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Monday, March 26, 2012

POKHARA - THE ARRIVAL

NARRATIVE

Although I normally ignore or beat to death touts, sometimes a bus journey is just too taxing for me. When I arrived in Pokhara, I was feeling pretty 'done in'.

Steeping off of the bus, I was immediately surrounded by drivers yelling '150 rupees' for a ride into town. The town isn't all that far away. So then I started yelling back 'do I hear 100?'. They don't really seem to get the concept of 'auction' here. They tried telling me it was a 'fixed rate'. If you hear the term 'fixed rate' in Asia, you can be sure whoever is telling it to you is a big fat liar.

Due to being wildly inept at haggling, most tourists end up going with a fixed rate. "Can we do something about the price?" No, that doesn't ever work. Laughing and saying "Oh hell no - how many people have fallen for that crap?" - better.

So I found a guy that wanted to take me to his hotel and I made him a deal. If I liked and stayed at his hotel, I would pay nothing. If I didn't like it, he would take me somewhere else and I'd pay 100 NRS. Fixed rate my ass.

The hotel he ended up taking me too was pretty decent and at 500 NRS was within my price range. For those too lazy to convert money, that is about $6.50 USD. Naturally, the cab driver wanted to charge me 100 NRS anyway. I just laughed and said "Sorry, we made a deal. Break a deal and face the wheel." And I closed my new room door on him. He went away. Once you make a deal always stick with it - even if it is not a good deal for you. It's integrity.

I was at U&I Guest House for two days. Not a long time but I spent a lot of it looking for better internet. The internet in Nepal really sucks. The average download speed is half of Cambodia's. And yes, Cambodian internet also blows. The room was nice at U&I - kind of homely. Their laundry was over the top expensive but I bargained it way down to a reasonable cost. Their restaurant is massively expensive - about triple the normal price. I don't get that.

While I was looking for a new place to stay I stumbled upon an interesting hotel called "Fishtail Lodge". It is the kind of place you have to get poled or paddled across the lake to get to. Rooms there will set you back about $200 per night. I'm not joking. The outside of it is scenic enough that any man would be proud to take his new bride there on the honeymoon. I didn't bother to go see the rooms. The exterior I would actually call 'stunningly beautiful' and I am not normally given to hyperbole on my hotel descriptions.

So, I began to settle in. I am learning the prices of things. Sometimes when I go into a store the merchant begins to moan 'Nepali prices' in dismay. I don't know if it is actually true but it is gratifying. Personally, I'm happy to be from a country that doesn't charge natives and foreigners different prices for the same crap. That annoys me.

The day after moving to the new place (Pokhara Guesthouse) I got to spend a few hours with the owner trying to figure out what was wrong with his internet. Given that both of us knew jack about computers, it was a frustrating time for everyone. The English of the people at the call center was insufficient for a phone conversation.



HIKING IN POKHARA

Understand that the natural beauty here means big tourism money. Since this is Asia, the natives and government will exploit it. I personally have no interest in hiking but I did meet two very nice people (Erik and Pamela) who needed to go through the process to get their papers for it. I wanted to put down what you need and the costs in case people have an interest in hiking here.

You need four passport photos and your passport. Sure, it is technically illegal to wander around without your passport but a surprising number of people do anyway. Yes, you should always keep a bunch of passport photos on you at all times for border crossings and paperwork but again a surprising number of people don't bother. If you need to buy them, they had three or four places literally a stone's throw away. The photos are a modest 300 NRS for four.

You need a 'trekking permit' for 2000 NRS/person.

You need a TIMS (tracking information management system) card for $20, per person per entry. It is my belief that if you stay in for 1 day or 30 days the cost is the same but I am not certain on this. The only thing I am pretty certain on (aside from you spending $20) is that there is no 'tracking' system. It is just a way to get your $20+.



PIGEON ENGLISH

When you travel to other countries, you can't always phrase things as you would in the USA. English from the USA is much different from the English even spoken in other English speaking countries. I have developed a 'simplified' English for speaking to natives of a non English speaking country. What follows is the way the conversation typically goes vs what I would be able to say to an American.

Nepal native: "How you like Nepal?"
Logan: "I like Nepal. Friendly man. Clean street. Nice people."

