Category Archives: Narrative Travel

What Puking in Parvarti’s River Taught Me About Life

“I am Parvati!”

She ambushes me, taking my face in her hands, her head jiggling from side to side in a way I’ve heard about but never actually seen until now.

“Are you okay? You are sick?”

Yes. Talk about a solo female travel fail – I’ve gotten food poisoning in the middle of an 8-hour motorbike journey, on the very day I’m supposed to be meeting Deepak’s family.

The timing could not be worse, and what’s more – I can’t. Stop. Puking.

Parvarti is the neighbor girl who lives next door to Deepak’s family, and her beauty trumps any that has yet to appear in these posts.

She is more fabulouss than the would-be Polish model at The Lemon Tree, more womanly than Mrs. DeKash, more angelic than Deepak in stolen moments under the covers.

Her dark hair hangs loose around her shoulders, free and wild where the other women’s hair is tightly bound and wrapped.

Her skin is pale, a stark palette that highlights the richness of her eyebrows, dark half moons sketched with God’s paintbrush.

Her nose is slightly upturned, which makes her look impish, like she’s planning a practical joke that you’re going to just love.

She takes my hand, touches my hair, inspects me all over with wonder and excitement.

I let her give me the once over as everyone else in the village stares, which is far more comfortable than the way my stomach feels after the putrid, stagnant water I just drank.

“Would you like to see my river?!” yells Parvarti, absolutely bubbling over.

How could I say no? I’ve never heard anyone refer to a river as their river, and for all I know she might mean that literally.

Besides, even if I had a knife sticking out of my stomach and had to choose between going to the ER and going to see Parvarti’s river, I’d pick the river.  She’s that charming.

The others make way for us, as enamored with her beauty as they are with my strangeness.

She is the darling of the farm, and I imagine suitors from the surrounding provinces descending in droves to beg her grandmother for her hand.

Parvarti takes my hand in hers, and for a moment I imagine myself her chosen suitor as we walk together across the dirt road towards the surrounding fields.

She leads me along a network of dirt pathways, helping me keep my balance without toppling onto the budding crops.

Each pathway is about two feet wide and a foot high, and runs the length of the land so that farmers can walk between crops without stepping on them.

“This my garden” says Parvarti, gesturing to the plot of land to our right. “I grow onion, tomato, cauli-flowers.”

“And this garden?” I ask, gesturing to the empty, overgrown, weed-infested plot to the left. “Is this yours too?”

“That Deepak garden” laughs Parvarti. “Is not very good.”

If I wasn’t so distracted by my nausea, I might be more inclined to investigate the obvious metaphor I’m now looking at – the lush, abundant field tended by Parvarti’s hand, and the hot, unattended mess that has been borne of Deepak’s neglect.

We make our way through the fields to a cluster of trees that lie along the banks of a bubbling brook.

“My river!” exclaims Parvarti proudly, looking at me to see if I’m impressed.

I withdraw my hand from hers, look wildly around for the best place to go, see nowhere, walk a few feet towards the water, and vomit right into Parvarti’s precious river.

“I’m sorry!” I gasp between wretches. She says nothing but waits, watches me, stands patiently by a tree.

Again. And again. Into the tall grass. Into her river. There is nothing to clean myself with, I am filth incarnate, I have never been so ashamed.

I dare to look at Parvati, who is doing the head bob at me, looking mildly concerned.

“I’m so sorry” I say again, not knowing what else to say. What are you supposed to say when you puke in someone’s river?

As we walk back to the house, me having completely defiled the most precious thing in her life, Parvarti takes my hand again and begins humming a soft little Hindi song.

She doesn’t care that I’m filthy. She doesn’t care that I’ve just vommed in her river, the only possession she has, the thing that is most precious to her in the entire world.

In fact, the entire episode, which seems incredibly dramatic and awful and unsettling to me, doesn’t seem to have ruffled her feathers at all.

She passes me off to the other women with an easy smile, certain that I’m going to feel better soon.

She leaves just as easily as she arrived, not knowing that she has dwarfed my childish, petulant ego with the might of her magnificent heart.

To be like Parvarti – filled with joy in the face of the everyday, unconcerned in the face of disaster – has become my only goal in life.

By Rebekah Voss. This post is an excerpt from My Week With Deepak: A memoir of Nepal, available February 2015 from THP Publishing. To pre-order your copy, click here!

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Driveby Banana-ing in Bucharest

This kid will not take no for an answer. I’ve been trying to shake him for blocks now, but in his thuggish persistence he’s latched onto me like a burr and won’t let go – not until I cough up “uno leu.”

He’s small, clean, well-dressed, with designer sneakers and a tricked-out baseball cap. His dark eyes contain more than a hint of malice which he tries to cover up with upturned eyebrows and a begging pout.

“Per favore” he begs, pressing his palms together in supplication. “Uno leu, uno leu!”

He’s mysteriously Italian, which makes me wonder if there’s a pocket of expats somewhere in the city cooking up something slightly more edible than the unlucky slop I’ve encountered thus far in the old town of Bucharest.

“No money” I say again, smiling at him. I should really stop smiling, because he seems to take that as a sign of encouragement.

It is 7am on a Saturday morning and all the shop doors are closed. The streets become increasingly empty as we walk north toward Herăstrău Park.

Unfortunately this tasted as questionable as it looked.

Unfortunately this tasted as questionable as it looked.

Something about this kid scares me, and my awareness of the deserted streets stokes a growing flame of fear. He can’t be more than ten years old, but he’s tough, hardened by some sort of evil upbringing.

“Where is your mother?” I ask in English.

“Mia madre è morta” he replies in Italian, then immediately regrets it.

He’s just slipped and revealed that he understands every word I say.

“Ah ha!” I say, pointing at him, grinning.

I’m slightly terrified that a) he’s packing, and b) he has a group of 10 hoodlums waiting around the corner to mug me and beat me with their tiny fists, but I like him just the same.

We seem to have an understanding – I understand that he has to beg me and follow me, he understands that I have to say no.

That is, until I bust out the banana.

This has gone on way too long, we’re too far from the safety of my hotel, and there’s not a soul around to hear me if I scream. Self-protective mode kicks in to overdrive.

I face him and step back several feet so that I can reach into my bag without the risk of him trying to do the same.

There will be no one to hear you scream....

There will be no one to hear you scream….

I fish around with my hand, keeping my eyes on him the entire time.

“I’m not going to give you any money” I repeat for the umpteenth time, “but if you’re hungry, you can have my breakfast.”

I pull out the banana I’d grabbed from the hotel.

He looks at it, looks at me, and his eyes roll back in his head like some sort of Italian-Romanian demon only found in ancient folklore.

Wanting desperately to appease the devil, I thrust the banana toward his hand, which has gathered into a trembling fist.

“Here, take it.”

He does. And then proceeds to raise it above his head, rear back, and throw the banana at me with all the force and magnitude of a 7th inning pitcher.

The banana splatters at my feet, fibrous strands and mush flying everywhere, and I’m backing away, sputtering, as if I’ve just been shot.

He backs away too like a lightning-fast crab, scuttling back towards the hotel.

And then, to add insult to injury, my little friend, the one I understand, the one with whom I have a connection, the one whose soul concerns me greatly, issues the following curse in absolutely perfect, accent-free English:

“FUCK YOU!”

He holds out his middle finger for good measure, and continues to scream, with a bellowing force, “FUCK YOU! FUCK YOU! FUCK YOU!”

Over and over again he screams, until my heart is ready to crack my ribcage wide open. I command my legs to move, move!, to create as much distance between us as fast as I possibly can.

Not where you want to be when a terrifying child is threatening you with a banana

Empty streets – not where you want to be when a terrifying child is threatening you with a banana

I glance back over my shoulder, terrified he’s right behind me with a weapon, with his brother, with his pimp.

But he’s dwarfed by the distance, growing ever-smaller as I break into a full-out run.

There is no one to hear the pounding of my steps on the pavement, no one to see the tears streaming down my face.

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Quick+Dirty Takeaway

1. Just because someone's a sweet-looking kid doesn't mean they won't throw at a banana at you.

2. If someone is following you, walk TOWARD the crowds of other people, not away from them.

3. Be extra careful when opening your bag or purse in the presence of a stranger - especially a stranger who has asked you for money.

Want to dig deeper? Go for it!

Luxury Travel on a Backpacker’s Budget

“The best things in life are free. The second-best things are very, very expensive.” ~ Coco Chanel

You can experience the wonders of luxury travel on a backpacker’s budget.

How do I know?

Because the most luxurious time in my life was spent traipsing through Asia for 13 months with nothing but a backpack and a laptop.

Let me explain.

By luxury travel, I’m talking about the energized, eye-opening kind of travel that makes your heart burst out of your chest and your soul dive headlong into the present moment.

Sure, there might be a fancy hotel room involved, or a tropical drink sweating in the palm of your hand, but those things aren’t the point. Those things aren’t what makes travel luxurious.

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True luxury can’t be bought. Oh sure, you can spring for a stay at an all-inclusive resort, guiltily tip your dedicated waitstaff as they tidy your 16-bedroom beachfront bungalow, or enjoy wine tastings on a yacht made of diamonds.

All of that’s well and good, but none of it is enough to make you feel luxurious in your mind and your heart.

True luxury is time. True luxury is freedom. True luxury is a break from stress, responsibility, and the cares of the world.

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There’s nothing more luxurious than freedom.

 

While traveling long-term in Asia, I experienced true luxury travel even though I was more “flashpacker” than luxe traveler.

By working as I traveled and carefully choosing midrange hotels, I experienced the luxury of having money for the first time in my life.

  • I ate out every single meal
  • I stayed in high-rise beachfront hotels
  • I stayed in riverfront bungalows
  • I had my laundry sent out
  • I even splurged on the occasional massage or mani/pedi!

…and all of this on a budget of about $15-$25/day.

But the perks of being an American traveling in South and Southeast Asia had little to do with the threadcount of my sheets or the view from my hotel room.

Simply having the free time to travel and the money to see, eat, and do whatever I wanted was easily the most luxurious experience of my life.

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True luxury is being able to afford meals and restaurants you never could at home.

 

Now, in order to experience this kind of luxury travel, choosing the right destination is key. I could probably have never gotten away with this in Europe, or North America, or even in pricier Asian cities like Shanghai or Ho Chi Minh City.

But by choosing destinations that were more affordable, I was able to live as luxury traveler on a budget of about $15/day.

Da Nang: The most luxurious budget travel destination in Southeast Asia

Da Nang is as beautiful as Vancouver BC except sunnier and cheaper.

Da Nang is as beautiful as Vancouver BC except sunnier and cheaper.

Da Nang, Vietnam is one of the best luxury travel destinations on the planet, regardless of your definition of luxury.

There are scores of resorts that line the coast between China Beach and Hoi An, and they run the gamut from $200/night hotels to $10,000/night luxury villas.

But Da Nang is truly decadent because of the possibilities for backpackers and midrange travelers.

  • The beautiful beaches lining China Beach are free and open to the public. If you’d like to drink or dine somewhere posh right on the water, you can enjoy happy hour for less than $10 USD.
  • There are amazing outdoor seafood restaurants everywhere in Da Nang. They offer fresh-caught, live seafood in all shapes and sizes. Customers get to point to their lunch and enjoy ice-cold cans of Bia La Rue while their lobster is being boiled to perfection. You can have a seafood bonanza for two for less than $15 USD.
  • Monkey Mountain commands a skyline that overlooks a glistening city of bridges and sparkling architecture. It’s free to explore the mountain and there’s only a nominal cost to gain entrance to the Lady Buddha statue (Vietnam’s tallest!), which guards the East Sea like an angelic Madonna.
True luxury travel: feeling free on a Vietnamese beach in a weird outfit.

