Category: decision making

Travelling without a Plan…Houston to Nashville Road Trip

I love to travel to the deep south of the United States, especially in the fall. While winter is threatening at home, the weather in Texas feels like summer.  The leaves are all gone in Alberta, yet the trees along the Natchez Trace Parkway through Mississippi are just starting to change colour. The beaches in Biloxi on the Gulf Coast are deserted in October.  Flights are cheaper and accommodations are easy to find. And of course… the Houston Astros won the World Series while we were there so it was definitely a great time to travel.

Plan #1

This trip took many forms and in the end, was not recognizable from our original plans. We wanted to travel to North Carolina by way of Houston to see the fall colours in the Blue Ridge Mountains and visit our son and daughter-in-law who live in Texas. They have an old car of ours that we thought we could pick up there and drive through the Carolinas and be home within our 2 week time limit.  We booked our flight to Houston which was only $180 each for one way.

Change of plans #1

The car wouldn’t start.  It is old and not currently registered in the United States.  My son and a friend spent an afternoon trying to boost it, to no avail. We priced renting a car in Houston and flying home from Raleigh, NC.  but hat would cost about $1200 for 2 weeks because we weren’t returning it to the point of pickup.  That meant we could only travel at most, one week away from Houston.  I booked a flight back home, at $110 each.  Peter’s plan was still to try to get the car running so he was not interested in making plans until he sorted out the car.

Plan #2

The Houston Astros were in the playoffs so we decided to make this a fall sporting trip.  We looked online at the possible sporting events besides baseball.  The Formula 1 was in Austin.  University of Houston Texans were playing football at home and Ole Miss in Oxford, MS had 2 home football games while we were there.  That sounded like a great plan.  We would rent a car and attend some events we had only seen on TV. We booked a rental car for a week for $180.

If we stayed in Houston for a few days we could see the car race and the University Game.  We might even get lucky and get a baseball ticket.  Then we would travel to Nashville for a chance to hear some country music and come back through Mississippi to hang out at a tailgate party in the Grove in Oxford, then watch a home game.  We would return to Houston for more baseball then fly home.  We might even fit in a little golf along the way.

Change of Plans #2

The grandstand tickets for the Formula 1 in Austin were sold out on their website, although there were a few for some of the curves along the track.  It would be a very hot day standing in the sun in one spot.

There was a Dynamos soccer game in Houston on Sunday afternoon with seats. That seemed a better plan. We decided to watch the start of the race on TV on Sunday then go to the soccer game.

That left Thursday to golf at Tour 18.  It is an 18 hole course “inspired” by famous PGA courses including Amen Corner at Augusta and the 17th Island green at Sawgrass.  I only had a few of my clubs tucked into Peter’s bag and no golf shoes, but it was fun to play with my son and husband, and I enjoyed the heat. Peter was 2 under through Amen Corner so he really enjoyed it. The Texas fairways are rough but very thick and fluffy so the balls sits right down in the bottom.

No Plans…Let’s see what happens

Friday was a day to tour around Houston. There were some neighborhoods with so much debris still piled up on the street in front of their houses as a result of Hurricane Harvey.  It consisted primarily of demolition materials removed from flooded homes.  Some houses were having roofs re-shingled.  For the most part, though, it was hard to believe that they had been under so much water a couple of months ago.

We spent the evening at the Beer Market Co.  The playoff game with the Yankees was on.  It was exciting to watch a home playoff game with locals all cheering for their team, and then to have the home team win.  It was almost as good as being at the game, but a lot less expensive.  The quality of craft beer in the USA has continued to improve over the years we have travelled there.  I had a delicious Lemon Ginger Radler.

Plans that changed me

Our kids were busy on Saturday so we decided to volunteer with a group from their church, Bayou City Fellowship.  We met in an area of the city that was needy before Hurricane Harvey and even more so afterwards.  The church had received supplies and donations from around the country for the past couple of weeks.  They had made up bags of cleaning supplies and had many boxes of toiletries, bleach, garbage bags, blankets, towels, toilet paper and paper towels.

Other church members arrived with vehicles full of supplies they had not required in the flood clean up of their own homes.  Mosquito repellent, brooms and mops as well as more bleach were common items.  Someone had donated a couple of cases of new children’s backpacks which brought big smiles to those children who needed one. There were maybe 25-30 volunteers, including several children.

