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Kathmandu

Kathmandu is the capital city of Nepal as well as the country’s largest city. Along with being the hub of the country it’s also a hub for tourists, to fan out to the different sights all over Nepal. And that’s why we visited Kathmandu a total of three separate times during our travels in Nepal. The first time was to prepare for the nearby Langtang Trek; the second was after our return from that trek and before we headed to our favorite city in Nepal, Pokhara; and the last time was to see all of the sights near Kathmandu, celebrate the Hindu holiday called Holi and to meet the family of a new friend from back home.

During the first two visits we didn’t do much, but our last visit consisted of a few days packed full of sightseeing and fun activities, and the rest waiting around for our flight out of Kathmandu. In total, this last time we spent about 10 days in Kathmandu. Anyone who’s ever visited the city will probably agree with us that ten days is far too much. We didn’t intend to spend so much time there. A combination of events led us to stay so long. First, as mentioned in the previous post, our unsuccessful attempt to visit the city of Daman resulted in us coming to Kathmandu prematurely. Second, we wanted to take part in the Holi holiday celebrations that takes place on a specific day. Lastly, we booked our flight far in advance using frequent flier miles and had limits on which days we could fly using those miles. All of this resulted a very long stay in Kathmandu.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty to do in and around Kathmandu, just not ten days worth—in my humble opinion of course. The highlights from our time here include visits to several Buddhist temples, tours of three major Hindu palaces/squares, and probably our favorite experience of all, celebrating Holi. The rest of our time was spent walking around the city, reading and sampling the different restaurants.

Panoramic of Kathmandu

Panoramic of Kathmandu

I’ll start with our favorite experience, celebrating the Hindu holiday called Holi. Holi is commonly known as the “festival of colors”. Why this holiday hasn’t become popular in the U.S. is a mystery to me. The obvious reason it hasn’t is because it’s a Hindu holiday and there isn’t a huge Hindu presence in the U.S. Regardless of that minor fact, it’s a fun holiday and people of all ages would surely enjoy it. To learn more about the origins of Holi I’d recommend checking it out online. What I do know is that a major part of the celebration involves attacking friends and complete strangers with colored powder and balloons filled with dyed water. Most of these attacks come as a surprise, and from our experience, foreigners are especially targeted—much to our delight of course.

In preparation for the celebration I bought a pair of inexpensive white pants. The logic being, if you’re going to celebrate a holiday of color you want to be able to see the color. In retrospect, I should have also bought a white shirt, because at the last minute I opted not to wear the white shirt I already owned in fear of it being destroyed. It turned out that the colors were sufficiently bright enough to show up on my black shirt. So it worked out anyway. Sarah already had old clothes she didn’t mind getting a little messy. Good thing, because Sarah was especially targeted in these colorful attacks. Most of the assailants are boys, and what boy doesn’t like throwing water balloons at a girl. I completely understand where they’re coming from. Not to mention, it was fun for me to watch.

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Not the correct spelling but good enough.

Not the correct spelling but good enough.

These women were throwing water on unsuspecting victims below. Look how happy they are.

These women were throwing water on unsuspecting victims below. Look how happy they are.

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Holi dance party.

Holi dance party.

Taking a break from Holi to grab some colorful juice.

Taking a break from Holi to grab some colorful juice.

Holi gets everywhere.

Holi gets everywhere.

Even the statues were celebrating.

Even the statues were celebrating.

The end result: two happy, colorful people.

The end result: two happy, colorful people.

What a looker.

What a looker.

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On this day we were invited to spend part of it celebrating with the family of a friend from back home, Lila. Lila’s brother, Bhuwan, who we’d met the day before, picked us up and brought us to his family’s home. We spent part of the day with his sisters, mother, father and some extended family. A couple of Bhuwan and Lila’s sisters prepared us the best Nepali meal we’ve ever had. It goes by many names, but I’ll refer to it as a Nepali Thali. It consists of rice and a variety of “side” dishes that you can mix with the rice or eat on their own. The most popular mixture is the dhal (lentils) and rice. Sometimes the meal includes meat. In this case we had some amazing baked chicken.

