Meet my good pal, Nepal!

Holiday season is finally over. But I'm still on a hangover from my last travel in 2018.

While most people I know chose to spend the holidays in Japan, Korea or US. I digressed from the usual go-to countries during December. And so I picked an off the beaten path travel experience with my HS bff - go to Nepal!

Nepal is a country in South Asia. Some call it as "A Root Between Stones" because it is sandwiched between two big countries namely China and India.

Most people close to me were surprised when they knew I went to Nepal because of such questions:

1) Is it not hard to travel there?
2) Since it is an unusual travel destination, isn't the fare expensive?
2) What's there to see? (a lot! I'll prove it later)

Let me answer these questions.

1) Personally, it is not hard to travel in Nepal. Although there are no direct flights from Manila, it will only take you one connecting flight before getting to its capital city which is Kathmandu. The flight that my friend and I booked had a layover in Guangzhou, China. Layover time was relatively short compared to my previous travels. It was just 3 hours or so.

2) The idea of "expensive" is relative especially in terms of airfares. Some may be cheap for others while some may be too much for them. I think it just depends on how you budget your travel expenses. But in this Nepal trip, I'd say it wasn't so expensive since our travel dates fell during the holiday season. We booked our flight in February 2018 but as early as January I was already searching for flights. When I first checked Skyscanner (hello ad placement. Please give me freebies or discount hahaha jk) in January, fare price was too high for our budget but I put my app on alert mode in case the fare price will change. My patience paid off so when February came, the fare price reached our target budget and we immediately booked it.

3) Nepal is a third world country. And honestly (without trying to be offensive here), their social condition is worse than the Philippines. In spite of this, Nepal's culture is very rich and vibrant that's why it still captured my heart! (Side note: If you're a Marvel fan, the movie Doctor Strange shot different scenes in Nepal.) For people who appreciates history, ancient cities, architecture or culture in general, then I'd say Nepal should be part of your "Must-visit countries" list.

We stayed in Nepal for 6 days but it was still too short of a time to explore other parts of the country like the provinces. We were only able to explore the city and nearby towns plus go on a Mt. Everest adventure. The weather in Nepal during December ranges from 4 to 15 degrees Celsius. Of course, it's coldest in the morning and evening. The pictures may not show how cold the weather was because of the surrounding's earthy colors.

To know more about this very vibrant country, here are some of the places you could visit and the things you could do when in Nepal.

Walk around Patan Durbar Square and get to know the rich history of Nepal

Durbar Square refers to "Royal Palace" because this is where the kings lived back when there were still existing kingdoms in Nepal. Patan is one of the three old cities (Bhaktapur and Kathmandu are the other two) in the Kathmandu Valley. Also, I love how this tourist spot is just few minutes away from our apartment in Nepal (I'll say more about this later)

Immerse yourself at Nepali culture and beliefs

There are two main religions practiced in Nepal - Hinduism and Buddhism. For the former, I will talk about it separately but in the latter, I discovered something new about Buddhism. See even if I teach Asian history and Asian religions, there are still a lot of things I don't know about.

According to our local tour guide, there is one Buddhist practice in Nepal wherein every month, a 4-7 year old boy must be sent to the Golden Temple for three months to immerse himself in the Buddhist way. In one month, the boy is not allowed to take shower using soap or shampoo (just clean water only) and not to take any medicine in case he gets sick (because they believe Buddha will heal him). Then after 53 years, the young boy who once learned the Buddhist way must go back and serve as the elder monk who will teach another young boy.

In another aspect of their culture, Nepali also believed in using healing bowl to heal different diseases and disorders like body pain, migraine, stress, depression, etc. One interesting thing I learned is the difference between healing bowl and singing bowl. You can determine their difference by listening to the sound when you strike the wooden mallet or stick. It is a healing bowl if the sound lasts for a minute or so while it is a singing bowl if its sound lasts for just a few seconds.

When it comes to Nepali art, they have this popular painting called thanka/thangka or painting on cloth/silk where they depict their Buddhist deities and scenes through a mandala.

This is a mandala made of sand. Imagine how it was so meticulously done.

Of course, food is another reflection of culture. It is always a must to try a local cuisine whenever I travel even if it doesn't suit my palate. 

Helitour over the Himalayas and see the Mt. Everest

Himalayas is the longest mountain range in Asia while Mt. Everest is the highest mountain in the world above sea level. In this part of our trip, I would say this was my biggest splurge but it was worth it because it's a once in a lifetime experience . Plus, I got to scrap off another item in my bucket list. 

Fyi, we did not climb the peak of Mt. Everest. We weren't even physically and mentally prepared for that activity so we only reached until the base camp. I wore 5 layers of clothes yet my hands and feet were still feeling cold. I guess 5 layers was still not enough in a -24 degrees Celsius weather.

Who gets to spend their breakfast with Mt. Everest as their background view?? LOL

At the Mt. Everest Base Camp

Tour around Bhaktapur Durbar Square

Another ancient city in Nepal is Bhaktapur. Among the three cities I mentioned earlier, Bhaktapur is the oldest.

Complete all three ancient cities..

