Gorakhpur > Barhalganj > Ghazipur > Varanasi 61km, 81km, 79km

“India is about six times the size of France but it has almost twenty times the population.  Twenty times!  Believe me, if there were a billion Frenchmen living in such a crowded space there would be rivers of blood.  Rivers of blood!  And, as everyone knows, the French are the most civilized people on Earth.  Indeed, in the whole world.  No, no, without love, India would be impossible.” – Shantaram

These words aren’t mine,  but are taken from Shantaram, a book I’ve been reading that delves into the heart and soul of India.  The words couldn’t be any truer.  India is different.  It’s not like any other place, anywhere.  Last night at dinner we had a conversation with an Italian gentleman who was on his 13th visit to India.  When I asked him his favorite part of India he just put his hands over his heart and said, India isn’t out there, it’s in here.

Thanksgiving morning, 7:00am.  My mind is wide awake and my belly is rumbling.  I roll over and ask Katy, Did last night really happen?  We were walking down an aisle when I saw the words Physics, Chemistry, Maths written on a large banner.  I hopped over the sludge-filled gutter and onto the dirt driveway, ducking under powerlines and careful to not get hit in the head by rebar as I went to investigate.  I’d been a Physics teacher, and so was curious to compare the education systems of rural India and the Mississippi Delta.  A friendly man, who spoke good English, introduced himself.  I asked if I could watch the class for just a minute.  One thing led to another and after a walk up a somewhat precarious set of stairs and around a corner past a large curtain I found myself at the front of a small cement room that contained 40 or 50 sets of gleaming dark brown eyes.  The room was silent.  A voice from the back shouted out, “teach us something.”  In an instant, habit kicked in as I picked up the black dry erase marker and began a short lesson on the Conservation of Momentum.  Then one on Projectile Motion.  The students saw quietly and gave perfect attention – I can only imagine that my students in the Delta would behave somewhat differently if a random fellow walked in off the streets and started writing on the board.  As the students filed out of the small overpacked room and home for the evening, they approached their teachers, touched their chest and then below the knee of their teacher, made a slight bow and were on their way.  I was later informed that in India, a teacher is “just below God, because without teachers we would not know anything.”  So I asked, “Is anybody else right below God?”  “Yes, guests to our country are also right below God,” was the immediate answer. An invitation to return in the morning at 8am for breakfast was offered and accepted.

Physics.
Physics.
Me and my students.
Me and my students.
Breakfast.
Breakfast.

At 8:00am we arrived back at the school to dozens of students, all eager to take our (Katy’s) photo, exchange Facebook accounts and ask us how we “felt” about their country.  (In any encounter with Indians we are never asked “how are you doing?” but always “how are you feeling?” to which I’ve learned the correct answer is “oh, very nice” – this is always followed by the huge smile all Indians seem to possess).  After a complete breakfast of curries, rotis, chai (tea), sweet fried pastries and curd we said our goodbyes and headed home.  It wasn’t 5 minutes until we bumped into a student (who helped us to our hotel the previous night) and was invited to visit his school.  Again we accepted.  Again chai was offered and accepted (the Turks always seem to have chai on hand but the Indians just punch a couple digits on their phone and within minutes a chai-wallah appears on bicycle with a plastic bag filled of chai along with half a dozen or so earthenware one-time-use cups – it’s a pretty nice system).  More photos, more Facebook friends for Katy and we were on our way.

Later that night as we walked down a busy lane, a pack of children followed in suit.  A couple brave kids would walk in front of us, as if to exclaim to the town, “look at what I’ve found!”.  A cart sitting upon 4 bicycle tires, with no less than a hundred or so eggs catches our attention.  A man is cooking up tortillas with fried eggs and so we stop.  The moment we stop a crowd congregates.

Hi, I am new here.
Hi, I am new here.

By the time our tortillas are ready we are completely surrounded by the crowd. The food is delicious and we ask how much we owe.  The man waggles his head (this is best described as a sideways nod of the head, something that I’ve been practicing , and while a nod of the head in the USA means yes or hello, the sideways waggle of the head seems to have a multitude of meanings).  Unsure of what he means, I ask again, but he shakes his head and says, no, no.  The love of India at work.

That evening as we walked home and stopped for a final roti and chai, a middle aged Muslim gentleman requested to pay our bill.  We said thank you, he waggled his head, and then asked where we were staying and if we’d like to stay with him in his home that night.

Two days later a man refuses payment for lunch and then, when he sees me lying on the ground resting, he offers me his bed.  (Katy insisted that we pay him, and so our 4 dishes, many roti, two salads and chai cost us $6).

I think I ate too much.
I think I ate too much.
Like a good Pratt, I prefer a nice nap after a meal.
Like a good Pratt, I prefer a nice nap after a meal.

India, more than anywhere else we’ve been, is filled with love.  But it’s also filled with a bunch of other stuff – chaos, traffic, garbage, cows, the destitute, a seemingly endless supply of “what in the world?” scenarios.

In Barhalganj we find a decent hotel room.  And by decent, I mean if you only stay in the place for 8 hours you might escape without contracting any sort of illness.  A WiFi symbol of the hotel’s name shows up on my iPhone and so I ask the guy at reception for the password.  “No code.”  But it says here on my phone you have WiFi.  “No WiFi, no passcode.”  Well what is this then? I say, as I point at my phone?  “No passcode.”  Okay whatever, I think to myself as I walk back up to our room.

Barhalganj
Barhalganj

In Ghazipur we think we’ve learned our lesson about the WiFi problem so we ask for the Wifi code before agreeing on the room.  He happily gives us the code, and after getting our bags and room situated I get out my iPhone only to realize their is no WiFi signal. We ask at the reception.  No Wifi.  Sometimes you get WiFi and no password and sometimes no WiFi but a password.

Cycling through India is interesting.  For the most part it goes at a decent pace.  But then every 5 kilometers or so you reach a small town where the highway turns to cobblestones.  And not somewhat smooth still able to cycle cobblestones but bike braking hole in the roads cobblestones that yearn to wreak havoc on our loaded tandem.  So we get off and walk.  Then another 5 kilometers or so, and then back off.  After a couple days you just think to yourself, can’t someone pave this damn road?  Honestly people.  And then there are the speedbumps.  Huge ones.  Because for some reason the idea of going over 20mph on the main highway is a little too excessive?  I’d like to see what would happen if I put some speed bumps on I-215.

We like to walk.
We like to walk.
Easy there, not too fast.
Easy there, not too fast.

