This concludes the Nepal series. See more in “Tips for Trekking” if you want general ideas for trekking in Nepal and/or helping on various volunteer projects in the near future!
April 27 (Sarah)
Last night we slept in someone’s garden of cabbages. The dirt was soft under a borrowed tarp. Much better than a creaky old guest lodge on the 2nd floor. Every footstep is a tremor.
A dog started barking above our heads and there were no rocks to throw.
Jen felt another aftershock in the field. I slept surprisingly heavy so close to the dirt.
We ate banana porridge for breakfast. Everyone is turning back. We walked back to a village across the river. They had Internet. Strange. We waited for hours and hours for a vehicle to come pick us up from Besisahar.
I walked around the village looking for a toilet and this incredibly kind woman said, “You come. You come with me and you use my toilet.” She also had this authoritative, smiling way about her. She also wanted to be useful. And for some reason her kindness nearly made me cry. I did not.
I hate sitting here. It is stupid. My email won’t work. I don’t want to be a headline.
I saw a Nepali woman in the back of the jeep with the most haunting look on her face. I’ve seen haunted faces. But, this face I cannot forget.
There is a group of men carrying a dead man on a stretcher. He was very old.
We are just looking at the news on the phone. Durbar Square is rubble. The mood is obviously somber, but the mood gets darker the more information we know.
Even my information and writing is in horrible bits and pieces switching from here and now to past tense.
The jeep finally arrived. The ride was rough. I sat up front since I’m prone to carsickness. I popped some homeopathic carsickness meds. Padum is small, so he sat in the middle next to me. We were bumping along like crazy and somehow Padum fell asleep and his head crashed against my sharp shoulder. This is the first time in a few days that we all genuinely laughed.
The driver has this hilarious Hawaiian-themed Obama surfer bobble-head holding an American flag surfboard. The driver seemed quite concerned that the thing might bust apart as we bounced wildly in the rutty road.
Unfortunately I did not photograph the Obama bobble-head surfer dude.
We also chased a herd of goats in the jeep and passed by a gigantic Chinese company hydropower plant. The signs were in Chinese and English only.
One sign said, “Careful. More accident place.”
Then we drove through a totally dark one-lane tunnel with a sharp shoulder. The sign before the tunnel said “Drive fast. No stop.” The horror!
Part of the Chinese hydroelectric power plant city. That somehow did not crumble to bits.
It took us about three hours to survive the jeep ride to Besisahar.
At one point we were considering going to Ghaleguan just overnight and coming back in the morning. But the estimates of jeep travel were 4 to 8 hours. We could not imagine going on another deathly jeep ride. And Jen later reported a seriously frightening jeep ride indeed.
We said goodbye to Jen. She and Rajbir headed out.
We will stay one night here and head to Kathmandu tomorrow.
I called a few of Jen’s contacts in Kathmandu—Ranju from SETU and a volunteer from the women’s burn center. They were all okay.
Sune is staying with us. We would not mind if he left, but he won’t go. We encouraged him to at least stay in the guesthouse while we took a short walk. We walked up a steep incline to the top of a jungle hill. It is crushingly humid and hot again. I have mosquito bites and some other bite of mysterious origin on my lower back and wrists. I don’t even feel them. We gulp water.
Mosquito-filled town of Besisahar.
I took a long, frigid shower and washed a small handful of clothes. Kathmandu is having water issues, so we figure it is best to get clean now. We aren’t sure what to do about water. We don’t know what to expect in Kathmandu.
Our friends think we are on a sudden humanitarian mission. Luckily, we are among the survivors. We could have easily been killed, even though we laugh at this “dramatic” notion. If we can help in Kathmandu, we’d love to…but the selfish part of me will be relieved to leave. There is nothing for us to do in Besisahar as far as aid work.
We are nervous about the destruction we will see tomorrow in the city. We are nervous to hear about all the villages on the Manaslu trek. We think about all of the Nepali people and foreigners we met along the way—sharing a “Namaste” or laughing at a photo or a broken English conversation (us—the helpless non-Nepali and non-European language speakers). Some of our favorite villages may no longer exist.
Were there avalanches on Manaslu? I have no idea. There is still little news outside of Kathmandu. A google search shows only message boards of people trying to find loved ones—a Russian group, a French group, etc.
