Friday, February 18, 2011

Well that was an easy trip...

Finally, I’m here, with just a few minor delays en route. When I began planning this excursion, I inserted a layover in London to visit an old friend before heading off to Nepal. Like many past trips, nothing went right and I found myself relying on an even “older” friend to rescue me. Without the help of Becks, I would have never experienced Clapham North and the well-deserved hangover that an unplanned Saturday night there brings.
As I stood in Terminal 3 of London’s Heathrow Airport, sucking down my 14th bottle of water, I was content knowing that the exhaustion would surely lead to a long sleep and, after a short stop in Abu Dhabi; I would soon be in Nepal. However, that did not happen.
When the plane landed in Abu Dhabi, I had not slept more than 30 minutes in total. Bleary eyed, I wondered around the terminal looking for water and hoping that we would start boarding soon. In a shop I found water running at three dinars a bottle. When I went to the ATM, the screen read that the minimum withdrawal stood at 100 dinars. Was I really willing to pay 30 dollars for a bottle of water, thinking I would never return here. It was only a moment before I pressed accept, when I overheard the clerk asking a woman whether she wanted to pay in Euros or pounds. I reached into by pocket and fished out one last sterling coin, worth 5 dinars. Jackpot!
Cold water in hand and a feeling of luck beginning, I walked to the gate to listen to the Etihad representative tell us that the plane had succumb to mechanical difficulties and the airline was searching for a new one.
After a few hours of waiting, the airline decided to put us up in a hotel for the night. Many of the passengers panicked, raising their voices that they needed to make it to where ever now. I, on the other hand, couldn’t care less and just wanted a bed. The creeping tiredness began to take its toll, leaving me with slits for eyes and the faintest comprehension of what was actually going on.
Abu Dhabi, from what I can recall, is just a group of hotels and a tunnel that goes from one place to another. Also, there seemed to be a lot of sand. By the time, I had woken from a dreamless sleep in my 7000 thread count sheets surrounded by more pillows than I knew what to do with, night had descended over the city. During the earlier ordeal, I had met a young English guy named Tom. We had agreed to meet for dinner, and considering it Valentine’s Day, he turned out to be a wonderful date.
When you travel for the mere enjoyment of being on the road, you delight when company appears that shares the same sentiment. That is Tom. He had spent 7 years living in China, Japan, South Korea, and Italy. Teaching English to support himself, he loved the idea of immersing into a culture and soaking it all in. Later this summer, he planned to marry his Spanish fiancé, and now sat sharing an apple-flavored sashis, a middle-eastern smoking pipe similar to a hooka, with me on the lawn of the Abu Dhabi Crowne Plaza. We exchanged stories about our travels and laughed about some of our more hysterical traveling companions. Neither of us had been to Nepal and we did not talk too much about what we expected. As the day had proven, expectations are worthless.
The next morning, the flight to Kathmandu finally took off and even landed. The airport sits stop a small plateau. Unlike the modern terminals of the past three airports, Kathmandu’s low -lung brick building appeared quaint and perfect. Inside the foreigners cued to arrange visas in a haphazard manner. I found Tom assisting another traveler with the application in Japanese. An older man holding an Italian passport, asked, “You speak Japanese too?” Tom smiled.  Once in line, he chatted with a woman and her elderly mother about his favorite streets foods in some province…in Chinese. I waited for a Korean to begin a conversation on the merits of the DNZ with him, but I was let down.  His display left my one proficient language and ability to sort of curse in a couple of others tongues, sadly humbled.
Tom and I wished each other well and hoped that our paths would cross again. I stepped out of the airport into a throng of taxi men and a repeating chorus of: “My friend, my friend.” My phone didn’t work and I only had the name and neighborhood of my guesthouse. But, it’s okay; all my new friends surrounded me as the adventure continues…

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Here we go again...


“Next time, know the exact address you’re staying at. Ok?” the female immigration officer said in a kind, but authoritative tone.
“Are you kidding?” I thought to myself, keeping an innocent and ignorant smile. Five hours and fifty minutes before, Delta Flight 148 took off from JFK in New York. With stronger than expected tail winds, we would be arriving an hour earlier than scheduled. Shit. I needed that hour to attempt sleep. Three hours before the flight departed, I arrived to an empty departure hall, late on a Friday evening.  A deep freeze had set into the Northeast, but I chose to leave my jacket in the car. I was after all only going to Nepal, home to the Himalayas, and a daytime temperature of 70 degrees.  Wondering the duty-free stores and fast food chains, I waited clutching my cell phone. Two hours before then, I had received a dreaded email from the friend I had planned to spend the weekend with: “Stuck in Madrid for the weekend. Sorry. Do you know anyone else in London?”
Never plan. It won’t work.
Of course, I know other people in London. There are the two ex-girlfriends; both who would enjoy promising me a place and then sending me to random addresses as payback for, well, everything. But, alas, I knew there were a few souls that if I worded the plea just right (HELP! I’m stuck!), would worry that such an obvious karmic ploy would strike them down if they were to leave me out.
And then Becks the Rockstar answered! I had not seen her in years, and an occasional chat on Facebook was our only communication in the meantime.  When her message came though, my neck released all the tension that a possible 36-hour stay in London’s Heathrow Airport could build. 
In the broken language of international texting, directions came through as: Take tube from Heathrow to Green Park, then take Victoria line to Stockwell, then Northern line to Clapham North. Call me when you’re there.
Three thousand miles later and an hour earlier than I had expected, I stood before the immigration lady explaining that I was staying in Claphan North. I did not know if this was an actual neighborhood, or just the name of a London Underground station. Either seemed appropriate, I was after all homeless and at the mercy of another's charity. Why not call a subway station home for the night?
As I left the officer and her warning, I cursed planning. Maybe hours ahead, not days, forget weeks, and certainly never months. Day 1 done, an hour ahead of schedule.