Two Wheels are Better Than Four Journeys across the globe for adventure and sustainable transport Sun, 06 Dec 2009 10:33:47 +0000 en hourly 1 Ha Noi before home Sun, 06 Dec 2009 10:28:35 +0000 Administrator Since I last wrote in China we’ve been up to a fair bit. We left our couchsurfing host, William in Kunming with a heavy heart and had a fun time getting our bikes on the bus to the border town of Hekou. The vietnam visa had been super easy to get in Kunming. In fact the hardest part about it was finding the entrance to the consulate. But it was a serious and long argument to get the bikes on the bus as they sell all of the lugguage space to merchants that want to get stuff to the border. In the end I had to lie and say that our visas ran out that day so I couldn’t get a later bus and then I had to buy off 2 guys who had stuf already on the bus. Argh. Well it only cost 7 dollars but its still annoying. The sleeper buses are pretty funny as they are set up like a cheap hostel dorm with bunk beds lining each side of the bus. The driving skills of most chinese bus drivers are really conducive to sleeping and so I just looked out the window on the 12 hour ride. We got in at 6 am and had to wait around for the border to open before crossing. The crossing into vietnam is a lot more relaxed than the tibetan one and they hardly went through our stuff at all. Thats good becasue we’d heard that often they confiscate the DVDs that you buy in China. The only problem was that because we entered china on a group visa (necessary to get into tibet) we didn’t get any stamps in our visa. That meant that after trying several times we had to get one of the senior officers to walk through the whole crossing with us so that each guy understood the reason for our lack of stamps.
Once in vietnam we decided to ride the 35 km from the border to the tourist spot of SaPa. It seemed like a nice 35 km on the map but the map forgot to mention the 1500 m verticle difference in elevation between sapa and the border. DOH! We made it after quite the slog and found a very european looking and quite cute little city surrounded by clouds. It is definitely run for the tourists and its hard to find any of the untainted local culture left but it was a nice side stop after china and we spent 3 days there. We then got the train down to Hanoi. Its an 11 hour ride and it was especially memorable because the people that sat across from us were a couple of doting grandparents looking after their grandkiddy. They spent the first 6 hours of the journey feeding it lollies and fruit and milk drinks and all things and then the half an hour after that dutifully trying to ignore the massive amount of baby spew that had piled on the floor. That was until I went a tad nuts at the grandfather who then went nuts at the grandmother who cleaned up most of the mess while the granddad did his best to keep up the ignoring game.
Ha Noi is a maze of chaos and if I could turn off the horns on all the cars and the (literally) swarming scooters then I think that I’d quite like the place. We have 2 more days here before heading home but in the time here we also rode the 2 days down to Ha Long bay for an awesomely relaxing boat ride around the islands and inlets. I’ll write about that tomorrow as my stomach is calling me towards my first non seafood meal in days and so I must go.


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Blogging from Kunming China Sun, 22 Nov 2009 11:57:51 +0000 Administrator Email from TC – Nov 22, 2009

