Gwen Gets Global
Asia India

Indian Healthcare



Dealing with a broken bone anywhere, I’m guessing, isn’t very fun for anyone who isn’t a masochist. Mostly, I’m considering the broken bone in India a general blessing as opposed to the Untied States. To date, I’ve only spent about $130 total on: 3 doctors visits, 6 X-rays, pain killers/other medication, a sling, a cast, and the removal of said cast. Not bad at all in my opinion.

Arm Update:

Today I was less than thrilled with my hospital experience. I don’t have any complaints about the actual doctor. He’s been fine (though very persistent that just putting a cast on me and not performing surgery was a medically sound practice and insisting all American doctors would have performed surgery). I like the doctor. I was really excited to get my cast off today.

UNTIL I saw the cast removal device. It was literally just a saw. And the person in charge of sawing it was not my doctor. I had no idea what his credentials were. He definitely couldn’t speak English. So, first he picks up the scary saw, plugs it in the wall, revs up the drill, and immediately walks too far from the wall and the plug rips out. This does not inspire much confidence.

It’s then I realize the device is literally held together with duct tape.

Indian Hospital
Not pictured: the duct tape between the butt of the saw and the cord

Indian Hospital

He tries plugging it back in with no luck. The other two sockets don’t work either. It takes three men to find another saw and plug it in. They start sawing and I’m terrified my arm is going to get chopped off. He is pushing down really hard on the cast until the saw goes through and starts cutting into my skin and I jerk away. Not speaking English, the guy very lightly touches his finger to the blade to show me it won’t cut me. He then proceeds to jab the blade through the cast and deep into my skin some more. At this point I’m physically pushing the second man (whose job was to keep my arm still) away.

A woman comes over and tells me it won’t cut me, its just vibrating. I tell her its hurting a lot and they all just proceed to let the man saw some more. Eventually he just cuts it off with scissors and I can see the mark on my skin and a bit of blood.

Indian Hospital
Doesn’t look so bad here since I put on the gauze to prevent it from infection

The cut wasn’t that deep, a bit like a cat scratch, but I expect more from a hospital. After my X-Rays I went back to the doctor who was absolutely horrified to see the cuts. I didn’t bring it up at all. He just took one look  and told me “that’s not supposed to happen,” and said he should have cut it off himself. He apologized a number of times. They aren’t so deep but it means I can’t wear the temporary cast for support until the cuts heal.

I didn’t realize how much more my wrist would hurt now that the cast is gone. I still can’t work out so I’ve gained like 5-10 pounds this month and feel absolutely giant. Luckily I have a maid do my dishes 3x a week for 100 rupees ($1.50) but I still feel bad making her do them. Then Rohit cooks for me. So really, besides the being fat thing, its not the worst existence. I’m going to try to do an hour to two hours of simple walking everyday until I can go back to the gym.

Other Interesting Differences in the Hospital:

  1. In India, the problem with sex selective abortion led to a disproportionate number of males to females, especially in the northern regions. In Haryana, where I worked last year, those numbers were visible in the data we had (though this data was less than ideal). Something like 92 girls to every 100 boys. In 1994, India banned sex-determination during pregnancy. Parents find out the “old-fashioned way” whether or not their baby is male or female. Multiple signs have been hung around the hospital explaining this. Indian Hospital
  2. During one of my hospital visits, two Buddhist monks were waiting with me for the doctor.
  3. When I went into the little room to get my X-Rays some guy was sitting in the chair eating his lunch by the machine. Also, out of 3 incidents of X-Rays, they only had me wear protective gear on one batch.
  4. It’s just too cheap. I paid 500 rupees ($7.60) per visit and 300 rupees for 2 X-rays ($4.55) and that’s at a private hospital. While I didn’t appreciate the arm slicing, it was worth saving hundreds of dollars.

This, of course, is my private hospital experience. Government hospitals are even cheaper and, according to the people I’ve talked to here, quite good. The problem is overcrowding. People will wait in line for hours to be seen. According to the few people in India I’ve discussed this with, the ideal is to know someone at a government hospital who can get you in and get you a bed. Otherwise you have to pay more or wait. I can’t even imagine how healthcare is being affected by demonetization and what that means for people without bank accounts.

