Monday, February 19, 2001

Letter from King's Office Of Ministry and Tourism
Monday, February 19, 2001
Kathmandu, The Kingdom Of Nepal

Dear Sir Kozodoy,

The Ministry of Tourism would like to inform you that Ms. Rachel S. (they never tell us their real middle names!) Thurston has returned safely from the Annapurna Circuit before the hordes of trekkers from Europe descend on our little sovereign kingdom. Why she and her mother chose to trek in the Himalayas during the middle of the winter is something we can only attribute to poor reasoning we see often from those usually coming from Italy and Russia. Perhaps they are rare North American specimens. (A little talkative as well.)

We are happy to inform you that she will be returning to Santa Barbara shortly and quite happily--though she has very much enjoyed her travels in Nepal, she sees no need for her presence here any longer in Nepal as we're not keen on public massages nor do we serve "very tasty pizza" and we are lacking a store called "Trader Joe's," what Ms. Thurston has called "God's gift to this fine world second to chocolate."

We hope that you are in good health in the country of Amerika and that you and your compatriates now have a president you can trust. Though from our humble experience we see that as being doubtful.

Ms. Thurston is busy on the streets of Kathmandu shopping and stuffing herself with whatever delicacies she can't find on the other side of the planet and sends her regards. She's spoken of you fondly and of her much loved friends in the town of Santa Barbara which you call a “Paradise.”

If you like, we would be happy to send you any relevant information you and your kind friends would like if you are considering a trip to our proud Himalayan Kingdom.

Good health to you and your family,
Ram Shaba-Ratri,
Officer of the Ministry of Tourism,
With gratitude to His Highness Birendra Bikram

Friday, February 02, 2001

"Return from the Thorung La, Annapurna Circuit--midwinter!"
Kathmandu, Nepal
Saturday, February 2, 2001

1st Trip to Nepal: Letter Three

Hoorah! We've made it!

i hope you are all well and as saucy as ever...i've carried your spirits with us up into the Himalayas and back--sweet intoxication!

We have many adventures to speak of! We trekked for 15 days and managed to cross the world's highest pass at 17,766 feet in mid-winter. Why we chose to trek the Annapurna during the absolute coldest month of the year is beyond me.

Mountains, glorious mountains, brilliant people from around the world, endless mule trains, pine forests, waterfalls, buddhist stupas. We began in tropical rice fields and increased in elevation through alpine forests reminiscent of the American Rockies and then onto the Tibetan Plateau (yes, I know, the NEPALI Plateau) where the windswept valley opened up to glaciers and canyons and staggering mountains. (cause you nearly trip looking up at them). The east side of the circuit was nearly void of foreigners during that time of the year, we walked through one town that looked like an old West Frontier with only the sound of horse hooves on the cobblestone and wind barrelling down the valley.

The trek was a lot fricking harder than people admit. I've heard it said that instead of 4 directions, Nepal has 6 directions...North, South, East, West, UP, and DOWN. My legs are strong and we ate like mules the whole way through. I was haunted however, by visions of random cans of pringles being sold along the way (some outrageously ambitious marketer has cornered the market here) but managed to resist. We ate and drank copious servings of potatoes (much sweeter than our own at home), the Nepali dish Dahl Bat, tea, noodle soup, Tibetan bread, more tea, and a stash of snickers bars (really satisfies you!).

The culture is well...very foreign. We became accustomed to hearing the requisite Nepali hocking on the ground when we awoke, squatting over pit toilets (a rat ran out towards me one night), watching mothers pick lice from their childrens hair as they wave greetings to us, endless trains of mules delivering goods between villages, and streams of runny-nosed children running up to us demanding pens and chocolate.

Unjaded it is not.

We also saw great beauty but Nepal is a handful. The woman's beauty here should be illegal. They dot the verdant fields of mustard and rice with brilliant saris in blood red, magentas, and deep purple. The men are also handsome though less fun to look at and a whole lot more pushy.

Forgive my ramblings but there's so much to impart.

We rode on top of a bus with 40 men cause there were a heck of a lot more people down below...can't possibly estimate. A slimy (mom likes to say) greaser guy tried to kick us off the bus on our way to the trekking start. Like a champ after many a vicious word was said, she pushed her way like a rock star through the 30 people between me and her to our seat (really the cumulative size of an egg crate). A woman behind us throwing up, another woman beside me with a giant gold flower stuck through her nostril and the slimy guy on our tail, and a gaggle of men climbing the ladder to the top of the bus with our bags. We demanded the driver stop, we swam through the mess of people, fell to the ground, then scampered around to the back ladder and climbed to our blissful seats a top the bus. Forty sets of dark eyes looked upon us. We were the only foreigners around and the only women on top.

All was fine and the views were spectacular. Besides, the guide books point out, if the bus starts to roll down the canyon towards the river, you can always jump off from the roof!

On our way here we spotted two wrecks where buses had slid past each other head on and had sheered off tires and sheets of glass.

And we call this vacation!

We've landed safely back in Kathmandu and are relishing in eating pizza, shopping, and avoiding all the touts selling tiger balm, fruit, and shoe polish.

As I hate getting email from people on vacation who appear to be self-absorbed for more than 2000 words I'll cut this message off at its knees.

We've had a spectacular trip. Last night, we fell asleep to the sound of elephants bugling and wild peacocks...and ahem, nearby HIndi pop music and Mambo #5 playing at a local BBQ.
A true Jungle Beat I must say.

