Fireflies, Rice Planting and Nepali Dances

When I am thinking about my time at Kavresthali (beautiful village just outside Kathmandu), the one thing that I always remember is the roof of the house where I stayed. You are probably thinking why it is so important, it is only the regular roof right? During my time there it became the place for the most exciting conversations, dancing lessons and it was a perfect spot for exploring Kathmandu valley as well.

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My family had a cow, which they would milk in the evening and every day the neighbour’s daughters would come to our house to get some milk. The girls would always come in early before the cow was even milked and we would spend a good half an hour singing with them and learning Nepali dances. The language wasn’t the barrier – all you needed was an open mind and a smile. After they would leave we would continue sitting on the roof, enjoying the lights of Kathmandu valley and the ones of the fireflies, waiting for electricity to reach our house and creating various stories. My favourite story was about the lizard who was the wizard of light. We would imagine him making decisions on who gets electricity, pressing the right buttons an then suddenly the light would reach our house and we would be called in for a plate of dhal bhat, leaving little green lights to circle around our village.

The roof was our evening place, but it is just one of many memories from Kavrestali. Days in the village were always full of colours and surprises. There would be always people in the house that we did not know and they would always be brothers and sisters. You never knew who was actually related who was not, but it didn’t matter – every person would bring a new different colour into our lives.

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I remember one evening we were making plates and bowls from some random plant leaves. The next morning we found out why. One brother’s mother died 11 months ago and every month he would come to our house to perform a ceremony for gods. These bowls would be used for the ritual and would be filled with loads of various things such as food, money etc.That day there was a Guru in the house, a lot of food and random people and I was allowed to watch the ceremony. To be honest I never understood what every little thing used for the ceremony meant, but it was a captivating experience.

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Death was all around all the time, completely natural, never hidden nor forgotten. The man died in our village one day and we could observe the entire body preparation from our roof. The body then was burned, however women were not allowed to go to the river to watch. During my entire time in Nepal I was surprised how many different rules there were related to death, but maybe I will tell you more about that in another blog post.

Let’s talk about happier things. What I really loved about living in Kavresthali was a strong sense of community – it felt that everyone was helping each other, they were working and having fun together. They always included me, some stranger who came from a random country and could barely speak any Nepali. Couple of times I was invited to plant rice – such a hard but fun experience. Planting rice was tough, but the mud fights, smiles, singing and dancing will never be forgotten.

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I had a really beautiful time in Kavresthali and it will always stay in my heart.

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Volunteering in Nepal

I know you haven’t heard from me for a while, but I really don’t like writing when I am traveling. I feel like if I’m spending time writing, I’m missing out on something else. I like writing when the trip is already over; the excitement has settled down and I can enjoy reflecting on my experiences. I am also finishing my internship now and looking for a new job, so job applications take all my time and energy now, but I’m gonna try my best to spend some time writing, have so much to tell you 🙂

So what did I do this summer? I spent over six weeks in Nepal doing volunteering and travelling. I had an absolutely beautiful time there, met some amazing people and hopefully made some positive impact through my voluntary work.

A bit of background. I applied to do a voluntary water research project in Nepal back in November 2014. It was a long wait, but in June 2016 I finally made it to Nepal. I joined Volunteers Initiative Nepal, which seemed to be a quite reliable and transparent NGO.

After couple of days of training I was placed in Kavresthali – just several miles outside Kathmandu. So suddenly I had a new family: two brothers – Pradip and Dipesh, sister Jyoti and Amma – grandmother. I did not get to meet my new mother and father until much later when they came back from India (father has a job there). There were also two other international volunteers living with me – Morgan from US and Karin from the Netherlands.

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New family

I was one of the first volunteers to work in the area, so my main role was to collect data. Jyoti and Morgan were both working with me on water research as well. First couple of days we spent going up and down the hills through the forests full of snakes, locating and mapping water sources, which often looked like tiny puddles and only some of them were at least a bit protected from possible contamination.

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Water Source

Then we started a WASH (water sanitation and hygiene) survey and interviewed over 200 households in five villages. It turned out that 15% of people did not have toilets (instead they were using fields), over half of them drank direct water and a large number of people were frequently getting sick due to the water quality and poor hygiene. A majority of them said that they were washing their hands with soap, however we could rarely see any of the soap bars next to their taps. There were also several areas that suffered from water shortages.

The last bit of work that I did was water testing for chemical and biological contamination. A number of people mentioned that they usually get sick during monsoon season, so it was a perfect time to test water samples. Almost every sample contained bacteria, however I cannot give you the exact results for that, as I left just after we started water testing and I left Morgan to continue working on it.

The data I have collected will now be analysed by the organisation I worked for and they will prioritise the families for toilet construction and will decide what else needs to be done in the area. That could include hygiene campaigns, workshops on how to make a water filter, they might find the ways to improve water source protection or try to eliminate water shortages.

The survey was definitely my favourite part of the work there. We had to visit so many houses and were welcomed in every single one of them. A lot of houses were destroyed by the earthquake in 2015, so a large number of people were living in “temporary” houses made mostly of bamboo, mud, bricks and metal sheets. Some of them were sharing the same space with their goats and cows and some families really did not have much, but they almost always greeted us with milk tea, cucumbers or roti (local bread).

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Life in the village

People there work really hard, especially women – my host sister would wake up at 4am to go to the college, then she’d work with us on a survey for a few hours, spend the rest of the day working in the fields, milk the cow, cook dinner in the evening and only then go to bed.

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Local lady

I am going to stop here now and next time I will tell you a bit more about my life in Kavresthali, people and local traditions 🙂

 

Last Days of Spring

aaa

I’m leaving in 4 days. It sounds absolutely unreal and the trip that I have been waiting for so long is finally happening.  Yes, I’m finally going to Nepal!

In November 2014, I applied to do some volunteering there. I was supposed to start in summer 2015, however a lot happened between November and June and I couldn’t go anymore. I had to move my start day to the 1st October 2015. As you can probably guess I didn’t make it then either – I was quite skint so instead of starting volunteering, I stayed in Scotland and started an internship. Even if I had doubts, it was definitely the right move. Initially my internship was supposed to be only three months, but it quickly got extended to up to a year. I love what I’m doing now and I have a great manager. She always knew that I wanted to go to Nepal, so she gave me seven weeks off to do what I wanted to do.

So what’s my plan for Nepal? Well, I’ll be doing a water research project there with a local organisation and I’m super excited about that! I’ve been interested in water issues for quite a while now and it’s a great opportunity for me to learn. I’m aware that my time there will not save the world, but I’m going there for myself, to learn about Nepalese culture, water issues there and… about myself!  It’s crazy how much you can actually learn about yourself while travelling. I love the feeling of confidence when I come back home from a challenging trip.

It’s going to be weird to leave Edinburgh and I’m enjoying the final days of spring here. I’ve had a really nice time these past couple of months – spring is definitely my favourite time of the year and Edinburgh looks extremely pretty when covered in blossoms. I also managed to go back home to Lithuania for a bit, so my parents won’t be upset about me disappearing from Europe for a bit. The feeling of adventure is already here and I can’t wait for it to start!

 

Hiking in Mallorca

When I told some of my friends I was going to do some hiking in Mallorca almost every single one of them looked at me strangely, some of them asked if it is possible to go hiking there in the first place, some of them thought that was the new way to call “drinking” and even after my explanation that Mallorca was perfect for hiking nobody seemed to believe me.

While two thirds of the plane probably didn’t make it further than El Arenal (Party area in Mallorca), we tried to be a bit more adventurous. We spent the first night in Palma, took some photos of their amazing cathedral and had the best paella ever (no photos as it was too good)!

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The first destination on the list was Banyalbufar. It is a small picturesque village on the west coast less than an hour drive from Palma. It’s popular among hikers and wine lovers – Banyalbufar is famous for its Malvasia wine.

After some stressful parking experience (the streets in the village are really narrow!), we started our hike to Port des Canonge. It was a nice, though not really challenging hike. The path was going through the forest and you could enjoy the views of the sea. We ended up in a stony beach and had a nice lunch in the sun.

 

We left Banyalbufar in the late afternoon and headed towards Port de Soller. The town was really pretty and we got a hotel just at the beach. Having breakfast outside in front of the beach every morning, enjoying the sun, was probably one of my favourite things to do.

Port de Soller also has a tram which is over a 100 years old! I saw it a few times, but didn’t get a chance to take a photo. It looked really cool though 🙂

The second day we decided to drive to Port de Sa Calobra – the town famous for its beach. The drive there was an absolute pleasure. The road was zigzagging through the mountains and the views were terrific.

The place was nice, but the beach was a bit of the disappointment, as I imagined it to be much bigger.

However, we were not really beach type of people anyway, thus we decided to do a Torrent de Pareis hike which started at the same place. Well, if you imagine it is some ordinary hike then you are completely wrong. It is said to be one of the most impressive gorge walks in Mediterranean. I kind of knew what to expect, however I got more than I could ever want from a hike and the canyon was a real pleasant surprise. The hike was mostly jumping and climbing from one rock to the other and it was extremely fulfilling. We only did a part of the hike and only the “easy” bit, but it was still a great fun. If you want a full experience of Torrent de Pareis – start from Escorca and finish at Sa Calobra.

 

The third and the last hike that we did was around Valldemossa. We started in this little town and walked a nice circle on some mountain peaks. The views were absolutely amazing and the later it got, the less people we saw on the way. It was so nice and peaceful and it was great to enjoy the silence.

It was hard to leave Mallorca. The weather was really nice all the time and we still felt like we did not manage to do a lot of things we planned. The dinners we had all the evening were absolutely amazing as well – fresh seafood, nice tapas and some quality local wine, so it was hard to come back to chips, haggis and irn bru. Will go back! 😉

Isle of Skye

I was disappointed. There was no way we were going to camp this time. The weather was absolutely awful even though it was the end of July. Almost never stopping rain and cold. Brrrrr… However, it was my birthday and I had to get out somewhere, so we booked whatever accommodation was left on Skye, rented a car and hoped at least an OK weather for those five days.

Well and it was a fun trip!:)

The first day we spent almost all day driving until we reached our destination just outside the Fort William. We’re huge Chinese dumpling fans, so we spent an evening trying to feel the spirit of camping & cooking outdoors. The dumplings, after the whole day in a car looked awful, but were tastier than ever!

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Dinner Time

The next day we spent in the clouds! I’ve been on the top of Ben Nevis before, but I thought it would be nice to climb it again. I thought being there in summer would be so much nicer than in winter! I was wrong… By the time we reached the top we were absolutely soaked!

When going down, the sky cleared out a bit and we got to enjoy the nice views 🙂

On the third day it was finally the time to reach Skye. We had a nice lunch stop at Eilean Donan castle, a beauty standing there since the 13th century.

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Eilean Donan Castle

For those who now wonder where they’ve seen it before – it appeared in one of the James Bond movies.

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The weather in the Isle of Skye as you can see from the photo bellow was not the best either. But we were in a good mood, so at least we had a good laugh that day 🙂

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Isle of Skye 

Our plan was to stop at the Fairy pools first. Well, if you google that, you’ll get plenty of nice photos with bright blue water etc. That was not the case for us. It took us ages to force ourselves to leave the car and go down to the pools. Yes, it was pretty even in the rain, but nothing like in google photos!

The plan for the fourth day was to do a Quiraing Circuit and The Storr. They are super famous and a must do in Skye. We stayed very close to Quiraing so of course we started our day there. At first we couldn’t believe that it was nice and sunny outside and we were expecting it to start raining at any minute. I guess it is quite a natural thing to do after being in the rain for the past few days! The sun did not disappear though and the views during the hike were absolutely stunning.

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It was really muddy so it took us ages to walk a circuit, but it was a really nice hike. Then it was the time for Storr, but we decided not to hike there, as we saw crowds of people there when driving past. It is an easier walk, so no surprise it was so popular. It was a nice sunny day, so we spent the rest of the time resting and having a barbecue 🙂

Actually, a barbecue with a proper view! The sunset that evening was stunning.

It was a fun trip! You never know what you gonna get in Scotland, but what you really need to take on your trip is a positive attitude and a good company 🙂 yes, we got wet more times than we wanted, but we did not get upset about that and had a fantastic time.

It would be nice to go back on a sunny day and see a bit more of the island 🙂

Isle of Arran

The first time I decided to do some actual traveling in Scotland was almost after two years of living here. Before that I only visited couple of cities and I couldn’t call that traveling. I decided that the best way to explore Scotland was to do it by bike. I’m not even sure how I came up with that  – I didn’t even have a bike at that point. Having in mind that I wasn’t in the best shape either, I completely underestimated the effort required for the trip.

I convinced one of my friends to join me, bought the bike and decided that the Isle of Arran would be a perfect place for that (no particular reasons, rather than a good access from Edinburgh).

So after couple of hours of train and ferry ride we were in Brodick. My friend’s ex-classmate was living there, so we stopped to say hi. As soon as we left Brodick (heading towards Machrie), a really steep hill was waiting for me. After an hour of dragging our bikes up, swearing and thinking what the hell I was doing there, there was a sweet moment of going downhill. A lot of time it was like that, but after a while I started enjoying the challenge. I think those moments of going downhill were totally worth every drop of sweat.

