Unseen, unheard, and unexpected, warm air from the plains of India billowed up the Kali Gandaki gorge behind us, drawn by cool temperatures on the Tibetan plateau. With Annapurna I at 26,6xx feet in elevation on one side and Dhalguri at 26,8xx feet on the other side, the gorge is one of the deepest in the world. The wind roared out of the gorge across the broad, alluvial flood plain of the river, picking up dust and sand. After a few kilometers, the maelstrom of wind and dirt coalesced into a surging brown ball in hot pursuit of five tiny figures moving slowly up one side of the barren valley.
Natives of that valley know better than to face south during the daily afternoon ritual that sucks hot, humid Indian air into the cold alpine regions over Tibet. Not so for the five figures - the Spousal Unit and I plus three Brits we had met on the trail to Kagbeni, the northernmost point tourists were allowed to go along the Nepali/Tibetan border in 1988.
Jo, a vocational counselor from Sheffield, and Amanda and Derek, young newlyweds exploring the world on their honeymoon, were all on long holidays, a year or longer. We had all met at the start of our trek in a native lodge, discovered we had similar plans, and decided to join forces for added company and security. Seven days later found us trudging up the arid valley crisscrossed in a serpentine fashion by the Kali Gandaki River before it plunged through the gorge. Derek and Amanda were picking their way through boulders along the river bank; the rest of us were following a foot path at the edge of the valley wall.
I canít see a thing! cried Jo as the sandstorm blasted into our backsides. She clasped her hands over her eyes to protect her contact lenses from irritants but the gesture was futile. She moved forward blindly, missing a bend in the trail, and stumbled on to a small peninsula overlooking the river. I tried to shout a warning but the wind snatched the words out of my mouth faster than my lips could form them. Dashing forward, I grabbed Joís waist just as she was about to step off the precipice.
Meanwhile, down at the river bed, Amanda and Derek were getting stung by flying pebbles. The only escape was a quick wade across the river followed by a scramble up to the trail. The problem was that the river, while not appearing deep, was filled with fast-moving, icy-cold water of a glacier-fed milky color. Derek launched out despite Amandaís wails of abandonment. After they both eventually reached the trail, the rest of us fled onward while Amanda and Derek discussed the future of their matrimonial status at the top of their lungs.
The sandstorm passed and the five of us trekked onward to Kagbeni and future adventures - adventures that did not necessarily involve travel. For example, Amanda and Derek continued onward to New Zealand and Australia once Amanda recovered from hepatitis and dysentery in Nepal. After two years abroad they returned to a home which was a tent in Amandaís motherís garden. Starting from scratch they eventually accumulated the wherewithal to buy a plot of land, build a cottage, and start a family. Their life is not easy - Derek works long days and Amanda works evenings. But they have two beautiful children, Joshua aged 5 1/2 and India aged 2 1/2, in a cottage that Derek describes as what many people spend half their lives dreaming about.
Jo, on the other hand, wandered about southeast Asia for a long time before returning to the UK. Back in Sheffield she lasted only two years in the 9 - 5 routine before wanderlust again took hold of her senses. Teaching English in Barcelona, Paris, and Tokyo, she wound up on the opposite corner of the globe in New Zealand. Returning home via Malaysia, Thailand, Nepal, and India, she applied for VSO, Voluntary Service Overseas which is similar to the American Peace Corps, and was assigned to Budapest. She is now back in Sheffield, hoping for a VSO post in Africa.
And the Unit and I? At the moment we are riding on a 24 ton truck through southern France bound for perhaps our greatest travel adventure. We had planned to see our old friends, Jo, Amanda, and Derek, prior to boarding the truck in the UK but blizzards in the north of England thwarted those plans. We spoke by telephone and wished each well on the paths our lives were taking.
