Outdoors

Cambodia and Laos border crossing and 4000 Islands adventure

The route we decided on had us heading north to Laos from Phenom Penh. We had received some sound advice to stop in Kratie to break up the long bus ride to the border, so that is what we did. We didn’t arrive in Kratie until after dark, so we essentially used it as a hub city and didn’t do much exploring. From what we did see, it seemed like a pretty sleepy town that didn’t have too much going on. You could take a river tour on the Mekong and look for Irrawaddy dolphins, but you can also do that in Laos, which is where we were headed.

After reading about the border crossing and talking to a couple of tourist offices and hotels, we decided to book the combined, mini van, bus, bus, and boat ticket to 4000 islands in Laos. The border between Cambodia and Laos is apparently very sleepy and not many buses or taxis are waiting on either side. So, if you don’t do a combined bus ticket, then you might not have a ride. This is one of those moments where Dave and I know we don’t want to do the tourist bus border crossing-any organized border crossing can be riddled with scams-but don’t really have any other options, so we go for it.

Well, the mini van, which took two hours, was late to arrive at the bus drop off. This was because they were waiting to fill the van, and by fill, they mean add an extra person to every row. This means 4 people sit where 3 people should actually be sitting…aka luxury travel. This delay made the bus driver annoyed with all of us because he had to wait. Thankfully this ride to the border was short and there was plenty of space for everyone.

On the way to the border the bus worker was asking everyone if he could have their passports and the money needed to get a visa for Laos. He explained that if he got all of the visas and stamps, versus each of us individually, it would go much faster. Right away buzzers went off in our heads that this was definitely a scam. At about the same time, another traveler from China also had the same feelings. The bus worker was telling us that it would cost a US citizen $45 for a visa. We are usually pretty good about knowing what it would cost, but our book only had a range of what it could be based on your nationality. We also knew there would be some miscellaneous fees they would charge for stamping just to get more money out of us. So all in all, we didn’t really know if it was $45 or less.

We, of course, asked many questions to see if this was a scam and if the guy doing it got any money out of it. He repeatedly told us it wasn’t a scam and this is how much it will cost and assured us that we could ask anyone at the border and if it was different he would give us back the money. We asked many times if we could just do it by ourselves. He implied that if we did it ourselves that it would take too long and the bus wouldn’t wait for us on the other side. When we enter a new country we have no idea what they would or wouldn’t do in regards to leaving behind tourists. So Dave, Jen, our Chinese friend, and I all agreed to give him money and if the price was different we’d get any extra money back.

Once we reached the border, the bus worker headed off with all of our passports and visas. Both Dave and our new Chinese friend wanted to follow him and ask the workers how much it was, but the bus worker was adamant that if they did that, it would cost more and go slower.  They were only allowed to ask the fellow tourists on the bus, which were obviously getting charged the same as us. Dave and our Chinese friend were just as adamant about finding out the true cost and not getting scammed out of money. They had followed him and asked him at every check point how much everything was and eventually broke him down to the point where he said “alright, I get $1 from the cut” but when they did the math he was actually get $5 from every person. That is a lot of money for someone living in Laos and for people traveling on a budget. They had pestered and harassed him enough so he finally gave them their money back, but Dave was concerned he was going to tell the bus driver to leave with out us. Turns out, he wasn’t even coming with us on the bus to 4000 islands and his threat of the bus leaving was completely made up. Thanks to the insistent Dave and our Chinese friend, the four of us didn’t lose $4 and we made it to Don Khone no problem.

One of the many knock off Oreos we tried. Still Stereos are not as good as Oreos.

One of the many knock off Oreos we tried. Still Stereos are not as good as Oreos.

Dave and our Chinese friend fighting to keep our money.

Dave and our Chinese friend fighting to keep our money.

Final boat ride to Don Khone.

Final boat ride to Don Khone.

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One of the main reason for coming to Don Khone was for the Irrawaddy river dolphins. The book recommended we see them either early in the morning or late afternoon. We had decided to check them out early in the morning. The boat launch was a good 4 km (2.5 miles) away from our hotel. This was too far to walk, so we decided to rent bicycles the night before and ride them early the next morning.

We went for an evening stroll to test out the bikes and remind our bodies of our cycling skills. Our little stroll provided both beautiful scenery of the Island and an awesome sunset.

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Our first of Beer Lao.

Our first of Beer Lao.

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The next morning we headed out early so we could see the dolphins when they are most active. About 3/4 of the way there we hear a loud bang noise. Both Dave and I turned around and see Jen slowing down with a popped tired. We knew we were closer to our destination than where we came from, so we tried different tactics to get the three of us to the boat landing. Jen took Dave’s bike and Dave and I tried to ride on the bike together and hold the one with the flat tire at the same time. We’ve seen many, many people ride two people to a bicycle and hold crazy things, so it would be easy. Yeah right! We had a really hard time trying to balance just the two of us on the bike and then we had a bicycle that didn’t roll very easily on the side. We tried for about 5 minutes and gave up. Dave just started running with the bike next to him. Thankfully we were only a 2 min. jog away. We found a boat captain and headed on the river and would deal with the tire after.

Amazingly enough, we got to see some dolphins. There was one or two that were active that morning. It was very hard to catch them on camera, but we got one good shot and one ok shot. They are very quick and camera shy.

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The best shot we have of the dolphins. They have short noses, not long like the common dolphins we're used to seeing.

The best shot we have of the dolphins. They have short noses, not long like the common dolphins we’re used to seeing.

Just barely got a snap shot of one here.

Just barely got a snap shot of one here.

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After the dolphin viewing we found a person that was willing to look at and repair Jen’s flat tire while we ate breakfast. He got a new inner tube put in pretty quickly and then started to pump up the tire.. In the process of pumping up the tire, we hear another loud bang and a very surprised bike repairman. After further inspection, he found a huge slice in the tire, which had caused the two popped tires. After some quick engineering skills with the old inner tube he gave us back a bike that could hold air. We checked on the fix the whole way back to our hotel. At one point the fix had come off but the tire stayed inflated. So we had to do a quick repair to the temporary fix of the tire. Thankfully the bike made it to both the waterfall we wanted to see that was on the way back and to the hotel without a third flat tire. Phew.

Laos has really good coffee (or so Dave says) and they serve it with condensed sweetened milk at the bottom.

Laos has really good coffee (or so Dave says) and they serve it with condensed sweetened milk at the bottom.

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Doh.

Doh.

Temporary fix by our friendly bike repairman.

Temporary fix by our friendly bike repairman.

Fixing the temporary fix.

Fixing the temporary fix.

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This was suppose to be the beach where we could swim...just not in the dry season.

This was suppose to be the beach where we could swim…just not in the dry season.

Jen tried to negotiate with the bicycle owner since she paid the repairman herself. Of course he didn’t want to pay because he said it was her fault the tire had a slice in it. There was a very heated argument for well over 15 minutes that included the gentleman, his wife (who didn’t speak English), and Jen. They reluctantly agreed to splitting the repair cost with both parties feeling screwed. Over all it was a fun day filled with adventure. It would be less memorable if things had gone smoothly.

One last fun thing to mention was Jen convinced the sweet older lady we rented rooms from to give us a cooking class. The lady didn’t speak much english, but thankfully she spoke French and there were some French people who translated for us.

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And lastly, they had A LOT of bugs come out at night. We walked through clouds of bugs at times. Strange.

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Categories: Nature, Outdoors, South East Asia, Traveling | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Floating Village Homestay in Kampong Luang

After a couple of long, interesting days, hilariously described by our guest blogger Paul, we finally arrived at the floating village and our home away from home.

The floating village is located on the Tonle Sap. The Tonle Sap is the largest fresh water lake in south east Asia with a few unique characteristics to it. The first being that it changes the direction it flows twice a year with the rainy and dry seasons. During the dry season, the lake is more like the typical lakes we have back home and runs into the Mekong River. But, during the rainy season, there is so much water that it backs up, floods, and forms one very large lake. The difference in water level from dry to rainy can be as drastic as 3 ft during the dry and 30 ft during the rainy, with an increase of over 4 times the surface area of water.

Because of this huge change in water volume and surface area for the lake, the village that we decided to stay in, Kampong Luang, actually moves locations throughout the year. As it gets drier, it moves farther out into the lake and as the lake rises it moves back closer to land.

When we were there, it was the very start of the rainy season so the lake was pretty low and the village was farther out then it is during the full rainy season. But, that being said we got there no problem.

When we arrived, we took a boat out to a floating house and were welcomed by a young mother and her adorable baby. Her and her husband (the boat driver) have been doing homestays for only a couple of months now. It was a two bedroom house, with a small hallway and back area for cooking. There was another area they had for the TV (yes, TV on a floating house), and a folding table set for eating and lounging. Since there was four of us and only one extra bedroom we were a little unsure of where we would all sleep. Turns out that the TV and eating area also can be a location where people can sleep.

Heading to the homestay.

Heading to the homestay.

Our new home for the night.

Our new home for the night.

Dave lounging in one of the many hammocks.

Dave lounging in one of the many hammocks.

Jen in the TV and eating room.

Jen in the TV and eating room.

Out host and her daughter.

Out host and her daughter.

The hall that leads to the bedrooms, kitchen, and bathroom.

The hall that leads to the bedrooms, kitchen, and bathroom.

Bedroom Jen and Paul stayed in.

Bedroom Jen and Paul stayed in.

Part of the kicthen

Part of the kicthen

Bedroom where our hosts stayed.

Bedroom where our hosts stayed.

The rest of the kitchen.

The rest of the kitchen.

Our neighbors had a monkey chained to their floating house. Not sure why...

Our neighbors had a monkey chained to their floating house. Not sure why…

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View from the hammock

View from the hammock

View from the homestay house.

View from the homestay house.

Since our day was so long and we didn’t have any place to eat lunch, we asked our host if she could make us lunch, it was 2:30 pm. She was very accommodating and had a fish delivered by boat and started cooking for us. This gave us ample time to hang out with her sweet baby girl. An hour or so later, the food was done and it was delicious. I’m not a fan of fish, but I tried it and it was ok, but everything else was perfect.

She's a cutie!

She’s a cutie!

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Our yummy lunch.

Our yummy lunch.

After the meal, the husband came back and took us out on a tour of the village. Kampong Luang is the largest floating village in Cambodia and also has all of the necessary shops so that you don’t need to leave the village to get what you need. This includes a church, school, mechanic, convenient stores, a temples, ice making factories, and so on. It was a nice break from sitting in the house. We didn’t realize this until we were there, there is no leaving the house once you’re on it since all around you is water.

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Cleaning the parts right into the water. Standard procedure.

Cleaning the parts right into the water. Standard procedure.

