As of tomorrow morning, I will be unreachable for at least 10 days... there is no internet access in the Gobi. :)
The day I arrived here in UB, the really sweet owner of my guesthouse, Nassan, asked if I was interested in doing a tour. I had been hoping to go to the Gobi Desert but I figured I'd have to make do with where ever the people I found to rent a jeep with were going. Luckily for me, there were two guys waiting for a few more people to head towards to Gobi. We then acquired two more passengers yesterday, so we're all set to go tomorrow. For $17 a day, we are fed, driven, and housed. Not too shabby!!
THe crew went food shopping for things to break up the monotony of mutton, potatoes, and cabbage. I bought abotu $22 worth of food- loads of salty and sweet stuff to change things up. Ritz crackers, peach tea, and loads of noodles are going to get me through foodwise. Oh and WetWipes... no showers are to be had for 10 days.... I will be ripe as tripe by the time I return to good old UB.
As a random observation from the last three days, I've felt like Ulan Bator feels like what I would expect Russia to look like, with big drab concrete block buildings. If you closed your eyes, you'd think you were in Russia from the language, but then the people speaking it are Asian in appearance. It's all very confusing.
I was also relieved to get an email from GLOOOORIA telling me that two out my three packages had arrived in Long Island. WHEW. I am much calmer now because one had some photo cds and the other had some shopping, and my sister's really expensive bra in it . Does it make ANY sense that the one from China took only 5 weeks, while the one from Australia took 13?? Go figure. And the Chinese one was cheaper. Now I just have to track down that print I bought at a Aboriginal art center....
Anywho, I need to go pack for the desert. I'll update on my return.
I arrived without a hitch in Mongolia.
I almost missed my flight because I wasn't paying attention to the time and instead yapping with Kim over a cup of tea. When my cab got me to the airport, I was in a rush and forgot to pay my airport tax and had to go back. Then I forgot the departure card and the health declaration. I was a mess.
Finally, I got on board and relaxed. We arrived in Ulan Bator and I got a taxi to my guesthouse, Nassan's. As usual, the driver was a dick and kept going in circles and we finally had it out. I eventually arrived and went straight back out on the town for a pathetic meal of greasy meat. Bleh.
To make up for it, I decided to visit the Museum of Mongolian History. The first floor was dedicated to random prehistory stuff, but the second floor had traditional Mongolian costumes. This is when I realized that the costume designers from the new Star Wars films were not nearly as original as I thought. I had thought that the costuming, especially for Padme in Episode I, was particularly innovative. I was wrong, they just copied the traditional garb of the Mongolians!! I could have realized this by being a geek, and looking at this:
but it was much more fun to have been shocked at seeing something I associate with a sci-fi trilogy in a remote country's history museum. The robes they had in the museum were the spitting image of the costumes in the movie.
I left the museum and headed back to Nassan's to see if the two guys I was told were looking for someone to share a jeep to the Gobi Desert were around. They were and I found out that an 8 day trip was super cheap and when we find one more person, we're off. This will give me enough time to get to this amazing northern lake I've been hearing about continuously since I've arrived. It should be an interesting sidetrip because it's further north by about 2 days travel. It's really chilly here in UB, so I can only imagine what going further north will do.
As for Ulan Bator itself, it's an interesting place. It seems that everyone knows someone who has been robbed so I've been leaving the guesthouse with nothing but a few bills, one piece of paper to write things on, toilet paper, and a pen. That doesn't leave much to be stolen. I was also advised to not go out after dark because there are bandit types around. The most surprising of all- there are skinheads in UB. A French guy I met said he even saw a guy with an SS uniform and another car with the red nazi swastika on it. I think they are missing the point that Nazis would be more than happy to rid the world of yellow people as well as brown, black, and slightly tan. But that seems to be a minor point of philosophy...
Today I woke up and decided to try another museum, the recommended Natural History Museum. I got in as a student (for a whopping 1000 whatever the currency is called or the equivalent of 90 cents) and spent an hour amusing myself with the displays. The first floor was about geology and geography, and was not a particularly exciting start. They had cases with labels like "stony materials" (they didn't feel being specific was necessary) or "crystals of rock crystal."
