Wednesday, 14 July 2010

The Last Word

Alright, so I've been back for a week and wanted to write a final post now that I've had a bit of time to think about the last three months.

So I landed on Tuesday evening after a pretty mediocre flight and spent time with my family over the next few days. On Thursday morning I had one of those moments which really made me sit up and think about stuff, not quite as extreme as my one in Pokhara, but powerful all the same.

I was in a cab crossing Waterloo Bridge, wearing a suit on my way to the Strand for a very fancy breakfast followed by a day of good old-fashioned indulgence. I glanced one way and then the other, taking in sights like St Pauls, the Gherkin and Canary Wharf, to name a few, and it hit me quite how far away from Kathmandu I was. The road was smooth and nobody once walked in front of the car. I did not hear a single horn being blasted, for a reason legitimate or totally random. I was enjoying the "fresh" London air. I really felt in a totally different world; and that's because I am.

There was a similar moment yesterday when Phil, who I am currently living with, had a total meltdown over some work related issue that in the grand scheme of things really wasn't that big a deal, he'd just wasted two hours. Annoying, yes. Worthy of a hissy fit? Probably not. I thought about the boys and their general attitude to the hardships they face, and they rarely complained or sulked, admittedly they didn't always do a lot about it, but struggling is all they know so instead of bitching about the crap stuff, they simply delight in the good and the simple things. It's a pretty good outlook if you ask me, and one I'm going to try and adopt more.

Most people have asked if I enjoyed my time out there, to which the answer is definitely. It was pretty taxing at times, but I wouldn't swap it for anything. It was one hell of an experience, and while not all of those experiences were great, they were always revealing and I think I took something positive out of everything that happened, at least I hope I did! I also met some super cool people, both from Nepal and the UK, and that is enough to make any trip worthwhile in my book. I did not achieve everything I wanted, but the Peace Nepal Treks website is finally live and can be seen by clicking here, while I've set up a You Tube page for them with a small selection of videos, which can be seen by clicking here.

The next question I get asked is would I go back? The best answer I can give is that had the right job come up I would have stayed for sure. So one way to look at that is should the right job come my way in the future I would certainly consider going back and having another crack at it. That said, I think it's more likely that my future visits will be to see friends and trek.

As for the obvious 'what's next' question; well I have no idea. I want a job I'm passionate about, that will be a bit of a challenge and get me excited to be working again. No disrespect to those still at Flight Centre, but I think I'm unlikely to find that there. I've had a few offers already from people at the old place, it's great to be wanted and I suppose it's probably likely I'll end up doing a bit of temping work if the search for a great job turns out to be prolonged, but that's just the way it goes.

I intend to stay in London for the time being, but should the right job present itself I'll go wherever it is. I've an interview lined up for August for a position that looks quite cool - on the job description it said I was required to smile every day and administer high-fives on a regular basis (seriously). Think I'll send them the video of me teaching little Ayush how to high-five!

So that's it, The Yeti Adventure has drawn to a close. I'm toying with the idea of setting up another blog that could be about anything. Should anyone think that's a good idea then let me know - I've even set up a poll to make it easy for you!

Thanks for reading and the to those who have taken time to comment (not enough of you frankly!), and to those I've not yet seen since being back I am sure it won't be too long.

All the fuzzy beast,


ps - I uploaded a load of pictures onto Facebook earlier so check them out if you wish.

Monday, 5 July 2010

End of the Road

Well, time's up. Three months has, as expected, gone very quickly and tomorrow I'll board the plane home. Not really sure how I feel about that; pleased obviously to be catching up with friends and family again, but sad to be leaving the guys here who have been such a bunch of heroes. It is also strange to be coming back to the UK without a ticket out again already booked, I realised today that hasn't happened since some time in 2007!

I'll do a final post on my feelings about my time here when I'm back home, for now I guess I should update you on my final few days here.

