Entry #037: Monday, September 30, 2013 (Kathmandu, Nepal)

Well, barring a "I'm gonna be on a mountain, hold up" post that will be going up shortly, this is my final entry prior to my trek up Mount Everest...Base Camp. It...it really loses a lot of impact with those last two words, doesn't it? In any case, I've been prepping in Kathmandu the past few days, not just for this trek, but for lots of stuff that's...not really so far into the future anymore. So, what's Kathmandu like? Well, you'll have to read on. (But I'll give you a hint - there's hippies. Lots of hippies.)

Well, first of all, I almost didn't make it into Kathmandu, at least not when I was supposed to. Almost immediately after the last entry finished, I said my goodbyes to my dad and Michelle, and then hopped in a car to get to the Guangzho airport. I was told that it was a two-hour drive, but it turned out to be closer to three hours. Thankfully, I'm one of those guys who's ultra-conservative about being at the airport early, so I still had about an hour before the flight when I arrived at the ticket counter. However, when I handed the guy my passport, he told me, "Oh, the plane is overweight with too much luggage and passengers. We can't let you on."


Yeah, despite being there with plenty of time to spare, and despite the fact that Michelle had kindly gotten me business class seats, I was being told that they had, I guess, misjudged the luggage load horribly? Or else a bunch of fat people were getting on? In any case, I was told to go to the manager's desk, where I waited nervously for about ten minutes. Upon seeing that a group of other folks were there for the same reason as myself, I could at least take solace there. We all had to give our passports, and upon checking mine, I was taken to another counter, where I was immediately given a boarding pass. And I still had no idea what was going on. But I had a boarding pass, so I was good. So then I go to the security checkpoint. I take my laptop out of my backpack and put it through the machine. A red light goes up. "Sir, do you have a laptop in your bag?" When I explained that I took it out, the guard opened up the bag and took out my Kindle. Okay, fair enough. She put the bag through again. Red light. She reaches in and takes out my Zune (first time that sentence has been written in 8 years). Great, that's all the electronics. The bag goes through again, and once more, a red light. The guard glowers at me a little, and asks if I'm trying to hide something. I say no. She digs through the backpack until she finally finds the offending item...my harmonica. I offer to play a small tune to prove what it is, but they seemed satisfied, and finally let me go. When all was said and done, I had enough time to buy lunch (an iced tea and the cheapest unidentifiable-flavor cream/cracker sandwich things I could find) before the flight was ready to board.

With the exception of some sudden-drop turbulence, the plane flight was fine. During the first half of it, I watched The Fast & Furious 6 (which is the first one I've actually ever seen), and during the second half, I tried to sleep as much as I could. We arrived about an hour late in Nepal, about 11:30 local time (which was even later to my biological clock). Having filled out some paperwork beforehand, I was able to get my visa with little issue, and went out into the arrivals terminal. I was immediately accosted by a number of people, including some guys who were offering me a taxi ride, at 750 rupees (conversion is almost 100-to-1 exactly). I had previously downloaded a "Kathmandu Taxi Fare" app which had told me the route to the hotel should only cost about 500, and I also thought that perhaps there might have been a free shuttle to the hotel I was staying at, but I was honestly too tired to care, so I agreed. I also got myself a new local SIM card, because I've found that's often been more useful than the global SIM card I've been traveling with. Also, data rates here are very affordable. What would cost about $150 in China would cost about $18 here, for about the same quality. So I just got myself a gig of data to last me the few days I'd be in town (which required me to give my thumb prints, which the shopkeep seemed to care so little about that he used the same thumb for both). I then got in the taxi, drove over to the Peak Point Hotel, got a warm greeting, and almost immediately went to bed.

I woke up the next morning almost completely out of sync with time and space. It was early in the morning, there was loud stuff happening outside, and it was hot. Actually, that's what I'll start with, a few observations I've had regarding Kathmandu. First of all, it's hot. Surprisingly so. Not, like, scorching hot, but it's also humid, so that makes it all ten times worse. Second, the time here is weird - we are 12 hours and 45 minutes ahead of California. So that means when it's 12:30am in LA or SF, it's 1:15pm in Kathmandu. Thirdly, this place may be the most low-key capital city I've seen yet on my travels. Dirt roads, rolling blackouts (there are two a day, for about three hours each), and the single largest, fanciest store I've seen in the whole of Thamel, which is the most popular part of Kathmadu, is a North Face outlet. I've been to some down and dirty cities, but every capital has, I dunno, seemed like a capital, with a few major buildings, and at least one big box grocery store. Not the case here. Admittedly, I've only seen a small portion of the city, so maybe it's not the right portion. Also, the water is basically poison. That's not even my own assessment. I was reading a guide on Kathmandu, and it said, verbatim, "Water in Kathmandu borders on being lethal." It's just swarming with bacteria. And probably not just the water, because (and I promise I won't go into the details), this is the first place/time in the entirety of this trip that I've ingested things that haven't sat well with me. It's more annoying than debilitating, but hey, at least I made it six months before having to worry about it.

