Week Without Walls: A Student Trip to Nepal

One of the best parts of being an international educator is that we get to travel in areas we’ve never dreamed of going. This last week, our school sponsored a week of traveled called Week Without Walls (WWW). This is actually a common practice for international schools. The students spend a week traveling to a new place and learning outside the classroom (without walls).

A friend of mine asked me last year if I would help him plan and chaperone a trip to Nepal for this year’s WWW. I said sure, without putting much thought into the actual logistics of taking a group of students to a far away place and eager to see something new. He made the trip a reality. He planned it, budgeted it, found an incredible tour company to run the show, and recruited students to go on our trip. I helped a little, I designed a t-shirt and gave my sage advice when asked. 😉 So finally the time had come, and last week we escorted 18 lucky kids to Nepal for a fantastic week of activities and experiences I know they will never forget, and neither will I.

The week started on Friday. I woke up and took Paul to school, he didn’t seem to phased about me leaving for the week, but I almost cried saying goodbye to him at his classroom. Then I rushed home for a workout and to finish packing before meeting up with our group at the Shekou ferry terminal around 1. We had smooth sailing checking in, boarding the ferry, had some free time to spend our refund money in the airport, and then got on the plane for Kathmandu.

After a short tarmac stop in Dahka, we arrived in Kathmandu around 10:15pm and had to clear immigration. We had decided to do visas upon arrival, but luckily you can apply for them online before you arrive. So we had all of our documentation for our group of 20, and besides an extra form for our Taiwanese kids, we made it through immigration with no hiccups. We found our bags promptly, and then made it out to the arrival area to seek out our bus. Luckily, Grant (my friend who planned the trip) went out and found our bus driver and soon we were off for a night of sleep at The Yellow House in Kathmandu. We arrived after midnight (after 2am HK time) and met our Camps International guide, Dan, tucked the kids into their rooms and slept soundly until breakfast at 8am.

At breakfast, we met up with our local Nepalese guides, Ishow and Nima. The were friendly and they informed us that we would be loading the bus to our next destination, The Last Resort, and it would take about 4 hours to get there. So off we went. It was a harrowing drive, windy, crowded roads through mountains, but we chatted with Dan, Ish and Nima and the scenery was amazing and before I knew it, we arrived at The Last Resort.

The Last Resort is located on a hillside across from the road, so when we unloaded the bus, we had to walk across a suspension bridge to the resort. The Last Resort is a popular place to go bungee jumping, so we waited and watched while a group jumped and screamed on their way down. I remember thinking that there is no way I would ever do that.

After hauling our bags across the bridge, enjoying a delicious Nepali lunch, we gave out tent assignments and let the kids loose to unpack and settle in before the afternoon’s activities. The tents were nice, soft beds, a rack for drying clothes and an inner and outer layer of canvas. My tent was set off alone, but near to the girls’ tents and not to far from the toilet and showers. The kids were a little shocked that there was no power (just a simple light) or wifi in the tents, but after they got used to it, I think they actually enjoyed “roughing” it. The resort also has a common bar area, a stage like area, a buffet area, reception and lots of open grassy spaces. It definitely reminded my of my days as a camp counselor when I was 20.

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Morning at the Yellow House

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On the way to my tent
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lunch on the first day. 🙂
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Common area where we met for meals.
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Stage and open areas.

 

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Entrance to the resort
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The view from the bridge.
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Carrying our stuff across.
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More view.
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It was scary at first.
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My tent.

The afternoon was spent doing get to know you activities (one included walking blindfolded as a team) and the evening consisted of a quiz that was remarkably pub-quiz-like, but it covered knowledge for Nepal, the resort and QSI. The kids had a blast, and when dinner came we all ate hungrily before sending the kids back to the tents. Grant and I hung out with Dan and enjoyed the chill atmosphere of the bar area, and also soaked up the free wifi (which became a tradition each evening after sending the kids to their tents).

