A Travellerspoint blog

April 2008

Thailand - Our First Week

Now I know many of you are anxiously waiting to find out what my next milkshake flavor was, so I don't want to keep you in anymore suspense. I went with the Pineapple and was NOT disappointed.

Our first week here in Thailand is sadly over but we've done a lot so far.

In Bangkok, on the first day we were able to meet up with a friend of a friend from back in the states. Val had contacted us to introduce himelf and let us know he'd be in Thailand the same time as us. He asked if we'd like to meet up for dinner. We were delighted and of course said yes. From his emails, and stories of his past visits to Thailand, he'd sounded funny. And that was very much the case in person as well. We had a great time and a great meal. Thanks Val!

We took a boat tour on the river through Bangkok. Got to see the floating market (or at least one of them.)

We went to see a Broadway style cultural show for an elaborate stage depiction of Thailand's history, religion and festivals. It was pretty spectacular. Especially the hell scene!

We visited several sites around Bangkok including The Grand Palace. Below are a few photos. We were overwhelmed by all the gold and elaborate detail.

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The Sofie Star goes well with all the colors and ornamentation of the palace artistry:
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Dave posing like statue with accidental inappropriate hand placement:
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One day we spent walking the Chatuchak market which is HUGE! We walked and walked and probably only ended up seeing about a third of it. Some of it is outdoor and some is indoor. They sell just about everything there including furniture, clothes, jewelry, birds, dogs, fish, toys, art, and all sorts of doodads. We of course bought a few things including some of those doodads.

Bangkok is a big city and they have a lot of big malls and movie theaters. We decided to head downtown one evening to see a movie, which was a bit of a different experience. After doing some browsing at the mall we arrived at the theater. We purchased our tickets for "Vantage Point" and proceeded to the door labeled 1, as stated on our ticket, and found ourselves in a large swanky lounge area. We were the first to arrive. We went to the counter to order popcorn and soda and the attendant asked us to sit down at one of the small tables and brought us a menu. We ordered the popcorn and soda. He brought us two wine glasses filled with soda and ice, and after Lynette and I looked confusedly at eachother he told us they were free and that our snacks would be up shortly. Our movie was to start in about 20 minutes and after about 15 minutes of waiting I went up and asked if it would be much longer because we'd like to enter the theater. We'd actually been given assigned seats on our tickets, which we found unusual, but we just wanted to get in and settled. They told us that it would be a few more minutes and not to worry because the movie was a bit delayed. After about 10 more minutes we still hadn't gotten our food and a few other couples had wandered in and started through the same process we had. Finally after the attendants noticed I was getting a bit more figdedy one of them politely came and got us and lead us into the theater. He said he'd bring the snacks in shortly. I thought, "How long does it take to make popcorn and pour a soda?!" Anyway, he lead us into the theater as the movie trailers were already in progress and I was very annoyed to find out I'd just missed the Indiana Jones Trailer. In my frustration I failed to miss what Lynette was "ooh-ing" and "aah-ing" about. I looked around and saw all these huge red cooshy leather recliners. And on the seat were bags with a pillow and blanket inside. Because of the size of the chairs there was probably only about half the number (or maybe even less) found in a typical American theater. We settled into the extremely comfortable chairs with our warm blankets and pillows. Let me tell you this is a nice way to see a movie. It was so comfortable I didn't move an inch through the entire thing, which is unusual because I'm usually adjusting position about every 5 minutes. I don't know if it was because it was a good movie or because of the great seats but we really enjoyed the flick. After about 5 minutes into the show they finally brought us our popcorn and soda which we were surprised to find came in a kids toy cup and which partially blocked the screen because it was so big.

Here's Lynette and her "Horton Hears a Who" cup.
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The Thai people hold their hands together like in prayer position when greeting. We thought it interesting to even see their Ronald McDonald doing it.

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We took the train to Ayuthaya yesterday which is about one and a half hours north of Bangkok. There's tons of old Buddhist temples and ruins here which we spent the day seeing. We booked a tuk-tuk tour and were on our way. Check out Lynette in our fancy airbrushed tuk-tuk.

