Nepal to Japan: In Transit Post

A month traveling in a new country is a long time – It was the first time either of us had experienced this (without working). The month at times seemed like 8 weeks and there were several times we both had mini meltdowns out of frustration with the poor organization or ‘island time mentality’. We swung between wanting to make it work with *uck it, lets fly to another country as this is s*itshow. In the end we found the right balance, I think, and we did much more than originally planned.

In the last days of our stay in the country we hopped from one part of Pokhara to another more touristy part, and then finished up in dusty Kathmandu, all of which we will document in another post (with pics). In the meantime, as we sit in the lounge at Singapore Airport (thanks Trey for all your excess work travel to allow for such luxuries), these are some witty and not so witty observations that we made about Nepal and the things we discovered about ourselves in the process:

  • Cold showers and squat toilets are fine on occasion but they lose their novelty after a while.
  • Great vegetarian/vegan food means we didn’t miss meat.
  • It’s hard to sit upright whilst being cross legged (at least for us)
  • Not having coffee for a month feels great.
  • Not having booze for a month also feels great.
  • Cleaning your nose with salt water feels amazing (no, really).
  • Having no hairdryer and no hair product for a month is what you imagine it would be. Fluffy.
  • Nepal is not on our list of places to move to.
  • I will no longer take running water in my home for granted.
  • I could eat daal Bhat everyday and never get bored of it (rice and lentils).
  • Poor organisation still gets on my tits. Being here for a month didn’t make it any more ‘charming’
  • Our experience of volunteering through a local organization was not isolated. We heard similar examples of arriving and then being told that October was a dead month for teaching. My suggestion is to use an international organization vs small/local.
  • Being a foreign woman in Nepal was better than I thought it would be but not as good as it should be. The man is king here.
  • Traveling by bus here is miserable. It’s not exotic or ‘should be tried as part of the whole experience’- it’s a truly shitty experience. Bus journeys take 4 hours longer than advertised (4 hours takes 7, 6 hours takes 10), you get leaned on, sat on, coughed on and people throwing up in the aisle is not uncommon.
Someone’s looking grumpy!
  • They chew up the bones with their meet (fish, chicken, goat). We’re told it’s a good source of calcium. My preference is to eat a yogurt or leafy greens rather than have my insides ripped by splintering bones, but then again, I am old fashioned.
  • There are very cute kids everywhere, but I don’t think that this is because there are more kids. Instead, I think it is because kids (even as young as 5?) walk down the road between houses on there own. Village life feels extremely safe with everyone looking out for each other.
  • Basically no one uses the internet, but there is now 3G wireless everywhere so I’m guessing this will change?
  • In villages, No credit cards, ATMs. If you want money from the bank, go to the bank (old school).
  • They shop at local stores on credit and can pay it back up to a year later.
  • The Nepalese are hands down the most welcoming people. Everyone treats you like an honored family member. Sit here, eat this, let us make you something. Have some of (fill in the blank with a food item).

16/14 year old girls we stayed with:

  • Don’t have phones
  • Don’t have email
  • Can’t swim
  • Can’t imagine driving
  • No bank accounts
  • Don’t have access to social media (but they *LOVE* Snapchat lenses once introduced)
  • Work unbelievablely hard at studies – literally 14 hour days, 6 days a week

Rubbish (Trash if you’re from America)

  • Rubbish is just dropped on the road. e.g. Candy wrappers
  • Concept of don’t litter just doesn’t exist
  • The home we stayed in created maybe one bucket of rubbish in 3 weeks
  • Near complete self-sufficiency with produce
  • Rice is purchased in reusable 50 lb bags
  • Soda bottles are reused to carry water

Nepal Fun Score

S – 1.5

T – 1.5

Ahhh Amsterdam – Ik Vind Het Echt Leuk!

We shoehorned 5 days in Amsterdam between Corsica and our stop off in Paris at the end of the month. 5 days! This was the longest we’d been here since we left and we had no plans. How glorious!

As you’d expect from us, we created a spreadsheet of days, and time slots and began reaching out to our friends to make appointments for breakfast, lunch, coffee, or dinner over the 5 days.

We booked a cute Airbnb in the centre of the city, picked ups some shitty looking and very rattly bikes and started to re explore the city where we both lived, where we met and where we had many happy memories.

With the exception of the Sunday where it *issed it down with torrential rain, the rest of the week was great in terms of weather. Cooler than the recent heatwave, for sure, but the temperature slowly increased over the week to a high of 21C/72F and sunglasses were needed from day 2.

It was quite lovely cycling around the city with our bikes rattling on the cobblestones. It gave us both a sense of calm, familiarity and ease. And after the first 2 weeks of arriving in Europe and launching straight into a tough hike, we started to feel relaxed and as though we were on holiday.