Since the snowflakes swirling outside the windows of our hostel in London prevented us from seeing our old friends, we decided to make some new acquaintances. Indeed within the space of a mere three hours, you would not believe the assortment of people we met:
- political and religious figures including Boris Yeltsin, Deng Xiaping, Yitzhak Rabin, Yassar Arafat, Nelson Mandela, Omar Kaddafi, Saddam Hussein, Martin Luther King, and Pope John Paul II
- historical and artistic personages such as Lenin, Napoleon, Mahatma Gandhi, Winston Churchill, Henry VIII and all his wives, Agatha Christie, William Shakespeare, Benjamin Franklin, Picasso, Van Gogh, Beethoven, and Mozart
- personalities from the entertainment industry such as Elizabeth Taylor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Superman, Cher, Mr. T, Elvis, Sylvester Stallone, Charlie Chaplin, Humphrey Bogart, James Dean, Marlon Brando, and the Beatles (including John Lennon). Marlyn Monroe was out getting dressed but Madonna covered for her.
- And did I mention all U.S. presidents from Eisenhower to Clinton plus the entire royal family including Prince Charles and Lady Di?
It was a full day but my hand was not weary from handshakes. You see, all these folks were wax replicas, extraordinarily accurate and lifelike, at Madame Tassaudís House of Wax. Encountering such realistic physical presences is the absolute opposite of the virtual contact I so often make using email. Electronic mail is communication between minds without bodies; interacting with a lifeless dummy is purely physical - you must use only appearance to form your prejudices.
The Unit and I could not pass up tempting photographic opportunities like me being interviewed by Oprah Winfrey or the Unit swooning over Hugh Grant. And next October or so when we roll into Darmsala, maybe I can use the photograph of us with the Dalai Lama to hornswaggle an interview with the man. I could slide the picture under the door saying: Look at this! Weíre old buddies of the Dolly. How to use the shot of me showing my laptop to Einstein is to be determined.
The wax figures were perfectly lifelike and precisely dressed to the last detail. If you stood near a figure long enough, you would expect it to begin talking to you. The cleverest parts of the displays were the wax figures of ordinary people interposed with the notables. For example, a fake cloakroom clerk next to the real one or an exhausted tourist slumped over on a bench. But my favorite was a photographer taking pictures of the royal family. I wanted to use his vantage point for my own photograph but decided to come back later when he was gone. When I returned an hour later I was dismayed to find him still hogging the same spot. After a moment of frustration I realized I had been fooled - by one more wax figure ingeniously posed with a camera!
Copyright (c) 1996 Jet City JimBo All rights reserved.
Setting out on this adventure, we decided to continue our subscription to Compuserve. After all, they advertise connections in many countries outside the U.S. Just in case things didnít work as smoothly as we hoped, I held on to my Independent Internet Provider (usa.net), which was a wise decision.
Compuserve has been rather difficult for us to use. To get a direct connection, we would have to purchase additional equipment, such as a phone coupler or converter from an RJ-11 phone jack. Then weíd need a phone line on which to call out. As we are staying in low-cost hostels, there are no telephones available for use, except pay phones. British Telephone would probably take a dim view of us splicing into their hard-wired connections and, if we screwed up, our popularity around the hostel would undoubtedly plummet. This is all aside from the problem of pumping coins or credit cards into the thirsty box.
None of the info boutiques or cybercafes offer Compuserveís GUI-based Information Manager. And, as Compuserve is so busy, it is difficult to establish a telnet connection. So weíre currently telnetting to my Independent Internet Provider, logging in, and then telnetting out to Compuserve in the States to do email. It is a cumbersome arrangement but it does work. And then thereís the Compuserve Telnet Interface - a bare-bones Edlin interface. Need I say more.
[JimBo here - Iíd say more about the crudity of this command line driven interface, but the webmeisters requested that I refrain from swearing. If I wanted to compute in such an old fashioned manner, I would have continued working at IBM!]
The sites we have used here in London to access the Internet have proven to be far more than we could have expected. Staffed with friendly and helpful people, equipped with state of the art equipment, they provide services to meet your every Internet need. These sites have been of great help to us, especially when uploading Klimagrams.
