Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Hey Henny

Made it to Kathmandu in one piece after a fairly uneventful 3 hour flight from Bangkok, slowly descending down into the valley under cloudless skies that allowed great views of the Himalaya. I don't know what the forecasts look like over the next several weeks but you could tell even from as far out as we were that the tops of the peaks were being buffeted- snow plumes must have spread for a good mile beyond the particular mountain it was blowing off of. But once we hit the terminal, the reindeer games kicked into high gear. On my first visit to Nepal in 2000, I was on Royal Nepal Airline in a 757 where most of the passengers must have been Nepali. So when we landed, getting through immigration was absolutely no big deal and the arrangement you can lock on once in KTM to pick up a Visa on-site seemed like it was much easier than it had been to deal with all the hassle of going to the embassy in DC. Yeah. Smart move I think as a 777's worth of tourists coming straight from Bangkok pile off of the plane and straight onto the "No Visa" line. As the 10 miscellaneous lines with "Visa" above them whip forward, about half of the planes passengers slowly creep toward what I learned is possibly the world's last holdout paper-based immigration processing systems. After an hour and a half goes by, this is what the two different lines look like even though I'm still nowhere near the front:

Finally, I reach the counter. Even after all that I still have no idea what took this long given that four people are working the processing of passengers. The first guy takes your money and then hand writes a receipt for you- taking the two pieces of carbon copy paper to reinsert them every time he has to write out a new receipt. What happens to the two other copies is beyond me but my guess is that they sit in a box somewhere until someone else throws them out. The second guy just looks at you and does something behind the counter before pointing you to a third guy that finally hands you your passport back. After staring at him for a minute, he gives me a look like "what do you want?" and then gestures unemotionally that I'm done, can go now. Sha? Stupid tourists. Our process is so simple and clear, what's to be confused about? The visa is haphazardly slapped in my passport and is so basic it looks like it was designed by a 14 year old.

Shockingly, the carousel continues to rotate and "poof" there's my mountain of bags which also translates into the "You need help sir" guys looking for a buck. I shoo them away until I find that my cart front wheel doesn't work and then I'm hosed. Two bucks for some guy to push my bags 200 or so feet to a minivan (mini being the operative word) that'll take me to the Hotel Yak & Yeti, where I will be staying.

After talking with some of the advance members of the team, I learned that some permits have been issued.. some have not. So in essence, we are still on hold with no clear picture of what'll be happening. I did notice that the checkout date is the 29th on the hotel sheet though. But I don't know what that truly means. Here's the latest word I was able to glean today from a website that is pretty on top of this whole debacle but I'm guessing that as teams start to roll in one at a time things will begin to resolve themselves in short order:

The rest of my team arrives on the 26th and we'll meet for the first time in the afternoon. From what I saw on the manifest of flight arrivals, there will be four climbers and 14 Base Camp Trekkers on our trip. Among the trekkers are about 10 couples/ husband & wives/ etc. I think it's already clear that I'm a superstitious climber so I hope someone points out that for the good of the rest of us, there needs to be.. not should be, but needs to be No Nookie- especially while these couples are at Base. That's bad, very very bad. I'll be the bearer of that news if need be in between tossing the football I brought to toss around with the Sherpas.

So for the rest of the afternoon I hung out and caught up with a good friend of mine who lives in Kathmandu named Henny. This guys is so great. I met him in 2000 when I first visited and he was my tour guide. We have kept in touch ever since and he's a true success story here in this big city. Originally he started out with a global tour network, but then around 2002 he and his wife Lakshmi decided that they wanted more. She's highly skilled as a reservations agent and what better a pair could that make for a travel/tourism company? They set off on their own and today A Global Flight Tours runs a brisk business with visitors from Australia, Russia and Europe mainly. He does have friends like me who hail from the States also and when dad arrives in Kathmandu toward the end of May we'll be driving him all over this area.

We spent some time drinking local beer (Everest Beer complete w/ a pic of Tenzing Norgay on the front, superimposed behind the beer name on the front label), talking about family and friends, and ironing out dad's schedule for when he arrives. It truly was a great way to return to this city.

No comments: