Sunday, October 30, 2011

Bakhtapur: “It’s All An Illusion” UPDATED! W/ Photos

By Kathleen

Darbur Square
Having been laid up for a week being sick in Kathmandu we have now arrived, mostly recovered to Bakhtapur. Located only an hour from Kathamndu the two cites could not be more different. While Kathmandu is noisy, crowed by tourists and polluted beyond belief Baktapur is a calm breath of.. well not really fresh…. air.

Once an independent city-state Bakhtapur now is a sleepy city which fills with day-trippers by 10am and is deserted by 9pm. For those wise enough to spend the night and a couple of days the city is like a marvelous treasure chest or a time capsule back into the 15th century.

The narrow streets are lined with slanted wooden homes and temple squares pop out from behind ramshackle buildings. It is a photographers dream and as soon as I can get my technology to co-operate I’ll post some pictures.

One of the “sites” if you will is Hannuman Ghat, which the Nepali equivalent of the Ganges. In short it is where all good Hindus are supposed to come to be cremated after death, their ashes scattered in the waters of the three scared rivers which merge at the spot.

Darbur Square during the rain
Curious and lured by the promise of the largest lingum in Nepal we headed down to the river. Hanuman Ghat stood quite, no funeral pyres burned in the afternoon light and the only people around were women winnowing grain and old men smoking on the cool slanted rocks of the temple.

We wandered down to the rivers, past tens of little Shiva lingams (the big one wasn’t so impressive after all) and past a faceless, almost formless statue that stared without eyes and had a gaping black hole for a mouth.

The space was silent accept for the whispers of chatter from the old men and the constant chiming of a bell, distantly marking a ritual. Down by the water we stopped to take in the space. Here is one of the most scared places in all of Nepal and yet…rubbish, trash, plastic bottles and filth filled the water and lay like a blanket on the banks. The water was a filthy grayish green and stank of pollution, not of death.

I ruminated on the disconnect; How was it possible to find a natural spot scared and then trash it? Why didn’t anybody clean it up? If something is sacred, you would think that you would want it to be clean… right?

As I’m speaking these words a sari clad woman walked past us and down to the river to make her ablutions. In her hand was a black plastic bag filled with trash. She, without a second thought or pause, hocked it into the middle of the river, and in the same motion bent down to scoop some of the water up to her forehead as a blessing. Then she straighten up and walked away.

Our jaws dropping we watch the weak and dirty current push the plastic bag, still floating with its trash, downstream. Like an artery pumping putrid blood, carrying more plaque to a heart. I was stunned, Fiz and I had no words to express our dismay.
Especially having just come from Panya, where every bit of trash and waste was accounted for we just started and shook our heads, cognitive dissonance stealing our words.

As we turned to walk back to the road, past the eyeless statue and the lingams and the flowers and leftover prayers we saw the old men, who had bummed cigarettes from us, smoking next to a dead goat. It’s wet body covered in flies, clearly it had drown in the water.

Yet strangely this place was serene, in the way that cemeteries are. It brought to mind that same thought that I had in Cambodia… everything is scared, everything is profane it’s all a matter of prospective an din this land of tantric practice maybe something can be said for that, it’s all an illusion anyways right?

But I’ll continue to not throw my trash on my food/water/sacred places all the same.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

In The Home of the Yeti

 By Kathleen 

After three flights and 15 hours of overnight layover in Dahka, Bangladesh we have arrived in Nepal.

The layover went surprisingly well considering that there was no lounge and we had to sleep on plastic chairs. It was a great way to spend our first anniversary, no I’m being serious, it was just so “us”.

The airport was super basic and in some ways that was nice. When we had that layover in Abu Dhabi there were big screen TVs blaring all night but in Dahka there was more or less silence. 

The flight into Kathmandu Valley was a breathtaking hour and a half, soaring over the Himalaya. They appeared like a mirage, jutting up out of the clouds, higher than the plane. Like we had entered a sky kingdom. As we drew closer we flew threw and below fantastic gargantuan clouds, moving and spinning moisture into fluff as they rose like legions above the peaks. The Mountains themselves were everything you’ve seen in movies and more. 

