Walking Home

reveries of an amateur long-distance hiker

Feb 15

February 17th, 2016

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A long quiet morning in Malaysia before catching the shuttle back to the airport. Wandered the grounds a bit and was startled by a large black bird perched high in the trees which an increasingly loud whoooowhoooo call. Not sure what it was but at first it sounded like a monkey. No one else seemed to notice it. Malaysian Air paid for my breakfast which was a large buffet directed toward a multitude of ethnicities. There was the English/European row of sausage (chicken), baked beans, pasta, waffles. There was the fruit, cereal and yoghurt lane (with Kiwi juice), an omelette bar with some dried beef (instead of bacon), and the row of rice, curry and a whole lot of tasty but unidentified things. Of course I visited each row and went back for three plates. The patrons–all on their way onto other countries or picking up rental cars to explore here–were as diverse as the food. Many Muslim locals, Chinese and Japanese sophisticates in hip,clothes (contrasting sharply with the dress of their host country), and what were probably kiwis or Australians and were no strangers to a buffet line. Talked to what I think was an Austrian couple in the shuttle back to airport. They were off to explore Malaysia, but I was just passing through. The airport had a Starbucks, a venue I’ve been ignoring this entire trip but I thought it would be the last time for a while in something so corporate and standardized. Getting on the plane were several English couples who seemed to be old hands at traveling to Nepal but who also sounded as if it was still part of the empire and they were headed to the club. Going through security there were a number of security guards who were slight of build and resembled the vietnamese often portrayed in war movies– the ones who were always so vicious–but of course these guys smiled and welcomed me warmly. Assumptions informed by old films are not to be trusted. Flying to Kathmandu, how can you not be excited? The flight again was uneventful except for the man in front of me who buzzed the attendants constantly, usually for more wine. Watched a Tom Hardy movie, The Drop, which was better than I expected. Then I switched on the flight tracker which reminded me that Malaysia was a Muslim country. Part of the cycling windows included a compass rose which pointed toward Mecca. The flight in soon revealed a wall of mountains including Everest out the window (fortunately that seat was empty on my row). I was surprised to see houses and farms perched on top of mountains with rice terraces working down. It looked to be a land long occupied. Closer into Kathmandu the concentration of houses increased though still separated by fields and paddies. The airport is old and not easy to navigate. I was a little concerned about my visa, which I had applied for online but was not sure I had enough information. There was no need to worry. After paying a $100 fee, they were happy to let me into the country without asking too many questions. All was smooth except waiting at baggage claim which took an hour and half, then I was launched into the chaos of the arrivals/transportation area. I found the one ATM and got 10,000 NPR (100$) then one of the many aggressive assitors took me in hand. After some resistance I went along, he secured a cab at a good rate (500 npr instead of the 700 standard) and off we went to the Thamel district which is where all the hostels are. It was dark by then but still something of rush hour time, and the traffic including buses, cars, scooters, bicycles and pedestrians all in the same space was manic. After about 20 minutes we arrived in one piece, and I found my darkened and inexpensive hostel — darkened because the electricity is regularly shut off. I went around the corner for a traditional Nepalese meal– rice, lentils, some incredibly flavorful vegetables, very satisfying. Then back to bed pretty exhausted.

 

T. Hugh Crawford

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