Motorcycle diaries

Trip Start Oct 21, 2006
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Trip End Mar 21, 2008


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Flag of Nepal  ,
Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Our Nepal video has now been uploaded!  Check it out, along with all our other vids, on the Contents page (the first entry of this travelogue).

Following a quiet recovery day, we meet up with Sue and Shanti on Wednesday in Thamel, Kathmandu's tourist enclave.  I have been craving Italian so we splurge on a fancy pizza place. 
 
Afterwards, we say our goodbyes and head off in our various directions, Jane and I deciding to take the hour or so walk back to Rajesh's house.  There is a busy four-way intersection close to the Royal Palace and we often get confused as to which way to go.
 
"I'm pretty sure it's that way", I say, pointing uncertainly up one of the roads.  The cross-walk light is green so we step out on to the road, Jane a step or two ahead of me.  Suddenly, from out of nowhere, a motorbike comes racing just in front of me and barrels into Jane, sending her flying off her feet and on to the road.  The bike bounces off to the side and into the curb.  Neither Jane nor I remember exactly what happens next, as we are both kind of shocked.  It all happened so quickly, like in the movies.  One second she's standing there, the next second she's gone.    She gets up and I am hugely relieved that she seems to be okay.  However, I am also very angry at the driver of the motorbike for apparently crashing a red light and, obviously, for hitting my wife.  In my panic, I strike out at her with the only thing I have at hand, an empty water bottle.  Then I kick her motorbike, breaking the plastic bit at the front.
 
There are a few cops around and one comes running over.  With his keenly trained eye, he notices that Jane is not dead and decides that the case is closed.  He casually gestures to the woman that she can go, as there is a lineup of honking traffic behind us and his job is clearly just to keep it flowing.  "No way", we both say and Jane stands in front of the lady's motorbike.  Mind you, standing in front of her vehicle didn't stop her from driving into Jane a few seconds before, but she keeps still this time.  "She has to come with us to the police station", we instruct the policeman sternly. 
 
Conveniently, the police station is right across the road, where we would be now if our progress hadn't been impeded.  The lady is protesting her innocence as we head over to the station.  "But I was on a green light", she pleads.  "No you weren't", we snap back, "we were".  But then I notice that, at the same time that the north-south cross signal we were on is green, the east-west traffic light she was following is also green.  So the lady was right.
 
"Uh, Jim", Jane calls to me, "my leg really, really hurts".  Immediately following the collision, probably due to shock, she didn't notice any pain but now she begins to notice the impact.  Once we are at the police station, she shows me her right thigh, which has swollen up like a balloon.  "Right, we've got to get you to a hospital", I say.  I turn to the lady - "can you take us to a hospital?"  Before she does, we make the police agree to hang on to her bike until we agree to release it.  "Here is a taxi - we will go to get help", she says, apparently still in a bit of shock herself.  We rush off in a taxi until she tells the driver to pull over and we get out.  Jane's leg is throbbing and she says it feels like it is bleeding inside. 
 
"Where's this bloody hospital?" I say as we limp after the lady.  She leads us through a crowd, stops outside a little store and turns to us as if to say "right, I've done my bit, can I go now?"
 
"What the fuck's this?" we ask impatiently.
 
"Pharmacy.  They will give you painkiller."
 
"Pharmacy?  We don't need a frikkin' pharmacy, we need a hospital.  She needs to get an x-ray.  Take us to a hospital already."
 
"Uh, right", she says unsurely, as if she hadn't considered this complication, despite our repeated requests.  "I just need to call my friend."  So we stand around for a few minutes until some dude arrives on another motorbike.  He follows us while we catch another taxi to the local government hospital.  
 
