zondag 9 september 2012

1,5 year in Kathmandu… Part II: The sports

During my time here I have become acquainted with a phenomenon called the Hash House Harriers. A crazy bunch of drinkers with a running problem. Every Saturday we would meet up and run! The first time running I thought I never did anything that tough, climbing up the mountain and running back down! It is great how Antoine would always cheer me on and we would keep each other going! The reward of a cold beer combined with the fun of Jimi's circle is the best thing ever!

Some weekends I would go trekking, for example with Marie and Deep trekking the Helambu trail, where I fell in love with the mountain views, the little tea houses on the way and learned that trekking is beautiful!

Or I would do a couple of days of mountainbiking with Robbert, Ziggy the puppy, Simone and Ben. Thinking we could do about 60 km a day, not taking in mind the mountains along the way...

During the week I would visit Edoyes amazing energetic Zumba class, finishing with a cup of coffee in the Roadhouse Cafe.

Never before had I thought that coming to Nepal would make me love to do running, trekking and would make me take zumba classes. Thank you Deep, Marie, Antoine, Jimi, Ben, Simone, Edoye and Robbert for broadening my sports horizon and of course your fun and friendship!

dinsdag 4 september 2012

1,5 year in Kathmandu… Part I: An ode to friendship

As most of you know I will be leaving soon. Time to reflect on my last 1,5 years in Kathmandu.

Friends come and go here in Kathmandu, but I’ve learned that with many people you meet you have a lot in common: a sense of adventure and an ambition to, besides all the partying and fun, make sure you leave something behind and create something meaningful in terms of developing this beautiful country.

I would like to start out with the first group of friends I have met and the first group that I have shared my astonishment and amazement about Kathmandu crazy life in general. Pretty much all of them have left but I would like to call this group: The pointless fish gang (to the band that John was in and that never fully came in to being) ref to https://stepsinnepal.wordpress.com/2012/04/17/the-dude-replies/

In generally days with this gang would go from hanging around in the Sterling Club and eating cheesecakes in Imago Dei, discussing our daily lives and work to the fullest. And then into the nightlife of Kathmandu in Jazz Upstairs, Blue Note, DelaSoul, changing locations after being pushed out by the army at eleven. Then go to either mine or Johns house, finally ending after a four hour night with "Linda’s spectacular english breakfast". Canada day, the famous Queensday, the band Naya Faya in 1905, Jazz Upstairs, Separate Choice, the Old School party or the Blue Note party. These days and nights are best described and remembered by John Callaways song 'Kathmandu'.

Thanks Katie, Robbert, John, Tiffany, Simone, Edoye, Luca, Liffy, Alec and everybody else involved during my first half year in Kathmandu!

Listen to John's song here:
Pointless Fish Redux

donderdag 26 juli 2012

Kathmandu Kora 50 KM Challenge: Thanks for all your support!

The 50 kilometers have been cycled and the money was given this week to the Social Tours Group who have organised everything and are gonna transfer it to Save the Children. 100% of the money will be used for birthing facilities in Rukum, Nepal.
Thanks everybody!

maandag 9 juli 2012

Robberts goodbye post: The Bideshi (Foreigner) guide to Kathmandu traffic

I’ve been in Kathmandu for 5 months now and for the most part really enjoy life here. It did take me a while to get used to the traffic though. It’s loud, chaotic and for the most part looks like there is no structure too it. I’ve heard stories of western volunteers who got so scared of crossing the street that they were unable to function normally and had to go back home. It really is not that bad! To the untrained eye it might seem like some of the drivers here in Kathmandu had never seen a car until they got behind the wheel earlier that day, but the truth is that there is an unwritten set of rules that help guide the traffic into the wild, chaotic, obnoxiously loud, mess that it is. I’ve written them down here so now you can also learn to drive like a Nepali.

Please note that there is a different set of rules for truck drivers on the road from Kathmandu to Pokhara. Their road rules mainly involve finding creative new ways to flip their truck upside down on bottleneck bridges and taking it off sweet jumps into the gorge.