As we enter Ghazipur the paved road turns to cobblestones and then to dust.  A hard packed surface might have been present underneath, but I felt as though we were just walking through dust.  Eventually the road narrows and motorbikes, rickshaws, cars, cows, and cyclists pack tighter and tighter together until we all reach a dead halt.  The road is being “fixed” – a couple men are digging up the highway with shovels and picks made with bamboo handles while dozens of other idle men look on at what I can only imagine is an incredibly slow repair progress.  The sole piece of heavy machinery attempting to repair the highway is jammed in with the traffic, completely prevented from moving (and working) due to the myriad of ox-carts and cycle rickshaws edging their way an inch here and an inch there through traffic.  What adds to the problem is thick mud that makes half of the road impassable.  Suddenly a logical thought comes to my mind, “What if someone had the bright idea of hiring a flagger to stand in the road and direct one lane of traffic at a time through this mess?  Or maybe since they are repairing this road the they could put up some detour signs.  It seems to work pretty well in every other country in the world maybe they could try it here.”  I try to not let my blood boil.

A motorbike pulls behind us slowly and as they pull out their phones and take pictures we kindly wave.  We’re getting pretty familiar with this process.  But then they ask to take a photo with us.  We would prefer to not stop, again, and take pictures with people, again, but how can you respond in agitation and impatience when others have been more than wonderful to us.  We wait patiently as they take 15 or 20 photos, with glasses, without glasses, with hat, without hat, shaking hands, not shaking hands.  It’s also nice when they stand right in front of me and take a photo with Katy.  “Hey, I’m the husband here.”

IMG_8227
If this is not awkward, I do not know what is.

Sometimes, in India, you have to surrender to win.  Also words from Shantaram.  And I can think of no better advice for how to deal with the past seven days.  Sometimes, in India, you have to surrender to win.

The colors of India mixed with Islam.
The colors of India mixed with Islam.
Morning commute.
Morning commute.
I have been giving out a lot more autographs than usual.
I have been giving out a lot more autographs than usual.
Thanksgiving gift to self, a nice clean shave.
Thanksgiving gift to self, a nice clean shave.

Siddhartanagar, Nepal > Pharenda, India > Gorakhpur 56km, 43km

India.

We first saw India from a distance.  Matter of fact, we probably heard it before we could see it.  A combination of haze, dust, exhaust, smoke and fog limits visibility to about 500 meters.  So when the sound of horns, bells, and the thundering of oversized, overladen steel trucks fumbling down potholed riddled roads grew louder we assumed we were almost there.

Off to India - country #24.
Off to India – country #23.

Without trying to give a blow by blow of all the events since we crossed the border, I’ll offer a couple general thoughts (which should lay some nice groundwork for the next 6 weeks’ blog posts) and then try to recreate some of the memories that are running around in my brain as I try and create sense of the overwhelming feelings that are India.

#1 – we are in the Indian State of Uttar Pradesh.  Uttar Pradesh sits in the Gangetic River valley and has been home to dozens of different civilizations and people – the first prominent one being the Indus River Valley civilization from around 6,000 years ago.  Today, Uttar Pradesh is, by area, just larger than the State of Utah but has about 200,000,000 people (yes, that is the correct number of zeros).  Which makes it the most populated part of any country on Earth.  So, first and foremost, India is people.  Lots of them.  A whole lot of them.

"I'm a god, I'm not thee God . . . I don't think."
“I’m a god, I’m not thee God . . . I don’t think.”

#2 – The 200 million people lead to what an outsider might call CHAOS.  I put it in capital letters, because you really can’t understand what it is like unless you have been.  When we told other touring cyclists in Europe we were hoping to cycle in India, most of them only had one response: “Have you ever been there?”  These were people who had cycled through Iran and Pakistan, all of SE Asia, most of Africa and all of South America.  Yes, we were here for about 4 days back in 2010 and loved it so much that Katy got us 10 year visas.

Peace and calm amidst the chaos.
Peace and calm amidst the chaos.

#3 – The chaos does seem to be organized.  The highways here are not so much roads as they are “large paths of movement.”  The word road has the connotation of lanes, traffic lights, white and yellow paint on the ground, stop signs, stuff like that.  Here the highway is equal parts of the following: pedestrians, oxcarts, cyclists that carry everything imaginable, rickshaws, huge lumbering trucks, goats, cows, motorbikes, school buses and etc.  In my parent’s basement back home, behind the laundry room is a small closet that was always (to my eyes) a complete disaster – but it had two nice little notes hanging inside: God bless this organized mess and A place for everything and everything in its place. The same is true for these roads out here – everything seems to fit nicely into place, you just need to understand how all the puzzle pieces fit together.  So far I’ve come up with what might be the only 3 rules of the road: 1) Don’t run into anyone in front of you, 2) Let people know you are passing (this unfortunately leads to an obscene amount of honking, use of bells and the like – for which Katy and I are considering riding with earplugs) and 3) when you hear someone behind you, don’t change lanes (I use the word lanes here to help you understand what I mean, but in reality there are no lanes, so the idea of “just keep going straight” might fit better).  Once you figure these 3 out, cycling here is actually much more enjoyable and manageable than I had previously anticipated.  We are just another cyclist amidst the chaos.

Waiting for the train to cross in Gorakhpur.
Waiting for the train to cross in Gorakhpur. On the left, the local school children as  guides to our hotel.

#4 – People are in complete awe of our tandem, or to use their word – ooh, double cycle, good, good.  We have yet to see a bike in India that has any gears – all Indian bikes seems to be single speeds, so a bright red bike with gears, shifters, derailleurs that also happens to be a tandem just seems to be too much for these people to wrap their minds around.  Everywhere we go are dozens of eyes staring at our bike (not so much an interest in the goofy Americans riding it, but they really love the bike).

Getting some flat tires fixed, to remove a patch just light it on fire?
Getting some flat tires fixed, to remove a patch just light it on fire?

Snippets of the past 36 hours:

At immigration at the Nepal:India border two middle aged well dressed men in complete Indian Military attire came up to our bike, proceeded to play with the bell and then took photos of each other standing in front of the bike and smiling.  How do you tell a soldier in uniform with a machine gun to please not break your bell?

Riding down the highway after we passed the two or three kilometer line of trucks waiting to get across the border, I pulled on the brakes to slow down as a policeman was assisting a very old man across the road.  The man was barefoot, only wearing a white sash or robe of some sort and hobbling slowly on a single crutch.  The policeman was there to slow traffic because the elderly gentleman was moving rather slow.  As we pass the man whips his head around and shouts, “good, good.”

A car pulls up alongside us (obstructing the traffic behind) and launches right into conversation:  “This is a fantastic double cycle.  I never see one before.”  Oh thank you, Katy offers the usual response.  “And what is your good name, sir?” the passenger replies.  “My name is Clayton.”  “Oh, very good name.”  The people in the car then take our photos and so we smile and wave.  All the while I’m trying to keep my eyes on the road but be a considerate guest of their country.  They take a couple photos, wish us well and continue on down the road.  They stop 50 meters ahead of us and we pass by, wave hello again, and then 20 seconds later they are back right next to us again. “Oh, hey, you’re back.” I shout. (I told Katy after this incident that cycling through India is great for the mildly narcissistic personality – lots of attention).  “Can we please have photo with you?” he asks.  I guess the photos didn’t turn out to his liking because a minute later we are both stopped on the side of the road as we begin formal introductions and then pose for photos with each member of the car.  Quoting Jim Carrey, “They love me, they really love me.”

