The madness of the Indian highways is left behind in Nepal and you can breathe. Not because the drivers are better, but there are just way fewer people on the roads. They don’t have the crazy population density that India has. It’s a tough call for who are worse drivers, so I’ll call it a tie and they can both share the title for having the biggest death wish. There is one rule of the road to never forget, size matters. The big trucks are number one followed by buses, ambulances, pick-up trucks, regular vehicles, tractors, cows, all the other animals roaming the road, and then the very bottom of the totem pole is put together of motorcycles and bicycles. Pretty much everybody and everything are above two-wheelers. The big trucks and buses will come into your lane to pass somebody even if it means pushing you off the road. They flash their lights at you, which gives the option to get out of their path or be ran over. All the other vehicles are nearly as bad, but not quite as brave. It gets just a bit scary when you throw in people and bicycles strolling down the road right in the middle of your lane, every animal on earth standing or lying in traffic, and 95% of the motorcycles driving semi out of control. There’s one main highway in Nepal that runs east to west through the lowlands. Outside of the cities, you get some nice open roads. I have a strange thing with my ankle now. When someone passes close to me, a truck appears quickly from around a corner, or something startles me, I get an electric shock through it. It feels like when you touch an electric fence, but stronger. The zap shoots through from front to back.
Maybe it’s my brain training me to be a careful driver, like a dog with a shock collar. I tried wearing my boot for the first couple days back on the road, but it led to intense pain. I don’t think the swelling can fit in it now. I’ve been riding with one boot and one flip-flop. I get a lot of really funny looks when I get off the bike and can see the amusement on their faces. One guy said I was half Nepali and half foreigner. I drove for a couple of days through the lowlands on the main east to west highway through the country and stayed in a couple crossroad towns. This time of year it’s really hot, but really pretty. The monsoon season brings the heat, but also the rains which bring everything to life.
In one of the towns my ankle was killing me so bad I went in search of some pain killers. I found out that the pharmacies along the roads in Nepal are mostly run by regular guys who seem to have as much knowledge of medicine as a mechanic. From what I gathered, the government wouldn’t let them have strong painkillers, and the strongest thing I could get was anti-inflamatory. Finally I spotted an old slab of concrete with the word “Hospital” sloppily painted on it. I went to the little pharmacy and a doctor who spoke english appeared. He tried offering me the same crap, but I told him I was in some serious pain. He grabbed a couple small viles of something, gave them to a guy who didn’t appear to even work at the hospital, and sent me with him to a back room. There were a couple of hospital beds that looked like they were salvaged from World War I. A groggy man lay in one and I was led over to the other. My only concern was making sure he unsealed a new needle. It felt more like an abandoned house where the junkies were hanging out and shooting up.
A shot in the side of the butt and I was good to go. Whatever was in the syringe got me nice and comfortable, but had me amped up all night. I was in some pain during these days, but can’t complain. Throughout the days I see people who actually live a tough life and go about it with a smile on their face. It’s the time of year to get everything planted and all the farmers are hard at work. You won’t see any big machines making easy work of it.
Animal and human strength is all they have, which gets the job done.
A long bridge with big flood gates spans the Koshi River. It’s buzzing with activity as the kids and adults all try and get their piece of the wood pie.
The river flows with debris carried from the mountains and hills. The chunks of wood are what the young kids are after. They use homemade spears with a long rope attached and hang themselves over the edges of the river throwing at every chunk they see.
Some pieces are small, but some are massive and take a couple of people to lift up. It’s a bit nerve-racking watching them skip along carelessly when one slip would mean certain death.
The kids were in charge of the spearing and loved showing off for the camera.
As the kids worked tirelessly and made big piles, the adults came through and loaded their hard work onto their bicycle carts. For awhile after the bridge there were massive piles of the wood along the roads and in front of people’s homes. I’m not sure what it’s all used for.
No workplace would be complete in Nepal without an ice cream man and observers.
The towns along the way buzz with activity. Mechanics work on all the broken down bikes.
The restaurants feed.
Fresh fruit sold.
Ladies gossiping and fires burning.
The characters come to life.
Sunsets over dirty streets filled with people on the move.
