Category Archives: Mike’s Posts

Welcome to Pokhara: Home of Northfake Apparel

We needed to get to the town of Pokhara in central Nepal.  We could fly or take a bus, but this was an easy decision.  Everyone who has traveled on a budget in a third world country has the “local bus” story.   For Jacki and I  it was a 10-hour, white-knuckled, death-flirting on a ‘local p.o.s. bus’ that sent us hurtling down narrow, twisting, potholed roads cut into ridiculously steep hillsides with essential pieces of the bus either missing or occasionally flying off  (which I actually witnessed).  That was our trip from Kathmandu to Pokhara in 1986,  when two lanes of east-west traffic met on an eroded single-lane road  … like two trains on the same track  …  creating an 8-hr stopped-dead stand-off.   I remember trying to sleep on top of our stalled bus on a burlap sack of zucchinis and, when that failed miserably,  I tried to eating them raw  …..  pittoooee !

This time we flew.  Zucchini free.

Lake Phewa Sunset

Pokhara is a busy town on a tranquil lake.  You could even miss the lake all together if you stick to strolling down Pohaka’s bustling main drag,  a crammed wall of restaurants, clubs, trekking provisioners and the curio shops.   You ‘discover’ lovely Lake Phewa by walking through an entry to a lakeside restaurant to a typically pleasant  zen-like garden scattered with an eclectic collection of tables, chairs, burl benches and chaises.   These laid-back cafes pull in all the tired tourist feet for beers and sunset.


a working lake

a working lake

Thanks to Lake Phewa and the local leaky-boat rental,   I can add ‘sailing in Nepal’ to ‘skiing in Dubai’ to my list of travel sideshows



Exquisite food.    Servers you want to take home.  No tipping.  Dollar beers ( 650 ml )  … about what you would spend for lunch at Dennys

pokhara restaurant


Pokhara is destination where trekkers from all over the world, heading into the Annapurna Sanctuary, or some shorter circuit, stage their treks.  ‘Staging’ is the preparation real mountain climbers do to assure a successful expedition.  Staging for us meant renting sleeping bags and buying some genuine knock-off  Northface parkas.   ‘Northfakes’, as they are known locally,  are actually well-constructed jackets, by all appearances, with a flawless Northface logo right where it belongs.   The negotiation with the shop owner is whether we are getting ‘chinese quality’ (the genuine knock-off … “good”) or ‘nepali’ quality (less “good”).  Nick and I make the deal at $35 a piece for a couple snazzy maroon shells with gray zip-in liners.  Because these jackets will be our first line of defense against the freezing temperatures and snow at 14000 feet, we sprung for ‘chinese quality’ with the Northface logo spelled correctly.   The sleeping bags will also be rentals.  It really doesn’t make sense to lug all this stuff from home.  The shopkeeper assures us the sleeping bags are chinese quality … and ‘new’.  We pull out one sleeping bag (Jacki’s) and its looks serviceable.  After a further negotiation which involves a couple of bandanas and a slick new Northfake shirt which I will store at the hotel for my return and later burn a hole in by touching it with an iron.


The gods chose the most dramatic ‘himal’ of all the Annapurna peaks as the sole sentinel viewable from Pokahara.    Machapuchare rises to the north like an elegant 22,000 ft  ‘fishtail’.    It is the morning view that brings you to whatever window, balcony or street corner you find yourself first thing in the morning when the air is clear and crisp and the light brilliant.   For just a moment all thought flees,  your breath slows and you smile for nothing    …   then you can go pee

Machapuchare from a Pokhara rooftop


Oh, and a last note to self.   Next time check all three sleeping bags before renting them because, as Nick and I will soon discover,  the other two new-chinese-quality’ bags we rented for sub-zero temperatures somehow got through the Guangdong Northfake Sleeping Bag factory during the down feather stuffers strike  … or during the ‘glorious one-duck-per-bag five year plan’.  Each little quilted square had maybe one feather in it.

Thankfully the Nepalis will have great blankets





That is NOT me in the third picture

Here are three favorite diversions to seek out when visiting exotic locations:  rooftop restaurants,  music clubs,  and a local golf course.   Golf we’ll get to later.