 

 

 

 

“Pre-conception and Prenatal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act”

Croatia Europe

Inside a Croatian Wedding

With Rachel’s bachelorette weekend looming in the near future, and her wedding only 2 weeks away, I’ve been preoccupied with marriage recently. A large part of the reason I am visiting the U.S. this October is to attend her wedding. With all recent the matrimonial preparations, I’ve been thinking about the last wedding I attended and realized I never blogged about it.

Three months ago I attended my first Croatian wedding for my friend, Sara, and her new husband, Mislav. It started with about a month of me wavering back and forth between if I should fly to Zagreb (I desperately wanted to) or if I should stay in India (and save money, work, be responsible, etc..). I told my mom the ticket was a bit pricey. She told me, “It’s worth it to keep these types of friendships alive.” That was all the excuse I needed.

Wedding Zagreb
Sara and Misalv

I met Sara 6 years ago in Budapest, Hungary. Sara was an Erasmus student studying in the same university as me (CEU). For those of you unfamiliar with Erasmus, it is a bit like an EU-funded study abroad program for European citizens. Martina (also from Croatia) and Lena (from Germany), along with Sara and I, formed a bit of a small “group” within our larger international group of friends at the time.

Having never lived abroad before, my first week in Hungary I felt incredibly out-of-place and a bit nervous about spending four entire months in a foreign country. Despite being part of a study abroad program, the university was comprised almost entirely of Master’s students, all older than me by a few years. At the time, I was a radically different person than I am now: shy, studious, a bit “type A.” I had my future entirely planned out: graduate school, PhD in history, staying with my college boyfriend forever, living comfortable on the East Coast. I was not the type of person who would try couch surfing, living in India, trekking alone in Nepal, or backpacking solo through the Middle East.

But once I got to Budapest, I started questioning who I thought I was and who I wanted to be. I made so many intelligent and independent friends living all over the world and I started wondering how I could continue living such a cosmopolitan existence.

This is a long-winded way of saying my time in Budapest, and with Sara (and Martina & Lena) is still extremely important to me. So, despite the slightly expensive cost of the plane ticket from Delhi to Zagreb, I decided that it would be great to see these girls again and keep these friendships alive. I’ve met so many people traveling and most of those friendships look a bit unraveled. I barely speak to anyone from my Master’s program despite only having graduated about a year ago. I’ve met so many unique people and many who I’ve cared about quite deeply. But, ultimately, when you move every year, you lose contact. So when I get a chance to reconnect with important people, I feel as though I should take it. And when Sara sent us a message inviting us to her wedding, I started checking plane tickets.

Budapest Night Life
(From Right to Left): Martina, Sara, Lena, and me circa 2010 in Budapest, Hungary

Plus, in July 2016 it had been 11 months since I had been in a Western country and I was starting to feel desperate for some familiarity. Yes, at this point Croatia counts as familiarity. It has beef, short skirts, and it’s relatively easy to buy normal products like tampons and moderately priced good wine.

I landed in Zagreb near the end of June and Sara picked me up from the airport. I felt a slight bit of anxiety before she arrived. Perhaps the four of us had changed too much. Maybe we were too different after 6 years and it would be an awkward trip. We had had a reunion in Budapest 3 years prior when I was living in Prague. But 3 years is still a long time.

Two weeks later I was bawling in the airport, wishing I didn’t have to leave and go back to India (I was obnoxiously sleep deprived which didn’t help).

I had so. much. fun. The first day I visited with Sara and met her (then) finance (now husband), Mislav. When you meet a couple and can instantly note the spark between them, it makes celebrating their relationship even more special. Mislav had me laughing all through dinner; he seemed like a great guy. Then Lena flew in from Germany. Since Sara was (understandably) pre-occupied finishing her wedding planning, Lena and I made ourselves scarce and took a bus to Dubrovnik to enjoy the sea and some sun before the big day.

 

The Wedding

Croatian Wedding
Me with Sara and Lena before the wedding

Sara had some friends to her apartment a few hours before the service for drinks and snacks. Even after she left for the church, we continued drinking at her apartment. The we drove to downtown Zagreb and got to take the funicular up the hill to the church for the marriage.

Croatian Wedding
Pre-wedding drinks

Zagreb

Zagreb
Riding the funicular

The ceremony was short and sweet (great for Lena and I since it was entirely in Croatian). I found it interesting that the bride and groom enter the church and walk down the aisle with the priest. The father leading his daughter down the aisle is very American and few people partake in that ritual.

Croatian Wedding

Then we all left the church for the reception!

