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Posts Tagged ‘travel adventures’

One year ago today we landed in Nepal.

We haggled (badly) with our first Nepali cab drivers, threw our overstuffed packs in the car, and set off toward an unknown address.

(Seriously – we had no real directions. We were just told by Umbrella to, “head toward the Monkey Temple.”)


monkeytemple2

We took so many narrow back roads that I wasn’t sure we weren’t being kidnapped – until I realized that those “back” roads were main roads, and “narrow” was all relative. Which was proven when another car careened around the bend toward us, managing to pass without clipping a mirror.

We arrived at the volunteer house, exhausted after two days of travel, but still ready to go out to our first Pub Quiz night to raise money for the organization.

pubquiz

When we got back to the house that night, had no electricity, and crawled into our separate, differently-leveled (but not bunk) twin “beds”, I don’t think we realized quite how much our lives were about to change.

Rather, I know I didn’t.

monkeytemple

But I knew, without a doubt, that I had stepped out of my comfort zone.

And the adventure just got better from there.

adventure

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As soon as we solidified our plans for going to Nepal, I knew that 2013 would be a big year in terms of adventures.

Traveling halfway around the world to work with kids and live with strangers in a completely different culture and environment? That’s practically the definition of adventure.

nepalboys

elephantbath

Tack on a trip to India (and the headache of getting there), and you’d think we had enough adventure in the first 5 months of 2013 to be set for the rest of the year.

tajmahal

But wait, there’s more.

In June, nearly as soon as we got back, we celebrated two friends getting married (and had two more weddings scheduled for July and August).

In July, we decided it was time to buy a house.

newhouse

And then we found out we were pregnant.

In September we marveled at all the crap we’d accumulated in the apartment as we hauled it all off to the house, and we settled into our new roles as homeowners.

In October we had our first real taste of suburbia with trick-or-treaters, and in November we dove even deeper into the suburban lifestyle and adopted Manny (and, I should add, bought an SUV, because I’m not sure you’re allowed to live in the suburbs without one).

mannycopilot

Now, as December winds down and transitions into the new year, our little family of three is anxiously awaiting its newest member – the baby boy that will be the biggest adventure of 2014.

familyphoto

And I couldn’t be more excited to see what else the upcoming year has in store.

As long as I can enjoy it on minimal sleep.

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Since deciding to visit India after our Nepal stay is over, we’ve faced a series of challenges that lead me to believe that India may actively be trying to keep us out.

Challenge #1: The Visa Process

Getting an Indian visa is a lot like a trip to the DMV, but slightly more painful. The office for applications is open only from 9:30am to 12pm. We arrived early, but not early enough – we were still numbers 55 and 56 in line. And, although the office opens at 9:30, the ticket counter apparently doesn’t open until 9:45. Or maybe 10:00. Or, really, whenever they feel like it.

On top of that, there are four ticket counters at the visa service center, which sounds promising. And with a line of 50+, you’d expect at least two of them would be open. Even the DMV would concede that much.

But not Nepal’s Indian visa service center.

There was one ticket counter open to process applications. One counter was open to process payments. And with no visa costs posted anywhere, there was a backup in the payment line since people had to keep leaving to hit up an ATM.

Did I mention it was cash only?

This was all just step one in the visa process.

  • In step one, you pay.
  • In step two, you find out if your application was accepted, what kind of visa you get (which may or may not be what you requested), and you leave your passport with them.
  • In step three, you collect your passport and visa in utter chaos, because during the pickup hours the ticket dispenser doesn’t work.

You know what, though, India? We did it. We got your stupid visa, and paid more for it because we’re American. Fine.

But wait. There’s more.

Challenge #2: Booking a Flight

The flight from Kathmandu to Delhi should take less than two hours and be direct. We found one we liked (the only one for less than $100 per person) and proceeded to checkout. Except…the credit card was declined. So was the check card and the backup credit card, all of which have travel alerts set AND sufficient funds.

What they don’t have is membership in “visa verify,” which is apparently a very popular verification program among Indian airlines. So maybe that one’s on our banks and not India.

But that didn’t make it any more fun to find the airline office and go book our flight in person – with cash.

Challenge #3: Booking Trains in India

Before this trip I reached out to a friend who had lived in and traveled through India. She recommended using Cleartrip to book trains, and, thus far, I’ve found its listing of the train schedules super helpful. I’d even found the train to get us from Delhi to Agra and was ready to book.

Not so fast.

In order to use Cleartrip, you have to register with Indian Railways IRCTC. In order to do that, you need an Indian cell number and address.

If you don’t have those things, you need to scan and send a copy of your passport. Then you need to send another email requesting that Cleartrip email you a password instead of texting it.

After all that, you can book your train tickets online. But only if you have American Express. (We don’t.)

We will get all of this sorted out eventually. Maybe before we get there, maybe not. But either way, I’m not really feeling the love from India.

And if they keep this up, they won’t feel the love from me, either.

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Literally.

This past Tuesday was Holi, the Hindu festival of colors, and it might as well have been a battle.

The festival traditionally involves throwing water balloons (and baggies of water) and then smearing colored powder on one another. I may not have been around for past years’ celebrations, but this year I think it’s fair to say that we took this festival to a whole new level. Just look at our prep work.

balloons

Leading up to Holi, the kids had been doing a bit of trash talking. “I get you, Sister!” “I get you with MANY balloons!” And that, combined with the constant miming of a water balloon to the face (and the occasional stray actual balloon) made all the volunteers want to be prepared.

So we plotted.

