December 13, 2011
We are in the Pokhara airport waiting for our flight to Kathmandu on a dual prop plane.
The fog is thick, so our flight will be delayed, just as the flight here was. On the way up, we waited for over 3 hours for our flight. No one seemed at all put out. Being delayed in Nepal creates less inconvenience for the natives than missing a green light creates for the average American.
As we wait, there are a few confidence-reducing elements of our flight experience. Here is a sampling:
I find this amusing for 2 reasons: it is my birthday (yea!) and Pearl Harbor Day (boo!). Think for a moment of the most infamous days in aviation. My top two are 9/11 and Pearl Harbor. OK, what then are the odds of Civil Aviation Day falling randomly on one of them? I think someone in the world of civil aviation in Asia has an odd sense of humor.
Please remember that my brilliant and talented wife is a highly reluctant flyer. A 737 can make her nervous. Prop planes, prayer beads and power outages do not help. I simply marvel at her stoic resolve. This is not easy for her, but she wants this experience so much for all of us that she just puts her head down and goes. Maybe we should loan her the beads.
While we wait in this clean and secure environment, I thought this would be a good time to wrap up my thoughts from the trek.
When we were in Europe, I commented on my rediscovery of the joys of walking. Walking facilitates conversation that is relaxed and thoughtful. It encourages a constant rotation of conversation partners. When strolling, we reset our internal clock to a pace that is more natural and in tune with our bodies. I found that I was more likely to truly see what was around me – the pace made me aware and the extra minutes gave me the opportunity.
Our most intense walking days in Europe were in Prague when we found the tram was not working. I am guessing we walked almost 20 miles in 3 days.
Over the past 6 days, we walked between 50 and 55 miles. We also did so in the presence of stunning beauty and abject poverty.
The former lifted our souls, the latter weighed on our hearts. We also saw that despite the poverty, the people here seemed oddly content and at peace (I plan to write a blog soon that discusses this observation). We saw animals at close range and met smiling children that gave us thumbs up.
In short, we had an environment perfectly designed for thoughtful and deep (and silly and shallow) conversation. We talked about philosophy and college and dating and drugs and humor and sports and music and pets and food and personal goals. We covered as much territory with our mouths as we did with our feet.
These talks have made us closer. They have also helped us better understand each of our children. I have noted before that we tend to think of our children as being younger than they actually are (and they think of themselves as older). This trip has forced Susie and me to absolutely update our opinions. We know exactly how mature our kids are. The three oldest are kids no more, but young adults instead. That realization is initially jarring, but ultimately satisfying. We have gotten them this far.
While I will never forget the sunrise on Poon Hill, this will be my favorite memory.
Oh Good, Noodle Soup
For 6 days and 15 meals, we ate from the same menu. We went to 10 different establishments, but saw the same menu over and over again. 3 types of omelet (plain, cheese, mushroom), 4-5 soups (noodle, vegetable noodle, mushroom, onion), 3 fried noodle dishes, 3 spaghettis and 3 macaronis (plain, cheese, tuna) and eggs cooked 5 different ways. You might think that such massive variety might never get old. You would be right.
The only variant was whether they served chicken. If so, you could have chicken in your soup, your spaghetti or your fried noodles. At one such establishment, Susie poked her head into the kitchen to check on an order of masala tea (dubbed by Terrill as “Christmas in a cup” for its spices) and she saw the preparation process. I would rather not get too graphic here. Instead, let me just assure you that our poultry was quite fresh and had probably been frolicking with Virginia minutes earlier.
Oddly, the lack of variety was the least appealing aspect of the trek for me. Hearing the Belgian man snore through whisper thin bamboo walls? No problem. Sleeping in such cold that 3 layers of clothes, a hat, a sleeping bag and blanket were all required? I’m good.
Walking 10 miles daily with over 80% being steps? My legs suffered, but I embraced the challenge.
But if I see one more bowl of Ramen style noodles with spinach in it, I might weep.
The Steam Team
On our last full day, we were descending rapidly from 6000 feet to 4000 feet. We started at 35-40 degrees, so we wore multiple layers. At lunch, we sat in the sun (with noodle soup on the table) and I decided to shed my cashmere sweater. After I did so, the rest of the family started to laugh. “Daddy, you are steaming!”
Sure enough, steam rose from my shoulders and back as if I were afire. I asked Susie if this was because I am so darn hot.
Sadly, she said no.
A Canine Expressionist
While walking, we often found ourselves accompanied by dogs. Since rabies is highly common in Nepal, we avoided any contact with them (if you have a 10-year old daughter, you know how difficult this can be), but that did not stop the dogs from hanging out with us.
Some were incredibly healthy looking; others less so.
One particular fellow was extra sorry looking. He had a dirty yellow coat and was missing half an ear. We felt a need to name him – Vincent Van Dog.
As we talked with Cool Sir on the last days, we learned that he is an even more interesting person than we had thought.
Around 12 years ago, he guided a 27-day trek that paid him over $60/day. Upon the completion of the trek, he found himself with almost $2,000 – a king’s ransom in his mind. As a frame of reference, a teacher makes $1,000 in a year. He wondered what to do with his newly earned fortune.
In his community, the closest school required crossing a stream. At least, it was a stream most of the time. During monsoon season, the stream became an impassable river. As a result, each year, kids from his village fell 3-4 months behind their peers. After 6th or 7th grade, they typically dropped out as they were embarrassed to be in grades behind their peers.
Cool Sir’s solution was to build and fund a school. His wife cannot read or write. His first 2 children did not get an education, But his school assured that his last 3 kids and the rest of the village is getting a better education. He is an extraordinary man.
Our kids have chosen to share some of their own savings with him to help with the school. This trip has been even more educational than I had hoped.