Monday, October 20, 2014


For as long as I can remember, the hubby has talked about wanting to see the Himalayas. We tossed around the idea of going sometime in 2014, but we were not sure exactly how to make it work. Then, in August, Malaysia Airlines had a huge sale, and we could get an amazing deal on tickets to Kathmandu during my school holiday period. Given the great deal and the time off for me, it seemed like a no-brainer, so we booked the tickets and started planning our trip! We did actually give a second thought to flying Malaysia Airlines but we thought that if we were ever going to fly the airline, now would be the time to do so, since Malaysia Airlines would be trying to make up for the tragedies that have happened over the last year. That being said, we did not tell our mothers that we were flying MA, just to avoid any unnecessary worry (sorry, moms!).

Due to the short planning period, I pretty much put our trip in the hands of a tour company, Vista Trek. During our visit to Townsville in August, our friend Marley told us about a friend of a friend who organizes trips in Nepal. This friend, Arjun, is a director of Vista Trek. I basically told him what we wanted to do, which was trekking (I picked the route…more on that later), a visit to Chitwan National Park, and a few days in Kathmandu. Arjun was really responsive to email (which is not always the case when contacting companies in non-Westernized countries) and helped us to tweak our itinerary given our short-ish trip.

Unfortunately, our trip actually started with a flight cancellation! I received an email at about 2pm from Expedia, who we had booked the flights through, that our midnight flight would now take place the next day at 2pm. Thank goodness for Expedia, as they are really good about notifications of flight changes. This also happened when we were in Africa, and the only way I knew about the flight change was Expedia. We were a bit annoyed because this meant that we now had to spend the night in Kuala Lumpur with a 12 hour overnight layover. I rang Malaysia Airlines straight away and they assured me we would receive complimentary accommodation and food in KL, so it seemed as they had everything sorted.

Our flight from Melbourne to Kuala Lumpur was good. It was a relatively full flight, probably because it was two flights crammed into one. We were meant to be on an Airbus but ended up on an older 777 instead due to the flight change. The food was quite tasty and there were good movie options with our seat back entertainment. The flight crew was very friendly and they seemed to be enjoying their jobs, as I caught them taking selfies in the galley once when I went to get some water!

Things took a turn for the worse when we arrived in Kuala Lumpur. When had been told in Melbourne to visit the transfer desk upon arriving in KL to arrange accommodation for the night. The Malaysia Airlines employee at MEL could even tell me which hotel we would be staying in, but she said I needed to get the voucher in Malaysia. The transfer desk was chaos! The queue was about 30 people long and was not moving at all. We were 5th in line and waited 30 minutes just to talk to someone. Unfortunately, the guy "helping" us had no clue what he was doing. He shuffled papers around, made some phone calls, talked to some other employees, and after 15 minutes he gave us dinner vouchers for Burger King and told us to come back in 30 minutes!! We weren't real impressed with Malaysia Airlines customer service at that point and didn't understand why our voucher was not ready given the fact that even in Melbourne they could tell us where we were staying. Luckily, after our free Burger King dinner, the line was shorter and we got a different customer service rep who sorted us out with our accommodation.
Two beds. This was a common theme during our Nepal trip and it started with the Concorde Inn.
Originally when we got the flight change notification we tossed around the idea of taking a train into the CBD to see the Petronas Towers while in KL, but given the craziness of the Malaysia Airlines transfer desk, we ended up just going straight to the hotel to get some rest. The place they put us up, Concorde Inn, was pretty basic, but it was clean and we got a good night of sleep before continuing our journey on to Kathmandu. We also got to enjoy a yummy breakfast buffet in the morning, and we love a good brekkie!
Morning flights departing Kuala Lumpur
The plane to Kathmandu was really nice and we ended up getting a meal and seat back entertainment on that flight as well. It's only a 3-ish hour flight, so before we knew it we were landing in Nepal. We had done some "research" in advance and read that if we picked a seat on the right hand side of the plane into Kathmandu that we might be able to get a glimpse of Everest. Since we were not trekking in the Everest region, this would be our only chance to see the famed mountain. Sure enough, about 20 minutes before landing, we put our window shade up and we could see Himalayan mountain peaks above the clouds. Using the zoom lens on our camera, we were able to get a pretty good shot of Everest and it's characteristic neighboring peaks Lhotse and Nuptse!
Himalayas in the distance beyond the wing, iPhone shot.
Zoom lens shot of Everest!
Approaching Kathmandu
After getting our visas on arrival (Kathmandu now has an automated visa machine that takes your picture, so you do not need to take passport photos with you for your visa), we picked up our bags in a crazy baggage claim area and then headed out to look for Arjun. I had told him about our flight change and he took care any changes within our itinerary, and it was really nice to put that in the hands of a Nepal local. Arjun greeted us with flower necklaces, a Hindu tradition. He then took us to a small restaurant on the airport grounds where we could wait for our connecting flight to Pokhara. Originally we had planned to spend the night in Kathmandu, but due to our flight cancellation, we decided to fly straight to Pokhara, the "base" for all Annapurna region trekking, and we would start our trek the following day.
A few hours later we were off to the domestic terminal at Kathmandu for our flight to Pokhara. This airport made the Zanzibar airport look sophisticated. As we sat and waited for our flight, we noticed that many flights were getting cancelled. In fact, a different airline had actually cancelled it's flight to Pokhara, but our airline, Buddha Air, showed our flight to Pokhara as on time. We boarded our Buddha Air propeller plane and received water and candy after take off. It is only about a 40 minute flight, so after a half hour or so, there was an announcement that we would be starting our descent into Pokhara. However, we never started to go down into the clouds. A few minutes later there was an announcement that the Pokhara airport was closed and we would be going back to Kathmandu!!
We've flown on quite a few prop planes in 2014!
Once we got back to Kathmandu we had no clue what was going on and we were not told that there were no other flights for the day, but we heard that was the case by talking to some other passengers. The Buddha Air office was a madhouse with people trying to re-book flights, and Erik managed to get us onto a flight the following day at 12:30, not ideal but we figured we could make it work. Erik also managed to borrow someone's phone to ring Arjun, who told us to get a taxi and he would book us accommodation in Kathmandu for the night (another time I was happy to have Arjun doing the planning for us!).