There are many blue fatigued police roaming the streets and the Nepali television is a blur of chaos and destruction in the city. I worry about everything from the dead to the loss to the broken historical sites to the man who sold me a mandela for my mother to Dishing Lama in Samagoan to my flight away from here to Germany.
These days have been the very best and worst of my life. Our emotions are quick changing. Mine are the most volatile—eager and helpful one moment and irritable and anxious the next. Ryan also worries, but tries to stay calm. Jen takes things in stride and now she is back with her Nepali family. That helps. It is always a comfort to return to family—another reason we want the guys to get back to theirs.
It was so strange to arrive in Besisahar with those sudden paved streets and electricity and functioning flush toilets and showers. The food is cheap. It is luxurious. The buildings here do not seem to have suffered much damage. Many folks are still sleeping outside. Some are going back to their homes.
We drink tea on the roof of the guest lodge.
April 27 (Ryan)
We awake in Ghermu after sleeping under the stars in a cabbage patch. There was a very short aftershock at 2030 just as we were getting ready for bed. I don’t worry too much for the structure (our lodge), having already withstood the big one, but I don’t think I could sleep since every footstep reminds me of that feeling in the earthquake.
Sarah spoke to her parents for a while last night. We are front page news and the whole world is watching. Apparently much of Thamel including many lodges are leveled. Also affected are many of the religious and historic sites. Looking at the map, when we passed through the village of Machakhola, we were a mere few miles from the epicenter. Likely many of the villages we visited are destroyed. People we saw may be dead. I feel like we left a trail of destruction in our wake and feel slightly guilty for emerging unscathed.
It is surreal to sit here at a lodge in Syange, waiting for a jeep to pick us up, sipping tea and learning via internet(!) that the degree of the destruction is staggering. More and more people are dead/missing/injured. Hospitals in Kathmandu are treating patients outside. Massive avalanches have swept teams off the high peaks. In Gorkha District as many as 50% of homes are destroyed.
What will we find when we reach Kathmandu? Will we be able to help? Will we be able to handle it? As soon as we have cell service, I will contact the embassy and figure a plan. The airport has resumed some operations.
The US state dept sent me an email alert. LOL!
The trekking routes have been closed by the police. Turning foreigners back to Besi Sahar/Gorkha. May be closed awhile. Many landslides, villages destroyed. Makes their decisions easier. The news says Kathmandu is running out of water and food. If we can’t be of help, may be best to get out of the way.
Still waiting in Syange. Sarah wishes we had just walked. Still no aftershocks since last night. The mood here is somber. I have been able to laugh generally. For me laughter and sarcasm are coping mechanisms. When I first worked on the ambulance, I thought that everyone else was an asshole, always joking around. This is serious, dammit! A month later, I was the same. You laugh or you cry…or worse. For Sarah stress leads to anger and anxiety. I try not to take any of it seriously.
The Jeep is here. We will eat first, then a three hour bumpy ride.
The flowers keep on blooming.
2100: Besi Sahar
Besi Sahar is quite the city. We crawl happily out of the jeep onto the first paved road we’ve seen in 3 weeks. My knees are sore and stiff. Woe to the tall man in Asia. Our hotel is quite nice. 24 hours power, wifi (sorta), cell service in town. They have Nepali news on the TV. Our first images of the chaos. Some are shocking, others make me hopeful. I think most damage occurred in older, stone or unreinforced concrete buildings.
We said our goodbyes to Jennifer. Her, Rajbir, and Kadgha will take a jeep/bus to Ghaleguan, the two Nepalis will return tomorrow morning. Jen is a very strong lady with a great attitude. She will be fine on her own.
A vehicle will come to take us to Kathmandu tomorrow.
April 28 Besisahar (Sarah)
We were awoken at 4 am by another large aftershock. We didn’t even have time to leave the room.
Sune said there were a few other aftershocks during the night. We didn’t feel the others.
We have Internet here too. I’m not sure this is a blessing. Someone asked if we are “staying to help the injured?” I don’t think people realize we are in a dangerous situation, unless we stay in a non-dangerous place like Besisahar. We also want to be safe. Kathmandu sounds like a mess and again I just imagine buildings collapsing like dominos. We’ve heard there is no food, no water, no power, impassable roads.
We need—a roll of toilet paper, WATER, food. A driver is supposed to pick us up at 10 or 11 but we don’t know much else. We are anxious.