Despite the people here in India, you can find some quiet places.
Despite the people here in India, you can find some quiet places.

Our hotel last night was, by all Western standards, a bit subpar (but the people, as always, unbelieveably friendly – before we could leave this morning Katy ended up in a long chat with the hotel owner’s sister in California).  The generator out back was, from what I could guess, hooked up to two car batteries that were outside our room.  This allowed somewhat more continuos electricity cover but made things rather noisy.  The bathroom had a half Indian / half Western toilet – sit or stand.  You choose.

To sit or to stand, that is the question.
To sit or to stand, that is the question.

As the dark red sun finally dropped into the haze and the last light on the rice paddies and banana fields diminished, darkness opened our eyes to a very different India – darkness.  Very little electricity means sunset turns into darkness, but the commerce and activity continued.  Corrugated metal shops were lit by old kerosene lanterns, thousands of people flocked to the highway to have a couple samosas or a cup of tea and the cyclists continued down the highway into the darkness where they would eventually disappear down dirt roads.

Riding into the sunset.
Riding into the sunset.

Approaching Gorakhpur, a decent town of 600,000, the traffic came to almost a dead halt.  It’s tough to have things move consistently when there are no traffic lights (can’t depend on electricity), you can’t tell where the pavement ends and the sidewalk begins and the cow has the ultimate right of way.  Cow in the middle of the road?  No problem.  We wrote the name of the hotel and street on a piece of toilet paper (always have this on hand) and showed it to two young boys on a single bicycle (one kid just sits on the rear rack – pretty standard really).  And in an instant we were off.  Trying my best to keep up with them, we got off the main road and raced down a little lane, then a quick right, miss the cow, around the rickshaw, over the railroad track, under the bridge, wait for the train to cross, cut across a couple lanes of traffic, don’t hit the holy men in the street, there is another cow, another speed bump, herd of goats, honk honk honk, where did the kids go, watch out that car is coming fast, more potholes, hustling to keep up with these two kids.  Every time we fell behind they slowed down and then when we caught up they would take off.  We then noticed the boys asking a question to all the older motorbikes and cyclists on the road.  They’d get an answer and then continue on. It quickly became apparent that they didn’t know where they were going, but they were determined to find out and lead us there.  Eventually we pull up right at our destination, unscathed. Whew. I offer the kids 10 rupees a piece, but they decline, just happy to be of assistance to the foreigners. 

Our two friends who guided us through town.
Our two friends who guided us through town.

Breakfast was only $0.50, so when we spent $7 on lunch we were very optimistic.  And not disappointed.

Veg Manchurian, Paneer Butter Masala, Dal Makhani, Jeera rice and Nan.
Veg Manchurian, Paneer Butter Masala, Dal Makhani, Jeera rice and Nan.

India.

Mugling > Dalidale > Siddharthanagar 61km, 91 km

Katy here.

Back in the saddle again.  Three days back on the open road.  We are finally back at the bicycle touring part of our bicycle touring trip.  It is great to be back on the bike.  Nepal has been a great host for our return to bike touring.  Despite Clayton sharing a few instances of trucks with the right of way in the last blog post, we really have had a pleasant and safe last few days.  All the chaos on the road means we fit right in among the cows, oxen carts, school children, tractors with massive bails of hay, oil rig trucks painted with Shiva, holy men, motorcycles carrying goats, men with huge sickles working in the fields, women carrying loads on their head, burning fires heating up new asphalt. A double cycle is hardly noticed—that is unless you stop.

That is one large load of hay.
That is one large load of hay.
Oxen cart traffic jam.
Oxen cart traffic jam.

Last night we stayed in Dalidale—a little town off the main highway.  When we stop in these towns it tends to be a bit more work finding a place to stay for the night because every sign is in Nepali.  However, we were all set with Hotel Namaste for 500 rupees ($5).  We gave up the luxuries of hot water and wifi, but who needs those every night?

After a much needed shower, we were eager to look around town.  We wandered 30 seconds down a side road and we were quickly among the rice fields.  (Side note, rice—quite a bit of work to get those little white particles out not to mention all the burning that happens afterward but they sure dish out the rice when we eat dal bhat, the national, all-you-can-eat dish of rice, lentils and curry.) We wandered around for awhile and started back to town to find some dinner.  On our way, we noticed some girls playing hopscotch in the street.  Kids were playing everywhere, running between houses and across fields, and also loads of badminton.  No one seems to be worried about the boogeyman here.

We started talking to the girls and a crowd of neighborhood kids quickly formed plus a few moms too.  Immediately we were asked all sorts of questions.  They were very eager to learn our ages and names. Katy is a very strange name for Nepalis, even the shortened Kate is a struggle.  We all played hopscotch and then were quickly ushered to the nearby porch for tea.  As soon as we started sipping on our tea, four different old Nokia cellphones came out to take our picture.  Picture after picture.  Pose after pose.  They loved our hair and kept asking how I got my “golden” Rapunzel hair so soft.  Then the flowers came out. They put flowers in our hair as well as threw many handfuls of marigold pedals at us all the while snapping photo after photo. Instant celebrities! Then Clayton and I were asked to sing the United States’ song.  We gave our national anthem all our gusto but as all of you know, Clayton and I are severely musically disadvantaged despite some of our family member’s exceeding talent but we did our best.  As soon as we finished we asked the group of kids to sing their song.  Wow, talk about exuberance.  We took a video but sadly it won’t upload to the blog so picture in your mind 20-25 Nepali children belting their lungs out 10 inches from our faces and a solemn salute at the end.

Our conversations continued.  They told us the tallest mountain in the world—easy Mount Everest.  They even told us the height in meters as well as the first Nepali woman to climb it.  They told us the Redwood trees in California are the tallest in the world.  We asked them questions about their school, learning English, what they knew about America. Justin Beiber. We asked if they had heard of McDonald’s, but we only got blank stares.  Quite refreshing McDonald’s hasn’t graced these parts but you never know perhaps a McYak burger is right around the corner.  As a parting gift one mother gave me a miniature Shiva.  Talk about hospitality. 

Finally we got a picture of them.
Finally we got a picture of them.

Two hours later we thanked them and off we went in search of dinner.  Just a typical night out in Nepal.

Quite foggy when we got started this morning. The dew settled nicely on Clayton's facial hair aka beard.
Quite foggy when we got started this morning. The dew settled nicely on Clayton’s facial hair aka beard.
Very serious business pouring water.
Very serious business pouring water.
Breakfast. This guy loves the peanut butter banana combo more than anyone.
Breakfast. This guy loves the peanut butter banana combo more than anyone.
A fresh brand new rickshaw right out of the "shop" I mean bike shack.  $300
A fresh brand new rickshaw right out of the bike shop, I mean bike shack. $300. How much to ship was Clayton’s question.  One of these would fit nicely back in Ann Arbor.
The break in the flat lands. A good climb.  Our hub and new cassette did wonderfully.
The break in the flat lands. A good climb. Our hub and new cassette did wonderfully.
Fresh chicken delivery. Throat slit at your door.
Fresh chicken delivery. Throat slit at your door.

