|02-05-2014, 10:19 PM||#1|
Joined: Jan 2014
Diarrhea, Democracy and the Himalayas - Nepal ride during the 2013 election
It was the first time I heard a bomb go off.
I thought it was a large firework but hints that I was wrong quickly sprung up. No firework in the sky, no follow up, people started running out of their houses while others stayed at their door with children, staring towards where the others were running.
Geographically and politically, a bomb was also far more likely. The city was Pokhara, Nepal, and it was only a few days to the Nepalese Constituent Assembly election that the ruling Maoist party and several others were attempting to boycott.
The Maoist flag with a few others in Kathmandu
They called for a 10-day strike -- a ‘Bandh” -- leading up to the vote and while the Maoist leaders said they were aiming for peaceful protest, they added that if push came to shove, boom.
A few bombs had been going off around the country and several more were found and deactivated. The military was patrolling the highways but protestors sill set a few busses and motorcycles ablaze.
I’d gotten to Nepal about a week earlier, a day before the strike started. I had no idea what was going on, I just wanted to motorcycle through the Himalayas and eat some Nepalese food.
After the bomb went off, something inside of me rumbled, a little bit of fear, some excitement, a dab of adrenaline. I wanted to run over and see what happened, but mostly, I needed to poop.
Some bad mutton Momos didn’t sit well with me and I’d spent the last few days with a fever, curled up with water within a few feet of a squat toilet.
My bowels overrode my curiosity and I clenched up and speedwalked back to my hotel, it was eerily quiet except for the whispering between families gathered outside their doors.
“It’s ok, it’s ok,” the hotel owner said when I got back. “Just, uh, celebration.”
I didn’t care at this point, I was one bad leg movement away from shitting my pants. I made it to the toilet squatted, unleashed and then curled up in my bed. I rehydrated and passed out while watching “Bob’s Burgers.”
View from my room in Pokhara
Sweet, sweet rehydrating water
Just two weeks earlier I was in Amsterdam getting legally high as balls and playing a lot of pinball.
I’d just finished a month-long assignment in Paris and had some time to kill before my next one in India. I hadn’t realized I needed a visa that required applications, embassies, money and bullshit so I started looking for where to get it done in Europe in between joints and pinball.
Then, fresh off a good pinball session and even fresher off a joint, I went to a Nepalese restaurant and had one of the most amazing meals of my life. Nepal is close to India. I looked online, it's easy to get an Indian visa in Nepal. There was also a motorcycle club that rented bikes.
“I’m gonna go to Nepal,” I told my red-eyed friends while we inhaled our food.
“You should,” he said.
So I did.
|03-29-2014, 03:53 AM||#4|
Joined: Jan 2014
My hangover was mostly gone when I landed in Kathmandu.
After the stoned Nepalese feast -- and a few more days of high pinballing and an ecstasy-fueled Halloween party -- I went to Paris to stay on a friend’s couch while I waited for a cheap flight to Nepal.
Everyone pictured is not sober from a mixture of several things
Alex is a professional photographer and full-time eccentric. He’s an Australian by birth, French at heart and drunk by choice.
Always with a flask of whiskey or bottle of wine close by, Alex is either procrastinating, twirling his mustache, working on pictures or exploring the Parisian catacombs.
He’s a cataflic.
While a small portion of the catacombs is open to the public as a museum, the quarries span hundreds of miles across the city and remain largely unexplored.
There is a whole subculture of people that explore and map the catacombs. Cataflics. While it’s technically illegal, police intervention is rare. The only time you have to worry about the French Fuzz is when you’re entering or exiting through the manholes.
When you’re underground, it's all about survival and entertainment. Flashlights, water and maps are essential. Helmets, food, and waist-high waterproof boots are recommended.
And with Alex, whiskey was mandatory.
It was a bizarre experience. We travelled through at a steady pace, swigging whiskey and blasting music out of a tiny set of speakers.
Alex, kneeling and looking at maps while I stare on with clown makeup
Die Antwoord echoed through 18th century walls filled with 20th century graffiti. We went through old German bunkers from WWII and then those from the French resistance. We kept moving and randomly encountered other people who were playing their music and drinking their own drinks.
One of the guys we ran into had been there for days. He was a tall black man with waist-long dreads and he proudly flashed a lighter with an “SS” insignia. Keep moving. Then we stumbled into a group of Parisian youths in another room who were partying.
They shouted through a bullhorn and were mainlining wine. We kept moving. Always moving.
Then we entered a massive room with several crevices for candles and a makeshift chandelier. We lit up the room, had some coca tea and started jabbering to each other about anything and everything.
We found a bottle of wine under a rock and decided to drink it. A gift from the catacombs.
