Monthly Recap: Month 10

Well, this monthly recap is very late! It would have come out, should everything have been normal, on May 2nd. However, as many of you know, we were actually getting ready to come home after experiencing the Earthquake in Nepal on May 2nd. Because of that earthquake, Month 10 turned out to be the last month of our trip… We had been planning on making it until Month 11, but the world had other plans for us. Month 10 had some great times as well as some not so great times (see aforementioned earthquake). Let’s recap, shall we?!

Here are our stats for this month.

Countries visited:  3 (Vietnam, China, and NepalSpecial Administrative Regions: 2 (Hong Kong and Macau)

Beds Slept In: Tarps Slept Under:Embassies Slept In: 1 (Hopefully the first and last of our life.)

UNESCO Heritage Sights Visited: 7 (My Son Sanctuary, Complex of Hue MonumentsPhong Nha – Ke Bang National ParkCentral Sector of the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long – HanoiHa Long BayHistoric Centre of MacaoKathmandu Valley) *** As of July of 2015, there are have been many new UNESCO sites added! We were pretty excited that two places that we visited on our RTW were now recently added! YAY! Those include Singapore Botanical Gardens (visited in Month 7) and Ephesus (visited in Month 5). Total on RTW: 49

We traveled by 3 planes this month.

We traveled by 4 boats this month.

We traveled 4 long distance buses/minibuses.

We traveled by 1 train this month.

We traveled by 2 helicopters this month.

Top Moments:

~ Our biggest emotional high was when we were rescued by helicopter from Bamboo Village in Nepal. We had never ridden in a helicopter before and on that day, we rode two. We couldn’t have had better scenery: the beautiful Himalayas of Nepal. Despite the destruction caused by the earthquake and landslides, Nepal is a gorgeous country, well worth a visit! If you are interested in supporting Nepal after the devastating earthquake, check out some ideas here

 

Runners Up for Top Moments:

~We had an absolutely lovely day biking through the outskirts of Hoi An. We went a bit off the beaten track and biked through rice fields to a great beach! Good day all around.

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~We rushed through Phong Nha National Park in order to see some of the renowned caves there. We struggled with which tour to choose, but ultimately went with a general tour of three caves. It was all amazing, but our favorite part was experiencing swimming through a mud bath in the Dark Cave. It was hard to explain the feeling of floating through a pool of mud – how we imagine it would feel to be on the moon – almost weightless! Overall, a lot of fun!

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~We really enjoyed lots of places in Vietnam, but another great day was when we kayaked through the karsts in Lan Ha Bay. We had a lovely day in great scenery!

Getting used to the kayak

Getting used to the kayak

~Another great day was when we took the funicular up Hong Kong Peak. Great weather – it wasn’t too hot way up there, and  you just couldn’t beat the views!

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Items Missing, Broken, Discarded, or Added:

 

Honestly, we don’t really remember… Sorry!

Packing Update:

We were glad that we had held on to our colder weather gear because we used every bit of it in Nepal. It was particularly good when we hit an emergency situation and ended up having to sleep outside for 5 nights.

Books Read: (Have you read any of these??)

Della has read All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy (4)

Eric has read Overkill by James Barrington (2), Gods of War by John Toland (4)

Eric and Della have BOTH read Tai-Pan by James Clavell (4)

The rating system is for Della’s mom who is refusing to look at Goodreads. It is 1 to 5, 5 being the highest.

Make sure to catch up on all our monthly recaps: Monthly Recap 1, Monthly Recap 2, Monthly Recap 3,Monthly Recap 4, Monthly Recap 5, Monthly Recap 6, Monthly Recap 7, Monthly Recap 8, Monthly Recap 9

Connections: Team Bamboo

Traveling is a wonderful way to meet people! Unfortunately, often those connections are strong but only fleeting. Connections is our tag to recognize and remember some of the wonderful people we meet.

If you’d like to contribute to help the people of Nepal recover from the devastating earthquake, please visit our page collecting some worthy causes.

We’ve described our experiences during the Earthquake in Nepal and now we’d like to write something a little bit more hopeful. We’ve written about a lot of Connections that we’ve made with amazing people on our travels. As great as those relationships were, it’s probably safe to say that they aren’t nearly as intense an the connections that we made with the people who sheltered with us in Bamboo after the earthquake in Nepal.

A lot of people ask us about what the group dynamic was in this large collection of people in a survival situation. It could easily have been pretty bad, with people taking an “every person for themselves” approach, but from the start it was exactly the opposite. Everyone was making sure that everyone else was ok, and sharing food and water.

As the days went on, this team spirit continued. Projects that were done were for the good of the group, and never just for an individual or small group. In many ways it was hard to find something to do to make yourself useful, because so many other people were volunteering to do the same thing!

Beyond the practical matters though, it was a great experience just interacting with this group of people. Even though the group was from all around the world, they all spoke English (which we are always amazed by). It was easy to pass the time by just striking up a conversation with whomever happened to be sitting on the rock next to you. Everyone kept a positive attitude, and when some would start to get weighed down by disappointing events, others were right there to pick them back up.

