A Travellerspoint blog

October 2011

Almost out of range

semi-overcast 15 °C

It isn't a burst of creativity that is causing all of the blogs to show up today, things are getting a little hit or miss when it comes to internet connectivity. This morning we woke up before 6am to grab a bite, pack our stuff and head to the bus which was leaving at 7am SHARP for our six hour trip to Pokhara! Our guide and porter were both ready to go and met us at the guest house nice and early. We loaded our gear into the bus and climbed on board and waited for the bus to fill up. People were trickling in, then a puppy, then some gold fish, then some more people, but no one seemed too rushed. The other 10 buses parked together all started to pull away and still we sat watching our little circus roadshow come together. Finally our guide came to us and explained that "due to the festival" our bus driver was running a bit late. For a religion that doesn't drink, we have seen a lot of mishaps caused by this little festival. Finally, at the crack of 8:30, we were off like a herd of turtles and into the traffic confusion. We made it almost two kilometres before stopping to pick up more people and then another two kilometres and we stopped for more people and some gas. We had been promised a six hour trip and at this rate of progress, I was guessing it was about a 50km ride.

The fuel stop would be the last for awhile and we started to wind our way out of town. Yesterdays tour had shown us a lot of the city, but it doesn't cease to amaze with the organised chaos of people, animals and vehicles all going about their daily lives. I'm not sure if it is pollution or dust, but it was a few hours before the air started to clear and we could enjoy the fresh air of the countryside. Mostly rice, fruit and vegetable farms terraced into steep slopes make up the rural areas we drove through. The bus did stop a couple of times so we could stretch our legs and on the second stop, our guide organised lunch for us. No McDonald's drive thru here, freshly cooked fried noodles with veggies and curry paste went down pretty well.

The trek we have booked is an all inclusive 10 day package; bus from and back to Katmandu, our guide, our porter, all of our meals, hiking permits and guest houses each night along the way. We think it's a pretty good deal for $540, the stuff we saw on the internet was in the thousands of dollars and usually shorter treks.

We arrived in Pokhara around 2:30 and checked into our hotel. Hot showers and a (very) firm mattress are the highlights of our little room with a view. Our guys took us on a tour of town and offered to take us on a boat ride to an island temple on Phewa Lake, but we passed on that and just grabbed some pictures. This town is bustling full of backpackers of all levels ready for or returning from a long list of treks available in the area. We went out for dinner and had dumplings with chicken curry called "Mo-Mo's" and a coconut cream based veggie noodle soup called "Thukpa", if we keep eating like this, I'll need the long days of hiking.

Just repacking our bags now, we are lightening our load as much as possible and just making one bag for our porter. He is very good humoured, but I don't think that would last long if we loaded him down with all of our stuff. The hotel can store the rest of our gear while we are away. Tomorrow is supposed to be an easy day, but that is all relative from the stories we have heard.

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Posted by colincampbell 10:56 Archived in Nepal Comments (0)

Katmandu Tour - Namaste!