1. Dillions Bookstore has a CyberSt@tion (tm) in the basement with internet access. Netscape is the browser they are using for the WWW. You can also use their Telnet session software to telnet into your own host system, or use Eudora to email from Dillions own node. They sell blocks of Internet access time for reasonable rates or you can purchase an email address from them and use their equipment to send and receive electronic mail. They also offer classes, mostly at the beginner level. By the way, the computer/internet book selection is the best Iíve seen anywhere!
2. Cyberia (tm) is a cybercafe, complete with 10 or so computers and lots of small dining tables. They sell scrumptious looking baked goodies as well as a complete range of coffees and teas, and, of course, floppy disks and computer time. As with Dillions Bookstore, they sell blocks of Internet access time, or you can purchase an email address from them and use their computers to do your email. Youíre encouraged to upload and download to floppy disk in order not to tie up the computers. Netscape, Eudora, and Telnet software are available for use, and they, too, offer classes and on-site help. Itís a busy, trendy place.
The ability to purchase an email address for use on-site, or on any computer hooked to the Net is an interesting idea, especially if one were to be in England for awhile, or communicating abroad a lot. Iím sure there are more publicly accessible internet sites in England (Cyberia has five more sites in England), but these were within a few blocks of the fleabag hostel we picked for our stay in London.
[JimBo again - not being known for my patience, I usually wind up sending email using Eudora so that I can enter the message using twentieth century methods or, if the message is Klimagram-sized, so I can copy it in from diskette. Of course, if I botch the addressing or someone does an automatic reply, Iíll never see it unless I open a local email account.]
MEDICAL OFFICERíS LOG by SueBee
A couple of months ago, as we were preparing the medical kit, we placed a bet on who would get sick first. Well, I won the bet and JimBo got the cold. He coughed and complained all night long until finally it turned into a head cold and I could drug him up. A week later, weíre still in cold, wet winter weather, but Jimís cold has dissipated and he is out of quarantine (as far as I am concerned).
[JimBo - Getting sick while on holiday in an expensive city is a great way to reduce expenses, assuming you donít require any serious medial attention. How much can one spend when one is confined to bed, not hungry or thirsty? Going into Sherlock Holmes mode, I have deduced that the source of my cold must be one of the following:
- one of the ten thousand, exuberant schoolchildren racing through the literature room in the British Museum as the Unit and I pored over handwritten manuscripts from Keats, Dickens, Austin, and Joyce.
- one the hostel residents - long time occupants there call it the Maree plague from which no one is immune, particularly after a month or more in residence. Fully operational respiratory systems are rare.
- off a door knob at Harrods - what the hay, you can get everything else there! One thing for sure, it was not from a toilet seat - the attendants for the luxury washrooms at Harrods scared us off with their intimidating stares.
CENTRAL ACCOUNTING TALLY by SueBee
The budget went to heck in a hand basket despite the fact that we never ate in a restaurant or quaffed a beer in one of the colorful pubs, visited only museums which were free or snuck into those which were not, and walked till we dropped. The money went to a variety of miscellaneous sources like malaria pills that are not available in the USA, an expensive Harrods handbag, and a small stash of chocolate to be taken with us.
[Hey, mom, I havenít spent your Xmas present yet. Iím waiting for a really desperate calamity like consulting a witch doctor to exorcise an unexpected demon. JimBo]
FINAL RAVING by JimBo
The last observations, reflections, and amusements of a Colorado Yankee in the land of English royalty are below. Perhaps some of you out in Cyberland, especially those residing in the UK, would care to comment.
1. Cyberia, a pulsating internet cafe with giant coffee mugs and fast, networked PCs, was a cool place for Web work. However, being accustomed to unlimited computing resources at work and at home made it difficult to keyboard with a meter running at eight bucks an hour. The clientele in the cafe ranged from earring-studded students, common nerds, and clusters of Iranian businessmen to a stiff-looking chap in pin stripes who offered me his copy of Barronís along with the name of an associate in Ghana. E might be able to help yer get on a computer there. Thanks for the name of your friend, I replied. But keep your magazine, my investment portfolio is in Godís hands this year. The man gave me a reserved smile that the Brits are so good at and I tipped my Colorado Buffaloes cap in return.
