Archive for March, 2009

Nha Trang – Backpacker Central

Monday, March 30th, 2009

March 29
Yesterday we got up at 6am, and were picked up by our diving outfit outside our Guest House at 7.30, after showers and a rice-noodle soup breakfast. We were driven to the harbour, and it turned out we were the only two divers on boat, so we had the crew of three all there only for us. At first we were a tad nervous that we’d ended up with a unserious outfit, and that everyone knew but us, but our misgivings faded when we saw how professional they were, and how well they treated the equipment.

The boat ride out to Hon Mun (Mun Island) National Marine Park took about 50 minutes, time we spent relaxing in the morning sun on deck, and then preparing our equipment. We got in the water shortly after arrival, and started our first dive at just before 9am. The site was Madonna Rock, by the tiny Hon Rom, outside of Hon Mun. We went down to about 17 meters, and wished we had an under water camera! The colours of the corals weren’t quite as breathtaking as we might’ve fantasized about, but the fishes were really nice. Being on the seaward side of the island, the swells could actually be felt as deep as 10 meters, pushing us forward, then pulling us back gently. Having turned around to head back, we swam through a little tunnel under a big rock, where the swell was felt particularly strongly. As we headed up through the cave, the water was literally teeming with fish! They were everywhere, in bright yellows and blues! Annikken also saw a Murene, but Gjerulf didn’t see it, as it was hiding under a small overhanging coral. The fish were small to medium, some flat, some long, some round, some with a funny looking beak, all the shapes of fish we’ve only seen in pictures before!
As we came back to the boat and started to ascend, we both got burnt a little by some jellyfish threads or something, but the stinging subsided rather quickly when treated with normal vinegar. The first dive was 40 minutes. The boat left Hon Rom, and headed a couple hundred meters up to the Northern Reef divesite, also known as DeRice Bay on Hon Mun. While we were waiting for our second dive, Annikken was enjoying the sun on the sun deck, while Gjerulf did a little snorkeling.

Unfortunately Annikken experienced a little trouble with pressure compensation, and sat out the second dive, while Gjerulf went in alone with our Divemaster, Bâng. The second dive started about 10.30, lasted 48 minutes, and went to 14 meters. Being a reef this time, the corals were more impressive in size and colour but the fish were smaller and a bit more scarce, and mainly flitted in and out of the corals. On this dive Gjerulf also got to see a Murene lurking under a rock, and a couple of the more decent size fish had colourings that looked as if God had just done a splatter image with the most intense colours on his palette! Back on board, we started to head back to shore again. Bâng’s English was not as good as he would’ve liked it to be, and he was studying to learn more. On the way back, he brought out his English text book, and recruited Annikken as a tutor! The lesson of the day was practicing the use of “to lend.” 🙂 Back at the dive store, the lunch that was included in the price was waiting for us.(!) There was a LOT of food, just for the two of us, and we hadn’t even gotten particularly hungry yet, so we ate a polite amount, and headed back for a surf on the net, and a bit of a rest and refreshing at the Guest House.

In the evening we hit the town with the other backpackers, at the Red Apple Club. It was a nice little place, with dancing going on, and other travellers out to have a good time. Gjerulf got to talking to a group of British beach bums, and a Norwegian backpacker couple, while Annikken met a couple of Swedish/Norwegian firefighters, with whom we, like almost everyone else, headed over to the Sailing Club, a night club at the beach, where they had a beach party going on. There was good music, dancing on the sand, and loads and loads of people, and we didn’t head home till past 2 in the am! All night, Annikken’s poison of choice was only Tiger beer, and she enjoyed it! (Imagine the looks on our faces, when we were getting our first drink for the night, and Annikken orders beer, and Gjerulf a Mojito…)

This morning we slept long, and woke up glad that neither of us drank much last night. We met up with the Swedes at the beach, rented some beach beds, and stayed there till the sun started to set. For tonight, Gjerulf has his eyes set on a place with music and atmosphere very much to his own taste, while Annikken is headed back to the Red Apple Club with our Swedish friends.

Ca Na – True VietNam

Friday, March 27th, 2009

We were supposed to go dune-sledding the day before yesterday, however due to Annikken’s severe sunburn we decided to postpone our dune-sledding adventure one more day. Annikken just relaxed the whole day mostly inside, while Gjerulf spent a few hours on the beach enjoying the sun and waves as well shopping for beachwear and finding an ATM that worked to withdraw some money.

