Friday, May 21, 2010

The Good, The Bad, & The Absurd

The Good: Kim and I finally (after 66 days) have received our business visas. The little stamp is in our passports, and is good for six months, and in theory we have a letter from the department of industry which should get us a renewal for another six months after this one. So yay us. We can now move around the country a bit more freely as we no longer have to be in Kathmandu to intermittently sign paperwork.

The Bad: You may remember from my earlier post about hiking in Annapurna that I am supposed to be there trekking right now. Well with the visa taking all week, and the not actually getting the passports in my hand until around 3pm today it just wasn't going to happen. With all offices (for more paperwork of course) being closed on Saturday I can't get the needed permits tomorrow either. This means I have to wait until Sunday to get the needed permits. The only question now is if I go to Pokhara tomorrow so I can get the permits and start trekking the same day on Sunday, or get them in Kathmandu on Sunday and start on Monday.

The Absurd: In the West we like to pretend that our bureaucracy is somehow for our own good, that our over payed under-worked public "servants" are moving all that paperwork around for some greater good. Maybe it's to protect you, maybe its for some safety net scheme. However worthless the public "service" it at least has the mask of doing something, besides creating jobs for the paper-pushers you get to deal with. In Nepal they don't even bother with the masquerade. It is very clear that the paperwork exists for its own sake, to create jobs for the public employees and funnel cash into their hands and the hands of the state.

I arrived at the Department of Immigration and watched as my paperwork got shuffled around. There were a number of desk jockeys in the main room, we'll label them DJ1, DJ2 and DJ3. So the Nepali kid I'm with, who is our lawyer's assistant goes to DJ1 and talks to him for a bit. He informs me that one of the people we need to talk to isn't here, but he'll get it started. DJ1 looks over the paperwork for a bit and then after a moment points to DJ2. The paperwork goes to DJ2 and he moves some papers around and flips through the pages. After a few minutes of this he hands the paperwork back to the kid and he brings it back to DJ1. DJ1 now does the same thing as far as I can tell from my vintage point. Then he says something to the kid and he comes and sits next to me for a bit. After another ten minutes or so the paperwork gets briefly handed to DJ3 who tells the kid to take it to a room I will call Office 1. I never leave my chair so I'm not sure what happens in the office but after five minutes or so he comes out and then goes into Office 2. A few more minutes pass and he comes out and gives the paperwork back to DJ1. He unbinds a few documents, rearranges some things and actually writes something this time. The kid then brings it over to DJ2, but apparently he doesn't need it. It now needs to go into Office 3.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Will to Run

As I stated in the last post I love running. You know why? Because I have not found a better, more accessible activity that allows you to push your own limits so easily. Most of the time when people say things like sports or athletics is 90% mental, people never take them seriously. I think in part it is because when most people think 'mental' they conjure up cerebral school style smarts. That can help but it's really about mental toughness, about having a will that can overcome your body screaming at you to stop or slow down. The difference between a runner who wins and one who looses is very often just a sheer test of will. How deep can you dig?

I was lucky for many reasons when it came to running. I was naturally gifted with some speed, and I had some very good coaches through school. My natural talent helped, but I wasn't the fastest when it came to sprints, although I could compete, I lacked the explosiveness to win anything larger than a three way school meet. It wasn't until I hit the the quarter mile mark that I really started to shine. At that distance you still had to run fast, but it was about who could sprint the longest, who wasn't afraid of just putting everything out there. Those longer races also took a certain amount of training to do. There were several kids I ran with that if they had trained as diligently and as hard as I did, could have most likely beat me. I enjoyed the discipline that running demanded of yourself, and that part of it is what has kept me in it all these years.

When you go out for a run, and your body starts aching, you get a cramp, your quads get tired, and your body tries to coerce you into stopping. You even come up with mental excuses to justify it. Running is 90% mental, because most of the time it's about fighting that weaker part of you that wants to give up, the one that wants to slow down. Running is physical training, but real running is training to tell that voice to 'go to hell'. Running is about training your will. Your body is capable of much more than most of us believe ourselves capable, mostly because we rarely venture beyond what is comfortable. You can go a long way outside of comfortable, it is just a matter of having the will power to push yourself to it.

In many ways I feel the same way about hiking, though it's a different kind of event. Running takes place over anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour or so. Trekking, like what I have planned, is something that is done over a few weeks. Trekking is the long drawn out run, with some really spectacular scenery thrown in for kicks. Trekking in the Himalaya is great, because the trails are just like the ones back home, where the trail often goes from point A to point B in a fairly straight line, regardless of what kind of elevation change is in between. The difference between the Himalaya and home is that those elevation gains and drops are huge, our highest mountains would simply be un-named hills here. This can make for some grueling ascents and some stretches where you just want it to be over, but in finding those things that make us want to cry 'uncle' we can face up to it, buckle down, persevere, and be the stronger for it. People's bodies do occasionally give out on them, but it is rare, it is a persons will that gives out first and far more often. You are the only thing standing in your way, and learning to push those limits, to take the reigns of your experience and know that you only fail if you give up is liberating.