True luxury travel: feeling free on a Vietnamese beach in a weird outfit.

Luxury abounds throughout the world, but it’s possible to experience luxury travel without breaking the bank.

For me, the true mark of luxury lies in the freedom of low-cost living. Being able to truly relax and enjoy each destination is infinitely more luxurious than any yacht or swanky resort could ever be.

What does luxury travel mean to you?

 

 

Don’t F*$! With Mother India

I was 22 years old and on my way to sit in the Vipassana meditation course in Jaipur, India. It was spring of 1997. I had been traveling in India mostly alone for a few months by this time.

I was feeling resistance to the impending 10 day meditation, and I had an hour before I needed to be in the main meditation hall for the commencement of the course. I decided to distract my nerves by walking through the forest to the chai hut about 20 minutes away.

When I got to the grubby little roadside hub where the nearest rural village gathered to drink chai and wash clothes in the river, there were several young men sitting on the bridge, eyeing me as I walked past.

It was the same ignorant stare of base male desire that I experienced every day in India…on the bus, in the street. I had learned to ignore it.

But this time, something in my intuition perked up. These boys were latching on to my energy. I felt nervous about walking back to the meditation retreat alone, which entailed a 15 minute stretch through rural forest.

I bucked up my courage and went for it. As soon as I walked back across the bridge, I had a flash of knowing. These motherfucking dumb peasant punks were going to follow me.

Sure enough, I could sense that after I had passed, all three nonchalantly got up and started walking after me…keeping about 30 paces behind. I walked with quick determination, my fury and concern growing.

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As I could hear their approach, I started to fill with rage….and a strange involuntary reflex started to occur inside me.

Time slowed down. With every step I took, I could feel power coming up through my feet out of the Earth…coiling inside me with powerful wrath. It was as though the power of the goddess Kali was sucking up from the hot lava center of the Earth through my feet…steaming into a pressure of rage and power.

I felt them getting closer, and I KNEW that they were going to grab me and drag me into the bushes.

I walked faster, the contained fury filling me up with every step. As I sensed one of the men coming right up behind me, suddenly a flood of pure primal anger spewed forth like lava from the depths of the Earth and raged up through my body like a Volcano.

I felt a hand grab my shoulder…I spun around and – TIME STOPPED. One of the two men was grabbing me. His two friends were right behind, laughing and heading toward the bushes. Their intention was crystal clear. The ignorance of their gesture filled me with primal rage.

With one deep inhalation, my spirit suddenly inflated like a cobra, and with an exhaled PRIMAL ROAAARRRRRRR, for an INSTANT, I manifested as GREAT GODDESS KALI in her MOST WRATHFUL FORM.

The man’s first impulse was to raise his arm to hit me, but in a split second, his face changed. A look of sheer horror shot across his face.

His eyes became wide and his face became white with fear.

Kali was a language that his peanut-sized brain understood. In that moment, he SAW the GODDESS.

He turned on his heel and sprinted away for his life. His friend’s hadn’t seen my shape-shifting transformation, so they had one-second of confusion…looking at me, then looking at him running away. As he was the alpha of the group, they quickly decided to follow in his footsteps, and they all packed off with their tails between their legs, running as fast as they could go.

gang-rape-in-india-1997

I turned on my heel and walked on toward the Meditation Center, shaken by the experience, and sat in complete silence for 10 days through the incredibly healing experience of the Vipassana meditation.

May God bless S.N. Goenka for his commitment to teaching the medicine of meditation.

May all ignorant beings awaken to the intelligence of the Universe.

May all mothers teach their sons to respect Goddesses in all forms.

May all women be protected from abuse and violence, and have access to the innate strength that dwells within.

May all beings be free of suffering and fear.

India is a powerful entity. Traveling there as a woman is very risky. One must have a strong psychology and sense of street smarts. If you don’t have it when you go, you will definitely have it when you leave.

Don’t take Mother India lightly. She is Life, and She is also Death. Most of all, She is MAGIC.

Don’t Fuck with the MOTHER.

Elsa Bella

 

Elsa Bella is a world traveler who currently runs The Jaguar Project, a conservation project that protects the habitats of jaguars throughout Central America. You can join in saving the jaguars by clicking here

 

Currywurst and Sportscars: Endless Summer in Dresden, Germany

Would you jump into a car with a stranger in Dresden Germany without knowing anything about him? I bet you might do just that after reading this story.

Back in the summer of 2011 I decided to go travelling in Europe for five weeks. To be honest, I was completely broke at the time thanks to my previous travels, but the travelbug wouldn’t let me be.

“So low budget it is”, I thought to myself. I packed my bags and headed to Germany.

My Slovenian friend decided to join me for two weeks, and with our limited budgets we wanted to try Couchsurfing for the first time ever.

This was a choice dictated not only by shortage of capital but also by the desire to meet new people and find a whole new way of travelling.

To continue with the new policy of hanging out with strangers, we decided to use carpooling instead of trains and buses. There is a great website in Germany (Mitfahrgelegenheit.de) where you can find rides from people who are looking to share the fuel expenses. People are very well organised in Germany when it comes to most things, ridesharing included.

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So basically we decided to jump into cars with strangers and spend our nights with people we didn’t know in their houses.

Needless to say this plan was exactly what all girls are always warned not to do!

After staying in Berlin and Leipzig, we decided to go to Dresden Germany. The only problem was we hadn’t been able to find accommodation in Dresden – we were also about to get on the road and wouldn’t be able to use the internet on the way there.

We did not want to relapse into hostel accommodation, so we posted an emergency message on Couchsurfing saying that we were looking for a place to stay for two nights in Dresden and that we were already on our way. We took care to include our phone number on the post.

We arrived in Dresden with no place to stay, and decided to enjoy some Currywurst at the Dresden train station. All of a sudden my phone beeped, practically making me choke on my not-so-great wurst!

We got a message from an unknown party saying they’d pick us up from the station.

We didn’t have internet access to check out who was texting us, so it was going to be totally blind Couchsurfing.

Were we scared to see who would show up? Absolutely we were! We had no pictures, no references, and still we were about to spend two nights at this person’s house.

Picture this: two twenty-something girls standing by the train station in Germany staring at every car anxiously.

Then suddenly, an expensive-looking, shiny black Batmobile-style sportscar pulls over right next to us. We look at each other and then we look at the car. The door opens and out comes a gorgeous twenty-something German guy with a big smile on his face.

“Hi girls, did you send a message on Couchsurfing?”

“Well yes, we certainly did – if you’re here to pick us up with that face and that car!”

Okay, so I didn’t say that out loud, but I did say it in my head. I shared another look with my friend, the kind of look two single girls share when they see a handsome guy.

If he’s handsome he can’t be a murderer, right? To the Batmobile!

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We got into the car and started chatting with our new host. Within two minutes all three of us were laughing as if we’d known each other for years.

Soon we arrived at his place and my jaw dropped. There was a big black iron gate in front of us with a huge house and a beautiful yard behind it. Yes, a gate! Who has a gate? Who is this guy? Bruce Wayne?

The gate opened slowly and I started to get suspicious. How could this young guy have a car like that and a place like that?

As it turned out, he couldn’t. The house and the car belonged to his parents. We found out we were about to stay with his family. This information shouldn’t have been a total surprise considering the car and the gate, but still I was a bit nervous to hang out with a strange German family.

We got into the house and our host led us upstairs to a private room filled with fresh linens, towels, the whole nine yards. I couldn’t help wondering how his parents felt about hosting random foreign girls at their pretty house.

We got a tour of the house and on the tour we ran into his parents. We found out they were both doctors and the other building on the yard was their private clinic. For a moment I felt out of place. I’m not very comfortable in very fancy places. If I have to choose between an expensive, top-notch club or a scrubby corner pub, you’ll definitely find me at the pub.

But as we talked with his parents we noticed what wonderful, welcoming people they were. They didn’t speak much English but luckily we knew some German and they knew some English, so it all worked out. At least I like to think they could understand my constant grinning, thumbs up signs, and frequent bursts of  “Kuchenschemckt gut!” (supposedly: cake tastes good). Maybe praising their desserts with my mouth full of cake wasn’t the classiest move.

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In the morning we were invited to join the family for breakfast. Two low budget travellers in dirty shirts, sitting at a really fancy breakfast table with a German family. It was a bit absurd.

The table was set beautifully with white porcelain dishes. On the table was everything you could imagine – from fresh fruit to piping hot bread just out of the oven. The family was so warm and welcoming that I didn’t feel out of place despite the fancy settings.

The weather during our stay in Dresden was just dreadful.

It was windy, rainy, cold and foggy and there were sharks flying in the air. Okay not sharks, but it was bad!

But thanks to  our host, the lack of sunshine wasn’t too bad to deal with. He took as around the town in the Batmobile and the three of us just laughed and laughed until my stomach hurt! There’s no need to do situps when you’re laughing nonstop for days on end!

We visited the Königstein Fortress (one of the largest hilltop fortifications in Europe), and the Zwinger Palace among other Dresden sights.

Those two days in rainy Dresden ended up being so special that I’ll never forget them: the laughter, the hospitality, my poor attempt to speak German with the parents, seeing amazing sights, and the piece de resistance – peeing in the middle of a park (well, in the bushes) because we couldn’t find a toilet, and asking Bruce Wayne to yell out if he saw anyone coming… I bet he won’t forget us either!

dresden-germany (4)This post was written by Sanna Tolmunen, a Finnish communications professional and travel blogger currently doing an internship in Hancock, Michigan. Travelling, films and good stories in all forms are Sanna’s great passions in life. In a way it could be said that good stories are her one passion, as to her, life is a story. This is exactly why she hopes to share great stories around the world through her writing and her blog, Adventures Of A Finn.

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Superman Sprains His Wrist

A few weeks ago, after a particularly interesting night in Pai Thailand, I received the following email.

Dear Michael,

This is ____ the girl you helped a lot last night in Pai. my friend ____ now is transferring to Chiangmai lam hospital to have an operation. he got two parts of bone break of his left leg. i haven’t deal with the motorcycle problem yet by now. how is your wrist now ? i’m really sorry that you got hurt your wrist. sorry…

You appeared like a super man to me last night! you followed my friend to the hospital after the accident, you found me, you helped me to push my motorcycle for 3 km, you took me to the hospital and also took me back to the hotel.you did so much! like i said you are the best american i ever known. you are so helpful and nice! thanks for everything you did for me.

thank you Michael !

_____ from China

Now, I don’t think I’m a hero for the events described above. I mean, I’m far from being Martin Luther King Jr. (or even, say, Kirk Cameron).

All I am is a guy who was riding his scooter in the rain, after midnight, on a dark stretch of road leading out of a small town in northern Thailand, against all common sense and to the horror of my mother is she ever found out (which she now will, I suppose).

I saw an opportunity to help an injured stranger, which then turned into an opportunity to help a different stranger in need, and I took it. I don’t believe in karma, I was not looking for a reward.

So why then, you might ask, did I spend four hours after the stroke of the witching hour helping people I didn’t know? I’d like to think of it as common decency; just showing concern for my fellow man.

And frankly, it was exciting.

The setting? Pai, Thailand: a small town north of Chiang Mai filled with friendly locals, laid back expats , and tourists; a town embraced by natural beauty in every direction.

With its rice fields, rolling green hills, tranquil muddy rivers, and big open sky sporting puffy white clouds, Pai is a little bit like what Eden might have been, had it existed.

