I love to travel, and I’ve been to several different countries and parts of this one. And though I always enjoy exploring the new places once I arrive, I enjoy the process of getting there as well. You know, ‘getting there is half the fun’ and all that. Well, I don’t know about half, but I always enjoy something along the way. And with approximately 27 hours of travel time from LAX to Kathmandu, I knew I’d have fun people-watching and eavesdropping.
Take, for example, the very young family I heard behind me on the shuttle bus to LAX. I couldn’t see them, but from hearing them talk about which friends hooked up at which bars and then bicker about holding their baby the right way, I deduced that they were fairly young. At one point, the girl, whose voice was much louder, declared, “I’m so mad at you! You didn’t tell me that!” The guy answered, “I just now remembered.” And she responded, “You have to take care of the baby the rest of the night!” But my favorite, a moment later, was her response to his foolish statement, “I don’t get why you’re mad.” She said, “What don’t you understand? I’m wearing braces and I’m pregnant!” Classic. I doubt I’d hear that in most other countries.
On the flight to Bangkok, there is no one next to me, so not only can I avoid annoying flight chit-chat, I can also turn to my side and put my feet up while I sleep. I read, I watch movies, I am served three full meals, including wine that’s semi-decent. It’s probably the most enjoyable international flight I’ve ever had. Then I have four hours in Bangkok before the flight to Kathmandu. I walk around for about an hour, then sit and read, then walk some more. My ankles and feet are swollen with edema, and I massage my calves to help my circulation. I am allowed to go through security about an hour before boarding time, and I go to the gate and sit down amid a group of fellow travelers.
It is so humbling, to me, to hear people from different countries conversing in English. It surprises me at the Bangkok airport to hear a Philippine woman telling a Nepalese man about the internship she is completing for her Master’s program. They both speak in flawless English. Humbling. All I know in Nepali is “Namaste.”
So far there are five Caucasians waiting for this flight. A young couple, a lone man, and two lone women – including myself. There are a few Japanese and one Korean (who is also speaking English). Many travelers wear surgical masks for airborne disease protection. For this trip, I have been vaccinated against typhoid fever, tetanus, diphtheria, and hepatitis. I brought Deet spray, probiotic pills, and most of my medicine cabinet. I hope I stay healthy.
Another Caucasian man saunters down the steps to the gate. The Philippine woman is asking the Nepalese man how to say “nice to meet you” in Nepali. The Nepalese man tells her a very long phrase and she repeats it. He smiles and says that she can just say “Namaste.” Then she practices “thank you” and “you’re welcome” in Nepali, and I feel that I should have learned a little Nepali before this trip. I really wish I knew how to say “excuse me” for when I bump someone or commit some social faux pas, which is highly likely. I could ask the lovely Nepalese man who is talking with the Philippine woman, but I’m too introverted to join in. Not for the first time, feeling at a great disadvantage, I question the wisdom of taking this trip. Then another Caucasian man strolls to the gate, perhaps a clueless American like me. I try again to listen in to the conversation between the Philippine woman and Nepalese man and try to absorb something. It’s the least I can do. The Korean woman joins them and I feel simply ridiculous that I cannot bring myself to do so.
Moments later, I find myself behind the Nepalese man as we are in line waiting to board. His wife, an absolutely beautiful woman, turns and smiles at me, and I smile back. Her husband picks up a Wall Street Journal – in English – as we board the plane. Again I feel like the ignorant American. The plane is even bigger than the one I took on the 16-hour flight here (16 hours!) and appears to be fuller. I cannot put my feet up on this flight, and my ankles have swollen to twice their size with edema. It feels like the skin on them will split. I have endured this sensation now for at least eight hours. Fortunately this flight is only about three hours. But I’m disappointed to find that, although I have a window seat, it is not only directly over the huge wing, but it is on the left side of the plane. According to my online research, if you’re on the right side of the plane when approaching Nepal from the east, you can see the Himalayas.
We take off, and I catch my first glimpse of Thailand, having been in the airport for four hours. It is lushly green due to the monsoon season, which Nepal is also having. Not many tourists this time of year; I fear I will stand out too much, me and my blond, American “Namaste.”
After viewing a movie, a map popped up on the screen to show the flight’s progress. We are half-way to Kathmandu, looks like. And my swollen ankles and feet are sca-reaming. This has happened before on a trip – two years ago when I went to Greece and it was 122 degrees on Crete as we made our way to the airport to fly back to Athens. But now, I can’t put my feet up on this flight, and it scares me to even look at my ankles.
Clouds all across Myanmar and Bangladesh. We are above them. Ah! An announcement. We are beginning our descent and will land in twenty minutes! Relief for my ankles sooner than I’d thought. And the flight attendants come by with gorgeous purple and white orchid boutonnieres for each passenger. I put mine on and happen to glance out the windows on the opposite side of the plane. I see small, white pointy peaks, and for a second I think they are just the clouds. Another passenger’s head blocks my already limited view from all the way across the plane. And he is looking because – yes – it’s the Himalayas. The man next to him takes a photo. I strain to see again, and I catch a tease of a glimpse. But then the plane turns and, ohGodinheaven, I see them. I see the beautiful snow-covered peaks poking up through the clouds. I see them out my own window. They are truly magnificent. We turn again and descend lower and I can no longer see them. But I did. I saw the tips of the incredible Himalayas with my own eyes.
I am breathless now, not even thinking about my ankles, or the fact that I only know one word in Nepali. Namaste. Yes, I am here. And Namaste again.