On Friday, I had a breakfast of toast, eggs, and fruit (which I'd been told to be really wary of, so I had to cut the meat from the skin), and after a couple more hours, went out to get some cash and get some equipment. I tried following the directions that the hotel receptionist gave me, but took a wrong turn at some point, as can pretty much be expected of me. It was okay, though, as I managed to find an ATM, though it had a really odd door, magnetically locked and only unlockable by swiping your card. I tried a couple times without success when a local offered to help. I was wary of letting him hold my card, but my worries turned out to be unfounded - he simply unlocked it and let me in. His friend, though, began asking the questions I hate, beginning with "Where are you from?" I really need to start doing my whole "It doesn't matter where I'm from" routine, maybe make it more like I'm some sort of Double-0 agent.

I then continued through, looking for a place where I could rent most of my equipment. Some more observations and thoughts along the way:

  • I am pretty sure this is the closest I am going to be on this trip to going to India. First of all, most of the locals seem Indian. Like, if you took off all the signs and everything which show that the place is Kathmandu, I'd truly believe that I was in some town outside Delhi. They look Indian, they have accents that sound Indian, and they dress as you imagine Indians to. Also, the greeting is "Namaste." I think it's only the more prominent presence of Buddhism (in addition to Hinduism) that sets it apart. (As a note, I was original planning on going to India to visit a friend prior to Nepal, but she moved back to the US in August, so I decided to scratch it off my itinerary.)
  • Again, this place is the most third-world-y capital city of any place I've been to thus far, despite having the most tourists in it. (Like, Nairobi had almost no visible white people on the streets, but was a legitimately modern, if rundown, metropolis.) To be honest, it really emphasizes how China, for all the cultural incompatibilities I had with it, is still closer to being a first-world nation than a lot of other countries. Also, I think part of the reason I was so down on China was the fact that I just came from Cape Town which is like comparing a single French Fry (okay) with a full baked potato (amazing).
  • I swear, I haven't seen so many hippies since leaving Berkeley. Actually, there are probably more hippies here than there. Dreadlocks, braided beards, harem pants and loose clothes, a general sense of "Yeah, this guy smokes pot"...it's all here. Basically, every white person here can be divided into two groups: trekkers and hippies. Nothing else. In some ways, I suppose it is like being in the sixties, except that the majority of these hippies are from the sixties, and as such, are geriatric now.
  • Oddly enough, there's a certain odd charm here that prevents me from calling the place a dump. It's rustic, definitely, but it somehow seems appropriate here.
Anyway, it turns out that most places only sell trekking equipment, barring the stuff I really don't need, like crampons or ice axes. I knew I'd be buying some things, like socks, but I was hoping to rent as much as possible, like rain clothes, a daypack (I could use my daypack again, but it always seemed to be too small on my Kilimanjaro trek), and such. Thankfully, I finally found a place where I could rent some equipment, and at fairly reasonable prices. I did end up buying some things (socks, a hat, a fleece jacket, a water bottle), but when you're talking a couple dollars per item, I was fine with it. The rest I could rent, and I ended up with almost everything I needed for under $45 (compare this to the Kilimanjaro equipment I rented - even the socks were rented - costing over $200). The only things I didn't get were thermal underwear (the polypropylene stuff cost about $25 to buy [no renting allowed] and I have my own long underwear, cotton though they may be) and boots, which I wanted to shop around for. Besides, they didn't have my size. I then left the place, receipt in hand and ready to pick up the stuff on Monday, but having walked a ways away, I realized that the address on the receipt was a P.O. Box and didn't correlate to their actual location, meaning I had no idea where to find them. Not without calling, at least.

I walked around town a bit more. I didn't take any pictures, mainly because a)it's not that glamorous of a place, b)I would be taken on a sightseeing tour as part of the trip, c)I didn't feel fully comfortable showing expensive electronics yet, and d)I didn't have my camera regardless. It being mid-afternoon at this point, I decided to get something to eat, so I went to this place called Hot Chilli (or Hot Chilly, depending on the sign). There I got my first taste of Buff MoMos, which is not a porn star, but rather the local specialty. It's kind of like a dumpling, and it's pretty damn good. I also find it charming how buffalo (which I don't know is supposed to be the same as yak or not) is simply referred to as "buff". It makes anything you order (and I've been trying to order buff items whenever I have the option) sound more many. I also got a buff chili, which was okay, though I think they overcooked the meat a bit.

