travel

We interrupt this broadcast with a brief message from the future….. (part two)

 

 

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Now that it’s somewhat clearer why sending two thirds of the family home was a good idea, let’s explain how I also ended up home within two weeks of them – despite being months ahead of schedule and still possessing a ticket home from Europe…

So there I was, having farewelled the rest of my family, left to contemplate that decision and the next 4 months of solo travel. It was a hard bus ride home – I was grateful for the sunglasses and practically-mandatory-smog-mask which hid me away.

I came back to our room in the school – we had been graciously allowed to stay in one of the kindy classrooms while the school holidays were on. It was a glorious place for a family to stay – safe, peaceful and surrounded by beautiful Waldorf toys, playground and garden. It was a refuge we were very grateful for. But now, coming back without them felt awful and strange. It was so empty.

Empty, except for a little posie sitting on my pillow – it had a tag which read “love love love”. Oh what a saviour that little posie was – a beautiful token of love and thought left behind by Michael and Emma. Actually it made me cry but it was something I could focus on to move through the initial grief, carefully putting it in some water and arranging it upon a cupboard.

I could have easily turned to my old friends shopping and food that day but for some reason I made the conscious decision not too.  Instead I surrendered to the pain and knew I needed to just sit with it. Acknowledge it, let it pass. Don’t ask me why it changed there and then, god knows there have been plenty of other times it was sorely needed. Maybe it was because I was alone – now I had the time, space and ability to devote all my energy to whatever I felt necessary.

Out of the blue, I decided the necessity was meditation. Again: why? I’ve no idea – meditation wasn’t something habitual for me. But suddenly here I was, spontaneously cobbling together little bits of experience from yoga and relaxation, plus some kind of intuitive feeling for what I needed to focus on. It was incredibly comforting and much to my surprise, the relief was immediate, noticeable and long lasting (unlike my old vices, it came with no trailing guilt). I made a pledge with myself to turn it into a habit, so I read what I could and investigated options for further guidance – suitable courses that were for lay people yet didn’t cater to the wealthy tourist trade were a little hard to find but definitely existed. This, I decided, was what I had been searching for. I would do some simple practice by myself, seek out a good down-to-earth guided course for more experience/technique then I might just be ready for my ultimate challenge – a 10 day Vipassana session (see link here to learn about the immensity which is Vipassana). So I continued with it every morning and night, which also helped a lot to curb the sadness which seemed to peak at those times. It also became apparent it was helping with self-motivation and not getting so stuck in strong emotions like anxiety, sadness or fear. It instilled a confidence in me that I could cope with the challenges I had taken on, as well as those that were to come.

And come they would – the first week alone was crazy. In amongst riding out my emotions, reading, meditating and blog writing I also:

•took myself sightseeing, with a real paper map (for those who don’t know me, I suck at navigating – so please marvel at my accomplishment),

•got into a visiting situation that was stressful, confusing and alarming enough to seriously consider skipping out on them in the middle of the night

•found myself displaced but unable to look for other accommodation because I was a ‘guest’ and therefore they must do it for me,

•successfully navigated the above cultural intricacies and found my first solo overseas accommodation (which was neither a dive nor a rip off – score!)

•managed to meet up with my friends who were a) coming from a different country, b) with intermittent communication and c) without a definite plan – all while having a history of being anxiously anal and freaking out if the smallest detail remained up in the air (apparently that version of me had been knocked around a bit with all this experience….)

So after all that, spending some time with two friends we met at the Navdanya farm in India, was great. Eliza was from the States and Paula from Colombia – it was their first time to Nepal as well so we hung out and saw the sights. We visited the Monkey Temple (Swayambho) and Boudhanath Stupa the first day, then lost ourselves the next in the wonderful museum of Patan’s old city. The third day was spent trying, unsuccessfully, to break into the other old city of Bhaktapur (it’s a long story….). After an epic showdown with the ticket man we gave up and found a cafe to regroup in.

To my absolute delight and amazement we moved through this potentially frustrating, disappointing and day-ending situation into a new plan without so much as a raised voice. Wow – these two really showed me how to keep your cool and talk to each other in a way which is honest about your own feelings while still open and respectful to everyone else’s. And so much so that you end up with a plan everyone is not only accepting of, but excited about. Good work girls! And so the new plan saw us spend the rest of that day with a hired taxi man. He took us to the unexpected delight of Changu Narayan Temple and an awesome little museum that gave my first real insight into regional Nepali life. Then it was up the villages a bit further to Nagarkot. There we took in a cloudy but nevertheless awesome hilltop view and some cracking food at a guest house restaurant. After some seriously happy eating, the taxi drove us right back to our home (and tourist-town) Thamel – no wayward buses tonight my friends (unlike the two previous days…).

We decided the next day would be earmarked for a morning romp in a real-live garden then off to the last of the old cities – Kathmandu Durbar Square.

Saturday Morning – April 25

We had plans to begin with my family’s favourite little local, Namaste Cafe, but found it closed upon arrival. Of course, it was Saturday – this seems to be the Nepali’s weekend, just one day where a lot of people take time off from their shop or taxi to be at home. So we visited another nearby cafe and took the short walk to ‘The Garden of Dreams’ – a European garden oasis in the middle of the city (built by a Nepali President’s son, after winning the money for it from his father in a game – oh the life of royals…). We strolled and absorbed our fix of nature, before consulting the map and walking to Durbar Square.

We entered, getting our bearings and our tickets, then headed to the palace of Nepal’ls living goddess, the Kumari Devi (a young child thought to be the reincarnation of one of their gods of destruction – so naturally she is chosen by being subjected to a night of horrific noises, masks and buffalo heads….yup – that really happens). Inside the palace courtyard, people emplored the caretakers up in the wooden windows to coax the Kumari into showing her face. To everyone’s joy (and/or amusement) she did, before disappearing again shortly after. We strolled out again between the cities’ open square and palace, which held the museum of former King Tribhuvan. The building was an odd mix of ancient wooden palace joined to a newer white plaster european add-on. At the end we turned up ‘Freak Street’, in search of lunch and signs from its hippie-heaven past.

