After 3 rejected Indian visas, 3 exams, and 35 hours of transit we finally arrived in Kathmandu.
Our journey began in Toronto last Monday. Along with our personal bags, we checked a hockey bag full of equipment and a wheelchair ramp with little resistance from the airlines (partly thanks to the X-Ring). The supplies were donated by BABU and a number of incredible sponsors and are to be shared between the International Friendship Children’s Hospital (IFCH) and Special Education and Rehabilitation Centre for Disabled Children (SERC), where we will be volunteering.
Luckily, we just missed the hurricane and we on time for our 7 1/2 hour flight to London. We arrived at Heathrow International Airport in the early morning and of course had to experience some of the local culture by enjoying a Guinness. Our next flight was 9 hours to India. Our neighbor was a young Nepalese man named Deezee who shared some of his local knowledge despite the fact that he has never been treking or spent any time in the mountains. The flight was pretty smooth and on descent to Indian, we woke up to the flight attendant stating that they were spraying the cabin and passengers with disinfectant, and we could “close our eyes if we want”. It was very hot and humid in India but, we only had the chance to enjoy being outside between the plane and terminal. After that, we were constrained to the inside the airport for 10 hours as we waited for our next flight with no Internet. We played multiple games of cribbage, crazy eights, read, and ate far too many PB & Js. Before we knew it, we were waiting in line for our flight to Kathmandu (and I was one of the tallest passengers)!!
The short flight to Kathmandu was absolutely stunning. As we flew closer to Kathmandu, the snow capped giants of the Himalayas appeared in the distance; each larger and more magnificent than the next. The plane flew over mountain villages, and into the Kathmandu Valley with rivers flowing from all directions. There are eight main rivers that flow through Kathmandu, many of which are used for rafting and kayaking.
The pushing and shoving on the plane and bus were a preview of what was to come. To say the airport was hectic is a bit of an understatement. There was a general lack of order, but somehow we ended up with all of our bags (and wheelchair ramp) in tact. The exit from the airport is when things really started. There were masses of people lining the arrivals area behind a metal barrier that was in place to contain the crowds. Taxi drivers and random people tried to grab our bags in hopes that we would go with them and provide a good tip. Among the masses and chaos stood a sign held by a short stout Nepalese man that read “IFCH, Phil and Caitlin”. Within a second of signalling that was us, 2 men swiped our bags and guided us through the crowds like celebrities to a small silver ambulance Our bags were rifled into the back and we were off to experience the streets of Kathmandu.
Our driver nearly hit 5 cars and multiple pedestrians before we even left the parking lot. The roads were crowded with cars, buses motor bikes, cyclists, people, and the odd cow. There seemed to be no order whatsoever, with drivers honking, driving all over the road, and each expecting the other to get out of the way. The streets were lined with people; some working, others cooking or sleeping, many wearing bandannas or masks due to the pollution and dust in the air that you can smell and feel as you breathe. In the city, the streets were lined with rubble that you would expect in the streets of Afghanistan, or after an earthquake.
Somehow we arrived at the hospital unscathed. Our arrival was met with much excitement! Dr. Shakya, the main physician at the hospital, welcomed us with open arms and invited us to sit and chat while enjoying Masala or “chai” (which immediately became our favourite drink) as he examined patients in his spacious office. We also met our amazing CI, Lou, an Argintinian trained physiotherapist who has spent time working in New Zealand, for the Red Cross in Pakistan, and spent much of her professional life travelling. Caitlin and I were quite exhausted after our 35 hours of travels so our plan was to drop off the supplies and go to our hostel for a much needed sleep. But, the hospital had other plans. Before we knew it, we were getting a tour of the hospital and saw patients in the burn unit and cardioresp sections.
After our long day, we took a 3 wheeled tuk tuk to Thamel (the very busy tourist district of Kathmandu) with Lou and a 4 Australian medical students. We got a bit lost and through the stop and go traffic, along with weaving between buses and buildings, one of the Australians had to get out and throw up on the street. Surprisingly, this is a fairly common sight in the streets of Kathmandu.
Finally, we arrived at our hostel, cleaned ourselves up, enjoyed a dinner of our last PB and J and trailmix, and passed out by 8pm!