After arriving to Kathmandu and making record time getting my visa and luggage, I found myself searching for my ride. Typically, that all takes 1-1.5 hrs to get through and I did it in less than 30 minutes. My flight had also arrived 10-15 minutes early, so my transportation was no where to be found when I walked out the doors of the airport, but I did get my first experience with the monkeys when one climbed down from the roof to knock over a trash can and rip the bag open to find its lunch. Fortunately, I had no trouble getting in touch with my guide, Karl, and after he apologized way too many times, his team member, Nara, was on his way to get me. I arrived in Kathmandu during an insanely busy festival called Dashain. Dashain is basically a celebration of Good winning over Evil. It involves all government offices closing for the festival period and the sacrifice of animals such as goats and buffalo to appease the goddesses. The Nepali people are either very much out and about or Kathmandu can seem a bit like a ghost town during this festival. Pieces of colorful flowers litter the ground and goats riding on top of vehicles are as common as seeing SUVs in the US. They are everywhere and it’s weird how that becomes normal after a few days. My group even participated in the owning of a goat, but we’ll get to that later.
It wasn’t long after hanging up with Karl that Nara showed up to collect myself and my bags. This man has to be THE happiest and the most glass-half-full kind of person I have ever met. He showed up in a very bright purple shirt donning the biggest, warmest, and most genuine smile. He had a small sign with my name on it, but I instantly knew he was there for me when he turned the corner. No sign needed. He took my bags, loaded us all into the car, presented me with a beautiful flower lei (the colors took my breath away), and then we were off! The streets were at full capacity it seemed, cars and mopeds whizzing by weaving in and out of traffic with such abandon and precision. The people seemed to do the same but at a more relaxed pace. It was my first time seeing anything like that in person and it makes you ponder why there aren’t accidents happening at every moment. It’s only after a few days that you realize there is this ebb and flow that naturally happens. Everyone knows how it works, and it does, just as if there were traffic signals and signs all over the place.
We arrived to the hotel, and Nara ushered me in as he grabbed my bags. I walked up the stairs and past the doorman. I softly spoke my first real-life “Namaste” lifting my hands and pressing them together as I walked by. It felt odd, but I was ecstatic to speak those words and have reason to do so. As I walked towards the desk, I saw Karl. This man I had been conversing with via email for 5 or 6 months was now right in front of me. We greeted each other with smiles and a hug. It was so surreal to be in this experience because it had felt like it was so far away for so long.
Karl is the guy behind the scenes and the star of the show that is Anywhere+. He travels around the world pretty much year round setting up all-inclusive travel adventures and guiding them. His guiding experiences have taken him all over the globe because he is that good. He’s spent a few seasons on Everest as expedition photographer and will be going back there this season for an attempt at a summit. He’s inspired me to pursue more trekking and mountaineering and to greet challenges with a big, toothy smile. We had another adventure together trekking up Aconcagua in Argentina more recently, but we’ll get into those details on a future blog. Anywho, he’s too cool to be my friend, but I’m so glad he’s managed to overlook that tiny detail.
Karl got me checked in, took my bags, and delivered me to the room to meet my roommate Jo. I wasn’t sure if I’d have a roomie or not, so I was immediately nervous when I arrived to find out I did. I wasn’t mentally prepared to share a room, but it turned out that I was put with another female photographer who just got me. We instantly hit it off: humor, sass, silliness…I now get to call her one of my best friends, someone I chat with daily and look to for encouragement, wisdom, and hilarity. We got to know each other while we unpacked and repacked our gear, through late night conversations/giggling that went way later than it should have, and through sharing our photography with each other. I learned that there is someone out there who over prepares more than I do. I didn’t think a person like that existed. Jo instantly eased my anxiety of rooming with someone I didn’t know by being her warm and welcoming self. We didn’t have much time to acquaint ourselves initially because I had to quickly wash the staleness of travel off, get ready for dinner, and meet the rest of my wonderful and fabulous trekking group.
So, a quick note about me: I would have laughed at you if you had told me this is what I would be doing a year earlier. I have always been pretty quiet and shy. I loved to do things WITH someone vs. doing something all by myself. I liked the security. This entire trip around the world was out of my comfort zone with zero security, and Nepal was outside of what I ever thought I’d do…like I said before, I didn’t even know you COULD do this until recently. This last year I realized I was sick of waiting around for someone to do things with. I have learned (the hard way) that life is short and you’re not guaranteed anything, so you better live life to the fullest and live in the now. You never know when it’s all going to end. If you can do it now, why wait? So, all of this was growth. I had major growing pains at times, but it never killed me. It made me better. Stronger. Happier. SO. MUCH. HAPPIER.
