Arriving in Kathmandu
October 21, 2018
After spending the night with my friend, John, last night, I departed LAX at 1230 local time on 19 October 2018. That first flight lasted over 14 hours gate to gate. By far my longest flight, and it was absolute misery in spite of my aisle seat. I can't even imagine how horrible the flight would've been if I'd been seated in the middle. This is only my third trip abroad, and it's my first where the language and cultural barriers are real concerns.
I was so anxious as I made my way from the international terminal in Shanghai to the domestic terminal for the second leg of my trip. I hadn't realized that I'd be passing through Customs in China, and I wondered whether I'd needed to get a visa, which I hadn't done. Fortunately I was issued a 24-hour travel visa exemption. All part of standard operating procedure, so I got pretty lucky there. Once I made my way through domestic security, I found my gate and some seat banks without arm rests. I tried to sleep for a few hours to take the sting out of the jet lag that I knew awaited me in Kathmandu, but unfortunatley my travel anxiety was on high alert. My phone hadn't adjusted to local time, so I set a timer rather than an alarm just in case it adjusted automatically while I was napping. It did. Technology is so cool until it doesn't work exactly right immediately, which isn't often, but those little mis-steps can create some pretty stressful situations. If I hadn't planned for that unlikely possibility, I very likely would've missed my flight. My sleep was disturbed but certainly better than nothing since I hadn't slept at all on the long flight from LAX.
I was seated in a middle seat on the second leg, which was substantially shorter, but I got lucky again when someone switched an aisle seat with me because they wanted to be next to their friend. Another break on my 30+ hour venture. I arrived in Kunming a few hours later and had to exit through security and claim my bag to re-check it before continuing on to Kathmandu. With a thirteen hour layover, I was grateful to find a rest area downstairs for overnight travelers. I caught a little sleep on the cold, hard floor, but it wasn't great. Excited that I booked a hostel for my first few nights in Kathmandu. Easy decision when it costs under $5 USD per night.
I found traveling in China to be stressful, especially when I arrived in Kunming. It's a smaller international airport than Shanghai. I found that most signs no longer included the English translation and that many of the airport employees did not speak any English, and the few who did couldn't speak well. I think it's also more stressful because it's all so new to me. And there are bits of culture that have come up in the airports that I find annoying - everyone is pushy and it's been common for folks to push past or straight up cut me in line. Feels targeted because I'm very clearly a foreigner. When I try to be polite, they don't understand. When I stare them down and shake my head, they seem to understand and give me more respect. Not sure what that's all about. Feels like taking advantage because I don't speak the language or understand the culture, but I also acknowledge that it may not be personal at all. That the stares I'm getting may not be the locals sizing me up to take advantage, but rather innocent curiosity because I'm very clearly a westerner and I probably look lost and confused, which I am. I know that's my American privilege coming out. I'm not complaining or even arguing that it should be easier for me to travel in Asia. I'm simply acknowledging the challenges without judgment. In fact, I'm grateful for the perspective.
I also found that I was feeling lonely on this solo venture. I've felt lonely on a number of my more recent solo trips, but it's a different feeling when there is a specific person with whom I want to share my trip. Mallory is the great love of my life, and I'm so looking forward to doing life with her - the fun, the difficult, the mundane, the inspiring, all of it. We have many travels to look forward to the next few years and a family to look forward to after that. Excited to be at her side for as many minutes as possible from now until forever. I started making videos for her today in the Kunming airport. I felt less lonely as I talked into the camera lens, like I was somehow closer to her. There will be many days where I won't have service, so these videos will be my only link to her. I'm going to make one each day from now until I land back at LAX in a month.
I felt overwhelmed as I walked to my hostel from the airport. It was only about 6 kilometers, which was fine except that the visa process took almost three hours. I ended up walking out of the airport right at dusk and with just my hiking pack, I prefered to walk all the way to the hostel rather than take a taxi. I didn't have any rupees, and I wanted to get oriented to the area anyways. The walk was mostly fine, but there were a few sketchy sections. Nothing that made me fear for my safety; it was just so quiet and desolate. Very little street lighting, hardly anyone out and about. It felt eerie, like a ghost town. I had entered the address into Google Maps before leaving the airport, but there were no street signs to follow and without service, I couldn't update the route if I got off track. I was surprised and grateful to find my hostel. Shoulda just taken the taxi, but I'm cheap and hate paying for transportation when it's a quick walk. (For me, "quick" is anything under a few hours, haha.) As I lay in bed tonight, I'm definitely feeling overwhelmed with anxiety about all of the unknowns ahead. I'm excited too, I think.