Wine pictured there is not the cave wine
Then another gift came through one of the caverns.
One of the Parisian girls from the other party came over. We kind-of understood each other when we were talking earlier and she apparently wanted some more quasi-communication.
We finished the wine and kept moving.
The girl and I straggled behind the group for a bit, shut off our headlamps and hooked up in complete darkness. It's something I'll have to do again.
When we caught up with the group again Alex was completely done. He vomited a few times and was on the verge of passing out. We rose to the surface and the sun was coming up for its daily performance.
One of the catacombs crews post-catacombing
Alex seemed to regain some consciousness while the girl bolted off without even saying goodbye. To this day I wonder if she was a cave wine/coca tea hallucination and I’d actually just furiously masturbated in the darkness.
We’ll never know.
The rest of the week was more of the same and I also took part in a nude photoshoot.
Whiskey was consumed heavily during the soot
I also went to a filmclub meeting that Alex hosted and met a Russian girl that I spent the next few days drinking wine and fooling around with. I woke up incredibly dehydrated and hungover in her apartment the day of my flight and rushed through an hour of public transportation to make it in time.
A few movies and several naps later, I was in Kathmandu.
I'd also contracted pink eye somehow.
Learning to Ride - Vegas to DC for the 2012 election -- Done
In Country: 10 weeks around Vietnam -- In progress
The Long Commute: CT to Vegas via the TET and TAT -- In progress
Cheeseburner screwed with this post 03-29-2014 at 04:06 AM
|04-08-2014, 02:33 PM||#5|
Joined: Jan 2014
The Nepalese visa was simple, cheap and readily available at the airport.
At the airport, you wait in a fairly long line and need to have a passport picture. I, of course, was not ready, but there was a small booth offering passport photos for 400 rupees ($4).
On top of that I paid €20 for a 15-day visa and was ready to go. The $4-a-night hotel I booked picked me up from the airport for an extra $6 and the Nepalese adventure began.
We bumped along tiny, winding dirt roads, dodging stray dogs and street vendors. Our vehicle was a beat-up, tiny minivan with all the windows rolled down or slid open. The humble vehicle didn’t provide any insulation from poverty that air-conditioned sedans with rattleless chassis usually do.
The road only got slightly better and on the 30-ish minute ride to Thamel, we never seemed to pass through a “nice” side of town.
A street in Thamel
I was dropped off on a dirt street with rundown buildings and thick chunks of power lines that hung low enough to worry tall people with jumping problems.
My hotel was up an alley with stray dogs and strayer children, and aside from the bed bugs, the hotel wasn’t that bad. My room was larger than I expected and had two beds. Two. It turned out to be necessary since I wasn’t prepared for how cold Kathmandu got at night and there was no heating. I doubled up on blankets and medicated my pink eye while I occasionally woke up to smack bed bugs.
A temple thing near the hotel
I woke up the next morning to a loud group of African guys in the room next door. We didn’t really understand each other but we waved and dried our shoes together on the balcony. (My shoes were still wet from the catacombs, I have no fucking idea what they did.)
The other resident I saw was a Nepalese head. I assume there was a body, but I have no proof. He was on the second floor and always kept his door opened and watched TV, completely prone and covered in blankets. I didn’t see him move once the whole time I was there.
The next day, I woke up to an email from the US embassy, warning against large crowds and Nepalese shenanigans. Apparently elections were in less than two weeks and the leading Maoist party -- along with a coalition of 30-something parties -- called for a 10-day strike. They started the strike the following day and ended the day before I left.
Police keeping an eye out for shenanigans
Just in case, I practiced my route to the Indian embassy the next day and gorged on Nepalese food -- momos, thalis, curries, breads, tea -- and bought a bus ticket to Pokhara.
As opposed to the Nepalese one, getting the Indian visa fucking sucked.
Some Buddhist ceremony about something. Candles?
The first step was an online application that needed a digital photo attached to very specific requirements. I heard stories of applications getting rejected for seemingly insignificant mistakes and I didn’t want mine to be one of them.
One question asked you to name the list of countries you’ve been to in the last 10 years but the box only gave you 100 characters. Some people recommended printing and attaching a full list, but the guy who took my visa picture said it didn’t matter.
It didn’t matter.
I got to the embassy 30 minutes before it opened and was still about 20th in line. After you wait in that line you get a number and wait some more. When they do call your number, you rush to the front before they call someone else and pay first -- 7,000 rupees ($70) for a six-month, single-entry for Americans.
They guarantee nothing and tell you to come back in seven business days.
I spent another night at the hotel and almost cried in the morning when I took the coldest shower of my life. I packed my stuff, said goodbye to the bedbugs and took the bus to Pokhara, where I’d heard about the Hearts and Tears motorcycle club.
