We made it to/from the jungle!  I thought it was a bad omen when our bus was hit by a minivan pulling out of the bus station.  However, damage was minimal, no riot insued and we only had a 30 minute delay.  The bus ride is scheduled to take 5-6 hours, the ambiguity due to unexpected delays along the way.  We only hit one roadblock, caused by a rockslide - a common occurance on these mountain roads.  While waiting I discussed water quality of the Bhagmati river with a naturalist from the National Park, where we were heading.  Jonathan and I had previously noted a water quality poster here in Kathmandu (written only in English) that stated the coloform levels were ">4800", safe level = "0".  This is the river where people are bathing and also the one where people are cremated and floated out to sea.  It also appears to be the sewer system and garbage dump.  He just chuckled when I mentioned the report and said that he had done some water quality stidues on the riveers where we were going which were actually much cleaner.  He mentioned that most of the jungle water is coming from the mountains and melting snow.  Of course, this is still the main sewer system for all the villiages along the way. 

After about a 1/2 hour delay (not bad!)  we were back on the bus, headed for the jungle.  It became slowly hotter and hotter (it is hard to guess at the temperature because the humidity felt near 100%).  We were told it would be HOT but words could not describe how HOT.  I was once in the amazon where I could not wear my glasses because they were constantly fogged.  This was hotter.  Jonathan and I guessed that it was around 100 F but who knows.  We took about 5 cold showers a day and worshipped the three hours of electric fan time in the evenings.  That said, it was an exciting experience and I was not in any way miserable, as it might sound. 

When we arrived we immediately went on an Elephant ride and saw a sloth bear.  My photo was blurry, so here is one from the internet.  "The small sloth bear is unique amongst the bears, as insects are its main food source. It has a long, shaggy black coat, which on some individuals appears to have a cinnamon tinge, and there is a pale white/cream marking on the chest. The muzzle is also pale in colour and these bears have a shaggy mane of hair around the shoulders. The snout is relatively long, the lips are bare, and sloth bears lack upper incisors, all of which are adaptations for their insect-based diet. The front feet are turned inwards and have large and slightly curved ivory claws for digging. Early explorers saw these bears lying upside down in trees and gave them their common name of sloth bear."  We were told that these guys are rearely seen as they are nearing extinction.

A short time after this sighting, we some some wild boar and the famous one-horned rhino!  We also quickly learned that these animals, very dangerous to people when we are on foot, will ignore us when on elephant which masks our smell.  I have good pictures of the Rhino's rear as it turned to walk away but will have to
post later.

We were also able to see spotted deer, lizards, birds, wild chicken, monkeys and many toads.

The bus ride back was a bit stressful and both Jonathan and I had upset stomachs for the first hour.  Luckily we regained our composure for the next 5 hours. 

We are leaving Kathmandu in one hour!!  I need to go pack for our marathon flight plan, which, interestingly gets us home about the same time as we leave.  I will update from Hong Kong if possible.  Here's hoping that everything goes smoothly!


Tomorrow we will be leaving at 6:30am for a 2-night trip to Chitwan National Park.  This park is 90km SW of Kathmandu and forms a unique sub-tropical ecosystem.  We will be staying on a large island surrounded by the Narayani river, hopefully with a chance to spot the endangered one-horned Rhinocerous, Sloth bears and Gharial crocodiles.  We'll be staying at the Jungle Island Resort and will probably not have internet access there.
Day trip to Bhaktapur, Nepal:

Potter's square:


The tummy finally felt good enough for an outing last night.  Jonathan and I headed for the Monkey Temple for a view of the sunset (and Monkeys).  We were a little wary of them as they are known to harass anyone who looks like they have food.  We didn't have food and they mostly ignored us but did shake water out of the trees when we walked under.  Views were beautiful and actually made Kathmandu look clean (or maybe that was due to the afternoon Monsoon?)