Crushing ice.

Crushing ice.

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These kids were using the plastic jug to slide on the boat.

These kids were using the plastic jug to slide on the boat.

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Gas.

Gas.

School and church.

School and church.

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Mobile shopping.

Mobile shopping.

Temple.

Temple.

Once back at the house we were able to watch the beautiful sunset over the village houses.  When the sun goes down, the generators come on and power all of the houses and TVs. It was somewhat peaceful before this. We still had the loud motors from the boats, but no TV. Our host family turned on the TV once the power came on and left it running even when they were not watching it. It was loud and not very peaceful, oh well. Full experience right?

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They fed us once more around 7 pm and then started to close up the house and set up for bed. Jen and Paul were in the spare bedroom under a bug net with a rather thin foam mattress. Dave and I opted for hammocks rather than the bamboo mat, which offers no cushion what-so-ever. Thankfully all of us were exhausted from the long journey so falling asleep at 7:30-8ish was no problem for us.

The next morning we were woken up at 5:30 am from the house doors opening, loud motors driving by, and all the other noises the village produced. We opted not to have breakfast and to be taken back to the shore at around 7 am. From there we headed back to the main town to catch a bus to Phnom Penh.

It was a fun experience for us all. It was a pretty short amount of time to visit the floating village. Anymore and you would have just been stuck on the boat longer. I’m glad we did it.

Categories: Cities, Outdoors, South East Asia, Traveling | Tags: , , , , | 4 Comments

Our Phuket Villa, Andaman Sea Boat Trip and so much more!

Hello Everyone. This is Sarah’s cousin Jen from the West Coast (San Francisco). Sarah and Dave asked if wanted to be a guest blogger, so here goes, hope I don’t make a mess out of their masterpiece.

After our wonderful stay in Chiang Mai, the eight of us flew to Phuket on the Andaman Sea where our four-bedroom Villa, with distant views of the ocean and big buddha, sat high on a hill.  It seemed like everyone was super excited to spend a week all together in a big, clean house with AC, kitchen, large living room, infinity pool and with “almost” all of the other comforts of home. What’s with the beds in South East Asia?!?! Soooooooooooooooo hard.

Villa Infinity Pool

Villa Infinity Pool

When I told some friends and family that I would be going to Phuket, many asked, if that was where the Tsunami occurred. And the answer is yes, we went to the very same area, Kata Beach, which was hit very bad. That very large and terribly destructive Tsunami hit Phuket and Sri Lanka on December 26, 2004 killing over 200,000 people. There is a good movie out now on DVD called, The Impossible, which highlights one Australian family’s experience on Phuket at the time the Tsunami struck.

Upon our Phuket arrival, the first thing we did was to go shopping since we had a full kitchen at the Villa. Our driver took us to a very expensive supermarket so we just bought the basics-whiskey, wine, beer, cheese and crackers, stuff for a BBQ and a couple of breakfasts. Shopping International supermarkets is both funny and frustrating. For example, I went to scout out eggs and thought I was loosing my mind trying to find them in the cold cases when they eventually turned up on the warm, dry shelves. Duh! After shopping, we piled into the van and arrived at the Villa.

After getting acquainted with the Villa, we made ourselves at home and enjoyed the beautiful infinity pool. Thailand was extremely hot, sweat poured out of most, so the daily retreat back to the Villa to swim was a joy for all. We decided to check out Kata Beach, so we made the trek down the very large hill and headed to the beach. That evening we had burgers and Mac-n-Cheese and enjoyed hanging out together at the Villa.

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Kata Beach

Kata Beach

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During our long walk to the beach, we had scoped out a few eateries and found a place called, The Red Chair, which quickly became our go-to-place for cheap, delicious Thai food. We couldn’t get enough of the Red Chair. Some of us even splurged and ordered at least two dishes at a time! It was that good. My mouth is watering just thinking of their Panang Curry. Other favorites included their Pad Thai, Fried Spring Rolls, Green Curry and Cashew Chicken.

The Red Chair Eatery

The Red Chair Eatery

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The next morning, we hired the Villa Chef to cook us breakfast, it wasn’t anything super fancy, but turned out to be a nice treat. After breakfast, we hiked down the big hill to the beach. The Andaman Sea is beautiful, but the water was super warm and didn’t provide the relief we’d all hoped for to escape the relentless Thailand heat. I rented a boogie board and most of us tested it out and had a great time boogie boarding and playing in the huge waves. Others hung out on the sand in lounge chairs and enjoyed festive coconut cocktails and such. Super fun day!

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That evening, we hung out at the Villa and ate, swam, danced and played cards. It was so nice to have a consistent place to stay where we could just hang out and do whatever anyone felt like doing.

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The next day we hung out at the Villa enjoying the pool. That evening, we went to the local night market in Phuket Town. The market was split into two areas, food and souvenir shopping. The food stalls were very interesting and offered many different selections. Those that wanted to souvenir shop found some really fun things to buy. We all got a kick out of Karen and Phil’s squawking rooster. And Abby and Jon found some great beach towels.

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After another fun night playing card games and drinking whiskey shots, we decided to plan for a boat trip through the Andaman Islands the next day. We woke up early and headed to the boat ramp for our day out at sea. Unfortunately, everyone else had the same idea. The boat trip turned out to be one of those factory-type-of-tours where they herd everyone around from island to island. But we made the best of it and still enjoyed seeing the beautiful islands and being entertained by Ms. Jennifer (not me), our Lady-Boy Sea host. Paul and myself had a VERY close call and actually showed up late to one of the island boat ramps to find everyone had already boarded the boat and shipped out! Luckily we had already made friends with Ms. Lady-Boy, so she graciously made the captain go back for us! Our punishment from Ms. Jennifer, a bum paddling for me and a big, wet kiss on the lips for Paul! She-He (I dunno) tricked Paul and got him good, the entire boat cracked up. Totally worth it. Ha!

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After the boat trip, I’m pretty sure we headed to the Red Chair or swam in the Villa infinity pool or vice-versa. Our days consisted of sleeping in, swimming, eating, drinking-rinse and repeat! And most of us got foot massages while Jonathan and Paul had full body massages. Paul even dared the fish spa, where tons of small little fish nibble on your feet to remove dead skin. Ewwwwww!

Phuket Massages

Phuket Massages

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And naturally, during our stay at the Villa, someone got sick. And that person was yours truly. Ugg, I’m not sure what the heck it was, but it hit me hard. I mean hard. The worst of it lasted a full 24 hours-severe stomach pains, diarrhea, hot then cold, cold then hot and brutal body pains. Luckily, I snapped out of it fully in a matter of two days. I am fortunate it happened at the Villa and that Paul was near to tend to my yuckiness! We missed out on the party night in Patong to see the famous “Ping-Pong” show, but the others went and had a good time.

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Our last night was spent eating at our beloved Red Chair eatery, swimming in the lovely infinity pool and sharing libations. I think it is safe to say, everyone enjoyed their time at the Villa and would do it all over again in a heart beat. Cheers!

The Red Chair

The Red Chair

Categories: Outdoors, South East Asia | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Trekking in the Annapurnas

It took a lot of effort and convincing ourselves to go on this trek. Not because the scenery isn’t beautiful, but because we had become so comfortable with Pokhara. We knew if we didn’t go we’d be really upset with ourselves for missing the chance to hike the Annapurna Circuit Trek-I’ll call it AC from now on. So, after two strike days and one additional day to recover from a stomach bug, we headed out into the mountains again!

The AC trek starting point is in a city called Besi Sahar. The bus ride to Besi Sahar was a little more enjoyable than the bus ride to Sayafrubensi-the start of the Langtang Trek-because it was shorter, we had the front of the bus, and we were not scaling a mountain.

Back a couple of years ago all people walking the AC had to start in Besi Sahar, but in recent years, Nepal has started building a road connecting the villages along the original AC trail. With this and because of our delays in Pokhara we decided to take a jeep from Besi Sahar to Syange. Essentially, our 3 hour jeep ride to Syange took 1-2 days of walking off the trek. So our AC trek started in Syange.

Below is a recap of the days we spent trekking in the Annapurna mountains:

Day 1: Bus from Pokhara to Besi Sahar took about 4 hrs. Jeep from Besi Sahar to Syange took about 3 hours. We arrived still pretty early so we decided to walk a little up the path and stopped at Jagat. The walk took us only 45 minutes and we could have walked longer but it was raining so we decided to stop. We’re glad we skipped from Besi Sahar to Syange. All of the hikers we passed were constantly covering their faces from the dust the jeeps kicked up and the path isn’t that interesting that low in the mountain. We met our first group of trekkers this night. Some of them had already been on the trail for a day or two. But all the people we met this night we bumped into every so often for the rest of the trek.

The start in Syange.

The start in Syange.

The hotel the first night and our map.

The hotel the first night and our map.

Day 2: Up early, of course because Dave is involved, and on the trail at 7:15 am. We stopped for lunch in the village called Karte and then continued to Bagachhap. We arrived in Bagarchhap at 2:30pm. We decided to call it quits here because it was raining again. Bagarchhap was not the prettiest village on the trek, but they had a bed and food and those were our only needs. If we were to do it again, we’d go to the next village of Danaque or Timang. There are more guesthouses in both. Timang has some pretty awesome views as well.

Starting the trek early so we have it all to ourselves.

Starting the trek early so we have it all to ourselves.

There are many waterfalls along this whole trek.

There are many waterfalls along this whole trek.

Road construction. Some of the places they were jack hammering where pretty scary.

Road construction. Some of the places they were jack hammering where pretty scary.

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The city of Tal.

The city of Tal.

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We don't know how this cow got stuck on this rock, everywhere else around it was very steep.

We don’t know how this cow got stuck on this rock, everywhere else around it was very steep.

Checking our progress.

Checking our progress.

View from our lunch spot

View from our lunch spot

The Tibetan bread on the annapurna trek is different from the langtang trek. Here they make fried dough. Very yummy.

The Tibetan bread on the annapurna trek is different from the langtang trek. Here they make fried dough. Very yummy.

One of many bridges for crossing the rivers.

One of many bridges for crossing the rivers.

A lot of the villages have their power from hydro plants not far from the village.

A lot of the villages have their power from hydro plants not far from the village.

Day 3: We got a little surprise in the morning. The previous afternoon it was pouring, sleeting, and snowing for a majority of the afternoon and evening. We were thinking it might continue into the following day, but, we walked outside and had clear skies and our first high mountain views. We had another early start and were on the trail by 7 am. We both like starting pretty early for two reasons; 1. the trail is empty if you’re the first one on it. 2. it’s cooler in the mornings. We stopped for lunch in Chame, which is the last big village for many miles so we had a tough decision. Call it quits early, it was only 12, or have a long day and make it to the next large village. We were feeling good so we when for it. Almost 5 hours later we reached Dhikar Pokhari at 4:45pm. That was a long hall between Chame and Dhikar Pokhari. Overall we trekked 10 hours this day, with an hour break for lunch. I didn’t want to do that again. Also, Dhikar Pokhari was cold. We had gained a lot of elevation and now had some really cold nights.