We met a British couple on the street of Besisahar. We last saw them crossing the pass. They are sweet. We offered them a ride to Kathmandu.
I also talked to a Nepali woman who ran a shop. She was excited we were from the U.S. Her husband lives in Baltimore and works at a gas station. She was disappointed when I told her that Baltimore was a very long distance from Montana.
The van arrived early (a first!) and so we ran through the streets of Besisahar until we miraculously found the Brits. We were relieved to offer them a ride in the spacious van. At least we could offer something to someone.
Ram (another employee of CMT) came to pick us up. He warned us that Kathmandu “is very horrible” and Besisahar is “heaven.” He was so helpful in giving us information, but we eventually decided going to Kathmandu was our best option at the moment. We were also nervous about travel there & the van seemed the safest bet.
Right. The van ride was long and harrowing—nearly avoiding several head-on collisions.
Everyone is fleeing Kathmandu and driving even more erratically than normal (which is really goddamn erratic). Buses are so heavily packed with people and belongings that they cannot slow down on the downhill. I can’t even watch as they madly careen down the tight, twisting road.
The motorcycles and buses are taking up more lanes on the road than what actually exist…leaving our van little room. We are one of the very few vehicles headed toward Kathmandu, which is unsettling.
There was a motorcycle wreck and a woman died. We stood outside in the rain to wait for the traffic to start moving. We had to say goodbye to Sune as he left toward his village. I hope he can buy some basic supplies in town with the money we gave him. He let us give him a hug—a very non-Nepali thing to do. But we were so gracious. It was so hard to leave him.
Bus bumpers say “King of the Road” and “Use signal.” I think that means honking constantly.
The sun set and we arrived in the darkness of the city. There are weird bits of electricity functioning—like odd streetlights and signs for beer.
Unlikely buildings stand tall while others sit in a brick pile. We passed the destroyed stadium with massive tent cities.
And then we arrived at the Hotel Tibet, which was on another planet.
The hotel has a generator—and therefore light. There are high ceilings with intricate painted designs.
There was a limited dinner buffet—but a dinner buffet! The concierge apologized for not having hot water. We gasped. We asked everyone about his or her families. The families were okay, and that is why the staff was working.
Hot water! We hadn’t experienced hot water in over a month, and certainly expected NO water at all in Kathmandu.
We sat with the British couple and ate some rice and noodles. They bought us a beer. Nothing was real.
The room is large and simple. The water turned warm and I shrieked as though this phenomenon was completely new. We showered quickly. No need to waste anything. We slept very long and hard.
April 29 (Sarah)
Still here. No more aftershocks. There is the International Medical Corps here. They are all chain-smoking physicians and logisticians and who knows what else. They introduce themselves by saying, “Oh, hi. We worked together before. Ebola, right?” We half consider offering to “do something” but realize we are way out of our league with these guys. They are meticulously organized and experienced.
We ate breakfast. There is Wi-Fi. WTF. We went up on the roof. Nobody else is up there. It is difficult to see the devastation from this part of town, but we look through binoculars to see part of the Monkey Temple stupa damage & smaller tent cities.
Kathmandu is not as bad as we expected. Not at all.
The continental plates moved about 2 meters, which is 6.5 feet. Kathmandu had plenty of damage because it was built on thin ground—a former lakebed actually. We learned a bit more on the science of earthquakes. Jen had described it like a wildfire and she was absolutely correct.
It is so strange to sit here with nothing to do but wait and wonder what is going on. I tried to contact Ranju from SETU to offer to do something for her. Unfortunately her brother died last night. She needs to focus on that.
Lunch. We talked with the Tibetan woman who owns the hotel. She is wonderful. She arrived at the airport and ten minutes later there was the earthquake. Some of the staff is homeless—but all alive. She said it is actually easier to leave Nepal than to come in.
April 30 (Sarah)
Sitting around here is torture. We went through our stuff and found some good quality clothing, a hat, and a pair of winter gloves. Eventually they will make it to Singla…or somewhere. We went on a long and confusing walk to find Crystal Mountain Treks to drop off the duffel of “stuff.” One of the staff members assured us these items would be useful. I hope they will be.
We walked along a sidewalk when we realized the sidewalk had shards of glass coming out the side. Then we realized the sidewalk was actually a wall that had fallen over. Ryan tripped in a hole.