IMG_8057

A spicy puffed rice snack for $0.15. You know Clayton is all over this.
A spicy puffed rice snack for $0.15. You know Clayton is all over this.

Kathmandu > Mugling 110km

Ugglhugh plugh.  I hear Katy clearing her throat for the fifth time in just as many minutes.  What’s going on, I think to myself.  I also feel like a frog is in my throat.  I ponder on the situation for a moment and then it hits me – it’s all this haze and pollution and that black exhaust these trucks keep shooting all over us.  Deep down inside our lungs are some specialized cells – some make mucus (to trap the garbage we are inhaling) and some contain cilia (to push all the mucous out).  Our mucous/cilia systems are in overdrive as we battle the haze and pollution that sits over the Kathmandu valley like a penguin sitting on some eggs.

Our 5:15am departure from Thamel, Kathmandu was a good idea; we beat most of the traffic out of Kathmandu and are now rolling our way 100km or so to Mugling, a small stop on the Trisuli River before we head south to the Terai and then on to India.

As we cruise comfortably down the winding, bumpy road we realize that rush hour traffic is predominantly in the opposite direction.  Good news, we assume.  But just then as we come around a corner a giant truck (decorated in flashy colors, streamers from the side view mirrors, covered in Shiva and Ganesh and other Hindu deities, a head or three sticking out the open windows) is barreling towards us.  You’d think he’d realize he’s in our lane and move over.  You’d think.  But then again logic often breaks down in countries where lunch for two only cost $1.20.  The truck honks its horn (if  you could call it one, it’s more of a little jingle) flashes its lights and keeps it course.  I steer off the road into the dirt shoulder and breathe a sigh of relief.  Wow, a near miss.  We could have died.  Good thing I was paying attention.  The peculiarity of the event sticks in my mind until about 7 minutes later the scenario basically repeats itself. Only this time we’re not coming around a corner, the road is straight as can be but the truck driver’s actions are the same.  What’s going on? I ask Katy.  I guess the driving rules have changed, she smirks back at me.   I suppose being the folks on the bicycle puts us at the bottom of the “who is bigger than who?” pecking order and we will just have to continue moving into the dirt when oncoming traffic decides our lane is better than theirs.  I guess on the upside the number of times we got thumbs up and heard, “Oh double bike, double bike, very nice very nice”, increased dramatically from our riding in Europe.

Breakfast: 2 bowls of rice pudding, 4 chapati, 2 biscuits and 2 glasses of Masala tea: $3.10.  Yeah, we think that’s fair.

Lunch: 2 plates of vegetable chowmein and 2 samosas (my new favorite snack) $1.20.  To borrow a line from Jerry Seinfeld:  Do the people that work in those little shops have any idea what the prices are, everywhere else in the world?”

Pre-lunch was complete with Katy learning how to count to ten in Nepali and then a game of Hokey Pokey.  Any other suggestions for games to be played with children that speak an entirely foreign language?

After lunch the flag on our bike began to show signs of fraying.  I told Katy to be on the lookout for a tailor/seamstress on the side of the road.  We saw a young kid, about 15, behind a sewing machine and stopped and asked for the edges to be sewed up.  He did a bang-up job.  I asked how much his work cost and he refused any sort of payment.  I tried to give him 50 rupees ($0.50) but he wouldn’t take it.  I finally had to leave the money on the counter and walk off.  It was a very interesting experience that stands out in stark contrast to the many begging children elsewhere in the country – often seen in the largest numbers in tourist areas.

About begging.  It’s a tough situation.  For me, the two polar opposites on the “do you give to beggars?” spectrum are, no you should never give, giving to beggars (and especially children) reinforces this behavior and leads to laziness.  But on the contrary, King Mosiah taught, “For behold, are we not all beggars? Do we not all depend upon the same Being, even God, for all the substance which we have.”  And so I am always torn.  The man on the side of the street in Thamel who walks through the gutter with his hands because an obvious birth defect has left him with unusable legs.  He stays in the gutter because he can’t move quick enough to get out of the way of traffic.  Or the little kids on the side of the road who want the extra banana that Katy and I have.  We got 10 bananas for less than a dollar and the kids are so adorable walking around without shoes, oversized sweaters and that persistent snot that seems to be forever running out of little kid’s noses. How can we refuse?

It’s a different world over here.  A wonderful world.  But different.

Rice pudding.
Rice pudding and chapti. 
Now that's a nice photo.
Now that’s a nice photo.
DIY flagstick repair, complete with rusty old nail banged straight by a large rock.
DIY flagstick repair, complete with rusty old nail banged straight by a large rock. Do you like our new Om flag?  Om as in Om mani padme hum.
"I didn't have much else going on, so I figured I'd just prostrate all the way down the highway today."
“I didn’t have much else going on, so I figured I’d just prostrate all the way down the highway today.”
Kids.
Kids, child in purple, boy or girl?
Hopefully these prayers are praying for us.
Hopefully these prayers are praying for us.
Katy learns to count to five.
Katy learns to count to five.
Can't be too careful, lot of bad drivers out there.  Truck full of tomatoes goes through barricade, off bridge and to the river gorge below.
Can’t be too careful, lot of bad drivers out there. Truck full of tomatoes goes through barricade, off bridge and to the river gorge below.  Tomatoes were still fresh.
Not quite the same as Dodge's Chicken in Arkansas, but I'm not picky about my orange-tinged fried foods.
Not quite the same as Dodge’s Chicken in Arkansas, but I’m not picky about my orange-tinged fried foods.  They really should make “fried” its own food group.

Cat-Man-Do

Oh wow.  Tomorrow morning is what we have been waiting for – a return to bike touring.  It’s been 6 weeks to the day since we rolled into Istanbul and put our bike in the corner (nobody puts Baby in a corner!).  I’m thoroughly looking forward to getting back on two wheels and seeing this beautiful country from the saddle.  The bicycle truly is the best way to travel.