We were up before dawn, waiting to attack the poor kids who had been assigned to pick up milk from the volunteer house that morning. Members of each of the five children’s homes came. All of them left drenched from either water balloons or a simple bucket of water. And this was all before 7am.

After the dawn attack, we, the volunteers, armed ourselves and prepared to attack house by house, before the final group battle. We had strategized the night before, and the first couple assaults went smoothly.

And then we were ambushed.

While attacking the third house – which was proving to be a formidable opponent – the boys of the first house joined the fray and penned us in. We fought our way out, but there were casualties – such as a point blank water balloon to the face and the loss of a bucket, a key battle tool.

After regrouping and rearming at the volunteer house, we were ready for the final stand. Until this point, we hadn’t used any of our colored dye, and neither had the other houses. But that all changed.

Holi2

The final battle took place in the playground of one of the houses. At times, it truly felt like a war. The kids came armed with dye, balloons, and deadly aim. And when all else failed, they stole our balloons and buckets. Sometimes right out of our hands. (They may be kids, but a lot of them are very strong.)

The nicer kids came up to me with color on their hands, and gently rubbed it on my face while saying, “Happy Holi, Sister!” The more enthusiastic ones went for the sneak attack, which often resulted in ingesting the colored powder. Throughout the course of the day I was spitting in pink, blue, yellow, and green.

By the time the battle was over – the balloons were gone, the water had run out, and we’d given as good as we’d gotten –  no one had emerged unscathed. Just as it should be.

Holi1

There’s nothing quite like attacking children to bond a group of volunteers. And there’s nothing quite like covering someone’s face in dye to bond you with your kids.

I don’t even mind that my hair is still slightly pink and purple.

 

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Well, that’ll have to wait a little longer.

This past Sunday we were out at a festival in honor of Shivaratri at the Pashupati Temple, and I decided to get some shots of the celebration.

I was hyper aware of the vast crowds, and of the possibility of pickpockets in such a jam-packed space. In fact, I was so paranoid about the pickpockets that I wouldn’t even keep my phone in my front pocket for easier camera access. Instead, I kept it in my purse, which was zipped and in front of me at all times.

I was vigilant.

Or so I thought.

Toward the end of our time in Pashupati, I took just a couple more photos and put the phone away for good. As we joined the stampede to leave, I was effectively pushed through the crowd, but still managed to stay behind Husband, with my purse between us.

Which means that this pickpocket was phenomenal.

When we finally got back to the volunteer house, my purse was zipped and my phone was gone.

There was no money missing, no IDs taken – just the phone. And with it, all the photos from the previous 10 days (and more if you count the touristy photos I took during our layover in London).

I lost photos of my boys decorating crowns and posters for St. Patrick’s Day. I lost video of Husband’s boys dancing to Gangnam Style – and of me dancing with them.

To say that I’m bummed would be an understatement.

I’ve since blocked the number, and bought an actual camera, but my paranoia levels have shot through the roof.

My purse is sitting on my lap as I type this, and I keep one hand on it whenever I walk by anyone.

I know it’s not the worst thing that could happen. And I know that it’s better to happen at the beginning of the trip instead of at the end.

But I’m especially bummed about those videos.

Though, if I know these Nepali kids the way I think I do, it won’t be the last time they have a dance party. Not by a long shot.

Note: I tried “find my phone,” but since my phone wasn’t set up to use internationally, and wasn’t online, it didn’t work out. Luckily, the passcode is on and the number’s now blocked. And the battery is probably dead by now.

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Note: Posts are always better with photos, but I’ve yet to figure out the best way to upload them from my phone to a shared computer. When I do, though, I’ll be sure to share.

In the meantime, I can tell you that this experience has already exceeded my expectations – and we’ve only been here for  a week and a half.

I volunteer in a house with 23 boys, all of whom are roughly between the ages of 10 and 20, and I’ve already begun to refer to them as mine.

And my boys are simply amazing.

They’ve been so welcoming and friendly and inclusive. For instance, even given my mediocre skills, I spent the better part of last Wednesday playing soccer (and trying to remember to call it football) with some of the boys. We didn’t win (my fault, not theirs), but it was the best workout I’ve had in a while.

They’ve also been patiently teaching me to hacky sack. I can honestly say that I’ve spent more time hacky sacking (is that the verb?) in the past few days, than I have in my entire life.

The one minor difficulty I’ve had with them, is getting them to understand my name. “Elizabeth” has proven a bit difficult for them to say, so usually they stick with calling me Sister. But the other day it clicked with them.

Sister! Your name Elizabeth? Like Queen of England?

And another boy chimed in:

I will call you Sister Queen!

Hey, if that’s what it takes for them to remember, who am I to stop the name association?

I’m just here to help.

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We leave tomorrow (!!), so I thought I’d take a moment to address some of the most frequently asked questions we’ve gotten about this trip, just in case some of the same questions had crossed your mind.

1. Will you bring any kids back with you?

From what I understand, that’s generally frowned upon, so…no. But I do reserve the right to change my mind after we meet them.

2. Are you excited/nervous?

Nah, not really. Why would I be? A trip to Nepal is just a walk in the park…on the other side of the world.

3. Are you packed?

No. Absolutely not. I will be fully packed about an hour before we leave for the airport. Hopefully.

4. Do you have everything you need? Are you ready?

God, I hope so. But probably not. I guess we’ll find out!

5. Why are you still working the day before you leave?

Because I’m an idiot. That’s why.

In all seriousness, I could not be more excited about this adventure. It will be thrilling and challenging and life-changing, and I can’t wait.

And I’m sure that all the stress and anxiety leading up to it will be worth it.

But I’m also sure that stress would be minimized if I’d just taken today off.

 

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