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Here's some of the temple ruins we saw today in Ayuthaya:
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Reclining Budda. Nice that they gave him a blanket to keep him warm:
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We found the story of this buddha head interesting. Supposedly an invading enemy cut off the heads of all the buddha statues and placed this one head beneath this tree, and over the many years the tree has grown up around it.
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A couple beauty shots. Can't get over the flowers we see.
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We loved the texture of this tree's roots with the fallen flowers:
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Posted by schuckley 03:51 Comments (4)

travel ramblings from Dave

Hi, this is Dave. We're now in Bangkok Thailand. Over the next few days we'll be seeing a lot of sights and I'm sure I'll be taking tons of photos to share, but in the meantime I thought I'd just post a few thoughts I've had about/during our travels.

Several days ago in Nepal we had an interesting experience. We actually rode ON TOP of a bus. We met a girl in town that was going to the same temple we were so we all hiked about 30 minutes through town to the bus stop. After finally figuring out where exactly the bus stop was, with no signs to help us, the bus arrived. It was full so our new friend who was a much more seasoned traveler than us immediately started climbing the ladder on the back of the bus saying "I'll ride on top." Well we didn't want to be outdone, let alone miss the bus so we climbed up as well. There were about 4 young Nepali people already sitting up there on the small luggage rack including a few small school children. We found some room and wedged our butts down into the uncomfortable rails. During the trip people came and went and each time everyone adjusted for space and a fresh cheek position. At one point my sunglasses were knocked off by a tree branch that smacked the back of my head, and another time Lynette and I had to play limbo with a power line to avoid being decapitated or possibly just electricuted. As we got higher on the hill and closer to the temple, the roads became narrower and we found ourselves perched over steep hills overlooking the farms below and city in the distance. I imagined all the stories I've read in the past of busses overturning down cliffs in India and I had to lay back and close my eyes to control my fear of heights. The local people all of course laughing behind me while not even holding on to anything. We made it to the temple unscathed and had a lovely time. But its a ride we will never forget.

There were two nights back in Bhaktapur Nepal that were quite memorable. We actually got to sit down and watch a full American movie each night on the hotel lobby TV. And even without commercial interruption as they were on HBO. This is not a common occurance for us because of the foreign television programs and power outages each night but this was a pretty nice place and it had cable and a generator backup. There was no one else in the room so we kicked back on the couches and selected the first thing that we came across that was in English. It was so nice. The movies were not actually that great. But it was so nice to be able to just relax, zone out in front of the tube and understand what they were saying. The first night was Sky High, the high school super hero movie with Kurt Russell. Not very good. But I got so entranced in it that when someone came through the front door of the hotel, I was startled and thought, "hey, who's breaking into my house!?" It took me a second to realize we weren't back home in our own place. The second night was American Dreams, the American Idol type story with Hugh Grant. An even worse film, but I was comfortable enough in the place that I fell asleep on the couch towards the end and Lynette had to wake me to go to bed. I've found myself online many times watching movie trailers as a way to indulge in my love of American cinema. I'm sad that I'll miss so many great movies coming out this summer. I wonder where we'll be when Indiana Jones comes out internationally and if I'll be able to bare the subtitles they'll probably have on the bottom of the screen in these foreign theaters.

All through India and Nepal there are these street touts trying to sell these very small round chess sets with pieces that have pegs on the bottom that fit into holes on the board so they don't fall out. We first saw them in India and they seemed to be everywhere. We wondered how these guys could stay in business. Are there that many chess enthusiasts out there traveling that they can make enough money selling these things? Well it took a while, until Nepal, and many boring flights, train rides, and meals with nothing left to say before we thought "Hey, why don't we buy one of those chess sets?" Now we know how they stay in business. Its a great thing to do when you're on the road for a long time and get bored. I hated the thought of supporting this army of annoying guys that have been pestering us for months, but it turned out to be a non issue because as the saying goes, "There's never one around when you want one." So we ended up going to a local Kathmandu shop to buy one. After closer inspection we decided the peg version wasn't the best way to go because the tiny pegs could easily break off in the holes and then its worthless in a travel situation. So we opted for a magnetic version instead. After small talk with the shopkeeper for awhile I tried talking him down by saying, "Can you give me a better price since we get along so well?" I've come to enjoy bargaining much more because you can say crazy things like this. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't but I get a kick out of it either way. Once I told a tout on the street trying to push tiger balm on us, "No thanks, I've already got a year's supply that I won on a game show." He probably didn't understand what that meant, but Lynette and I had a laugh. I got the chess set salesman to go down from 1000 rupees to 700. I was happy with the price and it seemed so was he, which is really the ultimate goal. So we've been playing chess ever since.