Pokhara was hot as hell and particularly cloudy, honest to God I was afraid to go outside from about 7:30am for the next 12 hours so severe was it. I did of course, and got sunburnt repeatedly as well as running through a lot of t-shirts. I went up to a place called Sarangkot for a night which despite the clouds was very much worthwhile. This is one of the places that offers cracking views of the mountains, especially at sunrise and sunset, and thankfully I did catch a glimpse just as I was walking out the following morning at about 10:30, which made my early start of 5am seem really rather unnecessary.
The bus journey home was going along rather smoothly until a particularly unwise overtaking move led to a truck hitting us. Thankfully it was nothing more than a glancing blow and as we skidded off to the side of the road in the pouring rain I was thankful that I had moved seats about ten minutes earlier as the impact was exactly where I had been sat. We were travelling pretty slowly and the damage was minimal and nobody was hurt but I think I've had enough of Nepali bus journeys and the heart palpitations they generally cause, I'll take a plane next time!

Last night Dan and I went out on the smash in Tom & Jerrys before the traditional rickshaw race through town and stealing of hats from official looking people. Kathmandu is pretty empty right now though, so it really did feel like we were the only people around.
Tonight is a quiet affair, I had lunch with Aamir earlier and he once again tried to persuade me to come back in the future - we shall see about that! I've got to head home shortly and do one of my least favourite things in the world - pack. I hate packing, I really do. I also have a considerable amount of crap, so think Nir will be benefitting from a few donations.

Anyway, it'll be a busy few days with the family when I get back but I'll be going to Glen and Chloes engagement drinks on Saturday at the Avalon in Balham should anyone be around. Look forward to catching up with you all before too long.


Thursday, 1 July 2010

What make a cause "worthy"?

Some people may find what I am about to write a little controversial, and if it offends then I apologise, that is not the intention.

Since I began writing this blog it has basically been a tale of what I’ve been doing and how I felt about doing it, which unless you know me is probably about as interesting as watching paint dry. Since I claim to be a “writer” it is surely about time I wrote something worth reading. So here it is, I think.

Charity is a tricky and dangerous subject that can stir up all kinds of emotions. This was something I learned a couple of years ago on a random afternoon at work.

My company at the time, Flight Centre, has supported a specific charity every year and for the first time had decided to put it to the masses what charity they supported the following year, giving a short-list of six.

The previous charity was Cancer Research and this was again on the list. Now, I have to firstly state that I am incredibly lucky in that I have not lost a close friend or relative to one of the major causes like Cancer or Leukaemia that often dominate these kind of things. As a result, I kept my council in the vote.

Suddenly a discussion erupted; some chap said that he felt Cancer Research received a ton of money each year from all over the world and that it would be more worthwhile for Flight Centre to support a smaller charity where the money would make a real difference. The charity in question was the Smile Train, where £85 can fix a child’s face thus making a serious, tangible difference.

Clearly this was an emotive issue and the debate took off giving all kinds of arguments, but in truth I had to agree with the fella. Cancer Research gets a lot of money from all over, and always will. Flight Centre raises a (shamefully) small amount of money each year for charity; should that not go somewhere it could really make a physical difference?

Of course there is no right answer to this, and being over here - quite how apparent that situation is has really hit home. Everywhere I turn there is a good cause. The hospital I visited on Monday for example. They raise a lot of money already so should I, as one man, decide to support a Nepali hospital, would my money not be better spent going somewhere that doesn't already receive a load of funds from overseas?

Maybe, but then there is the age-old problem in third-world countries of: is the money actually going where it should, or vanishing into someone’s pocket? Who knows? Frankly, this country, as are hundreds of others around the globe, is full of good causes, so how can you justify what is worth your support, or to use the words so often heard; is a “Good Cause?” I hate that term; it suggests that other causes are not good.

As I said, I am lucky as I have never had need to support a specific cause through personal experience, at least I was until now.

Since I’ve been in Nepal whenever I had had to eat out alone I have picked the cheapest, most basic place I could find and generally ordered the cheapest thing on the menu, such is the life of the budget traveller. Those that know me will appreciate that I am a man who enjoys the odd expensive restaurant fit with a massive steak and fine glass of wine polished off with a good Cuban Cigar and Irish Coffee. Tonight I was in one of those moods and decided to head to one of Pokhara’s most fancy hotels and order myself dinner and drinks (for what it’s worth, it really isn’t that fancy). As I sat there enjoying the view and contemplating how hard things are going to be when I get home, my phone beeped.

