Monday, December 12, 2011


An irrational fear of flying. I have always had a minor case of this amongst my long list of self-diagnosed diseases, but rather than growing out of this one, I have grown further into it. One would think that someone traveling for so long and facing so many flights would begin to let go of their fears of flying, but in this case, it's not so. It's gotten much, much worse.

The plane starts accelerating on the runway ready for take-off, and I try to remember if I sent my family my flight details to look out for my flight in case of a disaster. My muscles tighten, my hands and legs start shaking, and I clench my fists turning my knuckles white as my heart rate triples. The look of fear that I feel on my face must be terrifying the passengers around me as I look for signs of calmness on the flight attendants' faces. I can't read their expressionless faces for the life of me. I find no calmness there and appreciate when the person next to me keeps it completely cool. I pull out my iPhone that has a saved snapshot of the Traveler's Prayer in Hebrew and recite it in my head repeatedly until I feel the plane start getting comfortably into its cruising altitude. I worry that our altitude is not as high as usual... I hear strange sounds... the sound of the engine is changing in an odd way... I think we're dropping meters quickly.

Why didn't I listen to my mom? She wanted me to come home ages ago. I should have listened. Then I remember an anecdote my mom told me a decade ago or more that contradicted her plea for me to return. To keep it short, it's something like this...

A man who loved horses more than anything in the world went to a fortune teller. She tells him that he will eventually die in a cause related to horses, and because of this new information, he abandons the thing he loves most. He tries to keep himself safe by abstaining from any contact with horses. Years later, he stays at a hotel where a painting of a horse hangs above the bed. Feeling nostalgic for horses, but without making a connection, he drifts to sleep.  During the night, the painting falls off the wall killing the horse lover. My mom further explained by reminding me that when it is your time, it's your time, and you cannot run away from it no matter where you are or how you try.

This thought calms me as I realize that I shouldn't give up what I want to do because of this irrational fear. This trip is what I have been wanting for a long time. My time will be my time wherever I am. I try to calm myself letting my muscles loosen and taking in a few deep breaths. The plane feels steady, but I wont feel better until the wheels are on the ground again. Another successful landing.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Sri Lanka in a Flash

Located off the southern coast of India lies the beautiful, lush tear-shaped island of Sri Lanka. Since an extended visit to India didn't seem plausible for this round of travel, the small island would serve as a substitute for me. Always determined to find a travel companion, I spoke to the only other backpacker on my flight and turned out he was Israeli - easy! We made our way to Negombo and found a place to stay on Lewis Place - maybe it was called Seashore Inn, but not cheap at 1700 Rupees ($15) a night. We grabbed some dinner and plotted out our next moves - they weren't the same. Having just trekked in Nepal for a month with a month to tour Sri Lanka, he was on a slow path to the beaches, whereas I had five days to rush through the most notable sights.

Girl on the bus.

I got a train to Kandy, and again came up to the only other backpacker - Fabian, a 30-year-old doctor from Hamburg who spoke excellent English. We teamed up to get a deal on two rooms, one with a hot shower that we would both use - separately! We stuck together for essentially the remainder of my trip. In Kandy, we caught a birthday party and then went to the Temple of the Tooth Relic and the Botanic Gardens.

Walked past this birthday party of a Sri Lankan girl.

Temple of the Tooth Relic

Botanic Gardens resembling Palm Dr. in Beverly Hills


My German friend, Fabian

We ended the day with hours of exhausting but cheap public transport to get to Dalhousie's White House guesthouse to climb Adam's Peak. We had an assortment of Sri Lankan curries for dinner and got some sleep before our 2:30am alarms.

Traditional Sri Lankan meal

We got up and conquered the 5,200 steps up to the peak. At 2,250 meters, Adam's Peak is one of Sri Lanka's most sacred mountains due to the belief that Buddha himself left his sacred footprint near the summit. We were a little unfortunate to have the sunrise itself covered by clouds, but as the sun rose above them, we got some nice views, just not the pictures to prove it. We got back for breakfast at 8:30am and were on the buses to Dambulla by noon. We move fast.

Unfortunately, we had to go back up through Kandy to get there, but we were at the guesthouse by 7 pm. We got going early in the morning and took a bus to Sigiriya, an ancient fortress with famous paintings built into a large rock surrounded by gardens. It was very impressive, but another chunk of stairs to climb and $30 out of my pocket. Before moving towns, we went back to Dambulla to see the cave temples filled with Buddha statues. Onto Polonnaruwa for the night.

Sigiriya - Ancient fortress

We took bikes from Samudra Inn (decent, not cheap or that clean, ant-infested) and rode around the ancient ruins of Polonnaruwa for another $25 entrance fee. It was very beautiful, but after so many days of traveling and physical exertion, Fabian and I were hot, sore and exhausted. We didn't last long before lunch. After that, Fabian continued north and I stayed another night before heading back down to Colombo Airport. As I was waiting for the bus to arrive, I caught a WiFi signal and Skyped my pregnant sister. She gave me the shocking news that she had two babies on the way instead of one! My reaction caused some commotion from the dozens of locals around me, but I hardly noticed them. When the bus finally came, it was a 9 hour journey to get to the airport, and that's arriving an hour early. Bali, I am coming!


Sightseeing in Kathmandu

The next day was my last in Nepal, and I was trying to perfectly budget as to not have to pull out more Nepalese Rupees right before departure. I did a bunch of sightseeing with the Israelis and was not planning for all of the associated entrance fees. Aviv ended up throwing me a few hundred Rupees.

This is the communal shower.

