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8 months in review….

8 months in review.....

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i heart mountains

I dream of mountains the way some people dream of new shoes. I covet them. I know their names, the ranges that span countries. I watch movies about them. Read of climbers. I want to know them intimately. Walk in their valleys, cross high passes, summit mountain tops.

For as long as I can remember, the himalayas and the Andes, and more specifically, patagonia, have been etched into my dreams. whispering:  I want, I want, I want….

My core, my soul, ached to see these mountains. I remember moments while trekking in Nepal almost giggling, giddy because I was finally there. I was doing it. I was fulfilling the dream.

And so, here I am, in southern Patagonia about to head out for a trek. And then some climbing and then more treks. In the Andes. Where I have dreamed of being.

And I’ve discovered that realizing the dream does not necessarily mean that I have fulfilled the dream. The Himalayas beckon. They call out to me still – in some ways louder than before. I imagine it will be the same here. I can’t wait to find out!

Namaste Nepal

From mountains to lakes to the jungle – Nepal seems to have it all.  What an amazing country.  I found the people, for the most part, kind and helpful.  They wanted to help – and not just to, you know, ‘help’.  For instance, one morning, while running, I saw a guy hit a dog on his motorcycle — down he went and skidded down the road (the dog ran away).  People ran from all over to help him pick up his bike and his shoe and move to the side of the road to make sure he was ok.

Yes, I solicited stares a lot of the time – but I think that happens anywhere where you are different (amazing to think what a homogenous country it is – especially as compared to the US) and when you travel in a place where women have, for the most part, a very specific role.  And the stares seemed more curious than mean or harsh.

Kathmandu is big and dusty and dirty and polluted, but people helped out when I needed directions – or smiled when I smiled at them.  Children seemed well cared for and I loved seeing them with their parents – both mom and dad seem to have lots of love for them!

But, that is not to say that it is a Shangri-La.  The day before I left, there were police in riot gear everywhere and then that evening there seemed to be a street fight breaking out near where Lisa and I bought our veggies (and right near where Katherine and I stayed when we first arrived in Kathmandu).  There definitely seemed to be an undertone of something more – perhaps as it is a country that is just coming out of civil unrest and still does not have a constitution?

But all told, it was a great two months and I would for sure go back — there are still so many places to climb and trek and areas that were unexplored!  Thanks Nepal — what a great way to start my journey!

Rhinos, Tigers and Elephants, oh my!

Chitwan is a large national park that creates a large part of the southern border between India and Nepal.  It is well known for its inhabitants – tigers, rhinos, elephants and the Tharu people – who amazingly enough have a natural resistance to malaria.

Since I was headed by land to India anyway – I thought this would be a pretty exciting – since I have never seen (in the wild) a rhino, tiger or elephant.  I left Kathmandu on a morning bus full of Germans and Nepalis.  Our ride was going well until a car, trying to pass a truck, side-swiped our bus.  All I heard was swerving tires, felt our bus jerk to the left and then screeching of brakes.  Nobody was hurt – though we ended up being on the side of the road for an extra hour or so.  For a seemingly remote section of the road – it was amazing how many people showed up to say their part and stand around the car and the bus.  The police showed up, paperwork was filled out and eventually we were on our way.  I was able to follow the progress as I befriended my seat-mate — a young Nepali woman headed to Bangalore where she goes to school for physical therapy.  We exchanged email addresses and promised to be friends on facebook!  🙂

Eventually we reached Sauraha, the town outside of the park entrance.  There are all sorts of fancy places in the park where you can stay for multi-day packages, but that didn’t quite fit into my $30/day budget (by a long shot….).  The place I ended up staying at was just outside of town and was opened by one of Nepal’s leading ornithologists.  The courtyard was full of plants and gardens and had a few hammocks — really quite lovely.  I was in the budget room, but it was pretty nice (as compared to the two places I have stayed since there!  who knew I had it so good…)

