Saturday, November 17, 2007

The First Family Trek

I am finally getting around to writing up our trek! Usual holiday planning meant we had no plans for the Deshain holidays just the week leading up to them. We had hopes and ideas ... but no plans or reservations of any kind. Rumor had it that there were not flights to be had, domestic or international - so what to do ("ke garne" as the Nepalis say). Embassy CLO to the rescue. A group from the embassy was planning on doing a trek the exact days the embassy would be closed (which does not coincide with when school is closed - sigh) which meant no extra leave days for Bill. Our understanding was that this was a relatively easy trek - a great introduction for a family. The kids would ride in Dogas - baskets - being carried by porters. Our luggage would be carried by other porters - could they make this easier on us? We signed on the bottom line and prayed Bill's colleagues would still like us after spending six days with small children under slightly stressful circumstances:).

Day 1: Departing Kathmandu approx. 10 am .... get stuck on the ring road for two hours before ever getting out of the city. We miss our designated lunch place because we'll arrive there somewhere around dinner time. Oh well. After nine hours in a van (with a few unscheduled potty stops requested by a certain 4 yr old - once accompanying a cow in its shed) we arrive in Pokhara. We spent the night at a hotel there before beginning the actual trek the next day. I ordered a lassi. Mistake.

Day 2: Woohoo - get those hiking boots and Thamel bought trek wear on - we are goin' trekking in the Annapurnas! Due to my consumption of the lassi - I began the day with the Krud. No need to go into details here. Situation remedied beginning 24 hours later by starting a course of Cipro. Miracuous med.

So we start our trek - the weather is fabulous. The maoists want our money. Bill calls a politician in protest. Ah, such is life. A few hours later my very comfortable, well loved hiking boots start falling apart. The soles crack, peel off - it was an amazing thing to behold. So I was left with just the leather boot. "No problem" the guide tells me - we'll try to superglue them at the tea house that evening or I can buy a pair of "cheap Chinese shoes" up there to wear because, of course, there is no back up footwear option in my duffle. But then (!) - it starts raining, and then a hail storm (I am not kidding). We took shelter during the hail thankfully but after the rain subsided a bit, kept going. Now my leather boot bottoms were challenged. Rain, mud, donkey doo worked their way through the leather, around my foot. Niiiice!! The boots were trashed I'm afraid. (Aside: After contacting the manufacturer after our return - it turns out that these boots have a shelf life - who knew?)

OK enough about the shoe drama. Our incredible guide literally gave me the boots off of his feet that I wore the entire remainder of the trek. He trekked in flip flops - no kidding - and then HE wore the cheap Chinese shoes. My hero. But as I said - enough, basta, pugyo.

I better start giving the readers digest version of our trek or you will lose interest, eh? We climbed straight uphill for two days. Just imagine a very steep staircase that never, ever seems to end! The second day was actually quite difficult not just because we were climbing but also trying to acclimatize. The views were breathtaking. Waterfalls, mountain views, laboring villagers, friendly children hoping for sweets from the trekkers. We reached our highest point at Ghorepani (thus the trek is most often named "the Ghorepani Trek"). We had gorgeous twilight views of Machapuchre - or Fish Tail - mountain - the highest peak in the Annapurna range. Five members of our group did do an early morning climb to Pune Hill before breakfast. There was no way on the good green earth I was getting my kids up to do that.

On the first of the days when we were descending, we walked through a Rhododendron forest. It must be spectacular in the spring when they are flowering. Unlike the the tame variety found in suburban lawns - these were towering trees. Just amazing. The kids were delighted by the packs of Langur monkeys dancing in the trees. These forests looked positively primeval with tall trunks intertwined around each other as far as you could see in any direction.

As we got lower we returned to the waterfalls and jagged rock formation scenery. At one point there had been a landslide and someone built a four log bridge across the fast moving water that ran over the displaced rock. This wasn't exactly the strongest bit of engineering I've ever seen, but hey - everyone made it across. Last but not least was our own Lindsay. She was clinging to my leg crying and crying. The rest of our group was on the other side and up the hill an bit - could see that L was upset and assumed that it was because she was scared. This bridge was scary - it wasn't so high above the water - but if you fell it would have been bad news. Kit crossed it holding the guide's hand. (By now both girls had long since ditched their porters - another story.) But Lindsay wasn't crying because she was scared - she wanted to do it "herself". The legendary stubborness of a four year old is really something to behold. To shorten this long tale let me just say that her parents would not allow this solo voyage and tried to help her across from both ends of the bridge - she threw a fit right in the middle of the bridge and her foot got stuck between two of the logs (like I said - not a marvel of engineering) and her shoe came off and went bye bye down the river - Namaste little shoe. She spent the rest of the trek (another day) on Daddy's shoulders, back, arms etc.