The last six weeks have only had one tangible goal – get the rear hub issues fixed.  But after a lethargic customs ordeal, a rear hub without the necessary pieces (don’t get me started) and a bike shop in Kathmandu that was pretty mediocre I was left to rebuild our rear wheel all on my lonesome.  First of all, huge thanks to Elizabeth and my mother for coming to visit, because not only was it great to see them and spend a  week trekking, but they brought us our new rear hub.  Building a bicycle wheel?  It’s something I’ve never done, but it is amazing what you are willing to figure out when you have no other options.  So after a couple hours reading Sheldon Brown’s website (the authority on all things bicycle) and studying our front wheel (it was my template) I set off to build our wheel.  In simple terms, a wheel is just a bunch of spokes holding a rim to a hub.  In more complex turns it is making sure your spokes are the correct length, choosing a lacing pattern (we did a 3 cross), adding spokes to the hub in the correct order, a repetitive series of tightening each spoke one turn, then another turn, then half a turn, then a quarter turn and then the fun task of truing (making sure it doesn’t wobble and that it’s round – not ovalish) the wheel.  This is usually done with a truing stand, which I of course don’t have so I used a 6″ section of measuring tape (attached to the rear triangle with some tape) and then one of those trusty new school flossing mechanisms (not because I needed to floss, but because it has a nice straight edge).  Place the straight edge up close to the wheel and spin the wheel.  Where the rim hits the straight edge = a wobble.  If the wobble is to the right then you loosen spokes on the right side and tighten spokes on the left side.  But you have to make sure that you loosen the same amount as you tighten cause if you don’t you get another problem – an oval wheel.  Then you check for the biggest wobble on the left and do just the opposite.  And a couple hours later (hopefully) your wheel is running true.  It’s easy in theory, but it takes quite a bit of work – and quite a bit more work if it is your first time doing it (my situation).  I would accept congratulations for a job well done, but let’s save that until we are a couple hundred miles down the road and the wheel is still working.  And given that the next couple hundred miles will be the bumpiest of our ride, we are cautiously optimistic.

We met a great mechanic down the street, Gopal, who was more than helpful.  For $11 we got a side view mirror, our derailleurs adjusted, 9 spare spokes (can’t be too careful, lot of bad drivers out there), a bell for Katy and a screw removed from one of the eyelets in our frame (in trying to attach our rear rack I broke the head off of a screw and couldn’t get it out for the life of me – but a couple hits with a hammer, some WD40 and a pair of pliers Gopal had it out in minutes).  And not but least – we got a nice flag of the symbol “Om” thumbtacked to a wooden flagpole, which I made a nice little sheath for out of electrical tape so we can fly a flag behind our bike – we figure it’s time we start looking as cool as we actually are.  What is Om?  See here.

Last thing – the other night we went to the Pashupatinath Temple, also known as the Burning Bodies temple.  The Temple sits along the banks of a river and families bring their dead here for a washing in the river and then cremation.  Once burnt (along with incense and flowers and a host of other things) the ashes are then swept into the river.  Pretty wild experience.  Women in complete tears as they watch their deceased husbands placed atop a pile of logs and then a roaring fire is lit.

Crossing our fingers on this one.
Crossing our fingers on this one.
This damn screw was the source of some frustration.
This damn screw was the source of some frustration.
My wheel truing items.
My wheel truing items.
Gopal.
Gopal.
Maybe this would be the better way to travel.
Maybe this would be the better way to travel.
There are some things that will always make Katy laugh.
There are some things that will always make Katy laugh.
Steamed MoMos, a real treat, 20 for $1.
Steamed MoMos, a real treat, 20 for $1.
Dal bhat, the meal that keeps on giving.
Dal bhat, the meal that keeps on giving.
Bhaktapur.
Bhaktapur.
Exhibit A.
Exhibit A.
Porters gotta port.
Porters gotta port.
Lots of green ponds in Bhaktapur.
Lots of green ponds in Bhaktapur.
Incense for cremation.
Incense for cremation.
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The green bowls are made of leaves and serve as little boats that are sent down the river carrying incense and candles and offerings to the river gods.
Bagmati River, Pashupatinath Temple.
Bagmati River, Pashupatinath Temple.
The end of the mortal body.
The end of the mortal body.

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Charlotte goes to Nepal

Namaste touring tandem fans.  This is Charlotte, Clayton’s mother for those who don’t know me.  I am sitting in my hotel room in Kathmandu, soon to fly home to Salt Lake City, Utah.  It has been my pleasure to be with Clayton, Katy, and daughter Elizabeth for the past 10 days here in Nepal.

I want to give a huge thank you to Katy, and particularly Clayton for doing a superb job in executing a once in a lifetime trek into the Lang Tang National Park in the Himalaya region of Nepal for us. Clayton is such a great travel host!  We wasted no time from the moment we arrived. Every day was so fun and enjoyable .  We trekked for 7 days, which meant sleeping 6 nights in very interesting “tea houses,” a commonly used term by Trekkers, yet called guesthouses by the Nepalis.  Bedrooms invariably come free of charge as long as one is willing to purchase dinner and or breakfast from the host Nepali mom who showers her warmth and generosity upon you.  Clayton was our guide, and in my case for one of my particularly arduous days, my porter.  Thank you Clayton for being so strong, so capable, so fun, and helping me more fully appreciate the constantly evolving great soul you have!
While on our trek talking with the people, eating their food, sitting around their warm wood burning stoves in their “family room” and taking in their majestic mountain views has to be on the top of my list of most memorable travel experiences.  Meeting other Trekkers, like the German boys, the French women, the darling young girl from Latvia, and the dozens and dozens of Nepali porters (strong, young, handsome, friendly boys) all add to the richness of the trekking experience.  And I must also mention the suspension bridges that help us easily cross roaring rivers with the biggest boulders in the river bottom that I have ever seen in my life.  Also, the mule trains loaded up with bags of rice, lentils, curry, cocoa cola, you name it, that are driven up and down the trail daily by a little Nepali walking along in crocs!  Namaste is the greeting everyone on the trail shares!  It always brings eye contact and a smile to passerbys.
So much to take in!  Life can be so different for others, yet curiously we are all the same.  All children of a great Creator who has given us life, and the opportunity to experience, grow, learn how to love and appreciate all things, and give a little more of ourselves to others wherever life may take us.
I am deeply grateful for this rich and rewarding experience.  My life has been “elevated.”  I only pray that I can justly give thanks and give back.  Namaste.   Charlotte
7 hour Jeep ride to Syabrubesi.  Thanks to George and Charlotte for sponsoring this trip.  Otherwise we would have been on the bus ride to hell.
7 hour Jeep ride to Syabrubesi. Thanks to George and Charlotte for sponsoring this trip. Otherwise we would have been on the bus ride to hell.
Off to the Mountains.
Off to the Mountains.
Our Porter basking in the sun. Don't worry he didn't have to carry them the whole time.
Our Porter basking in the sun. Don’t worry he didn’t have to carry them the whole time.
We saw huge human sized monkeys.
We saw huge monkey sized monkeys.
Typical trekking store. If you ever get a chance, ask Charlotte how much she enjoyed her Orange Fanta on the trail.
Typical trekking store. If you ever get a chance, ask Charlotte how much she enjoyed her Orange Fanta on the trail.
The Mouse House.  The last tea house we stayed at on the trek.  A mouse ran across Katy's head in the night. Lovely dear.
The Mouse House. The last tea house we stayed at on the trek. A mouse ran across Katy’s head in the night. Lovely dear.