Saturday, lunchtime

We settled on the organic cafe which was still overflowing with white western hippies (literally – they spilled out over all the available steps such that we had to step through them to get in). We made our order and went to the empty second floor for a seat. Eliza had de-shoed and taken up the guitar, Paula was snapping photos by the window. The waiter came up the stairs then promptly started hugging the door frame, saying “oh my god, oh my god”. I was perplexed – moving between wondering if he was joking and trying to decide what else he could possibly be doing. Then I felt it.

My brain finally noticed and knocked on the door of my conscious – “We are moving. We are wobbly – something is happening. Wake up”.

I remained groggy for a few moments more while I scrambled to process what it meant. ‘What is going on?’. Click. It’s an earthquake.

What? How could I possibly be in an earthquake – I’m just spending the day with my friends, we’re waiting for our lunch….

“Wake up, this is an earthquake! Here. Now. It’s happening – and you’re in it”.

Right. Ok.

Historically embedded comments turned-knowledge surfaced: doorway, get to the doorway.

Grab bag, get to doorway, brace.

And so I did. Eliza and I held on to the door frame while the whole building shook back and forth like nothing I could have imagined. Paula was soon there too, after falling several times in her attempt to crawl over from the window. Eliza says “love you guys”. Paula is visibly scared – I hug her and tell her it’s ok. Meanwhile the waiter and another couple also huddled in the doorway with us – the girl cries into her boyfriends shoulder that she doesn’t want to die. “You’re not going to die” he says’- yes, good call.

An uncharacteristic and unexpected calm, compassion and pragmatism were within me – I wasn’t scared, I wasn’t panicking. I did what was necessary and waited for it to stop. It wasn’t the reaction I would have predicted – I am normally prone to anxiety and fear on a good day, let alone this. I only had brief thoughts about the possibility of the overhead stories falling down on us – they left as quickly as they came.

After what seemed like a very long time, the shaking stopped. We stopped too and our brains pondered what next. (my brain and body felt like quite separate entities at this point). Mine said “we need to get out, now”. My friends seemed reluctant but in my head it was the only option. Paula had the presence of mind to pick up Eliza’s shoes then we hastily descended the stairs and got out onto the street. There were people standing around everywhere – stunned, confused, looking, talking.

We got the first glimpse of damage in the form of a great dirty dust cloud sitting in the sky – a messenger of news and particles from fallen buildings. Eliza broke us out of our daze with a sage suggestion of getting out of the narrow street to open ground. I think we were all suddenly acutely aware that aftershocks follow earthquakes.

The open square we passed earlier was very close so we headed for that – joining lots of others. It was a safe place to be, well away from the now ominously towering buildings. It was also the spot where we gained some initial insight into the level of damage – one palace roof was now shorter and akimbo, the old palace/museum was missing a wall and the adjoining white-plaster side had lost great chunks while gaining severe cracks. Most alarming though was the temple next door to the Kumari’s palace – it was completely gone. Reduced to a pile of rubble.

I heard no screaming, saw no one attempting to approach the rubble. Nor did we – it felt too unsafe. Thoughts about what or who might be under that rubble were being suppressed somewhere inside my head.

The square slowly filled. There had been a market there moments ago – some merchants packed up their wares, while other goods were tossed aside as people looked for space. For reasons I still don’t understand, the girls managed to find an intact internet connection and got on with their smartphones. We scurried to send out messages – what a relief it was that our families and friends would know we hadn’t been hurt. The connection soon cut out and the aftershocks began, prompting panic and screams, crying and fear.

It was then I realised how dangerous panic can be. And how staying calm is actually a really practical thing to do that is incredibly valuable. As more people filled the space and/or people got more panicky, the risk of fear-induced pushing and stampeding increased – “this is how people get hurt, calm down” I thought – for goodness sake.

We held and comforted each other as the aftershocks came and went. We saw a helicopter fly overhead with what looked like Chinese writing on it. And a while later a man with a whistle gestured for everyone to sit down as an ambulance made its way through the square. Eventually we saw the first of some heavy machinery arrive. By now we had been in the square for hours, talking with our new ‘ earthquake family’ of fellow tourists. We decided to follow them to a much calmer park area nearby and after a carefully considered risk vs benefit analysis, we went with one of our new friends to find a toilet, food and water. Some nearby shops had opened their doors. Hilariously, (even in that moment), the one selling alcohol and cigarettes seemed to be the busiest. After some food and a long stint without tremors, we decided it was time to finally say farewell and go face our guesthouse.

Would it be there? Would we be able to get our belongings? Either way we had made the decision to sleep outside tonight – I certainly had no plans to be inside one of those buildings anytime soon. Actually, when we discovered that our guest house building was still in tact I found it incredibly hard just to take myself back up into one again. Our rooms were on the third floor – I climbed the stairs with anxiety and fear weighing heavy on me. My body shook as I hastily stuffed things into my bag and got downstairs again. We checked out and briefly chatted to some of the other guests, who were hanging out downstairs and very nonchalant about the whole thing. I felt vindicated though when the manager said he was just waiting for everyone to come back so he could lock it – they were sleeping outside too. Good, we were making the right decision.

It was nice to know because it was hard to make decisions – there was no information, no advice – only whatever limited experience and knowledge you had carried in with you that day, or what you could pick up from english-speaking locals. I wavered periodically in my levels of alarm – bouncing between ‘maybe it’s not so big and plans might still carry on as normal after a while’ to a growing realisation of just how serious it might all get. So I found it hard to judge whether I was overreacting or not. In fact our plan was to sleep in the school’s garden and I was harbouring the fear that I might be doing something wrong by turning up with friends uninvited. But really, it was an earthquake for crying out loud – as if the school staff were going to mind if we took refuge there!

