Ina, are we going to die?

I love driving. I adore it. Anyone of my friends can easily vouch for that. For years I have been a designated driver wherever we went. I drove around US, Europe, and all without complaining. One summer I drove 10 hours straight in one direction with my cousin to spend 5 days with a friend in Monte Negro. I am lucky because most of the people were willing to let me drive and were happy being passengers and navigators. Mr.B. is one of them. He despises driving. Before he met me he thought road trips were punishments sent straight from hell. I proved him wrong and showed him that life on the road can be lots of fun, and most of the time he gladly agreed on me taking over the wheel.

I had a hard time saying goodbye to my lovely car when leaving Croatia. My red bolt served me so well for so many years, so I was sad to be leaving it. I knew that once I come to Kathmandu I will not be driving for a while. For two very obvious reasons: 1. the steering wheel is on the wrong side of the car; 2. traffic in Kathmandu is insane. Slowly, with time, I adjusted to cars driving on the opposite side of the road than the one I am used to, but I still have issues with my left hand being too uncoordinated for changing gears. I have already, so many times, on this blog mentioned that traffic here is crazy that I think this blog’s name should be changed to “The Traffic of Kathmandu”, but you have no idea how insane things are here. Everyone drives however they want to, and wherever they want to. One lane can easily turn into five and in 100 meters narrow down to two and without any obvious reasons. Dogs and people appear out of nowhere completely oblivious to the buzzing traffic. There’s trash and potholes, and sometimes discarded clothes lying in the middle of the road, and at night you never know what it might be. People jump over concrete divider blocks on the highway and buses change lanes without giving signal. Taxis swerve left and right, and most of the time drive in the middle of the road so you cannot go around them. Motorbikes come from all directions milling around the car like a bunch of ants. To drive in Kathmandu is an overload for all the senses.

Look, this car has a defect! Its stirring wheel is on the wrong side!

Look, this car has a defect! Its steering wheel is on the wrong side!

I have been determined to practice my driving here. First time I sat in the car and drove was a bit problematic. I was scared and couldn’t really change gears easily. I kept driving too close to the side of the road and many a time got stuck behind a slow driving vehicle because I was too scared to overtake. Mr.B. was scared like nothing. He was so tensed I was just waiting for the famous line once told by an old friend while in a go-kart: Ina, are we going to die?

Last night after spending an evening with friends, Mr.B. and I decided I should drive home. It was unexpectedly pleasant and successful. I drove with ease! It probably had something to do with the fact no one was out in the street. I was so confident that at one point I was driving in fourth gear! OK, so that doesn’t sound like much, but let me assure you that driving in fourth gear in Kathmandu is a big deal for me. Now if I could only get out during the day and actually experience driving in Kathmandu traffic, I’d be golden. But that will have to hold off until we cover the car in bubble wrap.

The only two things I don’t eat for breakfast are lunch and dinner

Before traveling to Nepal for the very first time, back in 2011, I was kind of worried about the food I would eat there. My first days were spent carefully placing each bite of food in my mouth, constantly expecting to get violently sick. It never happened. I was healthy throughout the trip. I was also happy to find out my mother in law cooks very tasty food, and just for me, she avoided using too much chili. Food was amazing (and still is).

Coming to Nepal for the second time, I felt much more confident I will enjoy the food scene here. I was more willing to go out and explore restaurants and different types of food. I shamelessly devoured all my mother in law cooked. I would’ve done the same with mangos, but they were not in season then.

This time around I hardly ever think of getting sick. I do think twice before I eat out, and try to pick places that seem sanitary. I always jump with joy when I see another foreigner sitting in the same restaurant. The other day was my first day not to drink bottled water in a restaurant. Well, actually, let me take that back. It still was bottled water, it just came from a big jug, a water dispenser. I drink that water at home, but when I go out I always order bottled water (conveniently called mineral water here, no idea why) and open it myself at the table. Well, I ventured out and drank the jug water. I am so wild.

Anyways, I intended this post to be about food, so here it comes. As mentioned, my mother in law cooks very tasty food. Every morning before she leaves for work she spends time in the kitchen preparing lunch. Or actually it’s more of a breakfast. Well, breakfast for her and Mr.B. and lunch for me. They eat the whole DBT deal early in the morning, whereas I choose to stick with toast or oatmeal for my early trips to the kitchen.

