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Photo Friday – Temples in Nepal

29 Mar

Today’s photo comes to you courtesy of Justin.  He snapped this awesome temple-top and prayer flag photo somewhere just outside of Kathmandu.  While I was busy burning up in the hospital, I insisted Justin head out for some sightseeing with a friend we made while trekking the Annapurna Circuit.  I really wish I would have been able to go with him, but we at least have some photos of the places he visited.  Unfortunately, he didn’t bother to write down where they were going…so we don’t know exactly where this was.  Do you know?  If you do, let us know in the comments!

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The Nepal Roundup

23 Oct

The Statistics

Number of days spent in country –  31

Cities/towns visited – Kathmandu, Bhulbule, Ghermu, Karte, Chame, Upper Pisang, Manang, Ledar, Muktinath, Kagbeni, Jomsom

Number of different lodgings – 16

Flights – 1

Bus journeys – 3

Taxi  journeys – 11

Rounds of antibiotics – Justin-1, Ashley-5

The Budget

Total US dollar amount spent – $1289 including visa fees of $80 for the two of us and $188 for air tickets from Jomsom to Pokhara.

In addition, we incurred $1500 in hospital bills.  Our insurance paid for everything except the overnight fees, which were far more than the maximum covered amount of $50 per night that World Nomads provides.  We didn’t include that bill in the general roundup cost breakdowns since it was more than we spent otherwise for the entire month.  Incidentally, if you get very ill while in Kathmandu, the CIWEC clinic, just across from the British Embassy, is the place to be.  It’s clean and staffed with mostly Western doctors who speak a variety of languages.

Average cost per day, per person – $21.50 If you take the plane tickets out of the equation (you can take busses that will save you nearly the entire cost of the flight…though we felt the cost was WELL worth it considering how scary the bus rides were) that number drops to around $18.  If you only ate at cheap local places and really hunted for the most basic economic rooms, you could probably live on $12 per day.

Average lodging cost per night, per person – $2.70

Most expensive lodging, per person – $5.60 for a double room with bathroom and AC at the Karma Travelers Hotel in Kathmandu.  We booked this online specifically because they included an airport pickup and it was recommended in the guidebook.  We stayed only two nights before we found better, and cheaper accommodation elsewhere.

Least expensive lodging, per person –  $.56 for a double room with shared bath at the Hotel Nilgiri in Manang on our Annapurna Hike. This place had fantastic yak cheese and fresh bread for sale.

Average food/drink cost per day, per person – $8.90.  Breakfast was not included at any of our hotels and we generally ate three meals per day.  Accommodation is cheap on the Annapurna Circuit, but you spend quite a bit on food.  In Kathmandu we ate at more Western-style restaurants, which were more expensive, but it was what we were craving after 13 day of Dhal Baht on the trail. We had only four beers the entire time we were in Nepal as it was relatively expensive and we didn’t drink while trekking.

The Best

Rooftop at the Hotel Backpackers Inn

Hotel Backpackers Inn in Kathmandu – We stayed here for 2 nights before our trek, and then for two weeks afterwards.  We left our luggage there during the trek, including our computers, and there were no problems since they have lockers that you can store your valuables in and you are responsible for the keys. Pre-trek our room was $9 per night for a double room with a fan, private bathroom, TV, and wifi.  After the trek we negotiated a rate of $6.75 per night since we knew we were staying for longer than a few nights.  Prices would definitely be higher during peak season.  The managers were very kind and helped Justin with contacting the embassy for doctor recommendations when I was sick.

OR2K in Kathmandu – This restaurant has good Middle Eastern food, including a mezza platter that was big enough for Justin and I to split.  They also make really good salads.

Beef Noodles

Chinese (Sichuan) Restaurant next to Hotel Backpacker’s Inn in Kathmandu –  An excellent spot for a cheap meal, they have some hilarious menu translations that include things like ‘Tiger Skin Fry Pepper’ and ‘And Pulled A Red Leather’.  We ate a variety of things there, but our favorites were the Rice with King Pao Chicken and the Beef Noodles, which is a HUGE and delicious vat of soup.

Northfield Café in Kathmandu – Justin has a burrito problem.  This was the only place we had been in the last few months that served a burrito that was even close to what he wanted it to be like.  They have a good mix of food, nice outdoor seating, and live music every night.  It’s a little pricey, but that’s what you have to expect if you want passable Western food.

Monsoon season? I don’t see any monsoon!

The Annapurna Circuit – We dove right into this classic hike, despite the fact that it was the middle of the monsoon season and we were in no kind of shape for a trek this big.  It turned out to be one of the greatest experiences of our lives and I wouldn’t go back and change a single thing, leeches, blisters, dramatic meltdowns and all.  We met wonderful people, pushed ourselves harder than we thought possible, and fell in love with the spectacular scenery.  If you are in Nepal, make time for a trek, even if it’s a short one.