If you've read this far, have a most excellent time of day in your neck of the woods!
I can't wait to see you all!

I'm looking out on the streets of Kathmandu, it's a true zoo right now and quite delightful.

much love and thankyou to you all,

Tuesday, January 23, 2001

"Heading for the Annapurna Circuit midwinter-"
Kathmandu, Nepal
Tuesday, January 23, 2001

1st Trip to Nepal: Letter Two

Greetings you sun-lovers!

I meant to write much sooner and have run out of time again.
Must make it short as email is very expensive.

We're headed for the Annapurna trek tomorrow morning, a hellacious bus ride awaits us! and then three weeks of spectacular mountains, buddhist temples, villages and vistas.

We spent last week in the Terai, a lowland subtropical savannah. It was surreal. Slept in a mud hut listening to elephants bugle at night, wild peacocks calling to one another. Spent the days tracking rhino and tigers. Saw crocodiles and rode elephants.

I swear to god it's the truth!

Hopefully the pictures will make it back!

I think of many of you often and hope you are all well in your lives...thankyou for making me feel connected to life in the states, it feels so far away!

I can't wait to share more stories!

Doug Thurston--can you let dad know i'm okay? he never gets on email. Thanks! can't wait to hear Amanda's Bangladesh adventures.

Chuck--you were so right about the tripod. I can't imagine not having it or the ungodly sack of film. Good choice--thanks!

take care everyone and enjoy the rest of winter and what your lives hold for you every day,


much love, Rachel

Sunday, January 14, 2001

"Entering the Kingdom Of Heaven..."
Kathmandu, Nepal
Sunday, January 14th, 2001

1st Trip to Nepal: Letter 1

Okay gang...

We flew past Everest yesterday. Carving a jagged silhouette against a sullen blue sky. Dwarfing the rest of the middle Himalayan hills like black giants.

When we descended, a brown smoke enveloped the plane til we could no longer see the mountains, even the buildings in Kathmandu were obstructed. The smog is worse than a hot day in L.A. and more bleak than an Indiana winter.

Nothing could prepare us for the poverty here. Most only hear about the romantic side of Nepal but the difference between Thailand and Nepal is as great as that between Manhattan and the Bronx or Laguna Beach and the ghetto. I'd forgotten that the third world is a spectrum and we're pushing the edge.

When we stepped out of the airport we faced a fence of nearly a 100 men who seemed to envelop us. We were passed from one to the next after having prepaid for a taxi.

I can honestly say I haven't felt that internally distressed or vulnerable as a woman in years. They all pushed against us and surrounded us or followed us. Not a single female or foreigner from our flight was in sight. We were led to a group of broken down cars, a couple of men took our bags and began loading them into the unmarked car. Another man asked us where we needed to go and said no problem. We got into the car feeling a little relieved until he disappeared and another man jumped into the driver's side and started to drive us away. The car kept sputtering and dying. We finally started moving through the hoard while an old toothless man hung onto mom's window gesticulating that he needed "baksheesh" or money for food.

For a couple of minutes the driver refused to acknowledge our presence. We felt like prisoners. We talked to him and he didn't respond. He didn't turn around or say a word. The road went from bad to worse until we were driving along dirt past crumbling buildings, rickshaw like cars and bikes, no foreigners in sight.

The city looked like a bomb had gone off. I haven't seen an area more poor since we drove through towns in Botswana, Africa years ago.

He finally spoke to us without turning around. Saying he would take us to another hotel.

I thought my mother was going to bite his head off.
"No!" she barked, "Pheasant Lodge."
The whole car shuddered and I winced, nervous that a woman showing such aggression might really tee the guy off.

The road improved slightly until we were in the right part of town...though the roads have no names, no stops, no lanes, and no obvious direction. very very disorienting.

He just stopped the car, told us he didn't know our lodge and said we could find it on our own. As soon as we were out of the taxi, we were again besieged by touts and beggars. Unfortunately, everyone here speaks and understand English very well so you can't talk to each other without being spied on. Spanish became our secret weapon as we stepped into a store to collect ourselves. The door seemed to be an invisible force field that kept the touts away until we stepped on to the street again to get our bearings.

We eventually found the hotel, dank, dark, and dismal as it seemed. "Are we in Russia," I wondered?

We're slowly getting our bearings and becoming more accustomed to Kathmandu. It's rich in sight and sound and the Nepalese are very friendly, very sharp, and have a most funny sense of humor. Unfortunately, you have to stay a little on guard.

I have no idea how to describe Kathmandu. Labyrinthine, dizzying, exotic, medieval. The streets are so narrow it feels the buildings are going to squeeze the sky out and collapse in on us, like something out of the movie "Brazil". There's no rhyme or reason to their direction. A million signs, vendors. It's all dirt and color and sound. Mopeds, tiny cars, bicycles constantly running inches past you. a steady stream of people, if you pause too long you'll be approached by more beggars or talked to by merchants standing in their doors. Alleys moving every which way. A million things happening at once. You could get very lost very fast.
The only place to really breathe is up on the rooftops where you can eat in restaurants or get a good view. It's such a strange anachronism to see internet cafes and westerners walking around wearing North FAce, or a random Italian restaurant in the midst of such strangeness. And the westerners don't seem to acknowledge each other on the street, we just pass by each other as if we were ghosts in a dream that we're merely passing through.

I must go out now before I write a novel,
we may be headed south to the Terai, a subtropical savannah in Nepal where we might ride elephants and see rhinos,
surreal isn't, it?