Safe in Loma Linda

Posted by Kevin Smith | | Posted On Saturday, October 10, 2009 at 6:16 AM

We just arrived in Loma Linda.  Fairly uneventful trip but we had some fun in Hong Kong on our way home.  We have lots of blog posts that we still want to add, especially our trekking adventure.

Pokhara: lake, mountains, paradise

Posted by Kevin Smith | Labels: , , , , , | Posted On Wednesday, October 7, 2009 at 10:06 AM

Pokhara, Phewa Lake and cloud covered mountains

Lonely Planet sums it up:
"Imagine a perfect triangular mountain, capped by snow and buffeted by the icy winds of the Himalaya. Imagine a millpond calm lake, perfectly reflecting the snowy peaks. Now imagine a village on the lakeshore, thronged by travellers and reverberating to the sound of ‘om mani padme hum’ from a hundred shops selling prayer flags, carpets, masks, singing bowls and CDs of Buddhist mantras. That’s Pokhara."

Jessica included drum lessons in her shopping

After enduring a bus ride from hell, Lakeside in Pokhara is truly paradise. We left Chitwan on a "tourist" bus. Unlike most tourist buses here in Nepal there was no air conditioning. So we endured a hot humid six hour trip in a bus packed with people with chairs that squeaked as we drove over washed out, bumpy roads. We survived and after a few hours of shopping around found a hotel we liked. Little did we know that we had perhaps the best room in Pokhara. The "penthouse" room, #612, all by itself on the top floor of the Landmark Hotel, for $40 a night. The views were amazing. From our balcony we saw the lake surrounded by green hills placed perfectly to highlight the Annapurna snow-capped mountains rising in the background.

The scene was even more beautiful in person

Our first night we were treated to an fantastic lightning storm that lasted for a couple hours. Being the unofficial photographer on the trip I had a lot of fun. I've always wanted to learn how to take night photographs so I dragged the hotel cabinet do the balcony door and started experimenting with the exposure times. I was using fixed exposure times of 20-30 seconds so a lot of them didn't turn out. The most impressive lightning was WAY overexposed and many shots didn't have any lightning. The worst part was waiting the remainder of the exposure time to see if the shot turned out alright. In the end a couple did.

The only "land strike" that didn't overexpose

The lightning was fun to watch

This one highlights the ominous rain clouds moving in across the lake

We relaxed the next day and then hiked from Devi's Falls up to the World Peace Pagoda. We took the wrong path but we had a great time anyway. Note to self, always take the bigger path. We came within about 6 feet of a family of monkeys before they scampered away. We also had the path all to ourselves until the very end. The pagoda itself wasn't worth the hike but the views of the lake and the clouds mingling with the mountains made it worth it.

Storm clouds highlighting the sunlit pagoda

Hiking through rice fields and headed for the hills ahead

Panorama near the junction where we met up with the right path again

The World Peace Pagoda framed by clouds

Self portrait time

Compare the loads and footwear to see how tough Nepali women are

After hiking down to the lake we enjoyed a relaxing boat ride back to Lakeside and our hotel. We spent a lot of time exploring all the shops along the lake. If felt like we had gone into every one before we left. We also highly recommend the Moondance Restaurant next to the Landmark Hotel and also the Tea Time Bamboostan restaurant toward the north end of Lakeside, both of which have free wireless internet for customers. We also had a great time renting a boat or kayak and heading out on the lake on our own. We had a beautiful sunset boat ride watching a big group of monkeys swing down one by one to drink from the lake about 20 feet from our boat. They were hard to spot in the fading light but you could tell where they were by the wild swaying branches.

Lakes and mountains combine very nicely

Jessica watching monkeys swing down to drink out of the lake

The sal forest came right to the water's edge

Pokhara is a travelers paradise because you have everything you need and most of the luxuries you would want all within walking distance along a lake front framed by a breathtaking mountain range. The setting is impossible to put into words. Pokhara is filled with restaurants, German bakeries, massage boutiques, laundry services, hand-made Tibetan jewelery stands, miniature REI shops selling "genuine" trekking gear, clothing stores, travel agents, and more. The shop keepers clamorer for attention and say things like "Come inside and just look, no need to buy." Once you get over the feeling of being accosted and loose the "I'm lost" look the salesman aren't a bother but add to the atmosphere of Pokhara. While Jessica was invited into every jewelry and clothing shop, I got offered marijuana at least twice and the barber shops all wanted to shave my "trekking beard" whenever they saw me. Thankfully I don't think I offended any of them when I laughed at them.

