Kathmandu

Mini Memoir Monday: The Worst Massage

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Whole Foods, Kathmandu style. The red thing is a pig being sold by the cross-section.

Kathmandu is one of the most overwhelming cities in the world. When my mom and I traveled there two years ago, we needed to take a nap every time we returned to our hotel. The dark alleyways are barely wide enough for the intense foot traffic, let alone the constant rush of beeping mopeds and the occasional car that would push through, making the pedestrians squeeze up against the sides of buildings to avoid losing a toe under the wheel.

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Would you walk next to this with 100 monkeys swinging from it???

A thousand sticks of incense burned all around us, blurring our vision and stinging our noses. Monkeys swung from the electrical cables over our heads. Store owners yelled at us to see their merchandise, grabbed at our arms, and whistled. I can’t tell you how many times random men would open their coats in front of my and I would wince, thinking they were flashing me, but really they were just showing off their wide array of stolen watches and tiger balm. Yes, tiger balm. I was getting offered tiger balm so often I began to think it must be code for something.

Now don’t get me wrong, I think Nepal is one of the most beautiful, interesting countries in the world. I even wrote about it in my top most amazing countries series. Just make sure you pack a ton of Tylenol if you go there.

On our last day in Kathmandu I decided that I was too tense and wound up for the 20 hour plan ride home. I left my mom in the hotel and searched the streets for a place to get a massage.  I wanted to use up my last few rupees (about $30 worth). Ignoring all the tiger balm hawkers, I went into all the fancy hotel spas, but they quoted me prices that were way out of my budget. I walked deeper and deeper into Kathmandu, through alleyways where the buildings were so close together the sun never touched the ground even at high noon. Finally, I saw a sign that said, “Cheep Masaje.” Considering the typos, I figured it would be affordable.

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The river where most of the funerals take place.

I walked up two flights of stairs until I saw the sign again. I pushed the door open only to find a family eating dinner in their kitchen. I apologized profusely, and began to step out, but the mom grabbed my arm and pulled me in.

“Pretty lady, I give you massage,” she said, plopping me down into a plastic lawn chair. I could feel its legs buckle under my weight. “But first I give you paint.” She pulled a  ziplock bag of nail polish out of her pocket. She searched the bag and decided on an electric blue color. Before I could protest, she was already lacquering my nails. Her four daughters surrounded me, playing with my hair and touching my cheeks like I was something magical.

“Oh so pretty,” she said, blowing my nails dry. “How much you want for massage?”

I pulled out my remaining wad of rupees.

The woman looked at the money and nodded. “Take off clothes.” She yelled something to her daughters and they scurried out of the room. She pointed to a dirty cot in the corner of the kitchen. I cringed thinking about the possible source of all those stains, but at that point, the lady was already pulling my shirt over my head.

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Traffic on the main highway.

“OK, Ok, I can do this,” I said to her, grabbing my shirt back.

She raised an eyebrow and got up to turn off the light. She turned on the boombox that was on the kitchen counter, and new age music filled the room.  She step out and closed the door behind her.

I moved to the cot where their was a folded sheet and towel. I laid out the sheet, and then rested on top of it, covering myself with the towel. I closed my eyes, and tried to relax. The smell of cooking oil overwhelmed my senses.

A minute later I heard the woman enter the kitchen again. I took a deep breath, praying the massage would be better than the ambiance. She put her hands on my shoulders, and I was surprised by how small and delicate they were. Then she folded the towel down to my belly button. I thought this was strange but I had never had a Nepalese massage before so I figured it was normal. It took me a second to register the bizarre fact that she was pinching my nipples. I shot up.

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The impressive Buddhist monuments.

“Whoa, hold up,” I yelled. Opening my eyes for the first time, I saw that it was not the older lady, but one of her young daughters. She couldn’t have been older than 10. I held the towel to my mouth to keep from throwing up.

I scrambled to the floor, and got dressed as quickly as possible. The little girl just stood there whimpering. Her mom came in, turned on the harsh halogen lights and began yelling at her daughter. I grabbed my purse just as the mother came in barreling towards her daughter. I ran out of there as fast as I could.

Moral of the story: don’t be cheap when you’re getting a massage in another country.

 

Top 10 Most Amazing Places on Earth: Nepal

This is the bottom half of a prayer wheel. In the background there’s a thousand hand-painted deities.

Ok, I’m the first to admit it. I’ve been super spoiled. I’ve traveled everywhere and there’s not a day that I don’t reminisce and recognize how lucky I am. Here are some of the most amazing places I’ve visited:

#4 Nepal:

My mom’s one of the only people I know who makes best friends with waiters and busboys. She became especially close with a busboy named Kharma Sherpa, who was from Nepal, and is, indeed, a Sherpa.