Nepali road rules for motorised vehicles:

Getting into your car:
Open the door to your car, get behind the steering wheel, close the door.
Start the engine. Horn once (to check if it is working). Please ignore seatbelt and mirrors, you will not be using them. Say a little prayer to the shrine on your dashboard. The safety of your journey is entirely in the hands of your deity, you have no influence over it what-so-ever.

Starting out:
Okay, so you are in your car, the engine is running and the horn is working. If you are parked on the road (and you should be), wait until a vehicle is passing you and start driving. He will horn at you. Horn back. The vehicle that is now driving next to you is forced to drive on the wrong side of the road. Do not worry, your vehicle is faster (even from standstill) and he will eventually have to back off.
If you are parked on a driveway (why would you do this? The car needs to be on the road anyway, so why take it somewhere else?) roll your car onto the street until the hood is blocking traffic completely. The other traffic will let you know when you reach this point by horning at you. When this happens, look right, left, right again, horn and start driving.

Okay you are on the road now! Here is where the rules get a little bit more tricky, but just remember, when in doubt: HORN.
If you see another vehicle (both parked or moving): Horn once
If you see a person anywhere: Horn once
Animal on or near the road: Horn once
Pothole in the road: Horn once
Clear road ahead, no vehicles: Horn once
Turn left or right: Horn once (Signal light is broken. Always. Even when it is not)
Brake: Horn once (Signal light might be working. Maybe)
Overtake someone: Horn three times.  Once when you start overtaking, once when you are next to him and once when you passed him.
Overtake someone overtaking someone: Horn once
Overtake someone overtaking someone overtaking someone: You should effectively be as far on the wrong side of the road as possible. No horn is needed until someone is coming from the other direction. At that point hold down your horn until they break. (this manoeuvre is known as Nepali Chicken)
Something funny on the radio: Horn once
In conversation with someone in the car and unable to watch the traffic at the same time: horn at regular intervals until conversation is over.
Bored: Horn once
Getting stopped by traffic-cop: Horn angrily at him. Notice that they are a cop. Horn apologetically once. Avoid eye-contact.
See tourist or bideshi: Horn once
See female tourist or bideshi: Horn at regular intervals as long as they are within eyesight.
See blonde female tourist or bideshi: Lucky day! Horn at regular intervals as long as they are within eyesight, but slow down to maximise the amount of horns you get in. Brag about it to friends later that day.
See person on un motorised vehicle: Has to be a poor person since they can’t afford motorised transport. Horn angrily at him taking up your precious road space. He doesn’t need to be anywhere anyway, probably! Get overtaken by road rage. Hold down your horn and drive past him as close as you can to scare him off. That should teach him!
See your exit on the right hand side, but there is a vehicle in front of you: Quickly overtake the vehicle in front of you, especially if they are driving faster than you are. You will need to cut off the vehicle in front of you to make your exit. Horn when you do so. This sudden increase in speed followed by a quick break to make the turn will use more fuel than simply continuing on behind the other vehicle would have, but it will get you home 0.0001 seconds quicker (maybe). If the manoeuvre is successful the other vehicle will horn. The manoeuvre is obligatory for male motorcyclists with a female passenger.

Remember! The road is a social place. It’s where you meet your friends, make your phonecalls and check on relatives. As such there are a lot of social rules for the road as well.