I had never been on an international flight before this trip so many of you may already know this, but one of the great things about them is the free alcohol. The first time we experienced this I was like, "What!?" I hadn't indulged however because I usually like to sleep on the flights and alcohol wires me, but on the three hour flight from Nepal to Thailand the other day I thought what the heck. I started with a rum and Pepsi. During the meal they offered free wine. I didn't want to offend so I had some red. Then before the meal was over they came back with the wheeled bar again, so I got another rum and Pepsi. After dinner they came by with Coniac! But I'd hit my limit. I didn't want to be stumbling through the aisles striking up incoherent conversations with strangers. I thought, "man, on longer flights they must have a bunch of drunks by the end of it." Like with one flight we were on these two young blokes were just getting beer after beer with a few breaks in between for mixed drinks. By the time we landed they must have been sloshed. But hey, whatever. They might have been big sissies about flying and needed something to calm the nerves.

Another great thing about the flights is the onboard movies. So far I've seen Michael Clayton, Water Horse, and Live Free or Die Hard. That combined with the great meals and comfortable seating, there have been flights that I didn't want to end. That's a far cry from the domestic flights I've been on back in the states.

For anyone headed to Kathmandu, and we recommend you do so, I have a few restaurant recommendations in the Thamel district. We found this great place that we ended up eating at every morning for breakfast. It was really cheap and they had the best banana pancakes that I've had on the whole trip, and believe me, I've had many. They were crepe style with the bananas wrapped inside, and there was some kind of spice added, like cinamon or nutmeg. They were fried in a pan so there were some golden brown crispy parts. It came with honey on the side to pour over. Nowhere in India or Nepal has had maple syrup. Must be hard to come by there. But to my surprise honey is a fantastic substitute for maple syrup. Don't know why it never occurred to me to try it before (probably because I always had maple syrup) but it was really good. I'll be using it regularly when we get back home. Lynette almost always got the set breakfast which included eggs, fried potatoes, toast, grilled banana, and grilled tomato. It was very cheap and filled her up for a good while. I also started drinking tea there, with milk in it. I was never a big tea drinker before but I've drunk so much Coke and Sprite on the trip, because that's all that's offered (or safe) besides water and coffee, that I needed a change. The place is Helena's. You can sit on the roof top for a fantastic view of the city, but its 8 flights up! After our mountain treks we have thighs of steel so that was no problem for us. :-)

Good Mexican or Tex Mex food has also been really hard to come by on the trip so far. Hadn't had it anywhere through the first 3 months. We were talking to someone in Kathmandu about this with a woman we met in Kathmandu and she recommended Northfield Cafe for Mexican which was right near our hotel. Everywhere else in Nepal uses Nepali Chipatti bread (like thick pitas) for their enchilada and chimichanga tortillas. But this place, which is owned by an American, uses authentic corn tortillas. The chicken enchiladas that Lynette and I both got were to-die-for.

And the New Orleans Cafe had incredible chicken burgers. There's a lot of good food to be found but sometimes you have to be lead to it by people you meet or you just stumble upon it.

We're in Thailand now, and my long search for a quality milkshake has finally come to an end. It's not called a milkshake though, but that's a minor detail. Its called a Frosty, but its basically a milkshake by American definition. It has the perfect consistency. The cool thing is all the flavors they offer. I had the banana almond yesterday. Who knows what I'll get next time. The suspense is killing me.

Well that's all for now. Remember if you are a newcomer to our blog you can register by clicking the button to the right of your screen and entering your info. This way you'll get an email notifying you everytime we add a new entry, and you won't have to keep checking back for something new.

Dave and Lynette
dbuck242@yahoo.com
lschimpf@gmail.com

Posted by schuckley 06:22 Comments (2)

More of Nepal

Dave here. I thought I'd share some more photos from Nepal.