And puppies 🙂
Sometimes I like to find a nice shady spot under a tree to pull over and relax into some peacefulness. It’s usually pretty hard to do though because I attract a crowd. The adults just come up with the same few questions and stand there staring at me, which can get old. I always enjoy when the kids come over though. They’re always so sweet and intrigued. I let this little crew write their names on my motorcycle, and then one came back with a water bottle for me.
I started my way up into the hills towards the Kathmandu Valley from the town of Bardibas. The road corkscrews, climbs, and skirts sheer drop offs. I got caught in some heavy rain in the morning and ended up hunkered down under a little shack for an hour.
When the clouds cracked open and I was able to continue climbing, I made it into beautiful lush valleys.
The road has been completely rebuilt and is like brand new. The best part is it’s virtually empty apart from the random bus coming out of nowhere like a bat out of hell. It’s a fun road to ride on a motorcycle. A few spots get the adrenaline going when you look down at a thousand foot drop right next to you.
Through the hills I crossed paths with a lot of interesting locals. Some of the older people had so many stories etched in their old wrinkly faces. I wish I could communicate with them. At one roadside stall was the perfect row of generations. A young kid full of coolness, a guy approaching middle age settled into work and family life, a wacky older man with character bursting out of his ears, and a traditionally dressed elderly woman who had lost virtually all her vision. I love hanging out for a bit in these random situation while they study my every move and try to make sense of me. The confusion and amusement about my one sandal was evident.
The older guys are my favorite. They never speak a word of english, but insist on talking away in Nepali. Maybe they don’t comprehend that I don’t speak there language or maybe they just don’t care. Whatever it is they’re trying to tell me, I wish I understood. It’s always told with big goofy smiles and lots of laughter. Their smile lines dig deep crevices. I had one guy offer me their Hindu hat, but I couldn’t take it.
Once up into the hills, the route followed a large river along the ridges climbing up and down wherever the landscape allowed a road to fit in.
Some of the shapes and contours were beautiful. I don’t know what it is about a road like this, but the curvatures of the man-made road around nature is a gorgeous contrast for my eyes.
Crops were growing everywhere in any nook and cranny that they could fit one into. Much of it corn. Terraces of rice paddies filled the hillsides. It’s the time of year for the young rice to be planted and all the young girls are hard at work. They’re covered in mud from head to toe because of the hard work and also having mud fights. It looked like little kids having a snowball fight. With the mid day heat beating down, I wanted to jump in. The girls are scared of me enough as it is from fifty feet away, I wouldn’t want to give them panic attacks.
After a long day of weaving my way up towards the Kathmandu Valley, I began making my way into the madness. Goodbye nice open roads, hello insanity. The beautiful countryside gives way to a concrete jungle.
At least there were friendly locals to greet me.
The day had flown by and I found myself getting into the city at dusk. I didn’t find myself a place to stay until the sun had completely disappeared. I’d survived the day on a bag of chips and piece of some cookies. I pulled into the hostel and a group of guys was sitting around a table outside. The welcome whiskey and vodka flowed my way and on an empty stomach it hit me hard. I ended up having a bowl of cucumbers and tomatoes, but the night got away from me quick before I could even unpack. I woke up in the morning with the same nasty foul clothes from the day before stuck to me in a warm humid room. Welcome to Kathmandu. I hadn’t even planned on going to Kathmandu until I realized I could get my Chinese visa at the embassy there instead of going all the way to New Delhi and dealing with that madness. Also, my leg was killing me and some rest and a doctor visit sounded like a good idea. For some reason I decided to try doing these things on my birthday. I hate making any kind of big deal about my birthday and would rather nobody even know, but there’s something about wanting it to be a nice day. It’s engrained in us that our birthday should be an easy day of pleasure and void of all the stresses in life.
First I spent a couple of hours at the Chinese Embassy getting my application turned in. Half of it was spent outside the gate waiting for it to open almost an hour late. Nepal is like India, lines don’t exist. You better be pushy and hold your ground or you’ll be the last one in. The fiercest ones are the middle-aged ladies. The cut to the front like they own the place. Luckily I had the invitation letters from the tour company I’m crossing China with, so the application process was pretty smooth. Three days later and $143 poorer, I had a Chinese visa in my passport. Most other countries are around thirty dollars for a tourist visa, but the U.S. pays $140. China is another country that charges on a reciprocal level. We charge them a lot so they return the favor.
