A chronicle of Alison and Ron's trip around the world in 2009-2010.

"Not all those who wander are lost"
- Tolkien

Monday, November 2, 2009

Namaste Kathmandu!

I tried in vain to sweet talk the stone faced Indian woman at Delhi airport into giving us seats on the right side of the plane, but she was having none of it. We were told the right side seats gave you some magnificent birds-eye view of the Himalayas. Who knows if we got the information backward or just got lucky, but we sat on the left and saw the stark white Himalayan caps stretching out in a vast blue expanse of earth and sky. Much to the dismay of the right-seaters, we got the shot.

We arrived at Kathmandu airport and met our shuttle to the Acme Guesthouse. At some point someone asked to carry my bag, and naturally I assumed this was one of the guys from the hotel. Only after getting in the van did I realize the baggage carriers wanted a tip to carry my bag all of 50 feet. I told them I had no change, our smallest bill pulled moments ago from the ATM was 500 nrs ($7). They first said that bill was only 3 US dollars, pleading with me to be generous, and then backpedaled that they’d gladly make change for us. More like run off and never come back, do they think I’m stupid? I told them to shove off and stop trying to scam tourists fresh off the bus (or airplane, as it were).

I feel travel-hardened and although I’ve been way too nice and naïve in the past, this exchange made me feel that I’m just not taking any sh*t anymore. The hotel manager complimented my grit, that it was unwise to encourage the airport scammers, but then I wondered where the heck was he when they took our bags in the first place? Standing there letting it happen. Illustrating perfectly the first rule of travel, that the only person looking out for you, is you.

Kathmandu has some elements of dirtiness and craziness but is much more manageable (at least by two or three factors from India) and is delivered with a friendly smile. We immediately liked the feel of the city and were happy to be spending a week. The ACME Guest House was not all we hoped it would be, but we got a weekly rate of $16/night. The bathroom and general cleanliness, as usual, had much to be desired. I miss Reyna, my El Salvadorean cleaning lady that came in every other week. Ron used to complain about her sometimes lackadaisical cleaning jobs, but we would both kill to have her once-over some of these rats nests we sleep in now. My, how things change. It did have a nice grass lawn with tables and chairs but the food wasn’t great so we usually ventured out.

The restaurants were plentiful, serving tasty international cuisine. Most surprising was how well Nepalis represent Mexican food. In the span of one week we had burritos, enchiladas, nachos, and a sizzling platter of fajitas. (Ron got his birthday wish!) Other standouts were The Yak Restaurant serving hot Tibetan beer and momo’s (which are like Trader Joe’s potstickers only way better!) freshly made that day with a side of spicy red dipping sauce. Another Nepali staple food is Thungpa which is like a noodle soup, usually vegetarian but sometimes with chicken, I found it nothing like Grandma’s and required at least a tablespoon of salt to make it ingestible.

I had my alone-time lunch (those scheduled occasions when Ron and I split up to stay sane) at an Organic Café that advertised a “salad bar” but my dream meal was not to be as it was no longer being offered. Instead I had a huge salad full of nuts and jicama topped with balsamic dressing and I was temporarily in heaven and luckily not sick later on.

We ate breakfast many mornings at Weizen that offered a delicious set breakfast at a good value (150 nrs or $2). The set breakfasts are ubiquitous and pretty similar all over Nepal. If you can believe out of the twenty some-odd breakfasts to date, we never took a single pic, here is an example from google images.

You start with eggs that taste best “fried both sides“. Never order scrambled, they are sad, lifeless mush and worse are sometimes diced boiled egg parts masquerading as scrambled eggs. Next are the home-style potatoes lightly browned with onions and peppers, so tasty you almost forget you like hash browns more (almost). Then comes the toast that can be anything from freshly baked wheat toast (like Weizen) to a seeded hoagie roll (Maya, in Pokhara) to bland butchered wonder bread (most Nepali owned dives). It‘s a crapshoot really. With the bread surprise comes a little dish of butter that you must sniff to ensure it is not of the yak variety or gone bad of its own accord (it’s really quite hard to distinguish these two but one is a pinch more armpit-like). In the dish, which is often segregated by a little condiment wall, is the jam that is usually always an artificial cherry flavor that is very reminiscent of a red Sunkist fruit gem. Y’know the one that looks and, probably more creepy when you think about it, feels like a human tongue because of the exterior coating of rough sugar crystals.

Last (and least according to Ron) is what is called “milk coffee” or a weak, watery mixture of Nescafe with far too much milk making it more akin to coffee flavored milk than the reverse. The table is adorned with a cup filled with diagonally folded wax napkins alternating in color between yellow and pink. This counts as “décor”. And there is almost always salt and pepper but they are inevitably in the wrong containers according to tradition, which is frustrating for a self professed salt addict like me to get the proper salt volume through one partially blocked pepper hole. But I try.

Later, at night we would return to Weizen and playfully jostle for pizza and croissants with all the other backpackers at 8pm when the baked goods were sold at half price. It was really an ingenious ploy to sell through their stock, because at exactly 8:15pm everything would be gone but the crumbly remains of apple fritters and banana muffins. We learned this the hard way one night and came early enough the next time to watch the clock countdown the seconds to the strike of 8 o’clock. A hushed silence filled the room. We mouthed the game plan to each other, lower than a whisper, so no one else eyed our goods. My hand gripped the metal tongs, shaking in anticipation as the secondhand was swept up into the blur of grabbing arms and confectionary, like a famished Avalokiteśvara going for 1000 cinnamon rolls at one time.


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