So like I said, I love running.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Running to Boudha

I love to run. To most people that seems like a crazy thing to say, but I truly do enjoy it. Before I came to Kathmandu I had expectations of doing some running at the valley fringe on a regular basis, but the reality is that getting there is a pain in the ass. The pollution put out by the traffic on the larger roads seemed like just too much to put my lungs though, and the back roads can be extremely cramped for space, uneven, and have many blind corners. I was holding off until we got membership into Phora, thinking I would just use cardio machines or make use of the 600 meter path around the perimeter there. 

Then as I posted during the maoist bandha I took the opportunity to run the traffic free streets out to Boudha, which was just about a perfect run. The route is about 2.6 miles, has one really good up hill and one good down hill. So when I got the urge to run again I thought about my options and said 'what the hell' and gave the same route a shot with traffic. 

The Stupa at Boudha

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Trekking Annapurna

So I've signed all the things I need to sign for my visa, my picture has been attached to an untold number of documents, and I've had my thumb prints attached to half a dozen other documents. My passport is with the Department of Industry and/or Immigration and hopefully within the next day or two I'll have my Business Visa. This means I can finally get out of Kathmandu for an extended period.

My initial hope was to go and hike a combination of the Annapurna circuit along with the Nar and Phu valleys. Nar and Phu are in a restricted are that costs $90 for a permit, but that cost seemed well worth the sights and culture up in that region. Further investigation however revealed that the permit has to be arranged by a tour operator, you have to have a guide, and it's a minimum of two people for a group to go. No thanks. I'm an independent trekker at heart and I only use guides when I absolutely have to (Kilimanjaro is it so far) and I am even more averse to using porters....I carried my own pack up Killi (though to be fair the porters carried the food and the means to cook it, and I ate it). Point is, that was a deal breaker for me. So Nar and Phu may have to wait until a later date.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Lost in Translation- Part 4

So it has been a little while since I posted some pictures of signs with questionable translations. This by no means indicates that I am coming across them any less frequently. Menus, billboards, and store signs continue to be a constant source of entertainment. Unfortunately I often don't have my camera, but when I did I got the following pictures;

When talking about brains and intelligence it is best to get the sentence right. This one just doesn't do that.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Kopan Monastery

So today I went for a walk heading toward the north end of the valley, thinking I'd try to get to the valley edge. I ended up drifting a bit more to the east and saw this cool looking building up on what looked like a not too distant hill and decided I'd try to check it out. The building ended up being Kopan Monastery just north of Boudha. 

The building that I first saw was, pictured in the distance above, was actually off limits to visitors, but other parts were open. It must be a bit of a tourist attraction as I saw plenty of Europeans here.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Respiratory *Cough* Problems and Other Updates

I'm not sure exactly what it is here, but I keep getting terrible sore throats along with a cough and occasionally other symptoms. Sure once in a while when adapting to a new climate you expect these things, but it seems almost once a month I get hit with this for a week or so. The last two days I've been hit with this again, although not debilitating, it certainly can be a little annoying. The upside is that it seems to be clearing up a little faster each time I get it, and it's almost gone already this time, so maybe next time it'll be just a day. Maybe it's the dryer climate, maybe the dust, possibly the pollution, allergies or a combination of some or all of the above. Who knows, but it is definitely one of the more troublesome things I've had to deal with here.

The Visa Process that never ends-
We are still waiting to get our work visa. After talking to our Lawyer it looks like we take another step Friday morning, then maybe get the visa early next week. Originally we expected this to be completed around the end of April, as we draw into the middle of May, my chances to go trekking without encountering a plethora of leaches, rain, and areas prone to avalanches due to the increased snows is dwindling. We also can't apply to the American Club until we have a non-tourist visa, and then it takes five or six weeks to process. Patience is a virtue, and it is twice as valuable in Nepal.

Learning Nepali-
So just looking at a book wasn't cutting it, and Kim, Sami and I signed up for Nepali classes together with a woman named Geeta. I enjoy her teaching style quite a bit, and I find I am picking up some very basic knowledge of the language. While purchasing vegetables tonight I actually caught a bit of the conversation that was going on around me. My understanding is still very rudimentary, but the fact that the sound of the language took some form in my brain and didn't just sound like gibberish is a very positive step forward.

Upcoming Events-
So assuming we get our visa in the near future I am planning on a three week trip in the Annapurna region. In July we are planning on taking a trip to Tibet, where we can hopefully meet up with a friend of Kim's from home who will be travelling there in the same time period. We have a custom made outdoor grill that was supposed to have been done last Sunday, but who knows when we will actually get it. All I know is that I will definitely be having a cook out when I do, and everyone is invited.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Expat missing in the Langtang Area- Please Help If You Can

Every Hour Counts: Boulderite and Colorado native Aubrey Sacco, 23, is missing in Nepal after failing to contact her family after a solo, week-long trek in the region of Langtang.

A Facebook group has been created for Aubrey.