Yesterday however we woke up bright and early at 6.30 to avoid the worst of the heat when dune sledding. We met up with Mr Binh and Mr. Khanh at 7.30, and rode motorcycles out to the dunes. It was about a half hour ride, and the scenery was stunning, with the turquoise sea, the bright blue skies, and the sand on the side of the road changing colour between bright red and stark white and back again. On the way out, we stopped for some photos at the idyllic fishing village of Mui Ne, away from resorts and hotels. Once we reached the dunes we dismounted for some pictures by a small lake filled with lotus flowers, before getting some thick plastic sheets for sliding on, and heading on foot into the sand dunes. For a while we got the feeling portrayed by humourous cartoons, of people walking in endless desert, as the dunes rose till they met the blue sky!

Having trudged to the top of the biggest dune, we sat down on our sheets, and started off the steep side. To our great disappointment it was EXTREMELY slow, just barely moving down the side of the mound of sand. We didn’t despair, however, being raised with sledding on snow, we decided to try on our stomachs, head first down! With the increased surface touching the sand we stopped shoving half the dune in front of us going down, and instead flew down the incline! We had great fun, but the scorching sun was trying to kill us even though it was still before 9 am! We reluctantly slouched back to the edge of the sand, where we downed a soda and two bottles of water each, trying to restore our cool. Annikken, being unsuccessful, started feeling dizzy and faint, and we decided to cut the trip short, and head home to the hotel. A couple of hours later our bus for Ca Na arrived, and we were pleased to find another airconditioned sleeper bus.

The bus stopped at Ca Na, but we were the only ones to get off, as it’s a bit off the beaten path for western tourists. There are three resorts just outside the small fishing village of Ca Na, but one of them has been closed down. We were looking forward to some less commercialized beaches, peaceful surroundings and motorcycle rides around the area to explore small coves and tiny beaches. It started off great, although the staff at our hotel don’t speak more than three words of English between them. The maid showing us our bungalow on the waterfront said we needed to use Visa. We refused to pay by Visa, and said we’d only pay cash. When she didn’t back down, we decided to go to the other resort and try our luck. Finally, as we were about to walk out on her, we realized she was talking about passports, which they need to see, in order to register us with immigration! 🙂

We got an airconditioned room with TV and ensuite bathroom, the surf lapping the shore just a few meters from our balcony, all for the neat sum of 80000 dong per person, or just under 30 kroner. We immediately decided to go check out the beaches, and ride around to look for a good place to have dinner. We’re still not sure whether there were any places to rent motorcycles at all, but our hotel didn’t have any, and neither could they point us in the direction of anywhere that did. We were walking around for a while, looking, but no luck. The resort area was definately not aimed at westerners. We were so rare a treat that literally EVERYONE that passed us honked or shouted at us, smiling and waving! Seeing as distances were rather considerable though, we were unable to get around to where we wanted to go on foot, and decided to just head on to Nha Trang in the morning. We managed to find a guy who spoke English, who called a bus company and managed to get us a minibus at 7.30  am. We had a dinner that was surprisingly pricy for a non-western area, and headed to bed. The place was gorgeous in the night, with a million stars visible, and lights from hundreds of fishing boats glittering out to sea.

Sunrise this morning was fabulous, the illuminating the sea and our back porch beautifully! We headed out to take the bus to Nha Trang, and the trip was quite memorable as well… We were at least 23 people that we managed to count, plus some personal delivery mail and luggage, piled into a 14 seat van with no aircon. On the road we were suddenly waved over, and a column of official looking vehicles came racing past in the opposite direction. There were people in some sort of uniform along the road, and suddenly two bicycle riders came zooming past us. A few more cars, some television broadcast vans, and a bunch of motorcycles with TV-cameras followed, and then the main field of the bicycle race! We felt like we’d been dumped straight into some sort of Tour de VietNam or something!

We are now sitting in a divers bar in Nha Trang, looking forward to our first two dives on a trip out to the island of Hon Mun tomorrow morning. We found a decent looking Padi certified diving outfit with Vietnamese instructors that speak very good English, and decided to go for them. The divers bar we’re at has it’s own dive team, but they’re all Russian. Apparently there are lots and lots of Russians coming to Vietnam, which confirms our suspicions, having seen loads of menus written in Vietnamese, English and Russian.