I was enjoying curry and beer that was twice the price yet exactly the same as what I had eaten the previous evening and it was Nir asking how I was and saying he hoped all was OK. I replied saying that Pokhara was hot and cloudy and then asked how the family was. This was his reply:

Here also same weather. No rain village since long time. I am so sad and depressed. All maize dead. Very difficult this year. I don’t know. How can survive life. I am quite surprised today. Too much bad news man. Take care and have a nice time.”

How does reading that make you feel? I know how I felt. I wanted to puke. In fact, just typing it makes me want to puke again. This bloke has put me up in his house, and fed me, for three months never once asking for anything in return and even getting upset when I gave him money, yet his family in his village cannot afford to eat.

Nir is perhaps the most honest and hard working bloke I know. A few years back he had helped build a new school and medical centre in his village and since then he basically holds the weight of an entire community on his shoulders, which is why this latest situation has hit him so hard. He is 32.

Now, Nir himself makes enough money from his trekking business to survive in relative comfort, but what about all the family members who all look to him for support? He is not on the breadline and his village has running water, therefore they do not stand out as people in desperate need of government or charitable help. The school he built was done without any aid from within Nepal, but rather a charitable organisation from Holland that just thought it was a worthy cause.

How do you choose what a good cause is? In the last couple of weeks I’ve had friends cycle from London to Brighton all manner of causes I don’t remember and another mate who is about to drive to Mongolia to raise money for a charity over there. Sure, they are almost certainly worthy causes, but unless you have a personal affiliation with them why would you donate your hard earned?

Frankly, I don’t know why I’ve written this, or what I hope to achieve by it – since it will unquestionably achieve nothing – but this is the dilemma with which I am currently faced. I am unemployed and have no immediate prospects of a job that will enable me to actually change the lives of the people that I have come to regard as both friends and a “worthy cause” (how awfully patronising does that sound?). I do however feel it is my duty to do something, anything. Perhaps some of you reading this will feel the same, or even go looking for a cause that is special to you. For now I have found mine; I am grateful it didn’t take someone dying for me to work it out.

Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Keeping Busy

It's been a funny old week, and I mean funny strange rather than funny ha-ha. Of course, I don't really like football so have paid little attention to this rather pointless tournament going on in South Africa at the moment and should anyone wish to discuss it I suggest you choose someone else.

So, other than wasting 90-minute chunks of my life I have been rather busy surprisingly. I finished up the last of my freelance work on the Great Himalayan Trail and with Zen Travels, well almost, and have managed to fit in another Hash as well as visit a hospital and attend a very random Rotary Club annual evening.
On Saturday morning I met up with my friend Mudita who came to the UK on an exchange a year ago and had stayed with my folks, coincidentally at exactly the same time that I was up on Everest for the cricket. She showed me around Patan and I finally got to see Durbar Square down there, so I felt like I had done something vaguely touristy for the first time in about two months, which was good. By 10am it was already sodding hot and I was beginning to develop a fear that hashing in the afternoon might be the death of me.

The Hash was the last time I would see most of the expats I've become friends with over here for a considerable time so there was something a bit strange about that. Still, as I've said many times, they're a good bunch and I am sure will pop up from time to time in the future.

The Hash itself was so hot it was absurd and despite having suncreamed up for only the second time since getting here I managed to get significantly burnt and my face has proved something of a shining beacon for the last few days...until all the skin fell off yesterday which was awesome. Once again I took some punishment after the event for having my hand in my pocket and then rather stupidly volunteered to do the write up, which cost me another mug of beer. Still, at least I kept it down which was more than could be said of one poor fellow. That said, I think he was Australian so he wasn't getting much sympathy from me.
On Monday I went to visit the Nepal Orthopedic Hospital as my Dad intends to send some medical equipment out to them and wanted me to go and meet the guys in charge and see the place so I could report back. It was actually really worthwhile and was incredibly encouraging to see what can be achieved by charity workers who are really determined. Having spent rather a lot of time trying to get Nepali people to actually do anything this restored some of my faith that there are a few out there with the necessary drive and determination to make things happen. In 12 years they have raised around $1million to build the hospital from scratch and provide care to more than 200 people every day. Big hand to those guys.

