We got up at 6:30, packed and had breakfast (toast, eggs, chai). I was worried that our flight would be delayed (this had happened to the Germans yesterday) but everything seemed to be a go. We walked up to the airport with our gear and the 15 kg. of incense. Chungba checked us in, which was very nice of him. It was very crowded inside, but the whole process went very smoothly. P.G. was on hand to take Paul's passport. All our gear plus the incense was just under the 40 kg. allowed for two. (I had weighed myself on the old-fashioned baggage scales the day before and was pleased to discover that I weighed 120 lbs. in boots.) After we had our boarding cards, there was nothing left to do but go outside and wait. It was cold, and the sun wouldn't be up until about 8:30. We stood around shivering with everyone else. The airfield guards (military types) used their bats to chase chickens off the runway. (The afternoon before, there had been burros on the field.) People hoping to get a head-on photo of a plane coming in also had the bats brandished at them. Two Yeti planes and a helicopter came in in very quick succession, and more surprisingly, one of the Yeti planes was able to take off even though it didn't have the use of the entire runway. Our RNAC flight came in. All the checked luggage was already stacked on the runway. There was a surge forward and we nonchalantly walked onto the runway, but were stopped because we didn't have a stamp from Security, wherever and whatever that was, on our boarding cards. We sprinted back up to the "terminal" and found Security around the other side, men though one door and woman through another. The woman checking me seemed afraid to touch me and mostly seemed to want to know if I had any lighters. Paul received quite a thorough search while I paced back and forth outside, ready to face the plane and hold it if it showed any signs of leaving. But we made it on, found seats and were offered mango tart hard candies (and cotton balls for our ears) from the flight attendant whose uniform was a blue sari and black cardigan, and who told us we could we could have more than one if we wanted. The plane was completely full.
The takeoff was very exciting. We rolled down the runway, picking up speed. I had thought we'd drop off the end and hope we stayed airborn but we actually lifted off before we reached the end of the runway. It was a very nice flight, although a little anticlimactic after all our recent experiences. The smog over Kathmandu was a big jolt back to reality, and quite a depressing sight. Our airport experience was typical: first we were told to go inside to pick up our packs, when we could have just grabbed them off the cart. Then we were sent back outside to pick up our gear off the same cart. We got a taxi home to the Journeyman. We even got our old room. After we'd thrown our stuff on the bed, we went downstairs to call Manisha and see if she wanted to meet us at Mike's Breakfast. She didn't seem to know who we were at first, but agreed to meet us for lunch the next day at 1:00. Then we went out to see if we could find some bandanas. Ours kept disappearing mysteriously and I'd seen some with a map of our Everest trek on them that I thought would be fun to have. We couldn't find them though. We dropped off the incense at the Himalayan Buddhist Center, then went to get our refund from RNAC. Incredibly, we had to demand a credit card refund. They wanted to give us Nepalese rupees, which we wouldn't be able to spend before our flight on the 4th, and would have trouble exchanging, and would make us lose money in the deal. Paul couldn't seem to make them understand that it was in their best interests to give us a credit card refund, but they agreed to do it in the end. We decided to go check out Mike's Breakfast a day early, figuring we deserved a good meal. Unfortunately, it was really hard to find, although I as glad we were doing it today instead of tomorrow. There was map on the way, but badly drawn, and not all the streets showing. We finally found it, after asking directions once. It's a little slice of American Southwest, with outdoor patio seating, a great garden (with a huge pointsettia near the big old Colonial house) and a black cat (who proved his prowess as a mouser while we sat there) and a lovely plump dog named Lola, who only wanted affection not our food. Paul had a Cajun chicken sandwich and I had a grilled cheese; it was just like being at home. We had a brownie for dessert. We walked back to town and looked at a camp stove in a little tiny shop owned by a very sweet woman. She wanted 1200 rs. for the stove, which we thought was a decent price, but we didn't have enough cash with us. We said we'd come back tomorrow and get it. The woman told us she had a funeral to go to in the morning, but that she'd be open in the afternoon and we could come and get it then.
We walked back home and Paul worked on the web site downstairs in the lobby while I tried to do some research on Thailand. I was really tired though and didn't get much done. Then Paul came up to say Shyam was applying to go to the United States and wanted help filling out the visa application. This sounded fun. I came downstairs, wanting to see what the U.S. visa application looked like and what kinds of outrageous questions they asked. (Actually, it was quite reasonable and professional, if anything, it was more reasonable than the French one Shyam was also filling out. I wonder if the tough reputation the U.S. has for rejecting applications is valid or not.)
