The Beauty in the Chaos

We arrived in Nepal almost a week ago. Having talked about this trip for so long, Dean had set my expectations and highlighted some of the differences in culture. We hopped out on the dark tarmac at 10pm, being one of the last people to deboard the plane and were greeted in the airport by a long line to use one of the 5 automated machines for our visas, followed by an even longer line to pay our $40 (note the American currency instead of the Nepalese rupee) per person entry fee. If you know me, you know that I am an extremely efficient person who follows the rules and hates to waste time. But I settled in for some good people watching and we made it through with very little hassle.

Driving through the city, we were rewarded with a city adorned with decorations for the Nepali Hindu festival of Tihar. The most common of the decorations being assorted colored lights strung down the facade of most every building. Our ride to the hotel was quiet and quick as everyone was at home and the roads clear of traffic due to the Tihar celebrations. On arriving to our hotel we quickly collapsed into a deep sleep.

Waking up early the next morning, we had the city to ourselves with a few other early risers as we meandered through Thamel, the tourist quarter of Kathmandu. It appeared that every other shop was a trekking outfitter, cashmere supplier or art (read: tchotchke) dealer. Obviously, this area is prepared to take advantage of every tourist dollar available and ensure that you don’t leave wanting for any souvenir that Nepal can provide. 

Later in the day, we had the opportunity to leave the tourist quarter and see an older part of the city around Durbar Square. Dean’s friend Sushil had arranged for us to attend a Bhai Tika ceremony, the last ceremony of the 5 day festival of Tihar at his friend Narbottom’s house. Here’s the thing about travel, you try to make connections with people and learn about their culture but often you only touch the surface. We had the good fortune to delve a little deeper while waiting for 4 hours with Narbottom’s daughter, Namrata, and nieces, Samata and Sachita. We had the opportunity to ask an unlimited amount of questions about their lives and the Nawari culture. I hope they didn’t feel that I was grilling them, but I couldn’t help but be curious. We learned a lot about each other that afternoon, and more importantly, we found that we have a lot in common.

Toward 5:00 in the evening, both Dean and I were fading from jet lag, amplified by sitting in a warm room for several hours. Fortunately, we were soon shown the family’s rooftop terrace with a view across the city to Swyambunath Stuppa, more typically called the Monkey Temple. Invigorated by a cool breeze and the imminent promise of the Bhai Tika ceremony, we both were able to perk up. 

The ceremony is something that I will never forget as long as I live. Dean was asked to sit next to the three brothers of the family and was effectively worshipped as one of the family’s own siblings. We were given special foods that are typically cooked by the family’s ethnic group (Newar); lung, liver, prawns, mutton curry, and homemade yogurt were only a few of the delicacies on our plate. The love demonstrated within their family and the hospitality they showed us was unforgettable. This ceremony and the gracious hospitality served as a reminder for why we continue to travel – a chance to connect, learn, and share experiences with one another. 

I was flying high after our experience, especially after pictures with the entire family and after a nighttime stroll back to our hotel, through the old city with the family’s three daughters as our local guides. This feeling spilled over to the next day as we woke up early to go to Swayambunath Stuppa, the Monkey Temple. As we navigated through the busy streets of Kathmandu, we could tell that Tihar was over; the roads were crowded with cars & motorbikes adding to an ever growing reddish haze of dust and exhaust. When we arrived at the bottom of the hill to climb to the temple, I was shocked at the amount of litter discarded in the open spaces and the smell of rotten garbage. It was overwhelming and, I’m ashamed to say it, deflating. Here I was, feeling so high after the previous night’s once in a lifetime experience, and the scene of squalor sent me into a state of disgust. How can people live like this? How can they desecrate what is supposed to be a holy place with what appeared to be pure ambivalence? 

My feelings increased as we made our trip to the top of the the stuppa, the disarray worsened with trash thrown unconcernedly on the ground, street dogs with open wounds, and monkeys eating rice and other sacrifices from in front of the temples. It took two rounds of the stuppa and roughly 15 minutes of standing by myself, watching those around me, before I could finally start to find some calm. A little boy was walking in front of a group of adults, making their way around the stuppa, spinning the prayer wheels as part of their devotions. He smiled at me. His smile was so genuine, it was disarming. In that moment, I could tune out the noise, pollution, and wounded animals to just be a person, smiling back.

A seed of empathy was planted and on the way down the stairs, Dean and I talked about the challenges of the Nepalese people who culturally are still in a transition from historically biodegradable garbage to the modern world of packaging. I’m sure there’s more complexity to the issue but I can’t help but wonder if the pollution and garbage is normalized and perceived by the citizens as simply a part of life. Does that make the stuppa any less awe inspiring? Or people’s devotions any less holy? Or that little boy’s smile any less authentic?

During the 45 minute walk back to the hotel through the outskirts of the city, instead of looking at the trash, pollution, and squalor, I looked at the people. Men, sitting in a group laughing. Women taking care of their children. Tourists actively taking in sights that are so different than those they see at home. And I remembered that which yesterday, was so apparent to me; we’re all people living our lives and our similarities often are much greater than our differences.

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23 Hours in Singapore

After what can safely be classified as the most brutal flight of my life (well, so far), we made it to Singapore last night at 7:00 in the evening. Our flight to Kathmandu didn’t fly out until 6:20pm the following day, leaving us to decide, via a long back and forth discussion, if it was actually worth leaving the airport to go into the city and get a hotel room.

Apparently back in his college years, Dean has spent long layovers in the airport and finding a chair, bench, or in some cases floor, crash on for the evening. While I’m always up for some urban camping, sleeping on the floor of an airport is not the way I wanted to kick off this trip. So we compromised with a cheap hotel room in Chinatown, located a quick 10 minute walk from the metro station.

Unfortunately, I hadn’t consider the shape we’d be in after a 16 hour flight (the longest I’ve ever done), which included the soul-crushing screams of four small children in a 7 row cabin. This, compounded by the fact that there was a single drink service during dinner (one glass of wine each), meant that sleep was impossible and we deboarded the plane feeling like the walking dead.

Somehow, we navigated Immigration and Customs, only had one small hiccup in getting on the train, and walked through the night market to our hotel. We crashed at 10:00pm after 22 hours of being awake and slept for a full night on local time (traveling score!).

The best thing about waking up at 6:00am is that you often have the city to yourself, beating other tourists and sometimes locals to breakfast and the coolest sites. We noticed this in Paris last year, when we were awake and getting coffee & quiches at the local patisserie to eat on the steps of Notre Dame as the sun was rising, with only a few other people to share the glory of the moment.

This morning was no different. I spent a few minutes on Yelp, finding a coffee shop that was both open early and had something on the menu that I could eat. Since the local breakfast fair is soft cooked eggs and toast, spread with butter and kaya jam, I struggled as it’s physically impossible for me to eat an egg with a soft yoke (I know it’s weird ok – I just can’t do it). But was lucky to get 2 large pork bao buns and some strong coffee (yes!).

We then decided to hit up one of the major attractions in Chinatown, the Buddha Tooth Relic Buddhist temple. What a treat! We arrived in the middle of a daily devotional that meant the entire sanctuary was filled with monks and worshippers chanting. It was unreal, walking through this beautiful building that had so much beauty and detail, while hearing mesmerizing chants.

We found another sacred room on the third level, complete with meditation platforms and a golden stupa containing one of Buddha’s canine teeth. From there we climbed to a roof top garden that we shared with a singular old man who was reading something on his iPad. Standing there, in front of a massive prayer wheel that rang a small bell, it was difficult to remember that there is a bustling metropolis just beyond the walls and that this peaceful, awe-inspiring feeling wouldn’t last.

I came out of my awestruck fog once the ceremony ended and we walked out of the temple. We then spent the next three hours, walking around downtown Singapore, checking out cool buildings and the riverfront Esplanade park system. That’s one thing I really love about Dean. We don’t need to always have a plan and he can be perfectly content, walking around, looking at cool architecture, and going into the occasional coffee house or concert venue. I realize that my lack of research and planning means that we might miss something super cool during our travels, and I’ve made a commitment to doing a better job prior to getting to new places, but this morning, it just felt right to wander.

We headed back to the hotel for a quick shower (I was soaked in sweat), and a trip to the Michelin starred food stall that earned it’s prestigious award with chicken rice (a Singapore specialty). After checking the location on Google Maps (a mere two blocks from our hotel), we managed to walk up the street without finding it. Now, the cool thing about Smith Street or Food Street as it’s known, is that it’s closed down to traffic and filled, right, left, and middle with food stalls and tables. Normally, I would walk through this hubbub, checking out the stall offerings and most likely, other people’s meals to identify what I want to eat. But we had a plan to find this particular food stall, so the search continued.