I nervously walked down to the lobby where everyone was sitting. Everyone greeted me with a smile and introduced themselves to me. We went to dinner and I was treated to another crazy car ride, but this time it was in the dark with headlights coming from every direction. Dinner was a great opportunity to try and remember names (I’m horrible at it-goes in one ear and out the other) and to get a bit of everyone’s story. Kristen, the blogger and solo hiker I already talked a bit about, was on one side and Joe (Yoga Joe) was on the other. I was trying to figure out in my head where he came from. A Facebook event page had been set up so we could stalk each other before the trek 🙂 Joe was not on there. Over dinner I learned he was from NYC and the reason I didn’t know about him was because he was there in a professional capacity. He is a massage therapist and he led us through yoga in the mornings and helped to work out any injuries or sore spots over the course of the trek. He became everyone’s favorite healer very quickly! It was amazing to have someone as knowledgable and as kind as Joe there for us in that way. The first of many examples of the all-inclusive model that Anywhere+ uses to spoil its clients (I apologize now for all the gushing over Anywhere+ that most certainly will follow). Joe was instantly a pleasure to talk with and make jokes with. I enjoyed all of his winking, too. People don’t wink enough. A wink and a smile. That’s how I remember Joe when I think of him.
Kristen, as I mentioned, is the blogger behind Bearfoot Theory and is the reason we were all brought together. She teamed up with Anywhere+ to offer a discounted rate for any of her followers that signed up for the trek. It was such a treat to have her trekking alongside us ‘regular folk’, watching her create content for her site, and encouraging us all on the tougher days. Kristen has hiked the John Muir Trail, spent 3 months alone road tripping through New Zealand, and currently lives full-time in a Sprinter Van. So, her title of bad ass has been earned!
We all had a very nice dinner together. Mezze by Roadhouse sat at the rooftop of a building in Durbarmarg. Its menu was varied, with some of it featuring local ingredients. I chose to get a pizza that had Nak cheese on it because I wanted to be a bit adventurous but still ease into Nepali cuisine (a nak is a female yak). We dined on the patio under twinkly lights in what was more of a modern atmosphere. My pizza tasted fine, didn’t even notice the nak cheese. At this point, I had nothing bad to say about Naks or what they produced…that would change over time. Karl offered dessert, but everyone declined. He pressured me to get something so that he could apologize once again for being late to pick me up. I eventually caved and “split” (I ate most of it) a brownie and ice cream with him. Little by little, everyone else caved and we all ended up having dessert. Dessert, especially cake, ended up being a very important item on our trek.
Sitting across from us were the Canadians, Dean and Kelly. They are two of the raddest Canadians I have ever met! Team Canada, as we called them, are super strong and tough. They were hit by illness and other issues and still made it to the finish line with grace. These two made me laugh all the time and never had a negative thing to say. Dean basically runs Canada and Kelly works from home along with wrangling their three beautiful children. They love to be outdoors together and this trip was to celebrate their 25th Wedding Anniversary…how cool is that???!!! Goals. That’s all I can say.
Seated down at the other end of the table was Josh. This guy was a little quieter than some of the others, but is one of the nicest and easiest guys to get along with. He always looked so put together even after a long day of hiking and it made me mad, lol. Meanwhile, I’m sweating through my clothes that look disheveled and super dirty…how do you do it Josh?? Beyond being nice and dressing well, Josh is of the same mind when it comes to life. He knows the importance of living in the now and is up for a great adventure. He also accompanied me on my most recent travels to Argentina. I’m really lucky to have such a positive and encouraging person by my side on these challenging treks. He’s helped me past many mental barriers.
Another couple that decided to trek together was Cory and Jalena. They’re a young and active couple who are from California. They are also very chill, easy to be around, and be yourself (this may be a theme for our group). The positivity coming from these two was absolutely inspiring, not to mention their adorable interaction as a couple. They were also hit with illness and still finished strong. Their mental toughness still amazes me. More goals.
Our other guide Jangbu, a 19 year old kid who has already summited Everest, has a very bright future ahead of him. He is soft spoken, kind, and fast as the wind! The way in which he could get up and down boulders, or fly up the mountain in the blink of an eye made us all believe he was a super hero with a heart of gold. It was such a treat to see him at the beginning of all this…I can’t wait to see what five or ten years will bring! Part of our fees went to help Jangbu become a certified trekking guide. This is another aspect of the Anywhere+ all-inclusive model that I love so much. They invest in the countries that they provide services in and go beyond providing fair wages to those that work for them. As a client, I can say that our interaction with the local community was priceless. It was one of the things that helped me to fall in love with Nepal.
At this point, our group was still not complete. We were still waiting for one last person and he wasn’t due to arrive until a few days later. Dinner wrapped up and we made our way back to the hotel and said goodnight! So, I had a really successful and wonderful first day in Kathmandu. Looking back on this trip has been such a wonderful experience. I love going through all of the photos and finally processing through everything that happened. I don’t know that I’ve allowed myself time to do this yet since I have kept myself on the “go” since then. I am still in shortage of time as of late because in four days I leave to move out to Washington! It will involve a great road trip and will allow me to test myself once again with some solo travel across the US. I’m very excited to continue to reminisce about Nepal and hope you’ll continue to enjoy it with me!