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Home Sweet Home

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


Longing for some fresh air after watching one too many cartoon movies on a perfectly sunny afternoon, we decided to take the kids on a field trip to The Garden of Dreams. This beautifully manicured garden with benches and goldfish ponds, flower gardens and trees, terraces and high walls, makes it possible to escape the noise of the City while providing a relaxing atmosphere and many peaceful shady spots for people to come and relax and read a good book. It also happens to be the only significant patch of grass I have seen in Kathmandu so far.

Much to the dismay, i'm sure, of those seeking just such a quiet spot on Wednesday afternoon, we unleashed 13 kids into this 'playground' of sorts.

The cylindrical pillows and cushions layed out in the grassy areas for resting on became weapons for sword fighting and logs for rolling down hills. The outer benches of the picture perfect white gazebo became a platform from which to jump into the 'wrestling pit' below and the goldfish became pawns for the amusement of children as they narrowly escaped their clutches.

I'm sure you can imagine how these elephant statues (aka climbing structures) and pretty much every other lawn ornament or fixture for that matter, became jungle gyms and acrobatic training obstacles.

The peaceful moat waters became the scene of many a shipwreck as many small hands claimed ownership of a single vessel and flowers became bouquets as they were plucked from their stems despite the false sense of security the rules forbidding this provided them.

And then there was the swing. The swing was adorable, supported by four equidistant bamboo poles gathered together at the top, teepee style. The swing itself was made from bamboo chutes, strung together and it hung at the bottom of two thick ropes. It was set in its own peaceful little area, almost decoratively. To be honest, at first I didn't think it was actually to be used as a swing but instead that it was there simply to provide some ambience. I was proved wrong.

Over and over again the kids lined up to experience the ultimate in underducks. Chants requesting "Higher, higher" would quickly turn to screams of "Stop, too high!". The turn would be over all too soon and they would jump off and rejoin the line for "More, more!".

Remember how much fun it is to swing? The faces in these photos helped remind me. Most are smiling, but I think some are showing sure signs of fear....

Our camera changed hands all afternoon while budding photographers captured the magic. They did a great job and I can honestly say that from the fish to the flowers, I have a picture of each and every living thing in the Garden of Dreams!

While I did notice that a few people relocated upon our arrival, and a few gave us raised eyebrows over the tops of their books, there were a few parents trying to entertain toddlers without disturbing the peace who actually looked quite relieved that we had replaced them as the noisy ones. It was our pleasure.

Though we were skeptical at first and a little nervous about getting tossed out, there was room for everyone at this 'playground' afterall, those that wanted peace and those that wanted to play. (And, we managed to leave without having been asked to or being escorted out to boot).

Going up?

We decided to switch things up last weekend and instead of climbing up, fighting gravity with the promise of a view at the end of the day, we decided to embrace gravity and focus on climbing down. We made our way north of Kathmandu, to a beautiful spot about 10km south of the Tibet border. It was here that we would try our hands at canyoning.

Decked out in wetsuits that fit a little too big (pulled down over the tops of our shoes in yet another feeble attempt at combatting leeches), our harnesses snugged up (perhaps a little too tight), and donning bright blue helmets designed to make us feel like conspicuous rookies, we scrambled, slid, and abseiled our way down the canyon's waterfalls.

While similar to repelling in rock climbing, which we have done, the added element of rushing water over the rock faces and the 'showers' pelting us from above, made it something new and exciting, not to mention slippery and, at times, even a bit scary!

We made it out with only a couple blisters and one high fever and discovered that, as it turns out, climbing down is pretty fun, despite the lack of view from the bottom.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Full House

I love the overwhelming feeling of finding yourself in a new place, not knowing where anything is and feeling lost, knowing that, as impossible as it seems, in a week’s time it will feel like home. Such is true of being in Kathmandu.

We have been here almost two weeks and the hour long walk from our neighborhood, Maharajgunj (try saying that to taxi drivers) in the north of the City to the orphanage has already become routine. We navigate the public transit system with ease to explore new corners of the City, sticking to the basic premise that the big blue buses stay on the ring road while the little white microbuses go up and down major arterials (not a scientific method but colors and sizes are generally easy to remember). The trickier part is remembering where to get on and off as everywhere starts to look familiar. Or is it all equally unfamiliar? Without fail I convince myself that I have missed my stop, my heart will pump a little faster as I wonder where I will end up, and then a familiar ‘distinctive’ landmark, like a Tuborg Beer sign, a string of prayer flags or a restaurant with dhal-bat on special, will put my mind at ease.

The same overwhelming feeling describes the first day at our volunteer placement. From the front gate of the orphanage we survey the narrow streets of the neighborhood lined with four and five storey buildings, the shops with their wares spilling out into the sidewalks, the restaurants steaming mo-mos and displaying deep fried Nepalese goodies in the windows, the fruit and vegetable trolleys staked out roadside and I can almost taste the hot chilis in the curry on offer from the streetfood vendor. Taking this all in I can’t help but wonder, how will we ever find this place again? Was it the second left, first right? Or the other way around?

