Monday, December 12, 2011

Al and Anja and the gang

On Dec 8th, we left our now very familiar and comfortable Hotel Courtyard in the Tamelle District of Kathmandu, to join our Dragoman group tour at Hotel Tibet. We had seen signs for Tibet Guest House in the neighbourhood, and hoped that “Guest House” and “Hotel” might be the same thing, even though the photos on the website for the Hotel looked suspiciously different than the Guest House we had seen while walking around the tourist area of Kathmandu. No worries, the first option was walkable.

We soon found that the Hotel was indeed not the Guest House, and a fairly short but none-the-less hair raising negotiated cab ride later; we were at the Hotel Tibet, in a much less savory part of town. Our room was respectably appointed, located right next to the Radisson Hotel, which ended up being a useful orientation point when we got a little lost on our first walk in the area.

We had the day to ourselves with the much anticipated and nerve-wracking meeting with our new companions set for 6:00 pm. We had heard that there was a not-to-miss pizza restaurant called Fire and Ice not too far from the Hotel and we decided to face the dust and traffic to try to find it. Now out of the tourist district, crossing the street meant crossing several lanes bustling traffic in two directions. We were completely out of our element and frankly scared out of our minds, but somehow we managed to find spots where there were a lot of locals trying to cross the street and somehow made it to our destination. But not without the unhelpful help of one local directing us to his shop instead of the Pizza restaurant we were looking for. Par for the course!

We had a really nice lunch and did some window-shopping in the “real” trekking stores (as compared to the Nepalese copied versions of trekking equipment). We headed back to our hotel and made one last stop at a supermarket handily located near our hotel. Aside from all of the usual suspects, this supermarket (very western looking in layout and products) had a second floor with everything from small electric appliances (hair dryers, toasters etc) to plastic containers. We had one last item on our list and thought we might find it here. Our headlamp was 30 years old and maybe it was time to move to LED technology.

We found one that was way too cheap but it claimed to come with three batteries, so we decided to go for it. Maximum we would return it if it didn’t work. Our hotel was right next-door.

I guess I forgot for a moment where I was! We opened the headlamp just outside the shop to test it out and low and behold, it not only did not have batteries in it looked unlikely that it would work even if we bought batteries to put in it. I went back in and showed the cashier the packaging that clearly stated that the batteries were included, and that they were missing. There was a group discussion among the cashiers and one went running in one direction and the other assured me they were calling their supplier. It was quite comical really. Calling their supplier? The headlamp was made in China. I waited patiently for five minutes and then politely asked if I could simply have a refund and I would be on my way. More discussions and then the one looking the most like a boss or manager came by to explain to me that in fact what it really meant on the package was that it was possible to replace the batteries and then they would be included. And in any case, there were no refunds. I assured her that I understood English perfectly and that was not what it meant, and could I please have a refund and I would be on my way.

It took a bit more convincing, but I did get my refund. It reminded me of course that even though the supermarket had the appearance of being somewhere else, it was in fact in Nepal! And I guess, the same transaction could have happened in the same way on the street, without a cash register and the availability of a phone. I think we all handled ourselves appropriately and came to the right conclusions!

We napped and watched a bit of TV, as the bewitching hour grew closer. How large would our group be? What would our leaders be like? Would we really last 82 days? What were we thinking planning such a long trip to India? Marc was finding all sorts of reasons to miss the meeting. Maybe I could go myself and represent both of us? Did we really have to go for dinner with the group? Surely we were full from the pizza …

Yes we were nervous. Beginnings are hard.

Promptly at 6:00 pm we walked downstairs (there had been several power outages and the thought of being stuck in an elevator was not enticing) and joined the other nervous people waiting quietly in the lobby.

We of course had nothing to worry about.

Al and Anja, our fearless leaders, introduced themselves. We all ordered beer, and the rest is history! We are 14 travelers and two guides, varying in ages and nationalities. Marc and I along with another fellow Canadian are the oldest but not by a great deal. There are three couples including us and the rest are single (at least for now). Most are from English speaking countries, but everyone is fluent enough in English to get along just fine. And the biggest surprise is that we are not the only fools doing the whole trip. In fact most of the group are going to be around for at least two segments if not three. So we are in good company.

We have been asked to volunteer for tasks, and I gladly agreed to be hygiene monitor for the first half of the trip! What better way to be sure we stay healthy. I of course am taking my responsibility quite seriously and hope I will be able to report good stats at the end of my assignment.

The one bit of news we received that night was that our truck, that was shipped from China to India and was expected to clear customs and be waiting for us in Kathmandu, is in fact in India and has not cleared customs. Small (really big) glitch. But “No worries” as our British leader Al assures us. “We have hired a local Napali bus to get us to the border and an Indian bus to get us everywhere we need to go until our trusty truck clears customs”.

Our Hotel and grounds in Chetwan

So the bad news is we are a bit cramped and in a less than state of the art vehicle. But the good news is, until further notice, all camping is off as all of the camping equipment is in the truck! We all will manage to get past that disappointment!

We are now beginning day three and are on our way to the Indian border. If the first two days are any indication of the caliber of this trip and the amazing experiences we will be having, this is going to be the trip of a lifetime. How is a jeep safari through Chetwan Game park, bird watching canoe trip (in a hollowed out tree trunk) down a river followed by a three hour nature walk in the Jungle, A elephant ride through the jungle to view Rhinos, and an evening of folk dancing with the locals, not to mention three glorious meals a day served by our hosts.

Time to get on the bus! More later from India.

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