After finishing that meal (which was only a couple dollars when you include a drink), I went back to the hotel. Some of the staff offered me a sightseeing trip over the weekend, with transportation, for something like $30, but I again reasoned that I'd be doing sightseeing on my tour, and I also realized I was behind on some of my travel planning, including things that were coming up immediately after Nepal. So I decided that I'd be spending a lot of my time this weekend planning. First, I did some bookings for my train trip from Singapore to Bangkok. This proved to be a hassle, because my credit card didn't pass the "Verified by Visa" check. I ended up having to call the bank, at which point I realized it's because when I had to enter "Bank Name", I used the wrong name (I didn't include the word "Bank"), and that screwed everything up. After that, I continued looking into my plans for Australia and New Zealand, in particular trying to figure out how to keep a low budget. Especially in Oz, it's not going to be easy. All the while, I had to deal with rolling blackouts. Having a good laptop battery, I wouldn't have minded these so much, but it also switched off my fan, which made the place uncomfortably hot.

After some success in getting myself situated with what I want to do in the future, I set my laptop on a dresser, and get up to go to dinner. Now, I knew my laptop would take some abuse on this trip - the screen has some nicks here are there (though I think that's just a design flaw with how it touches the keyboard when closed), and one of the rubber feet came off somewhere in China, but I haven't had anything go wrong with it due to my own stupidity. Until this point, that is. Because as I stood up, my foot pressed down on the power cable, pulling the laptop off the dresser. I tried my damnedest to save it, but my reflexes failed me in this instance, and it's edge hit the floor. I immediately pick it up and assess the damage. Thankfully, on the whole it seemed fairly unscathed. But then I saw my earbuds on the floor. I pick them up, only to notice the audio pin is...only half of an audio pin. I swallowed a lump and looked at the laptop's audio jack, and sure enough, in addition to a small piece of the jack casing being broken, there was indeed the other half of the pin lodged in there. On the bright side, when I started playing some sounds, it came through the laptop speakers, so at least it wasn't trapped in headphone mode. On the dim side, this was still a pretty crappy situation. Knowing that I was fully responsible for it didn't help. But all I could do for now was go have dinner.

I walked around the area, stopping at every trekking place along the way to enquire about shoe prices. I wasn't planning on buying any shoes at the time; it was more a recon mission to get a general sense of prices around the area. Generally, the absolute cheapest and not-very-trek-oriented shoes seemed to be in the $25 range, whilst the shoes I could actually see wearing on a trek were in the $40-70 range, with a few outliers. One of the things I found especially funny were the shoes that were clearly counterfeit North Face. Here's a tip - if the North Face logo is molded onto the rubber, it's more likely to be real. If the logo is painted onto the rubber - shoddily, I might add - you're probably looking at a fake. Also, pretty much all the shoes will have a little metal plate on them that says either GORE-TEX (if it's a North Face, legit or fake) or WATERPROOF. If you have a bottle of water with you (and you probably should never be without one), take a couple drops and flick them onto the shoe (when the shopkeep isn't looking). They should roll off like nobody's business. ...Sorry, tangent there. In any case, I eventually stopped at this place which had a wide variety of dishes, and got myself the Nepali sampler, which included these roasted peanuts (which had a flavor that reminded me of something - I don't know what - from my childhood), soup, MoMos, rice, several different curry-like dishes, a carrot-based desert, and tea. It was pretty good for the most part. I think I got overcharged a bit at the cash register (and they seem confused when I asked for a receipt), but considering that it was all over about $1, I decided it wasn't worth my time. I went back to the hotel, asking about a few more boots along the way (every outdoors store seemed to close sharply at 9pm).When I got back, I spent the remainder of my night looking at potential volunteer gigs in South America. I honestly don't know if I'll have time to do one of them, but I dunno, I think having those moments gives a little bit more direction to my travels, and keeps me from getting too world weary. I ended up filtering from several hundreds to just about two or three dozen potential options. Don't know if I'll end up actually doing any of them, but it's worth looking into.

I woke up the next morning, or rather, was woken up by one of the rolling blackouts. Having the power cut to the fan in my room, as mentioned previously, makes it uncomfortably hot, and it also gets rid of the white noise which marginally helps to drown out the strange loud noises that occur on the outside (I've looked, and I've not been able to source any of the sounds). I tried falling back asleep, but to no avail, so I just grabbed my computer and looked some more into Australia, about traveling from place to place to place (the thought right now is to go from Sydney to Melbourn to Cairns). Amazingly, I didn't actually get nearly as much done as you might think - I was mainly informing myself. And by that, the amazing part is how much time all this stuff takes to prepare. I haven't been this involved since before I left. Maybe I should have used more of my time at Askari researching. I kept going until the battery gave up the ghost, but I had to wait a while before I felt comfortable enough going out, because I was affected by some of that Nepali bacteria. In fact, I didn't end up leaving until almost 11am. When I got down to the reception and talked to the guys there, they offered me breakfast, even though I was technically an hour late. I thought that was mighty kind of them!