Rooftop restaurants.  In an Asian city it’s nice be above the hoi polloi.  The air is a bit cleaner.  The view of thronging,  endlessly fascinating streets below is more entertaining and less of a scrum if you are watching it from above instead of navigating through it.  There is lot interesting to be stuff  to be seen on 3rd world roof tops … laundry to love making .    Here is my artistically metaphorical photo of the great Buddhist temple of Boudhanath    …  which I saved just before Jacki hit the delete button  (several times actually ?)

'Boudhanath with Beer'

‘Boudhanath with Beer’


Usually you find local music in the street or in saloons and restaurants.  Local music is, of course, a great atmospheric …  a sound track for the local culture. Even the most foreign sounds can be toe-tapping after a few jumbo Everest beers, and you will almost always see and hear some unrecognizable instruments,  usually home-made.   We found this little restaurant in KTM from a sign on the street.

KTM Band

I have the cd.  It’s still in its shrink wrap like most of my other native music cds .  I bought it because this sweetly smiling something-player came to our table and told us the proceeds from the cd   ….   ‘were for the children’.


Toasting good bye to KTM … avoiding eye contact with a hippie King Birenda’s 1972 purge apparently overlooked

from the once infamous Kathmandu Guest House

from the once infamous Kathmandu Guest House


Will the real sadhu please stand up …

Since my sinuses hurt just writing about Kathmandu  I want to move on,  but we have to visit Pashpatinath, the holiest of Hindu religious sites in Nepal.   We immediately hire one of the students touting themselves as guides.  Always do this.  Here you walk among temples built around the time Europeans were stacking logs at Jamestown … temples devoted to that wild and crazy guy, Shiva, who in the pantheon of Hindu gods  has the most questionable of biographies.  Shiva’s story at Pashpatinath is too fantastical for me to tell – you’d think I was drunk and not just hung-over –  suffice to say it’s a story involving a godly (large) phallus, a stag with one magical horn,  an ocean of blue poison, a cow with enchanted milk, and said phallus transforming itself into a pillar of light.   This story, quite illogically, makes Pashpatinath, with its ragged line-up of funeral ghats on the Bagmati River, the place to go to dispose of the dead.   Count me in.

River ghats


We are allowed to wander among the pyres to watch people dispose of the dead by burning their ‘booddies’ into fine ash  …  or not-so-fine depending how much fuel you can afford,  and sweeping them into a rather inadequate – at the moment – barely-moving river.   The Bagmati, at the end of the monsoon season, is a trickle and must be diverted into a narrow channel below the funeral ghats to receive the fricasseed remains of the departed’s temporal vessel.   Not to make light of this tableaux because it is very moving and is treated reverently by our guide … whose name was probably Krishna.  Don’t remember.

Pash body in orange

The fellow that acts as, and I am sorry to use this word, ‘barbequer’ does so because he is of that caste … of cremators.  After the ‘booddie’ is incinerated and swept into the water,  another sad soul in a dhoti (loincloth) wades knee deep into the squalid mud and fishes around with his hands for any jewelry that the departed may have been wearing … this is customary.  The family will not reclaim it and only those of particular caste are allowed this ‘opportunity’.

Pashputinath is also a destination for wandering sadhus, ascetic holymen,  who have abandon all material attachments in search for purity and enlightenment and  ….

Saddhus and Nick

… occasional tips for photographs.    How to tell the difference between a real sadhu’ and a pretend one … this from Krishna.   The pretend ones negotiate the tip for a photo.


… and won’t stay in places like this.

btw  If my wife ever gets a clue and leaves me here is where you will find me


Kathmandu: the crazy uncle who lives in the attic

I am not going to write a lot about my old friend Kathmandu because later I am going suggest that you not come here   …  to skip it for a better option.  (that would be Bahktapur a few miles to the east in case ‘later’ is a rhino or an avalanche)

