100th Post: Of Our Journey to Kathmandu, Elephants, Sightseeing

We’ve mostly been preoccupied with applying for jobs, waiting for responses, and ignoring those that simply won’t work. So if you have a spare couples job for Pusan, in mid-to-late October – please let us know!
So, how’d we get to Kathmandu? After arriving in Bardia, we spent almost a week there, with a keen focus on relaxation. We spent one full day in the jungle, trekking for much of the day before riding an elephant for 3 hours. Not riding an elephant was probably our worst “regret” from our trip, so we made up for it in style, meeting Ms. ‘Phant deep in the woods, crossing rivers, ambling through forests, and laying trees and shrubs in our wake. An elephant has an unusual gait, swinging you around strongly, but it was very enjoyable. We didn’t really see much for the first 2 hours or so, besides a few deer, since the jungle during the monsoon is very, very thick. But then the animals arrived, and we got to see both a one-horned rhinoceros and a large male elephant close up! Our elephant was intimated, if not scared, by the elephant (the rhino didn’t faze her) – he knocked over three trees to “impress” her before eating the roots and bugs beneath them: an elephant delicacy. So we got our $116 worth – yep, 3000 Rs. ($39)/person for 3 hours – but when else will we be able to ride an elephant in the jungle?
We of course went and saw our former students, twice in fact, and we gave them a small gift of a mechanical pencil and a (much-needed) eraser. We also went to the elephant breeding center twice, the second time solely to play with the orphan baby elephant – and so Anderson could win a $10 bet with Reannon by french-kissing said elephant. The 650 Rs. was well-spent later that night, as we had an American-food party for all our friends around Bardia. We cooked fried chicken, mashed potatoes, corn-on-the-cob, cold macaroni salad, and for drinks, of course, had the local rice-alcohols: rakshi and chaang! The food was plain tasting compared to the Nepali diet of spicy lentils and rice, but every enjoyed the food (the large pieces of chicken in particular were probably quite unusual) and we had a very good time… so much so that we got a bit of a later start than hoped the next day, although as it happened our journey to Kathmandu would have been quite epic either way!
Basically a crucial (though short) bridge along the Kathmandu road was knocked out by violent rains that night, so our 14-hour journey turned into an exciting 30+ hours of transit. We had to spend the night sleeping on the bus, before our bus arrived at the downed-bridge traffic jam. There it quickly became apparent that the one land-mover was going to take a few days to build a new road (it ended up taking over 5 days), so we decided to grab our bags, cross a small stream, and cut through the hills to get to the other side of the river. There, after waiting for a bit, we found a Kathmandu-bound bus, which we ended up riding on the roof all the way to the capitol. The ride wasn’t too bad, although we had to argue a bit over the fact that we didn’t want to pay baksheesh to ride on the bus (since our tickets were with a different company) and that the conductor should get reimbursement from them, not us, due to the situation. With a translator/mediator things were worked out decently quickly, since we felt it was ridiculous for us to pay the full amount for a proper seat when we were on the roof!
We’ve now been in Kathmandu for a week, with a lot of time spent on the internet. This is really the only place in the whole country with decent and affordable internet access – Pokhara is a bit slower and 5x the cost. Yesterday we went on a day trip to nearby Patan, which has a beautiful Durbar Square – full of old buildings, temples, and even a restored palace that is now a museum. It was also a Hindu holiday – Ladies’ Day – so all the women were dressed in bright red saris, and there was much dancing and music-playing. The museum overlooked the square, so were able to people-watch to our hearts’ content! The museum was, as it is hyped, the best in the subcontinent, with many fine pieces of sculpture, good descriptions, and a nice sense of design and style. There’s even a nice garden (and restaurant, of course 🙂 out back, in case wandering the three stories and two gift shops gets to be a bit much! We also visited Patan’s Buddhist Golden Temple, where there was live music playing while we walked through the gold-plated hallways which were filled with statuary.
We’ve also visited Swayambhunath, a large Buddhist stupa on a hill overlooking Kathmandu, which was very peaceful, monkey-filled, and quite active. Doubly so, since an invigorating walk up some steep steps is necessary, while there are also lots of devotees in addition to the tourists. We also went to the Museum of Taxidermy, mistakenly called the National History Museum – the 20+ foot snakeskin from Bardia made us glad to be in a city! They had way too many stuffed animals, including all sorts of snakes, rhino and elephant fetuses, and plenty of other horror movie accessories. Good times being a tourist.
We’ve attempted to “go out” a few times, with a dance club last Saturday being the apparent highlight – the music was bad, drinks overpriced and bad, etc. The cover bands are none too good either though, so we’ve been renting a DVD player and watching Western movies – nice to laugh with a movie again! “Knocked Up” and “I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry” were both rather hilarious, though last night’s “Reno 911: Miami” was a bit of a letdown. Kathmandu has a lot of bakeries, so we’ve eaten our fair share of pastries (half-price after 8/9pm), and there’s a restaurant near our hotel that is run by chefs-in-training, so the very good food is very affordable. That means a steak, with potatoes and vegetables, is $2.50. Actually less than that, at 150 Rs. Or you can get a good Tibetan thukpa for $0.75. Too bad beer is still spendy at $2 for 650 ml — but there is cheap, and illegally imported, Chinese brandy; a whole bottle costs less than $2, if only it tasted good!
We’ve seen most of the sites within the city by now, mostly being the Durbar Square (Kathmandu’s and Patan’s are both very nice – Patan’s is just better maintained) full of temples and bustling touts. There are a few other day trips around the Kathmandu Valley we plan on making, but given how the job search is going we’re not rushing around, preferring to be leisurely since we know we’re in Kathmandu, for better or worse, until we have a job. We can’t really go to Pokhara, since the internet is super expensive there, and when we do go to Pokhara, we’re doing so to go trekking for a week, not stay in the city, and we cannot disappear from the digital world again until we’ve resolved our employment. So we’re stuck in Kathmandu, which really isn’t too bad at all, since food is cheap, as is lodging, there are enough things to do (navigating Thamel alone is time-consuming and often a bit exhausting), although we feel a bit bad for Reannon that she is stuck here until we’ve ceased to be unemployed bums!
We obviously want/need a job ASAP, starting in October, but we just have to be patient until the Korean language gods smile upon us…!
Our third wedding anniversary (and 2nd outside of the States – last year we were in Hamburg, Germany, at the very beginning of this trip!) is coming up this Tuesday, so that should be pretty fun, although that night we, conveniently, have a phone interview with a recruiting agency, so the party may have to be a bit late-night! No plans yet, but we have a couple of days to make up our minds…

So that’s what’s up…

PS – This is our 100th post – proof positive we need jobs so that we can better keep ourselves busy! But thanks to all who read what we (well, mostly Anderson) write, family and friends, we love you all and miss you, and our “normal American life”,” very much!

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