The insanity that is the backpacker area of Thamel in Kathmandu. You can buy just about anything here…

Shopping – We didn’t do much shopping here, partly because I didn’t have the energy after I was sick, and partly because we don’t have any room in our packs.  However, if you want cheap mountain gear, this is the place to be.  There are literally hundreds of stores selling knock-offs of everything you can imagine, from backpacks to down jackets, to sleeping bags and poles and water bottles and….the list goes on and on.  Certain things, like backpacks and boots, I’d be wary of since they won’t fit or function as well, but otherwise you can get some great deals here.  We rented knock-off sleeping bags for the trek (at a whopping .50 cents per day) and they were fantastically warm and comfortable.  We could have bought a down “North Face” sleeping bag for about $20. When we come back I’m going to arrive with an empty suitcase and just buy all my gear there.  Make sure you bargain, the first offer price is usually very ambitious.

The Worst

Typical crowded bus

The bus rides.  I mean, we thought we took some scary rides in S. America, but the rides in Nepal were literally the most terrifying experiences of our lives.  I am not kidding when I say that more than once I thought we might actually tumble down a cliff in one of these death traps on wheels.  In fact, according to some statistics (please know that in a place like Nepal the statistics are a bit vague, so don’t think these numbers are carved in stone…) there are over 1,500 deaths per year due to buses tumbling off the sides of the mountains.

On our bus from Kathmandu to Besi Shahar to start the Annapurna Circuit, we saw the wreckage of one bus that had already crashed down the cliff to the river below AND we passed a dump truck that had just started to go over the edge, fortunately it was only half off the cliff and I’m pretty sure that was only because the back end was full of rocks.

We took a smaller bus to another little town that same day and it was swaying back and forth as it tried to go up a tiny cliff-side road that was completely washed out in some places, and so muddy and rutted in others that the wheels were spinning and we were almost sliding backwards at one point.  The bus was completely overloaded with four people in seats made for two, and yet more people packed like sardines into the isle.  In addition, there was something like 15 people on the roof (which, as it turns out, might be the safest place to be since in a fall you can just fling yourself off the bus and hope for the best instead of tumbling all the way down the mountain inside it), along with everyone’s luggage, a goat, three or 4 baskets full of chickens and 8 or 10 full propane tanks.   I was having a visible panic attack at this point and a little boy next to us decided this would be the perfect time to pipe up and proclaim “This very danger part! Sometimes the bus fall down…”

We had a choice of transport – airplane or bus – to get us from Jomsom to Pokhara at the end of our trek.  We know a couple who opted for the bus route back to save money, and after one day they decided they would just walk for the next four days to get back rather than risk one more minute on the bus.  We went for the plane, which brings me to the second worst thing in Nepal.

Our itty bitty plane

The tiny 15-seater propeller airplanes that fly through the mountains – we took one of these from Jomsom to Pokhara to avoid two or three days worth of bus rides like the ones I just described, and it comes in a close second as far as scary moments go for us.

The flight in and of itself turned out not to be so bad, but the anticipation was pretty awful since we could see the wreckage of a flight that had crashed into the mountain right above the town just a few months before.

Not my favorite thing to look at while heading down the runway.

It freaked me out just having to look at it from the town, but when we got into the plane and I realized I could see it out my window as we were heading down the runway I just about lost it.  I’ve never had so many panic attacks as I did in Nepal.  The woman sitting behind Justin had a death grip on his shoulder and was praying vigorously the entire flight.  Still, given the choice between this and a bus, I choose this.

Photo Friday – Himalayan Horses

19 Oct

We’re getting ready to post our ‘Nepal Roundup’ early next week and we came across this snapshot while we were sifting through our Nepal photos.  These types of horse caravans carry everything from construction supplies to fresh eggs to some of the hardest to reach villages along the Annapurna Circuit.  The men who lead the horses walk beside them and direct them almost entirely with different whistling sounds.  On this particular day it was incredibly foggy and at times we couldn’t see more than 10 or 15 feet in front of us.  The horses wear bells to alert walkers to their presence and we heard this caravan for quite a while before we came out of the mist and almost crashed right into them!

Photo Friday – Prayer Wheels in Nepal

28 Sep

One of our favorite parts of hiking in Nepal was coming across one of the many prayer wheel walls.  Some were ornate and meticulously cared for, while others were made of old coffee cans with the prayers hand painted on them.  We always took care to walk down the correct side, and spin each wheel as we passed by.

