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Gnarly Karnali....

10 days rafting in remote west Nepal!!

sunny 30 °C
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Back in January when Nepal was a hundred years away and the Irish winter had us needing adventure and excitement the suggestion of a 10 day rafting expedition in the far flung reaches of West Nepal seemed like a genius idea...Damien's genius idea..and we all jumped on board!! (except aoife who proclaimed she wasn't a water baby and chose the wimpy Everest bas camp route out...)(wuss)

All too soon it became a reality and suddenly we were paying up and signing declarations that grievous bodily harm was par for the course, risk was inherent, writing details of closest and dearest for "emergency" contacts, and giving every last detail of travel insurance in case an air-lift out was required....hmm...suddenly the spa retreat was looking more appealing. Of course being us we chose the cheapest option, not looking at the fine print..as in the transport aspect of getting to said far-flung reaches of Nepal. the $700 quote had a private mini-van...ours was public buses...and they make CIE look like 1st class limos!

Me and Anna were in Kathmandu and arrangements had been made to pick up Kate and Damien from Mugling (a one-horse back water town a 3 hour drive from us). We were instructed to be at a meeting in the office at 2pm...met the guides (and the TRAINEE kayaker..our rescue!!) for 5 minutes, then close to 4pm were walked 20mins to the bus station....or all our gear and the guides waiting at the edge of a road with no stop signs anywhere?! met a cool french couple too (Claire and Will) who had also been told that there was a meeting and had been there at 2..after 10 mins of "but we were there and didn't see you..etc..." we realised that we'd booked with 2 different companies!So our bus turns up with miraculously 8 empty seats, all gear thrown on top and off we went at 4.30ish...2 hours we stopped in an endless traffic jam...for 9 HOURS!! A landslide apparently...so we got to poor Kate and Damo at 4am instead..9 hours late..not happy bunnies! they'd rung the company owner who had told them that we were only 1/2 hour away at 11pm. Happily re-united and full of confidence that we were now on the way we ran instantly into another jam..another landslide..and another 4 hours...but we'd run out of food and water!!It eventually cleared and the driver took it upon himself to make up the 13 hour delay by driving at breakneck speed and passing out EVERYTHING regardless if the oncoming road was clear! Got to Surket at 8pm that evening and breathed a sigh of relief, until the guides told us only 6 hours left!! Thinking we could get some sleep we settled into our seats and then 6 hour roller coaster began...like driving off-road on unfinished roads with ravine to the left in a bus with NO suspension!! Arrived at the put-in point tired, sore and grumpy, but a few hours later (after delicious curry-chickpea, roti, onion and biscuit breakfast!) were togged out in beautiful blue cags and paddling!

Day 1, 2 and 3 the rapids got progressively bigger..the 3rd day we were faced with some beauties titled "God's House", "Flip and Strip", "Raft Trap", "Contionuous"....amazing fun but pretty hairy! spent a lot of time paddling air or hanging on for dear life!!Every night we camped in the most amazingly remote beaches beside the river, the guides cooked up a feast and we sat beside a campfire chatting under crystal clear starry skies, complete cliche stuff!! 2 nights we had big thunder+lightening storms and rain, and a landslide into a neighbouring river turned our river into the equivalent of mud-soup on day 4-but we still got thrown in regularly; tasted a bit crunchy but otherwise fine! On the 4th day Anna got pretty sick and the guides were so cute, built her a little shelter on the gear raft and gave her drugs..of course being Anna (along with paracetemol effects) she thought she was "fine" after lunch...we soon realised she was lying (the fact she lay hunched up and groaning after the slightest bit of effort was a small hint)..so we threw her back onto the other raft; we weren't going to have dead weight on our cool raft!

