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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

MO MO'S AND BEER

The power was suppose to go out at 5 PM. Naturally, it went out at 4 PM. I am typing this by candle light with two small candles stuck to the table. It is a bit... medieval. It looks like a little alter to the great computer gods. Maybe it is...



GETTING OUT OF INDIA

I managed to get a tuk tuk near the railway station for 100 RS, a price which had the driver muttering to himself the whole trip. When you get that sort of price you know you are good at negotiating and they are desperate. The operator at my final destination, "Paul Travel" was quick to let people know that 500 RS and 1000 RS notes are not only illegal in Nepal but they can be confiscated by the authorities. By remarkable coincidence, he also had a thriving exchange where you would get the moderately painful rate of 56 RS = 1 USD. He had plenty of USD's because that is the only thing accepted for the Nepal visa. Naturally, it was Sunday the day before and all of the banks had been closed. The bus would have left well before they opened. Fortunately, I had gotten a lot of my 500's changed into 100's the couple days before. I should have done more but didn't.

On the notes - if you are going from India to Nepal then back to India, just keep the 500 and 1000 notes. Yes, it is illegal. Yes, you should have been more clever and gotten them changed to 100's. But if you didn't, just tuck them deep away so you don't pull a dumbass move and try to spend them somewhere. Despite what the money exchangers are quick to tell you, the cops don't strip search you looking for these illegal notes. In fact, they didn't even ask. And no, the money exchangers are always mysteriously out of 100 IRS notes - no percentage in it.

I waited until the other tourists left, pulled out a wad of Indian Rupees and began to negotiate the exchange rate. Don't get me wrong, I still got fucked. I just got a little lube. Again, everything is negotiable.

When I purchased the ticket from the nice lady, I asked what kind of bus it was and had been told it is a 'nice bus'. Remember, when you are paying for your bus ticket, the only thing you can be absolutely certain of is that you are paying for your bus ticket. Everything else holds as much water as US campaign promises. The bus itself was filthy, the seats didn't recline at all and contrary to what we had been told, of course they stopped to pick up other passengers aside from the tourists. I figured they would - that is their 'gravy'.

You could almost take a zombie flick and replace the zombies with beggars in the way that they assaulted the bus. Even the guys who loaded the luggage tried to get in on the act claiming a "10 rupees luggage charge". I just gave him the level look and said "There is no luggage charge" in the same tone of voice you would say "There is no spoon". He decided to go sucker someone else. It's a way to distinguish the gullible. Personally, it is not that they are trying to shake me down for less than a quarter - in India everyone is constantly trying to shake you down. It wears you out after awhile and you give into irritability.

Rupees given to beggars during my two months in India, zero.

After an extremely painful all day ride, we reached the area close to the border. The 'ass mat' blanket I'd bought is a happy thing for me.

Once the bus stopped, we were assaulted by tuk tuk drivers wanting to drive us across the border. Since I'd done my research, I told them to bugger off. I know that it is only a hundred or so meters to cross the border. Nobody who knew the actual distance would ever pay for it - especially not the large rates they were trying to get. Feed off of the tourists.

The people from the bus company tried very hard to channel me into their predetermined path. Get off the bus. See our money changer. Go to our hotel. I told him 'thank you'.

At last, he got very frustrated and said "You keep saying thank you!" I thanked him again, smiled, nodded and wandered off. Fortunately, he had other tourists he could herd around rather than chase me down the street.

I took care of everything myself. I ended up seeing an 'official' money ex changer. I don't know if he was really 'official' or not - there seem to be a lot of them - but I did get a better rate changing the last of my 100 RS notes into NRS (Nepal Rupees) than the bus company guy was giving.

The bus had only been paid to the border unlike the poor bastards who didn't do their research ahead of time and paid way too much to go all the way to Kathmandu on that bus.

I went through customs ignoring the pleas of the bus people. Sometimes, claiming to be a travel writer has a downside. I had written that on the form without really thinking about it. In other countries, I'd put things like 'circus freak'. If they asked me about it, I would say that I use to be a circus fat man but lost too much weight. Or I was the thin man and developed a taste for fried food. Or I was a ballerina. Or a shaved bear. Possibly fatigue made me put down 'travel writer'. When I checked in to see if they were done with my passport, the guy looked up and said in a coy sort of voice, "So...you are the travel writer?"

Well, shit.

Now, I have to do a bit of backtracking. Tell them I do not work for Lonely Planet. It is just a blog. I also played the gushing "Oh, I'm just so excited to be here" role with as much aplomb as I could muster being that tired. I don't think it would have won me an Emmy.