We started in Durbar Square, sans Aviv as he was out gathering trekking gear. It was nice, but mostly because we got to see a rare ceremony that was described as something where these little girls have a wedding to one of their gods, and therefore will never be alone even if becoming a widow or divorcee. Although the little girls with makeup can be a strange sight to see, the girls looked stunning.

Next, we went to the Monkey Temple where we found Aviv! After circling around, we caught the local bus to the other side of town to Boudhanaut, which was also very nice. Everyone circles the Buddha eyes clockwise, spinning these things around as they make their way back to where they started. We opted for a cab on the way back to Thamel and haggled until we got a great deal.

They spin every single one!

To finish off the night, we had a good Mediterranean dinner at OR2K restaurant, and an amazing dessert at Cookie Walla. This guy learned how to make this dessert in India. From what I remember, it was bananas fried with butter and graham crackers, covered in chocolate sauce and vanilla ice cream, with an amazing cookie crumb cake. I think they call it "Hail to the King" - and it was amazing.

I had to rush back to finish packing and get up early for my flight to Sri Lanka. Goodbye, Nepal. I will be back.

Pokhara to Poon Hill - Nepal

I had a short layover in Delhi and an hour delay before I made it to Kathmandu. I didn't realize how close to the mountains Kathmandu was, being such a big city, and my fear of flying kicked in big time on this one. Fortunately, the older English ladies next to me helped calm me down. I only had about 800 baht cash ($24) when I got to the airport, and the visa required $25. Of course, in Kathmandu, the ATMs in the airport didn't work, and they allowed us to exit the airport to search for nearby ATMs (would never fly in any other country). None of them worked for me. My friend, Trey, had booked a place for us to stay, and it included airport pickup. I found my ride and borrowed some cash from the driver, since nothing else was working out. Just another small bump in the road. Finally, I made it to the hotel as Trey was getting confused about the delay. He had just finished almost three weeks of trekking and was on his way out. He helped me gather all of the fake North Face gear I would need for my trek, and when I headed to Pokhara, he was off to Hong Kong, Tokyo and back to the States. Here I am, alone again.

When I got to Pokhara, I booked a guide from the same company as Trey for $16/day. He also agreed to carry my bag, and I would carry his tiny one - deal. We were set to start the next morning on a 5-day trek to Poon Hill. I was just a few days short of having enough time to do Annapurna Base Camp and nowhere near enough time for Everest - next time for sure.

We made great timing the first day, and I thought Kinabalu was much harder than this - and it was. We started in Nayapul and spent the first night in Hille. The guide was frustrating me already because he made me stay at a Tea House that he had some special arrangements with, but no other guests were there. Being solo, I like to find places with good company. I walked up to the next Tea House and joined a large group for a cup of tea and some conversation. The next day of trekking was harder, but I was still feeling pretty good.

We stopped for lunch, and I had my first Dahl Bat, which includes free refills, and soon after, I wasn't feeling amazing... if you know what I mean. We trekked up to Ghorepani and again stayed at a place with no one else around and even further off the path. I found two Americans, some Aussies, an Israeli girl and a drunken Danish guy to hang out with. They sat around drinking and playing cards and we cozied up by the fire in the restaurant of their much more social Tea House. In the morning, we all got up at 5am to walk up Poon Hill for sunrise. I was feeling even more ill at this point, but the view was very nice. Unfortunately, moving forward that day, my trek was the opposite direction of all my new friends' - goodbyes again.

My guide decided to shorten the trek by one day and squeeze two days of trekking into one. Since, I was already so frustrated with him, I didn't oppose cutting a day, saving $16, and not sleeping on the mountain since I was feeling ill as well. I didn't realize, however, that after the sunrise trek, we had to go for another seven hours. We got to Ghandruk just before sunset, and now I was proper sick. I went to bed immediately with extra blankets and could not maintain any warmth. I had only had soup for dinner the night before, no breakfast, and some bread with peanut butter for lunch. I planned to skip dinner too since I could not even imagine anything I'd be able to eat. My guide made me get up for some tea instead of dinner. The Tea House owner gave me a hot pack filled with boiling water to rest on my stomach and bring to bed. It was hugely successful in keeping me warm despite all of my layers of clothing and blankets.

How can I complain when I see what these guys can handle? I could still only handle tea for breakfast and couldn't wait to just make it to a warm bed with a hot shower - I only had one hot shower on the trek. It was four hours, mostly downhill to the end, and it was hard on the knees and on my stomach. I met a young English guy, Ben, who joined us on the bus back to Pokhara and we shared a cab and got some lunch, which I still couldn't stomach. I had a few bites of fried rice before nearly puking right at the table - but I didn't. He led me to where he stayed before his trek, and at 500 rupees, I agreed since I just needed to sleep. I didn't leave the room until 10:30 the next morning, when I met up with the Israeli girl, Ofir, from the mountain. Her porter took us to his family's restaurant for some free lunch. I managed to keep down a few bites. The two of us kept it easy the rest of the day, since we were both exhausted. I was going to meet my friend from my 2006 Birthright trip in Kathmandu, so I booked a morning bus back to the city. For my last night in Pokhara, Ofir and I met up with some other Israelis for drinks (I stuck to Sprite).

I found a Belgian guy, Jonathan, in the morning who was heading to the bus as well, and we shared a cab and a bus to Kathmandu. The two of us got shoved on a bench in the driver's "cockpit." With pitstops, food breaks, bathroom breaks and traffic jams, we didn't get to Kathmandu until 5pm. We ran into Ben and two Israelis and the five of us found rooms together. I saved a bed for Aviv, my Birthright friend who met up later. Back to the big city!

I can't help but think of this song when I start on a long trek!