The people are generally very friendly, quick to smile, quick to help. In fact, by the time I came across the injured stranger (let’s call him German Bob for funsies), he was already being carried into the back of a white pick up truck owned by two Thai men and a local woman who had pulled over to help him.

I gave his crashed motorbike a cursory once over, asked the German if he wanted me to go to the hospital with him (silly question apparently), and followed the truck there on my scooter.

At the hospital, once it became obvious that German Bob was in no great mortal danger, we got to talking a little bit (him through gritted teeth, rolling eyeballs, and in between moans, that is).

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Turns out the crashed bike was not his – he’d borrowed it from a girl he met and was speeding into town to buy a lighter, hoping to return to her hotel as quickly as possible.

He crashed his motorbike on the way to buy a fucking lighter! Smoking really IS bad for your health, ya’ll.

The girls’ hotel was located some ways out of town, and Bob didn’t recall its name. It had two lemons on its sign, however, that much he knew for certain. Bob produced a key to room 202 and told me that the girl was eagerly awaiting his return.

A bit of detective work at 1am sounded like fun, so I grabbed the key and promised I’d find the mystery girl and bring her to German Bob’s bedside.

I drove back to the scene of the accident to make sure Bob’s crunched motorbike was still there.

Crunched motorbike, check.

I then proceeded further down the road into the mysterious night, the single beam of my scooter’s headlamp keeping the darkness at bay as I searched in for two lemons in vain.

Bob’s memory was relatively sound, however, and I eventually came across a fruit-filled hotel sign some 5 clicks out of town. They weren’t lemons at all (passion fruit actually), but we’ll give poor Bob the benefit of the doubt.

Pulling into the parking lot on my hardy little scooter, I mentally prepared myself to knock on a stranger’s door to deliver some bad news.

I took a few deeps breaths outside of room 202, my heart beating a little too quickly, and knocked on the door.

A few moments later it flew open and a  short Asian girl (let’s call her Sue) stood before me in an equally short night gown.

I was obviously not who Sue was expecting as evidenced by the look on her face, which transitioned from puzzlement to alarm and back again within three heartbeats. We stood there looking at one another for a few seconds before I remembered I had to speak.

“I’m sorry to alarm you but your friend was in an accident. He is in the hospital now. Your bike is on the side of the road a few kilometers from here “, I blurted, all while trying to make what I hoped to be cross-cultural calming motions with my hands.

It took her some time to accept the news, but I guess my stammering sincerity made the harsh truth easier to stomach.  We stopped by the hotel owner’s bungalow so she could (much to her confusion) take my photograph (y’know, just in case German Bob didn’t exist and I was actually a deranged lunatic who’d come to kidnap Sue and drag her back to my den of unspeakable horrors).

Photos snapped, our next task was to check up on German Bob’s – er, Sue’s – crashed motorbike.

The bike appeared to be in better shape than Bob was, just some minor scratches on the body. But the keys were missing from the ignition, and there was a shirtless (and mostly toothless) old Thai man standing nearby in the dark, looking at the bike (and us) with some obvious consternation.

We decided that leaving Sue’s bike there was probably not a great idea, so I pushed the fucking thing three kilometers back to her hotel.

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That sweaty task completed, we set off on my scooter to the hospital. German Bob was medicated and sleeping when we got there, but woke up long enough to chat Sue up through his drugged-out haze.

They’d placed Bob in a room with 5 elderly female patients who were not super happy about our late night visit, so we kept it short. Sue told Bob she’d visit him in the morning, asked him if he had the key to the scooter (he did not), and off we went.

While dropping Sue off at her hotel at 3:30 in the morning, I nearly caused the second motorbike accident of the evening when I dropped the damned scooter and wrenched my wrist trying to keep it from falling. Apparently scooters do no like standing sideways on steep hills, kick stand or no kickstand.

Sue offered to nurse my new injury but I begged off, not wanting my travel partner to freak out due to my long, unexplained absence in the middle of the night.

Saying goodbye to ol’ Sue,  I braced myself against fresh rain as I drove back to my hotel. Stumbling into my room half a hour later I fell into bed, exhausted but content.

I never saw or heard from German Bob again after that night. Sue, on the other hand, sent me about 18 emails in gratitude, bought my travel partner and I dinner and drinks one night, and was pretty much consumed with expressing her thanks for a few days. We still keep in touch, and she still calls me “her superman” in her emails.

I never told Sue, but I think Superman is a dick. I much prefer Batman, but if she keeps it up I just might start wearing really tight spandex pants as my ego swells to unchecked heights.

Michael-Miszczk-pai-thailand

Michael Miszczak is a nomadic Brooklynite and the co-creator of www.justapack.com. He started backpacking five years ago and has thought of doing little else since. He’s spent months in Asia, Europe, and Latin America. One day he hopes to explore Saturn…but only if he can bring his backpack.

Follow Michael here: 

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Murder, Mayhem, and an Asshole from New York (Part 1)

There were two Turkish restaurants in town. They stood side by side, on the gravel road that hugged the north side of the lake, and were owned by the same man.

The restaurant on the left served the same food as the restaurant on the right, and the owner tended to serve whichever crowd was largest, which would often force diners at the neglected restaurant to migrate to the busier one in hopes of being served.

The service was notoriously slow, the food notoriously delicious, and on a particular December evening a hungry pack of travelers had gathered to partake in shared plates of fried eggplant and manti with thick yogurt and pilaf and beer, endless bottles of dirt cheer beer in dusty bottles.

They sat on the floor on plush pillows, and friends trickled in one by one, in twos and fours, until the dimly-lit restaurant with the low ceiling was filled with foreign tramps and vagabonds – the British guy from India, the brunette writing the travel book, the American  woman who’d cycled South America, the Ecuadorian couple who’d just trekked the Annapurna circuit, and the spritely 20-year old in her sixth month of solo-cycling the planet.

Soon locals mixed with tourists and there was no rhyme or reason to the cozy haven, which spun with an energy the romantics among them would later describe as magical.

The fragrance of incense mixed with the scent of minced meat and sizzling vegetables. Candles served as the only source of light save a dim lamp with a tasseled shade that illuminated the host stand in the corner.

The feeling of being in the right place at the right time was palpable – this evening, this moment was exactly why everyone in the room had made the journey to Nepal, and why they traveled in the first place; to slip inside the beating heart of earth’s eternal family, to become one with the mind of the planet, to feel like they belonged precisely because of their differences.

And then two assholes had to go and ruin the whole thing.

The first asshole was this awful woman from New York,  a restaurant patron sitting a few tables away whom Chris never would have noticed if the American and the brunette hadn’t suddenly rolled their eyes in unison at the sound of her voice.

“I can’t stand it” said the American.

Right?!” agreed the brunette in irritation. “New Yorkers.”

“How can you tell she’s from New York?” asked Chris, baffled and impressed.

“That accent” said the brunette.

“The volume” said the American.

 “The complaining” said the 20-year old cyclist, who was Canadian, but apparently could spot a New Yorker when she heard one across the din of a tiny Turkish restaurant.

The Ecuadorians chatted with each other in Spanish, quite oblivious to the fact that had they understood English better, they too would have been suitably irritated.

“OH MY GOD I KNOW, RIGHT?” shouted the voice, completely oblivious to the agreed-upon volume levels that had been subliminally determined by everyone else in the restaurant.

Once it was pointed out to him, the bright, grating voice of the New York asshole was all Chris could hear. He made a mental note to be more like the Ecuadorians, and only travel to countries where he did not speak the language. When you don’t know what people are saying, he thought, it’s much easier to like them.

“EXCUSE ME? EXCUSE ME! HELLO! OH MY GOD OUR WAITER IS NOT EVEN – HI. HELLO. WE HAVE LIKE, ZERO NAPKINS AT OUR TABLE. NAP-KINS. TISSUE? YEAH. CAN YOU BRING SOME, LIKE, ASAP? THAT MEANS RIGHT NOW, NOT IN LIKE, THREE HOURS. THAAAAANK YOUUUUUU.”

They all listened to the obnoxious symphony for a few moments, the Americans and the Canadian shuddering.

“Holy shit” breathed Chris softly. “It’s positively dreadful.”

They nodded at him solemnly, sighing into their eggplant.

“The way we feel about her must be the way the rest of the world feels when they hear Americans speak” said the brunette.

Everyone agreed with the astute observation.

“…AND THEN I WAS LIKE, I’M FROM NEW YORK! I MEAN, AM I RIGHT?”

“She like a caricature of herself” mused Chris.

“It’s not completely her fault” said the brunette, ever the diplomat. “Her city is so big and loud that she has to compete to survive. She’s under the impression that if she doesn’t scream, she won’t be heard. If she doesn’t scream, she’ll die.”

“But we’re not in New York” said Chris.

“Touché” said the brunette, grinning.

Just then, as if demonstrating the validity of their observations, the New York asshole called  out across the entire dining room to the waiter, breaking about 17 cultural subtleties of dining in a Turkish restaurant in Nepal.

The entire dining process in Nepal takes quite a bit longer than it does in the West, because it is assumed that you are dining out for the experience, not simply to assuage your growing hunger.

That’s why it takes 20 minutes for your order to be taken, another 15 for the beer to come, and so on. Sometimes you have to eat a meal right before you go out to dinner, just so you don’t starve before your food arrives.

It’s also not customary for the waiter to bring you your bill; it would be considered rude, as if the proprietor was throwing you out of the restaurant before you were ready to leave. If you are ready for the bill, you must ask for the bill.

In typical American fashion, the New York asshole assumed that the lack of attention to her and her table wasn’t a cultural idiosyncrasy of Nepal, but a personal affront to her and a sign of deliberate neglect.

EXCUSE ME, CAN WE GET OUR CHECK, PLEASE? GOD.”

“If I murder her right now, will you visit me in Nepalese jail?” whispered the brunette to Chris.

“Only every single day” he whispered back.

It was ironic, though not inappropriate, that she’d brought up the topic of murder.

Especially since one was about to take place when the second asshole of the evening stepped through the back door of the Turkish restaurant, the one on the right, wielding a butcher knife in his right hand.

For Part 2, click here.

This post is an excerpt from My Week With Deepak: A memoir of Nepal, available February 2015 from THP Publishing. To pre-order your copy, click here!

SUBSCRIBE now for solo female travel tips and get your FREE copy of 175 WAYS TO TRAVEL TODAY! Enter your email address below to download your copy of the book now. 

His Holiness The Dalai Lama in Zanskar

The Dalai Lama just waved at me with his piece of bread!

I excitedly pick up my own piece and wave it back at him, showing that we’ve already received the traditional chapati in our seating section.

He chuckles and gives another little wave, acknowledging that he has understood me.

After completing my ten day trek through Zanskar, I was told that the Dalai Lama was about to arrive in the area for three days of teaching. 

I’d been staying in a monastery built into a cliff for the past three days. It was located in a quaint village a few hours away.  As if that experience wasn’t cool enough, I then watched as His Holiness arrived this morning in a helicopter and was greeted by hundreds of his own people, the Tibetans.

There were villagers of all ages, many of whom had walked great distances to arrive, and the assortment of traditional clothing was impressive to see.

dalai-lama-1

 

Though I was lucky enough to see him speak in my hometown in Oregon several years ago, seeing him speak at this small outdoor venue amongst his own people was definitely more impressive.

Once we watched him arrive, everyone crowded into their sections around the stage. Hundreds of monks sat in lines upfront, and the traditionally dressed villagers crowded behind them.  

dalai-lama-2

The half dozen foreigners in attendance got to sit up front right next to the stage the Dalai Lama was presenting on, simply because we needed an English translation (lucky us!). 