The first few days food was incredible then as suplies ran low it got progressively more like scout camp..but on the 4th night we camped beside a village and the locals brought a chicken which a little kid disposed of with a machette and we licked it up. It was a bit chewy which was either because it was a very old chicken or because they left it tied to the raft for about an hour before they killed it and fear doesn't = tender chicken!!! The further we went down the river the bigger the villages and the bolder the kids...on the 5th night we must have had 40 of them in the camp and Anna has an incredible talent at attracting them! We were followed EVERYWHERE...every shower had an audience of at least 10 kids. Of course Anna had to take it to another level and invited them all to join her and use her wash-stuff, then brushed all their hair after....she denies inviting them and says them swarmed her but we know the truth..trying to be the popular one!!They then insisted on doing her hair (and yes they all had nits and yes they used her hairbrush so tonight we have the pleasure of a "just-in-case" de-lousing session!!) They were very cute but privacy just didn't register with them!

The last 2 days were flat with the odd rapid so lots of paddling and swimming...we saw a snake (after the guides told us there were no water-snakes...but there are land snakes that swim..??!! and yes they're poisinous!!), a jakal, lots of monkeys and there were cat paw prints at one campsite that the guides looked a bit suspiciously at and said were leopard tracks but they were pathological liars (see snake story above) and we ignored them! On our day off we were taken trekking..in 40degree heat...one village invited us to teach in the school so we had a go...ended up with the entire school in 1 room, kids hanging out of rafters and us trying to get them to sing "head, shoudlers knees and toes"! We then went across a dodgy steel bridge to another village where we bought a 40 kg pig to cook for dinner (!) and were fed chang (rice wine)+walked back tipsy!! Had a big BBQ for our last night and drank local raksi (Nepali equivalent of Poitin...didn't realise quite how potent it was til we got up to go to bed and found walking a bit trickier! Don't even ask about the drunken squat toilet logistics...)

Was sad to leave the river but had enough of the relaxing paddling (bloody hard work). We hit the end point in Chisapani, changed on the river bank (watched by a horde of local men in y-fronts), carried all the gear up and drank ice-cold Coke..mmmm...and waited for return bus. Me, Anna and the French decided to head straight to Pokhara while Kate and Damo went back to Kathmandu. The guides decided the direct bus would be much better for us than getting the Kathmandu bus and switching in Mugling. They failed to mention that the direct bus went through every village possible and waaaaaaaay off the main highway into the foothills. It was torture..1/2 hour in got a flat tyre, fixed that but spare had a slow leak! Next village 12 goats were loaded into the boot and onto the roof and the bus floor was packed with bags of cabbages, onions and rice (smell got progressively worse). Then the spare tyre had a slow leak so we stopped on the highway and switched tyres with another bus..which was also faulty...so we found a repair place that tried (and failed) to fix it.for 2 hours..then at 3am they woke up another repair man who spent 3 hours fixing it and at 5am we were on the road. Me and Anna both had dodgy tummies and had to repeatedly dash into the darkness to find bushes..only to be caught rotten by oncoming headlights!! At 7.30 we hit a check-point and weren't allowed to pass due to the goat/cabage smuggling racket on board..so U-turn, unload some rice and re-position goats mroe discreetly+change drivers, and 1.5 hours later get across the same check-point and they all celebrate. Our 13 hour trip turned into 24 hours, with goat pee running down the windows (goats on the roof terrified at G-forces of taking bends at 90mph!) Miraculously all 12 goats survived and so did we!! Arrived in Pokhara at 2pm..shattered...the fact our bags that were sent from Kathmandu had disappeared didn't really bother us! They too miraculously appeared a couple of hours later......

Moral of the story...take a plane in Nepal and don't make silly decisions in January....

lots of Love,
Ruth, Anna and Kate (and Aoife up a mountain somewhere who really did get the easy way out in the end!!!)

Posted by annacronin 05:16 Archived in Nepal Tagged boating Comments (1)

Langtang Volunteering, Trek to Kathmandu and a 160M bungee!!