Saturday, evening

Tackling the hour-long walk to school with all our gear and fast-disappearing daylight, we spotted several graffiti tags that said ‘earthquake’ and the date – it was weird and alarming to have the event marked like that already while we were still in it.

nepal earthquake tag 1

 

The roads were full of people, going in all directions. Tourists carried their luggage. Locals took sleeping gear in search of open space to stay in. Nepali soldiers were on the streets and crammed in trucks – the ones in the street just seemed to be standing there, those in the truck were either headed somewhere else or broadcasting garbled-nepali through a loudspeaker. It felt like an informational black hole. What had happened, how bad was it, what areas were affected, what should we be doing now? There were no public answers for tourists and I suspected not a lot more for locals either.

Taking a break along the way, I suddenly remembered we would pass the American embassy- that would be a great place to seek out information and for Eliza to register as being safe. Her passport granted us entry to the first security check where somehow, searching for info (and now a toilet) turned into an offer to stay. We explained we weren’t all American and an understanding quickly developed that the three of us were sticking together no matter where it meant we ended up. Despite making no plea, nor holding any expectation, that man (whose name I sadly forget) said it was his call and we could all stay. Wow – bless him and God Bless America I thought. I was astonished at this development. And that was before realising what kind of an embassy this was – had I comprehended the scale of this place and their resources I bet I would have plumb fallen down on the spot.

We surrendered our weapons (aka knives) and entered not-so-mini America in Nepal. It was a series of buildings in a massive complex for consulate staff, embassy services, a defence unit of some sort plus a crazy-big workshop and who knows what else. The place was incredible. We later found out it had all been rebuilt just years before, to the best earthquake standard available. It seemed we had stumbled into the safest place in Kathmandu.

I marvelled at our change in plans and circumstances. I was safe – so incredibly, luckily, unfathomably safe. So were my friends. And now we had been offered a practically-earthquake-proof, warm place to stay, with food and water. I couldn’t believe the fortune we were experiencing – I was so so thankful. I knew there were so many others out there in such worse situations than me – indeed I felt guilty because I was in here taking refuge while they were out there struggling. But self preservation had kicked in, for better or worse, and it meant I wouldn’t bring myself to jeopardise it. I was going to preserve the safety I had been granted and be damn grateful for it. That came with its own guilt and cross to bear but it felt non-negotiable. I suspect my friends may have been confronted with similar battles. We tried to be helpful in our gratitude by busying ourselves inside the embassy – Eliza and Paula did what they could in the kitchen and dining room while I helped in the library.

After a comforting hot dinner we settled onto our yoga mats in the ‘multi-purpose room’ – where it seemed the consular families with children were camping out. It was a fitful sleep filled with aftershocks and an acutely aware body/brain combo. In fact one of the larger tremors saw me upright with shoes, jacket and bag in hand in a matter of seconds – I was paused like an animal waiting to see if I needed to flee. The tremor stopped and the building appeared to be taking it in its stride so I stayed. But the longer the night went on the more I wanted to leave – feeling like there was no appropriate place for me. We had started to see that Nepal would be no place for a tourist while major rebuild and rehabilitation happened. I felt like unless you could help with food, water, shelter, sanitation or medical aid we would just be more mouths to feed and in the way.

Sunday morning

Another biggie woke me at 5am so I resigned myself to staying awake. That morning was an astonishing dose of food and information – a full hot american breakfast of bacon, eggs, pancakes and oatmeal (plus every cereal and milk under the american sun) was followed by an announcement from the Ambassador. It was exactly the kind of thing we had been hoping for – a public address on the situation; what they knew, what they were doing and what we could do. Currently, what we could do was pretty much stay put, stay safe and look after each other, as well as the surroundings (even in this situation people took to littering their space with rubbish – what’s with that?). We also now knew that the airport was in tact and operating – but only for aid and emergency flights so far. After this and a consulate offer to send messages out on our behalf via email, they soon opened up the library’s computers  so we could do it ourselves. Wow, we binged on information and it was so very satisfying.

The morning wore on and we talked about leaving – the airport was allowing some commercial flights now and we could see electronic ticket sales had opened again. We also talked about sticking together – I liked the idea and was keen to fly out with my friends.  However a combination of visa requirements, time delays and distinct lack of three tickets available on the one flight was inciting indecision. We decided to break for lunch and mull it over.

Sunday lunchtime

We ate, talked some more and considered our options. India was our destination of choice, but it was looking increasingly difficult for me. They had visas and existing flights home from there so it made sense for them to go. I had no visa nor any idea where to buy the next ticket onto in order to gain a ‘Tourist Visa On Arrival’ instead.

Then the second major earthquake hit – we braced in the doorway and got under the library tables. A loud incessant voice siren kicked in, stating something like ‘this is an emergency, take cover….’ – it did not help. It was so hilariously american and redundant that I would have found it funny had it not triggered an involuntary fear response within my body.

The shuddering (and siren) continued and we looked at each other from under the tables, “ok, decision made – we need to get out of here any way we can, asap”. We would seek flights leaving the following day – the girls to India and me to somewhere else.

But where? Believe it or not I wasn’t ready to go home, so what I wondered where else I might go. What if I go to Europe early – where would I stay, what would I do, would the visa be long enough? Should I just go to a country close by for now? Am I up for being in a place where I don’t know my way around nor speak the language?

These tickets are selling out in front of my eyes. I need to get out of here ASAP. I need to buy a ticket NOW.

Ok – I need to go home.

So I changed the destination to Adelaide and waited for my fate to flicker up on the screen – the first flight out was for the following night with an unknown airline from Malaysia. They had only started their operation in Kathmandu months beforehand – if there was any airline least likely to be organised and get out of here, it was them. Plus the Australian legs were with ill-reputed budget airline Tiger. Yup, no way I was taking that ticket. So I booked the next cheapest option, which in fact was not cheap at all but hideously expensive because  it was business class – however I was less than aware of that when I clicked on it faster than the speed of light.