This morning we signed up for a "1 day trek" around the Kathmandu Valley, offered by a local tour company.  We headed out early by minibus and were dropped off in a local village with our guide.  The contrast of the valley, with its vegetation, rice paddies, birds, and clean air, with the city of Kathmandu, was amazing and welcome.  Our hike took us through mostly surrounding agricultural areas and a few additional nearby villages.  I got one leech that was so small it was not worth a picture. We were lucky with the weather and a brief rain shower and clouds helped to temper the heat and humidity. After the 6-hour hike, we were sufficiently pooped and drenched with sweat.

Interestingly, near the end of a hike, we passed a hospital for people with Leprosy.  Many people have moved to this area for treatment and we saw quite a lot of people with the disease.  After this I became curious about Leprosy in Nepal and found that it has one of the highest rates of Leprosy in the world and has been unable to completely eliminate disease transmission.  After doing a little research on the disease I found this organization that helps people here in Kathmandu: http://handnepal.org/Leprosy.html

Tomorrow's plan: We will hire a driver to take us to Bhaktapur (about 1 hour drive).  The entire city has been well preserved and restored and is now a world heritage site. Bhaktapur is a home to traditional art and architecture, pottery and weaving industries.


Jonathan likes Yaks.
We made it to Everest!  There were no clouds in sight!
I am happy and feeling funny at the 5,300 meter pass near Everest.

Trouble with the mud, shortly after crossing into Nepal.  We had to get a tow from that big truck on the left.  The villagers put together a tow rope with some extra tire irons and steel cable.  We were skeptical, but it worked.
The bungee bridge at the last resort.  This is the second highest bungee in the world at 160 meters.

The drive from Lhasa to Kathmandu was a success!  I was quite sick the day we were to leave (food poisoning?) so we waited an extra day and did the entire drive to the boarder in two days.  Most of the scenery was quite dramatic but very very dry.  We were again told that there has been very little rain in the last two years in Tibet and could clearly see small streams where rivers used to be.  The altitude was not much of a problem for me until we hit the very high passes (over 5000 meters).  We stayed at this elevation only long enough to take photos and then decended again.  The feeling was strange when up this high - I felt a little bit of a headace but mostly sleepy and almost hungover (slow and confused).  These feeling went away almost immediately when we decended so I wasn't overly concerned.  I have a new appreciation for the people who are out climbing these mountains or making pilgrimages here.

Once across the boarder, we decided to stop in northern Nepal at the Last Resort, an eco-avdenture place.  Accomodations were amazing, in deluxe tents with hot solar showers and flush toilets.  Jonathan and I were tempted to do nothing at all but then decided to try Canyonin, which is basically abseiling down through a series of 15-30 meter waterfalls.  It was exciting, beautiful and I got 4 leeches.  Sorry, no photo of the leeches (we were to grossed out at the time).

We grabbed a bus down to Kathmandu last night, which is the opposite of the jungle in every way, except the humidity.  From what little I have seen of this city, it is a maze of winding streets, rickshaws, people selling every manner of item, smog, traffic, very old architecture, crowds, monsoons and a guesthouse on every corner (in the tourist area of Thamel).  In short, it is quite overwhelming.  I again have a stomach bug so I haven't seen any of the official sites, yet.  Hopefully, I will be healthy tomorrow for a hike around the valley.

PS. For all those interested in knowing exactly where their daughter is, I am staying at the Kathmandu Guesthouse for the next 2 nights.


These last few dys in Lhasa have been full of the routine tourist sites, 2/day. Yesterday, at one of the monestaries, we were lucky to see the Monk debates/exams. When approaching, it sounded like 30 men yelling accompanied by slapping noises. We were able to enter the courtyard and see 3-5 Monks sitting and being tested by one standing Monk. There is a certain dramatic movement that the tester makes when asking a question and again to indicte if the answer is right or wrong (this involves clapping, hence the yelling and slapping noises). The reminder of the tour included many many buddha statues and DL statues. The buildings are beautiful and iconography is complex nd everywhere. Mny pilgrams were there as well, to pray before going to Lhasa to shop.