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Well Sauaraha continued with getting hotter and humider and we worked away at trying not to melt into blobs, we organized a picnic for the kids on my last day and there was about eighty of them, it was brillant we had a sports day, and than the kids brought their local hero over to do gymnastics for us to say thank you. I was really sad to leave and there was a lot of tears on the way back to kathmandu before I started the second placement.
A table tenis was built aswell for the kids, Aoife was the main worker behind that because , Ruth got sick (very sick)and I headed off to langtang to start the second placement after only two days of work on the table tennis table. Which was a culture shock to say the least. I dunno where to start but it was about 15 hour bus journey, two break downs, and a tree blocking the road, to this village. Where I think there was a serious shortage of woman to say the least and as I didnt really want to elope with a villager and I was decidely uncomfortable. I Tried to work in the resourse centre and it was nearly impossible, the kids couldnt sit down or stay in the class, or get off my back. They didnt speak nepali, only a tibetan dialect and they definatley didnt understand any english. They also really didnt want to know any either. Gambling though, they were very good at, from the ages of about 3 and upwards!! I decided than id walk to the local school and give that a go, well to tell you it was mental would be an understatement. The kids all line up in the morning and get inspected to see if they are clean (some have walked for 3hours on very dusty tracks). If they are found not to be clean they get a few hard belts accross the face. So when I tried to take one of the classes it was the same problem as resource centre couldnt even get them to stay in the classroom and unfortunatly I wasnt going to hit one of them!! Plus I couldnt stop laughing at the mayhem, which probably didnt help the situation!! Id never make a teacher.
Oh and sanitation was seriously lacking (I wont go into that too gross).
I had decided than that I just wasnt going to be able by myself to do this, I knew there was another village nearby that had another resource centre, so I went down to try and open that one. Which was still absolute choas but a bit more mangeable, and I went to the local school there aswell and the principle and children were really fantastic, but sometimes you would be teaching a class of 60 kids ages from 12-17 in one class because if you fail you have to repeat that year until you pass. I only did a week there and than I decided to do a 7 day trek back to kathmandu via the goussaind lakes 4600m. It was absolutly fantastic, the mountains were breathtaking and all the mountain villages you walked through were fantastic. Got Back to Kathmandu two days earlier than expected so had a few days to kill before I met back up with Ruth and Aoife who were still in Chitwan.
So I happened to bump into two friends we had met in chitwan, they were medical students looking for liquid nitrogen to freeze urine on everest for medical research on the affects of altitude on the body (Im sure they wouldnt be very impressed with my explanation). So we hung out for a few days and a few drinks later signed up for a 160M Bungy Jump. I was bloody terrified, I needed some serious persuasion before I jumped. The only thing that made me jump in the end was the thoughts of not jumping infront of all those people and the walk of shame id have to do. So I jumped and it was an unbelievable experience!!!!.
Ruth is going to fill you in on our 10 day rafting trip that were just back from.......she would do it way more justice.
Aoife is off doing Everest Base Camp or (EBC) as all the cool kids call it. So she will back soon to fill you in with all the details....
Loads of love
Anna, Aoife, Ruth and Kate xxx

Posted by annacronin 05:44 Archived in Nepal Tagged volunteer Comments (0)

Volunteering in Sauraha

sunny -32 °C


We are in Nepal for over 2 weeks now. We spent the first 4 days in Kathmandu learning some Nepali with our volunteer company and also seeing some of the sights of the city. People drive crrrrazy in Kathmandu-lots of crazy dangerous overtaking and beeping. It’s the norm though and we haven’t seen any crashes yet! We also learned about Nepali customs the biggest one if which is eating with your right hand only. No knives and forks here! Your left hand is jhuto or dirty (cos that’s the hand you wipe your bum with) so being a lefty I had to actually sit on my left hand at dinner to stop me using it!

After 5 days in Kathmandu we headed to our volunteer placement near Sauraha. Its about 6/7hours from Kathmandu near enough to the Indian border. Very very hot here and we are slowly melting. Me (Aoife) and Anna are working in a resource centre teaching english and living with a local family the Ranu’s. They are super nice and the food is delicious. We eat dhal baat twice a day at 9am and 7pm-dhal baat is basically rice and veggies with lentil soup/gravy and thank fek that we like it cos otherwise we would starve!!! We have a hand pump outside to wash ourselves and our clothes-totally back to basics! The water is room temp so its really refreshing in this heat. We have to wear a sarong so as not to flash the locals so that also took a few showers to get the hang of !