Having had a fairly full meal (the "American" breakfast, which was eggs, potatoes, toast, cereal, and tea - quite a bit, though the corn flakes were the most limp-wristed cereal I've ever eaten), I went out to do a bit more shopping. I fist got myself a bottle of water at a local store. It was only 15 rupees ($0.15), which was the cheapest I'd seen so far. After taking off the plastic, though, the cap came off without "breaking", as it's supposed to do. I thought about it for some time, but in the end, couldn't trust it. It's one thing getting the odd bacteria hanging onto some produce; it's another to guzzle down a liter of it. And I could afford to lose fifteen cents. I continued on and went into the North Face outlet, which, as mentioned earlier, was probably the biggest and most pristine store in the city. I took a look at their shoes, and a few other items just for kicks. While you obviously knew these were legit, they were unsurprisingly expensive. I couldn't justify spending that much money for a single trek, even if I did plan to send them home afterwards. I then went to another place, more like every other store, and asked him about a pair of RAN Cedar boots, which, based on the tags, is a Chinese brand. 6,500 rupees. Chinese though they were, they did seem like decent enough boots for my purposes, and the waterproofing did, in fact, work. But I wanted to try haggling, so I told him I saw some other similar boots for 4,000 elsewhere. He tried telling me that they were probably of lower quality, but I said I couldn't justify 6,500. He offered 6,000. I remained hesitant, saying I'd check elsewhere. He asked me what my going price was, and I said 5,000. He told me that was too low, and so I said I'd go elsewhere. He made me a final offer of 5,500, and I accepted. So, $10 savings! Not too shabby for somebody who's not done proper haggling yet. (I later checked with other stores on the same pair, and none had an initial price below 6,500.)

Unfortunately, as he only took cash, I found myself in need of another ATM stop. This was surprisingly difficult. First of all, there aren't that many ATM's here as you think. They definitely exist, but they're uncommon enough in the market areas that shopkeeps, the people who want your cash, won't know where to find a nearby one. Second, when I finally did find a couple, it turned out that the rolling blackouts affected them as well. As I was looking, I decided to put on my new boots, to help break them in as much as possible (also, if somebody stole my bag, they'd only be getting my old shoes). They actually turned out to be pretty comfortable. Also on my radar were bead shops, as I had (back in China) stupidly stepped on the bead that held together my hat's draw string. (Man, my feet are just on a roll for ruining things, aren't they?) I found plenty of bead stores selling individual bead, but I wasn't confident that any of them had holes big enough to support four leather strings. One I thought might have a possibility, but not enough to pay 40 rupees for two beads. So, no luck there. I did eventually find an ATM, though. I initially tried to get $200 worth of rupees out, but apparently the maximum was $100. Having done that, I grabbed the cash, quickly counted it, and then looked at the screen, which said "RETRIEVE CARD." I looked in the card slot. Nothing there. .........Damn. Actually, I was a bit more panicked than that, and frantically began looking for a way to retrieve my card. But there wasn't even a phone number to call, so I just took a photo of the ATM and made a note of it's general coordinates. I then walked back to the hotel and explained the situation to them. They saw that it was a Mega Bank ATM, and called. Unfortunately, Saturday seems to be the equivalent of the Western Sunday, so they were no longer open. I had to try the next day (which, happily enough, they were open the whole day for - I guess their Sunday is like our Monday).

Feeling frustrated at the situation, I went back to my room, and spent more hours doing future planning, which is really important, yet not really interesting to hear about, I'll bet. I did have some issues with my Australia-to-New Zealand flight (which took me forever to find the ideal [and cheapest] option). When I finally decided to go with a flight on Emirates that wouldn't have me waiting in the Sydney airport for 12 hours overnight (and it's apparently one of the worst airports to spend the night in), I tried booking through Emirates website. But once I got to the payments and put in my card number, it went to the Verified by Visa page, and then said it needs more information. I was then told that the payment wasn't accepted. I tried again, making sure to double check all the information. Again, not accepted. Frustrated at having to do this twice in as many days, I called the card company, and asked for their help. Interestingly, they told me they weren't even seeing the full request going through. They had me go through the process one more time and...no dice. And this time, I was told that I was locked out of using the card for payment. Ever helpful, the card services represented actually called Emirates and set up a conference to see if we could solve this over the phone. We got through, talked to one of their reps, and were basically told that the phone and Internet systems were tied, so if I wanted to use that card, I'd have to wait 24 hours for either method. Alternatively, I could have used PayPal, but I wanted those points, dammit! I eventually sidestepped the issue by booking through a third-party website, which ended up being only a couple dollars more expensive. But at least it got done.