See someone on the street you know vaguely: Slam the breaks, horn at them, roll down window and strike up conversation. Ignore any and all horns from the vehicles behind you.
See someone on the street you know well: Slam the breaks, horn at them, get out of your car and strike up conversation next to your car. Ignore any and all horns from the vehicles behind you.
See a friend’s car coming toward you or driving in front of you: horn until you are sure they have noticed you too. Stop your car next to his, you should effectively be blocking both sides of the road now. Strike up conversation and ignore all horns. Within a few minutes there should be vehicles behind and in front both of you, so you can’t go anywhere anyway. Conversation can last as long as you like. Popular topics are the bad traffic, the government knocking houses down for road widening and traffic jams.
Vehicle in front of you has stopped to talk to someone: Hold down your horn until they start moving again. Pray to whatever deity you worship to curse this person and wonder how on earth anybody could be so stupid.
Vehicle in front of you has stopped to talk to someone you also know: Horn. Get out of car and join conversation.
Get phone call: Slam breaks. Pick up phone. Hold conversation. Ignore horns.
Get phone call on motorcycle: On a motorcycle the phone call rules are a little different. Getting at least 3 phone calls while traveling on your motorcycle is obligatory, no matter how short the trip. If you get near your destination before the obligatory 3 phone calls have happened, stop and make the phone calls yourself. The reasoning behind this is that none of your friends and relatives should forget that you own a motorcycle. All phone calls made from your motorcycle start with ‘I’m on my motorcycle’ followed by a 5 to 10 minute account of the exact location where you are standing. This makes sure the person on the other side of the line can hear the cars honking at you, thus proving you are actually on your motorcycle.

I’ve also heard people say that there are no traffic signs in Kathmandu. This is not true. There is one. It tells you not to horn.

Cycling for Birthing Facilities in Rukum

On July 21st, I will be mountainbiking the 50km KORA CYCLING CHALLENGE route around Kathmandu to raise money for supplying necessary equipment to birthing facilities in Nepal. You can pledge 1 euro or 100 rupees for each km I ride. 100% of your donation goes directly to the charity. Who would like to support me and the cause and pledge some money? Even when its just a little its welcome! Thanks everybody! Also check: 

zaterdag 30 juni 2012

Lazimpat Road Widening...

Today me and Koen walked onto Lazimpat road and were shocked by what we saw... There was gravel and bricks and felled trees and big chucks of stone everywhere!! It looked like a war zone... an earthquake or... We looked around and realized: it finally happened...: The Lazimpat road widening. 

This was something that our area had been talking about for the last year. In 1976 the government decided that it was forbidden to build anywhere within 7 meters from a road, on both sides. This rule was never enforced and when Kathmandu grew bigger and bigger people started building and building... also within the 7 meter range. 

Nowadays the roadside of Lazimpat road is lined with little fruit stalls, tea shops, clothes shops, tasty little restaurants and small supermarkets. On Lazimpat road I would visit the fruit stall lady, buy vegetables, eat samosa’s and get my bicycle fixed. And let’s not forget the evenings of hanging out with friends at the Jazz upstairs or the Separate Choice. 

Now I was walking along ´my´ Lazimpat road and it did not look familiar at all... The walls of the Shangri La hotel were pulled down, the kitchen of the Tandoori Fastfood place was demolished, the Tushita Restaurant was pulled down at front. And worst of all... the little fruit stall with the amazing old lady was gone... nothing left but a pile of bricks and rubble and the occasional orange or mango. Where did they go? How will they now make a living? I remember very well that only months ago this old happy lady showed me a new button in her shop which allowed her to switch on the blender without walking to the back of the store. This minor improvisation turned out to be useless for on the long run...

I feel for the roadside store community, nobody will get compensation for what happened and they have to start a new livelihood all over again. How can the government let people live and then suddenly bulldozer over their shops and houses? And then they won’t even clean up the piles of bricks and rubble. Lazimpat road will look like a war zone for the next couple of months. For now many houses have not been pulled down yet but will in the nearby future... I hope I won’t be there to see it.


