We finally made it!
Our incredibly lengthy journey started at LAX, where we boarded a 14-hour flight to Guangzhou, China. The most noteworthy thing about the flight was that I was the victim of a heinous pillow theft. Sleeping was nearly impossible on the flight, but I managed to doze off for an hour or so. At some point, I must have knocked my travel pillow into the aisle while I was sleeping, because when I woke up, it was nowhere to be found. I would say that I lost it, but my entire area on the plane measured maybe two square feet, so there really aren’t that many places for a pillow to hide.
Once we made it China, we were discouraged to discover that none of us were able to access our e-mail. We had a 14-hour layover and no Internet access, so we resorted to restaurant-hopping and napping for hours at a time. I’m not really sure how we managed to waste so much time before our second and 5-hour final flight from China to Kathmandu.
From the air at night, Kathmandu is deceiving. The lights spread out as far as the eye can see, but they are dim and few and far between. From the plane, this crowded capital looks more like a suburban US neighborhood - a few lights here and there, a small handful of headlights from cars below as we got closer to landing, but nothing to reflect the true character on the ground.
After seamlessly securing our visas in the airport and clearing customs in a matter of minutes, we found our ride and began the late-night drive to our volunteer house. The city at night was physically exactly as I expected. There is no rest for your eyes - every brightly colored building is at least three stories and everything is crammed close together. Street after street there are closed-up shops and stray dogs fishing through giant piles of garbage. The majority of the roads were either unpaved or so poorly paved that we couldn’t tell the difference from the car.
The biggest surprise for me was how abandoned the city seemed late at night. Most big cities I’ve visited seemed full of people at all hours, but in the 30 minutes it took to get from one end of the city to the other, I barely counted 10 cars and 20 people. The only images I’ve seen of Kathmandu are during the day and show crowded streets and walkways bustling with people and energy. Our drive in was nothing close to that.
We settled into our rooms in a clean, comfortable house near the tourist area of Thamel. It has a western-style bathroom, but not as “western” as we’re used to. It also has Wi-Fi...most of the time. The lovely staff has been warm and welcoming.
Kathmandu this morning has been much more of what I had pictured. Tons of people out on the street as early as 5:00 or 6:00 a.m. Stray dogs barking throughout the night and roosters (who clearly don’t understand the concept of crowing at sun-up) waking me repeatedly at 3:00 a.m. Kids are playing soccer in the street outside my window and women carrying large baskets of vegetables regularly pass by young men zipping around on motorcycles and scooters.
We have a great view from our bedroom window of a colorful (literally!) neighborhood set against some mountains in the background. There are rooftop terraces on almost every home, and it is a remarkable difference seeing beautiful flower gardens being tended on top of homes while piles of dirt and trash accumulate down in the street below.
I’m off now to do some exploring and check out the new neighborhood!