Quiz night for the kids: (including the classic “fruit on the face”)

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The next day was hard. I woke up with stomach cramps, which felt a little bit better after I ate, but we were off on a 6 hour hike and I didn’t know they would get worse. We split up into two groups, Grant went with Nima and I joined Dan and Ish with the other group.  It was a hard hike, and I say that even though I’ve hiked twice a week now since October. It was a vertical hike, along narrow paths that switchbacked through the hills. We went through the terraced wheat fields, small clusters of Nepalese homes, and all the while my stomach felt worse and worse. The kids had activities to work on as we hiked up, so we stopped every 30 minutes to work on them. Also, luckily, we had a couple of slow kids, and I was able to hike slowly with them, and I was happy to reach the top. We hiked back down a different path (the groups split up and took each others’ paths), and it was slick with pine needles. My body was in bad shape by now and I had to stop quite a bit. Dan went ahead with the other kids and guide, and Ish stayed back with me. It culminated with me puking off the side of the mountain and then rushing down to be finished before I puked again. When we got down, I showered and told the guys that I was too out of it to be much help and I skipped the evening activities in favor of sleeping for 12 hours.

breakfast before the hike.
breakfast before the hike.
On the way back down.
On the way back down.
We made it!
We made it!
Picnic lunch at the top.
Picnic lunch at the top.
Flowering tree on our way up.
Flowering tree on our way up.
Local kids, I think they are so beautiful.
Local kids, I think they are so beautiful.
A local school.
A local school.
Upwards climb!
Upwards climb!
The hillside.
The hillside.
I had to catch up!
I had to catch up!

 

Morning of the hike. So clear and beautiful.
Morning of the hike. So clear and beautiful.

I woke up feeling a bit better, although I had to continue to take Imodium for the next few days, but I wasn’t going to miss any more of our adventures. This was the day we were going to visit and teach at a local school. The students had prepared lessons while I slept the day before and we finished them up until we hiked over on the other side of the bridge, up for about 30 minutes until we got to the village. It was Nepali New Year (they are celebrating 2072!) and so the kids were not in school. They knew we were coming though, so our guides arranged for us to have about 50 local kids there just for us. Our students had an amazing time, teaching and playing with the kids. It was raining and cold, but it didn’t stop them from playing outside games and even a competitive game of soccer!  After a fun day and a picnic lunch, we headed back to the resort to get warmed up and have a dance lesson! Nima and Ish had arranged for a choreographer to come and teach them some traditional Nepali dancing, as well as some smooth Bollywood moves. It was fantastic! They kids were dancing for the rest of the trip (and still are in fact).

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These kids were so friendly and inquisitive.
These kids were so friendly and inquisitive.
Soccer! or Football depending on where you are from!
Soccer! or Football depending on where you are from!
So precious.
So precious.
They were singing us their national anthem
They were singing us their national anthem
View from the school
View from the school
Learning music.
Learning music.
The kids loved having their pictures taken.
The kids loved having their pictures taken.
Teaching games.
Teaching games.
View from the village.
View from the village.
Hiking up to the school
Hiking up to the school
Dancing into the night.
Dancing into the night.
Everybody loved it.
Everybody loved it.
Learning to dance!
Learning to dance!

Our third day at the resort was the actual New Year’s Day. The resort was flooded with locals, and we headed out to the high ropes course for the morning. I was unsure of whether or not I would get up their to walk the ropes, but after all the kids proved that they could, I had to try. It was pretty scary, especially because Dan did everything he could to make me nervous, including shaking the ropes as I wobbled across. Grant said the smile never left my face, even though inside I was freaking out.

After lunch we gathered for abstelling, which is basically like repelling, but without a wall to bounce your feet off of. The kids made it look so easy, crawling out on the other side of the bridge and lowering themselves down, so again I just had to try. It was a blast and the view was amazing. The kids did another timed round to compete with Grant’s team, and we spent the rest of the afternoon finishing up our hiking activities. These activities included writing and performing a song about their experience, which I had my doubts about, but the song was coming together very nicely. After dinner, they continued to work on it. The wonders of taking away wifi, their imaginations lit up. 🙂

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Me, up on the high ropes.