 As we descended more and more appeared out of the fog and clouds like megalithic apparitions. They felt alive and I understood at once why they are worshiped. Unlike the mountains of home, which are slowly crumbing back to earth these mountains are still growing and you can almost feel them breathing.

I know we saw Mount Everest but I’m not sure which mountain it was. I don’t think however, despite our interest, that we will do much if any trekking. We are woefully under-prepared given that we packed thinking we would be a year in Thailand. We don’t even have long sleeved shirts! Not that we couldn’t buy them here, just we are on a budget.. still… those mountains… we’ll see.

Kathmandu itself is crowed and full of tourists and shops. Going to do some sightseeing today, spent yesterday acclimatizing. The change in altitude from Dahka to Kathmandu is extreme and you can feel it.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Return to the Concrete Jungle

A Joint Effort

Well, we are back in the lands where the internet is fast and reigns supreme.  We were given a lift to the baht bus stop to Chiang Mai this morning, and for about an hour we watched the landscape ‘develop’ from mountains huddled over vast rice paddies to the inner city hustle and bustle.  Fortunately for us Chiang Mai is quite possibly the most laid back city in Thailand, so the transition hasn’t been too jarring. 

For the last 2 weeks we have been in the company of the 4 other members of the course and the 8 members on the farm. Now we are once again surrounded by crowds of strangers, tourits and locals. It is a bit jarring.

The only exception to our social reclusiveness was when we went down to the village for a small organic farming festival, where we toured 3 of the 10 homesteading houses each with their own garden patches, with rows of carrots and bean stalks climbing steaks, to fruit trees, to a patch of corn, and of course lots of lemon grass and Thai chilies.

 The village invited people from all over the province to show off their successful gardens and listen to the mayor give a talk about the importance of sustainably farming to provide food for the community first, and commercial produce second.  There was a marvelous feast provided with different stalls getting judged on presentation, and taste.

At Panya every moment of the day from dawn till dawn was full of the chirps of crickets, frogs croaking, the odd noise of geckos, and the attention-craving cats that live in abundance in and around the buildings at the Panya Project.  Here the sonds of bird are drowned out by the rush of the traffic and the chugging of motor bike engines.

 Of the many animals who mad their home on the hill, a cat named Steve (a fat cream and grey tom with distinct mustache markings on his face) got attached to us and would meow at us every time we walked within his line of sight. He even took to coming with us to bed most nights.  Though Mimi ( a slender ginger) was by far the noisiest cat in the bunch, she would meow at anybody as long as they weren’t a dog in hopes of a warm lap and loving touches. Its hard to say how many creatures lived at Panya, because one of the members had a habit of bringing home new pets, sometimes secretly, with surprising regularity. One cat was even from Laos.

 Our legs and arms are covered with semi-infected insect bites (though we were lucky enough to escape the jungle leeches) and we both have better tans. Our brains are filled with much more information on permaculture and we can’t wait to learn more. Our hearts are filled with new friends.  Though the itching bites will fade we hope that our memories won’t. Panya was a place of peace and beauty in the foothills of the mountains. I will miss the sounds of the tropical birds singing in the morning.

Now there is the constant noise of moto’s and horns for a soundtrack to our lives. And so far, from what we are learning about our next destination, the soundtrack will continue.

Next destination you say? Next time friends, next time we will be someplace far away. Thailand is flooding and we are heading to higher ground.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Condom Hiest!

By Fiz

This post is a bit T.M.I but because the story is so weird we have to tell you.

This morning I left the used condom and lube next to our bed but inside our mosquito net, and went to breakfast.  Two hours later we went back to our room to find a swarm of red ants clambering all over the mosquito net trying to find a way to the lube, or so we thought.  So I sprayed a little bug repellant and they ran off, I quickly grabbed the condom and lube and bagged up the lube and left the condom in the wrapper on the floor. 

We then went to a small celebration in the village and when we returned two hours later the ants had surrounded the condom in straight lines radiating outwards from the condom.  The lube, despite a hole in its bag, was left forlorn.

We ate lunch and hung out for a bit, after another two hours or so I went to change out of my only clean clothes to the work clothes I have been wearing, and to my great surprise I found the ants had pulled the condom out of the wrapper and were hauling it across the floor.  A comparatively small group of ants were surrounding a puddle of some liquid that was leading from the condom (semen or lube, you decide).  I pick up the condom with a Qui-tip and threw it towards the corner of the dorm where tree branches touch the dorm.