Mui Ne – Tropical Paradise

Friday, March 27th, 2009

March 24

Yesterday we arrived in Mui Ne. The bus ride was a bit of a surprise, to say the least! We were expecting a normal, cramped bus, hopefully with A/C. What we found, was a sleeper bus, with beds instead of seats, comfortable, well airconditioned, with pillows and blankets for everyone. No doubt the most comfortable bus ride we’ve ever had, especially after a couple of too warm, sleepless nights, trying to adjust to the heat.

On arrival, we checked out a few hotels before deciding on Thai Hoa Beach Resort, with it’s own stretch of beach, and a lush, green garden with an outdoor restaurant. We had a bite to eat before we changed into swimwear, and literally raced each other into the waves. Gjerulf’s delight at finally seeing the sea again for the first time since November was only topped by the feeling of luke warm salt water on our poor over heated bodies. We are continuously grateful for the price level in Vietnam, as the room with en suite bathroom, TV and fan only sets us back 105000 Vietnamese Dong per person, approx 40 NOK.

Last night we finished off the day by dressing up and heading to a nice restaurant down town for a bit of a splurge… Garlic bread, thai coconut curry, BBQ Barracuda and fruit platter was the order of the night. After finishing the regime of medicine Gjerulf was finally able to have a refreshing beer again, and was introduced by Annikken to the wonders of TIGER beer!

Today we have done as little as possible, the day was solely dedicated to lying on the beach and playing in the surf. Despite SPF25 and only short periods in the sun, Annikken has changed hue on the front side, from a standard Norwegian Winter White, to a deep Lobster Red. Gjerulf hunted around shops and a pharmacy for some aloe vera gel, but it took a woman’s determination to achieve any results… Annikken headed out, despite the severe sunburn, and tried to ask around for it. The motorcycle driver misunderstood her intentions, and took her to a restaurant down town. After a quick stop at a travel agency to ask for more pharmacies, the return trip consisted of frequent stops along the road, with unfruitful attempts at conversation with well meaning Vietnamese with no knowledge of English. Eventually, Annikken spied a massage parlour with a picture of an aloe vera plant on the board. Communication was still difficult, and the manager assumed she wanted their special Aloe Vera and Honey massage. Finally they understood her needs, and brought her around to the back of the shop to where a big plot full of Aloe was growing! Two huge leaves were cut and given absolutely free of charge, as both driver and shopkeeper were happy when they had finally managed to put a big smile on the face of the resolute girl with a mission! Upon her triumphant return, Gjerulf voluntarily conceded that her stubbornness paid off, even though he was convinced there were no shops selling aloe vera gel in this town! Covered from head to toe in Aloe, Annikken is hoping fervently that the aforementioned bright colour will turn into a more pleasant sun-kissed brown by the morning, when we’re going dune-sledding!

VietCong’s Cu Chi Tunnels

Friday, March 27th, 2009

March 22

My plane was an hour late, but I got through immigration without problems. Annikken was waiting for me when I arrived, and we took a taxi with a Canadian woman to the backpacker area De Tham in Saigon (=Ho Chi Minh City=HCMC). We bargained for accomodation, and managed to get it down to eight dollars for a room for the both of us.

We tried to get a CS host in Saigon, but due to some misunderstandings and short notice, we’re spending our nights in Saigon in a hotel (read: room above an arts and crafts shop). The temperature down here is a scorching thirty five degrees centigrade, and we’re both having a bit of trouble adjusting to the climate. We’re travelling together for the next couple of months, so the coming weeks we’ll share this blog.

Yesterday was mainly spent resting and trying to recover from jet lag and sleep deprivation respectively, while both attempting to cope with the dramatic climate change. In the afternoon, however, we had a nice walk around down town Saigon. The parks were filled with teenagers and young adults playing games. The most prominent is kicking around things made of layered plates of plastic, with tails of feathers, as if they were hackeysacks. Another favorite pass time is apparently hiding from parents, making out on all the benches in the darker shadows in the park. A striking point to be made on the layout of the city, are the abrupt changes between different quarters. On our side of the park is the backpacker area, while the park was almost all Vietnamese youngsters. On the other side of the park we entered an area catering to well off Vietnamese professionals, and at the north end were all the luxury hotels. Amongst them is the New World Hotel Saigon, where Annikken will be spending her last well deserved night in Vietnam, drinking her long awaited champagne after backpacking for sixty days. Google it and and weep! 😀

We decided early to try to mostly eat traditional and local cuisine preferably outside of the typical tourists areas, dining where the vietnamese dined, from street vendors or similar. So yesterday at lunch we started our food adventure by buying baguettes from the street vendors, one with tofu and one with ham, filled with lots of vegetables and different kinds of tasty sauces, and for desert a big pineapple. Unsurprisingly this tasted fantastic and we will without a doubt try this again. For dinner however, Gjerulf decided to be a bit more adventurous and we sat down at a street barbeque and ordered a whole frog WITH skin as well as grilled pork to be a bit more on the safe side.