 

This kid was brave enough to go first.
This kid was brave enough to go first.
I gave Dan my phone to take pics of me abstelling. I got a lot of selfies in the mix.
I gave Dan my phone to take pics of me abstelling. I got a lot of selfies in the mix.
I'm a little worried...
I’m a little worried…
Here I go!
Here I go!
Having fun!
Having fun!
Dan is so happy for me!
Dan is so happy for me!
All done :)
All done 🙂
Art made by students.
Art made by students.
Trying out a new trick a student showed us. :)
Trying out a new trick a student showed us. 🙂

Our final day at the resort (Wednesday) was going to be a whopper. I was most nervous for this day because it included white water rafting, which I’d never tried before, let alone with 18 middle schoolers. We took about an hour bus ride down to the launch site of the rafts. There were three rafts going, and three safety kayakers. I went in one of the rafts, Grant in another, and Nima in the third along with one rafting guide apiece and 6 kids. Dan and two other Nepalese guides went in the kayaks to help if  something happened. The sun wasn’t out and it was kind of chilly, so we all donned our wetsuits, life jackets and helmets and then listened closely to the safety directions.  I don’t know why I was so worried. The lessons we received were clear and when we set out my nerves melted into a happy excitement. The rapids were fun, but not scary and I even got to help the guide paddle down a grade 3+ rapid while the students walked around. In between, when the water was calm, we played games that mostly ended up with all of us in the water. I think Nima pulled me in 3 times, but once you found out how easy it was to get back in, the fear of falling out was gone. We stopped along the way to do some cliff jumping from a huge rock. I jumped with a student and when I got to the bottom, I knew I should try the bungee from our bridge.

The Bhote Kosi
The Bhote Kosi
The river we rafted.
The river we rafted.
We all survived!
We all survived!
This is the rock we jumped from! Eeek!
This is the rock we jumped from! Eeek!
The kayakers were fearless.
The kayakers were fearless.
Dan in the kayak.
Dan in the kayak.
Getting ready to go!
Getting ready to go!
All the gear waiting for us.
All the gear waiting for us.

After over 2 hours of rafting, we finished up down the river at another hotel to have lunch, then another 1.5 hours back to the resort. The afternoon and evening were relaxing. The kids practiced their songs for a performance that evening and I enjoyed the sauna and plunge pool. 🙂 After dinner, we gathered around the stage to find out which “team” (Grant’s group or mine) would win a prize for scoring points for the hiking activities, the song performance and the abstelling race. The kids performed their songs and I was super impressed with their creativity, and by some miracle, my team won! The night was cut short though, because it had gotten late and it was time to pack and rest for leaving the resort the next day.  On my way to my tent, I let Ish know that I was interested in doing the canyon swing the next morning (the canyon swing is like the bungee, but attached to your waist and instead of bouncing, you fall and then swing).

Dancing again!
Dancing again!
Watching each other perform.
Watching each other perform.

I woke up early on Thursday morning and packed my bag and headed to breakfast early, wanting to get some food in my stomach to settle my nerves before the jump. It was a blur and before I knew it, Dan and I were standing on the bridge looking over and wondering why we were jumping again. Dan had done it twice before, so he went first, jumping backwards off the platform. I followed quickly after. Dan had told me that you shouldn’t think too hard about it, when the jumpmaster says jump, just go. If you hesitate, you will think twice and it will make you more nervous. So that’s what I did. He said “1, 2, 3, jump.” And off I went. I have to say it is the scariest 7 seconds I have ever felt. But then it was over, and I was swinging in the beautiful valley between the two mountains. The hike up was tricky, I was shaking with adrenaline and giddy with excitement, but it was a vertical climb again. The kids were so happy to see us and I was glad I’d done it. Our stay at The Last Resort was over, but I was taking away so much more that I’d ever imagined. I’d challenged myself and stretched my limits, and I know the kids had had the same experience.

