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November 30th, 2009

12:53 pm - Back to the Kalanki Hostel
After two days of shopping and good eating in the Thamel area I decided to pack up and head back to the volunteer hostel on the outskirts of town. I felt I experienced as much of Thamel as I needed and really couldn't take much more. Plus I was really craving some human interaction beyond ordering food and haggling with street vendors. It looks like there are a few other people's bags in the hostel but they are not in the house at the moment so perhaps I will meet them later. I was also paying 900 rupees a night for an uncomfortable bed and no hot water up in Thamel, a change of hotels was happening one way or another today. The hostel is free with free food and a comfortable but not private bed and no hot water. Just two days left now.

While I was in Thamel I ate at pretty much all the top restaurants. Two of which were pizza restaurants. The decor in all the restaurants was nice but at very best the pizza is mediocre by American standards. The sauce is universally different, light orange and very watery, typically mixes with the cheese to form almost a soupy layer of mush on top of a well textured but ultimately tasteless crust. Toppings can be tasty here though, like smoked chicken and big thick salami, yum. I will miss one of the local beers, Everest Beer. It was a very smooth pils served in 650ml form that always hit the spot.

There might not be another post this trip, as I expect the remainder of my stay to be quite blissfully uneventful.
Current Location: Kalanki, Kathmandu, Nepal

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November 29th, 2009

10:03 am - Back in Kathmandu
Made it back to Kathmandu yesterday. Instead of shacking up in the free hostel provided by my volunteer organization I decided to shell out a few rupees for a room in Thamel, the tourist area. My flight isn't until Wednesday so I have a few days to kill. Only have a couple more shopping requirements and the rest I suppose I'll spend on sightseeing and lounging around in cyber cafes and coffee shops.

I've bought a total of 7 Khukuri knives since I've been here and I plan to grab a couple more. only 2 or 3 for myself, promise. So if you're a guy and are expecting a birthday/christmas present from me.... you're getting a sweater.

Its much easier to shop for women around here, lots of nice cashmire and pashmina garments and scarfs, tons or tibetan and nepali jewelry, neat little bags and stuff. So if you're a girl and you are expecting a birthday/christmas present from me.... you're getting a knife.

started researching my volunteering trip for next year, currently examining the opportunities in Mongolia.
Current Location: Thamel, Kathmandu, Nepal

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November 28th, 2009

04:10 pm - Back from the Trek
I survived.

The trek was fantastic, though very challenging. If I had known just how high we would be climbing and how steep it was I might have turned back early in the trek. The layout of the terrain keeps the top of the hill just out of your sight so you always feel as though you're almost at the top. I actually did it day ahead of schedule too. I'm extremely sore and just relaxing and recouperating here in Pokhara for a day before I jostle back to Kathmandu. Here's my recap of each day of the hike:

Day 1
Two hour car ride to the start. about 4 hours of walking, up a total of about 500 meters. Very easy day, I wasn't tired or sore in the slightest. First truely hot shower I've had in Nepal. I kicked back a beer and tried not to stress out about the difficult day I knew I had ahead tomorrow.

Day 2
Hell day. 8 hours of hiking, up a total of 1300 meters. Back home I would consider it a fairly active day to walk over a kilometer, but UP over a kilometer... just... no. I was shacked up overnight at the base of a large hill which we proceeded to scale first thing in the morning. The steepest part of the journey was at the very beginning. It was steep enough that you could use your hands to help climb the steps without bending over. I'd be weezing after every few minutes of it and stopped probably 50 or 60 times for breaks on the way up. Finally reaching the hilltop town of Ghorapani was a nice relief to one of the most exhausting days I can remember. Oh, it was freezing cold in Ghorapani (2,800 Meters elevation). The lodge had a nice cozy little fire going and it was fun to meet the other trekkers there.

Day 3
Alarm goes off at 4am. I'm walking up Poon Hill by 20 after. Seeing the sunrise on top of Poon Hill is the goal of the trek, so this last 400 steep meters in the freezing cold pitch black morning was as rewarding as it was taxing. My muscles were getting sore and the air was much harder to breath. I was the first one in the morning to begin the climb but another group passed me so I was only the 5th one to the top of the hill. By sunrise around a hundred people would be there. Poon Hill is famous for its wonderfull view of the Annapurna mountain range as its higher than the surrounding hills. It was beautiful. It was freezing cold. After sunrise and a few photos we descended back to the lodge at Ghorapani where I proceeded to nap for a few hours. After I awoke from the nap we proceeded back down the hill. Going downhill is easier athletically (don't need to stop to catch your breath) but tougher on the joints. By the time we walked about 3 or 4 hours down the hill my legs were buckling and I was losing control and stability. I was glad we stopped because I felt I was about to faceplant and tumble down the hill. French people singing at the guest house kept me up for a few hours with their singing. Makes me wish we had left the Vichy in power.