Daal-bhaat-tarkari (DBT) is the staple food of Nepal. Everyone knows that. For those who don’t, daal stands for lentils, bhaat for rice, and tarkari for vegetables. So in short, every Nepali meal consists of a heaping serving of rice, lentil soup and various vegetables. Sometime there is meat on the menu, but now that the bird flu is claiming lives of innocent chicken, meat has been an even rarer commodity. I don’t miss it much. I am realizing that I could easily become vegetarian, especially here where the varieties of vegetable are bountiful.

One of the all-time favorites on my “favorite vegetable to eat in Nepal cooked by mother in law” list is pumpkin.  You can see it on the picture below. It’s the orange mash. It’s followed by okra in any form or shape, and zucchini. The other day was a holiday here in Nepal which apparently marked the end of summer and first day of winter. On that occasion a soup has been made. And not just any soup. It was a sprouty bean soup. A variety of beans have been soaked in water and then left for some days to grow small sprouts. After that it was made into a soup. A delicious soup that I had today again (for the fourth time in the past three days I believe).

I know you want this

I know you want this

Sometimes I get so tired of eating rice every single day. I wonder how Nepalis do it. On those days I cook my staple food – pasta, or potatoes. But who wants to read about that. This is, after all, a post about Nepali food. Nepalis traditionally eat their food from brass plates (like the one in picture 1) and with their hands. I have to mention though, food, and especially rice, is piping hot so really their hand eating habit is quite impressive. I always choose the fork. Or a spoon, depending on availability.

Look at that - almost all the favorites on one plate

Look at that – almost all the favorites on one plate

There is, naturally, Nepali food I don’t particularly enjoy. But I’ll save that some other post. Right now, I’ll just savor the taste of the sprouty soup. Is there a Nepali expression for Bon Appetite? If so, insert here.

Weather, you fraudster, you!

Let me tell you something about the weather in Nepal during summer months; during monsoon. It’s tricky, that bastard. Always on a mission to fool me over. One minute the sun is shining and there is no single cloud in the sky. The next minute, and I mean this in a literal way, the very next minute, rain is pouring like there’s no tomorrow. When I’m getting ready to go out I look out the window and see sunny beautiful weather perfect for those white pants and flip flops. Before I even manage to open my closet, the apocalypse has come and dumped all of its water on Kathmandu.

Last week Mr.B. and I set off to meet a friend for lunch (hello Doctor!). Weather was beautiful! It was so hot, so sunny and wonderful and it made me wanna stroll down the street and hum songs about spring. Which obviously I didn’t do. But what I did, stupidly, was put on my white pants. And my flip flops. Now, white pants in Kathmandu are never a good choice, even in the driest of weather, but I was willing to risk it seeing that I would only be walking from the car to the restaurant and back. What I didn’t count on was the sneaky weather. As soon as we got in the car and set off for the city, rain started sprinkling. I was still keeping my hopes high and when it was still dry by the time we reached the restaurant, I thought I was lucky. Oh how stupid of me to think that way! Half way through our meal rain started pouring. Buckets. And it didn’t stop for couple of hours during which we had several appetizers, main course and two desserts. After a while staying in the restaurant just became old (and a bit expensive too) so we decided to risk it and run to the car. We had a 10 minute walk to the parking lot, mind you, so it definitely wasn’t a short run. Of course, we had no umbrella. We left it in the car, because that’s what people do in the monsoon. They leave the umbrella in the car and walk around looking like wet dogs.

Don't be fooled - the weather might seem nice, but it's really only waiting for you to put on your best outfit

Don’t be fooled – the weather might seem nice, but it’s really only waiting for you to put on your best outfit

Rain was still pouring and I said goodbye to my hair and make up before stepping out of the restaurant, but I forgot that my flip flops, flip flop a lot. More than the average flip flops. By the time we reached the car Mr.B. was contemplating letting me get in the car because my pants were bound to dirty up the seats. Now that I think of it, he didn’t say what the alternative would be. I wonder whether he wanted me to take the pants off before getting in the car or taking public transportation. Anyways, none of the above happened and we arrived home wet and dirty, with clean car seats. When I took off my clothes I realized that I was muddy all the way to the half of my back. I really need to reconsider my walking style. Something must we wrong with my legs.