We took some pictures, and said our goodbyes to Ish before boarding the bus back to Kathmandu. The ride was long and tiring, and when we got back to the city, the senses were attacked by smells of people and pollution. I didn’t realize how much I had enjoyed the peace of the mountains until we got back. We were staying in an old part of town called Bhaktapur, so the bus let us off and we walked up the small streets to our hotel. It was very basic, but served it’s purpose since we were only staying for one night. After settling in a bit, we went out to explore that area, letting the kids shop and change money before meeting back for dinner. It was a really nice evening, and after we ate, we let the kids explore some more. I spent the evening chatting with Dan and Grant overlooking Durbar  Square. Then headed to bed after checking in with the kids. We had a long last day in front of us.

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My favorite guides, and Grant.
My favorite guides, and Grant.
Leaving the Last Resort. :(
Leaving the Last Resort. 😦
Walking into Bhaktapur.
Walking into Bhaktapur.
Our hotel/hostel in Bhaktapur.
Our hotel/hostel in Bhaktapur.
Wandering around in the city.
Wandering around in the city.
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A cart that is dragged around the streets for New Year celebrations.

 

A really tall temple.
A really tall temple.

In the morning, after a shower and repacking, we all met for breakfast and then headed out for a walking tour of Bhaktapur. We saw temples and palaces, and even a goat being sacrificed (for the Nepali New Year). Also, the streets were full of groups of people dressed in traditional clothing and singing along with drums. It was a festival day, and it was really cool to be in the midst of it all. After having lunch  near Durbar Square, we got on a bus for a short (but long timewise) ride to Swayambhunath (also known as The Monkey Temple). It’s a Buddhist temple which gets its nickname from the numerous monkeys that roam around, although we didn’t see too many. We walked up the 365 steps and were in awe of the beautiful wisdom eyes on the temple above. We gave the kids some time to wander and take pics before we gathered them on the bus again for our last stop before the airport. We headed over to the shopping area called Thamel. The Last Resort Office is there, so we reunited with Nima and did a little shopping before meeting up for a delicious dinner of momos (dumplings) and buffalo pizza.

 

A really tall temple.
A really tall temple.
View from the hotel.
View from the hotel.
Selfie in Durbar Square
Selfie in Durbar Square

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Shameless selfie
Shameless selfie

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Entering the palace.
Entering the palace.
The royal palace.
The royal palace.
Royal baths
Royal baths
A group of musicians in traditional dress.
A group of musicians in traditional dress.
Another group of musicians.
Another group of musicians.
Durbar Square.
Durbar Square.
Kathmandu Valley.
Kathmandu Valley.
Tourist shot. :)
Tourist shot. 🙂
Wisdom eyes.
Wisdom eyes.
365 stairs up to the Monkey Temple
365 stairs up to the Monkey Temple
Buff pizza
Buff pizza
Momos!
Momos!

It was bittersweet to load up and head to the airport. I really enjoyed the time we had with Dan, Ish and Nima in Nepal. They made everything so much more fun, not to mention how safe we felt in their care. I was ready to get back to my bed and my family, but it’s never fun to say goodbye. We arrived at the airport and hugged and wished farewell and then proceeded to wait for 4 hours for our delayed plane. It was a long travel home, but we made it safely back to Shekou by 10am Saturday morning. I was tired, dirty, and smelly, but so happy to see Donnie and Paul.

I remember trips that I took in MS, off to Mexico to stay with families for Hands Across the Border, and I couldn’t help but think how lucky these kids were to have this experience. I felt lucky to go as a teacher, let alone to be with your friends exploring another country, as well as challenging yourself in all kinds of ways. I am grateful to have been a part of it.

The kids are still buzzing with excitement from it at school, they are meeting in my classroom daily for dance practice for a flash mob they plan to do for their peers. This is the kind of thing that makes my heart smile, and I know the time away from my own family was worth it.

However, I do want to go back with Donnie and Paul when Paul is old enough to do the activities we did, especially white water rafting!

I will post again soon about personal happenings. Much love to all.

J

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