Aubrey is a yoga instructor, artist, and 2009 graduate of the University of Colorado. She has been traveling through Nepal, India and Sri Lanka to help further her yoga skills while volunteering at schools and teaching English, including at Pranava Yogadhama Trust in Mysore, India.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Rafting the Trishuli River

So yesterday we went rafting for the first time in Nepal, along with seven other friends on the Trishuli river. In the past I had been a little hesitant to go rafting here, but Kim had wanted to go ever since we first came here, and the Trishuli is only a class three river so it looked like a good opportunity. Also it would only be a one day event, not an overnight, as the starting point on the river is just off the highway to Pokhara about two and a half hours to the west of Kathmandu.

The above picture shows most of our intrepid crew prior to departure, minus myself Sami and Alex. Hillary, who planned the trip (Thanks Hillary!) is obscured in the back with the red shirt. By going as a group we were able to get transportation, lunch and the rafting trip (was about 5 hours on the water) for only $30 each, which seemed like a great deal to me. I know back in the states for something similar we would have shelled out over $100 a piece.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Biking to Sundarijal

So up until now I have been somewhat hesitant to engage in any kind of movement around the city in any format other than foot, that I was in control of anyway. Taxis are fine, because I'm not driving, and the driving does seem a bit crazy. Last night, with the expectation that the strike would still be going on, I had rented a bike to go out to Sundarijal and do some hiking out that way. With the strike now called off I would get my first taste of biking in Kathmandu traffic. Admittedly this was a Saturday morning, which is the lowest traffic time of the week, so it was a good day to try it out. The route we were taking brought us out past Boudhanath and up to the valley rim. Below is a map highlighting the route from Boudha to Sundarijal.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Peace Rally- Maoist General Strike Ends

So less than half an hour ago we got word through the internet that the Maoists have called off the strike. This comes after a day filled with close calls on clashes, and a very large peace rally in Durbar Square aimed at putting pressure on stopping the foolishness that is the bandha called for by the Maoists. 
This morning we attended the peace rally, though we had some difficulty getting there. Maoists had formed a human wall as you got close to where you enter the square from New Road and were preventing people from getting to the rally. Luckily Kim myself and Sami were also accompanied by a girl, Laura and a Nepali friend of hers that is a free lance photographer/journalist. With their credentials the Maoists let us through, the other Nepali people we were with however got turned back. Walking past the Maoists I took a bunch of pictures, above one of them gives me the thumbs up.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Running the Bandh

So today is day five of the strike, and you are starting to notice that supplies of certain things are running low. The place where I normally get eggs, has no eggs. Vegetables and fruit are becoming more withered and in less supply. People's patience with the Maoists is starting to run low, and reports are popping up here and there of shops opening in defiance and a few Maoists actually getting beat on instead of the other way around. Tomorrow there is a peace rally in Durbar Square which seems to be organized by several groups that are sick of the strike. The Newar community in particular seems ready to tell the Maoists to get lost, and I think they will represent a large chunk of the people at the rally tomorrow (at 9AM for those interested).

There is a central tenant in stoic philosophy that says to take that which seems to be an obstacle and make it instead enhance your life. With that thought in mind I took advantage of the clear air, and streets filled only with pedestrians to go for a run. I ran from my apartment in lazimpat to Boudhanath, just over two and a half miles. There was a light rain, but it was warm, and was almost perfect running conditions. It was really a great running route, with long straight aways and gradual inclines and declines, with good sized hills on either side of the river. Almost a perfect mix of terrain. Normally I would never ever be able to run this route due to the sheer volume of people and traffic, not to mention the exhaust you would breathe in over the course of the run.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

No Visa For You!

As we enter day four of the nationwide strike it is becoming increasingly evident that I will not be getting my 1 year visa this week. So with our extension up as of Thursday I had to walk on down to immigration today and get a tourist visa extension for another 15 days. With a little extra money handed over this went easy enough, but yeah, no business visa for me yet.

Essentially I have to stick around Kathmandu until I get this thing worked out, which keeps me form doing the trekking I really wanted to do here. I've been wanting to get out to the Annapurna area for a month now, and as we get closer to the monsoons, the less pleasant that trip looks. The pass I want to go over that leads from the Nar Phu valley area in the north back on to the Annapurna circuit also becomes more avalanche prone as more snows swept in from the monsoons begin to cover the adjacent slopes. Sigh. If I don't go through that pass it means not only missing the sight of some rare blue sheep, but also back tracking a couple days to get to the main circuit.

The more I deal with this whole visa process the more I wonder how needed the whole process of people checking the flow of people and where they are really is.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Indefinite Strike

So we are now entering day two of an indefinite strike here in Nepal called for by the Maoists. It appears the political parties have not come to an agreement and they will not be meeting the Maoists demands, at least not in the short-term. So what is it like here under the general strike?

Quite pleasant actually. First all the little food vendors I use to get food are still open, and though we have stocked up on supplies for a couple of weeks, it's nice to still be able to get the fresh veggies. The streets are devoid of motor vehicles, and as a person who never drives, except for a rare taxi, it's really nice to walk through the capital without taking in the massive amounts of fumes. Kathmandu is a city made for walking, and the lack of constant honking from passing motor bikes or taxis is quite nice.
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