Distribution Process

A large cube truck arrived about 8:30 am.  It contained the donations, as well as some small tents and tables. A large speaker played upbeat music to try to make the day seem a bit more festive. Several people from the line came and helped unload the truck. We set up 4 stations and sorted everything. There were 3-4 people in each tent to distribute the donations. Those volunteers who weren’t at a station helped those in line with their things or just talked with them to see how they were doing. We had to be aware of family groups and give an allotment to each family, not to each member.  This was difficult as several small groups claimed not to be together. Apparently the line to receive supplies had begun to form about 6:30 in the morning.

Many thanked us although several didn’t speak any English.  One woman was thrilled to get a broom!  The odd donated bottle of dish soap or laundry soap created great excitement and work gloves and masks were much appreciated. It was difficult to chat as the line was long and moved steadily.  It was really hard when we ran out of supplies before we ran out of people after about 2 hours.  I got to go home and sit by the pool in the sun.  They had to go back to their damp homes.

Things that struck me about Volunteering

  • Some of the volunteers had been flooded at home too.
  • People are people whether they have or whether they need.
  • I wanted to feel proud about offering to help in a place that needed it, but it wasn’t about me.  I was honored and humbled to have been given the opportunity to serve others.
  • We were asked to see the change in us as a result of being part of this day, to see the world in a new way.

If you want to know more about the continuing relief effort of this group in Houston, check out the church link above.  It includes some moving stories.

Our plans send us north

It was hot on Saturday, but Sunday morning began with a thunder-storm.  When it rains here, it really comes down, even when it’s not a hurricane.

We had several recommendations about trying Airbnb home sharing service and decided to try it out in Nashville.  We booked a private bedroom and bathroom, plus use of the living room for $118 for 2 nights.  Since it was our first booking, we received a $53 discount after that.  Last minute booking is much easier in October than in the height of the summer.

If you might want to try this service, set it up at home first as they want to send you an email and phone text to confirm your information.  We had our phone plans set to just wifi so this was a challenge.  The app made it easier to communicate with hosts over wifi.  Here is a discount link  to Airbnb

Finding the Natchez Trace Parkway

The roads out of Houston are much like the roads in Houston…filled with traffic.  We chose to take as many backroads between Houston and Nashville as possible.  It is over 1200 km so we planned two days to complete our journey.  Our last-minute planning searches for things to do in Nashville revealed that the Calgary Flames were playing hockey against the Nashville Predators in two days time.  What luck!

Natchez was our first stop.  It is a small city on the bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River.  It looks to me like a cross between Vicksburg, MS and New Orleans, LA.  as it is filled with old antebellum homes and has several walking tours for architecture or views of nature.

It is also the start of the Natchez Trace Parkway, which follows the old trade routes from the SW corner of Mississippi to mid Tennessee, ending in Nashville, a distance of 440 miles.  It has a slower speed limit, no signs or billboards are allowed, but there are lots of picnic areas and historical points of interest. We saw deer and wild turkeys along the way, but on the first section from Natchez to Jackson, MS, we didn’t see another car in our lane.  October is a great time to travel in the south.

We spent the night in a hotel in Jackson, MS, of Uptown Funk fame, and continued on the second part of the trip towards Nashville.  We had a coffee stop in a little place called French Camp, where we hoped to have a scheduled phone conference meeting with Alberta Golf.  It just happened to be the place where all cell service ceased to exist.

Entrance and exit points to the Trace are limited, so we were lucky to find a little cafe in Dennis, MS, run by a woman and her sister-in-law.  There were a few relatives and a couple of locals in for lunch but the chili and grilled cheese were only $5 and tasty.  The service was so friendly and the stories were great.  Small family restaurants are so worth a stop.

Last Minute Plans in Nashville

We arrived in Nashville with just enough time to check out our Air BnB and get to the hockey game.  The Predator fans are serious about hockey!  We saw so many jerseys, scarves, socks and jackets in Preds colours.  We got  tickets at the back of the middle bowl for about $50 each.  It was fun to be part of this crowd since they had secret chants and cheers for different parts of the game. The game ended with a shoot-out and Calgary won.  We were so glad that we hadn’t filled all of our time and were able to fit in the only sporting event that we hadn’t considered before we left home.

