Ben and I love a bit of luxury once in a while. Living in the UK, with countless offers on the Internet, means the occasional week-end at a fancy hotel, either at home or away, is a possibility. But, as we want to travel as long as possible, we need to restrict ourselves to a daily budget of £15 per person per day. I know it’s not going to be easy for us. Especially when it comes to Food. We both love to indulge ourselves.
Our budget includes accommodation, transport (train, bus, boat – plane fees will be on top, but kept to a minimum as well) and food. The fees for monuments, museums, tourist attractions will be on top, but we don’t plan to do this in every town we visit and keep it to a minimum to only really include ‘must see’ attractions like the Taj Mahal in India, for instance. If we visited every attraction that can only be accessed upon paying an entry fee, we’d be broke really quickly.
Plus, the aim is to wander around serendipitously and discover, by ourselves, what gems this world has to offer as opposed to follow the usual tourist agenda. As when it comes to food, relying on Tripadvisor can also cost you dearly as many places that are reviewed are much more expensive than local little restaurants or street food stalls – which often offer more authentic food.
However, cheap food can come with a price: it may not always be served in hygienic conditions. The rule for eating abroad is simple: cooked, fried or fruits that can be peeled. Avoid water (unless filtered) at all costs – even discreetly wipe off excess water from cuttlery or glasses. No salads. No ice-cubes. No raw meat, fish. Although, Nepal makes it so convenient for us Westerners: we end up eating salad (in restaurants which advertise on their menus that they wash all food with filtered water – and there are many around – if in doubt ask the staff), we drink beverages with ice-cubes (again, only if made out of filtered water).
On the second day – and our luggage has still not arrived- I’m starting to be nervous. Soon we are off to do a 15-day trek and all our clothes and accessories are in our backpacks. The receptionist calls the Air India office for the third time and they pass on a message to us that unfortunately no bags have arrived yet, but we should call back tomorrow. My cold does not seem to clear up and I’m in a bad mood.
We decide to go to town to buy some underwear. “I’ll quickly get my water bottle from upstairs” I say to Ben. I walk up the three stories, open the hotel room door, grab my water bottle, fill it up with some tap water (which is possible thanks to our amazing filter bottles), close the door and try to lock it. However, Ben was the one always locking the door the last few days and somehow I missed what the trick behind it is. I think I remember him saying, I need to push the button, twist it and lock with the key.
After 5 minutes of trying, I am so annoyed and get really angry and kick open the door (I’m not someone to do things like that ever – I’m usually a very contained and calm person – not today…). I send Ben a text message in the hope that he sees it and comes to the rescue. I walk back into the room, close the door behind me and lie flat on the bed with my face buried in the pillow.
Ben walks in and says “I’ve been waiting for you downstairs?!”. That’s when I start crying. “I’ve been trying to close the door. I’m tired. I want fresh underwear. I want my cold to disappear and feel better. I want our luggage”. Ben stares at me as I throw my little tantrum and I do behave like a small child – especially when I start stomping my feet on the bed as if I’m kicking the mattress. Ben comes over to me, sits next to me and giggles. Then I start laughing through my tears. He hugs me and says “we will get our luggage. Stay positive. We will go to the Air India office tomorrow and speak to them”.
As we walk around to find a place that sells underwear, we pass a few shops which seem to look like pharmacies. “Let’s see if they have some sort of decongestants”. For less than 40 pence, I have the medication I wanted and we walk into another street to find some clothes. Finally, at a busy corner store we find some underwear on hangers dangling from the ceiling. The rest of them are folded neatly and placed in a vitrine.
I point to the underwear I want to look at and ask the skinny nepali lady, dressed in very modern clothing: “Can I see, please?”. The ones I hold in my hand are either too small or massive and it takes me about 10 minutes to find a pair which seems about right. There are no changing cabins- as it is literally the size of a small kiosk. I have passed the point of being fussed about colours. I just want fresh underwear. Even if they look like zebra-printed granny pants.
The next morning we decide to take a taxi and drive to the Air India office. A chubby gentleman greets us at the entrance. “Please sit down” and points to the seats in front of us. “We have arrived in Kathmandu on the 5th of Nov. Flight Nr. XYZ. Our luggage has not arrived” – He picks up the phone and phones someone at the airport.
“Sir, they will check for you – in the meantime, please wait a moment” – Ben asks “What about compensation? We read we are entitled to some money after 24 hours.” – “Sure Sir, I will speak to the Country Manager and let you know – in the meantime, please wait over there” and he points at some chairs next to the wall, about 5 metres away from him. From my seat I can see how he fills out some forms.
After 5min he waves at us. “You are entitled to 50 GBP compensation per person which I can give you today. In the meantime, you can go to the airport this morning and see if your bags are stored. I think they should be there. If they are not, you can call this number to speak to the Country Manager. At the airport dial this number here which will take you to the warehouse Manager”. We walk over to another desk and collect our money, hop into the taxi and drive to the airport – it takes us more than 1 hour as the traffic is so bad in Kathmandu.
At the airport we call the Warehouse Manager and he says we should wait near the security staff by the entrance. After 5min a short slim guy waves at us and directs us to follow him. We pass through the security checkpoint, pass the conveyor belts and stand in front of a big warehouse door. He opens it and piles and piles of luggage appear in front of us.
I scan the room – my eyes moving frantically from one side to another, when I spot Ben’s backpack, I say “HERE is your bag!” and 1 minute later Ben finds mine which makes me hop on the spot and hug him. I cannot describe what sense of relief I felt when I saw my bag again! I’m so happy! We hop back into a taxi and I have a huge grin on my face. “Can you believe it? We have our bags back!” I say and smile at Ben.
Fake North Face in Central Kathmandu
Back in the hotel we make ourselves ready to go back into town to buy some trekking items which we haven’t brought with us. Thamel is full of trekking shops selling everything imaginable you would need for a trek in the Himalayas. Only that all of it is fake. Fake Mammut. Fake North Face. The only shops which sell original gear are found near the Garden of Dreams by the entrance to Thamel.
You would notice a massive price difference, as well as difference in quality – of course. We were a bit disappointed having to buy trekking materials in the first place as we hoped to be able to rent everything. In truth, the only items you can rent are down jackets (if you are lucky) and sleeping bags.
But from countless of shops, we only found two shops that rented these items. As we packed for a world trip and not solely for a trek, we end up having to buy: snow trousers, gaiters, snowgloves (the fake North Face gloves were surprisingly good and kept me warm all day!), poles (a life-saver especially on the day of the ascent to the Thorong La Pass), a woolly hat, a woollen scarf.
That evening we toast with a beer, still not believing our luck of having reclaimed our luggage and of Air India paying for our trekking equipment which we did not plan on buying.