Occasionally, His Holiness would look over to our section, say something in English, and wave. I couldn’t have been luckier to be so close.

dalai-lama-zanskar

As he began his presentation, he first touched on the fact that everyone, not just Buddhists, needs to understand religious tolerance, compassion, and love for all in order for our world to function.

He also talked about the fact that in today’s world, we need to become “21st century Buddhists” (or whatever religion you are) which, he explained, means forgetting the ritualistic acts that no longer hold meaning in order to focus instead on truly understanding and practicing what you have been taught.

He then went on to address his own people, and though I couldn’t understand the Tibetan literature, sitting so close to the Dalai Lama surrounded by chanting villagers in colorful headdresses and robes seemed the perfect combination for happiness.

dalai-lama-4
Though I am no expert on Buddhism, I can’t help but admire the message of peace and love Tibetan Buddhists bring to the world.

After traveling through the Hindu, Muslim, and Sikh areas of India, I can say that without a doubt the Buddhist areas of Ladakh and Zanskar have by far been my favorite.

After hearing the Dalai Lama speak, it is no wonder these people live devout, peaceful, and spiritual lives as it is obviously the way to happiness.

dalai-lama-3

Shirine Taylor is a 20-year old female traveler currently cycling around the world, and a regular contributor to The Happy Passport. Follow her journey at awanderingphoto.wordpress.com

SUBSCRIBE now for solo female travel tips and get your FREE copy of 175 WAYS TO TRAVEL TODAY! Enter your email address below to download your copy of the book now. 

Quick+Dirty Takeaway

Highlights from His Holiness the Dalai Lama's recent talk in Zanskar:

1. "Everyone, not just Buddhists, needs to understand religious tolerance, compassion, and love in order for our world to function."

2. "In today's world, we all need to become 21st century Buddhists" - in other words, scarp meaningless rituals and focus instead on deeper spiritual understanding and practice.

Want to dig deeper? Go for it!

A Stormy Night in Ladakh India

“Dang it, I’m going to get soaked,” think to myself as the heavy thunder clouds up ahead finally break. The small unpaved mountainous road I’m on is headed straight into the storm. Thankfully, if my map is correct, I’ll be hitting a “town,” which will most likely consist of a makeshift stone dhaba (small tea shop) or two, in ten kilometers. I hope to spend the night in one of the small shacks as a sleepless stormy night in my tent doesn’t sound too appealing. Of course, ten kilometers up here where I’m cycling at the speed of a toddler could take me all afternoon: cycling above 4,000m on unpaved roads is no easy feat. Hours pass and I’m finally two kilometers away. So close, yet still so far. And I am indeed completely soaked, and also completely freezing. I stop for a moment to change into dry clothes just before I realize that I have a small river to cross in front of me. Dang it, I just got dry! Instead of pushing my bike through as I usually do, I decide to ride through in order to avoid soaking my new socks and pants. Of course, halfway through I trip, and my bike and I take a plunge into the icy cold glacier melt.

As I slowly pick myself up and begin to proceed on my way, I realize that I’m shaking. I’m absolutely freezing. Night is quickly approaching, and with it, my need for food and shelter is growing stronger. But the sign says only two more kilometers so I push on, there is no way I’m setting up my tent in this wet and cold mess.

I finally see a building ahead and all I can think about is a nice warm meal and my cozy sleeping bag. I’ll finally be able to feel my toes again! But as I approach I realize that something is off, these aren’t small stone dhabas like I’m use to seeing, but rather a large abandoned government building. This is definitely not what I had in mind.

I desperately yell out anyways, and to my surprise, a head pokes out from one of the doors. I ask if he has a room, and he points me into his small section of the building where blankets are laid on the floor. As I realize he is the only one around, in fact, probably the only human within thirty kilometers, I start to panic. I can’t stay here, in an Indian guy’s room, in the middle of nowhere. That goes against everything I have learned about traveling alone as a female. So I leave, I go back outside and stand by my bike in the pouring rain and contemplate what to do next.

The man comes out and tells me in broken English that it’s safe, and that in any case, I have nowhere else to go. The storm will continue all night, he says, you need shelter. So I decide to trust my instincts which are telling me he is just trying to help and follow him back in. He leaves to let me change in privacy, then cooks me a noodle soup with egg while I hunker down in a large pile of thick blankets. As I accept my second steaming hot cup of tea I realize that coming inside was indeed the right decision, though I’m definitely still on alert.

I fall asleep somewhat uneasily, pepper spray in hand under the covers, and am practically scared to death at two a.m. when someone begins viciously knocking on the door. As I cower under the blanket my host jumps up to answer. After speaking with the stranger for a few moments, he announces to me that he is leaving, and tosses me his keys.

Leaving? At two a.m. in the middle of a storm… on a motorcycle? While leaving a stranger with your keys? I quickly remind myself that I’m in India, and in India, anything and everything is possible.

After he leaves I quickly fall asleep again, and awake in the morning to a beautifully sunny day. I cook breakfast, dry my wet clothes on the fence outside, and laugh at the absurdity of a night in the Himalayas.

Shirine Taylor is a 20-year old girl cycling around the world, and a regular contributor to The Happy Passport. Follow her journey at awanderingphoto.wordpress.com

SUBSCRIBE now for solo female travel tips and get your FREE copy of 175 WAYS TO TRAVEL TODAY! Enter your email address below to download your copy of the book now. 

Murder, Mayhem, and an Asshole from New York (Part 2)

When these things happen, these sudden blips on the heart monitor of life, these moments you write home about and get interviewed about by local reporters (and if the event is really shocking, national reporters), everyone always says the same thing: “It all happened so fast.”

And so it was for the American woman, the Canadian cyclist, the Ecuadorian couple, the British guy from India, the brunette writer, and the New York Asshole that night in the Turkish restaurant, the one on the right.

The smattering of locals that had slipped inside the restaurant earlier in the evening had slumped into the back left corner, and were having a ball of a time getting drunk on raksi, the equivalent of Nepalese bathtub gin.

At one point during the evening, one of the Nepali men has joined their table, slurring his words and asking them all where they were from. Upon seeing Chris’ disapproving look and making sure none of the women at the table were likely to sleep with him that night, he gave up and returned to his den of debauchery in the corner.

Later, just as the brunette was set to murder the New York Asshole, there was a flash of white light to her left.

A man had entered the restaurant from the back door. He swept in swiftly and was immediately restrained by the young hostess and two male waiters who noticed him first.

The brunette looked to her left and saw, not two feet from her face, the cold steel of a fat butcher’s knife catching a glint of the tasseled lamplight.

The man broke free from the staff, raised his arm above his head, and with a wild war cry rushed toward the back table, toward the drunken locals and their empty bottle of raksi.

It could never be said that a roar went up from the crowd so much as a gasp, an immediate silence, a rush of out, out, out, out!

Chris had never had his animal instincts completely take over before. In that moment he had no thought for the brunette or the cyclist or the American or even the Ecuadorians. His only thought was to get as far away from that butcher knife as he possibly could as fast as he possibly could.

In the ensuing chaos,  with the crowd of diners bottlenecking the front door, the women grabbing their purses and shrieking, there was pivotal moment when Chris decided that no, he wasn’t overreacting and yes, this was indeed an emergency.

In that moment Chris made to turn from the scene of the crime toward to the door. And it was in that split second turn that he saw her hips, those same hips backing away from danger, leading the brunette away from death.

And as they sprinted full speed into the night, away from the restaurant and the butcher-wielding murderer, he couldn’t help thinking “this is the dance she does when she is afraid. She is afraid of me.”

It was also not lost on Chris that in a moment of mortal danger everyone, himself included, panicked as politely as possible, not wanting to make too big a scene in case this whole butcher knife-thing was just some sort of terrible practical joke.

——————–

When the smoke cleared there were four of them left, and what a quadruplet they were: Orion, constant and belted against the black winter sky, the New York Asshole, terrified and giddy, her tough exterior melted away in the face of real fear, Chris and the brunette, panting and out of breath as they’d been on their hike up to the stupa.

The rest of the crowd had dispersed, they’d lost their friends, everyone had run all the way home in terror and the excitement of something real and tangible actually happening, and happening to them.

They stood in the street, which was silent and dark, having stopped some 100 yards away from the Turkish restaurant, the one on the right.

Chris and the two women stared in each other’s faces for a few moments, looking for signs of just how frightened they should or shouldn’t be, looking to see if what just happened had, in fact, just happened.

“Should we go back?”

“We didn’t pay for our meals.”

“That poor restaurant owner, he just lost his entire night’s earnings.”

The New York Asshole had already paid her bill, as everyone in the restaurant was well aware, so she bid them farewell and they departed warmly, bonded in the way only tragedy can bond, connected on a level that’s only realized when the ego is silenced and for one sweet moment all that’s left is sheer, unadulterated humanity – that nameless innocence and sweetness common to all who walk the earth, even the jerk from New York.

Chris and the brunette decided to return and pay their bill. Perhaps they wanted another rush of excitement, another shot of danger. They weren’t alone.

A small crowd remained outside the restaurant. The police had come, they’d be questioned, they’d pay their bill, and they’d assure the devastated restaurant owner that no, this incident was not going to ruin his business forever. After all, people could always go eat at the other Turkish restaurant, the one on the left.

The butcher had been sent home with a warning, escorted by the police. Apparently one of the drunken locals had said something rude to him, something disrespectful, something that warranted a stabbing. But in the end no one was hurt except the restaurateur.

The man who was the intended victim, the one who’d almost been butchered to death, was wild-eyed and talking a mile a minute. He grabbed the brunette, shook her by the shoulders and said “You saw. You were closest. What did I do? I just needed to use the bathroom, he was in there, I told him to hurry up. It’s not my fault, I didn’t do anything wrong. Did I do something wrong? It’s not my fault.”

Chris gently lifted his fingers from the brunette’s shoulders, speaking in soothing tones, agreeing with him.

“Of course it’s not your fault.”

They extracted themselves from the shaken victim and walked home together, both quiet, both ruminating on the fact that they themselves could have been butchered tonight.

And yet not even that, not even being faced with their own deaths, was enough to convince either of them to speak up about their feelings for the other.

And so Orion’s belt was gazed upon, the hips tilted backward to prevent the kiss that didn’t happen, and they made plans to see each other again the following day.

For Part 1 of this post, click here.

This post is an excerpt from My Week With Deepak: A memoir of Nepal, available February 2015 from THP Publishing. To pre-order your copy, click here!

SUBSCRIBE now for solo female travel tips and get your FREE copy of 175 WAYS TO TRAVEL TODAY! Enter your email address below to download your copy of the book now. 

Blood, Fur, and Guts: Life in the Peruvian Altiplano

Blood squirts out and onto the squealing guinea pig, who is about to reach the same fate as his brother.

The knife tugs at the skin and fur, eventually severing the neck. Two decapitated guinea pigs staring at me with vacant eyes.

An unknowing sheep that my trekking partner purchased a few days back is about to receive the same treatment. I have definitely never seen my meals so up close and personal before, and I’m not so sure I want to make a habit out of this.

I just finished an amazing ten day trek through the Andes, and somehow I have ended up at the mule owner’s small mud hut in the high altitude Peruvian country side.

My trekking partner and I have set up our tent in their field, and in doing so, we have gained the attention of many curious eyes which have never been laid upon foreigners before.  

The children are more scared than the women, who have gathered around in a circle, but I know eventually they too will approach.