We are currently sitting in Kunming, the capital of Yunnan. We are couchsurfing in town with a cool french guy and waiting for our vietnam visa to come back. The cruise through the Yunnan province has been pretty cool and a huge change from the rest of teh trip. We’re on a real tourist route at the moment and its interesting to see lots of the same people in town after town. We have stayed in Lijiang and Dali and now Kunming. We also did a quick hike up the Tiger Leaping gorge. We haven’t done much riding for a bit and have been dealing with the chinese bus system which is pretty easy to do, even with the bikes.
Lijiang and Dali were interesting laces. very touristy. That means that every second shop sells dried mushrooms or bad hats and the others sell crap jewlery and that you have to fight your way through crowds of chinese tourists all wearing matching hats and following a flag toting guide. Also the cities seem to be polished replicas of there former glory. Nothing seems real in china. They always seem to knock down the old stuff and then build a shiney, tourist friendly replica in its place. There did seem to be some soul left in Dali but the best Yunnan experience so far was the hike through the small villages on teh Tiger Leaping gorge. Even if the weather was crap the view was great and the locals were so friendly that we really wished that we’d planned for a longer stay there and didn’t run the 24 km in 6 hours and then hitch back to Lijiang for the night. Its 78 km from Lijiang to the gorge. You start at the town of Qitou (pronounced cheetau) and hike up and allong the trail. At the traditional halfway point, tina’s, which is the end of the first day, we had to hire a mini van to take us back to the start point. When we go there they tried the age old scam of telling us that all the buses back to lijiang were finished for the day but that they could take us for a huge fee. I politely told them to get stuffed and that I’d rather hitch than pay that and within 15 minutes along came a bus to lijiang and we were fine. The hostel tha twe stayed in in Dali was a great place run by an Aussie bloke that married a chinese girl. Very chilled out with plenty to do and coopers beer in the fridge. Teh strange thing for me and the exciting thing for Nic was the number of french speakers there at once. There were more than half the people there that spoke french as a first language and so I had a fair bit of practice to try to get a gist of the conversations. It was cool though and we ended up at a gig in a local bar where the headliner was a Quebecois and had a top night that lead to a bit of a hangover and so an extra day of staying in Dali.
One thing about China is how cheap the food and accommodation is. If a meal for 4 costs over $10 AUD then you are at a really posh place and if you pay more than $20 for a NICE hotel room then you are getting riped off. The bus transport is cheap around and someone on a budget could survive here for quite a while.
Anyway we’ll be here a few more days before heading down to the vietnam border and then either staying in the hill town of Sapa for a day or so or just going straight into Hanoi. Then a quick trip to Ha Long bay and then homeward bound.



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Blogging from Lijiang – China Sun, 15 Nov 2009 13:12:00 +0000 Administrator Email from TC – Nov 15, 2009

Hey there,

here is an update from Lijiang.

We’ve just arrived in the province of Yunnan and the city of Lijiang. Wow what a difference it is from tibet. There is so much development here. Granted, the development seems pretty forced and the locals don’t seem quite ready for it but its great to have electricity and showers where-ever we go. The trip from Lhasa was really diverse.
The last time that I wrote I was in the city of Bayi town. That was in one of the low and fertile valleys of tibet and it was pretty overrun by han chinese rather than tibetans. once we got back above 4000m we found that the chinese (understandably) are fair-weather emigrants and only move to the nice warm bits. The dry high areas are really tibetan and were awesome to see. The most tibetan city that we saw was Mangkam (or markham or gartok or gartog (each place still has at least 3 different names)) in the very east on tibet. It was a cool place and I’m disappointed that we only got to spend a few hours there.
When we left Bayi town our schedule had us driving one day, riding 2 and then driving another day into Lijiang. As it turned out we rode 70 km of that journey and then had to drive 4.5 long and full days to reach the areas that we no longer need a guide and don’t have to go through checks in every town. The driving days were very long days, ranging from 2000 m to 4500 m above sea level. The roads deteriorated to the point where the landcruiser barely fit along the bumpy dirt track. On one side, 30 cm from the edge of the tyre, were drops of 800m to the river below and solid rock was on the upside. Then take into account that there are huge trucks trying to get passed and there was often a large amount of precarious reversing to find a spot wide enough to allow one vehical to pass. It also doesn’t help that drivers in china believe that an accelerator pedal only has an on and off position. Only fast or stop. So add that to the horribly (and spectactularly) winding roads and the massive daily cahnges in elevation and you have a great mix for car sickness.
Each pass that you cross in tibet leads to an amazingly different scene and way of life. The landscape changes with each pass and it is so interesting to see how people live differently just kilometres from each other. Eastern tibet is something that should be seen, the feeling of remoteness and uniqness is so fantastic. To do this trek spread over a few more days with some stops in the smaller places is awesome. We stopped in Rawu Lake, Bashto (for lunch), Pambu (a tiny dot of a place on a crossroad that is too chinese), Mangkam (lunch stop), a hotspring settlement on teh tibet border, shangri-la (otherwise known as gyalthang) and then Lijiang. Shangrila is in Yunnan but still has a significant tibetan population so it is only now that we are truely in China. Shangri-la was actually a cute place and we enjoyed the bars/restuarants in the old town. Lijiang oldtown is also really pretty but there are sooo many tourists that it reminds me slightly of San Marino. The hot spring place saw us in a posh hotel room, spending a few hours in the warm mineral springs by a gushing river in a beautiful gorge for the huge price of $25 aussie dollars. That is one thing about travelling this region, living the posh life is soooo cheap.
Chinese tourists and their purchant for horrible hats is hilarious. The men all wear disgusting versions of american cowboy hats and the women seemed to have been trawling the garbage bins after the melbourne spring carnival for teh worst race day hats that you can imagine.
The other thing that has offered me endless hilarity in China is the Chingrish language. We have so many photos of the names of shops and restuarants. Things like “The god of the east that is worshiped by the taoists wholesale store limited”, “Hi yang fruit shop and the surface pressure” or street signs like “Don’t waste food, eat and drink healthily”.
Also we saw so many pilgrims in eastern tibet on their way to lhasa. I mentioned them in teh last entry but I’m still amazed that they prostrate themselves for hundreds of kilometres on the way to the capital and that they deliberately leave at the time of year that is coldest so that the journey is harder and therefore their soul is all the more cleansed. Wow.
Its nice now to be in a place where the temperature is back in double figures of teh positive celsius scale.
We’re off tomorrow to hike the tiger leaping gorge and then it’ll be off south to Dali and then to Kunming.
Have fun for now.