Shyam showed us a glowing letter the owner of the Journeyman had written for him. She talked about how valued Shyam was, how the place wouldn't and couldn't run without him, blah, blah... Shyam told us his U.S. visa application would be better received if it had an invitation from someone in the States to stay. We figured Colleen might be able to do it, she'd told me she was staying in DC for Christmas. Not that she had to be there, because Shyam said he had a brother in Silver Spring. But Shyam obviously thought an invitation from a citizen would be better. He'd had his application turned down once before and he wanted to make sure it didn't happen again.
Shyam had one of the boys escort us to the STD office (the one they used) to call Colleen. While we waited for the phone to be free, the boy wrote out the Nepali numbers for us. It was 8:00 EST and we woke Colleen up. She was very surprised to hear from us. We talked for 12 minutes and it cost 2200 rs. She agreed to fax a letter of invitation back that we would email to her and she'd fill in and return.
We slept late and didn't come downstairs until 8:45. we ordered the one thing available on the menu (eggs and toast) and watched a dumb fluffy Belushi/German Shepherd film on TV. After breakfast, we walked to Grindlays to get just a little more money. It looked as if the wait was going to be substantial, so I went out bandana hunting and Paul stayed to wait for the cash. I got a lot more attention from shop keepers as a woman alone. I decided to use the direct approach and just say what I wanted. I told two men that I wanted cotton bandanas, small and not pink. "Yes, Madam, please come in," they both said, but neither one actually had what I had asked for. They offered rayon and silk, "Very nice, Madam," but not cotton. I tried to be patient while they riffled through their goods and one of them sent someone to another shop to see what they had. In the end, I got tired of their insisting that what they had was what I wanted. I left and decided to go back to the furtive search approach and resolved not to speak to anyone until I saw what I wanted. I heard a brass band playing - badly - with a great clarinet player, and watched as a wedding procession passed. First came the band, in red jackets with gold braid, then men carrying large candlesticks with the candles lit, then a car, with Anup + Renu written on the side. I couldn't tell who the lucky couple were, everyone in the car seemed too old. Lastly all the friends and family followed. On foot or on motorbike, dressed in their finest, the procession moved slowly through the streets and blocked traffic for about 20 minutes.
Paul was accepting cash just as I arrived back at Grindlays. We continued the bandana search together and actually had good luck bargaining, probably because we were bargaining for something we really didn't want. We'd already settled on two salmon-colored scarves with a cool Hindi/Buddhist pattern and had idly asked about some black material that we'd initially thought might make good bandanas (although I was pretty sure it was rayon), despite the man's assurances that it was all cotton. He gave us a price of 400 rs., which we scoffed at. He asked us how much we would pay and we said 150 rs., never thinking he'd actually go that low. We kept saying, "We'll just take the scarves, thanks," and he'd drop the price of the black material again, until we finally had to take it because he'd matched our price.
We bought a water bottle, one that would fit on our filter, and didn't buy a stove at a couple of places because the prices were so high and completely non-negotiable. Each place wanted at least twice what our nice woman had asked for yesterday, and one place was offering the stove with a missing part. We realized our nice woman, who had still not arrived back from the funeral, must have had a used stove.
It was time to meet Manisha at Mike's Breakfast. The day before, an Israeli film team had been filming for a movie called Haa Puche. We'd watched them do a scene over and over again of a waiter dropping a tray. I don't think we made it into any scenes. Today things were quiet. Two cats, two mice and Lola were all in residence. We ordered crisps and salsa to nibble on while we waited for Manisha, who was late. She stood us up actually, and we never heard from her later. We ordered salad and grilled cheese, and I tried not to feel rejected.
We made two last ditch efforts to get our stove from the nice woman, but she also never showed. We did find the Himalaya trek bandanas, but they wanted 150 rs. for them, which I thought was too much. we gave them and the stove up. We walked back to the Journeyman. I didn't feel like any more bargaining so Paul took the black material to the Ray-Ban Tailors right next door and arranged for them to make it into several bandanas. We got seven out of it, and the cutting and sewing only cost 50 rs. (Later, we found out how badly they run when wet, but then we were quite satisfied.)
We checked the email -- Colleen was having trouble getting the letter of invitation faxed -- turns out Shyam had given the wrong international prefix. We had showers, then worked on the journals and the web site. For dinner we had rice and dal. The TV wasn't working and I didn't know it that was good or bad. We checked the email once more -- still no word from Colleen -- and went to bed.