I think I did get touch of acute mountain sickness yesterday (AMS) after 2 hours of vomitting, dizziness and a headache that is worse than I ever experienced. I tried hydrating, napping, advil and none of it helped. Then I realized that I could take twice as much Diamox (2 every 12 hours). After taking another pill I was feeling perfect in 20 minutes. Even better than perfect, if that is possible. I also wondered if perhaps, being a vegetarian, my body was low on iron and having a hard time making more red blood cells (I have no idea of this is true). So I ran across the street to grab a multivitamin and took that as well. Today, with vitamins and 2 diamox/12 hours I am feeling perfect. I am a little worried about higher altitudes - we will be sleeping at 4500 meters then going over a pass at 5200 meters (17,000 feet) past Mt. Everest. The drive is only three days and Kthmandu is lower so even if I am sick we will be decending pretty quickly.

It is too bad I can not upload pictures as they are amazing! Tibet is a wonderful place and also sad in some ways. We learned that the climate has changed dramatically in the last few years. They used to get quite a lot of snow and now get only few inches. It is also much hotter and mountains that used to have snow cover all year round are completely brown. Trees that made the mountains green are gone and the good soil has eroded. Most of this happened in the last two years! We had prepared for cold and rain (indicated by our guidebooks) and instead found it to be a blazing 80 degrees and sunny. I would have never thought that the climate sections of the guide books would have to be updated yearly.


In Lhasa, the Chinese military is everywhere.  We were made to feel quite paranoid about speaking of anything political, especially the Dalai Lama.  The military was present at every temple (inside of monestaries) in the streets and numerous checkpoints around the city. 

HI there! Made it safely to Lhasa and big brother is here! The internet is so slow, I can not give great updates until i get to nepal (about 1 week).  All is well, our guide is great. Jon and I are learning a lot.
Lhasa is beautiful and the food is yummy! Currently sipping on a chai (indian food is easy to get as well). We tried the Yak butter tea yesterday and it is indeed an aquired taste as the guidebook had predicted. Altitude is difficult but OK (I think we are about as high as the Machu Pichu in Peru) - maybe 3,000 meters. But, on our drive to Nepal, we will go higher than 5,000 meters. I am curious to see if I will make it without getting sick! Right now, the only effects seem to be intense sunlight and feeling a bit out of breath when using the stairs. We are also sleepier than usual. Diamox is probably helping but I am having crazy dreams for some reason! Our hotel is pretty fancy, thanks to the travel agent and in a perfect location for walking around the city and seeing the sights.


View from the train to Lhasa:

Xining seafood market
Train to Lhasa:

Sign on the public toilet in Xining.  We were disappointed that bathroom was out of order because we really wanted to test out this "atomized bobbling system".

This will probably be my last access to the internet for > 24 hours. We are currently in Xining, China which even at 700,000 people feels like a frontier town. The geography is becoming mountainous, with a dry, layerd look. Xining is in a valley sandwiched between these mountains, and the last stepping-off place for trips to Tibet. The hostel is very different than the others we have seen. Firstly, I should explain that everywhere we have been, we've noticed massive building projects (high-rise concrete buildings). It was explained that there was a massive stimulus package that became available recently. A lot of cities have chosen to build new housing (but there is often no one to occupy these buildings). Some places have torn down perfectly functional bridges only a few years old and replaced them with newer bridges, just to use the stimulus dollars. Apparently it is also easier to use the money for building than other projects. Our theory is that this hostel is on the top three floors of one of these largely unoccupied newer buildings. Of course, we have noticed strange designs, exterior windows on the inside, water leaks, bits of crumbling walls, even though the building is fairly new.

The hostel itself is really cool, with internet (very slow), a cafe, TV, DVD player, sun rooms, laundry, etc. There is also a travel agancy here that plan trip to tibet from Xining, including camping with Tibetan nomads, milking Yaks, making butter, etc. I am sad that I am not here for longer and can't take advantage of these trips. It is also clear that we could have arranged all of our Tibet travel from here, but didn't know this when we were in the US. So far, our travel agent has done a great job... a man met us at our hotel yesterday as we arrived to give us our travel permits and train tickets. We'll be catching the train in about 2 hours! In theory, our guide will meet us at the train station in Tibet to take us to our hotel in Lhasa. So far, so good!

