Jim Phelps’ travel log: On the hippy trail in Nepal

Editor’s note: The following is a travel log submitted by Jim Phelps, owner of Phoenix Traders fair-trade store at 215 7th St. Phelps is traveling through India and Nepal, and will be sending updates about his different experiences along the way. This is the sixth entry in his travel log.

Monday, April 17, 2006

A “real” hippy on the hippy trail is like a real hippy at home—cheap! OK, let’s be “PC”—frugal.

Real hippies hunt out the cheapest digs possible. Some spend hours checking out the place they are staying at for a while. Nesting, I call it.

Here’s a hint when nesting: Always ask for a discount. You can’t get what you don’t ask for.

I saw typical hippy nesting behavior from a Japanese tourist who came up to the reception at the Happy Home. The conversation went like this, with the Hari at the reception taking one for the Happy Home Team.

The young Japanese girl asked what the price was for a dorm room bed. Hari said, “75 rupees.” The young lady replied, “I got guide book—you give me discount, yes?” Ah, no.

Hari didn’t even explain: “75 rupees is about a dollar, lady. You want a pedicure with that, too?”

Food is another matter. You could lug around all sorts of cooking gear—which, by the way, is highly advisable if you go to remote areas. Or, you could go totally native.

It’s easy. Watch the street food vendors: if women and children are eating there, and there is a large crowd waiting to get some chow—it is because it is good, cheap and probably safe.

As for local transport, a myriad of possibilities, all with a probability of death or dismemberment, are available.

Get yourself a good pair of sandals and hiking boots, because walking will be your No. 1 mode of transportation.

I know, that sucks, but the rest of the world operates on a slightly different standard than the U.S. Anything less than a mile or two, most people walk.

If walking isn’t your thing, rent or buy a bike, especially if you are going to put roots down for a spell.

Bikes in the third world are cheap and fun. I highly recommend buying a Chinese one-speed called “Flying Pigeon.” They are heavy, but built like a tank.

Long-distance transport is another matter, fraught with problems and danger.

OK, I’m being a little overdramatic on purpose. Your chances of being on the train wreck—where the train derails over the railroad trestle, falling into the gorge with the ragging alpine torrent, drowning everyone who survived the fall because all the bodies have you trapped like a sardine in a very dented can—is about the same as getting stung to death by killer bees in the middle of January in Wisconsin. So, live a little. Or, learn to fly. Your choice.

Buses are the mainstay of transportation everywhere in the developing world. If you think U.S. Teamsters are out of their minds for trying to prevent Mexican trucks on the highway, try Indian and Nepali buses. To call them “bus-like” is being very gracious.

Some buses, I am told, have seats…inside the bus. Simply amazing.

If you like air conditioning, ride on top of the bus like the locals. Just be sure to face forward so you can see the errant branch that sweeps people off the top like a broom. Wedge yourself in, just in case you didn’t see the branch that swatted you.

Chances are, if you do it right, you won’t be eating dirt by the side of the road. If you are lucky enough to score one of those “mythical” seats, I suggest you buy, in advance, a padlock and cable and secure pack or duffle bag to your seat. Eventually, you will take a snooze, so for your security, throw your legs over the pack, or hug it like your partner.

A couple more pieces of advice: Never leave your gear in the bus by itself. And if you buy a bus ticket, don’t count on it showing up. Remember this word, because I have had to use it on occasion—“TAXI!”

Just remember, depending on the local standards of the area, beer, tea or tobacco is a standard with all taxi drivers to help them be more “compliant” to your need to get somewhere. Be gracious under pressure, and be patient.

What should you take with you? Here are my 2 cents. May I suggest as little as possible? It should be your mantra. Remember, eventually, you will carry it, maybe for a mile or two. So, I suggest you take the clothes you are wearing, and one change of clothes.

Now, I am not a “purist” like some, so I take extra socks and underwear. Depending on the climate, bring whatever outerwear is appropriate. I have yet to go anywhere in the developing world that doesn’t have shampoo, soap or other expendables. Heck, Nepal has Dr. Pepper! Ladies, if you have a favorite feminine hygiene product, bring plenty from home.

If you decide to hit the hippy trail, have fun, be safe and be nice to the locals.

Jim Phelps is owner of Phoenix Traders fair-trade store at 215 7th St.

From the April 26-May 2, 2006, issue

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