Then there was another power outage. (I asked the receptionist how long this has been going on for, and he said at least for the last 15 years. Yeesh.) After my computer's battery was about halfway done, I decided to go out to dinner. I asked the for any advice from the hotel staff, and they all recommended a place called Gaia Cafe (which also happened to be #7 on TripAdvisor's restaurants of Kathmandu rankings). So I went there, and it was really nice, and very cheap. I got a burger (with bacon, which proved wholly unnecessary), and it came with tortilla chips, salsa, and a salad. All that and a drink for under $5 (and it would have been under $4 without the bacon). I was at struggling with the salad though - basically every guide I'd read said, "Don't eat salads except from the safest places," but I really wanted some veggies in my system. (My 12-year-old self can't believe I just wrote that sentence.) Thankfully, I finally got to a TripAdvisor review that flat out said, "It's safe to eat." So, I finished up my plate, and got going. When I got back to the hotel, I did even more planning for the future. This time, the focus was my New Zealand trip. I had a 30-trip bus pass, so I wanted to see which cities and areas I wanted to go to. Man, what a task it ended up being. And going through the final list I had (which ended up being 27 trips accross both islands), I began to wonder, Can I actually do my New Zealand plans in 45 days? Will it end up being two months? I'm already getting to South America later than originally planned, how would it affect that? And what if I wanted to do that volunteer work? Will I be able to finish this trip by April after all?

The prospect of extending this to a 13-month trip crossed my mind, as did cutting out a country or two in South America, but I still have to weigh all the factors out. Needless to say, it's getting complicated all over again.

On Sunday, I managed to wake up naturally, without any sort of issues, went down, and surprised everyone (well, two of the staff, but that was everyone at the time) by ordering the Indian breakfast. It was the least breakfast-like breakfast I'd ever eaten (it was a veggie curry like dish with a bread that was somewhere between a fried naan and a soft poppadom), and it was greasy like nobody's business, but man was it good. I then got up, and at about 10am, went to the local Mega Bank, which happened to be their main branch, fortunately enough. I figured that since they'd been open for an hour or two, they should have word of my card. I went in and asked, but was basically told to come back after 2pm. This kinda would eat into my day, but hey, I needed that card, so I said fine and left.

I went to go back to the hotel, but as is my way, took a wrong turn and ended up going somewhere else. As I was passing along this one intersection, this one guy complimented me on my shoes, asking how much they were. I tried to brush him off, but he told me, "I'm not a guide, I don't want your money, I have all the money I need in life. I just want to talk." So, I stopped to make chit-chat, but I didn't trust him, and he could tell that I didn't, and he told me that he could tell that I didn't. I explained that I've been on the road too long to really trust anyone who just approaches me. He told me he understood, and asked me about my boots again. I said they were gifts. He then told me about all the places he's traveled to, and asked where I was going. When I said Australia, he told me that his wife was living there at the moment. He then brought me into a local jewelry store to talk. He said that he needed help, and I could make some money by helping. I just had to bring in (or ship, I forget) some jewels into Australia and hand them over to his wife (to avoid business tariffs or something), and I'd get $5,000 bucks for my effort. I obviously knew this was a scam, and tried to get out of it in the least confrontational way possible, so I just said, "I appreciate it, sir, but I'm on this trip to get away from money. I don't want it, I don't want to be part of the economic system, I just want to be me and the world. Me doing this would go against my whole philosophy." It was a bald-faced lie, but hey, he started it. He smiled, said I was a good man, shook my hand, and let me go on my way.

(I later looked into it, and it turns out the details of this scam are more interesting than what I had imagined. It mostly comes out of India [and this guy said he was from India originally], but the idea is, they give you the jewels, and you have a transaction on paper only; no money exchanged. However, you're then to get a call the next day from a "customs official", accusing you of stealing the jewels, and requiring proof of payment, lest you get arrested and put in an Indian/Nepali prison. At this point, you have to go back to the dealer, who notes that it's a very bad situation, and you now have to make a transaction with him [online, I've seen $50,000 and the like], which could be cancelled and returned when all was said and done. There's a few more steps, but basically, when you get to Australia - and Australia seems to be a common point in all of them, oddly enough - you find out there's no contact, all the jewels are fake, and you're out of money/luck. Do a search for it if you'd like to learn more; it's quite interesting. It also got me wondering about if I could have somehow scammed him. All I would need is a fake ID (which I'm sure I could have gotten in loads of places), and phony contact details. I'd get the fake jewelry - which I could sell cheap, as fake jewelry - and when the customs official makes the call, they end up calling a ghost. When they do a search for me, it turns out the man who took the jewels no longer exists, and it's Andrew Schnorr on a flight out. Of course, I'd have to make sure I left as soon as possible, because these guys are probably all violent criminals, but hey, it's fun to imagine.)