sunny 19 °C

We woke up this morning and went looking for coffee, but the chaotic streets of yesterday were absolutely dead. Apparently everyone needed to keep their business closed and rest up for Dewali Eve. The one coffee shop we did find was serving excellent coffee, but not quickly and we weren't the first to find it, the line was down the street. We had planned to tour Katmandu's sites today so rationalised we would find coffee on the way, we would find a cab and let the adventure begin. Our driver quickly picked up on our plan and adopted us like lost children. First we went to Swayambhu Buddhist Temple, better known as the monkey temple. Overlooking the whole city, this ancient temple is home to more monkeys than monks and was very entertaining. We explored for over an hour and could have spent the day with the monkeys, they seemed to enjoy letting Nat set up a photo and then look the other way at the last second.
When we got back into our car, our driver Rames, has a whole plan for us. Next was the palace of Basantapur which is a heritage site that is beautiful and currently being restored. We still hadn't found a coffee so used this stop for a little lunch and Nat's cappuccino, it was after noon so I resorted to climbing a 600ml cold Everest (beer).
Next we drove 25kms out of town to the city of Bhaktapur, dating back to the 1600's, this place was amazing. So far we have headed the local official warnings to avoid beggars and the few street people we have see, they seem to have a strong push trying to teach their kids that this isn't the way of the future. Well, we found the one kid that has taken these words to heart and is using a more proactive approach...he had us following him down the side streets so he could get us to "buy him a book" for school. He even spoke French to me when he found out I was Canadian and asked if I was from Ottawa! I think he is going to be in timeshare sales one day. We walked out when he tried to get us to buy a book for 30 English pounds, but an A+ for his work. It turns out all kids in town try this, just in case you happen to venture this way.
Finally we battled back into city traffic to find the Baudha temple, it was getting dark, but it was still a good site. What a day, this city still holds many treasure we have yet to discover, but tomorrow we are up at 6am to head to Pokhara to start our trek. We spoke to a few more couples tonight that have just finished and I think Nat is having some second thoughts...or at least she is already planning some serious spa time at the other end.
The Internet is slow here, so I am guessing it is just going to get worse for the next ten days, we will take plenty of pictures and write when we can.

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Posted by colincampbell 09:11 Archived in Nepal Comments (0)

Happy Diwali!!

sunny 20 °C

Travelling at 800km/h straight towards the sun makes for very short nights. Wednesday we flew out of Barcelona at about 4pm, a quick stop in Doha, Qatar at 11pm (local time) and on to Katmandu for an 8:30am landing. Only about 9 hours of actual travelling time but with the change of time zones there was no time for sleeping. The sunrise at 37,000 feet was pretty, but landing into the Katmandu Valley with the Himalayans and their snow capped peaks was amazing. The guest house promised to pick us up, but apparently they are in the midst of their New Year's celebration so that didn't quite work out. Anyway, we grabbed a cab and found our way to the part of town called "Thamel" where our guest house was located. Right in the middle of bars, restaurants and trekking provisioners we are exactly where we need to be. Our host, Raj, apologised profusely for the mistake at the airport and immediately got to making all of our Nepalese plans. We have had to change our plans due to the time we lost with my visa stuff, but we are making the best of it with a Poon Hill and Annapurna Base Camp circuit that should be spectacular.

A quick note for anyone who might make this trip in the not-to-distant future. Don't bring anything, we are amazed at how cheap everything is here. From fleece to boots and tents to backpacks, they have great named brands at unbelievable prices and whatever you don't want to buy, you can rent.

The food is a mix of Indian and Asian and we are really enjoying it. Plenty of rice and chicken curry. Everyone is accustomed to speaking English so it is pretty easy to get whatever we need. The afternoon was lazy with some lunch and some provisioning for our big trek. We hit the cash machine early and pulled out 15,000 (Nepalese rupees)...sounds like a lot, but at today's exchange rate it's about 190 USD. That should last quite awhile, depending mostly on the shopkeepers sales ability and the elasticity of Nat's bag.

Diwali being the festival of light, the town is lit up like a Christmas tree and everyone is celebrating. I'm not quite sure how it compares to regular days, but the narrow streets are total chaos with motor bikes and cars and people. Tomorrow we explore Kathmandu which should include some wild rides, monkey temples and more chicken curry.

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Posted by colincampbell 11:16 Archived in Nepal Comments (1)

One more day in Barcelona

rain 15 °C

The clouds have parted and the monsoon has ended for the time being here in Barcelona. We had very few things on our agenda today as the rain last night deterred us from making any serious plans. One of the few things we had to do was to try and ship the case of wine we still have from France. Thank you America for being so difficult that no one will ship you anything...the explosive devices will get through, but our wine will not. So our friends in Mallorca have lucked in and will be receiving a 6-pack of beautiful French wine any day now.