We walked around Xining yesterday, grazing in the markets and stocking up on treats for the train ride. I have great pictures of squid, chicken feet, spices, and all manner of unrecognizable food from the markets, however, the internet is too slow to upload.

I'll write again when I can!


Our Hostel:
Pu'er Tea!

Wednesday - we only had a half-day here in Xi'an as we only arrived this afternoon. We were met at the airport by a man (arranged by the hostel) with a sign that read "Sarah". He took us to his car, had a very heated discussion with another driver (whom he then paid) and then began to drive us to the hostel. On the way he began to try and convince us that we should go with him to see the terracotta warriors (the major tourist destination here). He continued to try to convince us of this throughout the one hour trip to the hostel. At one point he even called an English speaking person to help via cell-phone. However, we did not negotiate and arrived safely at our beautiful hostel. Jonathan figured that he had paid our actual driver for the privilege of driving us and having the chance at our business. Jonathan's blog has a great picture of me in our new hostel: http://jmtravelblog.wordpress.com/

To mom:--> You would love this town, especially the "Muslim quarter", which reminds me of some of the Vietnam markets, but nestled in narrow alleys with crowds, strange food and a ridiculous amount traffic (for such small streets). There are many things on skewers, including mystery meat, other mystery meat, octopus bits, baby chicken wings, etc. There is a lot of contrast here, a little like Danang. On the surface, it is a bit boring but full of contrasts: malls, busy streets, tiny alleys full of food, smiling people who enjoy our pictures and people who look at us like we are aliens. China is not as hard as I had predicted. Mandarin REALLY helps! But here in Xi'an it is a weird dialect of Mandarin and no one understands me. Its no worse than Vietnam!

Tomorrow the underground terracotta army.


Hi! I didn't have time to blog last night. The great wall was great! We were able to arrange a taxi to the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall. It was about an hour drive, $90 for the two of us. I practiced some Mandarin on the way, explaining that jonathan was my friend and not my husband and that I was a vegetarian (my best phrase). Our driver explained that she also did not like meat and gave me a high 5. It has been really hot here - 85 degrees and humid - but this section of the wall had a cable car, which we gladly rode up instead of 3000-5000 steps. The wall is located on the ridge of a mountain, nestled between other mountains, so the views are beautiful. After the hot hike, we left for Dongyue temple, also called the temple of "Hell". Loved the barely maintained rooms with different life-sized plasterized scenes depicting one of the "76 departments" of the Daoist supernatural world. "Stepping through the entrance pops you into a Taoist Hades, where tormented spirits reflect on their wrong-doing and elusive atonement. Take your pick: you can muse on life's finalities in the Life and Death Department or the Final Indictment Department. Or get spooked at the Department for Wandering Ghosts or the Department for Implementing 15 Kinds of Violent Death. It's not all doom and gloom: the luckless can check in at the Department for Increasing Good Fortune and Longevity, while the infirm can seek a cure at the Deep-Rooted Disease Department. English explanations detail each department's function."

A search for roasted duck for Jonathan took us across the street and into a large park, filled with people exercising on the outdoor public equiptment. Like, Vietnam, we were impressed by the large numbers of people who hang out, work out, do tai chi, hacky sacking, walking, fishing, card-playing and socializing in the parks. (Later we noticed people were still exercising at 11:30pm). There is also a walking and biking culture, with excellent public transportation. Everyone I have seen is very thin and fit which caused us to reflect on the US culture that seems to keep people indoors. Duck was found and delicious. I had fried eggplant.

Today is a travel day (leaving in 15 minutes) to fly to Xi'An.