They offered Royal Enfields, Yamaha RX100s and had cool videos on their website. The place was a huge disappointment though.
Having seen the state of the roads I knew I wanted the RX for the trip. It was advertised as $20/day on their website including gear, insurance and a cell phone. When I got there they told me the Yamahas weren’t for rent, only to give classes.
They asked me if I wanted to take a class on how to ride a motorcycle.
No, I said, I wanted to take that Yamaha and rip through the Himalayas.
They said if I knew how to ride I should rent one of the Enfields. I agreed to take a look and they had a wide selection of 350 and 500 ccs ranging from 1980 - 2009.
I knew Royal Enfields were dirt cheap so I asked how much they were and they gave me a price, $50/day.
“Which one?” I asked.
“All of them.”
I was so confused. How does it...They’re different years and sizes and…what? I finally managed to ask why they were the same price.
“Well they’re all custom painted…”
I tuned out right there and almost walked out. Fucking bullshit. I was spending about $10/day including housing, food and flask booze. Fifty fucking dollars is a fucking Nepalese fortune. Most places didn’t have change for the equivalent of a $10 bill and here these hipster fucks were charging out the ass because they named a bike “Che” and painted a white star on it.
I decided to at least ask them for advice and they tried to sell me there $900+ tours.
After riding a bit more in Asia I encountered these types a lot, I dubbed them “Squidsters.” Like the squid, riding for them is all about style and appearance. They haven’t gone down or know people who’ve gone down for good. They don’t see gear as the life-preserving necessity it is, they see it as ocular litter that stains the picture of two-wheeled, open-minded freedom they have of themselves.
But unlike squids, they’re not out wheelieing or drag racing. They’re driving around in flip flops and are just so open-minded and fucking enlightened that no harm could come there way. They know Nepal, man, so like, they’re not gonna crash.
I had some seriously heated debates with some squidsters and felt like I was losing my mind. One told me he didn’t have to practice hard braking because he never drove in a way that required it. Another guy was trying to convince me that you DON’T use the front break, ever, because you'll flip over.
Someone else agreed with him and I had to walk away so I didn't have a stroke. Fuck those people.
Anyways, I saw some tourists on a Yamaha FZ-S and they told me they got it down by the lake. I walked down and lo-and-behold were about 40 motorcycles and Nepalese guys fighting for your business. I settled on a Yamaha FZ-S that -- besides a broken speedometer -- seemed to be in good condition. The price, after some negotiation, was $5/day. The guy also gave me his number and told me to contact him if anything happened.
I gave him one of my expired passports as collateral and went off testing the bike. I drove across the lake and through a few small towns that day, getting used to the bike and pushing it a bit hard. I also found an great hammock location and ate more momos and drank tropical smoothies for a few bucks.
Hammock by the lake
The next day I woke up early, packed some clothes in my backpack and set off. Pokhara traffic was motorcycle-dominated and a bit of a free-for-all. But aside from constantly reminding myself to stick to the left and pre-planning turns at four-way intersections, things went fairly smooth in the city.
There was only one close call when some little shits kicked a soccer ball into the street and I barely missed the thing. After I got out of there though, bliss. Miles and miles of beautiful asphalt, curving mountain roads and the most amazing mountain scenery I’d ever seen.
My family complained that I was never in any bike pictures so I set the camera on my backpack and gave it a shot. This is something like attempt #10
I really regretted not having a GoPro so I had the genius idea of trying to strap my DSLR to my neck.
It did work but it sucked the battery dry faster than..well..you know, a sponge or something:
The video also automatically cuts off at 10 minutes. I later realized I could save a lot of battery and storage space by not filming in 1080p.
Here's another video until the battery dies:
There was a lot less traffic further west and the towns seemed to be mostly populated by groups of police in blue uniforms with large sticks. There were also several heavily-armed platoons humping up and down the winding mountain roads.
When I stopped for food -- a fish curry on a weird flattened rice that resembled uncooked oatmeal -- the restaurant owner filled me in on the situation a bit. There were a few hardcore Maoists out west and they set fire to a few busses and a bike on the road. The strike organizers called for all traffic to cease except for emergency and tourist-related business vehicles because, you know, the economy and safety and shit.
That’s why almost all the vehicles I saw had “Tourist” printed and pasted on their windshield. I even saw a few motorcycles that had the same thing. I kept driving, went through some amazing mountain/rock formations and decided to call it an early day when I saw a guest house.
They also had mutton momos and I couldn’t resist.
I felt a bit queasy after the first one but I assumed it was because I was full. Then I had the second one and realized shit was about to get rough.
Or really liquid.
I spent the night with a fever spewing out of a few holes. A few days before I ate a pancake with four hairs in it and I thought I was invincible. Stupid bastard.