The first day I was there, they sold me on my package – an elephant safari ride and a canoe with a jungle walk back.  The price was a bit of a splurge for me, but staying with my friend in Kathmandu, I was able to save money – so I am still within budget (for all you yankee spendthrifts out there — you know who you are!  🙂  And they provided a free walk the first day – which was to go look through the community forest (that surrounds the park) for a short walk and then see some of the govenment elephants and learn some facts (for instance, did you know that elephants only sweat through their toes?  and that Asian elephants age by turning white on their ears and nose?).  We also saw a rhino chillin’ in the water — which was pretty damn cool.

half submerged rhino

The next morning, we went out for the canoe.  It was short – but pretty cool to be out on the water.  The canoe is carved out of one sal tree that is manuevered with a mix of poling and paddeling.  We saw a bunch of submerged crocodiles – and then – a big one out of the water sunning himself!  WHOA!  it was pretty awesome!  and a bit scary.  Next to it, there was one in the water that the guide said was even bigger – and I think that they were all a little frightened because they all reached for their sticks!

We also saw a bunch of birds — couldn’t tell you what they all were but egrets, storks, kingfishers, peacocks, etc.  I couldn’t understand the guide fully and then when they are birds you don’t know….  yeah, not so much.

Then we started the jungle walk – which frankly wasn’t all that exciting. The most exciting part was the guide telling me about the dangers – i.e. if we see a rhino, you should run but if we see a tiger, we should just pray, and as for the sloth bear – well, not much you can do because they can run, climb, etc. and they don’t like humans’ faces.

It was more of a sal forest, which was cool enough, but not very jungle-y (as one would imagine it to be).  We didn’t see too many animals up close – but in the distance we saw spotted deer (I didn’t have the heart to tell him about how many deer we have at home), monkeys in the tree.  And cool enough – we saw a tiger print and signs from where a sloth tiger had climbed up to a bee’s nest.

my guide carries a big stick to, you know, beat back the tigers

really cool bugs found all throughout the forest

tiger print (to the right of his hand)

As for the elephant walk….  well, it was interesting.  There were 9 of us going out at the same time.  The elephant platform can handle 4 – so I got an elephant to myself.  which was cool b/c it was super quiet.  If anyone ever tells you that riding an elephant is fun, tell them they are wrong!  No, it is pretty cool but definitely not comfortable!  We ended up seeing 3 rhinos – including a mama and her baby, which was very cool!!  I couldn’t get over how cool the rhinos were.  I know this sounds stupid, but they look just like they do in pictures!  (and before you laugh at me, let me say this — they are such strange looking animals that you almost expect the pictures to be caricatures…. but they aren’t!!!)   The elephant rides are cool b/c you can get up closer to animals (they are not as freaked out by the elephant as they would be if you were on foot).

the elephant i was going to ride. damn, they are big

the other two groups — now imagine that platform with just me!

The ride was for about an hour and a half and took me through the grasslands (which is pretty awesome – though being taken over by an invasive) and then into the forest — where I saw some hanging orchids which was really cool!  Right before the ride ended, something must have scared the elephant (the guy said monkey, i think?) and the elephant started to run!  I had a brief image of the elephant stampeding through the village with me hanging on, just, for dear life!  Fortunately, the handler got it calm in a manner of seconds!

going across the river


trying to take a picture of myself while riding an elephant is difficult!

mama and baby rhino (not a great shot….)

The next morning before I had to leave I went for a great run near the river – through Tharu huts as people prepared for their day and passed a bunch of elephants and their handlers (so now I know, I run faster than an elephant saunters along.  Good to know).

And that was that — it was time to leave Nepal and head out to big ol’ India and start that adventure!  Who knew it was such a calm before the storm?!  (ok – anyone who has been to india knew!)


As I mentioned (in my Pokhara post), it is Tihar, the festival of lights and the Nepali new year.  Tihar, also known as Diwali, is one of the most important Hindu holidays, second only to Dasain (here in Nepal) — which was celebrated in October (remember the slaughters while trekking?  yeah, that was Dasain).  This festival starts with honoring crows (they are messengers of death), dogs (they guide souls in death), cows and then siblings.

My last night in Pokhara was beautiful — with colorful mandalas made in front of all the stores and restaurants.  As the sun set, candles were placed out front, lights were strung up on all store, bar and restaurnat fronts accompnaied by garlands of marigolds.  Kids were making their way from place to place chanting and singing.