Actually Sherpa is a tribe in Nepal and Tibet, and it’s a pretty common last name. Since Sherpas live at the base of Mt. Everest they are used to the altitude. They became famous for helping the early European explorers trek that big rock.

As a whole, they are really friendly people who love to help whenever they can. Unfortunately Kharma was deported, but my mom promised she would visit within 2 years. My dad didn’t feel like taking the long flight, so when my mom asked if I wanted to go instead, I said hell yeah.

The view from the cockpit

On our second day in Kathmandu we headed to a tiny airport and boarded a 20 person plane. We took an hour long flight around Mt. Everest and the Himalayan range. The beauty was almost too much to handle – I cried the entire time. I got to go in the cockpit as we flew around the peak. It was amazing to think that we were flying at an altitude of 25,000 feet and yet there were people who were still 4,000 feet above us!

Monkeys were everywhere!

 

In my opinion we spent too long in Kathmandu. It’s a crazy, loud, congested, city. The drivers are horrific, and you need to be vigilant at all times. It’s definitely worth seeing, but I wouldn’t spend more than 2 days there. All your senses are in over-drive. I would suggest spending a week in Times Square to prepare. And bring lots of Advil!

Here’s a bus trying to pass another bus while swerving to miss oncoming traffic (our car).

Next up Kharma drove us to Chimoio, Nepal’s jungle. The road there was crazy, and later on I watched a program called The World’s Most Dangerous Roads, in which they showcased this road. It was a windy path that would be considered a one way street in America, but there was two way traffic as well as mopeds weaving in and out. We drove past two separate, over-turned buses. Half-way through traffic, stalled. My mom and I got out and walked ahead to see the cause. There was a head on collision of two buses. No emergency vehicles could get through. Some people volunteered to help the startled survivors out of the buses. Other people were piling up stones along the cliff so as to create a make-shift lane for cars to pass.

He looks cute an innocent but he can kill at any moment!

In Chimoio, we stayed near the river where all the elephants went to bathe. I got to ride this fellow into the water and then wash him with rocks – that’s the only way to break up the caked on mud. It was only afterwards that we learned it’s illegal to bathe elephants in the river because too many people were killed by elephants who got overly excited in the water and rolled around.

Next, I went on a jungle tour with Kharma and a guide. My mom was too afraid of crocodiles so she stayed behind. The guide told us to be extra careful of hippos – they’re aggressive and unpredictable. Of course, we ended up stumbling upon four hippos sleeping in a giant puddle of mud. Our footsteps woke them (they have incredible hearing) and they started making their warning grunts. Then the tour guide whispered the last thing you ever want to hear, “Oh shit!” He told us to duck under the bushes. This scared me even more because I’m deathly allergic to ants and I didn’t have my epi-pen. I figured I was more scared of the hippos than ants so I ran. The bush was thick and we couldn’t see them anymore. Suddenly we heard them fighting and the ground shook as they started to charge. The guide broke out running, and we followed, not knowing if the hippos would chase us or not. Well, I’m writing this post, so to make a long story short, we made it out alive.

That’s me getting ready to leap off the mountain!

So let’s see, I survived the world’s most dangerous road, water aerobics with elephants, and charging hippos. Jumping off a cliff with just a glorified nylon blanket seemed like the safe next move. We headed to Phuket(a popular hippy town for backpackers) and went paragliding. I thought it would be terrifying, but it was one of the most peaceful experiences of my life. I felt like a bird soaring above the trees.

The stunning terraces on all the mountainsides.

All of the Stupas had Buddha’s eyes painted on the top.

The view of the Himalaya’s from the plane.

Top 10 Amazing Places on Earth: #3 Israel

Top 10 Amazing Places on Earth: #2 Vieques

Top 10 Amazing Places on Earth: #1 Turkey



Lessons from a month abroad

Me in park Guell

I arrived back home yesterday afternoon. I did not expect to get giddy while walking through Immigration, or getting on the subway, or putting my key in the door, but all those things reminded me that I’m coming home. And I was excited to do so. As much as love to travel, I am always surprised by how happy I am to come back home. To have clean clothes. To see my kitties. To plug in electronics without first having to find the stupid adapter that always gets lost in my suitcase. I know I’m weird, but no matter how many showers I take while on vacation, I never feel as clean as that first shower when you get home.

