Monday, 7 May 2012

Nepal, the final round (April 27 - May 7, 2012)

Alright friends, it's your last blog post from Nepal! Strap it on, I think this one might be a whopper ("strap it on" is a phrase I have picked up from my latest Stephen King book).

We left off at diarrhea, right? Excellent place to start. I had booked Mariah and myself in for a totally stupid idea on April 27th, so the night before I loaded up on Immodium because there was NO way I was going to literally crap my pants. Unfortunately when I showed up at 5:45am that morning to pick Mariah up she was already crapping her pants. She stole my water bottle and went back to bed. Her friend, Annika, and I continued on to The Last Resort. The Last Resort is an adventure company on the border of Nepal and Tibet that sets up canyoning (repelling down waterfalls), white water rafting, high ropes and... most importantly... bungee jumping/canyon swinging. The suspension bridge that you jump off is 160m above the ground, which makes it the highest canyon swing in the world. IN THE WORLD, people! There's a 6-7 second free fall before you swing across the gorge. Needless to say, I have been scared out of my mind for the past two weeks because, as most of you know, I have a crippling fear of heights (I'm pretty sure there's a video on my facebook of me a few years ago at the CN Tower, that should give you an idea). I mean, I don't even like step ladders! What the titters was I thinking? Anyways, you have to cross the suspension bridge to get to the resort, which I'm convinced is the lithmus test to make sure all participants can actually manage to get themselves across the bridge. I managed this only by staring straight ahead. Everyone around me was saying "oh hey, it's not that high, this isn't so bad." Speak for yourselves crazy people! Our safety briefing did nothing to calm my nerves (in hindsight the safety briefing was kind of irrelevant, because you forget absolutely everything as soon as you step out onto the platform). I have to say though, the scariest part of the whole thing was definitely getting weighed infront of everyone... and they call your weight out... AND they write it on your hand in permanent marker! (okay, if I survive this I'm definitely not eating anymore Snickers bars. Okay, well maybe just not as many Snickers bars. Except right after I get back from this, because that totally does not count).

Despite the Snickers bars I was still in the lightest group, so on to the bridge we went! I told the canyon swinger ahead of me "hey! Don't get any blood on my harness, okay?" And we all had a laugh (I was inwardly crying, and half-serious). At some point or another I will get around to uploading the video to youtube so you can all see it for yourself (it's too big for facebook, in a MB sort of way), but here's the run down. "This was the WORST idea ever! The WORST! Oh christ on a cracker. SHIT! Why am I here, the worst, this is the worst!" Ma'am, please step under the railing (at the centre of the bridge there is a cut-out on one side, so you duck under the railing and out onto the open platform that you jump from). "Is my harness tight enough?! Oh shit, oh shit!" Okay now, just under the railing here. [Vicki ducks under the railing] "OH MY GOD, OH GOD NO!!!! Okay, no, wait a second, just wait a second. I'm okay. It's fine. I'm not looking down. [looks down]. OH GOOOOD!!!!!! [grabs the handrail] Ma'am, just step forward here... at this point I scrunch up my face in terror (I remember this only because it was captured on the video) and try not to think about the fact that I am about to fall all the way down there. And then I am falling, and screaming, oh goodness the screaming. About halfway down I realize my eyes are shut and I think "Vicki, you paid $100 for this, you open your eyes RIGHT NOW woman!" And I did, and I screamed some more, but then you are swinging and then it's fun :) (and then you have to climb back up the canyon and it's not so fun, lol). All in all it was a hilarious day and I met some really great people. I'm certainly glad that I did it, but I have no desire to do it again... ever ever! I have sweaty palms just thinking about it... The best part was watching the video, especially how it looks like I am trying to "run" as I free fall (because yeah Vicki, that's definitely going to help you not die). Bodies are funny things.

The next week-ish was a horror show of illness. At one point, shivering uncontrollably with a 105F fever, I realized that if I had not canceled Jordan I would have been in the sweltering Dubai airport, beginning my 23 hour layover. Now, I don't believe in fate, but oh sweet mother thank goodness things turned out as they did, lol. My lymph nodes swelled up to tender softballs and I had a perma-headache for days on end (hello Tylenol). I caved and ended up taking antibiotics and, wouldn't you know it, it fixed it! I woke up the next morning and for the first time in weeks did not feel like dying! Deciding to take advantage of the good turn I went to Bhaktapur that morning. Bhaktapur contains the third (and arguably, best) Durbar Square in Nepal (remember the other two that I went to?). It really was awesome to be there so early in the morning. Even though I didn't beat the ticket collectors (damn!) I did get to see all the Nepali women and men blessing the statues on their way to work. There were almost no other tourists around, it was quiet and I really couldn't have asked for a better morning.