Ryan was listed as the group member on the CMT board, even though I was the one who organized the damn trek. I just rolled my eyes. Sigh. Not really relevant now.
There are so many planes and helicopters flying over. Ambulances. We don’t even blink.
We even found a restaurant that was open. The menu is limited, but we ate fried rice, veggie momos, and French fries. We expected Kathmandu to be much worse. But Lazimpat was not bad. It is the embassy district. The buildings are newer, so safer.
Well, maybe not that one.
We took long walks in Lazimpat. We walked by the Teaching Hospital with big Unicef tents out front. We just walked and walked and walked.
We were ignorant to think we could just “do something” at this point. Kathmandu was overrun with various aide organizations. We so wished we could go to Sune’s village, but that was totally impossible. We had no supplies for us or anyone else. We would have only been an additional burden.
Yes. More than anything I wanted to put on a pair of gloves and change a dressing, or organize something. Or move bricks. I don’t know. ANYTHING. But, there wasn’t really anything for us to “do” in Lazimpat. And we were warned countless times not to go to Thamel (even though we didn’t plan on it). “So dangerous. Very dangerous.” Got it. No Thamel. Be safe—nothing. Nothing. Trust me. This was the worst. feeling. of the entire trip.
So, we decided to call the media. This is not something I’m a huge fan of doing. But, Phil Drake did an interview with me while I was sitting in our safe/comfortable hotel room. He published an excellent article in the Trib & hopefully people back home felt more connected to the whole thing. This was our best idea. And true—it did help with donations to some solid organizations in Nepal.
My parents were sending us countless articles about Kathmandu. Yes, parts of Kathmandu were hell. But, Kathmandu is a MASSIVE city. Lazimpat was already returning to a certain “normal” by the time we arrived. Some shops were open and again we asked about everyone’s family and home. We bought some small souvenirs.
Some sort of gov’t building damage.
The thing with an organized tour is our lodging was pre-paid and pre-booked. I would never stay in a fancy hotel in this situation. Hotel Tibet by foreign standards probably wasn’t exactly “fancy” per se, but then it was so booked with aid workers we had to move to another hotel. This hotel—the Shambala—was the most fancy hotel I’ve ever stayed in. Ever. What a weird experience.
We met some Peace Corps volunteers. They were also being sent home due to safety concerns. In the meantime, they were calling people (like my parents) to see if US citizens had contacted home.
We said hello to some US army/air force? folks in a grocery store.
May 2 (Sarah)
The airport is expected chaos. Ryan wasn’t allowed into the airport because of some weird ticket issues and I was just sitting on the filthy floor waiting for him.
Thoughts on the floor:
Dogs in Nepal are daytime lethargic and monotone barker psycho vampires at night.
Pick you up at noon. Arrive at eleven. Oh, Nepal.
Last meal of veggie momos at an Indian place.
We did not order any Chinese Liquid Dishes or “American Chopsuey.”
It is going to be hard to leave Nepal and Ryan in these circumstances. Please, please, please positive energy so we can be on our way.
We saw a bit more destruction on our way to the airport.
Ryan eventually showed up. We listened to a Bob Dylan song about some folks on vacation. The island has an erupting volcano. It seemed very appropriate.
Said goodbye to Ryan. He has to wait twelve hours or something even to check-in. A Nepali guard must have seen us together earlier, because he was concerned. He asked, “What about your husband?!” I told him, “Oh, he’ll figure it out.”
I met some hilarious older women from Montreal with red hair. They invited me to sit with them and we had a broken conversation. How sweet to be invited simply so you are not alone.
The departure hall is just this mass of people and no indication of any flight status. There were a couple of handwritten signs, but nothing with my flight to New Delhi. Then I saw a bunch of people boarding a plane. Talked to a Latvian guy on the same flight and we figured we better run to get on the thing because that was OUR plane!
Weird, weird security measures. Like, pointing to a picture of guns and knives asking, “Do you have any of those items?” Uh, no. I feel sooo safe because everyone is so honest.
There are piles of donations on the runway.
Departing is difficult since there are so many arrivals. There was a long delay.
The plane finally lifted above the ground and I cried like a sucker.
Until next time.
Featured image: A woman gets back to work in the remains of her shop in Kathmandu.