It's late on Monday afternoon and before we head off for an hour massage given to us by blind men for only sixteen bucks - AN HOUR!!! - just wanted to let you know that we arrived here on Saturday afternoon and have been having just a fabulous time.
On our first day, we were picked up in Managua and driven an hour to Granada, an old colonial city that reminds me of Cuzco, Peru. Sans altitude and attitude. We checked into our lovely little hotel and wandered half a block to discover that we were literally just footsteps away from the main plaza, which was hosting a huge literary and music festival. It was hopping. I broke every rule in the book - I talked to strangers, ate freshly peeled mangos sliced and salted in plastic bags, walked around cobblestone streets that were unlit, etc. That night we ate at a pizza place that was fantastic.
Back in 2007, Myths and Mountains had a group of film makers approach us to arrange a trek in Nepal and make a short film about the non-profit we founded - READ Global. They followed me and our READ Nepal tour group all around the Nepal country side filming the villages and libraries we visited, and getting to know all sorts of local people. After sending us the final version, we love it! The film shows just what READ Global is about and how Myths and Mountains is collaborating with READ to get the word out. It also show show Myths and Mountains trips take people inside the cultures of the countries we visit.
READ Global began back in 1991 when, after a trek, people started to tip me. Debating about what to do with the money, I asked our sirdar (the Nepali leader) what he needed most in his village, and he replied,"A library". Light bulbs went off for me, and since then,READ Global has built close to 50 fully sustainable library/community centers with the help of Myths and Mountains, its travelers and friends. To read more about READ Global, click here.
Happy Travels, Toni Neubauer Myths and Mountains President & READ Global Founder
Jesse and I just returned from a whirlwind 3 weeks filled with endless plates of dahl baht (the local dish of rice & veggies), countless cups of tea, smiling children with runny noses, and strange glances at the Amazonian blond girl.
The adventure began in Kathmandu, a mass of humanity that assaults your senses on every level. There are people and motorbikes swarming around you, cars honking, people yelling, smells of spices, smoke and urine, an energy so palpable you can almost touch it. We visited beautiful Hindu and Buddhist temples, stupas and shrines and the impact of their religion is felt in every aspect of life.
We also visited Pashupati which is where Hindus bring their dead to be burned on funeral pyres next to the river and later sweep the ashes into the water. The government kindly provides the wood for this. What struck me was the group of local onlookers sitting on the other side of the river just casually observing families getting rid of what they call "the used vessels" of their loved ones. Everything has a public, community feel to it here even death.
In the States, as you get older and are no longer a sexy teenager who attracts all sorts of whistles, you acquire the gift of anonymity, the ability to walk down the street or go into a store or restaurant, and have no one really notice you are there, if you don't want. Here, in China, anonymity is totally impossible and you are rather like Ling Ling in the Washington Zoo. Last night at dinner, a little girl spent the entire time on her haunches in front of my table just staring at me. At the botanical garden, I was rarer than the rarest plant.
Tea - It turns out that Xishuangbanna has one of China's 10 great teas - Puer Tea, that sells for $90/kilo. There is a clunk of this tea about the size of Charlie Brown's great pumpkin that is 1000 years old and resides in the Beijing Museum. Here in the area there is a tea tree that is 1700 years old, and people trek through the jungle to pay it homage. They no longer pick the leaves. Rather, like a good stud horse, it has been left to thrive in the rainforest.
They make tea a bit differently here, rolling the leaves into small clumps that open up in hot water. Every Chinese has his special tea bottle of some strange color with all sorts of leaves floating around. What I can't figure out is why, with all the good tea in the area, all restaurants serve the low grade teas of a very uncertain color.
This fall, I had the pleasure of leading one of our most popular trips - Mountains, Monkeys & Books - to have our travelers see what READ does in Nepal.For me, perhaps the highlight of the trip was when Tim, looking for all the world like Crocodile Dundee, walked into the bar at Gaida Wildlife Resort with a snake coiled around his arm and the head between his fingers while the snake's tongue and teeth were frantically trying to find something to bite. The bartender headed for the door, and Ram and Dukhi Ram stared for a minute at both Tim and the snake, and then made clear that it was a very poisonous "Khorat"! Tim explained that it had slithered around his bathroom, headed for the bedroom under Kimberly's suitcase, forcing him to pull it out by the tail towards that bathroom again, where he chased and caught it. When he went outside to show one of the staff at Gaida, the guy took off running down the path as fast as he could.
Ram and Dukhi Ram (two of the naturalists) were stunned, commenting that they knew that there were khorats in the area, but in the 20+ years they had been at Gaida, they had never had a poisonous snake on the property. Tim coolly and calmly took the snake outside and heaved it, with the accuracy of Bret Favre, towards the river away from the resort. That little exploit will live in the annals of Gaida for a long time!