The house itself is amazing, a small mud hut structure with an open fire kitchen inside.

There is a shack beside it full of squealing guinea pigs and squabbling chickens, and then another open air hut which I have lovingly dubbed “the killing room.”

The man we arrived with is now tying up a very stubborn sheep, and with the help of his eldest son, is about to lift the protesting animal to be hung, then killed.

Though it’s gruesome, I have to remind myself that no matter how meat back home is packaged, it too was once a real live animal like this one.

The men chop the meat, hacking away the thick fur coat which will be used for clothing or a blanket later on. The women then take the pieces and wrap them in leaves before burying them underground.

For the past few hours the village has been preparing for this special type of cuisine by gathering the coals from a very hot fire into a pile. The women then place the leaf-cloven meat underground, surrounded by the burning coals, to cook overnight.

Throughout the evening I alternate between playing soccer with a few of the young boys in the village, and trying to speak with some of the women who live at the house.

Though I speak Spanish, this village is so remote that the few inhabitants only speak Quechua. As the sun sets everyone retires for the night, there is no electricity in the area so late nights are fruitless.

I wake at sunrise to the voices and laughter surrounding my tent, and quickly realize that the whole village has been invited to the feast.

The meat, which has been slowly cooking all night, is now in a large basket along with an assortment of different types of potatoes. The basket is passed around and everyone digs in, eagerly eating the meat straight from the leaves. The meat is tender and juicy, and by far the best breakfast I have ever had.

As I look around I realize what a unique situation I have found myself in, a special moment I will remember forever. 

I am surrounded by curious women and hardworking men in the middle of the Andes, in a small village that couldn’t be further removed from the world I come from.

I have been invited to share a feast with them, a feast prepared in a way I have never seen before. But more importantly, I have been invited to take part – if only for a few days – in a way of life completely different from my own. 

Shirine Taylor is a 20-year old girl cycling around the world, and a regular contributor to The Happy Passport. Follow her journey at awanderingphoto.wordpress.com

SUBSCRIBE now for solo female travel tips and get your FREE copy of 175 WAYS TO TRAVEL TODAY! Enter your email address below to download your copy of the book now. 

No Privacy Nepal

The man’s hand is cool on my forehead. The room is dark and his traditional flat-topped hat is silhouetted against the light leaking in from the flimsy, hung tapestry that serves as a door.

Like everyone else in the village, he has waltzed right into my sick room without knocking – not that there is even a door to knock upon.

After the incident at the river, The Mother, and possibly even Deepak, is finally convinced that I am ill and must rest.

And eat. Lots and lots of food.

In addition to plastic bottles filled with warm, stagnant water, women and children parade into the bedroom with dish after dish of what I assume they think will cure me.

I try to explain to Deepak that I cannot eat, that eating is what got me into this mess in the first place.

He’s not getting it.

“You just try” he says.

And I do, knowing full well the little bit of rice and soup I manage to ingest is coming right back up.

I’ve been placed in the bedroom of Mr. and Mrs. DeKash, and if I wasn’t about to hurl, might feel a bit strange lying on the same rock-hard slab that serves as their marriage bed. This is where he makes love. With no doors, with people coming in and out whenever they please, with no secrets, no privacy anywhere.

Do they try to be quiet? Are they as loud as they please and everyone hears them and it’s fine because they’re married?

The tall man with the flattop hat removes his hand from my forehead and abruptly leaves the room, shouting something important-sounding to someone outside.

I wonder for a moment if he’s the village medicine man, or the mayor. His towering height must’ve been rewarded with some position of power.

Two humble shelves have been attached to the stone wall above my sick bed. One holds a stick of deodorant, a bottle of lotion, a pink plastic comb, and a tiny hand mirror.

The second shelf holds a carefully-coiled cell phone charger and a photograph of The Mother and Deepak’s father on their wedding day. They are sitting two feet apart from each other, unsmiling, having been positioned in front of an enormous Mount Everest backdrop. I’m certain when looking at the picture that it’s the only one she’s ever had taken of herself, the only one she’s ever kept.

Other photographs and posters dot the walls – Army Brother in his uniform, which makes him look exactly like Bullwinkle; a decorative plate that must’ve been someone’s wedding gift; a poster of a famous Bollywood actress baring her midriff.

The young boy who has remained at my bedside since the Mayor left stares at me expectantly, watching to see if I’m going to die, which he seems to think would be a pretty cool thing to see.

I can’t entertain him, and allow my eyes to close, knowing full well that he’s still standing six inches from me, staring at me intently.

Feeling like shit is a really quick, easy way to let all of your cultural conditioning about privacy and boundaries go out the window.

In and out, in and out they come. There’s a foreigner in the village! An American! A woman! She threw up in Parvarti’s river! And the Mayor says she’s going to die!

I’m the most exciting thing that’s happened since Shiva’s buffalo from two farms over was born with an extra leg. 

When the latest horde of visitors gets bored and decides to go torment the goats (who, by the way, have been in and out of my sick room as well), there is a lone figure leaning against the doorless doorway.

I squint in the din, looking for Deepak’s easy smile, but the lips are upturned in a smirk.

“You are sick” says DeKash, Deepak’s younger, unruly, inconveniently attractive brother.

We are alone in the room and through the stench of vomit and sweat and misery, my body still responds to him, inviting him closer.

“This is my room” says Dekash.

I know. More like this is your bed. The bed where you get naked with your wife after The Mother is finally asleep, being careful not to wake the snoozing buffalo.

His English is light years better than Deepak’s, perhaps that’s why Deepak is nowhere to be found. I’ve been pawned off on the women for health, on DeKash for conversation.

His presence makes something spin inside me, and the last thing my stomach needs is more spinning.  Another wave of nausea overtakes me, and I am sitting up frantically, pushing past DeKash, running for the “toilet.”

Everyone can hear me retching, it is everywhere, I am naked in front of these strangers, these judging eyes. The cement slab beneath the water pump is filled with my mess, and I can’t help but wonder how on earth people shit here.

Cold sweat breaks out on my forehead, I’m squatting in the filth, my nose and face a mess, shaking, tears leaking from my eyes.

Suddenly I feel two dry, warm hands pressed against my forehead, not letting go. They hold me fast, steadying me, calming the shakes. Hands well practiced at soothing, at making everything OK.

I place my hand over the mystery hands in gratitude, saying “I’m sorry, I’m sorry” over and over again.

I cannot look at her but I know they are the hands of The Mother.

Without standing up, I reach my hand up, trying to touch the handle of the water pump with my fingers.

“Please” I beg, gesturing to the vomit, the mess I’ve made of their super weird toilet. “Please.”

She understands that I want it gone, I need it cleaned, I am ashamed.

I sit squatting on wet cement, the buffalo yawning at my plight, while The Mother pumps and pumps the water until all the evidence has been washed through the narrow openings in the grid covering the drain.

At rock bottom, squatting in one’s own filth, the perks of communal living begin to become apparent.

I am one of the flock, I need to be looked after. I must accept the help that’s offered me, for my own good and for the good of everyone here.

Each individual in the community is one limb of a connected body that survives or perishes based on how everyone works together.

They haven’t been barging into my sickroom because they’re curious. They’re naturally interested in my fate because it impacts them directly – in communal Nepal, all illnesses, recoveries, victories and defeats are suffered by all and celebrated by all.

It’s taken the steadying strength of The Mother’s warm hands to make me begin to see the enormous benefit, the enormous power, of living life this way.

This post is an excerpt from My Week With Deepak: A memoir of Nepal, available February 2015 from THP Publishing. To pre-order your copy, click here!

SUBSCRIBE now for solo female travel tips and get your FREE copy of 175 WAYS TO TRAVEL TODAY! Enter your email address below to download your copy of the book now. 

 

 

Quick+Dirty Takeaway

When one takes it upon oneself to get food poisoning in a remote village in the middle of nowhere in the middle of Nepal, one must be prepared to live like the Nepalese do in such a village.

That means whatever is coming up (and/or out) of your body is everybody's business, and that the town mayor may very well enter your sick room, place his hand on your forehead, and utter the curse of the dead to the delight of a dozen gawking children.

Want to dig deeper? Go for it!

Makalu: Trekking the Himalayas

The last four hours trekking the Himalayas haven’t been that bad. In fact, even though I have gained nearly 1,000 meters of altitude, it’s been pretty fun! That is, until 10 minutes ago….

Unfortunately, the last ten minutes have proven that the rest of the day is about to get a whole lot slower.

For the first time in over a decade there is still snow on the route, snow that has normally melted by the end of February but will clearly be here at least a few more weeks.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love snow. I absolutely love the mountains, and usually when I see snow, I feel right at home being from a cold snowy place myself.

But I guess it’s a little different when that snow is greatly hindering your progress up a never ending vertical slope.

After a few more hours of panting and slipping I arrive, completely soaked, to a small house in the middle of nowhere.

This guest house, called a tea house in the trekking regions of Nepal, is run by a Tibetan Nepali woman, and is open throughout the season in order to provide climbers a dry place to sleep and eat on their approach to Makalu, the fifth tallest mountain in the world.

 

trekking-the-himalayas-5

Though there are other trekkers who simply wish to visit the base camp, this area is mostly composed of true mountaineers, many of whom have already climbed some of the world’s most renowned peaks such as K2 and Everest.

I order a “dalbaht,” the typical rice and lentils found everywhere in Nepal, and though it’s much more expensive than usual, I understand why.

As we are now a four day’s walk from civilization, the food has to be carried up here everyday in order for us trekkers and climbers to eat.

In fact, on my way through the snow I met three teenage boys racing down the hill (in flip flops no less!). They were making their way down the mountain to a lower supply village in order to fill up the empty baskets on their heads, and then begin the long trudge back up the steep snowy slopes.

It is wet and cold as I set up the tent, and throughout the next two nights trekking the Himalayas I realize that the weather in this particular area is absolutely miserable.

The clouds are constant and the cold is bone-chilling because everything is so wet. I do get a fifteen minute break at sunrise though, and realize that the giant Himalayas are indeed surrounding us, tantalizing us by staying so hidden most of the time. 

trekking-the-himalayas-2

After talking with the lady who runs this tea house I realize that her family owns the guest houses farther along this trek as well.

While she is in charge of this one, her husband caters to the one on the other side of the gigantic pass in front of us. And beyond that, her husband’s brother is stationed at the next one.

Their children are all in private boarding schools lower down, and one is even going to school in Kathmandu. There is good money in running a tea house such as this, but it is also a lot of work.

trekking-the-himalayas-3
The woman is up at dawn preparing tea and food for the climbers and trekkers who want to get an early start to the day, and then spends the rest of the morning cleaning up in order to prepare for the next group who may or may not be trekking the Himalayas that day. 

It is cold, and in this case, very snowy, and to run this guest house she is forced to live away from her family for months at a time.

I’m thankful she is here though. Even though I am carrying a fair amount of food and am mostly self-sufficient due to the tent, there is no way I could carry enough to last me along this twenty-day trek without being able to buy meals at the mountain tea houses such as this one.

The Makalu base camp trek is a great alternative for trekkers who want something less crowded and popular than the overrun treks of Annapurna and Everest.

trekking-the-himalayas-1

 

Situated in the East, it’s inaccessibility is what keeps most people away as it requires a twenty-five hour bus ride (or half an hour flight) from Kathmandu to reach the last town in the area where the trek begins.

The long travel overland is more than worth it for the beauty this twenty-day trek grants you, and the peacefulness of being nearly alone among the 8,000-meter giants.