There was one room dedicated to what seemed like a Mongolian cosmonaut's trip into space. As I looked at his helmet, I wondered what compelled him to trust Russian engineers with his safety and how he thought this helmet (the equivalent to that for a motorcycle) was ever going to help if he got into trouble. I wondered the same thing when I was last in the Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C. and saw their ancient "space age" technology, but somehow this just seemed even crazier.
The second floor was much more interesting and was filled with, go figure, natural history. The first set of displays all involved the birds of Mongolia. The taxidermists seemed to do a really good job with the larger birds (eagles, kites, crows, and ravens) but had a hard time with the smaller ones. They looked like a bunch of feathers glued together with a beak and feet attached in approximately the right spots. The owl case was filled with various sized owls, all of which had eyes so wide it looked like they were in the middle of having a proctology exam. I guess the taxidermists got a bit overzealous with the glass/plastic eyes. WHOOO whoo...
Also impressive was the size of the black vulture in the last case. It's windspan must have been about 6-7 feet and was posed as if it were descending on unfortunate prey- me. Even though it was dead, I was glad the glass was there because it sure gave me the creeps. Even stranger still was the confusingly placed snow leopards, which was in with the birds. The case was lit with black lights, giving the impression of a taxidermist techno club.
I had heard that Mongolia has found some sizable dinosaurs in the Gobi Desert and they were now in this museum. I was a bit disappointed- they have 1.5 large specimens. There was one huge pair of arms, full with six inch claws, hanging off the wall, and some other flesh eater that stood 4 meters high. My perspective changed a bit when a group of older Mongolian tourists, dressed in traditional clothing, came in and were ohhhing and ahhing. It dawned on me that these guys have never been to New York and seen our terrifying skeletons in the Museum of Natural History. Instead of watching them finger the skeletons(touching everything in a museum is a major thing in Asia), I moved on to the smaller dinosaurs. In this section, they did have some good stuff. Ever since seeing Jurassic Park, the word "velociraptor" gives me the shivers, and the museum had several, including one who had died while attacking a protoceratops -locked in battle eternally.
Naturally, the reptile section was right after the dinosaur section and there I made a really great discovery: the native Dione Ratsnake. Hey Dione, did you know about this??? You have your very own ratsnake. You should feel special.
With that, my visit was complete and I took off for another walk in the brisk, BRISK, weather, hoping not to encounter zud, which my buddy Kathy recently informed me was the harsh winter climate typical to Mongolia. If I'm not frozen, I will write more soon!
Oh yeah, Mom, check your email.
I'm back in Beijing for a brief stint, before I head to my final destination, Mongolia.
I had come to China in order to get a visa for Mongolia but as it turned out, when I arrived at the embassy I was told that American citizens don't need one. This is unheard of!! Most countries LOVE requiring visas because then they can charge you $15-80 a pop for entering their lands and getting two stamps in your passport. Countries especially like requiring higher fees from Americans because it's commonly known we're all hopeless rich.
So, when I was turned away from the counter with my $40 still in hand, I was confused and had to call my super sauve host (and former Intrepid leader who calmed me down as I had a bleeding and punctured thigh), Kim, for reassurance that this was correct. He remembered that yes, it was true that Americans didn't need a visa. WOO-HOO!!!
So, I took my $40 with me, and caught the subway to the Beijing International Hotel, where the office of the CITS (Chinese Idiots Travel Somethingorother) where they supposedly sell train tickets to Ulan Baatar. I found the office without a problem but the woman there in usual Chinese fashion didn't have the answer to the simple question I asked, or rather, couldn't putting herself out to help me.
I knew that the train to UB left on Wednesdays, but being that I am meeting my friend Maria here in Beijing, I didn't want to leave before she got here. My plan was to leave for Hohhot, a city 11-12 hours away on Saturday so I could catch the Sunday night train to UB from there. The woman in the office told me she knew nothing about trains to or from Hohhot or if and when they went to Mongolia. Mind you, this was the international train ticket office, supposedly the only place to buy tickets to Mongolia in Beijing. If there are only two cities in China that have trains that go to another country (and only one a week in each city at that), you'd think that the times of both. No such luck though and after getting frustrated I left.