 

Our hosts recommended the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Trolley bus tour of Nashville. Both were well worth the time.  The Hall of Fame was busy, but it had a great historical perspective on country music as well as influences from a large number of performers.  There was a wall of gold records and the Hall of Fame itself is a round room with all the inductees arranged randomly on 5 line staves.  The museum commissioned a painting for the room that included a variety of musical styles and transportation methods used as these styles were becoming popular.  They really did a wonderful job in this museum.

Unplanned Hop On, Hop Off Tour

Bill, our driver, knew so many stories about this city.  He told jokes and connected the past to the present in such an interesting way.  He knew who owned most of the recording studios, where Taylor Swift just bought a new penthouse (and the rest of the building under it), how long the line up might be at Hot Chicken as well as the growth in the number of hotels in the city and why there is a full size replica of the  Parthenon in Nashville.  We were enjoying his performance so much that we decided to stay on the bus for the entire route and hop off on the second loop if we saw something we really wanted to see with more time.  As it turned out, most of what interested us were within walking distance after we got off the bus.

It was well after 3 when we finished all the exploring and we wanted to eat some Tennessee BBQ.  Jack’s had a combo plate we shared with ribs, brisket and pork shoulder and 2 sides. According to our trolley driver, mac and cheese is considered a vegetable so we had to check it out.  They served the meat without sauce, which is served on the side.  There was the choice of Tennessee sauce which is vinegar based and tangy, Texas which is think and tomatoey and St. Louis which was sweet and smoky.  That was my favorite.

Unplanned Music…But what else would you do in Nashville?

Broadway is the main street in the downtown area.  Even though the hockey arena has the same address, most of the buildings from the arena to the river are small bars that have live music from 11am until after midnight.  Some are 2 or 3 levels with music on each level.  Up and coming musicians perform for 3 or 4 hours.  You can go in and listen for a bit then move on if the music isn’t to your taste.  Most of the songs are covers of country stars with a few original tunes in the mix.

We listened to a couple of guys sing in Margaritaville after the hockey game.  They were entertaining with their spin a song wheel to help them with their playlist.

The second night we went into Barlines Bar in the Omni Hotel.  It is across from the convention Center and was really busy when we arrived, but they found us a table right at the stage.  We listened to Hali Hicks.  She had a session guitarist, Jeffrey Weaver, playing with her for the evening.  With her voice and his masterful playing, it was great entertainment.  The local craft beer was excellent and then the Flames vs St. Louis game was broadcast on the screen beside the stage.  And then game 2 between the Dodgers and Astros started on the huge screen behind the musicians.  Could we have planned it any better?

Back to Mississippi

Our son went to college and also got married in Mississippi so we have been there a few times before.  The land near the river is a flat agricultural floodplain where they grow cotton and soybeans.  Cotton was being harvested while we were there.  They kill the leaves which exposes the cotton and makes for easier picking.  It was strange for us to see bales of cotton as large as haystacks would be in Alberta.  The eastern part of the state consists of large pine and oak forests.

We returned on the Trace towards the NW part of the state where Oxford is located.  Our Airbnb hosts lived in the country on a beautiful acreage.  They were so gracious and made us feel like family.  If you want to learn about the people and get a real sense of the place, then this kind of accommodation might be right for you.  We don’t have much experience yet, but it felt like an upscale hostel stay.

We also spent a couple of evenings with our daughter-in-law’s parents in Grenada, MS.  They were so hospitable and even though we technically are family, they treated us so well.  Those who live in the southern part of the United States really have their own culture and way of seeing the world.  It made me think of the Canadians who live in Quebec and want to protect their language and culture within a larger country.  Being kind and gracious to visitors is certainly part of that culture.

Change of Plans #2 Again

Our plans to attend the Ole Miss football game in Oxford seemed too complicated to be worth pursuing.  Tickets were $90 each for a college game although the resale sites had better prices.  We weren’t able to connect with any of our son’s friends to meet up and trying to find parking in this football crazy town (think The Blind Side) made our plan more energy than it was worth.  We decided to change our plans and head south to the Gulf Coast.

Biloxi was a short overnight stop. The beach was white and the sunset spectacular.  The Star Hotel was reasonably priced with friendly staff and the restaurant across the street had a nice wood fire, delicious seafood, local beer and the Astros playing game 6.