We have also been inspired by the different efforts that members of the group have started to help Nepal in the aftermath of the earthquake. You can find links to support their causes on our earthquake relief resources page.

Even though we were thrown together by a random twist of fate, the diverse group at Bamboo quickly became a team, surviving and working together. We forged a bond that we hope will last a lifetime!

Team Bamboo plus the staff of the Chabad House

Team Bamboo plus the staff of the Chabad House

After the Earthquake Part 4: Rescue

If you’d like to contribute to help the people of Nepal recover from the devastating earthquake, please visit our page collecting some worthy causes.

On April 30, we were quick to rise from bed at dawn (5 AM). We had slept well, since there were extra blankets now that there were just 22 people left. The night’s chill was still in the air, but we didn’t dawdle getting going for the day because the Dutch man who was keeping control of the satellite messaging device announced to everyone that rescue was coming “soon.” It was a beautiful morning in the valley, so we figured weather concerns would not stop the helicopters.

In addition to making sure our personal bags were packed and ready to go, we also all worked on getting the camp cleaned up and things put away as if we weren’t spending another night. We folded all of the blankets and stuffed them into the small cave, put all the remaining bottled water in one big box near the rock, did all of the dishes, and got all the food in one location under the tarp.

We did have time for a special breakfast that morning. It was the woman from France’s birthday, and one of the Australian sisters figured out a way to make pancakes as a special treat. They even made a special pancake cake with chocolate sauce on it, and we all sang “Happy Birthday.” It was another of those moments where it felt for a little while like a fun camping trip with friends as opposed to a survival situation.

Two of the Dutch people decided that it would be a good idea to post people constantly at the beach helipad to wave down any helicopters, especially if it was a large helicopter that couldn’t land at the small helipads that the other helicopters had used. They volunteered for the first shift out there.

The big worry for the morning (besides whether the helicopter would come) was the battery for the satellite message device. It originally had been draining slowly, and we had plenty of personal power banks to charge it, but with the increased message traffic as we all contacted loved ones, the battery had gotten critically low. Luckily, one of the side projects people had worked on over the past few days was getting the solar power systems from the teahouses set back up. Some of the inverter technology was broken, but they finally found a device that would charge the phone. One of the Dutch sat by the charging phone and made sure no one bumped it and broke our connection to the outside world.

As the morning went on, we got more and more antsy. No one wanted to do too much work since we thought rescue was coming soon. The skies were crystal clear, but not a single helicopter had come down the valley. (As it turned out, the delay was due to bad weather in Kathmandu). We all just sat, staring at the skies and straining our ears for the sound of rotors.

Around 8:30, there was a fairly significant tremor that caused a small landslide down the trail. By this point we were much less tense about the sound of falling rocks (once we knew it was in the distance), but it still didn’t help with the anxiety.

Finally, around 9, we heard the sound of a helicopter (one we had all become very familiar with, along with landslides). It took a moment to spot it – and then we saw it was coming in low! Not as low as the others though and it passed by Bamboo. But then it circled in the air near the beach helipad where those waiting had been waving flags, and then landed.

There was then a huge flurry of activity. The group that was drawn to go first grabbed their things, and so did the two of us, in case it was a helicopter for just the Americans.

Under normal conditions, to get to the beach from our camp took about a 5 minute walk over rocky ground. We guessed that the helicopter wouldn’t wait that long for its load, so we all ran as fast as we could praying that we wouldn’t trip. The more fit members of the group did an excellent job of pushing us all to go faster.

When we got to the beach we could see that it was another small, private Nepali helicopter, so we scanned the landing area to see if there had been a coordinator on board who could explain what the situation was.

We spotted two tall men, both wearing baseball caps (one for the University of Alaska), so we figured it was a helicopter sent by the Americans! They quickly found us and their accents confirmed it. They were two members of the Special Forces who were helping with the rescue operations. They confirmed that we were the Americans on our list and told us to get in.

The mix of emotions at this point was very powerful. On one hand, we were extremely excited to be rescued, and were not going to pass up the helicopter that had been sent for us. On the other hand, the thought of being whisked away while the rest of what now felt like a family to us sat back on the beach was heartbreaking.

But then as we headed to the helicopter, one of the Special Forces guys assured us, “Don’t worry, everyone is getting out!” With huge relief in our hearts we got on board. It was a very small helicopter, with three seats up front (one for the pilot – a Nepali) and only a small cargo area behind. We crammed into the small cargo area (with our bags). Soon after, three members of the first group crammed in the back with us, and one up front along with one of the guides. The Special Forces guys stayed back at camp to coordinate the rest of the rescue (and to take pictures of the camp and surrounding area as documentation to the higher-ups as to why our rescue was worth paying for).

The mood on the helicopter was jubilant. We all couldn’t believe we were getting rescued. The helicopter took us down the Valley we had hiked up five days before, and we tried to look out and see its current conditions.

