The Writer Card

DSC00887hotel.JPG

This blog entry about the events of Saturday, October 09, 2004 was originally posted on October 14, 2004.

DAY 357:  If you’ve followed The Blog for the past dozen or so entries, you know that it was up in the air as to whether or not I’d go to Nepal — I even put it in the readers’ hands with a vote.  With the Maoist rebels a bit more active these days trying to force Communism onto the Nepali people through acts of terrorism — Kathmandu was under siege about a month prior — there was debate over not just the safety of Nepal, but the ease of getting around with all the Maoist roadblocks.  On top of that, the Nepalese were angry with Americans because of the killing of Nepali hostages by terrorist groups in American-occupied Iraq.  And we mustn’t forget the regular threats in Nepal like avalanches and abominable snowmen.

The voters spoke, and in a very close match, it came to a tie.  However, the results were eye-opening to me; contrary to what I thought, a lot of people chose “GO NEPAL” and wanted to read about an experience I’d have there.  I tried to work on a compromise — go to Chinese-occupied Tibet, which also has a base camp to Everest — but that would have required more days and more money waiting around for another visa.  Meanwhile, I received an e-mail from an ex-pat living in Kathmandu who told me that tourists go there and say they don’t know what the fuss is all about; it’s fine.

And so, I decided to give the voters for “GO NEPAL” their entries about my experience in Nepal.  I soon found out it would be a unique one because of my appearance.


“ARE YOU NEPALI?” the baggage claim attendant asked me.  I smiled.  I guess I blended in here too.

“No, from the States.”

“Oh, I thought you were Nepali.  You look Nepali!”

I had landed in Kathmandu, capital city of Nepal, the country in the Himalayas sandwiched in between India and China.  Its people’s make-up was a hodge-podge of both countries — some Hindu, some Buddhist — and it was no wonder I blended in; my father has been mistaken for Indian and my mother for Chinese, although both came from the Philippines. 

I made way to the pre-paid taxi desk in the arrivals hall.  “Pre-paid taxi!”

“Yes, I know,” I said.  “Okay.”  Pre-paid taxis were recommended by my Let’s Go book to avoid the shadiness of other taxi drivers.  “Kathmandu Guest House.”

“Oh, that place is expensive!” one guy said.  The inevitable pitch came for a cheaper one and he showed me the brochure. 

“Okay fine, it doesn’t matter to me.” 

“Let’s go,” a guy said who escorted me to the taxi outside. 

The guy at behind the desk called to me.  “Be careful out there.  Don’t talk to anyone who approaches you.” 

“It’s okay, they think I’m Nepali.”

“Yes, ha ha!  You look like a Nepali!  No problem then.”

No problem was right.  As I rode through Kathmandu, I didn’t see any Maoists or angry anti-American protesters.  Instead I saw crowded streets of people going about their normal lives, weaving their way through the polluting cars and motorcycles going by on bumpy roads.  I was “back in the game,” back in the exciting vibe of a developing nation after being in the modern comforts of Hong Kong and Tokyo for the past three and a half weeks.  So far, the only dangers I saw were the troupe of monkeys that ran across the street through incoming traffic.

I arrived at the Hotel Encounter Nepal, which wasn’t listed in the book, but was a very nice guesthouse of two buildings with a lovely landscaped garden cafe in between.  It was comparable to the widely-popular original backpacker guesthouse four blocks away, the “Kathmandu Guest House,” and cheaper too if you stayed in the old building at $6 (USD)/night.  After checking in I was introduced to the in-house travel agent so that I could figure out my trek up Mt. Everest Base Camp.

“You look Nepali,” the guy told me.  He was Davi, a Nepali man who wore a turquoise two-piece suit that made it look like he was going out for a night at the Roxbury.  He was a good guy, friendly and all, but I’m sure that came with the business.  He walked through the hotel lobby like a Nepalese Fonzie, greeting and greeted by every passerby.  “Hey man, what’s up!”  “Hey!”