Even though we made our road trip based on our wish to attend the football game in Oxford, it was okay that our plans changed. If we hadn’t headed north, we would have missed out on Nashville, the Flames game, our wonderful hosts at Country Living BNB, visits with our Mississippi family and a wonderful night on the Gulf coast.

Being retired and having flexible travel time makes planning on the fly much easier than when I could only travel on school holidays, to the places everyone else wanted to visit.  The fact that we have family living in the area helps reduce the anxiety of having a place to stay.  Try it on your next trip.  Leave some time open for opportunities to present themselves or people to come into your life.  You won’t be disappointed.

 

Packing for a Winter in Thailand…What did we really need?

It was difficult packing for a winter in Thailand.  What did we really need?  Having never visited Asia before, we weren’t sure what was essential, what recommended and what would be nice to have. We only had 28 sq. m for living space so we couldn’t take too much.  As we packed to come home, I made some notes for next time.

Prepared for action

Clothing

As almost every travel site will tell you, pack your bag and then take half of it out.  I did that initially, but could have done it again.  Thailand is hot and humid.  It is also very casual.  The only people dressed up were the tourists from China.  I took dresses, shorts, skorts, and wicking t-shirts as well as some stretchy shorts and light t-shirts to use in the gym.  I added a couple of swim suits and a cover up.

Here’s what I found.  The laundry lady on our street washed, dried and folded our clothes about every 10 days for $7.  She usually had them overnight.  That meant I took too many t-shirts.  I also preferred wearing dresses with the stretchy shorts underneath.  The rayon dresses they sell in Thailand for $10 each are perfect for this climate.  They hang loosely and were the coolest, most comfortable option for me.  I had one nice sun dress I brought and a couple of other dresses that were also cool enough.  I would recommend buying dresses on arrival and a long wrap-around skirt to keep packed to use as a skirt or a wrap to be respectful in the temples.

Thai dress

The skorts were useful as they are appropriate for any occasion.  The black one was good when I needed black and white for a choir uniform. I had a white t-shirt but bought a dressier white top when we were performing. I rarely wore the shorts.

The most important item I took was a big white sun hat I purchased at MEC before we left.  I wore it every day.  The chin string seemed a bit uncool until I was riding in tuk-tuks and boats when it became essential.

swim cover and hat locked on

Travelling Clothes

Since we planned to visit the Great Wall of China during our Beijing layover on our flight there, we had a bag of clothes for layering.  We wore zip off hiking pants that were also very practical for our visit to Nepal.  I took a toque and mittens as well as a wind jacket and light fleece jacket.  As it was just around freezing with a light breeze, these clothes were perfect for the stopover.

The coldest high temperature in Chiang Mai was 23,  and only for a couple of days.  I wore my hiking pants once, just because I had them.  I wore a light sweater that I did buy there.  It was also useful in the movie theaters when we sat in the air conditioning for a couple of hours.  A scarf or skirt as a wrap would probably do. Most restaurants were open air with fans so we didn’t experience the chill I feel when sitting in A/C here.  We brought umbrellas and rain jackets.  It only rained twice and was too hot for a jacket.  The umbrellas could have been purchased at 7-11 for a small amount and then left behind.

Brisk day in Beijing

Footwear

For footwear I took flip-flops for the pool, hiking shoes, runners and sandals with good support.  I could have managed with just the runners and sandals but they both were pretty new and I wasn’t sure if they would feel good with all the walking we were going to do.  We had planned to do some hiking, but we didn’t, so I would take the same choices again another time.  There is plenty of footwear for sale, but with my feet I wanted to be sure I had what I needed ahead of time.

Toiletries

As far as toiletries are concerned, you can buy most of what you need.  There are many recognizable brands in the drug stores and grocery stores.  There were a few challenges.  Peter found the toothpaste tubes looked the same as at home, but the taste of Colgate was not the same.  Deodorant is either spray or roll on and contains whitener, as does almost every skin product in Thailand.  They want their skin lighter and we are all trying to make ours darker!  If you like solids, take lots because you will need it in the heat.