Monday June 7:
Armed with bike rentals and maps, we set out at 7am to navigate through the small alleys and along a string of lakes to the Forbidden city and Tiananmen square. The ride was beautiful. After dodging other slow and unidirectionally challenged older bikers, we made it to the Forbidden city:

"The Forbidden City is the best preserved imperial palace in China and the largest ancient palatial structure in the world.

It is recognized as one of the most important five palaces in the world (the other four are the Palace of Versailles in France, Buckingham Palace in the UK, the White House in the US and the Kremlin in Russia). The splendid architecture of the Forbidden City represents the essence and culmination of traditional Chinese architectural accomplishment.  In 1961 the Forbidden City was listed as one of the important historical monuments under the special preservation by the Chinese central government and, in 1987, it was nominated as World Cultural Heritage by UNESCO. The Palace Museum is a real treasure house of Chinese cultural and historical relics.

The Forbidden City, situated in the very heart of Beijing, was home to 24 emperors of the Ming and Qing Dynasties. The construction of the grand palace started in the fourth year of Emperor Yongle of the Ming Dynasty (1406), and ended in 1420. In ancient times, the emperor claimed to be the son of Heaven, and therefore Heaven’s supreme power was bestowed upon him. The emperors’ residence on earth was built as a replica of the Purple Palace where God was thought to live in Heaven. Such a divine place was certainly forbidden to ordinary people and that is why the Forbidden City is so named.

The Forbidden City covers an area of about 72 hectares with a total floor space of approximately 150, 000 square meters. It consists of 90 palaces and courtyards, 980 buildings and 8,704 rooms. To represent the supreme power of the emperor given from God, and the place where he lived being the center of the world, all the gates, palace and other structures of the Forbidden City were arranged about the south-north central axis of Beijing."

I am currently relaxing and cooling down from the summer heat before embarking on tonight's culinary adventure.

Sarah’s blog – Sunday June 6. 2010

We arrived at the Sleepy Inn at about 5pm tonight. Luckily the time zone is the same here as Hong Kong, so we won't have to do any more adjusting just yet. The hostel was a bit tricky to find because the address is for a shop on the other side if this building. Luckily a few young women told our driver to go around the block. Some arguing and pointing to street numbers ensued but finally he gave up and drove to the other side of the building. We found ourselves in a very cute neighboorhood of one-story homes with stone roof/walls along the shore of a popular lake. If we walk around the lake we have easy access to the subway station. Everything is much trickier here because it is rare to meet someone who speaks English. I have been able to use some Mandarin to give directions and order food which is making me happy. We tried taking the train down to snack food street only to find that we were in a walking mall surrounded by actual malls (again). I did not expect that of mainland China. Finally, after having a hard time finding a place for dinner we actually went inside the mall to look for food. We stumbled into the "South Silk Road" restaurant and discovered an amazing menu with plenty of vegetarian food. Our order included: spicy tree bark, fried bean curd strips with green onion, asparagus with peppers (but called "asparagus with wikipedia"), two types of tea, spicy bean with bowl of rice ball. There were a number of items on the menu which included wikipedia, presumably due to looking something up on the internet and cutting and pasting into the menu. The meal was delicious and we are now happily back at the Sleepy Inn. Tomorrows plan will be to navigate by bicycle to the Forbidden city and Tiananmen sq.


I have very little time on the computer today, so am doing a short BLOG.  Yesterday was a very full day in Hong Kong including 9 hours of walking around the city and trips to a flower market, a bird market, goldfish market, taking the tourist trasm up to the peak (overlooking the city).  We are not loving Hong Kong, partly because neither Jonathan or I are fans of malls.  The malls are everywhere, including at almost all entrances and exits to the subway system. We are finding that often, getting from point A to point B necessitates going through a series of connected malls, making up the only way of crossing major roads.  So, we were not surprised to find not one but two malls on the top of the peak tram.  We were picturing the equilivant of something like a mall in the middle of Yosemite or on the top of Mt. Tam. This seems a little insane to us, especially in a city with relatively few accessible green spaces.  Hong Kong was interesting to see, but I am very excited for more remote adventures.  We are flying to Beijing today!