A long time ago, before a second pregnancy threw me off my blog game, I wrote this post on how traveling with a baby transformed my view of staying in resorts, ordering all the room service, and never leaving the glorious, expansive, beautifully-landscaped hotel grounds. For those that haven’t read it, my sleep-deprived and thoroughly exhausted self fell in love with sitting poolside in Muscat, Oman while mojitos were delivered to me at regular intervals and our toddler merrily collected sticks and dug holes in the sand.
And then about four months later, we packed up said toddler, threw some diapers in a backpack, and flew to Nepal. We congratulated ourselves for learning our lesson, booking several nights at the Hilton in Kathmandu instead of a guesthouse, and promised ourselves we’d only go on short, easy hikes once we made it to Pokhara, the gateway to the Himalayas.
HAHA YOUR PLANS ARE HILARIOUS the vengeful God of Third World Travel with Children said.
Things went predictably downhill from there. Our first day, we never once managed to board a flight before last call. Once we arrived, our son insisted on sleeping between us at night, turning in to a demonic windmill of arms and legs with the strength of ten men. On the second day he ate a package of dried prunes imported from Switzerland (we were being careful with his digestive system) and became violently ill for several hours. On the third day, after six hours in the departure room at the Kathmandu Airport, our flight to Pokhara was cancelled. On the fourth day, we made it – only to find that we had arrived during monsoon and mosquito season.
And on the fifth day, after suffering though a sweltering night without electricity, and therefore air conditioning, my husband and I contracted the two worst cases of food poisoning in the history of risky eating. We returned immediately to Kathmandu, checked back in to the Hilton, and stayed within five feet of our bathroom while our son, mercifully unaffected by the debilitating food-borne illness destroying his parents, climbed the walls of our hotel room from dawn to dusk.
It took us two days to feel well enough to leave the hotel, seven days in to a ten-day trip before we felt like our vacation might be starting. Truthfully, we thought about leaving early – packing it in, cutting our losses, and flying home. But after one week of deeply regretting our vacation choices, we had finally figured out how to enjoy ourselves, navigate the city, and get back in time for naps.
We slowed down. Our hotel was not centrally located, and Kathmandu is not a walkable, tourist-friendly city. There was one major site in walking distance, so we went there every morning. We stopped trying to see all the things, gave ourselves permission to skip temples or museums we might have otherwise visited, and settled in to a routine. The walk from our hotel to the Boudha Stupa, the largest stupa in Nepal, took us though markets, down treacherous, scooter-filled alleys, and past food stalls, tiny coffee shops, and a flock of pigeons that may have been the highlight of our son’s entire trip. We joined the throngs of people – all ages, walks of life, and nationalities – circumambulating the stupa. We listened to the chanting, heard bells ringing, and walked through heavy clouds of incense, steeping ourselves in the place’s organic spirituality. And when Connor got too tired or hot or hungry or cranky, we walked home.
We stopped worrying. Or at least we tried to stop. About whether a toddler can survive on only rice and french fries for ten straight days (the answer is yes). About traffic and pollution and our son’s constant efforts to eat things he finds on the ground. About watching too much television and wearing enough sunscreen and if we’d remembered the hand sanitizer. About bedtime. So when a brass band playing at an Indian wedding reception arrived in the lobby late one night, and beautiful women in glittering saris danced up and down the courtyard, we gave up on sleep and took Connor down to dance in his pajamas.
We chose Nepal because it was the opposite of what we have at home. We wanted rain and humidity, color and culture. We wanted trees and mountains and history. We were tired of sand and heat and the predictability of city living. Kathmandu challenged us, as travelers and as parents. And now, with a little distance, I can understand why it was once mistaken for Shangri-La.