Here's a few more shots from our trek:
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Another example of the amazing layered farm land:
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Nepali clothes drier:
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Lynette's paragliding take-off: (No that's not a bun in the oven. That's just her fleece tied around her stomach.)
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Me in the air trying to ignore my fear of heights:
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I've seen some of the most amazing flowers here. Some have colors I didn't know existed in nature. Here's one I thought was exceptionally beautiful:
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We just spent a few days in the town of Bhaktapur which is not far from Kathmandu. It has some great old buildings and beautiful wood carved windows. Plus a plethera of temples. Here's one, The Nyatapola Hindu Temple, that was right outside our hotel. Its the tallest temple in Nepal:
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We happened to be in Bhaktapur during their new years festival which lasts several days. (Its the year 2065 according to their calendar) On one day there were groups of people marching through town playing all kinds of different instruments. Music could be heard all through town all day and late into the night. It was really fun. The last night of the festival was the big event. They had this huge chariot which looked more to me like a temple on wheels. It had sat in a little square near out hotel for a few days while kids played on it and people made religious offerings on it, and on this night it was used in a massive tug-of-war celebration. Everyone in town came out to see it. There were huge crowds of men on each side pulling on it with these long thick ropes. People were cheering and shouting. Even rocks were being thrown in the crowd. It was a wild sight. We got to watch the whole thing from a safe distance at the roof top restaurant of our hotel. Here's some photos of it.

The chariot during the day:
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The chariot during the tug-of-war. Its the small structure in the lower right hand corner:
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Our hotel doorman and a little friend during the festival:
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Some more photos from temples of Bhaktapur:
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Some scarey masks for sale, and a scarey tourist:
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Its amazing how often Mickey Mouse shows up. Here's one example we saw in a village during our mountain trek. We've also seen ice cream carts named after him and even a rinky dink amusment park with funky versions of Mickey and Minnie faces sculpted on the entry columns.
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Pics from a couple temples around Kathmandu:
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That's all for now. We've got a few more days here in Nepal and then we head to Thailand. We met some Americans this morning who now live in Bangkok, Thailand and they talked about how nice it is there. So we are even more excited to go there. And we're looking forward to the Thai food! But we need to learn how to say "No spicey please." It will be sad to leave Nepal though. We really have loved it here.

Posted by schuckley 06:00 Comments (1)

Nepal

Himalaya Trek

Lynette writing here. Nepal is awesome and is already at the top of both mine and Dave's list of favorite countries we have visited. We are currently in the town of Pokhara which is the ending and starting point for a lot of the treks in the Annapurna area of the Himalayas. There are so many treks you can do in Nepal so Dave and I went to the trekking company in our hotel and told them we were looking for about a week long trek that wasn’t too difficult but gave us good views and went through some mountain villages. We were set up on the Ghorepani/Poon Hill 7 day trek along with a porter to carry our backpack and a guide so we didn’t get lost in the Himalayas and eaten by the Yeti that roams these mountains. We flew from Katmandu on March 31st and then started our 7 day trek through the Annapurna area the next day. This was an amazing experience. Physically more difficult than anything I have ever done before. It started out easy enough but got much harder. The first day involved about 4 hours of walking on relatively flat ground. It involved some up and down but nothing like we experienced on day 2 and day 3.

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That night we stayed at our first “lodge” or “tea house.” Now before you conjure up thoughts of warm cozy inns with fireplaces, blankets, and warm cuddly soft couches to snuggle in and drink a cup of hot cocoa let me set you straight. These lodges or tea houses, as they are sometimes called, are basically converted barns. They are not heated and it is COLD in the Himalayas. The walls are so thin and have cracks between the boards so you not only can clearly hear the person in the room next to you, you sometimes can also see them. The toilet facilities were usually not only outside but sometimes down a flight of stairs and across a yard. This made having to go to the toilet in the middle of the very frigid night a real experience. Hot water was scarce and laundry facilities non-existent so as you can imagine Dave and I were looking and smelling pretty ripe by the end of our trek. The lodges and tea houses are run by families who live in the small villages scattered throughout the mountains. They make a decent living by running these lodges and giving the massive amounts of trekkers who hike in these mountains a place to sleep for the night and food to eat.