Shirine Taylor is a 20-year old solo female traveler cycling around the world, and a regular contributor to The Happy Passport. Follow her journey at awanderingphoto.wordpress.com.

SUBSCRIBE now for solo female travel tips and get your FREE copy of 175 WAYS TO TRAVEL TODAY! Enter your email address below to download your copy of the book now. 

Quick+Dirty Takeaway

Trekking the Himalayas doesn't have to mean over-touristed circuits like Annapurna and Everest.

Head east of Kathmandu to Makalu for isolation and amazing views!

It takes 25 hours by bus to reach the trail head from Kathmandu, so be prepared to be surrounded by hardcore adventure travelers and true mountaineers.

Want to dig deeper? Go for it!

Women of Nepal: At home in the kitchen

The family knew that Christmas was the Achilles’ heel of Westerners.

There were a few scattered festivals and parades throughout the town, but they were all presented in a way that lacked the cheer of the season.

A lone, Charlie Brown Christmas tree guarded the entrance to an alleyway on Lakeside Drive, and a handful of restaurants hung a few extra lights in honor of the season.

Many wrote “Happy Christmas” or simply “Christmas!” on the chalkboard signs that served to entice customers to enter, but besides the copious amount of mulled wine Chris and the brunette had enjoyed together, there wasn’t much that felt like Christmas.

And so Christmas was the family’s chance to unwrap her, unwrap the mystery of the writing room, find out more about the man who came to visit in the mornings, about the days at a time when she’d disappear completely and sometimes call them to say she wouldn’t be returning, but that of course she’d still be paying for the room.

The wife had prepared a special dinner – dried buffalo meat as an appetizer, followed by an extra special dahlbat with curried vegetables and potatoes and a beautiful, rich yogurt that may as well have been a dessert.

The brunette brought a handle of Red Stag at the husband’s request – it was his favorite, expensive.

Chris had managed to find a bottle of red wine which had definitely turned, but that him and the brunette drank anyway, painful sip after painful sip.

The husband talked about American music, then American movies, then American books.

The wife hid in the kitchen, periodically appearing to disperse more and more food. The sons were lost in a football match on the tiny television set, and the husband eventual lost himself in the bourbon.

And so it was that the Christmas dinner belonged to the two of them alone, surrounded as they were by an entire family, a silent family who spoke to each other and not to them, a wife who, as was custom, never joined the table to impart in the meal she’d just so painstakingly created.

And all they could see on this, this Christmas Eve, was each other, laughing across the table. Laughing, eating and drinking as the only two people on earth, until the yawns of the family forced them to retire to the brunette’s guest room.

“You make it feel like Christmas” said the brunette, and Chris’s heart swelled in his chest, ripe to burst.

They sat in the little alcove created by a table and two chairs, their stockinged feet upon the table, him smoking, her drinking, both marveling at how the wife never joined them.

“I feel bad she never ate! When does she eat?”

“It must be perfectly normal. It must be a woman’s duty, a wife’s duty.”

“It’s slavery. Indentured servitude. I’ll have none of it” he said.

“You’re such a feminist,” she said.

“Can you imagine slaving away for hours then standing by and watching while everyone else gets to eat, and no one even thanks you?”

“But to her, it’s honorable. To her, she is acting as a good wife. It’s only when you tell her something is wrong with it that she becomes dissatisfied.

And that’s what we do, isn’t it? Go around the planet telling people they she be dissatisfied with their lives, that they should want plasma screen televisions, that they should be discontent unless and until they have all the things we have, all the things we think we need to be happy.

And we do it not for them, but to convince ourselves that the pursuit of stuff is worth it – that the endless chase has some sort of purpose.

The most offensive person to the American ideal, the enemy of the ideal, is the person who is perfectly happy living a simple, quiet life without a car, without a nice house, without ego, without identity.

Shova is no one special. And Shova is happy as a clam. Her happiness defies everything we’ve been taught about what happiness should look like.

Happiness is waking early, lighting a stick of incense, and giving thanks for all the days that have brought you to this one.

I see the beauty in her eyes when she looks at her husband with pure adoration, and the tenderness with which he looks at her. And the honor and esteem she feels having cooked a wonderful meal her family enjoys, whether they say thank you or not. I see a woman who is thriving, at the top of her game, a woman who is living the dream.

We have decided there is no honor in her position, but she doesn’t know that, and because she doesn’t know that she is happy.

It is the greatest cruelty in the world to force your reality onto someone else, to say ‘See? What you have isn’t nearly good enough, you should be devastated.’

And I think that a lot of the time, that’s what we do when we come into developing countries trying to ‘help.’

But you know what? For all of our Western medicine and flat screen TVs and technology and individualism, all of our efforts to “fix” the “Third world,” it is our countries that are filled with miserable people.

People whose egos run their lives, people who are never content with what they have, people who have to schedule kid-time into their smartphone app, people so spoiled and stuffed with poison that they pay other people money so that they can eat less food, people who abuse themselves for decades then expect doctors to be able to fix them, people obsessed, obsessed, obsessed with fame and success, people who resent the famous and the successful, hypocrites who strive to be beautiful then hate those who achieve beauty, people for whom the best is never, never, never enough.

And me, and you, and all of those people could learn a thing or two from a woman breathing in and out, breathing life into her nostrils each morning as she lights her incense, with a song in her heart and on her lips, more than content with her lot, perfectly grateful to be of service, aware of the perfection of her position in the world, certain that she is blessed by her God and certain she is fulfilling his calling.”

He had listened to it all as he always did, letting her spew her ideas into the air of the room, watching her as whatever entity was speaking spoke through her. And he loved her fully and completely then.

“I still say she should open her own restaurant” he said softly, smiling.

She threw a pillow at him, laughing.

They regarded each other for a moment until she removed herself from the visual embrace, stepping out of it on tiptoe.

“You have to leave” she said suddenly with no explanation.

“Ok…” he tilted his head, confused. What had he done to offend her?

“It’s late” she said in way of explanation. A bullshit explanation.

He didn’t budge from his perch, and she sighed and stood up and began pacing the floor, backing her hips away as she’d done every night when they’d parted under the constellations.

“You have to leave because if you don’t leave, we’re going to make love, and I can’t. I just can’t.”

By Rebekah Voss. This post is an excerpt from My Week With Deepak: A memoir of Nepal, available February 2015 from THP Publishing. To pre-order your copy, click here!

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Nepal’s Holi Festival of Colors

As my face is gently smeared with color for the fourth time I suddenly think “Oh! So that’s how it’s done.”

While foreigners viciously throw the powdered color used to celebrate Holi Festival, the Nepalis smear it on your face. gently, with reverence. And I’m trusting them to know how it’s supposed to be done – it’s their holiday after all.

As I parade down the street with my group of friends, we are continually smeared with paint and shot with water guns. This mix of water and color creates a sloppy yet beautiful mess all over our faces and clothes. And little do we know, this is just the start to the crazy festival of colors known as Holi Festival. 

The screaming and singing confirms that we are close before I can see the thousands of colorful Nepalis dancing in the square.

We have followed the crowd, which has led us into the heart of the city to the scene of a bustling party of extreme proportions, and of course, color.

As we try and make our way through we are “attacked” from every side. Being a Westerner, every Nepali wants to smear their own handful of power on your cheeks no matter how covered you may already be.

It’s hard to make any progress when all you see are green, red, and yellow hands in front of your face, but I don’t mind. Today is all about the experience.

Holi-festival-2

A group of young Nepalis pull us into a dancing circle, and we suddenly find ourselves learning to dance as they do, the music pounding in our ears.

It’s fun, but as I prefer to watch, I quietly sneak out to the sidelines to observe.

Around me there are thousands of young Nepalis laughing and celebrating, and I realize that a city has rarely looked as alive as it does today.

Though smearing color may be the purpose of this gathering, it also looks like a perfectly good excuse for a day off to party, get together with friends, and celebrate life. It’s the buzzing atmosphere that makes this day feel so special.

We sit down to eat at a small outdoor restaurant and watch as children run up and down the street chasing each other with water and color, mercilessly pouring both down on their friend’s heads. What a festival indeed.

I have always seen documentaries of Holi Festival depicting this infamous color-throwing Hindu holiday, but I never thought I would get to experience it for real.

Holi-festival-3

 

Though I knew the holiday took place in India, it didn’t occur to me until I saw it with my own eyes that it would also be celebrated in Nepal. 

Being smeared with the powder myself fulfilled my lifelong dream of partaking in the chaotic festival of colors. Creating and receiving a mess has never been so much fun.

Have you experienced Holi Festival? Where? Would you do it again?

by Shirine Taylor a 20-year old solo female traveler cycling around the world, and a regular contributor to The Happy Passport. Follow her journey at awanderingphoto.wordpress.com.

SUBSCRIBE now for solo female travel tips and get your FREE copy of 175 WAYS TO TRAVEL TODAY! Enter your email address below to download your copy of the book now. 

Quick+Dirty Takeaway

1. Holi Festival takes place in Nepal as well as India, Bangladesh, South Africa, and many other countries around the world

2. One part of the Holi festival involves getting smeared head to toe with brightly colored paints, throwing paint at friends and strangers, and using water and water guns to liquefy paint powders

3. You probably don't want to bring your camera or smartphone to Holi Festival!!

Want to dig deeper? Go for it!

Top 10 Things Said During 6 Months of Travel

Last December, when I’d been out of the country for less than a month, I met Shirine, my friend and co-conspirator who frequently guest posts here on the blog.

At the time, Shirine had just finished 6 months of travel and was looking forward to another 5-6 years on the road.

I remember thinking “Wow! 6 months?! That is such a long time!”

The other day I passed the 6-month mark, and I really can’t believe I’ve made it this far, especially after getting off to such a rocky start.

I’m not a seasoned traveler like many bloggers – I’m a total newbie, especially compared to folks who’ve been on the road for 3, 5, 10 years.

But 6 months has been enough time to a) completely shift my perspective on, well, just about everything, and b) collect some awesome travel quotes.

I like when bloggers do milestone check-ins, recounting what they’ve learned after 12 months, 2 years, or a decade of nomadism.

Instead of going into what I’ve learned, which can be easily summed up as “Everything I thought I knew about everything was wrong,” I thought it’d be more fun to honor some of the verbal gems that have been thrown my way during my time in Nepal, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam.

#10 – “Why are you so fat?”

This woman is only 87 years old, but looks much older from a life of hard living

“Why are you so fat?”

Where it happened: A remote village somewhere outside Chitwan, Nepal

Who said it: A paper-thin, impossibly frail, startling ancient grandmother. She was 87 but looked about 127, and she wasn’t trying to be rude. She really wanted to know what the hell I was eating to make me 4x her size.

My response: “Because I’m American. Can I take your picture?”

#9 – “Your number is old, but your face is young”

"You number is old, but your face is young"

“You number is old, but your face is young”

Where it happened: Siem Reap, Cambodia.

Who said it: My friend Thida, after asking how old I was. She was interested in hooking me up with her friend Ritti, but once she found out I was 32 (ancient in Asia, but especially in Cambodia), she changed her mind.

My response: “Thank you. In my country, it’s hip to date older women. Ritti should reconsider. I can be his cougar.”

#8 – “You give me your money!”

Where it happened: On a rickety local bus somewhere between Sa Dec and Chau Doc, Mekong Delta, Vietnam.

Who said it: An old woman sitting next to me on the bus. I was the only foreigner on the bus, and when she saw me, I could see the wheels start turning.

I could tell she used to speak English, used to use it regularly, but that it had been years since she’d spoken the language, and languages have a funny way of abandoning you without constant attention.