Kim had suggested flying because the flights depart 4-5 times a week. They had a price tag of about $250 one way according to my outdated and useless Lonely Planet (they didn't know about the visa exemption and it made me less confident in the rest of the info I've read). So, if anything, I expected to be quoted a price of $300+. I got to the CAAC (China Airlines Anarchy Center) building which was conveniently also on the subway line, I was overjoyed to find out that the flight was $211 and was available on Friday. It was a super speedy and efficient transaction, which only added to my positive CAAC experience. I quickly handed over my Visa and took off to find the Friendship Store.
The Friendship Store is an evil place. It's filled with a strange assortment of stuff, usually geared at foreigners and overseas Chinese with cash to burn. Much of the first floor was filled with horribly tacky jade carved turtles which are emerging from the inside of a geode and uesless electronics. I wondered who bought of the electronics because they were obscenely overpriced. I saw discmans that are made in China and imported to the States selling for more money than they do in the States. Same thing with calculators. What Chinese businessman goes to Beijing to buy some stupid calculator that he could get in his adopted country for $3? They were going for massive sums!!!
I also found a section of the store that sold nifty kites. Chinese are highly into kites but for boatloads of yuan, you got a dragonfly or crab made out of the equivalent of tissue paper. They looked pretty on the wall, but I can't imagine they'd last long in the sky, especially not in New York where there are massive flying rats (otherwise known as pigeons) the size of 747s.
I did perk up when I saw there was an "imported books" section which meant there were English books. This is exciting stuff because China doesn't have many secondhand book shops or even hostels that have book exchanges with books in a script I understand. I had reduced myself to buying two cheapie Penguin classics at the Xinhua Bookstore but who knows how long Benjamin Franklin's autobiography and a compilation of Edgar Allen Poe's short stories will last me.
I wanted to figure out how to amuse myself in Beijing until Friday morning so I figured I'd look for an English China guidebook. I rounded the corner and saw one of the biggest collections of Lonely Planets I've ever seen. You'd figure they'd have the LP China, but no such luck. Instead, they had every outdated book on every other country in existance. They must import unwanted old editions to see if they can pawn them off to stupid tourists. I actually found three separate editions of the LP Egypt, with the oldest being the most expensive. I can't imagine paying $31 for a seven year old guidebook.
I moved on to the games section- the real reason I had come to this tourist trap of a store. I wanted to find a travel sized mahjong set to bring back to the States for Anthony. I'd buy a big one, but they're just too freakin huge. There was a whole mahjong section, but none were small or in my price range. Instead, they had tiles the size of playing cards and ornate wooden storage boxes to match. There was one set that no one else wanted because the tiles were the color of urine, which I could afford, but I didn't want it either. I left and had a coffee beverage at the attached Starbucks.
While at Starbucks, I people watched. China is a good place to do this because the people have interesting habits. A typical example of something you might see is a woman, dressed to the nines in an outfit covered in designer labels (Prada, Dolce and Gabbana, and Louis Vuitton seem to be the kings of this and therefore super popular), the real stuff too- not the knockoffs, work up a massive loogey and spit, without blinking an eye.
I also love some of the fashion choices women make. The women love to wear labels (as mentioned above), and will mix and match three or four in the same outfit. Another common site is a woman wearing sandles with ankle high stockings that cut off her blood supply and look like a condom that's pulled up around her ankles. However, my favorite sight is of the rhino sized underwear on a woman the size of an eight year old. It sticks halfway up their backs and can be nearly tucked into their highly unnecessary bra straps without giving them a wedgy.
It's not like I'm some fashion plate myself, but I like to see other people's fashion burps because well, it makes me feel less of a dirtbag in my wore out hippy gear. I seem to get this paranoia in major cities were people have more style. I felt extremely self conscious today walking around in my busted $4 flip flops that had me slipping and sliding in the pissing down rain. I could feel people staring at me while I was trying to stay vertical and thinking "Why is that dumb long-nose wearing flip flops in the rain and getting soaking wet??"