On a whim, I decided to take us into the China Market, a HUGE building loaded with individual stalls selling anything you can imagine from underwear to shark fin. Up an escalator, we found ourselves in a place similar to what I imagine heaven to be – a whole story of the building dedicated to food stalls! Like a huge mall food court, but the stalls are packed side by side every ten feet, displaying their different menu wares via picture boards and glass fronted display cases. Obviously, we had to explore and wouldn’t you know, we stumbled across the food stall for the famous Hong Kong Soya Sauce Noodle, our Michelin starred holy grail.

Who knew something so simple as chicken and rice could be so amazing AND cheap – $4.00 Singapore dollars paid for meals. That’s $2.94 US (be still my heart!). After spending $4.00 for fresh pineapple and watermelon juice, we headed to the metro station to hop a train to the airport.

If the last 6 hours is any indication of the possibilities of Singapore, we’ll definitely try to make it back to this beautiful city. And this time, I’ll do some research!

 

 

I Brought Too Much Stuff… The Challenges Of Packing For A Year On The Road

We are officially homeless. After handing over the keys to the house on Friday, we headed up to Wyoming to spend a week with family before flying to San Francisco for 4 days to spend some time with one of the most fun-loving and awesome people I know (have you met Ilsa?!), before heading to Kathmandu on the 18th.

Last night with bottle of wine in hand, Dean and I laid out our entire inventory of clothes, medical supplies, toiletries, electronics, and food (cause, you know, I get hungry). After getting all of my things organized between my backpack as well as my daypack, I realized…. I have WAY too much stuff.

Every travel blogger writes about this dilemma with varying opinions on how to maximize space and minimize the amount of stuff that you feel you need. Remember, you have to carry all of that tonnage on your back for 10 months.

Trust me, I’ve gone through my inventory five times now and I have done a good job (I feel) of removing unnecessary items. Then again, I’ve added quite a few others. Because when you’re leaving for an extended period of time, with a loose agenda and the need to be prepared for different seasons, you just don’t know what you can afford to leave at home.

Packed in my Gregory Jade 63 backpack are:

Underwear/Socks
7 Patagonia & ExOfficio underwear
3 Lululemon sport bras
6 SmartWool hiking socks
2 Hanes no show athletic socks

Beach
1 bikini top
1 Athleta swim short
1 rash guard
1 Athleta capri dive pants
1 Athleta Pack Anywhere dress

Shoes
1 Soloman hiking boots
1 red canvas Toms
1 black Chaco’s sandals (I’m officially a hippy, and I like it!)
1 Nike sneaker

Clothes
2 Athleta tank tops
3 GapBody vneck Tshirts
1 FreeFly long sleeve Henley hoodie
1 Athleta Viva pants
1 Prana technical pants
1 Athleta ¾ tights
2 Lululemon shorts

Cold weather
1 Marmot rain jacket
1 Patagonia base layer
1 Under Armor base layer
1 Patagonia down sweater coat
1 Lululemon vinyasa scarf
1 Athleta fleece lined tights
1 set of gloves and a beanie
1 REI Lyra 24 sleeping bag (we need for those cold nights in Nepal)

Accessories
1 scuba mask, watch & box
1 toiletry bag
1 dry bag (for scuba diving & laundry)
2 luggage locks and floss
2 large Ziploc bags of RX bars, Epic bars and Larabars (again, to combat hanger on the        trail)
1 large pack of Huggies baby wipes
2 rolls of toilet paper (Dean recommended this as TP in Nepal is likened to butcher             paper)

You’ll notice from the pictures (that I took on my in-laws covered pool table), that I have everything separated into smaller bags or packing cubes. I learned about the awesomeness of packing cubes last year, when I traveled 23 out of 52 weeks for my job at Softchoice (hello gold status!). Having the option to segregate my work clothes, gym attire, and casual clothes to different compartments within my carryon rolling suitcase made the packing for the regular journeys stress-free and I’m hoping for a similar experience as we load & unload daily while trekking to Everest base camp in Nepal.

You’ll probably also notice that almost all of my clothes are comprised of Athleta, Gap, Lululemon, and Patagonia brands. Yes, I like expensive clothes but also, I try to purchase clothes that I feel are well made and going to last. I particularly love Patagonia as I had a down sweater coat purchased in 2011 that developed a hole in the sleeve two days before heading to Toronto in January (during one of the coldest, soul-crushing winters in Canadian history – or so it felt to me). I took the coat into the Denver store and they put a patch on the hole. When the patch started to seperate a month later, they had me come in to exchange for a new coat. That’s right – 6 years after I bought the original coat, I got a new one for no charge! You just can’t find that kind of customer service any longer and I’m extremely loyal (and open for sponsorship opportunities – call me!).

