Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Our 12 Day Plan for the Annapurna Circuit Trail

The Annapurna Trail is pretty brutal especially since I am a first time trekker, and first time multi-day trekker.  Luckily my husband is very good at planning these things and so he made all the altitude maps and looked for possible places to stop each time.  He's done many hikes similar - not exactly like this and after doing it, he said definitely not as tough - but his experience is good enough to get us through it.

We started in Kathmandu and took a bus to Besi Shahar, which took 7 hours...no AC and only two main breaks.  There are a lot of winding roads and when I rode the bus, there was construction so what should have been a 5-6 hour bus ride was extended for an extra hour.  It's just something I had to come to terms with. I don't count the travel to Kathmandu to Bhulbhule only because we rode most of the way.

I will say, if you look at the kilometers and altitude maps, it's not very accurate as far as how much hiking you'll actually hike from one town to the next.  There are times when we'll be hiking for an hour or two and not make much headway because it doesn't account for switchbacks or other small things.

***DOWNLOAD the App:         Maps.me
It's the best tool we had to guestimate our trek as far as elevation gain and actual distance. You won't regret it!

Day 1 (830m elevation)
From Besi Shahar, I didn't want to start the hike because I hadn't eaten in 7 hours - I get carsick easily so I eliminated that from the equation.  Well, we tried to hike for 1Km and found it was just too much so we took a bus to Bhulbhule at 820m.  After that ride, I was so happy to get a bus (about 1000 rupees) and stayed at Heaven Restaurant and Inn.  There we met our friend Michal and Svieta (I am sorry if I didn't spell it right) who became our good buddies along the trail and great companions.p

Day 2 ( m elevation)
The next morning we started to head to Ghermu and it was hard.  I had a 16Kg pack and my husband had a 13.5Kg pack (I insisted on having my computer mainly to get all my photos posted before going back to work so my pack was a bit heavy).  The hike out of Ghermu started out fine and we stopped in a few towns for tea breaks (I think this was when we stopped at Lampata), but after that there were quite a few switchbacks.  I think around 5 of them to be exact but I could be wrong.  After stopping in another town for a break to get more water, the sun came out and the climb to Bhahudanda was BRUTAL!  We even went on the wrong road a bit before a kid from the village yelled to at us to make a right, not a left. The last leg to the top is killer!

We spent an hour an a half there, at Dahl Baht for power (24 hour) and then head down towards the last leg of Ghermu.  You are, again, going Nepali 'flat' meaning there is some incline that we think is rough but not the locals.  When they say flat - expect some incline.  It was another two hours and a little stressful because it started to drizzle.  The rain from earlier or the day before had created a small landslide in certain areas so we had to be careful where we stepped from there.  You'll walk past two or three villages hoping they are Ghermu but you're not that lucky.  We finally made it there once the rain really picked up and luckily out side of the areas that were a bit sketching from the landslide.  We stayed at the first hotel, Fishtail Hotel Inn and Pacha, the owner was very nice!  His wife was one of the best cooks we encountered on the trek and they were nice enough to help us find a tailor in town to help me mend my bag - my straps were coming undone.  The Tailor did such a good job that I don't think I'll be having any issues with my bag ever again!

Day 3 (1600m elevation)
We headed to Tal but in the worst possible way!  (DO NOT go to the Fields of Marijuana that is listed on the map. Leeches Galore!) Take the jeep road!  I think this was the hardest leg of the trip and there were so many false peaks or what I considered to be false peaks along this leg of the hike.  We passed a few villages but knew that the half way point was at Sattele and I honestly wanted to stop there because I knew we had a long way to go. After Sattele, you are climbing wet granite and the elevation is high enough to walk through clouds, which we were doing from there to Tal.  It was brutal and just before you head into Tal, you'll see a clearing where it flattens and there are tons of pines before you have to climb another huge hill...mountain.  Halfway up that hill, there is a teashop/guesthouse which is a good place to get come carbs and tea, catch your breath before you have to make one last push. It's a hard one but luckily we had friends that helped us along the way.  Once you clear that large hill, you will see the huge body of water and walk on the flat blank of that river until you reach Tal.