Travel writers often need extra documentation and paperwork. I'm not sure if it ended up helping or not. They gave me a three month multiple entry visa. The three months I had been expecting and paid for - the multiple entries were unexpected. For those who aren't familiar with visas, multiple entries mean you can go in and come out within the time allotted on this visa. In SE Asia it means something different. There it means your visa resets for the amount of time you'd gotten it for initially each time you go in and come out. Not in India or Nepal.

I went and found a place to get a beer (175 NRS) and some noodles (125 NRS). I really wanted to have a beer since I'd gotten out of India. I tried the 'Kathmandu' brand. It had a distinctive taste. Unfortunately, not in a good way.

The hotel room I ended up sleeping in was about as shitty of room as I'd ever seen. Dead bugs on the floor, no toilet flush handle, no toilet seat, suspicious sheets - the works. But it was dirt cheap (300 NRS) and within sight of the bus ticket office.

Feeling damned gritty after a twelve hour bus ride, I asked the manager if I could get a bucket of hot water. Apparently, bucket showers had not been left behind in India. Sad. He began to ponder if he wanted to get a bucket of hot water sent up to the room. I changed his frame immediately and said "How much rupees for a bucket of hot water?" This got him thinking in a whole new way. The question no longer was 'do I want to get this pussy a bucket of hot water', it became 'how much can I make off of this foolish tourist?'. He said 50 NRS and on general principle I bargained him down to 30 NRS. Yes, it's not really 'fair' to go for people's weak spot (money).

For anyone who has never had a bucket shower before, the bucket is large enough to hold three soccer balls or so and you need half a bucket to make it work. Get a full bucket, you have extra. Add some cold water till it gets to the appropriate temperature. I think it's a miserable way to take a shower but it gets you clean.

When I was emerging naked from the bathroom, the power cut out.

Ah ha! Blog material! First thought. Second thought was a mention of the importance of carrying flashlights. The power came back on while I was rummaging in my carry bag for one. Figures.

Local sources said the bus ticket to Kathmandu should be 300-500 NRS - significantly cheaper than the 500 IRS (Indian Rupees - 1 is 1.6 NRS) the other tourists paid for their ongoing tickets. Research pays. My ticket ended up costing 470 NRS. So, I saved a little but not a huge amount. Some people would argue that convenience is worth it. This way is if you wanted to leave up to three hours earlier. And the bus I ended up on, same comfort level but all Nepal folks and the bus was still only half full.

Buses leave from the border between 4 AM and 7:30 AM, every half hour. Who knows why it doesn't leave any later. Possibly the drivers aren't quite insane enough to go over the mountain passes in the dark - but I wouldn't put it past them...



BUS TO NEPAL

After some irritating dealing with the bus driver and ticket seller, we were off to Kathmandu. There were two 'yellers' in the bus for some reason.

We made a couple unscheduled stops. One was to get the bus blessed by a priest and the other was so that the driver (and Logan) could pee into nature. There were no women on board to be jealous of our ability to do so.

The bus made several other mysterious stops. I couldn't figure out why we stopped. There were no mechanical failures, new passengers or commerce of any sort going on. We simply would stop for awhile then go again.

As we drove through Nepal, I was shocked at how clean it was even in very busy populated areas. It's not the population, it's the mentality of the people.

The Nepalese people seen thus far seem good-natured and a bit shy around foreigners.

Nepal itself is a lot like I've always imagined South America to look. Brown natives, mountains, dry dusty towns, hideous looking buildings and nice nature. Since I've never been to South America that is all conjecture.



BUS DRIVER OF DOOM

When someone passed him or was in front of him, he took it as a personal affront. By Nepalese standards, he seemed 'extremely aggressive'. The other passengers actually looked very wary and frightened at a few of the maneuvers he did. This is another good reason to sit at the back of the bus. What you don't see coming won't scare you to death. Yes, the impact will crush you to death but hopefully you won't have time to get scared.

To imagine driving here, simply make a checklist of everything you would never consider doing on very narrow, steep mountain roads with hairpin and switchback turns in heavy traffic. Now, do all of them. Blind passing uphill around a corner? No hesitation. Play 'chicken' with other vehicles when there is no where to turn off? Regularly.

We passed through a lot of landscape that would normally look pretty but in my mind said only "If the bus driver fucks this up, we are going to roll down this rocky very steep mountain. Anyone who survives that will get to drown in the river."