Our Didi was “happy” when she saw my white pants all stained, but I gave her a look of desperation (I might’ve even teared up a bit) in hopes she would pity me and wash my pants without getting too angry for all the scrubbing she needed to do. Pants are now all clean and white again, and even though it’s sunny and nice outside right now, I will burry these pants deep in my closet and not take them out until summer time in Croatia. Weather here is a sneaky devil.

Traveling differently

I was recently approached by a startup company asking me whether I would like to help them promote their new and unique travel concept bringing together locals and travelers. I, having a background in tourism, couldn’t resist not sharing this concept. It’s definitely different and interesting and possibly worth trying out. Read their story for yourself and see whether you’d like to try it out, either as a local offering the service, or a tourist receiving the aforementioned service.

“Local talents

Similar tourist traps and millions of other tourists on your journey, but no local to be found. Sounds familiar? Often when people are traveling abroad, they simply follow their tourism handbook or buy a standard tour at a big travel agency. But all this is so 2012! In the past, the holiday was intended to relax and get rest. In the upcoming years, we want to become global citizens. We want to experience the other cultures and develop ourselves during the trip. Only seeing the popular attractions like the Boudhanath Stupa and Swayambhunath Stupa in Kathmandu are not enough anymore. We are becoming more curious and want to meet the real locals on our trip. How cool would it be if we can just book our local tour guide directly?

article roofs kathmandu1

Withlocals, a new organization, aims to connect travelers and locals directly. They want to facilitate people to be able to use their own knowledge and skills for building a better life. This is done by removing the intervention of big tourism agencies, and providing opportunities to the locals.

article roofs kathmandu3

Now what does this all mean? Basically,  the locals can offer tourists unique experiences, such as a wood carving class, a class on how to milk a cow, a food market tour or a visit to a local school. They can also invite travelers for a dinner at their family’s home and teach them how to prepare local dishes. It would be great if we can just knock on the door of a local to join his family for an authentic dinner. After all, the best cooks in the world are our moms, right? article roofs kathmandu2In this way, tourists get a chance to experience the culture of a city they are visiting from a local perspective. At the same time, the local population receives an honest price for something they do daily, since they can set their own prices for the various tours, activities and home-dinner experiences.

Got enthusiastic? In September, Withlocals will launch in Nepal for a small group of tourists and locals. Check out the website for more information and become part of this new exciting way of travelling.”

*Please be aware that I am in no way associated with this company or their concept. If you have any concerns or inquiries, refer to their website.

Early to bed and early to rise, makes you… cranky?

Happy or cranky, that is the question

Happy or cranky, that is the question

Every single morning I get surprised by the flurry of activity happening around here from the early dawn. It starts with birds chirping and dogs barking and goes on to more intense stuff. It makes me baffled. Because when I say early dawn, that’s exactly what I mean – early dawn. You know the time when you are having the best dreams of the night. The time when you accidentally wake up, look at the clock and realize you still got two more beautiful hours of sleep before needing to get up for work. The time I thought was illegal for anyone to be up. Yup, 5 am. Believe it or not, people around here get up at 5 am. The pressure cookers start whistling all over the neighborhood, motorcycles buzz in the streets, and children laugh happily. I thought children hated getting up early. I thought children loved to sleep as long as they possibly can. Nepal is challenging all I ever knew.

Now, you would (wrongly) assume that people around here get up early because they start working at 6 am. No. That’s not the case. Offices and schools here open at around 9:30 am. So what do people do from the ungodly hour of 5, till 9:30 when their work starts. They drink tea, then cook their morning serving of daal-bhat (hence the pressure cookers), they (maybe) work out, clean up, eat and off they go. Still, I see no need for getting up that early, but, to each his own. I sleep like a lazy foreigner until 7:30.

One of my “favorite” activities to hear my neighbors do in the morning is sweeping. It wakes me up every single day at 6 am on the dot. Whoosh, whoosh, whoosh… Neighbor’s helper sweeps every day, no exception, right underneath my window. I am confident that in couple of months she will completely wear out the stones there. I wonder what’s there to sweep every day. Yes, Kathmandu is dusty and all, and they do have a dog, but seriously, every day!? In my humble opinion, every second day would do, but who am I to say that. What do I know of sweeping practices in Nepal? Sometimes she even splashes water and then sweeps the yard, despite the fact it rains almost every night, all night long. Their yard must be sparkling. I need to have a peek one of these days. Who knows, maybe it reveals the secrets of Nepali early risers.