Next, we still had to find this little ongoing construction project called La Basilica de Familia Sagrada. This church is still being built and is a symbol of Barcelona and the incredible work of Antoni Gaudi. The project actually started in 1882 and Gaudi was the architect in charge from 1883 until his death in 1926. The estimated completion date is sometime in the first third of this century...maybe it is because everyone here takes such a long break for lunch!!

My personal attendance record at church over the years would be considered extremely disappointing in any ministers eyes, but walking up to this building is an awe inspiring experience. It left us both speechless during and well after the time we spent here. We took some pictures, but the detail in this building wouldn't be captured in a movie, let alone a still photo. A friend recommend we battle the long line to enter as it would be well worth the time and he wasn't kidding. Inside and out, it is a wonder, of architecture and craftsmanship.

Not much left to accomplish now, we are ready for Nepal. There was a restaurant I had tried to find last night but it had eluded us in the rain. Tonight we weren't giving up so easily as the recommendations were very solid and it was also so close to our accommodation that there was no way we shouldn't be able to find it. We arrived at 8:30 to discover again that we were early for dinner...they didn't open until 9pm. We went and found a great little bar for a quick glass of cava before we headed back to find out that they packed up quickly. They found us a table in the back and proceeded to serve us the best meal we have had in Spain and one of the best meals of our trip so far. A great way to end our first part of our tour.

No telling what the internet situation will be in Nepal, so we will see you when we see you...

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Posted by colincampbell 15:56 Archived in Spain Comments (1)

Rain and Champagne

storm 18 °C

We have covered 3500kms and 3 countries in the last 16 days, it has been a fantastic adventure of landscape, food and wine. The last couple of days, although a bit rainy, have been on par with the rest of the adventure. We woke up Sunday morning in La Ciotat to a "Heritage Festival - aka A Pirate Party" and the rugby world cup. The streets had been closed off in the early morning hours and had sprouted tents that were filled with a variety of local food, beverage and handicrafts. Every bar along the waterfront was open and had added tv's to broadcast the well fought battle of the French "bleu" against the heavily favoured Kiwi "All Blacks." The streets were busier than we had seen all weekend and the energy was fantastic. We skipped out before we started sampling any cocktails and before the Blues lost by a close margin...we were both expecting a bigger loss and a very unhappy crowd which spurred us on early.

The last stop before Barcelona was the Spanish coastal summer holiday area of Costa Brava, we found a little place in the town of S'Agaro. Recommended by our friends Anna and Jordy, I can only imagine how hectic this place is in season. If it gives you any idea, we paid $70/night for a place that usually goes for 400/night in summer. The rain was falling hard, so we didn't get much of a chance to explore, but the windsurfers outside our window were having a blast! Natalie discovered champagne, which until now, she had never really drank and had usually made fun of the girls that ordered it at Barrow's Pub. I'm not sure what she is going to do in Nepal, but it will be interesting to see.

Driving back to Barcelona, we were thinking at least it would be a no brainer to get home as our GPS would be working again. I hadn't double checked it when we left, but when I went into the "favorites" and pulled up the rental agency, it took us to a grocery store about 10 miles from the car drop off. And the next address I put in got us to the airport. It wouldn't have been a problem but, with the rain and part of the rental deal being that I could return it on empty which is exactly what I planned to do. I'm not sure if you have ever run a diesel engine to empty, but if you do, it is a much bigger mess than just adding gas in the tank. Anyway, with lights flashing and alarms sounding, we managed to get back to the lot and all was well. We went past Anna and Jordi's house to grab my passport and catch up on each others recent few weeks. Talking to them we realized what you may have been seeing and wondering from the foreign news. The earthquakes in Turkey are miles away from where we are or ever were and the protests in Rome and elsewhere are also not even close to where we have been. In fact, it is definitely calmer here than NYC from the looks of what we can see from this end.

