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Published: June 23rd 2008
Greetings from Nepal, land of the monsoon! It started on June 10th, and well, there's been a lot of rain. It's not so bad in Kathmandu and in the Valley, but everywhere else, it rains SO much. My clothes are probably permanently mud-splattered, and it's almost pointless to carry an umbrella because you'll get drenched anyway.
In the midst of this lovely weather, we decided to take off for another remote village. Well, we didn't think it was that remote. We were told a four hour bus ride from Kathmandu and then a thirty minute walk. Wrong-o, my friends! Apparently it's possible to get to this village (and I don't even know the name of it!) this way, but only outside of the monsoon season. Instead, we had a four and a half hour bus ride, then an hour or so bus ride on top of a local bus, and then a FOUR AND A HALF HOUR hike. Up mountains. In the monsoon rains. This is when we got our first inkling that our host was a bit of a liar.
Needless to say, the rest of our three days in the village were a disappointment. He had really
talked up his village, his home, and the opportunities to the director of our program, and it sounded great. Except for the fact that nothing was close to his village (the health center was an hour away, the Buddhist monastery was two to three hours away, etc.). He promised our director that we'd get to see many cultural events and experience life in a multi-ethnic group, multi-caste village. The extent of this "cultural exchange" was that he showed us pictures of a shaman (witch doctor) on his computer and pointed out people planting rice who were of a lower caste than him. I desperately wanted to point out to him that he himself was not of the top caste, but I didn't want to shatter his image of himself.
I went with Esther and Rio, and we insisted on sharing one room instead of banishing one of us to the ground floor of the house alone. So, we piled into a tiny room that barely allowed one to walk around because of the beds and mosquito nets. It was nice and cozy, but the family woke up at 4:30am every day, and we basically had to get up then
too because they kept knocking on our door, trying to give us tea.
We tried to explore the "village," but we found that it was a few isolated houses surrounded by a LOT of rice paddies and corn fields. The "road" was a network of footpaths made out of mud on the edge of the paddies, and the monsoon rains were quickly washing them away. There were a few perilous journeys along a three inch stretch of mud with rice on one side, and a very long drop on the other. We soon decided that reading under our multi-colored mosquito nets was a much safer option.
So, basically, it turns out our host, who was incredibly full of himself and very much an alpha-male, lied about a whole bunch of things regarding this placement. We figured it'd be best to get out of the village before the monsoon trapped us there forever (well, at least until October). We packed our bags, ate our last meal (I don't need to eat potato curry and roti for a very long time!) and set out Sunday morning around 9am.
In addition to the daunting four-plus hour trek back to semi-civilization,
Nepal is currently dealing with an indefinite transportation strike. Fabulous. We had to wait along the side of a one-lane road, keeping our fingers crossed that a truck would drive by and let us hitch a ride. Luckily, one came by right around the time we finished our second round of mango juice boxes. We tossed our packs up to the guys already in the back of the truck, and got pulled up inside as well. We were sharing the back of a truck with about twenty people and at least ten goats. I was fortunate enough to get pressed up against some guys standing in the corner, but poor Rio had a few goats as neighbors and got some horns dug into her legs as we went around corners.
The truck dropped us off at a little shanty town that sells fruit and cold drinks near a bridge. We had to wait there until a vehicle happened to be going to Kathmandu. We had some more mango juice boxes, and read our books with our legs dangling over the side of the bridge for about two hours until such a vehicle showed up. Again, we threw our packs
in the back of a truck and jumped in.
It was a typical pick-up truck with a tarp and some metal bars covering the bed. We fit eighteen (yes, eighteen) people and our luggage into the back of this truck. We all huddled together and had to fully drop the tarps and tie ourselves in due to the monsoon occurring outside. I have never in my life felt more like an illegal immigrant than I did in the back of that truck. I half-expected a border patrol officer to fling open the tarp at any minute to check passports in search of illegal aliens. Rio kept shouting "Soy americana!" but I don't think the Nepali understood the joke.
The obnoxious driver's helper kept shouting out "Kathmandu Super Express! Only 500 rupees!" (which is an exorbitant amount, but you can pretty much charge whatever you want during strikes). He should have called it the Vomit Express because nearly half the passengers lost their daal bhaat (rice and curried veggies) on the bumpy, winding road back to the capital. We kept having to rearrange seats so those suffering from motion sickness could access a window or the open back end
of the truck. Those sitting closest to the back had to hold onto the clothing of the sick ones so that they weren't pitched out of the back of the truck and over the side of the mountain.
The six hour ride back into the city was actually the most enjoyable part of our little village excursion. The people crammed in the back with us were so nice, and we had a good time despite the huge language barrier. The other side of the tarp had a really bad seam that let a lot of water in, so Esther fished out her poncho and I found my pack cover, and the guys tried to patch up the mini-monsoon occurring inside. They went on and on for ages about how "raamro chha!" (great) our idea was. From then on, we were no longer the strange foreigners but the foreigners who could hold their own (and their daal bhaat) on the crazy ride. One kid, about my age, looked like a total 80s pop star: short sleeved green windbreaker and pleated khaki shorts and the best Flock of Seagulls haircut I've ever seen. We were talking about him (assuming he didn't
understand), but he responded "Oh, you like my hair? Thanks!" So, we made yet another friend and found a translator.
We were *so close* to making it back to Kathmandu in one piece (though I'm pretty sure we almost flipped the truck a few times) when we broke down. A random bus (I guess they didn't get the memo about the strike) was driving by, so we grabbed our stuff and ran like crazy across the highway. We managed to secure seats (though my "seat" was on the floor in the aisle) and had an even bumpier ride home. We got dropped off in a part of the city we didn't recognize, finally found a taxi, and made it to the hotel. We showered, changed into only semi-filthy clothes, dropped the rest of at the laundromat, and ate what had to be the best dinner in the history of mankind. Well, I suppose anything would have tasted good after a twelve hour odyssey with nothing to eat but a little chowmein and some cucumbers at 8am.
I'm heading back to my original village (Chapagaun) tomorrow, unless, of course, the strike moves from transportation only (meaning it just affects
the buses) to a bandh (general strike), which means no vehicles can be on the roads. Oh, the joys of living in a developing country with a new, shaky government.
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