“How is this guy?” I asked one American guy there that had just done a trek up to Everest Base Camp with his father.

“He’s great.  You want to go to Everest?  He’ll set you up!” 

I sat at Davi’s desk in the corner office and he wrote me up a rough itinerary.  I just had enough days for trekking and acclimatizing to arrive at Everest Base Camp right on my thirtieth birthday.  (Coincidentally, because of 2004 being a leap year, that day would be the significant “Day 365.”)

“Sounds good,” I told him.

“Let’s go to my office and check the flights [to the starting point of Lukla, up north] on the computer.”  We walked down the block through the Thamel district, the tourist district of tour agencies, bars, restaurants and shops selling everything one would need to go mountaineering if s/he came to Nepal with nothing.  Davi’s company turned out not to be a fly-by-night operation; he was manager of Himalayan Glacier, which was recommended by Lonely Planet and some German guidebooks and was used to guide a journalist from the south China press.  The company was also involved in clean-up programs in the Himalayas.  I knew all of these pluses because Davi adamantly kept on showing me pictures and news clippings to provide evidence that his company was legit. 

“Okay, okay.  I get it.  You’ve convinced me.”

He worked out a program for me, checking flight availability too, and gave me a price — it was about what Let’s Go said it might be for an organized trek with a reputable company.

“Everything sounds good,” I told Davi, “but for my peace of mind, I just want to go to other companies to compare.” 

“That’s fine.  I understand,” he said, but he continued to give me the pluses that his company may have over others — better guides that have been to 6,000 meters ASL, ten years experience, etc. — and was still trying to think of other ways to prove his legitimacy, other than the fact that their logo and website looked professionally done (which I appreciated). 

“Have you heard of BootsnAll?” I asked him.  I was curious to see if he’d recognized the name while he was going through his mental Rolodex of places that might have given Himalayan Glacier press.

“Bootsnall?” 

“Bootsnall.  It’s a travel website.  I write for them.”  I usually hate telling my identity as “a writer,” but it slipped.

“Oh, you’re a writer?  You must get a discount!  Would you like some tea?”

“Sure, okay.”

“A sandwich?”

“No thanks, I’m on a diet.”

I spelled out “Bootsnall” on a piece of paper and he pulled it up on the web.  It took us a while and we couldn’t find anything about Nepal trekking agencies.  Gradually I saw his enthusiasm declined.  (I blame Bootsnall’s dated homepage logo, which I [no offense] always thought was embarrassing.  I couldn’t wait until they integrated the new logo I designed for them so that they might look more legit, especially since they’ve been getting press in Conde Nast and National Geographic lately.)

To regain Davi’s enthusiasm for that possible discount, I continued to play The Writer Card (even though I hated doing so).  “Go to this website.”  I wrote it down and he typed it in:  www.theglobaltrip.com.  Up came my picture and my brief bio with the list of publications I’ve written for:  New York Post, Travelers’ Tales, Lycos, Globe Trekker, etc. 

His eyes lit up.  “Oh, you don’t have to have to pay anything!  I’ll give you a guide whose been to the summit!” he said.  “I’m sorry, I didn’t know who you were!”

“Uh, do you have any more tea?”

Davi got on the phone and called the other room for someone to bring me more tea.  “Would you like some soup?”

“Sure.”

I got down to it.  “I don’t want any special treatment,” I told him.  “It’s counterproductive to journalism.  I know a lot of guys out there are going around with fake Lonely Planet ID cards because they’re in it for the discount, but people don’t realize it goes against journalism.” 

Ugh, me and my goddam integrity.  It was true though; my travel writing mentor along with a panel of editors I saw speak from blue, National Geographic Adventure and Conde Nast Traveler always stressed not taking free press trips because they gave the writer a positively-skewed, biased look at a destination — although I was certain when Davi said I’d go for free he was just being colorful with language.

