Before delving in to telling you all about Nepal and everything it has to offer, I need to get something off my chest: Nepal kicked our asses, like full blown kung fu roundhouse kick straight to the butt.
We’ve been traveling over three months, and luckily have had few things go wrong – no flight delays, no lost baggage, no illnesses… until Nepal. I feel the need to describe the absolute insanity that is Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal. It all starts with getting off the plane – never have I ever been on a plane where everyone was in such a rush to get off: cutting in line, pushing and shoving, dropping bags on heads – complete and total madness. After walrus stomping our way off the plane, we made our way into the airport, and the whole thing is pretty confusing and hectic – lines formed all over the place for seemingly different reasons, but with no real direction on what lines to go in when. Anywho, $80 later and after figuring out the line sitch, we worked our way through immigration per ushe. Mind you, we were the last ones to go through immigration, so it could only be so hard. Following immigration, everything seemed calm and normal until turning the corner to the baggage claim. HUNDREDS and I mean HUNDREDS of people crowded around the same small baggage claim, each claiming at least three Patrick-sized bags all wrapped up in plastic wrap. Two hours later (not kidding), Patrick and I were still waiting for our last bag to arrive, ya know… the one with ALL of my clothes in it. We came to the conclusion that it’s wasn’t coming, completed the paperwork, and finally made our way to the exit.
After some serious guilt tripping from our cab driver on having to wait at the airport for two hours (nothing he said a crisp Hamilton couldn’t fix), we headed on into this brand new exotic city! Suddenly, there was an explosion to the senses – dust clouds filled the air, confusing smells of food and cow poop filled our noses, goat heads being sold on street corners, all while being tossed around in the back of a cab, not sure of whether Napalis drive on the right or the left side of the road because both sides always seemed to be going into head on traffic.
Because of the bag delay, we had to push our trek out a few days, which gave us some extra time to explore Kathmandu… wearing the same outfit everyday, underwear and all. Well, to be honest, on day two I caved in and bought some of those flowy elephant pants, and haven’t changed since. Nepal is the first place we’ve been where every tourist looks like they’re wearing pajamas, so I sure as heck was not going to pass up the opportunity to join in!
As you all might remember, Nepal got hit with an astronomical earthquake back in 2015 killing nearly 9,000 people and injuring another 22,000. Well Kathmandu took one of the biggest hits both structurally and economically. When walking around the city, especially in Durbar Square, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, you see the devastating effects the earthquake had on the temples, homes, and roads encompassed within the city limits. With the help of multiple countries (USA included), there are currently recovery projects taking place all over the city to get the infrastructure back to where it was prior to the earthquake. Our guide couldn’t help but add a jibe that while China was nearly finished with it’s sponsored re-building projects, the United States was still in meetings about how to begin theirs. If you are considering a visit to Nepal, now is a great time to do it – they really could use more tourist dollars to get the country back into the shape it once was… just don’t forget to pack your patience.
So back to the craziness of our Nepal experience: After a few days of wearing the same flowy elephant pants, we finally got word that my bag had landed! This meant we could head out on our 10 day trek to the Annapurna Base Camp – yay! The next morning, we met our guide, Kumar, and porter, Prim, and departed out on our big Himalayan adventure. Patrick and I did A LOT of preparation for this trek – as in we started carb-loading way back in Australia. Hey, the website said anyone with a can-do attitude can finish the trek!
Now, for some context, Patrick and I are not trekkers. We’ve never done an overnight hike, never summited a “real” mountain, heck, we’ve never even been “real” camping together. So why sign up for Nepal? Easy, the trekking in Nepal is tea-house trekking. This means that at the end of each day, you find yourself at a cozy little teahouse to retire in – fully equipped with a restaurant and hostel-type accommodation. This was trekking we could get behind. The best part? You get to say Namaste to everyone you meet along the way!
It all begins with a brisk 6-7 (or in our case 9) hour bus ride to the city of Pokhara. Keep in mind that this 9 hour bus ride covers only 204 km (127 miles) – approximately the same distance between Richmond, VA and Washington D.C. All of a sudden that three hour drive stuck in traffic doesn’t seem too bad, right? The drive is also advertised to be all ‘highway,’ which in Nepal is code for a dusty, narrow road impacted regularly by what must be large asteroids leaving extinction-event level craters. During the bus ride, I couldn’t help but notice the man in front of me constantly blowing his nose, coughing, and quite honestly looking like crap. I thought to myself “that’s nasty… who would choose to go trekking that sick” and moved on to my ever convincing fear that the bus was going to tumble off the un-barriered cliffside.