We were taken to the army base at Dunche, the same town that we had passed through on our bus ride to get to the start of the trek. When we landed there was a flurry of activity as we had to be registered on the lists of a bunch of different uniformed men (probably from the same groups that were the checkpoints on the bus ride).

One stood out though – Tom, a US consular officer. He was the one coordinating the efforts of the Special Forces guys for the embassy. Della somehow heard him say he was the ambassador, which was later proved incorrect but made us feel pretty special at the time! He explained that the US had rented the Nepali helicopter for a block of time, which they would use to get all of the people from Bamboo out plus anyone else they could find in the valley.

The rest of his news wasn’t as great. They really only had authorization to get us out of the dangerous situation in the valley and to this town of Dhunche, which had been affected by the quake but was not still threatened by landslides since it was on top of a mountain. He said there was shelter in town, plus restaurants were open. Getting to Kathmandu was up in the air though; the road was (not surprisingly) broken, so we could try to walk for six hours down the road to Kalikasthan where there were buses. Or, there was a rumor that the Nepali Army would use big helicopters at some point to get the tourists out, so we could wait around in Dhunche for that. He did tell us to stay close though – the helicopter did have to go back to Kathmandu, and there might be some extra spots that we could squeeze into.

We left the army area to go see what the situation was. Up a small hill was a collection of big blue tents with bricks as the floor. There were some other trekkers there who we bombarded with questions to try and figure out what was going on. What we heard wasn’t great – it was pretty cold at night, and there wasn’t a clear way to get blankets. You basically just had to grab a tent and hope for the best. It was safer on paper than Bamboo, but actually seemed like it would be less comfortable.

As we evaluated the situation, we could see the other Bamboo people landing on their rescue helicopters. As they emerged from the army area and we saw that everyone was there, there were big hugs all around.

We had cell phone service, so we texted and eventually called our families. (A special thanks to T-Mobile, our cell provider, who after the earthquake established free calls and text to and from Nepal, so we and others in our group could get in touch). At first they didn’t even believe it was us, because their latest message had been that no rescue was possible due to the bad weather.

Someone suggested going into town for some food. We were torn, because we wanted to stick with our “family,” but Tom from the embassy had told us to stick close. We thought we might have time, so we headed towards the village with the rest of the group.

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On the way though, the group started talking to two other people who had been in Dhunche the previous night. Their accents sounded familiar – they were other Americans (from Alaska). Della told them that the US ambassador was on the helipad (again, not actually true but what we thought at the time) and they were very interested to hear what he had to say, since they had been having trouble getting in touch with the embassy.

We reluctantly split from the Bamboo group and headed back up to the gate of the army area with the other Americans. We tried to peer inside and see Tom, and we also asked the guard at the gate, but he wasn’t there. We couldn’t figure out where he had gone but stayed waiting outside the gate. Finally we saw him inside and called him over. Unfortunately, his news hadn’t changed, and our best bet was to wait until the next day or walk.

Some of the other Bamboo people were also waiting near the gate. There was a large group of French people who had been told by their embassy that they would be helicoptered out, and the Dutch (who still had the satellite device) had heard the same thing. It was interesting how quickly we shifted from “Team Bamboo” to allying ourselves by country. It was a little sad, but seemed to be the reality of how the next steps were being handled.

We were sitting in the gate area but with not much hope of anything happening. Then, Tom appeared again! He said they would have three spots on the helicopter taking them back to Kathmandu. At this point there were five Americans: us two, Corey from Bamboo, and the other American couple. The couples weren’t going to split, so it would be Corey and one of the couples. We offered to let the other couple go first, since they had been in Dhunche a night already, but they said they didn’t think that was necessary. They proposed a coin toss, with an American quarter. Eric called it in the air – “heads.” It was heads.

We gave hugs to the others, and headed back inside the army area with Corey, Tom and the Special Forces guys to wait for the helicopter, which was out doing something else. We ended up waiting for quite a while and having a nice conversation. Tom and the Special Forces guys were just the nicest people and so calm – it really helped in the situation.

We got word that the helicopter was delayed, so Eric and Corey went down to use the restroom behind an army truck. Just as they were finishing, one of the Special Forces guys came to find them – the helicopter was landing! They raced back up to the helipad and jumped on board with the rest.

We think they must have had to do some special convincing, because they crammed a huge number of people on board the aircraft. The two of us lucked out and got to sit up front with the pilot. In the back, they fit Corey, the two Special Forces guys (not small guys and with big bags), Tom, a Nepali woman with a broken arm, and a ground coordinator.

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The ride back to Kathmandu, which had taken over eight hours by bus, took about 20 minutes. We felt very lucky to be sitting up front and getting great views. (We also remarked on the irony of us getting a helicopter ride – we had only a couple of weeks earlier discussed that taking a helicopter ride would be fun some day). We looked out at the countryside as the ride went along. There were plenty of flattened buildings along the terraced hillsides.

We held our breath a bit as we crested the final hill and got our first look at the Kathmandu valley. At first glance, it seemed like the devastation was less than we had feared, as most buildings were still standing. Upon closer inspection though, we could see many distinctive patches of orange, which were the tarps that the residents were sleeping under, too afraid to move back into their cracked homes.