Clear sky and no more rain.

Clear sky and no more rain.

Heading out

Heading out

This water fall was huge and in two parts, this is the lower part

This water fall was huge and in two parts, this is the lower part

Upper part of the falls

Upper part of the falls

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Timang village. if only we could have got here instead. beautiful.

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Little did we know how much better the views get.

Little did we know how much better the views get.

This is a good shot of the road trekking.

This is a good shot of the road trekking.

Dave found a tomato on the road from one of the jeeps. Bonus.

Dave found a tomato on the road from one of the jeeps. Bonus.

Snow capped peaks

Snow capped peaks

One of the villages with some really green pastures and snow capped peaks.

One of the villages with some really green pastures and snow capped peaks.

Even though the road is connecting a lot of the villages, there are still a lot of transport by donkey.

Even though the road is connecting a lot of the villages, there are still a lot of transport by mule.

Lunch of fried noodle and spring rolls.

Lunch of fried noodle and spring rolls.

Also still carrying things up by man power.

Also still carrying things up by man power.

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At some point there was an avalanche here. Glad it happened before we arrived.

At some point there was an avalanche here. Glad it happened before we arrived.

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More road construction.

More road construction.

Probably the creepiest place to work. That edge is a drop off and those are ladders leaning against the rock. No thank you.

Probably the creepiest place to work. That edge is a drop off and those are ladders leaning against the rock. No thank you.

Finally arriving at camp with some tired legs.

Finally arriving at camp with some tired legs.

Day 4: Our previous long day essentially put us a whole day ahead of our fellow trekkers we’ve met along the way. Most of them stopped in Chame or one of the single tea house villages between Chame and Dhikar Pokhari. So, we headed out at 7:15 again, had lunch in Mugje, and arrived in Manang at 2:30 pm. Manang is one of the largest villages on the trek and the largest village before the ascent to the pass. They even have a movie theater in Manang. It’s not more than a projector and some old movies, but we hadn’t seen a movie in many, many months so we had a date night. We went and saw 7 Year in Tibet with popcorn and tea included! It was cool.

Soaking up the sun in the freezing morning

Soaking up the sun in the freezing morning

The saw mill. Yes, they cut it all by hand. It's exhausting watching them.

The saw mill. Yes, they cut it all by hand. It’s exhausting watching them.

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Mountain dog, one of the cuter ones we saw.

Mountain dog, one of the cuter ones we saw.

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Always stopping for the mules.

Always stopping for the mules.

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Seabuckthorn juice. This juice is from a fruit that grows only at higher elevation. It was yummy.

Seabuckthorn juice. This juice is from a fruit that grows only at higher elevation. It was yummy.

Our view for lunch.

Our view for lunch.

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Large streets of Manang.

Large streets of Manang.

Date night.

Date night.

Day 5: Most people have an additional day in Manang to both rest and help with acclimatization. Manang is at 3500 m (11,545 ft). We did that. We did some short day hikes to also help with acclimatizing. We even had enough time to clean some of our clothes. I think it was the best location I’ve ever done laundry. They also have a couple of bakeries in Manang that make some good pastries, cakes, and pies. We really enjoyed the apple crumble pie.

Day hike towards Gangapurna glacier and peak.

Day hike towards Gangapurna glacier and peak.

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Manang from the day hike.

Manang from the day hike.

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Coolest place i've ever washed my clothes

Coolest place i’ve ever washed my clothes

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Much deserved apple crumble.

Much deserved apple crumble.

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View from our room.

View from our room.

Day 6: We departed early again and were on the trail at 7 am. Since we were now so high up in the mountains we were moving pretty slow. We didn’t have a long day either. They recommend to go up slowly and stay over night to help your bodies adjust to the elevation. We only hiked for 4.5 hours and arrived in Ledar at 11:30 am. Ledar is at 4200 m (13780 ft). We had plenty of time to hang out, read, and enjoy the scenery. We even got to watch a snow storm. Normally, we love snow and would welcome it (I know all you New Englanders are thinking we’re crazy) but we were afraid the snow would stop us from being able to go over the pass. If there is too much snow you can’t see the trail and it becomes dangerous. We also shared the tea house with a big group of people from Israel. I think Israelis win for having the most people on the mountains. We didn’t know this before, but they all love trekking and we met and saw many on the trail. Anyway, the big group hovered around the wood stove and therefore we were freezing. We opted to sit under the blankets in our room to stay warm. It sure is chilly up at 4200 m.

Tharong La is the name of the pass.

Tharong La is the name of the pass.

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Annapurna Panoramic_11 IMG_3682

Snacking on peanut butter crackers.

Snacking on peanut butter crackers.

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Soaking up the sun and reading my book.

Soaking up the sun and reading my book.

Sleepy, bored Dave. The short days are hard for him. Too much sitting around.

Sleepy, bored Dave. The short days are hard for him. Too much sitting around.

Blizzard.

Blizzard.

The yak doesn't mind.

The yak doesn’t mind.

Trying to stay warm while everyone else hogs the wood stove.

Trying to stay warm while everyone else hogs the wood stove.

Day 7: We were on the trail at 7 am again. We were freezing and had to layer up. It was a very cold morning, but, so very beautiful with the snow covered mountains. Thankfully, there were only a couple of inches of snow on the ground and the trail was still visible. We took our time to the next village and enjoyed the scenery. I think this was our prettiest day. We even got to see blue sheep-not sure where the name comes from, they look like goats to me. Anyway, we arrived in Thurong Phedi at 9:30 am and I wasn’t feeling like myself. We had just passed a huge portion of the trail that warned you to watch out for landslides. The snow was melting and I was a little freaked out by the prospect of a huge boulder taking me out-a side note here, while we were in Manang we overheard a guide tell their group that a horse in this area was split into two from a boulder that had come down-so I briskly walked through the landslide area, which made me lightheaded. I was feeling a little lightheaded, had a minor headache and felt dizzy so we weren’t sure we should continue up to the high camp at 4900 m (16076 ft). We had met a couple in one of the villages on our way up, their way down, who had altitude problems to the point they were thinking of calling a helicopter, so we were ultra aware of the symptoms and what we should be looking for. Anyway, we decided that we should try to go up to high camp and see how I was feeling. If I was feeling bad we would head back down. It was only an hour away and it was only 10 am, plenty of time. Well, I had to stop every 5 minutes to stabilize myself. I was feeling very dizzy and didn’t want to fall down the mountain since it was quite steep. We decided to head back to Tharong Phedi and spend the night and see how I felt the next morning.

The snow from the previous night made everything so beautiful looking.

The snow from the previous night made everything so beautiful looking.

Blue sheep

Blue sheep

Male blue sheep.

Male blue sheep.

Perfect weather.

Perfect weather.

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Mountain dog

Mountain dog

This poor dog had dreads. I'm not sure how he could see either.

This poor dog had dreads. I’m not sure how he could see either.

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Annapurna Panoramic_12

Day 8: I wasn’t feeling any better. I was actually feeling a little worse so we decided to go back down to Manang. We were undecided if we wanted to retry the pass in a couple of days or just head down the mountain.  It only took us 5 hours to get down to Manang. We got to see another movie and eat more apple crumble. I think those two things were keeping us in better spirits. I was still not 100%, but on top of that I was feeling pretty disappointed in myself for not being able to head over the pass. We were higher in Peru and I had no problems! We were in Langtang a few weeks ago and I had no problems. No to mention Dave was disappointed as well because he was feeling good and could have gone over no problem. Anyway, we got over it, as it was the correct decision to be safe rather than risking altitude sickness and the views up to Tharong Phedi were amazing. We had decided to just head out. Both of us were a little sore, tired of being cold, and had our Himalaya fill from both treks. Besides, this gives us a reason to come back and try it again someday.

Mountain goat

Mountain goat

The horses have a layer of fur on them to keep warm.

The horses have a layer of fur on them to keep warm.

Day 9: Left Manang early and did the walk of shame down to Chame. It was funny chatting with other trekkers heading up. They all were concerned the pass wasn’t open and that is why we were headed down. And then once they found out I showed signed of altitude sickness they wanted to know how I knew. Everyone is concerned for the same things. Anyway, it was a very long haul back to Chame. It only took us 7.5 hours, but the distance was our longest yet and we were tired. The good news was we could take a jeep from here thanks to the new road.

Since we headed down, we got to take some better pictures of the road construction. Pretty crazy.

Since we headed down, we got to take some better pictures of the road construction. Pretty crazy.

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This is a picture of the typical nepali food, daal bhat. Which consists of a lentil curry, rice, and some sort of vegetable. You usually get two servings of everything as well, which is good for hungry trekkers.

This is a picture of the typical nepali food, daal bhat. Which consists of a lentil curry, rice, and some sort of vegetable. You usually get two servings of everything as well, which is good for hungry trekkers.

Day 10: The jeeps they use to drive people back and forth from Besi Sahar are 9 passenger jeeps. They fit 12 people in these things, four people per each seating row including the front with the driver. We wanted the front because we thought we’d have better luck with space, but turns out they fit four there too. The driver had to shift between myself and the other women next to me. But, with all those people in the jeep you don’t move much when you hit bumps or take corners. The jeep ride took 6.5 hours and it wasn’t that comfortable, but it was either that or walk another two long days out. We arrived in Besi Sahar early enough to take a bus back to Pokhara. Whew, it was nice to be back in our spot. That’s the longest trek I’ve ever done and it sure was beautiful, but I was glad to be done.

Waiting for the jeep.

Waiting for the jeep.

Mules waiting for their luggage.

Mules waiting for their luggage.

Four across.

Four across.

Waiting for our bus back to Pokhara!!

Waiting for our bus back to Pokhara!!

For those curious to what we brought if you’re planning on trekking in March-we were there from March 9-17th.

1 – sleeping bag – We opted for one sleeping bag, but ended up using blankets. All of the guests houses we stayed at gave us extra blankets if we asked. The sleeping bag was more for if something happened and we were stuck on the trail not near a tea house.

2 – down jackets – We had rented down jackets again, which were very useful. Once you go higher than Dhikur Pokhari it is very cold at night.

