Thumbs Up!

2Imagine being in 23 countries in less than 12 months, spending approximately 2.5 Euros each a day, waiting for a lift for as long as 6 hours in the South-West of France with a thumbs up (sadly you  aren’€™t lucky and have to sleep on the road for the night), getting a ride with anything that stops to give you a lift, which includes a boat in Senegal;  This is just some of  many exciting stories these two hitchhikers have to tell.

On her way to a festival, Lora Vasileva and her friends gave a lift to a stranger named Evgeni; who had been hitchhiking around his country Bulgaria since he was fifteen years old. Two weeks later, Lora joined him on a worldwide hitch-hiking trip and as spontaneous and unplanned a decision as it sounded then, now she knows for sure that the decision was one of the best she had ever made.

While on their hitch-hiking excursion around the world, I hosted them for two days in Kathmandu before they left for a trek to Everest Base Camp.

Why Hitch-Hiking?

Hitch-hiking has become a way of life for us. We want to hitch-hike all around the world- see every mountain and swim in every ocean. . We believe that hitch-hiking makes you open to everything and gradually makes you flexible enough to enjoy the differences  between yourself and the people and culture you interact with. It’€™s not just routine holiday travel. Its exploring your inner self and the places you go

What are the countries you have traveled so far?

We traveled along Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, France, Belgium, Netherlands, Spain, Morocco, Mauritania, Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso, Togo, Benin, Niger, Nigeria, Cameroon, Gabon, Nepal and India. But this is just the start. The list will go on and on.

How did you manage to fund your expedition so far?

Well, we had saved some money from our jobs back in Bulgaria, which was enough to buy us food for a year. We searched for sponsors but it did not work out. But we do get some money through our friends who buy the photos we have taken. And (giggling), we also tried working in France. The job was to pick grapes for a vineyard but the language barrier took the job away before we got it.

 

So is the language barrier a big problem while you are hitchhiking around the world?

It is a problem, but apparently it’€™s not a big one. The primitive form of communication such as signs and expression is still helpful when it comes to traveling.  We were offered a lift from some Chinese people in Italy, and it was tremendously difficult to explain to them the simple fact that we were from Bulgaria. On the entire trip we were compelled to use sign language, which was quite confusing but funny at the same time.

Have you ever starved while hitch hiking?

(They look at each other and start talking in Bulgarian) In Switzerland, everything is very expensive. We couldn’€™t afford to eat anything good there. For a week, we had apples, raw food and seeds boiled in water. And it was only after we got to Germany that we actually had food by spending some money. Do you call that Starving? (I assumed that was a rhetorical question)

So any worst experiences other than that?

Yes. Osman ‘€“ a Rasta man, who invited us to stay at his house while we were in Dakar, the capital city of Senegal, turned out to be a very bad person. He convinced us to leave our backpacks in his room for the night, while we slept in our tent on his terrace. The next morning, when we went to get our visas to Burkina Faso, we found out that all our money was missing. After that, we learnt not to trust anyone blindly and we are more careful now. However, we are happy for everything we’€™ve been through, because without the hard moments we cannot appreciate the happy ones.

Do you miss your family and friends back home?

Lora- I left everyone and everything and started living on the road. Whenever I call my mom, she wants me to come back home. But I have to go on. I need to finish what I have started. I do miss them a lot.

Evgeni – I miss them but not as much as Lora. I lived away from them even when I was in Bulgaria and maybe that’€™s why i don’€™t miss them so much.

So you only hitch hike on vehicles?

The main element of hitch hiking is to stop a vehicle, wave hands and smile (with a thumbs up). As simple as that sounds, it requires a lot of patience. We hitchhike in any vehicle that stops. We avoid aeroplanes and trains but on rare occasions when we have no other choice, we have to pay to travel.

How did you find Nepal different from the countries you have traveled so far?

We came to Nepal straight from Africa so the differences in culture did stun us for a moment. The first thing we really enjoyed was the Nepali food and of course the beautiful snow clad mountains. Nepal’€™s atmosphere is filled with an incredible amount of happiness, freedom and greenery. The people are really friendly and always helping us. We didn’€™t have to face a language barrier since almost everyone here can speak a little  English. Even the villagers can communicate to us easily. Nepal is really special for us! It’€™s one of the places that will be hard to say goodbye to and we surely will come back again.