I then walked around town, looking for some mole skin pads to help prevent blisters. Apparently, though, that's not a thing here. Neither the pharmacies nor the trekking places had them, with the sole exception of one that had a pad for the ball of your foot (maybe for bunions?). After checking about two dozen different places, I gave up the chase, and went back to Gaia to wait out the time before the bank was ready for me. I ordered a tea and sipped while milling around, people watching and wasting time on my phone. When I realized I should probably just get lunch while I was there, I got a chicken burger (again with salad and chips) and a mint lemonade, which is the best-tasting-thing-I've-never-heard-of-before-but-totally-needs-to-become-big-in-the-US. The chicken burger, while waaaaay too heavy on the mayo (and I think any mayo is too heavy), was still pretty good, and the whole kit and kaboodle cost a scant $4.20. A dollar can really get you far here. I like that. A lot.

I walked back to the bank, and arrived at about 1:50. Because I didn't want them to claim I came too early, I walked down the street and back again. (I also had to cross the street twice, which should probably qualify as an adventure sport.) To keep people from bothering me, I took out my phone and pretended like I was talking to somebody. To make it extra fun, I took a scene in my head that I'd written some time ago, and reenacted it with a phantom partner. Basically, I was playing some evil cocksure dude who kidnapped the sister of a member of some resistance. I don't know if anyone was listening and/or could understand what I was saying, but I like to believe that if they were, they'd be either entertained or horrified. Once 2pm rolled by, I went into the bank, and asked if they had my card. The guy looked at his records, and said they never retrieved it. My heart sank. I asked for him to check again, and he said I could talk to their card specialist. I ran in my head all of the things I'd need to do to handle not having a debit card, and all the things I wouldn't be able to do until then. And then, as we walking to the back room, some urge prompted me to check my money clip. I did so and...there it was. Sitting snugly, exactly where it belonged. I must have taken in out and put it away before taking the cash, and not realized it. Not only did I not realize it, but I didn't think to check for more than 24 hours. While I was relieved that I did not lose the card after all, I immediately felt a surge of shame for having been so stupid and wasting everyone's time, especially my own. I mean, I lost a good half of the day trying to retrieve a card I hadn't lost. That's pretty low on the pride scale. Not that I had to let them know. (Maybe some of the Chinese face thing has rubbed off on me.) Once the card specialist said he didn't find my card, I just said, visibly more composed than I'd been minutes before, that I would cancel the card and use my "other" debit card in the mean time, thanks for your help. I left and walked back to the hotel, where the staff congratulated me on getting my card back. I went into my room and lay on my bed, feeling like an idiot.

I spent the next little while reading through the Everest trek literature, which was something I probably should have done more thoroughly at an earlier point. Not that it makes much difference; I have what I need, and we'll be following the itinerary, whether I know what it is or not (and I never knew what the itinerary on Kilimanjaro was). I then just relaxed for a bit, having gotten tired of constantly making plans for New Zealand and such. I also decided to try to solve my computer's audio jack problem. On the way back from the bank, I had stopped in a small shop to buy some water. Just by sheer coincidence (or divine intervention), they also sold super glue there. Nowhere else had I seen this stuff sold, except at this one place near Peak Point Hotel. So, I bought some and brought it back with me. I tried a couple different ways of extracting the nub without success, but then finally thought to grab a Q-Tip, cut it in half with a pair of scissors I had bought, put a tiny drop of glue on the end, carefully insert it into the jack, and let it set for a few minutes. I then tried to pull the Q-Tip out, and viola! The nub came out with it! Perfect! I then decided to see if all was back to normal, so I got a new set of earbuds and plugged them into the jack. I immediately noticed that they seemed loose, which made sense considering that there was a part of the jack tube missing. But then I tried listening, and it sounded....not good. All the sounds were slightly muted or distort, and any vocals could barely be heard at all. I can only guess that part of the jack that was broken actually delivered some of the audio information. So, I was successful, but it was a bit of a hollow victory. So, I went on Amazon, bought a USB-to-audio converter, and decided to move on. Sorry, computer.