Sara and Mislav hosted their reception at the Mimara Museum in downtown Zagreb. It’s a cool art museum which had a spacious lobby and reception hall perfect for the event. Sara put the three of us at a table with some of her colleagues at the library in which she works so it was a very “young professional” table.

 Mimara Museum
Martina and I in front of Mimara Museum

After Sara and Mislav had their grand entrance, we began the first of SEVEN COURSES!  After the first course, Sara and Mislav had their “first dance” and were soon joined by the majority of guests. Then, a pattern emerged: eat, drink, dance, repeat. Literally, after an hour or two, the live band would cease playing, the colorful lights turned out, the regular lights flashed on, and everyone returned to their tables to eat. The wine flowed, the guests indulged. Then, within 30 minutes or so, the lights turned off, the band retrieved their instruments, and the dancing resumed. This lasted from around 8pm until after 4am.

Zagreb Wedding
Photo courtesy of Lena
Zagreb Wedding
Lena
Croatian Wedding
The music consisted of a mixture of popular English sounds and some Croatian music

The food was delicious. My favorite course was actually the first:

Croatian Wedding
Course 1

I could eat sliced meat and cheese for every meal. Salami and prosciutto aren’t meats I have the pleasure of eating often in India. Pork isn’t very popular. Fancy cheeses seems to be of a new “thing” in Chandigarh but still a rarity for me. Sadly I filled up on the meats in the first round of food and had difficulty eating much of the rest:

Croatian Wedding

Croatian Wedding
Course 2: soup
Croatian Wedding
Course 3: A heavenly traditional cheese pastry. Possibly called “strukli” but possibly not. I’m still working on my listening skills…
Croatian Wedding
Course 4: A fabulous plate of schnitzel and other cooked meats
Croatian Wedding
Course 5: assorted pastries
Croatian Wedding
Not a course-wedding cake! (Served around midnight)
Croatian Wedding
Course 6: lamb  (served at 1:30am)
Croatian Wedding
Course 7: Goulash (served around 3 am)

Around 3:30am (approaching 4am) Martina, Lena, and I said our goodbyes to Sara and left for Martina’s apartment. Lena and I both booked ridiculously early flights for that morning so once I got to Zurich for my layover I was extremely sleep-deprived and passed out hard on my flight to Delhi.

To reiterate, as someone who moves almost annually, I cycle through friendships faster than I would like. Most of these people probably have no idea how influential they have been to me or how often I think about them. I credit Budapest with most of who I am today. I don’t throw around the term “life changing” often but those 4 months truly were. I’m so happy with my decision to attend Sara’s wedding. Besides being an amazing party and getting to experience a Croatian wedding, it, more importantly, gave me a great excuse to revisit old friends and reminisce on old Budapest times.

North America

When You Don’t Drive in the US for 14 Months

I think I’m bad luck.

On Monday evening, 24 hours after landing in NC from my short stint in Chicago, my friend, Kelly, asked if I wanted to meet for dinner in Durham. Kelly is my friend from high school and one of the only friends I had come visit me in India. We’ve been skyping and messaging about how excited we are to see each other.

Long distance
Kelly and I at the Taj Mahal in March

Kelly is a fantastic human being. One of those people that just seem to be in amazing mental health and one of those people you just know is always going to be there for you. Great person. Great Friend. Everyone should be friends with Kelly.

Durham, however, I feel less passionately about. It’s 30 minutes away from my parent’s house and I can’t say I was thrilled at the prospect of driving there. Here’s why:

  • My jet lag begins around 4pm. I’m awake enough to have a conversation with someone but driving takes much better reaction time than speaking.
  • I haven’t driven in 14 months and I was worried I forgot how
  • More importantly, when I’m in the car with my mom I tense up every 5 minutes because I think she is driving on the wrong side of the road or turning into traffic. India was a British colony and, unlike the US, didn’t protest British rule and celebrate their freedom by driving on the other side of the road.
  • It would be rush hour, meaning the traffic would be “crazy” by American standards (and totally fine for Indian standards).
  • I’m already not that familiar with Durham

I felt a bit like a drama queen not wanting to drive but I called Kelly and explained and she was very understanding and we decided to just go out in downtown Hillsborough (which is surprisingly “happening” now compared to when I grew up here).

Downtown Hillsborough
Downtown Hillsborough on a Wednesday night. Not bad!

But I need to start driving again. This isn’t India. I can’t afford to take 30-minute Uber rides just to go out to lunch anymore. Or to the gym. So yesterday Kelly called to see if I wanted to go to lunch with her at Bojangles.

