Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Treking To Mt. Everest

Hello all and greeting from Nepal. I have finally made it back to Katmandu after my 17 day trek in Sagarmatha National Park and the 7 days that I took after I got back to bask in being back in a town again. With something other to eat than potatoes, rice or noodles.
The trek was simply amazing.....I have never been to challenged, rewarded or scared by a trek as I was by that one. The scenary was breathtaking and it took on so many different views that sometimes you felt like you were on the moon and then others you were looking for the beach because you were standing in a field on fine sand.
I was doing an illegal hikes of sorts because now since Oct. 27th you have to have a guide or porter in order to do this trek which I had neither which was great somedays and stupid on others.....thus the being scared part. Crossing a 5530 meter pass by myself was probably the most unwise of them all. But I made it and I am still here so its all good.
Treking in this region is interesting to say the least. You end up hiking about 400-500 meters a day so to hopefully reduce the chances of getting altitude sickness which believe me is not a good thing to get as I found out one night. some days are long 6-8 hours and some are short 2-3 hours which means that you have alot of free time on your hands to think, play cards (I know now card games from nepal, canada, germany and scottland), read the one book that you brought, write 3 page journal entries because you have nothing but free time on your hands, think some more, eat rice....potatoes......or noodles and huddle up by a fire which burns yak shit because wood is scarce the higher you go. Its a very interesting way to live. You useally end up in a town and by town its useally only 3-8 12-3 pm. If you get there by 3 then its not so bad because you only have to wait until 4:30 until they light the fire.......I have never been so happy to see shit in my life.
By 5 you are ordering you dinner which has to be ordered 1 hr in 6:30 you are either huddled around the fire or playing cards with someone and then by 8:00 you are getting you water bottle filled with hot water so you can keep warm in you 20-35 degree room. but its all worth it for the peace and beautiful sights that you get to see. that place is truely a magical place and the people both local and fellow travelers are equally as well. I ended up treaking with a hodgepode of people. There was the 2 17 year old porter kids the 2nd day that I befriended that ended up helping me to get to namche, there was the group of germans from dresden, the crazy guy from scottland that hiked to the top of a 5550 meters hill in a kilt to win a bet, the funny group of italians from sud tirol that claimed that they were from austria and who could forget the 2 guys from Czech that shared with me the homemade schnapps that they had brought from home (that by the way was the best night that I slept the whole trip....sleeping about 4000+ meters is not the easiest thing to do) and probably one of the best was the nepali family that sort of adopted me for the 3 days that I stayed at their lodge. I was very luck for each and every person that I met and helped me along the way.
I really don't think that I can truly explain how amazing that trip was......if you ever get a chance to go you should take is really worth it.
Allright all I am going to go I need to get ready for my trip to the lake town of Pokera tomorrow. another fun filled 6 hr bus ride lies ahead of me and from my last blog you can tell how much I really like taking those.

p.s. the mountain in the middle is Everest.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Bus Ride #1 From Hell and Bus Ride #2 Mini-Bus Ride From Hell