3 – rain gear – jackets and rain pants

4 – thermal underwear and wool sweaters

5 – One pair of quick dry pants, two t-shirts, one long sleeve shirt, three pairs of socks, and 2-3 pairs of underwear

6 – winter hats and gloves

We opted to go light as we had no porter or guide. Both of those are not necessary, but if you can afford it a porter would have been nice. Dave, who was my porter, didn’t really enjoy the heavy bag.

I think that’s all. We love you Himalayan mountains and we will meet again someday!

Until next time...

Until next time…

Categories: Nature, Nepal, Outdoors, Traveling | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

Sittin’ and Relaxin’ in Pokhara

Dave and I had talked about finding a place to stop for awhile. We had become a little road weary and India was not helping us become un-road weary. We heard some good things about Pokhara and decided to go there and see if it could be our place. We ended up staying a whole week and half, turns out its pretty relaxing.

Lakeside Pokhara

Lakeside Pokhara

What did we do in Porkhara for a week and a half you might ask? Nothing, absolutely nothing. There was a lot of waking up, going to breakfast, napping, going to lunch, browsing the web, going to dinner, and of course hanging out with Jorge who also joined in our laziness in Pokhara.

Boats on the lake.

Boats on the lake.

On our afternoon walk.

On our afternoon walk.

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Beautiful sunset on the lake.

Beautiful sunset on the lake.

Trying Tuborg beer

Trying Tuborg beer

Yummy breakfasts

Yummy breakfasts

Ice cream every other day

Ice cream every other day

Another beautiful sunset

Another beautiful sunset

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We might have woken Jorge up early for breakfast everyday. Sorry Jorge.

We might have woken Jorge up early for breakfast everyday. Sorry Jorge.

Movie night!

Movie night!

Jorge and his nutella. He might have got us addicted when he bought us one for an engagement session. It lasted about 3 days. ha.

Jorge and his nutella. He got us addicted when he bought us one for an engagement present. It lasted about 3 days. ha.

Movie setup.

Movie setup.

Out of the week and half we did actually do two things; we took a 4 hour stroll to the peace pagoda and we tried paragliding.

The hike to the peace pagoda was very rewarding with some great views of the Annapurnas in the Himalayas. All three of us had just come back from the Langtang trek so we were still in walking shape which made it not that difficult to head up there. I think it was one of the best views I’ve had for lunch.

Peace Pagoda

Peace Pagoda

View for lunch. Awesome.

View for lunch. Awesome.

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Namaste

Namaste

Annapurna range in the Himalayas.

Annapurna range in the Himalayas.

Pewa lake with the annapurnas in the back.

Pewa lake with the annapurnas in the back.

The paragliding was also somewhat unexpected. Our friend Jorge really wanted to do it and was trying to talk us into it the whole time we were there. Pokhara is titled “the best place to para glide in the whole world.” It gains this titled because of the Annapurna peaks in the background. Jorge had finally talked us into going and all we had to do was wait until the paragliding competition was over. We had decided to go the day before we left for our next trek. That day turned out to be hazy so we opted not to go. We told Jorge we’d go when we got back from our trek. Oh well, we tried.

The following day when we were supposed to leave but there was a transportation strike and all buses and public transportation was stopped. This forced us to stay in Pokhara another day, shucks. And it also gave us a chance to do some paragliding with Jorge.

Excited before we head out to do some paragliding.

Excited before we head out to do some paragliding.

How paragliding works: 1. start from a pretty high location and run off the mountain side. 2. catch a thermal using a gauge that beeps like crazy when you’re in hot air. 3. circle over and over again while you gain some altitude. 4. Glide to wherever you want 5. repeat steps 2-4 until your time is up.

Dave and his pilot getting the gear on.

Dave and his pilot getting the gear on.

Pilot making sure he's safe.

Pilot making sure he’s safe.

Chute setup and untangle.

Chute setup and untangle.

Walk/run until chute opens, pulls you back and then forward off the mountain

Walk/run until chute opens, pulls you back and then forward off the mountain

Soar towards thermal...

Soar towards thermal…

Up and away. Good job Dave.

Up and away. Good job Dave.

It was pretty awesome. We opted for the 60 minute ride. I had an avid paragliding pilot from France. He really enjoyed paragliding and couldn’t resist the urge to go up higher whenever we reach a thermal. My pilot and I had reached the height of 2100 meters (6,890 ft) and we started at 1592 m (5223 ft). That’s a total height gain of 508 m (1667 ft) just by hot air in a matter of minutes. Now I understand why birds do it so frequently, in fact there were some birds right along with us.

Jorge and his pilot.

Jorge and his pilot.

Dave and his pilot.

Dave and his pilot.

Me and my pilot.

Me and my pilot.

circling in the thermal

circling in the thermal

Clouded peak with paragliders

Clouded peak with paragliders

That's Dave below. My pilot and I were at 2100 meters here.

That’s Dave below. My pilot and I were at 2100 meters here.

Jorge gliding.

Jorge gliding.

View of the lake from the sky.

View of the lake from the sky.

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As part of the flight, my pilot asked if I liked tricks-we had seen many of the pilots perform tricks while they were in the competition. From the ground it looks rather frightening. They make their chute go almost vertical on one side and then do the same thing on the other side-it looks like the chute can fold into itself. They also spin like a crazy person, which looks like they are spinning out of control from the ground. I responded to my pilot with a big fat maybe?? Which he took as a yes and responded with “tell me to stop if you don’t like it.”

Well, the chute almost vertical trick is pretty cool. You go almost vertical and then while switching to the other side you get the free fall, roller coaster feeling in your stomach. He did the back and forth a couple of times and then he switched to the spin like a crazy person. I didn’t like that one so much. All you see is the earth underneath you spinning out of control which makes you really dizzy. I politely asked him to stop that one. Dave on the other hand knew he wouldn’t like those and didn’t try them. In fact, he felt like he was going to throw up 2/3 of the whole ride. And then, surprisingly, when all of us landed we all felt nauseous. I don’t know, someone explain that one to me.

Dave and I both enjoyed it, Jorge loved it. We’re glad we did it, how often to you get to feel like a bird?

Anyway, we love Pokhara. It was a well deserved rest and we couldn’t wait to come back after our second trek.  Also, this is when we said our “see you later” to Jorge, who we hope to meet up with again in Southeast Asia or Brazil someday.

You will be missed.

You will be missed.

Categories: Cities, Nature, Nepal, Outdoors | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

A Trek and a Proposal

Ah yes, the Himalayas. We’re so happy to see you.

Hiking in the Langtang Valley in Nepal.

Hiking in the Langtang Valley in Nepal.

Sarah and I had been excited for some time about making our way to the Himalayas in Nepal. We both love hiking and what better place to do it than there. We didn’t climb any of the high peaks, nor did we want to, but being in them and standing below them was surely good enough. The mountains have always captivated me and I’m always happy to be in them, no matter their size. But being in the Himalayas definitely felt different to me than any other mountain range I’ve visited thus far.

Trekking in Nepal is much easier than most people would assume. Most of the popular treks combine amazing scenery with visits through mountain villages and best of all, all of your food and accommodations are available throughout the trek at conveniently located tea houses (guesthouses). So there’s no need to carry your own food or shelter. The biggest challenge is acclimatizing to the high elevation and avoiding accidents.

Our plan was to do as much trekking in Nepal as time and our bodies would allow. To start things off we decided to do a short trek, at about 6-8 days, in the Langtang National Park, which is relatively close to Kathmandu. The Langtang Trek, as it’s called, is not as popular as the Annapurna Circuit and the Everest Base Camp treks but was described to be equally as beautiful. Doing this trek first allowed more time for the weather to warm and clear some of the snow in the higher passes of the Annapurna Circuit trek, which we planned to do after the Langtang trek. The shorter trek would also allow us to gauge our fitness level and try out the rental gear available here in Nepal.

Since we’re traveling for so long we opted not to lug our backpacking gear along with us because we’d only need it here in Nepal and none of the other places we were visiting. So we left home all of our fancy smancy gear like lightweight sleeping bags, down jackets and comfortable backpacks. We spent a few days hanging around Kathmandu scoping out gear rental shops and to buy the permits we’d need to go trekking.

On the day we chose to buy the permits we stopped at an Indian restaurant (we were having withdrawals from lack of Indian food) on the way to the permit office. While sitting and eating I had a view of the sidewalk in front of the restaurant. To my surprise I saw two faces passing by that I recognized. Because the facial recognition part of my brain works much better that the name recollection part I could only mumble to Sarah that there were two people in front of the restaurant that we knew. Just as I was mumbling, Giselle, one of our Brazilian friends we met on our way to Nepal from India, looked into the restaurant and saw me pointing at them. Giselle and Jorge were also in Kathmandu and happened to pass us on their way to one of the nearby attractions.  We chatted for a few minutes and shared our plans to trek in a couple of days. Jorge was immediately intrigued and asked to meet up later to learn more.

After our meeting with Jorge he was easily convinced and excited to join us. Our last day in Kathmandu was spent with Jorge getting the necessary gear. Trekking was new to Jorge and so he had to rent what he could, same as us, and buy anything he couldn’t, mostly clothing. Nepal has tons of knock-off gear and much of it is pretty good quality for about a 1/3 to 1/2 the price. With gear in hand we were ready to head out the next day.

According to our guidebook, the worst part about the Langtang trek is the 120 km bus ride you have to take from Kathmandu to Syafru Bensi (small town closest to the trek). It’s 120 km of extremely bumpy roads mostly paved with dirt and gravel. The morning of our departure there was a bit of confusion between us and the cab driver resulting in us being dropped off at the wrong bus stop. The time it took us to sort out how to get to the correct bus stop meant we arrived only minutes before the bus was scheduled to depart. Unfortunately, and likely due to our late arrival, the only seats available were those in the rear of the bus. As everyone knows, the rear of the bus is the bumpiest most nauseating place to sit. The ride to Syafru Bensi was by far the worst bus ride we have ever been on. Sarah hit her head on the roof of the bus no less than six times.

The first of many checkpoints we'd go through during the bus ride and the trek.

The first of many checkpoints we’d go through during the bus ride and the trek.

The mini-bus that took us from Kathmandu to Syafru Bensi.

The mini-bus that took us from Kathmandu to Syafru Bensi.

Click on image to watch video of our bumpy ride.

Click on image to watch video of our bumpy ride.

After spending one night in Syafru Bensi we started the trek early the next morning. The trek in all took us six days–three days to reach the small village of Kyanjin Gumba, which lies at the end of the Langtang trek, one extra day there and finally two days to hike out. Part way through the first day of the trek Jorge shed as much weight as he could at the first guesthouse we stopped at for lunch. That night Sarah I did the same at the guesthouse where we slept for the night. Sarah’s knees were giving her problems so we needed to lighten her load. After dropping as much as we could at the guesthouse I put as much of her heavy gear as I could in my pack. Losing the weight worked and Sarah’s knee recovered. Unbeknownst to Sarah and Jorge, it was very important to me that we finish this trek. I had special plans a-brewin.