He reduced the price about a hundred bucks, three hundred less than the published price on their website, including flights to and from the starting point at Lukla, about 40 km. south of Everest Base Camp (EBC).  I still felt skeptical, but then he threw in an upgrade to the nicer wing of the hotel (picture below), a farewell dinner and a ride to the airport when I left Nepal.  Plus no surcharge for using a credit card, which he was going to charge me before I pulled The Writer Card. 

“Money is money,” he told me, “but relations are more important.”

“Okay, let’s do this,” I said.  We worked it out and I paid half for the time being.  I probably could have done it cheaper if I did it alone, but I figured, I might as well get the guide to ensure my arrival at EBC on my birthday.  As Blogreaders have commented, “You only turn 30 once.”

“You must have dinner with me tonight,” Davi said.  “I’ll pick you up at 7:30.”

“Okay.”


THERE WAS A BLACKOUT IN TOWN around dusk, but the power came on by the time Davi arrived and handed me a helmet.  “Have you had Nepalese food before?”

“Yeah, in Hong Kong.  But I like it.”

I hopped on the back of his ride and we rode across town to one of the local favorites — that is, until it appeared in a guidebook and became overridden by tourists.  The food quality hadn’t declined, and so for my first meal in Nepal I had the Nepali dish, thali — chicken, rice with sauces, lentils and roti.  Over dinner and Nepalese beer I found out Davi’s ulterior motive for schmoozing me:  he was planning to break off of Himalayan Glacier one day and go independent with his own company and wanted to establish as many contacts of his own, especially those in the media.  He had worked up the ranks from porter to guide to manager and it was the next logical step.

Davi also filled me in on the situation of Nepal, i.e. its possible dangers to American tourists.  “You’ll be fine,” he said.  “There are no Maoists on the Everest trek.  Only in the west.”  Kathmandu on the other hand, was another story; he told me just around the corner from the restaurant we were in, a woman got shot point blank just the other day, and that at ten o’clock, most of the stores were closed for fear of armed robbery or terrorism.

“The problem with Maoists is that they look like anyone.  It could be you, it could be me.” 

Wow, not only do I look Nepali, but I look like a Maoist too!  Kick ass!


AFTER DINNER, I was just dropped back to my upgraded bigger room with private bathroom and wrote on my laptop at the desk to catch up.  I figured if I was going to get the writer’s discount, I might as well earn it — although if I looked like a Maoist I could probably just boss my way if I didn’t.






Next entry: Americans in Kathmandu

Previous entry: One Night in Dhaka




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Comments for “The Writer Card”

  • E - “buildings with a lovely landscaped garden cafe” pic not working

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/13  at  05:11 PM


  • wow, this is gonna be a lot safer for you than i thought. it is great how you blend in to almost any country you been in. you’re like a chameleon. =)

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/13  at  06:47 PM


  • Okay everyone…..sing…come a come a chameleon..you come and go…........you know the Boy George Song!.....

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/14  at  03:42 AM


  • Everest… who’da thought!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/14  at  07:35 AM


  • Yummy looking food, dude…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/25  at  06:43 AM


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This blog post is one of over 500 travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip 2004: Sixteen Months Around The World (Or Until Money Runs Out, Whichever Comes First)," originally hosted by BootsnAll.com. It chronicled a trip around the world from October 2003 to March 2005, which encompassed travel through thirty-seven countries in North America, South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. It was this blog that "started it all," where Erik evolved and honed his style of travel blogging — it starts to come into focus around the time he arrives in Africa.

Praised and recommended by USA Today, RickSteves.com, and readers of BootsnAll and Lonely Planet's Thorn Tree, The Global Trip blog was selected by the editors of PC Magazine for the "Top 100 Sites You Didn't Know You Couldn't Live Without" (in the travel category) in 2005.


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Americans in Kathmandu

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One Night in Dhaka




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