 

Hillsborough Traditions
For my friends based outside the South, Bojangles is a southern food/cajun fast food restaurant. A slight obsession in Hillsborough. A favorite for any high school or church event.

Oh, Bojangles! I can manage that! That’s only 5 minutes down the road, it’s a Wednesday at noon so I won’t be tired and the traffic won’t be bad, and I know the area so well.

And so I set off on my next great adventure: driving through Hillsborough! The itty bitty Southern town with a maximum speed of 35 miles/hour and lots of traffic lights. This is a town that the elderly or poor of sight could easily navigate. It’s the best town to get your learner’s permit in. Naturally I imagined my own funeral.

But then getting behind the wheel felt totally natural. And I didn’t drive on the wrong side of the road at all! I did keep talking to myself and reminding myself which way to turn the car (there are literally two turns between my house and Bojangles). And I did keep eyeing pedestrians suspiciously. But then I pulled into the parking lot, underneath the glow of the bright yellow Bojangles sign to my destination. Hurrah! I’ve made it! A feat of unimaginable magnitude! A feat the size of moving to India by myself! A feat larger than climbing to Everest Base Camp! Wow! Everyone on my blog will be so impressed that I drove a motor vehicle 3 miles. Release the balloons! We are the Champions!

Kelly pretended to be proud of me for driving down the road. (See, I told you she’s a great friend). And then we had lunch, caught up, had some good conversations, plotted Rachel’s bachelorette weekend at the beach, etc…

And then Kelly had to return to work since she’s a real adult with a job. And I began my drive home. I took the back roads to avoid some of the “traffic” in town but when I got to my little street I remembered that a construction crew had captured it for the afternoon and was pillaging the pavement, meaning I couldn’t drive through to the other side. No issue. I’m cool. I know how to drive. So I drove around the block, back onto the main road, and made a left hand turn onto my street.

And then, 30 seconds from the house, as I was turning onto the street, a big white SUV turned and I heard a really loud THUD.

I just stopped for a second and prayed I had simply scraped the car’s 18-year-old under carriage on the bump at the beginning of the street. But then I looked back and the big white SUV that I had seen turning had stopped. So I pulled off.  Actually, after that, the SUV disappeared and at first I thought the woman ran away. But another car pulled up and a nice lady stopped to see if I was okay and told me the woman was just going around the block and coming back. She asked if I wanted her to wait with me. I told her my mom lived around the corner so not to worry. And then I called my mother, my poor, poor mother, who was so excited for me to come home, back to the safety of Hillsborough, off the dangerous mountains, out of my apartment that catches fire occasionally, away from scary Indian men….Yes, I had to call my poor mother on her BIRTHDAY and tell her, “Yeah….I got in a car accident….”

The accident wasn’t my fault actually. So that’s a plus! But the bumper (as you can see) was lying on the street. I also panicked for a second that I wasn’t on my parent’s car insurance plan (I’m covered, the car’s covered, everything is fine). When the white SUV pulled up I realized that the woman was actually my mom’s neighbor. Once she realized who I was she rushed over and gave me a hug and kept apologizing. She hit me going at about 1 mile/hr so we were all far from hurt. Actually, her car is so big, only her tire hit my car. And our car is so old the bumper just popped right off.

When my mom came out the neighbor was apologizing so much my mom went to hug and console her first. We did the whole “lets exchange insurance information thing” and then my mom walked behind the car holding the bumper on while I rolled it into our driveway. We are pretty sure, considering the car is 18, that this will total it. My mom is thrilled. She says we have too many old cars clogging the driveway and need to get rid of them. My Dad is threatening to buy it back, as he does. My dad and I suspect my mom actually paid my neighbor to wreck the car so she didn’t have to see it anymore.

 

Happy Birthday Mom! What a nice welcome back to the United States!

 

Today I am driving to Winston-Salem to see Sarah, my college roommate, another wonderful human being. Let’s all say a little prayer I make it without another incident!