Once inside, having been greeted by Harimaya, the mother of the house, we are met with the rush of her 13 charges as they come hurrying through the door in school uniforms and disappear to change into play clothes. After 13 “Namaste” greetings and introductions I am left wondering how we will ever learn to pronounce, let alone remember, unfamiliar names like Srijana, Asmita, Dipesh, and Tulasi?

Two weeks later and I am once again pleasantly surprised by how easily names are remembered once they are accompanied by not only faces, but personalities as strangers become new friends.

The children here (4 girls and 9 boys) range in age from 6 to 15 and attend school from Class 1 to Class 6. Most have been here since the doors opened four years ago while a handful have been part of the family for just one year. Individual pictures are displayed proudly on the wall under the heading “Our Happy Family”, and there is no doubt that this is a family. I naively asked one of the girls if she had any brothers or sisters who also lived there and was met with a confused look as her response was simple “these are all my brothers and sisters”. Though we spend only afternoons with them, we have joined the ranks as Sister Nicole and Brother Troy (or some variation thereof as Troy is pretty hard to pronounce, Harimaya mostly just refers to him as the Joker).

Their home occupies the first floor of a multi-storey building and consists of three rooms, the girls' bedroom, the living room/boys' bedroom, and the kitchen. The yard is a concrete patio shared with the other building tenants and the clotheslines, the water is pumped from a rickety hand pump held together by rags and wires, the bathroom is the shack out back and the cockroaches keep hidden as long as you don’t move the furniture. Despite being rough around the edges, it is a warm, welcoming place that warms the heart nonetheless, proving that it is indeed the family inside that makes a house a home.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Lucky number three

It is the tail end of the rainy season here and having our heart set on the Scar Road bike ride, we ignored the warnings that the trail could be slippery and I held in my girly squeal at the mention of leeches. We were restless, didn't want to wait the recommended two weeks for things to dry up, and we somehow rationalized the six hour ride despite the fact that we hadn't actually been biking in four months.

Now, I am no stranger to the leech but as far as I understood they lived in the water. I remember playing in the creek with my sisters when we were kids and the "Leech Check!" that one of us would announce at regular intervals before running out of the water in our rubber boots, which had inevitably overflowed, inspecting each other for leeches, and trying to pull the slimy little suckers off each others' legs with wet fingers.

I think I was tougher as a kid.

It was a sunny day and our guide announced that probably there wouldn't be any leaches today because it was pretty dry. We had heard the stories about how they stick to the leaves of bushes and the grass and basically latch on as you ride by, we had even purchased thigh high socks and wore long sleeves to combat against them. This seemed like good news, we had lucked out. Or so we thought. The "Leech Check!" on our bike ride came after walking our bikes down a downhill section that was too rocky and slippery to ride but that apparently had just enough grass and moisture to house the leech population.

While I had been routinely checking my legs after Troy picked up a leech on his calf early on, I should have been checking a little lower as, upon closer inspection, leeches (yes plural) were clinging to my socks, shoes, and ankles. The shoe provided no obstacle between my blood and the leeches as they slimed their way through the mesh and sidewalls of my running shoes, through my socks and onto my feet. Judging from the girly shrieks ahead of me, I could only assume that Troy had come to the same realization.

I'm actually surprised we made it to the 'safe zone', a dry section of trail signifying the end of leech-land, without breaking our necks as we rode like crazy, driven by irrational fear of these tiny little leeches! We threw off our socks and shoes and began de-leeching.

Before we set out, I had actually consciously contemplated where the best riding position would be in terms of leeches. (I can't help it, my mind just things about stuff). Would the first person down the trail attract the most leeches? or the last person? I can officially report that it appears that the first rider merely roused them, they were ready in waiting for the second rider and the third rider was a target only for those leeches slow to react to the first two.

Unlucky for Troy...rider number two.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Lets Go Broncos!

What is up?

So Nic and I are in Nepal and have been here for a week already. We arrived on Monday, took the day to rest and then got to it on Tuesday. We are volunteering at an Orpahage in Katmandu. There are 13 kids in the orphanage and most have been there since the doors opened 4 years ago. The kids there are really great kids and Nic and I both love it there. As well as working at the orphanage 4-5 times per week we are going to try to squeeze in some time at a school where most of the kids are either affected by or infected with HIV or are orphans themselves.

Katmandu is a great city. All your senses get punched in the face with the smells ( mostly not good smells either), the traffic, the crowds, the never ending honking and all of the cows (yeah the cows... apparently they are a sacred animal here and the roam freely all over the city). It is great to be surrounded by moutains again and we are looking forward to taking advantage of our surroundings. This Sunday we are heading out on our first mountain bike ride in months and we are jacked up and really looking forward to it. We also have a couple of treks planned, hopefully some more mountain biking, some repelling down waterfalls and maybe some kayaking. All of our weekends are booked up until the end of our volunteering and we might get a chance to volunteer on a moving medical camp trek that would take us to some of the remote villages in the Himalayas. Also hoping to get a Yoga retreat in there somewhere.
So, I think we will be able to keep ourselves busy over the next 3 months.