2. There is nothing quite like a plate of traditional English fish and chips: an oven mitt sized slab of heavily-breaded cod lying amid a great mound of thick-cut, french-fried potatoes with a massive side order of canned peas. I could not bring myself to mash everything together as some of my lunch table mates did, but I did switch to vinegar instead of ketchup on the fries. The potential for grease is formidable but at Old Saltyís diner in Bloomsbury, the cook is so adept at deep fat frying that we did not even need to wash our hands after eating.
3. Believe it or not, I counted forty-two (42) urinals in the menís public convenience in the underground passage beneath the intersection at Marble Arch. Do they expect men marching to the john off the street in platoon formation? To someoneís sterling credit, all but one was sparkling clean.
4. What is busking and why does it incur a 200 pound fine if you are caught doing it in the tube (subway)? Speaking of British lingo, my favorite phrase is mind the gap which is used to warn people against misstepping as they enter and exit a subway car. The Unit and I refer to it frequently when we push single beds together to make a double in our cheap rooms.
The week in London was a good transition period - a time to downshift toward the basics: edible food, a warm room, clean water, occasional privacy, and less demanding standards for hygiene, sanitation, and dress. The road ahead will require great adaptability. Warming up in London also gave us some time to gather our travel savvy which will be vitally important in the upcoming months: navigating in a strange city, hunting up affordable accommodations, locating public bathrooms, guarding possessions, procuring cheap food, and yes, even hustling for internet access. Unfortunately this practice did not prevent me from losing my computer glasses and my watch. The former was probably my own fault, carelessly dropped in one of the big museums. But the latter was probably snitched in the hostel. The $7.50 plastic watch from K-Mart is not a big deal - I shall soon enter a world of natural time: sunrise, mid-day, sunset, and night time. But its loss serves to remind me that the value of any possession is in the eyes of the thief.
All this has reminded the Unit and I that we have given up a lot to go on the road again. More sacrifice is necessary to sever the mental connections. The situation is perpetuated by our electronic tether to family, friends, and strangers from all over the globe. We both still dream of work and compare amenities with our life back in Colorado. But this will pass, the sooner the better, the farther we progress into uncharted experiential territory.
Copyright (c) 1996 Jet City JimBo All rights reserved
Ten or twelve million people reside in London and 95% of them seem to use the tube during rush hour at 5 PM on Friday. That was the time I had chosen to retrieve the Great Duffel, my tribute to packing heavy, from left luggage at Victoria Station. As I stood in front of the tube station entrance, I was shocked by the human freeway jammed with rushing pedestrians. Five dollars a day for storage suddenly did not seem nearly so bad. I wheeled the Great Duffel back to its temporary home and made a mental note to change more money.
Nine days later I reclaimed the green monster and its little wheeled cart when the Spousal Unit and I departed London for Dover to rendezvous with the overland truck, our home for the next five months. What should have been a simple two hour train ride got complicated as the train stopped after an hour, forcing us to drag our entourage of bags to a bus and then back to another train which split into two parts. Arriving in Dover after dark, we found all potential homes (lockers) for the Great Duffel taken. The Unit draped herself across the bags and I surveyed the blackness, pondering the half mile walk to a hostel without any map.
It was at this point that I had a masterstroke of luck and good fortune! Spotting a pub across the street, I ran over to see if they would store the green monster. Not only would they but rooms were available for a mere fifteen pounds per person. Shrewdly realizing that an evening of amenities would be an excellent way to spend the eve before the long-awaited truck trip as well as a perfect opportunity to score more Valentineís points, I booked a lovely room that was so big we could both walk around in it at the same time. Featherbeds, operational plumbing, and a room actually at room temperature created a very romantic ambiance which was not wasted.
