The Waiting Game

by Keira Louis

Waiting.....at Kathmandu airport

If there is one thing I have accomplished while in Nepal, it is the art of waiting. It is true what they say – patience is a virtue, but in Nepal, it is also a survival mechanism.

During our first week in Nepal, we had such a special experience trekking through the Himalayas.  We climbed stone staircases, walked alongside creeks and riverbeds, through small villages, up and down winding trails, passing donkeys, dogs, water buffalos, cows, goats and meeting people along the way. We stayed in great little tea houses each night, where we were served breakfast, lunch and dinner right on cue.  Our views of the Annapurna mountain range from each stop were spectacular and varied. Our guide was professional and really made our time in the mountains a great one. Everything ran so smoothly, everything went to plan.

Unfortunately, it seems, the mountains are a world of their own – and then there is Kathmandu. Our last 3 days in the city have not gone so smoothly.  In fact, nothing has gone to plan.  Consequently, our last 3 days have been one big waiting game. But thanks to patience, we have survived.

Sunday was the intended departure date for the 12 day Gokyo Trek Adam and I had planned to do. This involved a flight to Lukla from the Kathmandu Domestic Airport at 7:45 in the morning. Passing through security successfully, we entered the terminal to be greeted by what seemed like the early stages of organised chaos. “Flights to Lukla are delayed due to bad weather,” we were told at the check in counter by quite a stressed Nepali customer service worker. So we had to wait.  No big deal, we thought.

We checked in and moved into the Departure Lounge to wait. Our scheduled flight time came and went, as did 8:30, 9:30, and 10:30. Luckily, the 2008 Indian Idol winner’s flight was also delayed, so her celebrity status attracted a flurry of fans and cameras, which helped to pass the time. Finally, at 11am we boarded the bus which took us out to the plane. Unfortunately, this is as far as we got – our flight was cancelled. We were told to try again tomorrow.

So, back in Kathmandu, we waited for night to fall. When night fell, we waited for morning. When morning arrived, we headed straight back to the airport to try again on a 9am flight. But we were optimistic – we thought by arriving at 7am, we could be bumped forward to an earlier flight if seats became available. But we were wrong. This time, a hand written sign stuck high up on the check-in counter announced “All flights to Lukla delayed due to bad weather of Lukla” (incorrect grammar included). No one was being checked in, so we pulled up our bags as seats and settled in to wait. A few rounds of cards played by our guide, Adam and I, attracted the attention of bored Nepali passengers in the same boat as us. Hours passed and still we weren’t being checked in. Friendships were formed with a group of Australians and a New Zealander, as we vented our frustrations and devised back-up plans. Finally, at around 2pm, the sign was removed and the chaotic check-in process began for Day 2 (Day 3 for Sean, the New Zealander).

Once inside the departure lounge, our chances were still looking sketchy. While we waited, our newly found Australian friends, the New Zealander, our guide, Adam and I, played the biggest game of Uno ever on the floor near our departure gate. We were instant celebrities – a hoard of Nepali passengers, five times as many as before, gathered around our circle to watch this fascinating colourful game of cards, never before seen in Nepal. If only we had realised Uno would be such a novelty here we would have brought a few packs over for souvenirs!

At 3pm, our hopes were shattered once more and we returned to Kathmandu for the day, tired and despondent. Not wanting to bear another day waiting, particularly in the grotty Kathmandu airport, we decided to change our plans and head to Chitwan National Park for 3 days, and try flying to Lukla again when we got back. A great solution, we thought. No more waiting.

The first part of our bus trip went quite well. At about 11:30am, with only an hour and a half to go, we were brought to an unexpected stop on a mountain road. After half an hour or so, we learnt that an accident about 1km or so up the road was causing the hold up. The victim of the accident was demanding compensation from the other driver involved, and the whole community had emerged from the village, blocking the road from both directions. We couldn’t believe it! Hadn’t they heard of taking a dispute to the side of the road, out of courtesy for other drivers? Obviously not.

For the next 3 hours we found ourselves – you got it – waiting, for the road to be unblocked. Finally, a jeep full of military police found it’s way up to the road block and successfully managed to settle the situation. Engines started up again, passengers and drivers cheered with relief and at 2:45pm, we were on our way again.

Waiting.....for the roadblock to clear

Our 5pm arrival at Maruni Sanctuary Lodge in Chitwan was the best thing that had happened to us in 3 days. We were greeted with a (very) late delicious lunch, then shown to our private, self-contained cottage where we collapsed with relief and exhaustion.

Who knows what will happen tomorrow! We have plans for a canoe ride, a picnic lunch and a jungle walk with 2 guides, but we’re not holding our breath. I know for sure that it is my birthday tomorrow, and nothing can stop that happening. We’ll just have to wait and see about the rest!

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