KTM Valley

It’s usually a boring travel narrative to talk about ‘the way things used to be’.   But Kathmandu is a peculiar story.   Nepal was a monarchy the first time I came here.  King Birenda, back in the 80’s, was by all appearances respected by his people … ‘revered’ as Kings would have it.   One thing I remember about Birenda is that he kicked all the hippies out of Kathmandu in the 70’s by tightening visa laws.    (Duuude !?)   Once I actually got a limo glimpse of the Queen on her way to her walled lakeside palace in the then little town of Pohkara, her eyes rigidly forward speeding past her Nepali subjects lining the streets as if she might catch something from them.   In fact the Nepali royal family tree was loaded with rotten fruit.  Birenda’s brother introduced the heroin trade to Nepal addicting hundreds of thousands of his own people.   Then of course the Shakespearian grande finale in 2002 when Crown Prince Dipendra opened fire on his family killing the King and Queen and another half dozen family members  … over a girl they didn’t like.  (Duuude ! )   Dipendra then shot himself in the head but not fatally at first.  He lasted a couple of days during which time the confused, traumatized Nepalis actually made him King for his two surviving days since he was,  well … next in line.

Maoists two


Now out of all this chaos come the Maoists.  While the western countries were wallowing in our financial woes a few years ago Nepal was in a full blown civil war with the murdering, bank-robbing Maoists, now getting traction by virtue of a few reasonable ideas to help the people.  Populists but  still Maoists …. actual Stalinists if you believe the posters at their rallies.  But the opposition was so bad the Maoists for the first time in human history won an election and run around today opposing things like voter registration.  The consequence of all the fighting was that tourism was slowed to a trickle and all the hill people flooded the Kathmandu Valley doubling its populations.

KTM Wires

Out-of-control expansion has caused concrete to spread like kudzu out-pacing infra-structure so the city is now without electricity  for half the day.   It’s a bigger and more bizarre story than I can tell but check the picture.   The once enjoyably walk-able and bike ride-able streets are clogged with traffic and pollution.   The local-market ‘ambience’ of fresh morning produce spread on sidewalk tarps,  of good exotic  street food,  the occasional goat’s head boiling in a sidewalk cauldron has since morphed into a commercial sprawl of trekking shops, Chinese knock-off emporiums, souvenir shops and tourist claptrap.  The old medieval sites like Durbar  Square, that once charactertized the city,  are now isolated into World Heritage sites you now have pay to walk through.

Maybe this explains Kathmandu ?

Maybe this explains Kathmandu ?

Nick and survey

Nick did a few tourist ‘survey’s for KTM coeds

KTM MAN W LOAD    KTM temple


The city is deranged, enervating, fascinating and, despite the lack of breathable air, we loved every minute.


If you have to google ‘etch-a-sketch’, skip this post

plane map with arrow


Eighteen hours later … and, as always, I am awake the entire flight.  Lots to do in eighteen hours. First do the in-flight magazine crossword, then check out the models in the SkyMall magazine, then master the entertainment module which, on international flights,  offers every movie ever made.  I will eat every pretty-good meal they serve and snatch a complimentary chardonnay miniature now and then.  You know those little fat guys in Wall-E that float around in Barcaloungers?   It’s pretty much like that.


By and by  I’m about halfway through Die Hard Another Day  and Jacki turns to me and says

“Oh oh. Calcutta”

“Oh Oh Calcutta ?  I haven’t seen that one.  Is it good ?”

“Not a movie, the city in India … that’s where we’re going.”  Jacki likes to watch the flight path screen and peeking over I see our ETA has changed from 20 minutes to 3 hours and the nice straight line coming west from Seoul has morphed into a scribble over Kathmandu.  It looks like someone is flying the plane with a Etch-a-Sketch.   Despite the fact we are cruising through a towering skyscape of brilliant white clouds we are told we have a weather problem and  we are being diverted to Calcutta. Something is broken in Kathmandu.  Welcome to Katmandu





After the war Sgt Schultze applies to United Airlines


One nice thing about trans-pacific flights is that you get fly Asian airlines.  In this case Singapore Air to Seoul then Thai Air to Bangkok  There is an old school elegance on international carriers, particularly the Asian ones. The flight attendants are generally young, beautifully-attired and coiffed with body styles that … let’s say and risk political incorrectness … don’t knock the coffee out of your hand as the they pass down the aisle.   Which brings me … I can’t help it … to United Airlines, whose motto could be:   ‘We are the not the World’s Most Exasperating Airline because we don’t try’.   On our UAL connector flight from Reno to SF we settle in, the doors close and then (shockingly) nothing happens until a flight attendant hurries down the aisle opening every overhead luggage hatch … the things you are supposed close before take-off, right ?   Notwithstanding the troubling impression this created in the absence of any explanation, here is the eventual announcement from the United Airlines flight attendant.  This is word-for-word because I wrote it down in my  Fun Facts for a United Airlines Class Action Lawsuit notebook … Vol. 3

“We have too much weight in the cargo hold and if we can’t move luggage into the overheads we will have to de-plane passengers”

I swear.