Tc and Nic

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Bayi City in Eastern Tibet Mon, 09 Nov 2009 16:12:51 +0000 Administrator Email sent by TC, November 9, 2009

I don’t have a long time to write much of a blog entry at the moment but I thought that I’d give a quick update for teh site and you as to where we are. We’re in teh town of Bayi City in Eastern Tibet. We’re 6 days ride out of lhasa and down to 3000 m in Elevation. We’ve had to check in with the police at each town and stay in the police sponsered hotel as they don’t trust us pesky foreigners to stay just anywhere. We all obviously want to start a rebellion. Our por guide even has to stay in teh same hotel and they always choose the most expensive place (probably because the bribes are bigger) so the guide is forking out most of his weeks wage to stay with us. Seems a little unfair but he’s tibetan and the chinese government doesn’t seem to care. This part of the country is also amazingly different from the rest of tibet and exhibits almost none of the features of the western part of teh place.
We’ve ridden more than 300km from the capital and we are still seeing people walking along the road making a pilgramage to Lhasa. You can tell they are pilgrims as they prostrate themselves on the ground and pray every 10 steps and then get up and walk another 10. Spooky dedication.
Anyway better go but we’ve got another 4 days to Lijiang in the Yunnan province and more internet, sit down toilets and civilisation.

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Arrived in Lhasa ! Sat, 31 Oct 2009 12:53:34 +0000 Administrator Email received this morning – Oc 31,2009

Ahhhh, relaxation in Lhasa after some monumental passes and lots of remote ks ridden. We made the mistake of climbing too fast and as a result we all had some nasty head aches and really struggled with the first 4 to 5 days of riding. After I started to feel worse we rushed down to an elevation of around 4000 masl (haha). From then on things started to feel loads better and we’ve started to get much stronger. The view up at Rongbuk monastary of everest is undescribable. I grogily made my way to the loo one morning and nearly fell over when up and realised through the sleep fog where I was. WOW. The sky here has been so amazingly cloud free for the whole trip. That explains the painfully cold nights and the beautiful afternoons. The mornings riding starts out at about 830 or 9 am when the temp has got up to minus 5 or so and with all the layers of clothing appropriate. By the afternoon we’ve lost at least 4 layers each and are riding comfortably in shorts.
The western part of our journey was in some really out of the way places. Most tourists that come through fly through the country in 4wds and miss all of the little towns but on a bike we can’t get further and so we’ve found ourselves staying in some “rustic” situations. dirt floors aren’t uncommon and we’ve been eating in the communal kitchens with the families that own the guest house. The western part of tibet is extremely undeveloped. The only power in any of the towns is for 3 hours a night from solar batteries and plumbing is non existent. The toilet facilities available have been the most horrific that I’ve ever experienced and so we’ve often waited until a few km down the road to relieve ourselves. That tibet is the real tibet though and its been fantastic to see. Once we crossed teh 5240m Thong La pass we came into the other tibet. The tibet that the chinese have developed. The people living there have living standards that are amazingly higher than the rest of teh place but their culture is not anywhere near the same. Its a trade that I suppose is being made all over teh world. I still like the idea of keeping the culture but I’m feel that I’m a lonely soul in that when it comes to a global picture. How many people really want to leave someone in squalor if thats the way that the person has always lived? One disappointing thing is that all of the kids in the remote villages have at some time learned that foriegners are a source of money and so the first reaction of most of them is to stick out a grimey hand and ask for money. The closer to Lhasa that we get the less that happens but the whole thing spoils the interactions with those people. The ones that hadn’t learned that we meant money were great to joke and laugh with and we learned loads from them. We stayed a night in one monastary that was founded around 600 ad and had some awesome fun with the monks trying to learn about the place and swap stories (language barriers included).
I’ve also said a lot about riding up the passes and while we spent some days gaining more than 1600 vertical metres we’ve also dropped the same amounts. The friendship highway (so propaganderously named) is brand new for most of teh way and so dropping down the far side of a pass on perfect new road way is SOOOOOOOOO good. Cam and I hit 85 km/h the other day and have touched 80 a few other times. Nic likes to take it a little more sensibly and so has only been getting into the 60s but the first big drop of 15km and 1.2 vert km put smiles on that lasted days.
Anyway I’d better leave things at that. We’ve got a few more days here before saying goodbye to Cam and hitting eastern tibet so I’ll write some more soon.