Our taxi ride to the city was another adventure. Traffic was actually INSANE. We have seen some crazy driving in Indonesia, Africa, and Thailand, and I have seen some ridiculous driving in China, but nothing compares to what we saw on the roads in Nepal. There was one lane of traffic and cars were 3 wide alongside bicyclist, motorbikes, and pedestrians, all trying to squeeze into one lane! It was quite an eventful (and long!) drive from the airport into Thamel, where our hotel was located.
View from our window at Himalaya Traveler's Inn
We ended up at Himalaya Traveler's Inn and Arjun was there to meet us and apologized for the flight issues (as if it was his fault!). He suggested that rather than flying in the afternoon, for the same cost we could get a private car to Pokhara, leaving at 5:30am and arriving around 10:30am. We chose the car option and asked Arjun to cancel our flights. Traffic was a little less crazy in the morning, but we still saw our lives flash before our eyes several times, with huge trucks coming straight at us on winding, hilly roads. About 2 hours into our drive, we came off of a bridge and heard a loud noise. Our driver, who did not speak much English, pulled over and did not seem pleased with the situation. He left us in the car and started walking. We were not near any towns, only a small local store. Eventually he came back with a guy who ended up taking the entire axle apart on the side of the road. To his credit and our driver's, two hours later we were back on the road. As we entered the town of Pokhara and drove by the airport, we saw the flight that we would have been on de-boarding on the tarmac. Oh well, we beat the plane by a few minutes!
Stuck at the bottom of a hill
The house and store that we spent several hours outside of while waiting for the car to be fixed.
This kid was playing with a toy car that was made out of a plastic bottle. We are always amazed by the creativity of non-Westernized cultures when it comes to toys and games.
As we drove through Pokhara, a town much less chaotic than Kathmandu, I wished we were going to be spending the afternoon and evening there. The main street is lined with restaurants, cafes, and shops selling either traditional Nepalese items or fake North Face gear from China. Pokhara is also on a lake, and on a clear day, you can see reflections of the Annapurna mountain range in the lake. Originally we were going to spend the night there, but due to our travel disruptions, we were essentially heading straight to the trails to start our trek. Ready or not, we were off to trek in the Himalayas!

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Only in Australia

Erik and I just returned from an incredible two week holiday in Nepal. We trekked in the Himalayas, dodged crazy drivers in Kathmandu, and gave an elephant a bath in Chitwan National Park. More posts about the trip coming soon, but for now I want to share two videos of incidents that recently happened Down Under.

Remember my last post about swooping season? Check out this GoPro video from a cyclist in New South Wales, the state just north of our home state, Victoria. The video is in slow motion in the beginning but if you watch until the end, you will see that this cyclist was attacked 6 times in 13 seconds! An article about the video and the attacks can be read here. There is also a website dedicated to magpie attacks so that cyclists and runners can avoid areas where magpies are nesting.

Also in the news this week was a fight between boxing kangaroos that went on for more than 5 minutes! The incident also happened in New South Wales, in a residential neighborhood. Definitely not something that is seen every day in the Lucky Country, so certainly worth a watch!