This morning we got up early and headed off to see the Cu Chi tunnels, for which the American War (that’s the Vietnam war to you Americans:)) is famous. On the way there we stopped to see a laquer-workshop run by vietnamese who were handicapped due to the military use of the chemical Agent Orange. The workmanship was fabulous, but being backpackers with weeks and months left to travel we couldn’t very well stock up on the awesome trinkets. At Cu Chi, the Vietnamese soldiers dug small tunnels under the ground, to stay hidden from American bombers and infantry. The tunnels were tight, with little oxygen and less light, but the construction was fantastic. The area was spiderwebbed with tunnels, so that if a bomb broke through the ground and destroyed some chambers or tunnels, there were always ways to circumvent the missing parts. On three levels, at 3, 7 and 9 meters under the surface, the lowest tunnels needed air shafts to supply oxygen. They were built by drilling bamboo pipes from the surface to the ground, and disguising the opening at the top as a termite mound! The tunnels were in places riddled with booby traps, to stop any unwelcome visitors, and deep fresh water wells to get drinking water. We were shown how they popped up of the hidden entrances, some of the ingeniously cruel traps, got to taste the food they ate (mainly tapioca) and had the opportunity to fire weapons from the period, like the AK47, M30 and others. Annikken had done it before, and Gjerulf is pasifist, so we skipped directly to the tunnel walk. The tunnels were widened and heightened to fit westerners, but it was still a pretty claustrophobic squeeze, running at a crouch through the pitch black heat. We were told the widened tunnels would feel to us as the originals feel to the Vietnamese. The small size of the tunnels was a great defense against American soldiers, who’d have no chance following into the tunnel system.

Tomorrow we’re off to Mui Ne, a five hour bus ride from HCMC. It’s a famous beach resort, and we’re looking forward to finally throwing ourselves into the turquoise water, and lie on the beach under a clear blue sky. The bus leaves at eight am, so Annikken is headed to bed, while Gjerulf goes out to see if he can meet some CS’ers for a little while.

Elephants, Rhinos and Crocodiles

Friday, March 27th, 2009

19. March
The medicine against my amoebas has not presented any side effects so far, for which I am very grateful! I had a pizza night with the teenagers at KICC on Saturday. 11 people had said they’d come for sure, 5 that they might show up. We were 25! It was a great evening, and I had six people say they’d like to organize the next Social! For this I am very grateful. The bandh in the Terai area ended on Sunday, and I got the opportunity to go to Chitwan National Park after all! For this I am immensely grateful! 😀 😀

On Monday I got up at 5am, to go take the bus. The bus left at 7am, and we arrived in time for lunch at around 1pm. After lunch, we walked around the village, looking at how the Theru people still live in a very traditional environment, albeit with some modern improvements (and drawbacks) to their lifestyles. The most obvious improvement was tin roofs on some of the houses, instead of the thatch, which leaks and needs changing very often. The most obvious drawback was the everpresent non-biodegradable garbage.

After dinner, there was a dance show, where a local group of men(!) danced traditional dances.

On Tuesday I got up early as well, at 6.30am, and immediately after breakfast, I headed off ride an elephant into the park proper to look for wild animals. We saw a couple of really big deer, but all in all it was a disappointingly devoid of life. Riding an elephant was awesome, but even more awesome was bathing with them! Wearing our bathing shorts, me and one of the French guys who were also doing the elephant ride at the same time got on an elephant without a saddle, and it walked into the river. The mahout (rider) got him to shake us off. When we were getting back on, we stood right in front of the elephant and stretched up. The elephent let his head down so we could grab his ears and stand on his trunk, and then he lifted us up on his back! 😀 When we were on his back, he continuously splashed us with water from his trunk, and eventually the mahout made him lie down on his side to be scrubbed. 🙂 It seemed a bit brutal when the mahout slapped the animal with a stick when it didn’t pay attention, but apparently their hide is so thick that it’s the sound, not the pain, that gets their attention to the mahout’s shouted commands.