Tomorrow, I would leave tomorrow. Monday night. It was a strange thought. The girls missed out on the first couple rounds of flights they wanted so they ended up with tickets to leave on Tuesday afternoon – now we weren’t even looking like getting to the airport together. Again – as we had done with so many decisions over the last week – we talked, took time to consider it all then came to talk again. They were willing to come to the airport a day early just so we could go together – it was amazing the kindness they showed, but I couldn’t let them do that. To give up their safety overnight just didn’t seem right or necessary.

There had been so much anxiety, fear and rush around snapping up those tickets and finding a way to print out the all-important paper confirmation that it was ridiculous – we were the lucky ones with food, internet and the best earthquake-proof building in the entire country – what the hell was it like for everyone else?

Well, we caught a glimpse later that day when we walked to the Australian embassy – it was literally up the road and also backed right onto the school we had been staying at (weird, right?). I wanted to see what they were doing for Australians and check in to say I was ok. It soon became obvious it was much less resourced – the buildings were no longer considered safe enough to use and there was only access to local phone calls – forget internet. Actually if it wasn’t so serious it would have been bloody comical – typical Aussies, they were all just hangin’ about chatting and camping in tents in the backyard! However, the impact of lack of communications meant they couldn’t call home, it was hard to get outside information to make decisions, and couldn’t book flights. And then there were all the poor locals who were camped out in the open, lucky if they had a plastic sheet for protection against the unseasonable rains.

Sunday night

So after this field trip we found ourselves even more grateful to have a place in the American embassy, but more nervous about keeping it – especially in light of how fast it was filling up. In fact the excursion had also led to a stressful and awkward attempt at helping a stranded traveller from South Africa – both the Australian and American embassy denied her refuge. In the end she found a Canadian who was also stranded at the American embassy after being refused help – they made new plans together. So it seemed like it worked out in its own way but the whole situation was a bit of a shambles and saw the three of us going back and forth through security at various times. It was tightening – there were now more people volunteering in administration and admissions hence there were more questions. I got asked if I had ‘my form’, to which I thought ‘what form?’ but replied “I’ve already checked in” – that was apparently good enough and she moved on. Paula got asked if she had her passport – “of course” she said, “it’s back with all my other gear inside the embassy”. She backed up that winner with a flash of the yellow chip we got from handing in our knives and she was through – kudos, that was some quick thinking. When Paula, Eliza and I were all finally back inside the embassy together the relief was palpable – we were not going back outside that area again until it was time to fly out. I hate to say it but I felt like one of those rats fleeing a sinking ship. It took me to a dark complicated place where instead of my morals triggering the usual upfront honesty, I found instead self preservation pushed me toward keeping quiet – I didn’t like this place. Regardless of how I felt about it we laid low for our last night together.

Monday and the rest

The breakfast had been reigned into a more modest selection of hot potato and rice, or cereals now and we ate gratefully – another safe warm night on the embassy floor had been ours. It was the day I would leave – I always get antsy when it’s time to move on from somewhere and this was certainly no exception. Despite my departure being hours and hours away I packed compulsively, knowing that I would feel better once I exercised that outlet of control and had it done. A loudspeaker announced the embassy was running shuttles to the airport and I discovered another couple was also leaving on my flight – we agreed to buddy up and take the 4pm bus out.

I spent the next few hours feeling that horrible we’re-going-to have-to say-goodbye-soon feeling. Eliza, Paula and I dined on the standard lunch of MRE’s – ready made military rations. While we were eating them out in the sun a staff member jokingly asked how we were enjoying them – actually I was enjoying my veggie patty and crackers immensely! The blueberry cobbler left a little to be desired in the looks department – but still, this was fancy desert/emergency food for sure. We talked and soaked up more sun before it came time for me to leave.

I bid my new family members goodbye – what an unusual link we would have together now and forever more. It certainly felt like fate had brought us together – how serendipitous  all the timing (and nationalities) had been and what a help we were to each other through that experience. And what an invaluable comfort for the future to know that no matter what, there was not one but two dear wonderful friends who understood – talking to Eliza and Paula about it would always be different because they were there, it’s that simple.

To have someone you can relate to in that way is a gift – a gold-plated priceless gift. How strange that circumstance made us that for each other – but how grateful I am that it did – love you girls.

I jumped on the bus and was very happy I didn’t have to negotiate the street or taxis. When we arrived I could see people outside everywhere – yet it was surprisingly quick and easy to get into the ticket holders area. But that’s where all the other people were, waiting, going nowhere. We joined the right line and eventually figured out people had essentially camped on the spot for now because an aid flight was trying to get cleared off the one and only runway in Nepal’s International Airport – incoming flights were diverted to other countries for lack of space to land. No flight in means no flight out, and backed up passengers.

I had prepared myself mentally, and physically for the possibility of camping at the airport – I carried my pack on my back and one of the front crammed with sleeping gear, food and water. I had no plans to check any baggage in case I got stuck in situ without supplies to look after myself so I carried it all – all the way home (actually by the end of it, after trying in both Qatar and Singapore to offload a bag, I was used to being a human packhorse – exploding bits of gear here and there).

Eventually our ticket line began to check people in and move them through customs – that was an uneasy place to be, stuck upstairs in a building of unknown structural integrity with nowhere to go except the enormous stationary ‘foreigners’  queue, while the ‘local’ customs officers sat around with nothing to do. It was crazy. By the time we got to the front people were going in whatever line they wanted. It was painfully obvious the airport was not equipped to deal with the situation at hand – the lack of sense of urgency was distressing and security was a joke (they confiscated the water in my hands but left the 3 litres in my bag?). However to be fair, they were probably doing the best they knew how to – I had already noticed an attitude of acceptance and doing things in their own time seemed an inherent part of the Nepali culture which ordinarily was fine, but in this sort of situation I could see it causing anxiety and anger.