Photo Friday – The Annapurna Circuit, Nepal

7 Sep

Hiking up to the Thorong-La Pass on the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal was one of the most difficult days of our 12 day trek.  We were both feeling a bit loopy from the altitude, and I had been battling a little headache since the night before, which was creating a bunch of stress about whether I was going to suffer the consequences of altitude sickness before I managed to make it to the top of the pass.  We were so immersed in our own thoughts that it took a while for us to notice that the thick fog that we’d been hiking through for the last hour was no longer surrounding us.  We turned around and realized that we’d broken through the clouds and could finally see some of the peaks behind us.  We had just a few minutes of this view before the clouds rose up and obscured the views again.  It was a good reminder to stop every once in a while and take a look at the majesty that surrounded us.

The Nepal Curveball

5 Sep

We went to Nepal to get away from the cities and the pollution and the general chaos of constant travel.  We knew that hiking the Annapurna Circuit would be both challenging and rewarding, and our entire trip to this lovely country revolved around the hike.  That is, until I got sick.

We had just finished our 150 kilometer trek and we were incredibly sore, but feeling really good about successfully carrying our own gear and still making it all the way through on our original schedule.  I went to bed that night dreaming of relaxing back in Kathmandu with a giant burger and a beer.

The next morning I woke up feeling, off. It was cloudy and we suspected our flight out of Jomsom would be cancelled, but we dragged ourselves out of bed at 6am and headed to the airport anyways.  By 8am it was crystal clear that not only was the flight not going to happen, but also that I was getting sick.  I spent the next 20 hours attempting to fight off a fever and shivering uncontrollably despite being buried in both of our sleeping bags AND two huge blankets.  I figured this was my body’s way of getting back at me for all the long and punishing days of hiking.

The next morning I still felt unwell, but our flight was set to go so I rallied myself and managed to survive both the flight as well as the very long and bumpy bus ride back to Kathmandu.  I figured once I had a good shower and some clean clothes I would be feeling much better.

I was wrong.

Justin kindly took a photo of me feeling quite ill. In retrospect, I don’t look nearly as bad as I felt at this point.

I woke up in the middle of the night, feverish again, and started to worry that something was really wrong.  By the next afternoon I still had the fever and it seemed to be getting worse.  We started to think I might have gotten malaria, despite taking anti-malarial meds all through India.  Justin called the US Embassy to get a recommendation for a doctor and we were directed to the CIWEC clinic, which caters mostly to foreigners and expats.

A few hours and many vials full of blood later I was informed that I would not be going back to the hotel that day.  The good news is that I didn’t have Malaria.  The not so good news is that they thought I had Typhoid Fever, though they sent out some blood cultures just to be sure.

Typhoid Fever is typically transmitted to travelers by an infected person who does not wash up properly after using the toilet, and then prepares food.   I had gotten the vaccine but the doctor said that while it’s ok to have, it’s really not much more protection than having an umbrella with a huge hole in it during a thunderstorm.

I was started on a series of both oral and IV antibiotics and told that the fever would likely not be getting any better until the infection was cleared.  They were right. I had a raging fever, reaching 102.5 – 103 degrees most days, for a total of 10 days.  The fever was accompanied by stomach pain, a complete inability to eat more than a few bites of toast at a time, and some of the worst headaches I’ve ever had.

During one of my better moments I manage to use the hospital’s wi-fi to break up the monotony of the day.

After a few days the blood tests came back, but they were all negative.  After that I had to give blood samples every few days so that they could test for other types of bacteria and viruses, and in the meantime they added two more antibiotics to the mix just to cover all the bacterial bases.

Finally, after what seemed like an eternity in the hospital, though it was really just about a week, the fever broke and stayed away for 24 hours.  Armed with baggies full of the rest of the antibiotics, I was released from the clinic, even though there was never a definitive diagnosis as to what I had.  The medical records I was given when we left the hospital state that it was a case of “possible Typhoid” since the blood tests apparently often come back negative when up to 50% of the time they should be positive.  It’s been 5 days, I’ve finished the antibiotics, and am finally feeling more like myself again.

After all our time preparing for the Annapurna trek, it’s frustrating that we didn’t have any time to revel in the accomplishment immediately after completing the journey.  The illness came on so fast, and so strong, that it seems like that’s the only thing that happened in Nepal.  We’ve finally managed to pull the hundreds of photos of the hike off our memory cards and now we need to sit down and make a point to go through them and focus on those 12 days of struggle and success so that the better memories can rise up to the surface and overtake the blur that the fever created.

In the meantime, we are hanging out in Thailand, re-acquainting ourselves with our old friend ‘beer’, and making plans to go visit my brother, who lives a life full of awesome on a little island in the Gulf of Thailand.

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