I’ve included a picture of an empty bag as well as fully packed (roughly 35 – 40lbs). I have no doubt that I’ve over packed, and will hopefully be able to identify what items are absolutely necessary over the coming weeks/months.

For my carry-on bag, I purchased an Osprey Talon 22 with Camelback. Mostly so that I can have a daypack with hydration while on the trail, but also for use when traveling or to keep important items on my person. Listed below are the items that I currently have in my daypack:

1 Apple iPad with Bluetooth keyboard (so I can keep up with my writing and internet surfing)
1 toiletry bag with prescriptions and other medications
Snacks!
1 headlamp
2 Yoga tune up balls, 1 large rolling ball, and 1 Voodoo band (for body care)
Wet wipes and face wipes (for use on long flights)
1 cribbage board and 2 decks of cards
Assorted charging cables for all electronic devices
Noise cancelling headphones and Bluetooth headphones (just in case one dies)
Ear plugs, sleep mask (absolutely essential for long flights and sleeping in hostels)
Toiletries for flights – brush, toothbrush, deodorant, face lotion, dental floss, antibacterial spray
1 Patagonia hat

And lastly, I have a luggage lock that I somehow seemed to randomly set the combination and now can’t open. My mission on our 14 hour flight to Singapore is to try every combination starting at 000. I will not be defeated!

 

Preparations for the Journey

Here we are. T minus two weeks until we leave Denver and head off on our 10 month tour! Technically we only have 4 more days to finish packing the house and getting everything ready to leave as our renter moves in on Saturday! Meaning that bags have to be packed and ready to go while everything else is packed into storage by Friday morning…. What?!

To me, it feels like we’re blasting off, leaving behind our world of comfort and the life that we’ve both spent years building, to head out to the great unknown. Luckily, I finished working on September 1st, leaving me with just over a month to get all of our affairs in order. Unfortunately for Dean, he doesn’t finish work until Friday – yep, the same day that we have to be out of the house and leave for Wyoming to say good-bye to my family.

Now you would think that leaving to gallivant across the globe would be simple – you sell off or put your belongings in storage, book your plane tickets, pack your bags, and you’re off! That’s what every travel blogger tells you. Reality is that we aren’t in our 20’s with few responsibilities (ah… the days when our lives were carefree and simple). Instead, we are in our thirties with commitments and responsibilities coming out the wazoo, creating a veritable TON of things that needed to be done prior to our departure.

Here’s where my attention to detail and ability to work through a process to get things completed comes to the forefront (cue super hero music). Outside of packing, cleaning, and getting the house ready to rent, I’ve been spending a large part of my days researching all of the individual details that need to be in place before we leave.

Because I truly believe that more people can and should embark on a similar experience, I wanted to document all of the individual tasks to act as a guide for future adventurers:

Insurance

  • Travelers Insurance

    • We’re purchasing from World Nomads, covering medical accidents & evacuation, lost or stolen belongings, delay of trip, etc. This policy should cover us in case we have an injury or accident that requires transportation and in-country care.
  • Medical Insurance/Expat Insurance

    • On top of our travel insurance, we’re purchasing a global healthcare plan from Cigna, specifically designed for world citizens and expats who will be living/traveling globally as well as needing coverage when returning to the US.

Bank Accounts & Credit Cards

  • Automatic payment of mortgage

  • Set up travel alerts & transfer of funds

Renting House

  • Hiring a property management company to take care of all the details of rental. We lucked out and found a smaller firm that found a tenant within a few weeks.
  • Landlord insurance – because your homeowner’s policy doesn’t work if you’re renting to someone else.
  • Purging of 7 years’ worth of stuff – self-explanatory, but wow was I holding on to some things that should have been thrown away long ago!

 

Legal Affairs

  • My friends, Mike & Grace (theyearbetween.com) were the ones who suggested we set up a will & power of attorney before leaving.
  • Additionally Dean & I put all of our passwords into an application that consolidates and secures all of our log in credentials/passwords so we don’t have to remember the myriad of passwords or if something were to happen, god forbid, our executors can easily get online and into our accounts.

 

Doctor’s Appointments, Vaccines, & Medicines

  • Make sure you complete routine physical, dental, and eye appointments prior to leaving (or losing your super good insurance).
  • Schedule a travel appointment with your doctor (maybe while doing the physical?) to discuss any vaccines or medication you’ll need while traveling. My suggestion would be to talk to your primary care physician as sometimes the travel specific clinics can be a major rip off. I experienced this when getting my vaccines for India last year. The clinic didn’t take any insurance so I had to pay out of pocket and then cross my fingers to get reimbursed (never happened). I also learned that the nurse was paid on commission for each vaccine I got and therefore recommended yellow fever when it wasn’t needed for where I was traveling. Not cool.

