Thursday, April 29, 2010

Nepal in pictures #2

Out of control...

I've been slow in blogging about Nepal, as my health has gotten a little worse since coming back from Nepal. Perhaps it's post-Nepal syndrome disguised in the form of a severe sinus infection and the inhibition of hearing in my ear. So really, the solution isn't antibiotics... clearly it is the need to go back to Nepal and breathe in the cool, fresh, clean air of the Himalayas. Seriously. :)

I promise I will eventually get around to actually blogging about our trekking experience, but wanted to blog about our time coming home, back to Bangkok, first since it is still so fresh in my mind and made a big impact on me. It indeed was a lesson in trust. In fact, the whole trip was a lesson in trust... trusting that the iodine would "purify" our water and that we wouldn't get Nepal-belly, trusting that God would keep us safe and that there wouldn't be any injuries (seriously, carrying someone out of there would have been impossible), trusting that we wouldn't get robbed, trusting that our muscles could make it one more step or that our lungs could take it, trusting that God would protect us on our plane rides, trusting that we could communicate Christ to our fellow porters and guide... and the list goes on.

Mike and I decided to leave one day earlier than the rest of our group. Our plan was to come back on Sunday evening so that we would have Monday to recuperate and get ready for our first week back. The plan was to fly from Pokhara to Kathmandu, and then Kathmandu to Bangkok. We were supposed to have about a 3 hour lay over in Kathmandu... so there was technically enough room to "fudge" if our plane out of Pokhara was late.

Things don't always go as planned though, and as things seemed to go more and more out of control, it was a lesson in trusting God for my needs, trusting that He knows what is best for me, trusting that He wants what is good for me, and trusting that He will provide for me.

So... our flight out of Pokhara was over 2 hours late (due to scheduled maintenance... whatever that means since the Pokhara airport is the size of a large high school, if that). After the 30 minute plane ride to Kathmandu, quickly grabbing our checked bag, and a taxi ride that probably endangered our lives as the driver attempted to get us to the international airport in record time (which, granted, I'm sure he did), we raced to the Thai Airways ticket booth, and it was closed. Our plane hadn't even left yet, but the ticket booth apparently closed down 30 minutes before the flight's departure. Panicked, we practically begged them to get us onto the plane, but to no avail. They checked to see if we would be able to get onto Monday's flight (the same flight that our friends would be flying), but told us that it was overbooked by more than 20 people... and that it wasn't looking good until Thursday, but that we'd need to speak to the Thai Airways Company. We called our friends in Pokhara and left a message for them, telling them we missed our flight and we were stuck in Kathmandu.

So we're stuck at the airport, not knowing a single thing about Kathmandu since we didn't plan on being there so didn't do any research. Praise God that before we left, one of our trekking group members gave us a business card with a map to a hotel that he had stayed at in Kathmandu before our trekking journey began, "just in case." So we pull out the card and dragged our pathetic looking selves outside to find a taxi. Well, as you can only imagine, the airport is full of "taxi drivers" that just want your money. So we went back and forth on a price to get us to the hotel and taxi drivers were literally fighting over who would get to take us to the hotel... they were honestly ripping the business card out of each other's hand to get a look at where we were going. I was actually scared that they would destroy the card and that we'd have no idea how to get to the hotel in the end. We finally settled on a driver that would take us to the hotel for the best rate, who in the end, turned out to not really be a taxi driver since he didn't have an actual taxi... how were we supposed to know? We think he had just picked up his friend from the airport and was just "going that direction" and thought he could make some money in the whole ordeal. A bit bizarre, but he got us there safely.

So we pulled up to this amazing looking hotel called, "The Courtyard." It's this massive mansion looking building that has a beautiful patio and ponds right in the middle of the city. When we arrived, they told us that there were absolutely no rooms available because so many Europeans were stuck in Kathmandu due to the volcanic eruption that has canceled flight after flight. Feeling a bit helpless and probably looking even more pathetic after being rejected, we asked them if they had any recommendations of where to stay if there were rooms available. The owner of the hotel was standing there the whole time, probably took in how pathetic we looked (particularly me) and our sad state of affairs, and thus decided to make "an executive decision" and give us a room that had been reserved, but the people hadn't arrived that morning (it was 3 PM by the time we arrived at the hotel). So we got their room... it was a suite... and it was massively huge and beautiful with a fairytale/dreamy kind of aura to it all. We felt blessed that she would show us such kindness.

Despite the stressed feeling of being unsure of when we would be able to get home, we tried to enjoy our time in Kathmandu after sending e-mails to our administrators telling them of our odd situation. We also e-mailed our friends in Pokhara and told them they needed an earlier flight out of Pokhara or there would be 11 of us stuck in Kathmandu, instead of 2. We enjoyed walking up and down the streets, doing some shopping, eating a great dinner, washing some clothes and doing some reading that evening. Looking back now, I'm so grateful for how restful and seemingly stress-free our evening was.