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Steep steps. Up up up then down down down.
Steep steps. Up up up then down down down.
Mooooooo
Mooooooo
Crossed many suspension bridges with prayer flags. Image if this was your daily  commute.
Crossed many suspension bridges with prayer flags. Imagine if this was your daily commute.
On our way. No time to waste with Clayton as our guide.
On our way. No time to waste with Clayton as our guide.
Oat-bag. Get your oat-bag. These mules weren't the only ones working up an appetite.
Oat-bag. Get your oat-bag. These mules weren’t the only ones working up an appetite.
Dal Bhat. Traditional Nepali meal.
Dal Bhat. Traditional Nepali meal.
Tea house break in the town of Bamboo.
Tea house break in the town of Bamboo.
Chorten
Chorten
Prayer wheel. Clockwise please.
Prayer wheel. Clockwise please.
Tsergo Ri - standing at 16,450 feet, where did the air go?
Tsergo Ri – standing at 16,450 feet, where did the air go?
Mountains and Prayers - must be close to Tibet.
Mountains and Prayers – must be close to Tibet.
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Jump for Joy.
Stupa.
Stupa.
Om Ma Ni Pad Me Hum
Om Ma Ni Pad Me Hum – the Tibetan Buddhism Mantra, best sung over and over and over.  And over.

About Tibetan prayer flags:

Om (White) – generosity, less pride and ego

Ma (Green) – ethics, less jealousy

Ni (yellow) – patience, less passion and desire

Pad (Blue) – diligence, less ignorance and prejudice

Me (Red) – renunciation, less greed and posessiveness

Hum (Black) – wisdom, less aggression and hatred

Best sung as a mantra: On Mani Padme Hum, Om Mani Padme Hum, Om Mani Padme Hum, Om Mani Padme Hum, On Mani Padme Hum, Om Mani Padme Hum, Om Mani Padme Hum, Om Mani Padme Hum, On Mani Padme Hum, Om Mani Padme Hum, Om Mani Padme Hum, Om Mani Padme Hum, On Mani Padme Hum, Om Mani Padme Hum, Om Mani Padme Hum, Om Mani Padme Hum, On Mani Padme Hum, Om Mani Padme Hum, Om Mani Padme Hum, Om Mani Padme Hum, On Mani Padme Hum, Om Mani Padme Hum, Om Mani Padme Hum, Om Mani Padme Hum, On Mani Padme Hum, Om Mani Padme Hum, Om Mani Padme Hum, Om Mani Padme Hum, On Mani Padme Hum, Om Mani Padme Hum, Om Mani Padme Hum, Om Mani Padme Hum, On Mani Padme Hum, Om Mani Padme Hum, Om Mani Padme Hum, Om Mani Padme Hum, On Mani Padme Hum, Om Mani Padme Hum, Om Mani Padme Hum, Om Mani Padme Hum.

Nepal is one groovy place.

 

Dubai (Istanbul > Dubai > Kathmandu)

(This post was mostly written before we arrived in Kathmandu.  However, given our quick turnaround to get to trekking. I didn’t have time to post it, so I am posting in retrospect. My apologies.)

Katy here.

Bigger, better, faster, brighter, shinier. That is the image of Dubai. A colossal collision of superlatives.  A magical city of anything is possible with money.

When we started planning this trip we knew there would be deliberate breaks from our bicycle given the overland options from Europe to Asia would not work, so enter Dubai.

We have heard Dubai described as the world’s Las Vegas—however, there is no gambling and alcohol is illegal.  So how is it the world’s Las Vegas?  Picture a vast air conditioned oasis set in the desert filled with high-end shopping, fast cars, glamorous restaurants and an “anything is possible attitude.” Sound like Las Vegas?

Before Dubai made its modern prominence, the region had been inhabited by a smaller population of Bedouins for a few thousand years.  Establishing themselves as a trade and commerce center, Dubai positioned themselves for the world stage.  We found out that despite being in the Middle East only 5% of Dubai’s economy is supported by oil. In fact oil was only found here in the 1960s.  The economy is made up primarily tourism, aviation, real estate and financial services.  We played right into their hands being tourists.  🙂

We only had a day to spend in Dubai which was definitely not enough to see this huge city nor was it enough to explore beyond the city.  The vast desert and Oman are places  we would love to explore someday.  As is the only LDS church building in the Middle East in Abu Dabi (the land for the church was donated by the royal family. At first the church was going to refuse but soon learned you do not refuse a gift from the royal family.)  But we did what we can and even then since we are on a budget, Dubai was a bit out of our price range.  

A few scatter memories of brief trip to Dubai:

A skyline unique with one building dominating above all: Burja Kahlifa.  The tallest building in the world by a long shot.

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The heat—even in the middle of November AND at 10pm at night.  The haze that accompanies the heat making the sky a bright white blanket from the sun during the day and exponentially increasing the moon’s light at night. Clayton said the heat only became bearable at 10:30 at night.

Traditional Emirate dress among Western garb. Finally the men have to wear unique clothing too.  I like the men’s wardrobe much better than the woman’s. 

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Dancing fountains set to music at the foot the Burj Kahlifa. Belaggio anyone? 

Completely veiled women. (I had been perplexed at how this dress works at airport security.  So for those also curious—there is a separate area for these women who do have to unveil briefly to a female government official.)

$4,000 a night hotel. Burj Al-Arab. Sadly our budget couldn’t accommodate this luxury.

Out for a walk in the Dubai Marina.
Out for a walk in the Dubai Marina.

The cleanest and newest metro line we have ever seen. 2000 dirham fine for chewing gum, eating or drinking. (3.67 dirham = $1 USD)

Call to prayer in a mall. 

An Aquarium, Ice Skating Rink, Movie Theater, Nascar Track, and much more...because why not?
An Aquarium, Ice Skating Rink, Movie Theater, Nascar Track, and much more…because why not?

Four manmade archipelagos: the world and three Palm trees—just to add an additional 500 kilometers of beachfront real estate to the country. Who does this? Googling Dubai Palm Jumeriah results in the image below.  If only we could have seen it from the sky in a private helicopter. Yes, those are buildings.  palmjumeriah

Alpine skiing and tubing down an indoor ski hill while Cheesecake Factory diners look on.

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Fish market full of every scaled creature found in the nearby sea, including the best looking salmon fillets I have ever seen—if only I wasn’t about to board a plane in two hours.

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The Diera neighborhood filled with friendly Pakistani people who have immigrated for work.

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Clayton loving the curry and sweating profusely because of the spice and the general heat.

The curry and the heat.
The curry and the heat. Oh and the only woman for miles…

US business with names in English and Arabic.  The Subway arrows aren’t quite the same in Arabic.

Texas Chicken?
Texas Chicken?

The black veiled woman at the market welcoming me to Dubai which was a first.

Friends off to the movies.
Friends off to the movies.

Streets are empty of pedestrians unless you find the air conditioned path of least resistance and then they are packed.

And off to Kathmandu to see Charlotte and Elizabeth!  Can’t wait!

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Off to Kathmandu.
Off to Kathmandu. 150 pounds of stuff. Whew.

A few last memories from Istanbul…

Last night with Basar!  Such an awesome friend and Warmshower Host.
Last night with Basar! Such an awesome friend and Warmshower Host.

 

Last night in Uskudar.  Walked this alleyway many times!
Last night in Uskudar. Walked this alleyway many times!

 

After taking passport photos for Nepal, I made Clayton channel his George Costanza.
After taking passport photos for Nepal, I made Clayton channel his George Costanza.

 

Off to Dubai.  Lots of planning and preparation to get this bike into boxes.
Off to Dubai. Lots of planning and preparation to get this bike into boxes.

Langtang Valley, Nepal

Due to no WiFi in the Himalayas for the past week, this is a three part post.  First Clayton, then Charlotte, then Elizabeth.

Clayton

Nepal. 

Oh Nepal.  How I have missed thee.  Landing at the airport in Kathmandu, the smiling Nepali faces as you walk towards customs, the bumpy pot-holed filled road from Tribuvan airport towards backpacker central in Thamel, the packs of motorbikes that make their way to the front of each intersection, the customs department and their seemingly endless piles of inefficient paper records of TIMS permits and National Park fees, the free Daal Bhat refills, the cool mountain air, yak dung drying on the rock walls of Tibetan villages, prayer flags and prayer wheels that send their Om Mani Padme Hum off towards the heavens, towering 8,000 meter peaks.  All of these things are a warm welcome back home to Nepal.  In another life I’d be a sherpa, spending day after day walking the trails of the Himalaya.

Katy and I spent the majority of our summer of 2010 here and instantly fell in love.  It was between our two years teaching with Teach For America, and with the summer off and a teacher salary spaced across 12 months we decided to head towards the mountains.  A year in the Mississippi Delta made us yearn for the mountains – and what better mountains are there than the Himalaya.  The daily routine of walking from teahouse to teahouse, interspersed with a cup of tea, a warm bowl of soup and some rice and curry quickly left a lasting impression on our souls and we’ve yearned to return ever since. 

Our trek this week was into the Langtang Valley.  After our 7 hour bus ride over 130 kilometers (about 12mph average – it only really makes sense until you see the road) we were dropped off in Syabrubesi just as it was starting to get dark.  Logic and reason suggested we stay the night in Syabrubesi before startling our 3 day walk towards Kyanjin Gompa but I was a bit restless – the numerous flights, shuttles, metro, taxis and bus rides of the prior week had me itching to get on the trail – and so we head off into the dusk, well aware that we’d reach some teahouse when it was dark.

Fifty minutes later, with headlights on, we stumbled across a lady and her two children sitting on the steps of her teahouse.  She offered rooms for $2 and we were sold.  We settled into our beds just to realize their was no electricity (which can be viewed either way – unfortunate that we can’t charge our failing phone batteries but great because it allowed us to sit on plastic chairs on the outdoor porch and stare up at the stars).

For breakfast we had porridge with muesli and dinner was daal bhat.  One of the great appeals of trekking in Nepal is the simplicity that life offers.  Wake up, walk, sleep, wake up, walk, sleep.  Add to this no internet and limited options for each meal and you have a winning formula.  Having removed all the decisions typically faced by Westerners we are left to walk in the mountains.  Just walk.

Our first day was a long walk – 8 hours.  More than usual.  But we reached our tea house, had a hot shower (which I will allow my mom to commentate on), sat around the wood burning stove, then climbed into our sleeping bags around 8:45pm, long after the sun had set.

Today was another walk, about 4 hours, to Kyanjin Gompa, a beautiful trekking destination/stop at the base of Langtang Lirung, a couple glaciers and a beautiful mountain range.  From this spot we are just over the hill (or massive mountain range) from Tibet.  And so the Tibetan:Chinese dilemma of the past couple decades has pushed Tibetan refugees south into the mountains of northern Nepal.

Tibetan Buddhism covers the mountains and the trails.  Mormons are instructed to “pray always” and so the way we do our best to keep this commandment is to “have a prayer in your heart”.  Tibetans similarly believe to “pray always” but have approached this differently.  They tie prayer flags from the top of mountains and passes, write prayers on stones that cover trails between villages, and put prayer wheels above streams so that water will push water wheels and spin prayer wheels.  The wind blows prayers and the water spins wheels sending prayers towards the sky.  I guess this is simpler than Muslims and their Call to Prayer. 

Charlotte.

Namaste. My claim to fame ever since he wore a red polka dot dress to Kindergaten to show his school spirit.  And the teacher exclaimed to me, “he certainly has the confidence to not care what others think of him.”  Thanks to my generous husband George who gave me his blessing to trek in Nepal for the second time this year, Elizabeth and I jumped at the chance to meet Clayton and Katy in Kathmandu and trek this week with them.  My trekking experience in March with George was wonderful, and whet my appetite for a longer trek some day with my children.  Little did I know my opportunity would come just 9 months later.

After our 7 hour never-to-be-forgotten jeep ride rising out of Kathmandu we reached “the mouth of the canyon” – the trailhead for the Langtang Valley.   Clayton was eager, chomping to get moving fast, and so “the girls” quickly followed behind.  Clayton, Katy, Elizabeth, Elizabeth’s Delta companion Valerie, and I.  Our first night was a glorious evening under spectacular stars.  We fell into beds eager for the next day.  The next day Clayton had more energy than I ever recall him capable of.  His biking for 4 months has given him legs of steel, and Katy is equally yoked.  Clayton managed to keep Elizabeth, Valerie, and I “trekking” fast for a long 8 hour day. It never would have been possible if Clayton hadn’t offered to buckle my pack onto the back of his pack.  Thank you Porter Clayton. 

At 3000 meters, about the elevation of Devils Castle, we settled on Hotel Potala for our evenings stay.  But before I could even think of sitting down and taking in my bedroom’s view, I jumped at the invitation to have a solar powered hot shower.  The promise that it would be hot was what really caught my attention and caused me to rally my last final bit of energy for the day.  Standing inside a corrugated metal square box with a rock floor, I turned only the hot faucet on, not yet having full faith in a truly hot shower.  THE BEST HOT SCENIC SHOWER OF MY ENTIRE LIFE!  Sizzling hot water, fabulous spray, scenic view out a 3 x 3 square window.  I could have stayed for hours. My gratitude for a hot shower took on a whole new meaning!  “WOW, now that was a great shower.”  I was rejuvenated beyond belief.  Nothing like it.  Warm, clean, cozy ski underwear to climb into, a warm wood choked stove to spend an evening sitting around, and three of my beautiful children to spend the evening with.  Clayton, Katy, Elizabeth.  Thank you for allowing me to trek along with you in these beautiful Himalayans!  A priceless week never to be forgotten, and a shower to be forever remembered!

Elizabeth

Namaste. I’ve been familiar with the word namaste for years now because of yoga, but I didn’t realize that everyone greets each other here by saying it. But they really emphasize on the the last vowel so it sounds more like “namasteeeeeeee.”