Doing that sort of driving while being tortured on cheese grater roads for twelve hours is stressful and wearing.

At one stop, they washed the bus. This surprised me because I didn't think these buses ever got washed. They were careful not to wash off the red stuff the priest had lobbed at the windshield as part of the bus blessing.

During the drive (between the screaming) I saw a lot of terrace farming. While terrace farming looks nifty, it screams poverty and hard work to me. It says "My family has been poor for so long that over several generations we've been doing this - and are still poor. We work so hard we had to partially level the crappy soil of a mountain to try to eek out an existence."

Much to everyone's surprise, we arrived in Kathmandu.



KATHMANDU

After some bargaining, I paid 300 NRS for a taxi ride to the Thamel district in Kathmandu. It was a few kilometers away from where the bus dropped me off. The other taxi drivers assured me this is a good rate but I assume everything they say is a lie.

The Thamel district is totally made up of everything Nepalese think tourists want. If you can't find a guesthouse here by just walking in, you are slow of mind. Even slower than Logan - which would mean you can't understand this blog. Hence, I can say that anyone reading this blog is clever enough to find a place to sleep in Thamel. It may not be the right place or right price but there are tons of places here you can crash. You can just do what I did - find some tourists and ask them. A couple of Swiss girls directed me to one nearby.

I ended up at the Chill Out Guesthouse. The girls told me they'd heard other people get a room for 500 NRS so I bargained for that. The rate started at 600 NRS so I thought I could hit that. I did, but then they sprung the VAT and service charge on me so it was back to the bargaining table. Ended up at 550 NRS. Normally, if a place asks for VAT and service charge I just leave. Honestly. It is yet another scam. It means either that you are staying at a place that is posh and you can afford to pay an extra 25% or you are not staying at somewhere posh and they are just trying to rip you off another few rupees. The better places just include all of that shit in their price. Believe me, I do when I write about their prices.

Speaking of prices, going from 1 IRS = .02 (50 IRS = 1 USD) to 78 NRS = 1 USD SUCKS. I got spoiled. It's not like everything is the same price and you just have more money. Oh, no. They jacked the prices on everything so you end up spending a lot of time trying to figure out what you are actually paying.



ALCOHOL

In India, you are not always allowed to go into the store. There are a bunch of bars and the man inside can pass you a bottle of what you want after you give him money. This may be to keep religious types from smashing up their stock. Or theft. Probably religious fanatics. In Nepal, everyone sells booze. This is strange to me because I don't think I can really afford it. Even on my self imposed limit, I have a lot more access to money than many of the natives. I wonder "How can they afford this shit?"



WHAT THE HELL IS A 'MO MO'?

A mo mo is suppose to be this famous Nepalese food. I went and ordered some from a place that assured me 'they were good'. Pot-stickers, people. That's all they are. They were reasonable tasting but if you know what a 'pot-sticker' is, you've had it. Instead of soy sauce, they give you a sauce made from ginger, garlic and tomato. Decent but not 'oh my god, this is a unique food'. Nope.



POWER OUTAGES

Tim Van Theemsche will especially like this. For those who don't recognize it immediately, these are in military times. If you don't get the 24 hour clock, sad for you. Take a look at these times:

SUN 9-15, 19-24; MON 8-14, 17-24; TUE 5-13, 18-24; WED 4-11, 15-22; THU 3-10, 14-20; FRI 3-9, 13-19; SAT 10-17, 20-24.

Note, these times are gospel. By that I mean that everyone has times which are a little different and they bicker over them.

These are the *scheduled* power outages for Kathmandu. They don't include the unscheduled ones. This is pretty rough. I think Americans would freak out if they had to endure any of these sorts of shenanigans. I feel myself wanting to freak out. I thought they had it rough in Rajasthan when they would turn off the power for two hours every day. Turns out they were in the lap of luxury.

The reason this is of special interest to Tim V.T. - by great irony, these are the times when his internet also goes out. He has 'hick internet' and he hates it very much. I'm just happy he hasn't gone on a 'spree'. Yelling things like "Head shot" and "multi-kill" would be a real downer for worker morale at 'hick internet'. I'm not saying it isn't fully deserved, mind you...

During the rainy season in Nepal when they have more water flowing, they do not have these power outages. More water equals more power. More water also equals more water for TJ to drown the employees of 'hick internet' in - so it has it's downside...

