After a few weeks of gluttony and unexpected snowstorms in Georgia, disheartening and enlightening realizations in Armenia, and abundant markets and unsettlingly accurate tarot readings in Turkey, Mercedes and I hopped a few flights to Nepal for the beginning of our Asian adventures. We were beyond excited to finally have reached Nepal, and we felt particularly lucky that we would have a local family to stay with for our first few days in the country. A good friend of my father’s from Nepal has a sister, brother-in-law and nephew that live just outside of Kathmandu, so he had arranged for them to host us and show us around the city for a few days. To us, this meant a great glimpse into the lives of locals, home cooked meals, and new friends. Both being fairly food motivated, we had made a goal for ourselves to have at least one home cooked meal in every country we visited, so we were particularly excited to start off our journey with some homemade Nepali food.
We arrived in Kathmandu in the evening and found our way to a makeshift, airport waiting area where we could meet our host, Robin. The nephew of my father’s friend, Robin is cheerful and full of life, and has a penchant for unusual and hilarious American slang. Of course, we were fast friends. He and his family welcomed us with hot, Nepali milk tea and hours of good conversation. We all felt so fortunate that we had connected so quickly and easily and went to bed looking forward to the Kathmandu adventures that awaited us the following day.
The next morning, Mercedes wanted to go for a run. She invited me along, but I refused. Mercedes was in much better shape than I was, and I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep up with her. Besides, even though I like running, it took me a full year to feel comfortable enough to deal with the uncomfortable stares and judgemental looks that were part and parcel of a morning run in Shirvan, so I wasn’t particularly eager to battle those on my first day in an unfamiliar place. Mercedes didn’t share my hang ups, and she practically oozes confidence and sass, so while she went out to conquer the Nepali ‘burbs, I opted to remain inside and do a yoga routine instead. Now, Mercedes can easily destroy a 4 mile run. She will crush it without breaking a sweat while most of us are left in the dust. However, she doesn’t always have the greatest sense of direction, and getting lost while exercising in unfamiliar territory was sort of to be expected. (It had already happened in Georgia AND Armenia.) This didn’t seem to be a concern, though, because she’d just be running in a straight line on the one road that went right by the house. No big deal, right?
Wrong. In her defense, we had arrived after dark and hadn’t gotten a good look at the house. It wasn’t necessarily easy to distinguish, considering the Nepali aesthetic was completely new to us and the front door was hidden behind a gate. Still. Somehow, Mercedes managed to get lost shortly into her run. On our end, a minor worry eventually developed into panic. Here’s what happened, to the best of my memory…
TEN MINUTES IN: Robin is enjoying a great source of entertainment watching me attempt a yoga routine on the mattress rather than the cold, December floor. I’ve stumbled and fallen no less than five times already. (Believe me, yoga on a cushiony, soft, sinking surface is NOT easy.) Robin’s mother is making us breakfast while feeling concerned that something will happen to Mercedes.
TWENTY MINUTES IN: I’ve fallen off the bed at least ten times. Robin is asking me if this is my first time doing yoga. I resent the question and start to make a snide remark back but fall off the bed again instead.
THIRTY MINUTES IN: Robin’s mom comes downstairs to say she is concerned about Mercedes. I assure her that Mercedes usually runs for nearly an hour and that I’m sure everything is fine. She returns upstairs to continue cooking and wringing her hands with worry. Robin follows her.
FORTY MINUTES IN: Robin comes back downstairs to tell me his mom is very concerned about Mercedes. She keeps asking, “What if some boys got her and took her into the jungle?” Once again, I assure them that she usually runs for an hour or so and is probably fine.
FIFTY MINUTES IN: After falling out of a simple downward dog for the 500th time, I give up on yoga. Robin goes to his own room to take a phone call from a friend.
SIXTY MINUTES IN: Now I am starting to worry that we haven’t seen any sign of Mercedes.
SIXTY FIVE MINUTES IN: I burst in to Robin’s room and tell him we have to go look for Mercedes, asking, “What if some BOYS got her and TOOK her into the JUNGLE?!”
SIXTY SIX MINUTES IN: Robin explains what is happening to his friend on the phone, who responds with, “You have to go look for her! What if some boys got her and TOOK HER INTO THE JUNGLE?!”