Lake front restaurants are so common in Pokhara they're typical

Jessica with her favorite Tibetan refugee

The island temple in the background was crowded day and night so we skipped it

Chitwan National Park

Posted by Jessica | | Posted On Sunday, October 4, 2009 at 7:52 PM

Sunset outside our hotel in Chitwan

Nepal, a tourist destination for a safari? Why not? We now know why not but that hasn't stopped Nepal. Actually, I applaud the salesmanship of the local tour guides. You see, Nepal has a Royal Chitwan National Park but after 3 days of the package deal of safari activities we still hadn't really entered the park. We did however experience the "Buffer Zone" and a Community Forest from all different angles.

Chitwan could use some rehabilitation

There were some jeeps like this one that were still on the roads

The tour guides did a great job of parroting their rehearsed scripts for the tour but when Kevin's questions and observations deviated from the typical tourist, they repeated answers to questions we weren't asking, had already covered, or just said yes when it was obvious they didn't understand.  I cringed on multiple occasions when the conversations got tense with Kevin asking if it was possible under any circumstances to enter the National Park and our guide repeating the three activity options in our package that were not actually inside the park.  One of the activities was visiting the elephant breeding grounds where we got some really cute photos of the tame elephants.

Rare twin baby elephants at the Elephant Breeding Center

Happy family

Training starts at the young age of 4 years old

After asking at the park information center in town we found out that to most hotel packages don't actually enter the National Park and it would only marginally increase your chances of seeing more animals. As it was we rode tame elephants and saw human acclimated one-horned rhinoceros, a couple types of deer, two types of crocodiles, miscellaneous birds, and a huge bee hive outside our hotel window.

Notice the huge black beehive outside our window

Our elephant safari ride was a herd of about 20 elephants each carrying five humans all walking through the community forest together at regularly scheduled intervals through out the day. This pack of trained elephants would essentially herd the semi-tame rhinoceros for our viewing pleasure.

Rhino surrounded by elephants carrying tourists

Elephants carrying tourists across the river

Ignoring the phenomenon of profusely sweating even when standing still, the jungle walk was pleasant.  The canoe rides were relaxing and added two different types of crocodiles to our list of animal sitings.

Jungle Walk

Our dugout canoes with removable little chairs

Riding in a long canoe

The long snout means it's a fish eating crocodile

Crocodiles with short snouts will eat mammals including humans

One morning we rented bikes from the hotel kitchen staff and ventured around the nearby village of Sauraha. Cars are extremely expensive in Nepal because they are subjected to a 180% car tax so bikes and elephants were the main mode of transportation in the flat Chitwan area.

Self portrait during our bicycle ride

Watch out the elephant is backing up!

Better transportation than a car especially with an umbrella for a sun shade

Notice the empty tourist cage on the elephant's back

The evening cultural show is worth mentioning because we were struck by the similarities between Nepal's ancient dancing and other ancient culture's dancing. It seemed like how David would have danced in the Bible.

Traditional Nepali dancing

The entire trip was worth it because of a glorious hour of elephant bathing. Just riding on the elephant bareback was thrilling but when he lowered his massive body into the river it could have been the most exciting roller-coaster from our shouts and expressions. Then being sprayed by water from his trunk and being effortlessly tossed from his back into the rushing river inspired such childish delight I will never forget it. By the end of the hour I was exhausted from repeating the process of hurling myself up on the kneeling elephant, holding on for dear life while he climbed down the river bank, dodging spays of water from the elephant's trunk, being effortlessly tossed into the river, and finally swimming against a rushing current to dry land.

Climbing up on the elephant was harder than it looks

Into the river we go

A shower from the elephant trunk

Laughing as we are about to be spayed again

Don't forget to keep your mouth closed

Here comes more water

A flick of his muscular body and we were in the water

Somehow the driver in the front always remained dry

Climbing up the flooded river bank

This was a rare opportunity I almost passed up because I was fully clothed, knew there were crocodiles in this particular river, the water was disgusting, and the river was unusually high from the heavy rains the previous night. In the end half of our group chose to jump in and the other half remained dry on the shore laughing and taking pictures. Kevin thoughtfully signaled to me from shore to keep my mouth closed while I was laughing as the elephant sprayed water over its shoulder and onto the faces of those riding. I don't think either group regretted their decision. The large clumps of floating elephant poo didn't bother me and the land lovers were happy to avoid such a close encounter.