Back in January, when Jane had spent four days in hospital in Varanasi, India, it had been so nice and comfortable that we had dropped many of our preconceptions of South Asian hospitals.  Well, Bir Hospital in central Kathmandu brings most of them back again.  The Emergency Room is a seething mass of groaning bodies featuring all sorts of bloody injuries, accompanied by a posse of sad-looking family members.  A bored-looking lackey is half-heartedly processing these tickets that you need in order to be put in line to be looked at by a doctor.  The line is barely moving and Jane's leg is pretty sore now.  I feel really bad about doing so, but I play the help-me-first-I'm-a-foreigner card.  Interrupting a harried doctor as he scurries past, I put on my best desperate voice.  "I'm so sorry to bother you, sir", as I gesture towards Jane who is clutching her leg appropriately, "my wife was just hit by a motorcycle and she is in a lot of pain.  No one is helping us, and we're very confused."  Then for emphasis I add, "We are tourists you know."  It's the oldest trick in the book but the doctor goes for it.  Instead of attending to the man with multiple gunshot wounds who has been bleeding to death on the ER floor for the last hour, he sorts us out with a quick examination and x-ray.  Fortunately, and even somewhat miraculously, no bones are broken.  Had the impact been a few inches higher it would have hit Jane's hip.  A few inches lower and it would have hit her knee.  Despite the pain, we can't help thinking how lucky we are that it wasn't a larger vehicle that smashed into Jane.  The government hospitals are quite cheap here.  The two x-rays plus the doctor's consultation, plus a couple bottles of prescription pills only comes to about $6, meaning we don't need to bother with insurance.
 
Back at the police station, we are unable to fill out a police report.  There are plenty of police staff sitting around but it seems that only one guy is capable of filling out a police report and he is out dealing with a fatal minibus crash.  As we are pondering our next step, from out of nowhere we see two familiar faces.  Subas and Rishav, the Principal and Academic Coordinator from Serene Valley School come running in with serious-looking faces.  We had phoned Rajesh (our volunteer programme guy) but he had to pick someone up at the airport so he phoned Subas.  As you might expect from two senior administrators, they tie up all our loose ends at the police station and then insist that we come back with them to stay at the school again.  We had just said all our goodbyes to everyone at the school the day before and we feel a bit silly going back again.  However, it is comfortable and a good place for Jane to rest her leg.

By Sunday, four days after Jane's dramatic collision with a motorcycle, her leg is feeling quite a bit better.  She has plenty of purply-blue bruising on her thigh but that doesn't really hurt.  The troublesome part is a thick glob of blood that has collected in the centre of the bruising.  Jane says it feels like a small loaf of bread beneath her skin and it is still very tender.
 
Nonetheless, the show must go on.  We had originally been scheduled to do our Chitwan National Park excursion on Thursday, the day after the accident.  That wasn't really practical, so we postponed it until today.
 
Of all things, though, a cramped, jiggly, jolting six-hour bus ride from Kathmandu probably isn't the best treatment for a damaged leg, nor is the three hours of white water rafting that follows.  It's good fun though (the rafting anyway) and we catch some reasonable rapids.  Shanti, our American co-volunteer and a Nepali guy named Niken are with us on our brief, one-and-a-half day "jungle excursion".  Niken is really just here to make sure we get on and off the right buses and to speak Nepali when necessary.  He hasn't done rafting before and doesn't really know the area but he is good company and he takes care of everything for us. 
 
Post-rafting, we catch a random bus that drops us in some random town, where we are met by a jeep-driving representative of the Baghmara Wildlife Resort.  Quietly located a fair way out of town, the Baghmara is actually very posh, to our surprise given Rajesh's reputation as an 'every expense spared' kind of guy.  It has a bit of a colonial hunting lodge feel to it and you half expect some khaki-clad tosser with a pith helmet and a twirly moustache to march past with a rhino horn under one arm.  The manager, a portly fellow with a large smile, warmly welcomes us and then dispatches some lowly chap to show us our rooms.
 
The next day is our 'activities day', with a full page of precisely-timed events.  Breakfast at 0700 is followed by a 'jungle canoe ride'.  This is a little misleading, as our wobbly dugout canoe floats alongside the jungle rather than through it.  And the only jungle wildlife we spot is a stork standing around and half a crocodile that slips away as soon as we see it.
 
In the afternoon we decide to forego the scheduled elephant ride.  We've done elephant riding before and the lure of sunning beside the warm swimming pool is more compelling.  Besides, there is a little bit of elephant overload here.  The canoe ride was followed by a visit to an elephant breeding centre, but it isn't breeding season so it is really an elephant standing-around centre.  Then there was elephant bathing, which is actually quite fun.  The resort's resident elephant is led down to the river for his daily wash and we jump in with him.  His first order of business is to release a massive load of shit into the river and we are suddenly grateful we aren't down-river from him.  The mahout gestures to me to climb up on the elephant's back as he is soaking in the water.  I dutifully clamber up but the creature is swaying around in the water and I'm afraid that he will decide to roll over and crush me into the river mud. 
 
And so, after all this elephant stuff, we are happy to relax in the dung-free pool and catch some sun.
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