Thursday, December 6, 2007

Farewell to Shangri La

Before I get started I want to quickly update people on August's physical state these days. After hiking the Annapurna Circuit I am feeling very healthy and fit. With that said, I have undergone quite the physical transformation in these last four months of travel. I am currently estimating my weight to be around 155 pounds (down from 195 in April) and as those of you who have been checking out photos know I was sporting quite the beard when I left Central America. I say WAS sporting quite the beard because a horrible tragedy befell my beard shortly after my arrival in Kathmandu. I had decided that it was time for a haircut (my hair was really really really nasty looking) and while I was at it a teensy weensy trim of the beard (I was tired of looking homeless). The haircut was great and I went into great detail trying to communicate to the barber (who spoke no English whatsoever) that all I wanted was for him to very gently tim my beautiful beard. Clearly he misunderstood this as he proceeded, with one swift chop of his scissors, to hack off all but about three weeks worth of growth. I was shocked beyond belief but it was too late. He finished, I paid, and then walked out with tears in my eyes, my dream of continually growing the best travel beard that has ever been grown dashed forever. The beard is making a comeback but it will be at least another month before it returns to its previous state of burliness. Please take a moment and help me mourn the loss of a close friend and damn good travel buddy. May God watch over my beard wherever it may be.

Since wrapping up the Annapurna Circuit my time in Nepal has flown by. I spent four days in Pokhara gorging myself on everything in sight and then took off for Lumbini, birth place of Buddha. The journey was long and when I finally arrived completely exhausted I found that Lumbini was, as one fellow traveler informed me it would be, Buddhist Disney Land. There were monks everywhere. It seemed like there were thousands filling every street, by which I mean both streets as Lumbini was not much more than two streets, four hotels, a handful of restaurants, a few shops, and about 30 temples. After finding accommodation in a shitbag hotel (and I say that with the utmost love and compassion) I ventured out for dinner. I walked into a very crowded local restaurant and was immediately invited by a young monk to join him for dinner. Now a lot of you must be thinking "wow! what an amazing opportunity to discuss Buddhism, Enlightenment, or Meditation with a friendly Nepali monk". But what did we discuss? His iPod (his brother sent it to him from New York), his Gameboy, Hollywood movies, and of course American pop music. Quite an entertaining meal to say the least.

From Lumbini I made my way to Chitwan National Park, which is a.) the largest National Park in Nepal, b.) a world heritage site, and c.) comprised mainly of jungle and grass land. Yeah, I didn't know Nepal had jungle either!! The area was truly breath taking and I started my first day there by taking part in the bathing of an elephant. When I say "bathing an elephant" what I really mean is being repeatedly thrown into a river by an elephant. I was sitting by the banks watching elephants come down for their morning baths (these are trained elephants that people take on tours through the park) when one of the trainers invited me to come join him on the elephant. Since I have not rode an elephant since I was like four years old I jumped at the opportunity. I kicked off my sandals and headed for the water. The trainer helped me climb up the back of the elephant which I quickly found is the most uncomfortable animal in the world to sit on. How these trainers do it everyday I will never know. The elephants backbone is about five centimeters in diameter. Just wide enough to (sorry I don't know any other way to say this so I am just going to go for it) spread open your butt cheeks and press and rub a very sensitive area in a rather insensitive manner. As soon as I was "comfortably" on we walked out to the middle of the river where, with one command from the trainer, the elephant started ferociously bucking from side to side and hurled me into the water. It was pretty hysterical and a lot of fun. The best part was climbing back onto the elephant. To do this I would grab both of its ears and put one foot on its trunk. Then (like I weighed nothing at all) it would simply lift me out of the water and onto its head. Definitely one of the funnest things I have done on this entire trip.

I passed the rest of my time in Chitwan hiking through the jungle searching for rhinos and tigers. This might seem like a lot of fun, but at the end of two days I was glad to be done with the hike. For one I had to have two guides with me, which in many ways was great because they were able to find a lot of animals and without them I would not have seen any rhinos, but was also a bit of a drag since I don't like hiking with guides. I was not fortunate enough to come across any tigers though I did see many tracks and a couple piles of tiger poo...

So Nepal is coming to an end. I feel quite sad to be leaving such a wonderful country. I was looking at a map the other day and was amazed to see the amount of the country that I had trekked across during my time on the Annapurna. Despite this, I feel like I saw very little of Nepal, and will definitely be heading back here very soon to further explore this wonderful country! As for now I am back in Kathmandu, which, hang on let me check...yup is still polluted, packing my bags and getting ready to head to Thailand. First stop Koh Tao where I am going to get back to the beach life; sipping drinks with tiny umbrellas, relaxing in the sand, and doing a bit of diving. Best of luck to all my friends back home in Seattle, who I hear are putting up with torrential downpours and even a bit of snow. I'll let you know how the beaches are!

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