What are your further plans?

We will be traveling around India for six months. We have yet to decide our destination after that. We celebrated our first anniversary of traveling around the world on 19th August. We are running out of money so we need to find more jobs on the way.

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Everest Base Camp Trek – Up and Down the Mountain

Stooping to board the 16 seated Sitar Air Jet bound for Lukla and the Himalayas, my thoughts bloat with fantasised fables and imagined trails. The mind is a leech when it comes to expectation.

For the past few months whilst working in a ‘€˜quintessential’€™ English Pub, mechanically serving pint after pint to already inebriated customers, my mind has been premeditating my Nepali adventures; weaving threads of information as thin as gossamer into a lucid tapestry of tall trekking tales. So as I seat myself, instantaneously reaching for my belt -Lukla having been quoted ‘€œThe most dangerous airport in the world’€- I tell myself to curb all calculations so as to live presently. Moment by moment.

An air stewardess bends down with a silver tray offering ‘€˜mango chews’€™ and cotton wool. She is wearing full make-up, a pencil skirt and heeled, patent court shoes. Her composed demeanour and soft, scarlet smile juxtaposed with the dozen or so sleepy trekkers’€™ shrivelling in their seats makes for a sublimely surreal scenario. One that wasn’€™t written! (Well, at least in my mind.)

As the jet wheels from beneath us spiral into the morning haze, I turn to my window and like a child press my cheek against the sticky plexiglass. And there I remain for the next half an hour; fixated, sucking on my mango chew, watching the heavenly Himalayas roll past as in a cartoon flipbook. Until the equally illusive Lukla 200m uphill runway appears in view and with it an unremitting replay of unnerving ‘€˜Lukla Landing’€™ Youtube clips’€¦

We survive! After a warming brew of Tibetan Butter Tea, we’€™re headed for Phakding with our walking poles and the Sacred Himalaya flag swinging in bold motion. We pass O mani stones, napping porters and yaks with heavy loads and seesaw gaits; pause at the dubious wooden sheds boasting ‘€œ2-6pm Happy Hour’€ and loiter for bemoaning dogs eyeing Gary’€™s canvas bag brimming with biscuits. At Phakding we lunch for Dal Bhat (one of many to come). Reaching Monjo I’€™m shown to my room, a 6x6ft MDF box, adjacent to the lodge’€™s only toilet. I shrug it off: clearly the pure air has drugged me with nonchalance.  But later, cocooned in my sleeping bag, my mind is orchestrated by a symphony of lumbering rats, grunting floorboards and sluggish slashes followed by a flush. Not a moment of shuteye. Ke gar ne!

A hearty breakfast of Tibetan Bread (so hearty my Swiss army knife finally finds its calling), omelette, honey and masala tea sees me striding forth to Namche Bazar, always following two steps behind Babu our assistant guide who saintly renders to my automatism of ‘€œAnd how do you say’€¦. in Nepali?’€. Reaching  ‘€˜Namche Bowl’€™, we meander through tunnelled streets of North Face fleeces, Fair Aisle wool beanies, yak bells and mountain literature. Suddenly we are back in Thamel, only 2040m higher. So we retreat to our lodge for a game of ‘€œBackpacker: The Ultimate Travel Game’€.

After an acclimatisation day ‘€˜strolling’€™ to the Everest View Hotel and Khumjung to pay witness to the Yeti scalp and Sir Edmund Hilary School, we set off for Tengboche. Feeling quite invincible, Mark and I venture ahead of the group, scrambling up the rocky terrain like mountain goats. Only to be called down soon after and told off for losing ourselves on the Old Yak Trail. So our leader, Binay, taking authority sets the pace naming us ‘€˜Team Bistare’€™ and we snake somnolently to our goal. On arrival our eyes meet Her Majesty Chomolungma and neighbouring Lhotse and Nupste. Seemingly floating on a carpet of celestial cloud they peer omnisciently down at the German Bakery. Even at 3820m there is cake!