She sat next to me, smiling and struggling, and I waited patiently for her to remember “Hello” and “How are you?” and “Nice to meet you, my name is Phuong.”

Instead, what popped out what the most important phrase in the English language,

My response: I smiled, repeated the phrase back to her, and held out my palm so she could give me her money. We had a good laugh and she didn’t pester me again.

#7 – “I would never eat my own dog”

Where it happened: Cat Ba Island  Vietnam

Who said it: My friend Mr. Tuyen as he was explaining the subtle nuances of dog-consumption to me.

“But to me, a dog is like a member of the family. I could never eat a dog.”

Mr. Tuyen then clarified that one never eats the family dog – that would be barbaric – one only eats other people’s family dogs. Or stray dogs, because they’re tasty too.

My response: “You’re sure this is chicken, right?”

#6 – “Why must you wash your body every day?”

"Why must you wash your body every day?"

“Why must you wash your body every day?”

Where it happened: The middle of nowhere in Nepal

Who said it: Deepak, in response to my request to take a shower after a gnarly round of food poisoning.

My request was denied because there was a) no shower, and b) no reason that Deepak could see to shower, since I’d just showered yesterday.

My response: Silence. Because when pressed, I honestly couldn’t think of one good reason that I absolutely had to wash my body every day.

#5 – “Turn! It! Off!”

"Turn! It! Off!"

“Turn! It! Off!”

Where it happened: That same village in Nepal

Who said it: A group of 12 screaming children who were first frightened, then awed, then utterly bored with my iPhone.

They sort of hated my iPhone, in fact, and had much more fun chanting “Turn! It! Off!” then they did playing with the phone itself.

My response: I turned it off, and we played with the goats instead.

#4 – “My father is possessed by the Monkey King”

Where it happened: Siem Reap, Cambodia

Who said it: My friend Ritti, as an explanation for his father’s symptoms of mental illness.

My response: “Why the Monkey King?” Why? Because my father screeches, scratches himself, throws things, and crawls around on the roof, that’s why.

The diagnosis actually sounded pretty reasonable to me when explained like that.

#3 – “What is this remedy?”

"What is this remedy?"

“What is this remedy?”

Where it happened: Chitwan, Nepal

Who said it: Deepak’s brother, after I asked him for some soap and hot water.

My response: “This remedy is called soap. It is a foamy liquid that, when used regularly, can prevent rounds of vomiting like the one I’ve just endured due to your total lack of soap-use in preparing my meal.”

Just kidding, I didn’t say that. But he really was curious, as if hot water + soap was some sort of magical elixir with powers to wake the dead and move mountains. As if he’d never seen someone combine the two before (and truth be told, he probably hadn’t).

#2 – “She is 13 and just married. I think it is too young.”

Where it happened: Nepal. The village. Are you starting to notice a pattern of one-liner awesomeness here?

Who said it: Deepak, when a 13-year old newlywed stopped by my sick room to ogle me along with the rest of the villagers.

My response: “Ya think?!

#1 – “You know, I won’t be a monk forever.”

"You know, I won't be a monk forever."

“You know, I won’t be a monk forever.”

Where it happened: Muang Ngoi Neua, Laos

Who said it: A 16-year old Buddhist monk who had just given me a tour of his temple.

My response: “I’m old enough to be your mother.” Ok, if I had gotten knocked up at 16. But still.

We then took some photos together, him giggling the entire time and saying things like “You know we can’t touch you, right?”

What’s the best one-liner you’ve heard while traveling?

What questions do you get asked all the time?

When people ask you questions that would be considered rude in your culture, does it piss you off or do you take it with a grain of salt?

Author: Rebekah Voss – the Founder of TheHappyPassport.com and a cheerleader for solo female travelers everywhere.

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Quick+Dirty Takeaway

10. "Why are you so fat?"

9. "Your number is old, but your face is young."

8. "You give me your money!"

7. "I would never eat my own dog."

6. "Why must you wash your body every day?"

5. "Turn! It! Off!"

4. "My father is possessed by the Monkey King."

3. "What is this remedy?"

2. "She is 13 and just married. I think it is too young."

1. "You know, I won't be a monk forever."

Want to dig deeper? Go for it!

The (Very) Long Road to Chitwan – Part 2

The armed guard watches from his high tower with a mix of curiosity and disgust as I vomit for the third time. I wonder if he’ll descend from his high perch to give me a fine or a ticket of some sort. As my body purges itself yet again, he seems to lose interest and lets his gaze gently return to the vast fields and forests of the Chitwan National Forest. “Just a little farther” says Deepak, wanting to get me home already, wanting to make me well. Yes, I understand, but if I get back on that bike and that bike gets back on the rocky road, we’re going to have an episode from The Exorcist. It’s full-blown food poisoning – from the flies, from the dahlbat, from no soap anywhere, ever. I am knee-deep in the dried grass of an open field that connects one part of the forest to another. A river cuts the field in two, rolling gently beneath the bridge Deepak is begging me to cross. “Just a second” I call, trying to puke as quietly as possible. This is so embarrassing.

How am I supposed to be an irresistible sex goddess with vomit on my chin?

My head throbs, and I bend from the waist in agonized anticipation of the next round. This waiting period is the purgatory of food poisoning. Through the fog of this hot, shamed, disgusting mess, my eyes suddenly focus on a small, speckled insect crawling on a leaf in front of me. The wind is threatening to blow the insect away, but it marches on, determined to get to the top of the leaf if it’s the last thing it does. “How beautiful” I think, as I fertilize the grass with the contents of my stomach yet again. In this moment – this hot, uncomfortable, worst-case-scenario moment, with its abysmal timing and strong indications of a miserable 24 hours to come – I have found beauty. I think of all the times in my life where everything appeared to be OK. When there was food in my belly and I had a warm place to sleep, friends that loved me, and all of my bills paid. And somehow I still managed to find cause for complaint everywhere I looked. My mind could not accept the acceptable, and I made war upon myself over and over again for 29 years of my life. And here I am, for some reason wide awake in this moment, a moment that would be very easy to resist and hate and complain about. I mean, out of all the days to get sick, I get sick on the day I’m meeting his mom? I get sick on the day I have to ride on a motorbike for 6 hours? I get sick during my possibly only chance to experience life in a Nepalese village? But my curious heart is filled with nothing but this bug. I see it, I see its beauty, and I think absolutely nothing  – I sink deeper and deeper into nothingness, the freest state I’ve found. And I’m nothing but grateful. Not for the illness, but maybe for the illness because it’s showing me that my own happiness is not dependent on external events. My happiness comes from within, and no amount of food poisoning in the world can shake what’s rightfully mine. This is the feeling of presence, of freedom from past and future. This is what Eckhart Tolle is talking about, what the monks of the world seek by trying not to, what Jesus was saying when he said he was the “light of the world.” The light of this world exists now, not just in the insect on the leaf, but in the attention I’m able to pay it in this God-given gift of now, in presence that cuts through the din as light shattering the darkness. 60 seconds ago I was retching, 60 seconds from now I may be again. But for now, for this eternal moment of now, all I can see is a perfect creation making its way across a leaf blowing in the wind. For part 1 of this series, click here.  This post is an excerpt from My Week With Deepak: A memoir of Nepal, available February 2015 from THP Publishing. To pre-order your copy, click here!

SUBSCRIBE now for solo female travel tips and get your FREE copy of 175 WAYS TO TRAVEL TODAY! Enter your email address below to download your copy of the book now. 

Quick+Dirty Takeaway

True beauty, true peace, can always be found in the eternal moment of now (even in the midst of a gnarly case of food poisoning).

Want to dig deeper? Go for it!

Shackles, Incense, and Dancing

She has finally arrived.

Beautifully adorned with a sparkling gold and red sari and an elaborate head piece, the bride is being pulled in by a cord which makes her look like a prisoner.

Her head is down, and her heavily made-up eyes are puffy from crying – weddings are a scary affair for an Indian bride.

She has an enormous gold ring in her nose, a large red mark (a tica) on her forehead, and a few dozen bangles (bracelets) on each arm.

Her hands and wrists are covered in a lovely henna design, and around her neck is a curious necklace of ten rupee bills. Her complex and colorful outfit is unlike anything I have ever seen, a stark contrast to the white I am used to seeing on brides back home.

The hundreds of guests who have been dancing to Hindi music for hours while awaiting her arrival stand to watch her enter.

Without making eye contact with anyone, she somberly proceeds over to the corner of the field where an assortment of things are laid out: rice, water, incense, and flowers, all of which will be used later on for part of the ceremony.

She looks downright miserable, and rightfully so. Like many Indian women, this bride has only met her soon-to-be husband, found and arranged by relatives, very briefly, maybe only a time or two before tonight.

She just left her own village, and this may very well be the farthest she has ever traveled alone as her own parents are not allowed to attend the ceremony.

It will certainly be her first time sleeping away from her family, her first night sharing a bed with a man instead of her sisters and mother. She is being married into a new family and house, and with that, she is forced to accept the duties that come along with it.

From now on she will be in charge of taking care of her new husband as well as his family, and will transform into their cook and maid overnight. Though most Indians do not see it this way, from my Western perspective it seems like she is walking into slavery.

A few minutes later the groom saunters in wearing a huge decorated head piece while dancing and singing with his friends. Unlike his wife-to-be, he is not leaving behind his house nor his family, and has no reason to be sad.

He dances his way over to where his bride and a Hindu holy man are waiting to begin the 8 or 9-hour ceremony that will conclude in their official marriage.

“Will they kiss? Or hold hands? Or even sit near each other?” I ask my Indian friend who has brought me to this ceremony.

“Shame on you!” she scolds me gently but firmly – physical contact is absolutely unheard of, even at a wedding.

She explains to me that the marriage is official only after the long ceremony of chanting and rice throwing that will take place throughout the night. Once that is finished, the bride and groom will be free to eat and dance with the remaining guests, though many, such as us, will have already left for home long before the sun rises.

As the ceremony proceeds, a few guests gather to watch, but most stay in the large field in front of the house where the music is blaring popular Hindi songs.

Children, women, and teenage boys all dance enthusiastically together, losing themselves in the music. Others look on laughing, notably the older women with small children drifting to sleep on their laps.

They announce the food is ready, and we rush to be in one of the first few rotating groups to sit on the benches in a large open tent.

The family is obviously wealthy as they’ve served an extravagant meal of rice, dal, and lamb from huge buckets. The second we finish our dinner, the next thirty guests rush in to take our places.

The evening continues as such, with the guests dancing and celebrating throughout the night as the bride and groom sit stoically in the corner, nervous and excited to begin their first day as a married couple.

Or perhaps, in the case of the bride, maybe just nervous.

Shirine is a 20-year old solo female traveler cycling around the world, and a regular contributor to The Happy Passport. Follow her journey at awanderingphoto.wordpress.com.

SUBSCRIBE now for solo female travel tips and get your FREE copy of 175 WAYS TO TRAVEL TODAY! Enter your email address below to download your copy of the book now. 

The (Very) Long Road to Chitwan – Part 1

The ride is cold and wet, then cold and damp, then cold and dusty.

No amount of stopping for tea and momo can fortify my body against the onslaught of a Nepalese highway – two maniacal, unpaved lanes choked with motorbikes and trucks and baby goats and bushel-burdened women climbing through the misty morning.

The road curves along the Seti River, which grows in size and power as we descend from the high mountains.

Rolling hills give way to rolling fields and valleys, and as a few warm rays of sunshine bring relief, I feel like Apollo descending Mt Olympus in his chariot.