And just to add some things that I am sure got lost in translation...
The other day Nic and I could have taken a bus to the land of " Ta Ta's", eaten at a restaurant called "MasterBakers" and ordered some "Indians and Dog Nuts". We didn't eat there but if we would have I would have stuck with the burger and fries.

Oh Yeah, the NFL season just started and although this season doesn't look that promising for the Broncos I think that they might shock some people.


Friday, September 4, 2009

Take only Pictures, Leave only Footprints

Shortly after 1am we emerged from our tent and were greeted by a full moon and a clear sky full of stars. Perfect. As we began our ascent, layered to the max, I remember naively thinking to myself "Boy I hope it gets colder because I'm really hot". It did.

Wiggling my fingers and toes to maintain circulation the whole way and having added more layers, we reached Uhuru Peak, the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro, the highest point in Africa, the highest free-standing moutain in the world, at about 6:20 am! Looking like ninjas.

The sunrise was gorgeous. The morning light revealed the many glaciers surrounding the Kibo crater and the sun's rays, combined with our adrenaline, quickly warmed us.

As I watched people take their turns, posing for pictures beneath the congratulatory summit sign, some holding pictures of loved ones , some recording video messages to their kids, some simply smiling proudly, and all radiating a sense of accomplishment, the woman's advice "Bring tissue" suddenly made sense.

We took our turn, smiled for the camera and headed back from where we'd come. While it was extremely satisfying to reach the summit, I couldn't help thinking that, as with so many things, it had been just as much about the journey as the final destination.
We arrived back at base camp shortly before 9am and rested for an hour before a grueling 2 and a half hour descent to the Mweka Camp at which we would spend our final night. Descending always makes me feel like an old lady as my knees burn and I try to fathom how going down can possibly be so much more painful than going up.
The following morning we hit the trail early and were back in Moshi town by 11:30am.

At night, we celebrated with Kilimanjaro beer at the base of Mt. Kilimanjaro. Seemed only fitting. Okay, I cannot lie, I just posed for the picture. (I still can't drink beer without my face puckering into crazy contortions).

We celebrated sweet success. At the end of the day, we heeded the advice of the signage at the Park Gate, taking only pictures and leaving only footprints. Okay, it's possible that I may have snuck in a few memories and a couple of ounces of pride for good measure, but don't tell.

On Track

Leaving from Barranco Camp on Day 4 required scaling the Barranco wall (pictured above, you can just make out the path above our heads). This was by far the coolest day in terms of terrain. We had to scramble, literally, which I love, pulling ourselves up and over the 'wall'.

As I stopped once in a while to survey my surroundings, I tried to ignore the porters (with the aforementioned 25kg loads balanced precariously on their heads) passing by me, both hands in pockets repeating the now infamous Swahili phrase "Pole pole" which means "Slowly, slowly". We were told this is a form of encouragement, a reminder to take it easy, but sometimes I can't help but wonder what they might really be thinking...

We reached the ridge (4200m) in about an hour and the ironman T-shirt Troy was wearing with "Pain is only a state of mind" emblazened on the back seemed fitting. Today, as it happens is also the day of the Penticton Ironman, in which we had a number of friends competing and we thought of them often, drawing parallels between their journey and ours.

From the wall, we carried on to Karanga Camp, but didn't stop there. By this point, the decision had been made to shave a day off the climb. Our guide, Daniel, was determined to get us to the summit on a clear day as we had shared with him our past bad luck with cloudy summit days. He was constantly 'reading' the weather and decided that we were on track for a clear summit morning if we carried on. Who were we to argue?

From Karanga Camp, we carried on, I meanUP, to Barafu Camp at 4600m. As we went up, we passed a group who had summited earlier in the day who were on their way down. I asked eagerly and innocently "So....How was it?". Mistake. The man was quick to pipe in sarcastically "Piece of cake" while the first woman, looking worse for wear, said "He's lying". A second woman, as if shooting daggers at her guide added "Wear everything you own". From behind me, I could barely make out the last woman adding her two cents "Bring tissue!".

Walking through clouds (a good sign for a clear morning), we reached the base camp and prepared for the summit ascent. With our tent secured (?) on a ledge, tied around rocks on all sides, our clothes carefully planned out, new batteries put in headlamps and camera batteries secured in wool socks so as not to freeze on the way up, we climbed in early to catch some rest before the planned 1am ascent to the summit.

Up, up, up

Day 3, again a change of scenery as we enter alpine desert.

We enjoyed lunch with a view as we ascended from 3700m to 4600m to Lava Tower camp. This climb was purely for acclimatization however, and we then descended to Barranco Hut camp at 3950m to spend the night. Still feeling good and strong at this altitude, we can't help but wonder if our time spent at altitude in Ecuador has helped us with the acclimitization.

With amazing views of the mountain's peak, the Barranco Camp was by far the most scenic and beautiful. This is also where we enjoyed the first of our rationed packages of m & m almonds :).

Now, it's at about this point in the trip, when you can actually physically see the dirt piling up in your pores, every wrinkle of skin and fingernail and crevice being filled with dirt and dust that you start to really think about what it would be like to shower. Even wearing long pants, the dust seems to sneak in and attach itself like a stain. Ewww.