I have heard stories about bus rides in cambodia from mike and gabe but you never think that those crazy tales would ever be true much less become your reality but it did. Bus ride #1 imagine if you will that you are on a bus in which the bus driver honks his horn at everything and by everything I mean everything. From empty spaces, mopeds clearly on the side of the road, stoped and empty cars, horse drawn carts, people wal king in the opposite direction of the bus in plain site to just about anything else that you can think of. Then imagine that you are sitting right behind the driver for the whole 7 hour trip. Its enough to make you believe that murder is justified.....really and I'm a Buddist.
Bus ride #2 which will take a little more space to explain so sorry for that up front. So this mini-bus ride came about becasue I did not make the bus ride to Sihanoukville via the nice tourist bus. So as fate would have it I instead was going to travel Cambodian mini-bus style for the 3 1/2 hour that it should of taken to get to S'ville the coastal town in Cambodia. I was taken there this mini-bus by a tuk-tuk driver after I checked all the l real bus operations out of Phonm Penh. After finding out that they were all gone and it was either stay there for the night which I didn't want to do or travel Cambodia style. So I opted for the Cambodia style.
I showed up to this street which was full of mini-buses and bigger buses to a Cambodian kid running up to the tuk-tuk and then after getting were we were going from the driver leading us to a waiting tuk-tuk. After paying $6 which I found at later was about double the going rate the waiting game started to find other passengers....and keep in mind that it was already 4 and the Lonely Planet said that traviling after dark was not a good option.
After we finally had 12 people we took off slowly in constant search for other passengers which was done by a guy in our min-bus who would hang out the side with the door open yelling at people who were standing on the side of the road with bags at there kidding. We found 1 more passenger which brought our number to 13 but still he looked for more...all the time with an old lady seated right behind me that talked non-stop for at least 2 hours.....I swear.
Then there was the half good half devil child in front of me that I saw at one point kiss his mom all over and then 3 seconds later punch her and spit in her face. When our numbers reached 15 I was sure that we were done but apparently we had just gotten started. Finally when we reached 18 and the darking skies were setting in did our search finally end.
By now I was cramed tighter than a sardine and we were still 100km from S'ville. I think that it was the darkness and the Lonely Planets advice that started my paranoia of being robbed or worse but when you take into account that I was not on a typical tourist transportation and that we were dropping off more and more passengers the closer we got to S'vill I think that my fears were justified.
Finally we had dropped all our passengers and now they were trying to findout where my hotel was when I finally decided to just get out of the taxi and find a real taxi at what looked like a hotel. well it was a hotel but it was also a karaoke bar and aparantly karaoke over here doesn't mean the same thing. I made about 3 steps toward the door when I realized what it was by then I had 4 new friends that all wanted to take me on their motorcyle taxis to my hotel. Fianally I decided to pay this guy $2 to guide my taxi to where my hotel was because my drivers obviously didn't know where it was. But much to my surprise when I got there my taxi now wanted $5 for driving me the 5 min that it took to get there. apparantly the going rate for taxis there was $5 to drive out to the beach. well a small argument started in which I know had an interpretor from the hotel. finally it was resolved for $2.50 which was not that much to pay to end the bus ride from hell 2.
Since it has taken me so long to publish this blog I actually had a 3rd bus ride from hell going from S'ville to Bangkok. the pitcure it a pitcure from this. the start of the ride was not that bad. we had a nice bus and good weather. but within 3 hours though the rain had started again which would of been fine but we were on dirt roads crossing rivers not by bridges but by to canoes with some boards on top and a motar......I'm not kidding. After a while the dirt became muddy and at one point where this pitcure was taken I thought for sure that I was going to be stuck in the jungles of cambodia waiting for the roads to dry. but after me, a girl from austrailia and another girl from the states pushed the van out of the mud all the while 4 germans were standing there just watching.
After finally getting out of the jungle and all the river crossings we made it to the thai boarder where we changed vans. all was going good until this guy from noraway who made a big comotion because he had to get off the van to changed to another van. well he apparently scared the shit out of the driver and instead of going to bangkok and dropping off the other 3 people in the van we made a slight detor to pattya to drop off the jerk from noraway. that guy gave the rest of us a great lesson in humanity.
Well that all for now I am going to post soon about my trip to sagarmatha national park in nepal. the trip was amazing.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Ankor Wat

What can I say about Ankor Wat other than it was truly an amazing experience and one that everyone in my opnion should see at least once in there lifetime. Ankor is a place full of mystery and energy. When you walk around Ankor you are first draw in by the detailed carvings that are almost eveywhere and then you are draw in by the sheer size of it.
The first day I spent from about 10am-6pm and probably only went in total 5 miles and that includes the 2 miles there and back...but it seemed like I was driving forever with my tuk-tuk driver which I rented for the whole day for $6. A steal if you ask me. I spent the first part of my morning walking around the stone headed wat of Bayon. Again words can not truly describe that place. That is why I bought a pen sketch of Bayon from a local artist that was on the top level sketching. Which does a much better job of capturing the feeling of the place. It was an intricate piece that he said took him 2 days to complete and by the look of the piece I believe him. I paid about $20 for the piece which was a steal in my opinion.
I spent a total of 3 days touring around the Ankor site but none was better than the last day when I awoke at 4:15 am (yes that right 4:15 am and there was no snowboarding involved) to catch the sunrise over Ankor. I was about the 4th person to arrive which was great because I was able to walk down The Causway all by myself with the stars still high above before the hoards of tourists arrive. It was a moving experience to say the least and one that I will never forget (Mike you were right about Ankor).
Next I found the best seat in the house to watch the sunrise behind the main wat of Ankor. As you can see from the pitcure which hopfully will come up before I post this blog.......ah ask and thal shall it comes now. The computers here in Cambodia are a little slowwwwww. Anyways as you can see it was a beautiful sunrise.
It was a welcome experiance from the unmemorable one that I had the day before. I was walking in town by the market when the 20th landmine victim came up to me asking for money. I told him no and continued my walk but I could hear him chasing me down from behind. But I just increased my pace with my 2 good legs as he tried to catch up with his one. Finally he gave up. It was a horrable experience but isn't that what he was going for? Either way not the best of my travel experiances so far. But it will be remembered along the Ankor sunrise for the rest of my life.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Sa Pa and The Sa Pa Crew