Here are some photos from along the trek:
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This time of year is beautiful because of all of the blossoming flowers. Everywhere you looked as far as the eye could see there were trees with pink and red flowers.
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Here's an example of one of the primitive lodge interiors:
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Only a few places had a fire stove in the "restaurant" for getting warm and drying clothes:
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We were welcomed to take photos in one of the lodge kitchens:
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Along the trail there were several "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom" type rope bridges. We often felt we'd fall through the loose hole-ridden wooden slats.
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In the villages and on the trail cute children were always smiling and waving and saying "Namaste" (hello) They would usually follow by saying "sweet?" (meaning "please give me some candy")trek_kids.jpg
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The 2nd day of our hike was definitely harder than the first. It involved a lot of uphill hiking. The inclines are steep and usually involve tons of stair steps. On this day we began by walking over 4500 stone steps up the side of a mountain. We took breaks when we needed but with the increase in altitude (even though it was less than 3000 meters) we seemed to be experiencing quicker shortness of breath. We had just reached the outskirts of our destination for the night which was the village of Ghorepani when it started to rain and then the rain turned into a hailstorm. Thank goodness we were in a village so we could run for some shelter and wait it out. In a matter of minutes the green grass looked like it was in the middle of the winter and there had just been a snow fall. That night we slept at the highest altitude we would sleep, which was over 2800 meters. Altitude is supposed to affect your sleep and I would definitely say that neither Dave nor I slept very well over 2000 meters. Just in-and-out kind of sleep.

The next day the melting hail appeared as beautiful snow along the trail. It contrasted wonderfully with the red flowers in the trees. I hope the colors come across on your screens.
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The 3rd day was the hardest. We had to wake up at 4:30 a.m. and walk straight up a mountain for about an hour on rough stone steps. This was so we could get to the top of Poon Hill to see the sunrise over the Annapurna range. After several breaks we made it and because it was a clear day we could see the numerous peaks on the Annapurna range in all their glory. There are about 5 or 6 you can see from this view and again this is just amazing. The day had just begun however and we had hours and hours of stair climbing in front of us until we reached our next destination for the night. Going up is hard but going down is treacherous. It is really easy to slip on the rocks and loose gravel going down a steep incline and it is also really hard on your ankles, calves, and knees. We made it though without any injuries thank goodness. After going down P Hill we walked for awhile and again had to go about an hour straight up and then back down, and then we again had to go straight up stone steps to our destination. This all involved hours and hours of walking – probably about 6 1/2 to 7 hours. We were exhausted when we finally reached the village of Tadapani where we spent the night. It again hailed that day but we had been at our lodge for an hour before it started. Quite a few people were not so lucky including a group of 13 Americans on an eleven day camping trek. The weather was so nasty and cold that instead of setting up their tents, their guide made the decision to have them stay in the lodge instead. It was so cold – freezing cold. I had all my layers on and I was covered with the down sleeping bag. This was a low point for us since this was by far the worst lodge we had stayed at. At first we could not get our door to latch close and it kept opening up with a strong gust of wind. There was no electricity so there was no light in our room. (Fortunatley we'd brought small flashlights.) We were so tired and not feeling well and freezing cold and on and on. To keep our spirits up we said it could be worse – we could be on a camping trek like the American group!

Here are some shots of us after conquering the tough morning climb to the top of Poonhill for the gorgeous view:
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The Sofie Star makes it to the Himalayas! Thanks Sofie!
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Lynette tries to keep warm in the freezing cold:
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The 4th and 5th days were actually not too difficult in comparison but none of the trekking days were easy. You are either going up or down. The 4th day we stayed at our favorite village on the trek and our favorite lodge. The town we stayed in was called Ghandruk and it was this picturesque little village with old houses and carved wooden window frames. The lodge we stayed at was well run and actually had an attached western style toilet in the room!!!!! You have no idea how excited this made Dave and me. The dining room was nice and the food was good, it was really nice. We could have stayed here for a few days. This is also the place where Dave drew our trekking guide whose name was Prakesh. The owner of the lodge saw the drawing and asked Dave to draw him the next day in exchange for a drawing of Dave by the owner’s daughter – who was probably around 10/12 years old. The drawing of Dave by this little girl is absolutely adorable. She made Dave look slightly Nepali and this drawing is absolutely one of the highlights and will be framed hanging on the wall in our house some day. Whenever Dave draws it always gets attention and people respond so positively to it and it is a wonderful way to connect to the people when you don’t know their language, and in my opinion shows respect to their culture. The 5th day we spent in Jhinu near the hot springs. To get to the hot springs you had to go down stone steps for about 30 minutes. I soaked my weary bones in the spring and enjoyed the environment while Dave sat on a big bolder in the middle of the river and watched the rapids rush by.