The rain keeps falling as we sit in Barcelona tonight. We have explored the neighborhood for restaurants, found some great dishes and Nat found some champagne. Tomorrow hopefully we will be lucky and we might take one more shot at looking into this Gaudi fellow. Otherwise, we will be organizing our arrival in Nepal which we are looking forward to a lot. Ready for a change of pace...

Ps. Thanks for all the feedback and everyone that is following our blog. It is great to know that you are enjoying it. If you want to get updates as soon as we post new stuff you can hit the "subscribe" button...that way you don't miss a thing and we know that you are watching. Cheers, C+N

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Posted by colincampbell 17:51 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

It's a small world after all

sunny 15 °C

The town we are in now is called Ciotat, it was a mostly random decision to come here as it was half way from Cinque Terre to Barcelona but it is also on the coast and in a great wine region, which was no mistake. Our search for hotels was a bit of a funny one as the highest recommendations went to none other than, America's, Best Western. We are a little embarrassed to admit that the rest of the reviews for this area were so bad that we actually went for it. After our last place that thought hot showers were an unnecessary luxury, it is actually pretty nice and right in the center of the downtown marina/restaurant district. And the good news is, we can do just about anything tomorrow, because tonight, we slept at a Best Western (sorry if you don't find that funny because you haven't seen their recent ad campaign.)

We made good time on our drive yesterday and arrived here by 5pm. Restaurants that open all day are not a normality here so we found a patisserie for a quick snack and had a nap before we explored the town when it opened back up in the evening. It isn't the prettiest waterfront town, but it has some pretty big marina's with giant cranes that must mean it is a good spot to get some work done. It also has a lot of fishing boats tied up here, so we were keen on some good seafood restaurants. As we wandered along the shore lined with restaurants, reading the menus and checking out how busy each was I stumbled onto a familiar face. I do it every now and again and am sometimes to shy to actually check and see if it is the person I know, so this time I just stuck my head in the front door and yelled, "Howard!" He spun around like he had been slapped, it was right back to the old days at the Lady C and later the Red Piano in St.Maarten. Howard has been the chef on the private yacht "Ultima III" for as long as I can remember and it was pretty funny that he was here for a couple of days meeting the current crew and getting back on the boat for a few months. We had an entertaining dinner and went out for a few beers after with the crew to catch up.

This morning was a bit of a slow one, we are here to relax and regroup a bit before we head on to Nepal. I googled some wine farms in the area and they all seem to close for lunch so it seemed a little unnecessary to try anything serious before two. Nat hit the pharmacy to grab a few things while we still kind of understand the language, just so you know, Sudafed costs 1.80 euros for a big box, America still isn't doing you any favours. The next town on the coast didn't seem to hold much so we carried on to the little town of Bandol, which I only recognize because it is written on the back of most of the great bottles of rose I have had. We arrived at the waterfront and although the breeze was cool, we found a strip of restaurants and had a great lunch of mussels, salad and wine.

After lunch we took the backroads towards the wine farm, Domaine Ott. I rationalized that I already knew what it tasted like, so we should really try some other local farms while we were here. The roads are littered with signs advertising each little "Domaine" and it was pretty tough to choose one, so we just went to the end of the most out of out-of-the-way place we could find and knocked on the door. Wine farms here aren't really set up for tasting...they are set up for buying. We were taken on an amazing tour, by the father of the house himself who didn't speak a lick of english, and tasted all that he had to offer, and then directly taken to sales office. I'm not sure what we are going to do with the case of wine we have, but we are now proud owners of a great selections of his whites, reds and roses. We might have stopped at a few other places, but fearing ending up with a palate of wine, we headed straight to Domaine Ott. It was an even shorter tour but we happily left with a couple more bottles. A short drive back to Ciotat and we noticed we had missed a Pirate Festival, the good news is it is on again tomorrow so we might have to catch that. Pirates and drunken rugby fans could be an entertaining combination.

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Posted by colincampbell 16:01 Archived in France Comments (3)

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