The last few days in Kathmandu have been spent eating with friends and lots of reflection and reading (I especially wanted to reflect with Mariah and Henry at Cabin in the Woods, but the cinema was having technical difficulties, so I guess my crappy horror movie fix will have to wait for Canada :). Mariah left two days ago, and we gave her a proper sending off! The best bit was that as we were saying goodbye there was a beggar boy looking very forlorn and asking her for money. Upon seeing that we were taking pictures though he leaned in and gave us the biggest smile, lol. I think perhaps it's my favourite picture from Nepal.

And so this brings me to my last day in Nepal! The Nepal of Rickshaw? Taxi? Tiger balm? Yes, excuse me, hello, miss, hello? The fruit vendors and the homeless boys that sleep with the homeless dogs. The spitting and the guttural bodily noises. The great sticky gobs of phlegm on the roads and the pigeon poop that covers the temples. The children asking for "one rupee" and the man always trying to sell me that tiny fiddle (who the titters buys those things?!). The cacophony of noise, the almost getting run over by impatient motorbikes (hey lady, I did honk at you), the pollution, the brazen children peeing in the streets and the sacred cows that take their sacred time crossing the road. There's also the internet cafe guy who knows my favourite computer and the kids playing badmitton in the streets on strike days. The women in brightly coloured saris and the Nepali boy at my guesthouse who sits outside my room at night and quietly recites his English homework. There are the old men that buy pastries for the stray dogs, the waking up to the sound of bells and the smell of incense, the multi-faith temples and the fact that two male friends can walk hand in hand and it's not strange. I like the wobbly thing the Nepalese do with their heads that looks like "no" but really means "okay," I like that fruit juice is made with fruit, that you do your laundry by hand, and I even like showering with buckets (and you know what? I've had 2 hot showers over the past 5 months and I'm okay with that).

It's hard to believe that in Nepal I have volunteered in an orphanage, gone on an elephant back safari, taken a 10-day meditation course, shaved my head and found time to jump off a bridge. I feel so lucky to have spent 3 months in Pokhara at Himalayan Children's Care Home, even though it feels like a million years ago. I learned from volunteering that I am not exceptional and that the kids teach you far more than you teach them. Most volunteers have the impression that they're going to ride in on their 'white' horse (I note the metaphor) and save these poor desolate children, and what a rude shock you are in for. These 'poor' children are some of the most bright, happy and illuminating children you will meet. And you? Well, you are inadequate, illequipped and have been somewhat selfish in your imaginings... and the best part is that all of that doesn't really matter if you're prepared to smile and love unreservedly, because that is enough. So you see, it all works itself out in the end. I'm so grateful to the kids for all they gave me, and also to the staff and volunteers that I shared pieces of this experience with. Brittany (my first roommate!) for always being positive and for her genuine emotion with the kids; Alyssa for the refreshing no-crap approach to life and for great laughs; Rachel for hours of conversation and mutual morality; Kat for always, always making me feel like I belonged in my own skin; Nora for her bright personality, never-ending stories and only-child understanding :); Nicole for her pure heart and unexpected vulgarity; and Mariah for her embodiment of everything that means friendship. Thanks to Olivia for buying us all M&Ms on Losar, Dave for the BEST story I have ever head, Eladio for always knowing where the best places to eat were, Mena and Alaina for saying nice things about my bald head, Tom for sending me that great list about London, Tashi for letting Nicole and I steal his laptop to watch Vampire Diaries (team Stefan!), John for telling me that rank story about his gyno rotation in med school, Peter for being a genuinely nice guy and for showing me where that great temple was... and especially to all of you that stopped the bus from leaving without me on that first trip to Pokhara! (there are lots more people and lots more stories, but you get the idea :)

I don't think there's any perfect place to find yourself. Whether I'm eating gelato in Lisbon, culturing bacteria in Guelph, or getting harassed to buy tiger balm in Kathmandu, I'm still me. "Wherever you go, there you are," right? The best part about traveling for me has not been to discover the world, but to discover my own world. Removing yourself from your daily routine affords you the opportunity to see what things remain the same. Maybe I wake up in a foul mood... one I may, back home, have attributed to a co-worker, or a deadline, etc. But nope, here I am, in Nepal, with none of those things. So hey, maybe my crappy mood this particular morning is all on me? And that, that is what I think the value of traveling is. To realize that your problems follow you because you create your own problems, which also means that you always have the option to be happy and optimistic, because you are totally in control (even when you're not).

Tomorrow morning at 6:30am I'll (hopefully) be in a taxi and on my way to the Kathmandu airport. I have a 3 hour stopover in Delhi and then it's on to London for two weeks. I don't have a clue what the internet situation will be there, so bear with me! Thanks again for reading, we're almost there ;)

Love from Nepal (for the last time),

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