Asia Nepal

Getting Carried Down a Mountain and a Modern Case of Trench Foot: 24 Hours to Escape Everest Pt. I

 

Only 24 hours ago from writing this, I was sitting on the side of a road sobbing uncontrollably, unable to put any pressure on my foot as the top layers of skin had ripped away, leaving only raw, sensitive flesh that felt like razor blades every time I took a small baby step. The closest drivable town named Salleri still remained 2 whole hours away. This is where a jeep of my friends was waiting for me so we could leave the God-forsaken mountain trek and return to Kathmandu. I had put myself through hell for that jeep and 2 hours from the finish line I was left immobile. In 48 hours I had walked for 15 hours and around 50km up jagged rocks, through thick mud, over landslides, straight up for 4 hours, straight down for 2 hours, up a waterfall, through a river, exposed to leeches… I had done it all. For 4 days every action I took had been in order to leave the Everest region and return to Kathmandu as quickly as possible. Mentally, I was over it. I wanted to go home. I had waited 3 days for a plane that never came. I had agreed to pay for a helicopter but the weather was too bad for it to fly. I was feeling jittery and ready to get back to India to enjoy the few days remaining on my new tourist visa before my flight to the US. So jittery, I actually agreed to redo the most taxing and difficult part of the entire trek in half my original time. And it seemed like, just as I was almost there, just as I could almost taste the freedom, everything was caving in on itself.

Unfortunately, my foot would prove to be only one of many problems that occurred in those 24 final hours.

Taking a moment to back up, I have just finished my trek to Everest Base Camp (yay!). Most people doing EBC (as I discussed in my last blog) fly from Kathmandu to a mountain town named Lukla to do a moderately difficult 12- to 14-day trek. However, for those of us that like to make life difficult for ourselves, you can also take a jeep to Salleri, a town 55 km (34 miles) away from Lukla. This adds an extra 4 grueling days and the path is significantly more rugged and demanding compared to the more popular route. I told everyone that would listen that this was the hardest part of the entire trek, and I was happy about being able to fly from Lukla back to Kathmandu instead. Even on the third day of white fog blanketing Lukla and preventing anyone from leaving, I was telling my new trekking buddies in foul language how horrible that trek was, how crazy they were to attempt it, and that I was never repeating it.

Ten minutes later my bags were packed and I was walking down the mountain with them. I had panicked. The weather looked bad for more than a week and I worried that I’d get stuck in Lukla forever. I desperately wanted to get back to India for the mere week I had on my new visa. My friend’s Nepali guide said if we worked hard we could do the whole trek in two days and then take an overnight jeep. It seemed like a sure thing. The flights didn’t. So I took off.

Our group consisted of 2 Nepali guides from different tour companies, their clients (1 Aussie guy I had met early on, 1 Chilean girl no one knew), an American guy I met near the beginning of the trek, and 1 solo, lazy chick (me). We were all pretty desperate and determined to get out for different reasons and I believed we would, no matter how terrible it was. You can only drive to Salleri, after that the path is too choppy for a vehicle. Let me stress this: the only reason I agreed to this trek was because it would only take two days and a private overnight car. Any extra time and I would have mortgaged a house in Lukla and just given up on leaving the country.

The first day was taxing, but we made it halfway. The second day was brutal. It consisted of a 4-hour steep uphill climb full of blue skies in which we could watch airplanes and helicopters happily busing relaxed tourists out of Lukla while we sweated and panted underneath them. We had made the wrong decision. The weather was beautiful. It taunted us. By the time we were only a few hours out, I was significantly behind my group due to a pain in my foot. I told them to go ahead though, I’d hobble down the mountain as fast as I could to the jeep waiting for us. The hard part is over, I thought. Now it’s a gentle downhill for only about 2 hours. No worries. I even joked with one of the guys about the two of them leaving me in Salleri since I was too slow and he said, “that would never happen, we’re in this together.”

So let’s return to 5:24pm September 19th: Gwen is sobbing uncontrollably trying to remove a wet sock but the pain of even that is so much she can’t take it.

It will get dark in an hour and I’m two hours out. How do we solve this problem? Two Nepali men walked by on the path and saw me bawling and stopped to see what was wrong. They made a moaning noise upon seeing my foot. One tried to touch it and it made me sob more. The overly saturated skin was falling off leaving raw flesh. Luckily one spoke English quite well, better than most of the locals I had met. I explained that I needed to get to Kathmandu and my friends and a jeep were waiting for me in Salleri. I told him I had no phone and no number to contact them. I asked if I could arrange a horse; they said they didn’t think it was possible but convinced me to stand up and start walking with them. One of them took my bag and the other gave me an extra walking stick.

