Since January when I posted this I have preparing to travel to Nepal and Tibet for a photography workshop. I plan on documenting my complete trip on here and you, the reader, can find all of the entries by following this link. The workshop starts in Kathmandu, Nepal and then works it's way north and west into Tibet by vehicle (probably Land Cruisers or other rugged SUV) with a goal to trek clockwise around Mount Kailash for 3-4 days. Then we planned to return to Kathmandu the same way we came. The full details are at Himalayan Workshops in the Kailash 2011 trip.
So when we last left our intrepid hero he was about to board the plane to Kathmandu in Doha, Qatar on April 17th at approximately 1:45am. My flight had been delayed to 2:35am but the boarding process includes taking a bus to the steps entering the plane so it takes a little extra time to board. I was able to get onto an earlier flight to Kathmandu and therefore spare more than 12 hours of waiting around the Doha airport.
I boarded the plane and proceeded to my assigned seat which was a middle seat (arg) against a bulkhead (double arg). I quickly pulled out the entertainment gear that I needed to stay sane; iPhone, iPod, and earbuds and placed my bag in the overhead compartment. Shortly thereafter an attractive woman came and sat in the aisle seat next to me. Things were looking up. We exchanged pleasantries and she let me know that she was an off-duty flight attendant heading home to Kathmandu. She then asked if I would mind moving over so that her friend (I believe another flight attendant) could come take my seat. I didn't mind at all but I didn't know if the window seat was already assigned. It was but her friend worked out the logistics with the guy that should have been in the window seat. Anyway, I got the window seat which I typically prefer and I was next to two attractive women. Anyway, they pretty much chatted with each other until the plane took off and then promptly fell asleep but not before letting me know that I could wake them if I needed to get out.
The flight was delayed again when we were on the tarmac until about 3am. This still means that I was leaving about 12 hours before my scheduled departure time. So I was really ahead of the game. The flight was pretty uneventful. I was able to watch the last 15 minutes or so of True Grit although it was a pain in the neck to fast forward through the entire movie to get to that point. I also watched Solaris with George Clooney which I thought I hadn't seen before but I definitely had. I still watched it through its entirety. I was then able to get a little sleep or maybe it was just a semi-conscious state similar to sleep.
We were given a meal that was almost identical to the one I had for "dinner" on my previous flight. I really have no clue when we got that meal. Anyway, I do recall the pilot coming on after we crossed into Nepal stating that we couldn't land due to weather conditions and/or traffic and that we would have to circle for a bit. Then 20 minutes later he came on again stating that we would have to land somewhere else like India. I think this was the harbinger for my day. Luckily, within about 5 minutes the pilot came on and said we were landing with no explanation. I would like to think he just said "Damn the consequences, I'm putting this bird down!" but I'm pretty sure it was more civil than that.
There was a little turbulence during final approach but it seemed rather mild. We landed at Kathmandu Airport and when I was able I collected my backpack and various electronic devices and deplaned. Again we went down the mobile stairs to an awaiting bus that drove us a whole 100 yards to the international arrival terminal. The time must have been something 11:30am.
After getting off the bus I shuffled down a hallway or three with a throng of other passengers until we came to the Passport Control/Customs room. I had to fill out two documents the first being an arrival slip and the second being a entrance visa application. Jon Miller had given me a heads up on a conversation (either on skype or email) we had that I would probably need extra passport photos and $40 in order to enter Nepal. So with my forms filled out, the picture ready, the money ready, and my passport handy I got to wait in line for 45 minutes to an hour until my turn. While I waited I noticed many of the other foreigners (in the same line) scrambling to get the necessary items. There was a man with a picture booth who was willing to create passport photos for you at a "good price". I should have asked what the actual price was. There was also a money exchange booth where many people exchanged their native currency into Nepal Rupees even though the signs above the Visa Application staff stated that they only took foreign currency and preferred US Dollars. Something interesting and yet annoying was that the money exchanger staff would ring a desk bell anytime they did not have someone currently exchanging money. For the longest time I couldn't tell where the ringing was coming from but I had the time and somewhat the attention span needed to solve that mystery. Anyway, when I got to the Visa application staff I handed everything over and they definitely had a system of taking money. I don't believe they asked me any questions. One guy took my money and handed me a receipt and the second guy looked over the application and stamped/signed everything.