I figure that I should also add that we’ve come to a bit of a hard decision but we are also going to have to call the journey to an end at Hanoi. Consistant niggling injuries are starting to take their toll on us and because of the fact that we’ve already had to miss a large section due to politics its no longer about riding the whole way. We’d probably try to push through if it was about finishing the whole thing but instead we have decided to save ourselves the anguish and to come back and do the sections that we can’t do now in the years to come. As a result we’ll be back in Aus for Christmas and resting up for the New Year.

Well I’ll write again soon.


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Tibet border to Everest Base Camp Mon, 26 Oct 2009 23:10:00 +0000 Administrator Emails from TC … also sent Oct 26, 2009
Second blog to go up.


Ahhh mountains. Nic loves them and gets a huge smile everytime she sees one of them and thats lucky because riding up them at amazingly stupid altitudes needs something to make you smile. The border is at 1500masl and by the third day of riding we crested a pass at 5130masl. That was waaaaay too fast and as a result the 3 of us were smashed by the altitude. Not to the point of having to be airlifted out like the aussie guy that we met at the border hospital but it was painful. To the point that the last 300 horizontal m (50 vertical m) hurt so much more than anything did during the ironman in april.
It has been great though. We have a guide and a driver that follow along with us. They usually drive 5 to 10 km in front of us and then wait for us to catch up and then pull out the thermos of tea while we catch our breath. The 4wd also has a rack on teh roof for those occassions in the first few days when the altitude became too great and we had to blouse it and put the bikes on the roof. Those guys have been really good at looking after us and I have no idea why I didn’t get a car from the start. They even manage to hide their bordom at taking 8 hours to drive 60 km.
Our guide has been doing this kind of thing for 8 years and we’re only the 3rd group that he has taken in this direction. All the other groups think that the lhasa to kathmandu direction is down hill. Apart from the first 3 days they’re wrong. Each pass is balanced once you’re at this height and they seem steeper going the other way. Also so far teh wind has been fantastically behind us. The only thing that I’d suggest is a day or 2 more acclimatisation at arround 4000 or 4500 m. After we made it to the top of the first pass we had to get in the car and drive the last 30 km because I couldn’t see for the tears and we were all so dizzy from teh lack of oxygen that we didn’t want to risk trying to speed down a pass.
Also once we got off of the main highway to head into Everest base camp from Tingri the road was really rocky and the wind was so strong in our faces that we took the car again until we were close enough to the mountains that the wind was blocked a little. At everst base camp I started to switch into stage 2 of altitude sickness (not fun I can tell you) and so we got in the car and rushed down from the 5200 to a more sane 4300.
Anywya time for the internet time to be over so have to go but have many many more tibet stories so I’ll be back when we get to Lhasa (4 days) and tell them then.