IMG_1330
My foot before it was too bad to walk (August 19, 2pm)

They stopped other locals to inquire about a horse but it wasn’t a possibility. They suggested I stop at a house for the night but I explained again that the jeep was waiting for me and I had no way to tell my friends that I wasn’t coming. Maybe my friends would wait for me for hours or even cancel the jeep. What if they sent a rescue party? No. We needed to get to Salleri as fast as possible. Plus, selfishly, I desperately wanted to leave. I guess I was hobbling at an extra pathetic pace because then one of the guys turned to me and said, “Ok. We carry you.”

And that’s how two Nepali guys started carrying me down the mountain.

The taller one took my bag and my walking stick. The smaller one, no taller than me and probably around my weight, bent over and threw me on his back and took off down the mountain in flip flops. After about 5-6 minutes he would get tired and I would go back to hobbling.

I guess two Nepali guys carrying a beat up looking blonde down a mountain sparked some curiosity among the locals (there were no other trekkers in the area at this point in the day) because eventually another random Nepali guy joined our group of aid workers. Mostly only the small English teacher took me, but once the taller one gave it a try and, despite his appearance, he wasn’t as strong as the little English teacher.

At one point the English teacher, carrying me best as possible, came across a small flood on the road. Instead of just walking through the ankle-deep water, he decided to walk to the edge of the cliff, and in a moment of sheer terror, he jumped on a large rock on the edge with me on his back and then proceeded to hop from rock to rock. We were literally playing a piggy-back hop scotch game on a rocky ledge.

 

Anything to get to Kathmandu.

 

Yet another guy joined us, bringing our entourage number up to a whopping 4 Nepali locals and me, the sun-burnt, trench foot ridden, smelly trekker. The fourth to join our crew was a similarly short guy but it didn’t take long for us to realize he was the strongest of them all. He carried me for significantly further than the other two had at any point and would put me down for only a second before lifting me again and running across a swing bridge or up a river bank.

Dusk set. We stopped and asked a woman if we could borrow her motorcycles parked in front of her house but she said they didn’t work. More carrying. We stopped for tea and they ordered a jeep to be brought as far up the road as it could go. They said only 15 more minutes of carrying me. It was 7pm now and pitch black so they strapped a headlamp to me.

At first I felt a bit guilty for what these men were doing for me, but at some point I had a feeling they were enjoying it a bit. It seemed like they wanted to see who could carry me the longest and go the fastest and they would laugh and joke around. I heard one of them saying he wished he had a head strap to carry me the way porters carrying their 50 kilo loads through the mountains. At some point they experimented with innovation and slung a jacket under my butt to help support my weight without touching me anywhere inappropriate.

15 more minutes. I suspected my team arrived in Salleri at 5pm. I had mentioned to them that I may be an hour or so behind them so I hoped, knowing that I was injured, they were waiting patiently and weren’t too worried about me. I hoped they wouldn’t be angry at having to wait; I knew how desperate we all were to get to Kathmandu. More than anything I hoped they hadn’t assembled any sort of search party for me yet. As we finished our trek, I scrutinized every flashlight-holding passerby to determine if it was one of my friends or one of their guides.

And then finally we got to the beautiful jeep and drove to Salleri. And then we drove around Salleri looking for any foreigners in lodges. And then, when I didn’t see anyone familiar, the jeep driver called his jeep driver buddies and told me,

“Yeah, a jeep with some foreigners left an hour ago.”

But no. It couldn’t be my foreigners. I barely spoke with the Chilean girl so sure, maybe she left. But the two guys? We had been in it since the beginning. We’d talked about life and death and every juicy detail in between. They knew more about me than most of the Indian people I’ve been hanging out with for a year. They knew I wanted to be back in Kathmandu so badly that I had agreed to walk 48 hours in the worst trek I’ve ever done. And the one had even laughed at the idea of leaving me behind as if it was a ridiculous statement only 5 hours ago. He told me we were a crew now. We were in this together. And I had told him, “You guys leaving me in Salleri is the only thing I can think of right now that would bring me to tears” while chuckling at the absurdity of the hypothetical situation.

“Yeah, its your friends,” the English teacher said, “They are in the next district over.” He handed me a small cellphone that looked like it had been rejected from the year 1998.

“Hello?”
It was one of the guys.
“Where are you?”

            He said something I couldn’t understand. I asked him to repeat. Again just gibberish. I asked a third time as politely as I could muster.

            “We had to go,” he said.