They're saying Happy Holi to Lila.

They’re saying Happy Holi to Lila.

The matriarch.

The matriarch.

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Best Nepali Thali ever.

Best Nepali Thali ever.

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The two sisters that prepared the delicious meal. Thanks ladies!

The two sisters that prepared the delicious meal. Thanks ladies!

After the meal we went to the roof top to check out the views of the surrounding area. To our surprise, out of nowhere, balloons started flying our way. We quickly spotted their neighbors with big grins on their faces throwing more balloons. This led to about an hour long battle of back and forth balloon throwing. In between our war with them we were tossing balloons down at the other neighbors on street level. I can’t remember the last time I had a water balloon fight. They’re a lot of fun.

They took a break from their water fight to have a dance party.

They took a break from their water fight to have a dance party.

Sarah happened to catch a photo of me dodging a balloon to the face.

Sarah happened to catch a photo of me dodging a balloon to the face.

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Our visit with them ended with good conversation and a great cup of masala chiya (spiced milk tea), the best we had in Nepal. The family was amazing and we are extremely grateful to them for inviting us to celebrate the happy and colorful holiday of Holi with them. A special thanks to Bhuwan for taking time out of his day on several occasions to meet up with us.

Drinking chiya and chatting.

Drinking chiya and chatting.

Final farewell to the family.

Final farewell to the family.

Kathmandu and the surrounding areas have a long and rich history, mixed with Hindu and Buddhist culture. There are many old buildings and temples that are proof of that rich history. We visited a few Durbar Squares in and around the city. The term “durbar” means palace. We also visited a few Buddhist Stupas near the city. Bhuwan and a friend of his spent most of a day taking us around to these different sights. Thanks again Bhuwan.

Kathmandu Durbar Square

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The living goddess Kumari lives here.

The living goddess Kumari lives here.

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Swayambunath Buddhist Stupa

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Patan Durbar Square

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Baktipur

Bhaktapur Panoramic_02

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The were filming a Kallywood (Kathmandu equivalent of Hollywood or Bollywood) movie when we visited.

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Bodhnath Buddhist Stupa

Bodhnath Stupa

Bodhnath Stupa

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When we weren’t sightseeing we spent most of our time in the area of Kathmandu known as Thamel. It’s the main tourist area full of restaurants, shops and budget accommodations. The streets are narrow and almost always clogged with people, cars, rickshaws, motorcycles and too many people selling tiger balm.

IMG_3905 IMG_3907 IMG_3915 IMG_3924 IMG_3929 IMG_3934 IMG_3944 IMG_3949 IMG_2723 IMG_2735After Nepal we head home to see family and prepare for Sarah’s sister’s wedding. While we’re sad to leave Nepal we’re very excited to see family and friends before we restart our travels in May. Nepal is an amazing country and arguably our favorite so far.

Our last dinner in Nepal. A nice Indian restaurant we frequented.

Our last dinner in Nepal. A nice Indian restaurant we frequented.

Sarah and I saying "cheers" to the great time we had in Nepal and enjoying our favorite mango drink.

Sarah and I saying “cheers” to the great time we had in Nepal and enjoying our favorite mango drink.

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Mitraniketan and Mysterious Ooty

Mitraniketan is a small community located in the state of Kerala. It was started on the basis of providing education for village children around Kerala who wouldn’t normally be able to afford schooling. Over the years, it has grown to host over 300 elementary students, a people’s college, an organic farm, a small dairy farm, and a bakery. They also have a large community of people who visit as volunteers, curious tourists, or people on yoga retreat. We visited with the purpose of volunteering.

Morning assembly area. All the students would sing every morning.

Morning assembly area. All the students would sing every morning.

The organic farm was starting to grown coconut trees from the seeds.

The organic farm was starting to grow coconut trees from the seeds.

Organic farm section.

Organic farm section.

Massive bull in the diary farm section.