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Kathmandu to Tibet Border Mon, 26 Oct 2009 23:06:46 +0000 Administrator Email from TC…sent Monday, Oct 26, 2009
Hi Carole,
Here is the first blog message to go up on the site. hopefully I have enough time to get another one down about the journey here in the mountains.
Thanks very much

Blog 1

I’m now in Tibet an our website is blocked by the great firewall of China and so I can’t check where I left off in Kathmandu and so sorry if I repeat myself or leave stuff out.
We were in Kathmandu for 3 days before the intrepid Cam joined us from his annual travels around europe or whichever place takes his fancy. After that Nic, Cam and myself had great fun wandering around the kathmandu valley.
We hung out in the tourist district, wandered the streets beyond which were much less colourful in a ‘things to buy’ sense but much more colourful in a ‘people’ sense and we hiked and biked on the steep sides of the valley that the city sits in. Once out of the city you see the nepalese light up with smiles and hellos and they showed themselves to be a great and friendly bunch of people. Their looks vary from looking Indian to looking chinese and every variation of a mixture between. There was a much more western diet available in Kathmandu and so we filled up on some of the things that we missed.
One great thing that happened in Kathmandu is that we became really friendly with the hotel staff and manager. To the point that he gave us gifts of tshirts and traditional scarves when we left and he definitely had a mist in his eye when we left. So our recommendation is to stay at the Florid Nepal Hotel in Z street, Thamel
From Kathmandu we had to take a truck to the border because that is how things are organised for the trips to tibet. The company that arranged the tibet leg for us got the visas with no troubles which was a huge relief. There were some worries and mucking around with the organisation of it all but on the whole it seems to have worked out well. That is good as the kathmandu to lhasa leg is costing $1500 US each and the eastern part of tibet is costing a little more. You’d want good service for that.
The truck ride to the border was pretty cool. I rode in the back with the bikes for the whole trip (114km in 7.5 hours) because the front could only fit Nic and Cam. The views were spectacular on the journey and I recomend Nepal to anyone who craves a sumtuous visual feast.
From the point of view of a geotechnical engineer, the road trip to the border was scary as hell. So many sections of the road had given way or were about to that I had to try very hard not to look close to the road and only at distant scenery. The only advice that I can give is that if it is raining or has rained in the previous 24hours “DO NOT drive teh Kathmandu to Kodari road!” It gave me the serious heebie jeebies.
Also just near the border we were passing a tourist resort that boasted a 160m high bungy jump. As Cam had never done it before we called for a quick stop and he threw himself off of a nice a sturdy bridge above a spectacular canyon. I’d already done it before and Nic figured that surviving the drive was enough so we settled for taking video from various angles.
The delay was ok though because just ahead of where we stopped a bus driver going the other way had decided to fit around a truck that he had no business in trying to fit around and the bus ended up hanging by a very small margin over teh edge of the 160 metre deep canyon that cam jumped into. The bus hung there and ‘almost’ blocked teh road off. The kind driver did refund the money of the passengers and then the banked up traffic began the painful task of edging around the back of the bus.
Anyway we made it to the border in the end and spent our last night in Nepal in the town of kodari before a walk across the border and into the forbidden country of tibet.

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Starting the Tibet Journey Fri, 23 Oct 2009 13:35:28 +0000 Administrator Posting email received from TC on Wed, 21 Oct 2009

Hey Carole,

Nic is just sending you a few pics of our trip in tibet so far. Its pretty cool. We have a small problem in that China has blocked both facebook and our website. In that way we can’t update people on how we’re going. I was wondering if you could leave a quick message on teh blog to let everyone know that things are fine here. My friend Cam joined us in Kathmandu and we’ve been on the road ever since. There is very little electricity in Tibet let alone phone and internet so getting more info out will be pretty time consuming. I’m going to write a few blog entries over the next few days and I was hoping that if I emailed them to you that you’d be able to post them.