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The weather was amazing. The sun was shining all the time and a lot of times we were just resting on the stony beaches along the way and enjoying life.

Our first proper stop was to see some stones. Yes, stones! There are a lot of standing stone circles on the Isle of Arran, of which the finest ones are Machrie Moor standing stones. The circles date from around 1800 to 1600 BC and the tallest stone is over 18 feet high!

Soon after visiting the circles we left our bikes and went hiking to see the King’s caves. The caves used to be a hiding place for Robert the Bruce (for those who have no idea who he was – he was a King of Scots several centuries ago). It is said that the King had his famous encounter with the spider there (not an extremely exciting story, but feel free to google it).

We decided to spend the night on the beach near the caves – it was sooo peaceful.

However, we didn’t plan our water supplies well enough so in the morning we had no water left. We found our bikes as quickly as we could and cycled to the nearest village to get some water.

The rest of the day we spent cycling and stopping at beautiful places and at the end of the day we reached Lamlash.

Next morning we reached Brodick and went back to see ex-classmate I mentioned before. He took us to the Sannox Bay Hotel & Restaurant where I had the best fish and chips ever (portions were enormous as well).

My friend didn’t enjoy the trip that much, but I really liked it. I was really struggling a lot of time during the trip and the fact I managed to complete it made me really proud. The weather was perfect, the island was amazing and even though it was a short trip and we did not even cycle that much, it was a perfect escape for my birthday. That summer I promised myself to go on some crazy trip for my birthday every year (and I’m doing quite well with keeping that promise).

I don’t have a lot of photos from this trip and they are not that good either. But you got an idea, it’s a nice island and I still want to come back there. I feel like I still haven’t seen a lot – Goatfell & Arran Coastal Way are still on my to do list 🙂

Isle of Mull

Let me tell you about the trip during which I completely fell in love with Scotland. It was the summer 2013 and I was really keen to do some travelling. I convinced a friend to join me (I didn’t even know her that well, but she agreed to share a tent with me for three days!), so we packed our house, pumped up the tires and few hours later we were in Isle of Mull. It was the second time when I was on a cycling&camping trip in Scotland, so I knew what to expect and I was really excited (maybe I’ll tell you about my first trip one day as well)!

We didn’t cycle around the entire island, only the upper bit (starting from Craignure going to Tobermory, Dervaig and then back through Salen). I don’t want to talk much about how amazing the weather and how beautiful the island were and how much I enjoyed the whole trip.I think I’ll just leave you with some photos and hopefully they will do a better job explaining my experiences, than trying to put everything into words 🙂

The first day: Craignure, Duart Castle, Salen and camping a bit before Tobermory

The second day: Tobermory, Calgary & a campsite somewhere around Acharonich

The last day: from Acharonich, through Salen to Craignure and back to Oban

I’m definitely going back! 🙂

Cairngorms National Park

I feel like I’m repeating myself, but I’ll say it: Scotland always surprises me! Especially when I get lucky with the weather. Last summer my parents came for my graduation and I decided that I had to take them somewhere else in Scotland, so they wouldn’t just spend an entire week in Edinburgh.

I’ve heard a lot of good about Cairngorms, so I thought it’d be a great place to go to. So we exchanged Edinburgh to Glenmore for a few days. We stayed in Cairngorm Lodge Youth Hostel and it was an absolutely perfect place! I added a photo below of the view from the bench near the hostel 🙂

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It turned out that Glenmore had everything we wanted for our holiday. There was plenty to do in the area. Loch Morlich and its beautiful beach were just a few hundred meters away from the hostel, so we spent a few afternoons just relaxing there.

We also visited Cairngorms Reindeer Center and got to play with the reindeers for a bit. They were super friendly!

Glenmore was also perfect for doing some active stuff – Cairngorm mountain is really close, so you can go hiking, or if you’re too lazy for that you could choose a funicular railway to get to the top.

There are plenty of walking trails in the forests around Glenmore as well (check out forestry commission maps).  You can also rent a bike and cycle around if you’re not too keen on walking. I would definitely recommend doing Ryvoan Trail. It’s quite challenging in some bits and it gets you to An Lochan Uaine (photo below). It’s such a beautiful and peaceful place!