Mandalas and the pathway for Lakshmi

The first night is when the girls are suppose to go around singing, chanting and dancing – though in Pokhara I saw both — girls going to store fronts and doing traditional dances.  But the strangest was in the middle of the street – a large group had gathered.  There was a Nepali/Hindi ballad playing and a guy, dressed in a Michael Jackson-esque style, was dancing, in a Michael Jackson-esque way.  It didn’t quite fit in…

The lights, music, chanting and singing went late into the night – groups of kids visiting every household – getting a bit of a handout at each place.

On the trip back to Kathmandu, we could tell people were getting ready for the big Deepawali (festival of lights) as there were slaughters of water buffalo, flowers out in front of their houses, paths from the mandala into the house (so Lakshmi – goddess of wealth – can know which way to go) and lights being strung up in front of the houses.  Then, back in Kathmandu – most of the store fronts were closed – but the side streets were PACKED with people buying items from street vendors.  It is kind of like the day before Christmas and all the last minute purchases!

On the Bhai Tika day, the 5th day of Tihar, siblings meet and place tikas on one another and there is a big meal with families.  We joined Lisa’s family for this — we all got a multicolored tika and sat down for a delicious meal with lots of sweets (I could not tell you what most of the food was – but there was dal and rice and curried veg and fried fish and chicken and lots of other dishes as part of it.  the sweets were a mix of Nepali and Indian sweets — all delicious – many of the fried items I have seen on the street and have wanted to try, but haven’t!).

Just like thanksgiving, the aunties were there trying to get me to eat more food!  Everyone sits around and eats a lot of food, then some more and then everyone sits around in a food coma.  Just like thanksgiving!  It was great!

Here is the Tika process:

all the ‘ingredients’ for the tikas

the grandmaster of tikas

applying the tika

the last stage – giving food and water

final tika product


Pokhara, southwest of Kathmandu, is the gateway to the Annapurna region. Katherine and I flew through here on our way back from our Annpurna trek. We flew from Jomsom to Pokhara, landed, got a taxi and then hopped on a bus — we were out of the city within 45 minutes, if that! So, needless to say, we did not see the city.

But, I had wanted to come back — everyone said it was beautiful and a great place – and I had the time, so I figured I would come on over. I took a tourist bus to get here — VERY different from the buses Katherine and I took! It was comfortable and not overflowing (most of the buses K and I took were not quite as comfortable and overflowing, including passengers up top, and we were the only foreigners on them!) and we stopped at nice rest stops (not that there was a problem with the places the other buses stopped at– they were just a bit more local).

On the way, I had a great clear view of the Annapurna range (you know, as opposed to how it was when we were actually trekking!)

View of some of the Annapurna Range

I had a great, but expensive guesthouse the first night here in Pokhara (set up through the guesthouse in KTM that i got my bus ticket through). It was really nice to stay in a place that was super clean and had wi-fi (so great to skype with two friends!) but the next day I downgraded myself (gotta keep that 30$/day budget going — which, incidentally, has not been happening at all here in Pokhara….). The new guesthouse…. well, let’s just say that it is different from the first one. Did I mention that I downgraded myself?

Pokhara’s mainstrip is called Lakeside, aptly named since it runs along lake Phewa Tal. It is full of restaurants, tourist/souvenir shops, bars, cafes. The first morning I went for a great run along the lakeside — solicited a lot of stares — but it was fun to be out running when people weren’t trying to get me to buy pashmina scarves (nice as they are) or trying to get me to buy fruit or just plain begging. following the run, I had a leisurely breakfast in view of the lake with the tops of the mountains peaking out above the ridge to the north of town – I sat in the sun reading my book and journaling for a few hours.