We landed at the Kathmandu airport, which was abuzz with activity. There were many planes from other countries, including big ones from the Chinese and Thai Air Forces. We rode on a pickup to the parking lot of the airport, where the commander of the Special Forces unit met us in a different pickup (which turned out to be armored) to give us a ride to the embassy.

Our eyes were wide open on the ride to the embassy, taking in the sights of Kathmandu and trying to ascertain its status. There was actually less damage than we expected, but we did still see many people living outside. The embassy itself was quite a sight to see – it looks like your average American office building, which stands out quite a bit among the traditional Kathmandu atmosphere.

After going through a security check and a registration with the front desk, we were taken into the consular area for a debriefing with those who had been working to get us rescued. We were asked for any information we could give about the large number of unaccounted for trekkers, but we had to say that unfortunately we hadn’t seen them, since we were just on our first day and had just trekked a short distance.

Someone went to go find Kathleen, the American woman who had gotten out on the Israeli helicopter. She had been staying in the embassy since her rescue and had been feverishly working to get the rest of us out as well. It was a very emotional reunion for all of us.

But we didn’t have too long to sit and reminisce, because the PR woman at the embassy asked if we would be willing to immediately do an interview with Good Morning America. We were a little shocked that our story would be of that much interest to anybody, but she explained that we were one of the first feel-good stories that the embassy could promote. Before we even had a chance to shower, we were whisked away to a filming location outside of a fancy hotel for our interview, so if you watched it, you saw us as we looked on the mountain. We also discovered how the media can misinterpret things – for example, we were not living in an “ice cave” like the ABC news report said, and we had to correct a few people that we were not caught in an avalanche on Everest.

After the interviews, we returned to the embassy where Kathleen showed us around. The embassy had been doing a remarkable job of sheltering people in Kathmandu, both tourists and those who lived locally who were afraid to move back into their homes when aftershocks were still going on. Kathleen told us that maybe 200 people had been spending the night; this isn’t a normal thing, so people were having to sleep in hallways and share the one shower per gender. By the time we arrived though, many people had either left the country or moved back outside the embassy, so the PR woman found a nice conference room with air mattresses that we could stay in for as long as we needed to.

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One great thing the embassy had was a library with computers that had Internet that we could use. We opened up our email and Facebook for the first time since before the earthquake, and we were just blown away by the amount of activity we saw. One thing to understand is that we were living in a bubble out at Bamboo, with the only contact being Della’s father. We naively assumed that he was making a few phone calls and perhaps had let a few people know on Facebook that we were safe. We had NO IDEA how many people had mobilized to help, or were even just posting messages of support. If you were one of these people, and you are reading this, thank you from the bottom of our hearts. We can’t say it enough.

Our glimpse at Facebook was overwhelming, but was interrupted by an in-person visit with a reporter from Time Magazine. He wanted to write an in-depth story, so he let the two of us and Corey tell the story of our time at Bamboo as we wanted to. This was the first time we had really gotten a chance to tell the whole story to an outsider, and we overloaded him with overlapping narratives, diagrams, and so on. We even had to finish the interview over the hot dinner being served by the embassy. The resulting piece was a really good representation of our story. (The dinner itself was also really good, even if it was just served out of cafeteria trays – we skipped the rice and went straight for the mashed potatoes and meat dishes).

While we were finishing up our interviews, one of the Special Forces guys came by and asked to talk with us when we got the chance. We were worried this meant we had done or said something wrong, so we were nervous as the conversation began. But as it turned out, we had nothing to worry about. He just wanted to make sure we were doing ok, since he was worried that he had rushed away after the rescue. He told us that after they got everyone out, they had taken the helicopter further up the valley to Langtang village and seen the devastation there. He seemed to be a bit shaken by this, and reiterated to us how happy he was to have been able to help us. He did ask us for one thing… a big hug.

Then, we finally, blissfully, got to take our first hot shower in days. The amount of dirt that came off was pretty gross. Luckily the two of us had saved an extra clean change of clothes that we could get into.

As night fell, the embassy got pretty quiet as most people headed home. It was hard for us to believe, as we sat in nice padded chairs, that just earlier that morning we had been sitting under a rock in Bamboo Village. After such a long day, we figured that we would crash, but we all felt still too full of energy. Eric and Corey worked on catching up the journals that they had been keeping throughout their respective trips, comparing notes and trying to remember the details. The PR lady hosted us in her office for a debriefing session with a secret stash of beer and wine. We did another brief check of email and Facebook, then went to sleep, not on top of rocky dirt under a tarp, but rather on top of an air mattress with the solid roof of the US Embassy overhead.

We will continue to tell the story of our earthquake experience in Nepal. We were extremely fortunate to survive and to be able to come home to the USA. Our stories are now over, but those in Nepal are not that fortunate. Huge numbers of people have lost their homes and their livelihoods. Please take some time to donate (any amount, large or small, can help) to help this beautiful country recover. We’ve collected list of organizations that you might consider here.