Four words. We had to go. And then silence. He hung up. Just like that. So I was stranded in Salleri, alone, with a destroyed foot, 4 Nepali locals looking horrified at the situation, and a driver who wanted his 800 rupees ($8) for rescuing me. The English teacher told me to spend the night in a lodge and I could go to Kathmandu in the public jeep the next morning. But I was devastated. I felt totally dejected and abandoned. Betrayed. Friendless. Plus, I wanted time to see a doctor about my foot in Kathmandu and I wanted to get back to India.

So I told them I wanted to take the jeep to Kathmandu that night and we agreed on a price: 16,000 rupees for the 9-hour ride. $160. It was a lot. Cheaper than most tourists get a jeep for (the going price is $200), but they typically split the cost between multiple people. More expensive than my plane ticket from Lukla to Kathmandu. I can’t stress how upset I was in this moment. I hadn’t washed my hair in three weeks. My foot was swelling and tingling. The time on my India visa was dwindling. And at this moment in time I really hated Nepal and really wanted to leave. Plus, emotionally, I was wrecked. I had opened up and been kind of these people and felt as though, since I was the weakest link, I was too inconvenient to wait for.

So I agreed on the price and it was agreed that two of the Nepali guys would accompany me to Kathmandu for free (my way of saying thank you for their help). And we left.

I spent most of the car ride thinking about this kind of balance, about how these men who didn’t know me had gone out of their way to help and the people I felt closest with hadn’t. I thought a lot about the type of person I wanted to be and how Westerners are so much more selfish than the people I have met in India (and Nepal) when it comes to favors.

A lot of emotional stuff went through my head that night. Eventually I drifted off around midnight with the jeep bumping manically up and down the rocks of the jagged rock and dirt road from Salleri. But soon I would wake up at 4 am on the side of the road to an empty van….

I’ll post the second part of my 24 manic hours finishing my EBC tomorrow. Before you hate too hard on my friends, the pt. 2 involves a bit of redemption and a visit to the police station.

Everest Base Camp
Asia Nepal

When You Flee India via Mount Everest



I was completely blown away with the response I got from my last blog. I’ve never had so many shares, comments, and views. In three days I had over 600 people from 25 different countries read my blog. Yes! This is the most exciting thing to happen to me in months. Seriously, I check my blog stats like a crazy person and get really excited when anyone comments. I then wondered how I would ever top that, especially since yesterday my Indian visa expired so I had to flee the country.

No, I’m not back in the US. Despite how much I complain about India (sorry, Indian friends), I’m not ready to leave. Since I can’t convert my employment visa to a tourist visa while still in India, I’m currently sitting in Kathmandu, Nepal! I’m going to apply for the 30-day e-tourist visa which usually takes about 4 days to process. I considered just waiting a few days while my tourist visa processes and returning to Chandigarh to write full time. But then I thought, “why not make it a memorable visa run?”

So I’m climbing Mount Everest.

Ok, so not for real. But sort of. More or less, I am “climbing around Mount Everest.” A friend jokingly quoted this to me a few months ago (its from a movie, I have no idea which one). But now, reflecting, that’s basically what I am doing. To actually climb Mountain Everest (to the summit) you need about $100,000 USD, months of acclimatizing, and years of experience. Let’s be honest, I don’t want to spend $100,000 that way (if I had it). Also, I’m just not that in shape and I’m 100% fine with not being in “Climbing Mt. Everest shape.” I also don’t love heights. And I hate cold. So I don’t think it’s right for me.

But I am trekking to Everest Base Camp, so technically I’ll be at the base of Everest, which is (5,380 meters or 17,6000 feet). I’m pretty excited about the trek, though also questioning my own sanity. I did a trek to 3,600 meters last summer and thought I was dying. I’m extremely sensitive to altitude. Honestly, it’s probably going to be horrible. I’m expecting to complain most of the way.

But like I said in my last post, I spend a lot of time obsessed with my own mortality and in a month I could be 6-feet-under from a freak disease (I’ve had one), a gun/terrorist attack (see last blog post), or, let’s be honest, just crossing a street in Delhi (that many cars should not be in one place at one time going that fast). So I should take the opportunity now. And I tend to enjoy these things even when I hate these things (like scuba diving). Plus, it looks absolutely stunning and I love the idea of actually getting to stand on Everest, even if just a little bit.