I wasn’t able to find 3 products.  I use a hydrogen peroxide solution to clean my contacts.  It is considered “dangerous” and is not sold in Thailand. I had to have some brought from England and Canada.  Blonde hair colour is also not available, which is to be expected in a country where everyone has beautiful black hair. I also had difficulty identifying antacids like Tums in the stores so my sister brought me some from home.

We took towels, but our apartment provided towels for the bathroom and for the pool.  I found some beach size quick dry towels that pack very small.  They were good when we went to the beaches in Krabi.  We also bought full face snorkel masks for the ocean, but there were places to rent them if we had wanted.

Games and Activities

I took a crib board, some cards and a couple of puzzle games.  We did use them, but there was lots to do in the evenings, or we were too exhausted to do much besides watch a little Nat Geo channel.  I took a couple of books with me, but there was a book exchange in our building and a couple of used book stores where I could find lots to read in English. Peter took his guitar and golf clubs.

Electronics

My computer got lots of use.  I bought an ASUS zenbook because it runs on a solid state drive so it is fast and is more durable if (when) it gets bumped around.  It is also powerful enough to run photo editing software. I used it to write my blog, edit photos, watch movies on Netflix, call home on Google hangouts and video call on occasion.  I also had a couple of external drives that I used for picture storage. Pete took his laptop and our tablet.  We also took along a small Bluetooth speaker that we used quite often. We did have a TV in our room that had many English channels, including a movie channel, National Geographic, History, and CNN International.

Phones

Our phones were old when we took them.  After a few weeks of trying to keep them charged or plugged into external batteries to enable Google Maps to keep working to help us find a location, we started looking for something more efficient.  Once Uber became an option, it was essential to have a working phone.  We ended up buying the first new phone in Laos.  It was 2.25 million kip!  This is only $350.  Peter bought another of the Huawei gr5 2017 phones when we returned to Chiang Mai.  They last about 1 1/2 days on a charge.  What a relief.

Chargers and Adaptors

Thailand works on 220V and North America on 110V.  We took a plug-in adaptor with us as well as a small power bar.  We found that our phone and computer chargers work on multiple voltages.  This is printed right on them.  Even my camera battery charger worked.

The cords in Thailand have 2 round pegs and no grounding plugs, however the slot plugs from home would fit into the outlets which had an extra slot for the third peg. They often had to propped up to stay since the plugs had to be inserted sideways, and they weren’t gripped as tightly as we are used to.  The power bar was useful but we didn’t need the adaptor for our plugs.  I didn’t take any other appliances.  I bought a small blow dryer when I arrived.

Money

Thailand, and most of South-East Asia for that matter, is a cash economy.  We rarely used our credit cards, and if we did there was at least a 3% fee added on.  The ATM worked well for taking money from our Canadian account and giving it to us in Thai Baht.  There was a $7 fee for the withdrawal on that end and a $5 fee from our account at home.  We always took the maximum amount possible to minimize the fees.  Next time we would be sure to have a larger limit for withdrawals.  We also needed American dollars to pay for our visas in other countries.  It would probably be cheaper to take some of that currency with us.

We paid our rent with a global e transfer from our bank to the hotel account.  This had a smaller fee than 2 withdrawals would have and worked easily.

Packing

Air China allows 2 free checked bags of 23 kg on their international flights.  When we came, we brought 2 large rolling duffel bags, 1 smaller duffel bag and Pete’s golf clubs.  I had a 40L daypack for my camera/computer equipment and Pete had a similar daypack for carry on as well as his guitar.  We also used the daypacks as luggage for our trip to Laos.

Daypack and hat went everywhere

To return, we were doing well with only buying a few small items for gifts and had decided to replace the smaller duffel with a larger pack from the market.  Luckily we sent the golf clubs and few other items home with our daughter, Melissa, in March before we went to Nepal.  The “made in Nepal” outdoor gear was too tempting.  In the end we brought home our 2 big duffel bags and 2 large North Face waterproof bags full of outdoor clothing that will be great additions to our truck camping supplies.

Things We Left Behind-maybe for next year?!

Thank you for all your interest in our travels.  I will share a few more pictures and shorter stories now that we are home and have time to look through them before we head off on whatever comes next.  I appreciated being welcomed back to church last Sunday with, “We thought you were in Nepal!” since that is where my last post referred to.  It let’s me know people were following us closely.  We never felt lonely on this trip.  Let me know if I can help if you decide to just go to see the world.

