Christmas part 2, and Pokhara

Wednesday 2nd January 2008
Ok, so Christms Eve was really fantastic.
We all went out for a lovely big dinner, there were about 14 volunteers all together, from England, Germany, Switzerland, Finland, America, Canada,  Denmark and Holland, so we were very multicultural!
The food was great, and the restaurant was all decorated and Christmassy – it was really nice.
We all brought a present and did a really fun gift exchange (it’s called Dirty Santa instead of secret Santa) and you can all steal each other’s gifts etc. It was loads of fun and I got a lovely pair of knitted woolly bed socks – very brightly coloured, and more importantly fleece-lined! I also got a beautiful silver bracelet.
We moved on to a bar after dinner, drank far too much and ended up at a Nepali dance club (the music was AWFUL, but who cares).

It was all really awesome and possibly one of the most fun Christmases I’ve had in a while (although it was made a lot more fun by the incredibly hot German guy I met too! Hee hee!)
The next day (25th) was mostly very quiet and hungover – nobody had much sleep so we just did emails and drank coffee and watched movies – it was very nice and relaxed really.
On the 26th we headed down to Pokhara by bus – it took about 5 and a half hours altogether, and Pokhara is a really amazing place.
It’s next to a big lake, at the base of the Annapurna mountain range (at about 700m above sea level), and the views are incredible.
On the first night we just wandered around Lakeside, had a quiet dinner and found a nice (and very cheap) hotel.
The mini-bar in our hotel room!

The mini-bar in our hotel room!

Then on Thursday we rented bikes and cycled along the lake for a bit, and then backtracked and headed into the old part of Pokhara. I must admit it was mostly uphill, and after a while my legs were screaming, so I left the others to carry on and turned back. The ride back was all downhill and really scenic though, and after lunch we sat around the lake soaking up the view.
Soaking up the view by the lake

Soaking up the view by the lake

On Friday Clara and I went para-gliding, which was amazing, but very scary!
We drove up into the hills to the take-off point, which was at about 1500m, and then basically, I jumped off a cliff.
I was strapped into a seat-type thing, and the instructor was hooked onto me and the parachute, and we had to wait for a gust of wind and then run full pelt into it.
However, I could only run about 2 metres before the wind lifted us off the ground.
From there we rode the thermals up to an altitude of about 2200m, and the view was breath-taking.
To the north were the mountains, stretching all the way from west to east almost, and then to the south was the city and lake below us.
I was allowed to take my camera, and got loads of great pictures, and he even let me listen to my ipod while we were flying, so I floated above the hills listening to my favourite Faithless songs.
There were some ENORMOUS birds – they’re called hawk-vultures, and had about a 4-5 foot wingspan. They were gliding on the same thermals as us, so they came really close.
It was altogether an incredible experience, although after about 25mins, I started to feel a bit nauseous (I blame the altitude – after all we climbed about 700 metres in about 2 minutes!).
The landing was surprisingly easy, and after a long lunch we wandered around the street festival, which just happened to be on that weekend too.
I was supposed to be going back on Saturday morning, but we were all having so much fun, and there’s so much to do, we decided to stay an extra day.
Saturday we rented a boat and rowed around the lake, which was really quiet and peaceful, and surprisingly hot – the temperature is much warmer than in Kathmandu, and we managed a little sunbathing on the boat!

Then we spent some more time shopping and checking out the parade and fun fair at the festival.
In the evening we found a restaurant that was doing a fundraiser for a local orphanage, and 20% of the night’s takings were going to the orphanage, so we figured we should eat there! The kids were all dressed up and did some lovely dances, and got us all up dancing with them too. The even had a grant proposal for potential sponsors, and it’s given me lots of ideas to help fundraise here for our orphanage.
On Sunday we got the 7.30am tourist bus back to Kathmandu, although the trip turned out to be quite eventful.

At 11.30am we hit a massive traffic jam, and from the look of the abandoned buses and people playing cards in the road, it clearly wasn’t going anywhere.
We backed up to a restaurant nearby and were told to just sit it out.
After an hour, Clara, Alan and I decided to walk up the road and see what the hold up was (accident, protest, strike, military blockade etc).
It was just under 2km to the front, and it turned out to be a protest.

There was an accident in this village about two weeks ago, where a lorry hit a motorcycle, but unfortunately if you injure someone in an accident like that you have to pay a lot of money to the family, so the truck driver just backed over the injured biker and finished him off instead. (I told Priya about it and she said “Oh yeah, that happens all the time here. People can’t afford to pay, so it’s cheaper for them to kill someone than injure them.”)
It’s a really horrific thought.

Anyway, it turned out there were witnesses, so now they were protesting to get some money from the driver for the man’s family.
There were tyres across the road to stop traffic, but anyone could just walk across, so we walked back to the bus and decided to get our bags and see if we could catch another bus on the other side (a lot of the smaller buses on our side of the jam were turning back to Pokhara).
We decided to wait for a bit longer in case it cleared up, and walked another 1km back up the hill to use the phone and let people know we’d be back late.

By the time it was 4pm, we’d been stuck there for about 5 hours, and only had another hour or so left of daylight, so Clara and I decided to walk it, along with a nice English couple on the same bus as us. Alan decided to stay on the bus and wait it out.
The four of us retrieved our luggage and started out.

We already knew it was about 2km to the protest, and after we walked through it, the line of buses and trucks waiting on the other side went on for miles.
We walked on for about another 2km or so, and every time we saw a car or bus coming our way we tried to flag them down, but no-one stopped.

Eventually we got to a bridge where some buses were turning back, and met two chinese tourists with a Nepali trekking guide who were trying to get a bus too.
We found a micro-bus that was willing to take us back to Kathmandu for 4000 rupees, which we could split between us, but then a whole bunch of local Nepali guys all tried to jump on the bus too, and there was a big argument about who was getting on, and who was paying etc.

We backed off a bit to see what would happen, and then we saw a car coming our way. We flagged it down and the lovely driver stopped and said he would be happy to take us back with him.
It was a really nice new car and there was lots of room so the four of us managed to get in the back quite comfortably.
He was a very nice Russian man with his girlfriend, on their way back from Chitwan.
When we asked how he’d gotten through the barricade, he smiled and said that this was a diplomatic car and had immunity!
It turns out he works for the Russian embassy in Kathmandu (which is 2 mins from my orphanage – talk about luck!) and as it was his work car, it had diplomatic immunity and he was allowed through these kind of things.

So, I was back at home by about 7.30pm, 12 hours after we left Pokhara, but poor old Alan called me the next day and said that the bus hadn’t started moving until 10pm, it took them two hours to get out of the jam, during which time the bus hit a car and had to stop and argue about whose fault it was! He got back to Kathmandu at about 1.30am, and then had to spend an hour finding a hotel that was open!
So it was all very exciting, and I must have walked about 10km altogether, which I was quite proud of, and that is the story of how I hitch-hiked back to Kathmandu!

I was knackered the next day, so decided to skip new year’s and have a quiet night in, and tomorrow I’m off back to Chitwan for our half-time evaluation camp or something similar.
(Can’t believe I’ve been here 5 months already – half way there!)
Ok, time to stop now, it’s been a very long and fun-packed email, and you probably all need to go and have a lie down after all that excitement.
Hope you all had a great New Year and have a brilliant 2008.

tons of love

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