Pokhara on the lake

the rest of the day was spent…. well, not sure. I think that there was more coffee time in there and reading time and lots of food time. it was a really really chill day. Even though there are so many restaurants in town, they all basically have the same menu – pizza, dal bhat, momos, lasagna, enchiladas, hummus. I spent awhile the second night looking around for a place to eat — wasn’t sure what i wanted — but I looked at a dozen or so menus before I realized they were all about the same…

The next day, I decided to walk up to the Peace Pagoda and then walk around the lake. The Peace Pagoda is on the south side of the lake – up high, overlooking the scene. I had read that you could walk up there — so consulting my map every once in a while (as slyly as I could — as when I pull out my map – it seems to attract people from all around to ask me, in order, “how are you? where are you from? where are you going?” and sometimes followed by “would you like some nice jewelery?”.

But, I found the bridge near the dam and crossed over — but then my troubles started. Two guys immediately were in the path – telling me I had to go one way, but I thought I had to go the other…. maybe I should have just trusted them, but that was right after I saw a sign about thefts on the way up and that people should always travel in a group and/or with a guide. Neither of which I had.

So, I ignored those two men (they were probably like – ‘whatever, lady, go get lost’) and wandered along the path — which was pretty cool – set up high above rice paddies. But then a young man of 14 (can’t remember his name) asked me the three questions (see above) and when he heard I was going to the Peace Pagoda – he told me I was going the wrong way and that he would show me the way. I decided to trust him (though I did wonder if he was in cahoots with the other two men) and he lead me up into the woods – I did ask if he was for sure taking me to the peace pagoda – i had a moment of being nervous! But he assured me this was the way. I asked him questions about school and his plans for when he is done (his favorite subject is math; he plans to join the army). He walked super fast and took up further up the ridge until we got to a larger path — there he told me to just keep following it. He of course asked for a tip. No such thing as free help around here.

I followed this path for a ways, climbing further and further up. It was a bit unnerving at times — I was definitely alone up there! And then all of a sudden…. there wasn’t really a path anymore… I mean, there were paths, faint ones that looked like cow paths, but no real path. I didn’t have a lot of options – so I tried a few of them, pushing on — through cobwebs and scrambling through overgrown trees. I definitely felt grateful that Nepal does not have a plethora of poisonous plants, animals, snakes, spiders – especially spiders since I walked through a lot of spider webs. (and if there are poisonous spiders here — just don’t tell me, ok?) Then, I came out on a path! But which way to go? I tried down — that wasn’t right, so I tried up — which was correct. I ran into a family, dad was wearing a red sox hat — and they assured me I was almost at the pagoda (I must have been a sight — all sweaty from climbing uphill and a little scratched up and messy from scrambling through the woods, cobwebs hanging off of me).

Th peace pagoda was beautiful — and if the clouds hadn’t been built up on the mountains, it would have been an amazing view — even still, we could see some of the mountains here and there – Annapurna I, II, III and IV and Machhapuchhare.

Peace pagoda

I didn’t stay long – as I was hoping to walk around the lake and the book said it would take all day — so down I went. Like a lot of trails in Nepal, this one was not straight forward…. I made many wrong turns, went up hills only to go back down, asked kids and grandmas and buffalo herders about where I was going – to sometimes get a response I understood and other times…. (like when I had 3 small children all yelling at me and each pointing at the three different possible paths – and as I left on the one I thought was right, i heard “No, Didi!” [Didi means sister in Nepali and it is what women are called until they are called grandmothers] and more screaming – only to turn around and have each of them pointing again in different directions).

a house along the way

At one point, when I thought I was close – I came to a dead-end at a house (and I am not sure if it was a dead-end but the dog barking at me made it a dead-end for me!) and so I went back down to what I hoped would be a path — but no, that dead-ended into the water…. so the only option was to retrace my steps and climb up the hill I was trying to avoid (did I mention that it was super hot and humid here?!) So, as I stood at the water’s edge, contemplating my options (wait, there weren’t really any options at that point!) a kid who was across the small inlet came over in his canoe – asking the typical questions. However, I did not like his response very much as he said there was no way to get around – and instead he would take me across in his boat for 500 Rs. Um, no thanks – I’ll keep following my map (though, there was a part of me that was tempted….)

I came to what I thought was the final village – and saw my path across. At the west end of the lake, it becomes more of a river and there are rice paddies everywhere. So, I started down the path – rice fields on either side. It was pretty awesome being out there. And I was pretty excited to be heading back and to be done with being lost (I could see where I had run to the other day – so I knew where I was sort of). But, all of a sudden, my path t-boned with the river. Of course — becuase as I had seen all along, there is a river there. Right….. and no bridge.


path through the rice fields
where is the bridge?!