After the security check area, people just seemed to be hanging out. We soon discovered why – the boarding gates were all chocka-block full of backed up and future flyers. I followed the narrow path that was left and found a place to sit on the filthy floor – although I couldn’t have cared less at that point. I looked at the departure board – it was like traffic lights all red, amber and green according to whatever status your flight happened to luck out on (‘as scheduled’, delayed’, ‘cancelled’ or even worse – blank). I struck up a conversation with the traveller next to me who’s flight wasn’t even listed on the board anymore – that sucks. He moved on to find out more and I contemplated my position – I was in the middle of a big room, surrounded by people and no walls or doors nearby to use for protection if there was more seismic action.

I pondered my options a little longer when  the inevitable happened – an aftershock. It was intense enough to make people scatter immediately, but short lived. That was all the impetus I needed – I collected my things and scouted out a better position near a doorway. From there I spied another hall way with less people, more sturdy looking structures and an unlocked door that opened directly onto the runway – that was surely the best place to be should I need to exit in a hurry. I moved again, even managing to score a chair this time and settled in. While my flight was still listed ‘as scheduled’, it was already a good couple of hours past the boarding time – I fully expected to be waiting indefinitely. But no sooner had I sat down than its magic flight number was called over the PA like a lottery winner as “now boarding”. Wow – all of a sudden that’s it – I’m off then. Ok.

The whole thing was hard enough to grasp let alone the style in which it happened – we boarded the Qatar aeroplane, apparently pretty snazzy anyway but of course I had the inadvertent business class tickets which meant it was even crazier. So there we were on the runway in earthquake-devasted Kathmandu being offered champagne, hot towels, television, luxury eye masks, and silver service. Incredibly and simultaneously surreal, bizarre, hilarious and abhorrently inappropriate.

We took off and I thought about what had happened – it was hard to believe it had only been two and a half days since the earthquake. It felt like a lifetime. I thought, wrote and distracted myself with movies as I flew to Doha. That airport is like no other I have ever seen – massive in presence and opulence. For instance in the business class lounge they had an indoor water feature that was about 5 times bigger than any accommodation we had been in for the past 8 months – just because they could, I guess. It sat in the middle of a football field of luxury seating booths, internet kiosks and a couple of restaurants serving free food. Then I took a shower in one of the bathrooms that were like half a hotel room. Wow – I was giddy with luxury and relief. But to go from natural disaster in a third world country to this in the space of about 10 hours was bewildering, to say the least.

I continued on through Singapore where it was no better – I got even more tangled up inside watching the news and hearing people complain about stupid superficial stuff while I sat there eating my fancy pants free food. It was enough to do my head in. Nevertheless I boarded my third and final flight, heading to Adelaide. It was hard to believe really – this would be my last stop. I would then be home.

The thing about going through the earthquake was it had triggered a change in my brain – it told that part which filters important vs not important that any shaking sensations were now SUPER DUPER important. This meant I was now extremely sensitive to any kind of vibration – not good news when getting home involves hours of turbulence three times over. By this last flight I had been transformed from ‘ordinarily excellent flyer’ to ‘oh my god, make it stop’. Nevertheless I made it through and got ready to land, noticing for the first time just how many trees we have in Adelaide. Flying in over the top and with lots of other places recently in my memory for reference, I could see that it was incredibly green by comparison.

I breezed through immigration and customs, suddenly faced with the arrivals hallway – holy crap, I’m here already. Not sure if I’m ready for this. But what else is there to do except keep going? I turned the corner and spotted Emma first – we ran towards each other and started crying. We had big hugs and got back to Michael and Mum W where more hugs, kisses and tears ensued. It was a wonderful welcome.

I had arrived – the challenge was now to ‘land’.

It was so weird to be back in the same place with the same people but feeling totally different. It’s like the entire world has changed within you while everything outside remains the same, and largely unaware. Very hard to feel and very hard to work through.

Plus of course the experience we had been through and the circumstances under which we all returned home was so big it was almost beyond comprehension for me at this point. It left me with an intense feeling of displacement.

That feeling would plague me for some time but as we worked through seeing friends, finding a place to settle down and thinking about ‘what now?’, it waned a little. Trouble was, it all still felt so immense and I had had so much more planned that it wasn’t easy to let go of. Finally one day I said to myself “I’m here, it’s time to start acting like it” and so I picked a project to move forward with – that was a big help in dragging me out of my displacement.

So that’s where I am today, over a month after the earthquake, at home piecing together our new life. I don’t hold ill feelings for my experience at all – I am, and hope to remain forever, grateful. I also hope that something positive can come out of it for Nepal and it’s devastated people. Having an earthquake is horrific enough, let alone when the country is poor and it puts the brakes on their major tourist industry. But here’s hoping…

Oh, and as for me and my remaining ticket home – I plan on using it. As I said to my dad – nope, the earthquake wasn’t enough to deter me from travelling again…..oh dear, I’ve been well and truly bitten 🙂

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We interrupt this broadcast with a brief message from the future….. (part one)

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While our blog is still galavanting around the USA’s West Coast, we in fact, have already travelled on to the East Coast, India and Nepal. But more to the point, (for those who don’t know), we find ourselves back home again in Australia – months ahead of when it should have been and under unexpected circumstances.

So in an attempt to digest it all, I thought it worthwhile to interrupt the chronological order of things and bring it up here and now. This is how it happened…

Part One: Michael and Emma.

Our plan was to travel for a year. At the six month mark, in the throes of trying to volunteer in Nepal, Michael came to me and said he was ready to go home and take Emma with him. Whoa, I was dumbfounded. But I shouldn’t have been so surprised, I knew we were having a hard time – we were tired, grumpy and had worn down the buffers of patience and understanding. We struggled to replenish ourselves and the homesickness that Emma had carried throughout the trip wasn’t waning, it was gaining ground. I guess I just figured we would keep going and eventually push through it – I mean, we had seen so many of those hard times already during our six months. Most of them had laboured forth priceless lessons and growth.

