I've never seen so many beards before. And not just your run of the mill, average facial hair, but proudly grown, who knows what's hiding in there, I'm-a-man burly beards.
It's like a right of passage, a sign if you will, that you've arrived in Nepal. No, it's not the locals, but the travelers who are of a distinct set -- think faux-North Face and dreds, carefree yet thoughtful -- and it's the first time I've been to a place, where beard or no beard, I feel as though I've joined a secret club. A really dirty, but awesome, secret club.
Nepal is not a stop over, nor is it a vacation destination. It's intense, it's uncomfortable, it's frustrating and chaotic and surprising. It's the kind of place only a certain kind of traveler visits, and most turn a visit into a life, for a period of time or so. I'm the only person in this town crazy enough to come here for 10 days, but every traveler in this town, is crazy in some way. And I mean that in the best of ways.
There are two types of tourist here: those finding themselves in the grit of Kathmandu, exploring the Hindu sites and small hill-top villages, working at an orphanage or a hostel or school. And then there are the Everesters. Those who come to Nepal for a dare. But being in Nepal in itself, is a challenge, with and without the climb.
I land in a small airport with a hazy fog and orange hued lights glowing on the wet runway. And the power goes out. I'm alone, in Nepal, in an airport with no power. I'm on 24 hours of no-sleep and my backpack feels like it has gained 20 pounds.
My phone has been dead since Dubai (so much for that Flashlight app) so in darkness, I find my luggage and pass through the Nepalese passport line. I'm greeted by men -- men everywhere -- wooing me into their cabs (nothing new for a New Yorker) so I find my man, and give him the name of the obscure off-the-path hostel that I'm heading to. He shakes his head, yes, yes, gives me all the good universal gestures that will assure me I am safe, and he knows where he is going.
We turn down dark, unpaved roads, bicycles and mopeds speed past with no regard for lanes (nothing new for Asia). We go for miles. He picks up a friend. I think he forgot there's an American girl in the back.
Welcome to Kathmandu.