The following morning, shielding our faces with buffs, sunglasses and factor 50 Sun cream, we set off for Dingboche, stalking our way through winding woodland, crossing bridges cloaked in prayer flags and circling Stupas, old and new. The ascent is quite demanding and proves gruelling to those few members already suffering from altitude sickness. We arrive at our lodge, sloth like. Swimming through that ‘€˜snooze’€™ period when your first morning alarm has sounded and with groggy thoughts and groggy vision slowly, slowly images come into focus and actualise. Indeed, it’€™s sometimes quite overwhelming to comprehend the sheer beauty and scale of the landscape that you tend to estrange it, labelling it with ‘€œnot of this world’€.

On our second acclimatisation day, headed for Chhukung at 4730m, the effect is dreamy, otherworldly. As if promenading in a parallel universe; a plane of existence where time stops ticking and magical phenomena breed. Where the land and sky merge, shaping an ethereal mass of ivory blaze. The feeling is vertical!

Until later that evening, when I’€™m lying FLAT in bed tossing lethargically as my stomach swells with cramps. The following morning I’€™m significantly weakened, but try to stomach a few spoonfuls of porridge to see me to Lobuche. The few spoonfuls see me 20 minutes along before I disgorge of them and continue to wander like a drunk to Thokla, 4620m. There I’€™m shrouded in several blankets as a cold sweat and shivers swathe my bones. Babu spoon-feeds me garlic soup, which my senses radically reject as I run for the doors to retch and writhe for an audience of over 50 people, all taking their lunch in the sunshine. An American medic soon comes to my aid, and pointing to my heart rate and oxygen saturation levels strongly advises me to descend unless I’€™m prepared to ‘€œfork outa twenty thousand dollar Helicopter ride outa there’€. So after another grand performance, I try to walk, only to fall. Babu, 5ft tall and small boned in stature, heaves me onto his back and begins to jog down the hill. At that moment I give way to total exhaustion and remain slumped over his back, my eyes and mind half-closed to the world. At some point we meet two men walking in the opposite direction who, on seeing us, turn back on themselves to relieve Babu from his load. Taking it in turns, they haul me from one another’€™s back dragging their feet for over three hours until we reach Periche’€™s Tokyo Medical University Clinic and I’€™m seated before Adam who hands me two pink pills and a mug of orange juice.

That evening delirium finds me as my body oscillates between high and low temperatures and I exhaust the lodge’€™s supply of blankets. I awake the next morning to Babu performing Puja for me as he knocks his Mala against my forehead, mumbles mantras from his Sadhana and tosses herbs and plants out of the window. Fortunately I’€™m a practising Buddhist, and rather than taking alarm at his mystical incantations, I smile as he greets me with ‘€œGood morning Bahini’€. He asks me to slowly rise from my slumber and begin our descent to Lukla. I look at him with pathetic eyes, swollen with tears of failure and resentment, and answer him reluctantly, ‘€œOK’€.

Taking me by the hand he leads me along the twisting trail, pausing every five minutes to let me rest and sip flat coca cola. Hand in hand, we hum ‘€œOm Mani Padme Hung’€. He teaches me Nepali and sings to me ‘€œSometimes laughing, sometimes crying, sometimes raining, sometimes singing’€.

 

Abu Dabi

24.05.11

Abu Dabi 12.05am

And so I begin with the end, scribbling my thoughts down in Abu Dabi’€™s airport waiting-lounge, glancing occasionally at the screen for my EY015 flight home to Manchester Airport, England. My two months of travelling in Nepal is sadly behind me but I hope to rekindle some memories here on these pages for you.

When I was asked one week ago if I was interested in writing a monthly travel article for the newly launched Verse Magazine, I blindly took the bull by its horns -what with being an English Literature Student as of September- thinking it would not only be an exciting means through which I could experiment with my expression but also something fun and because it all came into play relatively fortuitously. And now I’€™m sitting here chewing my biro, my mind journeying down memory lane and wondering whether any of what I’€™ve seen, smelt or heard can fascinate and inspire a readership. What is travel writing? What is it exactly to ‘€˜travel’€™?