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Ahhh Nepal Tue, 06 Oct 2009 15:51:40 +0000 Administrator Wow. Its like someone has turned down the volume. Its quieter, cleaner, much less smelly and the most important part is that the people know how to smile and welcome a stranger. We’ve been a few days in Nepal are really like it. It may have been a shock if we had first come here but compared to india this is a paradise. Things changed from the border onwards. The 2 full days that we have had in Kathmandu have been great. We are staying in teh touristy area which is kinda cool. The novelty of seeing white people again is starting to wear off but to see them again was so strange. The are that we are in has bars and serves food that isn’t curry and has everything that you could want to buy. The food in india was one of teh highlights but 2 straight weeks of curry leaves you craving a change even if the curry is great. Yesterday we did a 50 m ride to get teh legs working again. It was 25 km uphill out of town and 25 back. The countryside and rural people here are really cool. Lots of green with rice paddies interspersed with stands of trees and the towns and fields are full of people with an easy smile and they are always quick to great you with teh standard Namaste. For a country that has a literacy rate below 50% there is an amazing amount of english here and even if the people don’t have any other languages, their ability to communicate makes life easy and cool. I refuse to believe that this country is poorer than india. In india the poor are retched, squalid and offensive. Here the people seem to care for their surroundings and have more pride in themselves (the indian woman took pride in their appearance but that was the only thing, everything else was covered in poo) and their surroundings. Here the children build swings and play things for themselves and seem to know how to have fun. The staff in the hotel that we are in are awesomely friendly and helpful (for $10 per day its a great deal) and they are typical of the Nepalese that we’ve met. Even the touts in the city are friendly about annoying you with their business. I’ve mever met more friendly guys trying to sell me hash on the street anywhere. Today we jumped on a local bus out to a temple for the ritual sacrifice day (we missed the goat being killed but aren’t too upset) and then went on a hike in the hills. All was fun and got some great photos looking down onto the city from the surrounding hills.
Cam joins us tomorrow and we’ll then spend some time around teh city waiting for our visas and doing a few hikes and bike rides of a few days. It should also be fun getting CAm upto the proper fitness to tackle the job of riding over teh worlds highest mountain range. We’re not even sure if we’re ready after 5 months on the road. It will all be fun and hopefully the visa comes through from the chinese embassy quickly so that we can start before it gets truly cold in the mountains. We’re expecting lows around -10 to -15 as it is.
Anyway bye for now


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Out of india Sun, 04 Oct 2009 17:40:12 +0000 Administrator Well I thought that I’d put a quick post up to say that we are out of india and are currently enjoying the relative calm of kathmandu.
The last while in india was typically fun. The package that we were waiting for was a massive problem as most things are in india. After 4 and a half hours in teh Kanpur post office and abusing the highest managers. I managed to find out that my package was in Delhi and it would take a further 4 days to reach Kanpur where I could then pick it up. After already waiting 6 days since it reached teh country I decided to get the 7 hour cattle class train to delhi and pick it up in person and then get the train back. The process there was a realtively simple 3 hours in the foreign post office to get the package but finally I did!!!!!!! WOOHOO. I nearly danced in the post office. I am still amazed at the complete incompetence of the indian postal staff and the lack of knowledge of their own system or care that they had no idea. They were on a par with the ethiopians, and that is saying something. But by doing that I freed us up to leave the god forsaken place and so after the usual hassle and crap we got an overnight train to gorakhpur and then the bus to the border.
My little adventure to delhi enabled me to have a few conversations with some indians about their country and their lives. It seems that I’ll never know all of india because the poor people can’t speak english and seem unable to communicate in even the most primative ways outside of their own spoken language. (even in the most rural parts of europe some form of communication was possible with no common words at all but that doesn’t seem possible in india) So I’ll never learn their point of view and the rich of india are completely oblivious to the fact that the country is full of disgustingly poor and reched people. They remind me of the world per columbus, they knew the world was flat because they refused to see the evidence. I could go on for hours how india is killing itself because the rich are convinced that the technology is the way forward and waste billions on sending probes to the moon when the poor can’t even afford paper to learn to read with let alone feed themselves. More than 350 million people in india live in extreme shit, beyond anything that I’ve seen anywhere else in teh 58 countries that I’ve been too and yet the rich classes are completely oblivious to any problem. They all need to do an AA course to get out of the denial stage.
But all that is behind us now. Also below is a photo of Nic in her indian outfit that we bought. It is typical of local cut and colour and looks pretty nice on her. The looks that she got once wearing it changed from teh drooling look on a sex object to looks of that on a novelty. that was an improvement but it was still intrusive and was too little too late.
I’ll blog about our entry to Nepal and post photos of Nci in her outfit soon.

Tc and Nic

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