The day after we arrived at Kyanjin Gompa, Clayton, Katy, Valerie and I set off to conquer Tsergo Ri. Tsergo Ri is a day hike up to a peak that stands high above the LangTang Valley. But don’t get me wrong, just because it was a day hike doesn’t mean it was easy. That mountain was one steep ass bitch! Excuse the language. The first challenge was crossing the river that was covered in ice. Once that was accomplished it was up, up, up, and up. Straight up. I consider myself to be in decent shape, but this hike was a real challenge. At times I felt like all I had the energy for was to barely put one foot in front of the other. Apparently high altitude and the lack of air is a real thing. But what kept me going was the views – my goodness they were so stunning! And the higher we got the more spectacular they were. Once we passed the rock fields, all the Koreans in their fancy pansy gear, and up the icy snow ridge, we made it to the top! 16,450 ft. Any higher and I think we would have needed oxygen with us. The mountain top was laced with beautiful prayer flags, exactly how I had pictured it. We were surrounded by snowy peaks in every directions. It was stunning. Katy and I did some dancing, while Clayton circled us with the camera to get a panorama view. Afterwards we had to lie down we were so exhausted. I’m sure Clayton will post some pictures so you can see how stunningly beautiful it was. On the way down Katy got a little wild and convinced me that we should take some topless photos (only showing our backs of course). I am easily convinced to partake in these sort of shenanigans, so there we were, jumping for joy exposing ourselves to Tibet in the distance. What a day to remember!

This trip has been fantastic. One of the most unique I’ve ever been on. Since this may be the only time I write on this blog I just want to share a few of my thoughts on why I love to travel so much, and why I invest so much of my time and energy into it.

For obvious reasons, seeing new places is fascinating and there is so much beauty in the world. I was completely awed by Macchu Picchu. I fell in love with the savannah in Africa. The mountains in Switzerland took my breath away. I could go on and on.

But the real reason I love to travel is the people. This world is filled with so many loving, wonderful people. And the more I travel the more I realize how similar we all are, and how much kindness there is in the world. I want to share a few experiences I’ve had that have taught me this.

Three years ago Clayton, our brother Eli, and cousin Sarah Diamond were wandering through the amazon jungle in Peru. Despite what Clayton says, we were lost.  Totally lost and it was getting dark. I wanted to turn back, Clayton and Eli wanted to go forward. We decided to say a prayer and ask for help from above. Minutes later a couple stumbled upon us (we hadn’t seen anyone for hours). Pablo and Maria told Eli in broken Spanish that we couldn’t stay out there because the snakes would get us, and we needed to follow them back to their home. We followed them to a banana field where they cooked us dinner and we slept under their lean-two. I will always remember the kindness of those two, and the fact that Pablo walked around all evening in his whitey-tighty underwear.

That same summer Clayton and I were doing a bike tour in British Columbia. We had been staying with people from warmshowers.org.  One host that I specifically remember was a young man we stayed with on Vancouver Island. When Clayton and I arrived he told us he was headed to work and would be gone most the night. But he handed us his house key, showed us all the food he bought for us, and told us we could have his master bedroom and he would sleep on the couch that night. So Clayton and I cooked a gourmet dinner, made fruit smoothies, popcorn, and watched a movie. Again I was overwhelmed with the kindness from a complete stranger.

My last story was this September. I was on a layover in Rome by myself coming home from Croatia with Clayton, Katy, Jessica and Charlie. Since I fly standby I was by myself. I hadn’t made the flight the day before so I wasn’t in the best mood, and I was really anxious to get home so I could be to work Tuesday morning. I slept at a hotel near the train station, and the next morning checked out as usual and proceeded to walk two blocks to the train station. I bought my ticket and was waiting to board the train when I heard someone yelling “Ms Pratt, Ms Pratt.” I turned around and saw the hotel clerk running towards me with my passport in his hand. I had totally forgotten to get my passport when I checked out. He had ran two blocks to find me. When he handed it to me the reality set in of what just happened and I started to cry and gave him a big hug. I felt so grateful. If I had showed up to the airport without my passport, not only would I have been an emotional wreck, but I would have missed my flight home. That morning I had prayed and asked God to get me home that day. I felt like He answered my prayer by the kindness of a stranger.

There is so much good, kindness, and love in the world. Although other countries and cultures may seem so different, and sometimes scary, I have learned we are all more alike than different. So I will keep on traveling!! Thanks Clayton and Katy for getting me to Nepal, and particularly to Clayton for being my porter for the week. #backproblems

Namaste.

Jordan

Jordan.

Jordan is probably the coolest place I’ve never heard of.  Okay, maybe I have heard of it, but that’s about it.  I’ve heard of it.  But I guess that was more because Indiana Jones shot a couple of nice scenes there searching for the Holy Grail.  And for the older folks out there, a decent amount of Lawrence of Arabia also takes place here.

But, having been there for the past 36 hours (unfortunately way too short of a trip) it is now definitely on my radar.  And after Slovenia probably comes in at #2 on the list of “places I need to return to within the decade”.  So what’s the appeal of Jordan?  Basically it’s like a Southern Utah outdoor wonderland but complete with sandstones, ample wide open spaces, lots of camels and Arabs walking around in their keffiyehs.

Petra, a sandstone city built sometime around the time of Christ.  Also a possible location of the Holy Grail.

Wadi Rum (wadi means valley), some awesome red rock landscape that begs to be explored – ideally on a camel and with a couple weeks to spare.  T.E. Lawrence, as in Lawrence of Arabia, as in the British soldier during WWI who spent his time riding a camel around the Arabian peninsula uniting Arab clans to war against the Ottoman Turks while everyone else was sitting in a filthy trench, spent a good amount of time here at Wadi Rum before the attack on Aqaba.  It’s a great movie to watch if you have nothing to do for 4 hours.

The Siq, a couple kilometer entrance to The Treasury.
The Siq, a couple kilometer entrance to The Treasury.
Mmm.
Mmm.
These horse fellas fly up and down this narrow little canyon.
These horse fellas fly up and down this narrow little canyon.
The first view of The Treasury.
The first view of The Treasury.
The Treasury, 40 meters tall, it's really something.
The Treasury, 40 meters tall, it’s really something.

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Camels.  Good old fashioned camels.  Although we didn't ride any we do have plans for a camel trek in India, so stay tuned.
Camels. Good old fashioned camels. Although we didn’t ride any we do have plans for a camel trek in India, so stay tuned.
Hiking around in Petra.
Hiking around in Petra.
The Monastery.
The Monastery.
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Parting the Red Sea gone wrong.

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It has to be hot in there.
It has to be hot in there.
They said we would stay at a "Bedouin Camp".  Right.
They said we would stay at a “Bedouin Camp”. Right.
Wadi Rum
Wadi Rum
Sand.
Sand.
Good thing to remember.
Good thing to remember.

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Oasis.
Oasis.

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A place to return to.
A place to return to.