28 April 2009

I Dread What Will Happen Next

Life is full of doing those things that your parents always told you not to do. Don't get a tattoo, don't get a piercing, don't drink too much, don't be rude, don't hit your brother, don't taddle on people, don't smoke. I even remember my father telling me not to draw doodles on my school books, because if I was then it meant I most certainly wasn't concentrating on the work.

Perhaps its an inbuilt function that we rebel against our parents. But then, I have done many of those things (not the tattoo) mentioned with no second thought to what my parents taught or wanted from me. Did they put the idea in my head, or would I have done it anyway?

I dread to think what I will do next.

22 April 2009

Langtang by Camera

[took us 6 hours to realise that the driver didn't know there was supposed to be oil in the car]

[I guess there'll be no hot water this morning then?]

[no child, its my camera]

[playing in snow, i never get tired of it]

[Himalayas - word]

[mastered the hill of death]

[Kamal thought he'd check in on the wife and kids]

[still slightly delerious from the hill of death, hair's so long!]

[Jojo pretends to be unimpressed, those aren't clouds kids...]

[in a pathetic attempt to dry my clothes i hang them from the back of my pack during the day...it doesn't work]

[Krishna and Subas borrow our sunnies to avoid snow blindness]

[Clint surveys the Gosaikunda]

[there aren't words]

[our highest point, 4600m - Gosaikunda Pass]

[view from 4600m - Surya Peak ~5000]

19 April 2009

Singing in the Clouds

Dash: What you are about to do means I will lose my work.  Do you understand that?
Guy: What?
Dash: You are about to unplug my computer without asking me first.
Guy: ummmmm...[unplugs computer]...[awkward smile]
Dash: Whatever...go nuts [ walks out to make a cup of tea and somehow try to relax]
I just thought you might like to get the events leading up to this entry, just so you know where my head's at.  We appear to have moved into a building that is neither complete, safe or comfortable.  It turns one's thoughts to better times.
Like perhaps when Lauren and I recently visited Pokhara.  One of the highlights was when I ran off the side of a mountain with nothing but a Frenchman named Benoit and a parachute strapped to my back.  I was not committing suicide, I was in fact going paragliding and if I could sum it up it one word that would be hol-chocolate-ships-in-an-ice-cream-sundae!  Its not everyday that you run off the side of a mountain with a Frenchman named Benoit strapped to your back, in fact, it was an absolute first for me.
We couldn't see any mountains for the pollution but it was great to be up over the lake with the eagles soaring on thermal updrafts  We cruised around for half an hour and then dropped 500m straight at the lake in a thrilling couple of seconds. My only warning was '"put yo' 'andz 'ere" and bam.  I was screaming like an 8year-old on his first rollercoaster as we rushed toward certain death in a flaming (minus the flames) spiral!  ARRRRRGH!
Obviously we didn't die, and we landed with a rather majestic plop next to Lauren and her lunatic Dutchman, who had apparently been singing to the clouds.  

18 April 2009

Rain on my Parade

It was so hot.  It was totally impossible to concentrate. Our new building isn't finished, but we have still moved into it.  We don't have curtains, the guys in my office have some moral objection to opening windows, there's no fan and guys come in an out plugging and unplugging wires into and out of the walls causing my PC to switch itself on and off at regular intervals.  With the temperature hovering somewhere around 30 and humidity starting to go through the roof I was losing my mind and was just hoping against hope that it would rain!

In a flash of anger, my mind turned to the Red Dingo Australian restaurant in Patan that serves the most amazing thickshakes you will ever eat in your life.  There's nothing like making yourself fat to deal with emotional problems.  Following that I stopped in at Puri Sabji place.  So I followed up my thickshake that is so disgustingly unhealthy for you that you need a spoon to eat it by chewing on oily bread, fried potatoes and what is mostly oil.

I thought it wouldn't hurt to stop by Rosy's to see if I could get my stereo back for the barbeque we had planned the following day.  Bad decision.  Rosy was not home.  In the time it took to eat my two meals, and stop at Rosy's the weather had turning into something from a movie like the Perfect Storm.  At one point I rode through a mini willy-willy without realising it.  There was so much dust and wind I had to just shut my eytes and hope that I came out of it the other side.  It was so rough on the inside of that thing that I'm surprised I even stayed upright.

