Category Archives: Travel Adventures

Kathmandu by Night – A Whole Different City

It’s 4:30 am Kathmandu time – exactly 13 hours and 45 minutes ahead of my family on the West Coast. For some reason Nepal declared its time zone precisely 15 minutes ahead of India.

I can’t sleep, perhaps because I slept practically all day yesterday even though I’d slept many hours the night before. I wouldn’t exactly say that I’m sick, but certainly feeling a little weak and lethargic. My stomach doesn’t hurt, but it hasn’t felt right after any meal so far. I barely have any appetite at all. I’ve started having nightmares – something which rarely happened in the States – and for some reason I think it might be because of the food. It’s so hot here; even if I did have a fever it would be almost impossible to tell because it’s 90-100 degrees F in the day time and 85-90 at night. I insist on sleeping in long sleeves and long pants to avoid mosquito bites. They only come out at night, and if the screen door doesn’t get left open there actually aren’t too many of them, but I don’t really want to risk it. I didn’t bring malaria pills because up at 10,000 feet – where the monastery is located – there’s never been a reported case of malaria or Japanese encephalitis. These are more common in the low lands.

But it wasn’t the heat, or even the nightmares which woke me up tonight. It was the dogs. Though they lounge about, sleeping harmlessly in all corners of the city by day, it’s the dogs who rule the city by night. I’ve determined that our 8:30 pm curfew (basically right when it gets dark) isn’t because we run a necessarily higher risk of getting robbed after dark. The Nepali people are very friendly, and though a few have asked for tips after helping us, unlike southern and eastern Europe they never come too close or appear to have any intention of pickpocketing. I believe the reason for our sundown curfew is twofold: 1) You risk being mauled to death by a hungry wild dog and 2) You risk never finding your way home because there are no such thing as street lights. As we picked our way through the alleyways leading from the main road to our hostel on Sunday night at 8:20 pm, it was pitch black. The adjacent houses provided no light at all. I thought the flash light was on our packing list to be used up in the mountains, but it will be a permanent fixture in my day bag.

In Hopes of Leaving Kathmandu

It’s everywhere: More filth than I’ve ever seen. I can’t get used to it. I don’t want to get used to it. I’ve never been so eager to get out of a city.

There is trash – piles of it – on every corner and in every gutter. The sidewalk is often 4 feet above the street, and the trash pile attains at least the 3-foot mark. The smell is suffocating. I fight the urge to throw up every time we reach the main road.

My only hope is in the Himalayas. I know things will be much different there. I can handle few amenities: no hot water, dirt floors, a simple mattress on the floor to sleep on, rice & lentils three times a day. But I absolutely cannot warm up to the trash. One volunteer – a girl from Perth, Australia – has been here a week or two and said yesterday, “Oh, you get used to it. After a while the trash doesn’t really bother you so much.”

I’d rather not wait and find out. After my one-week intensive language course, I will be so glad to get out of Kathmandu and fly up to Lukla in the high Himalayas. From there it’s not a 2-hour trek to the monastery, as originally suggested, but rather a 4-hour trek. I’m happy to hear we’ll be even more removed from the incessantly littering public.


It was warm when I stepped off the plane. Like most Asian airports at night, the Kathmandu terminal was dimly lit and sparsely populated. I filled out a visa application and watched as it, along with my passport and receipt for $100 visa fee, was passed down the line from one immigration officer to the next. They joked and laughed among themselves, largely disregarding me, and plopped my passport down at the end of the counter without so much as looking up.

Having collected my checked pack from the baggage claim, I walked out to the taxi waiting area to look for a driver with my name on a plaque. I doubled back 2 or 3 times to make sure I hadn’t missed him, all the while politely declining a long list of services offered to me by other drivers. I finally stopped walking, not quite sure what to do next since my driver was nowhere to be seen, and I was suddenly surrounded by no less than 12 Nepali men eager to help, all talking at once in a mixture of English and Nepali. Four of them were policemen and all were shorter than me. I hesitated, but since I didn’t have a cell phone that worked yet, I finally acquiesced and pulled out my list of contact numbers for the policeman who offered his cell phone. He held it up and the rest of the men gathered around behind him, all studying my paper. I learned long ago not to expect any level of privacy in Asia, and was somewhat thankful that neither my passport no., social security number or bank account were printed on that sheet.

I was the center of intense curiosity as I tried to get in touch with Hom. But the connection was so bad, I couldn’t even understand when he finally answered. Four times I started to talk before the call was dropped almost immediately.

They kept asking me what hotel or tour company I was with, and though I imagined it might help find my driver, I was hesitant to respond because I’d just come in with a tourist visa, under which volunteer work is strictly prohibited. I finally confided in one young man, who persistently asked me to identify some kind of company or individual. “I don’t know what the company is called in Nepal, but in the U.S. it’s called IFRE – they planned the whole trip for me.”
“Oh! IFRE! You’re a volunteer! I know your driver, his name is Mr. Bhagwan and he’s my friend. I’ll call him now.”
When the call was made & Mr. Bhagwan’s location confirmed, I was glad I took the risk of accepting help from a stranger.