There was a path heading up towards where I wanted to go — so I followed that, hoping at each turn for a bridge. But, no show…. I was starting to get nervous – had even checked out the river for how deep it was (could I swim across holding my bag above my head?). But then, I came around another corner – and there was a couple who was coming across on a little pontoon boat with a rope on either side! I just about cheered! I asked if I could use it and they signaled, go ahead — so I hopped on and started to pull myself across.

my rescue raft!

My co-captain was a dog with a marigold chain of flowers around his neck. (it is Tihar, a Hindu festival, and on the second day of Tihar, dogs are honored.) He stayed on for the ride and then chilled on the boat as i left.

me trying to get the dog to pose with me

dog with tika and garland

From there it was an easy (albeit long) walk back to Pokhara and my guesthouse. I was definitely ready to be done by the time I got there!!!

That was my biggest adventure in Pokhara. I didn’t take part in some of the other options available to tourists – like paragliding and rafting and the trip in a taxi up to a look-out on Sarangkot as Pokhara is definitely more expensive than other places I have been! I spent a lot of time walking the strip, people watching, reading my book and contemplating this year and what i am doing – including having a moment thinking – WTF am i doing?! but mostly it was a good few days of relaxing lakeside.

sun setting on the lake
alpen glow on the annapurnas


Quick Check-in

hey everyone!

sorry i have been so out of touch — quick trip to Pokhara and then back to Kathmandu. Now it is Tihar festival (same as Dawali in India) — so, much is shut-down for the festivities! I promise to tell you all about it.

Life is good — starting to move towards the transition to traveling to India — crazy that in 6 weeks I will leave this region of the world… where has the time gone?

But — just wanted to let you all know that I am alive and well.

much love — aurora


Yesterday, I visited Bhaktapur, a medieval city outside of Kathmandu.  It is a beautiful old city surrounded by rice fields with 3 main squares.  There were lots of narrow cobblestone streets to wander through, finding small statues and temples along the way.

I got a ride there with one of my friend’s co-workers – who dropped me off and told me to head straight to the gate (you have to pay $15 to enter — which is pretty steep — but the main part of the city is protected and they do  maintain/restore the buildings with the fee). I wandered in among red-brick houses until i reached a square–over a cup of milk tea, I was able to figure out where I was. From that point, I ambled for close to 3 hours — following a walking tour suggested by lonely planet which provided me with a great overview of the old city.

As I mentioned, there are three main squares — each with great sculptures and temples.  But wandering the alleyways and back streets, where I rarely saw another tourist, was a real treat.  I wandered into one temple courtyard – which was being used by a spinner, a wood-whittler who was making miniature rocking horses, and several women winnowing rice (shaking the rice out onto tarps – i don’t know what winnowing means exactly).  An old man who was sitting in the shade invited me to have a seat, which I did — glad to be out of the sun.  I sat there for twenty minutes or so, sharing the silence and observing the quiet action.

From there, I wandered on  — in another spot near the river, I found a couple working with the rice — he was hitting the rice stalks and she was spreading the rice out onto the tarps.  He invited me to help winnow the rice (I think) and so I tried — doing it all wrong, she corrected me — but then told me that there were bugs (or something itchy in there) and so I might not want to.  Or so…. I think, maybe she told me.  Damn, wish i could communicate!

winnowing rice

rice fields

I had lunch in a former temple — the view of the Nyatapola temple made up for the high prices and the so-so food.  But it was fun to sit and people watch.  A woman from the Ukraine shared my table with me — she and her husband are in Nepal (Kathmandu and Bakhtapur) for 3 days and then onto Bhutan for 4 days — she told me that would be enough time to see Bhutan. (?!)