 

Pokhara, Nepal…Some views are good, and others not so much

Road to Pokhara

We had 10 days in Nepal and after 4 days in Kathmandu, we decided to take several people’s advice and go to Pokhara.  It’s a city about 200 km to the west.  I was told it was pristine and tranquil.  There is a big lake and the International Mountain Museum to visit.  After the noise, pollution and energy of Kathmandu, it sounded like a perfect trip.

Our hotel, the Tibet Peace Inn, organized it all for us.  We decided to book a car and driver so we could see some of the countryside.  He would also be available to take us to all the sites once we got there.  His hotel costs would be covered by us, but it would be less expensive than flying there.  In all it cost us about $300 for the transportation for 3 days.

At home, 200 km would take about 2 hours on a calm, organized highway.  In the mountains, it might take 3 hours with traffic.  Our trip to Pokhara took 6 hours with a half hour lunch stop!  The road travelled down into the valley and then mostly curved along the agricultural land and through small villages.  Where mud or rocks slid onto the toad, they were left and traffic just had to go around.

Hundreds of buses and large, brightly decorated trucks all tried to pass each other on every curve.  The honking was constant, but along with flashing light signals, everyone seemed to know how to make it through.  I was going to say safely, but there were many close calls.  I stopped watching.  Our driver knew the road and didn’t drive as aggressively as he could have.

Nepalese Villages

The villages obviously did not expect to have that much traffic as they built there homes along old trade routes.  Houses were built close to the roads with terraced fields taking up most of the land along the valley floor and up the sides.  There were a few suspension bridges that crossed the river to allow access to more homes up on the slopes.  There didn’t appear to be any roads on the other side so most people would have to walk up and down steep slopes to get to their homes.

Water standpipes were in front of about every 6th house.  Women gathered here to wash clothes and children.  Men played games of chance on tables with cards or throwing coins at a target.  Families sat in the shade outside small shops.  Children kicked tattered soccer balls around. Farmers were already planting rice in the fields using cattle to pull a plow.  We saw one mechanical plow in our travels in Nepal.

We went to Pokhara on a Thursday and saw many children waiting with their parents for the school bus to pick them up.  Their traditional British uniforms seemed so out of place in these tiny, dusty villages.  Most of the women here dress in pants and Indian tunics in beautiful colours.  They really contrasted against the mostly blues and greys of the children’s clothing.  These bright sweaters were unusual.

school uniforms

Pokhara

Our arrival in Pokhara was quite disappointing.  It was cloudy and smoggy.  It is a large city (250 000) but the tourist area of Lakeside was admittedly tranquil, but certainly not pristine.  We checked into the Family Home Hotel which had been booked by our hotel in Kathmandu.  The room was large and even had a balcony to sit on and watch the goings-on of the community.  The hotels in Nepal advertise 24 hour hot water and we would agree that this shower had the best heat and pressure of any in Asia.  At breakfast the manager told us to ask for anything we wanted because we were to feel like we were at home.  From our experience, they “get” customer service here.

We walked by the lake.  I had my second surprise to see a scrum of photographers on the shore snapping pics of a woman standing in one of the boats, dressed in a lovely saree.  There was a fog machine nearby trying to create a misty scene.  I don’t know the story, but I took a picture too.  While Peter was waiting, he met a family from India who were visiting.  After a short conversation, they wanted to take our picture with their little girl.  As India is close to Nepal, there were mostly Indians and Caucasians in Pokhara.  We didn’t see many Asian visitors.

Sunrise

Our driver picked us up at 5 am and drove us to the top of a sunrise lookout.  People were waiting to be hired to show us the best place to stand.  We declined. As I was the first there, I had to choose the best place to set up my tripod.  The spot was great, but was difficult to protect once all the tour vans and buses began to arrive.  We did meet a very nice man from South Korea who was well-travelled and showed us some of his incredible mountain pictures.

The hills were still shrouded in mist and a few clouds had formed.  The sunrise looked nice and you could see several terraced fields.  Suddenly the top of a mountain appeared, way above the surrounding hills.  It had snow on the top and was barely pink in the sunrise.  This was Annapurna.  This is why people come to Pokhara.  It is the starting point of the Annapurna Circuit, a trek up the mountain.  Now I knew what all the excitement was about.  The tip of Fishtail Mountain also appeared for a few moments.  The smog and clouds soon covered all the spectacular views and left us with just hills.