Massive bull in the dairy farm section.

The people’s college received funding from a group of Mitraniketan enthusiasts from Denmark a year or so ago. The funding went to a project they called “Eco-campus project.” This project was looking at the whole Mitraniketan community-which includes the elementary school, people’s college, farm, bakery, and shared areas-in regards to water conservation. In recent years they have seen a drop in water levels as well as a decrease in the amount of rainfall they receive in a year. The work they are doing should help retain the water in the soil around the campus. Some examples of what they have completed as part of the project include planting of banana trees, coconut trees, and digging various trenches in key locations to trap the water. It was all very interesting and we learned a lot from the staff there during the tours.

Trenches around the trees to trap the water

Trenches around the trees to trap the water

Trenches next to the path to trap all the water that runs down the hill.

Trenches next to the path to trap all the water that runs down the hill.

Planting banana and coconut trees.

Planting banana and coconut trees.

They have other small projects that they want to do but haven’t had time since they have been focused on the water conservation. One of those projects was to look at the types of plastic wastes that is produced on campus and provide containers to sort these from other garbage. Dave and I were in charge of this project for the week that we stayed in the community.

Dave and I decided that to understand the types of plastic wastes and suggest sorting we needed to understand all waste streams coming from the campus. We walked around and took pictures of all the different types of waste we saw and where it was on campus. We had one of the students walk us around the dorms as well. It was amazing the difference we saw between the boys dorm and the girls dorms. Overall we found a variety of different types of waste and suggested they have three different bins-compostable waste, plastic bottles, and waste to be burned or appropriately disposed of. We provided a report and they seemed to be excited with the results. I hope what we did was actually beneficial to them and can be used in the future.

Trash can they use currently.

Trash can they use currently.

Boys dorm.

Boys dorm.

Clean girls dorm with some girls shying away from the camera.

Clean girls dorm with some girls shying away from the camera.

The boy on the far right was the one who helped us with the dorms. His name is Sudeen.

The boy on the far right was the one who helped us with the dorms. His name is Sudeen.

Snapshot of our report. Dave really wanted me to include this.

Snapshot of our report.

Mitraniketan was a blessing for both Dave and I. Before we arrived, we were really frustrated with the issues we were having with the trains, the touts, the rickshaw drivers, along with the stress from finding hotels, the endless beeping, and other exhausting traveling duties. The small community they created was so relaxing, quiet, and welcoming that we didn’t want to leave after the week we were there. We even asked if we could stay longer, but other tourists were coming in and there was no space.

One of the reason it’s so relaxing and stress free is because all of the meals are prepared for you. This is great because you don’t have to find non-spicy restaurants and we got to try a lot of different south Indian dishes. The food we had here was probably some of the best we’ve had in India. My favorite was a jack fruit and coconut dish.

Jack fruit are...

Jack fruit are…

HUGE!

HUGE!

Overall both of us had a great experience visiting the Mitraniketan community. We would recommend it to anyone visiting the south of India. We left refreshed. Thank you Mitraniketan and all the great people that it includes.

They have a pottery making area and this guy is a master.

They have a pottery making area and this guy is a master.

They were digging this very deep well to provide water for locals right next to the campus.

They were digging this very deep well to provide water for locals right next to the campus.

They have an area dedicated to making mats and other things out of coir, which is rope from coconut fibers.

They have an area dedicated to making mats and other things out of coir, which is rope from coconut fibers.

Coir weaving machine.

Coir weaving machine.

They had an engineering section that would produce new equipment to help the locals with a certain task, this one was for sifting.

They had an engineering section that would produce new equipment to help the locals with a certain task, this one was for sifting.

Some boys playing in the park area.

Some boys playing in the park area.

Some of the girls building a wall to help with water conservation

Some of the girls building a wall to help with water conservation

The boys helping out around the campus.

The boys helping out around the campus.

Dave was talking to all of these guys about Soccer, he never got to play with them though.

Dave was talking to all of these guys about Soccer, he never got to play with them though.