Day 4
Climbed down the really steep part of the hill first thing in the morning then all the way back to the starting point of the trek. I was sick on this day as well, not fun. By the time we arrived to the taxi I was using my walking stick practically as a crutch.

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November 22nd, 2009

12:42 pm - On with the chillaxing...
I finished my volunteer project on friday and yesterday morning I took the local bus to Pokhara where I will begin my trek. The bus ride was... interesting. It took 2 hours once we were on the bus for it to actually leave town. They wait to try to pull in more passengers, really annoying. then it proceeds to stop at every little town along the way, sometimes wrangling even more passengers. All in all, about an 8 hour journey for a distance you could probably cover in around 2 to 2.5 hours back home.

Pokhara is a really nice town. There is a lot of tourist money here just like Kathmandu but it is a much smaller town so it seems the tourist money goes farther. The streets are very clean and the houses in the area are gorgeous. The shopping area is a much more relaxed atmosphere than Thamel in Kathmandu. I'm actually up here a day early and I'm glad I chose to, its a wonderful place to unwind. I had a warm shower and slept in until 10:30.

My Australian friend Neil was along on the bus ride yesterday and spent the night in Pokhara as well. We walked the town, having a few drinks, looking for trouble. He was trying to find massage parlour's with extras. I enjoyed the spectacle. Despite all language barriers, people of all cultures seem to understand what "boom boom" means, as in "we want boom boom", or "I would like a massage, how much for boom boom". The night ended with me puking into my sink back at the hotel, but I'm still a little hungover :(
Current Location: Lakeside, Pokhara, Nepal

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November 13th, 2009

04:48 pm - Exhausted
I arrived at my project down here in the lovely Chitwan area on monday. The drive down was interesting. You snake your way through mountain roads etched thinly into the side of the steep slopes. There are actually guard stones in some areas to make sure you don't slip off the side like one bus did two weeks ago, kill all 12 people inside. The rest of the areas, meh, pavement ends at death.

The villiage I'm in is nice and peaceful. The house is clean, friendly and I have a room all to myself. The work is exhausting. On tuesday we tilled a field with just a ho. My legs were a little sore the next day, when we tilled the same field a second time and planted lots of vegetables. Yesterday (thursday) I could barely walk. Bending over is one position I'm proud to say I don't often find myself in and many of the muscles supporting my rather heafty upper half were quite sore. To top it off, I started developing a cold yesterday as well, which I'm currently battling at them moment. At least I can walk again though. Its a 30 minute walk to the town here where there is a cyber cafe and about a 50/50 chance of there being power in the town when I get here. It will get me in shape for my trek, which I start week after next.

The food is good, but they eat the same thing every meal. Daal Bhaat. Lentils and Rice. They serve me so much of it (the same portion they eat) that I feel like I'm about to throw up the last quarter of it or so. So I haven't been hungry since I got here.

Tomorrow is a holy day and the only day of the week Nepali people take off (no two day weekends). Looking forward to chillaxing.
Current Location: Rampur Bazaar, Chitwan, Nepal

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November 8th, 2009

11:53 am - Day of Rest
I've been a complete tourist these past few days. The first day of sightseeing we saw three temples around the city. We were chauffeured around in a car from point to point so it wasn't a very exhausting day.

The first temple was a Hindu temple with a name that is far too long and far too foreign for me to pronounce, much less remember for this journal. On our descent into the valley of the temple we assailed by a drifting cloud of white smoke, I'll come back to this in a moment. The temple had a large inner area that only Hindu's are allowed in but all tourists were allowed in the surrounding areas. We proceeded across the river behind the temple and up a hill which provides a nice vantage point to see the inner temple area. The primary utility of the temple though was the river, and what goes on at the river bank. Cremation. All the dead bodies in the area are taken to this temple to be burned at the side of the river. The burning of the bodies produces large plumes of white smoke that drift in the direction of the road we came in on... (gulp). There were two areas for burning bodies, one for regular people and one for important people. At the top of the hill as a park for the monkeys and deer, which was quite and nice. In an odd twist of reverse discrimination, they only let westerners in the park.