Day 4
Rest Day in Tal

Day 5 (2670m elevation)
It was decided based on how tired and sore I was that I would take the Jeep to Chame.  Just from the ride, it seemed a REALLY hard trek to cover and we saw both of our hiking friends along the way.  I think if we were actually to hike this leg of the trail, it would have been the hardest hike yet because the inclines were extremely steep - and I'm just talking about the jeep road - and there was one point where the jeep had to cross a river and I was a bit leery about that because of how strong the current was but we made it.  Many uphills and passing many villages before we finally made it to Chame. The Jeep ride was about 4 hours long.

Day 6
Rest Day in Chame to recover.  It was there that we decided to have someone motor my bag to our next destination to Lower Pisang.  The inn keep Asim offered to take it but in the end when a huge group came he sent it on a Jeep, similar to the one we rode in over to Lower Pisang.  We were to pick it up at his brother's in the Moonlight Inn and received it around 4:00pm. I enjoyed fresh picked mushrooms in the form of stirfry, pasta and soup and that made that stop worth it all!

Day 7 (3250m elevation)
Lower Pisang was not a bad hike now that I didn't have to lug my bag. I hired someone to porter it for us but because a huge tourist group came suddenly, he popped it on a jeep and we received it 4pmish the next day.  Lower Pisang's hike has a few uphills but it's mainly before you reach Humde area.  It's not as brutal as the first few days of hiking but I can start to feel the fatigue hitting me.  Again, we took the Jeep road and hiked through dusty areas with sparse vegetation.  We took a tea break in Humde and slowly made out way to Lower Pisang.  This is the place where the trail splits between upper and lower but many say that Upper Pisang is more beautiful but a bit more difficult to do.  Here in Lower Pisang, we ate some of the best food since Ghermu and really recommend that you try the local mushroom dishes as many of the locals pick it fresh for your meals.

Day 8 (3540m elevation)
With a push to go to Manang and the incentive of a rest day and it was hard but once we made it to Humde, it was gradual incline except for a few spots. There was a bull that is probably in one of my spheres that decided it wanted to guide us into town so we followed behind at a safe distance.

Day 9 (roughly 3800m elevation)
Rest Day in Gunsang.  Because Gungsang is not too far from Manang and the only challenging thing about the hike is the elevation change, we decided to rest the whole day at Gungsang after only an hour of hiking after Manang.  It's REALLY expensive to stay in Gungsang, which is probably why people push to Ledar but the view of the mountains in the morning were what made this stop all worth it.

Day 10 (4200m elevation)
We slowly made our way to (Churi) Ledar, stopping in Yakar Ka and then made it to Ledar.  The incline was also gradual but personally, I could really feel the elevation effecting my breathing and my progress despite taking Diamox from Manang.

Day 11 (4450m elevation)
It was a rough climb to Thorong Peti.  Halfway through, there is a tea stop that you can catch your breath at and then you come to a pretty precarious area.  There is a warning sign that gives you a heads up about landslides and falling rocks.  It was a stressful crossing on somewhat narrow paths and trying to look out for any signs of falling rocks.  You won't be able to miss the area because the hills are practically made of gravel...large chunks of gravel that will take out your head but you get the picture.  Just keep on the look and head to Thorong Peti for a short break.

PERSONALLY, we were treated like shit and everyone else we talked to said the same thing.  If you have an hour to spare, just get your tea break at Thorong Peti and high tail it as fast as you can to High Camp because it's not far - just a very steep elevation climb - and nicer people. I didn't sleep well at Thorong Peti and I figure High Camp will not be that much different but at least you won't have to deal with assholes that resent your very presence.

Day 12 (5416m elevation)
We were going to stay at Thorong Peti for an extra night but decided to make a push to High Camp.  Somehow our talk about High Camp turned to pushing it to Muktinath and then I rode a horse that farted all the while from High Camp to the Thorong La Pass and hiked downhill for 5 hours.  It was brutal going down hill but the motivation of being done with this hike as well as a clean room, a HOT shower and good food that didn't cost as much as it did at the top of the mountain was more than enough motivation.