Use these links to read the rest of our Nepal Earthquake story:

After the Earthquake Part 1: Sheltering at Bamboo/Survival

If you’d like to contribute to help the people of Nepal recover from the devastating earthquake, please visit our page collecting some worthy causes.

We sat with our backs pressed up against a house-sized boulder, shivering, trying to process what had just happened…

After we survived the big earthquake and the initial landslides, we followed the villagers and other tourists through the remains of Bamboo village and up the trail a bit. They were heading to two large boulders, both the size of buildings. They came together in the shape of a V, with a small cave between them. The rocks seemed solid, buried deep in the ground. The area directly behind them was relatively flat, as far as canyons go. They were not directly next to a steep slope. They created at least the illusion of safety from any further falling rocks.

This photo was taken by fellow trekker Corey: http://www.gofundme.com/tjssd5h9

This photo was taken by fellow trekker Corey: http://www.gofundme.com/tjssd5h9

We sat there, mostly quiet, shivering. Shivering, not so much from cold, but from shock…

Our thought process had been slow. We realized gradually that our long-planned trek was probably not going to continue. Going up after such devastation seemed silly. But, we realized, going down wasn’t much of an option either. Our only option, then, seemed to be to stay. So, we stayed, sitting against that boulder, shivering.

One of the other trekkers, or guides, we’re not really sure, went down to the village and began to collect supplies from one of the ruined teahouses. He brought blankets and water. While his intentions were great, the act of entering the villagers’ homes without permission would cause problems later.

The ground continued to shift and sway. We constantly felt betrayed by this: the ground isn’t supposed to move. It felt a bit like being on an airplane… a steady sense of movement, slight, but always there. This was punctuated by bigger shakes. These bigger shakes would send all of us racing to press our bodies against our solid house rock. This was the only way we felt even remotely safe. And truly, it wasn’t that safe. While we were semi-protected from further falling rocks, we were a bit panicked. We’re amazed that no one got further hurt by the pressing of bodies against that rock.

Eric's expression: Can you believe this happened?!? WTF

Eric’s expression: Can you believe this happened?!? WTF

As the afternoon went on, we had to take stock of what had happened. We refocused, realizing that yes, we were not going to be moving on with the trek. We evaluated our position and decided that, yes, it was one of the safest places we could be at the moment. More tourists and guides began to join us at our rock. We were thrilled to see a group from our bus ride the day before (2 Aussies, 2 South Africans, 1 Brit, and 1 Italian) come down the trail from above. Their story of sheltering on the trail as rocks fell around them terrified us. They had to cross a semi broken bridge and climb over recent landslides for an hour before they reached Bamboo. They had left almost all of their supplies behind. People came up from below the village as well. One man had a broken arm and had somehow climbed over the landslides to reach us.

As the afternoon dragged on, a nervous chatter began to develop. People began to talk, to let out their anxiety. They shared their stories of the quake, where they had been, what they had felt and seen, and also their fears for the future. What should we do?

But people did begin to organize. Several guides figured out how to get supplies from the village to make coffee for the entire group. Trekkers began to share their water and food (and cigarettes) to help calm others. Two medical students checked the man’s broken arm the best they could. As a group, we were able to come up with a large enough collection of pain medication to keep him somewhat comfortable. We were glad we had some oxycodone left over from when Della’s back went out. A group of guys organized to go down to the worst hit part of the village to see if there was any way to help the man who we all knew had been hit by rocks. Unfortunately, there was nothing they could do – he was already cold.

An Israeli girl who had been with us on the bus the prior night and whom we had leapfrogged with all day, had a satellite messaging device. She had rented it for the trek and we were all so grateful, it’s hard to put into words. She spent the afternoon figuring out how to make it work and sending messages to an emergency contact in Kathmandu. By that evening, we knew that the earthquake was a nationwide disaster. We heard that Kathmandu was in shambles. So, we knew that help would not be quick in coming. She also was able to get a message out to her mom in Israel. We were able to send email addresses to her mother so that she could contact all of our families to let them know that we were alright.

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The sat messaging device in the hands of our fearless leader Aviv. Standing nearby, Shani, the one person who thought to bring a satellite device on our trek. Thank goodness.

One of the Israeli men (who had been on our bus and who we had leapfrogged with all day) stepped naturally into the role of leader of our ragtag group. He was calm and prepared and had a presence that lent itself to leadership. He suggested that we figure out how to make ourselves comfortable for the night. Several others went with him to collect a tarp that had covered the outdoor seating area below and then strung it up above our rock for shelter. The villagers also (reluctantly) allowed us to use some of the carpets from their lodges to cover the rocky ground.

The tarp was a great idea as that night, it rained and rained. We hadn’t organized how we would sleep for the night so all of us just crowded under the tarp in a haphazard fashion. It was one big jumble of people and bags. Dark fell about 7:30 and there was nothing to do but try to sleep. Our group was close to 80 people that night. The villagers slept in the cave and the tourists and guides crowded under the tarp and a few of the large table umbrellas we had brought up from below.