Once in the micro-van with Mr. Bhagwan, I was surprised to find that they drive on the left side of the road in Nepal, like in India. Though it was dark, I could make out lots of trash alongside the roads. As we emerged from the outskirts of the city and made our way into the city, an overpowering smell of urine penetrated the vehicle. We dodged various trucks, cars, and motorcycles, nearly missing two cows that were laying, totally relaxed, in the middle of what we’d call a highway in the U.S.

Traffic started to build behind one car up ahead. It stood out because it was a nice, full size Jeep – not a miniature vehicle like all the rest. As we passed it, I noticed the red diplomatic plates and had a flashback to being picked up from the airport in Russia just last February. Of course traffic was building behind that car. I know from experience that diplomatic cars are the only ones who even attempt to respect traffic laws. Arriving in Nepal as a diplomat would include a certain sense of security; the scene of my airport pickup in St. Petersburg was literally me stepping away from the customs desk, taking one step into the arrival hall, being approached immediately by a consulate representative, and whisked away immediately into an atmosphere where everyone spoke English and everything about the American way of life was understood and appreciated. I didn’t really even have the opportunity to get outside my comfort zone that first day. How different my experience in Nepal has been already! I’ll always remember the response I got when I said to the policeman who tried to help me, “Okay sir, thank you so much for your offer to help, but I really don’t have any money. I couldn’t pay for your services.”
“Don’t worry, Ma’am, don’t worry! This is Nepal! You are safe in Nepal and the people are very friendly. No need to pay. Never pay police, never pay. We here to help you.”

And that they did.

Moto Mix

I realize this may be coming a little late, but I wanted to share this with everyone. When I became a very skilled moto rider I started listening to my ipod as we drove through the city. Here is my play list for a most excellent moto ride.

Hey Monday  I Don’t Want to Dance

All Tme Low  Stella

B.O.B  Magic

Half Priced Hearts  Summer of Love

Half Priced Hearts  Tell Me So

Ellie Goulding Lights

This mixtape also works for most excellent car rides!

Agua Negra

As I sit here getting ready to tell you all about Agua Negra I realize it has been quite awhile since I have written or updated at all. This in mind I will give a brief sparknotes version of the last week of my life.

Last week I had the classic what am I doing here melt down. Liz and I had a great talk and the next day I finally got to see where the kids live; Agua Negra.  I discovered my real love of teaching English as well. Sunday we left Haiti where we stayed for a few days and now I am back to my regularly scheduled programming.

So, back to Agua Negra.  Agua Negra translated in Black Water as pretty much anyone could translate. Most of our families live there or in Playa Westa (West Beach) which is a mirror bario.  The streets are dirt. There are newly paved elevated side walks that help to keep down the mud slide that occurs when it rains. There is no sewage system so often the streets are a mixture of dirt and sewage, the sidewalks help to keep everyone out of the mess.  However, the sidewalks are far from perfect and often end in some areas where they are needed the most. They were also not built for the people. Agua Negra is a port city. Trade ships are always coming to port in Agua Negra, there was also once an active cruise ship presence. Puerto Plata is a tourist city in many respects and the country would love to again attract cruise ships to this area. Agua Negra, being the first thing you see, needs all the help it can get.

The houses are no bigger than most average American bedrooms. Cement floors and walls that are poorly constructed are typical and when built too close to the coast have been swept away. Roofs are tin panels hammered or held down by rocks or rope. When the water does rise families can only open their doors and let the water run through in an attempt to save their home. If it does get swept away hopefully you have family you can room with because there is no government program or housing you can enter into. Most families have 5 to 15 living in one of these homes. Inside the house the rooms may be sectioned by cement walls or cardboard, maybe wood panels.

There is no real electricity in Agua Negra. The bario is next to a port and power plant where everyone splices power from. This forces the rest of the city to experience random power outages. The power plant will shut down power to the city in order to save money since so many people have electricity but dont pay for it.

I have never seen a beach like that of Agua Negra. Trash as far as you can see. Floating in the water, covering the beach; trash is everywhere. It is a very overwhelming sight. The water is black from pollution from ships, sewage and trash. You can see where it changes color in the ocean.  There are other mission organizations working there.

Pastor Jacob has a church for Haitian kids living in the Dominican. Dominicans do not like Haitians. Haiti invaded the DR twice and once occupied for 25 years. During the occupation Haiti closed the schools and opened the prisons. There have been bad feeling ever since. Haitian kids are teased for looking different and most have a very hard time getting jobs. In Agua Negra there are still not necessarily considered Dominican, but neighbors help neighbors regardless.  What Pastor Jacob does is teach the Haitian kids Spanish so that they can transfer into a regular school. 

I know there are probably so many thing I am leaving out. The families I met there were sweet wonderful people. There are for sure problems in the families, but there is always hope. Comment me questions and I’ll try to cover what I missed!