What I would rather be able to say:

Nepal native: "How you like Nepal?"
Logan: "It makes my nipples hard to be here!" (Pinching nipples) "They're like little pieces of gravel they're so hard!"

It may be good for everyone that I have to use the pigeon English way instead.



SMOKING

Outside of western Europe and America, it is pretty much a smoker's paradise. You can smoke in lots of different places. When I don't see an ashtray sitting at the table (or other people smoking) I like to ask "May I smoke?" In Nepal, it gets a different answer than I am use to.

Smoke what?

At this point, I pull out my Nepalese cigarettes and watch them relax.

There are a lot of people who think that smoking marijuana, hash and other more exotic things are legal here because many people do them. It's illegal. I don't really want to go see what the inside of the jails are like in Nepal. Hell, many of the guesthouses are 'grim'. Guessing jail is a tad bit worse.



NORMAL CONVERSATION

So I'm chatting with a girl from China who is kind of traveling alone. I say 'kind of' because she's what I call a 'glomer'. She 'gloms on' (attaches herself) to other groups and travels with them for a time then moves on.

She had attached herself to one group and then later discovered a guy in that group had secretly been watching her change clothing. A peeping tom, so to speak.

Logan: "Nobody ever tries to secretly watch me change."
China: "You WANT people to try to watch you change?"
Logan: "It would make me feel sexier than when they scream and run away."



HARD ALCOHOL

For about the same price as a bottle of beer (or a bit less) you can get 375 ml of various hard alcohols including whiskey, rum, gin and so on. Regard these with deep suspicion. As in India, many are chemically 'finished'. Unsavory chemicles are dumped in for whatever reason. Like 'bathtub gin'. Just like that famous drink they can lead to death. That hasn't stopped me from sampling several.Officer's Choice whiskey. If the captain of the plane you are in is drinking this, why shouldn't you be as well? [280 NRS for 375ml.]



PHILOSOPHY

I got called 'pretty patient and easy going' today. Weird. That sent me into a bit of self reflection. How much of the change is internal vs environmental? It is much easier to be 'patient and easy going' when you have the option to change residence or even country if you don't like where you are. But if I was put back into my old situation would I revert to my old ways?



FACTOID

The first time I ever heard of the country of Nepal was here.



AN EXAMPLE OF LOGAN BARGAINING

I was shopping in the grocery store for a liter bottle of Fanta.

Logan: "How much is this? 100?" (I knew it was 110).
Shopkeeper: "No, it is 115."
Logan: "I'll give you 110."
Shopkeeper: "It costs me 110."
Logan: "I don't believe you."
Shopkeeper: "You don't believe me?"
Logan: (Big smile) "No."
Shopkeeper: "OK. 110."

Yes, I bargain over five fucking rupees.



TRAVELER'S TIPS

Outside of five star resorts nobody is going to take your credit card. A better question would be 'do I want to share my credit card information with these people?' Bring cash - period. If you keep it in a wallet in the back pocket of your trousers or some place they don't have to delve inside of your clothing and work at it to get it out, you don't really want to hold on to that cash bad enough.



VIDEOS

Monkey Temple 2
Monkey Temple 3
Mush!
What Happens to Beggars

Quest for Kurtz 1
Quest for Kurtz 2
Quest for Kurtz 3
Pirates Spotted!

Elephant Breeding Center 1
Elephant Breeding Center 2
Nobody Loves Goats (EBC 3)
Elephant Breeding Center 4

Bridge of Moderate Peril

Jeep Safari 1
Jeep Safari 2
Jeep Safari 3
Jeep Safari 4
Jeep Safari 5
Jeep Safari 6
Jeep Safari 7

Croc Farm

Bus to Pokhara 1
Bus to Pokhara 2
Bus to Pokhara 3
Bus to Pokhara 4

Fishtail Lodge

Pokhara Guest House

Walk through Pokhara Riverside

Temple re dedication parade



COSTS

At 'cheap-cheap' restaurant:

Any main, 60 NRS (limited selection but for that price, really - who cares?)
Any main with fries, 100 NRS (filling)
Beer, 250 NRS. Beer prices in this country are friggin weird.


