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Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Day 2 in Kathmandu

Not much to update you on today - other than a long day of walking around the city center.  Instead of giving you too many boring details, I will post about the past 2 days just to give you a full picture of an expedition.  Brace yourself, there is not a lot of exciting event updates ahead. 

First, I bring you back to Monday.  I landed in Kathmandu on Monday at 11:30am local time.  Departing the plane was a breeze and then I stood on one of the longest and most disorganized lines.  People were getting really upset but I was tired and had no rush so I enjoyed the chaos.  I finally arrived at the front of the line and was greeted by a very nice man who happily chatted with me while a few 100 people stood behind me with relatively little patience.  It was a funny scene - glad I was not in a rush. 

After the kind man accepted my $100 payment for my 90 day visa, he directed me to the "90 day visa" line that was empty.  All that waiting was for the 30-day visas for trekkers.  I guess - based upon these observations - the estimate of 10 trekkers for every climber might be an underestimate.  At any rate, I went through the line of 0 with little delay.

Next, I lugged my bags from the visa line through customs.  Well, to call it customs might be a stretch.  I placed all four bags - two checked and two carry-ons - atop some conveyor belt that did something to them but what I haven't a clue.  Whatever the purpose of the machine, it was quick.  Even our US TSA bag screening goes slower than that machine.  Oh well, what might they get after the bags were so heavily scrutinized by previous screening methods.

After I grabbed my bags from the mystery machine, I slowly ambled out toward this mass of humanity.   I now know what the Beatles felt like when they first entered the US.  No, not one of these people were cheering for me - or for anyone else for that matter -  but they were all passionately interested in us and our bags.   These folks were the unofficial baggage handlers.  I think they make their living hoisting a bag or two along with several others who have their hands on the same bag. My aim at that point was not to support the local economy but to find my Summit Climb ride.  Sure enough, they were there with a sign and anxiously awaiting my arrival. 

These gentlemen were extremely helpful.  They grabbed all my bags, put them on a cart and it was at that point that I realized I was finally in Kathmandu.  All the prior steps were just lines and waiting.  Now, I was greeted by locals and would probably see them for some time.  Well, that is what I thought.   The folks who greeted me where locals but they were no different than the professional baggage handlers who amassed around the exit of the terminal.  These guys were hired guns and the Summit Climb sign was merely a cover.  Regardless, they were helpful and got us (three others) into a cab right away.

The three others were two trekkers from the UK and a fellow climber from Denmark.  I will provide some details about these and others in upcoming posts.  For now, picture five people crammed into a taxi the size of a Volkswagen Beetle (70's style).  It was hilarious but not as funny as the ride itself.  Traffic in Kathmandu is sheer chaos.  I recall the chaos in Italy and figured this to be far worse but better in other ways.  It is worse than Italy because there are no laws - at least none discernable by the traffic patterns and inattentive police officers at every intersection.  Life just moves one in one chaotic mess.  Now, I said it was better than Italy because of one thing - kindness.  We all experience traffic at some point.  How we deal with it is often the same.   We get angry at times and other times we just tune out.  In Kathmandu, all the drivers tune out.  They don't care!  Well, they probably do care but they never exchange a cross word.  I was amazed.  In New York, for example, drivers would probably come to blows over some of the incidents we watched unfold during our 20 minute cab ride.  I was and remain impressed by the locals low-key attitude and acceptance of one another.

We arrived at the Shakti hotel unharmed but universally impressed - perhaps thankful might be more appropriate - by our cab driver's skill.  The hotel is buried within a skein of structures that cannot be discerned by sign, road, or landmark.  This place is just a confused mess of roads that all seem to lead to shops.  Pictures of this place may follow but I am having some trouble with the local internet and its capacity to handle the picture files.  Hopefully this gets resolved soon because some of the pictures tell more than any words can ever deliver. 

Arni (my new Danish friend) and I were paired up to a room.  I welcomed the company since the past 48 hours seemed quite socially isolated.  We quickly discovered many commonalities that lead to hours of interesting chats.  I won't bore you with those details and I will not speak for others during my blog posts.  Instead, if Arni or any other wants to chime in, I will quote them directly.

We met Dan Mazur and Scott Patch - the two expedition leaders - along with several others in the lobby.   Shortly after our informal meeting, we headed out for dinner.  Boy, was I hungry.  Remember the traffic?  Well, it is probably far more hazardous to be a pedestrian than a driver.  Our group split up after one intersection with little hope to catch them.  They dropped five of us in seconds.   Now, we were alone without much clue about the area.  Remember, the adventure doesn't start until something goes wrong.  Well, this was a minor thing but it sure lead us to an interesting adventure.  We walked around and found a restaurant that had nobody inside.  History taught me to avoid these places but we pressed on with some (trepid) boldness. 

The meal and the hosts were delightful.  We (the two trekkers, Arni, and Garry - our new Australian/UK friend) sat down to the most conservative meal we could get - overcooked chicken with tons of spices.  We avoided vegetables and water at all costs.  Downing the chicken with Cokes made the entire thing completely memorable.  We found a solution to a minor problem.  The next problem would be to find our way back to the hotel.  Remember how I said it was buried in a skein of buildings?  That fact did not leave our minds. 

So, I am finally settled into my hotel that serves as my temporary home for the next few days.