We are teaching 5 classes in the resource centre. The kids that come here all go to school but some don’t learn English so they come to our centre either before or after school for an extra English class. We start at 6:30 and have 3 classes until 8:30 and then 2 classes in the afternoon one of them is teaching English to the women of the village-they are hilarious they just want to chat. There were no volunteers for 3 months so the centre was closed for that time so all the kids are super eager and enthusiastic. We have a nursery class aswell so we help them wash their teeth and hands and faces at the pump outside..mayhem!

Kate and Remy our French friend are working and living in an orphanage about 10minutes walk from us. There are about 22 kids there so are kept very busy teaching them to swim and helping with homework and organising picnics. They are also teaching English to women for an hour a day.

There is lots to do around here. We are beside Chitwan national park so we have been elephant bathing and on a elephant safari and also on a mini dug out canoe cruise down the river. I think the elephant bathing has been our favourite - we got to ride on the elephants to the river and then they spray you with water from their trunks. Then they lie down in the water and let you scrub them and then you get back up for more water spraying - the really are gentle giants (but I still wouldnt mess with one!!). So far we have seen crocodiles,a rhino,deer and loads of birds who all live freely in the park. We are going to spend a night in the watchtower overlooking the animals watering hole so we are hoping to see a tiger fingers crossed.

Will update again soon with more shenanigans!

Happy belated Easter to everyone

lots of love

Aoife, Anna, Kate and Ruth (who is off on her family holiday :-) )


Posted by annacronin 22:42 Archived in Nepal Tagged volunteer Comments (0)


the loooonng trip East to get West

semi-overcast 18 °C
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On 27th March we started the epic trip from west china to East. First was an 8 hour sleeper bus (Lijiang-Kunming)which was the wierdest experience of the trip so far. We each had a bed and it was an 8 hour trip but we were only driving for about 2 of them. The rest we spent parked up in various places and we were in the final destination for about 3 hours before they let us off! We then booked onto a 25 hour train from Kunming to Guangzhou.

Cue another 24 hours of instant noodles, squat toliets and, you guessed it, the obligatory houghing of phlegm...we all agreed it was the worst train yet for the throat noises. We were positioned right beside the join between the 2 carriages so, although everyone obeyed the no spitting signs in the carriage itself, it mean that EVERYONE disposed of their excessive throat mucus 2 feet from our bed. Although we didn't have visual the sound effects were quite sufficient to have our stomachs turning for the entire trip!! We made friends with our underbed neighbour and he joined us in Chinese Poker..Kate tried to communicate the rules with sign language and pictures but we figured he'd pick it up as we went along...needless to say he was a poker shark and if we had been playing with money would have cleaned up.

In Guangzhou we stayed on what we dubbed "adoption island". A bit of land surrounded by a stagnant moat that was colonised by the french and english years back. There was starbucks (yes we're ashamed to say we crumbled) and subway and hundreds of american couples with Chinese babies! Apparently the majority of orphanages are down south and all the girls and boys with hairlips are adopted. It was lovely to see but a bit surreal! We ventured off the isalnd (as food prices were through the roof..imagine paying 9euro for a meal) and found animal street..from puppies to scorpions, kittens, turtles, chipmunks..you name it you could probably have bought it!! We found button street, Zip street, material street, sticker street, fake id street, chemistry set street but we were looking for a camera cable and a post office so not really useful to us! Eventually found a camera place where they took a cable from a brand new camera and sold it to anna!!

Time came to get our flight so off to the airport....this time I had my valium at hand...took 2 before getting on so I'd pass out for the flight, or so I thought. 1hour in massive electrical storm to the right and my window seat gave me a cinematic view..even when it hit the wing...so naturally I took another one...and then when that didn't help..another..so I was completely terrified but unable to do anything about it as was off my head on valium!! Got our Nepali visas easily and headed out for our first taste of Nepal.....