Connecting with an elephant

Chitwan for all of its experiences is memorable and in the end has added to my life experiences even if I wouldn't exactly categorize it as a great destination for a safari.

Still happy at the end of a hot and sweaty day of adventures

Greetings from Pokhara

Posted by Kevin Smith | | Posted On Tuesday, September 29, 2009 at 9:02 AM

We had a good time in Chitwan National Park.  We rode elephants through the jungle and took a canoe down a crocodile infested river.  It was interesting that we never actually went into the park itself but spent our time in the "buffer zones" and the community forests that are around the park itself.  Next time we'll do it differently but thank you to the Cardonas and Anna for great company.

Anna, Jessica and Madeline's elephant throwing them in the water

We took a miserable non-air-conditioned bus for 6 hours to get to Pokhara.  Once we got here though it has been amazing.  We were planning to only stay a couple days but we are going to stay around here for the rest of our "vacation".  We already booked an air conditioned ride for our return trip to Kathmandu.  We'll post pictures when we can make the time.

Leaving for Royal Chitwan National Park

Posted by Kevin Smith | | Posted On Wednesday, September 23, 2009 at 10:39 PM

The Dashain festival is starting here in Nepal and there won't be very many patients at the hospital for the next two weeks.  We're taking advantage of the time by starting our tourist activities.  We are leaving at 6:30AM to travel to the Royal Chitwan National Park where we are hoping to ride elephants and see tigers.  We hope to have internet access while we are there but if not we'll leave you with a couple pictures.

These goats will all be killed during the Dashain festival

Some boys in Banepa

Hope to update again soon.

~ Kevin

House Guest With Too Many Legs

Posted by Jessica | Labels: , , | Posted On Tuesday, September 22, 2009 at 11:22 PM

We have taken photos of the most beautiful or interesting bugs. You can imagine yourself what the mosquitoes and other flying black things look like. I might as well apologize right now to all the Entomologists out there that even though I was a biology major my bug classifications are probably all wrong and you are free to correct me in the comments as to what I should be calling the creatures in this post.

So far in our stay we have gotten up close and personal with many creepy crawly creatures. Much of these creatures are of the normal varieties but in large quantities swarming around the lights outside our apartment and if we are not consistent with turning on our glade plug-in like insecticide then they are inside our apartment as well. The small jumping spiders are very camera shy but we're determined to do our best to photograph one.

It is good that many of the annoying moths don't realize that there are gaps under our front door and around the windows that cockroaches and tiny lizards take advantage of as their personal entrance. Really though bugs in the house haven't been a problem as long as we keep the garbage empty and floors clean. And as far as the house lizards go I rather like having them around. It reminds me a little of my pet iguanas I had in Jr. High.

Mischievous Kevin even invited one smelly rhino looking beetle to stay overnight in our apartment in a Tupperware container in hopes of scaring every visiting female. Being the daughter of a biologist I put up with it for about 24 hours before he was hastened on his way out the door and over the balcony. Locals say that they fly, although this one didn't during his 4 story fall.

One evening there was a clatter against our living room window. I paused at the noise and considered opening the curtains to see but then thought otherwise and continued updating my Facebook. Shortly after, Kevin exited the apartment and encountered another interesting beetle. This time he didn't try to bring it home but sweetly beckoned me to come and see something.

The most disturbing bug that I've encountered was surprisingly one of the smallest, yet it's location in my cupboard had me feeling violated. How dare they set up a home in my lentils! After a quick call to our friends who had been living here for 6 years since moving from America, I found out the difference between a novice missionary and a veteran. The missionaries who have been here less than a year throw the whole sack of lentils, rice, or beans away. The ones who have been here for 2 years pick out the worms, their casting, and then wash the dry goods thoroughly. And lastly the brave soles who have been residence for over 3 years just throw everything in the pot and count it as protein. Then our American friend said, "so the choice is yours it won't hurt you but actually I still throw the whole thing away. What did we do? You'll have to ask us in person. . .