 

Packing/Buying Supplies

  • It has taken me several months to identify and purchase the items needed to for a compact yet comprehensive set of clothes, medical supplies, etc (full list provided in next post!). When fully packed, my bag is 25lbs which I know is going to be super heavy when lugging around however we’re preparing for several different seasons, including bringing sleeping bags, and my comfort is that I can always donate items if I find that I don’t need them (like those fleece lined leggings that I don’t like but am bringing cause I hate being cold).

 

By the way, did I mention that my in-laws are taking our dog, Bodhi, for the year? Hence a series of vet appointments, purchasing dog food, prescriptions, and pills for the pup. They are also allowing us to forward our mail to their house as the postal service allows mail forwarding for up to a year (they are the best!).

Lastly, I had the fun challenge of figuring out how we are going to pay our taxes in April of 2018. This turned out to be WAY easier than anticipated as I received a recommendation for a good CPA, and after a 30 minute conversation and some review of 2017 financials, we decided to file for an extension and submit in October. Whew!!

Having read this list, I still can’t believe I was able to get all of this done (it really was quite an undertaking) however I did, and we’re really leaving! I’m so excited!!

See you Softchoice … Next Year!

As I sit here, getting ready to embark on what promises to be one of the greatest adventures of my life, I’m scared.

There are tears welling up in my eyes, a lump in the back of my throat, and this sense in the pit of my stomach feeling like I ate a hippopotamus for breakfast. The fear is palpable. But there’s a different sensation hiding just under the surface and my need to explore is motivating me to write this message.

The source of the fear, you ask?  My new husband, Dean, and I have booked a one way ticket to Nepal in October. We’re renting our house, leaving our adorable boxer, Bodhi, with his grandparents in Wyoming, and saying good-bye to our friends and family. The plan is to travel to the village of Phortse, where Dean lived for several years after architecture school, working to construct a seismically sound building in the Khumbu housing a program for Sherpa to learn the climbing skills they will need to guide on the mountains of the Himalaya. We’ll fly into Kathmandu, trek up to Phortse, and continue on up to Everest base camp. Then, we travel. We have a list of places that we’ve always wanted to visit kept in Excel, a ridiculous number of pictures and blog posts saved by country on Pinterest, and nothing but time until the end of August 2018.

We each have a “bucket list” of three places or experiences that are an absolute must! Mine include traveling to Cambodia to visit Angkor Wat, scuba diving to see antiquities in Greece, trekking to Machu Picchu, and returning to India and the computer lab Softchoice Cares built in Rajasthan.

Ok, I realize that’s four places. However, this last place in particular is extremely important to me. Just as Dean wants to share the people, places and experiences that shaped him after architecture school, I too want to share a place that forever changed me and how I view the world. That experience is the catalyst for this year long trip and one that wouldn’t have been possible without the company that I’ve been privileged to be a part of for the last nine years.

As is sit here reflecting on this next chapter in my life, preparing for my final days of work for a whole year (holy cow!), the fear is still present but is starting to be overshadowed by a completely opposite feeling – gratitude.

I remember graduating from college in my early 20’s, ready to take on the world with the illusion that building a successful career, working my way up the corporate ladder and making a lot of money were the keys to a happy life. This is what you’re supposed to do, right; The American Dream? What no one told me (or if they did, I definitely wasn’t listening), is that happiness doesn’t come from your bank account, career success, being a better salesperson than your peers, the car you drive, or the house you own. Happiness, for me, is the good health of you and your loved ones, making a difference in the lives of those around you, and creating every opportunity to share experiences with people who are important in your life. What a change for that 26 year old working 60+ hour weeks, missing family holidays or a friends’ weddings because work was more important.

I didn’t come to this realization out of the blue one day. This was a long, often painful process, and one in which I’m still working to improve daily.

Looking back, there are a number of people who helped me on this journey and the most surprising (at least to me), is that a majority are people with whom I’ve worked at Softchoice. People who take the corporate values and live them every day.  People who were able to recognize my weaknesses and cared enough to hold up a mirror, pushing me to be a better professional, and more importantly, a better human being. People who understood that this trip is a once in a lifetime chance for personal growth and allowed me the opportunity to take a leave of absence for a year.

I swear, I didn’t drink the orange Kool-Aid. But I do think it’s important to take a step back and remember that I work for an amazing company, comprised of people who are focused on a common goal, and truly care. And for that, I am grateful.