 On the left side the remains of my favourite fruit shop where I bought fresh juice three times a week.
 Picking up the pieces...
 How long untill Jazz Upstairs will go down...?
 Tushita: amazing how people get to work and start fixing things straight away...
 Police maintaining the peace...
 Job's favourite Tandoori place! We had food there just some days before...
 Seperate Choice, me and John's favourite hang out place...
 Shang ri La Hotel... ah well they will build a new wall and its fine again...
Saigon Pho Vietnamese Restaurant's wall is down!

zondag 20 mei 2012

Indefinite Strikes and Bandh's... Nepal's struggle for a constitution that belongs to all

Nepal is currently going through an important time: the country's constitution is being written and it is due on May 27th.  The constitution is basically laying down how the country will be organised and run from May 27th onwards. As a result, the major political parties have to agree on a lot of issues, some of which they have very different views on. They have such different views that the writing and discussion on the constitution has already taken five years!  The political parties tend to keep on following their personal goals instead of actually moving forward and completing the constitution in a way that will benefit the country. The first deadline for the constitution draft was May 2010, the next one was May 2011 and the third deadline is in two weeks, that is May 27th. During the drafting of the constitution, if a political party feels that it is not getting what it wants, they first discuss it in parliament and, if they still don't get their way, they call a bandh.
A bandh is basically a kind of strike where the party that calls the bandh puts its people out on the streets. These people force shops, restaurants etc to stay closed. Also no cars, motorcycles or any other kind of vehicle is allowed to drive around, except for press, ambulances and military. These bandh’s basically put the whole country and economy to a stop. Nowadays people deal with it in a passive way. If they hear that there is a bandh they just stay home and wait for the bandh to be over... In the last couple of years my guess is that there have been about 40 bandh’s a year. That means 40 days of the year that people stay home and don’t work. Basically the economy is at a standstill.
Due to the deadline of the constitution, there is an increase of bandhs, the main parties have to take the last difficult decisions that have been put off for ages, agitating the smaller parties who do not agree with these decisions. And then one of these parties calls a bandh.
Lately especially parties that have a lot of influence in the Terai (southern) regions have called indefinite bandh’s. These are bandh’s that are called until the demands of the specific party is met. For this reason there was a two week long bandh in Dhangadi, an area in the far west where VSO volunteers are located. In the end the VSO volunteers had to be evacuated, not because they were in danger, but because they were running out of water, cooking gas, money and food. Also the area could be severely cut off from the west off Nepal due to the fact that busses and airplanes were not going.
As a preventative measure, VSO Nepal decided to also evacuate people from other districts where long bandh’s were expected. As a result there are now many volunteers staying in Kathmandu, until the constitution is drafted.
So what effect does this political instability have for me? Until now not as much, I can take my bicycle to work and my office stays open. It is difficult to travel to other parts of the city, but this is not necessary. And even though a bandh may sound very dangerous, it often feels like a Car Free Sunday (autovrije zondag). Children don’t go to school and play cricket on the streets, people walk and hang out at the streets and there is no noise and pollution. Also, in Nepal tourists are declared to be able to move around freely even if there is a bandh, to make sure they are not affected by the political instability. Even though Nepali people are violently punched off their bicycle while riding down the street, they happily wave me through their self build obstacle. You can see this is actually a crazy situation, where a country is in political unrest and me and a lot of expats can still feel safe. There is nothing I can do about this situation despite trying to build capacity within the job I have. Let’s hope the politicians of Nepal manage to draft the constitution in time and that at May 27 there will be a celebration for a Nepal everybody can be proud of. Until then, let’s hope and see...
The main street of Lazimpat, during a bandh, close to my house

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donderdag 10 mei 2012

Part III Annapurna Adventures

From Thorong La it was all the way down to the village of Mukthinath. By the time we got there we were tired but happy. In the evening we celebrated our victory with some Yak steaks. After about an hour of chewing I decided to give the rest of my steak to the others, but Robbert was still munching on...  From Muktinath we continued the trekking through deserted hills and mountains. We discovered the village with the most expensive noodle soup ever and we followed the Kali Gandaki river all the way to Jomsom. On the way we tried to find these special river fossils in the empty river bed. Robbert really wanted to find one and found none, of course I found three stones. One 3 kilo stone was carried all the way to Tatopani, were Robbert had to leave it behind...

