Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Nepal Y'all

Getting into Nepal could be easy, depending on how you do it. Most people go with the flying option, which means arriving, filling out a form, avoiding the kids playing soccer in the terminal, paying your visa fee, and moving on. Sounds easy, right? That's not how I went about it though, cuz where's the fun in that?

So we ended the last post near Jaigaon, India. We spent a night with the local brothers, then hopped in a taxi and headed to Siliguri. Siliguri is fairly close to the border with Nepal, and has a mall with a KFC. This time we managed to avoid it though, and you should be proud of us. It was really hard, guys.

In Siliguri, we stayed at a sketchy little hotel that totally wasn't covered in mold and the bath mat definitely wasn't already soaked before we got there. I also didn't get horribly confused when they started asking if my roomie and I were family and did we have husbands. They did randomly give us samosas wrapped in newspaper though, so I'd count that as a win.

The next day, we caught another taxi to the actual border. The taxis can only go so far, at which point you have to hop in a rickshaw. So we sat in rickshaws on the India side, got out to do our formalities, and they started asking for our father's info. Dad, if random Indian men start sending you letters, I'm sorry. I'm not 100% clear on why they needed the info, and considering the hotels all wanted to know about Zach, I really thought his info would suffice, but according to the customs guy, husbands can change and parents rarely do.

Back into the rickshaw we go and now we get to cross a bridge that's a sort of no man's land. We aren't in India, cuz my passport stamp says so, but we aren't in Nepal yet cuz we haven't passed any signs.

After we get to a place that actually exists, there's thirteen thousand forms to fill out for Nepal. They even wanted the serial number of my camera. And a passport photo, which I didn't have. Dude, my passport photo is in my passport. Seriously, it's the first page, and it's a new passport so it even looks like me for once. Can we let it slide?

Ok, full disclaimer, I was well aware of this requirement but could never find a photo center that was open, including the one right at the border, which is probably a really good one to have open during daylight hours. So, that hold up was kinda on me, but also, come on, why are you closed in the middle of the day?

Then they didn't like the way my money looked. Fun fact, at the land crossing, they want cash. But it has to be pristine. That teeny tiny, not at all noticeable little pink spot on the edge? Means you have to find another bill to use. We persevered however, and finally got stamped in all legal-like. Now to hop into a taxi for a few hours. 

I desperately needed a local sim card so I can contact the sister we're supposed to be staying with, but guess what? To get a sim card in Nepal, you need a passport photo. Thankfully, we had made friends with the taxi driver at that point, so he registered for the card instead, and I'm pretty sure he only tried to call me twice in the next few weeks.

So we're off to Dharan, where we catch a bus to Dhankuta, where the sister is staying with some friends. About three hours into the ride, we begin to have have a few concerns. First, our bags are on the top of this bus that's flying around these corners and over these bumps, and I'm pretty sure I just heard a thump of something hitting the road behind us, and second, we don't actually know where this town is or when to get off the bus since Dhankuta isn't the final destination.  Oops.
Passing my phone to random strangers on the bus to talk to the sister sorta helps, but these Nepali people apparently don't speak Nepali either, because they don't seem to know if we've passed the town or not. To our relief, about five minutes later, I manage to read a sign that has the name of the town on it, so we decide to get off the bus since most everyone else is too. Sometimes in life we make good decisions. 

And now to meet a couple of complete strangers.

So my favorite thing about travel is that my appreciation for the brotherhood always grows. No matter where we are, and where we come from, we can always find someone and have an instant connection. In El Salvador, we met the family we were staying with for the first time at the airport and were able to be friends right away. In Nepal, a friend we met in Honduras somehow hears about a random need greater who lives in a random town and says  "You should totally go meet this person I've never met before" and we can do that with no worries. It was a bit confusing since none of us ever figured out how the Honduras connection became aware of the sister in Nepal, but it really didn't matter. We just showed up, hung out for a few days, went in service together and it was great. It's so nice to be able to do that.
A few days later, Donna and I decide we really would like to stop moving around so much and maybe even sleep in the same bed for more than a night or two, so we take an overnight bus from Dharan to Pokhara, a super cute little lakeside town. That was a dark time that we've vowed to never talk about again, other than to say that what should have been a twelve hour ride was closer to twenty and I will never get some of those stains out of my backpack.

And on that vaguely ominous note, pictures!

View from the rickshaw

My first glimpse of Nepal

The Kingdom Hall

Met this cutie on a study. Or would have, if she wasn't terrified of me. 

India, Part दो (That means two)

Obligatory comment about how I'm the worst at updating. I actually wrote a bunch of stuff, thought I posted it and it somehow disappeared, so I gave up for a bit. There were pictures and everything, it's very sad. But I'm feeling motivated again so let's see what happens.
It's been an interesting few months. Nepal is amazing, stuff happened. There's pics.

Oh, you wanted details? My bad. Okay, here we go.

So after the Taj Mahal, we thought "Hey,  you know what's fun? A safari." So off we flew to Guwahati, which is in the North East of India, above Bangladesh.