Pokhara Sites

We spent the rest of the day touring the area.  We saw the White Pagoda on another viewpoint.  It was built by a Japanese Buddhist who wanted there to be 100  of these built around the world to honor the birth of Buddha in Nepal.  It was begun in 1974, but when it reached 35 feet high it was torn down by the government of the time but was finally completed in 1998.  The 4 Buddhas face the cardinal directions and were donated by countries like Thailand and Sri Lanka.  If you are not sure the expectations at a temple, look for signs.  They will usually tell you.  There was a great little coffee shop with views on the way down.

In the town itself is Devi’s Falls.  It is the dry season, and you have to pay to get in to see the falls.  There are fences and walkways all around this area that is a little bigger than our back yard.  However, there is only on spot you can actually see the falls so it was a little underwhelming.

Devi’s Falls

Across the street is Gupteshwor Mahadev cave.  These were much better.  The river from the falls flows under the street and runs through a cave.  You enter through a newly (as in the cement was still being shaped) renovated entrance, past a shrine, and down many steps to see a waterfall entering the cave.  There is an opening in the rock behind the water so it was quite beautiful.

International Mountain Museum

After lunch we visited the International Mountain Museum.  It is a large, modern building.  We saw photographs and statistics on all the important mountains and when they had been climbed, including quotes from those who were the first to ascend to the peak.  There were profiles on some of the most prolific climbers and samples of some of the gear used in the past.  Descriptions of the culture of the tribes of the mountains were displayed.  Pictures comparing the glaciers in the mountains from 50 years ago to know show that the climate is changing.

Toni Hagen

There was also a display  of photographs taken by Toni Hagen in the 1950’s.  He was a Swiss geologist who came to Nepal with the United Nations to survey and map the area.  His pictures show Pokhara and the mountains at a time when there were no roads to this area. Supplies were delivered by a DC-3 plane in those days.  There is an interesting documentary about his time in Nepal that would be easier to watch with English subtitles, but the pictures and views are still worth seeing.

Neighborhood Happenings

After breakfast, we watched the neighbors across the street remove a tin addition to their small house and begin digging the dirt out from that area.  When we returned in the afternoon, the dirt had all been bagged and replaced with large stones and smaller rocks and bricks as a foundation.  A load of large cement blocks had been delivered and was waiting on the street.

The workers were resting, but 2 men on bicycles arrived.  They bagged up all the metal pieces and loaded them onto the bikes.  Even the tin walls and roof were balanced onto the bike using good knowledge of levers and balance.  They pushed the loaded bikes away from the site.

Sunrise #2

After being led astray by Google Maps to the wrong, but okay restaurant we planned on an early night.  A big lightning storm passed north of town for a couple of hours.  The sound of the thunder echoing around the peaks was more evidence that big mountains really do exist in this area.  We hoped some rain might clear the skies for another try at sunrise, although I worried for some friends who were trekking on the mountain at the time.

At 5 am the stars and moon were bright overhead so we were optimistic.  While the sunrise was quite lovely, and the tall peaks did appear in their entirety, the smog quickly swallowed them up so there was not much left for us to than return to Kathmandu.  Our friends who were on the mountain in the storm had arrived at their guest house early in the afternoon and got to watch the storm.  They arrived in Pokhara 3 days after we left and thought it was the beautiful place. Click the link to see what they saw. Pokhara Images.

Nepal…to visit or not to visit?

Visit to Nepal

Before getting ready to head back to Canada we took a last holiday from our holiday.  We decided on Nepal for a few reasons

  1. Peter had wanted to go there for 40 years.
  2. It was much less expensive to fly to Kathmandu from Thailand than from Canada
  3. We needed to leave the country one more time before our visa expired
  4. Tourism is down in Nepal since the earthquakes 3 years ago. We wanted our tourism dollars to help make a difference.
  5. We thought it would be a good place to escape the burning season of bad air in Chiang Mai.

Four of the five reasons were good reasons.  The last one proved false as the air in Nepal is even more polluted than when we left Thailand.  Fortunately, we had bought Vogmasks to filter out the most dangerous particles and wore them most of the time we were away.