Della was able to share a sleeping bag with two others, though she mostly slept with legs over or under other bodies, or curled up in a ball, just barely fitting in a crook of a tree trunk. Eric started in the jumble, but found a spot later in the night stretched out on the edge on top of many bags. He was able to stretch out, but lacked the warmth of the shared body heat. He wished for a blanket and then miraculously found one underneath the bag he was on top of… in the morning he discovered it was the large shawl of one of the fellow trekkers. Not much but enough to keep him warm through the night.

The earth continued to tremble and shake all night, effectively keeping everyone awake. It was punctuated by bigger shakes, or by the noise or cracking of falling rocks in other areas of the canyon. When this happened, the entire group would leap up and press against our rock for safety. We were lucky, no more rock slides came down on us. But, needless to say, no one got much sleep. We think we might have gotten 30 min…. maybe.

At one point during the night, we were woken by our leader. A message had come through on the sat device from the American Embassy! It was clearly a generic message, but it asked for names and situations of American citizens of those of us who needed assistance. We wrote a response, but never heard back.

Dawn came at 5. We all awoke with a new purpose. The only messages that had come in overnight from the sat device told us that help would be coming, but it was unlikely to be soon. We had to make our rocky shelter a sustainable home.

It was truly amazing to witness how people worked together. If a job presented itself, there were many people ready to make it work. The two of us helped to construct a helipad in an open beach area next to the river about 5 minutes up the trail from our house rock. Others worked on making fire, and then collecting water and boiling it for purification. Still others worked on building a comfortable latrine away from our sleeping and kitchen areas.

There was friction with the villagers. They had just witnessed their lives falling apart. They had lost their homes and their livelihoods. They had lost a person… Understandably, they were unhappy with the thought of sharing their supplies with a group of tourists who were likely to be gone in a week. It took a lot of people working together and a wonderful middleman guide for us to make an arrangement. We agreed to pay for a certain amount of food/drinks and the use of rugs, carpets, and blankets for a few nights.

hearty breakfast

hearty breakfast

The day wore on. Della remembers it as one of the longest days of her life. We had done most of the tasks listed above, gotten to know each other, eaten a meal, washed dishes, started to build a life for ourselves on that mountain… And when we looked at our watch it was all of 9 am.

With not much to do, rumors and theories floated around like crazy. For example, the villagers were convinced that there would be a second big quake 24 hours after the first. Most of us dismissed this as a silly superstitious idea. But then at 1 PM, 25 hours after the first quake, a large aftershock hit. A few people had been collecting supplies in the village and had to race back up. Luckily no one was hurt. We later found out that this aftershock registered 6.8, so quite large. This set off a few rockslides but none near us. The most visible damage was that the nearest teahouse had even more cracks in its walls as a result. It served as a visible reminder not to be lulled into a sense of complacency.

At the end of the day, there were some moments of happiness as the sun poked its way out of the clouds. A beautiful, warming light filled the whole valley. This was a brief period when we could forget the constant fear of the moving earth and falling rocks and enjoy the beauty of our locale.

We had continued communication with contacts in Israel via the sat phone. We were assured that rescue would be on its way within the next few days.

The second night, we were much more organized about our sleeping arrangements. More tarps were strung up. The two of us found a nice cozy spot where we could lay ourselves out. We shared our spot with two fun, wonderful people (an American man from Chicago and a woman from Spain) and slept well. The fear was still there and we woke several times in the night ready to sprint to our rock as we heard the rumbling of aftershocks and further landslides. But luck was still with us, and no rocks fell near or on the village. We were renewed with a night of hours of real sleep.

Our version of the picture that made it out early... We're alive, we're safe, and the sun is out =)

Our version of the picture that made it out early… We’re alive, we’re safe, and the sun is out =)

We will continue to tell the story of our earthquake experience in Nepal. We were extremely fortunate to survive and to be able to come home to the USA. Our stories are now over, but those in Nepal are not that fortunate. Huge numbers of people have lost their homes and their livelihoods. Please take some time to donate (any amount, large or small, can help) to help this beautiful country recover. We’ve collected list of organizations that you might consider here.

Use these links to read the rest of our Nepal Earthquake story:

Kathmandu: Before the Quake

If you’d like to contribute to help the people of Nepal recover from the devastating earthquake, please visit our page collecting some worthy causes.

Usually after we visit a city we like to write a nice summary post about where we stayed, what we did and where we ate. We’d still like to discuss some of these things with regards to Kathmandu, but it feels weird to talk about the city without mentioning that just a few days after our visit a 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit and did a lot of damage in the city and the country as a whole. So we’ll try to balance our discussion of our time in Kathmandu with what we know of what happened to the sights after the quake.

We arrived in Kathmandu late on the evening of April 20, on a Dragonair flight from Hong Kong. (We really enjoyed using the personal entertainment device on the flight and were able to watch Into the Woods and four episodes of Downton Abbey).