Sarah and I discussing the route.

Sarah and I discussing the route.

Jorge and Sarah at a restaurant in Syafru Bensi. we found out afterwards that it's frowned upon to eat at some place other than your hotel. Oops.

Jorge and Sarah at a restaurant in Syafru Bensi. we found out afterwards that it’s frowned upon to eat at some place other than your hotel. Oops.

The queue for the ATM in Syafru Bensi. Crazy chickens.

The queue for the ATM in Syafru Bensi. Crazy chickens.

Check the gear the night before the trek.

Check the gear the night before the trek.

Up early and on our way out of Syafru Bensi.

Up early and on our way out of Syafru Bensi.

The first checkpoint on the trail.

The first checkpoint on the trail.

About half of each day was spent on the trail and the other half at the guesthouses, reading, talking and relaxing. As we climbed further and further up the valley the scenery became better and better. The valley opened up more and more to expose the high peaks surrounding Kyanjin Gumba, our final destination. Trekking in February meant that we were on the trail during the off season and didn’t encounter many other trekkers, but it also meant that it was colder than during the peak season and that there was more snow on the ground. Fortunately for us a few groups preceded us and created a well packed trail in the snow.

Some of the many porters we encountered along the way. All of the supplies available at the guesthouses, e.g. food and beverages, are carried by porters. These guys are amazing.

Some of the many porters we encountered along the way. All of the supplies available at the guesthouses, e.g. food and beverages, are carried by porters. These guys are amazing.

The guesthouse we stopped at for lunch on the first day and where Jorge dropped off some of his gear to lighten the load.

The guesthouse we stopped at for lunch on the first day and where Jorge dropped off some of his gear to lighten the load.

Inside of the black fabric around my waist is a flip flop. The aluminum frame inside of the backpack was poking through and digging into my back.

Inside of the black fabric around my waist is a flip flop. The aluminum frame inside of the backpack was poking through and digging into my back.

First dinner on the trail. We discovered that the food prices on the trek were very high compared to in the cities below.

First dinner on the trail. We discovered that the food prices on the trek were very high compared to in the cities below.

The owners at the guesthouse cooking our meals.

The owners at the guesthouse cooking our meals.

Sarah and I still with heavy packs.

Sarah and I still with heavy packs.

The first guesthouse we stayed in. Pretty comfy place.

The first guesthouse we stayed in. Pretty comfy place.

Catching some our first views of the high peaks.

Catching some our first views of the high peaks.

I think this was day two. Still hiking through forest at this point.

I think this was day two. Still hiking through forest at this point.

Starting to see snow and better views of the mountains.

Starting to see snow and better views of the mountains.

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I was trying to get a better view of the valley.

I was trying to get a better view of the valley.

We saw many yak along the way but none as pretty as this one.

We saw many yak along the way but none as pretty as this one.

Yak caravan.

Yak caravan.

We witnessed this woman tossing rocks to keep her yak in line, literally. She would be awesome and cornhole.

We witnessed this woman tossing rocks to keep her yak in line, literally. She would be awesome and cornhole.

A little bitty we saw along the way. Adorable.

A little bitty we saw along the way. Adorable.

More snow!

More snow!

Langur monkey.

Langur monkey.

More Langur monkeys. These guys don't try to steal your food like other monkeys we've come across.

More Langur monkeys. These guys don’t try to steal your food like other monkeys we’ve come across.

Water powered Buddhist prayer wheels.

Water powered Buddhist prayer wheels.

At one of the security checkpoints we came across this fabulously dressed guard.

At one of the security checkpoints we came across this fabulously dressed guard.

This guy was posing for us, clearly proud of himself.

This guy was posing for us, clearly proud of himself.

We met the owner of this guesthouse at lunch earlier that day. He convinced to stay at  his place by offering us a free room and tea. We ended up staying at his sister's lodge further up the mountain for the same deal.

We met the owner of this guesthouse at lunch earlier that day. He convinced us to stay at his place by offering us a free room and tea. We ended up staying at his sister’s lodge further up the mountain for the same deal.

The guesthouse we stayed at on night two.

The guesthouse we stayed at on night two.

Women drying and collecting hay near our guesthouse on the second night.

Women drying and collecting hay near our guesthouse on the second night.

Keeping warm by burning yak dung in the stove.

Keeping warm by burning yak dung in the stove.

This chicken spent the night with us and kept warm in his box.

This chicken spent the night with us and kept warm in his box.

Sarah the morning of day three. We dropped on of our sleeping bags at a previous guesthouse. It was her turn to sleep with the blankets.

Sarah the morning of day three. We dropped on of our sleeping bags at a previous guesthouse. It was her turn to sleep with the blankets.

The owner's son hanging out with us at breakfast.

The owner’s son hanging out with us at breakfast.

Sarah and the owner's son doing squats I think.

Sarah and the owner’s son doing squats I think.

Click on the image to watch a video of the little guy chopping wood.

Click on the image to watch a video of the little guy chopping wood.

Warming up with tea on day three.

Warming up with tea on day three.

The owner of the guesthouse we stayed at on night two offered to carry Sarah's bag. I was carrying the rest of her stuff so she had to carry nothing at all that day. How'd she swing that?

The owner of the guesthouse we stayed at on night two offered to carry Sarah’s bag. I was carrying the rest of her stuff so she had to carry nothing at all that day. How’d she swing that?

We didn't stay here but passed through Langtang village on our way up the valley. It was the biggest village in the valley, boasting a cheese factory and bakery. It gets its power from hydro and solar.

We didn’t stay here but passed through Langtang village on our way up the valley. It was the biggest village in the valley, boasting a cheese factory and bakery. It gets its power from hydro and solar.

Panoramic of Langtang village.

Panoramic of Langtang village.

Ah, I can't remember our friends name. Anyway, the owner of the guesthouse we stayed in the night before. He was walking with us to his sister's guesthouse in Kyanjin Gumba to make sure we found it.

Ah, I can’t remember our friends name. Anyway, the owner of the guesthouse we stayed in the night before. He was walking with us to his sister’s guesthouse in Kyanjin Gumba to make sure we found it.

Along the way there were these walls dividing the path. I'm not exactly sure what they're for but we were supposed to walk on the left side of them. Many of the stones have script carved into them.

Along the way there were these walls dividing the path. I’m not exactly sure what they’re for but we were supposed to walk on the left side of them. Many of the stones have script carved into them.

Our friendly volunteer guide/porter playing in the snow.

Our friendly volunteer guide/porter playing in the snow.

Panoramic of the village of Kyanjin Gumba.

Panoramic of the village of Kyanjin Gumba.

Finally, we'd arrived at our final destination in Kyanjin Gumba. It was a bit chilly that day so we were soaking up the sun.

Finally, we’d arrived at our final destination in Kyanjin Gumba. It was a bit chilly that day so we were soaking up the sun.

Jorge was hungry after our third day of hiking.

Jorge was hungry after our third day of hiking.

Once the clouds rolled in Jorge went inside to warm up under some blankets.

Once the clouds rolled in Jorge went inside to warm up under some blankets.

The extra day spent in the village of Kyanjin Gumba allowed us to do a day hike to a high peak right behind the village. The peak was called Kyanjin Ri and it stood at around 4500 meters (14,760 ft.), which is higher than any peak in the contiguous 48 states. We set out early in the morning in order to give ourselves plenty of time to reach the peak, take in the view and finally make our descent. I was especially eager to make it to the peak. Remember, I had special plans for the day.

The weather that day could not have been any better. Seriously, it was perfect. The day before the valley was full of clouds, obscuring most of the mountains surrounding us and we were worried that the next day would be the same. The night before the skies cleared and those clear skies carried over into the next day. There was not a single cloud in the sky for the entire hike to the peak.

Hiking to the top was slow going. The terrain was steep, covered in snow and rocks at times, and we had thinner air to breath at the high elevation. For most of the hike I was at the front with Sarah and Jorge following close behind me. As we got closer to the top I tried to put more space between Sarah and I and Jorge, resulting in Jorge being a few minutes behind us most of the time, but still within sight. At one point Sarah asked me if we should wait for him, to which I responded, “he knows the way”. Now, I’m not usually this inconsiderate with my fellow hikers. But I wanted to be at the top of the mountain alone with Sarah. She didn’t know what I was up to and thankfully agreed to keep moving with me.

Almost to the top of Kyanjin Ri.

Almost to the top of Kyanjin Ri.

Sarah and I making our way up to Kyanjin Ri.

Sarah and I making our way up to Kyanjin Ri.

A view of the village of Kyanjin Gumba from the trail up to Kyanjin Ri.

A view of the village of Kyanjin Gumba from the trail up to Kyanjin Ri.

At this point I think we were about 1/3 of the way to the peak.

At this point I think we were about 1/3 of the way to the peak.

The views at the top were amazing. We had completely clear skies in all directions. As soon as Sarah and I reached the summit I decided it was time to do what I came to do. I grabbed her hands, expressed my love and desire to continue this awesome journey with her for the rest of our lives, knelt and asked her to marry me. To which she initially responded, “are you serious?” To which I said,”would I joke about this?”. After reassuring her that this was really happening, she finally said YES! Nice.

Sarah and I have been together for nearly five years and it has been an amazing five years at that. My life is truly enriched by her and I only see it getting better. I’m happy she said yes and I couldn’t have asked for a better place or day to have proposed. (I apologize for the high level of mushiness in this part of the blog.)

On the peak of Kyanjin Ri.

On the peak of Kyanjin Ri.

Clear skies with great views.

Clear skies with great views.

Soon after the proposal Jorge reached the top and had no idea what had just happened. We spent about an hour on the peak soaking up the sun, drying our socks and shoes, and taking in the the amazing views. On one side of us were two receding glaciers and on the other a long line of amazing mountain peaks and the valley below.

Shots of the two glaciers.

Shots of the two glaciers.

Langtang Valley, looking north from the peak.

Langtang Valley, looking north from the peak.

You can see the path that the glacier created while it was still moving downward. It's pretty amazing to see the power that a glacier has.

You can see the path that the glacier created while it was still moving downward. It’s pretty amazing to see the power that a glacier has.

Jorge representing Brazil and making is friends back home jealous at the same time.

Jorge representing Brazil and making is friends back home jealous at the same time.

Soaking up the sun.

Soaking up the sun.

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An avalanche off in the distance. Don't worry mom, it wasn't anywhere close.

An avalanche off in the distance. Don’t worry mom, it wasn’t anywhere close.

