made out of a single hollowed out log, he nonchalantly told us about his last close-call crocodile attack two days earlier. I don’t know about you, but I sure as hell don’t want the man in charge of my life to be high as a kite and chuckling when a crocodile comes out of the water to rip my arm off. I want Crocodile Dundee, someone with a spear or a gun. At least someone with a safari shirt, not a dirty t-shirt that says “Hello my name is _____. If I’m too drunk to know my way home, please send me to this address:_______.”

While my mom was trying to calm herself down in her front row seat of horror, I would admire and read the phrases on the back of the trucks we passed. Road King. No time for love. See You. Horn Please. Catch me if you can. I thought the trucks in Thailand were pretty, but Nepal really takes the cake. They are brightly decorated inside and out and painted with elaborate designs and scenes. And the horns! The horns are the best in Nepal. The drivers make little songs with their horns. It could be a quick warning single beep or it could be a fun little tune depending on their reason for honking.

As I dozed off, I dreamt of my imaginary life as a Nepali trucker. My truck was neon pink and on the sides there were paintings of birds flying above a Buddha in a field of lotus flowers. The back read Eat My Sneeze Inducing Nepali Dust Suckers! and the front proudly declared Road Queen. I was perched above the steering wheel in my turquoise and lime green sari honking tweedly dee da dee until I was jolted awake by a near head on collision.

At first my mom was annoyed with me for not agreeing to fly between Kathmandu and Pokhara, and although she didn’t fully come around to love bus travel like I do, she at least understood where I was coming from. First of all, I’m cheap. When I’m traveling and I see a large sum of money being spent in a way that I know I could do for ten times cheaper it kills me. An unnecessary flight between Kathmandu and Pokhara was seen in my eyes as several days worth of food. Secondly, there is no better way to actually see a country than by bus.

Slow travel is severely underrated these days. We are always rushing around and in doing so end up missing so much. Why fly over a country when you can drive through it? Every rest stop or break down gives you the chance to peer into the way things operate. Planes are usually uneventful modes of travel, but buses will almost always give you a story to walk away with in the end, even if it means you have to suffer a little in the process.

My mom may not have relished the quirks of bus travel while in Nepal, but she sure does have a lot of fun reminiscing about it now. She swears that it made her less uptight and nervous because now she just accepts that sometimes you have no control over a situation. You just have to sit back and enjoy the view.

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From Beach Bunny to Mountain Goat

Yesterday I got back from a week on a beautiful island called Koh Chang. If you are coming to Thailand and want a low key non-touristy island, I highly suggest heading there. It was gorgeous and was much less touristy than the Southern islands of Thailand. I spent seven days and nine nights on the island swimming, snorkeling, and sunbathing. It was wonderful!

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As most of you already know, my mom came to Thailand today. We are spending three days in Thailand and then we are heading to Nepal to do some trekking. My mom and I will be traveling together for two weeks, after which she will go back home and I will spend another two weeks in Nepal. I’m not entirely positive what my plan will be after Nepal, but as of right now, I think I will go to Northern Vietnam and then take the train or bus into Southern China. I will continue to post to the blog while I am traveling, although it might be a little more infrequent. That’s all for now! My next post will be coming from Nepal!