Life

Adventures in Nepal XXII: The Journey Home

On January 30, 2020, Emma and Elizabeth spent their last day in Nepal. They were both still a little under the weather, and that mysterious new coronavirus seemed to be turning into a Whole Thing, so they continued to wear their masks.

They began the day with some shopping, to pick up some requested items for Emma’s family.

They had lunch at their favorite Kathmandu restaurant.

And then, at 8:00 that night, they headed to the Kathmandu Airport.

Big boi!

The cheap seats were overbooked, so the girls got a free upgrade to a fancier section of the plane!

BUT NOT WINDOW SEATS. This was, of course a catastrophe.

One of Elizabeth’s pocket friends admiring the in-flight meal.

As with the flight from the US to Nepal, the return-flight layover was in Dubai rather than China, at the request of Emma, who had less-than-optimal past experience with Chinese airports. This was fortuitous, because just as the girls were flying out of Nepal, the WHO declared the coronavirus outbreak to be a Global Public Health Emergency. A few hours later, the US also declared a Public Health Emergency and started screening passengers flying in from China for signs of illness. If the layover had been in China instead of Dubai, Emma and Elizabeth likely would have been subjected to a 14-day quarantine.

They landed safely in Dubai…

…settled in for a five-and-a-half hour layover…

…and then caught their 17-hour direct flight from Dubai to LAX.


They followed the sun west. Elizabeth said this was the closest they got to night the entire flight, up in the Arctic Circle:

Flying over the Grand Canyon…

…over the Western desert…

…and the California mountains.

There were no health screenings of any kind for passengers arriving from countries other than China. The girls breezed ashore with no problems. It was in fact an early example of the general poor response to the virus that would soon be named Covid-19. But at the time we were all as thankful as we were baffled by the lack of concern.

When Elizabeth had first booked the Nepal flights, she was a sweet summer child who knew nothing about the slow bureaucracy of international travel, so she assumed that a two-hour layover between landing at LAX and departing for Austin would be sufficient. Alas, the flight from Dubai arrived an hour late and she was still in line at LAX for Customs when her Austin flight was boarded. Under the stress of realizing that she was going to miss her flight, she mislaid her passport. Emma was already on the other side of the security gates, so Elizabeth had to navigate this new territory alone. Eventually the passport was found, and Elizabeth made her way outside to where Emma and her mom were waiting. They drove her to her next terminal, helped her rebook her Austin flight and after a four-hour layover she was on her way home.

The whole Nepal experience was so good for Elizabeth. At the time, we thought it was the first of many international expeditions for all of us. Now we’re a year and a half into this pandemic with no end in sight.

So many places we want to see, and there’s no knowing when or if we’ll ever get to them. But I’m so thankful that Elizabeth got to enjoy this one last big adventure before the world shut down.

Categories: Covid-19, Family, food, Friends, Health, Life, Nepal, Travel | Leave a comment

Adventures in Nepal XXI: Pashupatinath Temple

I’ve promised Elizabeth that I will wrap up the Nepal Saga before I write about anything else. This should be the penultimate entry.

Our heroes’ next (and last) stop on their guided tour of Kathmandu was Pashupatinath Temple.

Foreigners (in this case “non-Hindu people”) are not allowed inside the main temple.

The guide showed the girls around the exterior areas.

As in most of Nepal, there are animals everywhere, just living their lives.

Elizabeth told me that bodies were being cremated here and their ashes poured into the river.

I did some research into that, and found this:

Pashupatinath is the most important temple dedicated to god Shiva. Every year this temple attracts hundreds of elderly followers of Hinduism.

They arrive here to find shelter for the last several weeks of their lives, to meet death, be cremated on the banks of the river and travel their last journey with the waters of the sacred river Bagmati, which later meets the holy river Ganges. Hinduists from every corner of Nepal and India are arriving here to die.

It is believed that those who die in Pashupatinath Temple are reborn as a human, regardless of any misconduct that could worsen their karma. The exact day of their death is predicted by astrologers of the temple. If you are attracted to the places where the spirit of death can be felt, then consider Pashupatinath as your first destination. It is a temple with special atmosphere of death; death is present in almost every ritual and every corner of it.

One of the cremation ovens:

After Pashupatinath, they returned to the hotel.

View from the hotel window:

Next post: a little shopping, and then the long journey home!