But all of these temples and such are great….  but what Bhaktapur is _really_ known for is it’s CURD!  (translation for many of you:  yogurt!)  You might be thinking – whatever — how good is yogurt, really?  Well, let me tell you — it is AMAZING!  I stopped in one place to have a bowl — and it was good.  it was really good.  But, then I read in the book that you should get it on the street at one of the hole-in-the-wall places — so I did.  I got another bowl of curd (for half the price as the other one) in a little earthenware bowl (sorry – no picture of this one!) and ate that bowl up too.  It really is so rich and creamy and almost sweet and kind of tart and really, just amazing.  i  wish i could have that every day for breakfast… and for dessert!

And then, it was time to go home…  it was my first time figuring out transportation all by myself on this trip!!  Katherine had always been with me the other times (on this trip) to figure out transportation.  So, taking a deep breath and reading (and rereading) my guidebook and studying the map, off I went in search of the bus station.  Following several sets of directions which I half understood “just go straight and then wait harpumph…”.  Finally, many people questioned later — I found it!  Or at least, the buddy on the bus (each bus driver has a buddy — a guy who collects the money and rides in the doorway and shouts indistinguishable words that might mean cities or… something) told me it was.  So off we went.  Fortunately, I recognized a lot of the journey – so at least I knew I was headed in the right direction!  I wasn’t sure where to get off — so I kept waiting for buddy to give me the signal.  I thought to myself that this is great practice in trust – in truly believing in people’s best intentions – and that they will look out for me.

We arrived in a bustling bus yard – taxis, buses, people, bikes, motos, carts with fruits and veggies, trash, stray dogs. Buddy gave me a  vague point to Patan and off I wandered.  I asked someone for the zoo (which is a great landmark since there is only one!) – but here in Nepal, you need to be judicious about who you ask for directions — as people will respond, even if they don’t know, as they do not want to be rude.

Heading down the street – I gradually started to recognize where I was and was able to arrive ‘home’.  And how great that was — to come back to a space that feels comfortable and warm and safe.  I realize how much I like having a home – a place to come back to.  Which, of course, begs the question — why would i give up my home for this year of travel?  Or what makes a home for me?  I suppose that answer is something I need to discover about myself this year.

To finish off, here are some little glimpses of my past days:

  • Roof top yoga, sun salutations with the rising sun
  • Three sheep and a lamb running down the street near my friend’s house (she lives in the city which begs the question – where did they come from?!)
  • early morning runs – seeing people playing badminton, basketball and out walking and running; kids heading to school, women preparing for their days.

I think that I am going to go to Jazzmandu tomorrow night — and then probably go to Pokhara next week for a visit (I was going to work on a farm but the timing is off for it to be really meaningful as I would only be there about 3 days there with transportation time and all…) and then Lisa and I will do something next weekend — so it looks like I will be making a move out of Nepal around the first of the month (probably head to Chitwan to see some elephants and maybe rhinos and tigers (!!!) and then down to Varanasi, India from there).  Part of me wants to just stay here – I love catching up with an old friend and spending time together – but it is hard to believe that it will be November soon!  Time to push myself and head into India – I know part of my reluctance has to do with heading out on my own and fear in the unknown.  I guess all the more reason to push myself into it!

Hope that you are all well!  I love hearing from you!

Take care — love  – aurora

some trekking pictures

Everest Base Camp

Lunch (most days) – p.b. and honey on a chapati


Trying to survive a 14 hour snowstorm

Climbing up Cho La

view from our guesthouse in gokyo


The beautiful Cho Oyu (over 8000m!)

The beautiful Gokyo valley (on our way down to Namche)

These pictures are thanks to Katherine (as my camera battery died early in our trek) – thanks K!!!

Life  continues to be good here in Kathmandu — from early morning runs to Korean donut shops with wifi to $5 massages to making plans (not ready to make them concrete….)

take care friends — much love — aurora


A day in the life….

here are some snippets from my life the past few days…..

sweet ride…..

me with the cheesy grin – up where our prayer flags are going

I feel tremendously lucky that YT has taken me in and sharing her space with me.  It is wonderful to be with an old friend and to be learning about her world here (after getting emails over the past 15 years!)  It also is giving me the space to figure out what comes next and recharge for adventuring on my own for the next two+ months.

Hope everyone is well — i miss the fall and apples and leaves and all of the rest of new england falls.

Much love — aurora