Due to these ongoing power outages, you find a lot of places with generators, solar water heaters and so on. Also, during the rainy season when they have more water hence hydrodynamic power no outages.



GODDESS ALERT

Apparently, there is a living goddess here in Kathmandu. She's currently in the form of a little girl but is presented daily for people to see and hopefully photograph. I don't know exactly where she lives and who she is but who knows, I might go pay a visit. Apparently she is found in much the same way as the Dali Lama. When the old incarnation dies, they find a kid born at about the same time, do various tests and there you go.



BEER

This is the only publication that talks about goddesses, women's roles and beer all in the same publication.

Thus far, I've tried three different beers. In order from best to 'what the hell was that' they are: Tuborg (The Borg always win), Carlsberg and Kathmandu (brand).



TRAVELER'S TIPS

Always carry $100 or more in USD. Not EUR, not BPS - always USD. Everyone takes it and sometimes only that. Besides, if you are on the euro, getting a hundred is not expensive. I also recommend a full breakdown - $10, $20x2, $50x1. More takes up too much space, different breakdowns are less useful. All $10's is fine if you don't mind carrying more bills but that breakdown is handy. This is at a minimum. If you say 'but I'm on the euro and everyone takes euros', Nepal doesn't for their visa. There could be other countries as well. This is just your 'emergency cash'.


In most countries, your best bet is to simply ignore the buses and go to the official ticket window and get a ticket. In Nepal, find out what everyone is charging, when they leave and what their bus looks like. Then, go to the ticket window and see what they have to offer.


Negotiating with a cab. [Deep regrets if I've said this before but I still don't have a competent editor. Note that if I get one and he leaves that statement in, it says something.] Find out how much the fare should be from locals. It is actually less - they tend to exaggerate. Round down if you want or accept that or more if you want a cab right now. Business card to where you wish to go in one hand, money you wish to spend in the other. I pulled this off without speaking a couple different times.



TRAVELER'S LORE

I met up with two nice Hungarians named Attila and Ancsa. They told me two funny acronyms:

INDIA:
I
Never
Do
It
Again

NEPAL:
Never
Ending
Peace
And
Love



NEPAL WEIRDNESS

The people of Nepal are short. This makes life painful in many ways for tall or possibly average height people. Knock out doorways, feet sticking off of the edge of the bed, etc. There are bathrooms you won't be able to stand upright in. For men attempting to pee - or getting up after other activities in the unlit stinky place it'll be painful.


In Kathmandu, a lot of the women wear western clothing rather than robes and such. To me, that always speaks more to equality though I am perhaps conditioned to think this. I haven't learned much about a Nepal woman's lot in life yet but they do seem more approachable than Indian women - especially the Muslim ones. We'll see as I meet more.



COSTS (don't you wish other travel literature gave you this kind of breakdown?)

Before I came to Nepal, people had told me 'It's cheaper than India. After all, you get 1.6 NRS to 1 IRS. Yes, however you get a big stack of Vietnamese Dong to 1 IRS and Vietnam is decidedly more expensive. Hopefully, after I figure out a good place to go out of the tourist area the prices will get cheaper. Right now, they aren't. In fact, a bit more pricey than some parts of India.

Ticket from India border to Kathmandu, 470 NRS

Bus stop Snickers bar, 60 NRS

Bus stop can of pineapple juice, 60 NRS

Cheese burger at restaurant Gaia. Bit disappointing. Burgers should not have cucumber on them - ever. Sadly, America still has the best burgers in the world despite our strange motivation to put bacon on everything - even on top of other bacon. Gaia burger, 330 NRS.

One liter of 'Real' fruit juice. Note, 'real' may be the brand name, 155 - 175 NRS

'Axe' brand deodorant, 150 ml, 225 NRS. I recommend the Axe brand not for the smell or whether it works or not but merely for the twist top of the can - works very well under stress in a backpack.

Cheap Swiss Army Knife, 400 NRS

Shower (body) wash, 200 NRS

Nepal cigarettes, 115 NRS. This is for Surya cigarettes. Decent, nothing special. Cambodia is still the place for cheap smokes and booze.

Booze 700-1000 NRS. This is for either a small bottle of imported stuff or a big bottle of cheap (and possibly evil chemical treated) local stuff.


