Movie night

August 20, 2007

Asiemut DVD cover Last night my friends Gary, Lida and Dima came over to show us some movies they brought back from the Rhode Island Film Festival (where their film Happily Ever After won first place in the experimental category).

One of the movies they brought was Asiemut, a film by and about a Canadian couple riding their bikes 8,000 Kilometers from Mongolia to India. It was a great job for a first film and I enjoyed it enormously. It brought back many memories from our own trip and made me want to travel again. It also made me want to make a film. If you get a chance to see it an upcoming film festival, try and make it. Or you can buy their DVD online.

It’s hard to be hard

November 14, 2006

Man living under a staircase in Kathmandu, NepalI am sitting on the roof top patio, above the trash and hassle of the Kathmandu streets. The constant honking below was still audible enough to make sure I didn’t think I was in the Italian hill country, but the normally abrasive staccato was softened to a mere city soundtrack.

Now, I’m walking out of Dolce Vita, a charming Italian restaurant and pizzeria in the heart of Thamel, the tourist center of the city. I have just enjoyed a lovely dinner of an insalta mista — all vegetables soaked for 30 minutes in an iodine solution, a thin crust Margarita Pizza and a Diet Coke with Arabic writing on the can priced at three times that of a regular Coke. The Diet Coke is expensive because it has to imported, since locals only spend money on beverages that provide nutrients and calories.

A sad looking mother of no more than twenty approaches me, and I see a flash of an tiny empty baby bottle. It is not the first time I have seen a tired looking woman in brightly colored, but dirty clothing, with a baby on her back. I know what’s coming, so I look past her to the busy street of rickshaws, touts and tourists as if I were seeing it for the first time. I keep walking, pretending not to hear her call of “Milk, for my baby. Baby milk.”

My guidebook has warned me that I’ll be taken to a special store where I’ll pay double the normal cost for milk. After I leave the milk will be returned to the store and the money divided between the “mother” and the store owner. A former peace corp volunteer who has lived in the city for a number of years tells me that the many women who practice this trade are employees of a local syndicate which provides new babies every three months.

I stride into the night as her calls are covered by the traffic. I feel smart and savvy. I wasn’t taken. But, then just as quickly as I passed the woman in the street, my feeling passes. I feel hard, like I have been taught to see right through undesirables. Even though I know I avoided a scam no local would fall for, I don’t like feeling smart for looking right past poverty. Is it worse to be taken, or too well trained not to be?

Land Cruiser vs Elephant

November 13, 2006

Elephant ATVWe spent a pleasant pair of days in Chitwan National Forest in Nepal where I saw my first live Rhinos. While Chitwan can’t compare with Africa, it was nice to get away from the constant honking and trash of Kathmandu. We also tried wildlife viewing from the “comfort” of an elephant. Previously I have always used a Land Cruiser. In case you should ever need to elect between the two I thought I’d offer a chart for easy comparison.

Elephant Land Cruiser
Speed With passengers generally 10 MPH or less. Comfortable up to 60 MPH or faster depending on the age of the car.
Comfort My arms and shoulders were sore for days afterwards. Excellent unless you get the middle seat in the back, but even then no bruising.
Handling An elephant is the clear winner in mud and high water, but if your ride is feeling playful you may get a quick shower. Despite what you may have seen on TV, these are not really designed for deep mud or water. Even with a snorkel attachment it is like comparing junior varsity to the NBA. See my previous post: Stick in the mud.
Fuel / Emissions Zero emissions, runs on eco-friendly bio mass and constantly tops itself off as you travel. Unleaded or diesel requires refuelling every 250 miles.
Lifetime Up to 50 years of service with little degradation in quality of service. At best a lifetime of 35 years and there in decreased reliability and comfort after the first 15 years.
Cool Factor Have you ever seen an Indian groom arrive atop a Toyota? I think not. Even when pimped out, this is a high function low style ride.
Notes Best for approaching rhinos and hippos even in water, but lousy for taking photos due to the rocking motion. Easier to handle without extensive training and much more stable as a photographic base.

Getting Carried Away

October 21, 2006

We have been taking it easy in Nepal, enjoying the delights of Kathmandu. While it has not been as visually stunning as Lhasa, Kathmandu is different and interesting. There is much more Indian influence than Chinese. The very crowded and chaotic streets teem with taxis, rickshaws, bikes, motorcycles, vendors and pedestrians. One thing that stands out is the amazing array of large things people are carrying on their heads. Of course all over the world people carry things on their heads, but the frequency and variety of items here is quite impressive. Here are a few samples…

Stepping in deep Kathmandu-du

October 16, 2006

Trucks blocking the road in NepalThe long and winding road trip details will follow after I get some sleep, but here is a quick summary of today.

After five days of riding in a Land Cruiser sandwiched between visits to monastaries and Everest base camp, we woke up 50 feet from the Chinese border this morning. We spent three hours clearing Chinese immigration, getting across the 10km of no-man’s land between it and the Nepali border, and finally through Nepali immigration. By then we were we were ready to grab a ride into Kathmandu and relax.

But, what should have been a cheap, easy 4 hour cab ride from the Tibet / Nepal border turned in to an NINE+ hour ordeal involving a pick up truck trip of 7 km, some walking past 50 heavy trucks blocking the road, another pickup truck ride of 30 km to Barhabise, walking past another roadblock, taking a bus 5 km to another town to avoid yet another roadblock, hiring a third pickup that dumped us 35 km from Kathmandu, where we caught a crowded local bus in to the city. There we finally caught a cab to our hotel.

Here is a story from the The Himalayan Times that I would certainly have ignored on any day other than today:

Transport Enterprenuers Disrupt Traffic on Arniko Highway

THT Online
Sindhupalchowk, October 16

Transport enterprenuers of Sindhupalchowk today organised a Chakkajam on Araniko Highway against extortions.
According to the organisers, they were compelled to halt traffic on the road after spate of donation sprees. According to them there has been an increase in donation demands from Maoists and other local youth groups.24
“Nepal Transport Free Workers’ Union, Araniko Route, Truck Unit Committee called strike on the Highway as forceful donation collection activities increased on the Highway,” said Arjun Sapkota, chairman of the Committee adding that the concerned authorities should act immediately to end extortions and intimidation.
Following the Chakkajam, business transaction at Tatopani custom office was affected. Transport workers obstructed the highway placing vehicles on different road sections at Barhabise, Khadichaur, Dolalghat, among other places, locals said. Workers also accused the youths of Miteri Youth Club, Liping of intimidating Bhakta Bahadur Gurung, driver of a cargo container van on Sunday, said Sapkota.