The best part of EBC is that there are tea houses (little lodges) all the way up since people actually live in the area, which means I don’t have to camp. It also means I don’t have to hire a porter or a guide. This sounds riskier than it actually is. I visited Nepal in April and everyone I spoke to told me the same thing: there is no point in hiring a guide, there are so many people on the trek that you won’t get lost. Also, my colleague from Jaipur, April, put me in touch with a guy she met traveling in Northern India from the Netherlands. We met up yesterday and are going to go together (for at least some of the trek). So I won’t even be alone as I originally thought.

Most people fly to Lukla from Kathmandu. Instead, we are waking up and leaving at 4:30am in order to take a shared van to Salleri and we will walk a few extra days than required in order to better acclimatize. I found an itinerary from a travel company and we basically decided to just follow what they do (except not pay them or have a guide and just rough it on our own). It looks a bit like this:

Day 1: Drive to Salleri (9-10 hours)
Day 2: Salleri to Taksindo (5-6 hours)
Day 3: Taksindo to Kharikhola (5-6 hours)
Day 4: Kharikhola to Paiya (5-6 hours)
Day 5: Paiya to Phakding (5-6 hours)
Day 6: Phakding to Namache Bazaar (5-6 hours)
Day 7: Acclimatization Day
Day 8: Namache Bazaar to Tengbuche, 3870m (5-6 hours)
Day 9: Tengbuche to Dingbuche, 4350m (5-6 hours)
Day 10: Dingbuche to Loboche, 4950m (4-5 hours)
Day 11: Loboche to Gorakshep and to Everest Base Camp, 5365m (8-9 hours)
Day 12: Kalapatthar, 5545m to Pheriche, 4200m (6-7 hours)
Day 13: Pheriche to Namache Bazaar (5-6 hours)
Day 14: Namache Bazaar to Lukla (5-6 hours)
Day 15: Fly from Lukla to Kathmandu
Day 16: Return to India

You can see the actually itinerary here. Also, I booked a flight back to Lukla for September 17th instead of September 15th just to work in a few extra rest days/exploration day. I think my trekking partner wants to spent more time in the mountains than I do, so at some point we may split off. Let’s see.

People are living in all of these places, except for Everest Base Camp. But even there, the Everest mountaineers are essentially living there for a few months as they slowly ascend and descend Everest in order to get used to the altitude. Altitude is the biggest danger. I even bought travel insurance (which I NEVER do) just because one blog I read said that they saw 12 people airlifted off the mountain in 15 days from altitude sickness. Essentially, I paid $90 so that if this happens I won’t owe $25,000 to the Nepalese rescue services. Also, I read that the next biggest danger is yaks. People have been herded off the mountain by yaks passing on narrow paths. That sounds absolutely terrifying so I’ll try not to die by yak or altitude. Both sound like pretty obnoxiously strange and preventable ways to go out.

So, how does one prepare for trekking to EBC?

I spent a large chunk of the day buying supplies from a nice lady who gave us pretty decent discounts on everything in the store. I’m going to put the costs of everything for the trip so people can get a good sense of how much a trip would cost:

Kathmandu:
Hotel stay in Kathmandu for 2 nights: 800 rupees ($7.50)
Taxi from the airport: 1000 rupees ($9.30)
3 (nice) meals in Kathmandu: 1400 ($13)

Supplies:
Trekking Boots: 3800 rupees ($35.45)
Sleeping Bag rental: 65 rupees/day + 2000 rupee deposit ($18.65, which I will get back)
Coat +rain jacket with hood: 2500 rupees ($23)
Socks: 150 rupees ($1.40)
Sunglasses: 250 rupees ($2.33)
2 boxes of water purifying tablets (50 tablets/box): 400 rupees ($3.73)
Snacks (including medicinal lip ointment): 1900 rupees ($17.72)
Walking sticks: 750 rupees ($7)
Transportation:
Jeep from Kathmandu to Salleri: 2500 rupees ($23.32)
Permit: 3390 rupees ($31.62)

Total so far: 20,840 rupees ($194)

 

Everest Base Camp
New Equipment

 

Everest Camp Camp
More Important Equipment
Everest Base Camp
Apparently I’m assuming there will be no food for the next 15 days

Then we will be paying for places to stay, food, charging our phones, showers, etc… I’m planning to bring about 50,000 rupees with me (though I’ve read that people get by with much less). Since I’m not sure I will have internet for the next 12-20 days, keep a look out for my future stories which will (hopefully) be entertaining and not disastrous.

*Featured Photo from Kasol, India. It is NOT of Everest. But I’ll have plenty of those soon 😀