SE Asia Dubai, Nepal
This is part two of the coverage for my trip to SE Asia. Read part one here.
It was a weird day. We left Islamabad in the morning, had some coffee and food, used our credit cards for the first time in a while, and just tried to recover from the exhaust fumes. The Islamabad airport is really nice, and we had no issues getting out. I finished Idoru along the way. Again.
The Dubai airport was exceptional, though. As you'd imagine of one of the ritchest countries on earth, their airport relfects this. Huge duty-free areas, lots of shiny things, soft, warm lighting; that kind of thing. We stayed just long enough to get our bags and sync up with our Couchsurfing host, and to connect with Tom, a friend of Megan's.
That first night we just kind of ogled the city and the sand from the lightrail, and then met up with a friend-of-a-friend of Megan's, Tom. We also met up with our host. Tom is great, one of those quietly funny people with great energy. Our host was less fun. We didn't really get along, and another couchsurfer showed up at his place at 3AM. Theres a lot to say about staying with him, but I'm not going to bother. It was really hard to sleep at his place and kind of awkward so we spent very little time there; as little as we could.
We were only in Dubai for five days, and we really badly wanted to get out at the end. It feels like Vegas, but just a little bigger and ballsier.
We did meet up with another really cool guy there, Mo, from Couchsurfing and he showed us around for the day. We walked all over, checked out the sunset, hit up a beach (with the saltiest water I've ever accidentally tasted) and had a great lunch in old Dubai. Our nights with our Couchsurfing host continued to be kind of miserable, it was realy hard to sleep and just weird in general.
We did spend another day at a beach, which was alright, but super touristy. We went to a Five Guy's Burgers place and payed some stupid amount for a basic meal. Dubai is not our favorite place.
One pretty fun thing was our stay in the desert. We booked, kind of randomly, a desert-camel-sunset-tour-thing. It seemed fun and harmless, and it was a personal favorite. We were promised camels, sunset, sunrise, eagle holding, arabic coffee, dates, a couple of shows (maybe one with fire?), breakfast, dinner, sandboarding, and something called dunebashing. Dunebashing was not explained, nor really obvious, so it remained a point of exciting mystery.
We'd spent all day walking around in the sun, (In Dubai, no less). This was a total mistake, and we were totally cooked. We had been looking for a public beach someone had told us about, but it turned out to be some kind of bizarre singles bar/resort/beach combo, so we went in and then immediately left. Our AirBnB experience host picked us up right from there, so we were able to hop into an air-conditioned SUV and cool down for a while. We abandoned poor Tom to the metro. He's a trooper.
After driving out into the desert for a while, along roads that are sort of covered with sand, sort of not, we arrived at a little ATV place. Neither of us were really willing to pay to go roll around in the dunes for a while, so we just hung out for a bit. After a little whlie, we hopped back into our Escalade with the mysterious leather-covered bolt-in roll cage and headed into the dunes for dunebashing.
If you've never dunebashed before, you're probably like us in that you had no idea what it was. Someone had aired the tires way down on the car, and our driver kicked on some eurotrance stuff and told us to buckle in (but didn't check if we actually were) and just went for it.
He drove us up dunes, down dunes, sideways over dunes, weird turns and carefully timed cinematic drops, it was great, but after 15 minutes or so we were all kind of over it and a little bit nauseous. I think Megan lost the cap to her water bottle and had to cover it with her hand the whole time. We shared the cab with these three American girls who were exhausted from a day in Dubai, they looked a little rougher than we felt.
Eventually the eurotrance quieted down and we parked the escalade next to the burned out husk of another one. Our driver was curiously silent about this, I felt concerned but no one else seemed to care. From there our driver pulled out a couple ratty snowboards and we proceeded to ride them down the dunes a couple times. If you can't tell this is the "sandboarding" we were promised. We also got some nice pictures in the sand, very posed and pretty. Lots of footprints in the sand, hand-holding, that kind of thing. It was fun.
From there we quieted down and drove out to where we would be staying the night. We enjoyed a small meal of dates and little fried donut-like things and arabic coffee, which was delicious. We even got to hold a hunting eagle for a second. It was kind of surreal, all of these things together. We then hopped on some camels for something like 10 minutes right before sundown, then headed into a podunk little compound crammed with people.
We spent the night eating a pretty good, way-too-huge meal, getting some SICK HENNA TATTOOS (I got a scorpion), getting decked out in traditional garb and watching a couple interesting dances. Lots of spinning and swords, but no fire dancing.
Eventually literally everyone left except Megan and I, which was kind of unexpected. We went from 150 or so other people laughing and drinking and smoking shisha to just us and a single chaperone, Mufeed.
We checked out our air-conditioned room, which was amazing, then Mufeed brought us out to smoke shisha, which was really interesting. He asked us what flavor we wanted; we had no idea and chose Grape. This was a poor decision, apparently, so he told us instead to smoke Apple-mint (I think. It was some combo like that). He then very adamantly demanded we got some smoke-blowing pictures, which we kept screwing up and having to redo. I've never smoked anything before, and I tried it based only on the assurances that there was no tobacco in it. I definitely inhaled too much and felt really nasty for a couple minutes.
From there we went out and hung out on the dunes for a while and just talked with Mufeed, who had a lot to say about tourists and attitude and exploration and his work, and where he was from and his family and all sorts of stuff. Megan and I were exhausted so we kind of cut it short, but he got some interesting photos of us covered in sand.
That little air-conditioned room was the best sleep we'd had in days, and we didn't want to get up, but we went outside at something like 5:00AM so we could watch the sunrise. This was funny because it was almost totally blocked out by clouds. We at least rode camels out there (which are tall, terrifying creatures by the way) and had some more Arabic coffee.
A quick sidenote about Arabic coffee: it's served in comically cups, and you're only supposed to fill them up about halfway, so you're drinking about a shot of very-weak clove-scented coffee at a time. Theres also something about using your right hand (at least I think it was your right), so you end up with a lot of ceremony and a lot of pouring and not very much coffee.
We hopped in a car after a massive breakfast and snoozed all the way back into town. Our driver was kind of hilarious and had this weird, chirpy voice.
We spent our last real day in Dubai wandering around with Tom- Megan wanted to check out the absurd indoor ski hill, so we went to the mall that houses it. It turned out to be stupidly expensive and kind of small, so we just hung out at a TGI Fridays and watched tourists gracefully tumble down the indoor slope.
I wanted coffee and we needed to do some more planning, so we rode and walked over to Box Park, which is a really interesting street where the buildings are all created from old shipping containers. Very boutique and bougie. Megan and I shared an $10.00 latte and hung out with Tom painting coffee cups before getting down to it.
I really dislike this kind of planning, but its a necessary evil so we did it. Things like e-visas, plane tickets, places to stay, couchsurfing request- it takes hours and it's exhausting. Megan has the patience and discipline for it but I just get antsy and grumpy. I ended up going for a walk up and down the street later.
We got out of there eventually after doing some more inane internet stuff, and Tom told us fun stories from different places he'd been all over the world; like trying to cross a roundabout in Egypt and how terrifying it was. He'd also gone out and bought Megan and I some hilariously bad shirts for like $1.00 each-- I wore mine unironically for a while. It violated my three shirt policy though, so I tossed it later in Thailand. We took the train and bus back to our couchsurfing host's place, packed up and left.
We were all so tired on the train we fell asleep and missed our stop. Luckily theres a bus at the terminal we ended up at back to the one we actually wanted, so we only wasted a little time. Next stop: Kathmandu.
Having not slept much, our travel night to Nepal was nuts. We ended up sleepig on the floor of a food court for a while; I was doing well sleeping with just my towel and earplugs but woke up really cold. Megan just ground it out with a sleeping bag, Tom slept sitting up at a table.
Tom got us some snacks, we checked in through a hoard of people all traveling to New Delhi, and we snoozed more at the gate. Megan and I both slept the whole flight.
I'm gonna gloss over our time in the Indian airport because it was terrible. Inefficient, heavy nihilism, random needless detours-- all that good stuff that comes with a supremely bureaucratic immigration setup. We made it through pretty cranky and hungry. We ate a lot of pringles. We eventually got on the plane to Nepal and out of there.
More shitty sleep, but we arrived i nthe KTH airport with little trouble. Everything was kind of dirty and podunk, and our bags took forever to show up. There was a brief panic when I thought someone had grabbed my bag, but it turns out the guy just had the same model. Osprey bags are super popular over here.
We made it to Kathmandu pretty easily, after fighting our way out of the airport and into a taxi. Tom more or less knew the correct price for a taxi so we were able to avoid getting ripped off. There was a lot of traffic, which was unsurprisngly crazy, and we didn't really know where our hotel was, so we just had the driver drop us off in Thamel.
The people watching was great, and we just needed somewhere to sit and find internet so we walked to a small coffee shop. I had an amazing shot of espresso and managed to locate our hotel. It was nice to just sit there and rest though; internet access is always kind of comforting.
We stashed our stuff, showered, and then went out to wander around. Thamel is basically the place to go if you need to get stuff before trekking, and everything is really cheap because it's all fake. Tom didn't have any real cold weather or trekking gear, and we needed a few things as well, so we browsed and got lost a bit. We found some pretty good burritos for dinner before finally going to sleep. I think I passed right out after traveling all day.
We spent a couple days in Kathmandu, waiting for our flight to Lukla, the most dangerous airport in the world. It wasn't easy to get tickets, since it was more or less peak trekking season. Tom managed to get a flight earlier than us somehow.