Some hotel and guest house prices from my research around the area. Note that if the place didn't have wifi and hot water I wasn't interested in the price. I can do better. Service tax and VAT are in these prices. Some prices have been 'reduced' but not by much

Hotel Holy Himalaya, 15 Euros (20 Euros for a double)
Hotel White Lotus, no wifi
Imperial, 550 NRS + odd smell in room for free
Kathmandu Guest House (fancy place), $8 single common shower, $40 single with shower
Lhasa Guest House, 500 NRS (battery back up for 24 hour wifi, owner friendly)
Mustang Holiday Inn, 1200 NRS
Sacred Valley Inn, 25 USD
Shangri-La Guest House, 700 NRS

Honestly, the people that pay $40 for a single still strike me as 'wtf are you thinking'. You could be getting a much fancier room in a much fancier country for that. Even if this is your 'big vacation'. I've been in expensive rooms and cheap rooms. Many times, you really don't get that much more good stuff out of a nicer room than a cheaper one. My rule of thumb (other than use a stick the size of my thumb) is 200 IRS for a room with no wifi, 400 IRS with wifi. So, multiply by 1.6 for NRS. Under that is even better.

Prices from "Paddy Foley's Irish Pub"
Domestic beers, 340-360 NRS
Imported beers, 300-600 NRS
Shooters and mixed drinks, 350-400 NRS

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PICTURES

{{2011}} London, GB | Rail N Sail | Amsterdam, Netherlands | Prague, Czech Republic | Budapest, Hungary | Sarajevo, Bosnia | Romania | Chisinau, Moldova | Ukraine: Odessa - Sevastopol | Crossed Black Sea by ship | Georgia: Batumi - Tbilisi - Telavi - Sighnaghi - Chabukiani | Turkey: Kars - Lost City of Ani - Goreme - Istanbul | Jordan: Amman - Wadi Rum | Israel | Egypt: Neweiba - Luxor - Karnak - Cairo | Thailand: Bangkok - Pattaya - Chaing Mai - Chaing Rei | Laos: Luang Prabang - Pakse | Cambodia: Phnom Penh | Vietnam: Vung Tau - Saigon aka Ho Chi Minh City

{{2012}} Cambodia: Kampot - Sihanoukville - Siem Reap - Angkor Wat | Thailand: Bangkok | India: Rishikesh - Ajmer - Pushkar - Bundi - Udaipur - Jodhpur - Jasalmer - Bikaner - Jaipur - Agra - Varanasi | Nepal: Kathmandu - Chitwan - Pokhara - Bhaktapur - (Rafting) - Dharan | India: Darjeeling - Calcutta Panaji | Thailand: Bangkok - again - Krabi Town | Malaysia, Malaka | Indonesia: Dumas - Bukittinggi - Kuta - Ubud - 'Full Throttle' - Gili Islands - Senggigi | Cambodia: Siem Reap | Thailand: Trat | Turkey: Istanbul | Georgia: Tbilisi

{{2013}} Latvia: Riga | Germany: Berlin | Spain: Malaga - Grenada | Morocco: Marrakech - Essauira - Casablanca - Chefchawen - Fes | Germany: Frankfurt | Logan's Home Invasion USA: Virginia - Michigan - Indiana - Illinois - Illinois - Colorado | Guatemala: Antigua - San Pedro | Honduras: Copan Ruinas - Utila | Nicaragua: Granada | Colombia: Cartagena | Ecuador: Otavalo - Quito - Banos - Samari (a spa outside of Banos) - Puyo - Mera

{{2014}} Peru: Lima - Nasca - Cusco | Dominican Republic | Ukraine: Odessa | Bulgaria: Varna - Plovdiv | Macedonia: Skopje - Bitola - Ohrid - Struga | Albania: Berat - Sarande | Greece: Athens | Italy: Naples - Pompeii - Salerno | Tunisia: Hammamet 1

{{2015}} Hammamet 2 | South Africa: Johnnesburg | Thailand: Hua Hin - Hat Yai | Malaysia: Georgetown | Thailand: Krabi Town | Indonesia:
Sabang Island | Bulgaria: Plovdiv | Romania: Ploiesti - Targu Mures | Poland: Warsaw | Czech Republic: Prague | Germany: Munich | Netherlands: Groningen | England: Slough | Thailand: Ayutthaya - Khon Kaen - Vang Vieng | Cambodia: Siem Reap

{{2016}} Thailand: Kanchanaburi - Chumphon | Malaysia: Ipoh - Kuala Lumpur - Kuching - Miri | Ukraine: Kiev | Romania: Targu Mures - Barsov | Morocco: Tetouan

{{2017}} Portugal: Faro | USA: Virginia - Michigan - Illinois - Colorado | England: Slough - Lancaster

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