After the swimming there was lunch, and and after lunch I decided to take another elephant ride, this time in the so called Community Forests that surround the park. My guide told me that we were almost guaranteed to see rhinos there, because it was a rather small habitat, with a population of about 20 rhinos. In the north side of the park, the water holes were filled in with silt, by a flood 15 years ago. After that the rhinos migrated south to the other water holes, or north to the community forests. The water holes in the community forests were also destroyed by the flood, but since it’s not protected, the local community dug them out again. In the park, ironically, that’s not legal, and thus there is less wildlife… When we came to get an elephant (me and the guide, the French guys, who were the ones who had insisted on going to the park proper that morning, didn’t want to come) the elephants were all busy. We considered waiting, but the schedule for the day being rather packed, there was no time to wait, so we decided to go on foot.

Not long after entering the community forest, we smelled fresh rhino dung, saw tracks so fresh that water was still seeping into them, and trees with their lower trunks covered in mud where the rhinos had rubbed up against them. A few minutes after that, we found the first rhinoceros unicornis (one-horned rhino) in a clearing. There was an elephant nearby, that we had allied ourselves with for protection, and we called them over. We got closer and closer to the rhino, with the elephant between us and it. Soon we were less than ten meters away from this massive, wild rhino bull, when the mahout on the elephant says he’s spotted one more. “No, wait TWO more in the bushes!” One of the ones in the bushes came out, and we could see the last one standing in the shadows, looking at us.

Suddenly the second rhino looks like he’s about to charge us, and we sprint behind the elephant, while throwing sticks at the rhino to make him think twice. The mahout charges the elephant toward the rhino to deterr it from attacking us. He successfully chases it away, but that leaves the two of us vulnerable from the other two, so we leg it out of there before we get completely surrounded! Not thirty seconds later, my guide spots another rhino in the dense undergrowth of the jungle, and the elephant is once more called in as a body guard. We reach the next waterhole, where two grown rhinos are wallowing in the mud, a mother with calf is grazing, and two more adults come out of the brush opposite from where we are! Again the situation suddenly goes from interesting to dangerous, and we decide that it’s time to get out of there before we’re surrounded!
On less than an hour’s walk through the community forest, I saw a total of ten rhinos, and the guide saw eleven!

Immediately after the intense jungle walk, we headed over to the river to go canoeing. The canoe was a hollowed out log, and we were seven people in it, including the guide and the guy poleing us down the gentle stream. The first croc we saw was submerged, with only it’s nose and eyes sticking out of the crystal clear water. Soon after we got ashore to look at another great big rhino bull, this time from a safer distance. Back in the canoe we saw a half dozen more crocs, before we reached the place where we got out to go to an elephant breeding centre. In november one of the elephants had twins, according to the guide the only time such an event has happened! One of the older elephant calves was very curious, and being no bigger than a pony, he wasn’t tied up, so he walked over to everyone and smelled their stuff, and tried to take the things that smelled good! 😀 He was about one year old, but a bit sickly, so he was smaller than the other one year olds. When a tame elephant gets pregnant, it takes 2-3 years before it can work again, so wild elephant bulls mating with the tame cows is actually quite a problem! It is also very expensive, and takes a lot of work to raise and train an elephant. The training can’t start before the elephant is about 2-3 years old, and it can’t do any work until it’s about ten. Between the age of 16 and 18 they reach maturity and become able to breed.

We were picked up at the breeding centre by a jeep from the resort, and in  the sunset on our way back, we saw another group of rhinos, and stopped. It turned out to be a group of five, led by a huge bull. I got some awesome pictures, and ended up having seen 16 rhinos in one day!

Wednesday Morning I got up at 5.30am, for an hour and a half of bird spotting, before breakfast and the bus ride home. I was home at 3.45pm, and at four I met up with some of the Norwegians for a going-away-dinner. Immediately after dinner, we had a final meeting between me and the church board, and I was given a very nice letter of thank you for the work I’d done. This morning I was up at 4am, to do some laundry while there was electricity… I went back to bed at five, however, and slept till seven thirty. I packed, returned the bicycle I’ve been borrowing, and then one of my “bosses” was very kind and drove me to the airport. It’s been great, and Ive felt very welcome in the community of expats in Kathmandu. 😀

It is now just past midnight, I am in New Delhi, and will soon be boarding my flight to Bangkok. I’ve been upgraded to first class on this flight, so I might actually look forward to some sleep tonigh, which is more than I expected. The flight leaves at 1am Indian time, and arrives four and a half hours later, at 7am Thai time. There I will wait nine hours before I fly the last hour and a half to Ho Chi Minh City.