We arrived in the evening, and loaded into another super tiny taxi to get to our hotel. Only there was a little problem. The hotel didn't exist. We drove around for what felt like hours and hours but was probably only two, asked a million people, nothing. We even found the building the place was supposed to be in, and still, no hotel. The location is a mystery even now.

On the bright side, there were other hotels open at 11pm and we did not have to stay squished in the taxi forever. Not that I'd mind a Donna pillow, but she might.

From Guwahati we took a train. I was really looking forward to this, because I've seen tons of photos of completely full trains and people riding on the roof and hanging out the door, and I wanted to know if it's an actual common thing. Turns out the answer is yes.

When our train arrived at the station, it hadn't even stopped before people were prying open the doors and climbing through the windows to get a seat. It was a madhouse. You'll be happy to know that we managed to get seats without going anywhere near the roof. You'll also be thrilled to know that the 4 hour trip cost 25 cents, which makes it the cheapest transportation I've ever taken.

And off to Manas National Park for our safari, where we'll ride elephants and see tigers and bears and... a pig. Oh, just the pig. No wait, there's a deer too. So maybe we got there a bit late in the day. The elephants were napping so we took a jeep instead. It was nice though, lots of trees and bushes, man with gun in the jeep to protect us from nonexistent tigers, and what may have been an elephant or a rhino or a large moving rock reallllllllllly far in the distance.

After that, we had this great plan to go to Darjeeling and ride the train up to the tea plantations and it was gonna be amazing. Instead, there was a little skirmish near the border and the locals decided to go on strike for some reason I'm not sure of, so we decided to skip the area since we couldn't get in anyway. Our cup overfloweth with practicality and common sense. So we headed to Nepal a bit early. And you'll have to read all about that later.


Bet you thought I was kidding about the man with the gun.

Find the Elephant!

And the Tiger....

This looks safe

Who doesn't love a monkey?

Sunday, September 10, 2017

The Taj Majal Is Very White

You know what's fun? A lot of things, obviously. But specifically, I'm a fan of fitting four girls, a driver, and eight bags into a very small taxi. Of course there's a photo. Do try to see if you can spot the fourth girl.

And we're off to Agra, home of the Taj Majal, Agra Fort, and....not much else really. We took a taxi there, because why not? Trains are slow and the Taj is closed on Friday, so when you leave mid day on Thursday, you might be in a rush. 

The one sister had already been to the Taj and didn't feel the need to go again, so we pushed her out of the taxi at our hotel, left our bags with her and headed right over. Made it before closing time, what a relief.

The place was packed. The Taj Majal gets 8 million visitors a year, and half of them decided to come on the same day as us. And oh my, were we a spectacle. Every few minutes, someone would approach to take a photo with us. And those that didn't want to take a photo with us, just took photos of us. Gotta say, that part of the tour wasn't in the guidebook.

The Taj Majal is set in a very nice park like area, with a few other similarly styled buildings around it. It butts up to a river, so there's great views from every angle. Unfortunately, this year they are doing some restoration work, so there was scaffolding around the front, but it was still nice. I'd recommend waiting to visit until the work is done, I hear the white marble looks amazing when it's freshly restored.

The place is actually a tomb that a ruler built for his wife, so inside the Taj itself is a room with marble caskets? Sarcophagi? I don't know the proper term. It's dark inside, and everyone goes around the coffin thing in a circle. It's the only way to see the inside. The problem is, everyone is cramped and pushing along together, and officials are blowing whistles every few seconds at people who had the nerve to stop so they could actually look around. So that part wasn't great. But the outside is cool.

In Agra, we stayed at the best hostel ever. For $1.50, we got a place to sleep and decent breakfast. Can't beat that. One of us even got the added bonus of part of her pillow having been chewed off by who knows what at some point prior to our stay. I mean, that actually happened, but otherwise it really was fun. And maybe we had KFC for dinner that night, maybe we didn't. You'll never know. Hint: we totally did.

Picture time!

I swear Donna's in here somewhere

Everywhere we went, we saw these pillars. Anyone know what they are?

And because it's India, here's a cow. They really are everywhere, and really do just hang out in the middle of the road.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

On the road again

It's very hot. Maybe monsoon season isnt the best time to travel to a country for the first time.  Then again, I was freezing in Colorado, so it's a nice change.

So here I am, in India. Those of you who follow instagram will be aware of this, if you're just tuning in, surprise! Believe me, I'm as shocked as you.

This plan hatched months ago when a sister we met in Honduras called up to see if we wanted to hike to Everest Base Camp. Yes, THE Everest. You can't say no to that. Well, you might be able to, we couldn't. I don't know if anyone remembers this, but we ended up in Honduras with dreams of Nepal one day. And here we are, about to finally realize that dream. Wow, that sounded super cheesy.

Anyway, stay tuned. We are traveling nonstop until February, hoping to find our new home. Let's see what happens. First up, India!!!