 In Jomsom I had the first hot shower since ages, not knowing I was finishing all the hot solar water for the others...  The next day me, Ton, Joost, Robbert and Noel took off on a mountain bike all the way down to Tatopani, one of the highlights of the trip. The wind was strong, the tracks were bumpy and steep, we had to cross through rivers and muddy paths, but the views were amazing and we were racing down the roads! Half way we came across a Dutch restaurant and we had hutspot! We finally arrived in Tatopani and jumped straight into the hot spring pools with a beer. A great way to finish an amazing day.

And then off again the next day up the hills towards Gorepani. After the day of mountain biking we were a bit tired, but managed to make it all the way up. Next day at 4:30 in the morning it was time for the last highlight of the trip: sunrise at Poonhill. After a one hour steep climb we made it to the view tower. While the sun was rising a panorama of mountains was all around us, so beautiful!

-         -  Eating hutspot at a Dutch restaurant in the middle of nowhere
-          - Cycling through a waterfall, getting wet shoes
-          - Seeing Robbert cling on to his fossil, not wanting to leave the 3 kilo stone behind
-          - Chilling in the hot water spring after a day of rafting
- -Watching the sunrise at Poon hill while singing a Himalaya song

zondag 29 april 2012

Annapurna Adventures Part II

An then one day me Robbert and Gyalgy entered the village of Manang, after 5 days of trekking and enjoying the great views and adventures. In Manang we met up with our Dutch friends, about half of them we know from Holland and the famous diving group SDVA. The others we would get to know along the trip. After this we thoroughly enjoyed a good cup of coffee and real nice apple pie. And practiced our first kiting skills. And last but not least, we went to a very interesting and sometimes slightly disturbing  presentation about Altitude Sickness.

 Flying a Kite with a view

The group!

The next day was a relax day were we went for a hike up a mountain to get blessed by the (in)famous Tashi Dala, or also called the 100-rupee monk. For 100 rupee we all a blessing for crossing the Thorong La pass, and got a cup of tea. Good deal! The evening ended in a Nepali mountain style movie theatre where we watched the very bad 90s movie: Into thin air. Quotes as ‘Where are the O’s’, ‘Call her Sarah’ and ‘Two o clock is turnaround time! What is it already three? A well let’s move on to the top’ were now going to be used for the rest of the trip.
96 year old 100 rupee monk

The next day we started the trek with some sightings of Himalayan Griffins and Blue Mountain Sheep, but Robbert was more interested in finding a Western toilet. This turned out to be an impossible task at these heights. The evenings started to turn into slightly more heavy social events due to the popularity of certain games with self made up rules and regulations. The Big Dahlbati and Dumbo turned out to be favourites. The big frustrator for a certain person (not to be named) was a small puzzle consisting of 2 iron pieces that needed to be taken apart. Sounds easy but....

Himalayan Griffin

Game nights

We were getting closer and closer to the pass and the last nights were colder and colder. Also the walking became slightly more exhausting due to lack of oxygen in the air (‘Where are the O’s?). The first dead person was on the side of the road (and luckily the last), a Korean who died because he did not follow the altitude rules (which is mainly: go slow and go back down when feeling sick). At the last camp before the pass a sick French guy was taken back down on a donkey. This left me and Robbert with a slightly uncomfortable feeling as to what to expect. Therefore we decided to take preventative measures by taking the medicine of Diomox, which stimulates your breathing and therefore prevents altitude sickness. The next morning we were feeling great and we got up at 3:30 to start trekking up the mountain in the dark. You had to be at the pass before the bad weather and wind hits you... We reached the Thorong La Pass at 5415 meters at around 9 in the morning. How amazing to first glimpse the other side of the mountains, feel the wind blowing in your back and fly a kite at 5415 meters height!
First glimpse of sun while trekking up to the pass

 Taking Diomox before bedtime

We made it!