Wall building

Wall building

Rubber trees! They were not part of the farm, but right next to it.

Rubber trees! They were not part of the farm, but right next to it.

Our next stop was a hill station called Ooty in the state of Tamil Nadu. They have many tea plantations and Dave and I signed up to do a trek through the tea plantations and local villages. It was a great experience and we had some excellent pictures. Unfortunately, Ooty is also the place where we lost our camera. After 6 months of traveling we didn’t lose one thing, I think that’s pretty awesome on our part. But, I guess it was bound to happen at some point. It’s too bad it was our camera, not because it’s an expensive item, but because it holds pictures we can’t get back. But, we were lucky though because Dave unloaded all our pictures before Ooty so we only lost the pictures from Ooty and a few from Mitraniketan. PHEW! Anyway, we only have memories now of Ooty and a constant vigilance to not lose anything again.

Categories: India, Uncategorized, Volunteering | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

Change of Plans…this is why we are flexible.

For those of you who don’t know why we haven’t been posting the last few weeks is because we had to take a trip back home. My grandfather Pappy passed away and I needed to come back to be there with my family. We miss you every day Pappy.

Pappy at my brother’s wedding in July.

Needless to say, this is why we are flexible in our travelling plans. We were planning on spending another month and half in South America, but because we came back to the US, it didn’t make sense for us to go back down to South America for only a month and then fly across the world.

So we decided to move on. We’re currently in Bangkok, Thailand getting our visas for Myanmar. Myanmar’s internet access is limited and apparently going to be very slooow, so I wouldn’t expect any blogging until after Dec. 8th.

While we were home visiting, we got to spend a lot of time with family and friends. It was exciting to see everyone and catch up on everything that we missed in the 3 months we were gone.

Some exciting things we did in the US:

  • Dave got to drink a lot of Sam Adams Beer, both Octoberfest and winter lager – hopefully he got his fix for the next 9 months
  • Eat lots of Ice Cream (and fatten up)
  • Experience an Earthquake AND hurricane
  • Visit with friends and family

  • Go to the camp in Maine
  • Watched some episodes of “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo” – which made Dave cry from laughing so hard.
  • Vote
  • Go to the annual Halloween party

Can you guess what we were for Halloween?

Mammy even came this year!

I can’t believe we were home for three weeks. It went by so fast. But, It was a good break from the travel lifestyle and I can say that It was much harder to leave this time than it was the first time.

Here we go again.

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Guatemala City…Art, Walking, and Architecture

We’ve been in Guatemala since Wednesday (Aug. 1st) and we’ve already seen so much. The first night we were here our couchsurfing host (Ricardo, or Rick for short) invited us to an art show. A friend of his, Maria, was showing her art–which was fantastic–along with a handful of other local artists.  All of the work being presented was top-notch. The creativity, craft, and execution were very impressive. Unfortunately, the photos we took were none of those things.  Sorry.

Sarah playing art critic.

Thursday was a day filled with walking and really experiencing the streets of Guatemala City. The walking began early with  a trip to buy our bus tickets for the trip we will be taking in a couple of days from Guatemala City to Quetzaltenango–the town that we will be spending three weeks in studying Spanish. Our ever helpful couchsurfing host, Rick, offered to drop us off near the bus station just as he was heading off to work. It was a very last-minute ordeal, so we had to throw our stuff together and hadn’t yet eaten breakfast. As he was driving us to the station he was giving directions on how to get back on our own; telling us street names, directions, bus numbers and advice on how to stay safe–like don’t flash your camera around.

The bus station was very easy to find after he dropped us off. Communicating with the staff at the station with our broken Spanish went surprisingly well. Did I mention that the people here have been really polite and helpful thus far. The tickets cost 57 Quetzales (about $7.27) per person, for about a 4.5 hour bus ride. Not bad.

