Betwixt and Between

Yesterday morning I was riding in a car past men pushing bicycles loaded with hundreds of eggs or fruit or piles of blankets. Women laid their vegetables out on the sidewalk to sell as cows wandered by in the streets. Today I’m looking out my 4th floor window at planes landing at Bangkok airport. I’m in culture shock. Those things I used to take for granted are now a luxury. Here I can recharge two things at the same time and know that the power will be on the whole time. I have a pot to heat up water for tea, a hot shower, access to a fitness room and a huge swimming pool and a most comfy bed with soft pillows and clean sheets. I can get food of any sort in the restaurants downstairs (I had some delicious pad thai when I got here last night) and internet access (for a ridiculous fee). I felt guilty using so much water for my shower and went around turning off most of the lights in the room.

Leaving Nepal I was full of mixed emotions. Like all the volunteers I spoke with, we all had our moments wondering if we really wanted to stay in a place that had so many challenges from hard pillows to a place where things are unpredictable and change all the time. When I got back to the hostel, I met up with some volunteers I had met before and a crop of new ones just finishing their language training. I was sorry to hear that two people I know had ended up hospitalized with digestive troubles (both are alright now), one had to be flown down from her high altitude monastery because of altitude sickness and others had dealt with other minor challenges. I felt very grateful that besides a couple of days with digestive issues and a bunch of itchy insect bites, I got through unscathed. I found it funny that I slept particularly well in the same place where barking dogs and hard beds had made it so challenging to sleep when I first arrived.

Still, along with the challenges, Nepal is also an incredibly wonderful country. The mountains alone make it a special place but the people are also some of the friendliest I’ve ever met. For example, I had a new roommate join me my last night from Australia, a young woman just arrived in the country. I gave her my own orientation to the area (as each volunteer does for the others) including her trip to the phone shop where I have been several times. (The owner always likes to see me coming with a new client and wished me a fond farewell.) Alex had brought Indian rupees instead of Nepali ones which her bank had told her were equally used in Nepal. Not true. We went to a bank to exchange them where we learned that not only are they not used, it is illegal to bring the large bills into the country! With a fistful of money that is illegal, neither of us was sure what to do next.

The bank teller took us downstairs to a tailor shop. Not exactly sure what was happening we sat and chatted with my meagre Nepali and their hesitant English while we waited for something to happen. It turns out that the tailor called in his friends who each arrived carrying a wad of Nepali bills. Knowing the exchange rate was accurate, Alex was delighted to realize that the teller was finding a way to solve her problem and with enough friends, she had her Nepali rupees. He explained that Nepalis can cross the Indian border without a visa and they would exchange them there. He then invited us both to tea. Upstairs, we shared our stories. Alex has an invitation for a visit to his village and I made a donation to the school that he has helped to build there (using up my Nepali rupees). Such is the graciousness and generosity of the Nepali people. In my time there, I had many offers of meals and visits from strangers I met on a bus or on a walk.

At the airport, I went through several security checks including full body pat downs before making it to the gate. Coincidentally, the gate was used for two flights – mine to Delhi and the other to Bhutan. I was spending all day flying back to Bangkok to meet an early morning flight with my group when another plane was flying directly there. So it goes… As I climbed the stairs to the jet, there was yet another security check, this one by Air India. Apparently Nepal doesn’t have the best reputation for being thorough and the Indian staff does their own screening. The flight was great, flying right over the temples I had seen and the mountains where I had survived the twisty, narrow roads by bus. The Himalayas were on the other side of the plane but I could glimpse their snowy flanks from my seat.

We were screened again in order to enter the Delhi airport. This time I had a chance to get a little taste of India. I perused the shops where I could get a free holistic health consultation, listened to live music with a sitar and a drum and had my first ice cream in two months. Each flight had Indian food served by flight attendants wearing saris. I still haven’t touched the ground past the airport but like the Korean Air flights to Bali, it gave me a little flavor of a country.

Back in Bangkok, I’m spending today enjoying the creature comforts before leaving to meet the bike group at 3 a.m. for our flight to Bhutan. I did a work out on the elliptical, did an hour of yoga and am heading for the swimming pool to beat the humid heat. I’m still not quite sure what I will do when I return here except that I’ve signed up for a bike trip from Bangkok to Siem Reap in Cambodia. I always figure traveling by bike is a good way to see a country.

Time to put my guilt aside and swim. There’s a cold drink out there by the pool with my name on it.

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6 Comments

  1. Connie G.

     /  April 18, 2012

    Hi Ellen, The amazing contrast you experienced in leaving Nepal is one the boys are about to experience: They head to Kenya this afternoon, leaving directly from school and traveling until Friday morning. The world is a large and wonderful place! I did enjoy vicariously your luxurious bed in the hotel, comparing it to the way you had been sleeping in Nepal! I love reading your stories. Take care.

    Reply
  2. Tom

     /  April 18, 2012

    I like decadent Ellen.

    Reply
  3. Sandra Timko

     /  April 18, 2012

    About time you had some luxury.

    Reply
  4. pam perkins

     /  April 18, 2012

    You deserve a soft pillow and more. Enjoy Bhutan. It is a magical place! XO

    Reply
  5. Barbara

     /  April 19, 2012

    I’m afraid Brattleboro will seem rather tame after all your adventures; bike rides boring and scenery somewhat lacking- but the beds are more comfortable and there shouldn’t be any bugs! We miss you!

    Reply
  6. Patsy

     /  April 19, 2012

    I predict that before too much time goes by, you will once again ride off into the sunset on a bike, plane or auto……the travel bug has bitten you! Life will not seem the same here with all the luxuries we enjoy, compared to what you have experienced………and…….you have proven to be a true trouper, a seasoned traveler, and a person flexible to handle what life serves up! Kudos to you!!! Pat

    Reply

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