I sit here in this sterile and cold chair, surrounded by travellers poised over Internet pods, their sunken faces illuminated by the blue screen light. Everyone’€™s zoning in. Or zoning out. The cyber snare soon pulls me in and before I know it I find myself logging into Facebook telling the world ‘€œwhat’€™s on my mind?’€ Tragic, isn’€™t it? We have become like spiders no longer searching the world web but spinning it. Mapping finely tuned mandalas of self representation. And there’€™s no denying I’€™m a guilty party, having bored my 597 facebook ‘€˜friends’€™ silly with holier-than-thou gap-year soul-searching reflections. I remember, (now blushing at the thought), writing from Namche Bazaar on the road to Everest Base Camp, enlightening my cyber entourage with the following quote from Jon Krakauer’€™s novel ‘€˜Into Thin Air’€™:

Men play at tragedy because they do not believe in the reality of the tragedy that is actually being staged in the civilised world.

A profound statement such as this, and there’€™s no doubt there, has to have my audience thinking that through my travels I’€™m finding myself right? That is the point isn’€™t it’€¦the great affair of moving is to lose your luggage and retreat to the world within. None of us like to play the tourist with a Nikon camera hung over one shoulder, so we play at our own small tragedies instead, adding yet more and more adjectives to our tall tales of bare-footed wanderings (you’€™ve seen the hippies in Freak Street!). But I will say now that my tales are not so tall and I write merely as a tourist. Simply seeing.

Having finally boarded the plane I browse the flight entertainment, scrolling through the myriad movie junk until I happen upon Peter Weir’€™s new release ‘€˜The Way Back’€™. Inspired by ‘€˜The Long Walk’€™, a book by Slawomir Rawicz, a Polish POW in the Soviet Gulag, the film follows a band of soldiers as they escape the chains of communism through indomitable human will alone. Theirs is a harrowing story of man’€™s primal spirit to roam his world a freeman.132 minutes later and I’€™m exhausted, emotionally and physically, having crossed Siberian forests, Mongolian deserts and Himalayan Mountains. And they travelled by FOOT alone. Without being facetious, as theirs in an incomparable account, there were no tempos, Suzuki taxis or Sherpa mules to transport them to freedom. So I finally ask you, before you decide to start reading the world through my eyes each month, to take a moment to stop and see the world today for its accessibility and to relish the freedom of our feet.

But then the notion of the traveller’€™s freedom is of course relative to context and has changed over time. My Father, travelling in Nepal thirty years ago owned no mobile, no ipod, no laptop, just a few flimsy airmail letters for one rupee twenty five. Contacting the outside world meant a two to three hour wait at the Post Office calling Europe for the line to be relayed via Moscow and Stockholm. Today we take our world with us. Just perhaps we’€™re carrying too much baggage!

Hitchhiking!!!!!

We knew it was almost impossible but our belief was injected with a tremendous amount of hope and courage to have one of the best hitch-hiking trips ever. So despite the strike, scorching sun and the thirst, we went on. Travelling on public transport and motorbikes had completely ruined our reasoning power of distance. We expected a familiar place to arrive after a certain bends but it was only after dozen similar bends that we finally would come to the resting point. The stereotypical Nepal actually begins after we farewell Kathmandu and her two sister cities.

The strong rumours that Kathmandu Valley would be closed for the day had ignited this plan in our head. We wanted to do something that was much productive than just staying idle in Freak Street. It was only after arriving at the border of Dhading and Kathmandu that we found out it was a strike in Dhading, not in Kathmandu. But what could stop a heart that has been craving for something adventurous and exciting? We looked at each other and we knew right away that no one wanted to go back to the unplanned and chaotic civilization. We had one tent, and only one sleeping bag since Sarah forgot hers in a shop at Kalanki), a small guitar, a bottle of water, a battery operated Lantern, and clothes to change. Prabin, with his Nikon D80, captured the entire trip.

We took a local bus from Kalanki that left us stranded two kilometers from Tribhuwan Park. By the time Sarah realised that she had left her sleeping bag in one of the shops of Kalanki, the bus came to a halt and going back to get it was simply out of the question. As we left Kathmandu, where one wouldn’€™t think twice to assist another in trouble, we encountered many people who were ready to help us just because we were there. We first hitched in a micro bus for a few kilometres, but were soon unceremoniously ejected. The truck drivers, who did not give us a lift, gave us an apologetic expression for not being able to help. The fresh water coming down from the mountains were viewed as no less than the Holy Grail to our dehydrated bodies.