The last city we visited was Kathmandu. In this area, there's a chance to see the Kumari (living goddess) at the Kathmandu Durbar Square but it's so rare to see her so if you're lucky, then you're lucky. Hahahaha. However, taking a photo of her is not allowed. When we dropped by at her house, we were not able to see her but we heard her voice.

However, my most favorite thing to do in Kathmandu Durbar Square was shooing the pigeons away. Looks like someone traveled back to her childhood years ehemmmm..

More about Hinduism and Buddhism

Pashupatinath Temple is considered one of the most sacred Hindu temples in Nepal. Hindus do their various rituals here such as worshiping their gods, cleansing the bodies of their deceased loved ones. 

It was also in this place where we got to see several palm readers (I am not a believer of this so it was my friend who tried it) and meet Sudhas (monks who renounced the worldly life).

In Swayambunath Stupa, a Buddhist temple, you can see a lot of monkeys wandering here and there. Just a warning: hold on tightly to your cellphones/camera when taking photos of them because they might grab it and you might not be able to retrieve your things anymore. Some people call it The Monkey Temple because of the monkeys obviously but ironically, locals are not aware that some people call it that way. When we asked one local how to go to Monkey Temple, they didn't know what we were talking about. 

Shop at Thamel

Thamel is Nepal's shopping district. There is a long array of stores selling various goods such as Nepali coffee, tea, cashmere cloth, etc. Prices of the products are cheaper compared to other stores in different parts of the city. So I highly recommend this place for shopping souvenirs and pasalubong for your loved ones. There are a lot of nice places for eating, dining and chilling too. :)

Overall, my trip to Nepal was very memorable because I consider it as my most unique travel experience so far. And it became even more memorable because of the people we interacted with - the people in the apartment we stayed at, our local drivers and tour guides. People were so hospitable, genuine and sincere that is why I appreciate everything about Nepal. 

I would really recommend Life Story Guest House if you're looking for a nice yet budget-friendly place to stay in Nepal. One, it is centrally located. It is near Patan Durbar Square, coffee shops, restaurants and other commercial establishments. Two, the manager and staff are so friendly, helpful and accommodating. The manager even allowed us to extend our stay for free at the apartment during our last day because our flight was late in the evening . To know more about them, click here

On a last note, some people would ask me and my friend if it is safe in Nepal. Again, the idea of safety may be relative and subjective depending on one's experience. But just to answer that question, wherever you go, wherever you travel, there is always a possibility of encountering danger because we are not capable of predicting things. When people ask me how am I able to do these things and how am I able to survive traveling especially when I'm on my own, I always tell people "You have to be street smart." Do not be afraid to ask but you also need to get a feel of people around you. We have our intuition and sometimes we just need to follow that so we will know who are trustworthy or not.


My enriching and amaaaaazing experience at Camp Allen!

Some people might be unaware that the reason why I went to the States last year was not just for vacation or to see my family, the main reason was to participate at US Summer Camp Cultural Exchange Program. It's a long story and process how I got there. But after series of steps, I was placed at Camp Allen in New Hampshire. It is a camp catering for people with disabilities.

Few weeks before the last session of camp, counselors were tasked to write a letter for camp. I am sharing this letter I wrote for camp which I edited and modified because some ideas popped while doing this blog post.

It seemed just a while ago when I arrived at camp without a clue about how my life would be for the rest of the summer in the US. My heart was filled with fear, doubts and anxiety. Now it came to an end and this letter is one of the proofs.

So here I am going on a short trip back to memory lane on an experience that was. While writing this letter, it gives me mixed emotions. 

First, I felt frustrated.

Life at camp was frustrating for me at first because there was no sense of familiarity. I was the only Filipino and only Asian there and the rest were Westerners. And people know that there are a number of disparities between Asians and Westerners when it comes to culture so it was a bit challenging for me to adjust and adapt. 

When it comes to being a counselor per se, as I look back at my performance as a counselor, there were instances when I couldn't help but tell myself "I could've given more and done better for my camper". But it was a learning experience though and this helped me point at my weakness and work on it to further improve myself not just camp-related but life in general.

Second, I was down at some point.

I want to be as honest as I can be so here goes this part. I can't say I was happy all the time. Please don't get me wrong (wait until the end of this letter). The campers are great. It's just that there were times when there are people who try to make you feel stupid and wait for you to make a mistake. However, on a more considerate note, I guess that's how people are. We have our own differences. And partly, I could also be at fault here because I have my own paranoid moments because I am an over-thinker (which I explained to my supervisors anyway during the evaluation).

You might be wondering why am I saying such things? Why am I starting on a negative note? Basically, I do not want to sugarcoat my experience and ironically, it was also in these feelings and situations where I found my silver lining, where I found my strength and determination to pursue and finish what I started. Bottom line: life at camp wasn't perfect. I had my fair share of ups and downs, joys and struggles. It was not all about fun which by the way was my initial idea whenever I hear "summer camp". Yes it may not be a perfect one but it was enriching and fulfilling. It was in this place where I learned and realized a lot of things. I came to know that there is more to camp than just having fun. And I am talking about the values and ideas cultivated in me as the summer went by. Let me enumerate some of them.