Many hikers know that going down a mountain is sometimes the most difficult part. This proved to be the case that day. The temperature had risen to soften all of the previously crunchy snow we had hiked up on. This meant that going down was slippery and at times a bit scary, especially for a our new-to-hiking friend Jorge. But after a few slips and falls, some hard decisions about which path down the mountain was the least dangerous, we’re happy to announce that Jorge made it down safely. The only casualty was one of his poles. Luckily for him, he found a pole at the end of the hike that someone else had lost. A  couple days later that pole met the same fate.

Jorge making his way down the mountain by any means possible. Sarah are I were scared for his life several times. Nice job Jorge. :)

Jorge making his way down the mountain by any means possible. Sarah and I were scared for his life several times. Nice job Jorge. 🙂

The Sun: 1, Sarah: 0. We purchased sun screen in India that didn't quite do its job as the store owner told us it would. India: 50, Sarah and Dave: 3.

The Sun: 1, Sarah: 0. We purchased sun screen in India that didn’t quite do its job as the store owner told us it would. India: 50, Sarah and Dave: 3.

Jorge recovering from the day hike.

Jorge recovering from the day hike.

It took us two days to make our way back to Syafru Bensi. The days were a lot longer because we could cover more ground going down hill. We spent one more night in Syafru Bensi before heading back to Kathmandu on the same dreaded bus we took there.

My favorite breakfast of porridge and honey. I was able to turn Jorge onto this amazing dish but not Sarah.

My favorite breakfast of porridge and honey. I was able to turn Jorge onto this amazing dish but not Sarah.

This guy makes the best veg and cheese momo on the mountain, possibly in the world.

This guy makes the best veg and cheese momo on the mountain, possibly in the world.

We left early this morning so we didn't have to hike through slushy melted snow.

We left early this morning so we didn’t have to hike through slushy melted snow.

Click on the image to see a video of Sarah hiking in the beautiful Langtang Valley.

Click on the image to see a video of Sarah hiking in the beautiful Langtang Valley.

View of the valley on our way down early on day one.

View of the valley on our way down early on day one.

These porters are amazing.

These porters are amazing.

This little guy and his brother were doing some sledding a small patch of snow.

This little guy and his brother were doing some sledding on a small patch of snow.

We passed these ladies along the way. They appeared to have some sort of work party/gossip session going on.

We passed these ladies along the way. They appeared to have some sort of work party/gossip session going on.

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Most people carry heavy loads with straps strung across their heads.

Most people carry heavy loads with straps strung across their heads.

Cool little group of houses we passed through on our way in and out.

Cool little group of houses we passed through on our way in and out.

This is one old tough dude. He looked like he was in his 60's. He had a traditional Gorkha (?) knife strapped to his waist.

This is one old tough dude. He looked like he was in his 60’s. He had a traditional Gorkha (?) knife strapped to his waist.

A bridge decorated for the Tibetan New Year. There's a large Tibetan population living in these mountains.

A bridge decorated for the Tibetan New Year. There’s a large Tibetan population living in these mountains.

Some of the guesthouses make handy crafts to sell as another source of revenue.

Some of the guesthouses make handy crafts to sell as another source of revenue.

Another guy carrying a heavy load. I didn't happen to catch any woman porters but they were out there as well carrying heavy loads.

Another guy carrying a heavy load. I didn’t happen to catch any women porters but they were out there as well carrying heavy loads.

This guy is a pro bumpy-bus rider. He strapped himself in so that he could fall asleep without falling out of his chair. Smart.

This guy is a pro bumpy-bus rider. He strapped himself in so that he could fall asleep without falling out of his chair. Smart.

One of my favorite quick eats in Nepal. It consists of chickpeas, potatoes and beans. Yummy.

One of my favorite quick eats in Nepal. It consists of chickpeas, potatoes and beans. Yummy.

Tightening the lugs on the wheels before our long bumpy descent back to Kathmandu.

Tightening the lugs on the wheels before our long bumpy descent back to Kathmandu.

A funny sign we saw in Kathmandu at one of the shops. Nepali people seem in general to be good humored.

A funny sign we saw in Kathmandu at one of the shops. Nepali people seem in general to be good humored.

The Langtang trek was amazing and surely exceeded all of our expectations. Sarah and I were very happy to share the experience with our friend Jorge. It was his first time hiking, seeing real snow, and being in the mountains. Nice work Jorge. And best of all Sarah agreed to my proposal. I knew she’d say yes.

Categories: Nature, Nepal, Outdoors, Traveling | Tags: , , | 15 Comments

Elephant Safari in Chitwan National Park

We decided to stop in Sauraha before our visit to Kathmandu since we would be so close coming from India. Sauraha is the town near Chitwan national park in Nepal. They have similar animals as India, but they also have one horned rhinoceros and elephant safaris. We wanted both of those things so we decided to go.

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We got an added surprise when we arrived in Sauraha-a food festival! The beginning of the food festival started the very day we arrived. They kicked the food festival off with a parade of elephants and local groups of people competing by performing traditional song and dance. We were in Nepal now and there are many differences we’ve seen compared to India. One that we noticed during this parade was being able to see the parade and not getting pushed out of the front. Granted, there were way less people for the food festival versus the new year parade, but still.

Nepal also included a lot more elephants versus one.

Nepal also included a lot more elephants versus one.

Decorated elephant.

Decorated elephant.

They played traditional music and dance.

They played traditional music and dance.

These women were dancing with pots on their head. Amazing.

These women were dancing with pots on their head. Amazing.

They couldn't compete with the dancing pot heads.

They couldn’t compete with the dancing pot heads.

There were only a few little ones.

There were only a few little ones.

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They had a lot of different local cuisine at the food festival. The very first place we went to had local dog meat for sale. We opted to try the egg. We also tried some grilled chicken marinated with nepali spice and a very tasty nepali potato salad. We then rested for awhile, watched the sunset and headed back for some more tasty food, Nepali beer, and live entertainment.

Dog meat was on the left, second from the bottom.

Dog meat was on the left, second from the bottom.

Yummy boiled, battered, then fried egg.

Yummy boiled, battered, then fried egg.

I don't know why Santa was there...it was February.

I don’t know why Santa was there…it was February.

Grilled chicken.

Grilled chicken.

Dug out canoe on the river at sunset.

Dug out canoe on the river at sunset.

We've seen so many beautiful sunsets on this trip.

We’ve seen so many beautiful sunsets on this trip.

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Hanging out listening to the local music

Hanging out listening to the local music

Gorkha beer and pakora.

Gorkha beer and pakora.

They also had traditional and not so traditional dance performances.

They also had traditional and not so traditional dance performances.

The next morning we woke up real early to catch the first elephant safari. We got up before the sun and headed toward the elephants in the fog. They have platforms the height of the average elephant and instruct the elephant to back up as close as he or she can to the platform. You step on the elephants back and then into the howdah (or passenger seat). There were four to a howdah so two other people joined us. We literally were the first elephant to start that morning. It was still foggy when we started and very cool to see the park-well, technically, it’s the buffer zone-in the morning with all the mist. Elephant riding isn’t the most comfortable ride, but it wasn’t uncomfortable either. It was more comfortable than the camel safari for sure, but maybe that was just because I didn’t have a camel sak in my face.

Anyway, we road around the park looking for animals, specifically a rhino, for about an hour and half. We saw many birds and deer just as we had in India. We must be very lucky when it comes to nature and animals in the wild because we came upon a rhino eating his breakfast-thankfully they only eat leaves. Because we were on an elephant we pulled up right next to the guy. He didn’t even know we were there until the other elephant came beside us. He went from calmly eating his breakfast to agitated very quickly once he realized we were there. So we left before he could charge. I’ll apologize for our pictures in advance. It’s hard to take pictures of moving animals. It’s even harder to take pictures of moving animals when you’re on a moving animal.

Early morning jeep ride to the elephants.

Early morning jeep ride to the elephants.

Elephant platform

Elephant platform

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Elephants in the mist.

Elephants in the mist.

Each elephant has his own driver for his whole life. They use a spiky metal rod and rope to keep the elephant in line.

Each elephant has his own driver for his whole life. They use a spiky metal rod and rope to keep the elephant in line.

He drove the elephant with his feet.

He drove the elephant with his feet.

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Unaware rhino

Unaware rhino

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Finally noticed two big elephants right next to him.

Finally noticed two big elephants right next to him.

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Check out the rack on this deer.

Check out the rack on this deer.

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Peacock.

Peacock.

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It was a short glimpse into the park, but it was all we could afford. We then headed to kathmandu and celebrated the rest of valentines day very romantically with chocolate and a beer.

Horse and cart ride to the bus.

Horse and cart ride to the bus.

Feeling the love on valentines day

Feeling the love on valentines day

Our second nepali beer, Nepal Ice.

Our second nepali beer, Nepal Ice.

Very romantic!

Very romantic!

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Categories: Nature, Nepal, Outdoors, Traveling | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Camel Safari and Living in an Old Fort

We had done some research ahead of time and decided that it’s going to be cheaper to do a camel safari from a small village outside of Jaisalmer called Khuri, so we decided to head there first. Jaisalmer and Khuri are the farthest west most tourist will go in India. It’s very close to the Pakistan border. Because it is so far west, you have to back track when heading anywhere else in India. So we decided to book it out west and we’ll see the things we passed on the way back. Because of this decision, we had a very long travel time.

It started with a bus from Udaipur to Jodhpur. This bus was suppose to leave around 2pm and ended up leaving around 3pm. This is completely normal, we were just concerned because we had train tickets from Jodhpur to Jaisalmer that we didn’t want to miss. The bus was in rough shape. We had fought with the guy to not get the back of the bus, but of course we ended up there. So the whole ride was bumpy and the seats were broken in the partially reclined state. Our poor necks got so sore holding our heads out for 5 hours. Anyway, the ride was long and uncomfortable to Jodhpur. We arrived pretty late there, got on a rickshaw and headed to the train station where we boarded an overnight train to Jaisalmer. We arrived 6 hours later at 5:30 am. We decided to wait inside the train station until it was day light for safety reasons. So, we left the station on foot for the bus stand to Khuri around 7 am. We never found the bus stand, but we did meet plenty of people who told us where to stand for the bus to Khuri and we got a rough estimate that the bus will arrive around 9 am. Nine came and went and someone told us it was actually 9:30 am. Well, 9:30 came and went and someone told us it was coming in 5 minutes at 9:40. The bus actually came around 10:30. We stood in the middle of no where for about 3 hours. It was great to watch all of the cars, rickshaws, cows, and people go by…

Waiting for our bus.

Waiting for our bus.

One of the many interesting things to pass us.

One of the many interesting things to pass us.