But as is one of his strengths, Michael could see it was time to let go – we had gotten to the stage where the downsides of this travelling were no longer healthy for us as a family, or for Michael and Emma as individuals. He has always been better at making the move to leave something when it seemed impossibly hard. And there was no trace of desperation or frustration – just his calm manner and evident consideration. So despite my shock, I knew it was best and there was nothing for it but acceptance. It was time for them to return to the safety, structure and relationships of home to begin the next chapter, implementing the outcomes of their experience. I understood and supported that without question.

It was the implications I was struggling to grapple with. Because while I knew they must return home, I also knew I couldn’t. I wasn’t ready to.

I still had so much work I wanted to do within myself. We had talked about it extensively and thus already had plans in place for me to stay on after our travels for some alone sabbatical time. It was to be a chance to really sit with myself and find out all the things I either didn’t know or had been avoiding. After all, as Michael pointed out to me, I had grown up with my family and moved straight into a serious relationship with him at age 17, followed by study, work and a family – I had never really been alone in my whole life. (now there’s a scary realisation….)’

So we had both seen this as a great opportunity for me to work on some of those things I skipped as an adolescent. But now, in the current scenario with Michael and Emma leaving, and me feeling like I must still take that opportunity, it left me dizzy with one question – what on Earth do I do now? I was having a hard time facing what it meant. We have to be apart, for a long time. I must do a whole bunch of challenging stuff on my own. And we’re doing it now. Oh boy.

So the plans had changed. Again. In a big way.

Over the next day or so I processed the new situation and Michael and I talked about how we might proceed. I decided I could and would stay on in Nepal – seeing out some of our volunteering commitments then moving onto sabbatical stuff. Michael and Emma would leave in two weeks, giving us a chance to spend some more family time together and do a few more local explorations. We booked flights out for them on April 15 and contemplated the reality of what had transpired.

The next couple of weeks were a confusing mix of lovely family holiday, overwhelmed-induced paralysis and irritated twiddle-thumb waiting. We each had times of struggling, joy or becoming impatient to move on. I do believe that all of us were also grateful –  we spent those last days together exploring the wonders of Kathmandu’s old cities and the quiet peacefulness of Nargakot’s elevated village views. Towards the end we all became nervy and on edge about the impending farewell. But eventually it gave way to the most wonderful of family days: the day of departure included cuddles, stories and breakfast in bed followed by a happy productive air of just generally getting on with it.

Interestingly, minutes before he was due, our previously faithful and frequently used taxi man rang to say he wasn’t coming. Okay then. Luckily taxis were not a rare commodity and so we made our way to the airport unperturbed. The nerves returned though and only grew as we tried to sit for a cup of chai together, realising two things: 1) this dinky little outdoor alcove with a couple of small stalls and grand total of 4 chairs was it in terms of a waiting or farewell area, and 2) it was probably time for them to go already anyway. It was incredibly hard and heart wrenching to say goodbye. Luckily we tempered it well with lots of hugs and kisses, smiles and cry-laughs. I waved until they disappeared into the ‘ticket-holders only’ area then attempted to find a bus home…

So that’s how Michael and Emma ended up back in Australia with me still in Nepal! I’ll wade through my own return shortly in a second part – until then…xx

STATES ahoy!

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By chance, rather than design, our flight from Brisbane to San Francisco went through Honolulu. Oooh, we’re going to Hawaii!
Well, not really, but we were scheduled for a 6 hour layover. Surely long enough to duck out and see something nearby. We went outside, circled the terminals several times in an effort to find a bus that went into town. Nothing was really working and apparently we were all tired grumpy So with that, the new plan was to just wait for our next flight. We were clearly incapable of making it happen in our current states, but I was still bitterly disappointed. Begrudgingly I joined the others back in the terminal – where we all promptly fell asleep.
Some time later we woke up and wondered out through a different door to find a little courtyard and garden – perfect for streching out and letting Em have a run around. After recharging in the fresh air and sunlight we strolled over to the domestic terminal. Strangely, I found the surrounds and decor much more kitsch than I expected. A 70’s looking facade of browns, oranges and carved wood, . The culture of Hawaii seemed also characatured – it was also this way elsewhere in the USA. I would have liked to stay and experience some tradition of the islands.
em hawaii 2
Upon the next plane, we headed for San Fran(cisco). Getting in late at night, we had summoned the forethought and investment to book a hotel room close by for the night. Boy, was that a good plan. We landed, stumbled upon the free airport shuttle bus (which arrived within minutes), ate at the 24 hour restaurant attached to the hotel then crashed into bed. While Michael and I woke up at a sprightly 7am, we had to wake Emma because she was getting close to missing our checkout deadline of 12 noon! 11 hours of sleep for a child that has never, ever, been a long sleeper = great start. Despite the rest, our stomachs were still in a strange place – thus our lovechild of a breakfast was born – pancakes and fried rice (eaten separately, not together – just so you know).
Fueled up and ready to go, we began the first – of what would be many – adventures in negotiating the local transit systems. A bus took us into town where we tried to find the first of our American food and outdoor gear. After all that, the sun was threatening to set so we got onto finding the next bus to our next destination – an Air bnb room that would be our home for a few days while we explored San Fran. We had successfully identified on our tourist map where to pick up the bus – but I have to say the walk there was unnerving, which crossed through a few different neighbourhoods of downtown San Fran. It wasn’t the homeless – although we did see lots of them and of course seeing others in such a predicament calls into question your own comfort. It was more the array of shifty looking characters just hanging around on the street with apparently nothing better to do. Anyway we made it, albeit edgy and irritable with each other, only to find when we jumped off we miss calculated the stop – we still had a long walk ahead of us. Much whining later from Emma, and maybe me – ok mostly me – we found our way to a charmingly quiet friendly neighbourhood and main street. We followed the air bnb host’s instructions and hey presto, the door unlocked – woop! We had a home 🙂
After failing to recognise the coloured tape system inside the strangely empty but partially lived in house, we relocated to what seemed the right room. It was with relief too – this one had a real bed, rather than one of those double blow up mattresses which suddenly turn into a catapult every time someone gets on or off. For the couple of days we were there, we didn’t see anybody. It felt awkward and wasn’t what we had expected. I think we pictured hanging out with some locals who could tell us about town and share dinners with. Neverthless, it was a lovely room, clean and well located for us to explore. We checked out the local main street – Clement street in Inner Richmond – which was healthily populated with Asian nationals, resulting in a wonderful selection of food and little supermarket offerings. However we skipped those for the first nights dinner – ironically had at a place specialising in dessert: sandwiches and chilli at the ‘Toy Boat Dessert Cafe’ – they were good. Then for some unknown reason we forewent dessert there and ended up with donuts from an asian bakery.
Having selected a rental nearby Golden Gate Park, (in another freak stroke of forethought), we walked on down, coming in from what felt like the back entrance on the northern side. We marvelled at a public park big enough to contain roads. Not only did they service cars and the local buses, but there were lanes for runners too – ha! We wondered through some manicured lawns to find the Koret Children’s Quarter playground and carousel.. The day we picked happened to be thanksgiving and so lots of families were out playing. The carousel however was closed, but Emma didn’t dwell on that for long – relishing the chance to hop on a playground full of kids. She meandered through some beach shaped climbing items, the expansive playground and concrete slide – Michael had a go too of course.
After another wonder down Clement Street yielded some yummy dahl ingredients, we cooked them back in the home kitchen and prepared ourselves to leave the next day. We used our last foggy morning to head downtown and explore the pier and ferry building areas, taking in a great walk and sights.
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Next, we would pick up a rental care and take off on a road trip through Northern California to Oregon (and back again)…
Bye for now San Fran – see you again soon 🙂