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I was super glad we stayed in Glenmore. It’s small but there is plenty to do around. We also walked back to Aviemore to catch the bus back to Edinburgh and the forest path was really nice. Would definitely recommend to visit, just don’t forget the repellent spray or the midges will eat you! 🙂

Kagyu Samye Ling

It is hard to believe that the place like this exists in Scotland. Very well hidden, but with loads of different people.

Seems that this place is perfect for anyone who is searching or just anyone who is curious. No matter what you believe in I think it is totally worth a visit.

 

I loved the phrase said by one girl living there – no matter what you do in life, it’s all about how you get your oxygen 🙂

The First Mountain Experience

The first time I decided to climb a mountain was couple of winters ago. I didn’t just choose the mountain, but I had to pick the highest one in Scotland – Ben Nevis. Well, having in mind that it was (almost) winter and I didn’t even know what to expect, I thought it was a decent challenge. I found a person who also loved adventures and a few days later we were in the train heading to Fort William.

It was a great time to get out of the city. The exams were coming, I was stressed and all of my friends were stressed, so I thought a wee distraction would be quite refreshing. The plan was to spend five days in the Ben Nevis Inn & Bunkhouse, do some studying for the exams, explore the area and reach the peak of Ben Nevis.

When we got there it turned out that the bunkhouse was in the middle of nowhere, barely even heated and with no internet. That was amazing! Well, it wasn’t extremely good for studying, but being in a complete silence and peace was so nice and refreshing. There was a restaurant upstairs which served amazing food, but it wasn’t cheap. Thus most of the evenings we spend drinking, eating and studying in the Weatherspoon’s in town. We had our bikes with us so it wasn’t a problem to get there.

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We didn’t tried to conquer Ben Nevis on the first day – the weather wasn’t the best and we decided to wait. Meanwhile, we were exploring the surrounding areas and took the train to Mallaig (yes, the same railway line as for Hogwarts Express). My friend used to work in Morar, which is just outside Mallaig, and she told me about the beautiful white sand beach there. We decided to cycle there and it was probably the first time in Scotland when going down the hill I had to pedal as hard as I could – that’s how strong the wind was. But it was worth it!

When the day came to try to reach the top I was super excited. We left early in the morning, as we didn’t want to be stuck on the mountain when it gets dark – days were so depressingly short… Anyway, I was almost running up the hill for the first couple of hours – that’s how excited I was. The path itself wasn’t really challenging and we were enjoying the walk. The weather was quite nice as well. But then everything started getting a bit more challenging. You could feel the temperature dropping and soon we saw the first snow. Our first snow that year! Yayyy!

Everything started becoming whiter and whiter and it felt so surreal. It seemed that nothing else excited, just this white wall with occasional piles of rocks. It’s hard to explain the feeling, especially if that’s your first time on the mountain. And it’s hard to explain that happiness when you reach the top. You don’t feel cold anymore and you can’t believe you are there as well. Of course we couldn’t see those beautiful views from the top that you get when you google Ben Nevis, as we were just standing in the cloud.

There was a little hut on the top and some ruins of previous observatory. Apparently before it was built a man called Clement Wragge volunteered to go up Ben Nevis every single day to collect meteorological data during the summer months in 1881. He continued his work for another couple of years afterwards. Imagine that! Climbing the mountain every day for a few months… We had our lunch in the little hut together with some other climbers. It was so nice to sit there, share food and the excitement of being on the top.

Getting down was relatively easy. At the very top we were sliding down on our bums, as it was easier and more fun than just walking. We were screaming something in Lithuanian and then from far away we heard “Labas” meaning hi. Well that was unexpected!

At some point getting down became quite a challenge: our the legs started shaking and we got really tired. I was extremely proud we managed to reach out goal and I guess proper clothing was the most important factor for the success.

The next day we spent cycling around the area. We covered quite a bit having in mind our sore muscles – a bit over 50km. But the places were just beautiful and worth every effort.

Well, overall, it was a good break before exams and it was a perfect way to recharge my battery. And I passed all the exams as well 🙂

I got to climb Ben Nevis again, a year and a half later, this time in summer. And you know what? Even though it was tough in winter it was so much worse in summer. It was raining so much that even the waterproofs gave up and there were too many people around… It was quite a nice warm summer day when we started, so loads of people were walking in shorts or jeans. That’s a mistake easy to make! In a cold wind and rain those people were freezing and it was disgusting to see their purple legs. Well, what I’m trying to say that the mountain is mysterious and you never know what to expect from it. Be prepared and enjoy 😉