That's when the delude began. The rain was so heavy that I started thinking back to that Myth Busters episode where they tried to work out whether you get more wet by sprinting through the rain or by walking.  Conclusion?  I was out there way too long for it to make a difference.  As I pondered whether the water slowly seeping into my mouth was rainwater or gutterwater I realised that it probably didn't really make much of a difference.  The streets cleared and many people were caught out by the mini-cyclone that seemed to have gripped Kathmandu with only about one in every 100 people carrying an umbrella.  Everyone and everything was out to get me.  I even started to wonder if the world was doing it on purpose.

Of course, I made it home safely and realised that I owe myself a lot of money.  You see due to me negativity of late, I have instigated a system that Nunny referred to as my "Karmic rupe system" where I owe myself 100 rupees for each negative thought.  I think I better even out.

I had the most gorgeous chocloate thickshake at the Red Dingo.  O.....M.....G!

Following that, remember Puri Sabji?  The food so good that it prompted Brendan and Mike to develop a new system of currency?  Where every single item one buys can be broken down into PSU's.  Puri Sabji Units.  "Are you sure that you want to buy those brand spanking new awesome and gorgeously attractive spectacles?  You know, they're worth 100 PSU's.  You could feed a family Rob, do you want that on your conscience?"  Puri Sabji is also good for other reasons.  It takes them no time to prepare and it leaves you completely satisfied!  How could one not be satisfied?  Its oily bread, potato, oily soya beans all wrapped up in a nice little spicy oil sauce.  Pretty much, its like being in heaven.  And did I mention?  Puri Sabji has created its own currency!!!!

Unfortunately I missed Rosy, but as I struggled through the wind and dust to find my way out from her house I provided endless entertainment for the kids and dogs all well sheltered inside the shops from the storm.  Dustkciked up by the insane wind licked at my heels as I desperately tried to get home before the rain began.  I was too late, but the pleasing cool - that always comes with rain that was building all day - was such a relief.  The roads became mine as cars, tuk tuks and motorbikes disappeared in an instant.  I finally got the rain that I have been waiting for for weeks.  It has been so hot and dusty it was such a relief to get a drop of rain.  It brought back some memories of monsoon when I first arrived and was such a novice around here.

I made it home drenched, but full, content and could hear the pitter patter of rain on my roof.  ahhhhhh

Someone pedantic, work out how much I owe myself will you?


15 April 2009

Thoughts Over Lunch (Chomper's Troubles)

Lunch.  Chilli.  Chow mein.  Black spot on the table.  Sahuji is washing dishes by the brick wall.  Fences, barbed wire.  Abandoned machinery.  Abandoned country.  Nepal.

Everywhere you look there are signs advertising businesses that get you "guaranteed visas" for Australia.  The US, the UK.  Switzerland.  Japan.  I've even seen the Phillipines.  Visas are not something that can be guaranteed ...anywhere as far as I know.  My quick google serach has suggested that getting a student visa for study in Australia could cost you up to $4500 and even then, the Australian Government might decide that you're not up to scratch.  There are signs for universities, jobs, permanent residency.  Emigration is big business and people will pay truckloads for it.

"Why is your country better than mine?"  I have been asked.  It wasn't accusatory.  It was remarkably innocent.  Well I think it was anyway.  Yet it still hit me like a persian sword through the belly, and left a marked impression, because it was asked 8 months ago.  I had absolutely no idea what to say in response then and I still have no idea now.  

You can understand why people want to go to Australia.  Its a great place.  It offers good universities, well paid jobs, power, water (in most places), roads on which you can fit more than a small bicycle and when it develops a pothole you can guarantee that someone has written an obstinate letter to the council.  For the elderly and school aged children, crossing the road doesn't have to be a 5 second course in Darwinism.  

Some people will go to Australia to study and bring their skills back here.  Some won't, if I were to hazard a guess, I'd suggest that its the minority.  As an Australian can you imagine how things would have to be for you to leave your home country just to make a living? Probably not.