Hotel Bright Star

We didn’t get in until almost midnight, but the owner of our hotel, the Hotel Bright Star, had stayed up to check us in. We had a small room on the top floor – the stairs were a nice preview of what we expected to be a lot of uphill hiking on our trek.

This was only a preview of the generosity that the owner showed us during our three days in Kathmandu. He provided plenty of good advice, and walked us halfway to the tourist office (so we wouldn’t get lost) to pick up our trekking permits.

Hotel Bright Star on its quiet street

Hotel Bright Star on its quiet street

That made it that much harder to see him again after the quake. We had left two bags at the hotel while trekking, and we went back into town on May 1 to pick them up. He said on the phone that he and his family were ok, but when we got there it was clear how close they had come to disaster.

The hotel next door had collapsed during the quake, and all that was left was a pile of bricks and tangled wires. The owner, clearly shaken, told us that 10 people had died inside. We ran inside our hotel to get our bags, and it was clear that it was the first time that he had been back in. He didn’t want to linger, and neither did we; one of the walls of the lobby on the side of the collapsed building was bulging inwards.

The same view after the quake, with the hotel just beyond in rubble

The same view after the quake, with the hotel just beyond in rubble

He said the rest of his family had been safely moved to Pokhara, but he would remain staying in a building down the street until all of the left baggage had been picked up. Hopefully the people who left their bags will return soon…

The Old Quarter

On our first day in Kathmandu we did a self-guided walking tour (led by Lonely Planet) through the old part of Kathmandu. We quickly decided that Nepal was way different from any other country that we had visited on the entire trip! Bright colors all over the place, smells both good and bad in the air, people hawking items, bicycle rickshaws asking for rides, centuries-old temples in every nook and cranny… it was almost overwhelming!

After the quake, we only ventured back to the more touristy part of the Old Quarter, called Thamel. There wasn’t much physical destruction, but the change in the atmosphere of the streets was palpable. Half of the shops were closed up, and the foot and vehicle traffic was maybe half of what it once was. The sense of calm as compared to before was eerie.

Durbar Square

The main historic attraction in Kathmandu is the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Durbar Square, a collection of temples and palaces that was one the home of the Nepali royalty. We spent a whole afternoon exploring the different sights.

The earthquake did a great amount of damage to Durbar Square. We didn’t make it back to see for ourselves, but the pictures we have found online show the devastation.

Kasthamandap

This temple, built in the 12th century, is what gave Kathmandu its name. To us it felt a little bit more like a pavilion, with a large awning sheltering an open space with a few shrines.

Outside of Kasthamandap

Outside of Kasthamandap

From news reports, it appears that Kasthamandap has been completely destroyed.

Kasthamandap

Not our picture – photo source http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/apr/27/nepal-earthquake-destroys-kathmandu-valleys-architecture-buildings-heritage. Note the same two statues as in our before picture.

 

Maju Deval

This tall Hindu temple dominated the center of Durbar Square. We joined the crowds of locals at the top and used it as a nice platform to rest our legs and watch the buzz of activity in the square.

The Maju Deval was completely destroyed in the earthquake, and only the platform remains.

King Pratap Malla’s Column

Near the entrance to the square’s museum was a small area with more temples and a large column with a statue on the top. The statue is a representation of the famous Nepali king from the 17th century.

The column with the statue of King Pratap Malla on top

The column with the statue of King Pratap Malla on top

During the earthquake, the statue fell off its pedestal, but it appears that the surrounding temples are standing.

Hanuman Dhoka

In the center of the Durbar Square area is the Hanuman Dhoka complex, which contains the buildings that make up the Royal Palace. We visited the museum here, which was a collection of dusty artifacts from the last kings of Nepal (before the monarchy was dissolved). Inside the complex were a few nice courtyards.

It’s a little hard to figure out what happened to this complex during the earthquake. It sounds like there was major damage, but it is still standing. A few of the towers collapsed though. You can see some of the same scenes in this video:

Swayambhunath

We took an afternoon to walk out to this Buddhist temple located on a hill overlooking the city. The final climb up the steps was pretty strenuous, but definitely worth it! The iconic face of Buddha stares down at you from the stupa above. There are many other pieces of sculpture with both Buddhist and Hindu themes. On both the walk up and down we saw a few of the monkeys that give the temple its nickname of the “Monkey Temple.”

Swayambhunath was damaged during the earthquake. The large stupa itself looks ok, but many of the buildings surrounding are in ruins.

 

Where We Ate

As in Myanmar, part of the fun of visiting Nepal was retracing the steps of Della’s parents on their round-the-world trip. Their favorite restaurant in Kathmandu was Utse’s, a Tibetan restaurant. We were happy to see that it was still there and was even in the Lonely Planet. We went there for dinner and enjoyed our Tibetan meal. We went back to check on it after the quake; the building seemed intact but they were not yet open for business.

Enjoying the Tibetan set plate with delicacies such as steamed momos

Enjoying the Tibetan set plate with delicacies such as steamed momos

Another dining highlight was a bit of a splurge for us. We had a nice dinner at the Thamel House, located in a charming old building. What drew us here was the free dance show that went on throughout our meal. This time we got a Newari set meal, and got to sample local specialties such as dal bhat and other curries. When we walked by after the quake, it seemed like the building was in good shape and they were re-opened already.