I came home 5 pounds heavier. I would like to think those pounds are filled with wisdom. So here are some very wise things I learned while traveling for a month:

a window in Salamanca

1. No one says it better than my boy, Bill Bryson, “To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted.” This quote was etched into the bathroom stall in one of the restaurants I ate in in Barcelona. Although I’ve read it many times and have appreciated it, I’ve never read it while actually traveling , nor while on the toilet.  As much as I loved seeing all the sights from the tour books, the real joy is in finding a cup of coffee exciting again. Or taking a picture of a window. I mean seriously when do you take pictures of windows when you’re at home? Travel reinvigorates your enthusiasm for life. By the way, can you imagine how long it took to etch that quote into the bathroom stall?

2. An oldie, but a goodie: try new things. I didn’t want to see flamenco, but it blew me away.

Me trying out new water

While dining out, the worst food I had was when I was feeling homesick and ordered what was familiar to me. Pizza and hamburgers just don’t cut it in Spain. The best food I had was when Mike and I decided to order the strangest sounding thing on the menu. Duck ham (seriously that’s what it said) on top of duck liver pate was out of this world. I can’t believe I almost passed that up for french fries. Other great treats were bull tail ( YUM!), and onion jelly with sheep cheese and walnuts. While walking back to the hotel every day, we knew the fastest way to get back, but we always made a conscious effort to go down a different street, and for that we saw some amazing views, beautiful graffiti, hidden gardens, and old churches. If we only followed the path we knew we would have missed out on a lot.

3. Spanish is hard.

4. A lot can be done while sitting at a cafe drinking coffee. You can’t help but reflect on your life, how it’s going, and where you want it to go. I don’t know if it’s those little tables, or if it’s using a saucer, but you start to ask yourself the big questions. How do I want to spend my money? How do I want to raise my kids? What kind of lifestyle do I want? Do I really want the noise and chaos of NYC? Maybe I should live on a boat for year. Waiter, one more cup please.

5. Ok, because I love Bill so much I’m going to include one more quote. “I mused for a few moments on the question of which was worse, to lead a life so boring that you are easily enchanted, or a life so full of stimulus that you are easily bored.” Here’s one of the catches of traveling a lot – you become jaded start to compare countries. Instead of appreciating each place you visit you say “oh, the Hermitage was far superior,” “this doesn’t hold a candle to the canals in Venice,” or ” It’s no Kathmandu.” This is a horribly pompous attitude to have and I know I’m guilty of it sometimes. I was reminded of how much I hated it when I met a one-upper in Salamanca. When I said I liked the bread, he said, “Really??? You have to try the bread in Paris.” When I said I loved the Cathedral, he said, “Really??? You have to see the Hagia Sofia, in Istanbul.” When I told him that I had seen it and that you really can’t compare the two, he then said, “Well it’s no Notre Dame.” I’m not quite sure how to prevent that snobby attitude, but maybe just being of aware of it is the first step.

6. People can be extremely self-conscious. While on our way to a restaurant we saw a toddler running around a fountain. He was having so much fun that we decided to sit on a bench and watch him. He ran around the fountain maybe five hundred times. It was super slippery and he must have fallen an equal number of times. Each time he fell he would crack up laughing. and then start over again. He was insanely adorable, and we could not stop laughing. Eventually his dad picked him up to leave and when he walked past us he asked with an accent that sounded like the Terminator, “You find something funny?” At first I expected him to laugh like it was a joke, but he looked like he was about to kill us. I was shocked and really I couldn’t get it out of my head for days. How could he be so offended by us laughing? I thought it was obvious that we were sharing in the kid’s joy. My only guess is that he thought we thought his son was stupid, or that we thought he was stupid for letting his kid fall down so much. Either way, why was his first assumption so negative? It makes me think, did I ever get self-conscious because I thought someone was laughing at me, but perhaps that were laughing with me?

Traysaurous

7. I learned that when I’m tired, hot and hungry I become Traysaurous. It’s not pretty. I think I scared off I few kids – and maybe Mike too. No, actually he was brave enough to take this up close picture. On a serious note, I’m tired of always feeling tired. This trip has not only prompted me to take flamenco classes, but I’ve also decided to go to a sleep clinic. For years I suffered with insomnia, restless sleep, and sleep walking/talking. My roommate in Salamanca told me I stood up in the middle of the night and said, “this tent is filled with bees,” and then I tried to open an imaginary tent zipper. My brother told me that I woke up one night and asked if I could pay for the bus ticket with American cheese. One of the most annoying parts of this trip was that I was sleepy almost every day. I wanted to wake up fresh and ready to see the sites, but instead Traysaurous came out a little too often. I think my quality of life would greatly improve if I could get 8 hours of fantastic, uninterrupted sleep. With no bees or American cheese.