Its sad that this is the case, but it is.  Is there one thing that we can put our fingers on and say, "if this weren't an issue anymore, poeople could live good prosperous lives in Nepal?"  If the government weren't corrupt, if there was power for businesses to thrive, if there was safe (or any) water to clean the dishes and feed the children.  If health services were distributed evenly.  If the roads were better eliminating, the geographical challenges that seperate vast areas of the country..  Just to think that if the World Health Organisation was really ever serious about "Health for All by 2000" they might have spent 10 minutes hearing about the issues facing Nepal and they might have revised their deadline?  Surely there are countries all over the world that have similar issues that are never just going to go away because WHO wishes it so in a feel-good policy.

Don't get me wrong.  Many people are thriving despite these setbacks.  But many are also suffering.  I don't know what my point is.  Perhaps its just that I would love to see people going abroad for the experience, or because they want to.  Not because they feel they have no options left in their homeland.

12 April 2009

April 12, 2009 - Sunday - Day 271

It's Easter Sunday .  I haven't written in more than a month.  I have been busy with the guys and Lauren here.  But even so, I have definitely had time to write.  I have forced down the compulsion to write anything because I don't want to have to confront these feelings.
I let myself get silly drunk last night.  I had hoped for a biggish gathering at my place following the Hash.  The Hash itself was an epic 2-3 hour death march that Rosie and I had to shortcut for our own sanity.  I was hoping for a bit gathering so that I wouldn't be alone long enough to realise that I am alone again for another 3 months.  There's a quarter and a bit left to this assignment and while part of me finds it very easy to deal with that and why I want to see it out, another part of me thinks that first part is totally insane and tries to talk him out of it.
Due to the death marching quality of yesterday's Hash our gathering was a relaxed group of 4, one fighting off nausea, and another fighting an uncontrollable urge to sleep while I determinedly ate too much for my stomach to hold in, between bouts of incessant chattering.  The other person was left to flit between the three of us and out rampaging illness, interfering emotions and uncontrollable fatigue/negativity -well not really, but none of us was really glowing with the fantasticness of the run that we just completed.
Today passed in a haze of desperate internet browsing, hangover food, cards, a nap and a 2 or 3 hours of solid reading.  All designed for the same thing, the same goal.  Don't let the brain have time to think lest dribble like this start pouring from my hand through a pen to paper.  I was desperate to find media - movies, music, news - or even gossip from friends back home to distract myself from the horrible realisation that 3 months is still an epic quarter of my assignment and I am living alone.
That, and that the Blues lost by 4 f'ings point to the Bombers yesterday in a clincher I should have been at, at the MCG.  Damn the internet and its ability to keep me informed wherever I am in the world.

07 April 2009

The Tang of Langtang

Some of you thought that it would happen.  But it didn't.  And I wasn't.  Or I shan't.  Maybe I couldn't.  But I don't remember.  And who really cares anyway?

Yes, its almost been an epic month since I last posted.  I have done so much in that time that my head has been exploding with the bloggability of it all.  Let's start at the very beginning (I have it on Julie Andrews authority that its a very good place to start).  You all thought that my friends Lauren, Jojo, Naomi, Clint and I were zipping off to Everest Base Camp for a romp in the snow before falling back down the hill again.  You'd be absolutely correct.  That's exactly what we thought we were doing as well.  However Yeti Airlines, did not appear to think that it wasthe best plan in the world.  In fact, they were so concerned with the last group of Aussies that they sent there were such a bad omen that they didn't want to send any more and cancelled our flights to Lukla (the most horrifying and probably one of highest air strips in the world) not once but twice.

Catching on that it just wasn't going to happen and obtaining the services of a very bouncy and happy little Nepali guide called Kamal (who has a very interesting life story that I will share another day) we re-organised our trip and decided to head into the Langtang range to the north of Kathmandu instead.  

You see, although Everest is very famous, the whole top third of Nepal is Himalaya and there are plenty of other places to go wandering through hills if you really feel like it. Luckily Langtang is accessible by car (well, sort of, there were roads in the parts that hadn't been wiped out by landslides or floods) and is remarkably less touristed than its sister regions Everest and Annapurna.