Posted by annacronin 02:09 Archived in China Tagged transportation Comments (1)


The nicest part of China...

sunny 50 °C
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After we'd regrouped in Chengdu's wonderful Mix Hostel (smell was Mix of sewer and old eggs), we confidently headed out to catch a taxi to the airport for our 8pm flight to Lijiang. Unfortuantely we didn't factor in the rush hour and forty minutes later we were still there after being skipped in the taxi "queue" by lots of chinese..kate was our knight in shining armour and stopped a dodgy looking mini-van (it had engine and wheels which was enough for us), haggled the driver down to a bargain 100yuan and off we set....
The turbulence started 20 mins into the flight (chinese thought it was great fun..ruth didn't) my valium were safely stashed below deck so i had nothing but armrest to grip. In tears by landing I swore never to fly airchina again.

Lijiang was worth it though. Beautiful old town, cobbled streets, mini bridges, water wheels, streams flowing down each side of the path and lovely boutique shops (where aoife and Kate got the coolest dresses ever...me and anna have dress envy). We rented fantastic....ally crap.. bikes (mine had punctured back wheel) and set off to Baisha, 10km outside town. Met Dr. Ho (though he wasn't in the mood to treat any of us..maybe he thought we were beyond help), discovered yummy yak yogurt (seriously delicious) and haggled street sellers for their silver (copper) wares..anna got earrings from 60 down to 20!bargain..

Next Morning we set off to Tiger Leaping Gorge, 2 hr bus ride away. We started at mad Margo's place (peanut butter all over her face and her bum exposed thru huge hole in her trousers), had lunch 2 hours in where we met Max and Gerard, 2 Dutch boys who we stayed with for the dayu. At 2pm in hot hot sun we hit the 24 bends (about 50 steep, dusty, uphill bends...) and at the top met barbara and spencer. We all went to TeaHorse guest house for hot showers, beer and lovely clean bed...up at 9 the next morning and we all set off together. Lovely walk, thru waterfalls, forest and across dodgy bridges til we hit Tinas at lunch. The others stayed drinking beer and wine while we pushed on down to the bottom of the gorge..an hour walk down a really steep path that we had to pay 10y! Met some chinese tourists in silly shoes and shiny trousers. At the bottom there were 3 options for getting back up.
1) Back up way we came (free)
2) the ladders...up cliff face...(15y)
3) the safe path (cut into cliff face and increibly sturdy railing built of matchsticks preventing u falling 100m into gorge)
As path 3 led to Walnut Hostel where we were spending the night we took it...met path guardian who demanded 15y for the upkeep of it. Kate tried to pass but got attacked by a knitting needle!! I'm not sure about the maintainance laws in China but they must be pretty lax....

Signs on the path pointed to Woody's and Sean's but the elusive Walnut Garden was nowhere to be found. After much head scratching we chose to wander up to Seans....where we discovered the area was called Walnut Garden..hmm...10 mins after arriving the rest of the gang came strolling down the road. What had taken us 3 hours was a 15 min road walk!!! We all settled in (the smellier of us, aka the ones who's actually done something) showered and we settled into a game of Taboo!! With Barbara on the team we couldn't lose and came out 15-9 victores.
To get back to our bus home we had to get a mini-van thru the gorge; our hostel wasn't helpful and tried to charge too much so we took it upon ourselves to hitch...so we stopped a family in a minivan filled with boxes, tanks and a barrel and persuaded him we'd fit too. Barrels got tied to the roof and in we squeezed. 1/2 way we parted company with one of the barrels. Then we hit a recent (still rolling) landslide....but we're still alive (so any parents reading..it was perfectly safe..)
Back in Lijiang and it was the 26th, Anna's birthday!!! So we went out for a slap up meal with 2 bottles of wine. We then met our dutch friends again in a pub and had one with them before turning in. The next day we had a hellish trip the entire way from West China to the East Coast...

Posted by annacronin 01:34 Archived in China Tagged foot Comments (0)

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