Friday, June 12, 2009

SE Asia Adventures- #6: Bali and the Himalayas of Nepal

Breakfasts, lunches and dinners,

Greetings from Kathmandu, Nepal. Damn it’s crazy just to type that, life really is a trip... Before I dive into the update, I’d like to shamelessly plug the Pencils of Promise White Party event this Saturday June 13th at the Union Square Ballroom. If you or any friends in the NYC area are interested, please checkout the link to buy tickets at I’m heading back to Laos in the next few days for another month of PoP work on the ground, so unfortunately I won’t be there, but it will be a great night for sure.

When I wrote last we’d arrived at the home of my good family friend Alan Solow, who is something of a cross between Billy Crystal, The Dude and Wilt Chamberlain- He’s hysterical, the absolute man and a walking, breathing incarnation of the kama sutra. After several weeks of magical but draining travel through Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia, his huge smile and hosting panache were an incredibly welcomed respite from the road. We anticipated spending 2 nights with Alan before leaving the supposed tourist traps of Bali to head to the Gili Islands… but we never made it that far.

Instead, we were immediately introduced to the local scene of ex-pats living in Bali, effectively bypassing the tourist experience, and fell in love with the people, places, friends and culture we discovered. Our “two days in Bali” melted like a Snickers in the Central Park sun and soon became 2 weeks, with more highlights than I can possibly mention in one email- Soul shine sunsets on the black sand beaches, epic all-night “galaxy” parties underneath a sky of cascading stars, having wild monkeys climb on our heads in the Ubud sanctuary forest, redefining the color green while getting lost for hours on a motorbike amongst the stunning rice terraces of Tampak Siring and Tagal Lalang, guitar and surf sessions on Pedang Pedang beach and an empty for miles Nyang Nyang beach, visiting ancient temples built into a natural setting that I can’t possibly describe at Gunung Kawi, and spending time with an amazing NGO called the East Bali Poverty Project that’s done work so revolutionary that I’ve laid up many nights contemplating how to possibly replicate the accomplishments of their founder, civil engineer, teacher and cigarette-smoker extraordinaire David Booth.

For two weeks we lived in paradise, and then the storm struck. Without warning or cause, it attacked with a furious vengeance- The morning of my flight out of Bali to Bangkok I awoke at 6am with horrific fever symptoms. Cold sweats, teeth-rattling shakes, a blistering headache, muscle pains everywhere and the fire of a thousand splendid suns burning in my eyeballs. I knew right away that I needed to get to the hospital, but there was no time before my flight. I needed to get to BKK to fly to Kathmandu the next day where I was meeting my dad for a week of trekking in the Himalayan mountains of the Annapurna Sanctuary… major problem right? In a state of complete delirium I made it to Bangkok, but as I walked through immigration, the Swine Flu thermodetector went off… no joke. They had a thermodetector.

I was immediately whisked to a medical station, given a Michael Jackson mouth covering, and my temperature was taken. 39.2 degrees Celsius. What the hell did that mean? It meant I was at 102.6 degrees Fahrenheit, and quickly raising suspicion in the eyes of my suddenly-not-so-friendly Asian hosts. I was then moved to a quarantine area, where for the next 2 hours they performed a myriad of tests and group discussions about how to solve their latest medical conundrum. Finally a resolution was agreed upon… they wanted to take me to the hospital for more influenza testing. As much as I could feel the burning lava pulsing through my veins, I also knew that I had a flight in 12 hours to meet my dad in Nepal and considering he was flying out from the states, I had to get there undisturbed… so I insisted I felt fine, and with a bit of luck was released into the Bangkok streets… where the fever got worse.

The next morning I arrived in Kathmandu with my symptoms absolutely owning my body… we immediately flew to Pokhora, the jumpoff point to enter the Annapurna trek, and checked into our hotel. I wish I could say I was insanely heroic and brave and trekked the world’s greatest peaks with a Game 6 Jordan-esque fever… but this would be a lie.

