After the 13-hour flight across the Pacific Ocean I can now scoff at anything under, oh, 8 hours. But I still can’t stand the center seat. So our flight from Bangkok to Kathmandu was a leisurely 3 hours, and in total it was 62 hours of travel, 21 hours in flight for us to arrive at our destination. This landing was much different from anything we had seen in the other cities. The lush green valley, the rolling hills mantled with pine trees, the monolithic mountains to the north, and the heaps of rubble dashed in all directions, making up the city of Kathmandu. I squoze out of my seat in the plane and rushed down the steps to the runway and into the terminal. I knew the hundreds of passengers on the plane were stampeding to the same visa station I needed to pass, so I made sure I got a head start. I made it through quickly and moved on to the baggage claim. All 14 of our bags arrived in tact, and Pema came to meet us. Just seeing him gave us great relief, because we knew we had someone we could trust and he would lead us past any obstacles. With him leading us through, the customs agent waved us on and Pema thwarted the somewhat pushy baggage boys outside who wanted to help us load the van. Of course they wanted to talk about “tips” first before doing the work. It may be callous to think of it this way, but the standard day’s wage for a laborer like that is maybe US $2, and they were asking for dollar tips. In relative terms that is a scam, so we kind of brushed them off. I did give one of them a quarter, and he snorted in disgust. It was a shiny, new quarter though.
After a few hours of vegetating in our rooms at the Yak & Yeti to recover from our travels, Pema led us out the front door to actually walk among the dusty lanes and amid the deathly, noxious fumes of the motor bikes and taxis, barking at each other to clear the way ahead. The ride from the airport to the hotel earlier was quite a sight, but we were in the confines of safe and aptly navigated motor transport, piloted by an experienced Nepali driver. Walking amid the cohesive chaos was stimulation overload, and you felt like your next step might be your last when you’d be wrapped around a yammering taxi cab. They all cut it pretty close, but if you ignore them they know to stay clear, you hope. Pema gave me a quick tour of Thamel as he was shopping exchange rates among all the currency traders. He has a huge sum of money to change over, so a few points will make a difference. The streets are so narrow, lined with so many cool tourist shops (no plastic junk), and is saturated with so much exhaust fumes that it’s a sensational experience. I thought the saturation of street signs and all the action in Seoul, South Korea was out of control, but Thamel in Kathmandu is bonkers… the good kind of bonkers. I’m excited to take a little more time tomorrow, and hopefully a brisk autumn breeze will clear out some of the stench. Just over the exhaust fumes I could smell pot all over the place, or it was really bad B.O. Whatever it was, I was getting the muncheez. We all went to Killroy’s. Again the timid eaters in the group stuck with the item on the menu they could pronouce: Fish and Chips. I was anxious to try the Nepali National Dish: Dhal Baht. Again it was great. I realize that I’ve tried that before in the US at Indian restaurants – kind of a vegetable curry with lentils and yogurt. The fumes are getting to me now, I must admit. I feel loopy and nauseous, so maybe I should slip into a Gamov bag pumped with clean oxygen to try to detox.