Some highlights of part 2, in random order:
-          Robberts hunt for a western toilet and reading the disappointment in his eyes while he sees another horrible squat toilet
-          Bossing people around the moment you become the Big Dahl Bati.
-          Seeing Daniel almost crying in frustration over not solving a simple puzzle.
-          100 rupee mayonnaise
-          Screaming and jumping around the room with Robbert before bed in frustration about the cold, making the neighbours wonder what is happening
-          Eating Dutch sausage (Rookworst!) at 4200 meters, and seeing Richard eat it, and seeing others see Richard eat it.
-          Seeing the first glimpse of sun rise over the mountains while climbing the last meters to the Thorong La Pass.
-          Listening to slightly disturbing ‘hypothetical’ questions about drugs and diarrhoea from other travellers during the altitude sickness presentation

High altitude looks

woensdag 25 april 2012

Annapurna Adventures Part I

And then finally the long expected blog: part 1 about the adventure of a life time.
Until about one month ago I thought trekking was boring. I even told people I might as well prefer a slideshow at home... Of course I knew that I had to do it, just to experience what it really is all about.

And then I booked it: A real 14 day trek in Nepal, across the highest pass in the world that you can trek along without doing actual mountaineering. One of the best trekkings in the world...

I headed out with my remarkable, funny and adventurous flatmate Robbert Sas. Not only did he have lots of experience with boyscout treks, he was also very able to carry his own backpack. This left me with no other option than to hand my backpack over to our one-and-only guide-and-porter: Gyalgy!
The first days trekking were a bit rainy and good to get the hang of trekking and being in the mountains. And of course getting used to Robbert's smelly shoes after a day of trekking. Luckily we found beer in the hostels for reasonable prices and found out we actually like each others company!
Some highlights of the first days, in random order
The hostel manager killed the spider in our room with bare hands (*squash*)

  Seeing motorbikes being dragged up the mountain (where to?)

Height differences between my two comrades

 Seeing Robbert darting after his tenth (!) butterfly of the day for a picture.

Walking behind a chicken porter, there goes our dinner!

 Washing our feet in a tiny hot spring after a day of trekking

Learning to shoot with bow and arrow

Seeing a helicopter land for the first altitude sick tourist on the route (more to come).

And no pics but just as wonderful:
·        Talking about the hostel owners love-marriage with his 12 year older wife around their cosy fireplace kitchen.
·         Wondering if its dynamite or thunderstorms before and behind you, due to road widening and bad weather.

dinsdag 27 maart 2012

With the parents...

It’s always interesting to see how people who arrive to Nepal respond to the chaos of the city of Kathmandu. The day my parents arrived I was only hoping they would cope well for the next three weeks. And I have to say I am impressed! Already the first day my dad was eating dahl baht with his hands, my mum was shopping at the local grocery shop and both were trying to grasp some first words of Nepali. Way more than expected. And there was more... The first Saturday my dad was running up the hill with my running group, the Himalayan Hash House Harriers. And I was trying to keep up with him! The first beer down down was a bit slow, but after that he got the hang of it. Luckily his muscle ache was way more than mine the next couple of days...  In the mean while my mum was exploring the shopping streets of Thamel, haggling over a scarf or some other kind of souvenir, and buying samosas or other nepali snacks at the small street stalls.
In the himalayan hash house harriers circle doing a down down
Off to Pokhara, not by plane but my mum and dad wanted to go by bus to see the country side. And I followed by plane... In Pokhara we went hiking to the Peace Pagoda and me and my dad did a two day trekking into the mountains. We ended up in a basic lodge and in no time my father was playing cards with the local kids with a baby on his lap, acting the real grand dad!

Coming back in Pokhara my mum has had a makeover at some beauty salon and we all went for a nice dinner. I was totally convinced they could make it to Chitwan by themselves. In Chitwan they even did some development work handing out a spare pare of reading glasses to a woman behind a counter and did a jeep safari seeing elephants and sloth bears. Back in Kathmandu full with stories they had their own favourite bar at Bhumi’s and planned the rest of their time visiting the palace, shopping and so on. When I came back from the festival my dad had already run another hash, haggling for a taxi and getting the taxi to drop him off at the right place. Thanks mum and dad for taking the effort to come here and still being the adventurous type! I’d say yes the apple does not fall far from the tree!