After receiving my passport back I proceeded to the baggage claim. I looked high and low for my bag but it was nowhere to be found. I purposely bought a purple bag so that it would stand out and be easy to find. I started to get worried that it wasn't there. I asked someone that looked like they worked there and they said that all of the bags from my flight were piled off to the side. Even though I had looked through this pile I looked again to no avail. This person then pointed me to the "complaints" desk. This desk was manned by two Nepali guys who both looked like they were in high school. The first guy, apparently the superior, immediately passed me off to the other guy. This second guy looked like a really young Nepali Mr. Magoo. From now on I'll refer to him as Mr. Magoo because I didn't catch his name and he didn't have any sort of name badge.
His English skills were worse than his eyesight and with my anxiety over losing my bag it wasn't helpful that I couldn't describe the word "duffel" to a man who should know what a duffel bag is. At least he understood "purple" or at least he didn't let on that he didn't understand that word. He brought me over to a chart showing pictures of luggage so that I could point one out that matched. There were probably 30 different shapes/types of luggage but nothing looked like a duffel. Maybe it was my lack of sleep or too much stress but I just could not pick one that looked even remotely like a duffel other than military style duffel but I didn't want to pick that as it may have given the wrong idea. Also I looked at all of the other travelers passing by and none of them seemed to have duffels. This was not my day. Eventually, the superior called out some sort of id code and Mr. Magoo wrote it down.
Now this is just where the problems begin. I had no idea who I was supposed to meet at the airport, where I was staying, or any contact information in Nepal for anyone associated with the workshop. I had sent emails to Jon Miller informing him that I was going to be on an earlier flight but I had not gotten any responses. And now that I was in Nepal I had no internet access. So my stress level was skyrocketing! I had a stash of cash for emergencies but I was still trying to be optimistic. After filling out paperwork with as much information as I had (basically nothing) I asked if they could contact Qatar Airways and track down my bag. But apparently that is not their job. Their job is only to verify that the bag is missing and fill out this form. So not only am I anxious that my bag is lost and I have no one to contact but now I'm getting mad that they are basically useless at tracking down issues. When I stated to Mr. Magoo that maybe someone I was going to meet was outside waiting he decided to take me outside and help me look.
So we both walked out into what must be some sort of travelers' circle of hell. Even before I left the room before the exit doors there were "information" peddlers trying to sell me hotel, trekking, misc information. And these were the sanctioned ones that were inside. Mr. Magoo and I exited and I was immediately asked by about 5 people if I needed a taxi. I had zero interest in getting into a taxi because frankly I had no idea where I was going. There were guys in uniform, I think security guards, with whistles that were trying to keep people from stopping on the sidewalks. across the street was a small covered platform with tons of Nepalis holding or waving paper signs for various trekking companies. I scanned across this sea of information and as my eyes scanned it seemed as if I was giving life to each and everyone of the people holding the signs. At this moment I seemed to have attracted the attention of a taxi driver who seemed to attach to me like a remora. I could not shake this guy and Mr. Magoo seemed to not care. After going back and forth through the trekking company touters and also scanning the arrival waiting room it seemed like I was going to be waiting for a while.
I decided to see if I had any information on my laptop that might help in communicating with someone...anyone...that I was in Kathmandu and stuck at the airport. After not finding anything on my laptop or within the paperwork that I had brought with me I was really getting mad at myself for letting this happen and I was getting a bit downtrodden. My remora kept by my side and attempted to help me but there was little that he could do. I resigned myself to waiting in the arrival waiting area for 8-10 hours until my original arrival time when there was supposed to be someone I could recognize to pick me up.