20 March

13 hours later… I am waiting for my flight to Ho Chi Minh, boarding starts in 50 minutes. The plane saved up a good half an hour on the flight to Bangkok, so I arrived before 6.30am. First class was brilliant, but I still didn’t fall asleep before we had started the descent, and woke with a start as we touched down. I’ve slept about 5 minutes in the past thirty hours. I tried to lie down for a bit on a row of seats here at the airport, but the world was spinning so bad I started to get nauseated, so I dropped it. I guess I’ll sleep like a baby before we take off from Bangkok…
When I got here, I went directly to the transfer station, at the other end of the airport. There I was told I had to pick up my luggage myself, which meant going through immigration in Thailand. Baggage claim was of course at the end of the airport where I’d arrived, so I walked back. Immigration, which was almost deserted when I arrived, was by then crowded to the point of bursting. By the time I got my luggage it was 9 o’clock, and I headed directly for check in, so I could go back through customs and immigration, and find a place to crash. The problem was that it was too early, check in for my  flight didn’t start till 12, so I had to hang around for three hours. When I finally got to check in, the woman at the counter started asking for some letter from Vietnam that she meant I had to have to get into the country, but I’ve double checked that I, as a Norwegian citizen, don’t need that letter unless I’m staying in Vietnam for more than 30 days. I guess I was pretty convincing, in my rather reduced and sleep deprived state, because she then proceeded to check me in. By the time I got back to the place I’d been at 6.45am, it was 1pm. I can’t fall asleep now, because then I suspect I will oversleep the boarding call, even though I’m sitting right next to the gate. I decided to write this in order to stay awake, so bear with me if I’m not making any sense. 😉

I sincerely hope they won’t make any trouble at the airport in Saigon, and claim like the clerk here that I need some extra letter, because I’m so worn out I’m not sure I’ll be able to explain that I’m Norwegian, and don’t need their stupid piece of paper! 😮

I also hope Annikken is not as beat as I am, because then finding a hotel to stay until I can check for answers from the CS’ers I have sent couch requests to might prove to be a daunting task… 😛 (By the time you read this, things will probably be in order, though, and I have slept enough to be coherent again)

Amoebic Dysentery is treated by…

Friday, March 13th, 2009

… Metronidazole 400 mg plus Diloxanide Furoate 500 mg, three times per day for ten days. That’s what my doctor said when she called me and told me the stool sample came back positive for Entamoeba histolytica, which had caused Dysentery. Amoebic Dysentery normally presents with these symptoms: “eggy” burps, frequent passage of watery stool, fever and, in some cases, associated vomiting of blood or blood in the stool. (I had a suspicion it might be this, seeing as I, since late December, have regularly experienced all but the blood) What the doctor did NOT mention, was that the most common side effects of Metronidazole are nausea and diarrhea, while Diloxanide presents itchy rashes, excessive intestinal gas and vomiting as it’s most common side effects. Here’s a beautiful picture for you, try to visualize it happening to yourself: Diarrhea + excessive gas = explosive diarrhea.

Brings to mind an old saying… something about frying pans and fire… Oh, well, at least the treatment is not fatal, while dysentery can (and usually will be) fatal if untreated.

Grossed out yet?

No?

Then YOU’RE gross!!! 😀

PS: I found a picture on Flickr which could be a good illustration to this post, but I decided not to post it here… You can look at it if you want, though…

Politics, religion, environment, health, work and commercials

Thursday, March 12th, 2009

Wednesday March 11

Commercials
I’m sure it’s just me that’s blazé when it comes to advertisement but I have a feeling that the ads on billboards and TV down here are a tad on the naïve side. I mean it’s been a while since car and MC commercials back home were fronted by slogans like “Admiration Guaranteed!”, “Always In The Limelight,” “For Real Men,” “Are You Man Enough,” by a deep resonating baritone voiceover, while the hero is surrounded by beautiful young women… Or this amazing TV commercial for an all terrain car: “When you’re on your deathbed, what will you remember? The corner office? The corporate jet? Your portfolio?” *pan camera across gorgeous landscape, ending up at a 4wd on a cliff* “TATA SAFARI DICOR!”
Shampoo commercials are a tad less sex fixated, but they always make sure to throw in the word “Guaranteed” several times for good measure, without really letting on exactly WHAT is being guaranteed.