As you can see, it was a mixed bag of a day. I'm going to relax now but making some scrambled eggs, tea, and watching DVDs until my eyes bleed. More updates soon!
I've been bored out of my mind. Monsoon has come early to Nepal and combined with nationwide strikes, makes Kathmandu really dull.
Kathmandu is a city loaded with danger for me. There is shopping like I've never experienced- but yet I can't shop. For the last three days, there has been a bandh (strike) and almost all shops have been closed and there are almost no taxis to get anywhere.
Yesterday Ant and I tried to take advantage of the lack of traffic and walked to Swayambhunath Temple (or Monkey Temple). It was a pleasant walk and we got to wander through different neighborhoods along the way, in particular one Tibetan one. The temple itself was pretty cool. There is a LONG staircase up to the top of the hill and there are small buddhas all along the way, along with Ganeshes and garudas. A pretty nifty site indeed.
When we FINALLY reached the top (and I thought I had escaped the smelly men in front of me) it began to pour- a la monsoon. Luckily, being this is Nepal and they are used to this kind of thing, they have lots of overhangs. As we waited out the downpour, I noticed that the stinky guys were staring at me again. I pointed this out to Anthony, but he just said that they had been appreciating the view of my ass on the way up and were hoping for another glimpse. RIIIIght.
On the walk back, we saw police vans go by with a large crowd hanging around in anticipation of action. We hung around for a few minutes and didn't even get to see a burning tire. There have been reports of violence in the papers but Ant and I haven't seen a thing other than a police van nearly run over a stupid kid who blatantly rode in front of it.
Today we went to Patan, a nearby city. I couldn't tell you were Kathmandu ended and Patan started but really, it doesn't matter. It was a pretty area but again, we got poured on, several times.
Tomorrow I will finally pick up my passport (2 days late due to strikes) and will be able to get the shopping done I wanted to. This place has higher quality goodies than I've seen in other places and I don't want to pass up cheap cool stuff. This whole strike thing has taken the fun out of shopping because you have to wait and wait and wait for the shops to open.
Being this is a highly uninspired post, I will end it here. Hopefully something more exciting will happen soon.
The scenic ferry we took to Samye and back
Here is Anne tending to the donkey
I tried shooting in black and white
for a bit of drama. I think it works.
A closeup so you can see the snow blowing around up there
Along the yak trail to Nepal. This is near where our driver asked nomads for yoghurt.
The Intrepid crew- from l-r:
Ant, me, Ric, Tom, Tsering, Anne (OZ), Wongdue (guide), Wongdue (driver), Scott, and up on top are Anne (Paraguay/Dutch) and Mark.
Check back, maybe I'll actually WRITE something tomorrow.
I lied, I somehow deleted about 10 of my pics so I am reinserting them HERE:
Our fearless leader, Mark, Everest, and our jeep
PHOTOS!!!!!! The quality and sizing may be off but I'm working with some really basic software.. bear with me.
Roof top view of the Dalai Lama's Potala Palace
Ant and me in front of the Potala
A few skeletons that were dancing on the walls
Monks chanting at Ganden Monastery
Me and Anne making asses out of ourselves in Tibetan gear. Check out my coat!!!
A beautiful view from a tiny monastery
Another view from the same monastery
The place I was taking those other two photos from
Check out her fangs!!!
Ant on the boat to Samye Monastery
The tractor that spanked us silly
The view we got for it
The evening of my 28th birthday was filled with laughes and strange food.
Ant and I arrived at the bar for drinks a bit later because it took me a while to clean up in the three drops of water the hotel called a shower. It really was a retched hotel, typical of border crossings. Bleh.
We sat down to eat and I thought I'd treat myself to a steak, with mushrooms and other veggies because a guy at another table recommended it. When it came out, looking very impressive on its sizzilng hotplate, I poked around to find the steak. There was no steak!!! The mushrooms were the "steak." Grrrr.. I wanted beouf!!!! Ahh well.