So there I sat waiting. After about twenty minutes or so my remora decided that there were better fish to attach to and left me. I was surprised that he stayed with me as long as he did. Whether out of genuine concern or selfish monetary interest it was interesting. From time to time I would get up and go out and scan the crowd to see if I recognized anything/anyone and then I would return to my seat. There were tons of "kids" waiting around in the same area and smoking. I don't think they were there to pick someone up. I think it was people watching entertainment for them. After being in that hot stuffy room for about an hour or more I finally noticed someone that had potential to be someone I recognized. This had burned me earlier but I got up and walked to the exit. The I recognized the icons on his shirt and immediately knew it was Jon Miller. He was thinner than I expected but I immediately got up to him and introduced myself. He was very surprised to see me and he hadn't received my emails because he was also traveling. That is when Babu Sherpa of Mountain Tribes arrived and greeted Jon and I. Jon and Babu have known each other for many years. I filled them both in on my situation and Babu gave me a card which I took back inside to Mr. Magoo and his superior so that they could add Babu's phone number as the contact when my bag arrived.
I then rejoined Jon and Babu outside and we got into his car and headed to the hotel. My first experience on Nepal streets was a bit hair-raising but after all of the stress and lack of sleep I just attempted to relax. The traffic was crazy. There didn't seem to be any rules of the road but I'll get into that more another day. I saw monkeys, cows, chickens, and dogs along the way and in the road.
We made it to the Hotel Manaslu. Babu said that he would help get my luggage so I wrote him a letter so that he could pick up my luggage without me. I got my room key and I headed up to my room to rest. Jon let me know that he would collect me after he ran a few errands. So I rested.
I think I got about 3 hours of rest/sleep when Jon came knocking at my door. I collected myself and then we left the hotel and grabbed a cab to meet up with the rest of the group. We traveled to Thamel, which is historically the tourist area of Kathmandu, and we ventured into the New Orleans Cafe. The group had already been there for a while so I was introduced to everyone else. Chris, Monika, Thilo, Ben, Clarence, and Shaun had been hanging out at this restaurant for a bit having beers and lassi (a yoghurt smoothy type drink). I sat and ordered a diet coke and perused the menu. Everyone seemed very nice and we started to gel rather quickly and there were many laughs.
After a couple or three hours we rolled out of the hotel and grabbed taxis to return us to the hotel. My luggage had not arrived and this did not make me very happy. I returned to my room and got comfortable and tried to get some more rest. I was informed earlier that my roommate, Damion, would be arriving late in the night and I was hoping that with him my luggage would also be arriving.
At around midnight there was a knock at my door and I answered it while clumsily trying to get some clothes on. I opened the door to find Damion and Depen (Babu's helper) standing outside the door. I greeted them both (I actually thought Depen was named Babu until I was corrected the next day). I asked about my luggage and he said that it had not arrived. Apparently Damion also did not have his luggage. After Depen left, Damion and I chit chatted for a short time before we both went to sleep.
People: Jon Miller
Jon is the main logistical coordinator of the workshop. He created the concept of bringing people from all over the world to the regions of Tibet and Nepal after a life-changing expedition to an Everest Base Camp in 2003. He then worked with Chris Marquardt to craft the Himalayan Workshops to create the "Highest Photographic Workshop in the World".
Jon's focus is to capture video of the experiences on the trek in order to create his podcast The Rest of Everest. Coming from a career in tv and video production his podcasts are extremely high quality and show a side of the Himalayan people and culture and the trekking experience that you just can't get without being there.
Due to some circumstances that were out of anyone's control Jon was only available for a few days on the trip. It's too bad because we didn't get to spend that much time to get to know each other. I'll go into more detail about what happened at the appropriate time.
Don't worry, he wasn't kicking the dog. They were playing tug of war with his pants!