We stop at Deepak‘s sister’s home, a small convenience store where they sell oranges and cigarettes.

5 men sit perched on tiny, hand-woven stools, Nepal’s answer to the infamous plastic chairs of Hanoi, or the bean bag chairs of late 90’s North America.

They can’t help but stare as we dismount with some difficulty, my legs not wanting to work after so many hours in the saddle.

The river hugs the road leading to Chitwan

The river hugs the road leading to Chitwan

And although he probably hasn’t seen her in a year, and most likely didn’t tell her he was coming, let alone coming with this white woman in tow, there is this wonderful easiness in the way we are received – it’s this very Nepalese way of welcoming guests that says “Of course you’re here, of course you’re welcome, let’s not make a big thing of it.”

Because to make a big thing of it would be to point out how long it’s been since you’ve been gone, and that could get awkward. The Nepalese don’t like awkward.

I nod and smile as best I can, and Deepak offers a few words of greeting in that same casual, nonchalant, “of course I’m here” tone.

chitwan

“We take lunch?” he asks, smiling at me warmly.

Suddenly he stops and looks at me closely, a bit alarmed.

“You wash the face.”

“What?” I think maybe he’s using the wrong word for something.

“We wash the hands and face” he repeats, and I think maybe I’m learning about some new ritual that must be followed before each meal.

“I’d really rather not wash my face, Deepak, I have makeup on.”

One of the loveliest benefits of being around people who don’t understand English is that you get to say somewhat intimate, embarrassing things to your partner without anyone else realizing you’re doing it.

I’ve often wondered if people around me speaking Vietnamese or Lao or Khmer are actually saying things like “I think I have a hemorrhoid, will you take a look?”, or “Just wait til I get you home tonight, you sexy thang.”

chitwan

Deepak looks confused, grabs a bottle of water, and begins pouring it onto the grass. He holds one hand underneath the stream until I offer to hold the bottle for him. He rubs his hands together as I pour, my sense of alarm growing by the minute.

My fears are confirmed when he withdraws his hands from the stream, shakes them off, and says “Your turn!”

My mind is racing as I rinse my hands underneath the water, trying to keep a polite smile on my face for everyone’s benefit.

Is this supposed to count as washing our hands?!

Where is the sink? Where is the soap? Is this how Deepak always washes his hands?

In Pokhara there was always soap in the bathrooms. And toilet paper. And Western-style toilets.

It had never occurred to me that things would be any different outside of the city.

Maybe I’m overreacting. Maybe that was just a rinse.

“Now your face?” asks Deepak, as he pours bottled water on his own.

How is water alone going to wash my face?

“Very dirty” says Deepak.

“I am? Very dirty?” I ask, alarmed.

I scramble for a mirror and can’t believe my eyes – no wonder the sister and her husband and his posse had stared at me like that!

It had nothing to do with my white face, which was invisible beneath a thick mask of black, caked soot. I looked like Zorro, if Zorro had decided to go all out.

No wonder everyone in Nepal wears masks! I thought it was merely the pollution in Kathmandu that required protection. The air Pokhara is clear, but the air on the roads is not.

There doesn’t seem to be any kind of emissions regulations for vehicles here, and I counted at least 5 times when I had to hold my breath as we plummeted through a cloud of thick, black smoke expunged from a careless, farting truck.

Embarrassed, I ask for the bathroom. Deepak may be fine half-assing his hygiene, but I am washing these chemicals off of my face with soap, dammit.

chitwan

The bathroom is back there if you can find it.

I’m lead into the back room of the house via a tour that last about 10 seconds. I realize with some alarm that both husband and wife must sleep in the same room where they sell the coke and the cigarettes and the SIM cards.

I lock myself into the darkened bathroom and take a deep breath – an exercise I immediately regret as I choke on the dank smell or mold and urine.

There is no light, and by the light of my phone’s flashlight I see with much dismay that not only is there no soap – there is no sink.

It’s an indoor outhouse, and I’m on my own. the only water in sight is in a bucket meant to be used for “flushing” the toilet. After you’ve done your business, you must pour water down the chute to send your waste god-knows-where (quite likely directly into the water supply).

It takes an entire package of tissue and half a bottle of hand sanitizer before I begin to feel like it might be safe to eat with my hands.

Unable to remove the mask of Zorro completely, I now look like a preteen who doesn’t realized she’s chosen a shade of makeup 3 shades too dark.

I’m terribly uncomfortable and do my best to hide this fact from Deepak, who apparently sees nothing out of the ordinary with his sister’s set up. He waits for me patiently, sipping tea and chatting with the men.

“We eat?” he asks when I emerge from the soapless dungeon.

“Great!” I say, trying hard to appear cheerful and grateful and non-judgmental.

His sister has prepared dahlbat for us, or more likely for herself and her husband, but is now giving it to us since we’re here.

Found it!

We sit on tiny painted stools facing the interior of the shop, and use a glass case containing coke and cigarette reserves as our table.

It is from this position that I notice the flies for the first time. They are the happiest, fattest, most exuberant band of brothers I’ve ever observed, buzzing joyfully between piles of rice and pots of vegetables and everything in between.

“No big deal” I think.

We dig in to the dahl, and Deepak watches me like a delighted father, correcting my hand position as I form my fingers into a scoop and shovel the rice into my mouth.

I’m amazed at how easy this is for him to do, and watch as he effortlessly mixes the ingredients together with his fingers, spoons them into his mouth, and somehow manages to finish with perfectly clean hands.

I’m able to get most of the rice into my mouth, but the odd grain or 7 still manages to slip through cracks, falling to their deaths on the plate below.

It’s within the first few bites that I feel it.

Something deep within the innermost cavern of my belly saying “Wait, what?!” and then “Excuse me! What the hell are you giving me, here?”

I know it, I feel, and I keep eating anyway.

When Deepak is long finished and it becomes apparent that I won’t be able to, I apologize profusely saying “I am so full” and “I think I ate too much at breakfast.”

chitwan

The only thing worse than being served food by someone who barely has enough food for themselves and then not finishing it, is the way that food is making me feel right now.

I do not want to go back into that bathroom. I do not…..

Crap. Literally. Well, at least it’s coming out that end. Perhaps it was a one-time expulsion and we can continue on our merry way and –

Crap. My stomach is churning and gurgling, and I begin to worry about how I’m going to time all of this. And Deepak is waiting for me….and they all know I’m in the bathroom for the second time in 15 minutes!

It’s official. I rinse the regurgitated dahlbat down the hole, wiping my face with a t-shirt since there is no toilet paper and I’ve used all of my tissue on the first movement in this symphony.

My kingdom for a toothbrush, a shower, a bar of soap.

But back on the bike I go, thanking the sister for her hospitality and whispering to Deepak that I feel “a little bit sick.”

“It’s the weather” says Deepak, a mantra that seems to be repeated throughout all of Asia to explain everything from the migration of birds to sexually transmitted diseases.

He takes the burden of the backpack off my shoulders, and I wrap my arms around my own pack as we bump our way back to the main road. The long road to Chitwan just got a helluva lot longer.

This post is an excerpt from My Week With Deepak: A memoir of Nepal, available February 2015 from THP Publishing. To pre-order your copy, click here!

SUBSCRIBE now for solo female travel tips and get your FREE copy of 175 WAYS TO TRAVEL TODAY! Enter your email address below to download your copy of the book now. 

Quick+Dirty Takeaway

1. Don't eat food if you see flies, even if it'd be really rude not to.

2. When you eat the food with flies because you didn't want to be rude, don't get on a motorbike afterwards.

3. When you get on a motorbike afterwards because there's no other form of transportation, be sure your backpack is well-stocked with tissue, toilet paper, towels, soap, and hand sanitizer.

Want to dig deeper? Go for it!

Travel Rebel: Far Western Nepal Part 4

“Travel is rebellion in its purest form… We follow our hearts. We free ourselves of labels. We lose control willingly. We trade a role for reality. We love the unfamiliar. We trust strangers. We only own what we can carry. We search for better questions, not answers. We truly graduate. We sometimes choose to never come back.” 

I’m running down a narrow path through the trees, leaping from rock to rock in an attempt to follow a young girl with pigtails who is leading the way.

Giggling as she runs, she is agile and confident on the small rocky path, scampering down the hillside like a goat.

She takes a sharp left turn up what looks like a wall of steep rock and within seconds is perched on the top, waiting for me with a grin. Her cheap plastic sandals don’t stop her. In fact, I don’t think anything could.

I turn around to look where she has led me and find a two story mud hut, a typical house in this region of Far Western Nepal, where the cows live in the bottom of the home and the family lives up top.

There is a small boy with torn shorts and a dirty shirt, and a girl wrapped in a small shawl waiting to join our fun.

far-western-nepal

It’s 7am and the sun is beginning to light up the valley 2,000m below, announcing another beautiful day in the foothills of the Himalayas.

There are birds chirping and I hear the distant sound of a crying goat, but besides that, the hilly mountainside is peaceful and quiet as it always is.

We take off again, running through a field of yellow flowers on a muddy path towards the next house. There is a beautifully wrinkled elderly Nepali women adorned with a large bull nose ring and a colorful headscarf sitting on the ground amongst five or six goats.

She looks up, her toothless grin turning to surprise when she sees me. She hardly has time to ask who I am before one of the children is tugging me along again.

They lead me up and down the small paths on a tour of the dozen or so mud huts scattered up and down this section of the hillside.

far-western-nepal

We come to the road, an unpaved rocky mess, and the race begins. “Ek, duo, teen,” (one, two, three) they yell, before taking off, sandals flying as they run as fast as they can up to the next house.

A small girl, her bare, stick-thin legs poking out awkwardly from her too-small shorts, is waiting for us and waving, eager to join in the fun as well. Her mother, feet and hands died orange with cow dung, comes out from behind the animals and gives her approval.

We fly down the road, all of us running with our arms out like airplanes yelling, “chitoooo, chito, chito, chitooooo” (quickly, quickly) until a beautiful woman with greenish light brown eyes flags us into her field.

She is holding her eighteen month-old daughter, an adorable girl covered in dirt like the rest of these nature-raised children. She invites me into her home, and I step inside to squat beside the small child’s laughing grandma.

far-western-nepal-2

The baby eyes me warily before breaking out into a grin, extending her tiny fingers to grab onto my outstretched hand. The room is filled with smoke as are all of the houses in the area, and the sunlight pouring in from the doorway creates a cozy campfire feel.

There are a few pots and pans to one side, and to the other, a few blankets on the ground. It isn’t much, but it is home.

A small white kitten walks by and I quickly scoop him up and into my lap. He falls asleep instantly, purring contentedly while I wrap him inside my warm shawl.

The young girl grabs for her grandma, and they sit together laughing and cuddling. Their laughter is contagious, and soon all of the children in our gang are playing games, dancing, and giggling around the fire inside the small mud hut.

Far-Western-Nepal

It is an amazing feeling, running through the village with the children, visiting the different houses and cows, before sitting together around a warm fire.

I am an outsider, born into a world so different from their own, but they have accepted me with open arms and enabled me to immerse myself in their world completely, if only for a few days.

This is part 4 of a 4-part series on Far Western Nepal written by contributing blogger Shirine Taylor. 

For Part 1, click here. 

For Part 2, click here

For Part 3, click here

Shirine is a 20-year old solo female traveler cycling around the world, and a regular contributor to The Happy Passport. Follow her journey at awanderingphoto.wordpress.com.

SUBSCRIBE now for solo female travel tips and get your FREE copy of 175 WAYS TO TRAVEL TODAY! Enter your email address below to download your copy of the book now. 

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