We come back to our room after an afternoon’s hard work laying down the foundation for a cistern and putting some final touches on the first section of the composting toilet we’re working on, and discover the puddle was significantly smaller, with much fewer ants around it. Stranger still the condom had been pulled all the way to the wall and half of it had been pulled though a very large crack.

The whole experience was very surreal. We have been theorizing as to what was so damn appealing about the used condom to these red ants. Sugars? Proteins? Condom worship? All I could picture was these red ants dancing and singing around this condom in an ant hall filled with ant tiki-torches and drums. The jungle is a strange place. 

Friday, October 7, 2011

On The Farm

By Kathleen

Since Monday we have been up in the hills around Chiang Mai at a permaculture farm called the Panya Project.  There is an abundance of three things here, bananas, mosquitoes (dubbed mozzies) and people who care about sustainability.

We are up here for a 16 day Permaculture workshop, designing and building a compost toilet and a water tank. It’s been a real adventure. We are pretty far North in Thailand and the nights are chilly. It’s the rainy season and we’ve been working in between bursts of rain and clouds.

It’s been amazing to meet people from all over the world and talk about permaculture, environmentalism, and sustainability. For me personally it’s a nice shift from writing, getting your hands dirty and really making a structure, is deeply gratifying though exhausting.I confess however that I’ll be glad to get back to toilets that sit level and don’t require me to add dry rice husks to help compost. (I know I’m a terrible greenie preferring my flush toilets….only more reason to find a compromise between comfort and sustainability.)

There are people here from all over the world, the UK, New Zealand, China, Japan, Sweden, Spain, it’s a little UN convention. So wonderful to see how these ideas are spreading, slowly change is happening.

This morning we laid down seven courses of adobe bricks on the compost toilet, after building a stone and cement foundation earlier this week. We structured in a wattle and cob panel so that the compost can be removed later. In the afternoon we began a big heaping pile of 18-day compost ( Yum!) layering green ( nitrogen) and brown(carbon) material so that we can produce a healthy garden compost. Then we made compost tea from older compost. This can be sprayed onto veggie and plant beds to add extra microbes for better soil health. Sorta like drinking probiotics for intestinal wellness.

Tomorrow we begin work on a ferro-cement water tank. This is particularly interesting to Fiz and I because it would be a great addition to a future greenhouse we want to have. Also it’s essential any design to have a water source.

My only major issue is the wickedness of the mozzies, my legs are chewed up and it’s a real struggle not to itch constantly. The jungle is full of creepy crawlies, from giant centipedes to red fire ants and vinagaroos. It has been determined that we are in fact not jungle people and have been fantasizing about our temperate climate…. And lack of giant bugs all week.

However, there is one bug that I can’t help but be amazed by; butterflies. I have never seen such abundance and variety as I have seen over the last four days, black, blue, poka-dotted, yellow and pink. Such lovely creatures, little bits of magic.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Master Burrito

By Kathleen

Many people come to Thailand for the food. I am not one of them,  I know I must be crazy right? Well, I can’t stomach most sea-food (literally) and the smell of fish sauce just reminds me of long nights in dirty bathrooms so I stay away. That and I’ll admit it, I like my food a bit hardier than Thais do. I like to feel full at the end of a meal and rice noodles just don’t do it for me. In short I’m more of a beans and rice kind of girl. That being said it’s ridiculously hard to find good Mexican food while abroad.

Do Mexicans not travel? Do they not emigrate to other countries? Or do they just not open restaurants? Whatever the case it leads to a depressing lack of burritos and in Asia the issue is compounded.

Chiang Mai does not suffer from this problem. Chiang Mai has burritos, burritos that are giant, filled with goodness and smothered in sour cream and cheese. They also have corn chips salsa and the holy grail….. guacamole.

The spot we found was just called “Burritos” it had one page for a menu and was beyond delicious. Maybe I’m just starved for a good burrito but I was in heaven. The meal was completed by a fantastic frothy mint and lime shake, political posters and classic rock. For the first time in almost two months I couldn’t finish because I was so full.  (those who have traveled to SEA will know what I mean).

So yes, I just wrote a blog post about a burrito. I am such a farang.