After the embassy I navigated my way over to a private hospital, B&B Hospital, that I found online and seemed to have good orthopedic doctors. Little did I know, the rest of my day would be spent there. The place felt more like a business trying to churn out a profit than look after it’s patients. Before I could see a doctor I had to go to the payment window, which would become a familiar place, and pay for it. For a Nepali, the charge is $10, but for a foreigner they charged me $40. This would also become a theme, which I found out later is illegal in Nepal and I should have called them out on it. A woman led me upstairs and an orthopedic surgeon came out from some double doors looking like he just finished a surgery. After barely looking my ankle over, he started filling my little booklet out and giving me a do to list. Every question I tried to ask was ignored and when I tried to explain the history of it he seemed uninterested. I was instructed to get an x-ray, blood-work, and an ultra-sound of the ankle. Going around the hospital to get these things done might have been more of an adventure than riding around the world. Each thing had to be paid for separately before they would do it, and of course at a jacked up foreigner rate. Waiting at the counter was always exciting as you had people coming from everywhere to take your spot. Sometimes I wondered if I was invisible for them, but I knew that wasn’t true because of everyone else staring at me.
Finally I had to put a stop to the madness and hold my own. When ladies would step in front of me, I would politely tap them on the shoulder and point to the back of the line with a stern face. It worked overtime and the look on their faces was priceless. They would shuffle their way behind me without a word. The lady behind me, while waiting to get blood taken, was cracking up each time I did it. The ultra-sound was pretty strange. Whatever he was seeing on that screen, I definitely couldn’t see. The only thing I was sure of was no heartbeat. Sorry mom, no grandkids for you. All the results were ready for me at around five and I tracked down the doctor. He looked over everything and said there appeared to be some infection under the skin below my scar, but nothing serious and just in the tissue. The good news was the bone appeared to be fully healed. He told to take two to three weeks rest and then come back for physical therapy once the pain is gone. I nodded my head in agreement, but knew I’d be taking more like two to three days off and would never see a therapist at their crook hospital. The best thing I got out of the doctor was a recommendation to go to a place named Orthpedica, which has compression socks. I’ve never used one and was skeptical about how much it could actually help. I wish I would have gotten some a long time ago. My biggest problem was the swelling. My foot and ankle was getting huge throughout the day. The compression keeps the swelling stay down, eases the pain, and helps circulation. When I pulled up, a friendly man came out excited to help he. The little office is filled with face arms and legs. We sat and had a really nice chat while he figured out which size was best for me. Such a nice guy and he even emailed me later to check how I was doing.
I didn’t get back to the hostel until six and was drained. It was a pretty useless thirty-second birthday. The guys were acting strange and told me I needed to go look on my bed. Their faces were full of something and I couldn’t tell what. I didn’t know what to expect, but many things ran through my head. A baby goat, new colorful sheets on my bed, chocolate fountain, new karaoke machine, vodka filled watermelon, new motorcycle, the entire collection of Encyclopedia Britannica, strippers, vodka filled strippers, or a barber? Sitting perched against my pillow was a dozen roses from Tara.
Somehow she’d gotten in contact with a florist and had them delivered to my bed-step. First time I’ve ever been given flowers. The guys wanted me to hurry out for something else. She had also managed to get ahold of the hostel and send them money to buy me a cake.
Without her asking, they also made a couple key chains for me. After a long day, it was an awesome surprise and lifted the spirits. Being on the go all day, the only thing I’d managed to eat was some fried rice so once again I went into the night on an empty belly. On the way home I’d picked up a bottle of whiskey to share and cheer the mood. Dinner became half a birthday cake and lots of whiskey.
Everyone else enjoyed some of the delicious cake and sent lots of love to Tara.
It was one of the nicest things someones managed to do for my birthday when I’m on the other side of the world. I learned one thing, when your stomach has nothing but cake and booze in it, it feels like the best time to drunk Skype and FaceTime people when you can barely see the screen.