We also met a guy at the bus stop who owned a hotel in Khuri who set up camel safaris. He told us the price was the cheapest there and convinced us to get picked up by his brother and check the place out. No promises of staying there if we didn’t like it. We arrived an hour later in Khuri and were welcomed with his brother. It was a quick 5 minute walk and after looking at his place and other places we decided to stick with his place and do the camel safari that night so we wouldn’t have to sleep on the far from perfect mattresses they had there. So, after a long 24+ hour of travel we got on the back of a camel.

Camel relaxing in Khuri

Camel relaxing in Khuri

Camel drawn cart

Camel drawn cart

Kids playing in the little village of Khuri.

Kids playing in the little village of Khuri.

Camels are much larger than I thought. They are much taller than horses, for some reason this never came to mind when I wanted to get on the back of one. The height wasn’t that bad, it was the getting on and off that was a little creepy. The camels have to kneel and then lay on their legs in order for their passengers to board. They can only go up and down one side at a time, the back legs are first up and then the front. So you’re at a steep angle for the duration of the camel going up and down. Some camels are faster than others and sometimes the camel your on is tired and slower.

Camels waiting to be mounted.

Camels waiting to be mounted.

Anyway, we bumped along the back of the camel for a good 2-3 hours into the desert. Some people had the camel drivers on the back with them and others didn’t. Dave and I both had drivers with us. At one point, my driver left me alone with my camel to drive myself. Thankfully my camel was the nicest, best behaved, and thoroughly trained camel there and I had no problems. We have a funny video of me being stuck on my camel. The only thing I wasn’t taught was how to do the up and down commands to get on and off. So when we arrived at camp, everyone else is off their camel and I’m just sitting there waiting for one of the drivers to help me. We actually put this one on Youtube so you’ll all be able to laugh at me as Dave did. Click here.

Dave on his camel

Dave on his camel

Some of the local women carrying water back to their homes.

Some of the local women carrying water back to their homes.

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Camel drivers ride in the back. Apparently camels can carry 3 people no problem as long as they are healthy.

Camel drivers ride in the back. Apparently camels can carry 3 people no problem as long as they are healthy.

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This camel driver owned both of these camels.

This camel driver owned both of these camels.

He was peeing, that is why I was standing so far away.

He was peeing, that is why I was standing so far away.

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They sure are goofy looking. The camels only, I mean...

They sure are goofy looking. The camels only, I mean…

Wild mom and baby camel.

Wild mom and baby camel.

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At camp, the drivers made two separate fires, one for the tourists and one for them to do most of the cooking on. We got to relax and watch the sunset while the drivers prepared dinner. Some of the people on the safari with us had paid extra for chicken. The chicken was thoroughly cooked over our fire with bonus seasoning of sand and coals, I’m glad Dave and I didn’t pay extra for that. The food was good considering we were in the middle of a desert-we had chapati, rice, vegetable curry and a lentil curry. Very tasty. We had some good conversation with the other tourists on the safari over the camp fire. We talked for many hours then we decided to hit the sand. Literally. We slept on a blanket on the sand with another blanket over us. It was a good experience. We were mostly freaked out that the camels would walked over us during the night since they were free to roam and did so very close to our fires and beds prior to us being in them.

Khuri Panoramic_01

Hungry camel

Hungry camel

Our camp.

Our camp.

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Drivers getting ready to cook.

Drivers getting ready to cook.

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Chicken.

Chicken.

The bedroom at camp.

The bedroom at camp.

Sunset and sunrise!

Sunset and sunrise!

Chilly morning, didn't want to get out of bed.

Chilly morning, didn’t want to get out of bed.

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Good news, no one got trampled over the night. The drivers cooked breakfast for us, which was pretty pathetic. It consisted of tea and chapati. Not very filling. Dave and I brought cookies we didn’t eat the day before so we had cookies for breakfast too. Not sure why mom doesn’t think that’s a good breakfast…

Anyway, another short bump back to the hotel and the whole thing was done. Short and sweet. It was a perfect amount of time on a camel as they are not the most comfortable things to ride and sleeping in the sand is also not the most comfortable thing.

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This guy was not part of our group. Check out his sweet turbine.

This guy was not part of our group. Check out his sweet turban.

Another big reason it was the perfect amount of time for me was because one of the camels was in heat. I know heat isn’t the correct term because it was a male camel, but he was in the mind set of attracting and finding a female camel to mate with. This consisted of foaming at the mouth and ballooning this large and very disgusting sac from the side of the camel mouth. This wouldn’t have been so bad, but the camel belonged to the same camel driver as my camel. So the mate attracting camel rode right next to my face the whole time. Anytime the camel needed to move away from a tree the foamy, stinky mouth was inches from my face. Also, at one point, the gross sac that comes out the side of the mouth ballooned inches from my face. I winced and the camel driver put his hand between my face and the sac until the camel decided to suck it back in. But, “don’t worry Sarah, he won’t bite” was my assurance from the camel driver. HA. Like I was concerned with that. I was focused on not getting foam on my clothes or in my mouth and to not get slapped in the face with a mating sac. Yup, definitely the perfect amount of time.

Inches from my face...

Inches from my face…

We couldn’t get a picture of the sac, but i borrowed this one from the web.

After the camel safari, we headed back to Jaisalmer and into the fort. Jaisalmer is one of the few, if not the only, places you can stay inside the fort. It was very awesome to be inside the fort the whole time. We noticed here that the people are more friendly than we’ve experienced in other places of India. We had many conversations with locals who owned shops, hotels, or restaurants and just wanted to talk rather than talk to make the sale. It was nice. We spent a good hour or longer in a jewelry shop talking to the owner sharing stories about the different cultures. He even gave us some of his cadbury chocolate. We didn’t buy the ring his shop is famous for, but he didn’t seem to mind just hanging out. This was our second stop in Rajasthan and we can tell from interacting with the people why it is such a popular tourist area in India. It was a fun place to spend a couple of nights.

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Dave outside our hotel.

Dave outside our hotel.

Inside the fort

Inside the fort

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Mind your head. We come across these all the time. Never stops being funny.

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Washing clothes in a bucket. We hate doing it, but it's a must.

Washing clothes in a bucket. We hate doing it, but it’s a must.

Dave also hates doing it. Travel size washing machine anyone??

Dave also hates doing it. Travel size washing machine anyone??

From the fort looking into the golden city.

From the fort looking over the golden city.

Categories: Cities, India, Nature, Outdoors, Ruins, Traveling | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

Tigers, nah, they’re only in zoos.

I was really feeling homesick. We had spent thanksgiving on an overnight bus and eating pad thai in Thailand, so I really wanted to experience Christmas and feel some Christmas spirit. There are Christians in India in the south who celebrate Christmas so we wanted to head down there. Due to the Varanasi train ticket fiasco, we couldn’t make it to the south to celebrate Christmas in time, so we opted for a Christmas celebration in the wild.

Kanha National park is one of the largest national parks in India and has over 200 Bengal tigers along with hundreds of other animal types. We decided to go here so we’d have the chance to see a tiger.

The park at dawn.

The park at dawn.

We had met an Italian couple on the bus ride to the village near the park entrance and had decided to share a jeep with them to reduce the cost. An older couple was staying at the same resort we were and decided to join us since you can take up to six people in one jeep. The manager of the hotel was very friendly and willing to help us fill out the appropriate paperwork to get a jeep and ticket into the park.

The Indian government restricts the number of jeeps going into the park to protect the land and animals that live there. I don’t disagree with this, I think it’s a great way to protect the park. But, there is an online system now where people can pre-book the jeeps and so all of them were sold out months ago. There is an emergency quota, similar to the train system, for people arriving the day before. But, the process to get this ticket was just baffling.

We had our paperwork filled out and completed for 2:30pm the day prior to going on the safari. The manager of the hotel said he somehow got us to the second position in the stack of paperwork of people trying to get in. This was good for us since they only give out 2 or 3 sometimes. All of these papers are then stapled together and additional ones can be added and stapled to the bottom of the pile. The office where the papers are kept and where the tickets are given is open from 2:30pm to 6pm and then re-opens at 6 am the following day. At 6 am they release the emergency tickets and whoever is first in the stack of papers gets the first ticket and so on until they run out. Simple right?

Wrong. The stack of papers remain outside the locked office all night and apparently people come in the middle of the night or early in the morning and remove papers so their group is towards the top. To avoid this, we were told you have to guard the stack of papers. HA! The manager of our hotel said that he will watch the stack and make sure we stay at our current place until midnight when he goes to bed. After that, he wanted us, the three couples, to check on the stack starting at 3 am (I guess people don’t come from midnight – 3am).  There were multiple times when we or the others in our group asked why they didn’t lock up the papers at 6pm when the office closed. We were told then people would come multiple days in advance and book the safaris and it just wouldn’t work and many other reason that we just couldn’t understand. We decided that, being foreigners, we couldn’t change the system and agreed to do the babysitting in shifts starting at a later time than suggested. The Italian couple was the first at 4:00 am, the older couple at 4:30 am, Dave at 5:00 am and Dave and I at 5:30 to 6 am when the office would open.

Well, the Italian couple got there at 4 am and our sheet was missing completely, so they added our second copy (which the manager knew we should have filled out in advance). The people who were there put our sheet at the bottom and the Italians tried to explain that we were on top, but couldn’t do it with the limited English they had. When the older couple showed up at 4:30 with our sheet on the bottom, they were very upset and adamant about getting back to the top. They did whatever they had to, which I think included yelling, to get our paper back on top. We were not there, but were told it got a little hostile. So when Dave arrived they decided to all stay together as a group until the office opened at 6 am. The babysitting worked and we got a ticket into the park. Woo.

At 6:30 am we were off into tiger country. The sun was just rising and it was chilly in our open topped jeep, but there were many animals waking up and roaming the park. The goal of the safari is always to see a tiger, both the guide and driver know that, so many of the animals we saw were in passing for our tiger search. We saw many different varieties of deer, water buffalo, many birds, peacocks, and jackals. It was amazing how beautiful the park was with all of the wildlife, forests, and meadows.

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All of the jeeps lined up to get into the park and see the tigers first.

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All dressed up for the chilly morning and ready for the tigers!

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The park is beautiful in the morning.

But, of course, it’s mostly about the tigers. The jeep driver and guides know where the tiger territories are and stop at various spots. They also communicate with the other jeep drivers and guides to see if they’ve seen one and where it was. We had driven up behind a jeep that said they saw a tiger cross the road a couple of minutes before. Bummer, we just missed it. The jeeps usually hang out for 10 or so minutes in the same area with the engines off just in case the tiger decides to come back out. So we sat for a while all just hoping we’d get to see one. While waiting we hear this really loud yip noise all of a sudden and some rustling in the woods right next to the jeep. The rustling noise started to move away from the jeep and sounded like there was something running through the under brush. No one knew what it actually was but the jeep driver started the jeep and sped forward to stay with it. All of a sudden a baby deer jumps into the road in front of the jeep. Bummer! It was a just a deer.