The next morning, we made our way to the Thai Airways office, which was (thankfully) walking distance from the hotel, only to find out that the soonest confirmed flight tickets available to us would be Friday. This would mean missing 4 days of work during a critical time (particularly for me) of the school year... it's crunch time! We were told that we could try to fly standby, but that each flight until Friday was overbooked by at least 20 people. I think this was the time that my ulcer started to form... just kidding. :) This was when we really handed everything over to God and truly truly realized that there was absolutely nothing that we could do to help the situation in the least.

We heard back from our friends and they couldn't change their flight plans, so they ended up renting a van and driving from Pokhara to Kathmandu. They left around 4:30 in the morning and were supposed to arrive 5 hours later... so we fully expected to see them at the airport when we arrived.

So we packed up our bags and tried to check out of the hotel. We were told when we first checked in that they took credit cards, which we were so grateful for because we didn't have much cash on us since we weren't expecting the extended stay-cation. Well... my credit card wasn't accepted... and neither was Mike's because their credit card machine was suddenly broken. So they told us to go to the bank and get money. We told them that was impossible since our cards were not ATM cards. But they insisted that we go to the bank and get money... so we tried, just to say that we tried. Of course we were thoroughly rejected and perhaps scoffed at, but at least we tried. The bank also told us to go to another hotel that would perhaps be willing to help us, but when we found out that there was a 25-30% service charge, we said, "¡AdiĆ³s!" and returned back to the hotel, hoping and praying that the machine was fixed. Thankfully it was, and when my card was accepted, the guys behind the counting were practically high-fiving each other, whooping it up and and yelling, "YES!" as if they had just won a prize of some sort. Quite funny indeed.

So off to the airport it was. Traffic was not very good and as we sat and waited, our stomach ulcers continued to grow and perhaps multiply ten fold. We arrived around 10:30 and checked in with Thai Airways to see if there was a "standby list" and what the odds were for us to get on the flight. They essentially told us that we had little to no chance. We checked to see if our friends had arrived and checked in, but they hadn't. So we waited... and waited... and waited... 12:30 rolled around and there was still no sign of our friends. By this time the ulcers had multiplied even more so because we have no idea where they were, if they were okay, and we know that they only have 3o more minutes before the Thai Airways booth closed. Additionally, we had no way to contact them. 12:40 crept upon us and they finally arrived... a 5 hour van ride turned into an 8 hour one due to rock slides, stopped cars and trucks, traffic, and carsickness. They raced to the booth and checked in, as we twiddled our thumbs, waiting to see if we could fly standby. In the meantime, a group of 8 Europeans canceled their flight plans for some reason or another and there seemed to be a little bit more hope of us getting onto the flight. We got some additional money from our friends, as we planned on being in Kathmandu for another few days, prayed with them, and then they went on to board the plane while we still waited to hear any news...

Finally, we are told that we would be able to fly standby. They initially gave us tickets for economy class (not by each other), but the the "head honcho" of TA, who remembered us from the other day, and feeling probably a little bad for what happened for us (even though it wasn't his fault in any way) actually upgraded us to business class. So not only did we get to fly home that day (instead of Friday), we got to fly home in style and sitting next to each other!

When I look back on the whole situation now, it was an excellent lesson in trust. Sometimes I am too independent and I think I can take care of things myself and that I am in control, but this time around, there was literally absolutely nothing that we could do to help our situation and all we could do (aside from get ulcers :) ) was to pray and pray big. Talk about a lesson in humility as well! And just when we thought things were the most out of control... God clearly provided. I think about what could have happened if we hadn't decided to leave one day earlier as well... all 11 of us probably would have been stuck in Kathmandu for the rest of the week. I'm sure ICS wouldn't have been happy about missing 8 of its teachers, and one of the other group members wouldn't have been too happy about missing a final exam.

I also think it was an excellent lesson in the power of prayer. Our friends prayed that despite the out of control feeling of the whole situation, that we would have a restful and refreshing evening in Kathmandu, and we did. When we were unsure if we would have to fork over more money for new tickets back to Bangkok for being "irresponsible" and not having a sufficient lay over in Kathmandu, we prayed and we ended up not paying a cent! When the credit card machine was broken, we prayed on our way back to the hotel (after the failed attempt at the bank) that the machine would work, and it did. When we were nervous about our friends, where they were, and if they were safe, we prayed and they showed up safely and in time for their flight. When all odds were against us for us to make Monday's flight, we prayed... our group prayed... and we made it. And even upon return, I was so tired that evening that I didn't want to go to school to make sure I had everything in order for that week, I prayed for peace... and then on Tuesday when I went into school a little bit earlier than normal, I realized that I had done more than I thought I had before spring break to prepare for the week back! God answered prayers in big ways... and it was amazing.

So needless to say, in this whole out of control feeling situation, God blessed us in so many ways and taught us/reminded us of important lessons... and I am most certainly grateful...out of control feeling, ulcers and all. :)

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Nepal in pictures #1

More to come on Nepal (pics and about our trekking experience)... I'm just tired of uploading pics. right now, plus, it's my bedtime. :)