I felt a bit better the next morning and loaded up on fluids and sugar to try to make it back to Pokhara. The strike, the lack of proper gear and now incessant feci and vomitus was too much. The trip came to an early end.
The way back took a bit longer do to the handful of poop stops and I got to Pokhara a bit past sundown. I parked and went to the store to load up on fluids and easily-digestible snacks.
It was dark by the time I was walking back to my room. That’s when the bomb went off.
|04-12-2014, 12:39 PM||#7|
Joined: Jan 2014
The bomb went off west and a bit north of where I was staying. A few people ran to go see what was going on and I was nervous and weirdly excited. I wanted to go see.
Mostly though, I wanted to poop.
I spent the next few days curled up in a ball watching “Bob’s Burgers,” recovering and writing. By the time I was back on momos -- no mutton though -- it was time to drop off the bike and head back to Kathmandu.
My hotel neighbor -- a very tall, very lanky German in his mid-30s -- was taking the same bus and we shared a cab. He was also dealing with his Indian visa and had the same return date I did.
We ran into each other again at the embassy the next morning along with a few other embassy friends he’d met earlier. One of them, a scraggly Polish man with a half-foot beard and few empty plastic 1-liter water bottles.
We asked him why he had them he told us we’d see. When the doors opened and the line of immigrants shuffled into the embassy, our bearded friend went and filled up his bottles with drinkable water from the embassy. Tap water in Nepal is, for lack of a better word, deadly.
It was budget traveling at its finest.
My visa was approved and in my passport but for some reason, I had to pick it up in two days. It’s usually one day wait, but the elections were the following day.
I had to do some online work the next day and was looking up news on the election. In the early afternoon I read that a bomb went off at a polling station about 1.5 miles south from where I was at.
It wasn’t much of a bomb as the kid who found it and picked it up only lost three fingers. I was really annoyed by it for some reason. Bullies. Cowards. Fucks. The CPN-M Maoists later admitted they planted bombs across the country but everyone knew it was them at the time. They’d had their chance at power. They were given multiple opportunities to draft a constitution but multiple parties accused them of trying to consolidate power.
The Maoists denied it, but their nationwide strike and intimidating violence to boycott democratic elections kind of proved otherwise. In their eyes though, they were the victims. Poor ruling party, victim to other parties and foreign saboteurs plotting against them. Everyone and everything was at fault except their own ineptitude and greed.
History, over and over again in different backgrounds. This time, the Himalayas. Who knows how long it’ll take Nepal to work their shit out, but with a 78 percent voter turnout, things look promising.
The Maosists were bumped back to third and even the CPN-M bomb was a testament to the Maoist’s incompetence. A few boys found the bomb and the one that picked it up lost a few fingers. No deaths.
I wanted to cast a vote in defiance to these assholes but my lack of Nepaliaty prevented that. Several other people were though, giving them a strong fuck you in the form of a ballot. Two elderly people even died right after casting their vote.
I took my camera and went to a few polling stations so others can see the strong finger of the Nepalese people. You can never have enough reminders of the power that people actually have, especially here in America.
It was only about an hour after the bomb went off and I only had a few hours before my next online assignment. Traffic was almost non-existent except for military vehicles and the random car. Instead, foot soldiers were firmly planted across the city, a stark contrast from the constant flow of people usually scurrying around Kathmandu.
The air was incredibly intense at first, but as the day progressed without any further incidents, the mode lightened up and some of the bustle returned to the city.
Democracy: 1 Bastards: 0
Some party posters:
Soldiers on the street:
A car drove by and backfired when I was taking the picture and I nearly shit my pants
Polling station #1, Saraswati Campus
Welcome to the polling station
On the way to the second polling station:
Nepalese media getting some B-roll
Some old Nepalese woman who was mumbling and yelling at no one and everyone
Sad-looking soldier about 30 yards away from the second polling station
Polling station 2
I can't read Nepalese, but I assume it means no violent protests or uprisings
You can't vote, democracy's not for cows.
A guy was riding by the polling station with a bag of meat that tore and spilled across the street...
...it only took a minute for someone to come and pick the meat up off the floor. There was some extreme poverty there.
Polling station #3
Kantipur journalists were pretty badass, they have a history of getting beat up by police and protestors alike. Always in the thick of it.
I went to the embassy the next day and they handed out the first batch of passports. Mine wasn't in it.
I had a flight to India in a few hours and was starting to get a bit nervous.
They called the group of people who didn't get their passports and either gave them out or told them to come back at 5pm. My flight was at 4.
I was incredibly relieved when they gave mine back. I went to the airport and took a flight to India. I didn't ride a bike in India but then I went to Vietnam and did 4,500kms in about 2 1/2 months.
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