The 5 hour hike is brutal.  Granted, I was fresh for the hike but my two companions had a bit of a struggle on the way down because of the elevation climb in roughly two hours and then coming back down. It's steep and when we did it, it was extremely foggy.  There was mud in some areas but more so when you reach the first town in four hours and you get to flatter terrain.  I would recommend taking it slowly just so you don't hurt yourself as it's still a bit gravelly.  Once you hit flat land, Muktinath is still flat - FINALLY, actual flat! - but still an hour away.  It's a nice walk once you get below the very visible cloud line.

When you get into Muktinath, you'll see a sign but GO TO Hotel Bob Marley Inn.

I swear you won't regret it and the hot shower, beer and good food will make the extra 20 minutes walk to the hotel all the more worth it!

Enjoy your hike and remember, don't forget to download the hiking app Map.me

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Realizations Abroad

It may sound trivial or even a bit stuck up at times when I think about how my life was before I started to live abroad but I think about how my life and world view has changed since my first time living on my own.

I lived on a small island - almost ironically - referred to as "the Big Island of Hawai`i' but probably to diffuse some of the confusion from the name of the actual island and the name of the whole state.  We just call it "the Big Island" or even "the Big Isle" and if you consider landmass it's the size of Connecticut but the population is around 80,000 last I checked - it's been a while so sorry if I'm off.

It's kinda funny, living here for most of my life, you start to think that the place you live in is rather large and sometimes you get blind-sighted by only what's in front of you.

I'd have to say my anagnorisis moment or moment of realization came in 2007-08 when I lived abroad for a year.  Before I left Hawaii, I knew it was going to change me, but I never really knew how much until after.  I still look at that trip and think about how that was a pivotal point in my life.

It was the first time I left home - namely Hawaii and California - and the first time I lived on my own and internationally.  '07-'08 was a lot of big firsts for me but mainly the opening of my eyes the most and significant of them all.

It was the first time I lived in a different lifestyle other than one in Hawaii and Mainland USA.  At first, I idealized and even fetishized a lot of what I thought Japan was.  In my mind, Japan was perfect and very cultural and cute and a whole bunch of other stuff but living there sure cured my of that way of thinking.  I'm not being negative but I feel like media and our imagination puts places like Japan or other paradise destination on a pedestal.

You would think my living in Hawaii would have cured me of that but living is believing and I feel like living in these places have given me a different perspective.  After living there for a year, people in Japan weren't 'cute' or 'kawaii', but they were human.  Yes, there are a few that were quite literally cute, but I feel that the image or ideal of what fashionable and cute Japanese stem from a small area, on a small street in Tokyo.  Takeshita Doori (also coincidentally same as my last name) is home to the most famous of those fetishized and iconically fashionable Harajuku Girls/Boys.  Having gone there, it's tiny and I couldn't believe a whole ideal of what subgenre of Japanese were based on was mainly found on that small strip!

Mind Blown.

"Well,' I thought to myself, 'if that's just one ideal and their origins, I can just imagine where the rest of those stereotypes come from.'

Slowly, Japan started to look like Hawaii just more...Japanese - yeah, that doesn't make sense but bear with me.  People went to work, school, had families and lived normal lives.  It wasn't all fun and games as many would like to think and Japan still has issues with people working way to hard based on expectations and peer pressure that suicide is still a huge issue.  I remember reading earlier this year, PM Abe was promoting and work hours cut from 60 hours per work week to 40 hours because too many people were overworked, so he led by example and left his at the end of the week to promote this new change in the work place.

Does the Media really cover that?  Sorta, but not really.  It's not glamorous enough or whatever the reason but all these stereotypes that we pin on these people and places really do make them less than human.  When we finally meet someone from one of these places we idolize, we are disappointed if not upset that they don't meet the image or ideal we had in our head.

Living abroad once again has given me many opportunities to have more and more opportunities to dispel prejudices and stereotypes that I didn't even realize were ingrained in me for who knows how long!

Moving to Thailand actually made me realize how xenophobic many of us Americans are and it never became more evident they started to ask, "Are you sure you'll be safe?"