Final Thoughts

If you had asked us before the earthquake, we probably would have said that we found Kathmandu to be a bit dusty, crowded and chaotic, but at the same time a fascinating place to explore years of history and an intriguing culture. But now with the damage that the quake did to some of the sights we saw, we just hope that this city can recover and rebuild to allow others to see and experience this treasure for themselves.

We will continue to tell the story of our earthquake experience in Nepal. We were extremely fortunate to survive and to be able to come home to the USA. Our stories are now over, but those in Nepal are not that fortunate. Huge numbers of people have lost their homes and their livelihoods. Please take some time to donate (any amount, large or small, can help) to help this beautiful country recover. We’ve collected list of organizations that you might consider here

The Nepal Earthquake: How to Help

We haven’t blogged in a while because we were trapped while trekking the Langtang Valley when the large earthquake hit Nepal on April 25. That is many stories for another time though. Right now, we want to use this platform to ask everyone to please consider contributing to the causes that are trying to help the country recover.

We’ll try to collect information on different charities as we learn about them.

Some Recommendations

  • Rasuwa Relief – A group working specifically in the Rasuwa region which includes some of the towns we traveled through. Extensive information about their efforts can be found on their facebook group.
  • Langtang Disaster Relief Fund – A new group started by a survivor from Langtang village. Funds go directly to the Langtang villagers to try to rebuild.
  • Sustainable Steps Nepal – Relief for now and the future of Nepal
  • Langtang Village of Nepal Relief Fund – started by friend of a friend in Denver who has connections to Nepal. Langtang Village was higher on our trek and was completely destroyed by a mud/snow landslide. Please also note that there is an in-person fundraising event planned as well.
  • Colorado Nepal Alliance / Shoes for Sherpas – two projects from our home state that do good work in Nepal. We have a friend on the board as well
  • Mountainchild
  • Gift of the Givers – this is a South African organization that is working in Nepal. They did a lot of work to support the two South Africans who were stuck at Bamboo Village with us. They are continuing their search and rescue and support efforts
  • From a friend: “I heard from a college professor (my major advisor) who has a current Nepali student from Kathmandu, with family there. I believe he knows they are okay, but he and his sister are fundraising for two relief organizations that aren’t on most people’s radar: Women’s Entrepreneur Association of Nepal (WEAN) and Baseri Village Relief Team (Dhading), through an Indiegogo campaign.”
  • Nepal Youth Foundation and iDE – Two charities that were recommended by a Denver-area church

From Our Own

Recommendations from a Friend With Connections in Nepal

  • DIRECT REBUILDING IN ONE REMOTE VILLAGE.  http://www.gofundme.com/t494ck   “Closest to my heart is this tiny campaign.  It was organized by Phurchhoki Sherpa, whose family I lived with both before she was born and after.  She is the first of her village to attend college in the U.S. and is here now, having just graduated.  I could not be prouder. Her American friends wanted to give money to rebuild her house, but she decided instead to ask for help in restoring the village school and Buddhist temple.  The money she receives will go directly to the village where villagers will use it along with the labor of their own hands to rebuild.  Please consider even a small donation as the money will go a long way.”
  • IMMEDIATE RELIEF/HEALTHCARE.  “These recommendations come from a young Nepalese doctor connected to my uncle (also a doctor, and who has worked on relief efforts in Haiti). Health is going to be one of the biggest challenges very quickly, as both in Kathmandu and in rural areas normal means of sanitation are badly compromised. This doctor is recommending two smaller organizations that, in her words, ‘skip both big names and our Nepali government… so that maximum money reaches the needy.’– “The America Nepali Medical Foundation is directly collaborating with major hospital in and around Kathmandu valley and is arranging medical care to reach ground zero.”  http://americanepalmedicalfoundation.com— “NAOO is our Nepalese group here in Cleveland. it will collaborate with local organisation and youth group to provide relief package and basic necessity supplies like tent and drinking water. few of our members have already left for Nepal to map the initial steps.”  http://new.naoo.org/?page_id=161
  •  IMMEDIATE DISASTER RELIEF IN KATHMANDU AND LESS REMOTE AREAS.  “I am recommending Charity: Water.  They have an excellent reputation internationally and have been in Nepal several years working to provide drinking water systems.  They have connections/experience with disaster relief also and are expanding their focus in the wake of the earthquake, but I believe their experience of water issues will be invaluable.  Water is a precondition for food, health, sanitation — everything — and water systems are stressed or broken in many places. “
  • LONG HAUL REBUILDING.  : “dZi Foundation I think I have been hearing more about this organization than any other.  It is relatively small, and it has a stellar reputation for employing Nepalis and for working in areas that have been unreached by conventional development efforts.  More information about their philosophy and present program of action in the wake of the earthquake is here.  I highly recommend them.”

Large Charity Lists

Some organizations have put together lists of reputable charities