What can I say about Sa Pa, felt a little like both home in Bend and also in Garmisch. It was such a nice change to be in the mountains again and out of the sauna like conditions that I have been in for the past 2 months. And unlike the rest of Vientam where as I posted that everyone lied to you I felt that the people in Sa Pa especially the Black Hmong were the best people that I met in Vietnam.
I ended up spending my time with the Sa Pa Crew as I called them. You can see the attached pitcure of me with the crew. They consisted of a group of girl guides that were part of the Black Hmong. I met 3 of them while I was in Hanoi at the Bia Hoi Junction and they told me to look them up when I got to Sa Pa.
The crew was absolutly hilarious and I spent most of my time there either hiking around Sa Pa with Vu, drinking rice wine or playing pool on the worst pool table in the world. I thought that I was a decent pool player but apparently not in Sa Pa and especially not on there home table. Nothing like getting your a** handed to you by a bunch of girls.....(nothing bad intended by that statment I promise.)
The crew was very interesting because like almost every other guide around they were only about 18-20 which I found odd. But the reason why they were guides was actually very smart because not only did they make more money they also were able to get out of waking up at 4 am....yes 4 am every day to cook, followed by tending to the childeren and then either working in the rice fields or making clothing or bags to sell. So being a guide was a much more attractive option to say the least.
As I stated before I spent most of my time hiking around Sa Pa and the surronding area with Vu a very fiesty and smart Black Hmong girl. The first day that we spent was mostly spent around a very beautiful waterfall talking because of the monsoon downpour that was going on. Which was great because I was able to learn more about the Black Hmong culture which was very intersting.
The whole conversations got started on the way to the waterfall when I ask her about a story that I had heard from my guide in Halong Bay about a custom that the Black Hmong people have. When a man wants to marry someone apparantly what happens is the mans friend basicly goes and kidnaps the girl (but not in a caveman like way) and then brings her to his friends families house where the girl will spend the next 3 days durring which time she can not leave.
That was the extent of the story that the guide tolde me and Vu confirmed that this was indeed true but then she went on to elabaroate even further which was great. Apparantly after she is brought to the house which is not only to see if she likes the guy (which she more than likely knows) but also to see if she more importanly likes the family because after she marries she will be living with them and taking care not only of her husband but also the family, the families kids and the rice fields. During this time she will sleep in the bed of the mans sister...not the man's as you were all thinking.
After the 3 days is up if she does not want to marry the guy then she is free to go. If she decides to marry him then a wedding will ensue very soon. In which the groop will pay the brides family about 5 million dong or about $215. Then there will be 2 parties one given by the grooms family and one by the brides. the parties will last 1-2 days each and vu said that they will kill a very big pig, many chickens and have aloth or rice and alcohol.
So you can see that except for the 2 parties why these girls choose to work as tour guides and not get married. If you ask them as I did Vu. I told her that American women would never put up with this to which she was really surprised. She said "really"....followed by if she married a Black Hmong boy and she didn't cook, clean, take care of the babies and tend to the rice fields then after about 3 days the man would divorce her and she would be labled as being lazy. I ask her if she ever wanted to marry and she said "no way...I don't want to cook and clean all day long...I never marry a Black Hmong boy." So you can see why I said that Vu was really smart.
She told me that she sends about 80% of her money home to her family which is why she dosen't have to stay back in her village and work all day for the family which is not bad for an 18 year old that has never been to school before.
This fact that she had not been to school was interesting because while she had learned alot from the tourists that she was in contact with ther were also so many other things that she had no ideal about. I found myself explaining/teaching here about many different things. I felt at times like a time traviler that had gone back in time and was explaing things that had yet to become a reality it was an odd experiance and one that i had not had before.
For example one day before we were going to start a trek outside of Sa Pa another Black Hmong girl came up to here and ask her if she could use her cell phone to call the hotel and find out where her tourgroup was. Vu tried 2-3 times but could not get the call to go through. She then handed me the phone and ask what emergency calls only meant. So I tried to explain to her the concept of in network and out of network. finally I had to get some sticks and make a circle for the calling circle and a stone which represented Vu and her cell phone. It would of made a great comercial for a cell phone company.
All in all Sa Pa was my best experiance in Vietnam and it did change my views on the country and its people a little bit. But with that said Vu when I ask if about Vietnamese people she would always say "I am not Vietnamese I am Black Hmong"....So maybe my views still stands but I have a great view of my new friends the Black Hmong and the Sa Pa Crew.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Vietnam....Liar Liar Pants On Fire