The next temple we went two was a Buddhist temple in the part of town named "Boudha". Buddhism is big money here since it attracts the majority of the western travelers, who seem to be disproportionately bohemian. Its basically the same crowd that only eats organic and protests the World Bank. White kids with dread locks, upper middle class upbringing and fighting "the man" ever since. In a related note, I've been offered marijuana by street urchins at least 10 times since I've been here. Anyway, The temple was shaped like a muffin top with a gilded spike on top. Complete surrounded by some of the most touristy shoppes I've yet seen in Kathmandu.

The third temple was the famous "monkey" temple. It sat on a high perch on the edge of the Kathmandu valley with a spectacular view of the city. This was the first building in the area. Back when the valley was a lake this temple was actually an island. The Nepali culture must have respected the religious holdings of the Buddhists for a long time as this spectacularly defensible location would have been the perfect site for a palace. As far as the temple itself its was nice, monkeys were everywhere. So were dogs. Dogs chased the monkeys. Monkeys teased the dogs. There was even a swimming pool for the monkeys, though the water looked horrid.

Yesterday we visited a canyon nearby, which was really more of a local hangout than a western tourist destination. There were mostly local couples there, making it like the "makeout point" of Kathmandu. There were a lot of steep stairs going down the valley and back up, then down, then back up, then back down into town when we were finished. Exhausting day.

I wanted a nap but the girls were going out to dinner and I can't pass that up. Last night we ate a restaurant in downtown Kathmandu and I ate a massive delicious plate of chicken fried rice and a plate of Buffalo MoMo (meat dumplings, local cuisine). Completely stuffed, the food cost just under 2 dollars. The Thamel district at night is really gorgeous, I enjoyed it much better than in the day time. This is a surprisingly safe city. None of us have been pickpocketed or harassed in any way.

Its my last day here in Kathmandu and I head out for my project in the morning. Its in the rural area named Chitwan and I'm really looking forward to the peace and quiet.
Current Location: Kathmandu, Nepal

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November 4th, 2009

12:50 pm
So far so good. Living at the hostel this week isn't exactly roughing it. It does help ease the culture shock though, like an old man slipping into a hot bath. I'm just learning the Nepali language this week which is just a few hours of lecture in the morning then free time the rest of the day. The cook at the hostel feeds us a variety of food stuffs because once we get to the project and live with our host family we eat pretty much nothing but daal bhaat (lentils and rice). The cook leaves a lot to be desired in terms of catering to a western pallet. One of his most bizarre concoctions the other night was noodles in mayonnaise. To be fair, its usually not bad.

There are a lot more volunteers in the house now, 7 women and me (no so bad eh?). Plus the hostel seems to be a veritable cross-roads for people coming to and from their work projects and trekking/sightseeing. Everyone volunteering here seems to be in a transitional period in their life, unlike me. Most of them just finished college and don't know what to do with their lives after they get back from the trip. Many of them finished advanced degrees in fields they have no interest in working in. I think I'm the only one here who's parents didn't pay for the trip either ;)

After class yesterday we went to the area of town called "Thamel" (pronounced TOM-EL). Its the tourist area where you can buy trinkets and all the trekking gear you'd imagine. If you plan on trekking in Nepal its WAYYY cheaper to get all your north face swag here, FYI. If it is cheap chinese imitations then it feels just like the real thing, which is also made cheaply in china. Thamel isn't entirely for tourists, its busy with locals as well. As you walk down the tight, crowded streets motorcycles and rickshaws hurl past you with reckless abandon. Its quite an experience, once. I think I'll avoid it for the remainder of my stay and sanity.

Tomorrow is sightseeing day! We're going to hit a few temples I think, which seem to be everywhere here. This place has to up up there in the temples per capita statistics. I'll try to post pictures on my facebook if I can but the internet connection is quite, quite slow.

I am really looking forward to heading down to Chitwan where I will be working for the next few weeks. The volunteers who just returned from there on a sightseeing trip raved about it and called it "the perfect place". Apparently elephants roam around in the area.
Current Location: Kalanki Mandir, Kathmandu Nepal

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November 1st, 2009

05:30 am - Just Arrived in Nepal
I'm off to another volunteering trip this year. Nepal, my first excursion into the continent of Asia. I'll be taking a one week language course here in Kathmandu then I head down to the Chitwan to do conservation work for two weeks. I cap off the trip with a 9-day trek. Trekking is "the big thing" to do in Nepal.

12 hour flight to Doha from DC, 12 hour layover, 5 hour flight to Kathmandu. Lost an additional 8 hours due to time zones. I left on friday night and landed sunday afternoon. Doha airport wasn't as bad as I was imagining, luckily.