I eventually went to dinner, again at Gaia (hey, if you got something good, cheap, safe, and close, why bother with anything else). The place was absolutely jumping, but I managed to get a seat, and ordered a curry, extra spicy. I'm always under the assumption that all "extra spicy" requests will be ignored, but I was pleasantly surprised to find my meal legitimately spicy, just a few notches below my discomfort level. Not bad at all. I decided to splurge a little bit, and so I got a slice of apple pie. They asked if I wanted ice cream on top, which is another of the things everyone says you shouldn't eat, but after a little thought, I said "YOLO!" and got some. (Note: I didn't actually say "Yolo.") It was quite good, and I haven't had any negative effects from it, so I guess it turned out to be okay. I got back to the hotel, had a call with my mom to hash out some of our plans for when we're meeting up (as I don't think there will be time after I leave for the mountain), did some writing, and went to bed.

This morning, I once again had my power outage alarm clock wake me up, this time near 6am. I tried going back to sleep, and had only limited success doing so. Eventually, once it was obvious the mysterious clanging outside was not going to end. I got up and decided to make the most of my awake state by packing my bags. When I got to my hat, I realized that I had yet to find a new bead for the drawstrings. I examined the possibilities of creating some sort of sliding knot out of the four leather strings, which immediately proved to be beyond my abilities. So, I decided to improvise. I tore a small strip of paper from a map I had, grabbed the tube of superglue I previously used to free up the audio jack, and wrapped it around the strings. I glued it into a makeshift bead, and the glue actually worked wonders in terms of making it stiff. A little permanent marker to make it black (instead of having some Nepali advertisements), and I had it working. Not gonna lie, I was pretty proud of myself. I'll be even more proud if it somehow lasts throughout the entire trek, preventing my hat from blowing away. I then continued to do some more writing until 11:30, when I checked out of the hotel.

I still needed to get my rental equipment, and I had no idea where the place was, but luckily the receptionist was happy to give the store a call and gave me their location on what was left of my map. I took the map and went out, following the directions as closely as I could (and there were only, like, three turns necessary), and yet still managing to go the wrong way. Truly, I have a gift. My phone stepped up to save me, though, as I correlated my GPS signal with the paper map and - eventually - found the place. Before I even stepped inside, I made sure to put a star on my map of the location, so I'd be able to find it more easily when I had to return the items. I went in to find the place completely deserted. I looked around, calling out for people, and only after some time did the clerk come in from outside. He grabbed my stuff, handed me the bag, and told me that they didn't need to take a security deposit. I said fine, told him I'd be back, and went on my way. I then realized that, in all my transactions with this store, I had never done anything which could be specifically tied to me. I paid with cash, and they never asked for an ID. Had I written down a fake name and contact details on the order slip (I didn't), I'd be completely untraceable. With no deposit holding me down, I could out-and-out steal their equipment. I'm not going to do that, because a)I'm not a bad person, and b)I have no place for it. But still, it makes me wonder if these guys trust me enough, or if the rental price is high enough that they wouldn't mind losing it. Definitely a different ind of situation than some of the other rentals I've done.

I walked back, and just happened to see the Indian jewel scammer on the same intersection I had met him before. I'm not sure if he saw me, because he was trying to work his charms on some other person. I contemplated interrupting, but again, I had no idea if he was a petty criminal or a violent criminal, so I decided to let the woman wheedle her own way out of it. I ended up going to Gaia for lunch (seriously, I've given these guys so much business in my short time here), where I got a nice palak paneer, and then went back to the hotel, grabbed my other bags, and had a taxi hailed. This pitiful-looking taxi, which resembled a caricature of an early 90s pizza delivery car and probably weighed less than my bags and I do, weaved its ways through the alleyways until we reached the Radisson. I got in, and went to the reception. Nope, they said, since I was here with World Expeditions, I had to go to the World Expeditions (WE) desk. I went over there and talked to the guy. Nope, he said, I needed to talk to the reception. "But I just came from reception." Nope, he said, the reception in the other building. So, I walked over to a building across the street, gave them my name and a slip of paper containing some information the WE representative had given me. They looked confused, asked for my ID, and then proceeded to pick up a phone and speak in Nepali. They then told me to have a seat, and I did so...for 45 minutes. I was grateful for the complimentary glass of pineapple juice provided at the half-hour mark, but really, how can anybody not have their act together in such an almost comical way (I've heard tell from the others on my trip that they had equally befuddling experiences).

