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October 21, 1999 (Email)
Just the Break I Needed

Mom/Dad,

Sorry it's taken me so long to write. Kathmandu and Pokhara have been just the break I needed from work. I've eaten a lot, visited with just about everyone I wanted to see, and managed to spend a couple hundred dollars in only 2 weeks (for buses, lodging, and - mostly - food).

We had a 10 hour bus trip from Janakpur last Saturday morning which passed quickly. Jill, Sommer, Virginia, and Virginia's roommate Sutyem (a Nepali girl Virginia and I know well from Janakpur) all rode together, and we had beautiful weather and views throughout the trip through the hills.

It's hard to describe what we did for the first 5 days in Kathmandu because we didn't do much. We ate (and continue to eat) pizza, steak, baked goods, and other things unavailable at our posts. For most of the volunteers, this also includes ice cream, french fries, asian food, and soda. For some of the volunteers, even water is not easily available where they live, let alone plentiful and various foods.

We spent most of our time in Thamel - the tourist area of K-doo which is currently teeming with foreigners. We caught ourselves several times during the first few days just staring at the white people walking by -- sort of the same way the Nepalis constantly stare at us. White people were beginning to look a little strange to us after a few months - again, this was more so for the PCVs at more remote posts than mine. After two weeks of vacation, though, we've had more than enough of tourists and annoying white folk. This place (Thamel) is so tourist oriented - I'm beginning to think even you could manage a trip here, if we stuck to K-doo, Pokhara, and maybe a very well-organized safari to Chitwan national park (close to Janakpur).

Anyway, I also managed to find a day to visit my language trainer Shanta at her family's apartment. I'm going to call her again today to see if she can come out to the "nightclub" (the Nepali version thereof) with us tonight ("us" currently consists of Nate, Sommer, Jill, Tyler, Sue, and myself - although "us" changes all the time as PCVs continue to arrive, leave, and do different things). We've spent a lot of nights at the Kathmandu nightclub mostly because it's such an oddity for something to be open beyond 8:30. It's primarily for tourists, but a handful of Nepali men are usually there. I doubt if Shanta will feel comfortable going there - being a woman in Nepali culture - but we'll make her go anyway (the second goal of Peace Corps).

So after the first 5 days or so, a lot of us incrementally made it over to Pokhara - a 6 hour bus ride that took me 9 due to engine problems. Pokhara was gorgeous and the weather was perfect. Nate, Tyler, and I managed to motivate ourselves enough to do a one day hike (3.5 hours up, 2.5 hours down) and to go boating on the lake a couple times. Most of the time we sat around, relaxed, watched movies, and ate a lot. We stayed in Pokhara for a week, mostly because friends continued to arrive while we were there and wanted to stay for a few days. On the 6th day, Nate and I got sick (something we ate) and had to stay a 6th night.

I'm debating whether I should try to describe these places at all. Kathmandu is a huge, crowded, Asian city with lots of roads and alleys and people everywhere. Pokhara (the lakeside quarter) is a small, very relaxed place with fresh air and beautiful scenery. I haven't really been much of a sightseer or had many exciting experiences, so you'd probably know a lot more about the city than I do after reading Lonely Planet.

Yesterday we finally got back from Pokhara. On the bus ride back, the driver allowed Nate and me to ride on the top for most of the ride. All of the tourists' luggage made it very soft and comfortable for us - allowing us to get some sleep on the journey (we were still recovering a little bit from our sicknesses). Other bus drivers had been a little less willing to let us ride on top because the police could use it as an excuse to extort even more money out of them at the countless (seemingly unofficial) checkpoints along the road.

So that's about it. We certainly weren't being very good tourists. We didn't see any of the things you're supposed to see in K-doo (temples, Buddhist stupas, the Kamari, the royal palace, etc). But it was just about a perfect vacation in my opinion.

Oh, I forgot to mention the US Embassy compound that we spent a lot of our time in. Incredibly relaxing. Tennis courts, cold drinking water, a giant swimming pool, hot showers, lounge chairs, mowed grass, clean sidewalks. We refer to it as "America" -- as in "What should we do after breakfast? Do you want to go to America?" The answer of course being yes.

Anyway, keep in mind the idea of coming here next summer. If I had seen Kathmandu and Pokhara before now (and known how unthreatening they were compared to the real Nepal), I would have been arguing for you to come here all along. While you're in the area, maybe you could go to Australia, too. Then you'll have been to all the neat places I've been - and you'll realize all my travelling was never that big a deal after all.

Guess it's time for lunch. Maybe another big steak dinner? Hate to think that I have to go back to post in two days... and start teaching again in four! Ugh - when's the next holiday?! Oh, it's only two weeks after I get back - whew! I think I'll be spending Tihar in Tanzen - yet another beautiful lakeside hill city. The good thing about Tanzen is that there are a couple PCVs there (including Sue from our group) who can put us up for a few nights. Starting to play with the idea of going to Thailand for New Year's too. So much to do!

Love,
Mark

PS - Oh, I should mention how big a difference being able to speak a little Nepali has made on our trip. Although living in Janakpur (where everyone speaks Maithali) has not helped my Nepali to improve much at all, I'm still able to make smalltalk with most of the people I run into - hotel staff and shopowners of course, but also people like the farming family we ran into during our day hike in Pokhara. It's a lot of fun, and the people we speak to really seem to appreciate our efforts.

Write back!
 
 


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