SIXTY SEVEN MINUTES IN: Robin concedes that it is possible some boys got her and took her into the jungle.
SIXTY EIGHT MINUTES IN: It is decided that we need to change out of pajamas and go look for her.
SEVENTY MINUTES IN: I am frantically changing into jeans when my phone buzzes. I look down to see a facebook message from Mercedes explaining that she got lost and is now at an internet cafe. Robin calls the owner and figures out where she is. We set off to go get her.
NINETY MINUTES: We are all safely home. Robin’s mother shows her relief by serving us a heaping, delicious breakfast and continually sighing audibly.
Ten minutes into her run, Mercedes realizes two things. First, she isn’t going to run the full hour because she wants to get started exploring Kathmandu. Second, she has been so engaged in her beautiful surroundings that she has forgotten to take note of what the house looked like when she left. She figures it won’t be too difficult to find the house, as she was only running on one straight road, but when she turns around to go home, she discovers she has no idea where the house is. She is lost without a phone or any contact information. Not knowing what to do, she heads over to the neighborhood school Robin had pointed out to us from his rooftop. Imagine what it must look like when a sweaty foreigner in running clothes nonchalantly strolls into the school asking to see the English teacher. He, confused and apprehensive, asks what she needs. She explains to him that she’s gotten lost while running and needs help getting back home. “Who are you staying with?” he asks.
“Robin,” she replies.
“Uh huh. Robin. Well, do you know his last name?”
“OK. Do you know his address?”
Sigh. “Do you have his phone number?”
“No, I don’t know that either.”
“Well, what do you want me to DO?” He’s pretty exasperated at this point.
He asks her to wait while he makes a phone call. A few minutes later, a man arrives on a motorbike. The teacher explains that this is his friend, and he will take her where she needs to go. The problem with this, of course, is that she doesn’t really KNOW where she needs to go and only knows that the house is probably very near. The driver tells her to get on the back of his motorbike while she says she thinks the house is somewhere between their current location and the airport. (It’s actually only about two hundred feet away and nowhere near the airport.) She hopes she will recognize the house when they drive past it.
Fifteen minutes later, they have reached the airport. When they got on the highway, Mercedes had protested, saying they were going too far, but the annoyed driver didn’t listen and just told her not to worry. At this point, she is incredibly frustrated. She asks him to just take her back to the school, thinking maybe she can try again to find the house herself. When he takes her back to Robin’s neighborhood, she sees an internet cafe and asks him to drop her off there. She pleads with the owner to let her use a computer for free, hoping he will understand that she is lost and help her rather than giving her to some boys to take into the jungle. He agrees, and she sends us a message, praying that we’ll see it.
It was lucky that we got her message. Had we left merely 2 minutes earlier, we wouldn’t have seen it until much later and she may have ended up spending the day at the internet cafe while we frantically searched for her.
OK, so I know none of this was my fault, but my initial reaction was guilt. I thought to myself, “If I would have just gone on the run with her, she wouldn’t have gotten lost and this whole ordeal wouldn’t have happened,” or, “I should have known to write down Robin’s phone number for her!” But as her story unfolded, my feelings quickly progressed from guilt to incredulity (“WHY did you get on the back of a stranger’s motorbike?! He could have taken you into the jungle!”) to biting jealousy. Having been in Nepal less than 12 hours, Mercedes had already managed to have an exciting adventure while I had just accrued yoga bruises.
So what lessons did I learn from this ordeal? For one, it’s probably always a good idea to at least know the last name of the person with whom you’re staying. And if you’re planning to go out on your own in a place where you don’t speak the local language and most people don’t speak yours, either, perhaps you should have your host write his address on a piece of paper and keep it with you in case you get lost. Second, it’s probably a good idea to stick with a friend on the first day in an unfamiliar land if possible. There’s safety in numbers. And third, it’s apparently really easy to jump to the conclusion that your friend has been kidnapped by jungle boys.
But the most important lesson I learned?
When you confidently throw all caution to the wind and jump into life, you get to have crazy adventures where you meet random and interesting people and zip around the streets of an exciting foreign city on a motorbike while your boring friend stays home and, yet again, tumbles out of a half-assed yoga pose.