I ended up making it up through Nayapoor to Birathani and rested for a few days in the mountains at Tikidhunga as my dad put on a heroic performance in nursing me back to health while also making sure he trekked up to the heights of Ghorapani and Poonhill. The mountain villages we hiked by were filled with warm smiles and children shouting “Namaste” through the fresh mountain air. Elderly women tended to baby goats and young boys flirted with girls on rocky steps smoothed by the footsteps of travelers and locals alike… We then went up to Sarang Kot, where we spent a night looking down on the luminescent lights of Pokhora… sadly our sunrise wakeup was ruined by a thunderous storm with one lightening bolt that couldn’t have struck more than 100m from us, and a cloudy morning obstructing the mountain views… so around 10am we trekked down the mountainous steps, and in a moment of weakness the clouds gave way to allow a slight view at the peak of Annapurna II. We all gasped at the towering beauty, as it was so high above the horizon that I truly hadn’t realized to even look that high above the clouds for a mountain.

We decided to sit down for tea at a lone table on a grass clearing just in case the clouds parted… and were treated to a show. Over the next few hours the clouds slowly gave way, shedding their white morning veils to reveal a mountain range unlike any other I’ve ever seen… several peaks over 21,000ft stood with menacing grace, like a pack of regal brothers you can’t help but admire and fear at the same time. That morning validated every moment of the Nepal experience, and contains many mental images that I hope to never lose to the thievery of time’s razors and sawdust.

The following morning we took a 5-hour mountain biking tour through the bustling dust city of Kathmandu, riding through ancient city streets and quiet park vistas until my legs and lungs begged for mercy. Throughout the ride we heard the persistent horn honks mesh with distant calls to Hindu prayer stuppas; a true representation of this puzzling city where I currently find myself writing to you all… My dad left later that afternoon, and I have since been in the company of one of my favorite couples on Earth. Steve is a close Native American friend from the Lakota tribe with an enormous heart and smile, and his wife Anna is a beautiful mystic Buddhist, originally from Sweden but she’s lived all over the world speaking 11 languages and most recently spending 5 years on the banks of the Ganges River in Varanasi, India after living here in Kathmandu for 4 years. She’s done humanitarian social work in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bosnia, India, Nepal, Serbia, and the list goes on and on… yes, I love everything about them, and yes we’re spending our days and nights in deep conversation, healthy laughs and shared experience.

These past few weeks have been a real lesson in hospitality and what we do for those we love, as friends and as family. When Crosby and I needed a place to rest and recover, Alan lovingly opened his home to two traveling strangers simply because he is the brother of one of my dad’s best friends. He treated us like his own blood, because as he said, “You’re family, this is love.” When I became horrifically ill with the fever from Satan’s bulls on parade, my dad babied me like I was an 8 year-old again. He labored over me with a caring intensity unlike anything I’ve ever seen. He may not have realized it but this past week he taught me so much about what it means to be a real man, to express love through the power of your deeds and the merit of your actions. One day I hope I can repay both Alan and my dad for the gifts of their care and kindness when it was needed most… but until then, all I can do is pay it forward. So here’s my offer- 5 hours of open bar and all the wonderful, fun and great people you could ever want to meet in a single night, how’s that sound? Boom, now you’ve got your Saturday plans-

Walkin' down the many roads,

Key Trip Statistics
Days- 87
Song of Note- "Off He Goes" by Pearl Jam. Everything that a male vocal ballad should be... strong, meaningful and serenely beautiful. This song has been in heavy, heavy rotation lately.
Album of Note- Warren Haynes "Live at Bonnaroo" Wow. This acoustic set by one of the best guitarists and vocalists in the game is phenomenal. Warren plays lead for The Allman Brothers, The Dead, and his own band Government Mule. Everything he touches is brilliant, and this solo set is no different.

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