By Cecil Laguardia
“There are few countries in the world that are as well set up for independent travel as Nepal. Wandering the trekking shops, bakeries and pizzerias of Thamel and Pokhara, it’s easy to feel that you have somehow landed in a kind of backpacker Disneyland.” – Lonely Planet Nepal
A “band” blocked the highway. It is a local term for a protest rally to ensure that authorities will act on certain issue affecting an area. A long queue of trucks and cars were on an eerie standstill.
That same day we were 1-hour away from Kathmandu, locals demanded for action on a woman allegedly murdered in the city. It can usually last for 3-15 days and sometimes turns violent if dispersed. My sleepy eyes suddenly opened wide.
My trip to Nepal, my first and the last leg of a series in Asia Pacific for 2012, was certainly the most suspenseful (throw in unforgettable) of all. The contrasts and extremes were incomparable. When I landed with my work buddy Bonie at the Tribhuvan International Airport, I felt I can’t label it as just another trip. We got more and beyond!
We dilly-dallied with indecision. What we harrowingly got that day, in my opinion, was our own making. But I think in the end, it’s how you view an experience that matters – exciting or scary, an opportunity or a frustration. It tests how far you can go as you keep your wits and emerge laughing at the horror of it all.
All flights in Biratnagar Airport got canceled, including ours. We traveled from Katari by car for 4 hours and waited at the airport for another 4 hours.
We boarded the Buddha Airlines flight and waited for seemingly forever. An hour later we were told the flight was canceled because there was no alternate route in case Kathmandu airport is unavailable.
It was dark and with the thought that the airports were having serious visibility issues, I prayed the flight won’t take off unless guaranteed safe. By then it was 7pm and the fog worsened.
At least 8 hours of waiting time and back to original option of going by car. Our flight to Manila via Bangkok were on the following day. If we missed the flights, we will end up staying in Nepal for days – considering the fully booked airline schedules and the unstable weather.
I won’t mind staying for another week in Kathmandu – but it was Christmas! In the Philippines – and with all the holiday preparations set in our hometown in Koronadal City, it’s almost criminal not to go home.
Travel we did – despite some shudders. I salute the Nepal team (Surendra, Sunjuli, Sudeep and Tongko) for bearing with us. They could have stayed but made sure we get the best support ever. I’ve heard them talk about the car needing fog lights, dangerous roads and the freezing weather. My imagination underestimated what we would be faced with.
The roads were blanketed by thick fog the driver was driving like a blind man. No visibility. Zero. Fog so thick the wiper, was not working. All we can see was the soft haze of blurred lights when there were incoming vehicles, huge trucks and from time to time – bravest souls on earth – motorcycle riders. What on earth are these riders trying to prove!
I don’t know how he did it – but our driver managed to drive using all his senses and got us through. Yes, we did! He was our hero that night. My mind raced even as I tried to sleep through the trip – if we got into an accident, we can’t certainly be found quite quickly – if a plane can’t fly then rescuers could take ages to get to us.
If we stop, we would be freezing in the middle of nowhere (the road is frequented by robbers, uh-huh) and we won’t make it to our 1:30pm flight. Some days you have very slim choices.
In between tea breaks (it was so cold to step out of the car but often you can sit or stand close to the fire as the tea was being heated) I marveled how precious life is and some decisions we make could adversely impact several lives. My disaster work experience was in maximum drive that night. We all have to be a team (we were!) – making frayed nerves feel lighter with small talks and laughter.
To cut to the chase, we made it to the airport after a 30-minute wash at the hotel. The long security processes before we got to board our Thai Airways flight seemed a breeze after what we went through.
Maybe if I did not miss the Somalia trip when I was on an East Africa assignment, I would have a better comparison in terms of suspense. If you’ll ask me if I’d go back – I certainly will! Nepal is worth all the challenge.
“Besides Germany, the only country that don’t have speed limits are places like Nepal where road conditions are so bad that a limit would be beside the point. In other words, it’s a little crazy that it’s even a topic of a debate in Germany.” – Sigmar Gabriel