We mountain biked, bought some gear, ran and checked out some of the sights. There are a lot of ratty old temples in Kathmandu, but we mostly avoided them since we were in the midst of festival season as well. The crowds were intense, and there were a lot of animal sacrifices going on.
We had one good, long day out on bikes. That ended up being kind of an epic because we got back way after dark and we were both just completely out of it. Kind of grumpy, hungry, tired and dirty. Kathmandu is great for finding roads that seem okay but just turn to utter garbage after a few meters. This kind of wears you down after a while, especially if you've been inhaling garbage fire smoke and getting buzzed by huge trucks all day.
We were in Kathmandu for two days and we made the most of it, but we were in Nepal to trek, and we were gonna trek, damn it. I didn't know anything about Nepal or hiking in it, so Megan naturally highlighted the three passes trek., It's a pretty common (but less common than the annapurna circuit) trek in the Everest Region, and goes up to Everest Basecamp if you want to. The whole loop is about 100 miles long, and you gain about 29,000 feet.
You start in Lukla, and right off the bat we had trouble. Our flight never showed up, or was cancelled, or who knows. We certainly didn't and this sketchy guy at the airport kept trying to cajole us into getting into a helicopter. We eventually did, because our tickets were refunded and the helicopter ticket was only like $25 or so more. We flew with a chinese couple that was in the same situation we were. I've never been in a heli before, so that was pretty exciting. Tom had managed to get on a flight before us and hung out in Lukla all day.
Immediately you're at 9,000 or so feet and if you haven't been acclimatizing, you feel it. I definitely felt it. It was also pretty cold, and Tom wasn't feeling well. We'd later theorize that this was because of the altitude meds he was taking; he stopped taking them later and he got a bit better. We managed to book one of the last available rooms, explored a little bit, ate some dinner and then went to sleep.
The trek started the next day. It's kind of annoying because right off the bat you lose like 1000 feet and have to get it back, and there are a million people that all want to go to Everest Basecamp and they're all walking at wildly different paces, and there are goats and horses and yaks and porters hauling ridiculous loads-- it was annoying to move quickly.
Our group kind of split apart when we realized we walked a lot faster than Tom. He ended up staying the first night at a town a little bit before our destination, and we agreed to meet up the next day in Namche. That first day we walked almost 12 miles and gained 3500 feet. I was definitely feeling it towards the end of the day, I was hot and cold and sweating through my Technical Cotton Layers, and my pack felt terribly heavy. The shortness of breath from the altitude didn't help either.
It was a rough intro (and I was determined not to use trekking poles) but Megan and I made it all the way to Namche, which is the hub of trek. She looked a lot more solid than I felt and she was very excited when we found skittles hidden away on some bottom shelf in a store there, she thoroughly stocked up.
Namche was a good place to stop and wait for Tom, so the next day we hiked up and explored the surrounding areas. There are a few small villages you can quickly gain access to, and some good trailrun-ish things you can do, if you're feeling spicy enough at 10,000+ feet. We explored a bit and randomly met Ferg Hawke, which was fun. He had some great stories to tell about training for the badwater 135.
After panting and slwo-walking up stairs all day, we spent some time in a cafe doing phone stuff and eating spaghetti and pastries. Tom showed up eventually and we went back to the hotel to hang out for a while. We ran into the chinese couple again, and they joined us for an impromptu push-up session in the hotel lobby.
We left Tom and set out the next day, fighting all the way to Tengboche. At some point I'd developed a cold, but I'd figured out how to adjust the straps on my backpack so they weren't awful, and I'd decided to drink way more water than I thought necessary. I tried to put down at least three liters a day, and that helped a lot.
We got to Tengboche but all the rooms were full, so we walked another 20 minutes downhill and stopped at a place named Rivendell, yes, that Rivendell. There were a few plaques explaining the Lord of the Rings reference. It was a pretty nice room. We spent the rest of that day doing laundry in hilariously cold water, playing set, reading and journalling.
It was a cold night, I'd tried to stuff my wet baselayer into the bottom of my bag so it would dry, and it ended up just chilling me all night. The baselayer was not dry in the morning. When we set out, there was frost on the ground. The sun came out eventually and we set into our hiking rhythm, I figured out that shorts and no belt was the winning combo I needed to avoid getting destroyed by my backpack. Life was good.
When we got to Dingboche we had no trouble finding a place to stay, and we found a pretty good room with a nice view. We played chess for a long time in a little cafe with really good veggie burgers. Megan ended up playing some random old man for a really long time and lost. She really got into chess. I hate chess. We spent the evening talking with a guy named Peter, he was on this trek to climb Island Peak, so we talked with him a lot about mountaineering. He had a cold too, we seemed to be at the stratus of the trek where a lot of people had colds or coughs. Megan, of course, was fine.