After leaving the airport I was greeted by the familiar look and feel of the third world: corrugated metal storefronts, dirty roads with no lines and no rules, people everywhere. I feel distinctly safer than here than in Nairobi though as the one thing that I took note of being absent from the picture was groups of unemployed young men and boys clustering on street corners. Lots of young people with nothing to do is a necessary component of a high crime rate.

For the next 7 days I'm holed up in a nice little house in, from what i can tell, is one of the quiet parts of Kathmandu. Its cozy and the people seem friendly. The women here are also quite beautiful. Another volunteer arrives tonight followed by a third in the morning, for now I am alone.
Current Location: Kathmandu, Nepal

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April 5th, 2009

06:05 pm - One last story from Africa
I was nearly arrested on my last day Kenya.

Shortly after I posted the previous blog post I left town and headed back to the village. I was expecting to meet up with the family elder, Peter, who would be giving me a buffalo horn as a going away gift. There were some transportation delays because it took a while for the driver to hoist all the goats on the roof of the bus. I returned a little later than expected and didn't get to meet up with Peter in person. He did however make sure that one of his sons gave me the horn.

The buffalo horn was magnificent. A true colossus. Perhaps a meter long and I'd say 35 pounds would be a conservative estimate. I must also point out this this was only one horn, half of the entire spread. I instantly took to the task of packing it in my luggage. It took up an entire duffel bag, I just padded around it with some clothes to avoid damage.

I changed into my last set of clean clothes. I had been saving one set of clean clothes for the flight back so that I could feel . After saying my goodbyes and being hugged by everybody my nice clean dress shirt was filthy. So much for looking clean. It is awkward walking around the sleek, pristine Zurich airport with dirt smeared across your stomach and chest.

Charles the cab driver picks me up for the drive to the airport and a few of the family (three of the elder girls, perhaps they liked me?) piled in the cab to see me off. The cab was blasting "My Humps" by the Black Eyed Peas as we worked our way around the endless minefield of potholes and crevasses that is rural Kenyan dirt roads.

Just inside the door at the airport you pass your baggage through scanners, thus beginning the customs process. Just after passing my bags through the scanner I was singled out and asked to step to the side where the uniformed man with rubber gloves asked me to open the bag. It was the bag with the horn in it. I somewhat expected this. Soon thereafter, another man in a cheap suit came over and asked me a series of questions about the horn, how I came to possess it and so on. The I was taken to a room where I suffered a gauntlet of interrogations from men in increasingly nicer suits. With each new interrogator I gave the full story of how I lived with the Maasai and was given the horn as a gift.

The Buffalo is one of the "Big 5" game animals in Africa. I didn't research this fact, nor did I research any anti-poaching laws prior to my trip. Legally speaking, I might as well have been carrying an Elephant tusk. Poaching is one of the most serious crimes a westerner can commit in Kenya. Not that it needs mentioning, but Kenyan prison is not a place you want to be.

I was quite worried. Not only were these men of authority, which in Africa means corruption, but specifically these were Kikuyu and held no love or respect for the austere Maasai ways of which my possessing this contraband was a direct result. At this point I was glad that I was filthy and partially bearded. Had I looked like the clean cut, affluent westerner that I actually am I think my story would have been less believable.

I was absolutely convinced that I would either go to jail or most likely, pay a hefty bribe. After a couple hours of pleading my situation I was eventually let go. They kept the horn of course.

So thats how I was nearly arrested for poaching in Africa.

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January 2nd, 2009

03:02 pm - The Final Hours
I fly home tonight. I just finished helping the MEAC office (the charity I work for here) re-write just about all their documents. They needed some english and stylistic help. It was easy work but they were very grateful. Kenyans don't type as fast as they run.

It was a little difficult to say goodbye to Danny. We had become friends. He was the one who took me up Ngong Hills and I took him to the restaurant Carnivore two days ago. It is hard to make local friends here because just when you think you are on good standing with them they will often flat-out ask your for something like money, and ipod, a playstation, my watch, my cell phone or constantly ask to borrow your stuff. Danny is quite poor and yet does none of this, instead he freely offers up his time and friendship.

A lot of new volunteers have showed up in the past few days due to school starting next week. The atmosphere has been different there for sure. On new years night there was booze. The Maasai don't seem to hold their liquor very well. It was funny to see them tipsy.

To people I haven't called yet, I'll try to get through to you before I leave tonight. My Kenyan cell phone is a piece of junk. I don't even get the relief of smashing it on a rock before I leave as other volunteers have requested it.

The past week or so I have felt pretty comfortable with the life here. I feel confident to travel by myself and generally feel like I could live this life for as long as a year with no trouble.
Current Location: Ngong, Kenya

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