I choose to start my blogg about vietnam with a phrase that I feel completly captures this country to a T a big T. It seems that no one here ever tells you the truth about anything which has been a unwelcome surprise comming from Laos where its so easy to trust everyone. You always have to be on constant guard here and the sad thing is you can never trust what anyone says.
Ok enough of that and onto my other impression of vietnam which if you take out the lying have been wonderful. My first impression of vietnam was flying into the country looking out the window. I remember thinking of all of the vietnam war movies that I have seen and thinking how many american soldiers had wanted more than anything to get out of what was described by more than one soldier as a "hell hole" and here I was comming back. It was a odd experience to say the least and I suddenly felt really out of place.
My next experience could of been a little intemidating if I was not a foot taller than all of the vietamese. I shared a taxi into Hanoi with these 2 great Kiwis who I ended up traviling with for a while. When we finally got dropped of at the hotel I found in the guide book (after a stop at a hotel that the driver took us to even though I told him about 10 times that we wanted to go straight to this other hotel) we were surounded by about 5-6 may 8 people all waving brochers that look nothing like the hotels that they took you too. I have found that in Vietnam they promise you the world and then deliver you New Jersey (sorry patty). Corin the kiwi had about 4 around him at one point....I wish that I had gotten a pitcure of that it was really funny.
After spending a couple of days in Hanoi where I spent alot of time at the bia hoi junction drinking beers while watching the traffic going by. It was a great place to sit and watch all of the crazy motorcyle drives comming and going with everything from dead pigs on there motorcyles to overflowing with baskets, fruit, rice and a varriety of other things straped to the back and front. The best thing about the beer is that it has no perservatives which means less of a headach the next morning.
My next destination after Hanoi was Halong bay where I spent 3 days on a boat just cruzing around the bay...with one night on Cat Ba island. Halong bay is really beautiful and when I get a chance I will upload some pitcures.
Currently I am in Sa Pa which is a mountain town in the northwest of Vietnam. I love it here because 1 it remindes me a little of garmisch with all its lush greenary and mountains and 2 because I am finaly out of the sauna like conditions that I have been in for the last month and a half. I actually put on some pants today and put a sweater in my bag. I just might have to stay here for a couple of more days.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Moving on to Vietnam

I am finally leaving Vang Vieng and a great group of friends and students behind. I have had a great time here and I will never forget the friends that I have made here and the kids that I taught. It has really been a wonderfull experience to say the least but now its time to move on. A group of 35 singapore students has come in so the students will not be without teachers that is for sure.
I am about 30 min away from leaving for a 15 hour bus ride to Bangkok and then a flight to Hanoi. Which was better than the alternative of a 24 hour bus ride. The difference was $50 which I felt was well worth it.
"Tomorrow I will finally be able to say "GOOD MORNING VIETNAM" I have been wanting to say that since I saw Robin Williams in Good Morning Vietanam. I might get some strange looks but what the hell.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Staying in Vang Vieng

I have decided to skip going to the 4000 islands on the Mekong Island in favor of staying here and moving out to the Organic Mulberry Farm and helping out there. As you can see from the pitcure how could I say no to these kids and the other 70 or more just like them. The kids every night after class say "are you comming tomorrow?" Then when you say yes they give you the biggest smiles and say "see you tomorrow sweet dream." Its just so hard to say no.

Helping out at the farm and the community center has been a wonderfull experience and I feel that my time is better spent here helping out these wonderful kids in learing english and telling them about the world. It is far more rewarding than any hammock could be on one of the 4000 islands. I think that I am going to stay here for maybe 1 more week and then I really have to get moving on to Vietnam and Cambodia.

I finally have my flight booked for Nepal so now (Oct. 27) I have a timeline to keep to. Its weird actually having a timeline again after a month of traviling by the seat of my pants.