Categories: Death, Friends, Life, Nepal, Travel | Tags: | 1 Comment

Dream Canyon

My uncle asks from time to time if we’ve hiked Dream Canyon yet. It’s been on our list of places to explore once summer came and everything got green and pretty again, so last week I decided that the time had come to check this one off the list. Luke and Elizabeth weren’t feeling a hike this weekend. But according to AllTrails this is a short, easy loop, less than a mile long: an unchallenging solo hike for me.

It looked simple enough on the AllTrails website, but the trails are not clearly marked and they randomly connect in all directions. I lost the main trail early on, and by the time I realized it I was already committed to my new path.

My goal was Boulder Creek. I was sure I could find a way down to it one way or another.

This is a gorgeous canyon. Amazing views and fun scrambles.

Twice the path I was following dead-ended at drop-offs too steep to climb down, and I had to turn back and find another way.

Finally I decided to turn back and see where I had lost the main loop trail. I ran into a couple of guys who were in the same situation I was in, trying to get down to the creek but unable to find the right trail. While we were wandering around and having no luck, another guy came hiking through with the confident air of a dude who knows where he’s going. I told him we were having no luck finding our way to the creek, and he said that’s where he was headed and we could follow him if we wanted. So we fell in behind him.

The trail he took us on was 100% not the main loop. I think it was made by mountain goats. But it was an incredibly fun scramble, and it did eventually wind down to the creek.

The part of the creek he led us down to was perfect for wading and sunning and apparently it was clothing-optional, because there were naked men as far as the eye could see. That wasn’t a problem for me, I’ve never been bothered by nudity. I found a comfy spot to sit and read the book I’d brought.

But since I was the only female there, and the only clothed person, I was the one getting sidelong looks from the locals. I think I was making them uncomfortable. I didn’t want to disrupt anyone’s vibe, so I didn’t stay long.

It was right about then that I realized I would have to find my own way back up that rough goat trail. I didn’t have much luck with that, but I did eventually find my way out of the canyon and back to the parking lot. 10/10, day well spent. It’s such an incredibly beautiful setting, I’m thinking about going back sometime and exploring more of the area. Maybe take my swimsuit next time, and find a part of the creek that isn’t full of naked dudes.

 

Categories: environment, Life | Tags: , | Leave a comment

The GoPro explores the Denver Botanic Gardens

The Denver Botanic Gardens are awesome and I highly recommend visiting them if you’re in the area. That said, this post isn’t really about the Gardens. I gained a new appreciation for my GoPro while I was there and want to share what I learned.

I wasn’t expecting much from the GoPro. I had spent some time going through its settings to maximize image quality, and I wanted to see what it could do under various conditions. But I brought my “real camera,” my old Sony RX100, to make sure I got some decent shots.

The Sony is 2.5 years old now, and that’s about the age where my cameras usually need replacing. By then they’re full of dust and moisture and they’ve been dropped and banged into rocks and saddles to the point where the lenses struggle to focus properly. My Sony took glorious photos when it was new. Now they’re just okay. But I still had more faith in it than the GoPro.

Luckily, one of our first stops was the Tropical Conservatory. I hadn’t even taken the GoPro out of my purse yet at that point. I wish I had, because I think it would have taken a better pic of these poison dart frogs than the Sony did.

The Tropical Conservatory is pretty great. Winding ramps and staircases take you up through a lush jungle atrium. I brought the GoPro out for the first time when I wasn’t able to get all of a giant plant-tree-thing into the Sony’s frame. This is where the GoPro’s wide-angle lens really shines:

For those who can’t climb stairs, there’s an elevator disguised as a tree and overgrown with live plants. In the constrained space of the walkway, this is the pic the Sony took of the top of the elevator:

And the GoPro took this pic from the exact same spot:

The Sony did a marginally better job at shots like this, where the subject fit nicely into the frame:

Both cameras took lovely shots of the Monet Pool in their different ways.

Sony…

…Sony…

…and GoPro:

Japanese Garden, GoPro:

The Sony took this pic. I like it because it looks like alien space koi coming to visit a desert landscape.

Here are two shots of the same waterfall from the same vantage point, both cropped down to show roughly the same image. Top Sony, bottom GoPro. I think I like the top one better, but I could improve the bottom one in a photo processing app.

The Sony took the better pic of this tree’s unusual bark, but only because the GoPro’s fisheye lens warped the trunks into weird shapes.

Two pics of the same greenhouse from the same spot. Sony top, GoPro bottom. The GoPro image is actually cropped a bit.

Obligatory nude statue, Sony.