The evening pushed on, and after everyone had eaten their food, Mark motioned to the staff to bring out what I knew was the cake. Scott, another of our group, had his birthday in Chengdu and the shop mangled the attempted dragon (they specialized in flowers and added a few to the "dragon") so I figured mine would be equally silly. I was completely wrong- it was a masterpiece!!! The dragon was highly detailed and had spikes coming off his back and everything!!! I'll be posting a photo soon...
After and during cake, our drivers and guide (the WongDues and Tsering) gave me big huge prayer scarves. Everyone else got them too, but mine are huge!!! It was a sad night because we knew the next day would be our last with these cheery Tibetans. The boys couldn't stay too long because they had to meet up with the Chinese official who had stopped them earlier to fine them for "improper paperwork." (We later found out that our wily guide got him drunk and had his fine eliminated while the drivers' were reduced drastically.)
From Zhangmu, we moved into the highest country in the world, Nepal. There is a 8k stretch of NoMansLand in between checkpoints, and we got stopped so a BIGWIG Chinese military guy could get by on the half built road. During our wait, our truck watched a small boy (2-3yo) sitting in a window above his older sister (6-7yo) build up a massive loogey and spit it on her. She wiped it off as if she's used to it.
We were tired, dirty and worn out by this point. We needed pampering... and we got it. When the group got to Dhulikel, Nepal, we had found paradise. The rooms were seriously nice (balcony, sitting area, and a bathroom big enough to live in) no one wanted to budge for sightseeing. We were supposed to go on an afternoon walk, but we all vetoed that idea. We wanted to sit on our asses and vegetate. Did I mention that the Himalayas were what graced our balcony views? Nevermind that you couldn't see them, they were THERE!!! Much doing of nothing went on for a day.... AHHHHHHHHHHHHHH.....
And then we got to Kathmandu.... more on that tomorrow....
Ok, to continue my updating of what's been going on:
After running over the two donkeys, we started climbing up into the high passes of the mountains. The two highest were over 5000 meters, which for the imperialists, is 16400 feet. I was extremely glad I was in the hands of a professional Landcruiser driver than a wacky old rickety busdriving maniac. The roads had tight switchbacks besides drops of hundreds of feet. At the second pass, we caught our first look of Lake Yamdrok-tso, a Tibetan holy lake. It's a controverisial place because the Chinese want to use the water for generating hydroelectric power but it is feared by the Tibetans (and others) that this will just drain the lake within 20 years. The Chinese were convinced not to continue work on the power station idea up until 1989 by the 10th Panchen Lama (sort of the second in command in Tibetan Buddhism after the Dalai Lama). Now that he's died, the Chinese are back at work building and I was glad to catch a glimpse of this aquamarine beauty while it still exists.
Right after seeing the lake, we passed a sizable mountain, Mount Nojin Kangtsang which topped the region at 7200m (23616 ft). It was a nice warm up for what was to come in a few days.... At the bottom of the pass which allowed us to see this mountain, there were yaks, a stupa, and a bunch of really annoying nomads who wanted to sell us massive crystals. Why the hell would I want to buy crystals (in essence rocks), no matter how well cut they are? When we didn't want those, they offered us their toddler daughter, and finally resorted to just plain begging for money, our clothes, or anything that wasn't nailed down.
We stayed in Gyantse, the next town of decent size, and I nearly cried when I saw the shower- three sad drips of hot water. I did my best with it, and cleaned myself up only to feel severely gross the next day. I popped a Benadryl to get through the impressive monastery there. We then set off for Shigatse.
Along the way we stopped at a local's house and the owner invited us in for some dried yak cheese (this stuff could crack your teeth in half), barley (like popcorn but smaller) and chang. Chang is beer made from fermented barley and unfiltered water- a odd tasting combo. Everytime you took one little sip, the woman would run over and top up your glass. Fortunately, the barley beer is extremely weak and no one got shitfaced. Another few minutes down the road we stopped at a tsampa mill. The mill workers were covered in the stuff, which has the appearance of flour. They all came out to see who we were and Anthony was told he couldn't possibly be American because all Americans are huge.