Bris-vegas (also sometimes referred to as Brisbane)

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As I look back on this last period of time before we left Oz, I am struck by how little I wrote in the way of diary entries. In fact, this one pretty much sums it up:

Sunday November 23, 2014 – Words are sticky and elusive right now. Heavy and too energy consuming.

I think I was suffering ‘catch-up’ from all the new places and people we had met – taking it all in still. That, and we were in a comfortable safe place to do so: spending our last few days in lovely Brisbane with Mum W, who flew all the way up from Adelaide to spend some more time with us before we left. Naw!

So here is a brief little ditty on our last days in Oz….

Started the week off by meeting Mum W – aka, Grandma – in Maleny. Some lunch and a mozy in the area was followed by a tour back at Crystal Waters. It was great to show just where we had been, what we had been doing and who with (sometimes it can all feel a bit surreal, doing things like this away from those you would normally share it with).

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After meeting and greeting with our hosts, Max & Trudi, we said our final goodbyes and headed down to Brissy town. While we were sad to leave a place we had settled so comfortably into, I think we all got a little bit excited seeing a big city again.

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Not to mention the apartment we were lucky enough to stay in – lovely, and just a stroll away from the city centre. Turns out, it was New York-themed. How very appropriate to have a preview of the real thing we’d be seeing so soon.

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We spent the next few days relaxing and exploring around town. If Australian cities are your thing, or will be part of your next travel itinerary, Brissy is worth your time. It has a different vibe to Sydney or Melbourne – more relaxed and easy going (with better weather too – I reckon). As an Adelaidean, and Queenslander by birth, I think of Brisbane fondly – like a big sister to Adelaide. She is warm and fun, casual but cool. The usual city stuff like shopping, eating, museums, galleries, shows and social spots are all present and accounted for, in lovely sprawling landscaped style. Perfect for strolling – South Bank being a good example. I took the footbridge over there and admired the new ‘Brisbane’ installation.

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We also checked out the well stocked Queen Street Mall; a green and bustling Botanic Garden and playground, plus the three floor cushy and comfortable Brisbane Square Library.

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Interestingly, I took one door into the library and when I came out the other side, this second hand market had popped up in the square!

 

We also saw the first, of many on our trip, city bike rental scheme – nice!

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I love the playful, colourful nature of Brisbane – they even give their electrical boxes the community artist treatment:

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Of course, everyone loves a pool so we made good use of that – and the chance to chill out in our room.

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Pop-quiz – name one of the bonuses of being with family when travelling.

Having someone to take photos of all three of us? Yes!

What’s another?

Date night – yes! Woo! And in some far off location from home – double woo!

Thanks to Grandma, Michael and I got to wonder the city in search of dinner and sights…

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brissy sculpture fox man

collage mic climb wall brissyAfter Michael got his fix of climbing for the day, we found our way to China Town down in the valley (Fortitude Valley), and had what was the top contender for ‘best meal we’ve ever stumbled across’Red Lotus offered Vietnamese dishes through the most outstanding example of an Asian, or any, menu I’ve seen – gorgeous delicious photos and fun descriptions, elaborate enough to really inform a Western audience. Some dishes even had their own story – like Duck Doggy Style. Yes that’s right, and we ordered it too. What? They’re just referring to duck cooked in the traditional way of dog meat – what did you think they meant?…..

Reading the menu became a fun activity all of it’s own!

By the way, I thought I didn’t like duck.

I was wrong.

So, so wrong….

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We wrapped up our last afternoon with a lovely meal up high in the middle of Queen Street Mall – at the recently reopened outdoor ‘Jimmy’s on the Mall‘.

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brissy puzzle

On the day of departure, we completed a puzzle – both for fun and to check where we were going. Then, inevitably, it was time to pack up and ship out.  That was quickly followed by me upgrading our travel insurance in a flurry of last minute panic – if that’s not a window into my default nature I don’t know what is.