Everyone on the outskirts acknowledged our presence and we never felt intruded or unaccepted. It was only Prabin, Shristy and I with flip-flops and after walking for a couple of kilometres, Yuskey and Sarah had to opt for the same since their shoes added to the heat of the sun. There were only speeding tourist buses and a couple of bikes owning the empty highway. We saw landscapes that could never be seen by travelling in a bus or car.

At one point, after walking for almost 30 kilometres, we were completely exhausted when all of a sudden a truck, on the way to Birgunj, stopped and gave us a ride on its back. That hitchhike lasted long enough for Yuskey to sing some folk Nepali songs on his guitar. The truck pulled over in a short while since there was a log of wood in the middle of the road with some protestors making the Banda effective. We stopped for a while and then started walking. Sarah and Shristy, were mistaken for foreigners by the locals when we heard one of them say ‘€œthey have come to Nepal to walk around and see our village life. Strike is good for them.’€

Well, strike was neither a good or new thing for Nepal but it surely became momentarily and exclusively for the five of us. A grey coloured Skoda with a tourist number plate, coming from Kathmandu, stopped next to us (you may not be that lucky) and offered a lift. One of the protestors who had seen us walking had requested the driver of the car to take us along if we paid some money. And we did, but very little. On the entire trip that lasted for about 45 minutes, we were smiling and feeling lucky. We knew some divine force was looking down on us and giving us free perks from time and again.

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We wanted to go to this waterfall that Yuskey was talking about but, as it had been a year he last visited, we could not find the way. Finally the driver who was listening to our conversation assured us that he knew of a similar waterfall on the way to Pokhara. And it really was the one we were looking for. We bid the driver goodbye and asked him to join us in Kathmandu whenever he was free. We climbed the hill that had the water fall but then there were some rowdy locals who made it really uncomfortable for us to have a good time so we gave up the idea and walked all the way to Abu Khaireni, where we bought noodles, water melon and an apple.

We had seen a lot of good river banks on the way where we could camp but we still wanted to look out for more. We started exploring Daraudi River from one point to another and, for almost an hour, searched for a good spot. We were searching for a narrower spot from where it would be safe to cross the river. A man in his early forties came to us and advised us not to cross the river since it was very risky. Instead he showed us a better place to camp and went away climbing the cliffs as if he was a lizard.

Though it was two nights before full moon, it looked almost like one of those nights were the moon was at its very best and one could stare endlessly at the beauty of the sky. And, to add to that spell binding night, we were camping by a river indulging in the perfect company of each other. The synergy of the songs Shristy and Yuskey sang on top of that splendid aura was so alchemic that it felt like the wind was drifting my soul away. The girls taught us to swim and we got so hooked with it that we were swimming till four in the morning.

The sunrise was very difficult to wake up to. The hangover of all the fun we had yesterday was filled with a tremendous amount of body ache. We packed our tents, cleaned the river bank, repacked our bags and started on the search of a hotel something to eat. The hotel we chose for our dinner happened to be owned by the same person who had advised us not to cross the river. We planned to swim for an hour before having our lunch but we ended up swimming for a couple. The local boys helped us cross the river, taught us swimming and also rescued us many a times.

‘€œOi, ma dubey hai (hey I am drowning)’€- With these words, Yuskey drowned as he courageously tried to cross the river alone. One of the locals rushed in for his rescue and brought him back safely. But after all that practice the night I’€™m pretty sure that Yuskey would have made out himself. An old suspension bridge with some of its ropes stretching down to the river became a good swinging sport for us.

Three chicken set dinner with Karela, and 2 vegetarian sets with 4 plates of Chana, two jumbo bottles of chilled water and a jumbo coke cost us around Rs.700. The lunch felt very replenishing. We started after a break of half hours. We climbed to the highway and, with the hitching hiking adventures over, took a bus back to Kathmandu.

Hitch hiking, unlike typical travelling, is getting to know a place like a local rather than normal travelers. Travelers get acquainted with spots that have been commercialized and altered for them. It helps you become open towards a life style and culture adhered in that place and is really worth it with all the things you get to explore that would normally be overlooked in normal travelling. For instance, local people are worried and concerned about your safety when you swim in the river near their houses. Try hitch hiking and you will know because no one will stop you from diving off a 12 foot rock by the river even if you don’€™t know how to swim.