The descent was definitely easier on the lungs but tough on the joints. As we saw other trekkers ascending the part of the route we were descending I was quite glad we took the killer stairs up. This part of the trek, while steep, was on far less stable terrain - lots of tree roots etc. We spent our final night in xxx just a two hour hike in the am away from our pick up point. While we had seen primarily foreigners trekking and Nepalis portering for most of the trek, the last day we saw many Nepalis who were on their way to family for the Deshain holidays. There were large groups of donkeys wearing bells who ferried supplies up and down the hills but really most things get to the top on someone's back. It makes you put a different value on a Mars bar when you know someone hauled it up there.

Final impressions? Lessons learned? Hmm - Bill and I really enjoyed it! Kit was stoic about it and was an incredible trooper doing most of her own walking on the descent. Lindsay wondered out loud "why do people walk, and walk, and walk?". Swift, well, he got whisked away by his didi-porter at every turn. He took all his naps on her back. He slept with Mom and Dad at night. Who knows what he thought. Bill's colleagues were incredibly kind and helpful with the kids. Kit commandeered a young single gal as her very own personal friend - thanks Malee. Next time .... I'll bring more socks. And maybe we'll do a pony trek:).

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Festivals and Feasts

Little boy dressed in costume for Gai Jatra. Father behind him in mourning whites holding a bag awaiting goodies from well wishers.

The Nepali festival season ended just in time for we expats to gear up for our own holiday season. Part of my goal in doing this blog over a year is to answer the question I get at home - So what is it like to live in Kathmandu? On the one hand it is like living anywhere else including home. You do the basics everyday like wake, eat, work, shop, cook, and harrass your kids - oops, I meant love on them:). The scenery however is dramatically different. Imagine being in a theatre production, doing the same show but the sets and stage hands are quite strange and unknown. I always say living in Kathmandu puts the Far in Foreign - it is quite literally on the other side of the world. It takes a couple of days and 3-4 flights to get here and when you do your body protests for a couple of weeks.

Enough about that. Back to Festivals and Feasts. This fall the photographer wanna-be in me went out to shoot all the major festivals at some of their major locales. I will attempt to post the photos here. Teej at Pashupati, Gai Jatra at Hanuman Dhoka, Indra Jatra in Durbar Square, Deshain in the mountains and Tihar in my own neighborhood.

Alas - I now turn my attention to the November cover Bird in Bon Appetit and other good recipes for the sumptuous Thanksgiving feast to come. Watch this space:)!

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

A Bat at Ballet

Only here. Yesterday I took the girls to their ballet class which is held on the other side of town in an old broken down Rana palace (same place I teach my own class). Kit didn't feel well and wanted to "watch" while Lindsay put on her pink tights and ballet outfit. It is all about the outfit. (This went much better than last year when Lindsay got kicked out for talking too much:)). So we sat on the benches outside the room. The woman I was sitting next to and I looked up and five feet from us was a little bat - just hangin' out. His eyes actually looked open but we told ourselves he was asleep. He swayed and turned a bit periodically. Creepily enough I was sitting there reading The Historian - a novel about a historian's personal quest to unravel the Dracula story. Kit named him Fred. He was kind of cute.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Shivapuri hike

So ... we drove a short way out of KTM and put children on backs and shoulders for a little hike up to Shivapuri Cottage. Super charming, fabulous views of the valley, a nice lunch. One of the guest rooms had a huge mosquito net over the bed - very Out of Africa:). The kids loved petting goats and seeing various and sundry baby animals on the hike up and back. On the way back the driver stopped so we could meet his family. His wife was selling vegetables in a barren stall on the roadside with their 1 and 5 year old little girls close by. A bunch of neigborhood kids gathered around, curious.

Also ... herself, Miss Lindsay ... turns 4 today.