Laundry service if you're not Logan, 100-150 NRS/kilo or worse various amounts depending on the piece. If you are Logan, 50 NRS/kilo.


Map of Pokhara city 300 NRS, bargained down to 100 NRS, lost the next day. Doh.


Food at normal restaurant - generally 300-600 NRS for the meal.

Juice box, small 25 NRS

Small bottle (drink it there) soda, 30 NRS

Scooter rental I have been told is 300 NRS.

Within city buses are 15-20 NRS but if you offer them more they will not correct you.


A list of some guest house prices. Unless otherwise noted, all guesthouses claimed to have wifi and hot water. 24 hour wifi means it is hooked to a battery backup for the frequent scheduled and unscheduled power outages.

Baba Lodge and Restaurant, 500 NRS

Base Camp Resort, $50 (they are hitting the crack pipe pretty hard)

Dharma Inn, 700 NRS.

Green Park, 500 NRS, some buildings have wifi

Gurkha Lodge, $12-$15/night. Looked 'extremely rustic' (ie shitty) - no wifi.

Highland Rest House, 700 NRS. May have to hunt down a worker.

Hotel Bedrock, $10-$20. They claimed to have wifi but it didn't work and they were inflexible on the room rate. Go elsewhere.

Hotel Miracle, 500 NRS, 24 hour wifi (24 hour means it is hooked to the battery backup. You may not have power for your computer but you do get wifi). This one looked OK.

Hotel Nightengale, full when I went there. Rooms 500-1200 NRS. Slow internet.

Hotel Swiss Home, rooms look grim, 560 NRS
Mum's Garden Resort, $50 USD inc breakfast (give me a break, an expensive breakfast is $5 max anywhere). Mum is also on the crack pipe though the garden is pretty for a few seconds.

Kumari Guesthouse, 600 NRS, wifi.

Nanohana Lodge, 660 NRS

Nepal Guesthouse "Tourism is our religion" (but bargaining is not), $10/night, 24 hour wifi

Pokhara Guesthouse, 500 NRS. This is where I ended up staying. See video (above) for what the room looks like. I have (for less than $6.50) a corner room, 24 hour wifi and a balcony with a table on it. Totally nice room. The owner is anxious to please as well.

Santosh Guesthouse, 24 hour wifi, $10/night

Snow Hill Lodge, $10/night, no wifi

Stay Well Guesthouse, 700-800 NRS

Trekkers Lodge, 1100 NRS

The odd thing that I found when checking out all of these rooms is that you don't really get what you pay for. The location of these different places nor the rooms were really that much different. Sometimes, you find a much nicer room for a much cheaper price. It's very strange. Some people spend all of their time trying to research the best place to stay on various websites that rate them. I don't - I am happy to spend a day or two or three looking for the one I want to stay in. But I have the time.

The only time I don't negotiate on the room rate is when I am getting what I consider to be a steal. If the price is rock bottom and the room is wonderful, I just fork over what they ask. Mind you, I may negotiate on other things like laundry, food and such when considering the room.


10% 'service tax'

They don't really understand what it's for. The money goes to the same place that the rest of the bill does - not to the waiters and such. They just discovered stupid tourists pay it without qualm. I don't due to principle. Like everything else, you have to negotiate that before eating and every time. The threat of you walking away gets it struck before you order. I don't recommend trying to get that off after you've eaten. Sometimes they'll also try to slap VAT on there. Again, it doesn't go for what they think it does, it's just another way to get more money out of brain dead tourists. This too can be negotiated away. Usually only the pricier places will try to slap this on there. Between the two, it is usually another 25% onto the bill.

Basic breakfast from restaurant Shikhar, 130 NRS (after negotiating away the 10%). Tasty.


Prices of the kind of stuff people come here to do (note these prices are before negotiation. I can drop them by 10-50%):

Horseback riding, 3 hours - 1600 NRS, 6 hours - 2700 NRS.

Ultralight (very small airplane, illegal in many countries due to danger), half hour - 110 Euros, one hour - 195 Euros.

Para gliding (tandem), half hour - 6600 NRS, hour - 9500 NRS

White water rafting, 35-50 USD/day generally.

Rappelling plus white water rafting, 2 days, $100.

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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 |

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