Since the overheads are barely big enough to hold a box of girl scout cookies,  there came this follow-up announcement:       “Passenger Ivan Kofsalotsky (?) please report to the flight attendant” … which was easy since she was standing over him like Broomhilda.   Mr Kofsalotsky, a befuddled old foreign national whom I am guessing had a stand-by ticket and a language problem, was hustled down the aisle clutching his carry-on to his chest.  It looked like that movie scene where the Nazis find the Jew on on the train.  Anyway as we sit some time longer on the tarmac, we flash back to our last United connector flight to SF which cost us our overseas flight connection to Paris – and our luggage,  when an even more confused Mr Kofalotsky is shuffled back onto the plane with no explanation.  I figured they probably just tossed a couple of bags out on the tarmac and off we went with Mr Kofalotsky back in his seat still clutching his carry-on.


Sometimes your mouth writes a check that the body has to cash.


This time we were just sitting around in my brother’s North Beach apartment over Christmas discussing travel bucket lists with the family. It was one of those rainy holiday Sundays when you eat and drink yourself into a warm couch potato stupor. The idea just popped out of that part of my wine-soaked brain that controls the involuntary tongue muscles.


“We should do the Annapurna base camp. They call it the Sanctuary you know. It must be really special.

Are we out of brie?”



To ‘do’ the ABC, as it is known, means an eleven day trek in Western Nepal from a steamy hot 3000 ft to snow and ice at 14000 ft. … all to stand in a glacial amphitheater of some the most highest and dramatic mountain peaks in the world.



I was thinking, if that’s what you want to call it, that Nick is fresh put of school with not much of anything to do that he couldn’t interrupt for a few weeks, so the idea of the three of us going to Nepal seemed so … I don’t know … dad-macho ? Dad-macho is where you trash talk your son,  who used to be 8 and is now somehow 23,  into a game of one-on-one when you haven’t played basketball in 20 years and your first six shots miss the rim entirely and the seventh tears your rotator cuff. But the thing is, you see, Nick has taken to calling me ‘old man’.


I do have some history here. Just enough to give the idea some cred. I had been to the Annapurna region in central Nepal twice before. I trekked on a lower elevation circuit with Jacki twenty-five years ago, which a quick calculation indicates that I was at the time … let’s see … twenty five years younger.  Then I went again thirteen years ago with some buddies.  On that trip we ‘flinched’ and elected to fly in (and up) to Jomoson and then hike out (and down).  A stroll really, and at that time I was teaching martial arts three days week … okay, it was to 10 yr-olds, but I was still in pretty good shape with all the punching and kicking.   Nevertheless comparing those two treks with hiking to Annapurna Base Camp is like comparing a full moon party on the beach with actually going tothe moon.   Anyway at that point, practically speaking, the likelihood of actually doing this was rather remote.    I assumed the conversation would just move on.


But I forgot Jacki was in the room. The planning had already begun when I woke up from my nap.



This picture indicates where Jacki is in her Nepal planning

plane wing adjusted


THE INCOMPETENT TRAVELIR: “Whaddayamean we’re here !?”

We left Paris on a bullet train heading to the south of France. They could also call it the quiet train.   Here is something Americans in France should learn right away.  Pipe down.  The French speak to each other in cafes, in hotel lobbies, and on trains, in hushed voices.  Americans talk to each other like they are ordering hot dogs at a ball park.  I suppose like me:

Le Conductor:     “Un billet monsieur” ?

Le Me:                   “No thank you. I went at the station

LC                           “Your ticket please”

LM                          “Oh. Here ya go.  So you have le dining car ?

LC                           “Oui … two cars forward monsieur.  You must have the reservation”

LM                         “ Tres Bien !  Where do I make the reservation ?