Reasons to visit

  1. The people of this country are happy and kind. They work very hard to make a living. Even before the earthquake though, 1/3 of the economy is from local efforts, 1/3 comes from money sent home by those who leave to make a living, and 1/3 is from tourism.
  2. There is a wonderful energy here. I am glad we had time in Thailand to have some experience with city living or this might have overwhelmed us.
  3. Our hotel, The Tibet Peace Inn, was very good value at about $35/night. They could not have been more helpful.  They picked us up at the airport, provided a hot breakfast for $3 a day and arranged our itinerary for the time we were there.  The manager booked our flight and driver for our trip to fly by Everest. He also booked a driver and hotel for our trip to Pokhara for 2 nights and even let us leave some of our things in our room in Kathmandu when we were gone.  And not only that, but they had the best hot, high-pressured shower we have had since we left Canada.
  4. You can hire a private guide and driver for a whole day of touring the villages near the city for about $80.  We had a great day with Ranjan Mishra, our guide.
  5. You can buy any knock off clothing gear that you want, all made in Nepal. I got a mid-weight down jacket for $20 and waterproof duffel bags for our camping gear for $35.
  6. We stayed in the Thamel area. It is the tourist area and has lots of restaurants serving food from every country, including Nepal.  Local beer is also cheap.  $4 for 620 ml.
  7. The country is primarily Hindu with many Buddhist and some Muslim. They have a strong influence from India which we could see in the women’s dress.  Having heard many Hindu stories at Angkor Wat was a big help to understanding the culture here.
  8. There is a very strong sense of community here. Children hold hands as they walk to school.  They play in the streets with whatever they can find. People smile and welcome you.  Parents play with their children and laugh with them.  I saw lots of dads carrying their children around

Reasons you might not want to visit

  1. Air quality. It is not only very dusty, but the skies register over 150 ppm of 2.5 micron particles which is above the dangerous level.
  2. Traffic-There is too much traffic for the roads. There are no traffic lights at all in the Kathmandu valley.  Many streets are not paved due to mismanagement or because of the earthquake.  These roads are full of holes.  If a mudslide occurs in the mountains, the traffic must drive around it.  The unpaved roads also result in lots of the dust.
  3. There are many people who walk here, especially compared to Thailand although are almost no sidewalks in our neighborhood.  40% of traffic fatalities are pedestrians.
  4. There is not a central government that knows how to help its citizens. Although building techniques must be adhered to when rebuilding homes after the earthquake, money that was promised has not arrived.  They dig up roads to add someone to a water line, but don’t replace the road.  There are power poles that are half a meter into the road because roads people and and power peope don’t work together.
  5. Local people we talked to feel that too much of the country’s money goes to corrupt officials. If you want a certificate stating you are a trained plumber, you can just buy one.
  6. It is hard to see so many poor people living in tents and shelters. Children say to visitors, “Give me a chocolate.”  Many  people in the smaller villages share a community water well or spigot.
  7. Garbage is often dumped into the river or pushed down a hill or piled up in a yard. Infrastructure is very limited
  8. Public school is only free up to grade 5. The children look great in their uniforms of skirts or pants and sweaters with ties, but their education is very much like ours was in the 50’s.  Punishment for creativity and very much rote learning with workbooks of homework.

Hope for Nepal

We met a couple of locals who want a better future for Nepal.  Our guide wanted to share what he loved about his land, but wants a government that is accountable to the people.

Our driver lived in a village that was mostly destroyed.  He left his brother behind to look after their old father and moved to Kathmandu with his and his brother’s children so they could continue to go to school.

A young man running a nightly movie on the upper level of an Irish pub, Cinema under the moon, has many ideas for Nepal.  He wants a trades school that is accountable to the employers that the students will have needed skills.  He wants to use the hydroelectric power available in Nepal for electric cars and has read up on Elon Musk’s Tesla battery.  Depak lets tourists message him on Facebook if they feel they are being taken advantage of by anyone in Kathmandu.

These thinkers make me feel positive.  They also get me thinking much more about, “What should I be doing?  What is my role as a citizen of the world?  We are here for a few more days.  I will continue to ponder my responsibility as we see and learn more about Nepal.

I will include some more pictures of the devastation and rebuilding from the earthquake in a travel subheading in the next couple of days , as well as some photos from our flight by Everest. Check back.