The weather here is pretty mild, mid 70’s or so, so we decided to hoof it all the way back from the bus station to the apartment we’re staying in. This was partly because we didn’t want to cram onto the buses that were filled with morning commuters. Also, we’ve read and been warned by Rick that traveling by bus here is not recommended for tourists.  The walk back let us experience the city in a little more up close and personal way. There were tons of people out and about, most likely on their way to work. We passed several areas with street vendors, none of which hassled us–as we’ve experienced in other international cities. It was nice being able to walk around and observe without being approached. Some of the city is easily walk-able, with sidewalks and people bridges, while other sections less so.  In many areas there are no sidewalks or stop lights to allow pedestrians to cross. You see crosswalks but they aren’t typically recognized by drivers. It’s not uncommon to get a toot of the horn encouraging you to hurry across the street. The pace of vehicle traffic is pretty fast, so crossing the street requires your full attention and some sprinting at times. The walk back to the apartment took, in total, about an hour and a half.

Rick’s place has a doorman that controls who enters the building. The doorman that day was different from the one we’d met the day before. Because are Spanish is terrible, we weren’t able to effectively communicate with him so that he would let us in. Fortunately, we found a pay phone and contacted Rick so that he could straighten things out. Once we got into the apartment we ate lunch, then I napped while Sarah researched places to visit during the last half of the day. Then we hit the streets once again.

We headed to an area of the city supposedly known as the ‘Old City’. By ‘old’ I assumed several-hundred-years-ago-Spain-colonial-days old. Not the case. Most of the buildings we saw were built in the 1930’s and 40’s. Nonetheless, they were beautiful buildings. Here are some of the pictures we took of the National Palace of Culture and the Ministry of the Interior. Click on any image to view them in ‘Gallery’ mode.

After a long, yet successful, day of walking around the city, we made sure to catch the bus in time to get home before dark. The reason being that we were given warnings to be off of the streets by dark. It’s hard to know if the advice we’ve been given is founded or just people being overly cautious. Whatever the reason, we’ve decide it best to follow the advice. I mentioned early that bus travel was advised against, yet I just explained that we caught a bus home. There is one bus line in the city that’s considered safe for tourists–the green line. The construction of that particular line, and all of its stations, was completed about 5 years ago (approximately 2007). All of the stations are guarded by transit police and the line is considered safe for travel by tourists. It certainly felt that way to us. Here’s a shot of the bus. It’s pretty modern looking.

The safe bus (the green line)

On Saturday Rick is planning to take us to Antigua. A guided tour by a local sounds pretty cool. We’re looking forward to it.

– Dave

Categories: Architecture, Central America, Uncategorized | Tags: , | 3 Comments

Guatemala!

It’s official we’re in Guatemala City, Guatemala! We have arrived safely and have met our wonderful couchsurfing  host. We are now catching up on some much-needed rest after the long flights and early rise.

A big thanks for Kristina for driving us to the airport at 3am this morning after only 3 hours of sleep. And thanks for my family for the “last supper” they had for us. It was very yummy and I’ll be missing that chicken broccoli casserole and carter’s ice cream in about a month, if not sooner.

Here are a couple of pictures to enjoy. Image

Thanks for the cake Mom!

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The view from our host’s apartment. Right before it started to down poor.

Cheers.

Categories: Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Hello world!

I’ll let our very first post be a little something about why we decided to create this blog.

Dave and I are youngish adults (I say youngish because Dave is over 30 and I’m not. So I’m the young and he’s the ish) who decided a break from work was necessary to do what we know we love to do; travel.

We know a lot of people who save their whole lives and wait to do what they love after they retire when they are 65 or older. We couldn’t wait. So we saved money, quit our jobs, and decided to travel the world (well, more like three distinct areas of the world, but we’ll make it simple and say the world) for a year.

After the shock wore off when we broke the news to our families, friends, or coworkers we heard a lot of “you better send us some post cards” or “keep me updated on where you are.” The easiest way we decided to do both of those things was through this blog. So…here we are.

We can’t guarantee the best writing or grammar, but we’ll make sure to post enough pictures to make up for that. Enjoy the blog!!

Cheers,

Sarah

 

 

Categories: Uncategorized | 11 Comments

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