LC                           “From your seat monsieur.  They can hear you in the dining car”


I like trains.  I think trains are most comfortable and relaxing way to travel,  and sometimes the most elegant.  You can wander around on a train.  Meet people.  Go for a beer instead of waiting for one.  So it’s not news that train travel in Europe is a different experience than it is in the United States.  The French word for train is …  train.  Here the similarity ends.  The French railway is known as the TGV Train à Grande Vitesse. (trans: ‘train that goes really fast’).   It travels 200 mph and is powered by electricity from French nuclear power plants.   In America the train is called Amtrak,  and I do not know the average speed of American trains,  but if you look out the window you could likely see Dudley Do-Right galloping past your car to untie Nell from the tracks.  The last Amtrak train Jacki and I rode from Denver to San Francisco arrived 18 hours late !  By the time Amtrak got us to San Francisco the passengers had become zombie-fied.  We had bad hair and were all shuffling and moaning in a line-up in the dining car waiting for our rations of Goldfish crackers.

You should never take an Amtrak train to a wedding, a funeral or the Super Bowl.

However if you like train travel there is a problem with the French bullet train.   It gets there way too soon.   Bullet is right.  This train flew.  It seemed like we arrived before we sat down.  We had set out the cheese, crackers and sausage, a French mustard and a bottle of wine on our little train table when all of a sudden the Toulouse sign, our destination, flashes by the train window.   “Mon dieu we’re here !?”   Now I am Steve Martin scrambling to gather the wine bottle (can’t find the the cork ),  half-wrapped cheese, (crackers on my lap, crumbs on my face),  guide book under one armpit  –  phrase book under the other,  hurrying to get off at our all-of-a-sudden stop.  Jacki is somehow perfectly organized, but I am stumbling down the aisle with our picnic pressed to my chest. ‘Scusay moi ‘scusay moi’ !

A lovely French lady let me know,  in a soft voice that I barely heard,  that was I leaving my jacket in the overhead which just happened to have my cell phone in one pocket and my passport in the other.  This is the day after we got all our luggage back.

Bullet Train TGV-Duplex_Paris        Steam Train  ADJ

The French train that took us from Paris to Toulouse     The Amtrak train that took us from Denver to San Francisco


THE INCOMPETENT TRAVELIR ‘Please girls dont take ‘delusional’ personally …’

My pal, Passport to Adventure’s Julie Conover  – it turns out – wrote a killer blog on traveling and relationships prior to my own,  which she  re-posted I believe as somewhat of a comeback to the drivel I wrote.   She goes after the same point  ( ok … more coherently) but clearly from the female perspective.  Any female perspective on men, as most men know,  is slightly delusional.  It is scientifically accepted that women must be ‘slightly delusional’ about men otherwise the species would never get propagated.

Julie’s post requires further comment   … Read it here

Ok did you read Julie’s essay ?  Then let’s review shall we …  to quote Julie:

You will also see what kind of team the two of you make. Are you both struggling to be the leader? 

Umm … no.  The male should never engage in a struggle to be ‘the leader’.  The male traveler is advised to always follow a step and a half behind the female as she will be the one who knows how to get back to the hotel room.

 Or do you fall into natural, comfortable roles?

This is important.  One partner should be able to follow a map, as well as know where the map is   … the other should be able to carry both the luggage and the three-foot wooden replica of the Balinese fishing boat that he (of course) just bought as a mantelpiece.  (note:  that partner will not know at this point that the wooden fishing boat will never be allowed out the garage let alone on the mantel)

When one person is having an off day, does the other “step up”, or crumble at having to pick up the slack?

See this is what I mean  … the female sees ‘slack’ as something that must be ‘picked up’.   To the male ‘slack’ is a goal.

Faced with missing our return flight from Milan to the U.S., David sprang into action. While I sat on the curb with our bags

I found this troubling.  This is not characteristic male behavior.  The male traveler does not typically ‘spring into action’  to do anything unless he has ‘dehli belly’ or is trying to make Happy Hour.  You will notice in Julie’s post David is carrying a ‘man purse’ in picture #1 which may explain a few things

 and I was impressed by his ability to keep cool under pressure.

Oh  la de da !   Speaking of ‘pressure’  if you look closely at David’s luggage in picture #2,  it is hanging from a right arm clearly four inches longer than the left.  This means his luggage is likely  also 75 pounds,  and if the zippers ‘sprang’ all of a sudden, his clothes would be plastered all over the walls and ceiling of a medium-sized hotel room.