The icing on the cake was dinner in a real sit-down restaurant with a vinyl tablecloth instead of the usual crusty table at the Maree. We celebrated with our favorite survival meal - fried rice and sweet and sloppy vegetables - which we always fall back on when, for whatever reason, the food, its preparation, or the establishment serving it appears dubious. A precise definition of dubious along with detailed examples will be available in subsequent KlimaGrams.
The next morning we finally met the Dragoman truck, our home for the next five months. Dragoman is a UK-based operator of overland truck expeditions in Asia, Africa, and the Americas. In the 18th and 19th centuries, dragomen were local guides for adventurers in Africa and the Middle East who wanted to explore beyond the beaten track.
Our Dragoman is an orange and white, 24 ton Mercedes diesel truck, named Claudia after the supermodel of the same name. Supposedly Claudia is a super truck because it represents the latest evolution in overland vehicles from Dragoman who has been building them for the last 15 years. Our truck has a dual rear axle which has never been tested in the sand of the Sahara or the mud in Zaire. The back of the truck body is outfitted like a fancy bus but if you call it that, you will receive looks of disdain from the drivers. Because the bottom of the truck is full of compartments for supplies and equipment, the seats are quite high. Standing alongside, I can barely reach the bottom of the windows.
And what is the best thing about the truck? It is half empty with only 13 passengers and two drivers. That leaves us with plenty of room to lounge about, read, play cards, and socialize. Once we reach warm weather and open up the roof seats, the roominess will get even better. Another thing I like about the truck is its hard side and roof - very nice when the weather turns cold, wet, or gritty. My internet research with overlanders repeatedly indicated that vehicle security was also extremely important. Despite her big windows, Claudia shuts up tight when she needs to.
As we head south through France, our first two nights are spent in a Formulae One, a high tech, European version of an American Motel 6. Each room is an identical cell, maybe ten feet square. There is no furniture save a small stool and an unusual bunk bed with a single bed stacked atop a double bed. One corner contains a wedge-shaped vanity with a sink. The other corner contains a small triangular table upon which I now write. Even the television is small - twelve inches. All in all, the room resembles a large office cubicle, complete with fluorescent lighting. Bathrooms and showers are down the hall in tiny plastic cubicles. Little red and green lights over the door show status: occupied or vacant. Bright primary colors and molded plastic abound. But the Unit and I are quite comfortable. It is a big step up from the Maree.
Dining out our group of fifteen discovers that no one is fluent in French although a couple people have a smattering of the language. One of the more memorable frustrations can be ordering a meal in a French restaurant with snooty waiters when one neither reads or speaks French. Fortunately, our waiterís desire for a tip from a party of fifteen overrides his linguistic pride and we manage. But our ignorance is somewhat of an ominous sign since most of West Africa is French-speaking. Cíest la vie.
Copyright (c) 1996 Jet City JimBo All rights reserved
For more information, contact the following in the USA. Please, please, please mention my name and the home page where you read about my trip in your query. Thanks. JimBo
The Adventure Center 1311 63rd Street Emeryville, CA 94608
email: email@example.com fax: (510) 654-4200 telephone: (510) 654-1879 toll-free (800) 227-8747 URL: coming soon
For the UK, contact Dragoman as follows.
Dragoman 96 Camp Green Debenham, Stowmarket Suffolk, 1P14 6LA
fax: 01728 861 127 telephone: 01728 861 133
Across the Pyrenees into Spain, we enter Spain, the first of many new countries for me on this trip. A glimpse of the Atlantic Ocean, the first sighting of palm trees, and an endless procession of unreadable signs for a speaker of only one language, English. Perhaps the cash machines here will be friendlier. The French ATMs liked the Spousal Unit but sneered at my VISA card.
We picnic on guacamole sandwiches at the border under leaden skies. After lunch we dash back across to France to rid ourselves of French coins, then load up the truck and roll south through the hilly countryside of northern Spain. Passing a road sign for Pamplona, a Spanish town immortalized by Hemingway, I remember my recent running with the bulls on Black Friarís Bridge back in London...