A few second after the startled deer ran and stopped in the road a giant tiger came and chomped down on the deer, looked at us, and then ran off. HOLY COW! We just saw a tiger. HOLY FREAKIN COW! We just saw a tiger kill a baby deer.  It was awesome. Well, not for the deer.

All of us were high on adrenaline and we couldn’t keep the giant smiles off our faces when other jeeps came and asked if we saw a tiger or not. The whole debacle with the babysitting of our paper was well worth our tiger siting. Unfortunately, with all the excitement of the tiger siting we didn’t get our camera open and functioning to get a picture. But, the older couple has some awesome shots they are going to share with us (thank you so much!). We’re currently waiting for them and will update once we have them.

It was a perfect Christmas present, since we couldn’t be home with family.

Cute little owl hiding in his tree hole.

Cute little owl hiding in his tree hole.

Jackel

Jackal

Langure Monkeys

Langur Monkeys

Yellow pigeons.

Yellow pigeons.

Kingfisher (the bird the Indian beer is named after)

Kingfisher (the bird the Indian beer is named after)

Deer

Deer

Peacocks!

Peacocks!

Searching for bugs

Searching for bugs

Waiting for an opportunity to steal our food.

Waiting for an opportunity to steal our food.

Yellow legged bird, I forget the real name.

Yellow legged bird, I forget the real name.

Good morning.

Good morning.

Our jeep

Our jeep

One spot where a female tiger and her cubs frequent.

One spot where a female tiger and her cubs frequent.

Dave and a water buffalo

Dave and a water buffalo

water buffalo

water buffalo

River in the park.

River in the park.

Another kingfisher bird.

Another kingfisher bird.

Spotted deer.

Spotted deer.

Sunrise.

Sunrise.

Categories: India, Nature, Outdoors, Traveling | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Brrrrr…cold Darjeeling

While we were in Kolkata we asked a few Indians where their favorite place to visit in India was and two of them said Darjeeling. So we were off. Darjeeling is an old hill station in the mountains with amazing views of the Himalayas.  And at over 6,500 ft it was COLD in December. For some reason we didn’t think it was going to be as cold as it was, I don’t know what we were thinking.

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Let me clarify my definition of cold. During the day in the sun it was enjoyable, my guess would be about  low to mid 50’s. Once that sun disappeared though, it went from enjoyable to I don’t want to stop moving or I’ll get frostbite. Which, I guess would translate to right around freezing. The most unexpected part, again, we should have expected this, was there was no heat. It is still so surprising that a location pretty far north of the equator and above 6,000ft does not have central heat during the winter months. There were some people that had portable heaters, but the fuel for them cost a lot so they were not used.

This might be the reason the fuel is so expensive.

This might be the reason the fuel is so expensive.

The first night we were there, we put on all of our layers (undershirt, t-shirt, long sleeve shirt, wool sweater, soft shell jacket, gortex jacket, long underwear, pants, hat and gloves) just to walk around at night. We were not sure if we would be warm enough with the clothes we had and the three blankets they gave us for sleeping. But we did get a surprise right before bed–a hot water bottle. What they do to stay warm at night in Darjeeling (and apparently other cold climates near by) is boil a bunch of water and put them in rubber bags. Each bed gets a rubber bag to put into your bed prior to getting in yourself. This pre-heats your bed and keeps you warm throughout the night. Let me tell you, it works! We were able to sleep in only a couple of layers. Both of us thought this would be a great addition to the cold nights in Maine.

Sitting inside with all my clothes on.

Sitting inside with all my clothes on.

Drinking lots of hot tea to stay warm.

Drinking lots of hot tea to stay warm.

Our heat for the night!

Our heat for the night!

Eating ice cream indoors with all of our winter gear on.

Eating ice cream indoors with all of our winter gear on.

While in Darjeeling we decided to visit a tea plantation. We were told multiple times that the best tea in India comes from here. We got a tour of the highest tea plantation in India and it also happened to be organic. It was called Happy Valley. December is not the picking season so the equipment was not up and running, but we did get a good explanation of what it would be doing when it was running. We both learned a lot of new things about the different types of tea and the tea making process that we didn’t know before. We left with some tea as a souvenir.

The chalk board where they listed which ladies were picking in which locations.

The chalk board where they listed which ladies were picking in which locations.

The beds where the tea leaves are partially air dried.

The beds where the tea leaves are partially air dried.

The fans that move the air into the bottom of the beds.

The fans that move the air into the bottom of the beds.

Location where they roll the tea leaves.

Location where they roll the tea leaves.

Ovens for further drying.

Ovens for further drying.

Sorting room for different types of tea.

Sorting room for different types of tea.

Us with the tour guide.

Us with the tour guide.

View of the tea plants.

View of the tea plants.

View of a portion of the tea plantation.

View of a portion of the tea plantation.

We visited the Zoo as well based on recommendations from other fellow travelers. The zoo did have some cool animals, mostly large cats, and an interesting museum on Himalayan Trekking and Treks to Mt. Everest.

Zoo

Zoo

The bear was sticking his tongue out at us.

The bear was sticking his tongue out at us.

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The bear didn't have a cage and was really close to us, there was a trench that stops the bear from escaping though.

The bear didn’t have a cage and was really close to us, there was a trench that stops the bear from escaping though.

Mountain goat.

Mountain goat.

Water Buffalo

Water Buffalo

Himalayan Museum

Himalayan Museum

Leopard

Leopard

Panther

Panther

Snow leopard

Snow leopard

Tiger!

Tiger!

This wolf wants to eat you.

This wolf wants to eat you.

Sly fox.

Sly fox.

Sleeping Red Panda

Sleeping Red Panda

Red Panda

Red Panda

Because Darjeeling is a hill station, they have a train system that go up the mountain side. They call these hill station trains toy trains. The toy trains are smaller trains than the regular trains they have in India. They only have a 2ft wide rail width and the cars are about 5ft wide versus a 4-5ft rail width and a 9-10ft car width. We took a toy train joy ride to a lower city and back. The joy rides specifically use a steam engine to power the cars like they did when these were originally built and used.

Toy Train

Toy Train

Steam Engine

Steam Engine

Inside the train.

Inside the train.

We saw this while we were on the train. They were lifting concrete to the top of the wall there. Good team work.

We saw this while we were on the train. They were lifting concrete to the top of the wall there. Good team work.

Adding fuel to the fire.

Adding fuel to the fire.

Removing the ashes.

Removing the ashes.

Someone sorting through the just removed ashes for unused coal.

Someone sorting through the just removed ashes for unused coal.

One of the cooler things we saw in Darjeeling wasn’t a tourist attraction at all. They were repaving some of the streets and we got to see the whole process up close and personal. The roads were not just regular black top either. They get a lot of rain in the monsoon season so they put stones in the black top, we believe these help with tire grip. Almost the whole process is done by hand or man power, even laying and tapping each one of the stones. It was an interesting process we’ve never seen before and will probably never see again. (Link to YouTube video)

That tar (?) chunk gets thrown into that machine which melts and mixes.

That tar (?) chunk gets thrown into that machine which melts and mixes.

Sealing the edges together.

Sealing the edges together.

Placing and banging in the stones.

Placing and banging in the stones.

Laying the black top with wood trowels.

Laying the black top with wood trowels.

Darjeeling was also our first true experience with obtaining railway tickets. We actually ended up getting stuck in Darjeeling because of it. Our first experience in Kolkata was at a Foreign Tourist Office and we were able to get a ticket the same day. Darjeeling is smaller and doesn’t have a special office for tourist so we tried the regular window. With the regular window comes the regular tickets. We found out that the tourist office only gives out tourist quota tickets and a certain amount of tickets are set aside for tourist only. Because there are over a billion people in India, they have different quotas set aside for different ticket types. They have the general, tourist, emergency (Tatkal), women, and more I don’t even know about.

So, if you are trying to purchase regular, non tourist quota, tickets for the day prior to when you want to leave, which we were, you are shit out of luck. Those tickets are sold out days, weeks, and even months in advance. For this reason, they have an emergency quota, or stash of tickets, that can be purchased only the day before at exactly 10 am. Our first attempt at getting general tickets didn’t work because they were all sold out, but we were told about the Tatkal emergency tickets so we decided to try that. It was already past 10 am so we had to return the following day. Which would put us leaving a day after we wanted to.

The Tatkal experience: we arrived at 9 am and didn’t see too many people around. We thought we were smart for coming early and getting in line. Well there is no line. There was a scrap piece of paper that you write your name on to hold your place in line. People were there at 8 am when the train station opened to write their name on the scrap paper. We were number 13 and were thinking we were in good shape. A couple of minutes before 10am, everyone comes back and queues up with their papers. Also, I forgot to mention before that you need to fill out a piece of paper with the train number, name, time, in order to get a ticket and in Kolkata someone was able to help us with that. The paper we had with us was partially filled out, as it was in Kolkata, because we didn’t know the number or name of the train. Well, 10 am comes around, the tellers are working as fast as they can to purchase tickets and move through the line. By the time we got there, got yelled at for not having the train number, and figured out which train number we wanted, there were no tickets left for us. Attempt number two failed.

The tatkal chaos

The tatkal chaos

Later that day, we were told that the general ticket window can purchase tickets from the tourist quota, but you need to specifically ask for that. So, we went back for a third time and tried to get tickets that way. The tickets that were available were two days out and had a connection in the middle. We took it. After two days, three visits, many conversations with the tellers, and lots of frustration, we finally got tickets. We ended up leaving three days after we originally wanted to and, we didn’t know this at the time, it was only the start to our wonderful train ticket purchase experiences. More to come later.

Getting stuck in Darjeeling was not so bad after all. It was quieter and more peaceful than Kolkata, we met many other interesting travelers, and there were some great places to eat western breakfasts, like omelets and pancakes. Also, on the last day, the clouds left long enough for us to see the beautiful, huge mountains that were close by. If we didn’t get stuck, we would have never seen them. Thank you crazy Indian train system.

The mountains that we got to see on the last day!

The mountains that we got to see on the last day!

Glenary's bake shop. They have very yummy desserts.

Glenary’s bake shop. They have very yummy desserts.

Old church at the top of the mountain.

Old church at the top of the mountain.

Dave got this excited about the Indian desserts every time.

Dave got this excited about the Indian desserts every time.

Categories: Architecture, Cities, India, Nature, Outdoors, Traveling | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments

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