1. Respect 
I respect people around me no matter who they are and where they come from. That was how I was raised and taught. But, my experience at camp deepened my value for respect. It is not the person's fault why he or she had a disability. People would call them as "disabled person" or they would say "That child is autistic". Now let me also use this opportunity to correct those because the politically correct and proper words to use should be "person with disability" or "child with autism". Why? Because they are a person first before they had a disability or a certain condition.

2. Perspective 
Camp life broadened my knowledge and perspectives. Before, I only have few and broad knowledge about the different disabilities like the wide spectrum of autism, being physically-challenged and mentally-challenged. But throughout the summer, I came to know and understand people and their situations more than what I thought of. I learned more things like brain injury and its effects to those affected, the Prader-Willi Syndrome (PWS)* which was totally new to me. In layman's term, a person with PWS never feels full. He/she has a constant sense for hunger.

* According to the US National Library of Medicine, "Prader-Willi syndrome is a complex genetic condition that affects many parts of the body. In infancy, this condition is characterized by weak muscle tone (hypotonia), feeding difficulties, poor growth, and delayed development. Beginning in childhood, affected individuals develop an insatiable appetite, which leads to chronic overeating (hyperphagia) and obesity. Some people with Prader-Willi syndrome, particularly those with obesity, also develop type 2 diabetes (the most common form of diabetes)." (https://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/condition/prader-willi-syndrome)

3. Inspiration 
Every camper has a unique story. They've got incredible stories more than what meets the eye. I must say with conviction that they are truly inspiring.

My campers from Session 1 to 8 played an important role in shaping the better version of me after summer camp. I feel like I have to say their names because they deserve the credit. So here they are:
Session 1: Lisa Ares
Session 2: Cassandra Reese, Millicent Ellis, Tia Hoyt
Session 3: Tory Hatfield
Session 4: Anthony Whitfield
Session 5: Bonnie Mccloskey
Session 6: Aja Huckins
Session 7: Julia Wise
Session 8: Richard Meserve and Matthew Pinard

All of them made an impact in my life but there's one who really brought out the best in me. She is Tory Hatfield from Session 3. I got hurt. I cried. I lost some of my sleeping and rest time.I don't know how it all happened but my struggles at the beginning turned into fulfillment and joy as I spent time with her.  Also, I never realized my patience's threshold was that far . I am usually an impatient person but with Tory, I was a different person. I was full of energy and enthusiasm even during her not so good days. I also had my AHA moment when I finally figured out how to make her smile, laugh and follow me around. It was such a very fulfilling and satisfying moment.

On one hand, I also want to extend my gratitude to a camper who wasn't my camper but I was with him in the same cabin. He is the nicest and most appreciative man I've ever known - Mr. Jim Tobin. Thank you, Mr. Jim Tobin for making Session 4 extra memorable. Just a side story to prove how close he is to my heart: when it was time for him to leave camp, I was crying in one corner.

And last but definitely not the least, to the institution that made all these experiences possible and worthwhile, dearest Camp Allen, Thank you for being a way for me to meet amazing people. "Amazing" would probably be the most used adjective at camp to describe the campers but cliché it may be, I couldn't think any more word to describe them because they are indeed amazing! All these memories and experiences I will bring home with me and I will surely share different stories to my students as a way to inspire them just like how the campers inspired me in ways I have never imagined.

I can't get any more grateful too because I met people form different parts of the world like Spain, Finland, England, Ireland, Poland, Mexico, etc. We may be diverse as we can be but camp experience brought us together. If it wasn't for that, I wouldn't get to know more about various cultures and gain wonderful friends. Again, so much gratitude for you Camp Allen. :)

Now, it's time for me to bombard you with pictures (Session 1 to 8 and everything in between) from my summer camp experience at Camp Allen! (The photos of campers you'll see below are allowed to be posted based on the info in their personal files. In short, there's permission to post.)



Session 1 cabinmates from IDA cabin

My first camper: Lisa Ares


Session 2 cabinmates from DARBY'S DEN

Session 2 campers: Cassie, Millie and Tia


My camper: Tory Hatfield

Tory and Queenie <3 They look like sister but they're actually not.

Ohh that smile. My heart. <3


With Mr. Jim Tobin


My camper: Tony Whitfield

Lunch time with Riverstone cabin

Preparing our banner for the Awards Night

Riverstone cabin pic



IDA cabinmates

With Aja Huckins, my Session 6 camper

Julia Wise, my camper for Session 7


Darby's Den cabinmates. Finally cabinmates with my camp bff - Ruslana :)

My campers: Matt Pinard and Richard Meserve

Playing dress up!

With Den and Lodge cabin

Whooo best cabin and session ever!


During check-in day..

my camp bff


Messy activity: water fight and paint war.. (one of the funnest activities at camp)

 I can't help but feel nostalgic while writing this post. It's sad I can't return to camp this year because I got back at work and I need to start working on my Master's thesis. But, who knows I might be able to go back some other summer and my employer will allow me to file a leave again. ;)