Here’s what we did:

Sunday: arrived, and got drenched-to-the-skin dragging our luggage from Amsterdam Central to our Airbnb (the weather reminded us of why we left)…We dropped our bag at our room, went for lunch in the nearby Brandstof (and to also dry out) and later hung out with our friends N+K who had just moved back to the city. Finally that evening we saw A-C and J for drinks at their apartment.

Monday: Picked up bikes, met L for breakfast at Brandstof (as it was over the road from our place), closed down our joint bank account, cycled round the city, popped into our friend’s art gallery, dropped by De Winkel and had some apple tart, met L+H for wine and food for dinner at Rayleigh and Ramsey.

Tuesday: Met T for breakfast at The Breakfast Club, cycled around Central Station which has been all zoomed up and is very cool now. Took the ferry to NDSM wharf, had a cup a tea at Noorderlicht and cycled to Amsterdam Noord before meeting S for drinks at Morlang, and the revisiting N+K for dinner at De Reiger.

Wednesday: Cycled to the Museum district, had lunch at De Kas (our wedding location- ), cycled back to the Stedelijk Museum for a dose of modern art, cycled to the Hoxton Hotel and had drinks and food with L.

Thursday: T went for a run, I wrote this post at (guess where….) Brandstof, where the owner had bought me a coffee within 3 mins of me arriving and without me ordering anything. Service has improved over the past 5 years it seems. That afternoon we cycled along the Amstel to Ouderkirk which is a small village around 30 mins cycle from Amsterdam where we grabbed a tea and T checked out all the moored boats that line the route. Randomly T’s sister Whitney happened to be in Ams as well on a work trip so we managed to catch up with her for an early dinner in our old neighborhood of De Pijp. We then popped round to see our old neighbors DJ+E. These fine folk bought our apartment and then expanded into it – adding stairs and an additional floor – it was great to see their new space.

Friday: Our last day started with a final breakfast with our friend J at the Hoxton Hotel followed by dropping our bikes off with the rental guy and collecting our bags before jumping on the train to Paris.

Our next city is Paris – C’est Possible?

Last Days of Corsica

Heading towards Corte, we had booked a small bnb for 2 nights called Casa Vanella in Casamacciolo, which looked like an architectural combination of classical French gite mixed with modern Scandinavian modernism. It was a great stopping point between Piana and Corte.

The place was quite lovely and more spectacular in real life.

The gite housed the bedrooms with the modern structure used for communal dining space. As the bnb was relatively remote, it offered an evening meal as an extra service.

It was excellent!

The next day we did what turned out to be our last hike in Corsica (more to come on that). We sought advice from the host of the gite and planned to do a 5 hour hike to a lake on top of a mountain (Lac de Nino).

The hike as per usual that we had experienced was a mixture of terrain starting with woodland, followed by a heathy mix of rock scrambling, exposed ridge line and ending with a stoney descent. Reassuringly familiar. (Click for 360 view from the top)

This final hike joined up with the northern section of the GR 20 for a few km.

Seeing the red and white stripe markings was like catching up with an old friend: a kind of friendship which had rocky moments but never the less it was really special.

It reminded us of what we had achieved earlier in the month- 90km through hike walking halfway across Corsica. It made it clear that we would be back some day to finish the northern section.

  • Distance 14.24 km
  • Time 5.31 min
  • Elevation 970 ascent 1021 descent
  • Fun score
  • S-1
  • T-1

So why did we cut our Corsican adventure short? The answer is simple, after 3 weeks on this beautiful island with exceptional hiking, glorious weather and delicious food, we decided to make the most of being in Europe by picking up a last minute flight to…..Amsterdam.

Tips for the GR20

We planned on the full monty, but were happy with the Southern half. After 7 days on the trail, here are some tips we’ll use when we come back for the Northern half.

Whilst we did a lot of research and prep for this through hike, there are some things that you only learn on the job (so to speak). Here are our nuggets of wisdom:

Pack light: Everyone says this, because it’s true. Our packs were light but could have been lighter. As per the comments below, we could have ditched the tent and the sleep mats straight off and would have been ok.

Book ahead and reserve a Refuge tent: These are in place, set up and ready for hire. They cost around 10e/pp including a sleep mat compared to 8e/pp if you BYO. You save the tent weight in your pack as well as set up/breakdown time. They are also in the prime locations of the Refuge and not down a hill by the cheap seats. Downside is that it reduces flexibility and means you have to stick to a hiking agenda (no impromptu rest days). Another tip: take rest days 😁

Take a lightweight sleeping bag and liner: We hiked in the first half of September and it was still warm. At night the temp dropped to around 50F/10C which meant you could pack a super light sleeping bag and wear clothes if you were cold. My sleeping bag was super warm and most of the time I was on top of it.

Breakfast is not worth the cost at 8e/pp (hot drink, bread and jam): Take energy bars or packs of ready oats. Most of the Sud refuges had gas to boil water. We had porridge and a kettle with us but didn’t pack them in our packs as we wanted to save on weight. Mistake I think. Ahead of some of the big hikes it would have been great to have a bowl of porridge to start with.