I love how laughable I am sometimes….

We checked out and made our way to the airport – having planned our flights out of the country and Grandma’s back to Adelaide within short timing of each other. But they were, of course, in different terminals – quite a foreign concept for us Adelaideans, where the air traffic fits happily in just one. So we negotiated the terminals and their connecting bus – complete with a bewildered driver who couldn’t seem to wrap his head around us paying to use the service – apparently it’s normally used by those with a free pass from Virgin Airlines. And so after the confusion cleared and all parties had checked in, there was precious little time to sit before Grandma departed.

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I have to say, it was really nice to be able to say goodbye to Mum W before departing the country for a year. How grateful we were for that, and having had an opportunity for time together beforehand.

We continued back to the international terminal, via the same bewildered driver, and prepped ourselves to leave Australia behind……..

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So long – we’ll be seein’ ya!

xxx

 

Welcome aaaaaand …… farewell (almost).

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As the title indicates, this is both a welcome and farewell. Hmmm, that’s odd you say – I shall explain……

This is our first ever post – hurrah! And thus, welcome to our blog!

We plan to use this section of our site to cover everyday happenings and info that seems relevant as we take on our new life.

It is also a talented little creature because it will morph before your very eyes, into a…… travel blog! Yup – that’s because, (for those who don’t already know – which is potentially very few, given these plans have been in the pipeline for over a year now!), we will be departing for a year long trip away. Woo-hoo! Hence the ‘farewell’ – but not until October 🙂

The decision to go away for a year was originally born out of a desire to do something and make a difference. It was at a time that we were kind of ‘waking up’ to the type of life we were living (as I explain in more detail here in our ‘Living Small’ article). I think we felt stuck and wanted to shake things off – do something positive. It seemed we could make more of a difference with our efforts in another country where life isn’t so gifted as here in Australia – so that the small offering we were able to make could be of bigger impact. Couple this with a wish to experience simpler cultures and Michael’s lifelong interest in the Himalaya, and suddenly the possible destinations became clearer. Our first thought was Pakistan (one of the villages in Kashmir actually). However, much to the relief of many family members, we decided we could probably reduce the safety risks and still meet our aspirations by going to Nepal instead. Did I mention that we are bringing our seven year old daughter with us? Then, with India so close by, it seemed a good idea to include it too – what an opportunity to see life in all it’s loud and colourful glory, as well as its despair. And we thought we would also take the opportunity to visit my mum who lives in the USA. So that became the plan.

Over the 14 months since the plan was initially hatched, it has seen some transformation. And I have to say I am sad for that in a way because the volunteering, which first set us on this path, had its spotlight shifted somewhat to also include opportunities for researching and seeing first-hand so many of the things we want to learn about – like intentional communities, tiny/small living and the myriad of different farming/growing techniques around. We still plan, as before, to volunteer in Nepal but we will also be using our time abroad to see the hotbed of activity going on in these areas. Don’t get me wrong, there is a bunch of stuff to see here in Oz too – its heartening to see just how much is happening. We plan to take some of it in as we drive up the East Coast to visit my dad on our way out! That said though, the more we look at what we want to learn – the more we realise we can do so in the countries we’ll be visiting. And so it shall be. In fact, Michael aptly likened this transition to a little quote that I not so long ago read, and consequently put up on our wall:

 

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It must be said that I have had some doubts cross my mind – like, it’s a really expensive thing to do – is it worth it? Would the money be better spent setting up our own place here? Or just donating it to someone else directly? Those are all valid questions, but in the end, it feels like this trip is just something we have to do – you know that feeling? You might not be able to rationalise it, or explain it enough for others to understand – but you know it is on your path. It seems this is a learning and life opportunity not to be missed for us. Its taking shape as a trip to inform and guide our future ambitions – I think these experiences will help us decide specifically what we want to pursue when we return.

As an aside, I have been struggling with what to call this ‘trip’ – largely because there are so many aspects to it – research, volunteering, sight seeing, family visits, mind expansion!. We have referred to it as a ‘holiday’, which just seemed a poor description really, given that it won’t be your average kind of holiday  and we aren’t planning to be typical tourists (although we are totally reserving the right to still do some touristy things that take our fancy!). We will however, be leaving behind daily life and sharing some wonderful experiences as a family, so I guess it’s a holiday in that respect. This ‘family’ aspect is a point I want to touch on and say that for us, bringing our daughter Emma to take part in the experiences is critical – it was another major reason for doing this trip. We want Emma to know that not everyone lives as we do, there are many ways to do things and that happiness is not equated with ‘stuff’. Having been lucky enough myself to briefly visit a few countries to see my dad when I was younger, I know just how much seeing these places affected me. There is nothing quite like seeing another culture for yourself. I remember it feeling, literally, like another world. For that, I am very grateful. What better way to open your mind, build understanding and tolerance and become a better person?

So if you have a more apt description for this adventure, perhaps you could suggest it in a comment below!

In the meantime, here is the itinerary as it currently stands:

  • October 2014: driving from Adelaide to Queensland’s sunshine coast – likely to be taking in some Great Ocean Road, Melbourne, Sydney & Brisbane
  • November 2014: Staying in Qld – sunshine coast and its hinterland
  • December 2014 to February 2015: USA – visiting California, New York, Virginia & North Carolina (also train-tripping from the West to East Coast so potentially stopping along the way also)
  • March to May 2015: India – starting in the North West (Uttarakhand & Uttar Pradesh) then heading across to the North East (West Bengal)
  • June to November-ish 2015: Nepal – starting in Kathmandu then it’s open after that

We would like to put the word out about where we are going and hear what others think would be good to see/places to go/people to meet – if you have such wisdom, please let us know! If not, please spread this around in any relevant circles 🙂

Until then, as Michael would say, enjoy today!

Mel x IMAG0570