May 27, 2007

Day 116 :: We're Not In Kansas Anymore

Day 116 - Kathmandu

Let me set up our day yesterday: The temperature is hovering around 100 degrees. A narrow road winds dangerously around mountains with no guardrails in sight. There's a large convoy of UN trucks and other vehicles making it impossible to breath without taking in cough inducing exhaust. An old 24-seat bus is occupied by fifty passengers all squeezed in. And on the roof of that bus are Kari and I, sitting on a scalding hot metal roof rack. Adventure is one thing, but spending five and a half hours on the top of a bus cooking in the hot sun, using bandanas to breathe and furociously holding on to a metal luggage rack is another.

What we were told would happen upon finishing our rafting trip was that a tourist bus, with two cushioned seats, would pick us up and drop us off in Kathmandu three and half hours later. Not quite.

You might assume what happened yesterday was abnormal, a rare occurance in the the traveler's life. But it's quite the opposite actually. We've come to learn that sitting on top of a bus for five and a half hours in 1o0 degree heat is just the kind of odd reality that travelers face, especically in developing nations such as Nepal. A "maximum" twelve hour bus ride actually takes sixteen. The toilet the bus was "definately" equipped with hasn't worked for a decade, leaving you desperately wishing you hadn't chugged that bottle of water. Even the eggs that you ordered over easy come out fried to death. And the cable television that you hoped would allow you to escape for a few days has the promised 200 channels but only one of them is in English, playing nothing but canceled sitcoms from the 90's. What you might expect from the developing world is road congestion, poverty and maybe some unfamiliar smells. What you don't expect are broken promises from the tour agents and large cable companies that don't carry CNN. The simple truth is that when it comes to travel, disappointment is inevitable.

Now, this disappointment can hardly be blamed on the locals who travelers interact with on a daily basis. Between language barriers and cultural differences, much is lost in translation. And when you add a dose of desperation, well, sometimes promises are made that can't be delivered. But nor does the blame lie with the travelers themselves. It's hard to make a shift in mindset when you come from New Zealand or San Francisco or Europe - places where promises are kept and where apologies are made when things don't go as planned. It's hard to remember that the beach lined with trash in Cambodia, for example, isn't the south of France.

So after four month on the road, we find ourselves on top of a bus. The constant application of sunscreen isn't protecting us from burning, and the bags of rice propped behind us are causing backaches. But you know what? That's okay.

We are learning, that to preserve our sanity and the beauty of this trip, we need to take things as they come.


Gwen Jackson said...

Taking things as they come . . . I think that's called adaptability - getting used to things, adjusting, acclimating, coming to terms with things. Way to go for the positive mindset while baking on the rooftop of an old bus.

Samuel Bills said...

This post warrants an accompanying pic.

Post a Comment