The chap in charge, Dr Anil Shrestha, then invited me to his Rotary Club Charter evening. For those than have no idea what this is (probably 99% of you) should you ever get the chance to go to one as a guest, I suggest you give it a miss. While it was very good to see what this Rotary Club had achieved, which was no small amount, I don't think I have ever been subjected to a more public display of back slapping in my life. Several parts of it were conducted in Nepali, and of course it was supposed to start at 6pm and finish at 7 but actually began at 6:30 and finished at 8pm, which was predictable.

I also wanted to get out because it was my last night with Nir and the guys and we were all going for dinner. With me heading off to Pokhara the next day and them all going to the village for some family celebration related to Nir's sister getting married in a few days I will actually be home alone for my last couple of days in the 'Du. Not sure a more low-key end could have been imaginable.
Dinner was cool, it was the first time little Ayush had been to a restaurant and he was only slightly annoying and generally pretty good fun. Because of the late start and the little lad getting tired it was just dinner and a beer before calling it a night. Still, paying for seven adults and a kid to eat and drink for an hour and a half and it costing less than £20 represents a considerable bargain from my point of view. There are definitely certain things I will miss about this place! I can't say I enjoyed saying goodbye to everyone, especially the family the next morning. I have no idea when I'll see these guys again and really wish I could have done more, at times I feel like I've done pretty much f**k all to be honest.

Yesterday was the seven hour bus ride to Pokhara and I have got a serious case of truckers arm from the sun coming through the window. Sadly the clouds have not lifted at all thus far and so the mountains may as well not be here, and it has rained all morning today. I did expect this though so can't complain, it's just nice to be away from the smog and noise of Kathmandu (although the drilling outside my room isn't exactly ideal) and sleep in a bed with sheets and have a shower where I can control the water temperature.
As a final word my thoughts are with my good mate Charlie BN at the moment who had a rather nasty operation a week ago. From what I know he's home now and is basically just sitting around waiting for the Tour De France to start - if you read this mate I hope you're OK and will be down to see you as soon as I can.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

My pad in Kathmandu.AVI

Double Homicide and Holy Vegetables

Something unusual happened on my walk home yesterday. When you go from Thamel to my house you go through a hectic intersection called Paknajol and then down a short road before turning right down a sharp slope that leads to the main road and into Naya Bazaar.

About halfway down the slope there is a water collection point. It is probably about 4x3 metres and there is invariably at least one person either getting water for home or having a wash. It was this area that is the focus of yesterday’s episode.

I was wandering down the slope, daydreaming as I often do, when I noticed a large group of people gathered around it and a woman walking in my direction. I vaguely heard somebody shout something from behind me but took little notice of it, until the woman replied. The words that came out of her mouth were: “shooting, shooting.”

As you can imagine, this caught me a little off guard. There were no police around and I was about five seconds away from walking into a murder scene. What the hell was I going to do? My mind was fairly blank and as I approached the spot morbid curiosity took over and I could not help but glance in. I saw another woman standing there, not looking too upset which seemed odd, but couldn’t see the bottom. Then I glanced left.

Standing among the crowd was a bloke with a rather large camera who I can only assume was “shooting, shooting” a movie of some kind. I smirked and reminded myself that this is Kathmandu not Kosovo before continuing home

On Friday night there was a murder of a different kind, the mysterious type. All week I had been mildly stressed out about what sort of fancy dress I could find and being that my character was some French poet I had the intention of shaving my beard into a dirty little moustache and creating some kind of stupid hat. However, I lost my temper with the beard earlier in the week and hacked it off completely, so I was relieved when I went to Dan’s house beforehand and saw that his girlfriend has already drawn a massive handlebar on his face and for some reason made his eyebrows enormous. The little twirly effort that was then drawn on me was quite a delight.