Revitalized by consecutive, twelve hour comas in our London hostel, the Spousal Unit and I finally recuperated from jet lag and predeparture stress. Setting forth in search of adventure, we walked along the Thames in the brisk air. The wind bit into our layers of fleece and polypropelene but we were driven by the adrenaline rush of being in an unfamiliar city. Double decker buses rumbled by, freezing loads of tourists in their open tops like ice cubes in a tray.
"Look at all those people, Sue!" I said, pointing at the crowds ahead surrounding the bridge ahead of us. "Is that London Bridge?" She asked. "No, itís called Black Friarís."
The connecting streets were blocked by bright red buses parked bumper to bumper. Emergency vehicles idled on side streets with lights flashing and policemen on horseback milled about.
"Wotís going on?" I asked in my best British accent when we reached the fringe of the crowd. "The bulls are coming." "The bulls?" "Yea, mate, itís the first running of the bulls Ďere in London."
"Wait a minute, doesnít this usually happen somewhere in Spain?" "Sure but the town of Pamplona has franchised the concept all across Europe. The bad part is that they put the Queen at the bottom of the list so here we are freezing our bums off in February waiting for the bloody beasts!"
What would you have done? It was the chance of a lifetime. I vaulted over the barricade before the Unit could say anything. My comrades were an odd lot - barrel-chested rugby players, fine- featured poet types, even a few prim Indian gentlemen but absolutely no women. No one would talk to me because nobody would stand still. They jumped up and down and chain smoked, never taking their eyes off the south end of the bridge for more than five seconds. Second thoughts swept through me and I began to think this was a KlimaGram episode that could be faked. I tried to maneuver toward the edge of the mob but it was too late - I had been swept onto the bridge itself.
A roar went up from the far end of the bridge, increasing the level of agitation in the crowd tenfold. A minute later pandemonium took hold of the mass of humanity, turning it into an avalanche of bodies rushing north. I could see nothing except frantically pushing bodies. I twisted and shoved, then stumbled. Catching a light pole, I jerked myself up above the sea of heads so I could take a look behind me.
My God! There were bulls not twenty feet behind me! I panicked big time. Everyone else around me did likewise so details of what happened to me next is rather vague. I wound up sprawled on the ground in front of Black Friarís Tavern, a hundred yards north of the bridge. I remember a bull standing over me laughing. Laughing? As it ran off, I was shocked to see it had human legs! The "bull" was actually two people in costume.
Later I learned there was a legal problem bringing the real bulls from Pamplona across the English Channel on the ferry. So the British, ever keen on making the best of the situation, substituted human volunteers from a local cricket league. And if you believe all that you read here, I may just switch to preposterous fiction for the remainder of this trip.
Back in Spain we stop in a town whose name I never did learn and hole up in the Pension Joel because it is cold, windy, and dark. The room leaves a bit to be desired security-wise but the Unit and I tape our seventh floor window shut, padlock the bags to the sink with steel cables, and forge out into the snowflakes to find a Valentineís Day meal. All the bar/cafes are filled with middle-aged men but we walk and walk until we run into a Chinese restaurant. It always amazes me how one can always find a Chinese restaurant in almost any city in the world.
The next morning is even colder. Fixing breakfast on the sidewalk next to the truck, the cooking crew discovers that the truckís water tank has frozen. Worse yet, I find my giant, economy size jar of Nutella, the chocolate-like hazel nut spread that is Godís gift to bread, has frozen as well!
The long johns become a second skin and it is not until 12:30 PM on February 16th just outside Seville, 200 kilometers from Gibraltar, that the Unit removes her ear muffs for the first time. Her ears were frostbitten when she was younger, leaving them hypersensitive to the cold. The ear muffs are as precious to her as an American Express credit card. I never touch the holy muffs for fear I might somehow break or lose them. The consequences of the latter are close to unthinkable. The rest of us are down to t-shirts, one to shorts, so the group, with yours truly as ringleader, marks the appearance of the Unitís ears with plenty of inappropriate remarks.
Copyright (c) 1996 Jet City JimBo All rights reserved