Finally, we made it to Shigatse, one of the biggest towns in TIbet. We visited the monastery there on a holy day and pushing through the crowds was very tiring. For people seeking enlightenment, the Tibetans sure shove each other around like animals!!! It was worth it and we got to see the largest chorten (tiered chapel building) in Tibet and different styles of buddhas than we had been seing because it belonged to a different sect. It even has the famed sleepy buddha eyes you see everywhere painted on the sides. An impressive structure indeed!
Before leaving Shigatse, Ant and I attempted to do some shopping to pass the time. I walked up and down the local market but all they were selling was crap- fake turquoise (it was rubbing off), fake coral (ditto), plastic amber, and crappy bronze door knockers. I did find a few places that sold tradtional wool Tibetan shoes but none of them fit because my big fat leg couldn't get into the lower part of the boot. They're really cool looking so it was a disappointment.
After Shigatse, the group made a brief stop at Sakya, another monastery. It was well, pretty standard except for one chapel which was devoted to supressing demons. Above the door, which was painted like a demon itself, hung stuffed wolves, vultures, and dogs, all swinging in the breeze. It sent shivers down my spine so I can imagine it works on demons as well!
The following day was a slow buildup to the climax of our trip- Mount Everest. We were scheduled to be there for my birthday, so I was excited to see the landscape change the closer we got. We caught our first glimpse of Everest (or Mount Qolomongma in the local tongue) from a far distance. Even though we were miles away, you knew just how massive this mountain was. It stood out. Being that we were on a high pass in the Himalaya foothills, the wind kept kicking up and Ant and I peered out of the windows instead of freezing our asses off. It didn't prepare me for what we'd see closer up...
On the night before my birthday, we arrived at a small monastery just below Everest Base Camp. It was early evening and I wasn't feeling all the great- my stomach and lower end were not being cooperative and I had to keep running to the bathroom. We were getting to higher altitudes (5200m) so it was expected that everyone's bodies would protest. And protest my body did- my only consulation was the crapper had a view of Everest and a nice cool refreshing breeze. Everyone had to wait for me to move on to Base Camp but we made it there just as dusk was falling.
The night at Everest Base Camp was not one I will easily forget. When we arrived, it was soooooo cold and we were sleeping in semi permanent felt nomad tents. I piled on the clothes and prayed I didn't have to run to the toilet and bare my white ass in the BITTER cold. I didn't, WHEW. We played mahjong, had tea, and I ate boring steamed rice. When I finally headed to bed, the tent was so cold that Ant had to pile so many blankets on me I couldn't move underneath them without help. And oh, my CRAZY dreams.
I've been learning loads about Tibetan Buddhism since being in Tibet (go figure) and one of the manifestations of the protecting goddess are the 21 green Taras. In my dreams/hallucinations (I can't say which they really were) I saw crazy whirling green goddesses EVERYWHERE. I kept waking from my head spinning and my heart racing. Another Buddhist character that kept appearing was the 1000 armed/eyed and 11 headed Avolkashvara, a manifestation of the Buddha of Compassion (who the Dalai Lama is a reincarnation of). As you can imagine it was the longest night I'd had in a while.
Luckily, the madness was worth it. Before I had gone to bed, Everest had taken on a stunning golden and pink glow and when I woke up it was a completely different mountain. It had a cloud ring all around it, but you could still easily see the top. I took about a MILLION photos before we packed up and left. I can't describe it so I'll just have to post a few photos soon.
It was a great beginning to a 28th birthday but the rest of the day was fun too. You'll just have to wait until my next post to hear about it though.
Where to begin? I've been out of internet contact for ages and so much has happened. This is going to be difficult.
I guess before I even attempt to write about my last week, I have to say thanks to everyone who sent me birthday wishes. I'm 28 now, and I must say, I do have a good deal more gray hair than when I left home back in August. Le sniff.
But anyway!! So much has been happening. On our last morning in Lhasa, the group met our guide and drivers (we had 2 4WD Landcruisers which were highly necessary) for 9 days. Wongdue was the name of both our guide and my car's driver, so I really couldn't get them mixed up. The other driver, a real character with a sideways baseball hat and prayer beads, was named Tsering.