After a night in Pokhara, we started out on our trek up to the Annapurna Base Camp also known as the ABC. The first day was pretty awesome and relatively easy, making us feel pretty darn good about the days to come. Boy were we wrong!
Day 2 of the ABC trek starts of with a debilitating 3,400 stone stairs. Imagine hopping onto the Stairmaster and setting it for seven straight hours of pure agony… well that’s essentially what Day 2 of the ABC trek entailed. Oh and remember that gross guy on the bus? Turns out he had the flu, and graciously passed it on to me. By the end of day two I had gotten so sick that I was no longer eating, and when I did eat, it would not stay down.
After a good cry on the morning on day three, I set my teeth and we headed out towards the day’s destination (which was conveniently located straight up some more stairs). After a few hundred steps, it became clear the flu was not something I could climb over. We chatted with the guide, and in order to prevent a possible helicopter med-evac, we made the decision to start making our way down the mountain.
Two grueling days of trekking later we were back at our starting point – time to put the elephant pants back on.
This was a huge blow to Patrick and I. Something we had been so excited about ended up being cut far too short due to something out of our control. And the worst part was that I had multiple days of nothing to do but lay in bed and think about how we failed and how crappy it all felt. I’m going to be honest here: being sick while traveling in a developing country made me really really miss home, even though we don’t technically have a “home” per se. I started to look up houses for sale and dogs for adoption. I started imaging what it would be like if we showed up to the Kathmandu Airport, and instead of getting on our next flight to our next destination, we got on a flight back to America. But after four self-pity-filled bed ridden days in a hotel in Pokhara, Patrick and I decided that we had to do something, go somewhere, that would make up for this epic failure. Queue Chitwan National Park.
Another long ass trip later (6 hours, 56 miles), we found ourselves in a part of Nepal away from all of the chaos, dust clouds, and goat heads of the big cities. We finally felt like we could relax and enjoy the thing we love most about traveling: seeing animals do their thang in the wild. Chitwan National Park is home to tons of animals including tigers, Asian elephants, crocodiles, and one-horned rhinos. After skimming a few pages of the Lonely Planet guide to Chitwan, and therefore becoming experts on the location, we headed out on a safari hoping to see all of the deadly animals (drop bears included).
For every ten square kilometers in Chitwan, you can expect to find one tiger and five rhinos, which is great news if you are on a jeep safari. Not so great news if your husband is a cheapskate and therefore opts to do the walking safari for 1/10th the price. The first twenty minutes of our walking safari was devoted to our guide explaining all the different ways the animals of Chitwan can kill you and what to do if they become agressive. My personal favorite was the tiger. If you encounter an aggressive tiger, we were told to run for our lives and maybe find a tree to climb. We were also told a few moments later by our other guide that the “tiger is much faster than humans and is an excellent tree climber.”
Nonetheless, we plunged into the jungle with nostrils wide open (our guide explained that the best way to find rhinos was to smell them out). There is something humbling about walking on foot alongside ten foot tall elephant grass that is the preferred habitat of the Bengal Tiger, and knowing that an adult rhino’s instinct reaction to humans is to sometimes charge right at them. Luckily for our thousands of readers, we made it through the jungle in one piece. We didn’t find the Bengal Tiger, but we did manage to sniff our way to a pair of rhinos relaxing in the mud. And you really could smell them from far away… like Patrick after a soccer game, but a little more pleasant. As for tigers, the closest we got was hearing one hunt a few monkeys in the jungle across a small waterway.
All in all, Nepal put us to the test and nearly sent us packing, but we scraped our way to the jungle and made it out alive. We may not be cut out for trekking, but we can sniff out animals all day long, which is the perfect skill for our next travel destination: Borneo!
Extending our honeymoon to the 130 million year old rainforest,
Samantha & Patrick
Days Abroad: 111
Flights Taken: 20 (includes connections)
Miles Traveled: 23,205
Bags Lost: 1
Flights Delayed: 0
Countries Visited: 5 (minimum stay of 48 hours)
Dives Logged (This trip): 55