I had bought some red trousers and borrowed an ill-fitting blue shirt from Dan and fashioned a beret out of a white plastic bag and some gaffer tape (Blue Peter awaits) with the idea of being decked out in red, white and blue. The coup de grace was to be provided by a French flag attached to my shoulders with hair clips. The flag itself had been obtained after some extremely lengthy discussions with a bar owner who had one hanging outside for the World Cup and I had to convince him to let me have it. At the end of the evening I was left mortified when host Vikki asked me why I had an Italian flag on my back and argued that it was green and not blue. It’s f*+king blue dammit! I was really rather upset! A picture of said flag is below, you decide.

The evening however was suitably ridiculous and there was a good mix of people I’d met before and new folks (one of which has previously written episodes of Sesame Street and is now helping write the new Constitution for Nepal – rumours that it will include a musical alphabet are as yet unconfirmed) and everyone had a good laugh despite the standard power cuts and generally stifling heat. Afterwards I watched that disastrous game of football in my strangest venue yet – with about 70 other Nepali’s with the picture being projected from the other side of the road, over a wall and onto the side of a temple. Dan left at halftime so I was on my own for the last 45 minutes and all in all it was pretty strange.

Finally, every morning I am awoken by a variety of noises, one of which is a strange chanting type sound from a woman outside my window. She repeats a single word over and over and for two months now I have been wondering what it was. At first I thought she was calling someone’s name, but soon decided it wasn’t that, then just figured she was praying.

I had been meaning to ask Nir about it but by the time I actually crawled out of bed my mind was usually on other things, but I finally got round to it yesterday and discovered that she is in fact a lady from outside of Kathmandu who come to down every morning to sell her products. Vegetables. She walks up and down the road at 7am simply shouting the word vegetables over and over again. I have now nicknamed her the Vegetable Nun, purely for my own amusement.

Two weeks to go.

Friday, 18 June 2010

Counting Down

Hello all and a good morning to you. Friday it is and may I be the first to say how welcome that is - and I don't even have a real job like most of you lot!

The last week has been something of a mixed bag. With the decision now made to leave I feel a bit like I'm just treading water until I get on the plane. I finished my rubbish office job on Wednesday and spent yesterday and today doing some freelance writing work for a travel company which is reasonably entertaining. Plus it's in Thamel so I can walk in rather than the terrifying journey on the back of a motorbike along the Bagmati River. It's called a river, but I think festy pit of sewage would be more accurate.

England game tonight so am gearing up for that, along with the murder mystery evening, which could be entertaining. I must say though, a sure sign that this city is not for me has come through the fact that there are no fancy dress shops around. Frankly if you can't buy a frog suit then something is seriously amiss!
Nir has gone back to the village again this morning which means I need to find a place to crash again. Casa Goliath looks the most likely, which is worrying for numerous reasons, I simply cannot go down the same path as last week - I was broken for days.

One of the reasons Nir has left I think is because his sister, Sonchalle, took off mid week to get married. This came totally out of the blue and the family barely know the bloke she's legged it with. Now, while Nir is never one to get too het up about anything, I think he was pretty peeved. When he left this morning I am sure I saw him tucking war paint into his pockets and packing a rather sharp looking blade...
The other rather depressing thing was that Nir moved out of his office deciding it was too expensive, and into a smaller place (it was hardly large to begin with) around the corner just outside Thamel. I was pretty gutted about this, although the office was in a crap location, at least it was still in Thamel (the tourist centre for those who don't know) which made it easy to bring people in if necessary. He is now further out of the mix and even more reliant on business coming through the website and referrals. the website is nearly done, so fingers crossed that will help, but this is a sure sign that whatever profits he made from the cricket a year ago are now running out.

Am still hoping to get to Pokhara for a few days but we'll see if I actually make it. Is rather dependant on my previous job actually paying me, which they have not done so far. For those wondering, my flight is booked for July 6th and while I have a few busy days with the family at first, I'll be in the mix (to some degree) for at least a week or so after that.

Below is a video clip of a bike ride through Kathmandu at night, don't worry Mum, I promise not to do this anymore!

Interesting results on last weeks poll - clearly not many fans of fine wine read this blog - which I suppose is not a surprise. Let's see how this one turns out...