On our first morning with "the boys" we headed off to the oldest monastery in Tibet, at Samye. We first stopped of at a medieval castle sort of place called Yumbalagang. It placed up on this massive hill and it was a complete bitch hauling ourselves up there. It had some decent views of the surrounding hills but when you were back on the road, it appeared to be a fortress out of Masters of the Universe. Where's the Sorceress???
Along the ride enroute to Samye, we stopped at a local temple but I decided not to go in so I wouldn't get templed out. Instead, a few of us waited outside and we almost got to see a crazy people fight. One little old lady was sitting calming with us talking babble talk (though she did have fangs) when another one came up and started yelling and swinging a stick. Eventually someone scared off the stick lady and I was able to get a photo of the fang lady and a few urchin children whose personal mantras seems to be "give me money".
To get to Samye, we caught a ferry. The river had dozens of small sandbars so the boatman had to manuever through them carefully. There were a family of Tibetan pilgrims sharing the ferry with us and it turned out to be a stare-off between them and us. The father of the family took out his camera to take my photo as I took his. About forty five minutes into the ride there was a massive sandstorm along the banks which had us all, Tibetan and western, hiding in our jackets and coats.
Our first night in Samye was a quiet evening of mahjong, beer, and laughes. Our next day proved a bit more eventful. We visited the famed monastery of Samye in the morning. It really is beautiful. It's main building has gold leaf all over the roof that sparkled in the morning light. We visited what seemed like every last chapel and by lunchtime we needed to do something different. Mark, our fearless leader, suggested a ride to a local nunnery via a tractor.
My ass STILL hurts from the ride. We all sat on the "cushioned" edge of the cart behind the tractor. At first this was no problem and we giggled everytime the guy shifted gears because the tractor made a farting noise. When we started heading uphill, we often had to get out to lighten the load until another flat part of "road." This went on for about an hour and a half, in the cart, out of the cart, change gears, fart noise. When we got to the end of the trail/road there was a ten minute hike to the nunnery. I hung around relaxing and listening to the nuns chant while Ant and some of the others climbed up to some hermitage and met a sassy monk and two nuns. The best part of the whole trip was briefly meeting two young nuns as we were walking back to the tractor. They were SOOOOOO cute with their little shaved heads and massive giggles when I showed them a photo of themselves. I'll have to post it.
The ride back was, well, uncomfortable at best. What it really was was like being spanked by a piece of metal on my ass for two hours because everytime we went over a bump or rock or down a hill, I'd fly up and fall down HARD. It was fun though to see everyone's reactions. The group was just getting downright STUPID towards the end and making comments about the dumbest things. As per usual, we rounded out the night with mahjong to settle our soar asses.
The next morning we met our drivers and continued on only briefly before we had our next adventure. As our jeep was cruising through a small village, two donkeys got away from it's tender and ran out in front of us. There was a large bang and a few frantic villagers gesturing for us to back up because one of the animals was stuck under the car. The driver did and miraculously, both asses walked away without broken legs. One was bleeding and Anne, another of our Intrepid crew, is a vet in Uruguay and therefore hopped out to check its wounds. Our driver held the hoof while Anne cleaned the wound and wrapped it with material.
Even though Anne fixed the donkey up, the driver was still expected to compensate the owner even though it was the woman's fault. After a bit of negotiation, 130 yuan ($16) was settled on. Later we heard that if we had killed it, the cost would have been 500 yuan ($60). As a gesture of appreciation, we pooled together the 130 yuan to give to Wongdue so he wouldn't have to take the financial hit.
While these negotiations were going on, a crowd was forming around the rest of us because the whole village had heard and turned up. One woman grabbed me and pulled me into the crowd of women, pointed at my nosering and giggled. Also she, as per usual, whacked me on the boobs in approval. I think I must be wearing a very flattering shirt because it's always the same one when I get groped. I then whipped out my tattoo, to many comments.