Day 1, Jojo on a mission to prove to himself that he can do... ummmm stuff like climbing hills almost died as the pollution in Kathmandu had basically turned his lungs into tarpits.  Determined to carry his bag all the way, by lunch time Kamal had taken over and was carrying not only Joe's but his own bag as well.  As we sat down to our dinner the rain came in and apparently brought some snow with us as it peppered the mountains above us with a beautiful little jacket of white.

Day 2, we got to the actual village of Langtang that was settled by Tibetan immigrants more than 900 years ago if I have my stories straight (which I probably have not).  There were a great many children running about our ankles as we investigated the town all with horribly runny noses, dirty faces and wind-blown cheeks.  

Apparently there's an Australian bloke that lives there who runs down and back from inside a few hours where we started 2 days before simply to check his email.  

Day 3, from Langtang village we crawled up an epic altitude that almost killed Jojo and had Clint speechless on account of altitude sickness at about 3800m from sea level.  Kamal and I were going to climb to one of the nearby peaks when a freak snowstorm blew up from Langtang and made visibility impossible.  

After a lunch sitting in a freezing dining room with no wood heater to keep us warm we rushed back to Langtang for the relative warmth of our sleeping bags only to be woken in the middle of the night by terrifying winds blowing through the cracks in the wall.

The rest of the days blurred together as I started to forget what day of teh week it was and what the outside world was like.  It was beautiful to spend time walking from  one teahouse to the next with everything I needed strapped to my back and the beaitiful mountains and jungles we walked through to see. 

We came  back down from Langtang, much to Naomi and Clint's relief as they were both very poorly from climbing so quickly the day before.  The down didn't last long before we started back up towards the east on our way to the Gosaikunda Lakes, a group of beautiful high altitude Himalayan lakes.  Lauren always led the pack, charging ahead at times about 20 minutes in front of everyone else.  Apparently she got some training in scooting up Mt Buninyong with textbooks in a backpack cos she was afraid of letting everyone else down.  In all honesty she just put us to shame.

Death threats were murmured about Kamal as he pushed us to our limits "just 30 minutes more, it couldn't be more than that, I promise" but we always took them back when we reached our destinations.  The walking was incredibly hard, but the views were spectacular and I think many of us were pushed beyond what we though were our physical limitations.  To quote Jojo "Rob, I'm having the time of my life...I can't lift my arms above my shoulders, but I'm having the time of my life".

Passing the lakes on the coldest night yet we started to see a pattern in the weather.  We would get beautiful morning with sunshine fresh snow underfoot and time temperatures.  But come 1 o'clock the cloud would set in bringing snow, hail, rain and misery.  Our moods always plummetted in the afternoon.  At one point I think I was carrying around an extra kilo because of the snow that had accumulated on my pack.

We had two porters, a 19 year old called Subas and a 50 something called Krishna.  Both were absolute guns.  Carrying Lauren, Naomi and Clint's packs they were absolute machines.  Charging ahead of us in the mornings, and always having our rooms ready and waiting for us by the time we arrived of an evening.  Krishna was a very pleasant old man, but he really kept to himself.  Subas was the real entertainer "Subas?  Do you know where the toilet is?"

"OK Mr Rob Daai"

"Yeah, OK.  But do you know where the toilet is?"

"OK, OK, OK"

Climbing the Pass after the lakes was the hardest except possibly for coming down them afterward.  That's where Clint had an innovative idea.  At one point he said "Rob, hold this" and promptly gave me his stick, sat down on his raincoat and toboggoned down the hill.  The man is a genius.  He even caught up to Lauren who had made a massive head start on us.  She turned around at one point to see a large man coming down the mountain at her on his belly screaming like a yeti.  Not before he got this cracker of a video of Kamal coming down after him.

There are plenty of other notables, including the Almost But Not Quite Nearly Snow Leopard Sighting (which I swore was really a Yeti), everyone was sick on something except for me, however I made up for that by trying to knee cap myself on a rock whlie walking down a mountain side over what was probably mainly ice.  There was the epic Middle of the Night Toilet FAIL (its supposed to go in the hole dufus) among others.  But that's enough for now.  

Enjoy the photos, and wish jealously that you took up a 12 month volunteer assignment in Nepal.

[for those of you receiving this by email - don't be lazy, visit the blog and actually see the photos, they're wicked!]