Let me just say, WTF?

We live in a country where people are gun crazy and tons of civilians are killed by urban gun violence and you're gonna ask me if I'm gonna be safe there?  I should as if you're safe in America because the likelihood of me being shanked is a lot lower in all the countries I've lived in when compared to America.

Oh, don't get me started about the comments we got once we announced that we decided to move to China.

"Oh, is it safe there? It's a communist country."
"You'll get cancer.  Have you seen the pollution levels."
"It's dirty. People spit all over the place and there is trash everywhere."
"People are rude and loud."

Let me tell you, I've met some of the nicest people here in China, not unlike those I've met in Japan and Hawaii and though there are slight cultural differences, it's nothing as bad as everyone make the Chinese out to be.  I feel like China has become a second home more so than Thailand and being here as been a great learning experiences of tolerance - for myself as well as other from US - and also keeping and open mind and heart.

I feel that living abroad has opening up the world to me and made me realize that we're not all that different with the same basic wants and needs.

More on this no my next post.  Until then!

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Round Fishing Boats in Viet Nam

 There is a fishing village just outside of Mui Ne and the first thing you'll notice is how their fishing boats don't quite look like any other you've seen before. Yup, ladies and gentlemen, these boats are round. When a friend of ours - a professional fisherman, himself - saw these, he was flabbergasted by the mechanics of these vessels.

I can't tell you how efficient these are but I will say, they definitely are memorable. I will always remember this small village because of those boats, but I have a feeling that was the effect they were going for.

I liked looking out in the horizon and seeing something that I don't see...ever.  It's completely different from what I grew up around - also a fishing town - and picturesque, I think.

Besides the round boats, you can see the other colorful fishing boats that populate the water of this village.

Not only that, this beach was littered, quite literally really, with shells up and down the beach.  We didn't stop long at this destination, but I will say it sticks out almost as much as the sand dunes in Suoi Tien, or Fairy Stream.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Hiking around Sand Dunes in Viet Nam

I've come to the conclusion that I like dunes.
Not just any dunes but Sand Dunes.
Why you may ask?

Just look at the vibrant reds against the white sands.  Over time, erosion from wind and water carves into the valley and leaves behind breath taking pillars of sand.  When the wind hit's certain loose areas in the sand, it looks like waterfalls of white and red.

This structure is nicknamed Fairy Stream but I can see why they chose the name.  Just look at the stunning colors of the sand behind that cerulean blue back drop.  Walking through this valley was something that one would expect to see in the movies or could picture in books.

Mui Ne is home to these beautiful sand dunes and is normally a tourist trap, but we visited during Tet or the Lunar New Year for Viet Nam.  What would have been a very busy place to travel, was quite deserted because many locals go back to their home towns to celebrate Tet with their family.

The best thing about Mui Ne is the Dune COWS!  They are just a grazin' and a dunin' (yes, I made up my own verb for cows chillin' like villain on the dunes).

I mean, just look at that face!  Who wouldn't love a dune cow?

Just a half hour away, there are pure white dunes with fine white sand that you'd imagine only in the middle east or some place similar.

So, I have a funny story...our driver took out to these dunes and while he was waiting for us, he rode the local tour agent's RTV around.  We got back and waited for him to come back but it took almost an hour.  When he finally came back, there was a huge commotion because apparently he broke their shit and they weren't too happy.  We hightailed it out of there but the guy was nervous and looked over his shoulder during the whole drive.  When he dropped us off at the fishing village, he went to trade in his car for another less recognizable model.

The sand was great to see but walking through these fields of flowering trees were breathtaking!

Another 15 minute drive and you can see the red sand dunes, just as fine but only red and slightly courser sand.  The wind picks up the sand and creates wave designs upon the dunes itself.

I come from a place that has red sand but not this fine.  It's amazing to see the geography of these areas and compared them to one another.