Religion
On Tuesday the Nepali hindus celebrated a different kind of religious holiday called Holi. I’m not entirely sure what the religious significance of the rituals are, but they consist of everything shutting down, then everyone who can walk, crawl or roll go out onto  the streets to throw water and smear paint on each other. I would’ve taken pictures, but I didn’t dare to bring a camera out into the mayhem… Biking down the street to the shop (which was futile, seeing as everything was closed) literally EVERYONE I saw, young or old, men and women, were covered in bright colors, and dripping wet!

Health
I’m guessing it’s not the most interesting thing to read about, but whenever my health is not as it should be, it is strongly on my mind, so I don’t give a crap. Or rather I do so way too often. For the fourth or fifth time in the past eight weeks I am suffering from diarrhea. This time around it’s a bit different, it started with a strong fever on Monday, and the diarrhea set in that evening. On Tuesday the fever settled down, but my neck got sore and stiff. This morning I went to the private clinic at Patan hospital with a stool sample and a description of my symptoms. It might be a recurring viral or bacterial infection, or it might be a chronic amoebic infection. I’ll get the answer from the lab tomorrow. Until then I will be taking antibiotics to help my stomach fight the infection, and rehydration powder to stop from getting dehydrated. The rehydration solution is basically sugar, salts and electrolytes that you dissolve in clean water, and that tastes like sweetened brackish water. No matter what it is, it will be a relief to find out, and get some professional assistance in killing it.

Politics
I had tickets to go to Royal Chitwan National Park on Monday, and come back today. I have not been to Chitwan, and it is not because of my health. Late last week there was a Bandha (demonstration/blockade) in the Terai region near the national park, and two people got killed. When this kind of thing happens, there are no systems in place to care for their families unless they are declared martyrs by the government. Now the local communities are blocking all the roads in and out of the area, and say that they won’t open them again until the government agrees to declare them martyrs. It seems quite safe to assume they will be declared such but it might take some time. There is a small chance I might be able to go on Monday March 16 instead, but that will be my last opportunity, as I leave Nepal on Thursday 19. Here’s hoping I’ll be able to go bathe elephants and spot rhinos and crocs and bengal tigers! *fingers crossed*

Environment
Elephants in Chitwan can bathe in the river, but the river here in Kathmandu is dry. I mentioned that the water situation is getting worse, and it’s escalating quickly. Kathmandu is now a city where only the rich have clean drinking water. Even the “clean” water needs to be uv-filtered to be drinkable, a single unfiltered drop swallowed can make you sick. However, the trucks that deliver water are now so over worked, and clean water has to be transported so far, that there’s a three week wait to get clean water delivered, and the clean water has become so expensive that a normal Nepali working family can not easily  afford it. You can still get dirty water at a lower price, but that’s so dirty you have to boil it to use it for washing. Kathmandu is a city of about a million inhabitants, and not enough clean water to keep sanitary standards to a necessary minimum. We all try to save water, but even I realize that flush toilets which use about 10 litres of water in a single flush are probably the biggest waste of clean water ever. When I shower, which I now have cut down to a couple of times a week, I stand in a little plastic tub, to gather up the water, so I can re-use that water to flush the toilet later. Still, I use over a thousand litres of water a week, and more when I have stomach trouble and need to flush more often. Right now I am out of water again, which means I have to climb into the cistern again, to scoop up some of the water that the pump doesn’t get to… Some technical genious ought to come up with a system that can effectively flush a toilet with a lot less water! (The squat toilets that are typical for Asia use less water, but they hardly ever flush clean, which is why they so often smell.)

Work
My time working here in Kathmandu is almost over, and although I’ve enjoyed it, I would have to think hard about staying here on a more permanent basis. I think I need a place with less filthy air, and definately closer to the sea! I am really looking forward to moving on, and to travelling Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia with Annikken. Only about a week to go, and I am counting days!

RP’er LFG in Ktm! WoD, D&D, MERPG, VtM, GURPS, anything!

Thursday, March 5th, 2009

First of all, an important announcement: the title Uncle Travelling Gjerulf is no longer a lie… On February 27 around noon Norwegian time, my little sister Jenny gave birth to my first nephew! This picture is taken the same evening, sent to me by my mother, the proud grandma. 😀

Now for the heading… I would very much like to play some roleplaying games again! I’ve been thinking about this game I’d like to run in the World of Darkness setting, but I’d also just love to play any game of RPG… I’ve just posted on the Nepal forum in CouchSurfing.com to see if there are any other gamers around, wasting for a session of dungeon crawling or blood curdling horror gaming, or any gaming at all, really….