Foot massage

This is a male traveler being prepped for the unlikely eventuality he will have to ‘spring into action’

Mike and Knee

This is the same traveler after actually ‘springing into action”


THE INCOMPETENT TRAVELIR … what I know about travel and relationships

My wife once said this to my 23 year-old son about his budding relationships ….

“Before you make a commitment to the girl you think you might want to spend your life with you should travel together.  When you travel you replace the responsibilities and hassles that can weigh you down in every day life with the excitement of navigating through different cultures and foreign lands.  If you don’t get along in circumstances when you’re relaxed, happy and wide-eyed with wonder then you likely never will”.

The second and third sentences in that quote are actually my expansion of Jacki’s point.  Jacki doesn’t talk like that, especially to Nick.  She and Nick are on a less verbal mother-son wavelength that I can only try to reduce to writing.   Nevertheless I like to think that Jacki is, of course, thinking about our relationship when she says things like this and that would be heartwarming … if it were true.

Here’s my version of the theory about travel and relationships:  women will find out everything they need to know about men when they travel with them; therefore, traveling with a man allows a woman to more easily adjust to the stupendous compromises they must make when she actually has to live with one.

I should however point out that it’s on the woman if she is deceived in judging a man by how easy he is to travel with …  let’s bullet point a few examples of potential misunderstandings:

  • while traveling men frequently use separate restrooms so it doesn’t matter if they don’t put down the toilet seat,
  • while traveling men have to keep their all stuff in one small confined space, namely a piece of luggage, and not scattered all over the house,
  • while traveling men can’t spend hours watching ESPN.   In Thailand anyway.   Here it is important for the woman making the call on a particular man to take note of what he actually does spend hours watching while in Thailand.
  • lastly, travel is an enterprise in which you divide the planning and research and then the everyday decisions about where to go and what to do…  equally !        ‘ppllllpphhttt’  … ( whoops that was me spitting up orange juice through my nostrils).  The only thing I do in preparing for a trip abroad is pack my own clothes  …  using the helpful list Jacki gives me.    About packing:  Jacki’s luggage is a marvel of forethought and organization.  She employs plastic bags with air valves that you can sit on to reduce the volume of, say, the down coat she will bring to Maui just in case it cools off.  She also uses these little zip-around mesh containers that divide your stuff into alphabetical categories which fit like puzzle pieces into her luggage which she then organizes by country;   so if she wants her umbrella in Uruguay, there it is.       Me ?  What I pack depends entirely on the size of the luggage piece I choose.   I have two choices at my disposal:  the small gray one which holds just enough to go to the gym for the afternoon;  and the big maroon one which holds more than enough to invade Normandy.  I usually choose the big maroon one which I pack until it is full.  It will then weigh in around 75 pounds what with the dartboard and lawn chair I packed because I had the room.  I too sit on my luggage, not to economize volume but to get the zippers to engage.   Here is a packing tip for guys:  roll everything into tight balls as it saves space.  The only problem is that you won’t recognize your own clothing rolled-up because it does not look like it does at home stuffed into dresser drawers or piled up on the closet floor.  You will likely have to unroll it all find the Red Sox t-shirt you want to wear to the Louvre.   It is unlikely that you will then re-roll everything after you have opened your luggage for the first time; consequently for the rest of your trip the inside of your bag will look just like your closet floor, actually making things much easier to find.  The mess your clothes will be in after opening your bag the first time also makes it more likely you will leave articles of clothing behind unnoticed in various hotel rooms thereby lightening your load.   I call this organic packing.  You can learn more on my travel website as soon a Jacki gets it up and running.

Back to relationships.  While traveling women still get to make all the important daily decisions.  In a foreign land men must be completely okay with this concept because they generally have no idea where they are or how they got there;  and remember it’s your wife who knows where your return airline tickets are at all times and therefore how you are going to get home … to watch ESPN.

Disclosure: I am expanding this latter point to include all men even though I am referring to me because I believe I am generally correct

Before I leave this subject once and for all I offer these two photographs to support my conviction that the design of the Eiffel Tower was directly influenced by French Lingerie.


Now …  see what I mean !?

Read Julie’s post on travel as a “relationship test drive”!