If you visit the Denver Botanic Gardens with kids, be sure not to miss the Children’s Garden, accessed via the roof of the parking garage. It’s got a great Old West theme with mountains to climb, bridges to cross, a stream to splash around in, and woodsy trails to explore. All pics taken with the Sony:

Conclusion: the GoPro is exceptionally useful in small spaces with large subjects. It actually can take decent-quality photos, but it’s crucial to go through the settings and personalize them for what you need. Also, the Denver Botanic Gardens are very cool.

Categories: A Plethora of Parks, environment, Family, Gardening, Life, trees | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Barr Camp

You fill up my senses
Like a night in a forest
Like the mountains in springtime
Like a walk in the rain…

-John Denver, “Annie’s Song”

We had planned to conquer Pikes Peak over the Memorial Day weekend. But all the rain has put the Summit House construction project behind schedule, so that coveted summit is still closed off to the public. We briefly considered canceling our Barr Camp reservations, but it wasn’t like we’d be able to get reservations anywhere else on such short notice. Short notice for good camping reservations in Colorado is counted in months, not days. Anyway, we figured half a mountain was better than none, and the views would still be nice.

Then we got the weather forecast for the weekend: thunderstorms through Monday. Fun fact—the Pikes Peak area is one of the most lightning-prone spots in all of Colorado.

At that point we gave some serious thought to canceling the hike, because that would be a dumb way to die. But in the end we decided to risk it. Fortune favors the bold, right?

We got to the trailhead early, just as the moon was setting. Manitou Springs still had patches of blue sky, and the air was mild. Perfect hiking weather!

This hike was also the maiden voyage of my new GoPro, because I got tired of ruining good cameras with rain and dust and general abuse. I was surprised at the low resolution of the photos, considering the GoPro 9 is a 20mp camera. You can’t really zoom in at all without seeing every pixel. There’s quite a bit of lens distortion as well, even with the fisheye setting off.

The clouds rolled in early in the day, and the higher we climbed the denser they got.

We were surrounded by mountains, but the clouds swallowed them up. We never got even a glimpse of Pikes Peak.

We don’t know what this concrete thing is. It doesn’t go anywhere, it’s just a little man-made cave about five feet deep. Maybe a remnant of the cog railway’s utilitarian days, or maybe a shelter for hikers caught in storms?

My pack was the only one that didn’t come with a rain cover, and for some reason I didn’t think to buy one. So I used that incredibly classy trash bag, and it worked fine.

The clouds turned the trail into a mystical, otherworldly place.

This hike was harder for me than I expected. It was partly the altitude, but mostly the extra weight I’ve put on in the last couple of years. I need to get serious about getting back in shape if I’m going to be exploring Colorado on foot.

But we made it to Barr Camp at last!

For some reason I didn’t get a pic of the outside of our lean-to, but here’s the view from inside.

We got incredibly lucky with the weather. As soon as we were safely under shelter, the thunder and lightning and hail arrived. A couple of hours later the view looked like this:

After we got our stuff all settled into our lean-to, we went to the main cabin for hot chocolate and tea and the company of other campers. So cozy! At 6:00 they served spaghetti and garlic bread…

…and the next morning they served yummy pancakes hot off the stove.

The lean-tos have mattresses in them, so we only had to pack in blankets. One thing we realized right away is that the camp blankets we used in Texas are not warm enough for up in the Rockies. We ended up using our reflective emergency blanket as a top layer to hold the heat in. Next on the shopping list: winter-rated sleeping bags!

The storm stormed itself out overnight, but the clouds hung around. We refilled our water bottles at Barr Camp’s only source of fresh water:

We filtered it through a Sawyer Squeeze and had no problems.

Everything was fresh and wet from the storm. The clouds got more drizzly as the day went on, but it didn’t really rain until we were almost back to the trailhead.

The GoPro’s photos are so lo-res that this zoomed-in deer looks like a paint-by-number.

But credit where it’s due: the GoPro is impervious to mist and rain and dust and general abuse, which means it gets to go places other cameras shouldn’t. Like the saying goes, the best camera is the one you have with you when you need it.

For the last couple miles of the descent, Manitou Springs and Garden of the Gods come into view down below.

The cog trains are running again, after a complete replacement of the cars, tracks and station.

After the hike, we had a nice lunch at Edelweiss.

All in all, Barr Trail is a challenging but beautiful hike. We’ll probably tackle a few of the “easier” fourteeners to build up our stamina before we have another go at Pikes Peak.

Categories: Animals, environment, Family, food, Holidays, Life, Travel, trees, Weather, Wildlife | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

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