North South vs South North: This is a tricky one. Starting at the North means that you get the heavy climbs done in the first 4 days and there is a promise of easier days ahead. Starting in the South, however, gives you time to get used to the trail, get stronger, understand the landscape, potentially, so that the Northern part is more manageable? I don’t know on this… 6 of 1 and half a dozen of the other. I’m sure there’s pros and cons to both. The psychology is interesting, if you start in the North you have the promise of easier days but could be put off immediately; starting in the South you have threats from everyone walking the other way about how hard the North is.

Read up on water sources so you only carry what you need per hike: Some routes have water sources en route and some don’t . If there is water available you can start with 1 ltr and pick up as you need it. This can lighten your pack by around 2kg.. If there is no water on the hike, then take what you need. There’s definitely a strategy to this.

Don’t carry food (unless you are on a budget and you don’t mind carrying everything): There is plenty to buy on route although it is significantly marked up. (Pots of tuna/rice salad are 3.50e but make a good lunch. Baguette is around 2.5e (over priced but who doesn’t like bread). There are no energy bars to buy / some places have snickers or candy but not many.

For evening meals most of the refuges served something whether it was lentils, pasta or pots of stew: It’s ‘ok’, it’s not a gourmet delight but you don’t have to prepare it, cook it or clean up afterwards so it’s worth the money… just (18e/pp +/-). You also have the chance to sit and chat with other hikers and hear their stories, although stories about dislocated thumbs or broken noses are not really the stories you want to hear when debating whether to continue. Saying that, we met some really, really nice people along the way and we hope to stay connected.

Clothes: I was pretty happy with what I took and I’d maybe only change 1 thing.

I had:

  • Fjall Raven Hike pants – wore these in the evening to keep legs warm and to have something not sweaty
  • Hooded down jacket – wore this at night and first thing in the evening. Also doubled as my pillow.
  • Rain shell – Used it on the rest day when it rained.
  • Mountain Hardwear Hike shorts – wore these nearly everyday for hiking
  • 2 hike shirts – wore these in the evenings / could have just had 1. These are lightweight and quick dry so didn’t really add to the weight
  • 1 hike t shirt – Icebreaker and excellent – wore it every day. Washed as needed
  • 3 pairs of Smartwool socks – 1 clean pair for camp / sleeping – 2 alternating for hiking
  • 3 pairs Exofficio undies – rotated and washed
  • 2 Icebreaker bras – rotated and washed
  • Camp shoes – ugly but received so many compliments from fellow hikers. Take that Fashion people who laughed at my shoes…..
  • Asolo Hiking boots – Amazing – best shoes ever – never had a blister in these. We saw a lot of people with trail runners on, but T + I really appreciated having ankle protection. Note, the trails are MUCH rougher than those in North America.
  • Baseball cap – wore it everyday (to cover my unwashed non green/grey hair)
  • Wooly hat – didn’t wear it on head but used it to relieve pressure on my shoulders after my collarbones bruised from carrying the pack.
  • 2 bandanas- wore one to guard the back of my neck against the sun and used the other for the other collarbone (see above)
  • Backpack: Osprey, Lumina + Levity (male and female version) Exceptionally light and VERY comfortable for both of us.

Non clothes:

  • Hiking poles are a must. Just ask the grumpy dudes carrying heavy ass pieces of wood. We used Black Diamond carbon fiber – super light. We made a lot of people jealous.
  • Trail bars / Cliff/Pro Bar – Good to have for lunch and trail snacks
  • Nuun tablets – we took too many I think. Used them but not obsessively
  • Toilet paper – most necessary
  • Headlamp – yes – used everyday
  • Hand sanitizer – yes
  • Sunblock – yes
  • Bag of medicine (migraine tabs, ibuprofen, Imodium) yes – used in most cases
  • BabyWipes – Most places had showering facilities (mostly cold) so we could have reduced the amount of baby-wipes we took. I overpacked – haha
  • Liquid Soap for Body, hair, + clothes (Camp suds): Yes, this does exist and was amazing. Saying that, I chose to avoid using it on my hair as I didn’t want my natural highlights to turn green from the soap.. : ). Only those with grey hair would understand this dilemma. Another thing to note that there were a lot of well groomed hikers. Blokes shaved their faces and ladies shaved their legs… Made T + I feel scruffy.
  • Although a GPS is not necessary, having a GPS app on your phone with all the maps allowed us to plan the days. Also having the GR20 guide on the phone was really helpful to read ahead.
  • Clothes pegs: we took 10 and they’re were SO handy to peg out our smalls of an evening.
  • Sam Splint: We took one of these but thankfully didn’t need it. As far as first aid is concerned we were never more than 100yds from another person.
One bed, two different pack layouts. I’m on the left, T’s on the right