Before we left the village, our Landcruiser had to be mended because it had more damage than the donkeys. The impact had rammed the front panel into the driver's door not allowing it to close. Also, our radiator hoses were cracked, and we lost a headlight and later on in the week the grill. Luckily, the only immediate problem was the door and a shovel was brought out to bend the metal to allow it to open.
It's dinner time here in Kathmandu... I will continue my adventures later or tomorrow if I can stay out of the amazing shopping streets...
I've been in Tibet for over a week now and things have been busy busy busy. We polished off our time in Lhasa by visiting the Potala Palace, the former home of the Dalai Lama, and Ganden Monastery, up in the mountains.
The Potala was interesting, but not what I expected it to be. It is a much more imposing place from the outside, due to its massive size. The Potala was once the largest building in the world and was decently damaged in the Chinese Cultural Revolution but not leveled (a tough feat) due to the intervention of Zhou Enlai, the Chinese second in command at the time. The Potala is also the final resting place of many of the dalai lamas, whose ashes lie in massive golden stupas inside the building.
Our next stop was Ganden Monastery which is located about 1.5 hours outside of Lhasa by a route filled with hairpin turns and steep drops. The monastery itself was pretty cool and we got to see some more chanting and mantra saying:
Ohm mani padme hum
The views were beautiful and we walked the pilgrims' kora around the monastery which was filled with prayer flags, river views, monks, and pilgrims. Rumor had it that there was a sky burial site in the area but I didn't see it.
The highlight of my Lhasa experience was in a tiny nameless temple off of the Barhkor Square, down what I called the "toilet alley" because I remembered where it was in relation to the TOILET sign. A fellow Intrepid character, Scott, and I wandered down this small lane to the end where we stumbled upon over a hundred Tibetans spinning their prayer wheels and saying their mantras. After carefully working our way through the devout, we entered the temple.
This was a seriously intense experience. The small temple was filled with incense smoke and we had to pick our way through to any free space we could find. Luckily, an older woman made room for me, and Scott squeezed in nearby. No sooner was my bum was on the cushion when a cup of yak butter tea was offered to me. Yak butter tea is an "acquired" taste and drinking a full cupfull is not appealing to me, but to refuse would have been extremely rude. I looked at Scott as he laughed at my plight, only to be silenced with his own cup of the salty buttery stuff. I closed my eyes and downed the first gulp.
To my pleasant surprise, it was good! My last experience with this traditional tea was not so good (seriously, think of drinking the salt and butter you pour on popcorn) and this greatly relieved me. As soon as I finished a little of it, a monk ran over to top it up for me. To add to my yak butter stresses, all the little old ladies were watching me for my reaction and when they were satisfied Scott and I were not deranged, they offered us candies and weird biscuit type foods.
I spent the next forty five minutes mostly with my eyes closed listening to the people around me chanting, with the occassional sip of tea. Every once in a while monks would play cymbals, bang on drum, or play a weird clarinet type intrument. Finally when my legs were jelly, I motioned to Scott that we should leave. I thought that my day couldn't get any more interesting, but I was wrong.
As we left the temple, we were treated like celebrities. Everyone was yelling out "tashi delay!!!" which means "hello" and waving to us. One sassy woman motioned for us to come join her and her friends as they spun their prayer wheels. She took a stool and turned it on its side for me to sit on... why I couldn't sit on it normally, I don't know and didn't have the linguistic ability to ask. Sassy lady then motioned to her older friend, who was holding a sad and shy little boy, to send him over. The site of two longnoses (what Chinese/Tibetans call westerners) scared him and he hid in the older woman's shoulder. Then I realized WHY she was calling the little boy over- she was pointing to my boobs! She motioned that he should come over and latch on to one of them!!! The was no doubt as to what she meant because she whacked my boob and made a sucking gesture with her mouth.
UM, NO. Sorry, I'm not currently lactating, so please leave the boobs alone. This seems to be a recurrent theme for me in Asia.
Luckily, I was able to escape because another old lady was trying to get her friend to kiss Scott and he was wanting to leave as well. As we walked down the street, we waved goodbye to our hosts and fans, with a weird memory of Lhasa to savor forever.