I finally got to my room, and aside from a moment in which a woman came to door and said that her and her friend were told they were being moved to this room ("Not unless you're sharing the same bed," I said, avoiding the more crude joke available), I just continued doing some more writing until my room-and-tent-mate, Will, came in. A Masters grad on gap year from Australia, he seemed like a nice enough guy, though so far he seems to take kvetching to a whole new level. ("Andrew, you'd just call it 'complaining' at that point.") Then at 4:30, it was time to meet up in the main lobby for our first little meeting.

We didn't have everybody of our, I think, 14-person group, but the majority of people were there. A couple things I noticed about the group:

  • It's Australian. I was somewhat expecting to have a number of Aussies, as WE is an Australian company. But of the nine of us that were there to start, there were eight Aussies and....me. Three more people did arrive halfway through, and I swear that one of them did have an American, possibly Canadian, accent, but I'm definitely outnumbered here. Not that this actually bothers me; in fact, they've all been giving me advice on my Australia trip, which I'll probably have too much information about before I'm done. (And hey, maybe I'll have someone to stay with...maybe...)
  • It's old. Again, this isn't a bad thing (will probably keep us going at a poley-poley pace), but it definite struck me that the average age seemed to be, like 45. Lot of gray hairs amongst the group. Very different from my Kilimanjaro climb. One of the guys is even missing an arm. On the one hand, this makes me feel like I should be fine, especially since I completely the reputedly more difficult Kili climb. On the other hand, now the pressure is up for all the younger kids.
  • On the whole, they seem nice. But I say that about nearly everyone when I first meet them, so what do I know?
After a somewhat unsubstantial talk by our trek leader - during which we were given a free drink, which was being pushed as a luxury for some reason - we went to get our big camp bags. The trek leader said that our camp bags couldn't have more than 10kg in them, and our daypacks 5kg. That's not that much, especially when the provided sleeping bag, down jacket, and sleeping bag liner weigh almost 5kg on their own. I genuinely don't think it's possible to stay in that weight limit whilst bringing everything they told us to bring. But we'll see.

After a quick break where I got to my room and checked to make sure my jacket and sleeping bag were working properly, I met in the main lobby with a couple of the folks. A pair of Aussies, a father/son team, decided to walk with me to, you guessed it, Gaia, which was about a 1.5km walk from the Radisson. They had just arrived earlier in the day, and they weren't the "seasoned" traveler I am (in fact, it was the 49-year-old father's first time overseas). So they really wanted to get a sense of the local area, and how absolutely crazy it was. And I can only imagine how crazy it must seem to a homebody like that. Weaving through traffic in an area that was in a blackout period, meaning that there were no lights except for car headlights, was a bit surreal. Still, we made it unscathed to the restaurant, and had a nice meal and conversation. We ended up paying together (meaning we have to figure out the split after they get a good night sleep) and walked back, allowing them to enjoy the sights and sounds and dust of night in Kathmandu. When we got back, they went straight to bed, and I went back to my room, where I saw Will packing his stuff. I decided to hold off until tomorrow for that because, eh, I can.

And that's it. Aside from a day tour of Kathmandu tomorrow - and barring the unfortunate possibility of weather delaying our flight into the trekking region - next stop is the trek to Everest Base Camp. Am I worried? Generally, no. Like I said, reports are generally that Kilimanjaro is more difficult, and I think I managed to do that one admirably and with less dedicated equipment (*coughdaypackcough*). And my boots seem to be working well enough, and my few days in them have hopefully gotten them at least a little broken in. Even if they are a "cheap" Chinese brand, I don't need them to last forever - they just need to last 14 days, which I think is quite achievable. And I think my less-than-favorable reaction to some food has more-or-less passed at this point, and like I said, even that wasn't debilitating or anything. The only thing that gives me any concern is this golf-ball-sized lump on my leg, which is slightly red, occasionally itchy, and hard/callused to the touch. My best guess is that it's some kind of spider bite, and I'm hoping that it sorts itself out and doesn't turn out to be from some brown recluse relative. Trust me, I'm monitoring that one carefully. But aside from that, I'm cautiously optimistic for a nice, long hike up some amazing terrain. It will be interesting to compare to Kili, I'm sure.

So, aside from the interlude post I'll be putting up shortly, this is the last you'll hear from me until I'm back down from Everest Base Camp. I assume that my recap post will be somewhat similar to my Kilimanjaro special. Though I might be doing it a bit differently, as I don't know if my phone has enough hard drive space to fit 14 days worth of video content (I pretty much maxed it out after nine days on Kili). So maybe I'll just do audio. Maybe I'll make this...a podcast! Everybody loves those, right? Then you can download it to your player of choice, and while you're working out, you can listen to me saying, "Christ, my feet are sore!" That sounds awesome, doesn't it? Doesn't it?

...Hey, where are you going?

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