A bit of a warning though, you will get accosted by kids or at the red sand dunes and there are stories out there about how the kids will offer to hold your shit, to which you answer, "Hell, No!" but you can also rent one of their flexible plastic sheets to go sledding in and as long as you take your shit and or have a friend watch it, it's fun it go 'DUNING' on the sand dunes.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Hiking Scenic Hills

I love all the hilly and mountain paths that are available for exploration in China.  The city planning or park upkeep is immaculate and the best park about a place like this is there is hardly ever another hiker on the trail.  We did happen upon a group of 5 randomly but I hardly doubt that more than a handful of people walk through on average daily.  These trails will keep for probably another two decades before it needs to be repaired but the fact is it's there for everyone to enjoy.

It's common to see iconic bamboo groves and forget that a city is less than a mile away. There are somethings that are definitely appreciated and well preserved.  I didn't see it on this trail but I've seen older generation come through and pick wild herbs and plants and it reminds me of when I lived in Hawaii where I would see old tutu's teaching the next generation about harvesting wild plants.  It's nice to see something familiar here as well.

One of the things that I appreciate about China is the ability to live in a small city (it's referred to as a small town by the locals but with the population of 3-4 million), and still get away from it all.  I don't live in a huge city by all means, but even in a place like Shanghai, I can still fine greenery and beautiful parks.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Bumrungrad International Hospital

Many of you may have hear about how Thailand is famous for their medical services and tourism.

Well, I am in the process of seeing what it's all about.

I've heard for years that Thailand is the place to go for extensive dental work, world class surgical operations and other medical needs.  I had never needed to make us of their services because I have a very reliable dentist back in my hometown that I've been going to regularly since I was a kid.  Now that I live out of the country, I might as well see what it's all about.
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Upon walking into the first main building of Bumrungrad International Hospital, the open lobby is open and rather fancy like one would expect from a first class hotel.

As a new patient, I was directed to go to the second building to register as a new patient.  The second building is even more impressive.

Heck they even have a Starbucks:

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and a McDonald's:

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and a food court:

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Getting back to why I am here...

I remember when I was sixteen and my employer came to Thailand to get dental work and one or two root canals done.  She raved about how amazing the experience was and how cheap it all was.

Here, I am getting a cleaning done on my teeth but needed x-rays done so, the grand total was roughly 4,500 baht (at this moment roughly $131.00 USD).  You can check to see what the actual exchange rate is for USD but since I have no insurance in the US I am pretty sure this would be a whole lot more expensive than what it is now.

I also have to get a filling in a day or two so I know it will cost me about the same amount as today if not slightly more.

I am thoroughly impressed with Bumrungrad and would definitely come back for yearly visits when I am in town visiting friends.

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Crucial Step for Accepting a New Home: Travel

I've talked about how it's important to get to know your new home and to keep active.

After about 6 months of really getting to know your new home, I think another crucial step to feeling at home is to leave it for a bit.

Go Travel.

I don't mean go to a place that feels even more like home than your current one but go somewhere new and enjoy being on vacation from your new home.  It doesn't have to be an expensive trip and it doesn't have to be far, but leave your current domicile for a few days and give yourself a break.

I recently moved to China and have done stay-cations within a two hour vicinity of our home for a short period of time.  Usually, two days is enough of a get away to feel good about coming back to your home but going on vacation for an extended stay, I think really helps you realize where your home is.

We are spending 21 days in Vietnam and going through the motions of readjusting to this new country, language and culture.  Granted, there are more English speakers here than in China but it's still a very foreign place for us compared to the home that we've had for six months.  Six months is not long by far, but it's long enough to have a connection to a place.

While we're having fun exploring and checking out new sites but even that gets exhausting after a while.  Once you start slowing down with your traveling and if you get sick, you realize you're tired.

At that point you just want to go home and then you realize you think of your new home as that go to place you can't wait to return to.

It may be something simple like, 'I want to sleep in my own bed', or 'I can't wait to go home and eat at my favorite chicken stall' and let's not forget, "I just want to plop down in front of my TV and play some video games, cuz I'm pooped!'.

You start to realize that you've made a comfortable place for yourself to return to and want to go back to your new home or HOME because that's what you've made it into for the past six months.

Sometimes it takes leaving home to realize that you definitely miss your own space and comforts.

Food for thought.