A few shots of the area around Ghandruk village:
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Farming is still the main occupation in Nepal. The farmland is made up of terraces down the sides of the mountains. We saw these everywhere and it made us think of the farming challenges that exist because of this. All planting and harvesting is done by hand. trek_farm_layers.jpg

It was a lot of fun for Dave to do the Sketch of the lodge owner, even if a bit stressful with the whole family watching over his shoulder with excitement. Afterward they posed with their portraits:gurung_sketching1.jpg
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Here's the adorable drawing of Dave (as a Nepali)
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The 6th day we walked to the village of Pothana which was a pleasant walk, again of course going up/down and then the 7th we had a short 2 and a half hour walk to our ride back to civilization.

The trekking experience is one of my favorite experiences ever. It is not easy but completely worth it. We met tons of people on the trails from all over the world. We met an American Mom trekking with her 3 teenage children. We saw smaller children than that hiking the trails with their families. The people who live in these areas are hearty and strong. There is a porter tradition where they carry goods up and down the mountains using these special baskets that are carried on their back with a cloth strip that goes around the front of their head so the bulk of the weight is taken by their foreheads. Women, men, and children all carry things in this way. Some of the loads these people were carrying were extreme. This tradition also is applied to trekking. We had a porter named Ram but he was from the city so he did not do the forehead thing (only villagers do the forehead thing – they start training their kids at an early age) but he did tie together several packs and sleeping bags and carry the entire load.

The porters even sometimes carry tables up the hills to be assembled later for the camping treks.
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Our porter was very excited to get a portrait by Dave as well:
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But our porter's favorite drawing, being a porter, was the one Dave did of our backpacks sitting on a rock wall during lunch one day on the trek. He giggled and smiled every time he saw it.
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Whenever Dave does a drawing of someone they innevitably want to keep it. So his sketchbook is thinning out a bit. But he always makes sure to photograph the drawing first so we have a record of it.

I already want to come back to Nepal to do more treks and have not felt that strongly about any other country we have visited.

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After our trek we have been taking it pretty easy here in Pokhara. Although we did do one exhilarating thing - we went paragliding today off the side of a mountain! Yep – we did. It was awesome of course. The view was a bit hazy which was bad so we could not see the Annapurna range peaks but we could see lots of the town of Pokhara and the surrounded hills and it was just awesome to be flying around above the hills. A few times we were flying just above, just below, or even right next to huge beautiful birds. Amazing. Both Dave and I loved the experience but it made us both sick to our stomachs. They warned us when we booked it that some people get sick and actually throw up while in the air. They told us to eat a light breakfast which we did. However, after about 20 minutes in the air we both started feeling nauseated. I was up for about 50 minutes with my guide and Dave was up for about 40 minutes. We were both able to hold it together and did not puke in the air which our guides I’m sure were extremely thankful for. But, it took awhile after being on the ground before we started feeling better. The reason for the sick stomachs is basically motion sickness. You spin around, go up and down and experience G force winds and all this combined can definitely make someone ill if you are predisposed to motion sickness. We met two very nice Israeli girls in the truck on the way up the hill to the launch area, and one of them unfortunately got very sick in the air and was puking all over the place. Hopefully it didn't hit any villagers below!

Here are some more sketches Dave has done on our trip:

Katmandu, Nepal - Stupa (Buddhist religious structure)
sketch_stupa.jpg
Agra, India - Taj Mahal
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Auckland, New Zealand - building
sketch_NZ_build.jpg

Ok friends and family. I hope all is well with everyone and until next time.

Lynette & Dave
lschimpf@gmail.com
dbuck242@yahoo.com

Posted by schuckley 04:33 Comments (3)

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