Day care centre for mentally handicapped childrenIn the past couple of weeks I’ve been to youth gatherings, organized a Sunday Service and had the sermon in church, read books, had diarrhea again, visited a day care centre for mentally disabled children, said goodbye and hello to Mikhiel a couple more times, gone trekking again, and bought plane tickets Kathmandu-New Delhi-Bangkok-Ho Chi Minh City.

Mikhiel came from Tibet, then went to Chitwan National Park, came back, went to a buddhist retreat, came back, and then eventually left for good, to go to India. we talked a bit about his buddhist retreat, and it seems very close to the Christian retreats I’ve heard of, with teaching, silent contemplation, prayer and meditation. Mikhiel is probably the one person I’ve spoken to most in the past four months. I met him, as you remember, at the CS-meeting in Irkutsk, we went to Lake Baikal together, then we met in Ulan Bator for a few days, and now here in Kathmandu.  The other day I met up with another CS’er, Sanna from Finland. She is here for volunteer work, but after a week her coordinator still has to give her anything to do. My volunteer work is also limited, so we spent a day roaming Kathmandu’s Durbar Square (Durbar means Palace) and finished the day with a beer on the rooftop terrace at my house.

Water shortages are a fact of living in Kathmandu. It is most obvious in the fact that there is less and less electricity as the rivers are running dry. It’s been a very dry winter, and the only rainfall since I got here was a couple of weeks ago, and came in the form of a very light drizzle that lasted for about three minutes. The holy garbage dump, (some call it “river”) Bagmati is almost dry, which leaves all the feces, human ashes, and other waste of the city just lying there. At  the house where I live, a truck comes in every once in a while and fills a cistern in the yard, from which I pump up water to a smaller cistern on the roof whenever there’s electricity to run the pump. On the roof is also a setup that very effectively heats water using the heat of the sun. Saturday a week and a half ago, the house manager ordered more water, but because there’s so little water to be had, it took ten days to arrive, and then I only got 1500 liters… The last seven of those ten days, there was too little water in the cistern in the yard for the pump to get any up to the roof, so I had no running water. No running water means no filtered water, no showers, and most importantly: No water for flushing toilets… In order to get water for flushing, and also for washing myself, I climbed down into the cistern in the yard, where I sat scooping water into buckets, that I hauled  in to the bathroom. Impractical you say? Well, I say “At least there WAS water.” If it’d been another couple of days before the water truck arrived, I figure I’d have had to start using a bucket for a toilet, and dig a hole in the yard to empty it…

The service on Sunday was very good. The youth did everything from leading the service and playing to the worship, to preparing and showing the power point presentation and filming the service. I now have about ten gigabytes of  video that I need to send back to Vardeneset, but I’m having trouble uploading photos for this journal, and I can’t imagine trying to upload several gigs of video… I’ve also been told not to trust the postal system here, so I don’t want to send the memory cards back from here. The post offices are complaining about rats eating the mail, but people say these “rats” must be very choosy, seeing as it’s only valuable mail that gets “eaten”…

I mentioned my tickets. I wanted to go to South East Asia without going by plane, but my plans have been thwarted by political circumstances. It is not possible to go from India into Burma/Myanmar, and there are no boats heading around. This means that I have to fly. Originally, I was supposed to meet my friend Annikken in Vietnam in March, then she got into law school, and our Vietnam travels were postponed till summer holidays. Now it turns out she didn’t like law school, and we’re on for March again. This means that I’m skipping India for now, going directly to Vietnam when my volunteer period is over here in Kathmandu. On March 19 I am taking a plane to New Delhi. I wait at the airport in New Delhi for almost eight hours, and catch a flight to Bangkok, where I arrive early in the morning on the 20th. After over nine hours at Bangkok airport, I head on to Ho Chi Minh City. I leave Kathmandu at 15:45 Nepal time, and arrive in Ho Chi Minh City at 17:35 Vietnam time, 24 hours and 35 minutes later… To be honest, I would much rather take the train for three days, than hanging around planes and airports for 24 hours…
Annikken arrives about half an hour later, and after we go through immigration, we’re hoping we’ll have a CS host to head off to.

I have spent a long time typing this out while doing other things online at the same time, so now I have almost no battery left. It’s still two hours till electricity comes back, so I can’t just plug in the charger either… Oh well, at least I got the post up! I also posted some pictures, but I haven’t taken many in the time when I haven’t been a tourist here. 😉

Hoping to get some pics of  tame elephants and wild rhinos, bengal tigers and crocodiles in a couple of weeks… I am going to Royal Chitwan National Park! 😀