It was a long few days of travel. After learning that a typhoon was headed for Hong Kong, canceling our connecting flight, Alex scrambled to find alternative flights – and did a remarkable job saving our backs while we continued our orientation workshops, oblivious.
Part of our amended travel plans included backtracking to Chicago O’Hare, three hours East in an ultimately westward journey, before a connection in Tokyo and then flying to Bangkok and finally Kathmandu. When all was said and done, we traveled more than halfway across the world. I think.
The first leg to Chicago required a difficult wake-up time of 3:30-4:00 AM for most of us, and the lucky ones were able to snag another few minutes of sleep between Estes Park and the Denver Airport.
After a second breakfast at O’Hare, we boarded a 13 hour flight to Tokyo, which we discovered was time for roughly five movies and a short nap – or one really long nap.
Tokyo had the best airport food that I’ve ever eaten, and snacks ranged from sushi and noodles to chocolate strawberry mochi and sake-flavored KitKats. This was also our first opportunity to experience bidets and self-cleaning toilets which most of us rated a solid 12/10.
Next stop was Bangkok, after another 7 seven hours of alternated movies and snoozies. Entering the airport, Will almost lost his beloved Melodica, a breath-powered instrument with piano-like keys that has been the soundtrack of the trip so far. We settled in for a 5ish hour layover; some played bananagrams, some napped, some enjoyed Pad Thai and massages, and almost everyone bought $1 Thai essential oil inhalers that have proved to be a staple of the trip. If you parents see photos of your children with strange objects stuffed up their noses, rest easy, it’s (probably) eucalyptus.
The last flight from Bangkok to Kathmandu was far shorter than the previous two, and the Thai Air plane seats were festive and colorful. Flying into Kathmandu, we could see snow-covered mountaintops peaking above the clouds. As we dipped under the cloud line, the hazy outlines of the foothills were visible in the distance and the city below sprawled as far as the eye could see.
Traveling was exhausting, and the time differences didn’t help. If asked what time or date it was during any part of the trip I probably would have shrugged – and fallen back asleep. Much of it felt like a limbo, just waiting for the reality of the trip to hit, but we filled the downtime with games and laughter and became close friends along the way.
In Kathmandu it has begun to feel real. The city is bustling and lively, at times overwhelming for even those in the group from Chicago and other cities considered busy by American standards. The streets are packed with motorcycles, cars, buses, and trucks of all sizes, as well as bicycle rickshaws and heavy foot traffic. There are no stoplights or crosswalks, and the seemingly truant laws of the road can be summed up as “big eats small” – so walking on foot requires constant awareness of all of your surroundings.
We arrived by plane around noon, and after taking a taxi to our hostel – the “Monumental Paradise” – we had the afternoon to explore before dinner as a group. Most of us were feeling the jet lag, and by 6:30 were struggling to keep our eyes open.
Today we had breakfast on our own in small groups – I enjoyed a hot ginger lemon tea – and then the whole team bargained for bicycle rickshaws and we made our way together to the Monkey Temple, a combined place of prayer for both Buddhist and Hindu worship. Standing regally and hundreds of steps above the rest of the city, it’s a breathtaking building, the grounds teeming with street vendors and, eponymously, packs of monkeys playing in the sun and waiting for an unwitting tourist to drop a scrap of food. Traditional prayer flags float above the whole square, stretching from the temple’s peak to the surrounding trees and buildings. We wandered around, taking in the sights, some of us purchasing paintings and coconut water and others getting tours from friendly locals.
The rest of the day was spent wandering back into the city toward our neighborhood, stopping along the way for snacks or supplies in preparation for the workshops that we will be running in local schools during our home-stays this week. We’ve been enjoying mo mos, traditional dumplings, for the past couple of days and tonight I had a delicious curry at a nearby restaurant. As I finish writing this, most of the group is heading to bed – still feeling the effects of our travels – and we have big days ahead with our first homestay. We are beyond elated to be here, and above all the jet lag and exhaustion, we’re healthy and happy and excited for the next stage of the journey.